We had seen the trailer for The Lego Batman Movie, and I knew we were going to have to see the film. We all loved The Lego Movie, and this one looked like more of the same.
When I happened to mention to a friend that we were going, though, she told me that adoption was a big part of the movie—and that I might want to be prepared.
Of course adoption is everywhere in this movie, I thought, as I watched it with our boys. I mean, there are superheroes involved. But there’s a scene of an orphanage. Then there’s Robin as an orphan begging Batman to adopt him. Then there’s an adoption by Batman, who is at best a reluctant father figure who has his own challenges related to what family means. Then there's Batman's own loss of his parents and his confusing relationship with his own father figure. And on and on and on.
In our family, we love talking about adoption. But Lego Batman and I have very different perspectives on it. And sometimes I wish we could just go to the movies and go home.
Fortunately in this case, it was all so far-fetched it almost didn’t matter. The portrayal of adoption was so absurd that we ended up laughing about it together later over dinner, as we discussed other movies that also portray adoption in a ridiculous way. And I loved that our children could bring up other examples and point out how off-the-wall the representations were.
What troubles me is not what our boys take away from these movies, however, but what their friends and classmates take away. They won’t have the conversations later, where parents explain that that’s not what an orphanage is like, or that that’s not how adoptions occur.
Movies like this one perpetuate stereotypes about adoption from an early age—and without providing appropriate context or understanding. They are often hilarious, and we laugh and laugh our way through. The Kung Fu Panda movies tend to handle adoption with grace and thought. But some of the other movies we have seen leave me wincing.
Not every movie should have a trigger warning. But I would love for movies, especially children’s movies, to handle topics related to loss—whether death or adoption or divorce or another issue—with a little more sensitivity.
It’s no surprise that orphans and adoption find their way into stories. In fiction, there’s something mysterious and empowering about the path a child takes when his or her original parents aren’t in the picture. No wonder those children turn out to have unexpected super powers and abilities.
I just wish that maybe, more often than not, people making a movie in which adoption is discussed would stop and put themselves in someone else’s shoes. Why not pause to imagine what it might be like to be watching the movie while thinking of your own adoption story?
Sure, it’s just entertainment. Most people watch, have a few laughs, go home, and never think about it again. But couldn’t a movie be just as much fun if it were created with a little more thought and intention?
I bet it could—and it wouldn’t take any superhero powers, either.
February 20, 2017 09:54
By Rita Buettner
Imagine you’re having a really busy day, and you have no idea how you’ll get everything accomplished. And you decide to stop to get a bagel with scallion cream cheese because who knows when you will eat again—and scallion cream cheese is the best.
Then the cashier rings you up and hands you your order number, and it's your favorite number.
What are the chances? And you know the day is just going to be fantastic.
I personally don’t enjoy going to the doctor, so before I became a mother, I imagined our children would probably have similar feelings about the pediatrician. But they absolutely adore going. They look forward to all of it.
Add to that pulling them out of school early to go for an annual check-up this week, and I really don’t know whether Disney World can hold a candle to the excitement of our yearly well-child visit to the pediatrician.
They argued over who got to be weighed first, they giggled their way through the blood pressure checks so that the numbers had to be thrown out and done all over again, and they asked question after question about everything they saw.
Every time I take them to their check-ups on the same day, I wonder why I don’t make two separate appointments. Then I think of the time involved in going on two different days, and I make a joint appointment again. And I don’t even get a sticker at the end.
But I do get to take two happy, healthy, extremely energetic children home with me. I feel pretty lucky.
We found our missing library book! After renewing and renewing and renewing, I had come to grips with the fact that we were going to have to offer to replace Nate the Great Saves the King of Sweden. I had offered 50 cents to anyone who could find the book. But my husband came across it on the bookshelf—such an absurd place to find a book around here. So it really is our lucky day.
