Monthly Archives: February 2013

What Makes a Family?

family

This beautiful story of kindness was shared with me today.  It is from The New York Times Opinion Pages.

We Found Our Son in the Subway

By PETER MERCURIO

 

The story of how Danny and I were married last July in a Manhattan courtroom, with our son, Kevin, beside us, began 12 years earlier, in a dark, damp subway station.

Danny called me that day, frantic. “I found a baby!” he shouted. “I called 911, but I don’t think they believed me. No one’s coming. I don’t want to leave the baby alone. Get down here and flag down a police car or something.” By nature Danny is a remarkably calm person, so when I felt his heart pounding through the phone line, I knew I had to run.

When I got to the A/C/E subway exit on Eighth Avenue, Danny was still there, waiting for help to arrive. The baby, who had been left on the ground in a corner behind the turnstiles, was light-brown skinned and quiet, probably about a day old, wrapped in an oversize black sweatshirt.

In the following weeks, after family court had taken custody of “Baby ACE,” as he was nicknamed, Danny told the story over and over again, first to every local TV News station, then to family members, friends, co-workers and acquaintances. The story spread like an urban myth: You’re never going to believe what my friend’s cousin’s co-worker found in the subway. What neither of us knew, or could have predicted, was that Danny had not just saved an abandoned infant; he had found our son.

Three months later, Danny appeared in family court to give an account of finding the baby. Suddenly, the judge asked, “Would you be interested in adopting this baby?” The question stunned everyone in the courtroom, everyone except for Danny, who answered, simply, “Yes.”

“But I know it’s not that easy,” he said.

“Well, it can be,” assured the judge before barking off orders to commence with making him and, by extension, me, parents-to-be.

My first reaction, when I heard, went something like: “Are you insane? How could you say yes without consulting me?” Let’s just say, I nailed the “jerk” part of knee-jerk.

In three years as a couple, we had never discussed adopting a child. Why would we? Our lives were not geared for child rearing. I was an aspiring playwright working as a part-time word processor and Danny was a respected yet wildly underpaid social worker. We had a roommate sleeping behind a partition in our living room to help pay the rent. Even if our financial and logistical circumstances had been different, we knew how many challenges gay couples usually faced when they want to adopt. And while Danny had patience and selflessness galore, I didn’t. I didn’t know how to change a diaper, let alone nurture a child.

But here was fate, practically giving us a baby. How could we refuse? Eventually, my fearful mind spent, my heart seized control to assure me I could handle parenthood.

A caseworker arranged for us to meet the baby at his foster home in early December. Danny held the fragile baby first, then placed him in my arms. In order to protect myself from future heartache, I had convinced myself I could not, and would not, become inextricably attached. I didn’t trust the system and was sure there would be obstacles. But with the baby’s eyes staring up at me, and all the innocence and hope he represented, I, like Danny, was completely hooked.

The caseworker told us that the process, which included an extensive home study and parenting classes, could take up to nine months. We’d have ample time to rearrange our lives and home for a baby. But a week later, when Danny and I appeared in front of the judge to officially state our intention to adopt, she asked, “Would you like him for the holiday?”

What holiday? Memorial Day? Labor Day? She couldn’t have meant Christmas, which was only a few days away.

And yet, once again, in unison this time, we said yes. The judge grinned and ordered the transition of the baby into our custody. Our nine-month window of thoughtful preparation was instantly compacted to a mere 36 hours. We were getting a baby for Christmas.

We spent that year as foster parents while our caseworker checked up on us and the baby’s welfare. During that time we often wondered about the judge. Did she know Danny was a social worker and therefore thought he would make a good parent? Would she have asked him to adopt if she knew Danny was gay and in a relationship? At the final hearing, after she had signed the official adoption order, I raised my hand. “Your honor, we’ve been wondering why you asked Danny if he was interested in adopting?”

“I had a hunch,” she just said. “Was I wrong?” And with that she rose from her chair, congratulated us, and exited the courtroom.

And that was how we left it, as Baby ACE became Kevin, and grew from an infant to a boy. That is, until 2011, when New York State allowed Danny and me to legally marry.

“Why don’t you ask the judge who performed my adoption to marry you and dad?” Kevin suggested one morning on our walk to school.

“Great idea,” I replied. “Would you like to meet her?”

