Tag Archives: Children

Angel Alternatives



Chinese adoption, Kansas writer

There are a number of ways to look at Halloween from an adult point of view. One is to be worried that our young children will be demonic on that day, but thinking how my daughters sometimes behaved at four or five, who could tell? Another way is to solve the issue of too much sugar, and not just with the kids. My mother thought she had a solution when she put the candy treats in the very top kitchen cupboard. Of course that meant climbing on a step stool (she was still doing this in her 90’s) to “hide” them around the 22nd of October and then climbing up again on the 23th,  24th, 25th, 26th…………sometimes it meant another trip to the store on the 31st. I’d like to suggest a third way, which is a chance to get out of a stuck role. It’s a night of mini improv for young and old where anything goes, with the only rehearsed line of “Trick or Treat”.  I did some theater years ago and had different parts to play:  an owl, a ditsy secretary, a gypsy, and a sergeant nurse at an army recruiting station (that one was a stretch for me, I’ll admit). These roles were fun partly because they were very different from the character I played in real life.

My parents saw me as an easy child—quiet, obedient, happy most of the time, and not demanding.  And as an easy child, I decided that meant I shouldn’t say no. When I first heard the story of the Little Red Hen who didn’t give her bread to those who hadn’t helped, I was both shocked and excited. Could you really refuse and still be a good person?  It seemed so and yet I couldn’t quite figure out how to make that work for me.  Later, I assumed my own children would have at least some of my qualities, even when they came by way of adoption: soft spoken, eager to please, not prone to causing any trouble…..I had quite a list.  But as the case so often is, I didn’t get what I thought I wanted but instead what I needed—more lessons that there are things to consider besides pleasing others. I first saw this clearly when Helen was almost three. She stood in the middle of the park, in the middle of a mud puddle, and jumped up and down. My first reaction was anger at the way she’d likely ruined her clothes and cost me the time to try and clean them and her. And I took it personally as well—here she was acting out against me—ME—the person who took her to that park many evenings and built endless bridges and horse stables with Doplo blocks and let her bring her potty chair into the living room and…..again, the list goes on. But as I watched the look on her face my feelings changed. This was not the action of a child wanting to make work for me or show her power over me. She was jumping for the pure fun of it. And what I felt then was envy, envy that I couldn’t have done that at her age, at any age, for fear of causing others to be displeased with me.


I was an Angel on Halloween


White robe

from a sheet,

cardboard wings

covered in gold foil

and almost as big as me,

a halo bobby pinned

above braids.


At six and a half

I didn’t mind.


“Costumes that take that much time

should be worn more than once,”

my mother’s words,

“And besides, you look so sweet.”


And so at seven and a half

I was still an angel,

unable to say

that I did mind,

very much,

wanting instead to be

a witch or ghost

or anything of

my choice.


But I’m sure I even managed to smile

for a second fitting.

“As perfect as any child could me,”

my teacher’s words,

written on a note to my mother.

And part of perfect meant quiet

with few no’s,

at least not spoken.



This Halloween,

with Helen an owl

and Rose a cowgirl,

I put on tight black pants

over middle aged thighs,

black shirt,

a favorite orange printed vest,

boots and hat.


Wanting to wear nothing

to suggest an angel,

hooting and yipping

with the owl and cowgirl,


I walked




my neighborhood,


trying out my

less than perfect



November, 2003


Chinese and Vietnamese adoption, Kansas writer


Helen is long past trick or treating and Rose claims she is now also too old. It makes me sad and not just because there won’t be mini Snickers and Reese’s peanut butter cups to guilt them out of. I will miss marching up and down the streets of our former in-town neighborhood, the leaves crunching underfoot, pumpkins glowing, chatting with the other parents as we remind our ghosts and princesses and whatever that kid is to say thank you. And I will miss the opportunity to give myself a different role to play as well. I’m not sure what I was trying to be that night twelve years ago, but I know it was a lot more fun than being an angel. And there, that’s possibly the best way of looking at Halloween. It’s a day when our children remind us that sometimes they do things with no hidden agenda—they do things just to have fun. And now I’m thinking I need to find my own mud puddle and start jumping.


Vietnamese adoption, Kansas writer



#Halloween, roles, children, adoption, Kansas writer, Spiders from Heaven



These are a Few of My Favorite Things


Kansas writer and artist

I have my very own crop circle, which is a mound of sand where we are NOT putting up the pool this year. Someone, not so politely, called it a very large litter box and indeed I have seen it being used for that. I am thinking about turning it into a Zen herb garden. I got this idea while visiting a friend whose husband made one. It is quite charming with white pebbles surrounding small round areas of herbs contained by black rubber tubing. My friend said it’s not so charming to her as she has a vivid memory of looking out her window and seeing her husband pull up what was her herb garden, the kind I tend to have, which means no white pebbles and certainly not properly contained. I suppose she could practice Zen by standing in the middle of this new garden while chanting, “Let it go…just let it go.”

