Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Feast of St. Andrew!

El Greco. 1606.

It's the feast of St. Andrew!

You know, ya don't hear quite as much about St. Andrew as the other apostles.  But really, that is hardly fair.  I mean, he was the first.  The FIRST apostle! When Christ was walking by the sea of Galilee, he saw two fishermen, Simon and Andrew.  They were of course, fishing, being fishermen.  Christ called to them, "Come with me and I will make  you fishers of men." And Andrew, then and there, dropped everything and did. He followed Christ.  No  hemming and hawing and "what do you mean?" or "just let me go take care of this"...he just knew.  {Matthew 4:18-22} And so he did.  THEN he brought his brother back again, Simon, who Christ renamed Peter (but that's a whole 'nother post, eh?).  But yeah, THAT Peter, the St. Peter, rock of the church, pearly gates, the whole shebang.  Poor Andrew gets kinda short shrift eh?  I think so.  But he shouldn't.  Would that I had that kind of instant unquestioning sure faith.  

So, today I wish the Andrew's I know, a happy feast day.   You have an awesome patron.  And I pray to St. Andrew that he prays for my faith to increase, and my actions accordingly, just like him.  

St. Andrew, pray for us!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Happy New Year! Advent

So, one day late, Happy New Year!!
It's the liturgical new year.
The Church's New Year, yesterday, officially (ok, vespers Saturday night).
We are in the first season of the new year: Advent.
I was going to post this yesterday but it was a busy day.......so much for resolutions, even in the liturgical  year.  Awfully similar to the secular new year resolutions.  But as with those, I can still begin again.

I love Advent. I really do. It it the time to prepare our hearts and souls and minds for the Incarnation, the coming of Christ to this hard broken beautiful world.  We get these four weeks, punctuated by four Sundays, to prepare in body and  mind and heart - in action and prayer - for our broken beautiful personal world to be ready to welcome Christ, as one of us, come to us, because that is the only way to truly reach us.  The biggest of gifts, come to us.  Even to me.

Another day, another post is for the doing of Advent.  Or the undoing of Advent, perhaps.  More later.  For now, this is best I think:

Advent begins. Not Christmas, not yet.  The preparation of ourselves for Christmas.  The expectation, the anticipation, the quieting of waiting.  I love Advent.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Turn-key: Schedules (holiday edition)

I’ve written before a few times about the process of adjusting in adoption, especially with older child adoption.  I’ve talked about the idea of the turn key: one key that can turn the lock and you step right into a functioning enterprise (business, relationship, whatever).  As I stated before, adoption is NOTHING like that.  Ever. 
Yet, we, or I, fantasize about it all the time.
I wish I had a turn-key to adoption adjustment, really, really I do.
But I’m starting to get used to the idea that, I don’t, no one does.

As you embark on the process of an adoption, any adoption at all, those fantasies are rampant. 
Sure they get a little dull and bogged down by the cumbersome invasive excruciatingly slow process of adoption:  homestudies, background checks, financial and medical letters, references, duplicated certified stamped filed and stamped some more.
But even so, once you are through all that and you actually have the new family member, the child, home in the house…that’s when it all just gels, right? You’ve turned the key and stepped across the threshold to a brand new life!

Well, sort of anyhow.
This process of adjusting once you have a new child is what has me still and continually obsessing thoughtfully pondering about what makes it work and what doesn’t.
But this post, this series of posts, is about what has worked – for us.  I couldn’t begin to expand it further than our own wacky family; that would be wrong.  Because this is all only my own two pence.  But if I find something that consistently makes a difference, I want to throw it out there in case it might help smooth any path for anyone else.  Those stubbed toes on this sometimes-rocky path of adoption adjustment – they hurt!

So, with that long prelude, we come to this post. 
This post is about an important key to the adjustment in our house: schedules. 
Especially during the holiday season, schedules are critical.
They are a turn-key to unlocking a feeling of control and safety during a very uncertain time in a new family member’s life. 
They are, and I can’t say this quite strongly enough, a safety net

We have a big calendar on our fridge; one of the ones with large empty squares, plenty of room to write appointments, games, events.  Yes, it gets cluttered, especially as the month goes on.  Big family... Many in the house largely ignore it.  It is vital to me, to juggle everything.  The only person who looks at it as closely as me (actually, she examines it daily) is Marta.  It is a critical tool for her to keep her clued in to the daily routines.  Those predictable events are a safety net for her.  They provide a feeling of control and safety in a world that is not fully understood yet – not culturally, not with language, not with nuance or tradition.  

