Family Vignettes

This page was updated July 15, 2002.
There are other vignettes on the adoption page and on the transracial page.

Body Parts

Like many toddlers, Dee was startled and alarmed when she first pooped in a potty. She didn't like losing what she considered a part of her body, and it took a lot of praise and reassurance that this was a right and proper development for her. Several years later, we had a similar experience with her first blood test at age 8.

She was fearful of the needle to begin with. The gentle, patient nurse explained just what she was going to do. She found the smallest needle so Dee would feel it least although she explained it would take longer this way, and she gave us the opportunity to come back later. It took a return trip, a lot of coaxing and the promise of a new Barbie doll to get Dee to give blood. She watched the collection carefully.

After we bought her new Barbie, she asked questions which showed that the blood test was still very much in her mind. It wasn't the pain of the needle that had bothered her so much as giving up a part of herself.

"What are they going to do with my blood?" she wanted to know.

"The doctor wants to find out things about your body and they need to look at your blood carefully under a microscope to find them."

"Why did they need so much?"

"The doctor needs to find out a lot of things."

"Then what are they going to do with it?"

"I guess when they're finished the tests, they'll throw it away." I hadn't really thought about that.

"MY blood? They can't throw away MY blood. I want it. I need it."

"Honey, they can't put it back in your body." I was dumbfounded by her very obvious upset and concern.

"I don't want them to throw it away. It's MY blood. You said my body needs blood for me to live and now they've taken some of it. I want my blood back."

"Your body will make more. Your body is making more blood all the time."

"It is? Are you sure?" With that vital knowledge, her demands for her blood subsided although she still wished she could have her blood back.

This was a learning experience for both of us.

summer 1998

Learning to Skate

Em approached skating lessons with great eagerness but she had no idea what was involved. She may have thought that she would be able to skate at the end of the first lesson just as many children think they'll know how to read after a day in grade one.

When she found it very difficult to balance on skates and fell constantly, many times getting to her feet only to fall immediately, she became very angry and had a huge tantrum out on the ice, screaming, kicking and flailing her arms. The teachers gave her space and let her finish her blowup. Once she got the anger and disappointment out, she set out again, determined to conquer skating. And by the end of the course, 8 half-hour sessions, she was doing very well.

This strong determination of Em's is a quality I greatly admire in her. She gets very frustrated but thinks things over and carries on in spite of difficulties.

January 1999

The Asthma Apology

My girls are pretty normal now in the way they relate as sisters. They will interact very smoothly for 2 or 3 hours at a time, playing board games, acting out life scenarios with Barbies, dancing to radio music, clowning around with dress-up clothes, watching and discussing videos or entertaining friends. But at least once a day they have an argument, often with loud accusations and name-calling and on occasion, even coming to blows.

I'm always happy to see them building a strong link, particularly as it took so long for Dee to accept Em as her sister. And of course, I hate the screaming and disharmony of their quarrels. I'm also often surprised at which events can build stronger bonds between them.

In June, 2002, I got a call from school. "Dee's had an asthma attack. She can't breathe. Come and get her."

"What? Dee doesn't have asthma!"

"That's what she told us. But she's having trouble breathing so come and get her."

When I arrived, Dee was in the principal's office, sitting forward in a chair, gasping for each breath. A teacher was with her, trying to keep her calm. "Take her to emergency," the teacher said.

Dee immediately got up and walked with me to the car. Was it my imagination or was she breathing without the gasps? She sat in the seat beside me and said with feeling, "I was so scared."

"Yes," I said, "I was scared, too. It's terrible not being able to breathe."

She was now breathing normally as far as I could tell. I kept checking, half expecting her to stop breathing altogether. But she talked easily, telling me what had happened, and saying, to my surprise, in the middle of her account, "Now I know how Em feels when she can't breathe. I always thought she was faking." (Em is the daughter who suffers from asthma.)

We went to see our doctor who assured us that Dee didn't have asthma. Something had happened to choke her breathing: a combination of a stuffy nose, a sore throat, and running in the park on a hot day at a picnic she insisted on attending in spite of her illness.

