Zuki: Bear-Chair

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Zuki loves the Bear-Chair. Placed before the big garden window in the girls bedroom, with rugs on the floor and Meadow and Jasper’s bright paintings on the walls, it’s easy to see why this is her favorite place.

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It’s her new dining spot. Jena has taken to joining her.

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Jena has stepped right into the role of big sister-cousin. She explains everything to Zuki.

“Don’t worry about being an orphan and a refugee,” I heard her tell Zuki the other day. “I am an orphan refugee, too!”

She said it as if it were something to be proud of. I suppose, given the way she went on to define it, it’s worthy of pride. Or at least, gratitude.

Confession time: I was adopted. My mom, a beautiful tall Jamaican woman, and my dad, a dapper bespectacled Japanese man, met in San Myshunu. In every photo, I’m a little scruffy thing, held in their arms, caught by the camera mid-squirm. “You are a very lucky young lady,” my dad always told me. I was raised to believe that adopted children are not only special for having been chosen, but that they are Most Fortunate for having been given a reason for ongoing gratitude that lasts through their lifetime.

“Being a refugee is no big deal,” Jena explained to Zuki. “It just means that you left someplace dangerous to come live someplace safe.”

Zuki whistled and clucked.

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“I like that definition,” I told Jena.

“It’s true, isn’t it, Mizuki Suzuki?” She never calls me just Mizuki. It’s always “Mizuki Suzuki,” or, if she’s feeling especially affectionate, Mizu-Suzu.

“It certainly is true, Jena,” I replied.

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We are so lucky that we live in a safe place, that our fields aren’t littered with landmines and UXOs, that our nights are quiet, and our streets are calm. We live in a refuge, so it only makes sense that we would open our homes to refugees. What these two little girls don’t know is the peace they carry, each an ambassador and diplomat. After all, if anyone met them, how could they not love them? And if you love them, wouldn’t you then want to do anything you could to ensure peace for the lands where they come from and the peoples they belong to? Open your home and heart to a refugee, and next thing you know, you’re marching for peace, too!

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Zuki: “Category D”

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We cannot figure out why Zuki was labelled “Category D.”

She is the cutest, funniest, sweetest little kid! She runs through the house whistling, chirping, and clicking, always with a crazy-wild grin. How could anyone thing this makes her a “difficult child”?

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It seems so simple to me: Just follow what we learned in Early Childhood Development! The first thing we learned was Maslow’s Hierarcy of Needs: Food, water, warmth, rest.

We took care of that right away, easy-peasy! She loves milk, and we’ve been following the dietary guidelines we received for her, which is lots and lots of meat and seafood.

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It’s a little tricky since we’re mostly veggie eaters, but Youssef has been grilling steaks, steaming oysters, clams, and mussels, and searing bass. She devours it!

Next comes security and safety. I’ve never before appreciated as much how quiet our home is–with no other houses on our street, we rarely get even a car driving by. It feels secluded and protected. The bricks muffle the noises of wind and weather, and we feel like cozy bears tucked in our den.

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Why! Think of it! We’re on the third tier of the hierarchy already, intimate relationships and friends!

Zuki has bonded immediately with Meadow.

Confession Time: I wish she’d bonded that closely with me already!

But who wouldn’t bond with Meadow within an hour? She’s so calming to be around, with her sweet voice and her gentle ways. I know I’m a bit bouncier and louder, so it makes sense it takes longer with me.

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Little Jena has fallen in love with her sister-cousin.

“Can I watch her sleep, Mom?” she asked the other night, after Meadow finished reading Zuki her good-night story.

Meadow and I both chuckled. “She’s not a kitty-cat!” I told Jena.

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“No,” said Jena. “She’s more like a tiger cub. I don’t think a kitten would eat a whole steak!”

This is how Zuki wakes each morning: with a giant smile!

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Meadow says even though she’s just a tot, we can start laying the groundwork for esteem needs and self-fulfillment needs.

“She’s not too young to begin feeling a sense of accomplishment!” Meadow says.

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“Or creativity,” I remind us.

“Or mischief!” adds Jena.

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I wonder if there even is such a thing as “Category D!” I have never met a difficult child, only difficult situations. Give a kid an environment that meets her needs, and you’ll have a delightful kid!

Of course, in my book, Zuki is simply Capital-D-delightful, ALL the time! Maybe that’s what “Category D” means! Delightful Child!

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Zuki’s Home!

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Today was Zuki’s first day with us. She went straight to the doll house. Her eyes were so wide, and she chirped.

“Think she’s hungry?” Meadow asked, when she started gnawing on Flower Mommy Doll.

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She was humming. “I think she’s happy!” I said.

It’s hard to believe this day is here! This whirlwind happened after Meadow’s pen pal Dove wrote to her. I knew something was up when I saw Meadow reading her pen pal’s letter. Meadow gets this look like she wants to save the world, and that’s when I know: buckle-up for change!

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“What is it?” I asked. I could tell something big was going to happen.

“Oh, Mizuki. It’s terrible. A refugee ship crashed and there were little kids on board.”

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“And you want to help?” I asked. I needn’t have asked. I already knew the answer.

“Of course!” Meadow answered, just like I knew she would.

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Next came a string of email messages, phone calls, and texts, and lots of long conversations about how best to help: Financial support? Meadow’s got loads of money. Volunteering with the agency? We both have a little extra time in our busy schedules. Holding workshops for care-givers? We’ve got expertise. Providing trauma-therapy training for the social workers? Meadow is a gifted therapist. Eventually, it came out that what was really needed were homes for the survivors, most of whom were under three years old.

