Saturday, December 26, 2009

Sharon, Near-Alter Ego

Sharon, the only remaining sibling about whom I have not yet blogged, could have been my carbon copy in many ways. (I deliberately chose the words "could have been" and not "could be" because we ultimately chose very different paths.)

Sharon was child #7, the first girl after a string of boys. It was almost like Ma was starting over again. Sharon looked exactly like me (child #1), and Victoria, child #8, looked much like Katrina (child #2). And then Dad died from a heart attack caused by a hospital error, and there were no more children. (He had wanted 12 although he certainly did not have the financial means to care for the eight he had already.)

Ma had mellowed by the time Sharon and Victoria came along. Nonetheless, they all did experience the same range of abuse that I did: physical, emotional, and sexual. The amount and severity may have been different, but one relative or another ensured that they had experience with all kinds.

Unlike us older girls, the two younger ones had the protection of Rollie. They also had the homes of their older sisters. Just as Victoria came to live with me in Virginia as a teenager, so did Sharon go to live with Katrina in New York. Getting there, however, was no typical or easy task. Sharon, a truly brilliant student, especially in physics, caught the attention of her math teacher, Sam, who mentored her. With time, mentoring and empathy turned into indiscreet love, which brought the wrath of the school board down onto Sam, who was summarily fired. Once Sharon became an embarrassment to Ma, she had an open path away from the burning house. Ma called Katrina, since my hands were full at the time with Victoria, and asked for asylum there, never telling Katrina about the school scandal. Neither did Sharon until Sam one day showed up, proposed, and a marriage was planned.

That marriage took place in Michigan the summer between her senior year, which she finished in New York, and her freshman year at Michigan State University. It was quite a surprise for all of us -- except Ma, of course. All is well that ends well, however. Sharon and Sam have been married for more than twenty years now.

Seventeen years younger than me, Sharon grew up in a very different society. Doors were open to her that were closed to me. She could explore some of the interests we had in common, like physics. I remember my high school physics teacher telling me that it was a shame that I was a girl because I would otherwise make a very good physicist. (One of only 5 girls in a class of 40 students, I had the highest grade: 99% maintained over the entire year. However, my physics teacher was right. In the 1960s, physics was not a girl's field. So, I chose a different field: linguistics, the science of language, which prepared me for my international experiences. I have not regretted the decision.) Sharon, though, was able to pursue her interest in physics. She received a full scholarship to Michigan State where she maintained a 4.0 average in nuclear physics and was heavily recruited by a number of graduate schools. However, she chose to work with her husband in the field of computer science instead of going to graduate school, earning money instead of spending it. It is not a choice I would have been made, but then Sharon is not really my alter-ego. She looks like me, sounds like me, has many of the same skills (and lack of skills), but her choices have always been far more pragmatic than anything I have chosen to do.

More to come...

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


I think it is time for a light post, so I am sharing here some things that my 7-year-old grandson Nathaniel has said/written in the last week and double-posting for those who follow only Blest Atheist. (Above is a picture of him in the local Christmas parade.)


Yesterday, my daughter Lizzie was IM'ing with her nephew early in the morning. I report here word for word the conversation that she shared.

Nathaniel: Are you at work?
Lizzie: Yup. I am at work. :-(
Nathaniel: Awwww. Don't be sad. I can help.
Lizzie: Really? How?
Nathaniel: "Easy peasy. Do you need anything?
Lizzie: Yes! I need coffee!!
Nathaniel: "Error code. You WANT coffee."


Recently Nathaniel has been singing his own self-made-up version of Twelve Days of Christmas. Actually, he stopped counting at 10. Here is Nicholas' version. This works best if you sing it to the rhythm of the original song:

10. Defribillators
9. Mechanical Pencils
8. Ambulances
7. Doctor Pages
6. Payments
5. Gloves
4. Operations
3. Intellivues (for those not in the know this is a heart monitor company)
2. Ambulances

and a Paramedic in a Medical Treeeeee ...

Now that is evidence that Nathaniel spent too much time in NICU with Nikolina.


And finally, about a week ago, Shane took Nathaniel to school because Lemony was ill. Nathaniel was not pleased with how Shane made lunch or the way he handled the drop-off, and he complained about it.

"Well, Nathaniel," Shane reasoned, "maybe now you will appreciate your mother more."

"Dad," Nathaniel responded firmly, "I wish you would get it right so I could appreciate you!"

The Russians say that a son is vsyo v papu (literally, everything in Papa), which means like father, like son or just like Dad. Nathaniel is absolutely vsyo v papu. When Shane told me about the interchange, I replied, "Now you know what it was like raising you!"

Welcome to one member of the Clan of Mahlou! God has blessed us with quite a character!

G'night now!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Keith, Baby Brother and Beloved Uncle

Keith, the sixth child of Ma and Dad, came along a little greater spacing than the first five. I was ten years old when he was born and immediately became the little mother to him. I remember lugging him to my fourth grade class when he was about six months old for show-and-tell. (Yeah, my show-and-tell entries were rarely predictable, and probably my teachers should be given halos.)

All of us protected Keith from the ravages of our abusive parents. He would often toddle into my bedroom at night, wanting to sleep with "Wet." (He could not say Beth.) That continued probably until he was nearly four years old. Perhaps somehow even as a toddler he felt the need for protection.

After I left home, Willie and Rollie watched out for Keith. While Keith did not escape the demeaning theatrics and dangerously heavy hand (and fists/feet) of Ma as much as we all would have liked, he did not experience the extent of sexual abuse from our uncle that Willie and Rollie did for they warned him, hid him, and otherwise did want they could to keep him of of the clutches of our sexually avaricious uncle.

Dad died when Keith was a young teenager, yet it was Keith who stepped in and managed the family's finances when Ma displayed unique incompetence for this sort of work. While Katrina flew home and took a semester off from college to show Ma how to write checks, pay bills, and balance the checking account, the training did not take. After Katrina left, it was Keith who took over the functions that Katrina had tried to teach Ma. The insurance paid off the farm and there was summer income from the crops. Nonetheless, with five children still at home, Ma ended up on welfare rolls. Keith made sure that everything balanced out.

Keith remained at home after graduation from high school. The little girls were still there and still capable of being abused, and Ma had already chased Rollie into the woods and away from home. Someone had to watch out for them. He got a job in the Naval Yard about an hour away, working on submarines.

Over time, Keith became a foreman at the shipyard, and he has been able to travel to various ports, including San Diego, which brings him to California to see us although we are quite a bit north of San Diego. It has also taken him to Scotland and the more banal Connecticut.

Keith, like Katrina, never married, and they often spend holidays together, Katrina driving down from New York to stay with Keith. Ever jovial and easy going, Keith is a beloved uncle (as is Rollie) to my children. And, to me, he is still the little brother I lugged to show-and-tell many years ago!

Pictures? Later!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Fly Away, Flu!

