Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A Tribute to Artists and Reflections on my Childhood

Disclaimer in Advance: The following are my own impressions and memories, which of course are colored by the perspective of years and my own feelings. As other family members frequently find my various memories to be inaccurate, I am writing this as a tribute based on my impressions, which may or may not be particularly historically accurate.

I grew up in a home filled with music of all kinds, and colors rich and deep, and words artfully arranged, and images of intrigue.

This is my mother, the brilliant artist and writer with a creative and powerful mind:
http://www.sarahfishburn.com/ (note if you are at work and want to wander onto her blog to turn down your speakers, as there is music, which you can control using a fixture on the right column of her blog.)

This is my father, the brilliant musician and engineer with a creative and powerful mind:

If you scroll down the links to other blogs on my mother's blog, you can see the type of people with whom we associated as I was growing up. http://lisahoffman.typepad.com/ and the likes.

We moved around a bit, but my childhood home always included art everywhere, not just on the walls but on and in our cupboards, on top of shelves, on the floor, painted onto furniture...everywhere. For some period of time, if you were a friend visiting my home, and you decided to snoop around in our bathroom cabinets, you would be greeted with a line of those funny fat little plastic troll dolls, artfully arranged as entertainment for the "snooper," which I think my mother might assume we all are.

It also included lots and lots and lots of books, tucked all over the place but many of them on this huge bookshelf made from old barn doors or an old barn fence or something like that. I wonder, mom, if you have photos of that, so people can get an idea of what I am talking about?

Creativity and clarity of thought were values in my home of origin. As was a wonderful, complex intermingling of notions of both simplicity and the value of beautiful things.

We read constantly, and art was a part of our daily lives. We also played a lot. We hiked and camped and played wall-ball and four-square and basketball and frisbee and all sorts of things. My mother does not drive. My father does but hates it. We walk and rode our bikes a lot. I started riding the city bus at a young age. At first my mom was nervous about it, but then she considered my ability to use my cunning conversational skills to get through almost anything ;-).

I mostly would walk around talking to myself. For a while I had a collection of imaginary friends with funny names like "Bookie," and "Stampie," and my "best friend" who I called "Maradawn" (I have no idea how that would be spelled). After my imaginary friends began to fade away, I would talk myself through my imaginary games: I was the attorney, the teacher, the mom. Eventually my self-conversations began to just be fairly straight-forward conversations with myself, imaginary play loosely tossed in throughout. I was always processing! There was so much to take in, in my world.

My siblings still tease me about the ski pole. I used to take one of our ski poles and walk around the back yard at our duplex, jabbing it into the ground and talking away to no one but myself. The kinesthetic feeling of it striking the ground and then pushing it through the resistant soil helped me think. For a long time I have felt ashamed when my siblings would talk about the ski pole. Now I see that child self walking through the yard with it, and I feel so loving and understanding toward her. I am a little neurodivergent afterall, and that is what they call "heavy work" and "joint compressions" and "cognitive ordering through speech" now in my children's occupational, educational, and speech therapy. I am lucky that I had parents who let me do my thing. I was able to develop my cognitive abilities without unecessary impediments that result when one's neurological system is trying to regulate and order the world and is supressed in its natural efforts to do so.

My mind went constantly. It still does. It happens with all of the members of my family of origin including my older sisters, I am guessing, but I've noticed it is especially true in the case of my younger brother and me. When we shared a room, we would talk nonstop until we fell asleep. Deep conversations, I am sure, for people 5 and 7 years old or whatever.

My brother's mind seemed to work mostly in images and words. He was and is an amazing artist. Mine almost always worked in words. And also in feelings. Often thoughts would pass through me as feelings alone. For someone so verbal, so wordy, it is hard when you can't articulate a thought because it comes in a wordless form. But it would happen. It still does. Sometimes I start writing something, and I feel perfectly clear and the words are flowing right out of me, and then suddenly the thoughts come to me instead in waves of purely gut-level feelings, and I will only be able to scribble. If you were to look at a journal of mine, you would find pages filled with just scribbles. At the time I made them, these would be very clear thoughts. But totally nonverbal. Somewhere there is an abstract artist in me who is working through these images, though the images themselves are very unskilled, unpracticed, and completely child-like.

This might be a part I of a II part series. I have to post this before my laptop battery runs out because I don't know where the charger is right now (the red light is flashing-- ack!). I may or may not have more to say in this tribute at this time...we'll see tomorrow or sometime later this week.

Monday, April 28, 2008


Thanks to Lizard Eater at http://uuminister.blogspot.com/ for the following fun bit (and tomorrow, I am thinking a tribute to artists!):

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Reflections on Family

Me, my dear wife G, my dear son M, and my dear foster daughter K

We began grieving the loss of our baby girl, K, the day she came to live with us.

I imagine that most-- if not all-- of us have experienced this kind of grief. It’s the type of grief that comes with terminal illness of a loved one, for example. It is the pre-loss grief of a loss that is possible, or probable, or inevitable. It is both grief for the loss, and also grief for the grief; it is grief for the loss of so much joy that we might experience in the time we have with our loved one if only we weren’t already grieving.

My wife, G, and I have been foster parents for a number of years. We adopted our son, M, after foster parenting him for thirteen uncertain months. By the time K arrived, we knew well that in the course of a foster-adoption, anything could happen. K moved to our home from another foster home because she needed a potential adoptive placement.

Yet, while M's adoption had been considered a straight-forward one, even in his case I had walked into the Children's Services office one day when he was about a month old (totally unsuspecting), and received news from his social worker that she had found a suitable birth relative to care for M. Birth-relative placements give children a greater chance to maintain ties with their extended birth family, and thus are often considered ideal. But whether or not this move was ideal for M, it meant we’d be saying goodbye. "He will be moving to her house in two weeks" the social worker told me that day. And though the relative changed her mind the day of M’s move, it was forever etched in our hearts that everything was bound to change in an instant.

When facing such uncertainty, emotional survival mechanisms kick in. One job of the human brain is to protect our fragile emotional state. A disequilibrium of the emotional system can be tolerated for a short period of time, but then the brain must do its job to regulate. Otherwise, the other systems of the body-- and ultimately, human survival-- are threatened. The human mind is capable of great trickery to achieve this end. When M was six months old, Halloween came ’round. G and I waited until the day before Halloween to make his costume. In our minds, Halloween came into existence on that day when it was no longer “the future.” Somehow, we had to cope with the uncertainty, and limited vision did the trick.

M's adoption was finalized seven months later. We did not celebrate M's adoption until 31 days after it was finalized in court. The 30th day was the last day of the appeal period. Over time, the difficulties and pain of the foster-adoption roller-coaster faded from our memories. When G and I learned of K, we were able to joyfully say “yes” to her placement with us.

