Coffessions of a Bad Blogger

It’s time for me to confess. I have been very very bad. Those of you who have subscribed to my blog are the sweetest, most wonderful readers that any writer could wish. And I have sorely neglected you for almost a year.

I do have an excuse. Do you want to hear it? It’s a good excuse, as excuses go.

Last fall I started the school year with an insane schedule, homeschooling kids, teaching 12 hours of classes, preparing classes, helping out one day a week at preschool, working on a video project, canning, bringing in the garden harvest, keeping up the urban homestead and all that. I had no time for anything, I was sure.

My preschool class learning about American Halloween and bobbing for apples, which I should have posted last November.

My preschool class learning about American Halloween and bobbing for apples, which I should have posted last November.

But the longing to write, really write, write something big had been building in me for years.

So, there was that one hour in the week when I had a bit of time, while I watched the kids at preschool during their nap time. I had my laptop with me but no internet connection, so I couldn’t do brainless, relaxing things like catch up with email and Facebook friends. I could have written blog entries like a good blogger… But instead I decided to start a novel.

I thought I would never get anywhere doing it one hour a week but that was all I had. And you start with what you have. This was a novel that had been festering inside of me for twenty years. For most of that time, I thought it was just a weird daydream, not a novel… well, as it turned out three novels. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Anyway, I started writing one hour a week. That lasted about a month and a half. It was grueling. I couldn’t remember what I had done from one week to the next and spent half my time rereading what I had already written. And the topic was pretty challenging.

Then, something shifted. The characters – particularly one of the minor characters who I didn’t even think was supposed to be a major part of the story – reached out of the computer, grabbed me by the front of my shirt and yanked me into the screen and into their world. I landed with a thud and when I looked up and got my bearings I was solidly in the alternative reality of my story.

I could kind of walk around in my real life and go through the motions of eating, sleeping, teaching classes, taking care of children and all that but I was pretty spacey. I was mostly in that other world. And the only way to get out of it was to write myself out. So, I started writing in earnest.

My family was patient, mostly. And my friends.

My family was patient, mostly. And my friends.

How did I find the time in between classes, children, housework and all my other responsibilities? There is this time called “night” when everyone else goes to sleep. I discovered that there is lots more time there than I thought. I also decided to try “unschooling” the bad way and let the kids mostly run wild. I cooked the same old dinners over and over again while thinking about my plot and my husband and children had to eat lots of lentils, borscht and lamb stew all winter long. I always had to pull myself out of my daze to teach and I did, but I eagerly dove back into writing as soon as I was done. I snatched every moment.

And three months later I had a series of three books. I won’t tell you all about them here because that isn’t the end of the story really. That was February. Why didn’t I write to you in February? Well, I was editing. Editing takes several months too. Then, I had to figure out how to publish the books and I discovered that the publishing industry is in turmoil due to the massive changes brought about by ebooks and traditional publishing of unknown authors is almost non-existent. I half-heartedly tried to find an agent but it was clear that it wasn’t going to happen, no matter how good my books are.

Today, self-publishing or indie publishing isn’t the pasty, pale desperate freak of the side show that it used to be, sitting right next to the slovenly oaf of the vanity press. Now self-publishing is mainstream and it is the way that new authors get a leg up, make a modest living and thus have time to write.

So, that’s what I’ve been doing for the past three months. I’ve been learning how to build websites, format ebooks, build “social media platform”, design book covers, negotiate with photographers and models and other such essential and mostly frighteningly technical skills of indie publishing. I don’t think I”ve had to learn so much in such a short time since my early days as a war correspondent in Macedonia.

So, do you forgive me yet?

Many of my readers here have been incredibly generous with your time, telling other people about my blog posts and helping people who like to read emotionally real writing find my blog.

I have gotten a lot of comments about how you miss my blogging on parenting, adoption, inner healing and social inclusion. I will work on that. Essentially, my books are about social inclusion versus exclusion and the potential of healing for outsiders. I use a world of contemporary alternative reality and harrowing adventure to do it. Many readers may simply think it is a distopian thriller with a fantasy twist meant to entertain. And it is that too. My copy editors have all said it grabs you by the back of the soul, trusts you into the story with real people as the characters and doesn’t let you go entirely even when you’re done reading. So, it’s a gripping story and it takes a swing at issues you care about.

