Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Summer Program

One summer it was a chart of little summer school assignments. One summer it was a quest to earn "House Points" for good behavior a la Harry Potter. This summer our stairway is papered with this:
It's a combination of Lazy's no-nag point system and the job charts I saw on my friend Mary's laundry room this weekend. (Whenever I'm at the house of a mother I admire I just want to riffle through her drawers and check out her laundry room for inspiration.) I just think it's important to give the summer a little structure and routine and to give the kids a little home learning while they're here.

Each child gets a fresh list each week. The list has basics like doing your morning hygiene routine, plus pre-dinnertime chores like put away your clean laundry, plus some make-the-family-happier goodies like give compliments or help someone else. Also, each child has to do some time helping mom. Whaa-haa-haaa! On Sunday, they have things like call a relative or read something from a church magazine or do some family history name extraction.

You get a sticker when you complete everything on your list for the day. You also get a sticker whenever I catch you being good. I don't nag or remind, but when the weekend rolls around, those with stickers will be happier than those without.

This has the following elements of effective systems:

+ The responsibility for follow-through goes to the child.

+ Mom doesn't need to speak to make the responsibilities happen.

+ It makes the kids responsible to contribute to the well-being of the family and household.

+ It involves checkmarks and stickers which are magically motivating!

What are you doing to organize, teach, and motivate your kids this summer?

Friday, June 26, 2009

7 Quick Takes

~ 1 ~

7 Quick Takes is an idea from Jennifer at Conversion Diary. She'll totally shatter any idea you may have had that Mormons take their religion more seriously than Catholics. She's a great example of seeking to fully live a Christian life. I highly recommend this post on how she transitioned from atheist to Christian, and this one on why she chose Catholicism. (Hint: she has some things in common with Joseph Smith.)

~ 2 ~

The more I've thought about my response to the events in my yard on Wednesday, the more I've felt I have a few things to learn on dealing with crises.

First of all, I underreact. In the moment of crisis, I refuse to freak out, so I end up doing things like chatting charmingly with the woman cleaning a dead body off my lawn, or greeting the kids after school with an inappropriately chripy "Hi! Welcome home!" when they know full well this isn't your average cheery day.

Mark had planned to work late on Wednesday. As events unfolded, he volunteered twice to come home early, and I declined. "There's no real reason," I countered. But of course that was true only if you discounted the emotional black cloud hanging over us. Which I shouldn't have done.

Next time round, I hope I'll find some middle ground between falling apart under pressure and carrying on as if nothing has happened. Because things happen, and I need to engage more to help my children through it.

~ 3 ~

Related to the above, I need to learn to flake. On Wednesday, we went to karate, Enrichment, and a Primary meeting. Again I thought, "There's no real reason to flake." But I should have given myself permission to stay home and nurture my kids with a leisurely dinner and plenty of reading time. Instead I served a rushed dinner, cleared it away within minutes, and made Levi do his reading while we drove to karate. We've got too many people with too many "good" place to be. We can't do it all. I've got to learn to let myself flake on some things so I can do the "needful" ones.

~ 4 ~

Levi now is missing front teeth on the top and bottom. It's adorable, but I don't know how that boy's gonna manage the corn on the cob for dinner tonight.

~ 5 ~

Today I decided to try and use Roscoe's own language to explain why he needs to stay out of my way in the kitchen. The kitchen is like an atom, I said, and I'm the electron spinning inside it. Even though at any given moment I'm only in one place, I spin from sink to pantry to stove to counter--so that in effect I take up the entire space.

So apparenlty he had a unit in Chemistry this year and countered that he was a hydrogen atom and I was oxyen and that we were bonded and so he was going to spin around me forever. Which was not helpful. And is only a slight exaggeration from what he's been doing all week anyway.

I ended up slapping him in the face with a 24-pack of tortillas.

