Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Getting ready for New Years Eve

New Years Eve is a lot of fun in our house. Because I have a deep loathing for the behaviors of overtired cranky kids (and mine waken at 6 regardless of when their heads hit the pillow) we don't typically stay up till midnight. Yet is can't be just like any old night. . . it is a chance to celebrate and I love celebrations and so do the kids. (and Kirsty is learning) {grin} Some years ago we began choosing a country and learning about it and making that country the theme of our New Years Eve. The year we did England we had a British tea for instance, and Robbie made this giant clock like Big Ben that hung in our dining room that night. Last year we did Australia and i was lucky enough to have an on line friend gift us with a bunch of Aussie treats which the kids adored. KC still talks about the chocolate she sent. (I am allergic so I couldn't eat it) But KC really doesn't like chocolate but loved that style. K said it was different from the chocolate here in the states, so there you go. We had a BBQ meal because it is summer in Oz when it is winter here and who doesn't like a BBQ?

This year Robbie chose Italy. We did some research and found that lentils are a popular new years eve food in Italy. The small coin shape represents a wish for good fortune. What a cool thing for a veggie family who loves lentils to find out! So we are having tonite---- cheese and cracker plate (probably not very Italian but none the less yummy) Then a small composed salad. Then a cup of lentil and pasta soup. This recipe is Italian; we found it on line. Then a main dish of Kirsty's delish home made pasta with marinara. Then for dessert, mini cannolis. I wish I could say I made them, but making cannoli looks really time consuming so we bought mini ones at the grocery store! There will be asti spumanti for the adults to drink and sparkling cider for the kiddos.

We found out that there are some fun traditions in Italy--wearing red underwear for good luck. Too bad none of us own red undies! LOL And at mid night throwing old belongings out the window to make way for the new year. We're passing on that too but we are playing a game of family bingo which is very similar to a game they play in Italy. Then all the kids get to jump on all the packing bubbles I have saved thru the m onth of December and we have our "fireworks"

Welcome 2009, we have been richly blessed this year and I feel grateful for friends, for family, and for the life we are building.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

New Music Class

Our park buddies told us of a music class that they have been participating in which is right down the street from us. One feels rather foolish to find you have been driving 20 miles to another city for music classes when there was one literally in your back yard. The fact that it is held in the church that i used to worship at for many many years adds to the general irony of it all.

Today was a free demo class so I took the 2 littles with Rob coming as my helper. I expected that KC would love the class. I think he will eventually. He liked components of the class but he is slow to warm up in new situations and there were more people in the class than he felt comfortable with.

Lissa on the other hand LOVED it. She did everything and where she is just 2 I was amazed to see her step away from me and be so very independent. Chose her instruments, helped put things away, danced and stomped and jumped. You name it, she did it. Except singing. The songs were new to her and she is less likely to try and vocalize something unfamiliar. But I could tell she adored the experience.

So now I have 2 classes to scrape money together for because they are both similar yet significantly different enough that they complement one another. KC wants to return to his familiar surroundings and "Miss Patty" Lissa tolerates Miss Patty's class but clearly adores this one more. I also think if KC saw Andre in his local class he would be more receptive. Andre was sick today so Holly had said he wouldn't be there. The other plus to me was there was a local adoptive family there who had a beautiful AA daughter a few years older than our Lissa. It is important to me that there be those components to experiences whenever possible.

Another cool facet of this class was that the teacher is a guy. Interestingly I noticed Rob was much more relaxed and participatory with a male instructor. So that makes this class important to me too. I want Robbie to see that "real guys" can like music! (grin) And even though the class isn't for him, he does assist as those extra pair of hands if a little tries to head for the high country or something.

So off to do some financial analysis!

Monday, December 29, 2008

And Still More Christmas

My holly jolly spirit is fading fast here folks. Today we went to see my mom. We were going to Christmas with her and with her husband at the care facility that he is in. But he was too ill to make it wise to bring the children so she said to just visit with her.

We were really looking forward to the visit. We have always visited at least bi-monthly because we love them and because it is hugely important to K and I that the kids have relationships with their grandparents.

Mom had asked me for a table lantern to use during the famous power outages her region of the state has so very often. She was not specific, just didn't want to use candles any more as she felt unsafe with an open flame nowadays. Made sense to me. With less secure balance at 75 and a cat in the picture now, I 'd rather a table lantern for her to. With my typical zeal I researched such things on line and decided to purchase from LL Bean. A company dear to her heart whom she herself patronizes frequently. The reviews I read said this one particular kind was very good. It charged off the house current and then when used in an outage, would provide a minimum of nine hours of light. I thought I'd be saving her money on batteries and she would always have light when she needed it.

OK so Mom opens the gift. Stares at it like I have wrapped Medusa's head. "What's THIS?" she asks in a tone i know from my child hood does not mean good things. I explain it is a rechargable table lantern. I am then lectured on how she doesn't know where to put it. She doesn't have any unused electrical outlets (we could see 3 on quick perusal of the room we were in) and a caustic coup de grace that she had thought it would be just like her neighbors downstairs. Well hello, I don't know her neighbor and have never seen her flipping lantern. Which by the way she never mentioned in any specific detail. I give up trying to explain the features and finally say rather flatly she can return it to the store and exchange it for any lantern that she fancies.

I think at that point she realized that she had crossed a huge social gulf into the land of rude and unreasonable. She agreed to let K set it up and show her how it worked and professed to like it. My guess is she still hates it. I find that the more I ponder that, the less I feel like worrying about it.

I called her later tonite to find out how she was. She had a dental appointment after our visit and I was hoping all went well. She told me the details. Then she told me what a wonderful time she had. I wondered to myself what universe she had been on that her "wonderful time" was so cruel and painful to Kirsty and I.

Then she had to go on about how my daughter is so well behaved---"not like KC.
Hello????? I love my kids, they are all great. They ALL did amazingly well during that visit. Lissa was indeed very sweet and engaging. She played with her gifts. She interacted well. She chowed pizza. Yay team.

But KC was sweet too. He brought a special card that he made when he heard we could not visit his grampa. A card he took time to make himself. He brought a game from home that he hoped his Nana would play with him. He thanked her for each and every thing he received. If he was guilty of anything it was of childish excitement at seeing gifts under her tree. He is 4. He knows gifts. Lissa is 2. She doesn't quite get it yet. Sigh.

My Rob was great. He was polite and helpful and though quiet as is his wont, he was also sincere in his appreciation.

My Chet did well, for the most part holding things together at least until we left Nana's house. His social skills are the weakest of all the children despite his age. Autism is cruel in that regard. I know--or I believe--that there is a kinder more loving person there than we are allowed to see.

All the kids had thought long and hard about their gifts. Chet bought his but the other kids all made theirs. That is huge to me becuase it is an investment of time and caring for someone. Rob spent literally hours on the tile picture he made of a lighthouse. KC made soaps that he knew his Nana would love. Shaped like items from the sea and the natural world, they reflected her loves.

I am hurt that she showed such favoritism in her comment about only Lissa being well behaved. None of the kids broke anything, damaged anything, or were in any way rude. Trust me, I know rude! I have pondered how to handle this. It is hard to know what is part of her un-gentle aging and perhaps not feeling well (remembering the emergency dental visit) and what is just plain meanspiritedness. My mom can run really hot and cold. And the trouble is, I will not repeat NOT have any of my kids lauded over the other. They are all special. They are all loved. Or else!

So I have decided that i will try to handle this by writing my thank you to her tomorrow. I will comment on how she has always been such a wonderful Nana, seeing to the heart of each of my wee ones and seeing their specialness. Then i will name one such specialness of each child. We will see if that will make a change. Writing it will be more permanent. In some ways it is less confrontational. But this is not something I will debate. I am hoping that this is her chance to embrace those facets of my kids personalities or we will be saving a lot on gas because visits will be a lot fewer.

And tonite after supper KC asked if he could email his Nana to tell her what fun he had at her house today. Yup, what a horrid little boy. Sigh.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Relationships

Christmas made me think more than usual about relationships. This may have been because my sister and her ex husband came to Christmas dinner. I love my sister and in fact have no other siblings. But I absolutely, totally, do not really understand her. Maybe it is me. I think that relationships are important. And at some level, sacred. Particularly when you decide to cohabitate or to marry. Not in a fundamentalist way, but it is more than just deciding to hang out, have sex and get coffee. Sis left home at 16 and moved in with the man who would be hubby number one. They lived together for a long time and eventually married and had a daughter. He was an abusive man who had issues with alcohol and drugs. I think sis couldn't bring herself to just leave him, despite my asking her over and over to leave for her safety. So she had an affair, he went ballistic and she left in a big way, in a scary way. I laid a lot of that to her immaturity and young age. My parents split up when she was 16 and I was 19. She was very close to my father and I guess this hit her very hard. At the very least she chose for her first mate a man much much older than she with 2 children from a previous marriage. While it looks on the surface that she wanted to hold the relationship together, i don't really think she did. Because she stepped out on him and chose someone that it was just about guaranteed would tell her husband what had happened and when.

