Meeting Mrs. B.

I can’t believe it! I am the proud momma of a Kindergarten graduate!

The Young One did not have a formal graduation ceremony like she did when she said good-bye to preschool. Instead, she dressed up like a flower, said she wanted to be a basketball player and accepted a certificate of accomplishment from her very first elementary school teacher.

Mrs. B. holds the microphone as my little flower announces her life's dream of playing basketball.

Mrs. B. holds the microphone as my little flower announces her life’s dream of playing basketball.

I know that sounds like a strange way to advance to the next grade level, but that is essentially how it went down. We started the momentous evening with an entertaining production of “How Does Your Garden Grow”–a choreographed event which included all five Kindergarten classes and a select group of first graders. The boys dressed as vegetables. The girls were flowers, and a few rebels opted to portray weeds in this story of Farmer Herb and his overgrown garden.

My dear child had the misfortune of having an extremely stressed out mother with no clue how to craft a flower costume on less than two weeks notice. However, said momma was quite resourceful and turned to Etsy for emergency assistance. The Young One eagerly dressed all in green, wrapped the purchased (yet still handmade) felt arrangement around her face and called herself a flower. (I hid my head in shame as I saw the more elaborate costumes parade into the gymnasium.)

When the singing and dancing was over, all the performers, parents, grandparents and siblings crowded into the classroom for a celebration of the Kindergarten Class of 2014. We watched a slideshow, ate cookies and listened as each member of the class told us what they wanted to be when they grew up. The Young One, who blames me for not signing her up to play basketball, naturally proclaimed that to be her greatest desire in life. *sigh*

Next came the “diplomas” and a roundup of class accomplishments from the class’s teacher, Mrs. B., whom I have come to know as the soft-spoken yet fearless leader of the wild, willful and whiny children who have spent the past nine months as the Young One’s closest companions.

I first met Mrs. B. during Kindergarten orientation in August. She stood in front of the group of adults who were forced to teeter on miniature chairs and assured us that our children would survive that ominously looming first day of school.

She spoke softly about sight words and math facts and the manners that she would instill in our children. By June, she said, our over-active children would be able to sit quietly for extended periods of time, count to 100 and read a book from cover to cover.

None of us believed her.

How could this mild-mannered woman possibly manage to corral, let alone educate, 28 five- and six-year-olds? I envisioned a plethora of chaos and anxiety in this poor woman’s future.

Yet, the night before this spectacular end-of-year celebration, the Young One announced that instead of me reading her a bedtime story, she was going to read me one…, and she did. I held the book while she used a little pointer finger as a guide. She paused a few times to sound out a new word, but in the end, she did it! My little girl read me the story of how Biscuit, the little yellow dog, won a prize at the pet show.

It was the best story I’ve ever heard.

I’m glad to have made Mrs. B.’s acquaintance. She has had a profound influence on my daughter’s life, and, I believe, instilled a love of learning in my daughter and her 27 classmates.

Thank you, Mrs. B! We’re off to first grade. We will miss you, but we’ll never forget you!

Who was your most influential teacher?

Letters on D-Day

I imagine many letters written on or around June 6, 1944 would read like this:

“My Dear Brave Soldier,

I pray you are doing well. I miss you and cannot wait to see your face once more. Please stay safe and hurry home to me.

I love you with all my heart.”

Some of these letters undoubtedly returned home in the pockets of the GI’s to whom they were sent, but many more were buried with their recipients on a scenic bluff in a foreign land. Others were lost during the chaos of war—left to drift on the water or blow erratically in the winds that pushed them across the hills. Still others, tragically, never reached their intended readers, arriving too late to give comfort and encouragement.

To all those who fought and returned and to those who fought and died for freedom and human dignity on the beaches of Normandy, France, 70 years ago…Thank you for your valiant service.

To the mothers, fathers, wives, girlfriends, and loved ones who wrote the letters…Thank you for loving and supporting your soldiers—yours is a war fought as well.

**Today’s post was written for Blogging University’s Writing 101 assignment five: Be Brief. The pictures were taken on a trip the Hubs and I took to France in 2006. It was an amazing experience.

Music to My Ears

I used to enjoy watching all those “Remember When” specials on VH1–I Love the 80s or I Love the 90s. The flashbacks were fun, and when they came to the segment about favorite songs of the year or the decade, I’d immediately see a friend’s face or see the place I was when I first discovered the song.

Music Box

This little toy is a big musical memory!

If I were to produce my own version of “Remember When”, I’d go back in time to the most significant points in my own personal history. Naturally, my kids feature prominently in that history, so I’d start with my son.

The episode would be called, “I Love Infancy.” I’d take my audience on a stroll down  Memory Lane, or what I like to call, “The-Months-When-I-Didn’t-Have-a-Clue.”

I would flash up pictures of The Older One as he was back then–all tiny and pink and…needy! There would be a shot of him rolling aimlessly on a dressing table as I struggled to fasten the diaper. Another one would show him strapped to one of those front-carrier things. It would be an image of perfect multi-tasking…until the viewer noticed I’d only managed to get one of his legs in the appropriate hole. The other was stuck inside the thing somewhere under his bottom, quickly becoming the only part of him that was asleep!