I may not be blogging for a couple of days. The flu, or what seems to be the flu, has moved in with us and has taken over my agenda -- well, almost. I am working from home. Let's see, that would really be: dozing, doing, dozing, doing...zzz... I did manage to drag myself to the mission kitchen yesterday to clean the pots and pans from the town's Thanksgiving dinner. Donnie and I ate in a corner to avoid coming into contact with anyone else although he was not then ill, and no one but I wanted to scrub the pots and pans, so I was pretty much alone. (Fortunately, I was not feeling quite as bad yesterday as I am today.) So, I have decided to take a long sleep break until the flu flies away! See you post-hibernation!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Siblings, Part 3: Willie, the Hermit Toymaker

Willie was the least physically beaten (but perhaps the most emotionally injured) of the 8-pack. He looked like Dad, and that often stopped Ma’s hand, which sometimes created a short-duration sense of jealousy among the rest of the 8-pack but not for long because we needed each other. Like Dad, too, Willie had a brilliant mind that, given his introverted and pacific nature, he was never able to bring to bear in creating success in life. Not only Ma, but we all recognized Dad in Willie, and that become only more pronounced after Dad died and Willie grew up. Perhaps not so unexpectedly then, Willie lived in the burning house longer than any of us. He lived there for 29 years. At one point, we all thought that Willie would simply grow into another Dad, intimidated by Ma but unable to part from her. Fortunately, we were wrong.

Willie eventually escaped the burning house (see poem by Danielle's husband on sidebar and on Danielle's story) by marrying a beautiful woman 10 years his senior, whom he had met when they both acted in a local theater production. He was 29. She respected Willie in ways that he had not experienced before, saw potential in his intellectual brilliance, and drew him into the Anglican Church of Kenya. She was the one who stood by me most solidly when I felt a divine hand leading me to write Blest Atheist. Although ultimately the whole family (other than Ma, who remains ignorant of the book’s existence) agreed that the book could accomplish some good, Erin was the one who firmly insisted that where God leads one follows, regardless of consequence.

I flew back to Maine for Willie's and Erin's wedding, arriving, as planes gone awry would have, just a couple of hours before the wedding. At that time, I learned that I was to be the pianist. Yikes! I had not touched a piano in at least a dozen years, but Willie had all the sheet music lined up for me and I am a good sight reader. I quickly ran through each of the pieces, got his approval, and sort of relaxed. (That was one of the good things that Ma, as much as I might criticize her abusive child-rearing practices, did for us: until the money ran out when the boys came along, she made sure that we three older girls all had years of piano lessons. We might have practiced to the tune of the hickory switch keeping beat with the metronome, but the result was proficiency in piano playing. I won state competitions, and later I took advanced piano as a course at the university. So, it was not unreasonable for Willie to expect me to step up to the keyboard upon request.)

That Willie expected me to be his pianist and trusted me to arrive somehow someway no matter what happened to planes goes back to the relationship I have always had with him as his big sister. Rollie has repeatedly said that I was the ersatz father in the family, teaching the others through example and interaction how to survive both the burning house and life. Between Willie and me, there was great compatibility. Willie was in Jungian terms an NT personality type. As explicated by the late California psychologist, David Keirsey, in his book, Please Understand Me, an NT is a scholar by nature. “Scratch an NT;” says Keirsey, “find a scientist.” Willie and I both fall into the mold. His “science” is geology; he earned a B.S. years ago in that subject. Mine is linguistics, the science of language(s). And then, there is Sharon, the third NT in the family (three NTs out of eight children is extraordinary; the typical distribution is 12% of the population, which would be barely one in eight), whose science is nuclear physics. (Perhaps not surprising, then, 50% of my children, Lizzie and Shane, are NTs, as well.) NTs gravitate toward other NTs not for reasons of emotional support but for reasons of intellectual stimulation, and that was the core of the relationship between Willie and me. My returns to the burning house when Willie was still living there excited him; we would always become embroiled in deep discussion and intimate debate over whatever book Willie was reading or research that he was conducting – Willie was always conducting research.

In high school, Willie was encouraged in biophysical research by his biology teacher, who would buy supplies for him out of his own pocket and help him after school, knowing that our family could never afford such support for Willie’s scientific curiosity. At the age of 16, Willie had surpassed the reference information related to his experiments that he could obtain locally, and so he came to visit me at Penn State University, where I was an undergraduate. We would have great intellectual discussions in the evenings when I could spare time from my homework, but for the most part, Willie was in Pattee Library, devouring book after book and journal article after journal article related to discovering a biophysical base to parapsychological phenomena – and through his own work and the work of others he did find the common base. He also learned that Sir Isaac Newton had done some preliminary research on the topic and made some theoretical conjectures but only Newton's work in conventional physics has been accepted by the scientific community. Seeking to rectify that situation, Willie put together a presentation for a conference of physicists held in Boston that year. His biology teacher managed to finesse his registration for the conference. At the end of Willie’s presentation, one of the physicists who was quite taken with the quality, depth, and direction of Willie’s work commented that Willie looked quite young to have conducted this kind of research and he wondered where he had obtained his degrees. “Who are you?” he asked.

Willie’s response was classic: “I have no degrees. I am just a farm boy from down Maine.” This comment he would repeat years later in a different venue when he became my accomplice in stealing Doah from a hospital where he was dying.

After high school, Willie’s research slowed down. I encouraged him to contact science department chairpersons at major research universities for assistance in application and location of financial aid since the local high school guidance counselors were more tuned into vocational education than college education, very few people from our community ever anticipating attending college; I had ended up at Penn State because they had not known the difference between the University of Pennsylvania and Penn State (no harm done – Penn State turned out to be a good school for me, albeit somewhat unchallenging, and, more important, there is where I met Donnie). Ma, however, having chased off Rollie, encouraged Willie to live at home and help her with the two little girls and Keith, who, while extremely competent at many things, including managing family finances for Ma, was not old enough to drive legally. More than anything, Ma, who had only ever driven a tractor and was afraid to learn to drive a car, wanted a live-in chauffeur and handy man, and Willie was, indeed, “handy.” Willie acquiesced and enrolled in a local small campus of the University of Maine, where the only physics professor promised him A grades if he would just not come to class; Willie’s questions and comments embarrassed him because he did not understand physics at the level that Willie did. Ultimately, fortunately, Willie did finish a degree; he chose geology because it appeared to be a degree he could use at home in Maine, and from time to time he has been able to use it.

As for employment, however, once he married and left the burning house, Willie, who had always been a quiet reader, a budding laboratory scientist removed from social activities, became a true hermit albeit a married one. He spent 24/7 on the farm with Erin. He turned the barn into a workplace where he carved educational wooden toys, importing high quality birch from Russia and distributing his finished products to schools across America.

Willie’s toymaking days covered two decades, but with the recession of a decade ago, Willie had to close his workshop and enter the workforce. A traumatic experience for him, he bounced from one manual labor job to another until he finally ended up with a geology job, working for the county. Then, that, too, with the current recession, disappeared, and Willie became an unemployed hermit.

