At the center of your being you have the answer; you know who you are and you know what you want. -- Lao Tzu

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Testimony to the Human Spirit

Tonight I sat in my bed and watched my daughter, with us only 3 months, play in her bed quietly, winding down for sleep. This is our nightly routine. I gave her the picture I saw of her at 15 months old, the one that fueled the fire to find this child a home. She played with it for a long time. I don't know if she knows it's her or not. It's hard to say what is going on in her head.

I think about the joy with which she meets the day. Every morning when she wakes, she chirps "Hi!" and is ready to go. Our mornings are quiet. She sits next to me on the couch with a bowl of dry cereal and a sippee of soy milk. I drink my coffee and check my e-mail and she watches Baby First TV. We are quiet together but we are together. My daughter and I.

It's no small thing that she is here with me. I marvel at it often. That it happened is enough to give me back the faith I thought was gone. And she amazes me. Not only by what she does but the spirit with which she does it. How can a person be stripped of her dignity, her birthright, and all but her most basic needs and still survive? Not only survive but thrive? My daughter is an amazing person and has an inner strength and spirit I am in awe of. I am lucky to be witness to her life unfolding and as she learns new things I am seeing life in new ways too.

My daughter is beautiful and smart and is perfect just as she is. I love her smile and her goofiness. I love the odd things she does and the way that is just IS. And yet, behind the smiles and the laughter is the haunting image of a couple who will never know her and never know what became of her. I can never forget that my happiness has come at an incredible price to other human beings. And I can never forget that deep inside my daughter's soul is a grief so profound, so primal, that it will shape her life and the life of her children as well.

All is good here, our little family is doing well and I'm eager for you all to get to know her as we do. People have told me that she is a lucky girl because we adopted her. I say we are lucky because she has brought so much to our lives that was missing before. But for me, on a personal level, having her here is a daily reminder that life is special and each day is a gift.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Living Life Simply

Not homeschooling but unschooling. That's what this is. It's about letting learning happen naturally as it did before the boys turned six. It's about turning off the pressures of our post-industrialized nation and doing what is right for our kids. I certainly didn't have kids to turn them over to the public school system so they can be miserable every day for the next seven and nine years.

My life in school was so terrible that I still carry the scars. Neither of my parents know how bad it really was for me. How close I came to a permanent and irrevocable solution to my on going problems in school. How what looked like obstinacy and laziness was actually crushing depression under the weight of a culture of brutality that never, ever let up. In the time the boys were in school I spent more of my time intervening with bullying kids and teachers than anything else. And enough is enough. The cycle of hating learning, the poor self-esteem, the threats and fighting ends here. There isn't any reason in this world that the kids should have to be forced into the mental mosh pit. It is my job as their parent to make sure this doesn't happen.

And it's more than school, it's casting off the idea that because our children are smaller physically and we control the resources, we get to force them to do what we want. Does this mean they will be out of control and wild? Could be. But there are kids that are "traditionally parented" that are out of control and wild. In general kids that are unschooled are very responsible and kind. They have been managing their lives since they became verbal and they do a very good job. They were good boys before they became school age and they are good boys now. I see no reason that won't continue. Jane Nelson has this question about traditional parenting: "Where did we ever get the crazy idea that in order to make children do better, first we have to make them feel worse? Think of the last time you felt humiliated or treated unfairly. Did you feel like cooperating or doing better?"

So what does this mean? What will it look like? Well, I hope we can get to a point where everyone in the house feels safe and happy. The Golden Rule being the guiding principle for our family. It's a long up hill climb. For John and I to cast off the chaos of our childhoods and learn to treat the boys the way we want to be treated and not to apply pressure to force them to change so they do what we want. Right now this is very difficult. It's one moment at a time not even one day at a time. The boys fight and yell at each other and I'm trying to figure out how to get that to stop without using punishers or yelling. I have to resist the urge to yell and say no all the time. Cookies for breakfast? Sure why not? What makes a cookie more nutritionally valid at 3 pm than it would be at 9 am anyway?

We've struggled with all the "They shoulds" you have in your head too. We still are wrestling with them. But in fact there are very few "have tos" in life for adults and mountains of them for kids. The biggest one I've run up against in defending this idea is the "Life is hard and there are lots of things adults do they don't want to do. Kids have to learn that." Really? Even if it's true, and in fact I challenge that assertion, how early should kids learn that? And how painful should it be? Take it out a step. One of the things that is hard for some adults is they are victims of sexual assault. So should we arrange for our daughters to be raped so they can be prepared for it later? Sounds ridiculous I know but that's really what we are saying here. "Bad things may happen so let's prepare them."