Many had already been placed with qualified, carefully selected individuals, and the toddlers were receiving care. Already, they were successfully integrating into their families and the local communities.

But alongside these success stories remained a few dozen children who had been labeled “difficult to place.”

Some had behavioral issues; some had mobility challenges; some seemed to have nonstandard developmental patterns.

When Mr. Noriega learned that I was pursuing an advanced degree in childhood education and Meadow, a doctoral in trauma therapy, and that Meadow had already adopted a child from a refugee camp who was thriving in every way, he asked if we’d consider taking one of these “Category D” children.

I think this was what Meadow had hoped for all along. She beamed.

“We can’t really refuse, can we?” she asked.

Of course we couldn’t.

Meadow’s family has been supportive.

“Another grandniece?” said her uncle Jasper. “The clan expands!”

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Jena has been an angel.

“How do you feel about becoming a big sister?” Jasper asked her.

“I’ve been practicing,” Jena said. “I’ve been bossing the kids at school all year!”

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But Jena has natural empathy. I think she must have picked up on Zuki needing a little time to settle into her new home.

She didn’t rush towards her or try to smother her. She simply smiled in her quiet, calm way and let Zuki be in charge of her own physical space.

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The approach is working! Zuki circled, studying her big sister and clicking her tongue. She’s a very curious child.

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Confession time: I’m pretending that Zuki is Youssef and my love child. Shhh! Don’t tell!

But I think she looks like us combined. She’s got Youssef’s curly hair and broad nose. My blonde coloration and pale skin. She could be our baby!

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When we learned her first name was Zuki, Meadow and I decided she’d take my last name: we filled out her paperwork entering her name as Zuki Suzuki.

And we entered my name, Mizuki Suzuki, as the primary care-giver.

And now, I have a baby daughter, who just so happens to look like the perfect combination of me and my squeeze, my own little Zuki-burger with curly fry pigtails!

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Forgotten Art: Meadow – Kaitlin 10

A reply to: A letter from Kaitlin

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Dear Kaitlin,

Thanks so much for your words of kindness! You know what it’s like to be a busy working mom–sometimes we’re moving so fast that we don’t even get a chance to stop and appreciate all we do each day! Your kind thoughts helped me pause for gratitude!

Jasper believes that gifts are to be shared–I’ve always known when he’s said that that he’s referring not just to the traits and talents we’ve been blessed with, but to our privilege.

You’ve got a big, loving heart, so you share it with all your kids and grandkids, and with Leroy. I’ve got a nice house and plenty of resources–and I used to have time!–so I share those with Jena, and now with Mizuki Suzuki.

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I don’t have much free time anymore, with going back to school. But it’s a three-day weekend, so that brings me leisure to write to you!

I’m so glad you find Ira inspiring. I do, too. She’s kind of a nut, actually. Well, she’s a great match for my nutty brother. Do you know they both still play with toys? It’s funny, but why not? It makes them happy. They’ve created this entire imaginary universe that they populate with characters based on their favorite toys. You’d think that Aari, Ira’s daughter, would be part of that, right? But she’s far too practical. She just rolls her eyes and lets her parents talk about Miss Meowness’s adventures and the llamacorn’s escapades.

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It works for them. I’ve been reading a lot about play therapy. Most of the research is on play and children, but, especially with someone as childlike as my brother, I can imagine that the findings transfer.

Landreth (2002) notes that “play relieves feelings of stress and boredom, connects us to people in a positive way, stimulates creative thinking and exploration, regulates our emotions, and boosts our ego” (as ctd. by Lilly, et al. 2016).

Ira and Norman seem to use it as a tool for communication and bonding: they can say things through play that they might not be able to approach in a more direct fashion, and this shared communication style connects them in a healthy way.

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Mizuki Suzuki is big into play, too! With her, I think it’s how she relieves stress and boredom. She’s taken on the house-cleaning chores while I’m in school, but really, I think this is just an excuse for her to “pick up the toys,” which is her code for “let’s play with all of Jena’s stuff!”

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Jena does a great job of playing with me, Jasper, and Mizuki Suzuki, but she has yet to learn how to play with kids her own age! Well, that’s what preschool is for, right?

The other day, one of her little friends came home with her. Immediately she started asking him, “So, what do you want to be?” When he didn’t answer right away, she shot out all these suggestions: “A panda bear? An abominable snowman? A sloth? You could be a sloth! And I’ll be an aardvark!”

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He just looked at her, confused.

She’ll learn to leave space for other people’s ideas, right?

Speaking of space, it sounds like you could use a little space in your life. So many things happening! So many connections between all the people you care about, and even between those you’re trying not to care about!

But I know you: Even those people you’ve had challenging relationships with–even those people you don’t want in your life anymore–you still care about them.

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And when we care, that’s when the tangles can happen. Your situation sounds complicated now–family complications, legal complications, professional complications, romantic complications.

It must have been a real shock to run into Newt. I can see why it felt like a betrayal that you hadn’t been told he was in town. You didn’t have a chance to prepare yourself.

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You know what? I’m glad you took a few weeks’ break from Leroy and Dr. Shea after all of that. I can understand the jealousy. I wonder, too, if there was a feeling of lack of control: It seems that they were making all the decisions for you, rather than sharing information with you so that you could make your own decisions for yourself and your kids.