Don’t ask me for a review of the book. I have no memory of reading it. I’ve just been renewing it for weeks. But Nate the Great books are fun, so I imagine this one was up to the usual standards.
I dread homework. It is the worst. I imagine Purgatory as a place where you sit and try to teach first graders how to spell. “No, it’s not A…no, it’s not I…no, it’s not U…”
Then last weekend I suddenly had an idea.
“Why don’t you help your brother with his homework?” I asked our third grader.
And they started in on the work together. Our younger son was much more patient with his brother than he is with me, and our older son was much more patient with the whole process than I am.
It won’t work every time, but I was so excited to have a reprieve.
13 years ago on Valentine’s Day my husband asked me to marry him
, and I said yes. This year we had a quieter Valentine’s Day. Neither of us was hungry, so we tried to think of something our children would like, and we thought of seafood—specifically large, creepy-looking crab legs.
They were thrilled.
I wonder whether this will become our new Valentine’s Day tradition.
Our boys both wanted to hand out valentines at school this year. Leo bought Pokemon valentines with temporary tattoos for his friends and wrote them all out himself. Daniel and I decided slap bracelets would be fun to distribute, so we just had to figure out how to hand them out.
In the end, we bought index cards, cut slits for the bracelets, glued a heart onto the index card, and wrote names on them. I ended up doing all the work because it just takes so long for a child to write all those names.
“Did your friends like your slap bracelets?” I asked on the way home Valentine's night.
“No, they didn’t like them,” Daniel said. “They LOVED them.”
I would say that our weekend would be full of our own sports games—and it might.
But Pokemon Go also just added 80 new Pokemon, so I have a feeling I know what the boys will be clamoring to do this weekend, if I don’t catch them all myself first, of course.
February 16, 2017 10:35
By Rita Buettner
The night before Valentine’s Day I looked at the Halloween buckets full of Christmas candy sitting on the kitchen table. Then I threw all the candy away. That’s not a household policy, but we had just been to the dentist, and I was feeling especially motivated.
Besides, I knew the Valentine’s candy would be coming through the door—and it did. I started by looking through Daniel’s candy to remove the candy he isn’t allowed to have—dentist’s rules. He was a little sad that I was taking some of his prized candy.
So we made a deal.
“I’ll buy these from you,” I told him. Our little boy who usually isn’t motivated much by money considered his options. He wasn’t going to get that gummy, chewy candy, so he might as well give in.
“OK,” he said finally.
We bargained prices back and forth, and in the end I paid much more than I wanted to for three packages of candy I will never eat. But it was a dollar well spent if it saves us from additional dental work.
Even with his dollar in hand, our resident first grader still didn’t seem completely sold on the idea. Candy is candy, you know. And Valentine’s candy is extra special.
“Aren’t you lucky!” I said, acting as if our little boy had won the lottery. “Now you have a whole dollar for your bank!”
He gave me a look only a child with the wisdom of a 7-year-old can pull off.
“Mama,” he said, “money isn’t everything, you know. God is everything.”
So I may be short a dollar, but I have three packages of candy and a lesson in faith. I’d say I got my money’s worth. And money isn’t everything.
February 15, 2017 08:14
By Rita Buettner
The other day a friend shared his daughter’s wedding video with me. It was extraordinary. Every detail was exquisitely captured, every frame was packed with emotion, and each image showed a couple who were loved and in love.
Watching it made me smile—and tear up a little, as weddings always do. Weddings often present marriage as a fairy tale. And I’m a fairy tale kind of person. Marrying my husband was the best decision I ever made, and saying yes to his proposal on Valentine’s Day 13 years ago is one of my most treasured memories. We have enjoyed 12 beautiful years of marriage, and I look forward to all the future brings for us together.
But watching that couple vow to love each other also left me thinking about marriage and that leap of faith couples take.
For better or for worse.
For richer, for poorer.
In sickness and in health.
What optimists we are to believe that with this one person by our side, we will be strong enough to navigate whatever life might bring, no matter the challenge, no matter the trial.