But this week, even that big monthly calendar isn’t cutting it.  This weekend was rocky; nervous anticipation of the holiday this week brought up bad behaviors and acting out.  Finally Sunday afternoon we were able to have a conversation about the nervousness of this week ahead: house-guests, shifting schedules, no school.  

 I decided to make Marta her own daily schedule, and asked her to help me.  We sat down with scratch paper (this doesn't have to be a fancy thing) and we blocked out each day, so she could see what would happen.  This helps her to anticipate the things that are the same, and to prepare for the shifts and things that are different.  It provides something for her to hold onto, again, it is a safety net.  

Imagine, if you will, how it might be if you didn't really know how things were going to work the next week, just that it would be quite different from the routine you've begun to know and understand....how would that make you feel? Now add on a lack of familiarity with the culture or the holiday traditions and the lack of language to learn it by talking about it.  Now add on a background of trauma and hurt,which brings up reactions that surprise everyone, even yourself,  and see if you don't get a bit stressed out.  I know I would.  I am stressed out a bit in anticipation of it and I am the Mom of the house!  

 So, we made the daily schedules.  One for each day this week.  We taped them up the the wall in the center hub of the house, the kitchen.  

She knows roughly (Not minute to minute, that would be TOO tight of a schedule and then  you would have fallout from that schedule not being met...this is a blocked out schedule) what is happening when this whole week.  She has already referred to it many times.

And I am hoping.
I am hoping this will help my daughter cope.
I am hoping this will help  my daughter move out of stress response into a softer place.
I am hoping this will help my daughter relax just enough to really be able to BE with the family and enjoy a bit more of this holiday.
I'm not expecting miracles.
But I'm hoping for another little babystep forward.
I'm hoping to turn the key and open the door to family and home, a new family and new home, just a little wider.  

So this is our turn-key of this week: schedules.  
Use this tool, this key, to help a hypervigilant child be able to see what is ahead and anticipate it.  Because that is empowering, that knowledge means safety.
And giving any child a sense of safety is one of the best keys in your pocket.  

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Boys are Back in Town!

 Well, almost...

Tonight, if all goes as planned.
Read that again, my boys are coming  home from college tonight!
I'm so excited.  I am, I am just pleased as punch that they are coming home tonight (No, that phrasing doesn't date me at all....jeepers!).

They are driving home together after classes tonight, hopefully the weather will clear and they will get in safe and sound.  Most of the kids will be asleep I think.  I might be too.  But I will wake up, and hustle downstairs and hug them tight, grinning and maybe blinking back a tear or two.  How do I know? Because just typing that they are coming home makes me blink back a tear or two (It's been a tough week or so, I'm just so pleased to get all my kiddos, my big guys, back in the house altogether)

So, I am prepping the house for thanksgiving.  I'm giving myself permission to kick Martha Stewart and her looming pressure ghost of insane perfectionism right OUT of my house and instead focusing on making this a calm happy peaceful thanksgiving, big family style.  The first part of that is a little quiet time this morning to set up the dining room and the boys room, maybe make a little something good for them to eat when they arrive.

Because my boys are coming home!
And I am counting my  blessings.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Musical Feast Day: St. Cecilia!

St. Cecilia, by Raphael

It's the feast of St. Cecilia!
We love her, and my eldest daughter has a particular affinity for her as well (maybe a number of my kids have her as a patron - music is so integral to their lives, not just the ipod hookup of standard teenhood, but the passionate playing of music...it's part of who they are).   I also like to think of her as my Hannah's patron due to her 'shine' (meaning both Cecilia and my girl).  St. Cecilia is the patron of our near and dear Dominican Sisters here too. They are filled with music and radiance and are just joyfully compelling, just like their patron must have been.

 Poussin, St. Cecilia

 From St. Augustine, apropos of this musical feast day:
Sing to him a new song, sing to him with joyful melody. Every one of us tries to discover how to sing to God. You must sing to him, but you must sing well. He does not want your voice to come harshly to his ears, so sing well, brothers!