Yes, Willie did escape the burning house. However, how far Willie escaped is a different story. In terms of life success, he has had many ups and downs and has not fared as well as some of the rest of us. Physically, he moved to a farmhouse the top of one of the foothills of the White Mountains that spreads into Maine from New Hampshire. Our old farmhouse, now sold, is one mile down at the bottom of the hill. I sometimes wonder if that is not a significant part of why, of all of us, that Willie has found it difficult to let go of his grievances and insecurities from the past. As he puts it, he lays down all the old hurts and worries, starts to move on, and along comes Ma, who lives in a near-by New Hampshire village. She scoops up the baggage he has put down and hands it back to him, saying, “Oops, I think you forgot something.”

Willie is generally happy, though, because he is still living with his beautiful wife who still thinks he is a genius and has great potential. I see him whenever travel to Maine, which has occurred more frequently in this decade than in past ones.

Photos of Willie: perhaps at some point in the future. How does one get pictures of a hermit??

Friday, November 13, 2009

Siblings, Part 2: Danielle

Danielle, two years younger than Katrina and three years younger than me, grew up frightened. Unlike me, the pugilistic one, and Katrina, the obedient one, Danielle was the hidden one. When we would have our inevitable sibling squabbles, minor compared to most children (after all, we needed the 8-pack), sometimes Danielle would side with me, sometimes with Katrina. When Ma went on a rampage, however, she was nowhere to be seen. Years later, we learned that she had found the perfect hiding spot. At the end of the huge, long, narrow, walk-in closet in the bedroom of Dad and Ma, there was a wooden cedar chest. Danielle was small, and she could easily squeeze behind it without anyone knowing she was there. Since Ma had plenty of other children around to rampage upon, she rarely noticed that Danielle was not standing in line for her beating. (Years later, Danielle's current husband once -- and only once -- raised his voice to her. It took him two hours to find her after that: she was still trembling in the closet when he discovered her whereabouts. He told me that he has never raised his voice again when he realized the psychological connection Danielle made between a raised voice and the trauma of her childhood.)

When caught by Ma, Danielle had a unique way of managing her fear: fainting. She seemed able to faint upon command. Sense a beating coming? Danielle was already crumpled on the floor -- no need for any human hand to crumple her. One time I suggested that I might tell Ma about Pop's attempted rapes, and just the thought of what Ma would do was too much for Danielle: yes, she fainted.

A future nurse (actually, currently working cheerfully as a charge nurse in a large hospital), Danielle's nursing skills were honed in her elementary school years. She was very protective of her three younger brothers, always watching over them, and in particular, tending to their wounds. When Dad stabbed Rollie, it was not Ma who bandaged his wounds, it was Danielle.

Like me, Danielle found school to be an oasis in an emotional wasteland. At school, she was confirmed as a person of worth. In high school, she was class secretary, and she actively participated in a number of clubs. We never knew how much teachers knew and did not know about the way in which we were beaten at home. However, we wondered if the principal might not have known something was going on, or perhaps he was just very fond of Danielle and knew our family was very poor. For whatever reason, sometime during Danielle's high school years, he asked Ma and Dad to let him and his wife, who taught home economics at the high school (in spite of my incapacity to be homemakerly, she was one of my favorite teachers), adopt Danielle. He promised to put her through college. While we would not have liked to have lost Danielle from the 8-pack, we rejoiced that she might be able to get out from what her future husband referred to as "the burning house." We were all disappointed when Dad and Ma refused to let our kind principal have Danielle.

So Danielle continued to live in the burning house with the rest of us. As soon as she was legally old enough, she married. However, that husband was abusive, too, as sometimes happens in situations like ours. However, Danielle was strong enough to walk away from that marriage -- fortunately, before they had any children. Later, she remarried a wonderful Cherokee Indian named Bill and became a nurse. They raised two children together on the reservation, and Bill would not let Ma come near them although Danielle did return to Maine with the rest of us two years ago to celebrate Ma's 80th birthday. (Forgiveness may have come late, but it came.)

As for Danielle's childhood experience, Bill wrote a very descriptive poem about it. Although the age when he married Danielle was exaggeratedly young in the poem (that's called poetic license) and all of us in the 8-pack, not just Danielle, escaped the burning house (more poetic license), the poem pointedly and poignantly reflects the first 18 years of each of our lives, including Danielle's. I included it in a posting on Mahlou Musings, but assuming that many of the readers are not the same, here it is again:

"The Burning House"
by William Smith
copyright 2009

I dreamed a dream of a burning house
With brothers and sisters and a cold bitter spouse.
The halls were all crooked, the doors were ajar.
I heard all their cries from the road in my car.

I put on the brakes and came to a stop
While an old jackrabbit went hippity hop.
I looked back again, and the house was ablaze.
The people inside just looked in a daze.

The curtains were tattered, the roof was not straight.
The hinges were knocked off the broken front gate.
The paint was all weathered, and the shutters hung loose.
A shadow on the barn door looked like a noose.

A kid outside shouted, "There's a fire there, you see".
But Mama kept screaming, "Come back here to me".
"No, I cannot, ‘cause your house is on fire".
But nobody listened as the flames grew still higher.

Once in a while a child would run out,
But Mama and Papa would just scream and shout.
The kid in the yard would utter a scream
As a child ran back in as if in a dream.

Soon the house burned right to the ground.
The kid in the yard made not a sound.
I opened the door, and she sat on the seat.
She didn't look back because of the heat.

I stepped on the gas, and we sped away.
I opened my mouth, but what can you say?
"They had to go back," was her soft reply.
All of them chose their way to die.

I turned on the light; she was just seventeen.
She was the prettiest girl I'd ever seen.
I'll never forget the night I stopped there,
‘Cause I married that girl with the long, flowing hair.

Photos of Danielle - will be forthcoming when I have some time at home to scan the old paper stuff since we grew up pre-digital!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Siblings, Part 1: Katrina

In addition to Rollie and Victoria, about whom I have blogged earlier, I enjoy a bonded relationship with a total of seven siblings although only two are still in or near our rural Maine town. Katrina used to address her letters to Ma Bernard and her 8 pups, and the postman in our tiny farm community knew where to deliver them. Alternatively, Rollie called us the 8-pack.

I was the oldest. Victoria was the baby, and Rollie was child #5. We differ sp distinctly one from another in our interests and life paths that one would think we came from different families. Yet, even today, we remain an 8-pack. Survival of brutal daily abuse cemented that bond in blood and tears, literally. Just as our lives took different paths, so did the ways in which we escaped what my brother-in-law called "The Burning House." (I posted his poem about the burning house here on Mahlou Musings.)

Katrina, in birth order next oldest to me, reflected, as far as Ma was concerned, all the good characteristics that I lacked. Katrina was obedient; I was rebellious. She was polite; I was saucy. She worked hard for her A grades; I got them by merely breathing -- academics were to me just commonsense: once I had read something, I knew it (and often, by comparison, analysis, or deduction, I knew more than what I had actually studied). Katrina seemed to be born compassionate; it took me years to learn compassion.

