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vanitysearch

 

True confession: I vanity search myself. All the time.

What this says about my nature, I’ll leave to my next therapy session. Among other reasons, I Google myself periodically to make sure there’s nothing untoward attached to my good name. Most of the time it is harmless narcissism.

Then, last fall, someone hacked into my professional website. I had to rebuild it from the bottom up.

What was the first clue of this violation? A vanity search, which revealed my site and all its links were going to a free payday loan operation. So, while I’m aware that excessive self-searching is on par with repetitive mirror checking and compulsive stove knob checking (to make sure the burners are off, for the uninitiated), I’m defending the practice.

In all this Googling, I realize I am very findable. If someone were to stalk me, it would be an easy assignment. I wouldn’t think much of this except some of the people I’ve tried to find have no known online presence. Are they technophobes or savvy? It’s always possible their alter-egos rule the online world.

My uncontrollable Googling took a dark turn when I began searching for particular people, including the bad doctor. I hadn’t thought of him in a while. The last time was during my latest ill-fated attempt at therapy. 

And here’s the thing: I Googled him and right away I learned he lived within walking distance of my house.

How do I feel about this?

Like someone tackled me from behind, knocking all the air from my lungs, and when I get up to look in the mirror to check for damage, I see the ignorant, vulnerable and gullible 12-year-old me in the reflection. For a moment. Here’s another thing: I allowed myself to travel through the range of emotions and then I let it pass.

He is an old man now. How harmful could he be?

I am a grown woman now. How vulnerable could I be against an old man?

I did a little more digging. It looks as if he has turned around his life. But, who knows? His outward life appeared fine then, too. Family man. Accomplished in his field. The comforts of the upper middle class. This kind of thing is kept hidden, especially among the well-heeled. But it’s what I want — need — to believe.  That he is reformed.

What I still wonder are these things:

  • Is he aware that what he did to me and others was wrong?
  • Was he drunk/high when he did those things?
  • Did he do those things to his children?
  • Did someone do those things to him?
  • Was this a compulsion that he could not control then and continues to fight daily?

I don’t suppose he wonders how I am. I’m guessing he wipes his brow in relief from time to time that I kept my mouth shut.

Further research on the old boy showed that he has lived in my shadow for all my life. We’ve basically migrated along the same path around this metropolitan area. Coincidence? It has to be. He has made no contact with me since the ’80s.

Maybe he Googles me? and others? It’s something to consider: How much of what is precious to me is accessible to bad people?

While I no longer fear him, I fear his kind. I am a middle-aged woman who still harbors a serious doctor phobia. I delay physicals and ignore health symptoms as long as possible to avoid the clinical environments and naked probings of such places. When I can control the gender choice of doctor, I do. When I am ill enough, I give in.

The important thing here is my children, one still an innocent, the other with one foothold in adulthood but still sheltered from such things. How findable are they on the Internet should some twisted freak conduct a search? How much do they know about what is acceptable and what is not when it comes to other trusted adults in their lives? It is my job to make sure it is clear to them the course to take not only if they suspect something but also to speak up right away.

Even more important: Parents need to act on the courage of their children. Doubt later. Punish a lie later. Act now.

– April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Child Abuse Prevention month 

Essence

Nine years ago I fell in love with a little white ball of fluff with a big, black nose. I thought: That kitten looks like a teddy bear. I want that kitten.
That kitten did not want me.
Another one in the litter at the cat rescue we visited worked hard to gain our attention. He cuddled and purred and curled into our laps, mewing a plea for passage to a permanent home.
But this Teddy Bear? He turned up his little black nose at us and padded away, refusing our affections.
We compromised and adopted both kittens. They would be this blended family’s first official pets. The Twin Terrors — as we dubbed them since they were born on September 11 — were a constant source of joy and occasional frustration. The Teddy Bear bonded with the girls, particularly Girl from the West.