I have to say I’m quite proud of my tree stump flower garden. With the cool spring and lots of rain, it has come close to what I lust for—an English cottage style garden. I suppose it’s a lust for lushness. You will find me there every morning and evening, along with several cats and several hundred mosquitoes. I have come to realize that whatever hasn’t appeared yet is my favorite, as in “But where are the cosmos?  They are my favorites!” Or else what has just appeared, as in “Oh, the nasturtiums are blooming.  They are my favorites!”  This resembles my feelings for the cats, as the one that is missing is suddenly my favorite, or else the one sitting on me is, but only if the claws are nicely tucked in. It’s rather like a dog: WALKS, my favorite! FOOD, my favorite! YOU, my favorite!

Helen would love for me to be non-dog-like in this area and say that she is my favorite daughter.  This came up again on Facebook when she turned 19:

Happy Birthday, my lovely Helen.

Am I your favorite yet?

Really?  That question again?


I can’t seem to get her to stop this badgering and even asked her friend, “Surely your parents never name a favorite, do they?” to which she replied, “Oh, yes, they tell me all the time that I’m their favorite.  But my brother is usually in jail.”

I know my father had many favorite flowers that he grew in our small Topeka back yard. I know because he tended each one so carefully, putting the ones who weren’t doing well in an area that he called his “intensive care unit”. But he did have one special favorite that I never understood until much later in life.


My Father Loved Asters Best


He grew them from seed

ordered from a Burpee’s catalog

in early spring.


Late summer was when they bloomed

and as a child I anticipated with him,

then felt disappointment at their smallness,

the faintness of their colors.


Hoping to prove the wisdom of

a father gone from earth

seven years now,

I ordered aster seeds

from a Pinetree catalog

in not so early spring.


It seemed they’d never bloom

and I grew tired of waiting,

as we among the living do.


But then I saw some buds,

and just this week the blooming has begun,

in front of bachelor buttons

long past their prime,

behind browning yellow annuals

I bought but never learned the names of.


At this moment I love asters best,

their delicate petals

subtle variations

of pinks and lavenders,


their blossoms like the upturned skirts

of ballerinas on a heavenly stage,

fluttering gently,

as though from the faint breath of those

still bound to earth.


(August 28, 2007)


Yes, Helen, you are my favorite. Just as Rose is my favorite too. And yes, at times you may be the current most favorite because you’re in front of me or, at other times, because you’re not in front of me (readers, feel free to take that one of several ways). I count on you both for the joys that favorites bring. How could I chose between my two daughters when I can’t choose between the humble daisy or the glorious iris, between the blue flax that line my roadsides or the larkspur with their likeness of a bunny’s head? Why would I limit myself in such a needless way?

I don’t know if my crop circle will go back to grass before it ever becomes a Zen herb garden or something more my style, but I did notice a delicate white flower growing there in early spring that I’d never seen before and it certainly could become a favorite. As for now, the Black-eyed Susans are my favorite. I love their bright yellow petals and their willingness to shine in the mid-summer heat. But soon another will take center stage. Each one in turn will lift my spirits, reminding me that heaven and earth are more closely bound than we ever imagine.

adoptive single mother


Spring Cleaning for Mad Dogs and Englishmen





Who came up with the term “Spring Cleaning” and can we find him and hang him out to dry?  Yes, pun intended, though it’s possible it was a “she”. Spring is for getting outside, for gardening, for planning trips to get away from the later searing heat of summer, when all these lovely outdoor activities need to be done at five in the morning or nine at night by anyone besides mad dogs and Englishmen (I picked up that wonderful expression while living in the tropics of North Queensland, Australia, and I try to find excuses to use it).

Before I had children and while living alone on Leavenworth Street, I liked to have a clean and orderly house. I liked to walk in the front door and see all that beauty and order in front of me. It made me feel good, understandably. I still like it. Very much. The trouble is, something has to give when your life gets fuller. Some standards have to be lowered, to allow the rest in. I want my house, the beautiful country house I live in now, to be cleaner and less cluttered than it is, but I hate that I let that goal burden me, weigh me down as if the unsorted pet paraphernalia and too small sports equipment and now the boxes brought from my mom’s house (these deserve my time in the future) are actually resting on my shoulders, causing more frequent trips to the chiropractor. Why do I feel I should be telling myself that writing this blog is an “excuse” for not doing what is on my list for this Tuesday morning.  Things like clean the floors upstairs, including large balls of dog hair surrounding unused exercise weights lying somewhere under the bed.  Like remove at least two buckets of dog poop from back pen and throw somewhere not too close to creek (there seems to be a dog theme here).  Why are those cleaning jobs somehow more important than putting these thoughts on paper?