But the day she was placed in our arms, we all went home emotionally exhausted and took a family nap. I awoke with tears in my eyes, my heart heavy and throbbing at the thought that this moment- ANY moment - could be our last together. In that moment, I thought of K and also her birthmother who were both grieving losses that had already occurred.

It has been about a year and a half. K is a beautiful, stubborn, rough-and-tumble, curious two year old.

Our lives were all complicated very much in August, when we were scheduled to move to a state across the country. K's foster care case was originally scheduled to be closed in May. Likely, this would have opened the door to our adoption over the summer. Unfortunately, a variety of court delays have prevented resolution. K's ability to cross state lines have been semi-limited, except on a temporary basis when the court would allow a short-term travel order. So G and our children did not move with me. They continued to live in our old state indefinitely, while we awaited news. In October, we received news that the court was opening a door to adoption based on the history of the case. K's ability to travel for longer periods expanded, though she can be called back to our old state at any time. The court agreed on multiple counts of permanent parental deficits regarding K's mother. However, the case is under appeal, and won't be heard in the court of appeals at least until late summer or early next fall. Our lives remain very much in limbo, and in my brain, I sometimes protect myself by assuming that the other shoe will drop.

K and G and I have been participating in a therapy together to help encourage her attachment to us. It is not a traditional attachment therapy, nor is it among controversial attachment therapies. It is a behavioral-response therapy that helps me and G respond to K from a position that makes sense to her given her early trauma. This helps K to feel safe, and then we can begin to work on healing from there. Like me, K has to keep herself protected even as she loves and attaches. Though she isn't able to cognitively understand that her life is in limbo, on a cellular level, she has learned to accept impending loss as a permanent state. She has loved many people before coming to us, and she has lost all of them.

Once upon a time (and not that long ago), the child welfare system felt it was best to prevent kids from forming attachments and learning to love their caregivers because of the very "limbo" we are discussing. However, this was so incredibly damaging to children, that this social experiment was finally put to rest. The brain development of children depends in part on the development of early attachments. Whether or not K stays with us, her brain needs the opportunity to attach so that her neurological system can develop properly. Unfortunately, K's early life history makes attachment feel emotionally (and thus neurologically and thus physically) dangerous for her, and I believe that our periodic separations through this last year have on some level been re-traumatizing, which I previously feared but am uncovering layer by layer now in the therapeutic setting.

At the end of our fourth therapy visit, K fell down and bumped her head. The therapist and I watched in awe as K came over to me, crawled onto my lap, and put her head against my shoulder for a whole five minutes while I soothed her. K has always enjoyed being held, but she also keeps her body at a distance from mine. Though G has enjoyed K's attempts at closeness on occassion, K has always kept me at arms length. Remember, love and attachment does not feel safe to K, whose brain has been hardwired during a series of losses in her life. While K has not yet approached me for this degree of closeness again, I trust that we will be able to work together toward that end. K is attached, but it is terrifying to her. The very act of being attached to us, of loving us, and being loved back, makes her feel insecure. She has walls built around her heart for protection, just like G and I play mental trickery on ourselves to make the future disappear so that we too can feel more protected.

I pray that K continues to find peace in life and that she increasingly finds real love and attachment not only safe, but also fulfilling.

I love K so much it hurts. When I watch her laugh, when I see her playing with M, when she runs at me with wide-open arms, I choose joy. But it is painful for me too. There is a place inside me prepared to be her forever mother, and another place inside me (which I go around pretending doesn't exist, for my own sanity and so that I can attach and parent normally), that must be prepared to never see her again. This is what I would call a legally-induced multiple-personality disorder.

In a way, this is the immediate reflection of the struggle of all of us, as mortal beings: to love when it means losing, to love even though it means losing. Look around at any human being near you. They too are afflicted by this universal condition. We all are. We love, we lose, and somehow, we love again.

I'd like to write some reflections here on foster care, adoption, foster-adoption, and adoption reform periodically in the months to come.

We Are Family

For my mother, who is helping me learn to embed videos, and who told me to pick a video that was from my childhood "or something."

Contemporary Flute

I thought this was cool, though personally, I never thought the flute wasn't cool. My dad's a flutist, and the sound makes me feel safe and like a little kid again, running around, getting into trouble (...and also reminds me of my dad's friend coming over every Sunday to do duets with him. She plays the piano. Sometimes the whole arrangement drove my mom nuts. Sometimes his friend annoyed us. But I've come to appreciate her and the arragement too. I miss Sundays with my parents.)


Enough Food

Someone I know online is in the practice of re-plating her leftovers after eating at a restaurant:



She added to the second article above that she marks the container with the date and time and what is in it as well.

Not a bad idea. However, if I am eating at a restaurant, I often am spending money that I haven't budgeted, and I am counting on eating the leftovers for the next day or two to make the money stretch as far as I can.

If one doesn't have any food on hand, maybe passive help will work?http://www.collegehumor.com/video:1743880

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Timing is Everything

Today my supervising minister said that he heard from the senior minister this dangerous little tidbit:

There is a top university very near to me (which shall remain nameless) with something crazy like a 19 billion dollar endowment. The divinty school within that university is currently a focus of the university. They are supposedly encouraging folks to come to the seminary with *tremendously* generous amounts of financial aid. Through the grape-vine, apparently, the senior minister heard they are not only giving gobs of tuition assistance, but that they are even giving students/families apartments to live in during their studies. They have completed their application cycle for 2008-2009, but in September they will begin recruitment again for 2009-2010.

I'm not going to say anything else about this. Timing is everything, and sometimes timing just doesn't add up. I just want to say, hmmm.

Further House Hunt Updates

On Sunday we went and looked at two more properties, and we looked at the house I talked about in my last post a second time.

Here is the deal: there is one other house we really like now (more on that in a minute). Before any of you jump in right away to say that we should start running away from the previously posted house into the direction of the "new house," let me say these things:

  • I really, really, really, really DO NOT like the location of this new house. Buying in this area is technically probably a very good investment. It is one of those "nice neighborhoods" that will probably appreciate better. BUT, even though it has at least some sidewalks, it is not within walking distance to anything but other houses. There are few folks out walking around the neighborhood, even with the great weather we've been having. And, while we were out at the house, the neighbor man (who creeped me out for some unknown reason) was on his back deck, with his young child, smoking. Smoking on his deck that is right next to what would be our yard. And the smell was wafting our way. And his son was really in our kids' face. And the yard is lower in that part so privacy options are restricted. When I drive toward the other house, I get so happy and cheerful. When I drive toward this house, it gives me a tight, constricted feeling in my chest.

  • This house is about $30,000 more expensive than the other, yet it has 300+ fewer living sq. feet, it will require less work but still some notable work (including the replacement of *nearly all* windows-- which happen to be custom, hard-to find sizes-- just as one example), the house has a great layout but not a particularly good feel at all, and the yard will still need to be fenced and will need a significant amount of work. Right now it isn't in tip top shape whatsoever (I think we've been priced out of that option now that the market is picking up again).

