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Together we are stronger

A teacher at Ruby’s school organized a rally last Wednesday morning to show support for the six teachers who have in their possession, at this very minute, layoff notices (Ruby’s kindergarten teacher is one of Golden Ticket holders). Yay for creating a healthy work environment! Pfffft. The rally was also aimed at expressing frustration with the district’s handling of…oh…pretty much everything. Parents, teachers and students were instructed to wear red and meet an hour before school. Signs were to be provided.

I woke Ruby early, packed her lunch and over a breakfast of eggs, mixed berry applesauce and vitamins—don’t forget the vitamins!—I explained why we’d be stepping between the raindrops that morning. The discussion went swimmingly. I told her about silly people firing teachers, and she responded with, “Mama, Ella is the best dog in the whole world!” I told her about buses becoming extinct like the dinosaurs, and she sang out “I got no chicken in my chicken pot paahhhh!” When she stood to shake her booty to the sound of her new chant, I knew the conversation was over. I grabbed our umbrellas and hoped something had sunk in.

When we got to the rally, we found that we were the rally. Just the two of us, sign-less in our rain boots, standing on a damp sidewalk as cars whooshed by. Because I don’t usually check my email at 7:40 AM, I missed the rally-canceled-due-to-rain notice to disarm. To think: Thousands upon thousands of folks stood in snow and sleet and freezing temperatures for more than a month in Madison, Wisconsin, this past winter. They slept in their capitol building, too. But here in San Diego, a little marine layer rolls in off the ocean and we need chains on our tires. That is if we don’t call off the job. I’m convinced this type of halfheartedness is why Chargers fans are the only thing lamer than the Chargers.

I was miffed and voiced my opinion to the appropriate source. Poor guy. But I got over it and focused on the so-called teachable moment. On the way to the drop-off area, I talked to Ruby about apathy. Then she placed one kiss on each of my cheeks before wiggling off to class singing, “I got no chicken in my chicken pot paahhhh. I got no chicken in my chicken pot paahhhh.”

The rally was rescheduled for yesterday, and because I support our teachers and our school, and because I want my daughter to learn to stand for what she believes in, I woke her early, packed her lunch and reminded her over breakfast why we were going to stand with teachers in the glorious morning sunlight.

Tonight, when she told her dad about the rally, she said to him, “TEACHERS! YES! TEACHERS! YES! LAYOFFS! NO! LAYOFFS! NO! COUNSELORS! YES! COUNSELORS! YES! CUTBACKS! NO! CUTBACKS! NO!”

I’ll tell you what: That girl most definitely has some chicken in her chicken pot pie.

Celebrating

This weekend was good. There was a lot of cheese, if you catch my drift:

And not to rub it in (Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, Paris, ahem) but there was quite a bit of this:

Which was perfect for our annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day neighborhood clean up.

We worked in the rain last year.

For the third year in a row, we got together with our friends, put on some gloves and worked with our kids to make our community a better place.  Later in the day, I did Ruby’s hair—getting her ready to go back to school tomorrow after four weeks off—while Sam cooked a traditional southern meal of smothered chicken, rice and veggies. My in-laws came bearing corn bread and my mother-in-law baked a buttermilk pie, one of MLK’s favorites. That is, at least, according to the Internets.

When we’d finished eating and the dishes were done (courtesy of my father-in-law), we all sat together and watched Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech in all of it’s 17 minutes and 28 seconds of still-pertinent glory. Indeed, this is no time “to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism,” but rather to pay close attention and continue to work tirelessly toward the realization of his dream.

Did I mention we forgot to light our Menorah on day one? It’s because we were so busy…

Our neighbors down the block have had their tree up since before Thanksgiving, and a house just a few steps from there has had lights twisted through their porch hand railing since 1274 AD.  Ruby knows this habit of displaying holiday accoutrements of any kind, outside of the month in which the holiday they celebrate takes place, is against my by-laws.  She therefore screams as we drive down the street, “A CHRIS! MUS! TREE!?! IT’S NOT CHRISMUS YET, STINKY!”  Someday, she’ll swear like I do—something more like, “IT’S! NOT! FUCKING! CHRISTMAS! YET! DIPSHITS!”—and I will applaud her.  It’s comforting to know my neurosis is being successfully embedded.

So patiently did my child wait through that long last week of November—excited and yet, forlorn that other people were breaking the rules and she couldn’t—that we broke down and went for the gold last night, on December 1st, about two weeks before we normally procure our Noble Fir (and, as it happens this year, on the first day of Hannukah, which consequently took a back seat for these Jews. Or perhaps I should say, “Jews”.)