Now, who is more worthy of such a cry of jubilation than God himself, whom all words fail to describe? If words will not serve, and yet you must not remain silent, what else can you do but cry out for joy? Your heart must rejoice beyond words, soaring into an immensity of gladness, unrestrained by syllabic bonds. Sing to him with jubilation.
Carlo Saraceni, St. Cecilia and the Angel

 And I think that means that even us musically challenged folks can sing out on this day celebrating the life of St. Cecilia, flat notes and all! That's my story and I'm sticking to it at any rate!
So, sing out!

St. Cecilia, pray for us!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Feast of Christ the King

It's the Feast of Christ the King!
Which  means it's the last Sunday in the liturgical year, already!

Here is a bit of Fr. Andre, and his most excellent homily on this special day.  Go read the whole thing, his meditation on the two crowns of Christ as King is worth the time.  But for a lead in, here:
Pilate asks Jesus: “Are you the King of the Jews?...
Pilate’s arrogance does not intimidate Jesus, who then gives his own answer in the well-known words: “My kingdom is not from this world”....

Pilate is very astute. He does not see in Jesus’ answer a denial of his kingship. In fact, Pilate infers and insists: “So you are a king” (v 37). Jesus accepts his claim without hesitation: “You say that I am a king. For this I came into the world”. For what? To inaugurate a world of peace and fellowship, of justice and respect for other people’s rights, of love for God and for one another. This is the kingdom that penetrates our human history, illuminating it and leading it beyond itself, a kingdom that will have no end. When we pray the “Our Father”, we pray for this kingdom to come in its fullness.
Happy Feast Day.
Christ the King, my Lord and my God, pray for us. 

Friday, November 19, 2010

Breath Deep and smile. Friday.

This link is not what you might think...not a meditation or yoga anything...
Rather, it's a link to a short vocation video for the Dominican Sisters {And I have no idea of the odd button at the beginning, it doesn't link anywhere, ignore it, this is Catholic, but then again, so not.  It goes beyond denomination}.

After a hectic week, watching this makes me just smile a big deep smile and I find myself breathing deeper, calm.

This kind of faith and love is completely intriguing and compelling to me.
And it just makes me happy to watch it.
Especially worth paying attention to what she is saying at 1:30....about plans for happiness. 
So, I'm offering it here as a pause at the end of a hectic week, mine anyhow...
Have a great weekend everyone.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Dancing with the Holidays: Attachment version

Matisse. I love his painting.
We are one week away from Thanksgiving, and the advent of um, Advent, and Christmas, and New Year’s; the whole Holiday Season.

We are looking down the barrel of fun of parties and guests and rich food and too much sugar and long talks and late nights and shiny presents and long Mass and extra cooking and cleaning and shopping and on and on.
That’s fun, right?

Well…yes, for the most part.
But even for many of us, it is so easy to get overwhelmed by it all.
How many calls, books, blogs, articles do we see read hear to SIMPLIFY the season?
I’m all for it, really I am.
Because if I can get overwhelmed, and I am a high energy multitasking mom who’s second nature is to live life on overdrive, keep it full to the brim, do something for pity’s sake….then how much easier is it for a kid? How easy is it for a kid from another world to get overwhelmed…especially if she or he is from some hard background or past events, and is still trying to assimilate into a large noisy culture, country, family?

Well, it’s not only easy; it’s part of what you, by which I mean, I, should be anticipating.
It’s practically part of the season; it’s the Holiday Dance.

Edvard Munch

And I don’t mean that in a snarky or mean way, I mean it in the “accept it because it’s gonna happen so prep for it and not let it trip you up" kind of way. Because I think if we, ok I, actually anticipate it, then I can approach those feelings in a much more productive, dare I say, “therapeutic” way?

I know from last year and from living with my newest daughter for sixteen months that any change in the daily routine, no matter how small, throws her. Those routines, no matter how mundane, are her safety net. Her developmental delays aggravate that fact; however they are not the sole source of her seasonal distress. It is the adjustment, the attachment, and the fact that all that takes a really long time. It takes years and years. We are really just baby steps into it all, just learning how to anticipate each other's steps and turns. Seems like we should be well fitted partners by now. But we are not. Even though it feels often like it should be all figured out and settled by now. But it’s not. It won’t be. It can’t be.