  • And perhaps most importantly, this is a "short sale." This means that the seller is in danger of foreclosure, and owes more on the house than the asking price. As long as the asking price isn't too far out of range of the market value, the bank may forgive the remainder of the loan for the seller. But the bank must approve of the purchase offer, which often takes about 90 days (unlike a typical offer, in which case you would hear back within three days or so about whether or not your offer is accepted). While the short sale makes for a slightly better deal, and there may be a way to structure the offer so that it gives us lots of room to back out at any point, it will put us in a difficult waiting spot for several months.

That being said, here is the house:


MLS #70 7 4 71 57 (take out all spaces)

After we get the first house looked at by a contractor, we'll know whether we will pursue it further. Perhaps at that time, if we're still unsure about what to do, we can put in an offer on both properties even. If the "rehab house" falls through during inspections, we'll already be under consideration for the "short sale" house.

I don't know. We'll see.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The House-Hunting Report

Here's what I wrote on one of my message boards tonight:

We exhausted ourselves looking at houses today. It was completely, utterly tiring. Honestly, I would be willing to put an offer on any of them (they all have good points and bad points), but none of them make both G. and me smile except for one:


MLS# 70 55 9 738 (take out the spaces)

Both G and I walked into this one and just felt really comfortable there. We like the layout, and it just FEELS good. I wanted to sit down and stick around. G. literally left *beaming.* She smiled ear to ear all evening thinking about it. The problem is that it is somewhat of a rehab project.
  • It will need a new roof.
  • All the shutters need replaced.

  • Some of the windows still need replaced.

  • The lead and asbestos need to be removed.

  • It may need a small amount of electrical work (though it does have a brand new electrical panel).

  • The kitchen will need some major work, and as a part of that project, we'd probably end up converting a "bonus" room right next to the kitchen into a bathroom and laundry room combo.

  • The basement is very wet. It has an ancient drainage system that would need to be replaced and it needs a sump pump or two.
  • There is an old oil furnace (luckily sans asbestos). It would be in our best financial interest to update the heating system, converting it to a multi-zone gas-powered system (fortunately the house is gas metered).

  • The (small) yard needs work and needs to be fenced.

Eventually the driveway will need to be repaved. It also needs a lot of cosmetic updating.

Much further down the line...we'd knock out that front entryway (it is unuseable right now...very, very, very musty...though rest assured that the rest of the house doesn't have that smell), and we would hopefully put in a porch or a deck.

I'm unsure about taking on a house like that right now. And I worry about the wet basement, in terms of longterm structural issues. I also think a rehab loan might knock us out of the running because right now I've heard they require 30% down and are more expensive loans.

Actually, there are some other downsides to the house as well, which would impact re-sale value. It is on a very busy street and right behind the house (next door, basically, as it is a corner lot), are several business (rather than more residences).

BUT we LOVE the house. It is a comfortable size and very likeable in soooooo many ways. And the location is very good (besides the busy street, which we actually appreciate because our kids like watching cars go by). And it is much cheaper than many of the other properties we've looked at.

I'm gonna talk to one of our mortgage people tomorrow and see if this is at all possible financially. The house has been on the market for a year. Most houses that have been on the market when it hit bottom have now sold. Not this one. The seller is motivated (although we have to consider that when they first listed, the house was listed at $240,000). I am really tempted to put in an offer of $180,000 or $185,000 (or less if the price of the work adds up enough to justify doing so) and just see what they do.

That makes dw nervous because she loves the house and wants to start offering at $190,000. I'm not ready for that yet. There is so much work.

Our agent is gonna give us the contact information for a contractor who will give us estimates for all the work. This will give us an idea of what is a fair offer and whether we can afford this either as a rehab loan or by reducing our downpayment to help cover the costs out of pocket.

We also have one other property that just came back on the market that we've asked our agent to see. We'll see what we decide to do. Stay tuned.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

House Hunting This Weekend!

I am getting anxious about buying a house.

My agent says that buyers are coming back to the market in droves at the moment (after I asked her because it seemed like every house we liked got an offer before we could get in to see it).

I don't want to have sold at the absolute bottom of the market only to have to buy when the market is in full upswing.

I'm irritated.

So I asked our agent to show us a handful of houses on Sunday. I picked them out. Let me show you the one I like the best right at the moment:

Why do I like it so much?

+a front porch *and* a back deck!!

To see the full listing, go to http://www.remaxadvantage.com/search.asp?search=standard&agentid=104861, scroll down to where it asks for the MLS number, and plug in the following (but take out all the spaces):

70 744 9 18
(note: at some point I will take this down)

This house just might have the potential to make the house-hunting process joyful again. When I think about it, I get butterflies in my stomach.

BUT, it is not perfect. Here is the ol' pros and cons list:


  • It is within our price range in a location I ADORE! I like the location because it is in an area of the city considered broadly to be desireable (good in terms of an investment), but it is in a more economically mixed portion of that area (good in terms of our souls). There are trees and sidewalks in the neighborhood (you'd be surprised by how little of that there is out here), and there appear to be families with children around. It is walking distance to a lot (at least in comparison to everything we've found in this city so far). I haven't even seen it all yet. A new vegetarian restaurant (seriously unheard of out here) just opened up a few blocks away (I swear we could single-handedly keep it open)!! From what I could tell, we could walk to at least a couple different restaurants (granted one is a faster-food type chain), to at least one if not two pharmacies, to a youth center with a basketball court and a very tiny park (see below under cons for some issues), to a "corner store," and MORE! You just don't get that kind of thing in most areas of this strip mall city. It is on a side of town that really appeals to me, despite being very congested through the route to my work...however, it is in the perfect spot because there is a short-cut I can take. It should be a ten minute drive to work, I think. The location makes me want to put an offer on it site unseen, for crying out loud! I swoon.
  • As I said, it has a really cute porch! PLUS a nice looking, big deck!
  • The backyard is perfectly level, very well-maintained and seemingly low maintance, and seems to be of decent size. It appears to be fenced, though the back portion of the fence would need to be replaced with something more dog-proof.
  • It has a newer boiler, newer water tank, replacement windows, and vinyl siding.
  • Supposedly the kitchen and bathroom have been updated.
  • All appliances are included.
  • Heating is by gas (much cheaper than oil), and the water heater also works by gas. Given the smaller size of the house, heating should be affordable.
  • The house is pretty darn cute. Even cuter in person than in the photo.