~ 6 ~

This has been a rough week. Valery has been sick and screams literally every time I set her down. Mark worked late twice and spent two nights at church--do that math! Logan went to 5 karate classes to prepare for a belt advancement tonight. I did two huge resume orders. And, yes, I did seek help but failed to find anyone to take the little kids for a few hours or do some housecleaning. See above re my need to do some strategic flaking.

~ 7 ~

In less than a month we're leaving for a long vacation to Washington, DC. We're driving, three days there, three back. In a little van that leaves the big boys squished like sardines. We're going to see all the sites, visit my parents and some of my siblings, and attend a family reunion.

Yesterday I ordered both National Treasure movies and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington so we can start getting the kids excited about what they'll see. Both Mark and I did big forays to the East with our families, and we're very excited to be doing it with ours.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Life Adjacent to Death, or The Weirdest Reason EVER to Make Cookies

Haley and I were driving home from watching Logan's "Patriotic Program" at school. First I noticed police cars in our street. Then I saw that our street was totally blocked. While I drove around the subdivision to enter from the other end, I called Roscoe, who was home with napping Jesse and Mallory. He reported that everything was fine and that apparently there had been a car crash on our street.

The drive through our neighborhood looked like a parade route, with people congregating on along sidewalks. Before I reached our street, someone flagged me down and told me what had really happened. I pulled in to park in a neighbor’s driveway, and the bishop—by some miraculous power of being in the wrong place at the right time—pulled in right behind me. I left the van and Haley at the neighbor’s and the bishop escorted me around the police tape to my driveway.

The short version is that someone died standing in my yard. No one we know; no one from the neighborhood. The long version is something we’ve decided as a neighborhood we’re not sharing with the children.

Haley stayed at the neighbor’s while various emergency vehicles did their work. Logan and Levi were intercepted at that same neighbor’s, and by the time they came home an hour later, all evidence had been removed or washed away by the fire truck’s hose.

Poor Roscoe and I were quarantined in the house, curtains drawn, willing ourselves not to watch the drama unfolding outside. Things felt pretty dark. So finally I said, “You know what we need? Chocolate chip cookies. There’s nothing that’s not a little bit better with chocolate chip cookies.”

“With milk,” Roscoe replied. And down to the kitchen we went.

I thought I was keeping pretty cool as I discussed logistics with whatever personnel spent their afternoon in my driveway, as I called other neighborhood moms to develop a unified explanation to the kids, as I carried on with life adjacent to death. But now that the kids are tucked away and darkness is falling, I feel like the emotional equivalent of a puddle. Tomorrow, I keep telling Roscoe, will be a much brighter day.

Monday, June 22, 2009

An Absurdist Play in One Act

The scene: After bedtime.
Mom is sitting on the floor in the hallway guarding two bedrooms. At the first door, she monitors a certain chicita who has been known to sneak out of her bed and fill her foster sister's crib with hard toys. At the second, she is poised to grab the doorknob and hold on tight to teach the hooligan whom no lock can hold that, yes, he must stay in his room and go to sleep. A child from the unguarded third bedroom comes creeping up the stairs.

Child: Mom, I think my finger is broken. [He flexes the finger to demonstrate.]

Mom: Your finger is not broken.

Child: But someone in my class got hit with a basketball and his finger was broken and today my finger got hit with a basketball and it really hurts. [He pauses to close his eyes and grimace and whimper just a little bit.]

Mom: I'm sorry it hurts. It's not broken.

Child: You don't act like you're sorry!

[Child retreats back down the stairs to curse my name.]

Upon reflection, I realize he's right. I'm not sorry about fake injuries that suddenly appear after bedtime.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Happy Father's Day

Mark's morning welcome from his crew:
You'll love watching this video from the Church's youtube Mormon Messages series.


