Monday, November 29, 2010

From Bad Experience to Blessed Existence

I think I have blogged enough in September about Doah's rape experience that everyone is aware of what happened then. (If not, see Time to Quander.) What has happened since, though, I have mentioned less frequently and in less depth because things rolled out slowly, over time, to the point where they are now.

Initially, we brought Doah back to our home. Because he is severely allergic to our cats and cannot sleep where they are present, we made him a guest room outside -- in a backyard tent. He loved it, especially since he was the one who had talked a store manager into selling it to us at considerable discount a few weeks earlier. San Ignatio is a perfectly safe and always warm little town, so, except on checking on him occasionally throughout the evening and night and hearing his comfortable snoring, we had a temporary solution that worked for everyone.

In San Ignatio, everyone rallied to Doah's defense and support. Fr. E spent time talking to him. The Sisters of Atonement whose convent is located in San Ignatio showered him with love and kindness. (The picture above is of Sr. Delores and Doah at the recent Old Mission Thanksgiving dinner for the entire town of San Ignatio where Doah has helped with cleanup in the past -- as well as for the Old Mission fiesta days in the summer.) Bennie, who works at the Old Mission gift shop had Doah helping him there for a few hours a day to keep him busy while we were looking for a group home for him. Everyone in town seemed to adopt him and take care of him, distracting him from too much dysfunctional reflection on his bad experience.

Then, with the help of the state of California, likely the best state to be in if one has any kind of disability, we found him a wonderful group home in the nearby town where Shane and his family live. In fact, he is about a ten-minute walk from Shane, Lemony, Nathaniel, and Nikolina and a one-minute car hop from them. It seemed ideal. Then, we learned that the owner of the group home was from Russia, and his daughter managed the home. Lizzie visited shortly thereafter. She is about the age of Alex, Evgeny's daughter. So, the four of us and Doah went to lunch. Lizzie and Alex were instant friends, sisters even, lost from us in the excited comparison of the K-12 days in the schools of Moscow. They each knew the locations, behaviors, and customs that the other was talking about. Evgeny, it turned out, has a degree in my field although he is now working in a different field, so we, too, had a great conversation. It is so wonderful having Doah in a place that is just minutes away from us, safe, and where we can speak the language (Russian or English) of the owner. The relationship is entirely different from homes of the post where Doah has lived. Soon, thanks to the intervention and active support of Evgeny, Doah was back to work at Hope in another nearby city, where he had worked as a janitor and order fulfiller (Is there such a word?) when he first went into a group home at the age of 21 and is doing the same now. (In California and perhaps elsewhere, it is very difficult to get the full range of services, including employment, if one is living at home. More important, however, living with other young people has helped Doah feel and be more important and given us the comfort of seeing while we are still alive how Doah will manage when we are not.)

Another added benefit is that Doah can come visit far more often. Every day if he wants to. He can stay overnight if it gets late, but since his home is only 10-15 minutes away, there is rarely a need for that. He comes to Mass with me on Saturday and Sunday. In some ways, he owns this town. Everyone watches out for him, talks to him, treats him kindly, relates to him as another "townie." I mentioned this to the owner of a local gift shop, the former mayor, yesterday, and she replied, "Well, of course, he is a town son. That is just the way this town is." Thank God for places like San Ignatio. Small, humble, kind.

Good from bad. From bad to blessed. Isn't that the way God so often works in our lives? So much gratitude!! How does one express it all??

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

I am taking the day off from blogging to attend morning Mass and then help out all afternoon at Old Mission's community dinner -- open to all, regardless of SES or church affiliation. I will also take some time during the day and evening to drop in to followers' blogs with Thanksgiving greetings.

Wishing you all a happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 21, 2010


Today, after Mass, Doah and I went to lunch. During lunch, Doah caught me up to date on what has gone on while I have been out of town and what plans he would like to make. I realized after the conversation that I really have a 19th language almost under control: Doahan, the language of Doah. Not everyone is proficient in Doahan. Complication matters, Doah is nearly alingual in English, Russian, Spanish, and sign language and therefore Doahan often include parts of other languages as well, making it more complex. So, Doah's communication in general tends to take effort on both sides (listener and speaker). The gist of our conversation today was as follows:

1. He wanted to mind me to do something.
2. His boss was tired while I was gone.
3. He had been being have, or so he considered.
4. He plans to help out at the mission on Turkey Day.
5. He would like to go to see his Uncle Honk on either Ho Ho Day or Count Down Day.
6. Because it has been raining, he needs to find his rainbrella.
7. Because it has been raining, they don't need any cold heat at his group home -- not that they use it very much, anyway.
8. The crazy doctor is too far away now.