  • While I love the location, there are some issues with the location. On the next street over, there is a medium-size liqour store. Across from that there is a trashed out, ill-maintained Rite Aid (pharmacy). Though the house is less than a half mile from a park, it hardly deserves the title. The park is right on a majorly busy street. There is graffiti all over the park, and all it consists of a lonely slide and a few swings and *a lot* of litter. Though it is next to the youth center, it feels very sketchy, especially as night begins to fall. Also, across the street from the park is a commercially owned (though small) stadium. On one hand, I want to get involved in cleaning up and adding to that playground, but part of me thinks it's hopeless.
  • This is another house with potential size issues. Again it is one the same size as our old house that we felt we had outgrown. I do feel that having porch and deck space increases the size of a home on some level, but we are a growing family.
  • Also, a big red flag here is that the listed square footage differs greatly from public record (it is listed with a few hundred more square feet).
  • The room sizes are not listed, and the rooms look small...especially that rinky, dinky supposedly updated kitchen. If any of the bedrooms is smaller than 10x10, we can't buy this house due to foster licensing.
  • The bedrooms are divided between two floors. Ack! I don't know if I can handle that.
  • Right now there are carpets everywhere. It says there are hardwoods under all carpets, but there is no way to know what condition they are in or even if this is true.
  • There is only one bathroom, there is no fireplace (Waaaaaaaahhhhh...I really, really, really want a house with a fireplace damnit! A lot! How much does it take to add one?), and though there are four off-street parking spaces, there is no garage.
  • There is likely lead, which means for foster licensing we'll be sinking a bunch of money into the house right away to de-lead. On the other hand, this is an issue with most of the houses out here.
  • There is only one heating zone (more expensive, less efficient, and less environmentally friendly), and the heat is also by steam which is a potential issue with M's asthma.
  • I am not a fan of wallpaper personally, and it has wallpaper in every room.

So what does it mean when you love the location in so many ways, but there are also other glaring location concerns?

And they say to always buy for location, but when does location trump other downsides?

I know, I know. I haven't seen it inside yet, and I could end up hating it. Plus, for all I know they'll already have accepted another offer by Sunday. And knowing my luck, this won't work out. But for now I can't stop thinking about it.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Since We're on This Topic...What To Look For in a Montessori School

Based on a series of related discussions on an internet forum I visit, I came up with the following format for evaluating Montessori schools I am visiting as I decide where M. should go to school.

Because I can't format this post the way I have things formatted on the page (I created the one double-sided page form in Publisher), I will just kind of describe the format for you. As many folks are unfamiliar with Montessori, I will also make other notes so you understand the significance of each item. All notes about formatting or significance will be in yellow.

I think when visiting Montessori schools, especially, it is helpful to have this kind of a form. The name "Montessori" is not trademarked, and any school can call itself a Montessori school, even if it has nothing at all Montessori in its approach.


(each of the following six items are short-answer items)
Name of School:
Location of School:
Notes on Financial Programs:

Notes on Teacher Training:
Experience With Children Who Have Special Needs:

Observations (each of the following have "yes" and "no" checkmark boxes underneath):

Children choosing activities themselves, having sustained focus on the activities, and caring for the classroom and materials. In a true Montessori school, this is what you would observe. During the "work period," the children will be working alone or in small groups, generally of their own choosing. Teachers are available to help students as needed, but are generally "hands off." In fact, if a child asks for help, the teacher may provide assistance, but in doing so will try to provide assistance with only the portions of the activity that the child truly can't do independently. The assistance provided will also be a springboard for teaching.

Work period close to 3 hours. A Montessori work period is generally 3 hours long, as Montessori observed this as the optimal time for children to work independently in her highly structured enviornment. During this time, children will go through various cycles of being more or less active with the materials. The children may also remain focused on just one or two work items or may work on an unlimited number of items during this time.

Children working and helping one another in a natural way (without looking for approval or praise from adults.

Older children giving lessons to the younger ones. You may or may not observe this during your visit, depending on what happens on that particular day, what the children are involved in, or how "normalized" the classroom has become. For example, at the start of the school year, you are less likely to observe this. However, it is important to note that this is a critical element of the Montessori experience for children. The classes are purposefully multi-age, and the ideal classroom has a balance between each age (for example, 6 3-year olds, 6 4-year olds, 6 5-year olds, and 6 6-year olds in a 3-5 year old classroom with 24 children).

Children solving their own disputes without adult intervention. If adult intervention is involved, please make exact notes. In the Montessori setting, children are taught conflict-resolution skills and given opportunities to use them. In my personal opinion, some classroom social behaviors DO require intervention, but the important thing is that adult intervention is not a common occurrence in the classroom for two reasons: (1) Children are being taught skills so that adult intervention is less necessary and (2) The norm for classroom behaviors reduces behavioral management issues.

Minimal behavioral management provided does not involve yelling, threatening, physical restraint, etc. Montessori teachers should be a calm, quiet presence in the classroom. I would look for behavioral management techniques that are done privately and quietly whenever possible. It is also, of course, expected that the teacher will behave in respectful, gentle ways.

An orderly, pleasant environment, with materials that are attractive, complete, and well-cared for. This is sort of the "trademark" sign of a quality Montessori school. You will walk in and there will be shelves all around the room with beautiful materials that you want to touch and get your hands on. Everything will appear orderly, and the enviornment should be warm and inviting for young people. The care taking of materials should be done by the children. You should not see adults cleaning up after children or following the children around reminding them to clean up after themselves. Instead, children will be accustomed to getting items of the shelves, using a work mat (much of the classroom will likely be floor space where the children will be working on work mats) to denote their workspace, and putting the items back after they are finished with each one.

The presence of traditional Montessori materials. Minimal “toys,” and all toys have a specific lesson-based purpose. Imaginative play is wonderful and important for children. It is not happening enough for too many children these days. However, the Montessori classroom is a playful space for focused children's work. This is why I support the idea of 5-days-per-week (for consistency...I truly believe this is better for children, in opposition to every-other-day, etc.) half-day programs for young children. I think it is important that they have a lot of time each day for open-ended, unstructured play at home. Recess is also great for kids in Montessori school. But while they are in the classroom, they will be focused and working. Not because they are forced to do so, but because they are drawn to do so by their own development in combination with the attractive nature of the materials and the prepared environment the teacher has set up. In other words, they will not be unhappy, but instead will enjoy having meaningful ways to interact with their world. If you are not familiar with Montessori materials, you might want to check out a catalog online just to familiarize yourself with the types of items you should see. For example: http://www.nienhuis.com/index.php

Child sized furniture and equipment, and materials at the children’s level, set up in orderly and accessible ways. Here is another "trademark" sign. The children's work is at their level, well organized and easy for them to access, one piece of work at a time. Ideally, all sinks, toilets, etc. are also at their level (and if they aren't, step stools or other accessibility features should be provided). You won't see desks, but you may see a minimal number of small tables at the children's levels (as well as lots of floor space for work).