A few years go by. She meets the man who will become hubby number 2. He is everything hubby 1 wasn't. Pretty decent looking, great job, good prospects as they said in the old time movies. A bit of a stuffed shirt and I think also painfully shy, but not a bad man. They date, they marry with a big extravagent wedding and build a life together which includes 2 babies. After baby #2 she steps out on him with the man who would become hubby 3. The divorce is hurtful and her second ex has never re-married. Though we were never close i feel badly because I think her treatment of him hurt him very very deeply.

She and the man who will become hubby 3 then live together. We get lots of emails about how he is her soul mate. Eventually we meet him. He is a lot younger than she but a nice enough guy. Actually a very good conversationalist and not at all off put by the fact that we are lesbians. They build a life together but it is rocky almost from the get go. He too, has children from his first marriage. The blending is very tough and there appear to be mental health issues with his children. Neither my sister or her new husband are really involved parents and eventually things crest with his kids threatening her kids and they split up. And get back together. And split up. And come to Christmas dinner together. And I don't know where to put that!

My mother's answer is "well she takes after your father." Said father is on marriage number 3 himself. I don't even know where he lives. When he left the general vicinity that i live in, he never called to say goodbye. He moved in July years ago and notified me via Christmas card that same year in December. It would have been funny, but the fact that he travelled to see my sister and say goodbye to her and instructed her not to tell me sort of took the humor out of it for me.

I don't know why he and i can't have a relationship. We began butting heads when I was about 9 and it never really got better. I remember him picking arguments at pretty much every milestone. Making me cry at my dance recitals. Having a big blowout over putting lights on the tree. He never remembered my birthday, right down to thinking i was the wrong zodiac sign. Laughable now, but at 11 that was HUGE. Had another big fight the day I graduated. You can sort of see that my eyes are red and puffy in the photos. And then there was the year he decided to move out on my birthday. I don't know if he really didn't remember or just didn't care, but it put a damper on birthday joy for many years. I finally just decided to change the day I celebrate my birthday. When he lived nearby I tried to have a connection with him because I wanted my children to know their grandfather. But after a few visits he stopped returning phone calls, was never home etc. I'm a bit too uppity to beat on a closed door so I didn't continue to try with the same level of diligence. And then he moved.

Maybe he doesn't like the fact that I am a lesbian. Maybe he just doesn't like me. I'll never know because he can't or won't call me. I tell myself that it is his loss. My father in law is awesome and is the dad I would have wished for if you could pick one out. He calls and emails and is there on holidays. He knows my kids and loves them, even the ones he doesn't understand.

And the funny thing is, I am the one in a committed long term relationship. I met my beloved in high school, though we were not a couple until a few years later. But we began by being close friends and I think that is the very best foundation for a relationship. It grew and flourished and we began living together when we were 19. We didn't call ourselves anything but "roommates" for years. Her dad, my father in law, is retired Air Force and I couldn't picture telling him that we were a couple. It wasn't until 2004 that it was legal for us to marry in our state. By that time we had long considered ourselves married. We had exhanged rings and vows of commitment to one another privately. Because I all ready "felt" married, we only had a small civil ceremony in 2004, but it proclaimed legally what we all ready felt in our hearts. Essentially we have lived together 31 years. Her brother and sister remain unmarried, mine has had multiple unions, and neither of my parents marriages have had that level of duration.

I'm not bragging about it. It is what it is, as Kirsty would say. But I think the difference is that we both feel that level of sacredness in our relationship. It is a strong glue that binds us together in the tough times and allows us to celebrate the good ones. It gives us the determination and the perseverance to be the best parents we can be and not feel that our relationship is diminished or short changed. I am so very lucky.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Post Christmas

No, not a Christmas post, as in after Christmas. I got up with the kids at 6:15 this a.m. (sleeping in at our house!!) and when I accidently knocked Robbie's pillow (I was holding Lissa and a bit off balance) it made an odd noise. Pillows by nature aren't supposed to make noise. So I investigated and found that he had hidden his Nintendo DS and two new games in his pillow and been playing them at night. For all I know, ALL night judging by his heavy lidded gaze. I asked him why he snuck them upstairs as he knows bedrooms are for sleeping only. My kids have no toys in their bedrooms otherwise they simply don't sleep. He answered that since he hadn't had time yesterday he did this. Given that he chose to spend the day messing around with his new MP3 player and watching a new movie he and Chet got for Christmas, his lack of time for video games wasn't my worry.

So I now have a Nintendo DS in my closet for a few days and I told him he was mine for the day. I find that for Robbie time outs are useless. Writing about the issue is sometimes helpful but more often than not equally useless. Charging him monetary penalties works in certain circumstances but let's face it. It is the day after Christmas and the kid has everything he wants, with the prospect of two more giftings with extended family to fill in any and every item that might not be in his possesion yet. So he was my enforced "buddy" today with breaks only to play with KC and Elisabeth. He did lots of cleaning, but I was cleaning with him. I don't want him to perceive that he is my slave. His foster family had foster kids do gross chores. Things like cleaning dog poop when he was 5. I am sorry that is just gross. Feed the dog at 5. Water the dog at 5. Grownups do the poop when a kid is 5. So today he helped me clean the kitchen within an inch of its life. He did the recycling. He folded and put away laundry. You get the drift. Anytime he looked just about done, I had something else for him to help with. They weren't all onerous. He helped me make banana bread bites. I know he likes to cook and cooking is a skill I want all my kids to have to I actively foster this. But I made him wash all the dishes from the cooking; usually I happily take on this task.

So by tonite I predict that a very tired 12 year old will fall into bed rueing the fact that he couldn't wait 12 hours to play a video game. . . at least I hope so!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas 2008

It is over. The presents unwrapped, the toys assembled, the cinnamon buns fresh from the oven devoured. I love this holiday. I love the joy of the season in general, but this year I had a special gift.

My beloved enjoyed it too. 12 years ago her mother received a terminal diagnosis on December 1st and it has been a long haul for her to get past the truly painful memories that the date would bring. Time does heal, but it heals at a different pace for everyone. It was a slow journey back to her for a joyful season. Not that she was dour to us necessarily, but for me, who knows her well, I knew that some of the happiness was faked. I also carried much of the responsibility of the seasonal expectations, trying to make it easy for her to back off when she needed or wanted to. And in fairness, some of this may not have been due to her mother. 2 years ago we adopted Lissa and when we got home for Christmas that year it was to arrive on 12/23 after driving 20 straight hours from Chicago. So she was exhausted that year and because the call from the agency was unexpected we hadn't finished all the holiday prep before we left for Chicago in mid December. The next Christmas Lissa was just a year and had only slept through the night twice up to that point. So she was sleep deprived that holiday season as well.

I did the holiday cards and the annual photo shoot of the kids. I did the ordering of gifts, and the wrapping and hiding of same. I did the stocking stuffing. I loaded it all under the tree. She helped with holiday baking and some of the decorating, but even there, for many years it was largely something I orchestrated.

This year it was a team effort and it was even more fun. I even loved the holiday doing a disporportionate amount of the work, so imagine how I enjoyed it when she was able to help. When she took the holiday pic with our digital camera so I could send out our cards. When she didn't crab about the amount of cookies we needed to make to give to friends and merchants in the area. When she wrapped gifts with me. We hid gifts together, we baked cookies together. Did I say it was fun? So her joy was one of my biggest gifts this holiday season. I am all about holidays and making memories and this year we made some great ones.

The kids did some amazing gifts for me and for Kirsty and for each other. Robbie's gift to me was a beautiful knotted and beaded necklace. I am wearing it now and have been fingering it off and on all day. It is special to me not just because it is from him, but because it is a gift i can tell he had to work hard at. He learned a skill and perfected it to make something of beauty for me. It makes my heart sing to look at it and wear it. KC made me soaps. They are beautiful with a soft scent of vanilla and I hoped he would do these again for me this year. I don't know what they are made of but I know they keep my skin moist in the dry winter air. Lissa gave me gloves and the girl has fashion sense! I am not kidding; this one is going to drive me round the bend with fashion when she is older; I can tell. They are beautiful and warm and unlike my pair that i have been wearing, they have no holes at all in them! Chet gave me a gift that made me smile as well. He gave a donation in my honor to a charity. I work hard to help my kids see that part of being in this world is giving in ways that we can to help make everyone's time here better. With an autistic person it is hard to get these things across sometimes. He has no real ability to understand emotions, they are either illogical or scary to him and he backs away from examining them. But somehow, he did get this, and I am so glad.

My sister and her ex husband came to dinner and while that reads weirdly, it went well. They are friends and lovers, just not able to be partners I guess. And while I have been in my relationship since 1978 and can't totally understand what seems to be lack of commitment, they are both fun to be with and good company. That leads to other musings on relationships but I'll save that for another day!

KC got a guitar from Santa and it turns out that Matt plays guitar and could help tune the instrument and show KC some basics. I don't know what he took in, he is only 4 but he is also a very musical little spirit and really was attentive to Matt. But their time here was pleasant, the conversation happy and spirited and that too was a gift. My sister and i have a hard time connecting. We love one another but we don't understand one another. This seems all the more sad to me because there is only the two of us in our family, and we don't have lots of cousins or extended family either. Yet we are day and night and our life choices, our dreams and virtually everything about us is so profoundly different it is sometimes hard to find a meeting place between our worlds. Today, in a bit of Christmas magic, that meeting place was there and it added to the wellspring of joy.