Anyway, that’s my excuse. I have been writing about the same things I did before, just in a different way.

Here is where I’m going to publish it in the next few weeks: http://www.ariefarnam.com/new

Here's the "author picture" that Ember and Tomas worked for hours to get, in order to help me look "cool" to lots of readers. Thanks a million, you two.

Here’s the “author picture” that Ember and Tomas worked for hours to get, in order to help me look “cool” to lots of readers. Thanks a million, you two.

I have also started a few blogs on that site for specific topics. There is one about writing and books at: http://www.ariefarnam.com/books

And there is one about practical herb lore, including a delicious recipe for a healthy summer drink that can replace pop and kids will still love it: http://www.ariefarnam.com/herbs

There will be more soon.

I have scaled back many of my other activities and I’m now devoting a lot more time to writing. (The kids aren’t really scalable, so it still isn’t exactly full time.) And I hope I will be writing A LOT more in the future.

There is one major factor in whether or not I’ll have time to write and that is how well I can do in indie publishing and the key to that is getting the word out, far and wide. Here are the ways you can help and thus insure that I don’t neglect you for so long again:

1. Go to my website at http://www.ariefarnam.com and SIGN UP for brief, monthly updates about my books by clicking on the big orange button. Then, tell all your friends, both online and off, to do the same. This is the single most important thing for independent writers. I won’t spam you or your friends. I will treat the email list with extreme care and I have it protected with powerful anti-spam programs. This is the only way to connect with people effectively in a world that is otherwise full of noise and plenty of things you don’t really want to read. This is how you find what you do love to read.

2. “Like” the Facebook page of my books: http://www.facebook.com/kyrennei

Thank you again for being wonderful and supportive readers.

Arie Farnam

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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.

A rough day

When I tell people in the US that my mother-in-law was vehemently against us adopting a Romani child, they tend to assume that she is a horrid, racist witch. She isn’t. Not that she doesn’t have her difficult qualities but, as mother-in-laws go, I think I got pretty lucky. She doesn’t harp on my house cleaning (there is much to be criticized) or my cooking (which is distinctly non-traditional), or at least not within my hearing. She is scrupulously fair with her two sons and an incredibly hard worker.

The thing that I think gets lost in translation is social context. I don’t, by any means, want to be an apologist for racism. Less than a year before we brought Shaye home, my mother-in-law said she would under no circumstances accept a Romani child and I was enraged. We had a huge three-hour fight about it and she and I didn’t talk for around six months, although we did try to work it out through letters. So, I’m not saying it is excusable. But I am saying it is understandable that an all-around good person could have such prejudiced views in this society.

There are constant media and social messages about how bad and dangerous the Roma are and there are especially bad stories about adopted Romani children. A couple of years ago, a well-known Czech author wrote a memoir of her experience raising two adopted Romani boys and one biological son. The entire book was basically an argument to show that she was a saint for trying to “save” these children from their degenerate natures and that it is clearly impossible to raise adopted Romani children. She says in the book that these boys are no longer her sons, although one of them was still half-way living with her at the time and neither is incapable of reading the book to see her disown them.

She says, now famously, that a Caucasian person trying to raise a Romani child is like a cat trying to raise a panther kitten. At first it works reasonably well, but then when the kitten gets big, things completely fall apart. The story has it that the two boys she adopted ran away, joined squatters living in the ghetto, became drug addicts and robbed her at every opportunity. This after she had loved them deeply, done everything for them and only occasionally yelled racist slurs at them when they were driving her nuts as small children. It is not a scenario entirely unknown to adoptive parents of previous generations in the US, before some awareness of the psychological havoc that cultural and racial displacement can cause, if it isn’t handled openly and conscientiously and if parents don’t deal with their own internal prejudices.

And that is just one book. Negative messages are pervasive here and there is almost nothing to put up against them. My mother-in-law was very concerned about the message in this book and claimed to know two families who had also ended up in disaster after adopting Romani children. So, given that she had almost no other information to go on, her reaction wasn’t as cruel or inhuman as it might seem at first glance.

Moreover, after we got Shaye, my mother-in-law significantly calmed down. I admit that the fact that Shaye does not look stereotypically Romani and is fairly light-skinned almost certainly had something to do with the sudden resumption of good relations in the family. But anyone who spends time with Shaye and her cousins can not help but notice that she is darker than them. Especially, when we put all the little girls in the bathtub together. Then, she suddenly looks completely Romani and that hasn’t changed the family dynamics. My mother-in-law even opened a savings account for Shaye and started putting money in it to save for her to put toward education or building a home some day. I haven’t seen any signs of favoritism among the cousins that I can tell.