Likewise, while I expected to live into adulthood and had quite a sheaf of plans for my life, Katrina had no plans at all, fully expecting to die in childhood at the hands of our parents. When she found herself still alive upon her 18th birthday, having graduated from high school and legally able to move from home, she felt astonished and confused.

When Ohio State University offered her a financial aid package (Dad made only $5K for a household of ten, and Ma did not work), she accepted with relief and gratitude and left the burning house bewildered as to a path to take through life. At OSU, working with the career guidance service, she found her niche: career guidance. So, she took a degree in counseling, wanting to help other students who encountered bewilderment when presented with the array of possible career choices. Then, she stayed on at OSU and earned a master's in counseling.

Continuing to be my polar opposite, unlike me (the gadfly, the gypsy, the world traveler, the job hopper always enticed by a new challenge), Katrina settled down as a counselor at a small college's career guidance center, where she has helped students for 30 years and going strong. Over time, she became director of the center, and at one point served as the president of the state's association of career counselors.

Katrina, like Donnie and I earlier, rescued Rollie, who, after his stint with us in Montana, return to Maine to rescue Sharon and Victoria from cousin Billy's sexual abuse, and subsequent ejection from the farm into the woods by Ma, ended up at Katrina's apartment in Ohio, where she was by then attending graduate school at OSU. She found him a job -- he was 18 by then -- and through his job, he found a wife who bore him three sons. Rollie has remained in Ohio to this day. By the time Katina finished school and left for her current job, we all knew that Rollie had become self-sufficient.

Sharon, though, had fallen into trouble right about then, a story that will be told in a later post. Fleeing Ma's anger, she found a welcome at Katrina's new house at essentially the same time that Victoria moved in with Donnie and me. There Sharon finished high school, married, and received a full scholarship to Michigan State University, where she studied nuclear physics.

So, once again, Katrina's house was empty. She had her students, though. Katrina never married but she always had family around her: Rollie, Victoria, her students -- always her students -- and then, suprise, my daughter, Lizzie.

In recent years, Lizzie accepted a 2-year visiting professorship at a near-by college. Lizzie, like Katrina, loves stability. (Lord knows, she did not have much stability as a child, having attended nine different schools and lived in eight different states and one foreign country.) Aunt and niece clicked like two magnets drawing near each other and spent many weekends and vacations together.

Katrina could retire now if she were to want to, having spent so many years in one institution, but she is still young and still has many students to help. Helping students, I believe, is her way of thanking God for helping her to escape the burning house.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

More on Lizzie: Back in the USSR

When Lizzie was 11 years old, I received a fellowship to conduct research in the Siberia in what was then the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). There were 8-9 American scholars allowed into the USSR that year, and I was the only one with a child. Needless to say, the experience was a challenge for Lizzie, for me, and for Inotdel, the foreign student office at the University of Moscow, even though I had come prepared: I had communicated with Hedrick Smith, author of The Russians, a very insightful book, and at the time the only living American I could find who had spent any time at all in Siberia (he had gone there for a couple of weeks as a journalist), and I had tracked down the child of an American diplomat and the child of an American journalist, the only other children at the time to have attended Soviet schools. (After us, many more scholars went to Siberia, and a few more American students went to Russian schools -- but nearly all of that occurred after the fall of the Soviet Union and the reemergence of Russia.

Lizzie started out at a school in Moscow. I will post more details on that later. For now, I will say that it was a mixed positive-negative experience for Lizzie, who was the only Westerner in the school. Most of the children were puzzled: This was someone who lived in the land of Enemy #1, but she did not seem like a big enemy. Most of the teachers were supportive and even approving as Lizzie's language skills improved, allowing her to prove that she had done her homework and that she was a serious student. Being a serious student was a very good thing in the Soviet Union. There were a few teachers, however, who disagreed with the school director's decision to allow Lizzie to attend their school, and they showed their dissatisfaction by constantly scapegoating Lizzie. Every time she made a mistake, on would say to the other students, "Nu, chto vy ozhidaete ot amerikanochki?" (Well, what do you expect from a little American girl?) Lizzie once told me that she hated the label amerikanochka (little American girl) and if she were to hear it one more time she would either cry or scream.

In addition, most of the parents cautioned their children against playing with Lizzie, fearing government retribution, although, happily, there was a group of four children and parents willing to brave government frowning on fraternization with an American child. These children invited Lizzie to their homes and visited her in our University of Moscow dorm suite. However, given Cold War protocol, once Lizzie returned to the USA, she could only communicate with her friends by writing a letter to the whole class through the class leader (similar to a US homeroom teacher).

Given these difficult moments, years later, when someone offered me a button that read "veteranka kholodnoj vojny" (veteran of the Cold War), Lizzie snatched it, saying with a smile, "I really am, you know." Of course, she is.

One of Lizzie's biggest disappointments occurred when she was 16. She wanted to return to the Soviet Union for the poslednyj zvonok (literally, "last bell" -- similar to a US graduation) of her class. Unfortunately, at the time there was just no money available for a ticket. However, the satisfaction of fond memories, language proficiency, cultural awareness, and the knowledge that she may have given a human face to the enemy for classmates who grew up to see and perhaps even participate in the great conversion of the Soviet Union as enemy to Russian as cautious ally outweighs any small personal disappointments. She was a Cold War veteran who had fought for peace long before she could understand what war and peace are all about.


For readers' ease, I am double-posting this here and in the main post about Lizzie.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Victory for Victoria, Finally

Like my brother, Rollie, my youngest sibling, Vick, came to stay with Donnie and me and our family. By that time, we had produced all four of our birth children and were living in Arlington, Virginia and working in Washington, D.C.

At the age of 16, Victoria was living alone with Ma, Sharon having married and moved out a few months earlier. All the rest of us had already moved out for various reasons—school, work, marriage. So, Vick was left to face Ma’s rage alone, a very dangerous position to be in. Fortunately, an amazing thing happened that resulted in Vick's rescue: Vick, a good student, started failing English and no one could figure out why she could not get her head wrapped around this subject when she had a great gift for language use. Out of frustration, Ma called me one day to wait about this. Failure, to Ma, was not an option. Imagining how difficult the beatings might get if Vick continued to fail, I offered, to Ma's relief, to take in Victoria, much the way Donnie and I had taken in Rollie in our Montana days.

With three bedrooms for the six of us, quarters were tight, but we found yet another bed for Victoria, who moved in with us and began attending high school with Lizzie, who was 14 at the time. They became the best of friends, and their friends insisted that they were really cousins. They would not believe that they were aunt and niece. Actually, they were more like sisters than anything else and remain so until this day although Vick is a massage therapist in Michigan and Lizzie a professor in South Carolina. They spend hours and hours on the phone each week.

Victoria lived with us until she graduated and left to attend college in Tennessee. In many ways, I became a second mother to her, rather than a sister, and to this day, when she has a seemingly insurmountable problem, I get a phone call, asking for advice.

