A video of the winter celebrations

I’ve updated the Wheel of the Year page again to include an Ostara update and Beltane plans: https://ariefarnam.wordpress.com/the-wheel-of-the-year/

But I also wanted to make sure this video didn’t get lost in the shuffle for those who are interested. I made a video of our celebrations of the rhythms of the earth over the past half year. The video was originally meant for a presentation I’m giving at a conference in May but it is a fun look at some of the highlights of the past half year.

I would like to note that I have often felt intimidated by videos online showing perfect families and children doing wonderful crafts and activities. I generally feel a sinking feeling and think, “How wonderful for them but that could never be done with my children.” But then I made this video, piecing together the calm bits and pieces of our activities that made sense. I had to do it that way. The video is for a conference, not just for kicks. And presto! The video makes it look as if our children always do as they are asked and cooperate delightfully in every celebration. The truth is that if you pick out the nice, calm ten or twenty seconds of various scenes and piece them together to make sense, you can make almost any chaos look calm.

So, enjoy and keep your perspective:

Our life at home on Grumblers Ridge

It is hard to believe it but I am sitting here with spring sunshine coming in the windows and both the doors are open. Birds are singing away in the bushes. I can’t see them and I wish I knew what kind they were. I can also hear kids – Marik running downhill pulling his wagon rattling behind him, then his frightened whine, but no wail of pain, so he’s okay

Briefly, I hear Shaye and the 8-year-old learning disabled girl from next door and the 7-year-old boy from the next house running by. I am astounded that they have accepted Shaye into their little neighborhood gang. Sometimes they even ask for Marik, who is only 2 and a half. I fear that we’re living in a temporary reprieve from modernity, where children do not play with kids of other ages. But I have gotten good at appreciating temporary blessings.

Then, there is quiet. They’ve moved off a bit. It is also astounding that I can let them move out of earshot. There are not many places in this country where you could. Our little dead-end dirt street, which is such a hassle unplowed in the winter has its own blessings to give.

Today, the kids were in preschool under the watchful eye of their wonderful teacher Tomas, who has pretty much joined our little family as Ember’s boyfriend. How handy that he already loves our children. And, given our recent worries over the preschool, it is also amazing luck that we have him there to keep them safe. I had time to make a Beltane wreath today and to go hunting the first spring herbs. I got small baskets of primrose and lungwort blossoms. With Marik, Dusan and I still suffering from terrible night-time coughs, I doubt the lungwort will last long enough to dry.

The children’s mini-garden plots are finally sprouting the earliest radishes. And my perennial herbs are poking out from the winter hybernation. It was a terribly long winter here, long enough to set 100-year records apparently. Even so, I have the odd feeling that another kind of winter has held us under a spell for much longer. For four years, I could not sit like this and write and listen to the springtime and know that all is well.

First, there were the years of anxiety, stress, physical pain and strain when we were trying to conceive, then the years of waiting and battling bureaucrats, when we finally gave up and looked for our children elsewhere. Then, Shaye was a baby and there were moments then, brief and fleeting when the world seemed right. Then, there was the terrible issue of the bureaucrat who tried to blacklist us and block us from adopting Marik, and finally there was the terrible hard time in the beginning with Marik, when he was so terrified and difficult to handle.

Now, he comes in from playing, flushed with joy, “Mama, I play. Big boys! I play with big boys. Potty now but then outside. Yes, Mama, I go outside again?” I help him with his pants as he chatters and assure him that he can go back outside with the kids. His body no longer looks like that of a bay. He has turned into a little boy, somewhere during this winter, when he was so bundled up that we didn’t catch the moment. Shaye has also shot up like a little spindly weed. Despite the somewhat grim atmosphere and endless illness of this past winter, both of them seem to be physically thriving. And now that they can be out and there are other kids to play with they are thriving with joy as well.

The walls are covered with posters and crafts from our recent homeschooling units – the five senses, community helpers, environmental problems, a mixed collage on our Czech, Romani, American, international identity as a family. I’ve got Czech-style thin fruit pie in the oven, chilly and rice in the fridge for dinner, torillas planned for tomorrow. Dusan has actually cheerfully agreed to cut a pole for us to make our own mini-maypole and we are inviting Tomas to bring his family to meet us and dance the maypole with us.

It is not that everything is easy when we’re at home. Dusan and I gripe at each other more than is really necessary. We seem to be both on edge, always expecting judgment and criticism from the other. It has been so long since there was any extra anything, extra time, extra space, extra affection. We both had to work every minute of every day, falling into bed late at night exhausted and getting up at five or six in the morning to start the whole thing over again.

