Saturday, January 30, 2010

Child Trafficking by Any Other Name....

Did you hear the one about that wild and crazy group of Baptists who snatched kids off the street to sell on the black market for their organs? Seems like the Idaho-based charity called New Life Children's Refuge decided to do a commando raid in Port-au-Price: they spent a few hours there, abducted about 30 children and high-tailed it to the Dominican Republic. Okay, maybe they weren't going to sell them for their organs. Maybe they were going to sell them as sex slaves. Or drug runners. Or maybe their motives were altruistic. And yes, they look like a perfectly nice group who probably still think they did the right thing. Which reminds me of a game a friend invented for her child: let's go to the park and you tell me who looks like a child molester.

It's still child trafficking, and it's illegal -- even in third world countries. Even if you have the best intentions, which the road to hell is paved with. And even if God told you to do it. A bit of lawyerly advice: you might want to talk to the shrink in jail, if there is one, about those voices in your head. You might get a reduced sentence because of mental incompetence. Oh, wait...

To adoptive parents -- especially the waiting ones - this the stuff of which nightmares are made: my child and I dependent on fate and agencies and paperwork to bring us together, maybe waiting for years, and because a few cretins think they've above the's unthinkable. During our first adoption, our agency suspended adoptions for an unspecified period, and I almost had a nervous breakdown. Save the Children wants a moratorium on new adoptions. Haiti's Prime Minister must now personally authorize each adoption. And I'm betting this will have a ripple effect on agencies all over the world. Child trafficking is one of those things we don't think about too much because it's too painful. It could be our children -- on either end. Respectable adoption agencies makes us jump through endless hoops and fill out reams of paperwork to ensure that once our children are trusted to our care, they stay there. The adoption community uses the phrase Forever Families, which always sounds a little sappy to me but does make the point.

According to the AP, "The church group's own mission statement said it planned to spend only hours in the devastated capital, quickly identifying children without immediate families and busing them to a rented hotel in the Dominican Republic without bothering to get permission from the Haitian government."

Just a few hours to identify children to put on the Magic Bus. Sounds like the Blues Brothers on a mission from God, who could probably pull something like this off in less than an hour. The rest of us -- not so much.

I was talking to a friend while writing this, who observed: "even if they are innocent, if they get away "unpunished" then the REAL traffickers will have a GREEN light to head on in....."

The Rev. Clint Henry urged his tearful congregation to pray to God to "help them as they seek to resist the accusations of Satan...."

News flash, Rev: Satan didn't put them in the pokey, the authorities did. Because -- one more time - child trafficking is illegal.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Higgledy-piggledy -- Where's the Cabbage?

We're a one-car family now, and it's taking time to get adjusted. I know -- I'm grateful that I have a car, and a family to haul around, for that matter. But it has definitely cut into my freedom and has given me a wake up call the size of Hagrid's mother: I need to plan before I shop for food. Maybe even write things down.

I see women in the grocery store with lists and coupons and a full cart -- things that will obviously be made into flavorful, healthy dinners with a minimum of waste. I daydream about having fresh food in the fridge with which I can throw together a meal vs. soggy vegetables and greenish meat. I once knew a woman who cooked all day on Sundays to prepare and freeze meals for the week. I still think of her with malice.

(My coupons and my lists both seem to have agoraphobia).

I usually go into a store with a mental list of things I need for a few meals, and I generally act them out: frying onions, chopping spinach, hurling spices with abandon. (The last time I was with my sisters, they asked me to sit on my hands while describing a recipe just to see if I could do it.) It's a different story dragging the family to the store after a long day: they are tired and ready to get home and do family things like read the classics aloud, play Scrabble, have a pick-up game of basketball with the neighbors.....I am cracking myself up again. They are embarrassed watching me chop imaginary vegetables and spatchcock an imaginary chicken. Most of all, they are impatient because I might grab a few onions, select a nice bit of meat or poultry, go back to the vegetable section for a bell pepper, remember we need dog food and return again to the vegetable section because I need fresh thyme to sprinkle on the pot-au-feu.

I really miss calling John and telling him he needs to pick up a few things from the store if he wants to eat that evening. Especially on a day like today, when the Kroger parking lot will be full and people will be out en masse buying bread, milk, butter -- all the essentials for the seven hours in which we might have a sprinkling of snow.

