“One of the lucky ones”: A testimony on the trauma inherent in adoption

November is National Adoption Month.  Last week, I talked to Wendy, a Canadian mental health professional who was adopted in the early 80’s and met her first mother at the age of 29. Wendy is Black, and her adoptive parents are white.
 
Our conversation (which has been edited for length and clarity) began when I first asked her if my perception was accurate, that we’re much more likely to hear the testimony of adoptive parents, than the stories of adoptees. 
 
W: Yes. Among the adoptee community, that is our biggest complaint, esepcially during National Adoption Awareness Month. Did anybody ask us?
 
It’s quite appalling, the extent to which people who are hoping to adopt only want to hear the positive side; they only want to hear the fairy tale. And if you say, “That’s not the whole story,” they don’t want to hear it. We are called names, we’re gaslit, we’re told to get therapy.
 
On certain platforms, whenever I open my mouth to say, “Okay, but adoption is not a fairy tale” at 8:30 in the morning, I put my phone down, and by lunch time there are twenty-five people calling me bitter, angry, and ungrateful. Here we go, another day on social media as an adopted adult. 
 

Why are people so unwilling to hear it?

 

W: Adoption is an industry. The industry has to advertise itself.
 

As an entire society, we have really bought hard into this “adoption is a beautiful option,” especially in pro-life circles. It’s, “If you can’t parent, here’s this almost uncomplicated, beautiful option.” 
 
If I say to an adoptive parents, “No, it’s not beautiful, and it’s very complicated,” what they’re not saying, but what I hear, is, “I thought we were doing a good thing, and you’re telling me we’re not. If you’re telling me all of this is true about adoption, then all of this is true of what my child has experienced. But my child is happy to be adopted, and my child is well-adjusted.”
 
I would have told you the same thing until I was 34 years old. 
 
What happened?
 
W: We have this phrase called “coming out of the fog.” In oversimplified terms, it refers to realizing adoption is not a fairy tale. As an adopted person, you get this narrative growing up: “We chose you from all the other children to be part of our family; isn’t that special?” You have to explain it to children in a way they can digest, and people want to make it a good story for a child. They tell it as a fairy tale, so you grow up thinking, yup, it’s a fairy tale. 
 
The other part of the story for me is, I am a transracial adoptee, which means I’m of a different race from my adoptive parents. My adoption is very visible. I’m a Black woman with a very Irish last name. 
 
Growing up, people ask you, “Are you adopted?” It’s amazing the questions people think they have a right to ask. You’re coached to answer the questions as a fairy tale. Looking back, those were very intrustive questions they had no right to ask, but I was encouraged to answer them, because it’s such a beautiful story. That’s the lens I had for the longest time. 
 
Even while having that lens, there were times, from the age of 11 or 12, that I would have these very negative emotions that didn’t seem to be attached to anything. My life is fine; why am I feeling like this? 
 
I was 20 or 21 and I realized I was not a big fan of my birthday. On the day, I didn’t want anyone to talk to me, I didn’t want to make a big deal of it, and I didn’t understand what that was.
 
Finally, years later, I said to a friend of mine: “As an adopted person, that’s the day I lost my first mother, and I do not feel like celebrating it.” 
 

How did she react?

 

W: She was able to take it on board. Some people really are not. Some adoptive parents can’t get their heads around it. They want to celebrate their child’s life. But whether your child has realized it or not, it’s a day that marks loss. Of course, not every child feels like that; maybe not every adult feels like that. 

Did you know other adoptees? When did you start realizing this was a common experience? 
 
W: Other than three cousins, also adoptees — they are indigenous. The Sixties Scoop  is most likely how they came into our family. I don’t have a lot of contact with them. One is not alive anymore. We’ve never had a conversation about adoption as adults.
 

It was as an adult, and it was on social media, that I had my first honest conversations about adoption. It’s interseting now to see new people come out of the fog, and the response you see over and over is, “I’m not weird; I’m not messed up. Everyone is telling me adoption is this beautiful thing, and I just thought there was something wrong with me.” No, there’s a whole other side to this.

What are some things your parents could have done differently, that would have given you a different experience? Or is it almost a rite of passage that everybody who’s adopted has to come to terms with at a certain age?

 
W: When I’m getting that backlash, the implication is that I should be grateful, and a lot of people want to run to the defense of my parents. They put a roof over my head and treated me like their own.
 
The thing that was missing is the realization that every single child who has been adopted, especially if it was not a kinship adoption [placement with relatives], has been traumatized by the separation from the first mother. The story started with trauma. 
 
The phrase that’s often used is “Adoption is trauma.” Yes, it’s the trauma of separation. The more I think about it, the deeper I realize it goes.
 
People will say, “But you don’t remember. It’s not like you were five and dragged screaming away from your mother. You were a baby.” But if you know trauma, you know about preverbal trauma. You don’t have to be old enough to have a narrative of it, for it to affect you. It shows up in the body. I can’t tell you a story of what’s troubling me, but I’m feeling a certain way. 
 
Then recently I was led to think about the effects of prenatal trauma. If a woman is pregnant and is she is abused, or is experiencing poverty or food insecurity or is homeless … what’s the effect on the child she’s carrying? 
 
It’s not so much what my parents could have done differently, it’s what the agency and adoption professionals could have done differently. I would bet my bottom dollar [my parents] were told, “Love will be enough. Take this child into your family and love her as your own, and everything will be fine.”
 
But if the trauma is there, and it absolutely is, you can’t love it away. But if you’re informed about how trauma works, and what a traumatized child needs, you can parent differently. When that trauma starts showing up, if you know why, maybe you don’t take it personally as parents. 
 
A hopeful adoptive parent recently told me all she hears about adoption lately is trauma.  She asked me if she should adopt. What I said is, If you’re not prepared for your child to look you in the face, a child you did your best to love and provide for, and for that child to say, “You’re not my real mother,” you’re not ready to adopt. If you can’t sit still for that, please don’t adopt.  
 
Are you concerned that this will scare people away? That children who would get homes are not going to get homes, because of your cautions?
 
W: Maybe this is callous, but if my speaking honestly scares you off, you’re not suitable to adopt.
 
And I absolutely believe that. Until we get to a conversation where we can say adopted children carry the trauma of separation, and until this conversation is happening at the industry level, we’re gonna get people who are surprised by this. We’re gonna get people who hear this talk about trauma and are scared away. 
 

So what do we do about that?

This hopeful adoptive parent I was talking to said, “It sounds like you’re saying the whole system is rotten.”

 
I said, “Yeah, it’s rotten to the core.” 
 
I say this because vulnerable women who approach adoption professionals, some health care professionals, some mental health professionals,  are pressured and often shamed to give up their babies for a promise of a “better life” with other parents, instead of having a conversation about whether she wants to parent, what supports she would need in order to parent, whether there is any way to involve family or community so that she can keep her child.
 
There are many cases, more than most people know, and more than “adoption professionals” will admit, where a mother or the mother’s family could have cared for the child if supported to do so.  But instead, we terminate parental rights, change the baby’s name, alter the birth certificate and put the child in someone else’s arms.  It’s rotten to the core. 
 
But until we arrive at adoption reform, this system is what we have. There are children who cannot safely remain with their parents.  There are children who have already endured that trauma of separation, and are in foster care, and right now adoption is the way we provide care and permanency.
 
I don’t think adoption, the way we do it right now, is a good thing. Why do you need to erase someone’s indentity, ancestry, and history to provide them with stability and care? You don’t. But that’s what the adoption industry does.  The unspoken idea is that if you erase a child’s history and identity, they can be easily inserted into a new family, and be “one of them” the way a biological chid is.   But that adopted child already had a family and an ancestral history.   That doesn’t cease to exist because someone altered some paperwork.
 
So for right now, it is what it is. There are kids that need care and permanency, and right now, we do that through the adoption system.
 
That’s my quandary, as a mental health professional. If you can’t recognize and support a traumatized child, you should not be parenting an adopted child. I will die on that hill. So what do we do with these children who are already in care and experiencing this instability? They need a solution. The current way we do adoption is not it.
 
What I hear a lot from foster parents is, “You might think you have to be the perfect parent and know exactly what to do, but you don’t. You just have to do your best, and be there for that child.” Are they wrong? Or is that situation just too different from adoption? 
 
W: It’s in the same broad circle. The idea that you don’t have to be perfect, you just have to do the best you can, there is absolutely a lot to that. 
 
You can’t go back and make that separation not happen. I think the best an adoptive parent can do is be willing to learn about the trauma that is inherent in adoption, and be willing to do the work to understand how to support a child who has been traumatized by the process.
 
That’s where the thick skin comes in. Do the work. Go to your own therapy. Talk to adopted adults. There are things you can to.
 
As a mental health professional, I get to have this moment where someone is sitting in front of me, and they’re experiencing depression or anxiety or OCD, and by the time they get to me, someone’s already given them a diagnosis, but no one has talked to them about what it means. I get to say to them: “Here’s what it means. Here’s what you might be experiencng.”
 
The facial expression, the relief in their voices: “You get it. You said it. It’s real. Someone understands.” I didn’t cure your depression; I just told you you weren’t going crazy.   And so, with adoption, you can’t erase the trauna, but you can acknowledge it and support your child through it.
 
Can you tell me some more about your own circumstances, your birth mother? 
 
W: I’m “one of the lucky ones.” I’m in reunion with my first mother. 
 
Sorry, it’s “first mother,” not “birth mother?” How did you land with that term? 
 
W: If I say “birth mother,” that feels like that’s the body I came out of, and then she ceased to matter. Well, she didn’t. Her absence mattered to me, and will matter until the day I die. And my absence mattered to her, from the day I was born, and will contine to matter to her until the day she dies. 
 
“First mother” is like: I have a mother in the mother who raised me. But I had a mother before her, as well. 
 
So you’re in reunion with your first mother? When did that happen?
 
W: I was able to contact her in 2011. I had just turned 28.
 