Unfortunately, during her days on the farm with Ma, Victoria, unlike the rest of us, became co-dependent with Ma. She would accept the abuse as somehow meaning that she was to blame. She is the only one who retained regular contact with Ma. Relationships for Victoria have finally normalized, but only after two divorces, including from one abusive spouse who held a knife to her throat (fortunately, 911 help arrived in time and he was jailed), and the chance to move to Michigan. She lives not far over the state border from Rollie in Ohio. He has been a continuing source of support to her, starting from his return to Maine to protect her from her raping cousin through his constant contact during her days of living with an abusive spouse and continuing on to her current single-mother days.

Vick, like the rest of us albeit taking a more difficult path, survived her childhood abuse and went on to raise two happy sons. Initially inclined toward the child-rearing tendencies that she had known in her youth, she fought past that with the help of family, friends, education, and a deeply abiding faith that Almighty God would stand by her, and became a caring mother who independently raised two self-assured sons, pictured below.

Vick with Alton and Moss

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Jolly Rollie and His Role in Our Lives

As an older teenager, Rollie, one of my younger brothers, got into trouble with the local law officials. He had taken his devil-may-care attitude (the end result of extensive abuse to a happy-go-lucky attitude) from home into the community. He had not done any real harm, but he had mouthed off to the sheriff on several occasions, calling him a “copper” on one occasion. In a big city, he would have been considered a restless, harmless teenager. In the country, he was more noticeable as a troublemaker since most country folk are pretty tame, or at least they were in those days.

Ma was at wit’s end and used an extra dose of the only disciplinary tool she had at her command: beatings. Finally, Rollie decided he had had enough beatings, and he ran away. In the country, though, distances are far, there are no places to find food, and everyone knows you, so ultimately, with the whole town looking for him, he was found in the woods and returned home.

Ma was embarrassed. After all the dedication and hard work she had put into raising her kids, Rollie had “gone wild” on her. Of course, the neighbors understood. Like Elizabeth, Rollie was a “difficult” child. They sympathized. How unlucky she was to have two difficult children, and how they admired all the efforts she had invested in them to get them to “go straight.” Nonetheless, Ma felt she had to “do something” about Rollie.

At the time, Donnie and I had already been married for four years, had a toddler, Lizzie, and were living in Montana. I heard about the situation with Rollie, checked with Donnie, and made an offer to Ma to have Rollie come and live with us. Rollie was 17 at the time, and I thought we might be able to have him work in the day care center we ran because he was very, very good with kids. Then perhaps we could get him enrolled in college to go into social work, medicine, or something else where he could work with children and put his talents and interests to good use.

Ma agreed. Rollie agreed. He came to Montana and worked in the day care center. The children adored him, as we knew they would. We began to explore university options near us, but after being in Montana less than a year, Rollie suddenly told us that he missed our two younger sisters, over whom he had always watched since Dad had died when they were toddlers. He said he wanted to go back home to be with them.

Years later we learned the whole story. Cousin Billy had developed a special affection for these two youngest members of our family. They had confided in Rollie about the sexual and emotional abuse they were receiving at the hands of Billy, so Rollie, who had been sodomized on multiple occasions as a child by our uncle and therefore understood the trauma that the little girls were experiencing, went back to protect them. He knew that Ma would just turn her back on the situation if she were even to find out about it. He was right; years later when she learned about Uncle Charlie raping her sons, she told them to “grow up and get over it,” saying that she intended to maintain a good relationship with Uncle Charlie because he helped her with many things and she wanted a pleasant retirement. (That confirmed the rightness of my decision years earlier not to tell her about the sexual abuse that my grandfather distributed to all the girls in the family until he died.)

Rollie lasted long enough for the older of my two youngest sisters to leave home and live with my sister, Katrina, next in line to me in age, in New York, and for Ma, wringing her hands over Victoria's failing grades, to send Victoria, the younger, to Washington, DC, where Donnie and I had recently moved, to live with us. Then she turned Rollie out of the house. For 40 days he lived in the woods, stealing food from stores during the day and rummaging blueberries where there were any. Eventually, one of my cousins found him and brought him home to her mother, Aunt Grace. Katrina, learning about the situation, invited him to live with her in Ohio where she was a graduate student at Ohio State University.

Years later, Rollie, who did not go to college but was trained as a house painter in Ohio where he now lives with his three sons, returned the favor we had done for him in Montana by taking in Doah his senior year when we ran into a bureaucratic special-needs nightmare in California at the same time that I was offered a one-year consult at NASA, which I really wanted to take and am glad that I did. Doah excelled in Ohio, especially socially, and when he got his diploma from high school, the auditorium thundered with such applause that Doah was the only student other than the valedictorian who was mentioned by name in the front-page coverage of the graduation. To this day, there is a special bond between Doah and Rollie.

We also have a funny story that happened as a result of that bond. After Doah graduated, Rollie would take him on his house-painting jobs and would let four-foot-seven Doah paint the lower parts of a building where he could reach. One day, the six-year-old in the family whose house was being painted ran into the house to his mother, exclaiming "Mom! The painter brought an elf with him!" The mother in vain tried to disabuse him of this notion until he dragged her outside to see short little Doah, sporting a red beard, weilding a white paintbrush, and wearing a t-shirt that said Electronic Learning Fair (an event he had attended while still in California in Silicon Valley) on the front and abbreviated on the back in black letters on white as E.L.F.!!

Pictures of Rollie? Hm...have to work on those...check in at a later date

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Remembering Evanescent Vanessa

About ten years ago, I received an IM on AOL from an unknown person, wanting to know the name of the newspaper published in Salts where we were living at the time. After messaging back and forth for a few minutes, I learned that she was the mother of three young children whose husband had abandoned her in her ninth month of pregnancy with her last child, saying that he did not want to have anything to do with her because she was "too lazy to work." She had moved back in with her mother in northern California, borne the child, and then admirably went into training to be a prison guard. Talk about gumption! Now she had been offered a job at Soledad State Prison near us. She planned to leave the children with her mother until she could find an apartment large enough for them all and in the interim stay at a cheap hotel, which is why she needed to find out the name of the newspaper: to check out the classifieds. (No internet-based newspapers back then.) As we messaged, an idea entered my head, and I asked her to get off the computer and call me on the phone.

Only a couple of weeks earlier, Shane and Lemony who had lived with us when they were first married, had moved out. We had given them the master bedroom suite, which had a separate bath and separate entrance. It would be ideal for Vanessa. We still needed to clean it up, re-paint it, and that sort of thing, but, as it turned out, the job did not start for a couple of weeks. Living with us would allow her to build up funds for a deposit and related costs for the apartment she would end up with. We charged her a nominal rent to cover our increased costs for having her there, and, because I am such a poor painter, Vanessa arrived to a mess, finishing up the job really well, and we gave her the first month's rent free in exchange for that labor.

Actually, I am totally incompetent at anything related to housekeeping, which is why having seven children was great -- they, too, hated my housekeeping and cooking and pitched in without being asked, even and especially as teenagers, to clean up the house and make the meals so that they did not have to deal with the results of my incompetent attempts at these things. Vanessa quickly discovered what all my children knew, and soon she was offering to make dinner, rather than eat what I prepared. That worked out well, too.