Being prepared for bad things, being hyper-aware of bad things makes a child grow up into an anxious and panic-stricken adult. Surely no one wants that for the kids. Kids raised with an awareness of life, through the patient and gentle guidance and help of their parents are well aware of what life can be. They also know what life *should* be. And it's that should that prompts unschooled kids to become socially responsible adults. Instead of being raised in the dog-eat-dog world of competition and comparison where every action is critiqued and measured, they just grow. It's just the way the world should be.

Gandhi said "Be the change you wish to see in the world." And that's what is happening here. The boys will be better for their experiences with life as gentle and beautiful. They will be better for not being chewed up in the "Lord of the Flies" environment of institutional schooling. Judaism teaches us not to look for Heavenly reward, but to see that this Earth is what G-d made for us, Heaven is here. Enjoy this life. Life is to be savored not endured. And our kids will enjoy their lives. They will enjoy today because no one of us has a guarantee of a tomorrow. If one of the boys got seriously ill and G-d forbid passed away, I'd want to look back on their lives and know they ate what they wanted, slept when they wanted, enjoyed their days, as limited as they were. If I looked back and saw that what *I* did caused them pain that would be a grief from which I could never recover.

So no more forcing them out the door. No more force. No more pressure. No more humiliation. No more punishments. They are human beings and they are worthy of all the respect I believe I am owed. I close with two quotes...Eda LeShan:

"Becoming responsible adults is no longer a matter of whether children hang up their pajamas or put dirty towels in the hamper, but whether they care about themselves and others -- and whether they see everyday chores as related to how we treat this planet."


"Education is in danger of becoming a religion based on fear; its doctrine is to compete. [O]ur children are being led to believe that they are doomed to failure in a world which has room only for those at the top."

Not for our children. Not anymore. It stops here.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Ides of March

So today is the Ides of March...a day that portends impending doom. But for me, a confirmed pessimist I'm feeling pretty optimistic. I'm actually trying on optimism for a while...but it does feel like an itchy wool sweater.

I haven't been to my Hebrew class in oh three weeks because I've been crippled by sinus and fibro headaches. I'm going today but to be honest I'd rather be sleeping. Not that I could actually sleep anyway. I also need a haircut, I need to get some stuff for the birds and some tweezers. I'm contemplating getting my eyebrows waxed but you know it's always tough to trust someone else to do that. The last time I let someone else do it they removed too much in the middle and it made me look older.

Morgan is doing well, picking up more language along the way. She mimics all kinds of stuff. Eventually it will all come together for her and I think she'll just start talking one day. Amazing what someone paying attention to a child can do for her. And her austism? I don't think she's on the spectrum at all given what I've seen from her. She's not rigid, she doesn't show an inability to deal with changes past what I would say is normal for a three year old. It would surprise me if she was on the spectrum at all.

The boys are doing well too. Out of school again and happier for it. We are working as a family towards a more gentle life for us all. Trying to undo much of our history and replace the parenting tools John and I have for ones that are more respectful of our children. It's not easy to change your whole mindset and patterns of behavior. The boys really want a microscope and a set of premade slides. We need to get that for them. I remember how facinated I was by microbiology. I also want to get them some agar plates, and wet and dry prep slides. Maybe even some Gram stains. There is so much we can do with a good microscope!

I think it's time we get a digital camcorder. We have too much we are missing with the kids that would be nice to catch. Unfortunately, I know nothing about them. Maybe I can set John to researching it.

Well that's all the news worth reporting for now.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

I need to choose my Hebrew name.

My conversion is clicking along. I've contacted the base through the Chaplain's office to get permission to do my mikvah on the beach. I haven't heard back from them yet though so I guess I have to get on them to make sure I get an answer. I hope to have my conversion finished in April.

I still have to choose my Hebrew name. I think I'll create a poll and put it on here to see what everyone thinks. My Hebrew name will be used for official ceremonies and honors. Additionally, when the boys have their official things like their Bar Mitzvah ceremony, and their ketuba (marriage contract) my name in those things will be given as my Hebrew name. So it's an important choice. One which is vexing me because I so want to do this right...after all how often does a person get to pick their own name?

Morgan's Hebrew name is Rivka which means "captivating" and anyone who knows her story knows I was captivated by her from the moment I saw her picture which was 2 years ago!

Liam is a Hebrew name which means "My people, My nation" but he doesn't know if he's going to use Liam as his Hebrew name or not.

