Monday, March 30, 2009

The Big Picture

I'd been having a hard time deciding what to write about. Tomorrow marks a year of official waiting for a referral. I decided I would write about that. About how I'm not impatient right now. About how mainly what a feel is excitement to see the next face that I will spend the rest of my life loving. I'm also feeling a deep sadness for what our childs' first family is experiencing right now.

I was going to write about those things. But I'm not going to. I'm going to tell this story instead:

This afternoon, I spent some time organizing Ava's chapter books. The girl likes to read. She likes a good series. So I gathered all the Magic Treehouse books and put them in order, 1-30. Yes. And all the Rainbow Magic books. I did the Flat Stanley's, the Cobble Street Cousins, and The Catwings series. You get the idea. The chick has a lot of books. I did them all.

So while I was making dinner, Ava asks me to play a game she and Eden have made up. I tell her I just need to finish making dinner then I will come play. At first she says the game doesn't have a name, but when she comes back, she tells me the game is called "Take a Book". That's right. But I'm not seeing the big picture. I don't think a thing about it. So, I finish dinner---brown rice with gouda cheese, pumpkin pudding (think pumpkin pie but without crust and good for you, tons of Vitamin A), baby carrots, and oranges---and put it on the table, and go back to Ava's and Eden's room to play a rousing game of "Take a Book". But I don't think to put the DAMN DOG into his crate. That's right. The one who, let's just be honest here, has an eating disorder. But, again, I'm missing the big picture.

When Ava opens the door, I see EVERY SINGLE gallderg chapter book on the floor. They are arranged beautifully with five stacks in the middle and five branches coming off the center to make a sort of large chapter book mandala that takes up the entire room. And I will confess to you now, that I did not express delight in my child's creativity, nor did I even try to hide my dismay. Instead I dragged my hands across my face slowly and said matter-of-factly, "OOOH....I spent a long time earlier today arranging those...But you didn't know. I forgot to tell you. I'm just frustrated...." and I kept talking, more to myself than to Ava, who by this point had begun to weep. So I just reiterated that she didn't know, but I was still kind of a bitch about the whole thing in a quiet, calm, it's-no-big-deal sort of way. Then I said, "Let me go put Miles in his crate before he eats dinner, then I'll be back to play."

When I get to the end of the hall I hear him. He comes bolting out of the dining room because he hears me and I discover he has eaten half of Eden's and Safa's dinners. He has licked the pumpkin pudding from Eden's bowl and spilled it all over the white rug that is under the table. (I'm not responsible for putting a white rug under a dining room table. This was the choice made by the former owners of our house who did not have three young children, nor a dog with an eating disorder.) It spilled in great plops, that even after scrubbing look like someone just held out a diaperless newborn baby and walked around for awhile. If you look closely at the picture above, you will see pumpkin pudding just below his nose. I shamed him by putting him in his crate, then taking his picture a few times. I think it worked.

Here's what struck me most of all: Over the years I've been writing here, I've had some shitty days. Days when I thought if all I did was keep everyone alive until the end of the day, I'd be happy. Days when I thought I wouldn't be able to stop the crying, either my own or someone else's. Days when I felt so sick and tired I didn't see how I would be alive when Erik walked through the door at the end of day. But over time, I've come to recognize all of this as fodder for writing. It softens the blows, that tiny voice that says, "Put it on the blog". Then I grab the camera, or start thinking what a great story it will make tomorrow. It just takes the edge off a little, shifts my thinking, pulls me out of my self-absorption long enough to see it's all fleeting, the anger and sadness. Even the joy. I needn't worry about not having something to write about here. If I wait long enough, life is bound to provide.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Toilets and the Dalai Lama

I have always had a cinematic dreamlife. It is simultaneously one of my most and least favorite things about being me. Flying, interplanetary travel, meeting a friendly, dreadlocked Jesus that was rockin' out to "Rock 'n' Roll Hochie Coo" ----some of my favorites. I also dream about tornadoes, intruders, and bad, bad things happening to my children. My dreams have changed since I've become a mother. They've become, well...domestic. When my children were infants, and I a sleep deprived wreck, I would fall into bed to escape the mountains of laundry, the endless diapers, and crying, only to dream about folding laundry or trying to calm a colicky baby.

My dreams of Erik go something like this----he holds my face, kisses me, a candle flickers somewhere, then a child enters asking for juice. Or we laugh, embrace, kiss, then a child calls loudly needing her butt wiped.