That is mostly what feels like spring, the sense that I can sit and write without an urgent need and time stolen from desperately needed tasks. The strain has loosened a bit, if only for awhile, but we still both act as if the other might angrily comment on our inactivity, as has admittedly happened a time or two when one or the other of us stole a few moments of peace while the other worked.

I have heard that much less than this (simple infertility, even simple adoption) has broken many a partnership or marriage, and I can certainly see why. I think it easily could have broken us, except that neither of us really believes that we have any other place to go or that anyone else would want us. Neither of us were exactly sought after as singles. And so here we are, trying to heal the wounds of this many-year-long winter.

I hope now that there is this feeling of spring, that I can be gentler in my words and rules for the children as well. Sometimes there are things that they must know or do or accept that other kids in this day and age don’t have to, for one reason or another that is specific to our situation. They must answer me when I can’t find them. It is a stronger “must” than it would be if I could see well. The same goes for them learning the manners and social norms of Czech society. They must – even more so because of our tenuous social position here. But still I would like to be gentle in my enforcement of these constraints.

The children and Dusan are back now. They are all starving and dirty and in dire need of a mother again. so much for my moment of stillness and sunlight.

Shaye’s Earth Day letter

We’ve been talking about how people affect the environment in our homeschooling program. The conclusion was that even though we recycle and don’t litter and even pick up other people’s trash and use natural materials and grow some of our own food and use public transportation and generally try to have a small ecological footprint, it isn’t really enough. So, our last project was teaching other people how to help the earth and Shaye’s way of doing this was to dictate a letter for this blog. Here it is:

Dear people,

The earth is sad because people make the earth sick sometimes. Please help us make the earth better and protect the earth.

You don’t throw trash on the ground or in the water and litter. Only put trash in the garbage can or recycling. Our hands are little and we can’t pick up all the trash. Don’t leave your chocolate eggs on the ground.

You should go on the train and ride a bike or walk with your high-heeled shoes. Don’t drive cars too much.

Please use wood and glass and cloth and pinecones to make toys. Don’t use too much plastic.

Make a garden. Grow some apples and strawberries and beans and stuff like that. That helps the earth too.

We have to tell other people that the earth is alive and we have to help the earth.

Thanks for your help.

Shaye
(I’m this many fingers IIII)

Our life when we leave the house

Some days ago, I took the kids to Prague to see a small park featuring large models of dinosaurs. Shaye had been showing some interest in dinosaurs, not much but a little, and I am grateful for any interest beyond her continuing distress over differing skin colors. She has been acting out a lot more than usual, since she brought up the issue of her fear of “being black.” She rejects books with pictures of brown-skinned people. At night, she cries, “I have no eyes. I have no hair. I have no hands…” She insists that she is ugly and she can’t be “a princess” like her friends. She throws unexplained tantrums far too often. She talks a lot about hating anyone who is mean and wanting to hit people with her wooden sword.

So, dinosaurs are a wonderful interest. But getting to the dinosaur park requires the ordeal of packing, getting the kids out the door, walking to the train station and two full hours of public transportation one way. We had to get up early and Shaye was in a bad mood, as usual. She whined, complained and resisted at every step of the process of getting dressed and ready to go. I initially tried to give her the choice of not going, but it seemed clear that she would choose to resist and not go and then be inconsolable and intolerable to live with for the rest of the day as a result. So, I muscled my way through.

Once we finally got on the train, after a 20 minute walk through muddy fields, everything looked good. I sat back with a feeling of accomplishment. The kids were happily looking out the window. The worst was over… I hoped. Shaye did try to hold her leg out all the way across the aisle, so that Marik’s slightly swinging feet could be theoretically perceived as “kicking” her. She shrieked and carried on over that but such that really doesn’t even count as an incident by our reckoning.

Once we reached the city, we walked through the crowded railway station. I convinced the children to walk in a line with me in front, wielding my white cane, then Marik and Shaye bringing up the rear, as theoretically the more responsible of the two. I could hear people hissing in disapproval and drawing back from us as we moved. This had the advantage of clearing a path but I do wonder how long it will take Shaye to notice that I draw so much public scorn and be troubled by that as well.