Inevitably, when I go away for a weekend with girlfriends, someone asks if I leave frozen meals for John and the girls. No matter how many times I hear it, it makes me laugh -- I'm laughing as I write this. However, from now on I'll have to make sure the pantry is stocked with the basics at least, which means thinking ahead. Which is why I'm open to suggestions.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

They Said What?

Thought I'd share a bit of local colorful news for those of you who might have missed it: a columnist for the Democrat-Gazette reported that a local news anchor wished "Martin Luther Coon" happy birthday last Monday! A zany slip of the tongue; he somehow jumbled the words "King" and "Junior," which came out as "Coon." Yeah, I know you're also looking at those two words and thinking "wow, I really stink at anagrams."

He apologized the next day -- he meant no offense. As the columnist noted, he is director of a Christian Ministry. Here's what offended the columnist: comments about the incident were mostly critical, "laced with bitterness, acrimony and spite." And that the true culprit is not the error itself, but the "knee-jerk reactions, wrathful accusations and uninformed assumptions it incited." Yeah, blame those people -- a bunch of malcontents looking for an excuse to air their stupid grievances.

While we're on the subject of Kr. King, am I the only one who thinks it's bizarre that he has to share his birthday with Robert E. Lee? And does the whole country do this or just southern states?

Speaking of southern states: this just in from South Carolina: Andre Bauer, the lieutenant governor (any kin to the guy who played Jethro on the Beverly Hillbillies?) recently put his foot so far into his mouth that it came out his butt, saying at a recent town hall meeting:

"My grandmother was not a highly educated woman, but she told me as a small child to quit feeding stray animals. You know why? Because they breed! You're facilitating the problem if you give an animal or a person ample food supply. They will reproduce, especially ones that don't think too much further than that."

So this is the guy who might well replace Mark "I might be strolling the Appalachian Trail but most likely I'm fucking a South American hot chick who's not my wife" Sanford? Being one of those scandal-loving types, I couldn't get enough of his lovesick puppy talk about his hot, sophisticated Argentinian mistress, his soul mate, the love of his life, the Queen of his Soul, the bacon to his fried egg.... but who, in the same breath, said he still wanted to work things out with his wife, dud though she must have been to force him to find solace elsewhere. Because it was an "impossible love." I think the guv should have gotten the John Bobbit treatment, and for good measure, have been duct-taped and sprayed with Easy Off. That would have certainly made love impossible, at least for a while.

Bauer will surely issue some standard "my comments were taken out of context" or "I was just illustrating that my granny was a heartless loser but look how good I came out! I throw nuts to the homeless every day!"

Anyway, the poor who might be offended by his comments need to get a life.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Avatar and Suicide

I've attempted to see see Avatar in 3-D twice, family in tow, but both times it’s been sold out. I'd been a bit nervous about wearing those crazy 3-D glasses --the last time I tried them was probably in 1942. Not only did I not enjoy whatever movie it was, I had a terrible headache afterwards. So I was intrigued when I saw a headline about people being depressed and/or suicidal after they saw Avatar – I thought that maybe the modern glasses were some sort of dastardly plot - but no -- it's apparently the most beautiful movie ever made. So beautiful that people want to kill themselves after seeing it because that kind of world is retty much out of reach here on Planet Earth - unless you still like to trip. I bet people are making millions going on talk shows or writing about how to cope with that kind of depression. First, acknowledge your feelings.....

It's hard enough that I don't live with Johnny Depp (or even a total geek like Gates, although I'd prefer Johnny any day) and that my youth is but a dream. (Speaking of which, I always loved what Fran Liebowitz said about women and aging. Roughly speaking it was that we all regret our beauty fading, but that frankly, aside from a few of us like Grace Kelly, it's not really that great a loss for the world.) That although I used to be a divemaster and spent time in oceans in exotic places (which the previews for Avatar remind me of), our children sucked up all of our disposable income and we're lucky to get to the lake once in a while. And I love them dearly, but they don't appear destined to appear in movies with George Clooney (I know he'd be a BFF!!!) or at a benefit with Yo Yo Ma (we might be BFFs, but he's a bit inscrutble -- it's hard to tell). That being a warrior for me (I think in Avatar that they are all warriors fighting the Bad Guys) is arguing with the gas company that there is no way my bill went up $700 from last month. And winning.

