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Parent of exchange student

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Dear Hannah,

I was married at your age. You don’t even want to learn to cook dahl. (line from Bendit Like Beckham—just for fun and since you are a film girl and all)

You graduate from college in just three days. I want you to know that I am so proud of you and all that you have accomplished in your almost 22 years. You are an amazing, inspiring, creative, strong, loyal, dedicated and intelligent person. Often now, when we are talking, I am awed by the maturity and wisdom of the words you speak to me. It is hard to believe that you began as that tiny, dark-haired girl with the rosebud ears that came out of me when I had just turned twenty-two. I was still a baby in a sense, and I was continuing to raise myself as I began to raise you. You were the child meant for me at that time in my life—you were the one strong enough to withstand my cutting teeth.

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The two of us–Just after you were born. You can sort of see from this picture that I didn’t know the first thing about babies.

I think you know me well enough now to know that, when faced with transitions, I tend to write. It is no different on this eve of your graduation and imminent move to California. Instead of thinking so much about your accomplishments, which are many indeed, I find myself filled with gratitude for all of the people that helped me along the way in raising you. When you were about four years old, the wise Hilary Clinton made famous the African proverb that states, “It takes a village to raise a child.” At that time, I was practicing law and very reliant on daycare providers, babysitters, and your grandparents to help me raise you. This moment of your graduation will be a mountain top vista for me—a time to look back and embrace the village that helped me raise you.

Because I am not only a lover of the written word but also a devotee of making gratitude lists, what better way to celebrate your graduation from Beloit College and your leap into the world of adulthood than with a gratitude list for all who helped you along the way. I may never get an Academy Award (but maybe you will–do they give Academy Awards to Casting Directors?), but I did manage to raise you and that, my dear, is one of the singular accomplishments of my life. So here goes a list of thank you’s that would send the “exit the stage” music playing long before it was done–here’s to your village:

  1. Your dad, for believing in my ability to be a mom when we found ourselves unexpectedly expecting you during our first year of law school.
  2. My Constitutional Law professor, the late Marcia O’ Kelly, who taught so eloquently about the rights of women but also of the sanctity of family. I didn’t tell anyone I was pregnant that first year of law school because I was embarrassed. I hadn’t ever planned on children—only ever a career. When you were born, in the fall of my second year of law school, Professor O’Kelly gave you a little snake, covered with black and white fabric in geometrical patterns and stuffed with crunchy, sensory-rich filling. It was less about the gift to you, but her acknowledgement that I could be a law student, a career woman, and a mother that was so supportive to me. *You too will find surrogate mothers down the paths you walk in life. Be ever on the look out.*
  3. Law Professor Patti Alleva, who gave me a job as her research assistant after you were born. She was more than flexible and accommodating of my schedule as a law student and new mom. She’s continued on in both of our lives as a friend and support person.
  4. Your Grandma Melinda, who helped out with you during my first semester back at law school.
  5. Your own Grandma Marcia, who retired from teaching early to take care of you during my second-third year of law school and the summer before my second year, so I could write my law review—the summer after, so I could clerk in Fargo, ND.
  6. All of your kind and loving daycare providers through your formative years: Kim, Kari, Cheryl, and Karla.
  7. My dear friends, study partners and fellow UND law graduates, Pat, who baked you beautiful birthday cakes when you were younger and helped us out of many needful childcare dilemmas (like when I had to go to the ER with dehydration from the stomach flu) during our Brainerd years and Shari, who lived across the hall from us in married-student housing when you were born—already a mom and law student—she first taught me how to balance career and motherhood and still being a person; she continues to do so to this day.
  8. Your Aunt Tiffany, who took care of you on short notice so many times when our daycare was closed and was such a loving force in your life.
  9. The warm, caring, nurturing relationship you (and Ethan) have always had with Aunt Tiffany and Uncle Scott’s children, Phoebe, Jake and Nick.
  10. The prayers and guidance of your broader family of Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, and Grand Aunts and Uncles, as well as cousins of all sorts (first, second, first once-removed etc).
  11. Your Godmother and Aunt Sarah for helping out with you at so many junctures (she watched you when I had my wisdom teeth surgically removed when you were just four months old and couldn’t nurse you for a whole day—she struggled with the pre-frozen breast milk and a baby who wanted her mama). She also threw you a confirmation party when I had to be out of town on your confirmation day in 2009.
  12. Your Irish Step Dance teacher, Katie who created such a wonderful dance community, all of whom became sisters that helped to raise you.
  13. Laurie, another dance mom, who sewed you vests and skirts, because I couldn’t sew, and set your Irish Dance curls for you—in your pre-wig days—because I did not have a way with curlers or hair products.
  14. Jean, your youth group leader. You were the one that led us back to church and specifically, to St. John’s Episcopal Church on Kent Street in St. Paul. I think you found your own way to Jean, who nurtured your spirituality. Perhaps Jean was one of your first surrogate mothers.
  15. Your second mom, Cindy, who helped your dad raise you during your visitations with him and who has worked so hard to continue as a supportive friend to you after she and your dad’s engagement ended. Another surrogate mom, to be sure!
  16. Your Grandma Melinda (again) for coming and staying with you guys after your dad and I divorced, to help accommodate my business trips. She was such a huge support to me through the years and I miss her greatly.
  17. Your Grandpa Spencer, who had the foresight, discipline, and generosity to purchase US Savings Bonds from your date of birth until you began college. These funds paid for travels overseas for your Rotary Exchange and your study abroad, paid for housing costs and books while in college, as well as other incidental expenses. What a huge gift he and Melinda gave you.
  18. Your Grandma Marcia (again) and Grandpa Duane, who also both helped out watching you and Ethan while I was away on business trips or wanted to entertain my hobby, concert going.
  19. When you don’t have another parent to discuss your kids with, you really rely on your friends. As a working single parent, I did not have much time for friendships outside of work and so I am ever grateful for all of the many friends I had along the way at work who listened and laughed and worried right along with me as I endlessly shared kid stories, issues, and joys, long before any of them had children of their own. In the order they came into my life, I want to thank: Christy, Kim, the triumvirate power of Louis, Staci, and Alice (oh to the life-saving power of the corporate coffee break), Bonnie (another surrogate mother who gave me the best advice ever and I followed it too!), Trina, and Tessa.
  20. My boss (and your boss, after you started babysitting her kids!) Pam, who was really so gracious and understanding when it came to the challenges I faced raising you and Ethan as a single mom. I couldn’t have asked for a more supportive manager during the near seven years that I balanced being both a single mom and a woman with a demanding–but fulfilling–career.
  21. Suzanne, who started out as my author and became my friend. She also became your friend and was so supportive always of us both. She continues to believe in you and for this, I am grateful. She is another one of my surrogate mothers and, in such a way, has become your surrogate grandmother (a very beautiful, young-looking grandmother).
  22. Chris, your second dad, who came into your life just about a year before you left for Japan. I am so grateful for the loving relationship you guys share. I am grateful that he brought you on all those college visits and got you through the bed bug experience in Pittsburgh. I am grateful for the solid, loving, supportive presence he’s been in your life throughout the past five or so years. As you know, he loves you so very much.
  23. Your two brothers. Siblings are a blessing. From Ethan, you’ve learned how to be in relation with people who are very different from yourself and I’ve watched proudly as I see the two of you closing in on a more mature, adult-sized relationship. And Josh–well, we all know that Josh is sort of like pure light and love. What could be better than a daily dose of Josh. Hopefully he’ll get better at conveying that light and love via Skype.
  24. Your Japanese Tutor, Kate, who did such a great job preparing you for your year in Japan with such a small window to work with (February through July, 2009).
  25. Your three sets of host parents (the moms in particular) for looking after you so well during your year in Japan. Sending a sixteen year old off to a strange country for a year is perhaps one of the more daunting things a parent can do. I still remember my last glimpse of your long brown hair as you went through security at the Minneapolis International Airport around 5:30 am on August 13, 2009 (I didn’t even have to look up that date—that’s how well it is burned into my head)—it was all I could do to let you go. So grateful that you had good host families and I know that your second host mom most especially became another surrogate mom and I am glad you’ve been able to see her twice now since your year in Japan. I hope you can continue to keep in touch with her in the future.
  26. Your Rotary Liaisons, John and Tom, who helped smooth out all of the many issues with your exchange on this end and many a time, helped smooth out your anxious mom who had a difficult time letting go of her baby.
  27. All of the people who prayed for you while in Japan—especially your step Grandmother, Helen, who has now passed on. Once, early on in your time in Japan, she wrote me a message that said, “Just want you to know…a silly little thing I do…do you remember when you were young and wished on a star?…well, each early morning and evening when I am outside with Sadie, I look for the brightest star, and do not ‘wish’, but pray for Hannah to find her place of joy there in Japan.” I like to think that both Grandma Melinda and Grandmother Helen are out there somewhere, looking out for you–still praying for you to find your place of joy.
  28. Ellie Roscher-your senior year English teacher at Cretin Derham Hall. She too had re-entered after a time abroad and I think it was just so helpful for you to know that at least one other soul understood what you were going through when you returned to an American high school after your life-changing year abroad. I thank God that this exceptional teacher was placed in your path the year you attended Cretin Derham (and that someone in the CDH office had recommended that you take Spectrum). She is the teacher everyone hopes their child will have someday.
  29. Three key best friends along the path of your life so far:
    1. Julia—Oh we love Julia so much. We’d adopt her into our family if we could. But I love how she stepped into your life when you transferred to St. Joe’s and I pretty quickly saw what a quality friend she was and I hoped she’d be a friend for life. It appears that is certainly the case. I think you already realize how blessed you are to have Julia in your life.
    2. Hikaru—Dear Hikaru who befriended you in your school in Nagasaki and made your time in Japan better in every way—introducing you to other friends, eating lunch with you and inviting you to social gatherings. I think it is neat that you were able to do your study abroad at a college so close to her college last year. It was fun to watch you guys (via FB on my end) reconnect.
    3. Sydney—Not everyone leaves college with a close friend like Sydney. I think you were friends with her from nearly the first day of freshman orientation—the day Chris, Josh, and I left you crying in the parking lot outside your dorm room. Knowing how she was placed across the hall from you, perhaps you can trust how all things truly do work out for our good, in the end. Sometimes our best of girl friends can also, at times, be surrogate moms to us. This is certainly true of my friend Shari’s role in my life. Embrace Sydney always, as a friend, a kindred spirit, and a mother in your time of need (P.S. I just realized that you have her listed as your mom on Facebook—kind of apropos).
  30. Debbie. I am not sure how you managed to find your career mentor last summer or how she found you, but I am so grateful that you two intersected and she has given you such a great internship experience this year and continues to mentor you in your chosen career field.