The problem isn’t that I’m carrying a white cane in and of its self. People here are solicitous and make a point of trying to “help” blind people, although they shy away from any other category of disability. It appears that blind people are the fashionable ones to be seen helping. Rather the problem is that I have children. I have heard people hiss on a number of occasions, “How dare she have children?” or “Those poor children. What an irresponsible woman that is. How could she risk passing it on to them?” I have resisted the urge to confront them and point out that the children are adopted, partly because I don’t want the kids exposed to a scene and partly because that would seem somehow disloyal to all the blind women who do have biological children.

This time I couldn’t hear any words in the whispers, but I could hear a rolling wave of whispers as I moved and people do not generally whisper in crowded train stations. Still it was again only really a minor irritant. I do not need those people and, as far as I am concerned, they might as well not exist. We reached the escalator heading to the lower level and the subway stations. Neither of the kids can navigate getting on and off of escalators alone, so I have to do a tricky maneuver, grabbing one kid under each arm, while still keeping hold of my cane and backpack and skipping onto and then off of the escalator. As I executed the final part of this, I heard a loud whisper from up ahead, this time in a quite different tone: “Now, that’s a Mama!” My heart fairly skipped a beat. I do wish I heard more of that sort of comment.

We got onto one subway train and then off at a transfer station. We then had to navigate some super fast, long distance escalators to reach the other subway line. These escalators turned out to be too fast for me to hustle both kids on at once safely. I tried but Shaye panicked, seeing the speed of the escalator and as I was getting on, she squirmed out of my grasp and landed on the floor, as Marik and I were swept upwards. Shaye started to scream in terror. Given that these escalators are in fact dangerous, I had to do something fast. I detached Marik’s clinging hands from me and raced backward down the escalator as fast as I could, while he screamed above me. I grabbed up Shaye and then ran back up to comfort Marik. I was well winded after this and was glad I had reacted quickly. As fast as those escalators were, any delay would have made the feat impossible. Sometimes someone has helped me get both children onto these fast escalators but in this case our immediate area was deserted.

At the top of the escalator we approached the next train. There is usually a small gap between the platform and the subway, again just wide enough to make it difficult for the children to jump alone. I deal with this by holding them each by the hand on either side of me and holding my cane with only a spare finger, so that I can correctly judge the gap and tell the kids when to jump and make sure they don’t fall. Just as we were approaching the gap this time, I felt someone seize me from behind, by the same arm that I held both a child’s hand and my cane.

I glanced back just enough to catch the impression of a middle-aged woman. Then, she wrenched my arm upward as if to haul me bodily into the subway. At this violent movement both children lost their grip on my hands. Marik sprawled on the ground inches from the gap and the wheels of the train. Shaye staggered back a step. “Leave off!” I cried and shook myself free of the woman’s grip, grabbed Shaye’s hand and Marik by the seat of his pants, before he could be trampled by the crowd surging toward the open doors of the subway and barreled my way inside. To the woman’s credit, she did later alert me to our stop, when the subway’s speaker system failed, and I couldn’t tell where the stops were. She was well intentioned, though I still have a hard time understanding what would possess someone to ignore “help” the blind adult and ignore the presence of toddlers trying to get across a gap.

We reached the final subway stop and headed for yet another escalator, where an older man did actually ask if he could help one of the children on and, after receiving permission, he did so quite competently. We emerged from the subway maze into the open air again, feeling disoriented. I wished I had printed out an actual map rather than relying on memory, but a mother with two young boys cheerfully helped me figure out which direction to start in, which is always the greatest chore. Still, we had to wander around for a few blocks, as the streets did not seem to match my recollection of the online map. Finally, Shaye shouted that she could see a dinosaur, which turned out to be a giant plastic dinosaur head helpfully mounted on the front of the park. I can’t wait until she can read street signs.

After our two-hour train trek, the children were exhausted and a chill, late winter wind was blowing across the park. They only lasted about a half an hour at the dinopark. We then sought out the warm kitchen of a Facebook friend in the area. I will say that for “social media”.

A few days, later I was on the subway again, this time alone and I saw a man, clearly totally blind, being hauled along rudely by another middle-aged woman. I had been aware of his presence walking near me in the crowd for some time from the tell-tale rhythmic scrape of his cane and then I could make out the scene clearly as the crowd thinned while getting on the subway. I felt my blood begin to boil and I turned to the man, hoping to do something helpful. “Do you want an …?” My language skills failed me and I could not remember the word for “elbow”. The man, misunderstanding my intention, pulled furiously away. “Just leave me alone!” he cried. “I’m a mobility instructor for Christ’s sake!”

