As reported two weeks ago, my wife and I have a friend who recently adopted three children from a Russian orphanage. I told her story as an example of empathy in action. My wife, however, has her own story tell since empathy led her to go to Russia with our friend in order to assist with the journey back. Along the way, my wife sent back email reports that the form the basis for this and next week’s Provision. They are powerful reminders of the good we can do by extending loving kindness to others. Read on for a taste of Red Square!
First, I want to thank you for the outpouring of thoughts and prayers in response to last week’s Provision. The verdict is unanimous: every reader reply affirmed my decision to skip the Baltimore marathon (the needs of the many) in favor of supporting my son through his health scare (the needs of the one). At this point, his lungs are still holding up (literally), so no additional intervention is necessary. That’s a blessing and a joy for us all.
This week, I want to give my wife, Megan, a chance to illustrate yet another example of Empathy in Action. Two weeks ago, I interviewed our friend Jennifer who, at the age of 50, has adopted three children from a Russian orphanage in July. That marks a total of five adopted children for our friend (the other two came into her life 25 years ago) and numerous foster children. Her empathy for children has led to a remarkable life of caring and concern.
When it came time for Jennifer to escort her new children from Russia to Chicago, Megan immediately began to empathize. It was clear that Jennifer needed help; travelling with 3 small children is tough for any adult to do alone. Travelling with 3 children who don’t speak the same language, who have never travelled before, and who are transitioning from an orphanage to a new family, a new home, and a new country • with all the concomitant emotional, social, and developmental challenges • seemed nearly impossible. It was not hard for my wife to sympathize with Jennifer’s predicament, to empathize with her feelings and needs, and to know that she wanted to help.
There was only one problem: When Jennifer received the notification of her court date in Russia, when she would receive custody of the children, it landed right in the middle of a planned two week trip to three locations to be with family and friends for some special occasions. Initially, Megan found herself saying to our friend, “I know you need help, but I just can’t go. We have other plans.” Then, one night, empathy took hold. Megan woke up at 3:00 am, sat up in bed, and said to herself, “What am I saying? What’s most important here? My friend needs help with this amazing thing she is doing, I can give it, I’m going!”
That’s the way empathy works. It asks the question, “What’s alive here?” Then it seeks to enrich that life so that everyone feels better. My wife checked in with the family, received our full support, and made plans to get her Russian visa. At the end of July and early August, she successfully navigated the great adventure, sending along email updates to family and friends so we could share in the experience. Those updates are such a reflection of Empathy in Action that I want to share bits and pieces of them with you through the pages of LifeTrek Provisions. I hope they will give you a sense not only of the adventure itself, but of the empathy it took to make that adventure work. Enjoy!
Monday, July 30, 2007
It’s been a rich and full 24 hours since arriving in Russia! The kids, Macha (age 8), Ksusha (age 7), and Sergei (age 5), are really cute and really sweet. They are very happy and play well with each other. They can be mischievous and test the limits, but not generally to the point of being obnoxious. We’ve enjoyed singing silly songs playing ball, and hand-slapping games.
Today, after we checked out of the hotel, we went and let the kids play in the fountain of a park near the hotel, went to a cafe for lunch, and then got ready to get on the airplane to Moscow. It was really hot in the airplane before it took off because there was no air conditioning until we were in the air. Once we got in the air, Sergei looked out the window for the longest time, transfixed!
When we got to Moscow, we were met by two drivers from the agency. Macha and I rode with one of the drivers. As we drove through town to our hotel, Macha was going on and on about something in Russian to the driver. When she got finished, I asked the driver what all of that had been about. He said she had told him all about playing in the fountain, and seeing a giant outdoor TV screen in the town square, and having lunch at a cafe. It was cute that all of that counted as so much excitement!