That said, the last time we were in Stribrec, I had one of the roughest days of my entire life and some part of it was due to my mother-in-law and her issues.

Being in a somewhat unfamiliar place, Shaye woke up bright and early on Saturday morning. I hadn’t even had time to make a cup of tea or brush my hair. I wasn’t pleased. I was already feeling emotionally fragile. I could tell that my period was starting, which meant that definitively our “absolutely final” round of fertility treatments had failed. There was no room to talk my disappointment out with Dušan though. My mother-in-law, Marie, had fallen on wet tiles and broken her leg. The break was infected and she had been on major antibiotics for weeks. She couldn’t get around or do most of her farm chores and it was driving her crazy. Dušan got up and immediately left the two Spartan rooms that we use on our visits to go help with the morning routine on the farm.

I rolled out of bed with Shaye, went into the bathroom to get another sanitary pad, returned, caught Shaye pulling the cold ashes from the night before out of the woodstove, put Shaye on the potty, got half-way into my pants, chased Shaye around to wipe her bottom, emptied the potty, chased down Shaye again to wrestle her into some clothes because the ancient tile floors of the farmhouse quickly chill bare feet to the bone, put my own by-now numb feet the rest of the way into my pants, caught Shaye as she attempted to pour the only infant formula in 15 miles on the floor, put on an undershirt, took my cell phone away from Shaye, lifted now-screaming Shaye down from the bench to the floor so that she wouldn’t be hurt in her tantrum, put on a warm shirt, discovered that I needed a much thicker sanitary pad, caught Shaye as she attempted to pull the cold-but-still-full tea pot off the counter, went to get the thicker sanitary pad, returned and put the clothes back in my backpack that Shaye had managed to completely empty in my absence, put Shaye on the potty again, poured water from Shaye’s thermos into her bottle, caught Shaye before she could dump the peepee out on the carpet, emptied the potty, wiped the little bottom, started to count dippers of infant formula into the bottle, caught Shaye as she attempted to pull the tablecloth off of the table along with the bottle, infant formula and many other items that didn’t get back into my pack, finished counting dippers, caught wildly running Shaye, sat down and fed her the bottle, discovered that I needed something a lot more than a sanitary pad to deal with the gushing blood problem, started to feel sick and dizzy, carried Shaye out to the kitchen to see if anyone could watch her for a few moments, saw Marie and my father-in-law Josef sitting outside the screen door on the veranda drinking a leisurely cup of morning coffee, put Shaye’s coat on to send her out to them, started looking for Shaye’s shoes, looked on all the shoe selves, on all the floors, under all the couches and chairs, in the toy box… and couldn’t find them.

The worst part was that I knew with certainty that the shoes were sitting somewhere in plain sight. It is only that my eyes are so bad that I easily miss stuff like that. Either they blend in with other things or my eyes simply don’t focus on them. I was desperate by this time, feeling sicker and sicker by the minute. An hour had passed since Shaye and I got up and I still hadn’t even had a chance to get a drink of water, let alone a cup of tea, which I wanted badly. I was getting the idea that this wasn’t a regular old period. This was almost certainly an early miscarriage. That, of course, meant not only that I would feel physically miserable but that I had almost made it. This time I had almost been really pregnant.

I called Dušan’s name, hoping he was outside nearby and might know where Shaye’s shoes were. In fact, I could now remember quite clearly that he had brought her in from the car the day before, so he must have taken them off. He didn’t answer. I kept looking but then called for him again, an edge of urgency creeping into my voice. I went out to look on the veranda and on the outside shelves, no doubt appearing disheveled and frazzled. Marie, who normally would have been glad to help me find the shoes, sat at the table with her leg in a cast and her crutches propped beside her. Irritably, she said, “Baby shoes are nothing to get hysterical over.”

That made me feel somewhat hysterical. The shoes may not be a reason but the need to get Shaye outside and off my hands for a few moments, so I could deal with the gushing blood and dizziness issue was. And the frustration of knowing the shoes were right in plain view and that I couldn’t see them also seemed like a good reason to get hysterical.

