Sunday, September 28, 2008

Bells and Boys

When I was younger, I used to spend my summers at a place called Chautauqua. It's actually called the Chautauqua Institution - - which I thought always made it sound like a place where people wandered around in their hospital gowns and "relaxed". In actuality it was a wonderful place to spend the summers - if you get a chance you can look it up at Although I suspect that some of you would feel vindicated if you thought I did spend some time at a place where straight jackets and fuzzy slippers were the dress code.

In Chautauqua there is a wonderful bell tower. It is in Miller park and it's one of the iconic things that embodies the spirit of the place. Most of us who spent time there ended up wearing a little bell tower charm at some point or another. During the summer season, the bell tower plays songs to wake you in the morning, to announce that it is noon and that the kids will be coming home from boys and girls club and in the evening just past dinner time and before the evening concert at the amphitheater begins. It also plays "Happy Birthday" every day so you could always tell visitors that you made them play it special for them! Turns out here in SF I also have a bell tower. Tres nifty. It doesn't play quite as much, but every day I hear it at some point or another. Mostly around noon. I suspect it is the church that I can see from my back porch, but wherever it is, I love hearing the songs. Takes me back to a place that will always be part of my heart. Sometimes I can just take a minute and head out to the porch, have a seat, close my eyes and listen. I love it.

Tomorrow the boys start week 4 of school. The transition has been uneven. Henry believes that the San Francisco School was put on this earth specifically for him. He has had a wonderful time in his new class. He is one of only two new students, so I think that the initial "fame" of being new was good for him. For the most part, the kids in his class have all been together since pre-school. He has about 23 kids in his class with 2 full time and one part time teachers. They sing everyday, he is in the orchestra, and they have art a whole bunch of times during the week. What is better than that??

George, on the other hand, had a rough beginning. I do not technically believe in hell. But if I did I honestly believe that you would need to spend eternity in the hell of middle school. You would have a locker you could not open, a schedule that made you go places you didn't know, and if you were a girl you would be wearing the absolute wrong thing. Navigating middle school is not easy. It is even more difficult when you are new and don't know anyone. 4th graders think new kids are neat. 6th graders actually don't even notice that there is someone new - - it's an age of complete and total self-absorption. So, turns out that George had some issues the first few days without a real friend to help navigate the whole thing. This has since been remedied with new friends and better days, but the beginning was not easy for him. Breaks your heart to watch it - - but you know he will muddle through.

And George and I are starting to make new friends too. Last night we had dinner at an amazing loft down by the waterfront with some folks that were instrumental in helping the boys get in to the San Francisco School. We kind of "knew of them" before we moved here as we both are adoptive parents of a Cambodian boy. They are involved in the non-profit "Cambodia Tomorrow" - - as are George and I. Bo and Connie have been working with the organization for many years and, up until now George and I have mainly been sponsoring children and donating money to build a school. Now Henry and Chaya are in the same 4th grade class. The evening was fun - - great food, good wine and lots of stuff for boys to do while the adults sat around and got to know each other. It is nice to be out and about and establishing some sort of social network. I even had a mild headache this morning, so there was plenty of champagne and wine to grease the social wheels. O.K. by me.

And speaking of the school. George and I are sponsoring the construction of a school near Phnom Penh. We get to name it. The last name Wisniewski isn't particularly conducive to the snappy naming of a school. This would be trouble in the US - - let's not even think about how it would be massacred in South East Asia. We've been trying to come up with something creative that would be a tribute to the boys and Shannon without being something too tribute-y. So, if anyone has any great ideas - - send them our way. The school should be up and running in the next couple of months. I suspect it will need a name before then or it will just be called "the-school-with-no-name-that-some-people-with-a ridiculously-long-and-hard-to-pronounce-last-name-built". How's that for un-snappy?

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