A touching thing happened while we were in the lobby waiting to check in, which took a while. Figuring that the kids were probably getting hungry because it was after 8 PM, I pulled out a packet of cookies I’d saved from the plane. There were exactly three cookies, so I gave each of the kids one. But there was a smaller boy nearby who seemed to live at the hotel, maybe about two, who the kids had been playing with. Macha went over and gave him her cookie! She was able to find some other snacks that we’d brought, but I thought that it was very sweet that she waited to make sure that all of the younger kids were fed before she ate.
The hardest part is getting the kids to settle down to sleep at night. These days are so full and exciting that it’s hard to wind down. We cycle through periods of silliness and mischievousness with bouts of crying. This apartment has the benefit of two bedrooms and a living room so that we can at least separate the three kids into three separate semi-dark rooms (we’re so far north that it stays light late in the summer). A little while ago it sounded like we were running a child’s torture chamber in here with all of the crying, although Jennifer and I were sitting quietly in the kitchen!
Tuesday, July 31, 2007
This morning we had to make an early start to get to an early doctor’s appointment. That was a rough start because the kids were all so tired. Macha, especially, had a hard time waking up and getting going. She began crying loudly, and Sergei, who was more asleep than awake lying next to her, slung his arm across her back and patted her to comfort her.
The waiting area in the doctor’s office was basically just chairs and the receptionist’s desk. We kept the kids amused for a while with food because they hadn’t had much breakfast. But then they started to get into stuff on the receptionist’s desk. That’s when I knew we needed a distraction and pulled out the picture books that Michelle made for the kids. Boy were they a hit! They had so much fun looking at all of the pictures and comparing pages to one another. Macha was in with the doctor when I gave the other two theirs and they excitedly showed them to her when she came out. Macha then was keen to get the receptionist to help her translate between Russian and English.
Caring for children who do not speak English is not as difficult as I had feared. It is sort of how you communicate with a toddler, with pointing, gestures, and reading body language. Macha gets it that we don’t speak Russian and actively tries to find ways to help us understand. Sergei is kind of oblivious to that fact and rattles on at great length, telling us all about life in his world. Ksusha just seems pretty put out that two grown women can’t understand plain Russian! She rolls her eyes and repeats herself more loudly and emphatically.
Jennifer took Ksusha with her to the grocery store after dinner, which she was pretty thrilled about. They passed a stand selling watermelons. The kids love watermelon, so Jennifer approached the guy to find out the price. When he gave the price in Russian, Jennifer shrugged her shoulders, shook her head, and looked to Ksusha, gestures which usually enlist some support when it is Macha. Ksusha, on the other hand, just turned to Jennifer and repeated the Russian more loudly.
When they got back from the store, Ksusha was pretty happy unloading the groceries and showing off all of the goodies they’d bought. It seemed like it’d been an important bonding moment. Bedtime was not a struggle with her. Jennifer just went in and laid down with her for a few moments and she went right to sleep. No tears from Macha either, and only about a half an hour from Sergei. Our best night yet!
The kids are affectionate with one another. They are also sweet about sharing their treats. At the amusement park, Sergei got in trouble for spitting (a nasty form of self-expression that translates roughly to “I’m feeling very angry with you right now!” We’re hoping to help him find some other ways to convey that sentiment!), so he had his snack thrown in the trash. No sooner was Jennifer back from the trash can than the two girls had emptied the rest of their snacks onto the table to give him half. (Do the math • he came out ahead!)
This evening at the restaurant, after reprimanding the kids for playing with their soda pops, I turned and accidently knocked mine to the floor, making a big mess. Sergei laughed and then shook his finger at me, scolding “Nyet ma-ro-zih-na!” (No Ice Cream for you!). I did my best Sergei pout, which was apparently very funny because we played that game for a WHILE. But then the first thing he did when his ice cream arrived was to take a spoon and offer me a bite.
Wednesday, August 1, 2007
More fun (and tears) in Moscow
These really are dear children. They enjoy playing with one another almost all of the time, they show affection to each other, and laugh a LOT. The chief difficulty comes from being rambunctious and being of the opinion that the word “nyet” is not a word to be taken all that seriously.