It took a while for Vanessa to reach the point that she had enough money for an apartment. In the interim, she really missed her children. We had a lot of empty rooms since all the children, being approximately the same age, left at once, leaving us suddenly empty nesters. So, Vanessa brought the children down. I remember the youngest being so excited at meeting Donnie, who is a portly person with a white beard and mustache. She climbed up on his lap, patted his stomach, and said, "I want a Barbie!" The next day I caught her skipping around the room, singing "I live with Santy Clause, I live with Santy Clause." (So much for Donnie's self-esteem! Actually, he thought it was funny!)

Day care would have been expensive but at precisely that time, I had an extended consulting contract with a company that preferred that I work at home. One child during the day and three after school was very little work. (I know, I is all relative, but after seven, three is easy.) So, I babysat them for her until Vanessa could find a place.

With the meals and babysitting, we soon got to know Vanessa well, and she was like another one of our children. She would share with us her concerns at work, the abuse she had suffered at the hands of her father (Sheesh! Did anyone grow up in a good home?), and her worries about her children and just plain stuff related to daily living. We missed her when she moved out, especially because she was almost immediately after that trasnferred to a prison farther south. The move was fine; she was now able to stand on her own two feet: emotionally, career-wise, and financially. We were proud of her and happy for her.

Vanessa kept in touch for years, but then, as with Ksenya, given all the concurrent moves by all members of the family, we lost track of her and she of us. That, in a way, is sad, but perhaps it is how life is supposed to be. We are given some of God's children to take care of for important spans of time, and if we do it well then the reward is in knowing that we made a difference. It is not in having anyone feel beholden to us, return favors, or even keep in touch. We simply provided one of the way stations in their lives.

And that is the way it is with the Mahlou clan. God keeps putting people, mainly young ones, in our path. We keep taking them in and caring for them in until they are ready to move on to their next intersection in this world. We love them, but we know that first and foremost they belong to God, not to us. We are simply God's laborers in these cases, and He pays us extravagantly for our services in blessings.

Monday, September 21, 2009

From the Siberian Taiga to the California Coast Flew Wunderkind Shura

I have done a few posts already on Shura, the last arrival into our family (well, the last child arrivee). So, I will point you to those posts and summarize here. (The whole story is so complex that it took me 2/3 of a book to tell it; it is one of the two framework stories for Blest Atheist. I have included a short excerpt from the book on my Mahlou Musings site: "Siberia on Easter Morning".)

I don't know why I was so attracted to Siberia, but I was from the very beginning of my Russian studies in the 1970s. I finally made it to Siberia in 1984-1985, taking Lizzie with me, where I studied the dialects of Russian spoken there. In Siberian dialect, there is an expression, "the mink whistles at me." This expression means that one is attracted to something for some compelling reason, does not know why, and cannot resist. When it came to Siberia, the mink whistled at me.

The winter of 1984-1985 was cold in more ways than just the deep snow across which Lizzie, I, and our Siberian friends cross-country skied, one of the few leisure activities available in the wooded steppe when all was frozen over. The Cold War between the US and USSR was still in its below-zero stages, so it was somewhat of a surprise that the mink's whistle was strong enough to force the hand of the Foreign Student Office at the University of Moscow to allow Lizzie and me to go to Siberia, against its desires. No one had gone there to do research since the Cold War started. (My trip there with Lizzie opened the door to other scholars.) One of the most instrumental people in getting the university to change its mind was Dr. Alexandr Ilich Fedorov, the head of the Institute of Philology at the Siberian Branch of the USSR Academy of Sciences in Akademgorodok, where I did my research. Alexandr Ilich called the University of Moscow, after learning of my interest from my advisor there, and said that he had prepared everything for me to come to Siberia. Reluctantly, the university let us go.

So there were Lizzie and I, two lone Americans, conducting research, learning to ski, and interacting with the locals in a variety of ways. What most people in that era knew first-hand of Americans came from us, and we were aware of the importance of that.

Aleksandr Ilich, whose dictionaries were key to my research (oni mne kak zoloto, I told him, meaning that they are like gold to me -- this pleased him mightily), became my consultant, friend, guide, and Siberian father. Years later, he was quite pleased when he learned that I had befriended a Siberian boy, Shura, who was dying at the time. But, I get ahead of myself with the story.

Many years passed between my research days in Siberia and my contact with Shura. One day in 1993, when I was conducting training in Krasnoyarsk, I learned in talking to the head of a delegation of teachers from Akademgorodok (Novosibirsk) that Aleksandr Ilich had been her graduate advisor at the university. When I asked her to take him an answer to his last letter and news about Noelle's recent surgery related to her spina bifida, I discovered that her godson, a talented child artist, was dying from spina bifida. We hatched a plan to save him.

A year later, with the help of Noelle's neurosurgeon, I had pried a visa for Shura out of the US Embassy in Moscow, and he was living with me. With no money for his medical care, I had miraculously (seriously) found a billionaire who gave the University of Virginia Hospital (he insisted on UVA Hospital) a half-million dollars for Shura's care and then doubled it when the cost of care ran over. There were so many miracles associated with Shura's surgeries and health that I have chronicled them in multiple posts (click on "posts about Shura" below).

Shura stayed in the USA for 15 years. Initially, he lived with me, but when the trips from California to Virginia for follow-up care became burdensome, the nurse who headed the spina bifida clinic at UVA Hospital offered to take him into her home, and there he stayed until he took some college courses, began an art career (supported by work as a chef), married, and then divorced. He returned to Russia this past January to be with his aging parents. Medical care in Russia, especially the availability of antibiotics, has significantly improved since the days when the doctors were unable to treat him in Siberia. It also helps that his parents and most of his siblings have since moved to Moscow.

posts about Shura

Shura's drawings

House of Scientists (Shura had art exibits here as a child, an extraordinary and unique achievement)

Morskoy Prospekt (Sea Prospect, the main street in Akademgorodok)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

From Russia with Love and (Atti)tude: Ksenya, Our Beloved and Talented Muscovite Armenian Tatar

The telephone call took me completely by surprise. I had been puttering around the house that morning. All the kids were at school, and for some reason I had a day off. Around noon, the phone rang, and at that point my day shifted into high gear.

"Bethie," said the voice on the other end amidst crackles and hums, "How far do you live from the San Francisco Airport?"

"About two hours," I answered my friend, Zina, who lived in Moscow. "Why do you ask?"

"Because Ksenya is on the plane. It lands in two hours. She is going to live with you now."

"Uh, okay, I gotta go. I don't want a teenager who speaks no English wandering around San Francisco by herself. I'll call you as soon as I can get through the telephone trunklines once we return."

