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 – Dove 12

A reply to: A letter from Dove

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Dear INWk,

Congratulations to you and Maki on your engagement and marriage! A festival wedding. How romantic! When I think of the story of how the two of you met and re-found each other, it seems that only the most romantic wedding would do!

I will do everything I can to attend your commemorative ceremony next year! I’m already blocking out the entire month so I can remember: keep the schedule simple–be flexible!

Oh, Dove! I have been SO busy! I am sure that it is no surprise to you. As a scientist who’s passionate about her work, involved with raising two kids, and a loving partner to a beautiful wife, I’m sure you know busy!

I have just met busy. And let me tell you, busy is busy!

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But also, busy is very fun and oh-so-rewarding. I’m sure you know this, as well. How did that award go? Are you the new Pioneer of New Technologies? Whether that’s your official title or not, I know you are a true pioneer!

School is more than I ever though it would be: More engaging; more rewarding; more demanding; and more valuable.

INWk, I really feel that I’ve found my calling–or at least my passion! All I want to do now is study and learn more–and I want to learn it all instantly!

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Our program is based in the work on trauma led by Peter A. Levine and described so effectively in his book In an Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness.

In its most simple distillation, his theory is this: trauma is defined “as an event that causes a long-term dysregulation in the autonomic and core extrapyramidal nervous system” (Payne, Levine, and Crane-Godreau, Somatic experiencing); or, to put it in terms I can understand better, trauma occurs when one’s protective responses (fight, flight, or freeze) don’t have the chance to complete their cycle and become somehow “stuck” or “out-of-sync.”

With this basic physical understanding of a process that is felt and experienced mentally and emotionally, we find a way out: through the wisdom of the body.

Most of the work of our program is designed on following a recursive pattern through re-regulating the body’s response.

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The part that Micah and I are currently engaged in, the music and art therapy, fits into the final stage of social engagement. Micah and I also both notice that, with both the refugees and the individuals at HoH, the activities in music and art therapy provide a very real sense of agency for the participants which reactivates self-esteem in a vital manner.

In order to be able to be effective at what we do, the program trains us in all the levels of Somatic Experiencing–and here’s where I get so excited and want to learn everything all at once!

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Does that ever happen to you?

There is so much to learn! I get so impatient sometimes–and then it’s easy to despair because I know I’ll never know everything there is to know–and sometimes, I just can’t bear that thought! Have you felt that way?

My uncle Jasper tells me when I feel like that, that I would have been happy living in Ancient Greece.

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“In Aristotle’s day,” he loves to say, “one could know everything there was to know. All of human constructed knowledge could be learned by a single individual. Aristotle knew it all. And so did his best students.”

He assures me that I could easily learn all that Aristotle’s best students knew, too–in fact, I probably already do. But knowledge has marched on, and what his students knew doesn’t even fill a thimble now.

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Now, there’s so much to learn that we specialize, and I fear sometimes that even in my area of specialization, I won’t be able to learn even enough to be a helpful or useful therapist!

When I get like that, my mentor in the program tells me to relax. She reminds me that life is long, and I am not even 30 yet, and the best therapists are in their fifties, at the youngest. We are encouraged to adopt a life-long learning approach, which suits me fine and helps me to relax a bit.

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How are your children doing? Are they regular city kids? What are they most interested in?

And how is Maki?

We are all doing well. My friend Mizuki has moved in. She’s also going back to school! She and Youssef, our nanny, are a sometimes thing–that is, she is romantically interested in him, and he sometimes returns the interest, and when neither is too busy and there aren’t too many of the rest of us around, they might sometimes exchange a flirt or a kiss, but never anything more! Or so Mizuki bemoans to me.

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But if anyone is worth waiting for, Youssef is, for he is loveliness itself! And even if he and Mizuki remain very good friends, I will attest that he is a friend worth having.

Jena is doing so well. She loves that now she has three adults doting on her.

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As much as possible, I try to do my studies while she’s asleep or at the library when she’s with Youssef, but honestly, as long as Mizuki and Youssef are around, I don’t think she even cares if my head is in a book!

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I’m so happy I can share all my enthusiasms with you, dear INWk! And I hope that you will reciprocate in your next letter!

All my love to you, Maki, and your littlies!

Meadow

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Forgotten Art: Meadow – Kaitlin 7

A reply to: A letter from Kaitlin

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Dearest Kaitlin,

There’s so much in your letter that I want to respond to, but let me put first things first.

I gather from your letter that you’re not feeling safe in regards to Newt, or Reid, either. It also sounds like you are ready to begin to take steps to divorce Newt.

It’s very important to have safety measures in place before you begin the procedures.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline, www.thehotline.org, is a great place to start, even before you begin filing any paperwork.

They can let you know how to develop a safety plan. Another valuable resource is  WomensLaw.org, which offers information about how to file a restraining order, if needed (and don’t dismiss this possibility, just because you know and care for these two brothers). WomensLaw can also connect you with programs near you, including free and low-cost lawyers. Both of these resources are great first-stops as you begin your plans.