One day before I got here, Jennifer, apparently in a moment of exasperation, pointed to each one in turn and said, “Nyet, nyet, ee nyet!” Macha picked up on that and later repeated it, so now it has become something of a running joke. “Nyet, nyet, EE nyet (big emphasis on the EE)!” It’s kind of a light-hearted way to say “OK, enough already.”
These children can eat like nobody’s business. The first place they head when we get back to the apartment is the kitchen, no matter how recently they’ve eaten. The idea of readily available food on demand seems to be quite a novelty. The other night when we were all so hungry, we ate a HUGE meal down in the cafe in the hotel • plate after plate of delicious food, followed by three big scoops of ice cream each. Where did they head, first thing, when we got to the apartment? To the kitchen, pointing up to the high shelf where we keep the food. All three of the kids, and Macha in particular, love “aryeks” (nuts). If Macha ever learns that Dyadya Bob is behind the seemingly endless supply of nuts we have around here, she will love him forever!
Running a close second to freely available food is baths. The kids LOVE taking baths, and have to be scolded not to take unauthorized (and thus unsupervised) baths. When we get home to the apartment, Ksusha, especially, is likely to be stripped down and have the water running before Jennifer and I have the door closed and our backpacks hit the ground! She did manage to sneak in an unauthorized bath toy • one of the three drinking glasses we have in the apartment. Now we have two.
Meltdowns. We’ve had a few. Jennifer had been warned by the adoption rep where the kids came from that Ksusha’s MO was meltdowns to get her way. His advice was that she’d be better off if they stopped working quite so well for that purpose. But at least since I’ve been here, meltdowns for all the kids have been reserved for bedtime. Until today.
Ksusha had a little meltdown as we were coming back from the park because Sergei was carrying HER ball (and was scolded when she tried to snatch it away from him). She tried crying loudly, and we kept on walking and chatting. She tried holding back, and we just kept on walking and chatting (we were the only ones in a large gated park). She caught up and pouted a while, but as it was not having the desired effect, she gave it up.
It was a half-hearted effort, really. She was shown up, big time, by her sister in the afternoon.
We had a little warm-up at the American Embassy. I took the kids down to a little play area while Jennifer was completing some paperwork. When I intervened in Macha grabbing something away from Sergei, she took a swat at me, so I “suggested” that she might sit in the little chair there for a few minutes to collect herself. Well, she howled so loudly that she could be heard down the hall, up the stairs, and around the corner, where Jennifer was working with a representative. The crying was so loud and went on for so long that it persuaded the woman to finish up that paperwork lickety-split and get us out of there ASAP!
We went from there to Red Square to walk around. Jennifer bought the kids some ice cream from a street vendor and they ate as we strolled. Not long after that, we came upon a balloon vendor and Macha was crazy to have a helium balloon. We told her (well we communicated) that we’d come back for balloons after everyone had finished their ice creams. She gobbled down the rest of her ice cream as fast as she could and began to try to persuade her brother and sister to do the same. She wasn’t getting much cooperation, though, so she persuaded Sergei that it would be great fun to bite the point off his ice cream cone. A few steps later, the ice cream all slid out through the hole and fell on the ground. Mission Accomplished!
Ksusha, on the other hand, was enjoying her ice cream and would not be hurried. We walked most of the way across the square and took some pictures of the beautiful basilica there before Ksusha was finished. By then, poor Macha was DYING of longing for a balloon.
Back we headed, as promised, and found the balloon vendor. She picked out a lovely Little Mermaid balloon, and allowed the man to tie it onto her wrist, as he did with all of the balloons. While the others were making their selections, she slipped the balloon off her wrist and laughed at the daring of it. We advised her that that was not a good plan and took her back to the man to retie the slip knot on her wrist. Once again she laughed as she slipped it off her wrist, tempting fate and … fate won. Off her lovely balloon sailed into balloon heaven.