To set the mood, I put on a little Sufjan Stevens holiday music, Ruby had some hot spiced cider, Sam and I enjoyed hot toddys and then we went to work. I always seem to forget during the other 11 months of the year, that putting up a tree is a lot of work.  And with a five-year-old assistant, things tend to be a little skeewompus:  Beads don’t gently droop like dew drops, but strangle like string around a brisket; many branches remain empty, while others bend with the weight of six precariously hung ornaments; and all 40 candy canes are positioned within arms reach of a 47-inch person.  This type of disorganization drives me batty, as I like my tree to be Just. So.  But dang if it doesn’t look pretty when I’ve taken out my contacts.

Thank the sweet baby Jesus that this only happens once a year.  And believe me when I say, come New Years Day? That thing will be naked and curbside while our neighbors cling to their decorations through Valentines Day.

About my skillz in the kitchen

For the last two months or so, we’ve been getting a “box” of vegetables from Suzy’s Organic Farm every-other-week. We pick up our veggies at the elementary school Ruby will be attending come September—excuse me for a minute while I get a tissue…

Oh Jesus. Hold another second, please…

Ah, that’s better. Off to school you go, wee one!

Anyway, I feel pretty great about taking part in Community Supported Agriculture because we walk down the block to pick up our veggies. And, too, because I can say, Hey y’all! I’m participating in Community Supported Agriculture! as I pat myself on the back for being this much [] closer to the source of my food.

But I gotta be honest: Beyond that? Not so wowed. I find, as much as I fight it, I’m becoming ever-less enchanted with my every-other-Wednesday loot. This week, we got four tomatoes. Four. And they tasted just as much like wet cardboard as those from my grocery store. We didn’t get any lettuce but got enough arugla to feed everyone within a three block radius of our home. For a month. That is, if the arugula weren’t more bitter than Betty Draper chewing coffee grounds in between cigarettes.

Of course, we did get 3 eggplants, two gnarled and pocked squashes (is that a word? squashes?), a bag of emaciated Romanian green beans and about 60 peppers. 60 very useful Cherry Bomb, Serrano and Hungarian Hot Wax chili peppers. As much as I like supporting my local farmers, bitter arugula and flaming peppers are not helping my family meal planning. Not that I would know since I don’t normally cook, but nothing is normal around here these days. My period shows up whenever it feels like it, forty is the new 32 and last night, I baked a chicken. I touched giblets and a neck. I made a paste with olive oil and oregano leftover from the last CSA box and smeared it around under the skin. Take that store bought rotisserie chickens!

And since procrastination is an art form of the most highly disciplined avoider, I embraced this new-found talent and skipped writing in lieu of cooking again today. (Of course, here I sit writing, so it’s all getting done as it should.) And what did I do with all the weird and useless veggies from last night’s CSA box? I went shopping and got all the necessary ingredients to make this gazpacho right here.

It only took me an hour and the kitchen was a wall-splattered Jackson-Pollack-meets-Frida-Kahlo masterpiece. My gazpacho was red and not at all green, like the pretty picture on the No More Dirty Looks website, probably because I didn’t follow the directions and removed the cucumber skin, resulting in a final product that looked more closely related to the vomit of a frat boy on a bender than it did an Ayurvedic delicacy. But whew! I did it. I’m just lucky I didn’t lose a toe when the blade from my miniature food processor went flying to the ground, a credit to my natural athletical inclinations.

Like a mad scientist on a roll, I made some grilled trout for dinner.

Okay, that’s a total lie. Sam prepped and cooked the trout. But I bought it and took a photo of it just before I dealt with those pesky peppers. What to do about those peppers, right?

Even I know, when in doubt, add bacon. And cream cheese.

I sliced and cleaned 15 of these babies without getting any spice-juice in my eyes, smeared them full of cream cheese, wrapped them in bacon, slid them into the oven and then forgot to take any pictures of the end product because they were as eye-wateringly scrumptious as the gazpacho was not. And it turns out, a few of them weren’t spicy at all. Her entire face may have puckered at the flavor of the gazpacho, but one guess as to who asked for a bacon wrapped, cream cheese stuffed pepper for dessert?

I gotta say, failure be damned—and to Ruby’s teacher, I honestly thought it was a nice gesture bringing you a bowl of chilled upchuck—the effort to fun ratio was, for once, pretty inspiring.

Thanks, Joe.

What She Wore

I love fashion. It’s not a secret. But I’m not very good at putting things together in a creative or original way. I actually suck at it. Quite magnificently. When I go shopping, which I don’t care for at all, I tend to buy the same thing over and over and over again. I don’t mean to do it, I just gravitate to what’s safe: I have thing for jeans—though a reasonable argument can be made for never having too many pairs of jeans—which pile up higher than my stack of unread New Yorkers. And frequently heard comments from my husband include the back-tracking winner, “Oh, you bought another sleeveless, solid-color jersey t-shirt with ruching. It’s super cute!”