She had walked to the park with her class and teacher so when her breathlessnes started, another teacher had to drive to the park, bring her back to school and sit with her until I arrived. She realized she had put people out and kept up the gasping to make it worth their while. At least that's my take on the reason for the difference between her breathing in the office and in the car a mere 2 minutes later.

As I was getting supper, I heard my two girls talking. Dee was telling what had happened to her that day and, did I hear correctly? apologizing for not believing Em when she had her asthma attacks. But I must have heard accurately, because after this, they didn't argue for 4 days! There was a special glue bonding them - the power of a sincere, heart-felt apology, shared honestly and spontaneously.

A Great School Year

The 2001-2002 school year was supposed to be a year of travelling and homeschooling. But it didn't work out that way.

Dee, who used to hate school and who has tolerated it for the last two years, really, really, really wanted to go to school this year. Other things were not working as planned, so why not take advantage of this tremendously positive desire of Dee's?

It was a new school for her - a middle school and she was in grade 7. On the first day of school, she knew only the principal who was moving from her old school, and one other student. At the end of 3 weeks, she counted off 19 friends she had made. I was proud of her. This was the child who had had a lot of trouble keeping friends earlier in her life. She had needed a lot of intervention to help her in her friendships, and now she was making and keeping friends easily.

Friends were the reason she wanted to go to school each day. After spending the day with them, she would spend the evening phoning them. Our phone has never been so busy.

She was thrilled to have a locker and it was a major accomplishment when she conquered the combination for her lock. Victories like this gave her courage to attempt many new experiences this year.

She attended a conservation camp for 4 days and 3 nights in November and said she really enjoyed it, even though she had to eat creamed soups; skiied (for the first time) with her class in January, hesitant because she thought she looked like a dork with her snow pants and boots, but coming home in high spirits saying she loved skiing and everyone else had looked the same; participated eagerly in many other school outings; attended four school dances (that's ALL of them) and found her first boyfriend at the first one; and even entered a talent show in which she and two friends danced a piece they choreographed themselves to the song "Liquid Dreams" by O-Town.

This child was in a special education class and yet she enthusiastically participated in the life of the school as a whole. Fortunately, this was encouraged. But there was one overriding disadvantage to school - in her words, "The trouble with school is you have to learn stuff."

Em opted for homeschooling. The previous year had been demeaning and discouraging for her as there was often trouble on the playground and bus rides and she had a "mean teacher". I agreed with Em's assessment of this woman who had no sympathy or understanding for children with learning difficulties.

Em desperately wanted to learn to read but was struggling. Her grade one teacher had seen how bright she was, how quick to pick up an understanding of French and how math concepts came easily to her. She felt it was only a matter of time before reading would also make sense to her, but her grade two teacher saw her only as a nuisance, often making comments about her inablity to read, and shattering her confidence.

Because I was teaching in the mornings, she spent this time with babysitters and pre-school children and would join me in the afternoons. We took an unschooling approach and although she was jealous of her sister's friendships, she stuck with her choice. I kept a log of educational activities and conversations.

In April, I started afternoon teaching as well, so we had to find an alternate situation for her. A colleague had spoken of how happy she was with her daughters' homeschooling teacher so I asked if this teacher might have room for Em.

She did and it turned out to be a wonderful placement for Em, just what she longed for. Their were seven other children in this little school so she now had friends and a strict but kind and encouraging teacher who was quick to notice her talents.

She mourns the loss of this school now that summer holidays have arrived and can hardly wait to attend again in the Fall.

As for me, I was very discouraged at the beginning of the year. This year off, when I had hoped to travel and see and do new and different things was going to be just the same old thing I'd taken a break from. I was to teach adults in a different section of the same high school I regularly taught in.

However, these students wanted to learn and were polite. By the end of the first week, I realized again just how much I enjoy teaching, and settled in for a meaningful, satisfying year.

A great year for each one of us!