And now here is the translation.

1. He wanted to REmind me to do something. (Minding does not come easy to him, so I know that he does not mean the word he chose.)

2. His boss REtired while I was gone.

3. He has been BEHAVING, or so he considered.

4. He plans to help out at the mission on Thanksgiving.

5. He would like to go see his Uncle Rollie (dunno where Honk comes from, but it took and everyone in the family calls Rollie that) on Christmas (Ho Ho = Santa Claus) or New Year's.

6. Because it has been raining, he wants to find his UMbrella.

7. Because it has been raining, they have not needed air conditioning at his group home -- not that they use it much, anyway.

8. The psychologist he sees is far away (now that he has moved = he needs to find a new psychologist.)

How did you do? We are thinking of writing a dictionary with Doah, called Cold Heat and Crazy Doctor. Today's conversation was about par: I understood about 40% before analyzing and questioning and over 90% after doing so. Doah is usually patient about these communication gaps, but sometimes that patience runs thin. We might have to start teaching a course for friends of the family (family members, too, it sometimes seems) in Doahan.

Nonetheless, hamburger's at our local JJ's Burgers is a universal language. So, Doah had a good day, and so did I.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Tale of Two Lords

People in Blogland generally know me as a multi-childrened mother and senior administrator of some kind of international organization. I have been quite vague about where I work because of the connection with the US government and security issues. I will continue to be vague about that out of necessity. However, there was a time a while back when I spent ten years in international educational consulting, traveling from country to country, helping minister of education after minister of education to improve child and adult experiences and learning success in that country's classrooms. In ten years, I worked in 24 countries, where I learned much about learning but not as much as I learned in raising seven exceptional children. (I kept waiting for the typical, average child to appear in my life, imagining how "easy" and "fun" that would be -- although at some level I knew that no child, no matter how "typical" and "average" is truly easy and at the same time, regardless of health, talent, or lack thereof, they are all fun, well, most of the time.) So, I may have learned as much about learning from my seven children as I did from the seventy times seven children in seven times three plus three countries.

At one point, in the mid-1990s, I wrote a book about teaching and learning any subject at any level in any location by any kind of learner that has now been translated into a few different languages and is in use in many of the countries where I consulted and in others where I did not. That book ended in an epilogue, couched in the form of a folktale, that put everything I had learned into one short story. I am departing from my usual type of post to bring this to you a decade later because I think (hope) that you will find it not only interesting but perhaps helpful with your own children.

A Tale of Two Lords

In a far-away land in a far-away time there lived two lords, each with his own fiefdom, His Excellency Dejan and His Excellency Mejan. Now Dejan and Mejan each hoped to wed the king's daughter and ensure security and riches for his own fiefdom. The price of the bride was to make a present to the king of the best honor guard in the whole kingdom, as determined by the most successful completion of an unknown task to be assigned to all contending honor guards.

In preparation, Lord Dejan and Lord Mejan each gathered together ninety-nine of the best soldiers in their fiefdom for training as an honor guard. They determined that members of the honor guard needed three skills: marching, firing, and collecting intelligence. So, each selected thirty-three soldiers with strong legs, thirty-three with strong eyes, and thirty-three with strong ears.

Lord Dejan put his chief administrator in charge of the training for the soldiers in his fiefdom. The chief administrator agreed immediately; he had a number of ability and achievement tests that his staff had been developing that he would be able to use in the service of his lordship.

The chief administrator first tested all the men nominated for the honor guard on ability and found two-thirds of them lacking in marching skills, two-thirds lacking in firing skills, and two-thirds lacking in listening skills. He immediately found three remedial instructors, one for each subject area. Soldiers with strong legs spent most of the next six months in remedial firing and remedial listening classes. They sat for most of the day, and their legs grew weak. Soldiers with strong eyes spent all day in remedial marching and listening classes. They marched to the point of fatigue, and their eyes clouded over. Soldiers with strong ears were sent to remedial marching and remedial firing classes. The noise of the weapons dulled their hearing. After six months great progress had been made. All of the soldiers tested "average" in all skill areas on achievement tests.

The chief administrator knew that "average" would not be good enough for Lord Dejan, so he implemented a motivation program, associated with periodic progress testing. For testing, he used multiple choice test items, based on a componential analysis of each of the three skills, as well as hypothetical tasks. When soldiers assigned to a particular instructor exceeded their previous percentile scores by more than 10%, the instructor received a bonus. Soon, the instructors were familiar enough with the test items that they could begin direct instruction of the soldiers in the specifics of those items and how best to handle the test questions. The instructors initiated an incentive program for the soldiers: the higher the test score, the more privileges a soldier would receive. The scores of the soldiers began to rise dramatically, and the chief administrator was immensely pleased. When the scores reached nearly 100% for all soldiers, the instructors received a big bonus, and they were immensely pleased. The instructors handsomely rewarded the soldiers with lavish benefits for their high scores, and the soldiers were immensely pleased.