“Sure. Think she’d remember me?”

“There’s only one way to find out.”

After dropping Kevin off, I composed a query letter and sent it to the catchall e-mail address listed for the Manhattan family court. Within hours, a court attorney called to say that, of course, the judge remembered us, and was thrilled by the idea of officiating our marriage. All we had to do was pick a date and time.

When we ventured back to family court for the first time in over 10 years, I imagined that the judge might be nervous to come face to face with the results of one of her placement decisions — what if Kevin wasn’t happy and wished he had different parents? Kevin was nervous too. When he was a toddler, Danny and I made him a storybook that explained how we became a family, and it included an illustration of the judge, gavel in hand. A character from his book was about to jump off the page as a real person. What if she didn’t approve of the way he turned out?

Kevin reached out to shake her hand.

“Can I give you hug?” she asked. When they separated, the judge asked Kevin about school, his interests, hobbies, friends and expressed her delight that we were there.

When we finally remembered the purpose of the visit, and Danny and I moved into position to exchange vows, I reflected on the improbable circumstances that delivered all of us to this moment. We weren’t supposed to be there, two men, with a son we had never dreamed of by our side, getting married by a woman who changed and enriched our lives more than she would ever know. But there we were, thanks to a fateful discovery and a judicious hunch.

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What Children Can Teach Adults

kindergarten

Children  are enthusiastic about life, eager to learn, and curious about everything.  I am lucky enough to be able to spend my days with them watching how they interact with each other and the world around them.

You may be surprised at how clever they are.  They handle themselves differently than adults.  They live spontaneously and are eager to try new things and are not intimidated to try again if they don’t succeed the first time. A child’s mind is open to all the world has to offer.  They don’t mind trying new things and often think they are invincible.  Their imagination sparks their dreams and curiosity.   As adults, we often  lose sight of our imagination.  There is much we can learn from the behavior of children.  Playing comes naturally to kids because play time is fun time, and kids love to have fun.  As we get older we forget how great it feels to let loose and just play and just enjoy the simple pleasures in life.

In the beginning of February, I challenged my class of Kindergarteners to commit 100 acts of kindness before the 100th day of school.  In my many years of teaching, I have learned that so much of what children say is insightful!   I found some of the things that they thought of to be so heartwarming and genuine.  I had to share a few.

  • I gave my mom a quarter that I found
  • I made a card for the crossing guard who was in the hospital
  • I picked out a toy for my sister when I went to the toy store
  • I shared my last piece of chocolate with my brother
  • I cleaned the bathtub
  • I got my sister her socks when she would not go upstairs
  • I went outside in the snow to get my dad’s jacket that he forgot
  • I put my clothes in the hamper, not on the floor
  • I brought my mom some juice
  • I helped my dad carry a heavy box

Sometimes, we need to relive our Kindergarten days.  It makes us think about our priorities and what is most important to us.  My days in Kindergarten often help my put my life into perspective!

photo-47

Kindness at Any Age

a person a person

For my New Year’s Resolution, I promised to write something on my blog about kindness everyday!  I sometimes don’t come across something during my day to write about.  I have decided that when that happens, I will find a kindness story that needs to be shared.  Something that I read about on the internet, or see on television.

Here is one that touched me today.  It is about a seven year old boy who has raised over $30,000 for a sick friend.

http://gma.yahoo.com/boy–7–raises-more-than–30-000-for-sick-friend-172958274.html

A “Good Bad Day”

bad good day

I am sure everyone has a bad day now and then.  A day that starts off poorly and just doesn’t seem to get any better.  A day that starts off negatively and each part of the day keeps leading you in the same direction, DOWN.   A day where we feel like everyone is against us.   In all reality though, we really don’t have control over WHAT happens to us, but we can control HOW we react to it.

I had one of these days today.  A day that felt like every time I took two steps forward I would fall three steps back.  I began reacting to the day with the pessimistic attitude that I was feeling and dragging myself deeper into the negativity. Then I thought about it.  Why not just accept the reality, recognizing that it is what it is and that there is nothing that I can do to change what put me in the bad mood to begin with, so why should I allow it to ruin the rest of my day?  It worked.  I put on some good music, exercised, talked about it with someone and I really do feel better.  Overall, it was still a pretty bad day, but my mood is not bad anymore and I am not bringing down others with it.