The woman on his other side managed to keep a hold of him, despite his protests. I was so frustrated that I spoke before I could stop myself, “Don’t grab people like that, woman!” She instantly turned him loose and he struggled toward the door on his own, stonily avoiding me. The woman who had grabbed him ended up standing next to me in the subway, so I explained it to her, including the dangerous incident with my children, and how you actually do guide a blind person, if you ever have to. She thanked me graciously and truly appeared interested in understanding.

But I was left feeling ashamed and utterly confused. I was ashamed because I had caused even more of a scene for the poor man, who clearly has to deal with this sort of thing every time he goes out, just as I do, and who was trying to just ignore the woman gripping him and get it over with. As I sat in a tram later that day, I watched as three people raced toward the tram from the back, hoping to catch the tram before it left. They were all close together, not a group but running in a line, briefcases flailing. Two of them hopped aboard and the third had his hand on the door, when it slammed shut. On the trams the doors are controlled manually by the drivers, who are required to watch for passengers near the doors in their mirrors. This was clearly on purpose. I craned to get a better look at the man and as the tram pulled away, I caught a glimpse of his face, not enough to tell his expression but enough to see the slightly tanned color of it… tanned in the late winter when no one should have a tan. I knew that was what I would see but it still made my insides curdle.

I had to blink back tears. I could see clearly in my mind an incident that had happened more than ten years before. I was on a tram, just like this one, when I was still new to this country and I couldn’t speak Czech well. I saw two dark-skinned, probably Romani, children get on the tram with colorful school satchels, clean jackets and smiling faces. A drunk man with straggly gray hair had grabbed both of them by the collar and the driver had held the door for him, while he threw them out onto the platform. Then, the driver had slammed the doors and sped away.

At the time, I had been so upset I could not speak for a moment. The drunk then careened up and down the aisle, cursing the Roma, while the other passengers sat in their seats, ignoring the entire incident. I finally gained the strength to stand and told him to get off the tram. I stumbled over my words, as I couldn’t speak the language well yet, so I garbled my threat to call the police on him on my cell phone and when I went to do it, I realized that I didn’t know how to call the police in this country and I knew with certainty that they would simply laugh at me. The drunk new it too. He laughed at me, spitting his fetid saliva all over me, while the other passengers continued to ignore everything. It was bad enough at the time but the memory now is doubly painful. The idea that something like that might happen to my children with their beautiful, slightly tanned faces is paralyzing.

Now, a few days later, Shaye has come to me and told me that it was not merely her bruised finger that made her terrified of being “black.” She says that her friend, a little girl named Kaja, at preschool told her she is “black and ugly.” After she told me, Shaye was so depressed that she could only sit on my lap and cry most of the evening and continued to be clingy and sad in the morning. I have tried everything I can think of in terms of comforting words, explaining, supporting, exploring her emotions, reassuring… None of my words appear to make any difference to Shaye. And why should they? Whether she consciously knows it or not, some part of Shaye senses what kind of society we live in.

And yet, I know this one thing. I know that it is possible to stand against the storm. If you have a strong family and even a very few friends. The social world may be a horrid, ugly place. But there is comfort and joy and hope around a family table and by a warm hearth. There is goodness in a garden and shared games. Why should it matter so much? I know it did matter to me, when I was a child. It mattered a great deal and it hurt a great deal. I wish it did not have to hurt my children as well. I wish I could somehow armor them against it, make them understand from an early age how fickle and ignorant people can be. Even in situations much less extreme than our own, you really can only depend on yourself and that small circle of trust that you have built with those you love.

(I apologize for the rough and unedited nature of the last few blogs. All this is quite exhausting qnd it is all I can do to get it down int he first place. Read at your own risk.)

On the Bright Side

It is the eve of Ostara or the day before the Spring Equinox and 5 or 6 inches of heavy wet snow fell over night. I have just returned from slogging the two miles through that snow to bring the children to one of their preschool days. I pulled them on a sled partway, straining against the rope to pull them up the steep hills of our little town and dealing with their bickering and screaming, which was the inevitable result of Marik being made to sit on Shaye’s lap on the sled. The rope cut into my hands so much that I eventually discovered another use for a telescopic white cane. I folded it and slipped it through the rop as a handle and walked backwards up the hills. Once we got to an area where there was enough civilization that the snow was not so deep and at least slightly plowed, I let the kids walk and ditched the sled in the little used far corner of a stranger’s yard, betting on the chance that it would still be there on my return trip. Then, all we had to deal with was a hundred steps up a concrete staircase covered in snow, inconsiderate and speedy traffic and whiny tired children. 