Did you express any interest in meeting her growing up? 
 
W: Yes, but even when I was a kid, I could sense there was some discomfort around that. When it came out was when I was angry or upset: “You’re not my real family. I’m gonna go find my real family.”
 
But in addition to that, my parents had a very surprise baby when I was ten, and there were all these conversations about who that child looks like and takes after. I didn’t have any of that. I didn’t look like anyone. 
 
I met my first half sister in 2002. We have similar mannarisms and similar brains, but we don’t look like sisters. Whereas my other half sister, I couldn’t stop staring at her. I was 28, and I had to say, “I’m sorry I keep staring at you, but you have my face.”
 

And growing up, what was it like, thinking about your first mother? Was there a longing?

 

W: A longing, and a wondering. I don’t think I uttered the phrase “you’re not my real parents” after the age of about 8, because I realized that it landed, and really landed really hurtfully. In a way an eight-year-old can, I realized that whatever else was going on, don’t say that. 

But until I entered reunion, there was that longing. That’s really what I was feeling on my birthday, before I even realized it. That date brought it home.  

 
How was it, meeting your first mother? It must have been a lot. 
 

W: It was a lot. I don’t think I processed how much it was. I think I’m still processing how much it was.

We met in person in the summer of 2012. It was just so strange. Because so much of it was so normal. But meeting your first mother you’ve never met until the age of 29 is not normal. It’s not a normal thing to do. Yet all that happened was she hopped on a train and came to the city where I lived, and I met her outside this random building. I walked up to this woman, and this city does not have a lot of Black folks, so I knew who it was, even if I hadn’t seen her close enough up to realize she looks exactly like me.
 
I’m trying not to fall apart. We’re in the middle of the public square. I was physically shaking. She was extremely stoic; I was not. I was crying, but trying to hold it together. We embraced.  We didn’t speak in the first moments.  I bought her lunch, after. We just sat there and chatted. It was very strange that we were doing such normal things. I just kept looking at her, like, is this happening? Is this real?
 

It will never not be strange. Here’s the thing about reunion. It’s beautiful, and wonderful, and absolutely terrible, and heartwrenching, all at the same time. The intensity of it. Nothing else I’ve experienced has the strange intensity of being in reunion.

One of my sisters and I didn’t undersand how to be in each other’s lives. We fought, and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. Fighting with a sibling after being in reunion, it was terrible. We have to be very careful now. 
 
It’s nature and nurture. We are both people who will argue that the grass is blue and the sky is green if we think we can carry it off. We have to be right. When two people like this get in a fight, it’s freaking ugly. And so at a certain point, I said, “I can’t talk to you. I’m in danger of saying something unforgiveable, and if I don’t, you will; so we’re not going to talk right now.” We didn’t talk for a year and a half. 
 
You’ve had this longing for connection, authentic connection and belonging —  the belonging is a really big piece — and then to fight with the person you finally experience it with? No thank you. 
 
When that relationship went wrong, did it make you feel like there was something wrong with you, like maybe you don’t know how to have relationships with people?
 
W: This fighting was happening before I came out of the fog. I got the fairy tale ending with the reunion; how did this go so wrong? Is it me? Is there something wrong with me?
 
I’ve said to my first mother, “You and I, we cannot fight. We have to be able to have a conversation before it turns into a fight.”
 
There have been times when we had a miscommunication or missed contact] and I was having a reaction like, “You’re leaving me again!” and I’m in a panic. And I have said to her, “We can’t have a fight, because I will go out of my mind.
 
 Is your first mother motherly to you? Does she perform the function of a mother, or is it a different kind of relationship?
 
W: This is one of the griefs I carry. When we have those moments when she’s acting in a motherly way, that brings into sharp relief the relationship we lost. Even though we have those moments, we can’t get back what we lost. She is my first mother, but she wasn’t my mother for 28 years. You can’t come into somebody’s life when they’re twenty-eight and be their mother, you just can’t. 
 

This may be a loaded question, but do you call yourself a pro-lifer?

W: I consider myself pro-life. I’m not a huge fan of that term. That has more to do with what comes out of the mouths of other people that associate themselves with that term. One of the arguments pro-lifers come at me with is, “Well, would you rather have been aborted?” No, and if you see those two options in such a black and white dichotomy, you’re not very intellectually flexible, are you? 

I’ll say that, as a Catholic and someone who is pro-life and as an adopted person, and someone who sees this tension and the trauma that is inherent, I find myself in a very precarious position. 
 
The adult adoptee community are vehemently prochoice. I can see exactly why. For some adopted people, they’ve been so affected by this trauma, some will say, “Yeah, it might have been better for me if I had never been born, than to live in this much pain.” And then there’s the concern that if someone does not want to carry a child and give birth, they should not be forced to; they should have that option to terminate. And from a bodily automomy perspective, I can see that. But as a Catholic, I see that new life, that soul.  If I weren’t Catholic, I would probably be pro-choice. I probably wouldn’t have been, until I came out of the fog.  
 
I am the only practicing Catholic in my immediate family, one of two in my extended family. The story of my Catholicism is a whole other story. The bottom line is, by the time I came out of the fog, if I hadn’t been Catholic, that would have been the end of me being prolife.  And though I am, I make a lot of Catholics angry by saying I don’t think legal prohibition of abortion is a good answer.
 
 As vehemently as I am prolife, I can absolutely see the other side. I can see both sides, and when both sides dig in their heels, this is how we don’t make progress. Both sides are busy screaming at each other and vilifying each other. 
 
Wendy, I appreciate you sharing all these personal things with me.
 
W: Well, nobody’s been telling me to get therapy or calling me a horrible ungrateful wretch, so this is new, this is good. The funny thing about the “get therapy” thing is that good therapy is the reason I’m able to have this conversation in this way.
 
That’s one of my things. Adoptive parents, go to therapy. I know you don’t think you need it, but you freaking do. Don’t you dare adopt a child until you’ve been to therapy. 
 
That surprises me. I would kind of assume that people would. 
 
W: I don’t know what the process is like now, when someone approaches an agency to adopt a child. I’m so interested to know if it’s suggested, strongly suggested, required? 
 
When the older of my half sisters and I first connected, before we were allowed to talk to each other, we were supposed to have 4 or 6 separate [therapy] sessions about this reunion experience. Then there was this other option, where they would send you all this reading material, and you had to sign sworn statement that you had read it and don’t have questions. I’m waiving any right to say I was harmed by this process, because I’ve chosen not to do the therapy. 

Who required this?

 

W: Family and Children’s Services. You could ask to be named on the adoption registery, and if someone else who they could trace as being related to you was also named, you would get this official letter that this relative has also registestered. If youd  like to have contact, you can. 

There was a social worker assigned to our case. She could talk to my sister and she could talk to me, but we weren’t allowed to talk to each other until either the therapy was complete, or we’d signed that waiver. I called the social worker one time, and my sister was in the office, but it was against the law to talk to each other. It’s against the law for me to talk to my flesh and blood sister.
 

There was another time. I got what’s referred to as “non identifying information about my first mother and her family. It was biographical information without identifying details, and it was like, pastimes and hobbies and how tall they were. No medical information; why would I need that? That’s another fun thing, when you have medical mysteries going on, and you go to the doctor and they say, “Do you have a family history of this?” and you say, “I don’t freaking know.”

The other time this weird gate keeping happened, was I was already in reuinion with my first mother, and I thought, what happens now if I ask for non-identifying information? Because the one I had from when my parents requested was so redacted, whole paragraphs were missing. 

 

So I requested it again in 2011. I called the F and CS office in my hometown and was told, “When you come in and pick it up, we’ll have you sit down with a counsellor. There’s information you might find distressing.”

I told her, “Let me tell you, I have met my first mother, and she told me the story, and yeah, it’s pretty damn distressing. Whatever’s in that document, I already know about it, because she told me. If I have to get therapy, I’ll get therapy. I live five hours away; I’m not coming in to do therapy five hours away.  Mail the documents, please.”

 
Finally I had to write a whole letter saying I understand there’s distressing information in this file, I probably aready know it, and I’m releasing you from any liability if I’m emotionally damaged; now give me my freaking documents.
 
And they were still redacted.
 
It’s your history, and they’re keeping it from you. That must feel so strange.
 

W: You get that growing up. I knew my parents knew more than they were telilng me, because of this non-identifying information.

It’s my information; how am I not ready to have it? Some of it would have been pretty difficult to find an age appropriate way to say that, but by the time I was thirteen or fifteen. Tell me something. 

 
When people say, “Why are you so angry?” I am.  It’s that erasure of history. That erasure of ancestry. That erasure of identity. It’s actually not necessary to provide care and stability to someone. But the adoption industry wouldn’t thrive without it. Because it has to be the fairytale where you live happily ever after with a new family.  No one wants to talk about what you lost, first.
 
 
 
 
***
Image via Pxfuel 

We talked about the cross

When I used to teach catechism, with a loud and hopping little class of eight- and nine-year-olds, most of them were more or less willing to learn how to repent of their little sins.

So we talked about the cross. Of course we talked about the cross.

“Let me see your best sign of the cross,” I would call out in my best teacher voice, with one eye fixed on those two boys who would make the most trouble. “Let’s start the class off right,” I would say. And we would cross ourselves: up, down, left, right, amen, begin.

One of the things I told them about was Miguel Pro. Here was a guy who was so joyful, full of tricks and jokes and trouble, but he was really ready to serve, and things got serious very quickly. He had to sneak around to be a priest, and he soon got arrested for it, and you know the rest.

You know the famous photo, which I decided to show my class: There he stands before the firing squad with his arms out, making a cross with his body. That’s what he decided to do with his life: Make a cross.

I told the kids that, when they were baptized, they were marked with a cross, sealed, signed. “You know how pirates do,” I said. (Things pop out of your mouth when you’re in front of a group of kids). “You know how, when they bury their treasure, they mark the spot so they can come back for it? How do they mark it?”