This dad reminds me of my dad because they both took such pure joy in loving and being with their children. And Mark is giving our children plenty of happy memories of wrestling matches, basketball games, backyard bonfires, and guessing games.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


So how am I doing with a new, larger brood? Not bad. Also not the paragon of grace and with-it-ness. Mallory has now been here for a week, and each day she's become more relaxed and comfortable. She's more willing to let me walk away from her on occasion, more comfortable with Mark and the kids. Her nap schedule is becoming a bit more predictable. I kind of feel like I just went through a mini baby's-first-trimester and am now ready to emerge from the fog of overlapping, unpredictable demands and rejoin the land of the living.

I've dusted off my repertoire baby skills--like how to make dinner with your left hand while holding a baby in your right, how to drive a van while feeding grapes to the baby in the seat behind you (it involves biting off two-thirds of each grape before passing it back), how to narrate your entire life in baby talk.

Yesterday I took Mallory to a DCFS office for a visit with her parents. They were a good-looking young couple who seemed ill equipped to navigate the huge foreign government machine that has taken over their family.

Mallory did not smile or reach out to them when they entered the room. But she did reach out to me when I showed up to retrieve her, and I saw Mom give Dad a wan smile. Our first foster daughter used to do that and, man, did it infuriate her mom. It seems to me that little ones need to attach to one primary mommy at a time, and the sad fact is that for now, I'm it. I kept feeling sorry for those cute little parents, full of good intentions, trying to make a family out of nothing--and then I'd remember the two bone fractures.

When we got home, I laid down on the couch for a moment before launching into dinner time. Sweet Mallory tumbled over and around me like a pretty little kitten. When I made eye contact, she'd give me that serene little smile I now know she gets from her mother. Every few moments she'd pause and lay her head down on my cheek. Someone is definitely going to come out of this with a broken heart. And it's probably going to be me.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Library Day

One of my favorite things to do with the kids is take them to the library. Actually, I suppose I don't so much love taking them to the library--why oh why don't they have those self-checkout machines right there in the kids' section so you don't have to schlep a passel of little ones through the adult line?

But I love the treasures we find, and I love bringing them all home. It feels like Christmas and everyone retreats to cozy nooks to enjoy what they've found.

Today Haley and I located the next installments of the little easy-reader series she's doing.
And we found an ingenious series with a long page of narration for the adult to read and a facing page of a few simple words for the child to read. Brilliant idea! (Not sure why blogger keeps flipping this photo either one way or the other.)

I always want to find something for myself, but can steal only a few moments in the adult section before there's a ruckus. So I do sort of a judge-a-book-by-its-cover smash-and-grab and I've actually discovered some real gems this way.

I trawl around the comics and fantasy sections in search of new treasures for the big kids. Today we brought home an optical illusions-themed I Spy book which caused Roscoe to spend about 20 minutes yelling, "Whoa! WHOA! That's making my eyes hurt!"

Friday, June 12, 2009

Baby Talk en espanol

When Mallory's caseworker told me that her parents speak only Spanish, I glibly assured him that we could certainly handle enough Spanish for a one-year-old. Now I'm not so sure. She definitely perks up and listens when we speak Spanish but I think we're doing it all wrong.

When we speak English to a baby, we convert everything into short, easy little words: naptime, bedtime, sit down, stand up, good girl. Do hispanohablante mothers really say "hora de acostarse" at bedtime or "desalinado" when they wipe a sticky face? Plus I don't want to totally destroy Mallory's language development by teaching her a strange, dictionary-based Spanglish instead of the real colloquialisms.

So this is a request for help from our hispanohablante friends and family. What do Spanish-speaking mothers really say?

1. bedtime
2. naptime
3. messy
4. be careful
5. good girl
6. peekaboo
7. clap your hands
8. stand up
9. lie down
10. all done
11. night-night
12. ???

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Meet Mallory

Mallory is an adorable little monchichi with three-mile-long eyelashes. She is nervous and a bit stiff and her smiles can be hard to come by, but she has definitely decided that I'm the mom around here, which is a good thing. She will not let me leave her line of sight without a fuss, which I have to remind myself is also a good thing.