I returned home exhausted and realized that before I went inside I needed to shovel about a 80 yards of path, so that my English students, who are not accustomed to these kinds of conditions and who afterall do pay our bills, would not complain. By the time I was done, my arms throbbed from the dual strain of pulling the sled and shoveling, and I still needed to lug overfull compost and ash buckets up to the top of our hill to where the compost pile is.

As I was walking home, I was reflecting on the various reasons why we live here and have not tried to move back to the US. High up among those reasons is our ability to homeschool the children most of the time. Right now they go to preschool two days a week simply because there are no clubs or extracurricular things for such young kids to do and they want to see other kids some of the time. But in general, the light of our lives is our ability to give them a rich and truthful education that includes nature, spirituality, cultural diversity and an open world view. I do not feel they would get those things even in American schools, let alone here, where the school system is frankly a bit backward. 

Oddly enough, we have the luxury of homeschooling because we live here. A solid job like Dusan’s would not be possible in the US with his low level of English and my inability to drive. And the economy we live in, which allows us to live reasonably well on one income, is also harsher in the US. If we lived there, we would almost certainly have to live in a big city, in a small home with little or no garden (so that I could use what little public transit there is there), with little chance to live the reasonably natural livestyle we live, which includes things like compost, wood heat and daily bread making. Both of us would have to work full-time and hand our children over to the world of lackadaisical schools and after school time spent with computer games and TV. 

My last few posts have focused on the downside of living here, the problems we face because Czech society rejects Roma, foreigners, people with disabilities and simply people who don’t fit their mold, all things that pretty much describe our family. So, here is the upside. Being home with the children most of the time, teaching them the fundamentals of life, the world and human relationships in a gentle and beautiful way is a great blessing.

Since we started really homeschooling in January we’ve done units on the five senses, exploring different materials and natural things in a deep sensory way. We’ve studied the human body in a way that includes a mind, body, spirit approach, which one would not find in schools. We’ve dealt with identity issues in a joyful and playful way, allowing Shaye to struggle through some of her questions without feeling that her questioning is anything to shy away from. Now, we are beginning on spring units devoted to environmental problems and ways to help take care of the earth. All of this is done with lots of crafts, songs and stories. On one level I know that what I am doing is unimportant to the wide world out there, must less important than my work as a journalist for a national newspaper once was, and yet somehow I have never felt more useful, fertile and creative.

All this thinking led me to think of some small things from outside, often from far away, that have helped us to do this and to overcome the harsher side of life here. So, I offer this list, incomplete as it surely is and in no particular order, as a blessing of spring.

 

Things That Keep Me Going These Days

 

Sesame Street – which has done as much to ease Shaye’s fears over racial identity as anything and which is one of the few children’s media websites that does not block viewers from outside the US.

Nancy Cassidy and Raffi – who just lend joy and hope to children and I’ve written to them and told them about it and Nancy Cassidy even replied

Czech children’s videos featuring Little Mole and other characters – which are very gentle and support a slower and more nature-based lifestyle

The Svenko Band website – listed in my links section,  which posts wonderful Romani dance videos and provides us with much needed positive exposure to Romani culture

My computer, Skype and email – which keeps us in touch with family and friends

Heirloom Seeds – A small family company that keeps our garden growing with varieties that don’t require chemical fungicides and help us keep healthy food on the table

Chai tea sent by my mother – which along with chocolate is what keeps me physically functional

Moonsand – which always works to occupy the children for a few minutes while Mama goes and gets her self control back or simply cleans up some huge mess

The Library of Congress Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped – which keeps me from going crazy with recorded books

The Number One Ladies Detective Agency – which is what I have been listening to through these last few difficult weeks

 

These are just a few putsexamples of the little things that make a major difference to me right now. I’m sure there are many more that I haven’t thought of at the moment. My thanks to everyone who has put their hands to these things.

 

 

Little roots torn from the soil

Marik came down with a mysterious fever yesterday and cried himself to sleep on the couch. Shaye and I snuggled up with him and read stories, including her book of pictures and comments from when she was little. It didn’t take long for the tough issues to come up again. It started with a line that most white trans-racial adoptive parents have heard, “Mama, I want to be white.”