After all, not every day is Valentine’s Day. Life isn’t all boxes of chocolates and beautiful cards and bouquets of roses. Most of the days are ordinary. Some are tense or difficult. Some are heartbreaking. The unexpected twists and turns can be difficult to navigate, even with the best partner pulling for and with you.
That’s where the sacrament comes in. That’s where that third person in marriage lends a hand—or holds you in His hands. That’s when you discover you—or your spouse—have an even deeper capacity for courage or talents or strength than you realized because you are not alone.
That’s when you see God’s hand in your lives in a remarkable way. That’s when you realize the depth and breadth of the love within a marriage.
God is love.
Love is a baby born in a stable. Love is also death on a cross.
Marriage doesn’t always come with lovely background music, and there aren’t always chocolates or flowers. But with God walking with you through your marriage, you will have all that you need.
Even when it’s not Valentine’s Day.
February 15, 2017 11:14
By Rita Buettner
Weeks and weeks ago we ordered a new couch and chair. I never thought they would actually arrive, but last week the store called to say they were ready. We thought about it for maybe half a second and then decided to wait and have them delivered this week instead.
We were having people over on Sunday to celebrate the Year of the Rooster, and I didn’t want to spend the whole party worrying about whether something had been spilled on the couch. And it seemed a bit unfriendly not to let our guests sit on new furniture just because it was new. So we waited, and now no one will ever spill anything on the furniture, of course.
Let me believe that for another 10 minutes. Please.
The day before our party, Daniel and I went to the party store to buy something I needed for work, and we took a look at the Chinese New Year items while we were there.
We didn't need anything, really, since we had already invested in other Chinese New Year merchandise online.
When I saw the 50 percent off sign, I gave Daniel freedom to pick a few things. And he selected the most complicated wonderful piece of Chinese New Year décor.
I can’t walk under it without hitting my head. The boys can’t walk under it without trying to hit every part with their heads or hands. What more could you hope for in a party decoration?
While we were shopping, we also ran across one rooster item after another. Are rooster items always available, or are there more because it’s the Year of the Rooster?
We didn’t buy any of them, not even the $100 glass rooster I could have filled with iced tea. Sometimes my self-control amazes me.
Well, except when it’s time to figure out how much food to have on hand for guests. Every year my husband reminds me not to over-order the Chinese food. But I remember how one year I did not order enough food, and we ran out. The only other person who remembers this is my sister-in-law, and I am 97 percent sure she is not just humoring me.
How much food did I order? Well, I ordered half as many egg rolls as I thought we needed, and we had five left over. In fact, we ordered so much food that it arrived in a huge fortune cookie carton.
I had to force containers of pork fried rice on people as they were leaving. You do the math—since I apparently can’t.
Let’s just say that no one left hungry, and there was enough chicken lo mein to eat while we watched the Super Bowl and for the next few lunches and dinners. And I, for one, call that a win.
Worth noting is that we served a few things that were not Chinese food. One friend brought a buffalo chicken dip, and I made deviled eggs because when your mother offers to bring this deviled egg platter, you make deviled eggs.
I had plans to make a veggie tray in the shape of a rooster, but the guests arrived at the time it said on the evite, while in my mind the party was starting a half-hour later. So they all helped me get the party started.
Daniel’s amazingly talented godmother offered to make the cake.
Isn’t it magnificent? I’m pretty sure she’s already dreaming of the dog cake she’ll make next year.
One of the fun things about having children who are old enough to help is that sometimes they really pitch in. As I was telling the boys we were having a photo booth for the party, I said, “It’s too bad we don’t have a picture of the Great Wall for people to stand in front of.
So they got to work making a Great Wall drawing. It ended up being full of action, or some might say, destruction.
But it is a one-of-a-kind masterpiece, and I may just leave it up until next year. And I believe our Chinese New Year celebrations are officially over until 2018.