As a middle-class American, I make my share of sacrificies. I limit myself to four trips to Starbucks per week, because I buy their coffee and have a top-of-the-line coffee maker and a maid who knows how to use it. I'd have a victory garden, except we don't have enough shade in our back yard; however, I grow basil that I use in my pesto. I've stopped wearing mylons altogether; I prefer leggings. We own only one home -- land-locked, unfortunately, and to afford trips to the beach, we must drive 13 hours and sponge off friends. It's embarassing at first, but when you show up at people's doorsteps early on a Saturday morning with two cute, tired, hungry kids in tow, it's hard for them to turn you away. Like kicking a hungry puppy.

I've tried to make new friends who are richer and might get me into better parties, but it hasn't worked out that well and so I hang out with the same ones I've had for more than 20 years.

So, yeah, I've got a lot to be depressed about but at least I'm not whining about some focking movie! Although I could give you some good pointer on coping -- like, take some scuba diving lessons.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Girls in the Hood

I can never say goodbye to my sisters without crying - it's a family joke. At 57, I’m the baby, and people have sworn at various times that I look just like all three of them. Yesterday my colleague and friend saw a picture of my sisters and told me that I look just like Mary Lou and asked if she was the youngest – but her eyes aren't that good. Several times when I've visited my sister Barbie in Pennsylvania, people have wrapped me in a bear hug and started chatting me up, thinking I was her. Years ago when I worked in the corporate world, I attended a class where one of the presenters kept staring at me: he went back to Chicago and told my sister Pat that her doppelganger resided in Arkansas.

After our dad died (mom having passed almost exactly a year earlier), we were faced with cleaning out their house, dividing their things and all that entailed. Nightmares are made of such stuff. To say we had complicated relationships with our folks is like saying that my gangrenous leg has a slight odor, and the color is not looking too good either. Dad was always playing us off against each other; we said many times that it was a wonder that we didn't loathe each other. There were always favorite children, depending on his mood, and favorite grandchildren, which he was amazingly open about. For example, he threw an 80th birthday party for himself, where he raved about what a local waitress had meant to him but never mentioned our mother, and although two of his grandchildren were there, the only ones he spoke of were his two (absent) favorites, which someone in the audience finally pointed out to him was rather tacky. There is a picture of me at that party, looking as if I smelled something bad while listening to him celebrate himself. He told one of my sisters one time that he couldn't understand why he was pretty popular, but no one in his family liked him. It hurt him that none of us ever said "you're a good Daddy." I forgot to mention he was a military man: for an excellent portrayal of our family life, read The Great Santini by Pat Conroy.

It's not a nice thing to say about your father, but he was a sadist at heart. One of the many ways he tormented our mother was by proclaiming, out of the blue and often during a nice dinner when we were visiting, that he wasn't leaving anything in his will to his kids. Although she strongly opposed this, she never merited consideration: all she did was run a household and raise five kids while living under his reign of terror. After she died, he talked constantly about his will: what charity du jour would receive his money, which of us he'd leave everything to, which of us would be cut out. He loved the thought that his kids were fighting over his money. We all echoed the same refrain: all for one, and one for all. No matter how many times we said and demonstrated that, he never got it. In the end, he indeed felt some were more equal than others.

I'm the only one who lives in Arkansas, where my parents also lived, but unlike the stories you hear, I was never left to take care of everything on my own: my sisters visited often, many times in shifts during the really hard times. My oldest sister described it as visiting the House of Usher. At the end, when I could no longer even visit because his craziness and viciousness sent me into a tailspin, they didn't lecture about familial obligations but assured me that I was doing what I felt best for my family and me.

Pat pretty much arranged everything for both funerals, including writing the eulogies for both parents. We agreed we could not present him as a good man, a good father, a good husband in his eulogy - he was a mean, bitter man - but Pat wrote about him in a respectful, sympathetic and charitable way. (Much unlike the way I am writing about him now: he was probably mentally ill if not severely depressed: I think of how I feel on my darkest days and know that was the way he felt all the time. Still, he was the meanest man I ever knew and I write on. Maybe later I can be more kind to him.)

After the funeral, we cleaned out the house in what could have been a painful, divisive process. And although I have a very selective memory, my memory of that week is clear and truthful: it was a sad, depressing but harmonious time. We took joy in all being together -- it doesn't happen that often. There were no quarrels about who got what. Although he would have loved a fight there too: he knew that I wanted a particular necklace's of mom's, and gave it to Barbie with instructions that under no circumstances was she to give it to me. And she didn't: I plucked it from her pocket one day.