John is the English of Yochanan which means "G-d is gracious" and for the moment he's OK with using that. He may change his mind.

OK, so that's that. I've been uploading to Youtube you can see my videos here...

I'll be adding more soon. If when you read this the poll is up, please vote, not on the sound of the name but by the meaning. Does it make you think of me? Is it something that you think works for me? For example, the name Sarah means "gentle" and that is SO not me. OK, also, if you come here to read, you can leave would be nice to know someone is reading my blog. =)

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Letter to my body


I have been so hard on you over the years...I scarcely know what to say. How do I begin to apologize for all the abuse I've heaped on you for decades? I don't even remember a time when I didn't loathe you. Why did I loathe you? Because you weren't perfect. You were lumpy, and white, and flabby. There were times I couldn't look at you and didn't for YEARS. I ignored you, pretended you weren't there for YEARS, all the while cursing you for having to ignore you.

You know I don't hate you as much these days but you and I are still not friends. I never miss an opportunity to sling an arrow at you even though I have less to complain about nowadays. But I need to stop this. It's hurting me and I have a daughter now. She is going to be watching me, and taking her clues from me about how to treat her body. I wouldn't want her to hurt herself as I have hurt you.

I don't know how to just love you. I don't know how not to see the imperfections...I can't seem to get rid of the idea that "if I just...THEN I can be happy". We both know this is not true. I need to stop the campaign of brutality against you because it is mean and it is my secret shame. I think of myself as a good person but a good person wouldn't say the things I do to you. I would certainly wouldn't say these things to friends...even friends who are much larger than I am now. I look at my friends and see their beauty, but I look at you and I'm horrified.

I want to be comfortable naked, I want to love you, I want to use you in every way I know how. To not be afraid of you, or what people think of you. You are the greatest instrument I'll ever own and time is short. I want to dance...but until I can stop hating you, I can't do that. Poor Body, because of my issues, I continue to abuse you. I am like a battering spouse, only I won't tell you I'll never do it again because I know that's not true. I'll control myself for a while until I begin to feel stressed or angry and then I'll take it out on you.

I need to change me to be kinder to you and that needs to be a priority. I promise you now, that I will make the effort daily to see you as the most wonderful gift I have. It is you that lets me lift and hold my children. It is you that lets me comfort my pets. It is you that lets me express my love for my husband. Despite all I've said to you, you've been there for me and just toughed it out. I need to be as resiliant as you are. I need to begin today.


With Choices, come change

We have our daughter home with us now, she's been ours for two months but it doesn't seem possible that she hasn't always been here. It's not all daisies and candy, but she's a good girl and doing well.

During our wait for her, I made the decision to go through with converting to Judaism. It's something I've wanted since I was young and I realized that all my floundering around "playing" at religion was in fact meandering down the path to where I should have been all along. Were it not for this Christian dominated culture I may well have come to the decision sooner. It is not that I am worried about not being mainstream or anti-semitism, but that Christianity just dominates every facet of our culture that it pushes aside other choices and made me feel like it was Christianity or nothing. And since I can not abide the message of Christianity and a vast number of "representatives" of Christ I chose Nothing. But now I am where I feel as though I belong. It is a real sense of coming home. Anyway, I should have my conversion ceremony by May and then the kids will have theirs. I'm not sure what John will do or not do. He takes a long time to decide things.

This brings me to a kind of sad thing, through adopting a brown child and becoming Jewish, some of our family and friends have decided that they can no longer be involved with us. It's sad to know that people are so small. I am sorry that the decisions I've made for my life has caused me to lose people I cared for, but that's their decision and they are certainly welcome to their beliefs. It does disturb me to find this ugliness in the ranks of those whom I loved but it's better to know now than not know they are there.

The one discussion I haven't had with the boys is telling them that they have lost some of their white privilege. How do you tell kids that by choosing to be Jewish, some things will no longer be available to them? That by virtue of the Star of David around their necks some people will wish them dead? Certainly, this is not the West Bank and I'm not trying to say that it's that level of danger, but to assume that there are not people walking the streets here that think those things is folly. I have already been called a "Jew Bitch" a Baptist. It is all very difficult to process.

I was confronted by an old man in the commissary over bringing a Chinese person into the US. Luckily Morgan doesn't understand much English so she wasn't hurt by it. But I was unprepared for this encounter. Prejudice is everywhere and it is offered up by more than just the people you expect to see it from. And now my family is no longer insulated completely from it. It's at once a troubling experience, and a gift because certainly we will now feel more compassion than we did before for those who can not hide from it.