They all knew it was with an X. “Well, God marks his treasure with a cross,” I said. “That’s where his treasure is: That’s the spot that he wants to come back to. That’s the thing that he cares about: Right in the middle of the cross.”

And they believed me. They knew that Jesus was on the cross, and they saw that, when they made the cross on themselves, they were right there, with Jesus.

Plain as day. I thought about having them stand and make a cross with their bodies like Miguel Pro about to be shot full of holes, but we settled for making a sign on ourselves, marking the spot where God’s treasure is.

It’s right there: Up, down, left, right, amen. And I had them shout: VIVA CHRISTO REY. It was close to the end of class, and any time we had a little free time, we got a little shouting in. VIVA CHRISTO REY.

I know this is too much for little children.

Who is this not too much for? …Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

 

 

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Image: Execution of Miguel Pro by Grentidez, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

What’s for supper? Vol. 273: Bread in every language, straight from the heart

I almost forgot to do a food post! And that would be a shame, because I have so many carbs to tell you about. Plus rat on a stick. 

SATURDAY
Burgers and fries

Saturday was forty-three years ago. 

SUNDAY
Pasta  with red sauce and sausages, garlic bread

Damien made this and it was deliciouso. He didn’t write anything down, but he said it was basically like in Godfather. 

from Godfather GIFs via Gfycat

No, sadly, not that part. The Clemenza part with the little sugar and the little wine.

 

via Gfycat

And that’s my secret. 

It really was highly delicious, and I don’t just mean the sight of my husband in an apron. 

I don’t know how we got along all these years without cheap parmesan wedges from Aldi, to be shaved directly over one’s steaming plate of pasta. 

MONDAY
Ham, mashed potatoes, string beans with caramelized pecans

The children were jonesing for their favorite meal, ham, peas, and mashed potatoes. I’m not crazy about ham, but it sure is easy, especially if you buy a fully-cooked one and cut it up first, then heat it up. And that’s my secret. Oh, and I had some of that amazing stone ground mustard with the ham.

It’s sweet and tasty and makes ham much more interesting. It has these weird little popping bits in it that I guess are mustard seeds? I don’t know, but it’s super fun to eat. 

I thought we had frozen peas, but it turned out I only had some bag of fresh string beans, alas.

Right before dinner, I got the idea to spiff them up a little bit. (It was a lot of steps, but they were all fast, easy steps.) You boil the string beans in salty water and then dunk them in ice water to stop the cooking, and dry them off. Melt a bunch of butter and brown sugar in a pan, toast the nuts in the oven, then caramelize the nuts in the butter and sugar. Then put the string beans into the butter-sugar-nut mixture and heat it all up. There’s a recipe, but that’s basically all it is (I assume. I skimmed, I skimmed.) 

 

Everyone liked them, and they ate a lot more vegetables than they would have if I hadn’t essentially made them into candy, let me assure you [nods wisely with sugar trickling out of ears].

 

TUESDAY
French onion soup and cheesy ranch pull-apart bread with bacon

This is where the week really started to get away from me. And honestly, I’m thinking back to the conversation I was having with my husband about how my weight loss just isn’t coming along at the pace I would like, and, well, okay, I hear it. Anyway, you fry up three pounds of bacon, set them aside to cool, melt two sticks of butter and add a packet or two of Ranch dressing seasoning and mix well. Cut up three sturdy loaves of bread in a criss-cross pattern, leaving the bottom intact so it holds together. Shred two or three 8-ounce blocks of cheddar cheese. Stuff the cheese and bacon down into the cuts in the bread, and then pour the ranch butter all over the loaves. 

Preheat the oven, wrap the loaves in tin foil, and bake for 15 minutes or so. Then unwrap them and bake for another 10 minutes until the cheese is melted and the bread is a little toasted. Serve immediately, before you come to your senses. 

I also made a nice pot of simple french onion soup using this very basic recipe.

Jump to Recipe

I think I actually increased the onions and butter, decreased the water, and increased the wine, because, I don’t know, it was raining. I had my soup with plenty of fresh parmesan on top. I don’t bother baking the parmesan on, because I’m hungry. 

A very fine meal. Possibly more butter than is strictly recommended for a single human to consume in one sitting. Better lie down. 

WEDNESDAY
Nachos

Not gonna lie, these were fairly lousy nachos. I was just very distracted. One pan was chips, plain ground beef, and cheese, and one pan was chips, ground beef with chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, and pepper, and cheese. I hurled some sour cream and salsa at the table and went to lie down. 

THURSDAY
Khachapuri and sausages

On Thursday, I got my mojo back and was ready to start carbing it up again. We had khachapuri — Georgian boat-shaped bread stuffed with cheese, with an egg baked into it — once, back in the spring, and they were delicious, but very labor intensive. This time I bought some pizza dough, and that sped things up tremendously. I made four boats with each ball of dough. 

You roll or stretch the dough into a round about 10 inches wide, then roll the two ends toward the middle, like a scroll. Pinch the rolled ends together on each side to make a gondola shape, then stuff the inside with a cheese mixture (I used ricotta, mozzarella, and feta). Brush with egg wash, bake for a while, then make a little well, crack an egg into it, and bake a little longer until the white is set but the yolk is still a little loose.

Mmmmm.

Top with fresh parsley and some red pepper flakes and freshly-ground sea salt.

Mother of pearl, these were tasty. The cheese stuffing is fluffy and mild and the whole thing is just so fragrant and eggy and cozy.  I fried up a bunch of breakfast sausage to go with it, and it was a delightfully filling meal. Probably the perfect November food.

FRIDAY
Domino’s

Supposed to be homemade pizza, which I felt a little sheepish about since we’d already had so many bread and cheese meals already, but I forgot to take the dough out in time. I was feeling fairly floppy anyway, and fell asleep in the adoration chapel, and we’re going to see a kid in a play tonight, so Damien made the call to Domino’s, and lo, it was a good call. 

The only other thing I have to add is that I turned my back for one minute and somebody did this to my menu planning board.

I want it on the record that not once, not even during Lent, did I serve rat on a stick. Gruel, maybe. 

Simple French onion soup

Serve with a piece of toasted baguette at the bottom of each bowl. Finish with cheese on top.

Ingredients

  • 4 Tbsp butter
  • 4 cups onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 Tbsp flour
  • 1 tsp white sugar
  • 4-6 cups beef broth (can also use chicken broth or a combination of water and white wine)
  • pepper
  • parmesan or mozzarella cheese

Instructions

  1. In a heavy pot, melt the butter and then add the onions. Cook very slowly over a low heat for about an hour, stirring occasionally, until the onions are very soft and somewhat darkened.

  2. Stir in the sugar until dissolved. Stir in the flour and mix to coat.

  3. Add the broth (or water and wine). Add pepper to taste and simmer for at least 30 minutes, preferably longer.

  4. Serve with a hunk of toasted bread in the bottom of each bowl. Sprinkle cheese on top, and if you have oven-safe dishes, brown under the broiler to form a skin on top of the soup.

Christmas Gifts our 10 kids loved: The 2021 list

By request, here is the annual Fisher Christmas present gift idea list: 40ish things our family actually bought for each other and actually enjoyed. Our kids are now ages 6, 9, 12, 14, 15, 17, 19, 21, 22, and 23, so Christmas morning is not the toy-a-palooza that it once was (although we did break down and buy some of those insane life-sized stuffed unicorns and dragons from Walmart, and I haven’t seen the bedroom floor since).

If you want present lists geared more toward younger kids, you can check out previous years’ lists at the end of the post, and the further back you go, the younger ages the list will be geared toward. (I’m sorry about that sentence. It has been a week.)

Last year, we bought customized masks as stocking stuffers. If you are looking for excellent, well-crafted, comfortable masks with the most interesting fabrics, I heartily recommend browsing around in Door Number 9 or Stitchcraft Yarns

Okay, here’s the present list! Random as heck, hope you like it. 

Light up wireless karaoke microphone

Not gonna lie, this is a terrible product, in that it works very well, is very loud and bright, and is hard to break. It’s a real, heavy microphone, not a toy, with a speaker built into it, and puts on a little light show when the music plays. Links up to your smartphone. It’s just terribly obnoxious. The kids love it. You can also use it just as a wireless speaker.

Corrie had a mania for “disco parties” for a while, so this was for her,  paired with:

Plug-in disco light:

Casts multi-colored razzle dazzle moving lights all over the room. It’s a small device but does a serviceable job. The cord is not very long but works fine otherwise. 

Stainless steel french press

A pretty, shiny french press, works like it’s supposed to. 

Day 6 K-pop mini posters and stickers

I don’t even know. I think they grew these guys in a lab. 

Beginner’s acoustic guitar set

We got two of these, one in black and one in blue:

Also comes in pink, red, and other shades. 

Gonna be honest, I don’t know anything about guitars, but two of our kids taught themselves how to pick out some songs using this exact set-up, so it definitely comes with everything you need to get started, for a very reasonable price. 

For an older kid, who already plays:

Beatles chord songbook:

This also comes in normal book binding, but the spiral is nice because it opens up flat. If you’re not learning how to play Beatles songs, then what are you even doing with a guitar? 

*

Embossing rolling pin

A small-sized rolling pin, makes pretty repeating designs in cookie or pie dough, as shown. Click through for other designs.

*

Reversible skater dress

Two for one! A thick, somewhat shiny, stretchy material, fully reversible. Cute idea, runs small. Click through for other pattern combinations. 

*

National Geographic Backyard Guide to the Night Sky

paired with:

Celestron beginner astronomy binoculars

These binoculars are designed specifically for night viewing. 7X magnification, easy to use. 

*

Several of our kids got into knitting over the pandemic, so there were a lot of miscellaneous knitting notions and supplies:

tapestry needles

for finishing up the ends, I guess? I don’t know, I don’t knit. 

rainbow stork scissors

Rosewood yarn bowl

A lovely handmade item, decorative and useful. Keep your yarn from getting tangled while you knit. You can feed more than one strand out at a time. 

