Maggie Rose

These are the remarks I made at the funeral yesterday. Kim proofread and made improvements to them and stood beside me while I spoke. I actually wandered my way into this with some comments on the weather (snowing – like the day Elena was born seven years ago this Friday), the Music (my sister Jill sang Ave Maria. Same song as at our wedding but sounded so different in this different context), and the picture Elena slept with (which I’ll write about later).

Maggie Rose –

It’s been a long week of people talking about and thinking about Elena. I want you to know that they’re talking and thinking about you too. Look around you. Look at these people who have come today. They have come to say goodbye to your sister. But they have also come to let you know they are here for you too.

Here’s something I don’t know if you can understand – I don’t know if I can understand it either. They’ve lost something too. I can hear you say, as you did to Jack the other night, “why did you get the grieving kit? It was my sister that died.”

It was. There was no one in this world closer to Elena than you. But there were a surprising number of people who were very close to her. Some are here. Some are not. Some may tell you later how sad they are. Some may pretend that nothing happened. There are times that you may feel sad and there are times that you may feel that nothing happened.

As always, how you feel is how you feel.

Your mom and I disagreed about spanking children but  because she didn’t believe in it, we didn’t do it. But you and Elena had a joke. You would be misbehaving but you would be so darn cute while misbehaving that I would laugh out loud. There was a time when you did something that was borderline bad but that cracked me up. I said, “do that again and you’re going to time out.”

“But,”  you said, “you can’t send us to time out. You’re laughing.”

“I can laugh and punish you at the same time,” I answered.

From then on, when one of you was walking up to that line you would look at me and ask “Dad can I?” I would shrug and you and Elena would jump to your feet and
jump up and down — laughing and spanking your own behinds to show what I would look like laughing and punishing you.

Mom and I will continue to love you as we did before – but we can love you, laugh with you, and still send you to time out.

Katie McGovern did something the other night that was so sweet and innocent and honest. While you were in the other room with Jack, she came out of Elena’s room with one of Elena’s dolls. She looked down at us from the top of the stairs and announced that she was going to keep this one. “It was Elena’s,” she said. “I can keep it. Elena is dead.”

What a wonderful moment. You can hear that the kids in the room don’t see anything wrong with what Katie said and some of the adults are horrified.

Maggie, that’s going to be a big problem for a while. There are people that won’t know what to say to you so they won’t say anything. They won’t look at me and you and mom. The death of a child – particularly this type of death – is very frightening to a parent. Some of them feel sorrow. Some of them feel guilt. Many of them feel afraid. Some fear that by meeting our gaze they will catch something they can’t overcome. It’s called deep sadness.

People who don’t know you – won’t know how moody you can be. You will be the way you’ve always been and someone will say quietly to the others, “oh, that’s because her sister died.”

You need to know that losing a sister is a part of what makes you you – but it is not who you are. You are not “the girl whose sister died”. You are Maggie Rose. You are so many things to so many people. Again look around you – you are part of this community that surrounds you with their thoughts and prayers.

You are the smartest child I know. You will figure out which people are willing to be there for you. I hope you will figure out how to let them do what they can. Not with those sad eyes. Not by asking you again and again “are you o.k.” By asking normal things and understanding when your response is not normal.

I love that you have been able to have some normal moments this past week. Moments with your cousins. Getting to go to girl scouts on Friday and art class on Saturday. Hanging out with your Shen sisters.

I have loved watching you grow into the beautiful girl you are now and look forward to what you will become. Your mom and I felt the same about Elena. Our sadness is not for anything in the past. You guys were the best. Our sadness is for the future where we won’t get to see Elena at things we anticipated.

When the kids line the halls to clap you out of Boulevard, we will be so happy and proud for you and yet I don’t know how we will stand it. Your sister wanted so much to be in the halls clapping you out and with her gone it means that mom and I are being clapped out of Boulevard too – three years before we’re ready.

Your mom and I will talk and cry about Elena. You do what you need or want to.

I remember you in my lap rubbing my beard and chanting “love and affection” while Elena separated my hair on the back of my head and said “Maggie, I sawl daddy’s balb spot.”

There are going to be ordinary moments where you feel the loss of Elena in weird ways. As you said the other night – now you’ll always have to take the first bath or shower. Macaroni and cheese won’t even taste the same. Remember how mom makes you  macaroni and cheese  from a box because you won’t eat the good stuff. She won’t need to take out a bowl full for Elena and so your mac and cheese won’t taste as cheesy as it used to.