The cats were an interesting pair. We trained them to stay in our yard and rarely did they break the rule. Teddy, who remained aloof with adults, befriended the dog next door, forging a lifetime friendship in which one would arrive at the fence and patiently await the arrival of the other. They sniffed at one another and chased back and forth along the property line.
Three years ago we were heartbroken when the friendly brother suddenly went into liver failure and died. Teddy Bear paced the house, peering under furniture and behind curtains in a fruitless search for his pal.
Our remaining cat now goes through the same paces and clings to our side as we adjust to life without the Teddy Bear in our house. We lost him to a swift-moving cancer. Girl from the West’s graduation carries the memory of her beloved pet’s euthanasia only hours earlier.
I’ve written a lot here lately about pain. This might suggest life is grim for me. Not the case. It’s an even mix of joy and sorrow.

The essence of life.

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Wild things

I remember the day I first discovered the magic of Maurice Sendak.  Intrigued by the dozing monster on the cover of this slim volume tucked away in my elementary school library, I pulled its taped spine from the shelf and cracked opened the well-worn pages.

Trouble begins on the first page. A little boy in a costume, acting naughty, goes to his room without dinner. Then, strange things happen. Trunks and foliage sprout from the floorboards and bedpost, stretch skyward, knocking away walls and windows.  The ceiling retracts, exposing stars and clouds suspended above “the world all around.”

What luck: A private boat with his name on it sails him far away across a choppy sea to a land of monsters, which he tames with his staring trick. 

What an amazing — and scary — thing to have happen to your bedroom, especially when you are a kid in trouble. Nothing like that ever happened to me. The story reminded me of a time when I was young and I thought I’d have a solo adventure in the woods. When I was too far to run to safety or call for help, I heard the sloshing and branch-snapping of a large animal in the swamp. I stood still, heart bouncing in my chest, breathing heavily but quietly, until the sounds receded. Bear? Deer? Swamp monster? I’m sure I couldn’t tame it with my staring trick, but I did wish for a magic vehicle to sweep me away.

Much like that swamp encounter, my heart races as I thumb through the pages of “Where the Wild Things Are” ignoring the words at first in favor of drinking in the mesmerizing illustrations, which are neither too cheerful nor overly terrifying. As I sit cross-legged on the little carpet, I flip back to the beginning over and over, to carefully study the metamorphosis from tame to wild to tame again. I decide which monster is scariest: it’s a tie between the one with the rooster beak and the one with the bull horns.

There is danger but there also is power in this tale. I believe in monsters of all shapes. Some live in the shadows behind the attic door in my upstairs bedroom, others lurk under the bed. Some live in the bright light of day, visible to all, but only scary to me. I have no power.

It didn’t take long for someone else in the library that day to notice I was hoarding “Where the Wild Things Are.” He stomped over and demand I turn it over for his perusal. Reluctantly, I handed it to him and watched as a crowd of boys gathered around to follow Max’s journey. From that day on, it became a game of who’d get to the book first.

I’m sure I thought about Max’s adventure that night as I lay under covers, gazing at the sturdy walls, wondering if they had the potential to transform into something wild, or if my roof might retract to show the heavens.

I thought about it years later when I had my first child and the book was gifted to us. My little Girl from the West loved it so much she called it “Wild Rumpus.” I’d read it and we’d jump up and down in her room, roaring our terrible roars and gnashing our terrible teeth, making our own wild rumpus. I still have the framed print I made for her third birthday. It now hangs in our downstairs bath, an homage to the power of  imagination.  My husband, also a fan, brought to our marriage two copies of the book, along with soft cover collection of Sendak’s art.

So it was with surprise today that I learned Sendak died. I wasn’t sure I knew he was alive.  NPR aired an interview with Terry Gross from the ’80s.  He was a brusque, to-the-point kind of guy. I listened with pleasure and interest.  l liked how his mind worked, how he marched to a different beat.

A little reminder to us all: our children are wild and they have incredible imaginations. Let us tame the former to reasonable standards and the latter to no extent at all.

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What did you just say?

People are made in China, too.

We all do it.

The brain issues the statement and the mouth broadcasts it faster than the censors can hit the bleep button.