February 10, 2017 10:49
By Rita Buettner
You were fast and lean and sleek and smart.
No other mouse could play the part.
You scurried with the speed of light,
Zipping past, both left and right.
Sometimes you crept without a care
And sniffed around ’most everywhere.
Your paws were white. Your back was gray.
We thought you’d never go away.
What did you eat? We couldn’t say
Until you stole Slim Jims away.
You liked TV and felt at home;
When it was on, you’d deftly roam.
But traps of all kinds you abhorred,
Or rather, they just made you bored.
The traps? We’d tossed them in the trash
Except for one out of the stash.
We left it with its stale Slim Jim,
And one bite brought an end so grim.
(Well, grim for you, I must confess,
But not for me, as you might guess.)
O little mouse, our long-time guest,
We have to tell you, we’re impressed.
You had a run so grand and long
It might inspire a country song.
With stealth and speed and cunning, too,
You made our home a home for you.
Still, we could not all coexist,
And I cannot say you will be missed.
Rest well, dear mouse, our furry friend,
At last this tale has found its end.
February 08, 2017 10:51
By Rita Buettner
Another morning is beginning, and I’m making breakfast and packing lunches in the kitchen. I sigh as I try to piece together the lunches. What is it about packing lunches that can be so defeating?
As I start cutting strawberries, I hear some bickering begin in the other room.
Back and forth voices rise and fall.
Is a maternal referee needed? I’m not sure. But maybe this debate will end on its own.
It doesn’t seem to be ending. But it might not be getting worse. Maybe if I ignore it, it will go away.
After all, mornings are not our best time. Everyone is hungry. Some of us didn’t get enough sleep.
I try to stay focused on my lunch packing, keeping an ear out for the interactions in the next room. I’m determined not to get involved since I am also tired and not a morning person. I would rather let this conflict sort itself out without me.
And then, as I’m slicing the strawberries, I pause to think.
Many people would love to be in my shoes, filling lunchboxes with food while their children argue nearby. Even when I’m tired and rattled by the arguing, I know I’m so blessed to be a mother of these two children. I also know how fortunate I am to open my refrigerator and find food that will fill their lunchboxes and help them grow.
And then it hits me. One day I’m going to be preparing food in the kitchen, and the house will be quiet. There will be no children arguing over whose turn it is to play with what. I won’t be mentally in one room while I’m physically in another.
One day these children will be grown. And then I might just miss the bickering.
Or maybe I won’t. I’ll probably forget that they ever disagreed. They have to remind me and tell me I only remember the good moments, the moments I want to remember, saying the same things my siblings and I say to our parents.
But I know one day I’ll miss the simplicity of a morning where I can fill a lunchbox and a backpack with everything our child needs for the day.
February 07, 2017 10:50
By Rita Buettner
How many days did this week have? I lost count on day 13.
Just kidding. It was actually a good week. I just think we are all a little tired and ready for the weekend.
Oh, and the mouse
? Still roaming free. Our pest control guy texted me yesterday morning, “I guess no news is bad news.”
Sadly, yes. Well, unless you’re rooting for the mouse.
This week is Catholic Schools Week
! Every day has brought its own fun, with ice cream sundaes at lunchtime and crazy sock day and whatever else. We love our Catholic school. I knew it was the right place for our children the first time I visited it, and I stop often to think about how grateful I am that our boys are there, even though I complain about the homework. But every school has that, right?
Our boys love going to school. They learn so much academically, but—and this is more important to us—about our faith. And we are part of a community. I love that we see their friends and some of their teachers at Mass on Sunday. The seminarians visited the school this week to talk about their own vocations, and I heard about it that evening on the drive home from school.
Last weekend I tried to convince the boys to go to the Walters Art Museum to a Lunar New Year celebration there. One wanted to go, and one didn’t. So we went to the library.
When we walked in, we saw a small Chinese New Year activity off to one side. We stopped and colored a dragon.