Here are some ways I read about on “The Happiness Project” on how to turn a bad day into a “Good Bad Day”.  ( I really like that name…)

  • Exercise
  • Do Something Nice for Someone Else
  • Stop thinking about it
  • Connect with someone important to you
  • Tackle a nagging task
  • Do something silly and lighthearted
  • Act the way you WANT to feel
  • Ask for help
  • Go to bed early

Respecting the Elderly

elderly

One of the greatest ways you can spread kindness and help is to spend time with elderly people. It could be a relative, a neighbor, or just someone random out in public.  There are so many ways to offer help to an older person.  You can carry their bags at a grocery store or return their grocery cart for them.  If are out eating at a restaurant and notice an elderly person eating alone, perhaps they are in need of a companion and could be invited to sit with you and talk.  It can be difficult for some elderly people to do chores on their own.  You could help them by preparing meals, running errands, or doing yard work. Offer them your services and give them something to look forward to. Many elderly people are not always open with their needs and might think that they are a bother to other people. Do not wait for them to ask for help.  Just offer and follow through with it.

Visit a retirement or nursing home.  You could call ahead of time and see if there are any residents who do not often get a visitor.  Perhaps the nurses can give you the name of someone that might be in need of a friend who could just stop by to talk.  Kindness does not have to cost anything.  Just your time.  You could make it a routine visit.

With the very cold winter, I have not been able to see my 97 year old grandmother as often as I would like.  We only live five miles apart, but she has not been going out with all of the snow.  Today, there was a turn for the better with the weather.  It is almost Spring-like!!  Who knows how long it will last, but I took advantage of it and gave Gram a call to see if she wanted to join me for dinner out tonight.  Her entire attitude changed after inviting her.  She chose her favorite restaurant and tonight, we will take the time to catch up and enjoy each others company.

IMG_5375

Everyone is Worthy of Being Loved

taste your words

This needs to be shared.  It should make everyone feel worthy of being loved, and loving themselves.  There is no place for bullying.  It needs to end!  Everyone should watch this:

Shane Koyczan was bullied a lot when he was a kid. So he took that pain and made this stunning video with the help of some amazingly talented people. It’s kind of breathtaking and powerful, just a warning. Also, it has a happy ending.

  • At 1:20, he reminds us all what we heard growing up.
  • At 2:07, we meet another girl who was bruised by words.
  • At 2:57, we learn why she’s awesome.
  • At 3:12, we meet a kid who was pummeled by pills.
  • At 4:28, we learn how many kids have to deal with this to this day.
  • At 5:23, if you’ve been bullied, you REALLY need to hear these words.
  • At 6:00, seriously, listen to these damn beautiful words.
  • And at 6:49, we get to the point that everyone should take to heart.

http://www.upworthy.com/bullies-called-him-pork-chop-he-took-that-pain-with-him-and-then-cooked-it-into?g=3

Food Drive

helenkeller

About one in six people in the United States struggles with hunger, and issues related to hunger affect people in every community.

In celebration of The 100th Day of School, Tuscan Elementary School where I teach, holds an annual food drive where we challenge each class to collect 100 items of non-perishable food by the 100th day. Our school has about 25 classes ranging from grades K-5. I believe that it is very important to show our children that we are empathetic to the needs of others. It doesn’t take much really, just offering kind word, a handshake, or opening a door for another person.  The food drive seems to bring out the best in so many! The fifth graders were so engaged and willing to help and the students passing in the hallway outside of my classroom where the food was piling up could not help but to stop and stare wondering just how much was there!

The totals came in throughout the day and by the end of the day we had collected over 2600 items!!  We were able to split those items and deliver them to two local food pantries.  This also could not have been done without the amazing school community that we have.  Moms, dads and kids helped pack up cars and drive the food over to the pantries, and then unload them all when they got there!  There were hundreds of bags and this was a huge undertaking.  I am so proud to be a part of The Tuscan School Community, both as a teacher AND as a parent!

You can help fight hunger in your local community by holding a food drive in your neighborhood, office, place of worship or school. Helping your local food bank stock up can also help your community be better prepared for emergencies, as demand on food banks often grows during a disaster or crisis.  It is amazing what can happen when we all work together.