Children moving about and talking to one another freely, but still respecting each other's space.
You will see children going up to the shelves, setting up their work space, working, and then returning work to the shelves. Hopefully you will see some children choosing to work together and some children choosing to work on their own (this should be a cooperative agreement made between the children based on community interest and their own interest). The children should be walking around one another's work mats. There should be a limited number of work materials so that children are encouraged to negotiate their use and interact (for example, in a class with 30 children, you might see a handful of scissors on the shelf rather than 30). Children should ask one another if they want to join in work together, and should not touch one another's work without permission from the child to whom the work belongs.

Teachers who speak quietly and respectfully to the children.

Teachers giving individual or small group lessons. In an AMI classroom, this should be the way lessons are most commonly given. There may be a "community/circle time," particularly at the close of the day, but (1) this should not be a place generally used for group lessons, and (2) this should not cut into the work period by any significant amount. In an AMS classroom, you may see circle time used for the teaching of particular lessons depending on the type of lesson. Again, however, check to make sure that this does not cut too much into the period and that children are still given many lessons individually or in small groups. Also, note that once a lesson is given, the child is free to choose that work or not. Of course, if the lessons are given when the child is properly ready, the child will likely be very interested in the new work. But the child may or may not choose this as his or her work at any given time. When the child does choose the work, the teacher will not interfere in general. You may notice children trying different ways of completing the lesson, and even making mistakes without any teacher correction, involvement, or intervention (though some items will be self-correcting or will have a "control" that allows the child to check his/her own work).

The lesson-giving generally involves little talking on the part of the teacher. In fact, it may involve little eye contact between the student and teacher. Instead, the teacher demonstrates the use of the materials and interest in the work, looking carefully at what s/he is doing, and narrating just a bit to give the students some specific information or instructions. The child during the lesson will generally watch without interfering, as the child knows the lesson can become his/her own work soon. Then the teacher returns the lesson to the shelf, and the child can choose to engage in it on his or her own.

Teachers journaling and/or actively observing the classroom in action, without taking an active role. If you observe a Montessori class over a stretch of time, you will see periods in which the teacher sits back, often off to the side, and just watches the children at work. This time should be plentiful. Many teachers keep a journal with their observations, and this can be very useful as they track what work should be introduced next to each child. In Montessori, introducing lessons at the individual child's proper point of readiness is critical. Unless a teacher is working with a student (or small group of students) on a lesson, you should see the teacher remaining on the children's level but not directly engaged in the children's work. Note that the typical classroom often includes one teacher and one or two assistants.

(the rest of the questions, aside from the last, are short answer questions)
Notes on Depth of Teacher/Administrative Understanding of the Work:
Notes on Depth of Teacher/Administrative Understanding of the Philosophy:

What is the typical daily schedule? What are drop off and pick up procedures? Often pick up and drop off will occur outside of the school, sometimes at the car with a teacher helping the child out. This demonstrates to the child confidence in his/her entry into the school. How does parent-school/teacher communication take place?

What are the clothing and personal item restrictions? Many Montessori schools will ask that children not wear clothing with cartoon or pop culture characters and/or with advertisements (such as a Reebok symbol). This limits detractions in the classroom, eliminates some social issues among children, and eliminates many inequalities in regard to clothing options for children. Also, it is nice when a school allows children to bring a photo from home into the classroom, or for young children to bring a security item. However, this should be limited, as the focus should be on the Montessori materials and the shared classroom environment.

Is the school AMS or AMI or [insert other] oriented? What is the training most common among staff? I look for schools in which the teacher is certified in the method of the school, whether AMS, AMI, or another. I also look for assistants who have some background in Montessori or who are pursuing further Montessori training. Is circle time a regular or unusual part of the class schedule?

How are lessons presented? How is a child’s progress through materials monitored?

Where does the school expect children to be at the end of the 3-6 year old period? Does the school offer Montessori for children older than six, and if so, what percentage of children continue at the school? In schools that have both a lower and an upper elementary, and even a middle or high school, it would be useful to ask the percentage of children continuing at the school at each level. However, take into consideration the local norms and other educational options available as children get older.

How does the school describe it’s approach to discipline? (Also, any concerns such as lack of boundaries placed on restraint, etc.)

Are teachers ever one-on-one with a child or class of children? In what type of scenarios? For what length of time? This is my own thing, not limited to Montessori. I think it is safest for children in teachers and staff are rarely if ever one-on-one with an adult (I don't mean working one-on-one, but rather outside the vicinty of others).

What type of scenario would signal to the teacher/administrator that Montessori or that the school is not a good fit? Are there any types of students who the teacher/administrator feels would have a harder time in the school? What type of testing is required for admission/what’s the admission criterion?

Are there any “specials” offered, and if so, how frequently and at what cost (gym, music, foreign languages, etc…)

What is the teacher turnover rate? Do staff members appear happy and satisfied by their work? What is the level of support and compensation of staff?

How does the school describe its approach to diversity? What is the classroom approach to family structure diversity (adoption, same-sex parents, multiethnic or multiracial families, etc.)? What is the current level of diversity (gender, ethnicity, race, first language, family structure, etc.) among the children, their families, and the staff:

Notes on the facility (playground, library, garden, etc.):

Notes on general sense of the school:

Overal rating (circle): 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 (10=best fit for my child)

**It is also helpful to ask for a copy of the school handbook (so I included a note on my form reminding myself to ask about this), though some schools don't give these out until a child has been admitted.

My letter to that Montessori School

The following is the letter that I sent to Summit Montessori School in Framingham after my visit to their open house and the conversation I described in my notes posted earlier (notes and letter have been edited to conform with my standards for using initials of names only on my blog).

This was not the kind of situation that was "complaint worthy" in terms of making a formal complaint and actually requesting that something specific is done about it and expecting results. I feel pretty certain that I am uninterested in submitting an admissions application for M. in this school, largely because of that particular experience. However, I did feel like it might be useful for the school to be aware of the situation, whether or not they chose to do anything about it. I felt that at the very least, they ought to have the privilege of hearing my experience so they could do with it what they like.

Dear Summit Montessori School,

As the parent of a prospective student who will turn three this week, I came to your open house today. Your Director of Admissions, J.M., noticed and kindly complimented me on a form I made to use in my visits to Montessori schools. She asked me what my source was for this form. It was a form I had created for my own use. I’ve enclosed a copy in case you would find it useful in any manner.

I want to thank you for the time your staff took with me during my visit to the school. I had many questions, and I really appreciated that you were all so patient with me, giving me plenty of time to ask my questions.

The visit to the school was enlightening. I am a parent in [name of city], and we are considering a move to [name of city] if we find the right school in the area. As I am sure is the case with all parents, decisions I am making about my son’s education are deeply important to me and have already involved many hours of research, touring schools (all Montessori, as I have chosen this method because of my background and commitment to the model and my son’s responsiveness to it), and reflection. The decision about the school my child will attend is one I will not enter into lightly.