Yarn tote and organizer

lots of handy pockets and compartments with a drawstring closure on top and a little hole to feed the yarn through, similar to the yarn bowl above. 

*

For the film buff:

Fast, Cheap, and Under Control: Lessons Learned from the Greatest Low-Budget Movies of All Time by John Gaspard

paired with a subscription to The Criterion Channel.

*

I think this was actually a birthday present: Tweed handmade Irish wool wrap 

Amazingly soft, subtle, and adaptable to dress up or down. Lots of colors and varieties at the site, but this one has little bits of different colors in it, so it goes with anything.  For Christmas, we paired it with:

this copper scarf/cloak/hair pin

Even nicer in person, very generously sized, very bright and cleverly made. A lovely piece that can be worn many ways. 

*

For the DIY guy:

Make: Props and Costume Armor: Create Realistic Science Fiction & Fantasy Weapons, Armor, and Accessories

paired with a Michael’s gift card, which you can also buy on Amazon because it’s a weird world.

*

Nice little stuffed pink axolotl 

21 inches. Has a friendly little face, as an axolotl should.

*

Swiss army knife

I wonder how many of these we’ve bought over the years? The red ones are the best ones. 

*

Clear plastic BTS tote bag

If someone in your household wants one of these, you don’t need an explanation. If no one wants one, there can be no explanation. 

*

A little baking set we put together:

Set of three silicone heart-shaped cake pans to make a fancy layer cake

These are unusually deep cake pans.

Cat paws oven mitts

Super thick and protective, very cute. Big enough for an adult to wear. And now for the star attraction:

Personalized chef’s hat and apron

A huge hit. They will personalize it however you like, and it’s a sturdy, well-made, authentic-looking chef’s hat that stands up nicely on the head. Adorable. Comes with a plain apron. 

*

Gazebo bird feeder

A very large bird feeder. Easy to fill, easy to hang on a sturdy wire loop. 

*

J-Hope BTS doll

This is a representative sample. We bought so many of these stupid dolls over the course of the year. It’s fine. BTS is fine. These are detailed little guys who will sit on your shelf and not make any trouble. 

*

Working On a Song: The Lyrics of Hadestown

Hadestown! Can’t get enough of that tragical stuff!

*

Kalimba (thumb piano)

a sweet little portable instrument for picking out quiet tunes or accompanying singers. Click through for a little video to hear how it sounds. 

*

Book-shaped book lamp

Closes up and looks like a real book; opens up and lights up. Just a pleasant little lamp. Not super sturdy for little kids, but better made than we were expecting. 

*

Fannie Farmer Cookbook

For our first kid who moved out. This is a great cookbook to launch you with all kinds of basic recipes, as well as general information about how to select, prep, and store food. Marion Cunningham has a reassuring, no-nonsense style that’s great for young people learning how to cook and bake. Includes recipes I’ve been using for thirty years or more. 

*

Heart diffraction glasses

A big hit. Put these magical glasses on and wherever you look, light sources turn into heart shapes, so the world is swimming in multicolored hearts. The more lights, the more hearts, hooray! The glasses themselves are quite sturdy, and are large enough for an adult to wear. They look like sunglasses in the picture, but in real life the glass is clear like reading glasses. 

*

Dino chompster hoodie

As you can see, this is one of those hoodies where you bend your elbows in front of you and, if you move them right, they become the chomping, slavering jaws of a hungry dinosaur! Amazing! Chomp chomp chomp! Thick nylon material, runs rather large. 

*

Surfing Bigfoot Hawaiian shirt

For that special weirdo. 

*

Fit and flare bird print dress

Just an elegant little dress with realistic birds of various kinds. Thick, soft stretchy knit material, falls gracefully, plenty of fabric in the skirt so it flares prettily when you spin. We bought an adult size small for our nine-year-old and it fit her nicely. 

*

K-pop “I love you” hat

As advertised. Click through for a number of color choices. Thick, warm hat, runs a bit small. 

*

Smith and Wesson 8-inch folding knife

For when they’ve outgrown the little red Swiss Army Knife, above, and are maybe a young woman going to college and you never know who might need stabulatin’. (I jest. These are handy for opening packages and cutting fruit and whatnot, though, and are satisfyingly heavy knives that fold up with a good snap.)

*

Ballerina jewelry box

Not a deluxe model, but it plays the requisite tune from “Swan Lake” and the little ballerina spins around. The other thing every little girl should have, besides a Smith and Wesson folding knife. 

*

plush Darkwing Duck

For that one kid who has, for reasons unknown, latched on to this rather mediocre show and loves it. This is actually a heavy, well-made plushie. 

***

And there it is! Hope you found something that might work for your family that is not a life-sized stuffed unicorn. 

Here are my lists from previous years:

The 2020 list (25 presents)

The 2019 list (25 presents)

The 2018 list (50 presents)
 
The 2017 list (50 presents)
 
The 2016 list (50 presents)
 
The 2015 list (25 presents under $50)
 
The 2014 list (50 presents)

Good luck! 

One awkward final note: I used make a little commission every time someone bought something using my links, and boy, would I clean up! Heating oil all winter long, let me tell you! Tragically, I fell out of Amazon’s good graces, and don’t earn commissions anymore. So if you do happen to go through this list and think, “Dang, Simcha really saved my bacon this year with that idea about the kalimba!” you could always drop a tip in . . . honest to goodness, I thought I had a tip jar on this site. Well, my PayPal address is simchafisher@gmail.com, my Venmo is @Simcha-Fisher, and it’s gauche as heck, but I’m definitely accepting tips, if the spirit moves you. And of course if you want to become a regular patron of the site, that’s excellent

Sweeping changes at Regina Caeli after scandal

After bombshell revelations about an illicit relationship between board members and possible financial misconduct, there’s massive restructuring afoot at Regina Caeli Academy, and the organization will undergo a forensic audit, the board announced early this morning.

Rich Beckman, the husband of disgraced founder and former Executive Director of Regina Caeli and Veritatis Splendor Kari Beckman, has resigned, and Nicole Juba is now the Executive Director.

The Board said in a letter to RCA families and staff:

“The Board will initiate an independent forensic audit to determine if there were any financial irregularities and take appropriate actions based on those findings.”

The changes they’ve announced are making some parents consider coming back to Regina Caeli. 

“If they do what they say they’ll do, I’ll be a happy camper,” said Debbie Sercely, a Texas mother of three and former RCA tutor.

Sercely quit Regina Caeli when the homeschool hybrid academy abruptly announced their affiliation with the utopian megadevelopment Veritatis Splendor

“The biggest problem I had was with their financial opacity. There wasn’t a lot of clarity about where the money [for Veritatis Splendor] was going to come from or how it was going to be spent. There was a lot of, ‘It’s all part of RCA, so it’ll be fine,’ Well, no,” Sercely said.

RCA had been accused, in an anonymous letter to the board and in a formal complaint sent to the IRS, of financial misconduct. It charged that, while she headed Regina Caeli, Executive Director Kari Beckman used Regina Caeli as her personal bank account, used RCA funds for Veritatis Splendor expenses without the knowledge or consent of donors, required RCA employees to work for Veritatis Splendor, and made personal use of a luxury home and vehicle paid for by Regina Caeli funds while promoting Veritatis Splendor. Regina Caeli was listed as a parent company of Veritatis Splendor, and the finances of the two organizations were apparently merged, although the Veritatis Splendor project is a planned community that did not and would not benefit the homeschool hybrid academy in any way.

The purchase for the land on which Veritatis Splendor was to be built was made with a loan from James Faber, a Regina Caeli board member. According to the letter from the board, Faber has been named the new interim board president.

The letter states that “a generous benefactor, with full knowledge of Mrs. Beckman’s situation, has emerged to make the separation of Regina Caeli and Veritatis Splendor (VS) a reality. ”

“This donor will be purchasing the remaining land at VS, which will provide the funds that will repay all RCA expenditures for VS. VS will become its own non-profit organization completely separate from RCA. This will relieve RCA from all financial burdens with regard to VS. This separation will allow each organization to successfully pursue its own mission. The Board is committed to providing periodic updates as to the progress of these efforts to ensure accountability and transparency,” the letter said.

More than one family expressed concerns that, even if Kari Beckman were to be removed, the current board was hand-selected by Beckman to do her bidding; but the letter says the board is soliciting nominations from families “to reconstitute the Board of Directors.” 

The letter ends:

“Regina Caeli was not built upon one person, but has continued to grow and develop by virtue of the talents and sacrifice of all our staff, families, tutors, assistants, volunteers, and, of course, our children. Regina Caeli is bigger than one person. Let this now carry us forward to sustain the mission of training the mind to form the soul.”

The IRS complaint against Regina Caeli Academy was mailed late last week. Federal law prohibits the IRS office from commenting on private taxpayer matters, but if a criminal case results from an investigation, that information will become public record.  

Sercely said she had had some hesitations about Regina Caeli when she first joined. She wasn’t happy that their history curriculum included glowing praise of Robert E. Lee, and she describes their dress code as misogynistic, focusing heavily on females covering their bodies, and ignoring the need for males to learn to control their eyes. 

“Because of that, there have definitely been some families that have hesitated about joining Regina Caeli. That was kind of a red flag,” Sercely said. 

“But I’m really hopeful that, with a significant change in leadership, we might see some real changes in some of the policies that are trying to out-Catholic the pope,” she said.

She said that the format of RCA works very well with her young family, with classroom days providing the structure and stability they need, while still allowing for flexibility and down-time. 

 
No change for Veritatis Splendor

Yesterday, Veritatis Splendor sent a letter to its mailing list reassuring “Viculus familes” that there will be no interruption in its mission. 

