Saturday, January 28, 2012

My New Theme Song

For those of you who were wondering, I have acquired full citizenship as an American. I got my driver's license yesterday!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Prayers for Malcolm

Dear readers, I have a special favor to ask.

A dear friend of mine feels that she and her family are called to be little Malcolm's family.

However, for this to be accomplished, it will take a miracle of sorts.

Will you please pray that, if this adoption is according to the will of God, all obstacles will be removed quickly from my friend's path?

May I also suggest that you commit this cause to the intercession of St. Thomas More, above, the patron, among other causes, of adopted children?

Thank you so much. May God reward you for your prayers.

Velvet Shoes

A song, by American composer Randall Thompson, about a winter walk. The poem is by Elinor Wylie:

Let us walk in the white snow
          In a soundless space;
With footsteps quiet and slow,
          At a tranquil pace,
          Under veils of white lace.

I shall go shod in silk,
          And you in wool,
White as white cow's milk,
          More beautiful
          Than the breast of a gull.

We shall walk through the still town
          In a windless peace;
We shall step upon white down,
          Upon silver fleece,
          Upon softer than these.

We shall walk in velvet shoes:
          Wherever we go
Silence will fall like dews
          On white silence below.
          We shall walk in the snow.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Quick Takes: Walking Distance

1. My son has moved up to the next-sized violin, a one-quarter which he has dubbed J.J. It's the first instrument he's had that actually sounds, when played, like a real violin. When I rented his previous axe, a one-eighth size which he called McGillicuddy, it already had little pieces of red tape stuck to the fingerboard to help little hands find the right notes, so I ignorantly asked our violin teacher, an elderly Hungarian master, to put some tape on J.J.'s neck for the same purpose. He fixed me with a stern look. "Pentimento," he said, "that is Suzuki nonsense.  Do you think I learned to play with pieces of tape on my instrument? He will learn to play the right notes by tuning with his ear and adjusting his fingers accordingly." I was embarrassed; of course, he was absolutely right, and, by the middle of the lesson, my son was tuning and adjusting and playing the right notes all on his own. All of a sudden I saw the proliferation and near-cult status of Suzuki instruction in this country -- perhaps unjustly -- as a money-making conspiracy, and started to wonder if it had played any part in the precipitous decline in musical literacy we've experienced in the past fifty years in America.

2. I brought McGillicuddy with us as I walked my son to school this morning, because the violin rental shop, operated out of a private Victorian home, is another three-quarters of a mile's walk away. A dad dropping off his daughter said to me, "It's so great that you walk everywhere!" I explained to him that not only was I not legally licensed to drive a car (though I may be by the end of this week, after I take my road test on Friday), but that if I didn't walk each day, no matter what the weather, my head would probably explode.

3. I hadn't had breakfast, and was hungry after dropping off McGillicuddy, so I walked the few blocks to the main commercial thoroughfare in the neighborhood, and went to the only place that was open at 8 AM, which was McDonald's. Until we moved here, I would go to McDonald's maybe once every five or six years, but things really change when you move to the greater U.S.A.  I remember mentioning this to Really Rosie once, and she scolded me, saying, "Haven't you read Fast Food Nation?" In fact I have, and so I know that McDonald's is destroying not only American society but also the entire universe. Nonetheless, I'm not a great believer in the efficacy of ideological boycotts, especially when you're hungry and it's the only game in town.  We boycotted Nestlé when I was little because of their greedy, unethical formula-pushing in maternity wards in Africa, which led to the deaths of thousands of infants; but it occurs to me now that few people who boycott Nestlé probably believe that abortion should be banned, which raises inevitable questions about the efficacy of such protests. About boycotting, I guess I have a sort of "circumcise your hearts" attitude.

4. As I ordered a sausage muffin and a coffee with five creams on the side, I briefly hoped that the front-end worker wouldn't think I was a junkie, which I probably would have thought if someone had ordered a coffee with five creams from me. But then again, I didn't ask for sugar.  I contemplated the offer on the wall behind the counter of Braille and picture menus, which gave me the good feeling that McDonald's is friendly towards people with disabilities, immigrants, and those with selective mutism. As I had my breakfast, I thought about where I might be if I were still in New York. Probably on the subway on my way to teach at the large urban university where I was an adjunct in the music department. Some of my fellow riders would be nodding off on strangers' shoulders, while others would be attempting to construct impenetrable self-contained universes around themselves with their iPods and newspapers. Young orthodox Jewish women, looking like it was 1949 in wool coats, platform pumps, and smart chapeaux, would be reading from little Hebrew prayer books with their red-painted lips moving silently, and would finish by kissing the books and stuffing them back into their pocketbooks.