This was also one of the saddest days in my life as a parent.

I have been a parent for a number of years now. Before adopting my son, and having my younger foster daughter placed with us as a foster-adopt placement, my partner and I had foster parented children up through the age of fifteen. As you can imagine, I have had many profoundly sad and profoundly joyful times. This day will be among the saddest days of parenthood for me because it is representative of the “no admission” sign on so many doors that my son will encounter through his life.

I’ve enclosed some notes from a conversation I had with J.M. toward the end of my visit. I hope they are helpful for you.

Before you read these notes, however, I would like you to know the following things. I have experience with Montessori. My mother formerly taught in a Montessori school. Though I did not attend a Montessori school as a child, my mother brought some of Montessori’s approach into our home life (and also modeled parts of the method for me in the year she homeschooled my younger brother). As an adult whose vocation is Religious Education/Family Ministry, I have studied educational models in great depth, and developed an ever-growing and cherished commitment to Montessori’s method.

I have been trained in a Montessori model of Religious Education (Spirit Play, a version of Godly Play), and prior to moving to Massachusetts, as head of [a Religious Education/Family Ministry in name of city and state], I worked to start a Spirit Play program that tripled in size by its third year. I watched a certified Montessori teacher who had additionally been trained in Spirit Play, as well as teachers trained only in Spirit Play, transform the culture of that ministry. I spent a minimum of one-and-a-half hours per week in a children’s Spirit Play classroom, which included children with special needs.

The “Montessori way” is integrated into my own children’s home life. In fact, I took my son to visit one Montessori school where a teacher commented, “Wow! He takes right to this model. Look at his response, with virtually no orientation from me. He could start tomorrow! What a sweetie!”

My son is a loving, sensitive, gentle, affectionate, curious child with an incredible memory and a strong ability to creatively solve problems. He has experienced a lot in his short life, but demonstrates tenacity, courage, persistence, resilience, and a will to not only survive but to thrive. He has a great sense of humor, and is a delightful human being. He is very loved by a diverse group of kids and adults alike. He wants to learn, and like all people, he wants to participate in the world in meaningful ways.

My son also has developmental delays. He is slightly “behind” other children his age in all areas of development, and significantly delayed in language development. He isn’t able to communicate everything that he understands, and the signs that he is paying attention are not always obvious (for example, he may not make eye contact because the convergence and divergence of muscles in the eyes is tiring), but he is observant and interested in the world. Because his birthparents both require assisted living, it is possible that he will experience some lifelong challenges. Despite this, some days it is possible to forget he has special needs altogether. Like all three year olds, my son is a wonder-filled, observant individual striving to create meaning in his little world.

Though I am not convinced all these things should matter, my son, by the way, can fairly-independently dress and undress himself, can drink out of an open cup, can feed himself (though he struggles some with the use of flatware, which can be tough for him to manipulate, and does tend to resort to finger foods), can walk and run and climb (though he can’t jump), can manage stairs with railing independently, can open and shut doors with care, and is learning to use the toilet. [All of the above are important skills children are taught in a Montessori setting.]

Thank you again for your time, and I do very much hope the enclosed items [primarily the notes from my conversation with Director of Admissions] are useful to you as you continue to grow your lovely school.



A Montessori School Open House Experience

The following are notes from a conversation I had with the Director of Admissions at a Montessori school near us. The post directly above this one will be the letter I sent to the school regarding these notes (I've edited both the notes and the letter to conform with the use of intials as names on this blog). I thought this was interesting enough conversational material for us here. What does this say about where we are as a society when it comes to special needs? What does this say about what is happening in the world of Montessori right now?

Notes From a Conversation With the Montessori School Director of Admissions (J.)
April 8, 2008

At first I wrote down J.’s exact words because I found them so striking, but mid-way through the conversation I became very uncomfortable with the tone of the dialogue, so I did not feel that verbatim notes were necessary for my decision about my son’s placement.

Me (going through the questions on the enclosed form): “What experience does the school have in working with children who have special needs?”

J.: “We don’t really have resources for children with special needs.”

Me: “So you don’t admit children with special needs?”

J.: “No. It’s not fair to the children. We want to do what’s fair for the children.” After a pause she added, “I mean, it depends on the need. Like, a child with cochlear implants. That kind of thing we can handle.” [Note: She did not say a “deaf child.” The implication is that only a child who has had implants would be acceptable. Not a deaf child. I also want to note that earlier in the conversation when I asked what type of scenario would signal a child and Montessori are mismatched, her immediate response was, “When a child can’t listen.”].

She continued: “This is something we tell parents over the phone before they come in, so it doesn’t surprise anyone.”

Me: “No one told me this over the phone.”

J.: “Did you talk about special needs on the phone?”

Me: “Yes, I did.”

What follows is the remainder of the conversation. I am writing this just a couple of hours after my visit, so my memories are still fresh and clear. I believe this is an accurate representation of what was said.

· J. asked me about my son’s special needs, though she didn’t really give me any time for a real explanation. I told her that he has global developmental delays, and was about to share more when she continued talking. J. said that she wasn’t qualified to “know what that means,” but that her sister (if I recall correctly) is a special education teacher and that her sister has told her (J.) that “there are high and low functioning” children with special needs and that “[Summit Montessori School faculty] should read all the reports very carefully.”

· J. asked me if I had “any reports” about my son (she did not specify what type of reports from whom). I told her that I do, and before I had a chance to ask what type of reports, she told me that the faculty would need to see these in order to make an admissions decision. I said something very close to the following words, which I chose very carefully at that point because I wanted to make sure that I was not misunderstanding. “You said earlier that the evaluation process for admission involves an approximately twenty-minute lesson and observation period with a teacher. Are you saying that for children with special needs, the admission decision is not made on this period of observation, but rather from reading reports about the child?”

· I remember the first part of J.’s answer clearly. “Yes.” After another pause, she said: “Well, it depends. We have got to read those reports. We’ve had parents come in and tell us their kids are low needs, and then they come in and the kids are all over the place. Parents don’t really see their children. We can’t just take what they say.” [Note: the tone of J.’s voice indicated to me that she was talking about parents misleading the school.]

“Yes, we usually do twenty minutes of assessment for a child without special needs, but for a child with special needs, it might be forty-five minutes. We would read those reports for sure. Because in the end, yes, parents are important. But this isn’t about the parents. This is about the children.” J. re-stated several times that “reports” would be vital, and she consistently downplayed the role of teacher observation in the assessment of my son’s match with the school. It was clear to her that written “reports” of any type would carry a heavy weight, and that the teacher observation was only a small part of the process.

· J. also referred to the school as not being “a place for special education. We’re just not able to do that.” It was unclear to me if she truly grasped Maria Montessori’s work as being “special education” in and of itself. She also didn’t give any indication that she remembered that Montessori’s first work was with children who had been identified as having “special needs.”