Dušan was apparently out back doing chores. Josef was sitting comfortably at the veranda table smoking and drinking coffee. He could in theory – at least theory according to most Americans – have helped me, but that would be unthinkable in this family culture. He is the patriarch. He doesn’t even get his own spoon when he is sitting right by the silverware drawer. There is no way he would look for baby shoes, probably not even if he knew I was bleeding profusely. I wasn’t resentful of this. At the time, it didn’t even occur to me until well after the incident that he could have helped.

In fact, I felt deeply sorry for Josef. He didn’t know that his last chance to have a grandson was draining away at that moment. I know it may seem petty of him, but there is more too this than male pride, a lot more, and Josef has always been gentle with me. After my huge fight with Marie about adopting Shaye, he came out to where I was picking cherries and offered to move my ladder for me. He stood around and helped me and watched the sky for a long time. He never said anything but his manner was comforting and reassuring. He had never said or even let on in the slightest to me or my sister-in-law that he was sad that we had not produced a son to carry the family name, but we knew.

His family had been living on the same piece of land for 600 years. I kid you not. There are ancient village chronicles to prove it. Countless disasters had threatened to ruin them or push them off the land, but they had survived – the plague, droughts, fires, famines, the occupation by Nazi forces during World War Two which forced them to give up their food without payment to feed the army, the totalitarian Communist regime that forced almost all family farmers off their land. That last challenge – the Communists – had almost finished them. Josef’s father was imprisoned five times and the Stalinist authorities sent Josef and his brother to work in a Uranium mine without protective clothing. His brother died of leukemia at the age of 21.

This is a long line of quiet fighters. This farm meant much more than just pride and land. It was the memory of all those brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers and grandparents who had fought to preserve the family. And in this generation neither Dušan nor his brother had returned to the farm. Josef and Marie were trying to keep the tradition going alone in their sixties. Their effort is valliant and I knew he hoped, hoped against hope that a grandchild would take up the torch some day, if possible a boy who would also preserve the 600-year-old family name. It was his last hope, the reason he kept on struggling against impossible markets, a grinding workload and increasing health problems to keep the farm going another year and then another.

Marie has little patience for his passion for family tradition. I am a romantic though and I have a lot of respect for his dream. Once Dušan and I even tried to work out a plan for how we could move there and run the farm ourselves, but Marie showed us how we couldn’t make it work financially and talked us out of it. Dušan’s brother and sister-in-law had had two very difficult and high-risk pregnancies and had two lovely girls. They were unwilling to have any more children. There are cousins but all the cousins have had only girls as well. I was the last hope for a grandson. I myself would slightly prefer another girl, but I did hope for Josef’s sake. And for the sake of the child, I now desperately hope our next adopted Romani child will NOT be a boy. There will be enough struggles in the family without adding the stress of the only boy of the family not only being adopted but also being one of the hated and feared Roma.

That was what was going through my head when I glanced at Josef, so having him help me find Shaye’s shoes was far from my mind. After what seemed like an eternity, Dušan returned and within minutes, found the shoes in one of the bedrooms, where I had looked thoroughly, right on the floor, in plain sight for everyone but me. Whew!

Then, Dušan’s brother Martin, sister-in-law Eva and two nieces showed up, much earlier than usual. So much for a bit of peace. I dealt with the gushing blood problem as best I could and came back out to gulp breakfast, while running interference on children. Soon Martin and Dušan had finished the morning chores and the whole family was pleasantly gathered on the veranda. Even I felt better, but I was a bit concerned about Marie’s fragile spirits. I wanted to reassure her that I hadn’t been upset about the shoes, just frustrated with my own eyes.

She and I were sitting together at the far end of the table and neither of us were part of the boisterous conversation, so I leaned close to her and whispered, “Don’t worry. I wasn’t hysterical, I just…”

But before I could finish the sentence she burst out loudly, disrupting the whole table. “Stop! Just stop it! You make a big scene about the stupidest things!”

I should have stopped. I should have salvaged what grace I could and left. I know that quite well, but I am a fighter by nature. Before I could stop myself, I bleated some sort of reply and within seconds the entire family was in an uproar, angrily discussing my propensity to be hysterical and argumentative. With my hormones going berserk and my own inner sadness welling close to the surface, I was in no shape to stand up to it. I was in tears within minutes. Martin and Marie were furious. The children were crying too. Even quiet Josef shouted at me. Dušan left in disgust. I had somehow managed to disrupt the only peaceful part of the whole day.