Nearly a year had passed, and the time for the competition for the king's daughter neared. Lord Dejan, assured by his chief administrator that objective test results proved that these were the very best soldiers in the entire kingdom, proudly presented his honor guard to the king for the competition. As the king prepared to reveal the unknown task to the honor guard, the soldiers looked at each other nervously, wondering if the task would match any that had been on their tests and what would happen if they failed to be the best honor guard in all the kingdom.

Now, during this same time, Lord Mejan also established a training program for his soldiers. First, he approached a retired, old general, who had been known for his exemplary service and multiple soldiering skills, tested and honed in some very fine battles. He asked this old general to oversee the training program for the new soldiers. The general, at first, declined, "Sire, I am too old. I no longer walk well, let alone march. I no longer see well. I no longer hear well. How can I train your soldiers to be good marchers, good marksmen, and good intelligence collectors?"

Lord Mejan would not listen to the general's demurring. He replied, "You do not have to march or to walk or to see or to hear. I have thirty-three soldiers with the strongest legs in the kingdom; they will carry you. I have thirty-three soldiers with the best eyes in the kingdom; they will see for you. And I have thirty-three soldiers with the best ears in the kingdom; they will listen for you. You have been the best of all my soldiers. You have accomplished remarkable feats. You can share your ways of soldiering with these new soldiers. They, not you, must now do the marching, the firing, and the intelligence collection; they need you to support them in doing this the best way that they can.

And so, the old general agreed to teach the new soldiers. He knew that they would all need to be able to do all three skills well, so he organized them into groups of three. In each group there was a soldier with strong legs, a soldier with strong eyes, and a soldier with strong ears. When the soldier with strong eyes could not march well, the soldier with strong legs guided him into a marching rhythm. When the soldier with strong ears could not fire well, the soldier with strong eyes helped him aim his weapon for better marksmanship. When the soldier with strong legs could not collect data well, the soldier with strong ears showed him how to use his legs to get just close enough and positioned well to hear better.

To help the new soldiers, the old general selected the best marcher, the best marksman, and the best intelligence collector in the fiefdom and gave them roles as counselors. When individual soldiers determined that they needed extra help or simply wanted assistance, they could come to these counselors to practice under their mentorship, to receive individualized instruction, or to have questions answered. The counselors' roles were to serve as mentors and role models, as well as to be foster the growth of skills and confidence in each soldier by observing how each soldier went about soldiering, making him aware of what he still needed to know (and why he needed to know it), showing him the best strategies for improving his soldiering skills, and encouraging him to take risks and to experiment with his own training program.

When all the soldiers had improved their weaker skills, the general tasked them to complete meaningful missions. Often, these missions involved going to far parts of the fiefdom where information on subjects' living conditions could be brought back to Lord Mejan. The soldiers had to march there, use marksmanship skills to forage for food, and listen well to bring back accurate intelligence to his lordship. Sometimes, when they had done this, Lord Mejan would send a detail of soldiers back to those same subjects to bring to them the supplies and assistance they needed. The soldiers felt good about this—they were helping their countrymen, and their countrymen loved them. Their confidence grew, and they became better marchers, marksmen, and intelligence collectors.

The old general sometimes went with them, and they did carry him. Sometimes he stayed behind and allowed them to fend for themselves, debriefing them and making suggestions when they reported back to him. Sometimes he gave them detailed instructions in advance. Other times he simply provided general information and let them determine what they needed to do. What he gave them and asked of them depended upon what he knew they could do and where they still needed support. With time, he removed more and more of the support. With time, they stopped relying upon him and began relying upon themselves and their developing skills.

The old general did not check the soldiers' knowledge through standardized exams; instead, his observations served as informal "tests." He would have examined the soldiers objectively, had Lord Mejan required it, but then he would have used the test results only to supplement his observations. He watched the soldiers complete their missions. He listened to their descriptions. He evaluated their successes. He analyzed their failures. Where he found the soldiers lacking, he provided individual or group instruction or practice, as need dictated.

In a year, when the time for the competitions for the king's daughter neared, he approached Lord Mejan. "Are my soldiers the best in the kingdom?" asked Lord Mejan.