They offer free online chats, too, so when you feel you need to talk with anyone, 24/7, they’re there for you. My friend Micah told me that she would often call the hotline (1-800-799-7233) when she started feeling panicky. She said for the first dozen times she called, she wouldn’t even speak. She just held the phone to her ear and listened as the advocate stayed on the line with her. Knowing they were there, Micah said, gave her the strength she needed during the roughest times.

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So I wanted to bring that up first because it’s the most important thing. You need to be safe. These resources can help.

I’m so glad that I can be on your support team! I know I’m not very good at giving support–like you say, I’m analytical! And my empathy doesn’t seem to translate into comforting words but into action-steps or intellectual theories.

Those websites I linked to also offer references to services near you that offer free support–nearly every town and city has a place like House of Hope, where those who have experienced domestic violence can go get support from others. This would be support that’s actual support–not like what I offer!

Guess what, though? I have exciting news! I’m ready to learn to be better at all of this! I’ve enrolled in a graduate program to get a master’s in art therapy! Classes start next month, but I’ve gotten a head-start on the readings and research. Oh. Man. Do I have a lot to learn! My dream is to be able to offer art therapy at HoH and the refugee center. I suspect that art offers a way to heal from past trauma, and so I want to learn how that works.

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The best part is that as I learn more, I’ll be able to be a better support person for you!

You are already in my top-tier support! You’re so kind, so sharing and giving, and… just you! It makes me smile to think how everyone who has you in their life benefits.

OH! The other important part! Congratulations on becoming a new grandma! Jordan sounds lovely, and Brooke does, too.

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I loved hearing about Dakota. You know that I’ve got a special spot for adopted kids. Ben sounds like such a good big brother. I know how valued a big brother can make a little sister feel!

Your feelings don’t sound like they are a mess to me, Kaitlin. They’re feelings! We have all sorts of feelings! And I can understand how you would still think of Newt with fondness and even love. It’s OK to do that and to also feel afraid of him and hate him, even, at the same time. We don’t have to have just one set of feelings! We feel what we feel. Our feelings don’t have to make sense.

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I don’t think you need to force yourself to open up to Leroy more than you feel ready to. It’s evident that you love him and that he’s there for you. You can just take it as it comes, sharing what you feel ready to share without pushing yourself in ways that make you feel unsafe. Sometimes talking helps, and sometimes it doesn’t. Trusting yourself to know what you need in the moment might be the best approach at this point.

Well, some big changes have come into my life in conjunction with my decision to go back to school!

First there’s Youssef! He’s our new nanny. Since I wanted to be able to have time to focus on my studies, I decided I’d hire him. We both felt it would be good for him to start right away so that Jena could get used to him before I had to leave for classes.

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She loves him! And he adores her! I feel so happy when I come home from the library to find them playing together or to see him reading her a bed-time story.

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When Jena first came to me, it seemed best for it to be just the two of us. That let us form close bonds. And now, it seems right for Jena’s sphere of care-givers to expand. This is helping her to build trust as she sees that more people than just me can offer her love and nurturing.

It’s been a big help for me, too. Youssef is wise, kind, and has a wealth of experience. Being able to talk with him about the things I’m learning provides me with every bit as much as what Jena gets. We’re so happy to have him in our lives.

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Just like with you, when you get one you get two, and our home circle seems to be expanding!

Did I mention my friend Mizuki Suzuki to you? (Don’t you love her name?) We met when she came to repair a broken stereo, and we became friends that first visit! Since then, our friendship’s deepened.

She is also going back to school when the new semester starts. She’s going to become a teacher! Because she lived all the way out in San Myshuno, and because she’ll be quitting her repair job to return to school here in Windenburg, and because Jena and I have this huge house all to ourselves, I invited her to move in with us.

And she accepted!

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I’ve been amazed how much it helps having another adult in the home. Mizuki is so thoughtful, too, always looking to see what needs to be done and pitching in with a smile.

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I think you would love her–she’s funny, childish, and creative. She will make a perfect primary school teacher! She’s focusing on the Waldorf method because, as she says, she wants to “educate the whole child!”

I joke that it’s a good thing. I wouldn’t want just half a child educated! Or just a third! And how would one decide which third? Shall you educate the right leg and stop there?

Whole is much better!

It turns out that for Mizuki there’s another benefit in living with us: She and Youssef have become an item!

I was so surprised to come home one day and find them in each other’s arms!

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I felt a little awkward at first. Then Mizuki said that it simply happened quickly. They met here at our place, when Mizuki would come to visit. Then one day, before she even moved in, she dropped by while I was out and Youssef invited her in to wait for me, and they got talking and felt they had a connection. She hadn’t mentioned it to me when she moved in because at that point, it wasn’t romantic. But in the days after she moved in, it became so.

I find it sweet, and I’m happy that Jena can be around a loving couple.

I don’t seem to have any interests in romance, myself, or any romantic feelings towards other people. So I am happy that Jena can have a model of a healthy romantic relationship without my having to provide it!

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Well, it seems there’s so much change in both our lives as our circles expand.

I want you to know that I’m always here for you. I’m enclosing my phone number, in case you ever want to call. It would be amazing to hear your voice!

Take good care of yourself, Kaitlin! I treasure you!

Lots of love,

Meadow
555.555.1212

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