The holiday season takes the dance that we do - and are learning together - every day, and it spins it around in a disco ball kind of frenzy. It makes us all dizzy and while that can be fun and exciting for some of my kids and some days, mostly it makes my daughter either spin out of sorts or out of control or simply shut down from the too much of it all.

So our very careful crafting of the holiday season needs to figure out how to bring in those well loved traditions of the season and the faith and our family, to teach those steps to our new daughter, simply. Sometimes she just doesn’t wanna dance.
She doesn’t wanna see the new steps or shining lights.
She is still in process of grieving the old dances, or still too fearful to let go of her sense of self control and trust us enough to reach out and help us lead her into the new holiday dance and traditions and family ways.

So, I guess that’s where I want to start; with talking about standing on the edge of the dance floor, trying to coax my daughter (who doesn’t really like to dance, yet) out onto the floor. She can hold onto my hand, and her dad’s. We will try hard to anticipate the steps to this dance. We will simplify them.

Matisse, again. "The Dance." A favorite.
We will, I will, try to remember to brace and embrace her through the dance of this holiday season so that we can all come to enjoy the season and it’s richness in full. And maybe one of these years, when we are looking down the barrel of the holiday seasonal hoopla, we can all anticipate it with glee and deep smiles instead of fear and fretting.

Maybe I will be able to as well, if I can remember that I'm dancing not just with the holidays but with my daughter. And a one, and a two.....

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Almost Wordless Wednesday

...to brighten up a cold gray day....

{for more wordless wednesday, go here}

Monday, November 15, 2010

New Monday: Pre-K

My Gabey went to Pre-K today.
I can hardly believe it.
No, really....
I hadn't planned, last summer, to send him yet.
And I've never been a huge "gotta go" kinda gal with pre-k programs.
And last August, when school began, he wasn't ready for anything other than time home, with me.
So that is what we did.
It was great.

But lately, that time has morphed into a strange "at loose ends" time with him.
Not for me. I rarely have time with loose ends....or, more precisely, I'm busy sweeping up and tying up those loose ends all day every day.
No, what I'm talking about is my Gabey.  He ended up....at loose ends.
He went from being content with me, following me around, helping me, hanging out with me, learning colors with me...to spending the bulk of his day wishing for something he couldn't get.  Asking for it.
As soon as we dropped off the kids at school, he began: "Can I watch tv?" No. "Is it lunch?" No. "Can I have a cookie?" No. and, the most frequent question of all...asked countless times a day, "Is it time to go pick up the kids?"  Um, no, sorry honey.

Now before I get flamed, I did all the enrichment stuff. We worked on colors and shapes and went for walks and talked about birds and looked at acorns and read books.
I can do the mom thing, I can.  I did.
But my other "mom thing" also means dragging him along on many many doc appointments for the other six kiddos who are still at home {dentist, orthodontist, therapists, dermos....and so on, just do the count, it adds up and keeps me driving...}.  Not exactly enriching stuff.  So - he's been restless.  My gut told me, it's time.  That and his electric radar for any other kids around when we are out and about on errands; his racing them in the vet's waiting room, waving at every kid in the market, striking up kiddie convo's at the orthodontist.  It started to be clear that he was ready for a wider social life than me.

So, last week we visited our school's pre-k program.  It's excellent; the best in our county, with an wonderful teacher I've long admired.  (No, she doesn't read the blog, I can't score points here, shame on you...however, she IS the best pre-k teacher in our area, hands down, fantastic! No way is that a shameless plug....really...).
He was a little nervous to start his visit day.  It helped that his big brother and best friend on the planet was across the hall (like...close: you could shoot a rubber band over if you were inclined...not that my boys would think of that, ahem, because that would get a yellow card...).

 He was paired with a nice little boy buddy to show him the pre-k ropes for that visit day.  I was nervous. I hung out in the library, being mostly useless during the quiet morning of book fair.  After his day was done, he pitched a huge out-of-character fit in the office.  I was sure he was tired, overwhelmed.  But as we got in the car to head home, I learned otherwise: he was bent, just ticked off.  He wanted to stay.  He wanted to stay in school and not go home yet.  Oh!  He calmed and told me again and again about the class, the kids, the rug, the reading, the parade (lining up), the tools (toy tools), the girl (curly hair, quite the talker).  He asked to go tomorrow.  That has been his new question, usurping the others: "Am I going to school now?" Meaning, whenever we get in the car, regardless of time of day.  He asked me, relentlessly, "Can I go to school" after his visit.