Merry Christmas

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve

The joy of coming home from work early to family can not be quantified. It is a deep upswelling of happiness within me. I helped KC finish his gifts. He made chocolate candy and lollipops for his siblings and a wall decoration for Kirsty. He wrapped everything with great care and made his own tags for each gift. I wrapped all Kirsty's gifts and the last two stocking stuffers for Robbie. Somewhere in the house I have lost the very cool Red Sox activity book that I bought for him months ago. Someone's child was doing a fund raiser and it was in it. It was different and I thought it good for winter hours. Which it would be if I knew where the heck I hid it!

And there ARE truly Christmas miracles. . . KC's much wished for guitar arrived by parcel post this a.m.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Miracles!

Yup, miracles really really do happen! Like when my wife painted this mural to hang in our dining room for the holidays AND managed to get the kids in front of it looking cute. (you should see some of the out takes though; it is hysterical.) The only one who stays sort of rigid and never moves is Chet. He freezes when his picture is taken. The only ones where he looks relaxed are when he doesn't know you are taking his picture and those are harder than heck to get. Somehow he has spidey sense for when a camera is near and just freaks. But they look cute and I could print these out and send them off in cards to the people who get that yearly picture of the kids. Lissa looks so "big kid" to me in this picture. Sniff, not a baby any more!

The other miracle is that our gifts for the kids are WRAPPED. This is so amazing. Even the stocking stuffers are done. With 4 kids, 2 of whom are not reading yet, I have a color coded system for gifts. It eliminates hubbub of the nasty sort and keeps the hubbub on the morning of the happy variety. Each kid has all the same color tissue paper for their stocking stuffers. For instance, this year Lissa has pink. Anything pink is Lissa's and no one elses. They each have their own wrapping paper. Santa will leave a note as always explaining and this will be read at the beginning of the great unwrap and life will be good.

I was worried about getting things wrapped though. First off we work at night. 3 to 4 hours doing piece work for a local factory. Kirsty has recently discovered (surprise!!) if she goes to bed early she has a lot of energy in the day time. So she has been retiring by 9 at the latest and 8 if she has been ill as she was this past week. So there has not been a lot of time to wrap. Also I have to have obviously all children asleep to accomplish this little miracle and that doesn't always happen either. But it has, two days running. So we are done. D-O-N-E Except that the guitar I ordered for KC hasn't come yet and i am hoping for yet another miracle (is there a quota for one family at the holidays) and am hoping it arrives tomorrow. The tracking shows it was shipped all ready. I ordered it early but it was back ordered. Sigh.

At any rate, tomorrow when the kids are asleep all we have to do is load this loot under the tree and assemble the wagon we got all of them and it is done. We will be prepared. I never know HOW the heck things will come together. But somehow, someway, they always do. It's like the Christmas magic that they talk about in Frosty the Snowman!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Where to hide gifts!

I expect this will get easier when the kids get older. I have noticed a trend in older kids gifts. They get physically smaller and greatly more expensive in direct proportion to each other. But for now, with 3 kids under 13 and an autistic adult who really will give all his gifts away in 30 days unless he can see that they are "useful" I have a challenge hiding gifts. I also have a problem finding ways to get the gifts WRAPPED!

We cosleep and my 4 y/o falls asleep on the couch at night. Unless of course that is a night when he doesn't fall asleep and then I need to take him upstairs at 9 and sing to him so he will fall asleep. Then I will fall asleep whether I planned on it or not. Clearly my singing is the everywoman's cure for insomnia! But this alt plan for sleep does not leave time to wrap when kids are not around. Add to this the fact that we do piece work out of our home at night (my wife and i do this part time in addition to my full time job) and nights are kind of nuts. However tonite i got about half the wrapping done. I would do more but the wagon is hidden in the camper. In the snow. The other gifts are in the garden shed in the back yard. Which is blocked by the 15 inches of snow we got this weekend. Yup 15 inches. On top of the snow we all ready had. Gotta love New England, but WHAT was I thinking stuffing the toys in there. Oh yeah, I was sick. I had a fever. I wasn't thinking. Hmmmm.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Winter Solstice

This is pretty much the way our yard looked a week or so ago when the ice storm hit. We lost a birch tree but otherwise were truly blessed to not have serious damage. Next town over there are still people with out power in significant numbers 9 days later. The thing is, since then we have had three snow storms so we have really been experiencing New England winter big time this year. This past Friday it started snowing again and it snowed all Friday and all day Saturday. It snowed most of Saturday night and it began again early this a.m. I am sure retailers are freaking out. Many were closed multiple days due to power outages and then the weekend before Christmas, this type of weather.

I decided it wasn't safe to drive to church this a.m. We worship in a city about 20 minutes away and it involves highway driving in our van. I am not thrilled with vans in stormy weather, give me my standard geo metro any day. Except that we don't all fit in it! So I opted to stay home. KC and I walked downtown to Dunkin Donuts (probably a half mile or so) and got him his typical Sunday bagel breakfast and donuts for the others who were weenies and wouldn't walk down with us. (laughing) We made silly snow tracks, looked at the snow hats on the things that we passed, jumped stomped etc. It was fun for me and magical for KC. As much as I hate being cold, I really want all my children to feel connected to the earth and we can't feel that if we stay inside trying to keep Ooma warm.

Now I am baking cookies. Kirsty put doughs together this weekend and we need to deliver about 12 holiday tins of cookies to friends, relatives and merchants in the next couple days. It is compartively warm in our kitchen ( a fairly rare event in our drafty old victorian home) and it looks like Currier and Ives prints outside with the snow falling peacefully.

Today is the longest night of the year and the solstice is always special in our house. I am pagan and the wheel of the year is something we celebrate. We also celebrate Christmas, but while I have shared the Biblical story with my children the alleged birth of Jesus in December (which i just don't believe happened like that) isn't our focus. We have a Solstice tree with very natural decorations, cones and artificial birds, gilded nuts and other decorations either from the natural world or made to look so. There are also special ornaments; my mom gives the kids ornaments every year. They are treasures also. We have Santa in myriad forms throughout the house. Lots of black Santas which are thankfully becoming easier to find lately. But white ones as well. Lissa says "Ho ho ho" in this really deep voice that doesn't sound like a baby at all whenever we pass any of them in the house. Solstice and Christmas seem to co-exist quite happily in the same dwelling. It reminds me of Seth Cohen's "Chrissmakuh" on the OC.

Tonite post football we will have a candlelit dinner and think about how the light dwindled. We'll have pretty music, silly jokes (after all with kids it isn't all solemnity) We will also spend some time today putting up birdfeeders in the snow. We always gift our feathered friends for the first time at solstice.

Happy Solstice everyone!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Marking Days

Certain days are very important in our family. Not just holiday days, but days that mark how we came together as a family. December 19th is one such day. On that day, 22 yrs ago Kirsty and I stood in JFK Airport and met our eldest son for the very first time. The weather was horrid, much as it was here yesterday with lots of snow and first his flight was delayed in and then we missed ours going out as a result. But eventually we were home and our journey as parents truly began.

December 19th 7 years ago is the day we met Robbie for the first time in person. We homestudied with a placement with him specifically in mind and the homestudy went quickly. It began shortly after 9/11/01 (our home was actually inspected on that day) and the social worker set up the meeting with him on 12/19.

December 19th 2 years ago is the day we held our baby daughter Elisabeth for the first time. She was born 12/16 but by the time the paperwork was signed for relinquishment and we made the trip to Chicago, that was the date.

The kids were talking last night about the way that date has popped up and up for 3 of the 4 kids. Of course the problem being that this left 1 little guy without that connection. Luckily there is a happy connection of dates for him too. Robbie moved in with us to stay on February 9, which is my wife's birthday. That was also the day 4 yrs later that our adoption agency in Chicago called with our match to KC's birth mom. It's kind of like a web that draws us all together in mysterious ways.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Violence close to home

I have been thinking a lot lately about the rights of children, the rights of families, the rights of parents. I see so much in my job and being pulled into a recent court case that had everything to do with families and nothing to do with being a landlord has heightened this.

So often I see really bad parenting. I mean profoundly shakes me to my core parenting problems. I am always stunned by it. Which I suppose is silly. I am far from new to this job and should have grown a thicker skin by this point. But I seem unable to really do that. I can crab sarcastically to trusted family and friends maybe sometimes, but mostly I really believe that if you give people a chance at something better that they will be both willing and able to grab that chance and make life different. Give themselves and their kids that better option. That is I guess the part of me that people label Pollyanna. I really want most for my kids to have a better life than I had. I hope to have learned to emulate and improve on the best of my experiences from my parents and to eliminate that which was the worst. What I see for many people though, is just a perpetuation of a cycle whether it is healthy or not. It is the norm, the known, it is what happens.

Today I read in the paper that one former resident really never will get that chance to try and improve. The fact that they are "former" resident speaks in part to their choices, if you read between the lines. The article that I read in the paper alleges that a minor in the family is alleged to have done something unimaginable to an older relative. While I always thought this was a deeply troubled individual I never saw anything like this coming. The act he allegedly participated in is so horrific that it is chilling to think about. I don't know if it is the age of the minor in question or the fact that i don't typically travel in circles where killing is a way of life, but I am really unable to wrap my mind around this. I think of my kids and how they interact with each other and I can't in my wildest dreams, picture anything like that happening. Even when KC comes to me and tearfully tells me that his big brothers are acting "fartish" (his word for being mean to him!) it is truly small potatos. It is sibling stuff. It isn't life or death stuff.