Seems to me, you’ve already learned a thing or two about finding surrogate mothers. But always remember, sometimes, as much support as you find around you, you still have to reach deep inside and mother yourself. I ask that in your life ahead, you be kind, compassionate, and forgiving of yourself. Please, treat yourself with as much loving care as you are able—it is more than okay to care for yourself in this world; it is a necessity.

And to all that I forgot on this list, and I am sure there were many, thank you. Thank you so much to all of the diverse members of the village that helped to raise my only daughter, my first born, my beautiful, smart, strong-willed girl with the teeth marks. We did it!

I love you to the moon and back into the atmosphere and deep down into the smallest fiber of my being.

With Love,

Your mom

 

Well, Hannah is launched. Left home Saturday morning. I spent the weekend reading Into Thin Air, which I’ve been meaning to read for perhaps the last decade or so. I think it was my way of avoiding grief. I told myself I wouldn’t grieve her leaving because well, it wasn’t Japan and it was in the same time zone and I could call her on the cell phone, rather than relying on chance Skype conversations in the middle of the night. But this is different. She won’t really be home to “live” again. Only to visit. And so I found myself in tears on the way home from the grocery store. Nothing major. Just realizing she wouldn’t be at home to unpack the groceries, which is something she always liked to do.

Anyway, I just ran across the blog of Hannah’s religion teacher, Ellie Roscher. Ms. Roscher was very inspirational this past year to not only Hannah but her entire class and they chose her as the graduation speaker. Her speech was, hands down, the best speech that I have ever heard. Every member of my family that was present agreed. I see that she has just posted the speech on her blog. Yeah! Read it here.

Ms. Roscher also wrote a book about her time as a missionary in Uruguay,  How Coffee Saved My Life and Other Stories of Stumbling Towards Grace .  She gave a copy of this book to Hannah this past fall. I read it and found it tremendously helpful as I worked to understand the value of Hannah’s time abroad in Japan. I would recommend the book to any student either preparing for or returning from an exchange. Hannah read the book this spring and it really helped her too as she finally began to absorb and process her experience in Japan. Thanks Ms. Roscher for giving your heart to these kids for five years and all the best to you as you move more fully into your writing life.

Well, it’s almost been one year since I started this blog. I originally intended that this blog would only be in existence for one year. I was going to use it as a way to post pictures of Josh (after he was born) for Hannah, so that she could track her new brother’s development while she was in Japan. I had also planned to spend time musing over the strangeness of having two teens and a baby at the same time. Finally, I planned to use the blog to discuss issues inherent in foreign exchanges. As is typical in life, none of this really unfolded as planned. In the end, it just seemed too personal and too raw to comment on the difficulty of having a child abroad for a year. Also, that year is really a process. You cannot effectively comment on a process while it is taking place. As of now, Hannah has been back home for one month. Only now, is she getting the first glimpses of what that year might mean to her, and how it might impact her life.

Hannah and I went to see the movie Babies last night and they followed the first year of four babies from across the world. One of the babies was from Japan. It was an interesting movie and effectively shows how a movie can be made with no words and how one can understand across language barriers. It was beautifully done. Anyway, after the movie, Hannah discussed how it would be to go back to Japan on her own and to travel around someday. This is the first she’s ever talked of returning to Japan. I hope she does; she has an amazing command of the Japanese language already. She will be continuing to learn Japanese this year at Macalester College, where she was admitted for PSEO (post-secondary education that you can do as a high school student in Minnesota and the state pays for it) during her senior year.