So, yes, my Gabey, you can go to school.

And so today he did.
And, yes, I had to blink back the tears when I kissed him goodbye and told him I'd be back later.

It's my first time in the house, alone on a school day, for over eight years.  Read that again: eight years...gosh maybe longer, I'd have to really sit down and chart it out to know precisely.  I hardly know what to do with myself.  So, I'm procrastinating a bit.  I'm gonna start by cleaning.....And, on a make me smile and breath easy note, the school JUST called and said "He is having an awesome day and smiling and happy." I love this school.  For just this reason, they call the kinda nervous moms to let them know their littles are doing great.  Nice.

Eight years, and it's a new Monday.
It's good. It's weird.  But it's good.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Happy Bday Marti-ay!

 Happy Happy Fourteenth Birthday to our Marta Therese!

Yes, it is finally here, after much anticipation and counting and campaigning for certain gifts.  Today is the day. You've changed your  mind about the dinner and the dessert countless times, but today is the day and final (?) call: Chinese food and "Brad's Berry Chocolate Cake."

Birthdays are still a new and exciting event, this will be your second officially celebrated bday...here in America and your second personal bday party ever.  We will hang streamers and have festive decorations and plates.  We will stack presents in the center of the table and tell your little brothers, "Not yet, we are waiting for Dad to get home." We might have to tell you that too, because it's  hard to wait for birthdays, whether you are four or fourteen!

But, in this place, my place, I do the list.
So, here is Marti-ay's bday list for fourteen:

You, Marti, have the biggest smile I know.
I call it your "megawatt" smile. 
When you really smile, your whole face lights up, your eyes and eyebrows lift and sparkle.
When you scowl, they don't.
So we try hard to help you find  your smile again...

You love to laugh and are learning jokes.
Your favorite joke is a knock knock joke and it makes you crack up. 
Which makes us crack up.
Funny is always good.
You are crazy ticklish, which can come in handy.
But mostly you just like to sit really close, especially if it's next to Mom or Dad...or both!

You love music.
You are hoping for a guitar so you can learn to play.
We are hoping if you get a guitar you will practice and love to play!
You laugh when we sing and dance and, still, are hard to coax to join us.
Someday we will get you to dance with us.
Because we know you know how to do a great Ethiopian dance!
And can shake those shoulders with the best of them!

You have a sweet kind heart.
Your heart is learning to love many people, but it takes time to grow.
You try your hardest most every day.
But some days, you just need a nap.

You love love love school!
Except for maybe science, that is very hard!
Tests make you nervous, but you work hard and do great.
Learning english is still very hard too, but you are talking  more!
You are are impatient
and stubborn.
But we've got a few others like that in our family!

You love sun 
and summer
and swimming.
You do NOT love winter
and rain
and cold
and snow.
You love football!
You love going to football games!
Especially if it is a game for your school or a game for Notre Dame.
You love basketball and volleyball too,
but not so much learning to ride a bike.

You love coffee
and yogurt
and pasta
and ice cream
and cake
and tomatoes
and cheeseburgers
and chips
and pizza...
all the teen food groups.

You have been home 16 months now!
And some days it feels like a long time and some days it feels very short.
You still love pink...
and you love your room and your bed and  your house, most days.
You are learning how to love and live with brothers and sisters.
It can be complicated and it can be fun, sometimes all in the same day!

Sometimes it can be hard in a big family.
Happily, puppies help!

We are all learning to love each other better, every day.
And we are all learning that families are complicated, big or small.
New families, old families, new kids, new and old brothers sisters moms dads, they all have the same things: love, smiles, moods, mistakes, laughs, food, chores, frowns, hugs, silly.
They are the same that way.
And those new big families, they make for big busy happy birthday parties -
and they come with big cakes!

So we wish you the happiest of birthday's our Marti-ay!
We love you so much and are proud of you.

We hope all your birthday wishes come true!
Happy Happy Birthday Marta Terese!