5. After McDonald's, I walked over to the dollar store to get some cleaning supplies, and one of the grotesquely-tattooed moms from my son's class -- the one who drives a new Cadillac -- pulled over to offer me a ride. "I see you walking everywhere in the neighborhood," she noted, correctly. As we drove the few short blocks, she told me she was a vegan, that she didn't wear leather shoes, and that the U.S.D.A. allows one eyedropperful of pus in every glass of milk. There's more to these tattooed moms than meets the eye, I thought.

6. On my way to the violin shop through a run-down working-class neighborhood, I saw a little old Ford parked on the street covered with bumper stickers, one of which said, "I'd rather be reading Charles Bukowski." And when I entered McDonald's, they were playing "Bring It On Home to Me" (above), one of the most perfect songs ever written. It made me feel as if strange epiphanies might be happening all over the world in the most unlikely places.

7. My favorite crossing guard is training her elderly father, a man named Loyal, for the job. Yesterday, his first day without her, he asked me how many children I had. I told him just my kindergarten-aged boy for now, and mentioned our upcoming adoption. Loyal, who is what evangelicals call a "Bible-believing Christian," responded to the news about the adoption by noting that those who are merciful will be shown mercy. Somehow I hadn't thought about mercy in the context of adoption before, and as we stood there chatting at the street corner, he with a yellow reflective jacket and a stop sign in his hand, tears rolled unchecked down my cheeks.

8. All of which makes me think that, even if I pass my road test, I will still want to walk everywhere, lest I miss something beautiful.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Meet Malcolm

Carla and her family adopted baby Henry from an eastern European orphanage last year with help from Reece's Rainbow.

Please read her post about Malcolm, a sensitive -- and cognitively normal -- little boy who is scheduled to be confined to a mental institution if not adopted within a few months, as is the normal course with special-needs orphanage children in his country. And forward, re-post, Facebook, contribute to his fund, or even search your heart to discern if you yourself might provide, or might know, his future family.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

"Those that we call monsters are not so to God"

My friend and reader Ex-New Yorker sent me a link a while ago to an op-ed piece in the New York Times by Emily Rapp, a memorist-mother whose toddler son, Ronan, is dying of Tay-Sachs disease. If you click over to the link, you will see what an almost-celestially beautiful boy Ronan is; nevertheless, the progression of his disease means that he is losing all of his senses and abilities -- by this time, he has become blind -- and that he will likely die in a vegetative state before his third birthday.

I check Emily Rapp's blog, Little Seal, occasionally (the name Ronan means "little seal" in Irish), and found a powerful post there today which refers to Michel de Montaigne's essay "Of A Monstrous Child," in which the Renaissance humanist describes seeing a grotesquely-deformed toddler being exhibited by his caretakers as a begging lure. Montaigne surprises the reader by concluding that it is the shock and horror that men express when they encounter something so outside of the ordinary that is contrary to nature, and not the thing itself. As Rapp notes:

The burden . . .  falls on the looker, and the looker is held accountable for the lens through which she sees – and sorts – the world. I love the way Montaigne makes that child . . . extraordinary in the truest sense: brilliant and shiny.  The thing you want most to pick up when it glints at you from the street. The man born blind in the Gospel of John did not exist to make people feel grateful for their vision; the text is very clear that he, in fact, possessed the vision that others did not. That his was a looking that saw wonder, saw God, when others did not.

Rapp also references a politician who has stated publicly, as she puts it, that "disabled children are a woman’s punishment for having abortions in her sullied, slutty, ho-bag past." There is no comment worthy of this perversion of the Christian proclamation, but it is germane to note that it directly contradicts the passage in the Gospel of John mentioned above:

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.

As Rapp says of the man born blind, "His body was not a punishment; it was a kind of divine revelation."