That must have been hard. And even though you had a break from Leroy, you still had all the kids to care for, so I’m sure you felt like you had to keep it together.

Through all this, do you ever get time for you, where you can slow down to feel your own heart beat? Maybe you find your heart as it beats for others.

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I have faith that everything will work out. Things are messy now, but things don’t stay perpetually messy, do they? Or rather, new messes come to take the place of the old ones that get cleaned out!

I’m so sorry to hear about Reid. That must challenging, especially for Ben. When someone we care about is in trouble, it can feel so devastating. I can imagine that Ben is feeling that way about Reid, and now you’re feeling that way about Ben. I wonder if it would help him to know how much it hurts you to see him feeling unhappy and worried. He’s pushing you away right now, but maybe it’s because he really needs you, and this feeling has him scared, especially when so many other people, big and little, need you, too.

It sounds like you’ve thought through your situation with Dr. Shea. You have such good intuition that if you feel she’s your best choice, then I’m sure she is!

Do you know that Jena has decided that her favorite game is “Therapist”? I guess it’s like how some kids play doctor. She knows that I’m studying to be a therapist, and when she asked what a therapist was, I told her that it’s someone who guides people to find their strength, especially when they’re feeling scared.

So when we play dolls, she has her doll be the therapist.

“Are you scared now?” Her doll asks mine.

“Oh, yes!” Mine replies. “Very!”

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She giggles at that, and then we talk through all the things that might make a little doll scared, which, coincidentally, are all the things which make her feel scared.

Right now, her biggest fear is the Void Monster which comes out of the kitchen faucet in the middle of the night, when the water is turned off.

The Void Monster’s kryptonite are bubbles. So when she does the dishes, she feels safe all night.

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When I told Jena tonight that it was a three-day weekend, which meant an extra day at home and extra time to play, she said we should have Ira and Norman come over.

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“That way,” she said, “if we run out of things to play, they can give us new ideas!”

So I guess Sunday will be a big Family Play Day. I’m hoping Jasper will come, too. He said he picked up some kites in the Spice District, and I think Jena’s almost old enough to learn how to fly a kite.

Amazing, Kaitlin! Remember when we first started writing, and both our daughters were such little things? I really owe it to you to helping me through those confusing early days! You’ve been such a great role model and such a great Mom coach!

Sending you lots of love–I know you’ve got so much strength already, so instead of sending strength, I’ll send peace.

So much peace,

Meadow

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Forgotten Art: Meadow – Kaitlin 9

A reply to: A letter from Kaitlin

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Dear Kaitlin,

Thank you so much for writing! I’ve been wondering how therapy has been going, how you are, and how the kids are.

You know me by now: I always have to get to the tough parts first. It might be silly, but I always think that if you only read the first part of the letter–you know, if you get interrupted or if something important comes up–I want to make sure that I’ve written the part that needs saying.

I have to admit that I felt a little uneasy reading that your therapist has a long and close history with your fiancé. In my coursework, the professors have been emphasizing the importance of professional distance as an element of ethical therapeutic practice.

If you feel comfortable with Dr. Bailey, and if you notice continued improvement, then all is well and good. Just remember that you have options. Every city has many qualified therapists, including ones who specialize in trauma and PTSD and who didn’t grow up with the man you plan to marry. You have options.

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PTSD has the reputation in some professional circles of being “untreatable.” The program I’m studying takes the opposite view: people can heal their trauma and PTSD. The approach we use is called Somatic Experiencing, and, through allowing the body to complete the movements that were interrupted during the traumatic event, the brain is able to resolve and renegotiate the trauma, resulting in health. That’s a bit of an over-simplification, and we include many other steps in the total approach (including the art therapy that I’m involved with at present), but that’s the essence of the approach.

It works. I’ve seen it, and I’ve met people who’ve been through this course of treatment–and they’re healed. My friend Micah is one, and Ira is another.

Ira worked with an SE therapist before I met her. I always wondered how, experiencing what she did, she has managed to be so confident, funny, happy, and able to love.

I interviewed her for a paper I wrote on SE, focusing on the experience of those going through the therapy. She told me, “We get stronger. When we crack and then we heal, we touch life. We become more alive.”

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Knowing Ira, I believe this is true.

I can hear that energy coming through your letter, too, when you write about the property and all your dreams for the future. We’re resilient, Kaitlin! All us humans are resilient and full of goodness at our core.

Speaking of the resilient, little Jena is doing great! She is not so little any more. She just turned four! Can you believe it? She loves pink and jewelry and little bows and frilly, twirly dresses!

And she is quite a mischief! Sometimes I catch her with a certain expression, and I just know she is planning something. It usually involves Uncle Jasper–either as partner-in-crime or butt-of-the-joke!

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Jasper doesn’t mind. He is so proud of Jena. Can you believe it? He’s already teaching her how to use the computer to play reading and math games!

I’ve been encouraging them to wait. Jena starts preschool next week, and that’s plenty soon for her to begin formal learning. But Jasper says that Norm and I were both reading, writing, and solving simple math equations by the time we entered kindergarten. And Jena begs to get on the computer and whines when I suggest she shut it down. When I think of how much I love to learn, I guess it’s all right if she enjoys learning, too.

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We got to meet a famous poet the other day, Bucky Duckson. Have you heard of him? I was so thrilled! He’s one of my favorite poets! He’s been traveling and my uncle is putting him up for a while.