Elena knew how to annoy you more than any other person in this world. As much as she wanted to be like you – she also wanted to be different.

As much as she loved being bossed around by you – she also wanted to take control.

It always bothered you that she got away with things that you didn’t. That’s because she was a  pleaser. She ingratiated herself with people and so she could get away with a zinger.

There are people who read some of the  stories I wrote and said “that’s cute she didn’t understand.” She did understand. She was very playful and revelled in getting a good dig in.

Maggie, you were first at so many things but she beat you to communion. While you played by the rules and studied and waited for your first communion, she put on a big smile, held out her hands and said “body of Christ” and was rewarded with a wafer. She popped it in her mouth and turned around and taunted you.

I think you will miss moments like that. Normal moments of one sister being a brat to another.

I will miss moments like the father-daughter girl scout dance. Not even a month ago. Do you know how many people I told about that dance and sent the picture that mom took of the two of  you in the hall. I loved dancing to Y M C A with you. I loved when Elena came up to me, hands on hips and said “dance with me big boy.” The three of us did the Chicken dance and laughed and lost ourselves in the moment.

I could go on forever about the two of you. Anyone who has spent any amount of time with me knows that I generally do.

Being a dad is the best part of my life. Being a mom is the best part of Kim’s life. You gave us that gift. You made us a mom and dad and every day you continue to give us that gift.

We’ve included two of Elena’s favorite songs on the program. I look at the lyrics and for “Do you believe in magic” and still see her.

“Do you believe in magic?
In a young girls heart
how the music can free her
whenever it starts.”

That was Elena with her music playing loud and her dancing with abandon in our living room or in her bed room.

Remember when we went to see “The Lion King”. Both sets of grandparents, me and mom, you and Elena.

I love that you know your grandparents. You are the eldest grandchild on both sides. You not only made me and mom parents but you made four people with lots of love to give, grandparents. They spoil you rotten because that’s what grandparents do and we tell them not to because that’s what parents do.

But you don’t just get stuff from your grandparents. You get attention. Each pair loves to have you over. They listen to you when you speak. They have great pride in what you do. They frame the pictures that you make. They tell their friends stories about the clever things you do.

Elena – I used to tell people – that’s my happy child. How many times has she played the Lion King cd over and over. She looks seriously at me as she pronounces the African words at the beginning of some songs. She had an ear for language and accents. She loved to speak Australian or to imitate Hermione from Harry Potter. She loved Chinese class and could hit the tones.

I can see her twirling around to “The Circle of Life”. She would reenact the opening scene of Lion King and then do an interpretive dance. Often she would ask that I hold her up at the end of the song like I was showing her off to those gathered at pride rock.

“From the day we arrive on the planet
And blinking, step into the sun
There’s more to see than can ever be seen
More to do than can ever be done
There’s far too much to take in here
More to find than can ever be found”

I could go on, but there is more to say than could ever be said.

Maggie, I guess the last thing we want you to know right now and to understand is that we don’t expect anything different from you than we ever did. Elena had unfinished business but you have a full enough life finishing your own business and becoming the person you will be.

Published in: on February 28, 2006 at 8:07 am  Comments (21)  

Preparing to Speak

Kim and I rose to speak at the end of the funeral yesterday. I had asked our friend Mark Ribbins if he’d be willing to finish reading what I’d written if I was unable to. Mark, like so many others, has been such a great friend for so many years. We did readings at each others’ weddings. Having him behind me and so many wonderful friends in front of me and Kim beside me gave me an unexpected strength to get through the piece without breaking down.

I had joked to Kim that maybe we should just wing it. She said that I could if I wanted, while giving me a look that clearly said “what are you thinking.” When Kim and I were first married, we both were working and in graduate school. My side gig was working as a radio d.j. – or as we were called by then “air personality”.

I’d worked for so many radio stations under so many different names that when I had to introduce musicians or a comic onstage at a concert event I would have everything written on a note card. I’d even write the name I was working under: “I’m xxxx from Wyyy”. This made sense when I was working under names that were not my own. But it looked pretty silly that I had to write my own name down at the end when I was using it on the air. But, I didn’t want to get on stage and not remember who I was.