This reminded me of the assertion of Gerard Nadal, bioethicist and father of an autistic child, that the huge spike in autism diagnoses is taking place so that we may truly learn how to love. It reminded me, also, of the passage in Saint Faustina's diary in which she suggests that God the Father regards the world and its creatures through the wounds of His Son. May we learn to look at each other that way, too.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

"Like a bomb exploding our hypocrisy" [UPDATED]

By [one in] his or her right mind I mean vital, interested, questing, conflicted, on to one's own myriad defects and myriad gifts, preferably with a secret incendiary devotion to some doomed love/project/cause that promises to bear absolutely no fruit, compromises your physical/emotional health, and makes you look like a fool, loser and/or psychotic in the eyes of the world . . . .

The reason to save your first kiss till the altar, in other words, is not because you are so listless and etiolated and body-despising and intent on being a straight-A Catholic that you’ll suppress and deny your own God-given erotic urge, but because you are so vital, so juiced, so wild with longing, so crazy about your spouse-to-be that you want to make your wedding night a work of art. You want to offer your wedding night to the whole world.

Read Heather King's recent post at Shirt of Flame. Above is the first movement, Allegro con brio, of the Beethoven Sonata op. 22, no. 11 in B-flat major, which she references (the moment I believe she is alluding to is at around 5:28, the return to the home key of B-flat -- not E-flat, as she has it -- after the exposition), played by Claudio Arrau.

UPDATE: Kissing before marriage is not a sin for Catholics, as Mrs. Darwin reminds us.  The priest Heather referred to in her original post seems to have been working instead from a list of ultra-Orthodox Jewish dating conventions. Maybe someone should send him this brief article from New York Magazine. An excerpt: 

[On] this moonlit Saturday night, standing on the outdoor esplanade of the Winter Garden [at the World Financial Center in downtown Manhattan], Chaim Singer, a 24-year-old yeshiva student from Kew Gardens Hills, proposes to [Chavie] Moskowitz, who, bouncing on her toes, gleefully accepts.  Instead of embracing her fiancé, she blows him a kiss. "It's pretty tough not touching," she admits. "That's one of the reasons why we get married so soon." Soon means after three to twelve dates.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Unknown Lives

I wake up without an alarm at about 5:45 each morning, and, in the few moments that I lie awake in the dark before swinging my feet to the floor, I ask God to abundantly bless every person I see that day, every person whose voice I hear, every person I hear about, and every person I think of, and especially those whom I do not think of, who make up by far the largest group in my general supplication -- all those forgotten or unknown not just by me, but by even those in their physical midst.

Perhaps we are all such forgotten and unknown ones. Each person is a profound mystery, containing worlds upon worlds that no one else will ever enter.

Recently a trove of photographs was found, most of them images of people now forgotten and unknown, taken by Vivian Maier, above, a nanny in Chicago. Maier died in obscurity herself, and never told anyone about her luminous art. The photographs are stunning and beautiful, the kind of thing I could look at for hours.

Read more here.

As Caryll Houselander wrote in The Passion of the Infant Christ:

There is no outward sign of the miracle that is taking place. Office workers are bending over their desks, mothers working in their kitchens, patients lying quietly in hospital wards, nurses carrying out the exacting routine of their work of mercy, craftsmen at their benches, factory workers riveted to their machines, prisoners in their cells, children in their schools. . . . Everywhere an unceasing rhythm of toil, monotonous in its repetition, goes on.

To those inside the pattern of love that it is weaving, it seems monotonous in its repetition; it seems to achieve very little. 

In the almshouses and the workhouses, old people, who are out of the world's work altogether at last, sit quietly with folded hands. It seems to them that their lives add up to very little too.

Nowhere is there any visible sign of glory. But, because in every town and village and hamlet of the world there are those who have surrendered their lives, who have made their offering daily, from the small grains of the common life, a miracle of Love is happening all the time, everywhere. The Holy Spirit is descending upon the world.

Upon the world that seems so cruel, mercy falls like summer rain. . . . The heart of humanity that seems so hard is sifted, irrigated, warmed; the water of life floods it.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Simon Sisters Sing

Here's something that I bet wasn't on your Christmas playlist: Carly and Lucy Simon, as the Simon Sisters, singing Lucy's setting of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem "Christmas Bells."