So that leads me to wondering what if anything can be done to try and heal really dysfunctional families. Obviously safe affordable housing isn't the cure. Having cool places for kids to spend their time isn't enough. We've got both of those bases covered. Yet increasingly I see parents who can't cope. I see children who have never had boundaries set unless it was by a gang. I try to be a resource for services but it is hard. It isn't really my job and I have to also be the tough guy who sets the boundaries, says thus and so can't happen here etc. That really interferes with being the person someone is comfortable going to if they need help, though there have been lots of occasions when I feel pretty confident that I have walked between both those worlds pretty well. But not this time.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Court

OK the atty for my tenant thought she could just stipulate to my testimony and that I wouldn't have to appear, but that didn't work. So today I had to schlep several cities over to testify. The good thing was my wife could drive me. I am so brain dead when it comes to road sense--actually truthfully I HAVE no road sense. (I have trail sense when hiking but that would be another post). And she promised I would be the first to testify in the afternoon session, so in the words of our family it would be "in, out, and done."

Except that getting grilled by 4 lawyers for the state is not my idea of fun. It should have been simple. My knowledge as it pertains to this case is rather simplistic. However every time the lawyer for my tenant asked me a question one of the other lawyers was jumping around objecting. It was like watching one of those TV court shows but way less entertaining. At one point they were arguing as to whether I could answer questions asked about a letter I had written for the tenant. They finally convinced the judge that I couldn't, by the way. There were other occasions too, when my staff would report to me in the normal course of business in matters relating to the tenant and I could not testify to that as it falls under "heresay." Never mind that i sent the worker there, that is the law.

However, there is karma. Because on cross exam the state lawyers wanted me to testify to something I could only have heard from someone else and not seen or been part of in any way myself. Again, however, it would have been within the scope of my profession to have heard this information from a staff member. I said that would be heresay and I was unable to comment. Judge backed me. It was small and it in no way means that this case will go the way it should, but it felt right that at least for that one moment in time, there should be a reality check on the foolishness.

I find the whole situation disturbing and depressing. I am glad that I have a 4 year old whose idea of humor is knock knock jokes like:

Why did the chicken cross the playground? (to get to the other slide)

Why are rabbits never sad (because they are always hoppy)

So I will be hoppy!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Just Thinking

I have come to realize that blogs are not necessarily private. Not that I think I have tons of avid readers---my guess is that by and large I have very few as my musings are pretty pedestrian. However the fact that there is some degree of publicness to this means that there are things I can not figure out how to write about when they bother me. Because of the confidentiality regulations of my job, I can't write about the truly pathetic parenting issues that I deal with. I can't really write about how it bothers me when I listen to what parents use as their defense when all our other options fail and we are forced to go to court. I can't write about how i feel about the children who are forced to deal with their parents dysfunction and do so with violence.

I can't write about the parents who really really should not have their children in their home. Maybe they should some day but not now. Yet the powers that be leave them there and i watch them suffer and can do so little to alleviate that.

I can't write about the parents who really really should have their children restored to their homes but the state has such a vendetta against the mother that there is a long legal battle that I have been pulled into while the mother attempts to regain custody.

Well, I can write about the situations like these blurbs above. Totally without any form of specificity. Without a context to explain what bothers me about these cases and my dealings with the families involved.

What perhaps I can write about more cogently is the way these situations make me feel. I feel angry. I feel confused. I look at my beautiful children that I love more than I have a capacity to explain and I feel confused. Should their parents have been subjected to TPR? I hope with all my heart that these were situations where it truly was in the children's best interest. I know it was presented to me that way in each and every case. In one case, the children were being hidden in a closet and the house was so filthy that the officials who entered it still remember the level of sanitation (or lack of) to this day. In another, the birth mom appears to have sought out the adoption agency so that she could find a safe happy home for her baby and be able to both return to school and to try and deal with her addictions. In another case. the birth mom had 6 other children, none of whom she was parenting. Family members were raising the other children but could not take on another child. Mom was facing jail time due to drugs and the baby tested positive for drugs. Both mom and dad allegedly voluntarily signed TPR's.

I hope things were as we were told. I really do.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Musing on simpler living

By my friends standards we live a simple life. We have no cell phones. Really. None. We have no PDA's. No GPS. Sort of a bells and whistle free life. We usually camp when we go on vacation. We make most of our food from scratch. We grow a vegetable garden at the community garden plot. We can and put by as much local produce as we possibly can. Yet the power outage showed me how different a truly simple life would be.

First off, we spent most of Friday and Saturday together in my bedroom. It is a spacious bedroom, about 12 x 14. We stayed there because the small gas fireplace gave off at least some heat and the rest of the house was a brisk 49 degrees. I was sick and was mostly in the bed, orchestrating play for the kids. Board games card games, crafts and things they would think up on their own were the amusements. No cable TV. No music. No going off into another room because it was too cold to want to. And i thought to myself that if I was living in pioneer times, our entire dwelling might well have been the size of that room. A room that didn't seem claustrophobic to me, but warm and filled with love and community. My 4 y/o sang songs (I croaked along with my raspy cold impacted voice) No one really complained. Then about 3:#0 in the morning the power returned. Lights. Blessed heat. But no cable TV. I could read the concern in my 12 y/o's face. Football is his joy and there was a big game on TV on Sunday. Would he get to see it? I reminded him that we could get it on the radio if the cable was still out. He nodded dubiously.

Compared to most families we don't watch a lot of TV. My wife and I see an hour or two in the evening but often the music is playing while we work now instead of the television. KC usually watches PBS kids tv for an hour in the morning an hour in the late afternoon and a couple hours at night. I thought he would have TV withdrawals or something. He is used to a routine. But putting on a video in those time slots did the job just fine. He loves to play and create things and the lack of television options unleashed that even more. If you had asked me before the ice storm if we could have lived without cable TV I would have said no. Now, I think it would be an adjustment but that we likely could do it just fine. And it makes me wonder what other things I think we need that we really don't. The thing we need the most is the love we have for each other and that we have in abundance.

Oh yeah, and the cable came back in time for the football game!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

We ride the Polar Express!






















Yesterday we left the house at about 1:30 and drove 2.5 hours to ride the Polar Express. I was equal parts excited and nervous. I have wanted to do this with the kids for years. It is one of my most favorite Yuletime stories. The movie is OK too but they added stuff that isn't in the book and my big worry was what if the ride was more like the movie than the book? Yeah, people are starving around the world and i am obcessing over which version of a childrens story will be used! :-) But it was AMAZING!
I confess that we paid a fairly obscene amount of money for premier seating. This meant that we didn't wait in line as long as other people. It also meant that when we waited we waited inside instead of out in the cold where the temps were something like -7 with the wind chill. Since I have a cruddy cold, this was a good thing as well. When we boarded we were escorted to a dining car because we were not travelling coach. This was good because Chet, my autistic eldest son has space issues and there would have been problems with him feeling crowded or crowding others in coach. However sitting at tables worked perfectly. The youngest children could and did draw while we waited. The only down side was that our family is so large we took a full table of 4 and part of another table. This meant that me and whichever child sat with me (KC part of the time, Lissa part of the time) sat with strangers. I don't really mind that. I always look at such things as an opportunity to make new friends. These 2 folk were pretty dour for people riding a holiday train but by the end of the journey we had a reasonable acquaintenanceship going. Kirsty said that they probably wiped their brows when they debarked and said that they couldn't wait to be quit of Pollyanna! I don't really think I am Pollyanna but I was determined to enjoy every facet of this experience.
I am told the hot chocolate served was delicous as were the chocolate candies with white insides as bright as new snow. I am allergic to chocolate so I rely on the yums from the rest of the family. The ride was just long enough and in the darkness of the mountains it was truly magical. The waiters were dressed just like the characters in the book, white coats and chefs hats as they served us all with just the right amount of solemnity and cheerfulness.
Arriving at the North Pole we followed a slightly snowy path lit by the cheerful elves. Inside we got to sit right down front (again thanks to the premier seating). In this case, the youngest kids were those who benefited the most as they could see really well. We were literally at the foot of the action. My heart was in my mouth when we went in as there was a giant projector. Again I wondered would they be showing the movie. But no, they had an actor read the story and the projecter showed each page on the screen so that they beautiful illustrations could be seen by everyone. KC watched in awe when Santa appeared. His mouth was a perfect "O" just like you see in picture books. Lissa danced while the elves sang Jingle Bells. Rob watched with a sparkle in his eye; he can't decide if at 12 he is too "cool" for this or not. Chet enjoyed it all. The upside to his autism (and trust me I look for every upside because there are so many challenges to daily life) is that there is a childlike purity in the way he enjoys things. He really enjoyed it as much as everyone else did and that is a huge emotional gift to me.
After the story we made our way back to the train. We received scarves to remember our journey by and bells just like in the story. We were on our way home by quarter of 7 p.m. eating boxed suppers that I had packed for everyone. We made it back home by 9:30 which was not bad at all. I would have loved to have had the luxury of staying overnight at the condo we had rented but it takes the kids one night to settle into a place. I knew we wouldn't sleep well in new digs for only one night. Better to drive home and settle into familiar beds with familiar sounds and scents around us. So that is what we did.
But I will remember this trip. It was special and so imbued with the magic and joy that I try so hard to give our children. We all need magic for without it the world is a cold and frightening place without it.
I wish I knew how to drop the pictures in more sequentially in the post, but this is the first time I managed to post pictures at all, so in that respect, I am doing pretty well!