Jasper asked him to write a poem for me–a birthday present. I’m embarrassed by the poem. It’s beautiful and so well-written, and if it were written for anyone else, I know I’d love it. But that it was written for me makes me feel shy ten-times over. Fortunately, when I met Bucky, he hadn’t even written the poem yet, so I wasn’t self-conscious and we had a wonderful conversation.

Jena enjoyed meeting him, too.  They had a bit of a discussion about poetry.

“I don’t think poems do have to rhyme,” Jena said.

“No,” Bucky answered. “You’re right. Of course. But just because they don’t have to, that doesn’t mean that they can’t. Some of the best poems employ rhyming couplets.”

“I like them when they go ‘splat,'” Jena said.

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Youssef is still our nanny. I can’t imagine life without him! Even after Jena graduates from high school and enters college, I think I will still have Youssef as our nanny. He just makes life better.

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And I hope that Mizuki Suzuki will live with us forever, too. She’s been a huge help while I’ve been busy with school. She’s a student, too, but she always seems to find time to pitch in with the chores. She calls it a good study break. But I think she’s just got so much energy that she can’t sit behind the books for more than twenty minutes at a time!

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I hope Reid’s trial isn’t too stressful for you and your family, Ben, especially. I’ve been surprised at the ways that children seem to be able to make sense of adults’ complicated lives–they sometimes seem to look past the complications and right into the person. I think that sometimes children can handle a lot more than we think they might be able to. At least that’s what Mizuki tells me, and she’s studying childhood education.

I’ve been so slow in answering your letter that I’m sure that many things have changed already! I hope that each change brings you closer to your dream of your home for you and your family on your beautiful property!

Take care, Kaitlin! And tell all your children and grandbabies “Hi” from me!

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With lots of love,

Meadow

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Forgotten Art: Meadow – Dove 10

Author’s note: I accidentally published this before I added any words! Sorry! For those of you who saw it without words, I hope you enjoy it more with them!

A reply to: A letter from Dove

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Dearest INWk,

How lovely your children are! They look full of delight! Do they keep you busier now that they’re bigger and more independent? I would imagine that all that curiosity and energy keeps you on your toes!

I was saddened to hear that your people also have domestic violence. When I first considered it, I felt that, being telepathic, the suffering from domestic violence with your people would be less. But then, the more I thought about it, I began to see that telepathy (and are you also empathic?) would not necessarily prevent the suffering. What I realized was that if we knew what others were thinking about us–especially their harmful thoughts–then we might feel even more hurt.

Is there such a thing as “privacy of the mind” among telepathic people?

Recently, I’ve been examining my support system. Or, maybe more accurately, I’ve been realizing that I don’t have much of a support system, and it’s time for me to build one!

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Of course the subject came up through my volunteer work with House of Hope. In fact, we had a seminar for the staff (including me), along with employees of other local service agencies, like the refugee center that brought Jena here. The seminar’s title was “Support2“, and it was about the need for support-givers to have sound support systems.

We were given a worksheet. On it, was a starting list of qualities we would look for in members of our support system.

Here’s the list:

1) The ability to listen for the duration of my need to ventilate or communicate something without changing the focus onto themselves.

  2) The ability to then share regarding the given topic from their own personal history and/or perspective.

3) The ability to help me understand the situation from a different perspective, through systems-thinking, reframing, or providing new insights and understandings.

  4) The ability to voice at the start if they are unable or unwilling, for whatever reason, to give me the time that I need.

  5) The ability to inform me if the content of the conversation is harming them. This shows me that they are taking care of themselves and frees me from that responsibility.

  6) The ability to share what is bothering them AFTER I have finished. Not changing the focus of the conversation from me (if I initiated contact) until it was completed.

  7) The ability to comprehend what I am saying. Even if they don’t fully comprehend, are they at least trying to understand what I am saying or feeling?

  8) The ability to repeat to me what I am saying to help me clarify my comprehension and communication abilities.

  9) The ability to respect my right to refuse their venting on me if I am unable to cope with it.

  10) The ability to respect my privacy in regards to my property, body, and mind.

  11) The ability to not violate my space, body, or mind. This incorporates not touching unless gaining my permission, not telling me what I should do or how I should feel, or that what I am saying, doing or feeling is wrong in any way. It also incorporates not trying to make me adopt their point of view.

  12) The ability to encourage me to choose of my own free will what to do and to help me explore and discover the various choices available to me, even the negative ones. Not trying to fix things for me or run my life for me.

  13) The ability to accept and encourage my participation in activities without them and with other people.

  14) The ability to accept not being told everything and not being my only support person.

(from Building a Support System at SoulSelfHelp)

We were encouraged to modify, add to, delete, or edit this list in any way we wanted, so that it fit us. I added #3 to the list. Surprisingly, thought the list was created for survivors of abuse, I found that it fit me amazingly well. When I mentioned this to the woman leading the seminar, she looked at me carefully.

“Well, you’re highly sensitive,” she said at last. “We’ve found that HSPs (Highly Sensitive People) have very similar needs to survivors. It’s because the world is so harsh, my dear, so if you’re picking up so much stimulus, you need to take extra measures to protect your own privacy and autonomy.”

INWk, that statement floored me! It’s so accurate! I’ve always wondered why it was that I needed all these extra layers of privacy and protection in my life–now maybe I know!