I managed to handle it fairly well, asking why rather than reacting with shock and dismay. I mentioned that I have sometimes wanted to have dark skin because I think it is so pretty and I have always wanted to have clean non-freckled skin like Shaye’s. We did a little fantasy about what it would be like if we could change our skin colors. But I also told her that she is incredibly beautiful. And finally, as it didn’t seem like any of this was “working”, I asked again if someone had said it was bad to have dark skin. Her response sent an ice cycle into my gut.

“You did… when I was a baby.”

I did? Well… I never said it was “bad” to have dark skin but when she was a baby, before we thought she was following conversations, we did talk more openly about the hardships of being Romani in this country. And if a baby can’t exactly follow the conversation, what is to stop her from misinterpreting “hard” for “bad”? And why wouldn’t a kid wish for an easier life? Let it be a warning to other parents in our situation. I think I’ll put that up as my first major mistake. Don’t talk about the hard stuff in front of pre-verbal babies.

So, I explained that I don’t think it is bad and I never would have said that it is bad to have dark skin. But I have said that it is very hard to have dark skin in this country. It is hard to be Romani because some people are mixed up in their heads about it and they say mean things about Roma. I wanted to say more, to explain that this isn’t right and that it isn’t fair when Roma can’t get education or jobs, but she started yelling nonsense and acting up. I asked her if that meant that she would like Mama to be quiet and let it be for awhile. She said, “Yes, be quiet.” So, I was.

But in the evening before bed it came up again. She started crying because we read a Winnie the Pooh book about how Tigger decides he wants to get rid of his stripes but then is convinced by all his friends that stripes are good and part of what makes Tigger special. Shaye was sad because she doesn’t have stripes. So, I tried listing the special things she does have.

Me: “You have beautiful long curly hair.”

Shaye: “I don’t have any hair.”

Me: “You have clear blue gray eyes.”

Shaye: “I don’t have any eyes.”

Okay, wrong tact.

Shaye: “What do you have?”

Me: “I have long hair that is a bit gray.”

Shaye: “I want your hair.”

Me: “I have little dots on my arms.”

Shaye: “I want dots.”

Me: “And Marik has big brown eyes.”

Shaye: “I want Marik’s eyes.”

Well, at least she doesn’t know all the stereotypes by heart yet.

Marik’s fever broke in the evening, so they went off to preschool again today. Preschool is the only place where they really get to see other kids regularly. Preschool is also where one of the teachers figured out at least Shaye’s Romani background based on her quick April tan and my admission that she was adopted here in the Czech Republic. Then, that teacher, who has been nothing but kindness and help to us, told the other teachers. I don’t begrudge that but it is a fact. And not all of the other teachers are as understanding. Two of them recently told my niece Ember their racist views in great detail until they drove her to tears. And they found out that Marik is Romani too, which is going to become obvious in another month when the sun reappears in any case.

What do you choose complete isolation from other children or a school where the teachers may view Shaye’s feisty temperament as a genetic ethnically based flaw and where casual comments could have devastating effects?

I know the American answer to that. I’ve read all the major books on trans-racial adoption. They say A. move away and B. find Romani friends. So, here is my explanation of our predicament, for the record.

I am legally blind. I can’t drive and it is very difficult for people with disabilities and particularly those who can’t drive to get a job in the US. Dusan’s English language abilities are very sketchy and due to dislexia he has little hope of improving them by much. If we moved out of the country, we would very likely be living in absolute poverty with Dusan working a minimum wage job and me lucky if I could find a minimum wage job that I could get to. That isn’t to say that poverty isn’t sometimes preferable but we aren’t quite there yet. We have not faced the full force of the racist society yet, because our children are still small. There may come a time when we have to leave but the risks of doing so are significant.

As for finding Romani friends, I am seriously perplexed. So far, I have tried reconnecting with Roma I knew as a journalist. I have tried hiring a Romani babysitter/language teacher. And I have tried getting connected to Romani organizations. I have done everything short of stopping the rare (read around once a year) Romani families I happen to pass on the street and begging them to be friends with us. Part of the problem here is that the Roma are a 3 percent minority here, at most. It is a very odd situation, given that in most places with significant interethnic tension, the minority is large enough to matter economically. Here the Roma are blamed for every difficulty of the country, as if they comprised a third of the population but they are in truth rarely seen.

In any event, I have failed at every turn. Whether this is my fault or something to do with the very protectionist Romani culture, I don’t know. Of the few Roma I knew well when I worked in Romani communities as a journalist most have simply disappeared. I went in person to find the homes of some of my Romani friends on the other side of the country, only to find the homes destroyed and the people gone. My closest Romani friend disappeared into an underworld of drugs and fear about a year ago and I have not heard from him since. One family, who remains stable and successful, has stopped speaking to me over what I assume must have been a cultural gaff on my part and even they live an eight-hour train ride away.