Who I was.

People get to know you in different ways. There are people who used to listen to me at night who had a connection to my voice. For some it’s as if you are inviting this person on the radio into your house. You are trusting them to hang with you in the morning or at work or when you are getting ready for bed at night.

I was at a health club years ago and a guy came up to me in the locker room and asked “Didn’t you used to be Daniel Steinberg?” I smiled and said yeah that’s who I was.

Who I was.

Gary Raymont, Elena’s kindergarten teacher, spoke at the funeral yesterday. He never called parents by their first name. He always called out “Hi Elena’s mom” and “Hi Elena’s dad”. To him, that’s who we were. Gary is a giant of a man whose heart is too big for the body that holds it. You see the light all around him wherever he walks.

It didn’t take me much time to let the guy in the health club know that I’m still Daniel Steinberg. The community of people who have called and written to us have reminded me that I’m still Elena’s dad. Thank you.

More than twenty years ago, Mark Ribbins and I worked in Urban Contemporary radio together. I began working there under the name of Mac Johnson – the name of a childhood friend. Carol Ford began refering to me as “Vanilla Fudge” but people didn’t catch on. They just thought I was light skinned. So it was shortened to “Fudge”. I teamed up with Matt Morgan to do the morning show and Mark did the weekend gospel show. His family owned a very prominent Christian book store. He thought that we should all do a show together with his brother John and with Luke Owens so that we could call it “Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Fudge”.

Mark’s dad died while we were working together. It was one of the first wakes I’d ever been to. The line was out the door. It was there I first met his family. When I got to the front of the church Mark said, “mom, this is Fudge.” More than twenty years later Mark stood in line at a wake for my family. He and his wife Celeste are a part of our family. They are constants at our Passover table. They invited my parents to their wedding.

I knit a baby hat for his daughter Julia but had not yet met her. I finally went over to Mark and Celeste’s home to drop off the hat. The baby wasn’t there but Mark and I went for a walk and talked about her and so many other things. He said that it wouldn’t be long before baby Julia would be asking the four questions at our table.

The four questions. With Elena’s reading coming along lately, this was the year I had hoped she would be able to read that portion of the Passover Seder. So many little things will give us pause this year.

There were many times during the wake that I looked up because I felt someone’s presence in line. One of those was when Mark and Celeste walked in. I felt their hug long before they made it to the front of the line. And they brought us a gift. Mark was carrying their baby Julia.

She’s beautiful. She’s perfect. Meeting her was a gift that brightened Kim and me. Even in this difficult time, being a dad is just the best. I love that I can share this experience with such a great friend.

Published in: on February 28, 2006 at 7:20 am  Comments (4)  

If Elena were with us

We’d be late for her funeral.

Fifteen minutes before we left she would still be jumping up from breakfast to run into the living room “Just for a minute”. To flip on some music and do a dance.

“Elena,” I would say, “please come finish your breakfast, brush your hair and get your coat and boots on.”

“I’ll be there in a minute.”

“No, you need to come now.”

Zooom she’d run back to the table, take a bite and then zoom back to the living room.

“Elena. You need to come back and finish we need to go in fifteen minutes. Turn off the music.”

“O.K. daddy. In a minute.”

“No, I need you to come here now. Please turn off the music.”

“O keeeee fine.” She would flip off the radio. Somehow on her way back to the table she would see her flying turtle and sit on it and start riding it around the living room.

“Elena!”

“I’m coming.”

“No, you’re not. Park the turtle and come finish breakfast.”

“O.K.” she’d say. But she’d take another lap or two before parking the scooter. “Daddy, I want toast.”

“We don’t have time any more. Finish your cereal.”

“But I want toast too. I want two pieces of bagette.”

“We don’t have time. Finish up your cereal.”

“Mom, can I have bagette?”

Kim, would be in the kitchen and say, “sure honey.”

“Kim,” I’d call out, “I just told her no.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t hear you. I’ll just make her some and she can eat it in the car.”

“But I said no.”

“Oh, what’s the big deal. You need to wear a coat today – it’s going to be cold.”

Then there would be a cry from the dining room from Maggie who would have been eating quietly while reading.

“Mom, Elena spilled.”

“Well Maggie is reading. She’s not allowed to read at the table is she dad?”