I would wrap up this installment with the most memorable song of the year *drumroll* Knick Knack Paddy Wack! That song came to my rescue many times during the Older One’s first year. I first discovered it’s power on an airplane on my way to a much-needed visit with my Momma.

The Older One was three-months old at the time, and as all three-month-olds know, when the cabin door closes, you start crying and turn your momma into the spitting image of incompetence. I did the best I could in the situation, but when rocking, pacing and jiggling failed to comfort my squalling child, I pulled out the last thing in my new-Momma arsenal. I leaned in closed and softly crooned:

This old man, he played one. He played knick knack on his thumb. With a knick knack paddy wack give a dog a bone, this old man came rolling home.

By the time the old man had played ten, my sweet little baby was sound asleep. It worked every time.

The next episode would be titled “Wonderful One” and would feature my daughter’s first year, complete with flashback tracks showing her adoption into our family, our dog’s bewilderment that this new puppy walked on two legs and my now 14-year-old son’s first lesson in diaper changing.

It will most likely spend quite a bit of time comparing new millennium-era baby gadgets to those of the early 90’s–how the filters in the Diaper Genie actually worked this time around and how the new plastic version of the doggy-on-a-string pull-toy was so much inferior to the wooden version of long ago.

Toward the end of the show I would announce the top song of the year…wait for it…Itsy Bitsy Spider!!!

For me, the memory sparks sentimentality and irritation all at once. On the day we took the Young One from Baby Home #95 in Novokuzetsk, Russia, we bonded peacefully in our hotel room surrounded by a plethora of American toys that made it through customs on our way into the country. One such gem included a set of plastic keys, attached to a large round key ring that would play a merry tune when little fingers pressed one of three buttons.

The Young One couldn’t get enough of this new toy. It probably wouldn’t have had quite the same effect on me if she would have paid equal attention to all three music buttons, but she found a favorite one on our first day together. Every time she pressed it, I would hear:

The itsy bitsy spider went up the water spout. Down came the rain and washed the spider out. Out came the sun and dried up all the rain, and the itsy bitsy spider came up the spout again.

That music box became our constant companion. It went in the diaper bag right along with all the other necessities. And when we went out, it would inevitably go on all by itself.

Walking down the streets of Moscow, I’d bump into something, and we’d hear, “The itsy bitsy spider…” Waiting patiently in the quiet US embassy for her visa, the Hubs shifted the bag, and…”The itsy bitsy spider…”

Not even the security checkpoint at one of the most scary airports on the planet was immune to the sensitive touch buttons of my child’s favorite toy. I should close this segment with a close up of the Russian security guard’s face as he leans a curious ear toward my suspicious bag…”The itsy bitsy spider…”

The finale episode of my special memory series would close with a medley of my children’s favorite bedtime songs…the Older One preferred movie and television soundtracks with Space Jam and Pokemon in heavy rotation. The Young One still listens to the same CD that lulled her to sleep on her first night in the USA–a Little Einsteins rendition of classics from Mozart and Bach.

We’ll close out the show with my all-time favorite song to sing to both of my kids. It is my number one because it simply says everything there is to say about loving a child. Once my son came into this world, my life revolved around him. When his sister joined the clan, my life circled her too.

So, I dedicate this hit to my two stars:

You are my sunshine, my only sunshine.

You make me happy when skies are gray.

You’ll never know dear how much I love you.

Please don’t take my sunshine away.

Oh, the memories, the good times. It’s all music to my ears.

What are your favorite musical memories?

* This post was written for Blogging University Writing 101.

My Courtroom Drama

The courtroom was smaller than I had expected. I had never been summoned to jury duty, subpoenaed as a witness or charged as a defendant, so my only frame of reference was the spacious and well-lit judicial proceeding rooms depicted on Law and Order.

The room I found myself in six years ago did not gleam with polished woodwork. Its wooden benches and railings were scarred and scuffed with years of worried tapping and shuffling.

St. Peter's Cathedral

Not all buildings and rooms in Russia were created with such elaborate design.

Instead of well-waxed tile, the floor was made of cold cement painted a dull gray that matched the industrial cinder block walls. As I looked at the black scuffs on the six feet of walkway leading from the door at the back of the room directly to the witness box, I wondered about the people who had made those clumsy marks and what their fate had been following the ruling from the judge who sat at the opposite end of the narrow room.

She was dressed in black robes, like the prestigious judges on my favorite TV dramas, but her seat of honor didn’t look much more comfortable than my own straight-backed, hard, wooden chair. Her position apparently did not afford her the high-backed, padded and leather-upholstered executive chair of Hollywood legal thrillers. It looked more like the heavy slat-backed seat reserved for those on the wrong side of the interrogation table.