If I was looking for a special education class for my child, I would be looking elsewhere. In fact, my child qualifies for free early childhood education in a special education setting, which would obviously be an incentive for me to place him in such a setting. However, I demonstrated throughout my visit that I am an educated, thoughtful parent who is well versed in and committed to the Montessori model. I also demonstrated that I want an environment for my child where he can thrive.

Clearly, as a parent, I am concerned about the match between my son and any school. I don’t want him to be in a school where his needs can’t be met, and of course, as someone who values the Montessori philosophy, I am aware of the need to respect the community as a whole as well. I wouldn’t be taking the time to tour Montessori schools if I didn’t believe that my son could be “mainstreamed” into a Montessori school. I am completely confused as to why J. would assume I would want to set up my son for a bad experience like that, after observing me tour the school and ask thoughtful questions.

The messages that were communicated to me verbally (and nonverbally) during this conversation included:

· Children with special needs are not welcome. J. does not want me to apply for my son’s admittance. If I want to push it, I might be able to get admittance for my son, but first I need to prove that he wouldn’t “be a problem.”

· As a child with special needs, my child would be under a level of scrutiny in the admissions process and in the classroom that other children in the school do not experience. (By the way, can you imagine a job interview in which you had to sit there and talk about your own special needs/challenges/etc. for twenty minutes...wouldn't you end up sounding like an impossible person to work with?)

· I am not considered to be among the experts on my child and his needs. Anyone who can write “a report” (of what type, it never was specified) on my child must hold more expertise than I do, and would be better equipped to provide information about whether my child would do well in a Montessori classroom where specific special education services are not provided.

By the way, it is very sad to me that even in the public schools, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) ensures that parents are viewed as a part of the team of experts involved in a child’s life, but an independent Montessori school does not take this approach. Also, you should know that my child will be receiving special education services from his school district, including speech and occupational therapy, via IDEA, even if he is enrolled in a Montessori School. He is an unlikely candidate for a one-on-one assistant in either setting, so this wouldn’t be a concern or issue in the “match” at this point.

· As a parent, there is a considerable possibility that I would mislead the school into admitting my son even if that wasn’t going to serve his best interests, or the interests of the school.

· If my son were to be admitted, he would be considered a liability to the integrity of the community. Once I mentioned that my child is developmentally delayed, J. stopped listening and started talking. She wasn’t interested in hearing about what I knew about his challenges, let alone his gifts and strengths. She was clearly very focused and concerned about what level of “burden” he might be, and she clearly felt I wasn’t qualified to be a part of that conversation.

I am choosing a school for my child. I am going to be investing money in this school, and I am going to be handing over my precious little one and entrust a school with his care and education. I am having a lot of trouble imagining myself applying for my son’s admission into Summit Montessori School.

For all of my children, even those without special needs, I want them to participate in educational communities where individuals with special needs are seen not in simple terms as a liability, detraction from and burden to the community, but that they are seen as human beings who, like everyone, can participate meaningfully in the life of the community. I would hope that all of Summit Montessori School’s parents would want their children to learn to relate to people of all abilities, to be in an environment where they can practice how to be fully inclusive of people who have both the same and different strengths and challenges from them.

I've come to treat my son's special needs as a normal part of human diversity. In my life’s journey, I’ve learned that every human being has “special needs.” My son's needs are simply among the slightly less common. But some of those same needs are part of what affirmed for me that Montessori would be right for him.

The “no admittance for people like your son” sign has been posted on Summit Montessori’s door. What a loss for not only my son, but for the children in the school who lose out on the opportunity to learn to engage in a diverse and interesting human world.

I do want to send a special thank you to D. and one of the founders of the school (whose name I have forgotten, I am sorry to say), for asking me as I was stepping out of the building, what I thought of the school, and for taking the time to chat with me as I worked through the initial shock and confusion, as well as utter sadness, I had experienced during my conversation with J. The messages D. gave me were empathetic, considerate, and warmly welcoming, and the founder’s messages were cautiously welcoming. I also appreciate the founder offering that I could call either D. or herself if I wanted to arrange for an assessment for my son for entry into the school.

On a completely different note, I want to say that I am surprised at the reaction I received from the school’s business manager when I asked about staff compensation and financial aid. I told her I understood that asking about staff compensation was unusual for parents, and she agreed and asked me why I was interested. I told her that I want my children to go to a school with “happy, healthy, satisfied teachers” (and I should add “people who are highly qualified and who feel valued for their work”), and she said that made sense to her. I am just surprised more parents don’t ask. I was so glad to hear that your school strives to be very competitive in its salaries and compensation of teachers and staff.

I also asked her about financial assistance for two reasons. First, because Summit Montessori is by far the most expensive Montessori school I have found in the area (double the average cost for the half-day program), and I wanted to know what assistance might be available because we are a lower middle class family. Second, because the school’s current director and my tour guide had mentioned that the school strives to be diverse, I wondered if that included economic diversity. I asked the business manager what percentage of students receive financial aid, and she told me this number is confidential. However, she did give me the percentage of tuition that provides the financial aid budget. I thought you might be interested to know that it is unusual for a school to make confidential information on the approximate number of “scholarships” they award each year.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Fellow UUs: Did You Take Note That We Have Another Election Coming Up Too?

Besides soon voting on the president of the United States, I hope you also realize that we'll be voting in June 2009 on the next president of the Unitarian Universalist Association.

This article has links to some biographical information about the candidates who have announced they are seeking election: http://www.uuworld.org/news/articles/102252.shtml

Here is a You Tube video from each of them, announcing candidacy:

Peter Morales: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BvTP5mFyeZg
Laurel Hallman: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sjvfHAmBE2w&feature=related

What do you think?

When Your Normal Brain is Abnormal

I haven't posted pictures of my brain because I haven't figured out how to save the pictures from the disk onto the computer or even directly onto the blog. The images are viewed using a special program that is on the disk. Suggestions are welcome. The images are creepy and beautiful and amazing and wild all at the same time. I wish I could share them.

I talked with the nurse at my neurologist's office today, and she said the MRI results were normal. My response was disappointment. "That's discouraging," I told her, "Now I don't have any more answers."

The neurologist warned me about this when we scheduled the MRI. She said something like 70% of abnormal EEGs (and I think she also said new onsets of seizures too) have no known cause. I was just hoping I'd be among the 30% for whom a cause could be determined. But instead, I am stuck with an f'ing NORMAL MRI, and I really don't know what I am supposed to do with that.

I want something not too serious but treatable (and definable)! I don't want to continue taking meds with a bunch of side effects if they only are based on a rough guess abut what is going on. Right now I think the meds could be making a difference, but it is so hard to tell with the accompanying fatigue.