“We want to assure our Viculus families that the mission of Veritatis Spendor will continue without interruption, and that if anything, this shows just how important the work of this community really is. Bishop Strickland, our clergy and the seminarians are unwavering in their support for VS and have assured us that they will be united with us to keep up our fight for the good.”

The letter also informs participants of the donor referenced in the RCA board letter.  

“You should be aware that a generous benefactor, with full knowledge of Kari’s situation, has emerged in the midst of this great challenge to ensure that the plans for VS are not hindered, stalled or delayed in any way,” the Veritatis Splendor letter said. 

It is not clear how many people have actually invested in Veritatis Splendor. One purchase has been confirmed. Plots of land are available for sale for between $90,000 and $250,000. Their fundraiser, whose stated goal was $3.2 million, raised $100,128. It was last updated on April 30 with a conceptual rendering of the oratory. 

We called Bishop Strickland’s office for comment, but were told he was “not available this week” and that “nobody in the building has anything to do with Veritatis Splendor.” 

Sercely had another reason besides her financial concerns for leaving Regina Caeli, once they announced their affiliation with Veritatis Splendor. 

“The reason I will never support that cult is the permanence of the priests. There is no option to remove a priest who is abusive. It’s a breeding ground for grooming and abuse, and I will not contribute one breath of my efforts to allow other people to be abused. Not one red cent, not one nanosecond of my time,” she said. 

Sercely is referring to the fact that, in the proposed “village,” there will live a community of priests who are not subject to transfers or re-assignments,” according to the Veritatis Splendor case statement.

These priests will be Oratorians in the tradition of St. Philip Neri. Oratorians are not a religious order; they are secular priests (i.e., they have not made religious vows). Oratorians must have permission from the local bishop to found an Oratory (which is not a parish church), such as the one proposed for Veritatis Splendor; but the community of priests is relatively autonomous. They answer not to the bishop of the diocese in which they live, but to Rome. The bishop has, according to canon law, a duty to be “vigilant” about their spiritual well-being and about the effects of the community in his diocese, but the relationship between the diocese and such communities is not clearly defined. 

“With the board of directors saying Regina Caeli and Veritatis Splendaor are completely separate, I’m sobbing, I’m so grateful. We’re seriously considering coming back to Regina Caeli,” Sercely said.

Who funded Kari Beckman’s fall from grace?

By Simcha and Damien Fisher

Kari Beckman was going to build Veritatis Splendor, a village of Catholic “true believers” in the heart of Texas. Now, after acknowledging an illicit relationship, reportedly with Texas Right to Life head and Regina Caeli board member Jim Graham, she’s moved out of the property’s luxury ranch and back to Atlanta, and has stepped down as executive director of Regina Caeli Academy and Veritatis Splendor. 

As for the village, one $3 million loan later, not a single structure has yet been built on the land, and the members of Regina Caeli across the nation are left wondering if their homeschool tuition fees and bake sale fundraising dollars paid for the grandiose Tyler, Texas project, or for any of  Beckman’s other, more clandestine activities of the past year.

Beckman, who founded the homeschool hybrid Regina Caeli Academy in 2003, sent a letter to the members of Regina Caeli at the end of last week acknowledging “a terrible lapse in judgment with a personal relationship.” Multiple sources confirmed the relationship was with Jim Graham. Beckman and Graham are both married. Beckman said she immediately sought forgiveness through the sacrament of confession, and then, months later, confessed to her husband. She said that she and her husband then both went to the board of Regina Caeli and told them “what had occurred,” and then stepped down as Executive Director. 

Shortly before she stepped down, the Board of Directors received an anonymous letter alleging Beckman had carried on an illicit sexual relationship with Graham.  Graham was also, until recently, on the Board of Regina Caeli, but his name has recently been removed from that site, along with Kari Beckman’s name. Beckman’s husband remains listed as a board member. Three other board members are no longer listed on the site, and Nicole Juba has been named acting Executive Director.  

Texas Right to Life is the organization that launched prolifewhistleblower.com, the tipline website that lets people report abortions in hopes of collecting a $10,000 bounty under the controversial new “Texas Heartbeat Act” (SB8), and Jim Graham has been instrumental in the Texas pro-life movement’s hard shift toward the right. The website has gone offline twice, and now redirects to the Texas Right to Life site, but does not currently function as a tipline. The law, which has undergone several legal challenges, has been unpopular even within some factions of the conservative pro-life community, some of whom view it as anything from distasteful to politically reckless to counter-productive.

Graham, who appears in a fundraising video for Veritatis Splendor along with Beckman, has been Executive Director of Texas Right to Life, which was founded by his father, since 1994. Neither Graham nor the media representative for the Texas Right to Life returned phone calls seeking comment.

“This is two heads of very Catholic organizations. We literally do hold ourselves to a higher standard. And to be lectured about virtue while this was going on . . . unbelievable,” said one Regina Caeli Academy parent and former tutor. She asked not to be identified, for fear of reprisal. 

The parent is referring to the fact that Regina Caeli and Veritatis Splendor, including in the very video in which Beckman and Graham both appear, both explicitly framed their organizations as a refuge from the immorality of the secular world. Parents flocked to Regina Caeli in part because it emphasizes the development of personal virtues and traditional values like chastity and self-control. 

“The fact that my kids’ tuition was funding their affair,” the parent said, and then attached a “vomit” emoji to their message. 

 

“We essentially bought them a ranch.”

But it’s not merely a matter of spiritual hypocrisy that distresses this and other Regina Caeli families. The anonymous letter-writer told us they also filed two complaints with the IRS on November 12 asking for an investigation of Beckman’s possible financial misuse of Regina Caeli funds. The complaints accused Regina Caeli of “using assets for personal gain” and “questionable fundraising practices.”

As one RCA parent put it, “We essentially bought them a ranch.”

But the alleged financial malfeasance goes deeper than that. The letter-writer alleged, “Mrs. Beckman uses Regina Caeli as her personal bank account” and that Beckman hand-selected the board to do her bidding, and deliberately hid her financial activities from the families who supplied the money she allegedly spent. Regina Caeli’s most recent tax forms list their total assets in 2018 at $4.2 million, with $3.4 million in liabilities.

The letter to the IRS enumerates four major complaints involving Regina Caeli Academy and Veritatis Splendor:

-That Regina Caeli Academy employees were pulled from their RCA jobs to launch and raise funds for Veritatis Splendor;

-that RCA borrowed over $3 million from an RCA board member to finance the property for Veritatis Splendor;

-that the RCA board approved the purchase of a $45,000 Chevy Tahoe for Veritatis Splendor, and has been paying for its insurance, even though the vehicle does not serve Regina Caeli in any way;

-and that the property, purchased by RCA, contains a luxury lodge in which the Beckman family has been living for many months.

The complaint says:

 “Fundraising at Regina Caeli was of the utmost importance. Families were required to fundraise in a variety of ways, and were always told that this fundraising was to support the education and mission of Regina Caeli. Of the $423,509.79 that was fundraised between Oct. 20, 2020 and May 21, 2021, how much of that was used for Regina Caeli? How much was used to purchase a piece of land in Winona, Texas so Mrs. Beckman could form a cult?”

The person filing the complaint also had further questions:

“When Regina Caeli Academy used travel and hotel rewards programs for training, campus visits, etc, who reaped the benefits of those massive rewards points? Were those put on Regina Caeli rewards cards, or Mrs. Beckman’s personal rewards cards? Did the Beckman family travel and vacation using those points? 

“Is Regina Caeli going to provide Board meeting minutes for the Board meetings where Jim Graham was present as a member of the Board, while the affair was taking place? 

“Is Regina Caeli planning to undergo a financial audit? If Mrs. Beckman had such a major lapse in judgement with regards to her personal life, what would prevent her from having a lapse in judgement in the financial affairs of the organization?”

 

No board member has responded to our repeated calls for comment. Kari Beckman, Rich Beckman, Jim Graham, Nicole Juba, and Regina Caeli and Vertitatis Splendor’s communications offices have not responded to our repeated calls for comment. Bishop Joseph Strickland, an outspoken booster of Veritatis Splendor, was not available for comment.

 

When Regina Caeli members were first abruptly informed that their school was now an umbrella organization for a quasi-religious megadevelopment in Texas, some complained. 

One member said that she and her husband were assured that, at some point, the finances of Regina Caeli Academy and Veritatis Splendor would be separated, but that “these things take time.”

“When I and many other families expressed our surprise and displeasure at this being sprung on us out of nowhere, we were basically told, ‘It’s our organization and we can do whatever the heck we want, and if you don’t like it, there’s the door,'” one former tutor said. 

 

Regina Caeli families were, however, offered the opportunity to buy land at Veritatis Splendor. On August 4, RCA families received a letter from Kari Beckman claiming there has been a “HUGE and overwhelming response to those interested in purchasing lots” which range in price from $90,000 to $140,000 and are between 2 and 5 acres. Beckman reminded prospective buyers that, while the lots are selling quickly, there is no need to build right away after purchasing one, and that lots may be purchased “for primary or vacation/retreat homes.” 

The former tutor confirms that she knows just one family who invested $90,000 in Veritatis Splendor land, but said jokingly that the rest of her RCA friends had no interest in accepting Kari Beckman as the head of their homeowner’s association.

“No way, Jose,” she said. 

Talking sideways

 

This isn’t the first time Regina Caeli has been accused of a lack of financial transparency. In 2016, a former RCA member filed a lawsuit alleging that, when he asked to review financial information so he could determine how the school was spending the money their group raised and solicited, the director responded that “it was not RCA’s ‘style’ to provide any financial information, other than the IRS form 990’s.” The suit alleges RCA then retaliated against the entire family for their inquiry. The suit also alleged that RCA ran afoul of Michigan charitable fundraising laws. The lawsuit was settled out of court.

While it’s rare for a member to muster a lawsuit against RCA, it’s common for members and former members to complain that their concerns go unheard, and that they’re routinely bullied into silence under the guise of christian charity. 