And that is how Ksenya ended up as our sixth child. The daughter of an Armenian mother and a Tatar father, now divorced and living separately in Moscow, Ksenya would have had almost no career options in either Moscow or Armenia where discrimination against such mixed ethnic and non-local ethnic individuals at that time (and to some extent still) ran rampant. America, then, looked like a land of opportunity to Zina and to Ksenya herself, and so they made the brave decision for Ksenya to come live with her "Aunt Beth" in the USA and hope for the best to come from that. (Of course, it might have been a little easier on me had "Aunt Beth" known about this decision more than two hours in advance!)

I had known Ksenya since she was four years old. When Lizzie and I lived in Moscow, where I was doing my dissertation research in the winter of 1984-1985, Ksenya was a first grader and Lizzie, four years older but already in the 7th grade, babysat her on many evenings when Zina and I had things we wanted or had to do. Zina, like me, was a graduate student at the time, and we both took classes at the University of Moscow. The fact that Zina felt that she could just put her child on a plane and expect me to scoop her up at the other end and finish raising her testified to the strength of our remarkable Russian-American friendship that had survived the test of the Cold War, including the need to stay under the KGB radar, which we did not always do perfectly, there being stool pigeons among the graduate students. So, our friendship had withstood some difficult political moments. That, I suppose, is what made Zina confident that I would simply take Ksenya into our family without discussion, which I did.

Ksenya was a remarkable child. Very talented. Once we got past the evenings when she would curl up on the couch, lay her head on my lap, and tell me in Russian how much she missed Moscow, Ksenya took charge of her own dreams. She wanted to be an actress. I told her that people don't emigrate to the USA and waltz into Hollywood, but that is exactly what she did. She auditioned for the Child Actors' Studio and got a full scholarship. Lizzie checked out the authenticity and quality of the studio. It was taught by many of the American well-known actors and actresses, particularly those from sitcoms and soap operas. She graduated at the top of the class, then stunned and pleased me with the announcement that she no longer wanted to be an actress because she did not want to live the lifestyle that most actors lived. She felt that if she were living and working in that environment, her social life and morals would be influenced by it. Instead, she decided to go back to school, to a music institute, in order to become a singer. (Now, I am not quite sure how or why there is a difference in lifestyle of singers and actors, but at least for her there seems to have been.)

About this time, Ksenya's mother showed up in Salts. Lizzie said that when she received the phone call from Zina, saying that she was at the bus station in Salts and to please come pick her up, she was certain that she had forgotten Russian because she knew that "Aunt Zina" was really in Moscow. Just in case, she drove to the station, and there was Zina.

Zina lived with us for six months or so. During that time, she attended English language classes at the local adult school, where she met and fell in love with Rob, a Vietnam War veteran. To oversimplify and significantly shorten a very complex story, they married, moved into their own place, and purchased a business, which they ran until Rob experienced a relapse of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and attacked Zina with a carving knife, wanting to "kill the damn commies." The police locked up Rob, the veteran administration determined that he would likely be subject to such relapses indefinitely, and Zina put him on a plane back to his parents in New England. Then, she left for Moscow, to confer with her mother and family there and try to put her life back together.

While Zina was still in the USA, Ksenya graduated from the music institute and started her career with a bang. She landed her own show at an LA Club. Johnny Angel visited one of her shows and reviewed it on the front page of the LA Weekly under the title of "From Russia with 'Tude," concluding that Ksenya was "a star if there ever was one."

Then she met the man, Arlen, who was to become her husband. He was handsome and rich. About the time of their Las Vegas wedding, Ksenya was deciding that her Russian-American sound needed to change to a purely American sound. They moved to Arlen's family's property so that Ksenya could develop a new sound and cut demo records.

And that is where we lost Ksenya. Although she had not given us her coordinates after the wedding, not knowing them at the time, with much still being up in the air, she could have contacted us once she learned them. After all, she knew where we were, right? Wrong! During this same period of time, every single member of our family moved: Donnie and I moved for a short period of time to a river in the woods, Lizzie moved from San Diego to Illinois for graduate school, and with her went Blaine. That brought Noelle back from San Diego to Salts, and Doah spent a year with his uncle in Ohio. This was also the time that Zina returned to Moscow, and, unfortunately, in our move I lost my address book with Zina's Moscow phone number.

During this period, Ksenya disappeared from our lives. We had no idea where she was, and she had no idea where we were. No previous addresses or phone numbers for any of us would have worked. As for Zina, she returned to the USA and tracked down our phone in our woods two months after we had moved to Jordan, leaving our phones and furniture until I could return in the spring to disconnect everything and put the furniture in storage. I heard Zina's message that she was living with Ksenya and Arlen and would like me to call her, but she did not leave a phone number. She probably assumed that we had Ksenya's, but we did not.

And that is, unfortunately, the end of the story of Ksenya as the sixth Mahlou child. I have taken a few days to put this post together because I have not really known how to tell Ksenya's story since I have been privileged to know only a small part of it. It has been five years now, and we have had no insights into how to find her. We do not know if she is trying to find us. We do know that she is with her real mother and with her husband is likely starting a family of her own since she has not showed up on the Hollywood scene after leaving LA. While it would be wonderful to know for sure what is happening in her life, perhaps it was only ever meant that we should be there to help her when she needed an American family. For whatever we could do for her, we were blessed to be a critical part of her life at a critical stage of her development, and we thank God for that. We know that He is watching over her because he brought her safely to me at the San Francisco Airport and because He always watches over the Mahlou clan -- and whether or not we know where she is, whether or not we ever see her again, Ksenya will always be a member of the Mahlou clan.

[pics later]

PS. If God ever grants us the possibility to tell "more later," I will be certain to add it here!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Direct from the Barrio: Blaine

Many children bring home stray cats and dogs. Mine did not do that although we did have a pet cat, Fluffy, who died from feline leukemia when the kids were very young, and a stray cat that adopted us, who also died from feline leukemia when the kids were a little older. No, why would the Mahlou kids do something normal? Instead of a stray cat, they brought home a stray kid. Welcome, Blaine!

Blaine was the oldest of three sons, born to a drug-addicted mother who had her children by three different men. Blaine's parents lived in the barrio of Salts until his father disappeared, leaving his mother to raise Blaine alone (followed, of course, by the other two children, whose parents did not stay around, either). The news on the street was that Blaine's father (we do not even know his name) had returned to Mexico, from where no one ever heard from him again.

Blaine, it turned out, was a gifted student, and he met my children in the public school's GATE program. He had come to the house a few times with Shane, and we were all comfortable with him as Shane's friend. He seemed comfortable with us, too, and fit in nicely with our children. Still, we were not quite prepared for a children-parent meeting that was requested by our children when Blaine was 13. (We had a habit of holding weekly family meetings to make decisions on finances and other things, e.g., if there was not enough money for both electricity and a normal range of food, a typical dilemma in the days of medical bills in the hundreds of thousands of dollars while I was a mere graduate student, we would vote on what to forego for a few days.)

Lizzie led this specially called meeting. All the children were in attendance and fully united in how they planned to vote. Blaine's mother had just put him out on the street. Now that he was a teenager, she expected him to drop out of school and help her in her drug business. He refused, telling her he wanted to finish school and go to college. That was unheard of and not even understood in the barrio, so his mother assumed that he was just being disobedient out of obnoxiousness. She threw him and his things out into the street, telling him he would have to make his own way if he did not appreciate her support. She was serious. Either he sold drugs, or he stayed on the street.