Then, my dear, you are in the throes of an awkward moment.

Recently, I found myself on the receiving end of one while volunteering in Girl from the East’s kindergarten classroom.

In case you are new here, Girl from the East was born in China. She is an American citizen through adoption. She is the world to us.

Girl is six years old. We became a family in 2006 when she was just under 11 months old. Everyone who knows us well knows our dynamic. Although we cannot shield her from the ignorance and hate of the outside world, we are fortunate to travel in fairly educated and enlightened circles.

But when something changes, like starting a new school, we have to start fresh. We have to go through the shit — again.

So it came as a kick to the gut during a classroom holiday party when one of the volunteer parents uttered an insensitive statement for everyone to hear.

Apparently upset that the plastic glue bottle would not produce a dot of adhesive for him in a timely manner, he began banging the container on the craft table. Then, he stood up, handed the glue bottle to the teacher and said something close to this:

“Another useless piece of crap from China.”

OK. I know. We are in an election year. The anti-China rhetoric is blowing around like trash in the streets. We, especially those of us in the Rust Belt, gripe about the outsourcing of manufacturing to overseas factories. We all grumble that things are not made to last.  I’m just as upset about it as you are.

As I mentioned, my daughter was made in China, quite possibly to hard-working farmers, or severely overworked and under-compensated factory workers. It is not the fault of the collective overseas workforce that products are inferior. Look to the greedy corporations, suppliers and governments. Many of these factory workers travel hundreds of miles away from their home villages to earn wages to support their whole family. Some have children they never see.  It is an ugly situation and we all suffer the consequences of it through low-quality and sometimes tainted goods as well as job loss right here in the United States. It is a huge problem.

Please direct your anger where it belongs. Boycott products and companies that take part in these practices. Write letters. Start a movement. Please do not China bash, especially in front of my daughter or your children or anyone of Asian appearance.

Telling me, oh, I thought she was Korean, does not make it OK.

Our classroom is somewhat diverse. We have a racial and ethnic mix. Open bashing of any of the other races or ethnicities is unheard of in today’s hyper-sensitive school climates. Yet, China bashing is rampant.

My daughter is proud of her roots. She is too young to understand the complicated relationship between the United States and China (heck, I don’t get it, either.)  She is too young to understand things like Communism and the Cultural Revolution and emerging capitalism. She’s just a kid.

We teach her there are good and bad people in China. Good and bad businesses in the United States. We must take things on a case-by-case basis.

I haven’t forgotten that day or those words. I’m still wondering what to do. I started writing a proactive type of letter that could be distributed via the school’s weekly newsletter, but it doesn’t seem like enough.

Why didn’t I call him out? Why didn’t I pull him aside afterward? I’ve done that before to little satisfaction on anyone’s part. Perhaps I’m not the most diplomatic. Perhaps those who say such things are firm in their beliefs and are just twitching to engage in debate.  When I approached an offending parent at toddler play group a few years back, she vehemently stood behind her words, asserting that there is no correlation between statements of inferior products and the people of a nation. She suggested I grow thicker skin because the issue isn’t going away.

I’m not going anywhere, either. The day I held my Girl from the East for the first time was the day I knew I’d taken on an extra duties, ones that require added defense and offense for the inter-country adoption community.

So, please, take a moment to think about the source of your anger. Think about your audience. Think about the innocent people you might hurt with your uncensored remarks.

Thank you.

 

 

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What we have here is a
failure to communicate

Girl from the East (seated on couch, reading a chapter book aloud): Mom, what does w-a-i-t spell?

MZ: Wait.

Clock ticks. Cars drive past on the street outside. Dried leaves let go of their seasonal grip and drift earthward.

Girl from the East: Mom, what does w-a-i-t spell?

MZ: I said, wait.

Bananas rot. Cat yawns. The earth turns.

Girl from the East: MO-OM!  I. SAID. WHAT. DOES. W-A-I-T SPELL?