It's from a very unusual children's album first released in 1973. This is one that I did not have growing up, but when I was a child I once heard one of the songs on it, Lucy Simon's setting of William Blake's poem "The Lamb," at a neighbor's house, and never forgot its haunting, chant-like melody (unfortunately, there's no Youtube of it, but you can listen to an excerpt on Amazon), in spite of the fact that I never heard it again and didn't know whose song it was. Then one day last year the Daedalus Books catalogue came in the mail -- I'm a hopeless addict -- and I saw the Simon Sisters' re-released CD advertised in it, with a little blurb describing some of the songs, one of which was a setting of Blake's poem. Could this be the song? I took a chance and ordered the CD, and yes, it was.

The album is outstanding. Lucy, who wrote all the music, was long overshadowed by her younger sister, but would later gain recognition as the composer of the Broadway musical The Secret Garden. Although the songs on the album are arranged for the full gamut of instruments used in 1960s pop to suggest whimsy and the fantastical -- flute, organ, glockenspiel -- the squareness of the sisters' singing has a kind of rectitude to it -- indeed, almost an austere quality, echoed in this undated performance from the "Hootenanny" television show:

Aren't they beautiful, too? Their older sister, Joanna, was also a singer, a mezzo-soprano who had a moderately big career in opera (yes, that's what most big careers in opera look like -- I had never heard of her, either).

Everything about the Simon Sisters, from their singing to their dresses to the songs themselves, evokes a more innocent time, a kind of lost paradise that cannot ever have really existed.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Jesus Christ the Apple Tree

Here's some more British choral singing for you Anglophiles. I could not embed the video here, but do click over to it; it's lovely.

My first gig in England, about ten years ago, was a recital of the specialized repertoire in which I had built a modest reputation, at Saint John's College, Cambridge. I learned there that the choirs from the various Cambridge colleges compete with one another; Kings College, whose choir sings this performance, is certainly the most well-known, but my hosts assured me that Saint John's was better. My hosts also brought me to Sunday night evensong at the Saint John's College chapel, where I marveled at the impressive discipline and concentration of the little boys, evidenced also in the video linked to above. I was assured that the children were perfect devils in rehearsal, but you would never know it.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

My Sweetheart's Like Venus

I took down the tree today with something of a heavy heart, but I kept the Christmas folder on my iTunes going all day, and noticed that this song seemed to have gotten mixed into the playlist by mistake. It is one of the loveliest things you'll ever hear.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Epiphany and Manifesto

Yesterday was my son's sixth birthday. We started the day with a birthday tradition of wild dancing in the kitchen to Brahms's Hungarian Dance no. 5 in F-sharp minor (above; the sound quality is poor, but it was one of the few performances on Youtube that I actually liked. The one we use for wild dancing -- and the one I love am bestsen -- is the solo piano version by the great but sadly-short-lived American Brahms proponent Julius Katchen), and then it was time for school.

One of the things I love am besten is taking brisk walks in the cold, and school is good for that. It's about three-quarters of a mile in each direction, and on the way back I have time to look around and think. The combination of Brahms and the cold early-January weather, though, is a poignant one for me, bringing up memories of countless cold walks in the desolate post-industrial neighborhoods of the wintry Bronx, walks that were nevertheless wonderful and full of all kinds of interior riches influenced by the bleak exterior landscape.  Here there's none of that. But there's still Brahms.

Brahms's music dominates the inner landscape of my life.  His music is so inextricably woven into the warp of my earlier life, from my childhood listening to my mother's LP of Glenn Gould playing the Op. 117 and 118 Intermezzi, to my earliest days of performing his art songs as an undergraduate voice major,  to later and more mature performances, including a turn in the four-soloist version of Liebesliederwalzer when I was still a soprano, and, most recently, the solo version of Ziguenerlieder in my last recital for my Doctor of Musical Arts degree in voice performance. (We had a three-recital requirement, and I made sure to program Brahms into each one. In the first of these recitals I performed George Crumb's song cycle Apparition for voice and amplified piano, based upon excerpts from Walt Whitman's elegy on the death of Lincoln, When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom'd, which was truly one of the greatest musical experiences of my life. I also sang a short group of Brahms songs early in the program, and one of my best friends -- a non-musician but no stranger to twentieth-century music -- said afterward, "The Crumb was just astonishing . . . but I loved the Brahms.")