Saturday, December 13, 2008

Of Ice Storms and such!

We've been looking forward to our journey on the Polar Express for WEEKS now. After 3 yrs we won the lottery (literally, they have a lottery for buying these tickets) and we were all going to travel. And travel in style. Paid for premier seating, partly because I think it is a once in a life time t hing, partly because things like that sometimes are easier for my eldest. Less waiting in line etc make things much better for his autistic issues.

I sprang for a condo for a 2 night rental. We would have fun with a capital F. And then the goddess sent an ice storm. A storm of such magnitude that we were without power for 30 hours. Lost it around 9 on Thursday night and just got it back on about 3 a.m. on Saturday. And I got a cold. First time i have been sick in so l ong I can't really remember when, but it still sucked. And being cold and having a cold at the same time totally rot. You can't tell if you are shivering because the house is 48 degrees or because you have a cold and have a fever. Yup, life can be grand!

So although we were supposed to leave yesterday for our NH journey we didn't. We camped out mostly in my bedroom by my little gas fireplace. KC and Robbie played board games and card games and took breaks to use my bed as a trampoline. (Really!) We could heat food on our gas stove top though the oven is not usable without electricity for the ignition. (one of those modern changes that I hate; would much rather have an older model that will start with a match when the power is out) Our doggie day care had also fallen through with our dog sitter trapped at her home by live wires and unable to get out till who knows when. The vets were closed and all the other options we could come up with for dog sitting kept falling through. I didn't really want to leave the house with no power. What if a pipe broke and there was no one here? I suggested to the kids that perhaps i should stay home with our dog and they should go up with Mom so that at least most of us could ride the Polar Express. KC said if I couldn't go with them then he didn't want to go. I am amazed! I am not sure I would have been so altruistic at 4. So we decided maybe we weren't going to go and figured out how to make the best of it.

We had a lovely pasta supper last night and the dining room glowed in the candle light. Poor KC was so confused; he was sure it was solstice nite! We watched the moon rise in the sky and admired stars that were so bright because there were no city lights for them to compete with. And then we went to bed. It was 6 p.m. It was dark and cold, why stay up any longer?

And when we woke this morning we had heat and lights and a sparkly new day. We decided that we would go north after all and ride the express tonite and come home the same day. Or night really as it will be about 10:30 when we get home. But we will ride that magical train. Oh and our doggie care friend just called. She managed to get down to her dog care business and is available to watch Blake if we want to drop him off. Sounds like a bit of Yule tide magic after all!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

How to Make it Snow!

Take sheets of white paper and show your 4 y/o son how to make paper snowflakes. Hang his art work in the window. Admire his efforts. Go to bed. Wake to find snow. Watch same son punch his fist in the air and shout "YES!" "I DID it! I made it snow!"

Four is such a magical age.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Bright Yuletime Light

Last night we were supposed to have a play date at our house with our "park friends" Holly and her son Andre. She called and suggested that instead we look at a well known holiday display not far from our house. The temperature was crisp but not frigid and it would be a good time to walk around outside. Anytime for my kids to walk outside in the dark is usually hugely fun so I was immediately on board. And this was a great night. The displays are all hand carved by a local resident from styrofoam and carefully and lovingly painted. It is his gift to the community and the season and he has done this for more years than I can remember. There is a guest book in his yard and all the visitors sign it. Amazingly, he came out of his house to chat with us. He is 98 years old now but still spry and alert and together. His joy in the season and in children is still so very evident. When he was younger (though still a senior citizen) I remember that he visited my eldest son's class in public school and taught the children how to shape the styrofoam with a plastic knife. Last night he told us of how he was born high up in Canada 98 years ago and gave each of our children a sweet little carved styrofoam mouse. I don't know if next year he will still be here, 98 years old is amazing in and of itself--those mice will be family treasures reminding us in years to come of a funfilled night with friends and the gift of the holiday decorations made by a very special man.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Modern Day convenience I can not live without!

A vacuum cleaner. Really. I think I could live with out a dishwasher (though not happily.) I know we have lived without a dryer. But a vacuum in a family of 6, well that becomes a necessity. Despite having a dog (wouldn't you think of a dog as a 4 legged vac?) our living room looks trashed at the end of 24 hours. There is debris, cheerio detritus from the littles, and just stuff. Weird stuff that I don't always want to look at too closely! LOL

On Saturday our vacuum died. It is an electrolux and by and large a hardy beast. But it refused to continue vacuuming and croaked. I took it to the store where i bought it only to discover an empty store front and a tiny sign with a phone number to call for service. ACK! I went home and called but of course it wasn't till Sunday night that we got a call back letting us know that Tuesday he would come to do CPR on said ill vac. Many days. Many debris filled days!

I am happy to say that the vacuum is now fixed. It sucks mightily once more. Detritus is gone, at least temporarily. :-)

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Twisted Tangled Thanksgiving Holiday

Whew! It is over! I am dancing on the inside as a result of that. In some respects, actually a number of respects, this was a good holiday. The best part was that my wife was calm and happy, and if not happy, at least calm! (grin) Our respective families bring out the worst in us. Her sis arrived on Wednesday with her overnight bag in hand and her emotional baggage packed as well. She is not a happy person and strives for happiness by being sarcastic and unkind to others. How many other people are sarcastic when their 4 y/o nephew asks to play Candyland. It amazes me that she has no idea what a gift the love and adoration of a child is. That she doesn't get that there will be times when he could care less that Auntie has arrived. I know she has no children of her own, but still is seems so obvious to me.

Thanksgiving day was punctuated with the excitement of a power failure right as the turkey was going into the oven. Now most of us (me and the 4 kiddos) are vegetarian so the plight of tom turkey was not too big a deal to us. But I knew it would be huge to the rest of the family. We called the electric company and the power could be off they said till after 11 a.m. This would not give a reasonable time to cook the bird so Kirsty and i began making alternative plans. We could still use the gas burners on the top of the stove, so we planned out a nice though unusual Thanksgiving menu. However the goddess was smiling upon us. We got power back in less than 45 minutes though the store 3 houses up from us didn't get it back till 11. So the turkey and all the sides cooked without a hitch and dinner was only about 30 minutes late.

Our gathering on the day was really nice, though it was exhausting. Not just from hosting, cooking and cleaning, but emotionally. Why do families have to bite at one another? It mystifies me and left me in the position of feeling the need to turn conversations to other avenues several times.

The next day my mother was arriving for a visit. My sister called me and asked if she could stop by too so that she could see Mum. OK I should be bigger than this but I was hurt. I was hurt because I invited her to a long planned summer party this summer and she said she would come and then blew us off to go and visit her father. I invited her twice to come to our house on Thanksgiving. She declined and chose to spend the day with her ex. OK fine. Or I try to say fine. But it bothers me that she can't come visit us and really was only there because she wanted to see my mother. So I am left with feeling petty and smallminded and trying to rise above that.

We prepared the house as best we could for Mum's visit. There is stress to her visits. I love her and i love to have her be with the kids here because it is their home and they are able to play and interact in a much more easy going environment than when we travel to her home. Which we do monthly, and the kids are really really good about trying contain their natural exuberance while at Nana's tiny little apartment. But back to the stress. Being as I am the fourth generation to live her, Mum can't visit without finding something wrong with the way we keep the house. Once it was the pellets we store on the front porch. Another the number of strollers we keep in our front hall. I was told our house was so cold she would freeze. (uh huh Mum, may I refer you back to the pellets on the front porch???) My children are critiqued; thankfully not to their faces but to me. My kids are really by and large good kids. But they are kids. They are not good kids all the time. And our house is far from quiet. I try as i know my wife does, to make sure things are welcoming for her. Food is abundent and home made, tea waits for her when she arrives--I know in Maine she hasn't any one to "do" for her and to be pampered a bit must feel good. Her bedroom is fixed and pretty, her grandkids can't wait to share themselves with her. So I visit and smile and wait for the shoe to drop. Because I know it will. It always does. And sure enough true to form, it did. Last night while I cleaned the kitchen after supper and she sat sipping tea and dessert she asked me why the siding hadn't held up better on the house and why there was such unsightly black streaks on the front of the house. I wanted to flatten her. Really, I did. I told her it was from the traffic and that we wash the house and it comes back. You would have thought that would end it. But no, this is my mother. She asks my wife the same damn question this morning. Now I really wanted to flatten her. I feel like she never sees the beauty of our family, the love that we share and have for her and instead is so busy looking to see the family homestead is kept the way she feels it should be. Appearances and all that. It is so shallow and so sad.

Then last evening rather late at night Mum's cell phone rang. Her husband had fallen at the long term care facility and been taken to the hospital for a CAT scan. He was now back at the care facility and his granddaughter was settling him in. He was okay but I know Mum felt guilty being here with something happening there. And I felt so badly for her. We have planned this time together for months and now it was going to be shortened.