Her first smile ever went to Levi. Her most frequent smiles go to Roscoe, who she has also bonded with. She doesn't know that Roscoe was her most vocal opponent and for months has been telling anyone who will listen that his mother is driving our family to ruin with her unholy and irrational insistence on ever more babies. Now Roscoe battles for the seat next to Mallory in the car, carries her around cooing, and clearly ranks as Mom #2 in her eyes.

She's eating and sleeping well. I plug in my laptop and sit in the rocker next to her bed until she falls asleep.

Even Jesse loves Mallory. I can't believe that my certified mama's boy / baby / king of the roost isn't jealous of the new arrival who's being made such a fuss over. Knock on wood. Mark and I are both concentrating on giving all the kids plenty of attention and snuggles so no one feels that Mallory has co-opted their piece of the pie. Our goal is for everyone to feel that this family has plenty of pie for all. But Mark and I, the pie-givers, are ending each day in an exhausted heap.

* Fam and friends, See more pictures of Mallory (and learn her real name!) on Haley's blog: http://haleysoars.blogspot.com/?zx=da1c519b338080e

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Thoughts in the hour before Mallory's arrival

It’s 1:35 and in less than 90 minutes my new foster daughter should arrive at the door. I’m going to call her “Mallory” for discretion’s sake. She’s 13 months old. She had two bone fractures under somewhat fishy circumstances. So essentially what happened is that the court gave her parents a contract, a list of conditions they must fulfill over the course of several months. If the parents comply, Mallory will go back home. Which the caseworker believes is highly likely. So it appears our family will have this baby all summer, then give her back.

Yes, our long-term goal is to adopt another child, but for now we’re throwing ourselves into the role of foster parents. Which as my brother Mark says, “is a weird thing you do.” Our job is to love this baby heart and soul. To give her so much love and security that this traumatic time—injured by someone who should have been caring for her, inexplicably bounced from shelter mom to aunt’s house to this new house full of crazy kids—leaves her no scars. To pour all we can into her despite the knowledge that it’ll all make it that much harder on the day we drop her off, drive away, and never see her again.

And on top of that, our job is to love and support her parents. To look with compassion on people who clearly don’t know how to provide a safe, healthy home. To do all we can to lift and encourage them to become effective parents. And if they choose to hate and resent us—which at least some of the time they will surely do—our job is to absorb and ignore it and return only love and encouragement.

Yesterday afternoon I drove through a drenching summer rainstorm to buy Mallory a car seat. I felt pulled apart inside, on the verge of emotional meltdown. Partly I was nervous about starting this new chapter of craziness. But more, I think I was grieving for the day when this girl will leave. I know no other way to care for a baby than to become attached, body and soul. How else can it be done? I’ve lived through letting a beloved foster daughter go home where she belongs, and I crave that girl still. And I’ve lived through the joy of being sealed to a foster daughter and making her as mine as she could possibly be.

Last night for Family Home Evening, we told the kids that Mallory would be our family’s summer project. I feel one of the best things we have to offer a foster child is siblings. The kids have been such a blessing for their foster sisters, opening their home and hearts to them, showing them what healthy childhood should be. Levi enthusiastically chimed in that when he came home from school he would run up to Mallory and give her a huge hug. So we talked about how Mallory might be feeling sad and scared and that we’d have to watch her and think about how she was feeling in this new situation. So this morning, Levi demonstrated for me how when he comes home from school he’ll gently creep up to Mallory. He crouched down with his hands on his knees and chirped softly, “Hi Baby Mallory.”

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Spring Activities

Finished middle school on Friday and is now technically a high schooler. I'm so relieved that he made it through what I see as the most challenging and unpleasant chapter of life with an amazing degree of grace, pleasantness, and righteousness. Not only that, he has good grades.

On Saturday he performed in the annual piano recital his teacher holds for her students. Even though he had been up late the night before at a Scout campout, he played those songs better than I've ever heard him do before.
He was so pleased with himself that he actually cooperated for this picture. (Stay tuned for pictures of his summer haircut.)
Has big plans. He's on Safety Patrol at school, meaning he arrives early and stays late to man crosswalks and guard the bike corral. In fact, last week he and the principal conducted a sting wherein they retrieved a bike some kids had stolen from Levi the week before.