The next step was to make a list of people in our lives who might be members of our support team. Of course, I put down my uncle Jasper, you, and my other two pen pals. I didn’t put my brother Norman’s name on the list, because I knew right off the bat that he didn’t have the capacity for items 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, and 12. I mean, not at all.

I wanted to put my friend Ira, who’s in the painting group I lead through House of Hope, on the list, as well as my uncle’s organ teacher, who’s also in the painting group. But we were told that we couldn’t have anyone in our support system who was receiving services from the agencies we worked or volunteered for. “You might be on their support team,” the leader told us, “but while they are receiving services from the agency you represent, they cannot be on your support team.”

I completed the project with my short list. We had to rank everyone’s capacity for each of the items we’d listed on a 10-point scale, with 0 for having no capacity to 10 for having strong and consistent capacity. You and everyone else on my list did great!

So the good news, I’ve got strong members on my team! Thank you,  INWk, for being one of them!

The bad news is only one of these people, my uncle, lives near me and is available for me to see regularly. Clearly, I need to do some work to fill out my support system.

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I thought about my friends. Well, I don’t have many. There’s Anaya!

I invited her over one evening to see if she might be a good candidate. I really enjoy listening to her! She talks about art almost every time we get together, and I always end up feeling inspired.

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But as we talked, I discovered that she doesn’t have all the qualities I’m looking for. She talks while I talk–I mean at the same time–and I’m not able to finish, complete, or even discover what it is I’m trying to say.

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She also has a habit of zoning out while I’m talking.

I asked her once what she was doing, if I was boring, or if she was visualizing what I was saying, or what.

She confided that I was a little boring, and she said, “My mind is like a butterfly. It can’t be tied down! When the ideas come, my mind needs to follow. All my friends understand this.”

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I can understand it, and it’s a fine and even admirable quality for a friend to have. It’s just not a quality I’m looking for in a member of my support system.

So, I added a new item to my list:

15) Has the capacity to listen to me without getting bored, or will at least take measures to pay attention to what I say even when I am boring.

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So Anaya, while a valuable and inspiring friend, isn’t part of my support system.

The next morning, I invited over the social worker from the refugee center. She was at Support2 with me. She’s actually Jena and my social worker, since I adopted Jena through the center, so, while I can’t be on her support team, she can be on mine.

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We had a good visit. I definitely feel like she’s a strong member of my team.

The thing is, she kept getting up and walking around while we were talking. This isn’t the first time she’s done this. She always walks around while we talk.  I think it’s just that she has a lot of energy and she’s a very physical person. But I find it a little unsettling when we’re in the midst of a deep talk, and she’s suddenly up walking around and joking.

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I thought about adding a new item:

16) Has the capacity to stay seated during a deep conversation.

It’s important to me, but I have the feeling I’m being petty, so I left it off the list.

I felt better: In a day, I was able to add one more person who I see on a regular basis to the list. I knew I still had some work to do, though.

That afternoon, my stereo broke. Usually, I fix it myself, but I was in the middle of painting, and Jena wanted some attention, so I decided to call a repair person.

I really like the woman who the Fix-It company sent!

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After she finished her work, she stayed for a while, at my invitation.

As soon as we began to talk, she sat down. And I noticed she remained seated the entire time we talked!

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She listened to everything I had to say. She never interrupted. And then she shared insights and observations from her own life, and everything she shared helped me understand better the situation I’d been talking about!

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I had the most amazing feeling while I was talking to her: I felt really, truly listened to.

While I was talking, she became quiet–not just “quiet” as in waiting-for-her-turn. But quiet–as in still, but attentive. Truly, deeply listening to what I was saying, without thinking about what she would say next.

It felt like a real gift.

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I hope I am able to learn and practice that quality.

She stayed for about half-an-hour, and we became friends in that time. We’re getting together for tea next week. I really hope that we stay friends because she’s someone I’d love to have on my support team. And I’d love to be on hers.

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Oh, this is such a long letter! I hope it’s not too boring! Well, you can tell me if it is!

INWk, thank you for being such a good support person for me! I hope that I have the capacity to be a support for you!

I was so excited to hear that some of your inventions are making it out into the world! How does that feel? I did notice your new ice cream flavors, Weight of the World and Taste of Diet. In fact, I bought Weight of the World, and I love it!

It’s so exciting to me to think that I know the inventor of that ice cream! I hope that you’re getting lots of great feedback on it–you deserve it!

Fill me in on all that’s new with you! It always seems like so much happens in your world in between our letters, even though in mine, the days barely crawl by!

Maybe you can explain the funny textures of time to me.

So much love to you and all of yours!

Meadow

p.s. Jena thanks you for the Cat Compendium! She adores cat words! 🙂

dove905

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Forgotten Art: Jasper – Liam 4

A reply to: A letter from Liam

alina111

Greetings Liam!

I received the most surprising letter the other day. It was from your step-daughter Alina!

Since she wrote, I am guessing that the danger is passed, that she’s returned to the living, and that the curse has been lifted.

I certainly hope so.

I worried for her, you, and your family.

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Of course, worry is foolish. I know this!

But even still, when those we care for are in trouble, it’s hard to banish worry with a thought.

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You mentioned that magic seemed to be rubbing off on me. I hadn’t thought of it in that way. I had thought that your letters and the power of your words were opening my eyes to the magic that was always around me–that everyday magic that we’re often too busy to notice. Or maybe it’s just that we don’t conceive that it could be here, in this world, in this moment, and so we don’t see it, we only feel it as an invisible buzz around us.