And yet a small and guilty feeling part of me is quietly relieved. I don't have to listen to any more veiled comments for a while. I don't have to worry when my kids race through the house playing knights. I can just be. They can just be. And it is good.

Monday, November 24, 2008

More on Thanksgiving

I have been thinking a lot of how being in relationships means blending family traditions and how this happens sometimes seamlessly and sometimes hesitantly and sometimes awkwardly. I think in our family we have had all three "phases" of blending so to speak but have come to a place where things feel pretty good to us all. At least I hope so.

I also realized that I have been rather elitist about Thanksgiving. In my family, this was a big feast day. Big in every sense of the word. LOTS of food. And the focus was on fresh food. Big waxy turnips that would be chopped up that morning. Onions that made your eyes weep while they were chopped to add to stuffing. Bright orange carrots in big bunches and acorn squash. Preparations began the week before. Family china was carefully and lovingly washed. The silver polished. Pies made and stored for the big day. Centerpieces were made and the furniture in the dining room gleamed with freshly applied lemon oil. As a child, I didn't love the wholeThanksgiving experience. The food wasn't really all that appealing to me; at least till you got to dessert. And though there were lots of people around, we children were expected to watch the Thanksgiving parades on television which I personally found excruciatingly dull. But there was still something sort of magical about the day. I did love how pretty everything looked. I loved the fact that people came to visit. I just wished there was more kid friendly food and that there was something I could do.

When Kirsty and I became a couple we began having Thanksgiving at her family's home. And Thanksgiving was very different there. The food was still ample but their taste was different. Not many fresh veggies. They came from cans or frozen bags. We squeezed around a dining room table that just barely had room for us all but there was a feeling of warmth and camaraderie while her mother was alive. There was lovely china that was their family heirlom but there were always such dire threats for the person who broke or chipped a piece that I was petrified to help set or clear the table. After Kirsty's mom died, her sister continued to host the Thanksgiving meal but the joy was not there. I thought at first it was just the normal working through of grief. A chair once filled by a beloved person was empty. But it was more than that. Her sister didn't love preparing for the holiday. The meal felt diminished. Where before I didn't care that the veggies were canned or frozen instead of fresh, I found myself feeling that I hadn't had Thanksgiving despite being there most of the day. I tried helping. I brought a centerpiece. We helped prepare the meal as much as we were allowed. But it all felt remarkably second rate. Kirsty and I grew our family again and yet again and by child number 3 the little table could have no more people squeezed around it. We were told the children would have to sit in the living room on TV trays.

In reality they probably wouldn't have minded. But I minded. Deeply. Profoundly. I minded because I felt that they were being told through actions that they were second class citizens, not good enough to sit with the rest of us at table. If there had been other young cousins for them to sit with that would have been different. But on her side of the family, Kirsty is the only one to have children.

So I put my foot down. I could ignore canned veggies, but I couldn't do my kids in the living room another year. And we were adopting again, bringing a family of six to a house that didn't have young children. I felt this was a burden to Kirsty's sister and dad. We should offer to host the day. We did and after much wrangling it became a new tradition. And it is good. The table is big enough for 12 people and there are all ready 10 of us occupying the chairs now. The dining room is decorated up for the day. The kids make place cards for everyone. This year my KC grew the pumpkin that will be our pumpkin pie. He is so proud of this achievement. Fresh vegetables mingle with the canned varieties on the table. There is laughter, Thanksgiving parade watching by those who enjoy it (personally I still hate it but inexplicably, my children love it!), football watching by others, and did I say laughter?

I love Thanksgiving. I love the fact that I look at our dining room and it shines with welcoming beauty. I am grateful, truly grateful for the fact that we have food aplenty, especially this year when so many people are struggling. I am grateful for family, for the faces that are gathered around that table. I am grateful for my wife and my children. They remain always my greatest gifts.

And I am grateful for canned yams and mayo for the broccoli because these will always remind me of people I love (not that I will ever personally eat them!). Somehow their presence is a blending that seasons the day in a special and wonderful way.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Thinking of Thanksgiving

The economy is so bad this year. It is impacting our household in a myriad of ways. Yule will definately be smaller and this bothers me. For 2 yrs now KC has asked for a "rose petal cottage." I am not sure it is the best gift for him and last year didn't get it because it seemed flimsy. However this year he asked again and this year flimsy or no, there is no way I could afford it. Sigh. That rots. The rational part of me knows that we can and will give him a wonderful Christmas experience. I do get that. But the fact that he asked for the same thing for 2 years is what bugs me. Sigh again. A big part of me thinks that the magic of childhood is the dreams that become realities for you as a child. On the other hand, the rational part of me knows I personally asked for my own horse every year from ages 5 to 11 and I didn't get it!

On the other hand, despite having to be careful, we are so much better off than so many people. Where I work, there are people from all walks of life, but mostly from much tougher situations than I am in. People who aren't agonizing over the rose petal cottage. People who agonize over buying meds or paying rent. Over how many times a week their kids can eat lunch. The people who have a really low income seem to have a safety net. They qualify for programs that make sure there is food on the table, their energy bills are usually paid etc. Their kids get free lunches or reduced fee lunches. They get holiday baskets to help with Thanksgiving. But there is an increasingly large segment of our population that fall through the cracks. People who are newly out of work don't always qualify for aid. Or don't know where to go if they do. Single people with a low wage job tend not to be a segment of our society who are noticed as needy. The person who is out of work for a month due to illness and who doesn't have young children tends not to qualify. So every year we tell our site that we are holding a lottery for thanksgiving baskets. In reality we pick 5 families that we know won't have a Thanksgiving without some help. Our staff donates veggies, fruit and turkeys and we deliver them the Tuesday of Thanksgiving week. We let the "winners" know ahead of time to alleviate any stress they may be having over their holiday meal. To a person, they have cried with relief and joy. Several have let slip stories of additional hardships that they are facing. Not in a "pity me" way, more in a matter of fact, sharing a facet of their life way which is somehow all the sadder to me. And it isn't hardships like giving up a cable channel. It is hardships like affording medicine for diabetes or even the type of food that a diabetic should eat. It is hardships like not being able to buy meat. I am a vegetarian by choice not because I realized that I couldn't pay the light bill if I bought meat to eat.

So today I am grateful that my biggest worries are keeping magic and good memories a part of my children's childhood. There will be food aplenty on the table next Thursday, much laughter and hubbub and we are very blessed. And I am giving thanks.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Musical Musings

I think if I was told I had to choose between having access to music or having television that there is no doubt that I would choose music. Not that I have a great singing voice--it verges on the edge of just barely adequate. Not that I can play an instrument, years of effort proved that I am totally unable to learn to read music. But I love music. It allows me to process feelings. A particular Bob Marley song always reminds me of KC because I sing it to him each night. It reminds me of events and happenings. A particular Norah Jones cut was very popular during our first trip to Chicago. MeatLoaf's album marked the first year that my wife and I lived together. Music marks my days and thoughts in a way that is deeply important to me.

However until recently I have had to watch or listen to far more television than I would ever choose on my own. Due to our piece work that we do each night, Kirsty would put on the television when she first went in to set up the job. And it stayed on till we tottered off to bed. Enter the wonderful invention www.pandora.com! The music genome project has made my evenings so much more beautiful. Kirsty has fun creating new stations (wonder how many families have a Raffi Radio!) True, she and I don't really like the same kind of music, but I would rather listen to any kind of music than a banal TV show. And while I am pathetically inept with the TV remote, I know how to click Pandora over to the station I created! :-)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

More mental health musings

My sister and I have a very weak thread of communication right now. I am concerned for her. I know she has some mental health issues. There is enough distance physically between us that I can not with four children easily schlep up to see her. And frankly I don't know her actual address, only the town she is living in. She is presently living with a friend while she gets herself and her life back together. I email her a couple times a week. And I agonize over what to say. Is it hurtful to talk about our family and what we are doing together? Is it reassuring to have someone write the same way they have always written to her, or does it seem insensitive to whatever it is that she is going through right now? Is it intrusive to keep asking "hey, how are you doing?" "sis, we are thinking about you and want to know how things are with you?" or even "what are the kids up to?" I never hear the latter and I worry for them. I know she has work to do on her own issues; I wonder if there is time and energy for theirs. But I can't ask that; I know that for sure. So I wander through this very blindly with no real idea if I am helping or harming and I hate that.

Monday, November 17, 2008

So Way Short of Where I Want to Be

Yesterday goes down in the annals of my parenting history as a truly horrible day. Most days I figure I score pretty well as a parent. I am not a yeller by nature. I am strict but most times tend to reasoned logical consequences. But yesterday just sucked.

It started reasonably well. Actually very well. I can not allow myself to forget the positives and be overwhelmed by negativity. Took the boys to church and the most positive thing about this was watching KC voluntarily go with a trusted adult to another classroom to pack toiletries for a shelter. So very huge for this little man who was my velcro child for so long. That he would now be comfortable taking steps away from me. I am so proud. I remember how very long he was willing to be in my arms, in my lap, in a rebozo, anywhere but separated. He was interested in the world around him but wanted to observe it from the safety of my arms as opposed to sampling it on his own or with peers. People made subtle comments over the years as he grew older and I was still toting him around. "Was there a problem" was the usual hidden agenda to the probing questions. As though a child wanting and needing the nurturing safety of their parent was a problem. I smiled and sloughed off the comments, listened to the jokes about how he would forget he had legs and just did what felt right. And it paid off. He is so much more confident and day by day is doing more and more new things.