Finally, however, this blog did not end up tracking the “normal, average” development of the first year of Josh’s life. Instead, it was almost more about Josh’s health issues. These issues continue to unfold. We did not get the “syndromic” diagnosis that I referred to in a recent post. We were actually very disappointed. This diagnosis would have meant that Josh’s hearing loss was not progressive in nature. It would have also meant that all of his issues were already evident. As is, we are facing further issues, further testing to discover the cause of his hearing loss. It is very possible, at this time, that other physical issues will become evident as time roles on (there are other things that develop at the time the ears develop–in essence, what “instructions” to the body were lost during that time). Genetic testing also continues.

I am not yet certain whether I’ll continue this blog. I may still decide to end it next week and let it rest as it is, a testament to this year. I may, instead, begin a blog that is more devoted to the hearing (and any other health/developmental) issues. I do see how much support there is in the deaf community through blogs. I haven already appreciated that support myself. I also value the wealth of knowledge, experience, and advice available through deaf and HOH blogs. Right now, however, we are in a process of our own. I am not sure I have the strength or energy to blog this all right now. I may decide to take a hiatus from blogging for a time–at least until life begins to feel more normal again; until we find some firm ground to stand upon.

I plan to think about his over the next week. Will let you know what decision I come to soon.

In the month before Hannah came home, Chris and I had some fun making over her room. Some friends of mine wanted to see pictures of the “reveal” so I thought this would be a good place to post those pictures. Because we moved into this home while Hannah was away in Japan, her stuff remained in boxes almost the entire time she was gone. Also, she never had the opportunity to see her room, except for on a quick walk through, before we had conclusively decided to purchase the home, before she left in August. Preparing this room for her was a bit like preparing a nursery when you are pregnant. It was how I passed the last month before she came home. The preparations were a pure act of love for Hannah from me and Chris. The only real guidance from Hannah was that she had wanted a chandelier and she wanted the “french provincial” look. Her best friend Julia also contributed, purchasing the Paris print for Hannah as a welcome home present. The print is not really french provincial, but hey, it’s French (well, really Scandinavian–thanks Ikea!). The room is not completely done yet. In August, the “MAC”–airport commission, is springing for all new windows for our colonial-style house because of our close proximity to the airport. This will hopefully decrease air traffic noise. Once that happens, Hannah will have all white windows in her room, to match the freshly painted white woodwork. Here are the pictures (I wish I had some before pictures to contrast). Enjoy!

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I just had to contrast the photo of mine and Hannah’s last hug this past August with a picture we took yesterday upon arriving home from picking up Hannah at the airport (when we finally had a decent camera). Ah, what a difference ten months makes. And, in the end, it did go fast. And now that she is here, it hardly seems like she was gone. Except when she was sitting on the floor playing with Josh last night, chattering to him in a constant stream of Japanese. She so sounds Japanese. The capacity of the young for absorbing languages. It really is amazing and gives me great hope for Josh and his ability to develop communication skills, even with decreased hearing abilities. Before Hannah left for Japan, we both had to attend three days of Rotary training. In one, a linguistics professor from the University of Minnesota spoke to us. Apparently, everyone’s capacity to learn languages is at its best prior to age 18. It actually gets harder the closer you get to 18 and is at its best from 0-5 (hence, early intervention for hearing loss) but some sort of hard wire system in our brain turns off towards language development after that point. Anyway, Hannah will turn 18 this fall, so I guess she benefited from going to Japan as a junior (rather than doing a gap year after her last year of high school, as so many others do). Her Japanese language skills are truly impressive. Here is the sad and happy photo contrast.

Once again, it’s been a long time since my last post. I’ve been quite busy with grading briefs, hearing oral arguments, and doing final grades over the past few weeks and weekends. Now, however, my class is pretty much wrapped up, other than getting in a few recommendation letters for some of my students. Yeah!

Last week, Josh failed a hearing screen (OAE–for those of you that are keeping track) in both ears. At that point, his tubes were clear so this was a true failure. It was very disappointing because we had been hoping for a passing test in at least the right ear. On May 13th, Josh will undergo a CT scan of his temporal bones and an ABR. These will both be administered while sedated. So I guess Josh will have his first IV one month from today. I am really dreading the procedure but eager to get a better picture of what is going on with Josh’s hearing (or lack thereof).

On June 13th, Hannah comes home. Yeah!

This is sort of the inverse of last fall when I was dreading Hannah’s departure (one month before Josh was born) and at the same time, eagerly awaiting Josh’s birth.

I will write more soon (I really will) to catch you all up on Josh. He is moving all around now and is quite the busy boy, making it more difficult to write in my blog, since I am running around after Josh, saving him from near disaster at every moment it seems. But I will find the time, alas.

Blessings and Peace–Heidi

P.S. Here is a picture of the Easter Joshy

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