But maybe it is as you say, and, in addition to opening my eyes to everyday magic, your words open the channels between our worlds and magic enters in.

Could be.

I received a most interesting phone call the other day.

liam403

It was from my niece. Nothing unusual in that, right?

Except she had an appointment and she wanted to know if I could come babysit.

Now, I’ve volunteered to babysit my grandniece Jena many times. And now and then, Meadow will drop her off at my home while she spends a precious half-hour taking a walk or getting a cup of coffee.

But this day was different.

I’d be babysitting at Meadow and Jena’s home, and my niece would be gone all afternoon.

It may seem a small thing, but to me, it’s close to a miracle that Meadow has developed enough trust in her daughter’s safety that she’d leave her for an entire afternoon, even though she’s leaving her at her own home with her favorite (and only) uncle.

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You see, Meadow’s been fretting about Jena’s past. Jena’s birth mother died giving birth, and, because Jena was born out-of-wedlock, she was shunned by most of the people there at the refugee camp. When Meadow learned of Jena’s past, she took it hard, worrying that trauma from those years might affect Jena’s present happiness.

I’ve been trying to convince Meadow that her little girl is happy, healthy, and well-adjusted. Taking this step of letting me watch her for an entire afternoon shows me that, sure enough, Meadow is beginning to trust in her daughter’s well-being.

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I’m also smiling at the reason that Meadow needed a sitter for an afternoon. She’s considering volunteering at a shelter for women and children.

Now that’s a good thing! Meadow has so much to offer others, and she hasn’t always realized it, not because of lack of self-confidence, but due to the assumption that everyone had it as good as she did.

My niece and nephew were raised in privilege, and my brother and his wife did a good job in raising them to be good people. At the same time, they’ve lived in a bubble of good luck.

Jena and her tenuous first years at the refugee camp introduce hardship’s touch, and now both Meadow and her brother have begun to look for ways to make a difference for those suffering in this wide world.

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I thought about this while babysitting that afternoon.

My thoughts mingled with the stories you told in your letter.

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It would be so easy for those stories of loss and danger to weigh heavy and to weaken one’s faith in the goodness of life.

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But look at you! Look at the wisdom, kindness, and generosity you carry! Look at the sacrifice each member of your family and clan are eager to make for another’s benefit.

Look at how Meadow, and even my nephew Norman, are now looking for ways to help others, to make even one life easier.

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It’s one thing to be good in heart and good by nature.

It’s entirely different for hardship’s shadow to prompt us to put that goodness into action.

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That’s when caring becomes compassion: goodness plus action.

So, yes. I would say that magic is indeed rubbing off on me and on my family.

Alchemy is magic, right? And when suffering and hardship transmute to trust and compassion, that is pure alchemy.

alina112

Thank you for encouraging Alina to write me! I look forward to getting to know her.

Wishing you health!

Your friend,

Jasper

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Forgotten Art: Meadow – Dove 8

Author’s Note: The story at the end of this letter contains spoilers for the game Samorost 3. If you want to discover this fun puzzle-game for yourself, you might want to skip the story at the end!

A reply to: A letter from Dove

dove805

Dearest Dove,

So I do have a friend from “the big way out there!” And the friend is you!

Do you know what? I don’t feel surprised.

dove806

I feel happy.

And Maki is your friend from the Twin Roses story! That is so wonderful! How on earth did the two of you manage to meet up again?

I told Jenna the story of II  TTYE, the girl, and the Twin Roses ice cream, and she loved it. It’s her favorite story.

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I went into her room the other night, and she had the most enchanted expression on her face as she was singing, “II  TTYE flies! Girl flies! All round the sun! All round the stars!”

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I asked her when I tucked her in what she liked about the story.

“Twin Roses!” she said. “And stars.”

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I wouldn’t be surprised if Jena wanted to be a space explorer when she grew up. Or maybe a physicist.

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Congratulations on your new apartment! The photos you sent of the girls are adorable. They look so happy!

Sometimes when I watch Jena, I wish I still had that joy of everything being new. That’s how your daughters look in their photos.

At least learning is still new to me–especially chess!

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Do you have new things you’re learning, and does it fill you with wonder and inspiration to learn them?

I love your time-scarf! Yes, a knitted scarf is a much better description of time! All the yarn connected up together!

Jena and I have begun to create our own story. We’re both making it up, and I’m writing it and illustrating it. My uncle knows a publisher who might be interested, but even if he doesn’t want it, we’re having so much fun inventing it!

I’ve enclosed a copy of the first chapter for you to share with your littlies!

I have no idea how long it will end up being. I think very long… like a whole scarf’s worth!

dove810

You see, Jena keeps inventing more!

Originally, it was going to be a story about an alien–but Jena decided she wanted it to be about a space squirrel. He’s lost, but he meets lots of friends, and they all help him to become found again. But Jena says we need lots of adventures along the way. I really love the way her imagination is developing!

dove811

Jena would love the decryption code! She’s only just making sense of letters, but I think it would be fun for her to know about codes, too. Or if she’s not ready for that, I would be! I love encryptions and decryptions!

The other night, Jena and I went outside to look at the stars. Jena began laughing as she pointed at a comet.

“What’s so funny?” I asked her.

“There’s girls!” she said, pointing out at space.

And at that moment, I felt like my heart opened up and let in all of life! To think! This universe is more vast than I ever knew… and there are so many more out there, and one who’s come from there is my friend, you!