The school explicitly forbids what it called “murmuring,” allegedly to discourage a spirit of gossip among the families involved. 

 

“Conflict is viewed through a religious lens,” said one former employee. “Instead of taking [complaints] seriously on their merits, this spiritual lens means if you disagree, you’re not just wrong; you’re bad.

 

“It starts with totally appropriate conflict resolution based on [the book of] Matthew: Go to your brother, etc. Keep things in the proper channels of communication. As a first principle, this is good. However, that morphs into culture. There is this total obsession with not ‘talking sideways’ or gossiping. Don’t talk to anybody about any issues you have, from small to big.

 

“But most of the families are also employees. So if I have an issue, I only have one person I’m supposed to talk to, and their next person up is Kari, or one person down from up. There is a near obsession with, ‘Who have you talked to about this?’ If you’re mad, talk to that person. That’s good. But it morphs into a hierarchical obsession with being quiet,” the former employee said. 

 

At the same time, the school exerted a tight micromanagement of its members — sometimes insisting on puritanical standards that contrast starkly with what members now know about Beckman’s private behavior.

 

The school cracked down on staffers who shared photos of themselves in tank tops on social media. There are bizarre stories of moral panic over innocent outings with even the whiff of immorality. A group of Regina Caeli families travelled together to see a production of The Nutcracker, and although it was not an official school outing, they had used the school email to communicate about it, and Regina Caeli heads considered the trip problematic because the tutus worn by the dancers were too short, and deemed the show “soft porn.”

 

The former employee said that she remembers how Beckman once saw a staff member post on social media about decorating her house for Christmas, and Beckman contacted her to chide her, saying that visible Christmas decorations during the Advent season could cause scandal.
 

This pervasive straight-laced environment has made the revelations of extramarital misconduct especially hard for RCA members to stomach. Several members recalled that, when they applied to teach for Regina Caeli, they were required to sign a statement of fidelity to the magisterium, and that, during their interview, Regina Caeli recruiters asked them if their marriage was canonically valid, and whether they use contraception. 

“Apparently, the sexual ethics of one family was so critical to the culture of the organization, but the fact that the executive director is sleeping with a board member is something that can just be chalked up to spiritual attack,” said one former RCA family who had a position in national leadership. 

Multiple sources told us they were willing to speak on the record, but only anonymously, because they feared social or even legal retaliation for what would be perceived as disloyalty. Some RCA families have become adept in creating secret groups to communicate with each under the radar. More than one source has expressed concern that their emails to us may be monitored. 

 

Still worth saving?

 

While members are reeling from the recent revelations, many hope the good fruits of the school can be rescued from Beckman’s influence. Many parents have described the school as something of a godsend, allowing them both the freedom of homeschooling and the structure of the traditional classroom. Mothers of small children often teach with their babies and toddlers in tow, allowing them to be fully involved with their children’s education while leaning on a supportive and nurturing community. 

 

But others believe the very structure of the program routinely becomes exploitative, and is, in practice, uncomfortably close to a multi-level marketing scheme. 

In Regina Caeli’s program, paying members homeschool their own children for three days a week, using a standardized curriculum, and the school provides support and access to tutors and extracurricular activities. Parents who are also tutors receive a discount on the entire program, and all members are expected to fundraise and to recruit new members, in addition to paying tuition. Tuition, which covers two classroom days (for which uniforms are required), ranges from $2,800 per PreK student for a half day to $4,500 per high school student. 

There are twenty-three RCA satellite schools throughout the country, and they are all run on precisely the same plan, down to minutiae of how to dress and how to have parties. In practice, a family of four children will tote up a bill of over $10,000 as a base, not counting curriculum or uniforms. Parents can knock that total down by several thousand dollars by working for minimum wage for what can end up being as much as sixty hours a week, not counting the volunteer and fundraising work the family is expected to provide. 

 

As exhausting, frustrating, and dissatisfied as parents were, and despite how frustrated they became with the school’s lack of transparency over how tuition and fundraising money was spent, several parents reported feeling like they had no choice but to continue with the school. A family’s entire educational, social, and spiritual community would be at the school; and they have been told repeatedly that their children’s souls will be in danger if they attempt some other form of schooling. And even if they suspected that wasn’t true, they knew there would be reprisals if they questioned it. 

 

“If you have your seven kids and this is their school, and their friends, the only way you can make it work is by working as a tutor,” said a former employee. “You get paid minimum wage plus a fat tuition discount, and the only way you can make it work is to work there, so you’re really afraid to rock the boat, because it will affect your children.”

 

The former tutor quoted above said that several moms have told her, “I feel like a battered woman, going back every year.”
 

A spiritual bouquet and a meal train for Beckman

 

But Beckman and her supporters have done their best to portray her as the victim in the current scandal. 

 

She said in her letter to RCA members that keeping the secret of her relationship “left me feeling despondent and it began to take a physical toll on my mind and my body.”

She said, “I have been in therapy and have been receiving daily spiritual direction in order to get strong enough to face my shame.  My therapist has diagnosed me with Complex PTSD due to the circumstances which led to my fall.”

 

She said, “I do not expect your forgiveness nor do I expect your understanding.  I am struggling to forgive myself and to make sense of what I did.  I am sorry this did not come sooner, but honestly, I was not in an emotional place to make good decisions.”
 

On October 25, RCA families and staff received an email from Nicole Juba, who had at that point asked for increased prayers for Beckman. 

 

“As Mrs. Beckman has started her journey towards recovery, the RCA Board of Directors has become aware of a serious spiritual matter that is the underlying basis for her current physical and emotional suffering. Accordingly, the Board has asked her to take additional time away for both physical and spiritual healing and counseling,” the letter said. 

 

They also requested a meal train for the Beckman family. 

Many RCA members are less concerned with Beckman’s personal suffering, though, and more concerned with the fate of Regina Caeli Academy going forward. The anonymous letter writer has written a second letter to the board on November 14, urging them to divest themselves completely of Beckman’s influence. 

“Although I am relieved to hear of her separation from the organization, there must be follow up from you specifying that her retirement is permanent and irrevocable. She should no longer have access to her email account. There is no need for her to supervise or have any role in the transition,” the letter said. 

The letter calls for Kari Beckman’s husband Rich Beckman to step down as Chairman of the Board, because “many Regina Caeli families have for years believed that the Board of Directors is in place simply to do Mrs. Beckman’s bidding.” The letter writer believes that Kari Beckman is likely to attempt to continue to run Regina Caeli by proxy. 

“Board members must be stewards of community trust. The Board has a fiduciary duty to the members of the organization – not to Mrs. Beckman personally. Can all the members of the Board claim they have always acted in the best interest of the mission of Regina Caeli?” the letter asks.

 

***
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What’s for supper? Vol. 272: Floppo de gallo

In haste! In haste! Oh, what a hurry I am in. Here is what we ate this week:

SATURDAY
Duck buns!

We were in Boston, as I said. We were running very late and were starving, and really needed just anything to gobble down before the show, and we thought we had found a restaurant, but it turned out to be a nail spa, and I was just about to suggest stopping into a CVS to get some Combos and turkey jerky, when we found ourselves in the outskirts of Chinatown. The Dumpling Cafe was the first restaurant that was open, and there were lots of Asian families eating there, which seemed promising. The menu was long and overwhelming and the clock was ticking, so I chose duck buns at random. An excellent choice.

This is heart’s desire food: Piping hot, sweet and glossy outside, pillowy soft and tender inside, with a rich, savory heart of duck meat, and a tangy, gingery sauce for dipping. Amazing. Moe ordered some kind of seafood thingy and gave me all the bits with visible tentacles. Damien had some kind of pork and crab dumplings that came in a lovely little wooden steamer basket

and were incredibly juicy inside. Clara had some kind of vegetable thing, and Lena had some other kind of dumplings. So nice. So nice. Next time we’re in Boston, we’re definitely going back.

SUNDAY
Pasta with Marcella Hazan’s sauce, garlic bread, salad, fruit, Italian ices

Sunday I had signed us up to make a dinner in honor of St. Clare for the Dead Theologian’s Society youth group, and I guess it takes 24 years of practice, but we did manage to go to Mass, run errands, shop, deliver the food, cook, and get a hot dinner on the table for a crowd of youth by 5:15. By which I mean I made a little fuss about how this was my project and I was in charge, and then Damien did most of the work.

I did rinse off some fruit, and it turned out pretty:

Of course there was way way too much food, but we wrapped it up and someone showed us where to leave it to donate it to the homeless shelter, so that worked out well. 

Here is where I once again pester you to try Marcella Hazan’s miraculous three-ingredient red sauce that tastes so savory, you’ll think someone is playing a trick on you. 

Jump to Recipe

The other thing to know is to salt your water heavily when you’re cooking pasta, and then scoop out a big bunch of the water before you drain your cooked pasta and keep it handy. Then, after you drain it, you can add some of the hot pasta water back in to keep it from sticking together. Tricks!

We opted for garlic bread made with garlic powder, since this was for the youth group and we didn’t want to terrify anyone with real garlic. (Here’s my confession: I prefer it with garlic powder myself. Or garlic salt. It just tastes good.)

MONDAY
Chicken caesar salad, pomegranates

Grilled chicken on romaine lettuce, freshly-shredded parmesan, caesar dressing from a bottle, cucumbers, and plenty of garlicky, buttery homemade croutons curated from our extensive collection of leftover hot dog buns. 

Plenty of pomegranates left over from the Italian dinner. One of my children told me that, when you crack open a bit of pomegranate and unexpectedly find another little row of juicy seeds, he feels like a monkey who’s broken open a rotten log and found a little trove of termites; but in a good way. We’re all poets around here. 

TUESDAY
Gochujang pork ribs, sesame Brussels sprouts, rice

Haven’t broken out the old gochujang for a while. Used up the old tub and ordered a new one. I made a little sauce with gochujang, honey, sugar, soy sauce, and garlic and let the ribs marinate for several hours. 