Came home from church and took Chet shopping for Christmas gifts. He stresses if he hasn't got all his things purchased way before a holiday and i figured anything I could do to keep him calm and happy was important. Off we went and the trip went pretty well also. I tried to get across to him that I like spending time with him and I wish he would come out of his room more and spend time with me. I know it won't change anything but I think it is important to keep reminding him that he is loved. He is my first born. I remember the days spent waiting for him to come home like it was yesterday.

And then things just crashed and burned. KC wanted to read upstairs on my bed. This should not have been a big deal. At 4, that feels like so much independence to him and should be a safe place for him. My bed is absurdly low to the ground, even if he falls off he can't hurt himself. I know he was a little tired and was sick of the football big brother Rob was watching and was looking for a place to hang out. So I said yes. Apparently somewhere along the way he decided to go in Chet's room and pester biggest brother. I hear the sounds of fractiousness and investigate. Chet says KC is going in his room. I tell Chet to shut his door because KC can't open it on his own and actually physically shut the door myself. I go downstairs. I think all will be well. Except it wasn't. Because Chet didn't feel he should have to keep his door shut and opened it. KC went back and tried to go into his room and Chet checked him with his body hard enough to hurt his arm. Not seriously thankfully, but it could have been, because Chet has no sense of his own strength and never has. There is KC holding his elbow and crying and Chet complaining as though it was KC's fault. He doesn't get that shutting the door was what he was supposed to do. To him it had been shut for ages--it was literally 10 minutes. And when I go to walk into his room to talk about this with him, that is when he decided to shut the door, by putting his foot against it to try and prevent my entry.

I don't think that is what incensed me. I think what it really was was looking at KC holding his arm. And knowing that in his little 4 year old mind he had just been trying to connect with his big brother. He tries so hard to build a connection with Chet. Chet is as weird and foreign to him as --I don't know, a now extinct dinosaur? KC is all about emotion and Chet hates emotion. It isn't a match made in heaven for sure. Chet would be happy I think if KC left him alone and never acknowledged him beyond a hello. But KC wants to understand Chet. He loves him at some deep level even though he has told me that Chet annoys him, frustrates him and makes him mad. But yesterday he hurt him and that crossed a huge line with me.

Unfortunately my response didn't help anything. I went into Chet's room, pushed the door to, and proceeded to lambast him. I didn't yell, I'm not a yeller, remember? But I was intense, I was in his face. I swore, something I almost never do. His lack of concern over his use of force didn't do anything to dampen my parental fury. In his mind, KC was wrong because he was trying to go into his room and he was just keeping him out. At that point, I pushed him onto his bed and he toppled over onto it like a felled tree. Between the fact that I startled him and my previous martial arts history it wasn't hard, though Chet is much bigger than I and outweighs me. My point to Chet was just that, it was startling. It was could even be considered fear producing and that this was similar to what he did to KC, except that I did it in a way that would make sure he wasn't hurt. He didn't get that. I know he didn't get it. Looking back in the calmer time of 12 hours later, I can't think why I would think it would demonstrate anything positive to him. And then Kirsty came into the room and said that perhaps I should go downstairs now, so i did. That was when she explained that KC had seen me push Chet --the door being ajar and not totally closed--and was visibly alarmed. Great. So I terrify my own child inadvertantly while trying to make sure my eldest doesn't physically harm him. Yup, I am up for a parenting award. Sigh.

Friday, November 14, 2008

On Gratitude

It has started all ready. The annual Yuletide flood of catalogs, ads, and lists of wants and needs compiled by children who either still believe in Santa or think Mom and Ooma have a bank account roughly the size of Fort Knox. They will all get some of what they want. no one will get all they want. Hopefully they will all be happy. I always worry about this. Particularly this year with finances squeaky tight. My belief is that Yule is about so much more than the gifts. But I am not 4, or 12 or even a disabled 23 year old. We work hard to have other facets of the holiday have great meaning, the lights, the decorations, the baking. The giving of baked and handmade items to friends and neighbors. The music of the season. These all have their place and make the holiday more than a giant gimme party.

But I had somewhat despaired of our kids getting this. Well not all our kids. KC and Lissa are young enough where they get caught up in whatever we are doing. It is all fun and magical and they will buy in. But my Rob is my middle guy. And Rob definately defines his happiness by things. Having things. Buying things. Planning on buying things. And not just any thing. Expensive things. Like a big screen TV. Video games that cost enough to buy our food for nearly a week. And so on. However this morning I have hope. Heifer Project sent me two catalogs this year. I have left them on the island in our kitchen and Rob has been perusing them at breakfast. He was stunned to learn from reviewing the catalog that one of the things one could do was to help buy school supplies for children in the USA. "Here?" he asked in a puzzled voice. "In our country?" Yes, there are hungry people here. Yes there are children who don' t live in areas where the schools provide the tools they need for learning. He shook his head in wonder.

"Look Ooma, a flock of chickens doesn't cost much does it? Do they eat them?" Being vegetarians the thought of them consuming meat doesn't thrill him, but I remind him that they will also use the eggs and be able to sell the eggs to get money for other things they need to buy. He is excited now, looking at the options. Sure there is an ark of animals for $5000 but there are bees and goats and a host of other options that are more affordable.

In our kitchen we have a money jar. One of those gizmos that count your change as you put it in. The deal is that anyone who has spare change or finds change puts it in there. Right now it is virtually empty because we used the money to donate to UNICEF in October. But now Rob has a new plan. We will all save our change during the year and we will decide what to buy from the Heifer catalog next winter with our savings. No matter what is under the tree this year, I just got the biggest gift ever. The gift of a child learning the meaning of generosity.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

More Musings on Mental Health

I have been reading another blog whose writer is presently writing about healing from emotional traumas and this has been an interesting topic to reflect on. I find myself trying to understand my sister's mental health issues. I am very much the kind of person who wants to know the why, when and how of things. I like to make sense and order out of my world,and for me, this doesn't make sense. Or perhaps I should say, didn't make sense.

After all, she and i were raised in the same family. By and large our parents treated us equally. If there were any differences, they were that she was viewed as the "pretty one" and I was the "smart" one. Accordingly she was often given greater latitude in her behaviors and choices because she was pretty and presumabley didn't know better. I felt the unfairness of this growing up. I struggled with accepting the fact that I was attractive, if not perhaps pretty by the standards of my family. But I was able to grow beyond this. Writing of this now does not evoke painful memories. It is more like looking back through an old scrapbook of family vignettes. I know who I am and I know what I am. I don't look to others to form my opinion of myself. I deeply believe that we choose how we will walk our life's path. We don't always get to choose the path, but we do get to choose how we walk it.

But I think my sister does. And therein may possibly lie the root of her mental illness and why her life has been by and large one dramatically marked by ill advised choices and emotional chaos. She is validated by the opinions others have of her, by what her friends say and thing. By being sexy and desirable and able to ensnare a married man. She has many good qualities too but her life choices seem to create situations where those good qualities become diminished or trampled by the morass of suffering she ultimately burdens herself with.

Do I think it is my parent's fault that she has this illness? No, not really. We are all imperfect and doing the best we can. Is their imperfection perhaps at the root of some of her issues? Maybe. I hope that therapy brings her an ability to walk her path with confidence and with the joy that I believe we are all entitled to find in our lives.

Monday, November 10, 2008

November musings

It amazes me that some seasons blend almost seamlessly into one another, at least at the beginning. I don't for instance, see a big difference between the end of June and the early days of July. Or the end of July and the beginning of August. But some are sharply different here in New England. May is usually a lot different from April. April is usually wet and raw and yucky. May heralds in more sunshine and better days. Likewise the difference between October and November is another sharp demarcation to me. There is a difference in the sky in November, even in the first few days. Suddenly there are less blue skies and lots of clouds, sometimes filled with wind, some with rain. But big billowy clouds none the less.

Even when there is still foliage on the trees the colors are different. October is full of bright color. November is those somber hues that I associate with the garments worn by maiden aunts 30 or 40 years ago. Colors like "ashes of roses" and deep russets. Rich browns and oranges that have been browned down. Nothing showy but yet pretty in an understated sort of way. But not an October look--no , that is strictly November.

I don't really love late fall and I have a hard time embracing winter as well. I hate the physical feeling of being cold, something that I am most of the time from now till mid April or so. I wear layers and layers of clothing but the reality is, I am usually still cold. I have Reynauds syndrome and it is to be expected. Especially as i live in a drafty old victorian house in New England.

I have learned to mask my deep dislike for the colder months and find moments of joy to share in the winter with the kids. I don't want my feelings to color their perceptions, so we play in the snow, we hike, we build snowmen. We laugh. . . and i dream about crocus and snow drops lying in wait for the first warmth of spring.