Thank you, II  TTYE.

Love,

Meadow

dove807

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Samorost the Lost

By Jena and Meadow McCumber

If the stars are flowers,
Are we their seeds,

Made of light-dust
And cosmic giggles,
Space-bits, and weeds?

Somorost105

In the Beyond beyond,
Far from the Here that’s near,

the hound looked up
at a tin ear’s cheer.

“Oh,” said the one tree,
“What brings this here?”

“Never worry,” said two tree,
“Only the silly fear!”

“Then color me goofy,”
said three tree,
“For afraid is me
As sure as can be!”

Somorost104

Down from the tower
ran the little one, lost.

It is the Space Squirrel,
known as Samorost,

Cosmically tossed
through the space whirl.

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“Ahoy!” to the hound dog!
“Avast!” to the bunny-pillars!

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A strange wind blows hither,
to make a lost squirrel shiver.

“What dost thou want?
Little lost squirrel?”

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“To be unlost
In this big wide world.”

“My puff can blow magic,”
said the puff flower truly.

“Ride the wind higher,
Back towards your home, duly.”

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“Ring-ho!” said Goldie,
the gazelle with the old key.

“Jump aboard! Follow me!
I’ll take you to Old Ghoulie!”

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Down step by step
Over the lichen lip

Goldie and Squirrely
traversed the path curly.

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“What, is that you?”
said Old Ghoulie.

“The one who is lost
That they call Samorost?”

Somorost109

At the end of the world
the secrets unfurled.

And the way home was told
To the Squirrel, lost yet bold.

To be continued…

Forgotten Art: Meadow – Kaitlin 3

A reply to: A letter from Kaitlin

kaitlin308

Dear Kaitlin,

I’m sorry it’s taken me a little while to write back. You see, there was something in your last letter that I wasn’t sure how–or even if–to respond to.

Maybe it’s just coincidence and maybe there’s nothing to it.

You see, I appreciate you and our correspondence so much. And I don’t want to put it in jeopardy by bringing up something I shouldn’t. But even more, I don’t want to endanger it–or you–by not bringing up something if I should. So, I’ve decided to mention it, even if it’s awkward or uncomfortable.

I remember reading in your profile that you were trying to stay “under the radar” so your husband can’t find you.

Please know that I keep everything you write confidential. I mean, I do that with all my pen pals. My uncle and my brother know I have pen pals, but I haven’t told them any of your names or anything that has been expressed in your letters. Believe me, I honor the confidentiality of the pen-pal relationship! No one in my life knows who I’m corresponding with except the person I write to.

I felt it was important to tell you that before I go on.

My brother Norman doesn’t hold the same respect for confidentiality. When he saw how much my uncle and I were enjoying the pen pal project, he decided to join. I try to discourage him from talking about the letters he gets and writes. But if you knew my brother, you’d know that trying to keep him from talking is like trying to dissuade the Santa Ana winds from blowing in September.

He’s a big talker.

The thing is. Well, the thing is this: you wrote that your husband’s name was Newt.

Newt is the name of one of my brother’s pen pals.

It’s not a very common name, is it?

Norman says that Newt is his “relationship coach.” He’s teaching him how to “make a move” on his best friend, Ira. (Ira’s a woman–a friend of mine, actually.)

I guess it’s not all bad for Norman, since Newt’s coaching gave him enough confidence to ask Ira and her daughter to move in with him. They were living at a shelter. I guess they had some hardship, and there’s no dad in the picture right now. Ira’s got a great attitude so I’m hoping now that she and her daughter have a save place to live, they’ll bounce back.

But for you! Isn’t it a weird coincidence that your husband would be writing to my brother? If it even is your husband. Do you think it is?

If so, will you still be able to write to me? I hope so!

I can understand if you have to stop. I mean, your safety comes first. And if you were trying to keep your husband from finding you and the kids, and then it turns out that he’s in touch with your pen pal’s brother…  I’ll do whatever you need to and respect your decision.

It’s just that I hope we can keep writing. Your letters–and you–mean so much to me! I keep your letters locked up in my desk and your emails in a password protected folder. Norm’s got his own account on my computer, so when he uses it, he logs in as him. He doesn’t know my passwords.

Since I’m not sure you’ll still feel like you can write, I’ll make this a long letter and tell you everything!

I’m enclosing some pictures of Jena, just like you asked. Isn’t she a little nut?

kittypics

Her face is so expressive. I can always tell just what she’s thinking and feeling. I hope she keeps that quality all her life. I love a face that reveals all! (You know I’m bad at secrets!)

We had family day at my uncle’s on Sunday.

When we got there, Jena was in such a mood.

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Even when she’s grumpy, she tries to be polite. We sat together in the living room, and she folded her little hands in her lap.

“What’s the matter, Cat?” I asked her.

kaitlin301

“Stupid noisy train!” she said. We had taken the Rapid Transit into the city.

She really dislikes loud noises, and I think she dislikes crowds. Kaitlin, do you think toddlers can have PTSD? Sometimes, she seems shook up after we’ve been around lots of people, and I don’t know if this is normal over-stimulation for a sensitive child or if the trauma she experienced in the camp gets triggered.

To help her calm down, I got her a snack, put a Haydn  string quartet on my uncle’s stereo system, and gave her a little time alone.

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Half an hour later, she was happy and laughing with Norman.

