Friday, April 23, 2010

TuTu Frustrated--a Mother's Plie

I’m trying, desperately, to get my daughter into ballet lessons and I can’t seem to do it. I like to think I’m a pretty resourceful person, yet it seems I’ve encountered the impossible task. None of the ballet studios will even call me back. They won’t return my emails, either. They refuse to communicate with me at all. Every one of them! It’s like trying to get a response from a literary agent and I’m—but I digress.

I mean, is this any way to run a business? I guess it can work for you if you’re an airline, but a ballet studio? And aren’t we supposed to be in the midst of a bad recession here? Everyone I know has been making cutbacks and it would seem like there might be one or two openings in a ballet class for one tiny little eleven year-old girl. Or maybe that’s the problem. Maybe they don’t want girls who are just starting ballet at the age of eleven, because as everyone knows, if you haven’t been in your toe shoes since the age of four, your ballet career is already over.

But I don’t want to make my daughter into a career ballerina. Frankly, I have greater expectations for her. Perhaps this is the problem. Perhaps people who become career ballerinas are inherently disorganized. Or uncommunicative. Or have borderline Anthropophobia, which prevents them from intentionally coming into contact with people who aren’t wearing pink tights.

I wonder if there are lines of little ballerinas all up and down and around the block waiting for these precious slots in ballet classes and somehow I’ve just missed them. Do I need to get up at 3 a.m. and wait outside a ballet studio with my tutu, sleeping bag and hibachi, because if that’s the case, I think I’d rather just have a flat screen TV.

Wait a minute. I just got an idea of what could really be going on here. Having just adopted my daughter last year, I’m new to the world of raising girls. There’s a secret handshake, isn’t there? Some sort of code maybe? I’m supposed to say something in my voicemail messages or type something into my emails that will let these dance people know I’m part of the “in” crowd of girl moms and that it’s okay for them to talk to me. That’s it, isn’t it?

Okay, I realize there probably isn’t a secret decoder ring involved in getting my daughter into ballet lessons, but I would like to give a child who’s never had a ballet lesson, ever, the opportunity to try it. A Russian child. This is her heritage, for crying out loud. The hardest part about all this is, I don’t know what to tell my daughter anymore. It’s been weeks. She has to be wondering why her mother can’t seem to find someone in this big city to teach her ballet. Her friends go to lessons (or so they say. I am beginning to wonder.) But getting Tatyana into a ballet class is proving harder than moving a fifty-foot telephone pole. I only hope it turns out as well. (If you may recall, I moved the pole.) But for some reason, I can’t seem to move these ballet studio people to call or email me back. To communicate with me, period. If they don’t have any openings, can’t they call to say they don’t have any openings? I’m not asking them to make an exception for us, but to simply do the human, civilized thing: respond to me.

I’m starting to feel invisible and not in a good super-power way but in a bad--uh,hang on. The phone is ringing. I’m not kidding you. Right in the middle of writing my ballet lesson manifesto, the new ballet studio I called for the first time yesterday called me back. Within 24 hours no less. She even apologized for not getting back to me yesterday. They’re not taking any new students right now, not until after the Big Spring Performance. Classes start again this summer, the nice dance lady says. She will mail me a brochure and I can pick the time and days.

I’m so happy, I do a pirouette! And put my tutu, sleeping bag and hibachi away.

Friday, April 16, 2010

An Adoption Postcard, from my side of the edge

When I first heard about the Tennessee mom who put her seven year-old adopted son on a plane back to Russia all by himself, my first thought was, I didn’t know that was a possibility.

Okay, okay. Of course, you must know, I’m joking. What that woman and the boy’s grandmother did to that child is unthinkable. I am not defending it in any way. However, what I do take issue with are all the people so eager to jump all over this family in judgment of them. In news story after news story and blog after blog, I watch parents (and probably some non-parents, too) practically getting-off on their vitriolic condemnation of Torry Hansen and her mother, Nancy.

So, I ask them; Do you feel better now? Do you? Are you currently swaggering around, a cross between Mother Teresa, Erma Bombeck and Carol Brady, feeling oh so much more like perfect parents because you didn’t ship your kid off to Russia?

Well, if I may stay up on my high horse here, I refuse to spew such vitriol. Most of these people chiming-in haven’t adopted an older child, and while I haven’t walked in the Hansen family’s shoes, I’ve walked in a pair similar to theirs. My daughter arrived from Russia just over a year ago.

Adopting a ten year-old girl was by far the single-most difficult thing I have ever done in my life. And I’ve done some pretty difficult things. It was also the single-most terrifying thing I have ever done, because when you go in, you know, there is no going back. Fortunately, my sweet daughter does not have severe psychological problems and she has not tried to set her bedroom on fire, yet, (and we were warned this was a possibility)(And I don't think the incident with the pillow and the nite-light should count) but there were days, many days, when I woke up convinced I’d ruined my life.

This, however, is not an uncommon reaction to adoption. We sought family counseling to help with our transition into a family of five and our therapist told me that everyone she’s ever counseled after an adoption, to a person, has said to her the phrase, “I feel like I’ve ruined my life.” It didn’t matter if they had adopted a newborn baby, a seven year-old, internationally or domestically. Everyone had this feeling. To a person.

Yeah. It’s that hard.

And my daughter is a good girl! She brushes her teeth when I tell her to. She goes to bed when I tell her to. She does her homework and cleans her room and is making friends and getting good grades at school. The ultimate adoption success story. But lest you get all teary-eyed thinking how wonderful it all is, let me tell you about the days when it wasn’t so perfect. About the days she told me how much she hates me and wants to go back to Russia. About the time she spewed a string a Russian expletives at me that would make a sailor of any nationality proud. The time she bit my son. The time she—well, you get the idea. And these are the times that can put you close to the edge. I’m guessing they were what put Torry Hansen over it.