I think now that if I hadn't had access to the kind of order and beauty that the practice of classical music has allowed me to take hold of, I would have fallen apart even more in this place where there is no discernible order, and not so much beauty, to my everyday life.  We left New York when I was just finishing my doctorate, and I was teaching music, studying music, writing about music, and performing music with my esteemed instructors and colleagues. But here, my practice of music is largely solitary. I still have a few gigs a year, nearly all of which involve travel, which means that what I work on at the little piano in my living room does not ripple out into the community at all, and essentially has no effect upon the place where I live, and is brought instead into other marketplaces and other communities, and I wonder why it is that the people and places that most need beauty that have the least access to it.

I have been thinking of A., too, whose life is lived minute to minute as she attempts to meet her own and her children's basic needs with the scanty survival skills she's learned in a hard place. The beauty of Brahms's music, and the music of so many others, has scarcely been short of salvific for me: it shines light upon the soul's darkness; it converts the tattered rags of a wasted day into a rich tapestry. I've always thought of this music as having not only real form, but also real, tangible substance, as if it were something that you could actually erect standing structures out of, something you could build with. And perhaps you can: as misshapen as my inner self might be, it was trained like a vine around the trellis of music (in other ways, it could be said, though certainly hyperbolically, to have been stretched like a tortured body upon the rack of music). In any event, the discipline of music gave order to my life where there was none, and gave me all kinds of mad coping skills in the face of crumbling chaos. But A. has never heard it, and perhaps never will.

My son's wonderful violin teacher came with his quartet from Budapest to New York City in the 1960s. He has told me about playing school concerts in the inner city ghettos, and about how well-prepared and attentive the children were. Their teachers knew, then, that their young charges needed this music -- as who doesn't? But many teachers and educational theorists today reject that notion, believing instead that students, especially disadvantaged students, need forms of cultural expression that speak specifically to their circumstances. I don't deny that there is a place for particular, time-and-place-specific, vernacular art. But to say that each subculture should be sequestered with its own small and particular and self-referential art forms is to deny -- again to speak hyperbolically, even Beethoven-esquely -- the universal brotherhood of man; it's parochial at best, and bigoted at worst.  All people, and especially all children, deserve to learn and to study and to know the great soul-strengthening and spiritually-deepening works of the great wielders of the highest forms of artistic expression of our culture, which, for all of us living here, is western culture. And they deserve to learn and to study and to know these things not because they make you smarter or better at math or better at sports or whatever the hell, but because they are beautiful, and they speak to the essence of what makes us human.

Where that leaves me, I don't know. It's still cold out, and I'm still listening to Brahms. Happy Epiphany, everyone.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

More on Single Motherhood: Photoessay

I came across this sobering photo essay a couple of years ago, and returned to it last night when I was thinking about A. and her situation. The photographer, Brenda Ann Kenealley, followed several single mothers living on one block in the decaying city of Troy, New York, a place that arguably has more culture and vibrancy than the place I now live, but many of the same social problems.

When Mary Visited Elizabeth

The Sisters of Life have a cadre of laypeople, known as the Visitation Coworkers for Life, who assist them in carrying out their charism of helping women in crisis pregnancies.  The title of this program is, of course, a reference to the Visitation, when Mary, newly pregnant herself, traveled into the hill country of Judea to wait upon and serve her cousin Elizabeth, who was in the sixth month of a miraculous (and perhaps, because of her advanced age, dangerous-seeming) pregnancy. I am not officially a Visitation Coworker for Life, the program having started just around the time we were moving out of New York, and I'm not sure I would make a very good one. Nonetheless, I fell into that role unexpectedly last weekend, when A. and her two toddlers washed up on the shore of our decaying Rust Belt town and lacked for a place to stay. They had been supposed to come here at an earlier date, it seems, and the shelter in which A. had arranged to stay had given her spot away when she didn't show up. She found a temporary spot in an emergency shelter, but the little family ended up staying with us for two nights (and seemed ready to stay indefinitely) while we tried to figure out what had gone wrong at the emergency shelter and to work it out.  From the first hour, there was misunderstanding piled upon miscommunication between A. and the shelter staff, not to mention a clash of cultures: it cannot be denied that the social service workers in my new home town are shockingly generous and eager to help their charges, which is the complete opposite of the ethos among their counterparts in New York, and A. started off on the wrong foot by being surly and defensive with the emergency shelter director, who had elbowed another woman aside to take in A. and her children in. Things escalated from there to the point that the shelter director yelled at me and hung up the phone when I called.