I think of that time now because I recently received a check from Mary Lou, which I opened and puzzled over: was she sending me an overly generous New Year's gift? If so, why wasn't it a more balanced number? Mary Lou received more than the rest of us, which she shared equally, and this was money from some bonds he gave her that had just come of age or whatever it is that bonds do, and she split the money among us. The thing is, she thinks nothing of it: she doesn't think she's done anything special or exceptional - she was just abiding by the rules of the Mustakeers. As did Pat -- all the work she did, both as the eldest sister and an attorney, was just what you do for your family. No big deal. I write this sitting at our new (well, flea market new) dining table that we bought with our share of the money.

The Waiting Game

My legion of fans (one of my nieces) can't wait to hear more from me! So while I work on a new blog, I thought I would use this, which is the only thing I ever had published in a national magazine, and that was almost five years ago. Like I said, I'm lazy.

Shopping, packing, fretting, shopping more, changing what you plan to pack… I still remember this from Mei Li’s arrival. The funniest part is at absolute zero hour when it is time to complete the packing and head to the airport, Susan decides she has to shave and tan her legs. I finished her packing…she made herself beautiful for her new daughter. I guess that was her way of “nesting”.

I was copied on this email from Kristy: extraordinary friend, sage, counselor and godmother to my children, in response to mutual friends’ dazed announcement that their heart and soul – a seven-month old baby girl -- is waiting for them in China. Neither John nor I remember the incident: it has been almost nine years since that crucial leg-shaving. My overall memory is of a frenzied madness. I was consumed with thoughts—many of them deranged—of bringing home my baby.

I would describe myself as impatient under the best of circumstances, but my 2-year wait for Mei Li made impatience one of my core competencies, along with anxiety, despair, agitation and paranoia. I convinced myself that even those who had neither the desire nor the paperwork would be blessed with a child -- except me. I would be denied my heart because it had to be obvious to everyone that I wasn’t mother material. I wasn’t the kind of woman who stopped to coo at every baby, who loved all children and felt a rush of maternal tenderness at their appearance – I thought far too many of them were no-neck monsters who sucked up their parents’ time, energy and disposable income. In fact, I had never had any desire for children until I met John (who once told my mother that after our initial introduction, I basically said, “I’m Susan, and I want to have your children.”)

Although we decided on her name four months into the wait, I did not buy anything for her: no clothes, no toys, no crib, no music, no books (although I did break down and buy the Owl and the Pussycat a few months before bringing her home). Why bother – she would never come home to me. She would go to one of those mothers you read about who is not only musical and artistic and able to host perfect tea parties, but is also the earth mother, who makes you feel as if you’ve known her all your life upon first meeting her in her cozy kitchen where all the neighborhood mothers and children gather to bask in her glow and eat her homemade cookies. That mother would be waiting calmly, humming while she embroidered sheets, curtains and mother-daughter outfits. She would perfect her Mandarin during the wait. She would be recording lullabies she wrote to soothe her little one to sleep. She would be worried only that she wouldn’t be able to finish hand-carving the rocking chair and cradle, blocks, and matching chess and checkerboard set. She made me look like Medea, except I didn’t dress as well.

Among my worries in case a miracle happened and we did bring her home, were, in no special order: she won’t like us, we won’t like her, she’ll be ugly, I won’t be able to really love her and vice versa, she, she’ll cry all the time and I’ll discover that I don’t want to be a mother and then it’s too late and I’m stuck with her, I’m WAY too old (I was 45 at the time), we don’t have enough money and she’ll end up working at King McTaco the rest of her life because we can’t afford college for her, I was going to have to return to work and what’s the point of flying across the Big Pond to bring home a baby and then abandon her to strangers at day care, we’ll both lose our jobs and be homeless. And these don’t include the really crazy ones.