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I know I tease Norman a lot, and he probably doesn’t come off that well in all my letters. It’s not fair to him! He really is an awesome guy. He’s my big brother!

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And he’s Jena’s uncle. I feel so happy that she’ll get to grow up with a cool, funny, and smart uncle, just like I did.

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Oh, Kaitlin! Norman’s got such a good heart, if he can just find his way from his head so he can feel it!

Maybe, if he is writing Newt-your-husband, some of his goodness might possibly maybe rub off on Newt, just like Newt’s confidence has rubbed off on Norman. What if? What if something good comes from this for both of them?

kaitlin306

I know. You probably think I’m foolishly optimistic, like my uncle. Jasper thinks every painting is a masterpiece! And I think every person has a heart of gold, if only they can find their way to it.

kaitlin309

Oh, I got so carried away with my letter that I forgot I hadn’t answered all your questions!  About a significant other: Your guess is right. I’m single. I’ll share a secret: I’ve never had a boyfriend. Or a girlfriend, either. I’m just not sure I think that way–or at least, not yet, anyway. I remind myself of a character in a Mary Wilkins Freeman story–very oriented towards family and home, but more content to take care of someone else’s child than to have my own, and much happier to have my rooms and my books and my thoughts to myself than to have to share them with someone who feels he’s due them, at the end of the day.

It’s not lonely for me. It’s my choice. It’s free.

Hailey’s father sounds wonderful–and I hear such love in your words when you write about him. I hope the complications in your situation find resolution. It can happen! Or at least, in novels it always does. Maybe in life, too?

I feel so bad when you write that I’m your support system because what if Norman’s Newt is your husband Newt and that comes between us? Oh, I hope nothing stops us! I hope you can still feel safe enough to keep writing! I want to be able to keep hearing about you and your beautiful children, and I want to be able to cheer when you write me that letter telling me that you and Hailey’s dad worked it all out and he’s moving in! Or whatever you decide to do. I’m sure it will be wonderful.

Oh, before I go, I just wanted to tell you to have hope. I guess that’s something I learned from Jena. I mean, to come from something as terrible as she experienced, and now to be a smart, thriving, opinionated little kid–that’s a miracle that fills me with hope. It’s love that did that. And you: your whole being is so full of love! I know only the best will happen for you and that you’ll make it through this challenge and you’ll be so strong that all the love in your heart will be super-charged with Super You Power!

I sound like my crazy brother when I write like that. He really is a good guy, even if he’s got a big mouth.

Take care, please! I hope you feel you can still write.

Be safe.

Lots and lots and lots of love,

Meadow

p.s. We don’t have any pets. We haven’t been able to find any! We tried adopting a pigeon that wandered through the field, but that didn’t work out. Maybe one day we’ll have a cat? We’re hoping!

p.p.s. Sorry I had to share that weird news. I hope you can still write! And maybe it’s not even the same Newt?

p.p.p.s. But of course I understand if you can’t keep writing.

p.p.p.p.s. Bye! Or… until next time! And thank you so much! Thinking good thoughts!

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Forgotten Art: Meadow – Dove 7

A reply to: A letter from Dove

Dear Dove,

Thank you for writing! I really enjoyed your letter. How wonderful that your littlies are up and walking! Of course, it’s been a while since I’ve written, so who knows? Maybe by now they’ve graduated from high school!

That’s interesting that you mention that you’re not sure how time flows between our two worlds. It’s something I’ve been wondering about.

It was my uncle Jasper, actually, who got me thinking about it.

kaitlin202

Jasper asked me if I thought time was more like a ball of string or more like a blanket.

I said “string,” because I know that for me, I always feel time is all wound up, and I keep circling around and around and ending right back where–and when–I started! Story of a mother of a toddler, I suppose!

I asked my brother Norman, who actually is a scientist–like you!–what his answer was.

Norman said, “Even though they call it ‘string theory,’ it would be more accurate to call it ‘fabric theory.’ Space-time is a smooth fabric that can be bent, bunched, and twisted in a variety of ways.”

And then he lost me.

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Let’s just say that I’m open–and very interested–in your explanations about space, time, and your understanding of how both affect us in our heres and our nows.

I tried your suggestion of telling a story about aliens to Jena! Actually, I don’t have a book about aliens, so I read Maximus Menagerie to Jena, but I made up an alien story to go along with it.

dove705

Unfortunately, the only alien story I know is an old urban folk tale about this alien that somehow got inside some space explorer’s stomach and then popped out of her belly button!

“Owl story, Mommy?” Jena asked.

So, I went back to reading the owl poem in the Menagerie book.

dove707

Jena’s new favorite toy is a squid. She says that it belongs to Mrs. Goodenough, who is her imaginary friend. Mrs. Goodenough started out being our guest for tea, but now she also comes whenever Jena needs something put right.

She pulls the squid out from the toy chest and tells me, “Mrs. Goodenough coming! Squid says!”

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“What does Mrs. Goodenough want?” I’ll ask Jena.

Usually, she wants cookies.

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But sometimes, she wants to dance! And not to kiddie music. To Tchaikovsky! Mrs. Goodenough has great taste in music!

lenora302

By the way, what do you mean that I know someone “from all the way past Mars”?

I hope all’s well with you, Maki, and your littlies (who may now be biggies!). You mentioned you might be moving. Did you?

If so, I hope the new place is lovely, and I hope all’s going well with your amazing discoveries, and I hope that life is happy and full for you and yours!

Lots of love,

Meadow

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