I tried hiring a Romani babysitter. I found one woman who was kind and good to the children and willing to come. I paid her better than a regular babysitter because I wanted her to work on speaking Romani language to the children as actively as possible. She did her best and for three short months we had her for one morning every week. But as time passed her health deteriorated until she rarely came and she had no energy to engage with the children at all when she did come. I finally went looking for another babysitter but I have not been able to find anyone and now Zdena, the woman who used to come, does not answer her phone or Facebook messages anymore. I have very few contacts among Roma in Prague, so mostly I asked around among Romani organizations.

Most of the Romani organizations I have approached were either geographically distant and thus unable to hep with local connections or simply not interested or in a couple of cases openly hostile. One man who came highly recommended by some of the better contacts in other cities, picked up the phone and said, “Oh, yes, I’ve heard about you,” with a sarcastic tone and then refused to say if he would pass on my offer of a babysitting job to others. I have not heard or read that Roma are as suspicious of interethnic adoption as some African American groups are, but it seems logical that they might have some of the same concerns. Perhaps this is the problem.

In any event, I hope that those who cry that trans-racial adoption stamps out the culture of the children might think a moment on this. I know for a fact that there are many adoptive families who either purposefully or through lack of awareness rob their trans-racially adopted children of their identity and culture. But how hard do birth communities make it for those of us who want the connection! Given that the Romani community does not want its children stolen away by children’s homes or adoption, there should be at least passive acceptance of those who try to make their way back, if not active support. I know it is easier said than done. The Romani community here in the Czech Republic has been beaten into the dust so many times that every effort at organizing comes from a massive gathering of strength and courage.

I do have plans, not great plans but little plans made out of match sticks and straw. There are a couple of big Romani music and dance festivals coming up. We will go and do it up well. But festivals will not result in relationships. The only thing I can think of for that is that as the children get older, I will volunteer to do English or art classes at Romani children’s summer camps run by charities or at some of the inner-city after-school clubs run by other organizations. At least then we would come into real contact with Romani kids. Generally the kids attending such programs will be eight or nine at the youngest. Until our children are close to that age, we will be pretty much on our own.

As I held my children on either side of me, one burning with fever and the other wracked by the self doubt brought on by a racist society, I noted how similar the two ailments seem to be. Both are painful reactions to an invasion of something that poses danger. Both children needed to be held and comforted.. And yet the fever passes and the identity struggle is only beginning.

A tale of four cousins

Literally, as I was trying to send the last post a fresh onslaught of tension erupted. We are spending the weekend at the Dusan’s parents farm in South Bohemia. The farm is fairly bleak, a muddy yard. There is an ancient Communist era playground nearby that consists of a few iron sticks in the ground, one merry-go-round and one half-way broken slide. There landscape around is agricultural and the forest is too far to be a convenient walk. There is not much to attract children. One of our main reasons for coming is the hope of seeing Dusan’s brother’s kids, our children’s only cousins this side of the Atlantic Ocean.

For years, this has been a point of tension. Dusan’s brother Martin is not the type to respect our lifestyle or values. He is a wheeling-dealing businessman type. He is a significant citizen of a nearby town, in with the political elites. He spends much of his time at various networking events and has expensive hobbies. His wife Eva enjoys being the wife of a prestigeous man and is very conscious of what is in style and who is in or out of social favor. Needless to say, we’ve never been exactly close. Eva rarely misses an opportunity to comment on my lack of up-to-date wardrobe and lack of make-up or hair dye to cover my “embarrassing” gray hairs.

I have had moments of sympathy with her, such as when she told me the story of how Martin proposed to her and accidently called her by the name of his former girlfriend. As in “Won’t you marry me, Alena… er… I mean, Eva?” But those few moments of female solidarity have been buried in years of tension.

Martin has often felt closer to us. Dusan loves him deeply as his younger brother and they often feel an understanding between them. And yet, I have always felt a strange disconnect under the surface with him. I have generally dismissed my misgivings and tried to take Martin at face value but today that backfired.

Ever since their older daughter Evicka, who is nine, could talk, she has been oddly attracted to me. I have always loved small children and certainly, before we had kids, she was the closest child that I could put my love for children into. I did play games with her and bring her art supplies to play with together. I never gave her candy or bribed her in any classic way, but I was activelhy an aunt. From the time she was about four, Evicka has responded with enthusiastic love and adoration.