“No,” I would say, “she’s not. But I don’t like you guys telling on each other. Here’s a paper towel, wipe up that mess.”

“Dad,” Elena would say with a sad look in her eyes, “I wasn’t screwing around. It was an accident.”

“O.K.” I’d answer. “Take your dishes into the kitchen we don’t have much time and brush your hair – both of you.”

” ’cause it looks like crap?” Maggie would ask.

“Crap,” Elena would answer. I didn’t care. Giving them a chance to mock me meant that they’d at least get up and do it.

“Come here, I’ll brush your hair,” I’d tell Elena.

“No, that’s ok, mommy can do it.”

“I’m right here. I’ll do it.”

“You pull my hair when you brush it. Owww. Owww. Owwww.”

“Elena, I haven’t started brushing yet.”

“Oh, sorry daddy.”

“There, you look beautiful. Girls we should have left already. Maggie, where are your glasses? Kim – we have to go. You can’t be late for a funeral.”

Kim would finish toasting Elena’s bagette and grab her coat. Maggie would be in her coat wearing her glasses. I would put on my coat and look around. “Where’s Elena?”

Maggie would give me a fake exasperated look and say “where do you think?”

Sure enough, if we were all quiet we could hear singing. Elena was in the bathroom. She always had to go to the bathroom when we needed to get somewhere in a hurry. And she loved to sing in the bathroom. She’d take the time to carefully wash her hands, singing all the louder so that her voice rose above the flushing toilet and running sink water.
She would come out of the bathroom. I’d all be standing there in my coat obviously waiting for her. She’d be shaking off her still wet hands. “Daddy, smell my hands. I washed them with soap see.”

“Very nice. But we’re late. Get your coat on.”

“OK daddy.” But she’d be wandering over towards the flying turtle – drawn to ride it around the room one more time.

“Elena, we don’t have time. Mom and Maggie are already out in the car.”

“Oh ok daddy.”

It’s going to be a real drag getting to places on time from now on.

Published in: on February 27, 2006 at 7:12 am  Comments (17)  

Why

When Kim and I were preparing to get married we spoke to a priest and a rabbi.

I need to pause there a second. “Preparing to get married”. Can you ever prepare for these big events in your life. We had time to think about the details of our wedding day and of the marriage we wanted to build afterwards. I’m not sure that prepared us. I wandered off on this aside because friends of ours came to the funeral home yesterday who had lost their grandson/nephew Simon at age seven after a long and painful illness. Simon’s mother has also posted in the comments to this blog. I’m sure that knowing he was coming to the end didn’t prepare them. I’m certain that they didn’t feel any more ready to say goodbye than we do after losing Elena in the matter of minutes.

The priest and rabbi asked different questions that were both directed at some of the same issues. I told the priest that I would not sign a paper promising to raise the children Catholic. He said that they didn’t do that anymore. That for him it was more important that the children were raised in a loving home with a strong religious presence than that this be a devisive issue. They did ask Kim, as the Catholic parent, to promise that she would do what she could to raise her children Catholic.

I liked the priest. He had a great sense of humor and an irreverence that was reverent. Just before our wedding rehearsel I said to him that Kim had told me that at many young Catholic boys want to grow up to be priests. He laughed and said, “and girls.” I know it’s dangerous to spend time thinking about what could have been, but Elena would have been a great priest (or rabbi, or minister, or . . .) She has an incredible way of wrapping people up in her energy and making them feel so good.

The priest had us fill out a Meyers-Briggs personality profile to investigate our compatibility. Kim and I each filled out two. One for ourselves and one for the other. For us, compatibility was an interesting thing to investigate, but it was more important for us to see how well we knew each other. We were very good at guessing how the other would answer each question.

The rabbi asked us a set of questions. One asked how we might bring her up religiously. The options were Catholic, Jewish, Both, or Neither. I was willing for the kids to be Jewish, Both, or Neither and Kim was ok with the kids being Catholic, Jewish, or Both. We  decided to try “Both” despite being warned by a different rabbi that our children would end up in a cult somewhere.

But the rabbi pressed. “What happens when you die?” he asked. I thought long and hard over the week between his asking and when we returned to his office.

“I don’t know,” I answered. “I think it is unknowable.”