I pick up a jacket from the floor. It's heavy. Far heavier than a child's jacket should be. Is it wet? No. I check the pockets and find them full of stones. Not particularly pretty ones. Just stones. Some appear to be chips of concrete. Others are gravel picked up from someone's driveway, and the rest look quite ordinary to me. Why would Em burden herself with them?

Once again, I don't know why my kids do certain things. Both of them collect stones.

One day Dee excitedly told me she had something special to show me. She dug into her backpack while explaining that she had worked all 3 recesses to dig this super special prize from the ground. From her excitement, I expected unburied gold treasure in the shape of a beautiful mermaid.

It was a rock. A dirty, flat, 5 lb rock in the shape of a rough triangle. She had lugged it home, pleased as punch. "Do you like it?" she asked, eagerly.

What could I say? "What are you going to do with it?" I asked.

"Paint it," came the prompt reply.

So we washed it, got out the paints and she proudly coloured it in bold rainbow stripes. It still sits on our balcony, doing duty as a door stop.

Most of their stones are not this lucky. They sit forgotten in a bucket waiting to be used in the bottom of a plant pot where they won't be seen for years.

Can you guess why they collect stones?
Did you ever do the same?
Can you enlighten me? Please send your answer to

Some Responses:

A friend is now doing geophysics. She writes, "it was no great surprise to my mother when I studied Geology - she was always repairing the pockets in my dresses as I was continually picking up stones and carrying them round in bulging pockets." (EH)

"F & I routinely bring home pebbles washed smooth from the ocean beaches, a reminder of the enjoyment of the sea. Some get deposited in a clear glass vase where water keeps them shiny. If you haven't seen a Lucille Ball, Desi Arnez movie called I think The Long Trailer try to get hold of a video. On a transcontinental trip Lucy collects rocks and stows them in the trailer with hilariously disastrous consequences." (RR)


Scene: In a crowded hallway leading to the door, two girls are preparing to go to school, putting on coats and boots.
Mom (down the hallway turning off lights): Are you ready, Dee?
Dee: Yes.
Mom (checking the freezer for frozen vegetables for supper): Are you ready, Em?
Em: Yes.
Mom (looking for her purse): Do you have your boots on?
Both girls: Yes.
Mom (putting on her boots and coat and checking her pocket for keys): Get the elevator, then.
Dee (to Em): You.
Em (loudly): No, you.
Mom (locking the door): Did you push the button?
Both girls: It's not my turn.
Mom calls elevator and they all enter, both girls vying for position by the controls.
They make it to the underground parking alive and get settled in the car.

Mom (suddenly realizing why they got ready so quickly): Are your socks on?
Dee: Did you say we have to wear socks?

So what are socks for, anyway?
I, the mom, wear them for comfort.
Do you wear socks? Why? Please send your answer to

Some Responses:

Socks keep my feet warm - (HK)

Socks keep my feet dry -(MK)

Because I like to - (AK)

In the winter we wear socks so that our feet will stay warm and snugly. In the Spring I wear socks to fill up the spaces in my big gardening boots and in the summer I keep my socks in the drawer so that my toes can feel the grass and sandy beach! We always have socks to fill up the washing machine too! We also wear socks to polish the floors! (RM)

I wear socks because otherwise my bare feet feel so sticky in my shoes. If I wear sandals I don't wear socks, because then sand can get in under my bare feet and take away the "sticky."
I don't like tight socks.
I don't like Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck or Santa Claus socks.
When I was little and my feet were growing fast we could not buy shoes to keep up with my feet. So we cut the end of the top of the shoes and let my toes grow through the hole. That also let the sand in and I didn't need to wear socks. But it was easier to stub your toes if they stuck out beyond the end of the shoes. (TG)

The reason people wear socks is so that the teachers can tell which families are dysfunctional or not. (GD)

Some links I've found helpful and/or interesting are:

(These links were updated July 15, 2002.)

My own pages:

Comments on this web site and suggestions for it are welcome.

Copyright© 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Martha Greenhow
Etobicoke, Ontario, Canada