A. was comfortable here in our warm house; her children loved my husband, and cried when he left the room. My son loved having the little ones to boss around, and cried, himself, while falling asleep because, as he said, "I don't have children yet." I bought supplies for A., and made her and her children special foods. We gave her the covers off our own bed, and put her family in what will be Jude's room.  She wanted my husband to bring her belongings here from the shelter, which would have been impossible even if we had wanted to; the Coworker for Life who drove A. here from New York had had a hard time fitting all of her stuff in a minivan, and we have a Honda Civic.  But I told A. that she had to play by the rules and work things out at the shelter, because her permanent placement and her chance at getting a Section 8 housing voucher -- the reason she came here -- would be jeopardized by her having another place to stay. She denied this, but I know otherwise.

The surprise in all of this was that A. is just weeks away from giving birth to her third child, a circumstance that no one, including the Sisters of Life, knew about (in fact, Sister M. was exasperated when I told her the news over the phone, because if she had known about A.'s pregnancy, she could have gotten A. into another shelter in New York, sparing her the myriad difficulties of moving to a strange city). A. mentioned vaguely that the father of the three children plans to move here eventually after getting his high-school equivalency diploma, but I'm doubtful this will happen. Her near-total passivity in the face of crisis bewildered me, as did her comfort in relying upon the kindness of complete strangers and her apparent trust that these strangers, and the social-service system, would take care of her and her children. I'm pretty sure her pregnancy is high-risk -- she said she had a uterine fibroid tumor -- and she doesn't have a crib or a stitch of clothing for the baby. But these are the kinds of things that kind strangers and the social-service system provide.

A few months ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Helen Alvaré, legal scholar, sociologist, advisor to Pope Benedict's Pontifical Council to the Laity, and all-around cool chick from New Jersey. Because I told her about my ongoing concern about single motherhood in my community, she sent me some of her articles on this subject. I have been reading one, "Beyond the Sex-Ed Wars: Addressing Disadvantaged Single Mothers' Search for Community," with great interest. (Unfortunately, I couldn't find a free link to the article, but I'm guessing it can be obtained using Lexis-Nexis at a library.) Alvaré cuts to the heart of the rising rates of unwed motherhood, especially among disadvantaged women: poor young women, she says, not only seek status in their communities by taking on the role of single mother, but also find opportunities to serve, as Mary served Elizabeth -- to be, in Alvaré's, term, "a gift" to their children. The casual attitudes toward sex and relationship among these populations (Alvaré describes sex as a phenomenon that "just happens," and a child as the expected outcome of a steady dating relationship) are balanced by the great seriousness with which motherhood is viewed.  She writes:

I propose that this phenomenon is a function not only of a declining cultural antipathy for nonmarital sex, and not only of the trend to think of the sexual choices of single women from "public health" and "privacy" perspectives. It is also very likely a function of the tremendous value many single women attach not only to their baby, but also to the sense of accomplishment, even courage, that they derive from making the decision to give birth to their baby, in admittedly difficult situations, and from taking care of the baby, largely by their own strenuous efforts.  This decision can garner a certain amount of praise in their community: they have accepted the consequences of their choices, and have put the baby before material things. . . . the morality of nonmarital sexual intimacy is completely overshadowed by the narrative of freely accepted sacrifices made on behalf of the child.

Although it caused us stress and annoyance, there was no question in my mind or my husband's that we should take in A. and her family this weekend, and serve them in whatever way was required.  It's untangling the knot of seeming requirements that gives me pause. While it's impossible for me to lionize A. -- to me she seems shockingly passive, frustratingly unambitious, and almost frighteningly naïve for a girl from the New York ghetto -- and while I can only shake my head at her and her babyfather's eagerness to allow strangers and the state to care for their children -- I believe that I may need to shift my thinking about A.'s decision-making capability. For, while it would appear to me that she has made some really bad choices, to her and to her presumed community she has made powerfully positive ones, having been willing to sacrifice essentially everything she had to give life to her children.