He placed 5th in his division at the school's annual Fun Run. He's got the new Percy Jackson book on his mp3 player. He and his buddy have started a lawn care business (no clients yet). As a Blazer Scout he has joined the ranks of young men who play basketball instead of doing planned activities and his dad reports that he's the best player the Blazers have got. And later this month he'll promote to a brown-orange belt in karate, which is up there.
Is loving his spring soccer team. He's so zippy and enthusiastic he's a joy to watch. (Also it's kind of heavenly to just drive away from your chores and lounge under Utah's sunny blue skies for an hour every Saturday.)
This week he will also be awarded "Wolf of the Quarter" at school for "Overall Excellence," which makes me happy because I know Levi tries hard to be overally excellent. Haley
Will go to her last day of preschool tomorrow. These are pictures of Haley as the Giant's Wife in their production of Jack and the Beanstalk. I am so excited to report that Haley is a great little reader. She will gain so much confidence in kindergarten and be able to absorb so many other things because she's ahead of the game on this.

As always, is the most inspiring and enthusiastic cheering section for all his siblings.

He and Haley have been great little buddies as the two little kids at home this year.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Flapping in the Breeze

So yesterday afternoon they told us that we were selected for a one-year-old girl who needs foster care. She comes from a Spanish-speaking home. She has 2 bone fractures that occurred on 2 separate occasions. The parents say they don't know how it happened. She's staying with a relative right now so she's safe, but the relative won't/can't keep her any longer. I don't know her name.

My next step was to call the case worker who would give me more info and work out when and how to make the transition. So I called and left a message that afternoon.

This morning I crept around, eyeing the phone. I left another message. I did some internet research on spiral fractures.

Then I realized that state workers in Utah have Fridays off.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Superstitious much?

So from the time I called and put our name back on the foster parent list until we got the call for a potential new daughter was 5 weeks. Then we waited 2 weeks for the court to conclude this girl didn't need foster care after all. That added up to 7 weeks.

Then, 7 weeks after that, I missed a call.

And 7 weeks after that is today.

A series of three 7s? Feels momentous to me. Where's Robert Langdon when you need him? You better believe I'm gonna be on that phone when (if?) it rings.

4:00 update:
Oh my inner goddess, I'm gonna convert to Wicca or scientology or numerology or something! I was not wrong! Just got a call regarding a one-year-old hispanic girl! More later.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

20 Years

Today is the 20th anniversary of the massacre at Tiananmen Square. Which means this week is also 20 years since I graduated from high school. The TV footage of tanks and bloody students was the chilling backdrop as I attended graduation parties, received awards, and contemplated my new life as a college student. “Bright futures” are the worst cliché of high school graduation, but Tiananmen Square made me see the brightness of my potential futures. I lived a life that was blessedly free from fear, oppression, or violence.

Things I have done in the last 20 years:
  • attended a production of the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon, England
  • laid out the stone floor for a schoolhouse in altiplano Bolivia
  • read Levinas, Irigaray, de Beauvoir, Woolf, and Foucault
  • marched in protest
  • fallen in love
  • gotten married
  • learned that being different is less important than being happy and helpful
    given birth
  • been published
  • moved—too many times to count
  • bought 3 houses
  • been in the presidency of the Young Women, Primary, and Relief Society
  • started a business

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Levi is Seven

Levi had a great birthday yesterday. I really enjoy the years the kids don't have friend parties--partying with us is so much more fun!
Levi started his day by receiving a shiny new Razor scooter and helmet.
The "cake" Levi chose was a dinner-plate sized doughnut.
Then we spent about a half hour beating the crud out of a oatmeal-container-turned-pinata.

I think Levi is one of the brightest, best people on the planet. He brings us joy every day.