He smiled and said that actually that was our party line. He asked Kim the same question. She spoke of heaven. He then asked her, “what happens to Daniel when he dies.” He explained that his concern was that, as he understood the issue, Christians believe that you must accept Jesus to go to heaven. He wanted to know how Kim would answer the children asking “what happens to daddy when he dies”.

She said that she believed that if you are a good person you will go to heaven. That what, to her, was important was a strong spiritual and moral core.

Today we bury our baby. I wonder if I would be more comforted by a strong faith in a religion that has very definite answers to what happens when you die. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not changing and neither is Kim. This has been a very difficult time for her. She and I both keep asking “what could we have done to save Elena? What did we miss?”

Kim also asks, “why”.

To me, there is no “why”. Horrible things happen and no one notices. We are numb to wars and so called natural disasters and don’t really understand all of the losses in these other places.

Published in: on February 27, 2006 at 6:48 am  Comments (7)  

Writer’s Block

All authors get it.

Whether pen in hand or sitting at the keyboard. The blank page overwhelms them and they don’t know what to say. It can go on for minutes, days, or years. You don’t know what to write.

There are many techniques for addressing that form of writer’s block. But there’s another one. There’s the block that comes when you know exactly what to write but you just can’t. You’ve got the exactly words in your head and you can’t write them down on paper.

Yesterday, Kim and I were making corrections to the program for Elena’s funeral. Kim decided that she didn’t want a quote on the front page. Just her name and a picture. Oh and the dates.

I wrote “March 3, 1999 -” and then I stopped. How do you complete that thought. How does a father write on paper the date that his daughter died. It was a crippling writer’s block. My hand shook, the tears flowed, others in the room offered to write it for me but I knew that I had to.

Finally, I wrote “February 22, 2006”.

Published in: on February 26, 2006 at 7:57 am  Comments (19)  

Not Moving

I will someday return to teaching. Now isn’t the time to make any sudden decisions, but I loved teaching. I loved that magic moment when a student is changed and now owns the topic we’re covering.

I always wanted to be a teacher. I taught High School and then went back for a PhD so that I could teach mathematics. I taught at the college level at Case, while a student, and at Oberlin College and John Carroll University. I had hoped to spend my career at one of those schools. It didn’t happen.

I interviewed at a variety of other schools, but they would require moving. My kids at the time were the only grandchildren on both sides. They were within twenty minutes of one set of grandparents and an hour of the other set. How could we move. It was easier to change my career than to move my children away.

People think that that was a sacrifice – but it wasn’t. I’ve gotten to do some very cool things. Some of it has required a lot of travel – but when I’m home, I’m really home.

I do a lot of work out of my house. When we first set up my office the plan was to keep the kids out while I’m working. It never happened. They always found their way up to where I was to show me something or to ask me something or just to hang out for a bit.

During these past few days, so many friends from the community have stopped by and lent support. I’m so glad we’re here. Here where my parents and Kim’s parents could get to the hospital to say goodbye to their grandchildren. Things may change in the future, but for now, we’re not moving. It’s not that we have nowhere we want to go, it’s more than we’re already where we’re meant to be.

(I apologize for a bland post this morning. I’ve just written what I will be saying at the funeral tomorrow and there’s little emotion left.)

Published in: on February 26, 2006 at 7:48 am  Comments (3)  

Why No Pictures

I haven’t posted pictures of Elena on this site and we have plenty of them.

When I taught at Oberlin College I had a picture of Maggie Rose on my website. She was not yet two and eating spaghetti in her high chair. She had reached for the phone and was sitting there looking as cute as can be with spaghetti sauce all over her face and clothes holding the phone upside down and talking into the wrong end.

This was included in the section about contacting me. I provided my home phone but wanted my students to see what it was that I considered most important during the time that I was at home. I took the picture down a few months later and didn’t post more pictures because I was afraid of having images of my girls posted on the internet.

After Elena died we went to Kim’s cousin’s house to pick up Maggie and tell her and take her home. When we got home Kim sobbed that she hadn’t even taken a picture of Elena with her newly missing tooth.

Maggie had. Maggie showed Kim that the night before, she and Elena had taken pictures of themselves using the iMac with the built in camera. We have a picture of Elena smiling, proudly showing off the gap in her teeth.

But we’re not posting pictures of Elena.