But last night, I reached a new low. Last night, I dreamt of scrubing toilets. Filthy, stinking toilets. And not just one short little dream either. I think I cleaned toilets for hours. It may stem from the fact that the girls' bathroom might as well be a truck stop bathroom somewhere just outside of Texarkana even though I clean it EVERY DAY. I'm considering installing a toilet seat cover dispenser and one of those automatic air freshners that delivers a cloying strawberry scent every 15 minutes. Remember back in the day when you had to deposit money on the door of some public bathrooms to get it to open? Maybe I should look into that....My fear is that this dumbing-down of my dreamlife is indicative of something much deeper, more important. That my brain is shrinking, that motherhood is sucking the creativity, the desire for growth, right out of me.

The flipside of toilet dreaming is this: On Saturday night I dreamt that my mom I and were sitting backwards in a shopping cart with our legs hanging over the backend in some public, mall-like place, and I suddenly thought of the Dalai Lama and a moment later he began walking toward us. He put his hands on the tops of my mom's bare feet for a moment, then walked over to me, with his supremely kind face and goofy, lady glasses, and rested his big hand on the top of my head. He smiled, looked deeply into my eyes for awhile, then walked on.

Dreams like this give me hope that my brain isn't just turning in on itself, doomed to forever dream of wiping butts and cleaning toilets. That someday I will stop accidentally telling Erik I'm going potty and I'll be right back. That maybe someday I will finish a crossword puzzle. Or want to. Maybe tonight I will dream of traveling in India, or I will become a bee. Maybe I'll even finish that kiss with Erik. I just hope the Dalai Lama doesn't walk in with my children and they all need their butts wiped.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

What One Person Can Do

On Tuesday morning I checked my agency's forum and learned that Haregewoin Teferra died. This name will mean nothing to most of you that will read this post. Mrs. Teferra was the embodiment of the idea that one person can indeed change the world. She dedicated the last decade of her life to the children of Ethiopia. When I read the news, I was so overwhelmed I didn't react. I quickly moved away from the computer and began cleaning. It was Spring Break, my children were sick. It felt like too much to process the loss of a hero. But now I am.

I think this happens often, that we shake our heads, then put something aside because it feels too big to manage. The hunger crisis can feel that way. The AIDS pandemic. It's easy to feel like some problems are so big you can't begin to fathom a solution. Sometimes, many small steps can add up to something large and meaningful.

The following is a letter written by Melissa Fay Green, author of There is No Me Without You: One Woman's Odyssey to Rescue Africa's Children, a book about Mrs. Teferra and her children.

"Dear Friends,
By now you may have learned the shocking news that Mrs. Haregewoin Teferra has died suddenly after a short illness. We don't know what caused her death; she felt sick for a couple of days, went to the doctor, came home without a diagnosis, felt sick again, laid down, and that was the end.
Soon I will post a blog containing beautiful, loving, compassionate messages pouring in in tribute.
Many of you kindly are asking what you could do in her memory.
Let me tell you what I will do, and each of you can follow your hearts.
A few weeks ago, Worldwide Orphans--the New York-based organization that has provided pediatric care to Haregewoin's children for many years--assumed responsibility and custody of her 42 HIV-positive kids. To cover food, healthcare and medicine, education, clothing, and caregivers will cost an estimated $4600/year per child. I plan to do what I can to support these children; they are precious, bright, full of fun and hope. With continued state-of-the-art medical care and excellent nutrition and nurturing, they can have bright futures. They can grow up healthy, go to college, have careers. If you'd like to join me in that campagin,
online contributions can be made at
Checks may be sent to:
511 Valley Street
Maplewood, New Jersey 07040
Other HIV-negative children, many of them babies and toddlers, remain at Atetegeb, Haregewoin's foster home; their caregivers have stayed on; and the Atetegeb board is looking to their well-being. As soon as I know how help can be offered to these little ones, I will post that here.
Haregewoin lived with these children seven days a week, 24 hours a day, for ten years. She is irreplaceable. The youngest children, of course, have no idea what has just happened. Please let us work together to act as foster parents in absentia for them and to provide financial sustenance to the adults on the ground in Addis during this transitional time.
Thank you in advance for any amount you can give.
Melissa "

Quotes of the Week

"I drank all my darn smoothie." ---Safa

"A belly button is a good place to keep a tiny bit of water." ---Eden

Eden, Safa, and I were at the park while Ava was in dance class. We sat on a bench to have some water in front of a field where loud boys played soccer.
"Mama?" said Eden. "You know what sound I like to hear?"
"What's that, babe?" I said.
"Quiet." she said.
"Me too." I said.