Friday, November 7, 2008

On thinking about mental illness

OK here is a situation where I am waaaaaay out of my comfort zone. My sister has been diagnosed with a mental health issue and is in treatment. I love her. I want her to be well. I want her to be happy. I want to be able to have a relationship with her. And I am not sure if any of that is really possible in the sense that I know and interpret those things. Mental illness isn't like other illness. I can't put a Diego band-aid on her and have her owie get healed. Healing her owies is going to involve her confronting her own demons. It is going to involve really plumbing her depths. Sadly in the past she has a history of doing this just enough to become functional again but with no real change in her behavior patterns long term or in her ability to have healthy relationships.

I have always figured that the best thing to do was to become educated about situations. So when sis revealed her dx to me I went on the internet, did some reading there and then found a book at the local library which was written for the families of people who suffer from this particular illness. Naively I thought I would get answers. In many senses I did. However in almost all cases, they just made the situation more depressing to me. It would appear that the grim reality is that I need to be able to give up my dream of just having a sisterly relationship. She is truly not capable of that. What she hears from what I or anyone else say is so distorted by her illness and emotional needs that ultimately the relationship becomes threatened by her dysfunction.

Yes, I can train myself to try and speak differently. And I will, because I love her. But this feels to me that I will be reduced to speaking as a therapist almost. It is clear that there can't really be a level of reciprocity in our relationship. She is not capable of hearing my worries or challenges, they will be too much for her. They will cause her to feel that the world she so desparately wishes to order is even more out of control than she had thought.

I feel a great sense of loss surrounding this. I only have one biological sister and I expect that this is a great part of it. I don't have a large network of cousins either, having come from a very small family. However I do have a great network of friends and I also have the family that I married into and I am very very blessed to have a sister through marriage. I have a wife who I love beyond words to describe it and four beautiful children who brighten every day. So I have much, very very much to be grateful for. And I am. My needs can and are being met through the other good people in my life.

I am also though worried for my nieces. All of my reading leads me to seriously worry about the amount of loving care that she is capable of consistantly providing to them. A conversation with her adult daughter raised additional concerns for them in this regard. I worry that my sister's involvement with her own disease is leaving my niece's without loving consistant guidance. Without the parental touch stone that children need to feel safe, loved and brave enough to make the right choices in a challenging world. And I am hampered by distance as to what I can do (if anything) to help in this regard. It is a situation with no easy answers and for now, all I can do is watch, be open and ready and loving and hope for the best.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Of Politics and Voting

I have struggled to order my feelings around the election and I find myself repeatedly babbling, even inside my own head! :-) It was historic. It was mind blowing. It was for the first time in more years than I care to count, the candidate I believed in, who won. And won decisively. Won in a way that there can be no talk of recounts and faulty machinery, etc. A candidate who won on a mandate from America. And that candidate is a black man.

One of my ministers growing up marched in Selma. The civil rights demonstrations, the changes in our laws, really it was not so long ago. Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream. But I wonder if he ever dreamed that a black man would become president of this country. Would he, could he, have dreamed that large in those years?

At the beginning of the campaign, although I was a pro-Obama person, I had a hard time dreaming that large. Truth to tell, I would not have been surprised if Hillary Clinton had won the democratic nomination. I watched in awe as the Obama campaign kept rolling on, gathering momentum. I listened to him speak and I felt hope. OK I know that being a stirring orator does not make one a great president. It doesn't mean you will make the right decisions day to day. that comes from surrounding yourself with intelligent people and I hope that this happens. But there is nothing wrong in my mind with feeling hope either. With feeling that the person speaking, is carrying me along in their dream, that their vision will help our troubled, hurting country. If we don't hope, if we don't dare to dream, elections such as Tuesdays can not come to be.

And as I fed my children breakfast the day after the election, I was able to smile (OK grin foolishly) and remind them that really, truly if you work hard, and dream large, that anything is possible. It felt good to be able to say that to my children. As black children I have the unpleasant duty of explaining things that are not right and fair. That they have to achieve more than a white counterpart to be viewed as just as qualified. That though all pre-teens are prone to mumbling, that young black men who mumble get looked at differently. They are sometimes viewed as uneducated, as thugs, etc. I have had to explain to my asian indian eldest son that he looks like he could have Iraqi heritage and that after 9/11 there was a real need for him to try and control some of his eccentricities while in public in order to remain safe. I have had to explain the realities of DWB, of gangs.

But on Wednesday morning, I could put those harsher issues aside for a time. We could bask in possibilities and opportunities, and talk about dreams fulfilled and promises kept.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Is it a New Day?

I remember as a teen all the discussion among adults about the glorious years of Camelot. The short time in our country's history when a handsome youthful president and his attractive family occupied the White House. It was historic in so many ways. He was young. He was Catholic. He was from Massachusetts. I remember my mother crying the day that JFK died. But I couldn't grasp much of what was going on. I was truly a wee, wee child. All I knew was that the whole house seemed gloomy and none of the regular things that happened in our home and even on television seemed to be taking place.

I understand now more of the hope that my parents must have felt back then. I feel that hope today with an election taking place which could put the first black man in the White House. Is Obama the best candidate? I don't know. For me, he is a better candidate than John McCain. I admire McCain. He is a POW. He is a blunt and plain spoken person. He is in every sense a true patriot. There was a time when I would have voted for McCain. Unfortunately for him, that is not this year. I hope that by voting for Obama that a number of things happen.

* I hope that his presence as a leader in our country's highest office will allow other children of color to dream, to strive and to achieve this and other great goals. Our future can not and should not be predicated on having anglo european ancestry. Great minds, great visionaries are not bound by gender or color.

* I hope that his presidency will lead to a higher approval rating for our country in the world at large. I am upset by the fact that our country presently seems to feel it has the right to tell other countries what to do and how to do it. We are not one, though we all inhabit the same planet. Our needs and our solutions for those needs are often fundamentally different. Though I am grateful to live in a democratic society I honestly don't believe democracy is the answer for everyone. Democracy is hard. It requires a level of participation and of education that isn't possible in every situation. There are situations where other forms of government provide well for their constituants.

* I hope that President Obama will work more actively than I think a President McCain would, to end our military involvement in Iraq. I see no way for us to win this in the long term sense. I feel that we entered the situation under false pretenses (those infamous WMDs) and without fully understanding a culture so different from our own. As a mom of 3 boys, I don't want to see a draft where my babies are required to serve in a war I don't believe in. McCain has indicated a tentative openness to restoring the draft if needed. I know recruitment levels are down. It was enough to make me refuse to vote for him even if I wasn't supporting Obama.

Two weeks ago when I was at our local library an older African American gentleman saw me there with 3 of our 4 kids. I noticed him eyeing us in the library but was a bit too busy with the children to do more than smile at him. Part of me wondered what he was thinking. Black children raised by white people are a hot button topic for some people of color. The majority of people I meet respond positively but there are always a few who don't. Anyway, at the end of our library visit I was pushing our double stroller out to the car while attempting to carry one of the two bags filled with books which are a standard for our library visits. We are a family of active readers. Rob was with me, carrying the other equally heavy bag. As we approached the car the same gentleman was there, and it turned out that he was parked next to us. I smiled and said good morning as I loaded books and children into the van. He smiled back and said "are these future Obamas?" I smiled more widely and said I certainly hoped so. He said something about how good that was and how beautiful the children were and drove away.

I want that for my children. I want them to know they can reach high, dream big, and live largely and well.

Friday, October 31, 2008

KC's Song

And a Halloween memory I know i don't want to forget. . . This morning I went upstairs to see if KC and Elisabeth had yet awakened. The older boys were all ready downstairs and almost done with breakfast. I heard KC singing, a little song he obviously had made up himself. It was about how today was Halloween day and how happy he was and how tonight he would go trick or treating. I paused at the landing of the stairs, caught in the magical moment my 4 year old was creating. I thought he was perhaps singing this song to his sister, wakening her to share his excitement. But no, seconds later he appeared at the top of the stairs, still rosy with sleep, his "blank" tossed over his shoulder, singing to himself.

It would have been cute if he was singing this to his sister but there was also something special about the fact that he could quietly and happily sing his joy for himself. I think truly happy people don't have to have someone else make the happy for them. It wells up from within themselves and I am so overjoyed that this is the case for KC.

Happy Halloween

OK I am known for celebrating virtually anything, but I really love Halloween. There is something so fun filled about walking around at night. Sometimes it is less about the candy (really--not ALL my kids are candy fanatics!) and seeing the decorations, the stars, how differently things look in darkness. I know today will be busy and kind of crazy schedule wise but we will be having our spooky supper as always. This is an Erikson family tradition. We eat by candle light and the meal reflects the holiday. In years past we had a swamp water punch and merenque bones for instance. This year, for our family culinary pleasure I am offering up a simpler feast as Kirsty is working and i am home alone with the 4 kids. We will dine on worms (pasta and cheese) witches brooms and bones (bread stix that I shape) witches brew (mulled cider punch) and pumpkin cake.

Then it is off to visit KC's former day care provider who likes to see costumes each year and then to Riverside for the halloween party and then out to trick or treat. Some of my best memories as a child are of Halloween which may be why I make it such a big deal in our house. But it is also a night when on a more serious level I remember more intensely those who have gone before. I am lucky enough to be the 4th generation of my family to reside in our home and I feel the spirits of ancestors on this night when the veil is thin.