Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Being a kid

I was looking at pictures that a girl from the orphanage had posted on a social networking site, and was seeing this weird dichotomy, but couldn’t put a finger on where it was coming from. The pictures represented her as your average teen girl who aspires to be on a magazine cover…13 going on 30.

I guess I wouldn’t have thought twice (though it makes me sad) if I hadn’t known her in a different context. This was the girl who dreamed of being adopted. She had a loving grandmother, but the grandmother was getting older, and put her in the orphanage.

Lena desperately wanted to go visit an American family for Christmas. She had been interviewed and was on the list, but she didn’t actually find out until the last minute that she could go.

Fast-forward to a few months later, where I saw her again in the orphanage, and this time she had an album full of memories of her “American vacation.” I guess I have mixed feelings about whether or not these trips are good. I’m always glad to hear that one of the visits led to adoption, but for this girl, it didn’t.

Fast-forward again. She left the orphanage at 14 or 15 and was supposedly in tech school, but seemed to be enjoying a little taste of “independence,” staying out all night and such. I happened to be around when she dropped by the orphanage one day...out of grocery money, it seemed. Then the other day I was sitting there looking at some new "beauty shots" she'd posted and remembering another photo album, the one with her host family. And it dawned on me what the family visit had done…it had given her a chance to be a kid. 

Lots of teenagers experiment, go to parties, try to spread their wings a little…but the difference is that they go home at night. The most sophisticated 15 yr old you know? At the end of the day her mother probably still does her laundry, or maybe makes her hot chocolate, or whatever.

I could see Lena in a family…sure, at 13 she was already attracting boys and trying that whole scene. But I could also see this spirited young lady bickering with her siblings, rolling her eyes at her dad’s jokes, bellowing “M-o-o-o-o-m!” when she needed something. But that wasn’t the reality she got.

She didn’t have a chance to be a kid. Sometimes we criticize parenting styles, thinking that kids are experiencing too much, too early. Too much homework…too much looking after younger siblings…too much loss of innocence. They grow up too soon. Do any of us actually know what that’s like? The thing is, the orphanage does give them a lot of the experiences of childhood. They have toys to play with, movies to watch, people protecting them. But childhood is more. Coming “home” to Uncle Boris the security guy (no matter how kind) and Sasha the watch dog is just not the same as coming home to a mom and dad.

I've analyzed the plight of Russian orphans to death on here, it seems. Maybe there is nothing left to say. But every once in a while I see one of their faces and think "But she's really a KID," and wonder if she'll ever actually be treated that way, as someone's kid. Because being a kid isn't about being a certain age or having/not having certain's about being SOMEBODY'S.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Lessons, Part 4

On falling in love with a child...

While I loved David from the start, I do not remember feeling “in love” with him during the early days. In the beginning, he felt like a stranger. He didn’t seem to know me, and I didn’t feel like he was my child. It wasn’t like I felt unprepared and was expecting his “real” mother to show up. I just didn’t feel very bonded. However, when he seemed upset or in danger, I definitely felt a motherly instinct kick in, and I guess that’s how I knew that I loved him.

People talk about cherishing those first moments and snuggling with the baby a lot. Well, he was not very able to be snuggled for the first week, as he was in the NICU. We were actually allowed to hold him, but it wasn’t the coziest environment. And we had to “scrub in” each time, wear a smock, etc.

Once at home, it seemed like he wanted to EAT all the time. Whenever he was done eating I would generally hand him off, because I was afraid that being near me would make him want to eat again! Supposedly they can’t see very far, but I swear I would walk by and he would suddenly lift his head up and start looking around. I called him “beady eyes” because it was like I couldn’t hide from him!

We got one of those wraps for babywearing, but it was summer, and again…the minute I’d get him in it he would start fussing and acting like he wanted to eat.

So I really didn’t do a lot of cuddling in the beginning. I wanted to, but I needed to do other things in-between feedings, like brush my teeth and try to otherwise take care of myself.

At some point things changed. He started sleeping longer at night and I would miss him and want to spend more time with him during the day, even standing over his bed admiring him while he was asleep. He started eating a little less often and it wasn’t as awkward to hold him once he could hold his head up. He can actually be quite snuggly these days! Though I still need to put him down if I’m going to get anything else done, I love holding him for longer. He gets more and more interactive. It’s an ego trip, in a way, when a little person is just so easy to please (most of the time) and so excited to see you.

When I started enjoying him more, I knew they were right about “it gets better.” Sleeping through the night is overrated, but watching a child grow and develop is a pretty special way to spend your days, or even just a few moments. I found myself pondering what fun it must be to be a grandparent. ;)

Monday, December 17, 2012

Lessons, Part 3

On "survival mode"...