And the Quote of the Week goes to Alice, my mother-in-law, who came to me in the kitchen after a morning with the girls:
"Knock, knock?"
"Who's there?"
"Amsterdam who?"
"Amsterdam tired of these knock-knock jokes."


Friday, March 20, 2009

The Great Roly-Poly Exodus of 2009

Ava left her shoe outside. Many, many roly-polys (what IS the plural of roly-poly?) decided to make a home there in the night. They chose it because it was so stinky it felt like home. Ava found them in the morning. She shared the good news with Eden, Lover of All Things Living. Eden decided to bring them inside and then let them go. Result: Many, many dead roly-polys in all corners of the house. Roly-polys, they travel far. May they rest in peace.

Safa is Three

(and has been for awhile). Here are Safa's birthday dress pictures. I looked in the archives at her first birthday pics, with her sweet little face and sad torticollis head tilt. I can't believe she is three. My gals are growin' fast...

Nothing Says Birthday Like Eating Your Favorite Train's Face

There was a train to go with the face, but she wanted the face.
The girl has a serious Thomas the Tank Engine fetish. Some might call it "a problem".

Friday, March 13, 2009

Guilt and Personality Typing

When I sat down to think about guilt (I use the term "sat down" metaphorically of course), I thought about the first year after Safa was born. I cried almost every night before I finally fell asleep, thinking of all the ways I'd failed my children during the day. During that time, I felt like my day was made up in large measure by decisions about who to let down next. This doesn't happen as often as it used to. But at that time, they were all very young and The Black Hole of Need was deep indeed.

Guilt is insidious. It will begin a slow creep up my back to sit upon my shoulder and whisper in my ear all the ways I'm not measuring up. It's crazy-making. In my darkest moments I find myself wanting to poll every mother I can find and see how I stack up: How much time do you spend playing what they want to every day? Do you plan menus for the week? How often do you consider turning in your pink slip? Do the sheets really need to be changed? After all, there are no peer evaluations, no gold stars, no reviews, when your feeling vulnerable.

But the truth is, there are as many ways to be a good mother as there are mothers. There are no perfect mothers. There is no Right Answer to any poll question I could come up with that would give me any real information about the job I'm doing. Every mother has her strengths and weaknesses.

Enter the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, which is based on Carl Jung's 1923 book Psychological Types. I first found my type when I was 15. And again in a Personality Theories class I took in college. I have found personality typing to be helpful in many instances in my life, giving me information about myself and the people in my life. So a couple of years ago I went looking for a parenting book relating to personality types and I found MotherStyles, written by Janet P. Penley. This book was enormously helpful in allowing me to see what strengths I brought to my mothering and helped me let go of a lot of guilt. It helps you find your type out of the 16 distinct types, then tells you what your Strengths as a mother are and also what your Struggles might be.

Typing is accomplished by determining your preferences:

Where do you get your energy? (E)xtraversion or (I)ntroversion

What information to you pay the most attention to? (S)ensing or I(N)tuition

How do you make decisions? (T)hinking or (F)eeling

How do you like your life to be structured? (J)udging or (P)erceiving

Most people know whether they are an extravert (this is the correct spelling in this instance) or an introvert, but basically the question boils down not to one of being shy or gregarious, but do you feel energized by the party (E) or exhausted by it(I)?

When processing information do you rely on your five senses, the facts, details, and reality (S) or do you rely on "hunches", relationships, abstractions, and possibilities (N)?

When making decisions, do you think with your head, are you concerned with truth and justice, value logic, are you skeptical (T)? Or are you led by your heart, trust your gut, do you value relationships and harmony (F)?

Do you like a planned, orderly life that is organized (J)? Or are you spontaneous, take life as it comes, open and flexible (P)?

I am an INFJ. This type represents about 2-3% of the population. It's no wonder if I compare myself to other mothers I going to feel on some level that I don't measure up. BUT, if I recognize my personality type, if I see where my strengths lie, then I can recognize that I do have gifts as a mother, that I'm not failing at every turn. For instance my type is the "Know Thyself" mother. Which I find funny considering I went searching for the book and am subsequently writing this post. INFJ parents place a lot of value on self-discovery. Our strengths are connecting one-on-one with each child, giving emotional support, providing insight into deeper aspects of life, and creativity. Our struggles are the tedium of everyday life, idealizing life and holding incredibly high expectations of ourselves and family, and self-sacrifice resulting in resentment.