MZ:  WAIT! I mean, waaaaaiiiitaminnit there. I think we’re having our first Jim Ignatowski moment.

Girl: Jimnatowski! Mom you’re so silly.

Silly? You decide:

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Why you need more than one child

Stunned, I sat in silence behind the closed bedroom door. My youngest girl, a kindergartener, picked up every last Barbie shoe, scarf, perfume bottle, fork (Do you know how small they are? About the size of your pinkie fingernail.) from my office carpet and put them in the designated storage box.

I asked her to do it and she did it. Just like that.

Huh.

It actually works sometimes, doesn’t it?

Had I stopped at one child, I would not have experienced the sweet beauty of this moment.

How did this happen? I’ve not deviated too much from the parenting manual I used for the first child.

It just worked this time.

Or maybe it’s just that each child is wired differently.

Or maybe it’s because I stayed home with her. (And, no, this isn’t a post taking a position on stay-at-home motherhood over working mothers. I’ve been both.)

When I was a working parent, my only child knew how to manipulate me. She knew how and exercised the option often. Inadvertently, I gave her loopholes. I was also much younger, a fist-time parent, and very worried about anything threatening my job.

I had a flashback moment today at the bus stop, as I watched a young mother dressed for an office job frantically wheeling her baby’s stroller along the slippery sidewalk. The tot inside gurgled and kicked his feet, while his big sister grimaced and dragged at least five steps behind. The mom barked some threats at her, coaxed, and finally pleaded with her to step forward and get on line for the bus. Each day this scene plays out in some fashion.

How many times in my young motherhood was I that woman, one eye on my wristwatch and the other on my girl, who either cried and clawed at me to stay or arrived at day care in her nightgown because she refused to dress for the day?

Child No. 1 never did what I asked on the first, second, even third request. Always there were threats and consequences and then the dreaded follow-through. She always pushed it to the edge with me. Then, we had the ‘tween years. I was all out of ideas and so full of frustration I decided to resign my position to attend at least in part to her needs. Now, that firstborn is almost an adult; the game is a bit different.

Having two children or more gives you a chance to get some perspective on human nature and chance. If you have an obedient, people-pleasing first child, you may think that’s how all children are and arrange for more. If you have a difficult, defiant, march-to-the-beat-of- a-different-drummer first child, you might hold out hope that statistically you’ll draw the obedient card the second time around. Maybe you’ll get yourself fixed.

Every parent, if they are going to have more than one child, is bound to get at least one ”challenging” child. To have a brood of challenges is unfair. To have an army of Stepford children is also, well, freakishly unnatural and only occurs on TV.

Right? Tell me this is right.

 

 

Let’s go out and play

Girl from the East has a new best friend and it’s a boy.

They secretly became best friends in preschool, unbeknownst to all the parents involved.

The first blush of spring delivered news that Girl and Boy were now best friends. I remember my surprise because I’d never seen the two of them so much as look at each other at school. I considered it a passing fancy.

A week later, Boy’s mother called and said Boy just had to have a play date with Girl. So, we scheduled one. All went well. Many more followed. Sometimes we had to peel them apart when the play date was over. We declared their friendship “adorable” and “sweet.” At preschool graduation, we figured the friendship would be forgotten; Boy and Girl were going to different elementary schools in the fall.

The phone calls started mid-September. First, from the mom saying that Boy, who was sad, had written notes and colored pictures for Girl during summer break. Then, the dad, when I bumped into him at the grocery store, told me that Boy was begging to have a play date with Girl because he was worried that he’d never see her again.

Yesterday was the second big play date of the school year for these two.

I took Boy and Girl to a nearby nature preserve tucked along a small river twisting through a neighborhood. Indian summer spread its buttery glow over the forest, scattering orange and red confetti to the wind, stirring the hunt-and-gather instinct. Red squirrels with nut-stuffed cheeks scampered over the leaf and stick carpet and clambered up tall oaks, barking at us as we passed underneath.  Ducks paddled along the lazy river’s edge, following us with hope of a food reward. Boy and Girl, oblivious, ran races along the dirt trails, stuffed their backpacks with leaves, slid through muddy patches, threw acorns in the river, teased the ducks, found a grassy hill and rolled down like logs, then discovered a playground and played hide-and-seek until the sun cast long shadows across the lot.