Thankfully, I’ve found a few websites to help me think “outside the box,” a phrase I dislike almost as much as “ah-ha! moment” and more than dressing room lighting, which is saying something.

Anyway, last Friday, I found and fell in love with a new-to-me website and subsequently gave over hours of valuable writing time to perusing What I Wore. The hostess, Jessica Schroeder is darling and very, very good at what she does; I would urge any woman who is looking for ideas to visit her site. I want to be her when I grow up, except that she’s probably 15 years younger than I am. There is no turning back the clock, but I can covet and borrow, which is the whole point of her website.

By Friday afternoon, I was inspired enough to dig out the only scarf I own. If I do say so myself, I think I looked just a little bit more fashionable this weekend as I cheered on the US men’s soccer team from my couch.  Look at me, breaking out of my normal norms and trying some thing dangerous and new:

Okay, so maybe I look a little silly with a scarf tied in my hair. But I tried it! And the influence stretched beyond me.

He puts rabid soccer fans to shame.

Alright, if Sam and I can’t successfully translate Jessica’s ideas, then perhaps we should look closer to home for someone who can…

When:
June 13, 2010

What:
Dress: Target
Yoga Top: Target
Leg Warmers: Hannah Andersson
Socks: The Children’s Place (one purple, one pink)
Shoes: Target
Flower in hair: A stranger’s garden (she only took one!)

Where:
Breakfast at Brian’s and the Hillcrest Farmer’s Market

Why:
Because she can’t not. It’s in her DNA, which obviously is not mine. I have much to learn. The question is, can it be taught?

The Big Blue Boy Scout

Our neighbors had a yard sale this weekend, providing a spontaneous photo op. And, of course, there was a natural evolution.

Sometimes reality is glaring

Today was the first day of the year that felt like summer. It was warm out—not hot—with a mostly cloudless sky as blue as a Popsicle®.  It was quintessential Southern California, the kind of day that begs you to toss your obligations out the window and head directly for the beach with your Coppertone, a double-wide towel and your latest copy of The New Yorker. Or any of the previous four backed up on your nightstand.

I didn’t do that, though, because on Friday, I had a 2mm hunk of skin removed from my chest by a dermatologist who doesn’t think it’s “b.c.c” but wanted to be safe. If it is basal cell carcinoma, of which I have a history,  it’s better to remove it now to minimize scarring. Good thing I don’t fancy v-neck tees, or anything. (Which, of course, is part of what got me into the situation in the first place, but save me the lectures. I’m a child of the 70s, a.k.a the Bain de Soleil Era.) After the doctor put the Band-Aid on, she counseled me on caring for the would and said the best thing to prevent it from scarring is to “stay out of the sun.” By which I think she meant, move to Seattle.

I’m not moving. I did, however, pair my 30 SPF lotion with white jeans, a lavender scoop neck t-shirt and a super cute, 3/4 sleeve fuchsia cardigan I picked up at Target last weekend, for a May Day party this afternoon.

Ruby had a great time getting tossed around in the pool by the other grown-ups who weren’t hiding from the sun. I settled for getting splashed on and taking pictures with my phone, mulling the familiar awareness that my child, as usual, was the only brown person in attendance. And I wondered, as usual, how long before she will begin to notice this, too.

Later, when it was time to go home, Ruby wrapped a towel around her body, stuck one corner between her teeth and began to shimmy out of her swim suit, the towel like a tent around her. I knew exactly what she was doing, but asked her anyway needing verbal affirmation as to why my heart was seizing up.

“Here, let me hold the towel for you,” I said.

“No, mom. I can do it myself.” The end of the towel not in her mouth slipped from her bare shoulder. She caught it in with her harm and pulled it around her.

“Well, you don’t need to hide behind a towel, honey. If you want privacy, we can go to the bathroom and change there.” I was starting to panic and trying not to sound like I was starting to panic.

“No, Mom,” she said, beads of water stuck to her eyelashes and glittering on her nose. The towel was still in her mouth and she was speaking through clenched teeth. “I’m trying to do it like the girls at the pool.”

I mean, really: Can the future be any more daunting?

Aftershocks: Don’t believe the current bad rap on adoption

Within a week after the news that Torry Ann Hansen had put her 7-year-old adopted son alone on a flight to Russia carrying with him her resignation letter, we received a thick envelope from our adoption agency. I thought it was a request for a donation, so when I read the contents, my stomach dropped.