Channel 19 came over twice trying to come into our house and shove a camera in Kim and my face. Patti has been guarding the door and watching over us. She kept them out. Kim and I don’t watch local news – it’s one tragedy after another overplayed in ways that don’t serve the public. We certainly didn’t want to be the subject of a story. The woman from the t.v. station said “he’s already talked to channel 8.” Patti wisely said, “no he hasn’t and I still am not letting you in.”

They came back a second time while Kim and I were at the funeral home picking out a casket. Patti was playing board games with Maggie. Maggie had beaten her at Deflexion and Mancala and had moved to Sorry because “it’s mainly a game of chance so maybe you can win.” This time they told Patti they just wanted to come in and film Elena’s picture. Again Patti sent them away.

But it isn’t because of privacy that we aren’t posting her picture. It’s hard to describe, but I’ll try.
I’ve read all of your comments. Thank you. Many of you have sent us support and that means a lot. But many of you have sent us a note about looking at your own child differently. Others have sent stories of losses you have suffered. A picture makes this story about one particular little girl. We’re touched that you have personalized this story and made it about you and your family.

Thank you.

Published in: on February 25, 2006 at 7:33 am  Comments (8)  

Sisters

At a regular check-up visit to the pediatrician, the intern (I think – it was Kim who took the girls to this visit) weighed and measured Elena’s height. Elena is quite short. You have only to look at me or Kim to figure out that that’s to be expected. The intern looked at Elena’s chart and said “she’s in the fifth percentile height-wise – I don’t understand it.”

She furrowed her brow and compared Elena’s chart to Maggie’s chart. The girls’ regular pediatrician stood next to her and prompted her to explain. The intern said “well she’s so short and yet her sister is in the ninety-fifth percentile for height.” Kim and Dr. Robinson exchanged glances. The internist was practicing medicine without noticing her patients. Dr. Robinson pointed to Maggie and the internist finally noticed that they were not biologically related and so this comparison of the charts was not relevant.

They were tied in so many ways.

Maggie is adopted from China. When we were going through the adoption process we had people ask us if we were ever going to tell Maggie that she was adopted. That always cracked us up.

We told Maggie all along. It’s part of who she is.

There were so many people who have told us how lucky Maggie is that we adopted her. Kim always answered that we were the lucky ones that Maggie made us a family.

Most people assumed that we adopted because we couldn’t have children. Adoption for us was a first choice. We didn’t know whether or not we could have children. We were not going to try until after the adoption because it is harder to adopt from China when you already have a  child.

When we had Elena, people told us that this always happens. That people who were unable to conceive often had “their own” children after they adopted.

Again, adoption was a first choice for us. We were better able to conceive after we stopped using birth control.

Their own children.

Maggie is my own child. I had almost seven years of hard evidence that there is no difference in the love you feel for an adopted child or a birth child.

I am a dad because of Maggie.

When she was a year and a half I brought Maggie downstairs to help me prepare Kim’s first mother’s day breakfast. Kim wanted pear crepes. My sister Jill called as I was assembling ingredients because she knew it was our first mother’s day. You have to watch children closely and I had dropped my guard for a moment. When I turned back around, Maggie was proudly cracking the eggs one at a time on the glass storm door. As the yolks ran down the glass to the floor she beamed with pride on what she had done to help us make mom’s breakfast.

Maggie and Elena share a chinese character. Maggie’s chinese name is Qiu Xue (pronounced roughly as Chew Sheee-eh) which means autumn snow. Elena was born almost exactly two and a half years after Maggie on March 3. It snowed hard and we decided to give her the name Chun Xue (Choooon) which means spring snow.

Margaret Rose Qiu Xue Steinberg  what a mix of a name – Irish sounding Maggie Rose even though the Rose is for my great grandmother. The Margaret is for Kim’s grandmother. Qiu Xue to honor what may have been her birth name.
There’s a lot we don’t know about Maggie’s first year. There’s a lot we can’t know. Her birthday even changed when we went to get her. Until we traveled to China all of her paperwork said that her birthday was October 2, 1996. When we got there the new paperwork said September 2. We were initially sad because we had missed her first birthday. Maggie was first placed in my arms on September 15, 1997.

In the scheme of things, what difference did it make. Having a birthday so early meant that she would have options of when to start school – and she was ready early. I know all parents think that their children are beautiful and bright, but ours are.