I snapped a lot of pictures. I smiled a lot.  I thought about why these atypical pairings grab our attention. When Girl has one of her gal pals over, I think nothing of the hugging and hand holding and proclamations of never-ending devotion. When this happens with a boy, I add a heavy dose of my own romanticism and idealism to it.

Here’s the thing: Boy-girl play dates are so much easier to referee, at least for this mother of two daughters. They just — play. There’s no squabbling over who gets to wear the sparkly princess tiara during dress up or who gets the Malibu Barbie when they’re playing doll house.

This little slice of sweetness between Boy and Girl is different for me and it’s been a joy to watch. It’s a reminder that there are moments of pure bliss in life, when your legs will take you anywhere, when your eyes are open to everything, when wonder and adventure await around every bend in the path.

Go outside and play with your best friend.

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The sweetest thing

During a much-needed mom’s night out with wine, food, and good conversation I learned that the A word and my Girl from the East came up with one of the families from our school.

Adoption arose as part of a much larger context, one encircling the areas of family resemblance, dominant traits, and individual uniqueness. It seems too complex for the preschool set, but now is the time when our children’s eyes open even wider to notice such things as tallness, blondeness, bigness, and differentness.

Specifically, the question of what makes boys different from girls, and how African-American kids in the class look different from the Caucasian kids led to how some families are tall and thin and some are short and wide and how some kids have two daddies or two mommies or some other defining trait.

“Like your friend, (Girl from the East),” the mother explained to my daughter’s playmate. “You’ve noticed she looks different from her mother. That’s because she’s adopted.”

“She doesn’t look different from her mom,” my daughter’s friend insisted.

“Well, yes, she was born in China. She is Chinese,” the mom continued.

“Noooo,” the young friend asserted, shaking her head. “She looks just like her mom.”

My heart warmed as I listened to this story.

That is the sweetest thing.

It never occurred to me that we could be regarded in that way, even if it is through the rose-colored lens of youth.

This is, of course, the portrait of our love for each other; we are blind to our differences. I think Girl from the East has my husband’s eyes and disposition. I know she has my penchant for perfection.  I don’t know where she ends and I begin.

When I look at my girl’s smooth cheeks, inky black eyes, and cupid’s bow mouth, I see our history reaching all the way back to that smoky, crowded government office in Nanchang, China, when I first accepted her slight form into my arms. Her long limbs, elegant fingers,  and thick, silky hair remind me of her birth family as none of us possess those traits.

It occurred to me that it has been years — years! — since anyone has asked any of us if we belong together. In the beginning, it was a constant affront.

And now, the court of opinion has grown to include  one very astute five-year-old.

That is the sweetest thing.

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Short and sweet

by alancleaver_2000 via creative commons

My oldest daughter made me cry in public this weekend.

I was front row, center, and caught without a tissue to save me.

Most of what I write about here centers on my life with 5-year-old Girl from the East. I don’t say much anymore about 17-year-old Girl from the West. I no longer feel comfortable blogging about the details of her life. She’s old enough to tell her own stories.

But I want to tell this story. This weekend that almost-adult daughter of mine who often tests the limits of my love and patience knocked the air out of my lungs. In a good way.

After an eight-year hiatus  she walked on that stage before a full auditorium of her peers, teachers, and parents, and sang solo.  I wept.

She kept the whole thing a secret, telling me only a week ahead of time that she was performing in the high school talent show. Last weekend I took her shopping for something to wear.

“Are you alone or with other people?” I ask as we slide hanger after hanger of dresses across the racks, assessing each one for potential.

“What kind of music are you using?” I prod, as we hold up shoes to the dress under consideration.

“Do we need something glittery and showy or something soft and flowing?” I say with growing annoyance.