The old general answered his lordship, "Sire, "best" is a relative word. Those with strong legs are still the better marchers, those with strong eyes the better marksmen, and those with strong ears the better intelligence collectors, but all the soldiers possess strategies for accomplishing all these tasks both independently and as one unit. Sire, these soldiers are capable today, and they will not disappoint you. But more important, they have the knowledge and skills to become better tomorrow and even better the day after that. Your soldiers have competed not against peers but against their own potential. They have cooperated in helping each other become better. They have the thinking skills to handle both the known and the unknown and enough self-confidence to take any risk. They are ready for this competition."

Lord Mejan marched with his soldiers to the castle and presented his honor guard to the king. Standing at their head, carried there by the soldiers with the strong legs, was the old general. As the king prepared to reveal the unknown task to the honor guard, the soldiers looked at each other in anticipation, wondering what exciting challenge might lie in store for them today.

Now, which honor guard do you think won the competition?

Note: Also posted on Mahlou Musings. Excerpted from book on teaching, copyright 1997.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Saturdays with Doah

Today being Doah's birthday (#31), it seems the perfect day to blog about him. It will be a simple day, like Doah. Donnie and I plan to take care of home tasks until mid-afternoon. Then we will go pick up the ordered-from-Safeway birthday cake, take Doah on board, and wend our way back to San Ignatio for Doah to spend a few minutes with a pal who takes him fishing and works in the mission gift shop. (He cannot come to Doah's party tonight because he has to work a second job, so he wants to say happy birthday to Doah before Mass.) After Mass, Doah and I will join others from church and elsewhere, about twenty in all, at the local pizza factory to celebrate not only Doah's birthday but also Donnie's, which was November 1, and that of Evgeny, the owner of Doah's new group home, which was two days ago. Prediction? Lots of fun will be had by all!

For some time now, Saturdays have been our day with Doah. Of course, it makes sense, since Saturdays fall on the weekend. Now that Doah is nearby, we do such things as go to the Monterey bay Aquarium together. We are members there, and when we were living in Salts, a bus ride from the aquarium, Doah would frequently hop the bus to visit the aquarium. He liked watching the fish, but he especially liked eating the fish at the aquarium's cafe. His idea of how best to observe fish is not to look at them in the tanks (except for the otter tank which fascinates him) but to go outside and looks out over the ocean where they live. There is a special connection between Doah and nature. One feels this watching him in his natural environment: the outdoors.

We also drag him along on any shopping trip. Unlike me, Doah loves to shop, and he always has great ideas about how to spend my money.

Spending Saturdays with Doah made even more sense during those years that Doah lived in a group home in Santa Clara. Every other Saturday we would make the long trek north to have a few hours with him. I guess that is what is called quality time. It was always his choice, and his choice was always simple. Perhaps the simplicity is why we enjoyed those Saturdays so much. Mainly, we would go somewhere to eat and talk, both being equally important to Doah. Then, generally, we would stop into CVS, and he would pick out something to take to his group home, and I would purchase it for him. He would always pop out his CVS card, of which he is as proud as most young people his age are of their driver's licenses, so that he could get credit for the purchase. (I have never known what CVS does with the "credit" that goes onto those cards, but I figure if I lose my wallet, a good citizen will be able to turn it into a CVS store which should be able to contact me -- or is that delusional thinking?)

And those made up the majority of our Saturdays with Doah. The last Saturday in Santa Clara was spent at Subway. Doah and I finished our lunch early, so while we waited for Donnie we took a walk around the two-storey building in which Subway is located -- and around it again and then again and again. It was a nice walk albeit a tad directionless. At the end, we climbed up onto the second floor and took some pictures. Little did we know at the time that this would be Doah's last Saturday in Santa Clara. It was the following three nights that he was raped at his group home, immediately after which we brought him back to San Ignatio until we were able to find him a new group home, lucking out in finding one in a small city nearby.

That last Saturday was full of hope. The staff at the group home had been planning a fishing trip, and Doah wanted to pick out a fishing pole. So, we went to a camping goods store near Subway where Donnie, an experienced fisherman from many years of both spinner fishing and fly fishing (used to tie his own flies when we lived in Montana), helped Doah pick out an appropriate fishing rod. As we were leaving, Doah's eye settled momentarily upon a tent that was set up in front of the store, then settled there. "I want a tent," he declared.

"What would you do with a tent, Doah?" we asked.

"Sleep in it," he replied.

"Really? Where?"

"In my back yard." He as already beside the tent and starting to crawl into it.

"I want this tent," he declared. "Look. Cheap." He pointed to the sale sign.

He was right. It really was cheap. $45 for a $90 tent. While we considered it, Doah settled inside and declared himself at home in "his" tent.