When I was growing up in Topeka, Kansas, we lived in a small house that my stay at home mother kept fairly clean and uncluttered. Of course we had a lot less stuff to clutter up the rooms. But there was a neighbor woman down the alley, a stay at home mother as well, who couldn’t seem to keep her house clean and neat, which was even more looked down on during the Leave It To Beaver days of the 50’s. My mom liked to mention that about her, but not for the reasons you might think. She liked to tell me, “Virginia never let the state of her house keep her from inviting me in, having me sit for tea and a sweet snack, and finding time to talk about our kids or whatever. I will always remember that about her…I admired her for that.”

Helen arrived 15 years ago, or rather I went to China to bring her back, a 20 month old toddler.  Then Rose 4 and 1/2 years later,  only 4 months old and from Vietnam.  My clean and uncluttered house on Leavenworth Street, over time, became something else.


I Miss My Old Living Room

one quilt draped
over the sofa

two novels
the current Newsweek
and drafts of my latest poem
the only things on
the coffee table

the corners with a lovely bareness
filling the room with a sense of
and space


my new old living room
has no empty corners

the coffee table so full
coloring books
math tests
cut out flowers
glued to the backs of
my used computer paper
walking by it’s easy
to cause a landslide

a large dog crate sits in the
middle of the floor
occupied by Bobcat
the injured abandoned kitten
we found at a truck stop
lured to our cardboard box
by goldfish crackers
taken to the vet school for a tail amputation


I didn’t think there was room
in this house
but here she is
taking up the only open space left
in my new old living room

I hear her soft meowing
as I sit on my sofa
covered with an old blanket
not artistically draped

and the sound filters
into every corner
and is absorbed
by the fullness.


January 8, 2004


I suppose that spring cleaning isn’t really such a bad idea and I just hope by age 62 Merry Maids can be in my budget and they’ll drive this far out of town. But when someone tells me that so and so’s house is so clean it looks like nobody lives there, I cringe and think thank goodness it’s not my place they are talking about.

And now back to getting a photo uploaded of my messy morning work space (actually a room that looks pretty good, but I do have some pride concerning public display). The two buckets of dog poop in the back pen can wait. It comes from sane dogs, and that makes all the difference in the world.

Trimming the Tree—Ornaments of Discord and Deliverance











Tonight we trimmed our Christmas tree.  From the photo above (not to mention classic movie scenes) you might imagine us gathered round the green boughs, voices raised in song, sipping hot cocoa and eating frosted angels.  Well, we did have boughs, so prickly Wayne had to get out his work gloves, and the tree had a strange tilt that got corrected, but not before I thought it was going to tip and spill water all over the floor and electrical outlets, setting the house on fire (my mother’s influence here).   We had voices raised, though not in song.  We had angels, as in “my angel goes on top or I’m not putting up any more ornaments”.   Oh, and no cocoa but half way through I opened a bottle of wine (right after Rose said something particularly irritating and Helen mouthed “I’m going to hit her” in what’s known as a stage whisper).

Wayne seemed to take the evening much better than me and even took photos by the tree,  not stopping until he more or less got us all smiling at once.  He also managed to get me to throw out five old strings of lights by using a touch of sarcasm when I said they might work one day:  “Well, then, Helen, put them back in the box so you can get them out and not use them next year.”  He’s now watching TV with Rose to calm her down while Helen works with boyfriend Josh on an American Government essay on the death penalty (for or against and explain why) which is due tomorrow morning.  As I sit on the couch with my second glass of wine, our two dogs beside me as usual, I start looking at the ornaments more closely.

I see the one that Helen made in first grade, a straight-edged triangle tree with a gold star on top, blue sky surrounding it.  I see a clay cookie in the shape of an R, a present to Rose when she was still a baby.  I see a photo of Helen and me on a road trip to Wyoming, now enclosed in a cardboard snowflake.   And as I look at these ornaments, they manage to deliver me from my disappointments about this evening.   It wasn’t all I had hoped for, all I would have liked it to be.  But we still got the tree trimmed, as a family, with the ornaments that remind us of what we’ve done together.   And they remind me of something else.  At least for tonight, my daughters are alive and safe in our warm house.   And for that I offer up a prayer of thanks.

Life is short and oh so fragile.    May there be peace on earth and good will to all, and especially, especially, our children.