Oh dear! Such weeping and gnashing of teeth! Such pitiful begging for another balloon! And, the injustice of being refused! Thus began a tremendous performance. All to no great effect. The audience just kept right on strolling and chatting as if this terrible tragedy had not befallen the heroine of our drama! Insult added to injury!
After a while the strolling led us to a restaurant, and Macha had the good sense to turn off the waterworks, and tried out her best pout to see if that might work better. She pouted through the hot towels on the little dishes and missed that experience. She pouted through the ordering of Coca Cola, and missed out on that. But then the other kids discovered that the table had come equipped with little sticks inside a paper wrapping. It got harder to maintain a good pout through that, but at least she managed to play sullenly with the little sticks. But even the most ardent of pouts has its breaking point, and when the food arrived and it turned out those little sticks were for eating …Well, this just had to be tried!
Once the meal was over and we were back outside, strength restored, Macha remembered that she’d been in the middle of an epic drama. Intermission over, back on stage in full voice! Surely they would HAVE to relent as we passed the balloon man again. But NO! The indignity of it! We strolled right on past him without so much as a break in the chatting.
This misery was really longing for little company, so Macha began to try to persuade her brother and sister that it would be great fun and daring to slip their strings off their wrists. They wisely declined. Ksusha did lose her balloon, nonetheless. She was enjoying bobbing her balloon up and down. At one point she bobbed down way too hard, and that set Barbie free to go join Macha’s Little Mermaid in the great Balloon Land in the Sky.
This performance went on for the remainder of the afternoon! In Full Voice. Such fortitude! Such dedication to her art in one so young!
At one point, Jennifer and I took turns staying with Macha on the sidewalk while the other went into a little shop to buy souvenirs. After a bit, the shopkeeper came out and asked that we find somewhere else to wait. He apparently didn’t think that a little girl crying loudly outside his shop was good for business.
The minute we got in the taxi to go back to the hotel and she realized that there was just really no chance for a balloon today, she gave it up. She immediately brightened up, and began to play happily with her brother and sister.
Next week: the rest of the story!
Coaching Inquiries: When has empathy moved you to action? How have you been able to communicate without words? What things do you pay attention to? What things do you notice? How could empathy make your life, or the life of someone you love, more wonderful right now? What’s stopping from putting empathy to work?
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LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)
Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob.
Just read the Provision for this week, Sympathetic Reactions! So glad to hear that your son is OK…and what a challenging couple of days you all have experienced. Thanks for sharing this experience and your insights….as always they keep life in perspective and challenge us to reflect on our decisions and daily life issues.
Wow. Wow. Definitely a great, awesome Provision! Your son and family will never forget your deep care and concern and that you put them No. 1 at great cost. And what you demonstrated to your pace team through your actions probably was far more valuable than pacing them through the marathon. Thank you so much for sharing this experience!
So glad to know that your son is doing well. I would have done the same thing as you and went to be with my son / daughter. I almost did this very same thing when I went to run the Boston marathon only to find out that my daughter broke her arm just before I landed in Boston. I can appreciate your choice.
Wonderful Provision today. No doubt your family is closer for the experience.
Hey there – wonderful Provision! We’re all sending much love to your clan today. Hugs, hugs!
That was a wonderful Provision. You did make the right decision!
Greetings! As always, I enjoyed reading this week’s Provision. Glad to hear your son is home and doing well. You made the right call and thanks for sharing your experience with us. … PS: “Beam me up Scotty”
Sometimes we need to abandon logic and go with our hearts. Your son needed you and every single pacer at the Baltimore marathon would not only have asked that you be with him, they would’ve insisted upon it.
I just read your Provision. Sorry you missed the marathon, but so glad your son is OK! Did you do the best thing? Maybe so or maybe not, but I am proud of you and who you are! I love the stories in your Provisions.
Without a doubt you did the right thing. Notwithstanding your family and commitment, you set another example for your son and his ‘mushrooming’ family, just where dads/husbands need to be at the scariest of times…with their family. God bless you and gratitude for your sons’ healing!
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, Online Retailers
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