It took me more than an hour to recover and scrape together the dregs of my emotional stability. I had to tell Dušan that I couldn’t help with the wood cutting and stacking, which would take up most of the day. I felt too dizzy and sick. So, instead Eva, who is quintessentially a city girl, had to put on work clothes and join the men with the wood. For a wonder, she did so without complaint even before I had a chance to quietly explain the reason for my indisposition. I took on childcare.

In between changing my overlarge sanitary pads, I helped Shaye and her cousins to do finger paints, draw pictures and make princess crowns out of colored paper and shiny stickers. They had a wonderful time and, for the first time, Shaye and the younger of the cousins were just barely old enough to participate. I relished the joyous thought that this was only the beginning. Shaye and I would be able to enjoy these girl cousins for many years to come.

Late in the day, something came out of me, a mass of something more solid and pale amid all the blood. I couldn’t be absolutely sure but it seemed like maybe it was what was left of the four-week-old fetus. I had had two previous miscarriages, one in the ninth week in a hospital, an experience I do not wish to remember, and one early on like this one in a friend’s bathroom. In my confusion and grief I had thrown away the small pale mass in the garbage. And that had haunted me. These tiny fetuses – or were they still technically embrios? – may be nameless and completely unviable, but somehow throwing them in the garbage seems barbaric. So this time, I wrapped the small semi-solid thing in paper. I heard Shaye starting to cry for me as she woke up from her nap, so I put the paper package in my pocket, unsure what I would do with it.

The sun had come out and shown bright and clear, like it does on some beautiful early-fall days. While I was in the bathroom and getting Shaye up from her nap, the other girls had got into trouble already, nagging the by-now exhausted adults, who were trying to finish up the wood stacking. I came out and quickly devised a plan to “go find the flower fairies in the meadow” and soon I had all three little girls traipsing after me and singing.

We walked up a small hill behind the farm, where an old cottage stands, and sat on the grass. I pretended to look for fairies under leaves and in the petals of late flowers. The six-year-old cousin, Evička gently caught grasshoppers in her cupped hands and showed them to the smaller girls, who shrieked and giggled when they bounded away. As I felt around below the hedge on the crest of the hill I felt my hand sink into soft earth hiden under the leaves. I dug a little and took out the little bundle of paper in my pocket, placed it in the hole and covered it. I tried to do all of this without the girls noticing but Evička ran up an piped, “What’s that?”

“It’s a message for the flower fairies,” I told her, “a special message, so we had better let it be.” She looked at me with credulous wonder and we went skipping and spinning off across the meadow. It was a message of sorts for the fairies or the spirits of the old Blažek farm. None of us chose this path, not me, not Josef, not Marie, not Dušan and not Shaye or the child to come. It is my plea to the spirits of this place to be kind to my adopted children, to accept them as their own, as part of that unbroken 600-year-old line.

Evička picked up Shaye and whirled around with her, both laughing, hands intertwined, one pale pink and one a healthy tan color. That gives me as much hope as anything. There is a chance Shaye’s cousins will grow up without so many prejudices, at least a chance. This is what I mean, when I say Marie’s racist prejudices don’t make her evil, just misguided and mentally blind. She never really had a chance to escape those prejudices the way she grew up. I learned later that Marie was in constant pain, despite her medications, and that perhaps gave her a shorter fuse that morning. As far as I know, we were all doing the best we could that day.

I was miserable but not as emotionally devastated as I had been by previous miscarriages. I have come to a kind of peace about my infertility. It is not anything like what I have read about in advice books on the subject. I have not come to “accept it” gladly. I doubt I will ever be entirely free of the little whisper of longing that I could have experienced pregnancy and birth and the early weeks of my children’s lives. I will always wish my children didn’t have to go through the pain of separation from their birthparents in order to become my adopted children. And I vehemently disagree that being “child free” is the great alternative it is made out to be by those who don’t want to acknowledge the lifelong grief of truly involuntarily infertile people. But my grief has become peaceful, quiet and no longer all-consuming. Just as I doubt Shaye’s birth mother will ever entirely forget her. I will carry this sadness in some corner of my heart, but I will also live a joyful life and be ever grateful for my children.