Then we made lanterns and a little rooster finger puppet.
The table wasn’t staffed, but we stayed there so long working on our crafts and activities that people started coming to us with questions about it.
“She’s not actually in charge,” Leo would tell them. “She’s just standing there.”
Maybe I could get that to wear as a name tag: “I’m not actually in charge.”
I love that our children take for granted that it’s Chinese New Year wherever we go. And I love how libraries so often come through for us.
While we were at the library, I picked up Seven Blind Mice
by Ed Young, which one of my readers suggested to me (thank you, Jennifer!), but it also seemed that mice books were everywhere I turned. Is it the season for mice books? I don’t know. But I may have to do another post on mouse books
When Daniel asked for Cheerios yesterday morning, I was surprised. The boys eat soup for breakfast almost every day. I thought he might be making a switch to cereal. But no, he just needed building blocks.
That’s fine because anything is more fun than this toy that seems to have the longest lasting batteries in the world.
Do you have one of those toys that lasts forever? Only the noisy toys do, you know.
Our school had a bowling event for moms and sons, so I went and watched the boys bowl. They had a great time—and so did I, especially because no one got a finger jammed in the ball return and no one insisted that we keep score and no one noticed that I didn’t bowl.
Maybe next year I will bowl. Or maybe I’ll just sit back and talk about the mouse who is still living in our house.
February 02, 2017 11:03
By Rita Buettner
I do not want to have a mouse.
I do not like him in my house.
I do not want to see him creep
Throughout the rooms while children sleep.
His time to be here as our guest
Has gone too long, though I’m impressed
That he quite simply won’t be caught
No matter what treats we have bought.
For peanut butter, chocolate, cheese
He skips right past with mousey ease.
And every time we plug a hole,
He finds another, bless his soul.
“I’ve never had a mouse before
I couldn’t catch,” the pest man swore.
But if you have a mouse at all
You want one with a load of gall.
One day perhaps he’ll make a slip
And to mouse heaven take a trip
But ’til that day he sneaks with stealth
And thrives with all his mousey health.
He’s cute, I know, and cunning, too.
He likes Slim Jims. He’s had a few,
But somehow prances past the trap,
Which only on our toes doth snap.
Oh, mouse who’s been here weeks and weeks,
Please take your appetite and squeaks
And skip along to who knows where.
Where should you go? I do not care.
But though you’re smart and cute and fast,
Your time to leave our home is past.
Pack up your things and say goodbye,
And I will promise not to cry.
February 01, 2017 11:39
By Rita Buettner
I celebrated my half-birthday this week. When I say I celebrated, I mean that it was, in fact, my half-birthday, not that there was a party of any sort. We rode in an elevator, which is sort of like a party for us.
One of my boys gave me two half-hugs, which was very sweet. And the mouse showed himself half as much as he usually does. That’s a half a gift, if I ever heard of one.
So, we continue to try to catch the mouse. Our pest control guy remains steadfast in his belief that there is only one. I am on the fence, but I want to believe there is only one, so that’s what I’m sticking with for now.
In my dream last night, there were two, and I caught one in a bowl and ran outside to release it. My husband reminded me this morning that releasing it outside the house is a terrible idea. So it’s a good thing that was only a dream.
Lest you think our children sit around and don’t offer to catch the mouse at all, let me give you a glimpse into how they leapt into action the other day.
The mouse, however, did not leap into action at the same moment. Maybe we’ll catch him this weekend. Or never. We have at least learned that he likes Slim Jims, so there's a tiny ray of hope.
This week I spent my evenings getting the Chinese rattle drum craft prepared for my presentations in our sons’ classrooms. I thought I had a great plan. I cut red thread and tied a bell to each piece, then Duct taped the threads into paper plates. They seemed strong enough at home.
But when the first graders started flipping them around, the bells started flying off. The teacher’s aide came to our assistance with some plastic thread that worked fine, but I realized I needed to come up with another solution for the third grade presentation the next day.