I could barely see her–the woman who would make such an important decision for me.  The witness box was made for someone much taller, and the top of its ledge reached above my shoulders as I sat behind it, nervously fingering the evidence I’d brought along.

The Hubs had a better view from the box in his seat to my right. He’s a good ten inches taller than me, so he had no problem seeing the rest of the courtroom–the empty jury box to the left and the long desk belonging to the person who would record every word of the conversation to follow.

The problem came when we had to squeeze a third person into the small box with us. We knew we wouldn’t be able to do this without our interpreter, though, so we slid our chairs closer together and made room.

Finally the time had come.  The judge read from a document in front of her, and I faintly heard her say something that sounded like a question. The interpreter leaned close and whispered the question in a more familiar language. The Hubs answered with the response we had rehearsed the night before.

After 20 minutes of question/interpret/answer/interpret, I was finally asked for my evidence–a thin book of photographs. I walked toward the judge, handed her the pictures and watched silently as she flipped from one to the other.

After another indecipherable statement, we were led from the courtroom to the equally dreary hallway and another hard wooden bench. There we waited and tried not to think about what we would hear when we saw the judge again.

Soon the door opened and we were led inside once more. I watched the judge in front of me read more papers.  When she finally started speaking, the Hubs grabbed my hand.

“It is my decision,” I heard the interpreter parrot, “that these people will be able to provide a better life for this child in the United States than she will have as an orphan in Russia. I grant the request for adoption.”

With that, the judge closed the file and walked from the room. I stared at the Hubs, and together we asked the interpreter, “That’s it?”

She smiled and nodded. “That’s it,” she said. “She’s yours now. You have a daughter. Congratulations.”

With those words, that lackluster courtroom in Kemerovo, Russia, never looked brighter. I finally had a daughter, and today, we are celebrating six years of Forever Family.

Happy Family Day, Young One! Thanks for waiting for me.

**Today’s post was written as response for Blogging University Writing 101 day two assignment: A Room With A View (or Just a View).

Advice to a Teenaged Me

The radio is normally my companion in the car. On the way home from work, I usually catch up on the day’s news with 45 minutes of CNN and Wolfe Blitzer in the Situation Room.

If I’m just driving from errand to errand on the weekends, I’ll switch to the iPod and jam to Katy Perry, Pink or Adele. I need a regular dose of girl power anthems.

This morning, like most mornings, I tuned into my favorite local radio station to catch the end of the morning show. It’s usual mindless babble quite frequently evokes a chuckle on the way to work and helps clear the fog that my first cup of coffee didn’t quite get.

Today, the DJ asked listeners to call in and tell the world…okay, maybe just the city and surrounding areas…what advice they would give if they could go back in time to their high school years and have a heart-to-heart with their teenaged selves.

I had just pulled into my parking spot when the first callers starting commenting, so unfortunately I missed most of the sage words of the now-wizened. I couldn’t get the question out of my head, though, and as I walked toward the building, I pondered what I would actually tell the quiet, freckle-faced, curly haired red-headed me.

Buy the Shoes!

I buy shoes of all kinds, even cute little shoe-themed note pads!

Within two steps, I knew without a doubt what I would tell her.

“BUY THE SHOES!”

Does that sound superficial? Yes, I suppose it does, but the fact remains that’s the best thing I could say to my young self–the girl trying to find herself, the one trying to discover who she is and where she fits in.

When I look back over the decades since I graduated from high school, I know exactly when I found my confidence. Odd as it may seem, it was in a hospital room shortly following my IBD diagnosis. This was well before the internet, satellite TV and an endless selection of iPad apps. I had nothing to do to occupy my time until my mom showed up with a stack of magazines.

On the top, in all its glossy glory, was the latest issue of Glamour. I flipped through the pages, turned back to the beginning and read it cover-to-cover again. I’m pretty sure I mailed in the subscription coupon on my way home after being discharged.

The pictures and articles inside made me happy at a time when I desperately needed something to evoke a smile. A life-changing diagnosis tends to make little things like that seem huge.

When I felt up to it, I went in search of some new shoes…a new sweater…a new skirt…and I was happy. Pretty soon I was walking taller in my new shoes, and happy was turning into confident. I spoke up more. I took more chances, and I started to define myself as a strong woman with a vision.

So, yes, if I could travel back in time to my high school years, I would stop that girl in the hall, take her by the shoulders, and tell her, “Buy the shoes.” It’s a version of what I’ve told my son as I’ve tried to counsel him through hard decisions, and I’ll tell my daughter the same thing when life inevitably gets in her way too.

“If it makes you happy,” I’d say, “buy the shoes…change your path…take a risk. Life is too short and will have too many rough patches to be stuck doing the things that meet someone else’s goals. Do the things that make you happy. Do the things that make you glow and smile and sparkle like the brilliant jewel you are. Do the things that make you YOU!”

Buy the shoes!

writing-101-june-2014-class-badge-2**Today’s post is the first in a series of assignments for WordPress Daily Post’s Blogging University June course, Writing 101:Building a Blogging Habit.