She has not answered any of my questions. She won’t. I know it. It occurs to me that this irritating habit has some fairly obvious roots.

It also occurs to me that she didn’t really need my help picking out clothes. She wanted my emotional support.  At least she seemed to heed my advice on what not to wear on stage.

After all, there are high heels and sheath dresses and then are YouTube moments waiting to happen.

She did the same thing to me eight years earlier. Made me cry. Kept me in the dark. Back then an even smaller version of this girl stood on the same stage, this time dressed in the rags of a street urchin, dirt smudged on each cheek, holding a straw broom and singing “Castle on a Cloud” in the local high school production of “Les Miserables.”

No one in our family and friends group that evening could believe the clear, sweet music flowing from this child’s vocal chords. Even though she’d been selected from a district-wide audition, we all had braced ourselves for any possible outcome, from perfect delivery to utter stage fright.

Instead, our then third-grader amazed us all with a strong voice that projected around the theater and as much confidence as the teen cast on stage.

We thought it might be the beginning of something for her. She’s been performing in public in odd ways since she was old enough to realize she could attract an audience. (Imagine a four-year-old in Borders getting up on a window sill and breaking out in song and dance while her mother paid for books.) She’s been a member of all of her school choirs, joined local choral ensembles, is a four-summer veteran of music camp, and toured Europe for a month in 2008 as part of an international choral ensemble exchange student program. She’s done all that but she has not reprised the solo since her stint as young Cosette.

I stopped asking her about solos years ago.

Last weekend, she broke her silence and I was caught crying in a crowded theater. I am not a public crier. I’m not even a private crier. But when your child does something to make you that proud, to make you really notice that she’s come into her own, ready to take on the world, it’s impossible to maintain a poker face.

 

 

 

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Watching the otters

Waiting

 

At a weekend workshop on literacy tutoring, I learned that my Girl from the East has met most of the academic requirements for the completion of kindergarten. She will not even enter kindergarten until this fall. I wonder how her first year of formal education will play out knowing this?  Will she be too far ahead of her peers? Will things quickly equalize once she balances her academic skills with the rigors of a full day of school? Time will answer these questions.

Meanwhile, my days are spent keeping up with her hearty appetite for knowledge. I am not a Tiger Mom, as some of my friends teasingly have suggested. I just follow this child’s lead. I like to think she is my teacher as well.

Last week, on a rare warmish, sunny afternoon, neither of us wanted to go home after preschool.  I had a long list of to-dos that nagged at my conscience. My girl wanted to run in the wind and bask in the sunshine. What to do? We decided on a quick trip to the zoo.

After I flashed our membership card at the gate, I let Girl from the East decide our fate.

“Otters. Otters,” she begged.

We always end up in the otter house. Girl from the East has a fierce affection for the trio of rescued otters living at the Detroit Zoo. I never protest. The otter house is a nice refuge no matter what time of year. It’s quiet and naturally lighted by a bank of picture windows that overlook the otter’s watery, woodsy domain.

Otters are very much like my daughter. Well, except for the fish-, clam- and frog-eating tendencies. When the otters are sleeping, they are curled up, content and unmoving. When they are awake, they are in constant motion, leaping into and out of the water, gliding through the blue depths, and splashing in the falls until it seems they are on the brink of cardiac arrest.

Although I have never been able to capture it well either in still photography or on video, my Girl plays a game with the otter. As the otter swims to and fro on the watery side of the glass, my girl chases him back and forth on the viewing side of the glass. It seems as if the otter knows it’s being followed but cannot stop itself from repeating the pattern. This goes on almost endlessly.

On our last visit, this game of chase lasted for an hour. Then the docent nicely shooed us out of the building.  But before that happened, I was reminded that my life is too much like that otter. I’m racing back and forth in a crazed frenzy, unable to stop myself.

But my life is also not like the otter at all. The otter isn’t confused about what it is.  It eats, sleeps, poops, and plays just like an otter should. Nothing more. Nothing less. And that is just fine.

Lessons from my five year old. Lessons from an otter.

Otter and child on the move