So I went and bought elastic thread and I redid the 26 plates I had already put together for the third grade. Those rattle drums turned out beautifully, and I have to admit that that is the only way to go. I may have to do a post just on how to make a rattle drum.
If you block out that craft malfunction, the presentations themselves went well. The first graders were full of questions (“What animal is my baby brother?”) and information (“My sister is a cheetah!”) and they asked me things I couldn’t always answer (“Do people stay up until midnight the night before Chinese New Year?”).
We read books, did the craft, worked on a word search, and talked about Chinese New Year. After we finished the first grade presentation, my friend who assisted me—and without whom I would never have made it through, especially with all the taping and stapling—suggested we might have time for a game when we presented in third grade.
I had looked for Chinese games, but nothing had struck me as simple enough to teach or learn—or they seemed really active or not quite right for the age. And then I had an idea. I had ordered 40 sets of disposable chopsticks. Maybe we could all learn to use chopsticks.
We bought four bags of rainbow loom bands, and I set it up as a chopsticks relay. We put a plate full of loops on one end of each set of desks and an empty plate at the other end. The children sitting at each table had to work as a team to move the bands from one end to the other.
The rules were: You can only use chopsticks in one hand. You can’t touch the plates. And if you use the chopsticks as a weapon, the bands you’ve moved get dumped back into the starting plate. (This rule was probably not necessary, but I have seen chopsticks become weapons so many times.)
My humility is not going to shine through here, but the game went flawlessly. It might be the best game I’ve ever run. The children worked as teams and tried to teach one another how to use the chopsticks as they went.
Chopsticks relay. It’s sure to be the next big thing.
When I started the presentation in first grade, I explained that we celebrate Chinese New Year because our first-grader was born in China.
“We know he was born in China!” I heard from more than a few voices around the room.
So that’s simple, I thought.
Then an hour later while I was reading a book, one of the students asked if our son could translate some of the Chinese writing on the page.
“He doesn’t read or speak Chinese because he was a baby when we adopted him from China,” I said. “Could you read when you were a baby?”
“What? You ADOPTED him from China?” came the reply.
Then a little boy in the back said, “So does that make him your son-in-law?”
It was hilarious. And wonderful. And we all learned a little bit about how families can be formed through adoption and what a son-in-law is.
Plastic dragon rings add excitement to any Chinese New Year celebration.
One afternoon this week the boys and I were shopping when the cashier said to our boys, “How old are you?”
Daniel very solemnly replied, “Year of the ox.”
Which…is true. But she looked at him blankly, and I had to translate. I like it as an answer, though. Why not?
One of our favorite Chinese New Year traditions is meeting friends and their boys for lunch at a Chinese restaurant. We live about two hours apart, so we meet at a restaurant that is a midpoint between our houses, and we always have a fantastic time. Last year they were about to travel to meet their second son in China, so it was especially fun to have him with us this year.
It’s usually the only time all the members of our families (meaning the dads too) are together all year, so it makes for a really special gathering. I’m not sure who has a better time, the children or the adults. We’re all too busy eating and chatting and making paper airplanes to notice.
I met this mom friend through our blogs eight years ago, and we didn’t even know we lived as close as we do. Isn’t this a wonderful world, where you can connect with people from all over? I try to remember that, especially as social media feels a little more challenging these days.
When I was at Mass yesterday, the priest referred to the peace of God, which is beyond all human understanding. I’m sure it’s a phrase I’ve heard many times before. But I found myself thinking that we truly do not understand the depth of the peace that God offers us, and we need it so badly. I hope you find peace in your corner of the world today.
Read more quick takes at Kelly’s blog, This Ain’t the Lyceum. And happy Chinese New Year! Xin Nian Kwai Le! Gung Hay Fat Choy!
January 28, 2017 12:14
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By Rita Buettner