Fortunately for our family, the good days, slowly, began to outnumber the bad days. And now, one year later, we have mostly all good days.

There’s a point in the integrating and bonding process when an adopted child will rebel with gusto, testing you; You say you love me, but do you really? And then they will behave terribly (see above), to test the limits of that love. My guess is this is where the Hansen family was at the point when they snapped. For me, those were days when I didn’t particularly want to get out of bed in the morning. It’s also when we started the adoption counseling.

I have to believe that if the Hansens knew they had other options, they would have tried them. I don’t know what the laws are in Tennessee, but in Illinois, we had to take a certain number of hours of adoption courses. We were urged to join support groups and knew we had a wealth of resources available to us should we need them. It’s obvious Torry Hansen failed at parenting this child, but who were the people, the authorities that failed her, and ultimately, her seven year-old son? And why was the boy in the grandmother’s care? Had she received any adoptive parent training? She was apparently the person who orchestrated his return to Russia and I think there may be a whole lot more to this story than we will probably ever know.

In the mean time, everyone can continue to flap around and squawk about how awful it is, and it is awful, and they can point fingers at the mother and judge her harshly—whatever it takes to make them feel superior. As for me, I’m just grateful I’ve been able to hold it together, to get through the really hard days without mailing all of my children off to a foreign country with a post-it note stuck to their foreheads.

But in my house, I have a wonderful and supportive husband and two wonderful and supportive sons, and extended family, who have all been a huge part of making my daughter’s transition here the success it has been. We had excellent adoption training courses and terrific counselors that got us through the really hard times. And of course, my daughter herself. A sweet and loving girl, the bravest little kid I’ve ever met, who made the hardest thing I’ve ever done, the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done, the happiest most rewarding thing I’ve ever done as well.

We’ve been lucky. And if you must, feel free to judge me on that.

Monday, April 12, 2010

I need a strong black belt

My husband and I were at my sons’ Taekwondo Academy for the assembly of really really rude people, although we’d actually gone there to watch our boys test for an intermediary level of black belt.

I know parents can get out of hand at baseball and soccer games. I’ve seen it. But this is the first time I’ve seen parents behaving so badly in a martial arts studio. If you’ve never been to a Taekwondo promotion test, it can really be quite stressful. Not to mention how hard it is on the kids.

Those being tested have to perform their “forms,” elaborate thirty and forty step movements that must be memorized. Then they have to spar, or test with weapons, and finally, they need to break boards. During every other testing ceremony I’ve been to, the audience has been full of quiet respect.

Not this time.

A man behind me was talking on his cell phone. Loudly. He was the only person in the room, other than the instructor, talking. Even though the woman in front of me and the woman next to me each turned around several times and shushed him, he talked and talked. After about ten minutes of this, I couldn’t take it any longer myself and I turned around. The man was facing the side of the room, so the other moms shushing and glaring at him could shush and glare until they turned blue, but he wasn’t going to notice. I reached around and tapped him on his arm, “You’re the only one talking,” I whispered. He promptly got up and left.

Yeah, I have that effect on people.

But wait. There’s more. The group next to us (which my husband tells me rude-cell-phone-guy later returned to join) was drinking what looked like champagne in champagne flutes. At first I thought this was kind of rude. I mean, didn’t their second grade teacher ever admonish them to share? “Did you bring enough for everyone?” I can hear Mrs. Eicholtz asking.

Their get-together was a little different than someone bringing their own personal bottle of water or can of soda. I felt mildly snubbed by their behavior, like they should be including everyone in their little party. But I eventually softened, coming to the conclusion they must be drinking sparkling grape juice and that they would eventually share it with their children when the ceremony was over. Personally, I’ve always been superstitious about drinking champagne before what you’re celebrating is a certainty, but hey, that’s just me.

It wasn’t until one of the guys lifted the bottle and began refilling their glasses that I realized these people were drinking actual champagne. Real alcoholic champagne. They were getting their drink on at a Taekwondo Studio in the middle of their children’s black belt testing. And I certainly hoped they weren’t planning on sharing that with their kids. What on earth were they thinking? I mean, I love my glass of wine too, but couldn’t they have waited until they got home?

We owe it to our kids to be present at events that are important to them. Playoff games and competitions, award ceremonies and concerts. And by being present, I mean being there, in the room, watching them. (Although I will concede an occasional daydream should be allowed.) But we should not be continuously talking on the phone. Or Blackberrying work. And certainly not drinking, for crying out loud.

During this testing, each student had to do three different types of breaks (e.g. roundhouse, front kick, knife hand, etc.) getting only get three tries at each type of break. If unsuccessful, they would fail the entire test. My son was getting ready for his first try at his third break. He’d nailed the first two so soundly, I had no reason not to expect more of same on this one. But right before my son was about to do his final breaking, the instructor’s—and not just any instructor, the owner of the entire academy—cell phone rang. The instructor just let it ring. My son failed to break the board. Then, someone at “the party” next to us knocked over the bottle of champagne and a glass. My son’s head snapped over with a look of concern as he was setting up for his second attempt. My son didn’t break the board on his second try, either.

Do you think his concentration had been totally zapped? I know there’s a lesson in remaining focused in spite of all distraction. I do. But this was ridiculous. Fortunately, after a few deep breaths and several more practice set-ups, he absolutely wailed on the board on his third and final attempt.

He used the kind of force I wish I were capable of, to bring that board down right on top of all the ill-behaved grown-ups’ heads.

And now, I believe I’ll have that drink.