Maggie was always proud of being chinese. It is important to her. When we were looking to move to a new school district before she was ready for kindergarten, Kim took care to make sure there was an asian population – she didn’t want Maggie to be the only chinese person in her class. We found a wonderful school with a significant international population.

Elena used to try to tease Maggie that she had been “born from mom’s stomach and you weren’t.” It was unusual for Elena to be that off the mark. No one could get under Maggie’s skin like her little sister, but this wasn’t something that ever bothered her.

The name Maggie had when we got her also included a last name “Shen”. We didn’t keep that name as part of her legal name because all nine of the girls that were adopted in her group had that same last name and it was not their birth name. We’re not certain if Qiu Xue was her given name but we kept that. Each year we get together with some of the other girls in that adoption group – the “Shen Sisters”.

These were the girls that Maggie had her first big adventure with. This group of nine families seems to have nothing in common and yet it is the most magical weekend each year to spend time with people who shared that special trip with us eight and a half years ago.

Maggie announced to us a year back that she might change her last name back to Shen when she’s older. That’s fine with us.

Elena thought for a day or two and announced that she’s going to change her name to Shen too when she’s older. That was more than Maggie could stand. Did Elena have to copy everything she did (no – she didn’t, but of couse that wasn’t the point at that moment). Shen was her name – not Elena’s. Ahhh, Elena had found a button she could push. The “you’re adopted” thing hadn’t worked. For days Elena would ask innocently “dad, how old do you think I should be to change my name to Shen?”

Published in: on February 25, 2006 at 7:14 am  Comments (6)  

A Visit from Will

“Daniel”, Kim called up stairs as I was writing the last post, “Will is here.”

Will.

I had called him earlier to ask him to stop by. By the time I had gotten downstairs my father had already broken the news to him. Dad asked, “how did you know Elena?”

“I take their trash,” said Will.

Will works for the city of Shaker Heights collecting trash from our house each Monday. Many people put their trash out at night and collect their empty barrels the next day. We’re lucky enough to know Will. Each Monday my girls rush to the window when they hear the garbage truck nearby.

In the summer they open the windows and shout “Willie”. Will gives them a huge smile and blows kisses to them and waves. During the winter they run from window to window to wave at him as he pulls in the driveway and carts away this week’s trash.

We usually have time to talk a little bit. And then he leaves us to go on to the next house. Doing his job with a love for the people he works for and with. Will has friends all over the city. Kids who wait for him to come. He has an ability to make a connection with so many different people.

Will has that same spark that Elena had. People know when he’s there and they want to be near him. At Christmas time he brought by a gift for my girls. He warned that it was something that kids would love and parents would hate. Sure enough, it was a parrot that repeats back whatever a kid says in a high pitched screeching voice.

What did you get from your garbage man for Christmas?

I look at him and think how lucky and how much richer we are for having this connection. Will lost his mom not too long ago and we watched how sad he was. We sent him a card and greeted him each week to see how he was doing. The girls wrote him notes and tryed to cheer him up and to feel his pain. Today he came to see us and talk to us about our loss.

Published in: on February 24, 2006 at 6:03 pm  Comments (3)  

Other People’s Children

Driving home from the cemetery this afternoon, Kim and I passed by a father holding hands with the cutest little toddler. The child was over dressed in a snow suit and was walking, occasionally stopping to tip his whole body back in the way that children do to look up at a parent. The father stopped each time the young one stopped to look back at his child.

How often have you been with your child and not been with them. You’ve taken the time to be at a kid’s soccer game but been on your cell phone. You’ve left work to pick your kid up from school but your mind isn’t there on your son or daughter and the day they’ve just had at school – your mind is already back at your desk on the next thing you have to do.

Kim and I had just come from picking out a cemetery plot for Elena as we passed this father and child. She asked if it made me sad. I said no. No, it doesn’t make me sad to see a parent engaged in his child’s life who is really enjoying a moment with them. I love that. All children deserve our full attention. She nodded. She isn’t saddened by other children either.

I think that I will be saddened later when I see children who are the age that Elena will never get to be. What happens in nine years when she would have been learning to drive or in eleven when she would have graduated from high school.

In the past twenty-four hours Kim and I have picked out a casket and a cemetery plot for a six year old. Seeing other parents who are present for their children is one of the things that brings us joy because we know that feeling.

Published in: on February 24, 2006 at 5:41 pm  Comments (6)