Seems I used this analogy not too long ago. To medicate a cold, or not to medicate? Either way it will heal in about the same time.

Well, this time it’s about new babies. As it turns out, the same rule applies here. You can either try a myriad of remedies, or you can wait until it goes away. This is true about things like post-partum healing, learning to breastfeed, learning basic newborn care, and baby sleep habits.

-Once you’ve figured out how to sit comfortably, you’re almost better.
-Once you’ve found the perfect nursing garment, you’re used to doing it in regular clothes.
-Once you’ve figured out how to entertain the baby while changing his diaper, he’s not scared of it anymore.

And then with sleeping, babies seem to be ready at various ages for sleeping longer stretches at night. Do all the routines, swaddling, “sleep training,” and other advice make a difference? 

It was really helpful to hear about newborn babies not being susceptible to "habits" or "spoiling." While I don't know about the science behind it, it was nice to know that if we just did whatever worked for those first few months, we wouldn't be stuck with those particular routines.

I read a lot in those forums about what everyone's bedtime tricks are. After a few days of giving David a bath at different times (it made him hyper), trying to give him opportunities to nap more (to avoid him getting overtired) or less (to tire him out), talking to him quietly as it got later (he would giggle), trying to keep lights and noise down (he would usually end up on our laps in the fully lit kitchen as we tried to eat dinner), we didn't notice any real patterns. He would still wake every 3 hours or so at night. So we just went with the flow and eventually one day I woke up to my alarm instead of the baby and realized that he had slept for a long stretch.

Just like when you're pregnant and nibbling on crackers and the unborn baby is growing in leaps and bounds, the same happens here. As long as the baby's basic needs are met, he grows and develops, mainly without any help from us! 

What was most surprising was to find that "survival mode" wasn't just about surviving until the next day because things were so bad (though they were sometimes). It was/is more about not wasting time and energy finding the perfect solution, because today is today and tomorrow could be completely different. Not bad or better, just different.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Explain that again?

Advent! After drawing up some ideas, my husband executed a Jesse Tree banner from the felt we had bought together. I’m glad he did such a good job because now we can use this every year. In fact, we are thinking of making more for other times of year because we like the look of the felt banner so much. (The emblems are another story as painting on felt has proved to be difficult...we may need to make new ones next year)

Andrei asked a good question, though: Why did they choose these specific passages?

As I mentioned before, I don’t like Advent readings that aren't obviously related to Christmas. So what does the call of Abram, for example, have to do with the Incarnation?

To me, the typical Jesse Tree passages that I've seen in reading schedules are just bursting with the harmonious thread of the Gospel that runs throughout the Old Testament. I remember the first few times doing the readings with my then-roommate Jenya, and just being newly in awe about how God fulfilled His promises to His people.

It’s a bit like the “5 (6?) Degrees of Separation” game. How do you get from Genesis 12 to Christmas? Abram is called to go on a mission. He takes a step of faith that leads to him receiving a promise from God that he will have many descendants, one of whom turns out to be Jesus.

Couldn't you just take any Old Testament story? Technically, yes…they’re all connected somehow. But the stories featured are usually from the genealogy of Jesus as recorded in Matthew.

In a way, it IS a crash-course in the Old Testament, covered in less than a month. It would be exciting, though challenging, to read through the whole OT during this period. I've never tried. But I like to think the selected passages give a similar effect. The theme of the Fall of Man and our need of a Savior is traced from generation to generation until we get to the birth of Christ.

What about just going through all the prophecies about Jesus, up until his birth? That would be fine, too. But then the “family tree” illustration wouldn't really apply. And to be honest, I lose the historical context and sense of sequence when I read the Prophets.  But that would be another thing to try one year.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Lessons, Part 2

Another thing that was surprising was how many times I had to hear certain pieces of advice in order for them to stick.

One example was when people would say that my main job was “to feed the baby” or “keep the baby alive” or something similar. It took me weeks and weeks to be able to adjust my daily expectations.

One day at a time...
The problem is that I kept thinking my plans were fairly modest and reasonable.

Was it too much to ask to be able to brush my teeth before noon, take a shower every once in a while, cook a simple meal? Everyone was saying “no (new) mother can do it all.” Well, I wasn’t trying to do it all. I thought I had planned pretty simple activities, and they were still too much to handle.