Yes. That is me in a nutshell as a parent. There are lots of things I'm not good at. But I am good at showing my children what I perceive to be the deepest beauties of the world. It does stress me out when they are all crazy and goofy and loud at Sun Harvest. I do not find this fun and/or funny like some mothers would. My children may not grow up with a particularly playful mother. But they will grow up aware of dusk's light, the beauty of a pear, the importance of compassion, and the ability to detect the emotion displayed on someone else's face.

Most of my friends are extraverts. Let's take an ESTP (about 6-8% of the population) mother for example. This is the "Action Adventure" mother. Penley says this kind of mama's strengths lie in making the ordinary exciting, encouraging her children to explore the world, playing with her kids on their level, and flexibility. She also might struggle most with routines, being still and quiet with her children, and being easily distracted. It's clear that an INFJ and an ESTP parent will approach child-rearing in different ways. But neither is better or more effective than the other. Just different.

It can also be helpful to know the type of your co-parent. Seeing what the other person brings to parenting can create a deeper understanding of how and why we each parent as we do. (Knowing your child's type can be incredibly helpful too!) Obviously, personality typing isn't an exact science, I have a lot of Perceiving mixed in with my Judging. And there are other forms of personality typing. The Enneagram has been very helpful as well. If you are interested, tell me your type either in the comments below or in email, and I'll tell you your strengths!

The next time you start to compare yourself to someone else, whether you are a mother or not, think about your strengths. Don't let guilt and doubt whisper in your ear. Embrace your unique abilities. Remember the gifts you have to share.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

An Early Morning Note To Self

It is 5:45 AM. I'm tired. I went to bed a little after 11:00. My eyes burn, my eyelids begin to ease down over them, I force them open. I feel a little hollow. Sometimes when I'm awake at this hour, it's because I can't sleep. Other times my body has had enough of lying in bed, sore from sleeping. Not today. If I curled up into a ball on the couch, I would be asleep within 2 minutes.

I am awake to claim some time. The morning is still and quiet. The clocks tick, the fish tanks hum. I hear the cheap wind chimes blow in the backyard. I hear doves cooing and mistake them for children calling me. The darkness is a blanket. It blurs the edges of life a little so that I can float here for just a bit before my children wake. My bed calls, but I resist. The doves, they are not my children.

Writing calls me earlier this morning. I fell asleep, words in my head, my brain trying to make sense of them, trying to form them into something meaningful and coherent. My brain is on fire, and yet, sometimes I ignore it. Out of laziness, or fear, or exhaustion. A long list of other responsibilities my logical self deems more important. But what happens when a person ignores what is calling them? What if that person is a mother? What is the cost to herself and her children? What calls you in the quiet, still moments? Listen...

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Ava is Seven

I'm not sure how it happened, but she's seven. Seven. Sometime last summer, she began to lose the little girl that she's been for years now. There is no little girl left. She has entered big girl territory. It is marked most obviously by her physical appearance. But it is also marked by less obvious, but more important things like an awesome sense of humor (with occassional lapses into bad knock-knock jokes or something so weird or goofy you can only pull out your best fake laugh then try to make a quick get away), an increasing awareness of how the world works---the good, the bad, and the ugly. She does double digit addition and reads chapter books. A fourth grade boy sweetly complimented her. He was flirting. I saw it. I know flirting and that was it. Fully and completely age-appropriate (at least for him). I saw my future. Or more to the point, I saw hers.

At her parent-teacher conference, her teachers said they wanted to keep her forever. Just kindergarten/first grade, and Ava. Because she will be in second grade next year. I know. Me too. She is a lovely kid. And as we began this next journey of big girlhood with her, I wish for her a solid sense of who she is and her place in our family and an unwavering knowledge of her inherent worthiness in a world that attempts to give young girls messages about what makes them valuable. I hope we can walk with her side by side, knowing that from now on we will be letting her go a little more each day. But we have been doing that all along. It just feels bigger now, as we watch her make the slow changes that will eventually lead her to her teenage years and beyond. On her birthday, Erik said, "She's been with us a long time." For as much as we've taught her, she has taught us to parent. To be adaptable and patient, to be ready for the unexpected, to be ready to acknowledge that your children are who they are and it sometimes has very little to do with you. And that letting go a little every day is neccessary.