My kids wanted to take Blaine into our family. They parried every argument quite deftly. Blaine is well behaved. True. The finances would be okay because they would all eat less -- they did not have to; God provides -- and Blaine and Shane could share clothes -- they did not have to; God provides. Blaine could sleep in Doah's lower bunk (Shane had the upper bunk) since Doah always insisted on sleeping in a nest, anyway.

(Detour here re Doah's nest. Doah was a very Mommy-attached little boy, and considering the many times he had stopped breathing, we did not discourage him from wanting to sleep with or near us. As an infant, he had to be in our bed. Born prior to the wide-spread use of home apnea monitors, he would not have survived. Once we were able to get a home apnea monitor, a really new device not distributed within the state of Pennsylvania at the time, through the intercession of Boston Children's Hospital, Doah still slept in our room because the monitor so frequently alarmed. As he grew older, he loved to bring a huge pile of blankets and pillows and stuff them under my desk where I was working, nestling at my feet. If I took him back to his bed, pretty soon he would show up again, asking to sleep in his "nest." I always hoped that he would never tell any of his teachers at school that he slept in a nest! They would have had some doubts about us as parents.)

So, Blaine moved in with us. His mother knew and seemed not to care. She once came to the house not stoned about four years after Blaine had moved in. She needed his signature on a document. At that time, she told me that she was happy he was with us because he would have a better life. It was the only time we ever talked. We did not adopt Blaine because his mother would have fought it, and the demand to join the family drug business would have begun all over again. Therefore, she collected welfare payments for Blaine and used them for drugs. Perhaps it was wrong not to report all of this, but the system would have worked out worse circumstances for Blaine. So, right or wrong, Blaine became a pseudo-Mahlou until 13 years later when he married Lizzie. (We did not see that one coming!)

In the interim, Blaine's mother was killed in a drug deal when he was 19. He took care of the funeral, then moved to San Diego where Lizzie and Noelle were attending college. He, too, enrolled in college there, having completed a year locally. (It should have been two years, but his freshman year his mother stole his scholarship check to use for drug money and he had to spend a year working to replace it.) While there, he got one of his brothers, who is moderately mentally challenged, enrolled in a work program in San Diego, and he and Lizzie watched out for both Noelle and John while there. (The third boy had a father who was almost local, and he took him to live with him after Blaine's mother died.)

When Lizzie moved to Illinois to work on her PhD, Blaine was offered a computer job at the university and so moved with her. John moved, too, but somewhat later, to Illinois where Blaine could continue to help him while working and finishing his degree on line. Noelle came back to Salts, where she still lives.

Lizzie has been teaching in New York but has just moved to South Carolina. Blaine stayed at his job in Illinois, but he has now found a position near Lizzie in South Carolina. As for John, he is still in Illinois and has a girl friend there. He knows where to find his big brother, Blaine, who seems to have learned very early the importance of family.

(more later...)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Next Generation: Nathaniel and Nikolina

Nathaniel and Nikolina, Californians by birth, are the children of our son, Shane, and his wife, Lemony. Nathaniel looks like an inverted version of his father as a child. Shane was a blue-eyed blond with wispy hair. Nathaniel, being the product of an Anglo and Latina union, has the same general features but in the darker tones of the Latino community -- dark brown eyes and black hair. (There is also Native American blood on both sides of the family, even in light-complected Shane, and that comes out in the children, too.) Nikolina, to me, is the spitting image of her mother.


Nathaniel was unexpected, much wanted, and anxiously awaited. With defective genes floating throughout the family, there was a strong possibility that he might have spina bifida or some other x-chromosome related defect. He did not. However, the later sonograms showed that he did have hydronephrosis (swollen kidney), which apparently stemmed from a kink in one of the ureters. As a result, he had to wear a bag, into which the urine from that kidney was drained, for the first year of his life, until he was old enough for surgery. Surgery turned out to be five operations, all of them done at the University of California at San Francisco Hospital. Today, Nathaniel is a normal, active second-grader and inveterate butterfly catcher.


Nikolina is our latest miracle baby. I have posted much about her at the Blest Atheist website, and those posts are listed below. Having OEIS Complex, she was born essentially disassembled -- body open from waist down and organs in the wrong place, missing, or split in two. Her intestines were in an external sac (Shane and Lemony knew about the intestines, but nothing more, before the birth; all the rest was a surprise). Blood tests show her spleen to be functioning, but doctors have not yet been able to locate it. She also has spina bifida, like Noelle and Shura. Her latest checkup (September 2009) shows one more surgery needed (besides the ones already planned): hip dysplasia. On a happy note, the doctors are pretty certain that she will be able to walk; she may have a limp or need a small brace, but considering how much was wrong, including her legs having been attached in the wrong place, the ability to walk is indeed a miracle. At her recent hospital visit, the doctor gave her permission to move however she wants, and she immediately sat up! And now she gets to eat food, instead of modified formula. She really likes that!

See posts about Nathaniel and Nikolina.

Photos of Nathaniel and Nikolina, in order:
1. (top) Nathaniel and Nikolina, after Nikolina came home from the hospital
2. (left) Nathaniel and Nikolina, after Nikolina came from from the hospital
3. (right) Nathaniel and Nikolina in the hospital
4. (fourth row left) Nikolina's baby picture taken at the hospital
5. (fourth row right)Nathaniel in Chinatown, San Francisco
6. (fifth row left) Nathaniel laughing
7. (fifth row right) Nikolina laughing
8. (sixth line) coming home from the hospital the first time
9. (seventh line) Nikolina after spinal surgery, showing her typical indomitable spirit
10. (eighth line) our little Stanford gal
11. (9th line) Nikolina at San Francisco Moon Festival in late August
12. (10th line) Nikolina, a bit exposed (the under-clothing view); another Moon Festival picture of Nikolina
13. (11th line) Nathaniel, September 2009

Nathaniel November 2009

pictures of Nikolina from November 2009

December photos

2009 Ends on a Jolly Note

It was so wonderful that Nikolina was not in the hospital for Christmas. So may times either Doah or Noelle was that just having everyone here, not there, was a blessing. (Unfortunately, I had a cold and could not participate in the Christmas festivities at Shane's house -- we still have to be careful around Nikolina -- but nonetheless I had a great Christmas, nearly an entire day alone with God, something that I can usually only dream about.)

Here are a couple pictures from the day that I missed. The pictures alone show how well they are doing, especially Nikolina, our little disassembled baby for whom there was "little hope." Look at her now!



Our little girl has fun.

Nathaniel, March 2010

May 2010

July 2010

November 2010
And they keep growing...
(1) Nikolina at the Monterey Bay Aquarium
(2) Nathaniel and Nikolina at home
(3) Nathaniel as Dr. Who for Halloween
(4) Nikolina at a restaurant

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