Jump to Recipe

One of these days, I’ll make full-on gochujang bulgoki, with the thinly sliced pork and carrots and onions wrapped up in little bundles with rice and seaweed. Boy is that tasty. But pork ribs marinated in the sauce and then broiled to a little char is also pretty good for a Tuesday.

I made the Brussels sprouts by trimming and halving them, drizzling them with sesame oil and sprinkling them with brown sugar, kosher salt, and sesame seeds, and broiling them in a shallow pan. (I broiled the Brussels sprouts most of the way first, then moved them down to a low rack and broiled the pork on the top rack.) They were pretty good. These were small and tender sprouts, and I liked having the sweet vegetables to go along with the spicy meat. 

WEDNESDAY
Bagel, sausage, egg, cheese sandwiches

On Wednesday, I succumbed to a sudden, fierce urge to clean out the refrigerator, which was . . . gloppy. You couldn’t pay me enough to show “before” pictures, but here is the “after.”

The entire middle shelf of the refrigerator is cheese. Cheese sticks, cheese balls, cheese slices, cheese blocks, cheese hunks, shredded cheese, and misc. I made only a very small dent in the cheese with the bagel sandwiches. There were also five open jars of pickles that I absolutely refused to put back. 

You can also see that we’re slowly replacing original parts with Rubbermaid. Actually Rubbermaid is too rich for our blood; it’s pure Sterilite in there, baby.  One of these days, I’m going to take a hot nail and make a hole in the side of the freezer door and string a bungee cord from side to side, and then we’ll have freezer door storage again, too. 

We do have a second fridge, but it never helps, somehow. I don’t want to talk about it. 

THURSDAY
Vermonter sandwiches, chips

A very fine sandwich. A thick slice of grilled chicken, a thick slice of sharp cheddar, a thick slice of tart green apple, some bacon, some honey mustard, and toasted sourdough. Everybody likes meals that start out with this kind of table:

The only trick was, we couldn’t find my amazing apple peeler-corer-slicer machine anywhere. It’s not a very big kitchen, and I crawled all the heck over it, over and over again, and I have no idea where it went. Oh well. It’ll turn up. We survived. 

 

FRIDAY
Tuna noodle

Promised but not delivered last week. Last week, we had fish tacos with pico de gallo, which ended up as a rather pretty plate. Here’s a photo that didn’t make it into last week’s post:

Sour cream, shredded cabbage, fish, cilantro, lime, avocado, hot sauce, pico de gallo.

And my pico de gallo recipe:

Jump to Recipe

which I didn’t follow because I had thrown out the jalapeños in a snit of some kind or other, and then didn’t feel like chopping tomatoes, so I tried to make it in the food processor, which either I don’t know how to do, or else you can’t do that. So it turned out a little . . . floppy. Floppo de gallo. But it was still better that store-bought salsa, I thought, so there you go.

5 from 1 vote
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Marcella Hazan's tomato sauce

We made a quadruple recipe of this for twelve people. 

Keyword Marcella Hazan, pasta, spaghetti, tomatoes

Ingredients

  • 28 oz can crushed tomatoes or whole tomatoes, broken up
  • 1 onion peeled and cut in half
  • salt to taste
  • 5 Tbsp butter

Instructions

  1. Put all ingredients in a heavy pot.

  2. Simmer at least 90 minutes. 

  3. Take out the onions.

  4. I'm freaking serious, that's it!

 

5 from 1 vote
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Gochujang bulgoki (spicy Korean pork)


Ingredients

  • 1.5 pound boneless pork, sliced thin
  • 4 carrots in matchsticks or shreds
  • 1 onion sliced thin

sauce:

  • 5 generous Tbsp gochujang (fermented pepper paste)
  • 2 Tbsp honey
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 2 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 5 cloves minced garlic

Serve with white rice and nori (seaweed sheets) or lettuce leaves to wrap

Instructions

  1. Combine pork, onions, and carrots.

    Mix together all sauce ingredients and stir into pork and vegetables. 

    Cover and let marinate for several hours or overnight.

    Heat a pan with a little oil and sauté the pork mixture until pork is cooked through.

    Serve with rice and lettuce or nori. Eat by taking pieces of lettuce or nori, putting a scoop of meat and rice in, and making little bundles to eat. 

 

5 from 1 vote
Print

Pico De Gallo

quick and easy fresh dip or topping for tacos, etc.

Ingredients

  • 2 large tomatoes, diced
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and diced OR 1/2 serrano pepper
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1/8 cup lime juice
  • dash kosher salt

Instructions

  1. Mix ingredients together and serve with your favorite Mexican food

Hadestown review: Original Broadway cast vs. touring cast!

Last weekend, we were lucky enough to see Anaïs Mitchell’s Hadestown for the second time — the first time for my husband and my oldest daughter and son (for whom the trip was a birthday present), and the second time for me and my third oldest daughter. We saw it in the summer of 2019 on Broadway and I gave it a short review here. (If you’re not familiar with the show, you might want to click through there first, which actually discusses the plot and themes.)

This review will contain spoilers, but the whole thing of Hadestown is that we already know how the story turns out. It’s many thousands of years old, for one thing; and also, this is what humans do: We enter into stories that we know are tragedies, thinking maybe it will turn out different this time. So there really aren’t any spoilers. 

Well, I had such a magnificent experience with the original cast that, when I was waiting for this show with the touring cast to begin, I was telling myself very sternly that it’s normal and right for a different cast to put their own mark on their roles. It’s also true that Hadestown, while a profoundly emotional work, is not emotionally manipulative, and doesn’t deliver the same experience every time anyway. So it wasn’t going to be exactly the same.

That said, I couldn’t help comparing the two casts and productions in my head as we watched, so here is what I thought.

First, we saw the original Broadway production at the Walter Kerr Theater, which is much smaller and more intimate. Here was our view of the stage in NYC in 2019:

and here was the view from our seats in Boston last weekend:

So you can see, it was going to be a different experience anyway. 

There were some minor changes to the set and the way it moved around and lit, although it was hard to put my finger on what. The main thing I noticed was that, after Orpheus turns and Eurydice disappears away into the underworld, in this production she is swallowed up by a mouth-like aperture in the back (which also served as a train platform and other set pieces), rather than sinking down via a round platform built into the center of the stage (which is how they did it in NY). This arrangement, the aperture in the back, was surprisingly much more effective, and possibly done because it was bigger theater and, if they used the floor trick, the audience might see Eurydice scooting out a trap door (as I did from the balcony when they staged it this way at Walter Kerr!). It was very clear that Orpheus was within inches of reaching fresh air and sunshine when he stopped and turned, and Eurydice was gobbled up by the dark underworld, so it worked well (which didn’t stop the teenage girl in front of me from whisper-shouting, “Wait, wha happened?” right at that shattering moment when everyone in the theater momentarily died of grief. oh well!).

So: Original Broadway cast vs. touring cast! 

The original Hermes was André De Shields; the touring Hermes was Levi Kreis. Ahem. Partly due to my very poor eyesight, my face blindness, and just my general confusion as I encounter life, I was fairly sure they had switched actors halfway through the production, and I couldn’t wait to talk about how weird it was that they did it without saying anything about it. When nobody wanted to talk about it, I gradually surmised that it was actually Levi Kreis all the way through; he had simply taken his hat off. It’s a trial, being me. But still, that will tell you something about this actor. He was fine, but not especially memorable, and did not do much to convey that he had been around for millennia and had seen some stuff (but could still be moved). He was just sort of a ringmaster. 

Orpheus: Reeve Carney is the original. I preferred the new guy, Nicholas Barasch, but I could go either way with this role. Barasch’s voice was bigger and more sturdy and he came across as a little less weird, but still sufficiently lost and earnest, and sufficiently otherworldly. I think Carney did more with his body to convey who he was, and Barasch did more with his voice. Both very affecting. He made me cry (not that I’m made of stone).

Hades is Patrick Page in the original cast,  Kevyn Morrow for touring. This is the only one that I felt really just couldn’t possibly be a fair comparison. Patrick Page was just preternaturally . . . Hadeslike. His voice penetrates in a way that most human voices don’t. Morrow had a thundering voice and a commanding, sinister, predatory presence, and when he heard Orpheus’ song and it reached him, and when he reconciled with Persephone, you believed it. The lyrics were a little indistinct sometimes, which is a shame. But in any other universe, without the comparison, he would have brought the house down. Really, no complaints. 

The original Persephone Amber Gray; the touring, Kimberly Marable. This is the only touring performance I thought was lacking. Marable just didn’t make much of an impression on me, and she really must! She’s Our Lady of the Underground! It is a very difficult, strange role, no mistake. But Marable’s Persephone came across mainly as frustrated and vulgar, without much depth. Again, maybe it’s just unfair to have to follow Amber Gray, whose Persephone is so many-layered and delicately demented. Amber Gray defied gravity when she danced; Marable was merely very energetic. However, the critic in my head mostly shut up about halfway through, and by the time the story shifted to the relationship between Hades and Persephone, I was totally with them. It’s a good story. 

The original Eurydice was Eva Noblezada, and the touring one is Morgan Siobhan Green. This was a clear improvement. Noblezada’s voice and acting struck me as understudy quality, and not on the same par with the rest of that cast. Green, though, was stellar. Her voice was piercing, and it and her body language added an awkward and frantic tone that helped round out her character a bit, making her more than just a drama girl. 

The Fates were scary and great. I’m afraid I didn’t notice much difference between the two casts here. They’re malevolent and otherworldly and funny and mean, and their harmonies were just impeccable. Maybe the original cast were slightly more skilled dancers, but I don’t know. 

Let’s talk about Eurydice! Orpheus is . . . poetry, basically, right? He’s the thing that makes you weep, rather than the thing that brings you bread and a roof over your head. But people need him desperately, because when they go without him and his songs, they end up, you know, dead, and/or stomping around in a circle wearing dirty overalls and building a wall for no reason. (My kids thought they pushed the “let’s unionize, everybody!” aspect of this production a little too hard, and said that “If It’s True” was basically a scene from Newsies, but I thought it was easy enough to take or leave, and you could certainly read it as being just about humanity, and not necessarily political).  