The World Association of Children and Parents (WACAP*) is one of two agencies that facilitated Hansen’s adoption. That WACAP initiated a conversation with its families about the controversy speaks volumes about the organization. WACAP is renowned for its integrity and rigorous practices. It is one of the most—if not the most—highly regarded agencies in a business whose regulation can be slippery.

While reading the material WACAP sent addressing the situation, I thought back on our vetting experience. Our adoption was domestic, so I’m not too familiar with the protocol for international adoptions, and I wondered about the similarity between Hansen’s approval process and mine. In retrospect, like a woman who gets an epidural, it didn’t seem that painful. Yet, given what I knew, the connection between Hansen’s actions and WACAP’s requirements simply didn’t add up.

I scoured the Internet for more information. I rushed to dig out our paperwork, kept above Ruby’s closet in boxes stacked behind a plastic bin of family photographs and one crate filled with dusty books from college. I went to the computer archives and opened file after file, each containing some part or another of six months’ worth of information diligently culled as proof we were qualified to parent.

I was scavenging half-a-year of my life, every detail of which had been agonizingly but necessarily white-gloved, gold-starred and notarized. Looking back, I remember being at times resentful of the invasion of privacy and at others straight-up angry. I had, it turns out, forgotten the pain; to this day I adore the quaint remark, “If I can’t get pregnant, I’ll just adopt.”

Yes! Just!

Sam and I had to answer—separately—51 multi-part essay questions. We exposed every aspect of our lives from the time we were children (describe your parents’ marital relationship while growing up, what you feel was missing in your childhood and what you would do differently) to how we view ourselves (discuss your experience with counseling, therapy or personal growth practices). They even excavated our sex life (discuss your efforts to conceive biologically, including infertility, diagnosis, assisted reproduction therapies and their results and how you have dealt with your inability to have a child).

We were asked to defend our future parenting style (discuss how you plan to discipline your child and how you will spend quality time with him / her) and contend with possibilities (what is your understanding of your responsibility / commitment to an adopted child in whom special needs have developed following a placement and what do you think being a good parent means?).

We got letters of reference and medical exams. We were fingerprinted, background checked and interviewed—together and individually—multiple times. Meanwhile, 14 women I knew became pregnant, three by the “Oops!” method of family planning. When we finally brought our baby home, we had to send a Personal Letter of Acceptance.

“We did review all information about Ruby that was provided to us,” I wrote, “and have no reservations about taking on the lifelong commitment of being her parents.” At that point, all the other stuff fell away. We had a daughter. We were in.

And so was WACAP. They continued to follow up intermittently for a year with additional visits from our social worker, plus phone calls and e-mails making it known they were available if we needed anything. They underscored the network of support. Based on my experience, and though our circumstances were different, I have little doubt that Hansen’s vetting by WACAP was equally as thorough.

In a column on boston.com last week, E.J. Graff wrote of two tragedies in this story. “The little tragedy is what happened to Torry Ann Hansen’s 7-year-old son…. The big tragedy is that Russia may respond by suspending adoptions to the US.” Already, Russia has temporarily suspended WACAP adoptions, leaving matched children and adoptive parents in limbo. To be sure, waiting to hold the child you’ve been matched with, who has taken up residence in your heart, is the most excruciating part of the process. But to Graff’s tragedies, I would add another—the (misguided) bias against adoption—as a possible third. People turning away from adoption because of misperceptions would be the worst thing that could happen.

In 34 years, WACAP has brought nearly 10,000 children home to their forever families. Of those adoptions, only 1 percent has resulted in disruption. Of course, zero would be the more preferable percentage, but we don’t even see that statistic among biological parents—see the U.S. foster-care system for proof—and the media isn’t exactly clamoring to cover this story.

WACAP is doing good and important work. But the process isn’t perfect. How honest prospective parents are with their agencies is only going to be as honest as they are with themselves. It’s tough to vet for that.

As for Hansen, who knows what her story is? I’m going to say she got in over her head—that she was too scared, too stressed or too embarrassed to seek the help that was there for her. This doesn’t excuse what she did, and the repercussions of her deplorable choice remain to be seen. It is my hope, though, that people will recognize that Hansen’s unhappy ending is not the norm. It’s our happy one that is.

*To read WACAP’s full response, go here.

(As published today in San Diego CityBeat.)

Summer in April

Everything changes. Of all the many things about which I am uncertain, this is not one of them. The only thing we can count on in life is that everything—and I do mean everything—will change. Nothing stays the same and I hold onto this knowledge when life is darkest. It is the philosophy which has helped me make it through some very bleak times. And it is the same philosophy which compels me to embrace, acknowledge and celebrate when things are good.

I have no idea what tomorrow will be.

But today, right now, things are really, really good.

(First and last photos, like bookends, by Sam.)