Entrapped by Doah's enthusiasm, we headed inside to find the tent, although we were certain that the tent would never be used. Inside there were all kinds of tents, mostly rather expensive ones, but none were the model or price that Doah had seen on the front lawn of the store. We asked a salesman for help, and he determined that this particular model was entirely sold out.

"Sorry, Doah, they are all gone," we said, but Doah was not listening. He was not there with us any more. That kid can slip away faster than a greased pig at a pig-handling contest! We looked around and found him in deep discussion at the front of the store with the store manager. Now what? We hurried over to find out what was going on.

Amazingly, Doah had talked the store manager into selling us the tent that was on display -- and into giving us an additional deep discount on it since it had been on display. We paid, in all, $30. "Cheap!" Doah pronounced, and he was right.

We brought the tent home and put it in storage. After all, we did not believe that there would be any need for that tent. Ironically, we needed that tent only a week later when Doah came home to stay with us. While we were baffled as to how to balance Doah's sleeping arrangements and his allergy to our cats, Doah had an answer: "I sleep my tent back yard." And so we pitched Doah's tent in our back yard, and there he slept comfortably and peacefully every night until he moved into his new group home.

This is so like Doah. We make plans that we think will contribute to his continued development and integration into the greater world. We try to excite him with our sophisticated ideas and all that he could be involved with were he to develop some additional skills. Instead, he comes up with something simple, something we never anticipated, and something that turns out to be more meaningful than any of our plans for him. I have no idea how he knew he would be sleeping in a tent in his back yard, but he was convinced of it, and, lo, it happened.

With time as he has grown from infant struggling to live through years of special education to supported adulthood, we have learned to give up our dreams for him in order to live in his reality. It is a simple reality, and it brings him happiness. I have rarely known Doah not to be happy. He wrote a book once (of course, with my help), and it is a happy book (you can find excerpts on Mahlou Musings from time to time). Doah could not write something serious. He views life as a good place; he sees people as good no matter how they treat him; he "needs" only one thing -- to know that God is with him.

When we first moved to San Ignatio, which has been called by a friend of mine "a place drenched in prayer," Doah came to visit. On his first trip, he stood in our front yard, turned around a few times, then suddenly stopped and remained quiet for about as long as he ever can -- a second or two. He looked at me and announced solemnly and with obvious satisfaction, "God here."

The sacred simplicity of Doah is something greater than all the secular sophistication of our plans for him. I wonder who is really learning from whom?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Wall Art

Our grandson, Nathaniel, came to visit recently. He excitedly shared with us his newly found interest in astronomy. He described his visit to a planetarium and told us how sad he felt that poor Pluto had been downgraded from planet status. (We told him that we were sad about that, too, because now we had to relearn the solar system, and old minds don't relearn things as quickly as young minds learn things from scratch.)

So, to help us, Nathaniel sat down and drew us a picture of the solar system. We told him that we thought it was quite a nice picture and very helpful to see the solar system without Pluto in it. About that time, Lemony decided it was time for Nathaniel to go home since it was a school night, and off they went.

Later that evening, as I walked through the living room, I noticed a paper affixed to the living room wall. It was the picture of the solar system. I guess Nathaniel left it to help our old, feeble minds remember the new solar system. He does that at times. Our walls are getting decorated enough that we just may have to resort to measures that we took when Lizzie was little.

We were living in a building that we also used a day care facility that we ran. Our living quarters were in one part of the building, and the day care in another, with long corridors. Those white corridors were really tempting for the day care children and for Lizzie. We were constantly washing crayon drawings off the walls, paranoid that we would end up removing the paint as well and have to pay a fortune to have the place re-painted. Then, we got the idea that rather than working against the children's yearnings to draw on the wall, perhaps we would be better off to go along with those yearnings.

So, off we went to the local newspaper publisher. We asked if there were leftover newsprint rolls that we could have for the center. (When the newspaper is printed -- at least in the days of printing presses -- the paper rolls on which the newspapers were printed would always have some leftover paper. The size was perfect -- 2-3 feet high and a length of whatever was left on the roll, but usually 5-6 feet. It covered a corridor wall quite nicely. We had no more messes on the wall paint, and the children could then draw and color on the wall paper to their hearts' content.

The children loved seeing their art work on display in this way and having the opportunity to draw whatever they liked whenever they had some free time without getting into trouble for drawing on the wall. (Is there a child in existence who has never drawn on a wall?) When the paper was completely used up, it could be replaced with a new roll, and we could cut out the individual children's wall art to be taken home.

That might be just the thing for our walls and Nathaniel. Now, if we can just find a newspaper publisher that still prints on newsprint, using printing presses...

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