Whenever we met at the grandparent’s place she would immediately leave her mother’s side and remain glued to me for the duration of the visit. And this bothered Eva. Whether it had to do with my lack of social acceptability, I don’t know, but she was consternated and jealous. By the time, Evicka’s younger sister Bara and then Shaye came along, Eva had responded by trying to keep her children away from me.

In the beginning, I would always call Eva to try to coordinate visits to the grandparent’s farm, so that we might all end up there at the same time. But it quickly became apparent to both Dusan and me that our efforts had the opposite effect. If we let them know when we were coming, they would initially promise to come and then end up with “other plans.” It was soon only major holidays that grandma coordinated and times when we came unexpectedly that ever allowed us to see our neices.

Both Shaye and Evicka have been very disappointed as a result. Bara has not had much of a relationship with us because she was so young that it was easier for her mother to keep her away from us, even during visits, and Marik has scarcely seen them four times in his life and has little sense of who they are.

But now Evicka is nine. She was given an emergency cell phone last year and at first her parents refused to give her or me the number to it, but eventually she discovered the number and gave it to me, asking me to tell her when we were planning to come, so that she could get her parents to let her visit.

Trying to be make the best of a difficult situation, I did let her know with a text message a day before we were to come this week, after she had messaged me several times during the week. As a result she had a big argument with her parents because she wanted to come to the farm this weekend to see us and they claimed that there were other plans. The grandmother told us that Evicka and Bara are here almost every weekend otherwise.

As it turned out, this evening Martin showed up alone to talk to his parents and brother, without the children. In the past, it seemed that he was at least making a small effort to bring the children and so I stopped him on the veranda and asked him if he could try to get the girls to be able to come here to see Shaye and Marik this weekend. His response shook me to the core.

“We thought we were going to the mountains today but we didn’t go. The girls are at home. They’ve been upset because you sent the message and they want to come here. And they aren’t coming. I don’t know. We might go to the mountains tomorrow or we might stay home but we’re not coming here.”

By the norms of this society of emotional prudes, I should have simply turned away, swallowed the pain and the grief of losing my children’s cousins and my neices to this animocity. But it is not in my nature. I am not Czech. I am emotional, even by American standards, and so I did not take it quietly. I agrued reasonably at first, to which Martin responded by repeating nonsense words whenever I tried to speak. Then, I “lost it” and called him a Czech word that is apparently very impolite. I did know it was impolite, if not it’s exact meaning. And things went down hill from there.

No one has ever mentioned whether or not Shaye and Marik’s Romani background is a factor in this tense relationship. Dusan and I have discussed it but have never been able to tell entirely, and yet in this country where the issue is so extreme, it is difficult to imagine that it plays no role. I have heard Martin’s virilently racist views on the Roma. When we were in the process of adopting children, he once told me in the snowy darkness outside a family party when he was mildly drunk that he had “the political influence” to see that we would not be able to adopt Romani children. “But I won’t do it,” he told me magnanismously, lord to peasant. At the time, I clung to the hope that he would keep his word. When we ran into “Knife Sharpener Lady” and she seemingly out-of-nowhere tried to block us from adopting a second Romani child, I did wonder. I always wondered but out of loyalty to my husbands love for his brother I never let it go beyond a vague anxiety. Now, I wonder again. How much is this about Eva’s jealousy of my relationship with her daughter and how much is this about race relations?

I am left shaking and tearful. As usual, when adults can’t get along, all the children suffer for it. Shaye pleads again and again to see her cousins. Evicka fights futily with her parents. Evicka has been diagnosed with significant learning disabilities and ADHD. She struggles in school and her family is not particularly supportive. She is often sarcastically called, “Our little Einstein.” I tried to tell her before that this hurtful name can be turned back on itself. Einstein was learning disabled after all. I have tried to tell her that learning disabilities don’t mean one is stupid. But my encouragement seems to be far too little. Her self esteme is very low. I have never known a more caring and considerate child and yet she seems to have no defenses against the hardships life has dealt her.

So, tonight I pray that all of our children may somehow be given the strength they need to live and love well despite the blows they have to endure. And I pray that my own anger and hatred may somehow be magically turned into healing energy. Whether it is called god, goddess, spirit or ancestor, I hope that there is some spiritual power beyond my small abilities, because this is magic that I cannot work alone.

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