I have to admit that social networking played a role here. Mothers, I’m not blaming you, but the newborn photo shoots are hard to look at! Not the photos themselves, but the idea of it. You got the whole family dressed and dolled up and maybe even out the door to a studio somewhere, and the baby behaved himself, and then you probably even printed some up for a Christmas card. I know there is more to the story, but that’s what I see when I look at the finished product. Just a moment of weakness for me.

I wrote up a list of important yet manageable tasks and put them on the refrigerator. I still didn't always do them and I still wanted to do big projects like unpacking everything from our recent move. But the list was supposed to have a sort of authority, commanding me to STAY ON TASK.

It took a long time to realize that there wasn't a deadline for this kind of life. Well, you CAN be too late to perform certain acts of love, I suppose. But the dishes will still be there tomorrow. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Around the Table

Andrei and I purposely sought out an apartment with a kitchen that was big enough to SIT in. Of course, in Russia, people will squeeze into a kitchen of any size-that's where the best conversations take place! But here we have an actual dining area. We have a living room, too, but often just end up in the kitchen. Maybe it   feels cozier.

Nina and Vladimir and the psychedelic wallpaper...

Andrei is a big fan of the works of Francis Schaeffer and of the L'Abri idea. Our small group has been meeting at our place recently, but it's been a little disjointed. Out of the many members, only a few show up each time, and it's a different few. We're happy to see those who come, but where is everybody else? We're not really doing a formal study at the moment. Either we read a book of the Bible and have some free-form discussion, or sometimes asks a question about faith in daily life, and we discuss that. And then pray.

I'm inclined to enjoy the moments when the group is small and each person gets to speak his/her mind. We were nearing the end of our gathering last time, when I realized that we were having a "L'Abri" sort of experience. Though professed believers, none of us has it all figured out. It was good to ask and answer some questions that we all ponder at one time or another. We encourage regular church attendance, but sometimes people come and go, or choose a different church to join. So it's good when each encounter can be edifying, because the next one, if it happens, is always different.

Lessons, Part 1

Some surprising (to me) observations about the parenting experience…

After a baby joins the family, the mother will go through a certain emotional reaction. Of course the father has his own emotions, but all the hormones and everything are happening to the mother.

Soo…a few weeks after a baby has been born, the mother may experience the “baby blues.” For me this was a feeling of intense sadness mixed with disappointment that my status as a heroine had dwindled and that all energy now needed to be focused on the baby (just quoting my journal here).

Lots of crying. New parents may feel emotional for different reasons. What surprised me was that I began to think a lot about death. While struggling with feeling like I had been abandoned (though surrounded by loved ones 24/7), I began to think about future milestones in the baby’s life. I think partly I was trying to give myself some bright moments to look forward to.

I pictured him growing up and going to school and going off to college and getting married. But instead of thinking of these as accomplishments, I pictured myself growing older and my life coming to an end. When I was single, or even when we were first married, it felt like there was a lot of living left to do. There wasn’t really anything to mark how old I was. Age really was “just a number.”

But having a child made me think more about my mortality, in more than a wrinkles/gray hair way. Yes, that particular emotional period is over, but I’m still changed forever through this experience. When I think about the future, I have much to look forward to, but I also have to remind myself of the Gospel daily. I just can’t imagine approaching death without that hope.

I know this may sound depressing, but I wanted to share.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Our Advent

We got to church today (over a snowy terrain) just in time for Andrei to open the service by lighting the first Advent candle.

From the back of the room I saw a seat up in front occupied by a friend of ours who just finished his year of compulsory army service (it was 2 years back when Andrei was serving). His mother entered the room a few minutes later, beaming with joy. What a blessing for him to be home.

Looking around, it took me a few minutes to realize that about 50% of those in attendance were children, and also that I didn't know many people in the room. Nope, I wasn't at the wrong church service. A local Christian children's shelter had arranged to visit on this, the first Sunday of Advent. A few of the kids did a little musical act and their counselor later did a presentation on how their ministry is going. And other people were just visiting, I guess...I never did find out!

In front of me, two boys (non-visitors) were fooling around all through the worship and opening prayers, their fathers standing nearby and telling them to knock it off every few minutes or so. I resisted the urge to make a loud shushing noise. Then something in my heart changed. I looked at the two boys with their arms wrapped around each other and I thought, they are growing up in church together. May their friendship be long-lived! I usually sat with my parents as a child, but there was a period when I sat with friends from youth group in the back row (oooooh), passing notes and whispering. Maybe we didn't get the "church" part of it right all the time, but it still laid the foundations for deeper fellowship once the time came.

Poor Little David's peers are all girls, but hopefully they'll be great friends anyway!

5 years later

 After my latest  weird dream sequence , I found my mind wandering to an alternate scenario where our church never split up . I did the math...