I joined an online group for waiting parents, and although it gave me great comfort, it also fueled my madness in many respects: I took every rumor to heart and would call our agency and demand to know to know why they hadn’t told me that China had stopped all adoptions for women in Arkansas or that the wait had changed from an average of one year to 12. I think now how they must have snorted and rolled their eyes at others in the office, mouthing “It’s HER” as they patiently (but with no success) tried to soothe my raw nerves. I wanted to scream and run headfirst into a brick wall when they told me that when the time was right, I would become the mother of the baby who was meant to be mine – it was all part of God’s divine plan. I realized the truth of this immediately upon meeting Mei Li, although I didn’t think in those terms until much later. I have said essentially the same thing to a few waiting parents, but I preface my remarks by with “I know you will want to smack me for saying this and will probably find no comfort in it now, but you must believe me……”

When we finally met her in the lobby of our hotel, I was crying so hard that I couldn’t even focus – she loves to hear how we skipped the part where all the parents hang around to admire their own and others’ babies, and instead I grabbed her under my arm like a football and raced back to our room. As I chatted her up, I realized that this baby (all 11 ¾ pounds of her), had banished my malevolent emotional companions of the past year – at last, there were only three of us in the room (four if you count bliss). By the next day, John said that she didn’t yet know we were her parents, but she had no doubt we were the best nannies she’d ever had.

I am quite fond of food, so the first time I described meeting her to a friend, a food analogy immediately came to mind: I was really hungry and was looking forward to a good breakfast: Eggs Sardou (with crisp spinach), perfect hash browns, fresh fruit and juice and a bottomless cup of frothy cappuccino. Instead, I found a banquet table a mile long that contained every dish and beverage my soul desired, all made by angels.

Among all the great pictures taken at the airport on our arrival home, one perfectly reflects my contentment: I am just coming off the plane, radiating happiness and preparing to hoist her up to our adoring crowd of relatives and friends.

I am still buzzing with excitement for Nancy and Mark, although something shocking has hit me: when the love of their life turns nine, mine will be 18 – a startling and unwelcome reminder of how close she is to leaving the nest that it took me so long to create for her.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Why Am I Doing This?

I'm searching my heart to discover why I feel the need to write a blog. All my life I've been one of the types who would love to "be a writer" but find it way too much work. Much easier (and more fun) to make fun of other people's writing. Much more satisfying to do other meaningful things like watch old episodes of Get Smart and Mr. Ed. I've revealed a lot about myself in that last sentence -- I'm an old trout who remembers when we had to get up and change channels and only had three stations. And yes, I do have some issues with aging that my discount on Tuesdays at Kroger doesn't really make up for. But that's a whole other blog. As is the fact that I'm not one for much introspection, so take the fact that I'm searching my heart with a grain of salt.

The reason I call myself an old trout dates back to a book I read years ago when I was still a trout-in-training. One passage had me on the floor -- the author (Canadian, I think) was describing having to carry an old, drunken woman up a flight of stairs -- and referred to it as "humping the old trout up the stairs." I can't remember the book or the author or why the unfortunate narrator had to carry a drunken, overweight old woman up the stairs in the first place -- but that passage has stayed with me over the years. Unlike important, useful information.

I could blame not writing on the fact that I'm on anti-depressants, but a lot of my favorite writers have been depressed, stoned, drunk or suicidal (or a combination)when they wrote, so that's a really crappy excuse. I finally spoke to my girls last night (12 and 13 years old) about being on medication for depression. I'd hidden it like a shameful secret from them for years, then couldn't find an opportunity to talk about it -- like most big things, I think casual conversations are much better than sitting them down and saying things like "we need to talk about sex" and "by the way, did you know I was married before I met your dad?"

Funny enough, I'm not at all shy about talking with it to other adults, even those I don't know well. As I told my sisters years ago, one of the best things about being depressed was telling my dad out of the blue. "By the way, while we're on the subject of World War II, I went to the doctor today and he said I am clinically depressed and need medication to keep from hurling myself out a window." More about dear old dad later, but he (and my mother) were just speechless and steered the topic right back to World War II. I'm amazed at the number of people I tell who are also on meds -- are we just crazier these days or what?

(I just read about one report that said that one out of 10 Americans takes antidepressants and that for most people they serve only as placebos. Although you should be wary of people saying they obtained information from a "report", because sometimes that report can be an email from Aunt Bertha saying that of 10 of her friends, one is batshit crazy and needs to be locked up.)

Like talking about sex, the brief discussion about being medicated for depression was easier than I thought. The three of us were in the car on the way home and were discussing stress. My oldest mentioned depression and I took the plunge. The conversation didn't even last that long and they didn't ask for many details -- I'll let them steer that conversation when they're ready.

I've got to pick the girls up from school and am going to publish this before I chicken out. I just don't think I'm going to tell anyone where to find it.