What does one do when one's structurally normal brain is behaving in abnormal ways?
I wouldn't feel so badly about the results if my neurological functioning didn't seem at all "degenerative" to me, if my quality of life wasn't declining in any way. I also might not feel so badly if I could think of more upsides to these particular problems. So on that note, here is my attempt to make light of a dark situation........

Top 10 Reasons Memory Loss, Unreliable Cognitive Functioning, and Funky Lack of Common Sense Are Awesome:

10. I've given up on trying to memorize anything.

9. I'm learning to be a very good note taker.

8. Being a good note taker means that I have quotes, written on paper, to back up my arguments when someone denies what they've said :-).

7. I don't look at the world like anyone else...I am very unique.

6. I don't feel obligated to talk to any particular near-strangers when I am out and about...I don't know if I know them.

5. Everyday I start fresh and new.

4. I don't worry as much about all those things I have to do...I don't remember that I have to do them (actually I worry MORE, but this is a top 10 list in good humor and I am supposed to be thinking positively).

3. Now there is a good reason people are calling me an oddball.

2. I don't remember a lot of stuff I wouldn't want to remember anyway.

1. When I am brilliant, I feel extra elation because it is so rare now.

Friday, April 4, 2008

A 2008 Reading List

So my friend Sara, who you sometimes see posting comments here, has something brilliant on her website that I have to share. I don't know where it first originated, but it's fantastic! It is called 8 x 8 in '08 (aka the triple 8).

Check it out:


The idea is to read 8 books in 8 categories in 2008. I like this way of focusing my priorities for my reading list. 8 overlaps are allowed (The goal is 56 books).

Since I have an inclination toward single-minded obsessiveness and perseveration, a tool that rounds out my world a bit is a very useful one indeed. I'm not sure I'll get through this much reading in 2008, especially since I am starting in April or May and am a slow reader (and I often re-read chapters of books two or three times before moving on). Oh yeah, and I have 2-two year olds LOL. But I love the challenge!

I am thinking these will probably be my categories. I'll post my final reading list once I have it done.

1. From My Bookshelf-- Never Read or Started and Never Finished
2. Classics (Fiction)
3. Parenting
4. Related to My Vocation
5. Historical and/or Political Fiction
6. Historical, Political, and/or Scientific Nonfiction
7. Children's Literature (any genre or age level)
8. Biographies

Oh yes, and I should say that I will also make a goal to get a library card for my new city library. Though for me, the library is a dangerous thing because I forget to take stuff back. Okay, maybe not. We'll see.

She is a Super, Duper Pooper

Motherhood sometimes means that I am not above anything...

even watching creepy potty videos on YouTube over and over and over with my (otherwise tv and video free, with the exception of limited Signing Time videos) children. Yes, even videos with songs that include choice phrases like "Tra laa laa boomdeeah, I push my pants away, and while I'm standing there, pull down my underware" and "She is the best pooper we know" (with miniature men playing the flute on the side of the bathtub):


Now I know there are some parents who would find this offensive. "motherhood=not above anything?!" I can see the comments now. But I think it's just honesty. And kids like weird stuff. That's just the way it is.

Besides, you know what? There is something soothing, as creepy as they are, about those songs after the 100th time you watch them.

Oh, by the way, this one has been a favorite for my kids lately:

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

From My Friend and Assistant

My Assistant at my new job, who has two beautiful children who both have special needs, sent me this email today. I was quite moved and thought it worthwhile to not only give of my own resources, but also reach out to the many generous folks I know are involved in my life (all names abbreviated now by first initial, consistent with how I always handle names on my blog):

Dear family and friends,

Asking for money – I find just the thought of it dreadful! In fact, I’ve been known to say that asking for money is my most hated activity. So why am I asking now?

Our J., a two time open-heart surgery survivor is alive today thanks to the medical advances made during the past twenty years, but other children are sill dying.

Congenital heart defects (CHDs) occur in about one out of every 125 children born in the U.S., 40,000 babies per year. Twice as many children die from CHDs each year in the U.S. than from all forms of childhood cancer combined. However, CHD research is grossly under funded. (Funding for pediatric cancer research is 5 times higher).

Statistics can be numbing, but when you know the people behind those numbers it is both devastating and motivating. Our CHD support group has about 25 families. In the past six years three of our group’s children have died – all post surgical repairs, when they had been “doing well.”

11-month-old A. had chubby cheeks, bright blue eyes and an identical twin brother. One Monday morning when his mom was putting on his right sock he was alive, and when she put on his left sock he was dead.

G. “I.” was the oldest surviving child in our group. After several surgeries in his early years, he received a heart transplant at age ten. That new heart saw I. to his senior prom and high school graduation, but what began as a simple abdominal infection proved to be more than his heart could manage. He died at age 18.

It had been five years since Jo. had his last heart surgery. He was enjoying first grade, drawing, singing and playing T-ball until, unexpectedly, one November day proved to be his last. He was 7 1/2 years old.

Yes, I am asking for you to sponsor me in the American Heart Association Heart Walk. Why? Because I have discovered what activity I dread more than asking for money. That is: Going to children’s funerals.

In thanks for your support,


Gifts of ANY level would be appreciated, I am sure. A. is one person I know who really believes in the power of stretching dollars. To donate, click on the following link, and then click on the A. name.

Have they "gone too far?" Um...how could you even ask that?

I am heading to bed, but we are staying at G's parents house tonight and Boston's Fox25 news is on.

As I am heading off, I hear the headliners, including: "Have they finally gone too far? A child is in intensive care after being pushed down the stairs at school by a bully."

When does it take a child ending up in intensive care before a bully has gone too far? This is very sad.
Every child in our country has a right to access education, free from bullying and harrassment.
We, as a nation, have a lot of work left to do in this arena.
(By the way, from what I gather, this child also has some disabilities and was receiving special education services at his school. This certainly hits some hot buttons in my world.)

It's Worth It

This documentary is worth the time:


I am not sure how long the documentary will remain online. HBO said it would be available online on March 30th. I watched it on that day. As of today, it took some serious hunting to find it again. If you have HBO and can get it on demand, that'd probably be the way to go.

My only disclaimers: It's a documentary. It is interesting. I like the personal growth that is evident among the parents over time. I really liked "hearing" Neal's voice at the end. I am not advocating for any position or approach any person takes in this documentary at any particular time. Some things I could relate to, some I could not. Some approaches I felt were useful, some not.

But the video itself is thought-provoking and well worth viewing, and I encourage you to find some time to sit down and enjoy the show before it is unavailable online (or save it to your Netflix).

On a personal note, I am going in for my MRI on Wednesday. I have asked that I get my "commemorative CD" of the images on that same day. This was noted on my chart. I hope they do indeed give it to me on that day, and if so, I will post some images. I am THRILLED about the idea of having a map of my brain.