Anyway, I was struck this time around by how strange it is that Orpheus is the one who’s put to the test at the end, rather than Eurydice. She is, after all, the reason they’re in this pickle. She signs away her soul just for a mouthful of food; so why isn’t she the one being tested at the end, to win their escape? But of course the reason she was lost was that she called and called on Orpheus, and he didn’t hear her, because he was too busy writing his dang song that would save the world. Pff, poets. Players. (But . . . he wasn’t just imagining it! He really could write such a song! And it really did change the world, and change the course of the story, maybe, or it might, next time, come winter . . . )

Anyway, as I understand it, the original score, which got taken out of the stage version, included more about Orpheus majorly overpromising things to Eurydice and then spectacularly failing to deliver, which explains their dynamic a little better. As it is, I think there’s a bit of a hole in the plot, or a bit of a hole in the character of Eurydice as written. This is my one and only quibble with the way the story is put together: That Eurydice’s actions make the least sense, and yet she’s the one whose actions get explicitly explained the most.

But, as the fates remind us, it’s easy to criticize when you have a full belly. Maybe next time, in a different frame of mind, I’ll come back to this show and her choice will make perfect sense to me. That’s the kind of show it is. 

Overall, I adored it. Damien and the kids who hadn’t seen it yet were blown away. It’s a revolutionary piece of musical theater, and I believe people will be performing it for hundreds of years. If you can possibly see it performed by either cast, do so!

A final note on the Boston Opera House, for what it’s worth: Everyone was required to wear masks, and they were requiring proof of vaccination to get in, but they were pretty lenient about what counted as proof. I somehow lost my vaccination card, so they let me show ID and let Damien vouch that I had been vaccinated along with him. (We kind of felt like anyone paying money to see an Anaïs Mitchell show is probably vaccinated.)

The Boston Opera House is just a few blocks away from Chinatown, so we grabbed a quick dinner at The Dumpling Cafe and YOU GUYS. I may drive back to Boston just to get more duck buns. DUCK BUNS. I was so sad we didn’t have time to sit there for three hours ordering everything on the menu, because it was spectacular. Definitely go there, too. 

The day Tony Soprano will not open his eyes

It’s one big memento mori, “The Sopranos.” You don’t realize it while you’re watching the series at first, because the show is so drenched in sex and food, gore and comedy, violence and pathos and banality. But death is there from the very beginning, and it’s telling you something: Just wait. It will happen to you.

The series has recently gained a whole new audience, almost 15 years after its finale on HBO. This is obviously in large part because of the recent release of “The Many Saints of Newark,” a feature film purporting to fill in some of the backstory of the lives of Tony Soprano and his kin. But the comeback is also due to something else: As the New York Times’s Willy Staley posited, younger audiences see themselves in Tony Soprano’s “combination of privilege and self-loathing,” or they see today’s America in the show’s portrayal of the ’90s era of decline and fall.

Staley says the show was prescient in a way that sheds light on our specific timeline. But I think it deals with a theme that never stopped being relevant, namely, salvation. And did I mention death?

In the very first episode, Carmela Soprano, Tony’s wife, steps into the room where Tony is getting an MRI, hoping to find the source of his inexplicable collapses. In eight lines of dialogue that provide a primer to their marriage, Tony mawkishly offers a nostalgic olive branch, and Carmela quickly escalates: “What’s different between you and me is you’re going to hell when you die!” Then Tony’s body, covered only by a hospital gown, is fed into the machine.

Carmela later retracts her furious words. But where Tony is going from Episode One on—and Carmela, too—really is the central question of the show.

It is not explicitly a religious question. The church appears mainly as a cultural and aesthetic force in the lives of the show’s characters. Sin and virtue are treated as a curiosity, and even the priests are willing to help that world view limp along unchallenged, as long as they get their manigot.

In a sense, the most Catholic parts of the show are not the explicitly Catholic parts. Whether it’s the Holy Spirit (in the guise of that numinous wind that moves throughout the series) or something more amorphous, a moral force does press on the lives of the various characters, demanding their attention.

They are all constantly presented with choices: What matters more, business and efficiency or loyalty and family? When we identify what was wrong with the past, do we reject everything about it? If we see what was good about the past, may we hope to retain any of it? Once we understand why we do things, how culpable are we, and how capable are we of change? Once we realize we are wrong, how much must we give up to make things right? Anything?

Carmela is given perhaps the starkest moral choice of any of the characters (except for maybe Paulie Walnuts, with his cataclysmic vision of the Virgin Mary at the stripper’s pole): The almost prophetic psychiatrist Dr. Krakower tells Carmela, plainly and without pity, that she must leave Tony, must take no more blood money, must be an accomplice no longer.

“One thing you can never say: that you haven’t been told,” he intones.

You could see this scene as the show leaving a small marker, bobbing on the surface of the water, reminding the viewer: Don’t forget, wrong is still wrong. We may be humanizing murderers in every episode, showing them eating their sloppy pepper sandwiches and struggling with their teenagers just like anyone else, but murder is still murder. Death is still death.

Carmela leaves Dr. Krakower’s office stricken. She huddles on the couch at home, pondering these things in her heart. And then she finds a priest, a good priest, who gives her a softer message. He tells her that she should find a way to live off only the legitimate parts of her husband’s income, and that is how she will find her way. But soon enough, despite some dramatic side journeys, she makes her way back into the same old patterns.

Carmela is almost an inverse of the Lady of Sorrows, who endures so many awful indignities: Carmela takes away no good from her anguish; she only suffers. She feeds everyone and cares for everyone, and everyone comes to her for comfort. She listens to everyone, and with her deep, hollow eyes she sees through everyone, and she always tells people the truth about themselves. But when it comes down to it, she has her price, and can be had for presents and jewelry.

Carmela’s insight also goes dim when there is something she doesn’t want to know. It has been her life’s work not to see that Tony was capable of killing people—including his own loved ones and relatives. Carmela’s brittle manicure and spraddle-legged gait betray the terrible tension of keeping so much horror in check within her.

Her dalliance with real estate is more than just a way to build a nest egg. It is her answer to Tony’s impending, inevitable death: to pile up money for herself and her children. She knows that throughout her whole life, she has been building with rotten materials. But she also knows she can make the sale if she keeps pushing hard enough. It’s not just the house she’s building as her own project to sell, it’s everything.

And this is how the show draws us in. It gives us the same choice: How will you hold all this knowledge in check? We’re going to show you so many things about what people are like. What will you do with the knowledge? How will you accommodate it?

Read the rest of my latest for America Magazine. 

Image: Tony on the Subway by Alan Turkus via Flickr (Creative Commons)

In real life, they are so big

Here is a little child sitting in the gondola of a Ferris wheel, nervously crushing fistfuls of cotton candy into nuggets as they wait for the ride to start. She and her mother are in number 16.

Her mother says that she may need to hold hands so she doesn’t get too scared. It’s not a trick, like something Grandfather Bear would say to give courage to Little Bear. The mother is some form of scared all the time. Most of the time, the mother’s fear gets crushed down into manageable handfuls. But not always.

She has found herself in charge of her youngest child on the final fun trip of the final week of vacation. The oldest kids are too busy to go on a day trip; the tweens band up and run off together, being cool; the dad is bonding with big sister who desperately needs to be treated like a little kid for once. So it’s the mother and her youngest, navigating the world of the amusement park alone together. It was a long ride to get there, and now there are long lines for everything.

There are rides that are out of the question. Some of them drag you up to ludicrous heights, turn you upside down, shake you very hard, drop you, shove you backwards, put you in the dark. Why would you pay someone to do this to you, when it happens to you anyway on some random Tuesday, just in the course of ordinary living?

But the rides with no lines are all the same: Around and around and around. It’s hard to know what to do. So the mother and kid alternate: Rides that are too boring, and rides that are too scary.

Here are all the moms, draped along the fence, watching their baffled little toddlers swoop up and down, up and down inside metal dragons that beep and flash and whine. “WHEE! WHEE! WHEE!” shout the moms, grinning.

Here’s a little cluster of blonde cousins rushing and tumbling into the serpentine line barrier at the double decker carousel. One child wants desperately to ride the only giraffe, but there are many other people in line. “Whyn’t we just duck under the fence?” a woman rasps.

“We all have to wait our turn,” her sister answers mildly.

“Aunty will make sure you git that giraffe,” the first woman insists. “You’ve ben such a pretty girl all day. Aunty will make sure you git that giraffe. Pretty girl.”

The mother, shriveling a bit inside as she imagines meeting these pretty girls in fifteen years, is relieved to hear that her own daughter wants to ride the panda, instead.

She finds a horse next to the panda, and surprises herself by heavily climbing up on it. Her legs are the right length for the stirrups, so maybe it’s a normal thing to do. The horse’s tail looks like a real tail, and someone has taken so many pains painting scenes from Venice on the ceiling and brushing in little yellow and pink bouquets in between the mirrors.

A chubby hispanic man gives his shell-shaped bench a spin, and it twirls, and he beams like a baby. It is a beautiful carousel. There has never been such a beautiful carousel. It’s two stories high, and everyone on it is smiling. But the ride is very short.

Here are a set of tiny twins, dressed to the nines in identical new sneakers, athletic shorts, and patriotic tank tops, strapped carefully into a blinking helicopter. All the other kids are yanking on the bar, jerking and swooping and clanking up and down, but the boys are staring solemnly ahead and moving smoothly on their appointed rounds, around and around.

“Pull on the bar! Pull it toward your belly! Make it go up! Don’t you wanna fly?” the operator screams. They do not. Their father comes to collect them when the ride is over. God willing, he will understand that they did what seemed right to them. They are extremely small and the world is very big…Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly