Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Owl Pellets

In our study of birds we are on to learning about raptors and this past week it was owls. Everyone in the house is already owl fans because owls are cool and because of having read about the barn owl, Wesley. If you are learning about owls, you have to dissect owl pellets, right? We were supposed to do this as our Friday activity, but put it off until today so that D. could be a part of it. (He was tech all week last week.) Today was an honorary Friday and we'll make Friday a regular school day. We listened to another selection of classical music based on birds and then dissected owl pellets.

L., who was thrilled we were doing 'real' science, and evidently dressed up for the occasion.

There was a lot of fur to be found.

Look at R. doing this all by herself. She was particularly excited to work on the owl pellets because she adores owls. It took a little explaining that these were not owl bones, but mice bones we were digging out. I'm not sure she was convinced.

The scientists hard at work.

Several skulls

It's hard to see, but this is R. triumphantly holding up a bone she dug out herself. I didn't really help her and she did a great job and was one of the longest working.

D. laid his bones out neatly so they could be seen.

TM found three skulls.

Everyone enjoyed it and worked hard at it. It felt a little wrong to then just toss the bones into the garbage, but that is what I did. They were all so small that it would have been impossible to keep them for looking at, and they were not clean at all and I didn't relish that process, either.

One funny thing. When I ordered them, it seems that owl pellets are one of the things that can be made into a standing order on Amazon. Really? How many owl pellets does one person need? Even science teachers can't be dissecting owl pellets that often, can they?

Oh, and Kenzie seems to be just fine, thankfully. No bonus trips to the vet needed.

Monday, January 16, 2017

And some Mondays are like that

Some Mondays have dogs who eat things they shouldn't (and could be heading to the vet if that dang bone does nasty things inside said dog). Some Mondays have vaguely uncooperative children. Some Mondays have overly tired children from an overly busy previous week. Some Mondays have dreary wet weather that you have to go out in because the garbage bag has to be out of the house to save the dog from himself. Some Mondays have too much mess made in the kitchen.

But we got through our school schedule even though I was sorely tempted to put everyone back to bed for a bit and try the day all over again. Tomorrow will be better. I can say that confidently because that is how it usually works out. Powering through a bad Monday means that the rest of the week goes smoothly. Throwing up my hands and turning belly up on a bad Monday usually means I can write off the week. I don't know why, that's just how it always works out.

And there have been some highlights as well. It's sometimes easy to over look the highlights when everything is heading you know where, isn't it? K. did some really spectacular reading, and even better he was understanding what he was reading. R. did some sorting for me and for the first time doing this particular box, understood the idea right away, and even better was picking up the small objects with her right hand thumb and fourth finger (as I had asked). That's willingness and success all in one activity, a definite win for her today. Everyone found lunch that they liked and ate it without drama. There is no where I have to go this afternoon, so can stay inside the enjoy the wet weather because I don't have to be out in it.

Well, unless I'm running the dog to the vet.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Friday bullets on Saturday

I was so excited about my little discovery and so excited to share it with you yesterday, that I kind of forgot it was Friday. So let's pretend it's still Friday even though it's really Saturday.

  • I finally got people to play our new game, Pandemic, last weekend. M. was over, and joined D., J., and me to play it. (It's just a four person game.) The goal of the game is to eradicate the five viruses that are spreading across the world. You are given a game character with certain capabilities, and together all the players try to beat the game. Now, usually I am not a huge fan of cooperative games. I like a game where I can beat everyone soundly and be pronounced the winner. I'm competitive like that. Everyone winning or everyone losing didn't seem as satisfying. Well, I have to admit that I really enjoyed playing this game. I think it was because to beat the game, there is a certain logic puzzle to it all. Who needs to do what and when, because the number of rounds you are given is rather limited. Now, we did beat the game and I did play the winning hand at the last possible moment, so that probably colors my perception, but I really liked it. Because of the amount of logic and cooperation required, I would say it would be suitable for ages 13 and up, depending upon maturity. D. did fine, but he is an experienced game player. 
  • Speaking of D., he is currently playing Oberon in Thin Ice Theater's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream this weekend. If you are in the area, you still have two more chances to see the show. It's a lot of fun and is a terrific introduction to Shakespeare for your children if they have never seen a live production. It's very funny. D. is enjoying being in it, though he did get in the car after last night's show and said, "I don't get any funny lines. I'm just a plot device." I'm afraid he has an accurate reading of Oberon's role in the play.

  • We had our one year post-placement social worker visit this week, with yet another new social worker. (I've lost count as to how many we've had over the years at this point.) While they've all been nice enough, that's about where it starts and stops. This time? Wow, do I like our new social worker! I mean, you've got to love a social worker when your daughter, L., in this case, walks into the room in full velociraptor mode... short arms with claws waving, stalking, growling. The social worker talks to the velociraptor and the velociraptor growls back. After a while, with never breaking character or speaking a word of English, the velociraptor stalks back out of the room. There is a pause, and the social worker says, "Isn't she cute?" I wanted to hug her. The social worker, not the velociraptor. I've learned that velociraptors are very difficult to hug. 
  • K. has started the process to get an expander placed in his mouth later this month, starting with separators that were put in on Tuesday. This has meant that my child who suffered from severe malnutrition early in life is now more than a little obsessed about what he can and cannot eat. I'm going to take the suggestion of another experienced adoptive mom and make sure the office knows not to discuss banned foods with him. I can take care of making sure he doesn't eat what he is not supposed to. I forget his early trauma most of the time, and sometimes am caught off guard when it rears its head. The expander is to make room for braces, which in turn will make room for the bone graft to close up the hole (finally) in his alveolar ridge.
  • If it's too good to be true, it probably is. How many times must we learn that lesson? I just got off the phone with J. He was downtown, trying to pick-up a treadmill that someone was selling and we were going to buy. It was a nice treadmill and we were paying a tiny fraction of what it would cost new. All we had to do was bring some cash, dismantle it, and take it away. The story was that the guy was moving today and it wouldn't fit, so he was trying to sell it. He was always a little hard to get a hold of via fb, but I'm willing to understand not everyone looks at it everyday. Details were (sort of) worked out last night and J. and B. headed downtown. Well, a bit ago, B. calls to see if he got the phone number correct because the number he tried calling was not to the treadmill guy, and this guy was definitely not selling a treadmill. So they head into the building and the front desk has no idea who this guy is. He really went above and beyond and as the story unfolded, it turns out there wasn't even a moving van scheduled for today, which was the story treadmill guy told us. You want my theory? I think Treadmill Guy was planing on just meeting J. in the lobby of the building, taking him to a different building, and then showing him a hot treadmill. But, J. and B. were a little late, so Treadmill Guy couldn't hang around the lobby indefinitely, so left. And no treadmill. Drat.
  • A. went back to school today for the next semester. It was so much fun to have her here over Christmas break and we're all going to miss her. Some little girls I know were especially sad to see her go.
  • My people have been eating me out of house and home. I'm going to the grocery store later and the situation is rather dire. We've had no leftovers from dinner for multiple nights in a row and practically everything I keep on hand for lunches and breakfasts is gone. It could be a massive growth spurt for everyone at the same time. I hope it stops soon, because this is a significant amount of food they are eating in a week.
  • Over the past month, we have lost somewhere inside our house one library book and one Netflix DVD. I have no idea where they are and have searched high and low. It's not as if we are living in a hoarders episode... things are generally organized and have a place. This is a mystery. I think in all my years of using the library and the 1000's of books that I've checked out, I have only had to pay to replace two. One was because it was lost and never found and the other was because I accidentally mailed the book in the post office drop box instead of returning the book in the library drop box. They are next to each other. You would think that the postal worker would see a library book in the mailbox and just return it, but no, you would think wrong. It drives me a little nuts not to be able to find these things and have to pay for them. 

Friday, January 13, 2017

My eureka moment... or a little bit about the basal ganglia

It happened again. I was in a bookstore and picked up a book that I thought sounded really interesting, and added it to the small pile that I was buying with a gift card. I get home, happily pick the book up and start reading. And as I'm reading, I have the vague feeling that I've read it before because I know what comes next. No, I didn't suddenly develop ESP, perhaps just the opposite. I had read the book before and had completely forgotten it. It's one of the reasons that I started keeping track of my reading again, in the hopes that writing down the title, will help to cue my memory enough so that I don't purchase books I've already read. Don't hold your breath about that, because it turns out that not only did I previously read this book, but I blogged about it as well!

So much for my brain. Let's talk about someone else's and why I'm glad I had forgotten I read this book and bought it.

It's funny how you gain different things from reading books at different times. This time around I am completely overwhelmed with the information about the basal ganglia. The basal ganglia is a small bunch of neurons at the base of the brain, and it seems that one of its primary functions is to house our habits. When we chunk (and yes, this is actually the correct and scientific term) groups of actions together into one, and when this chunk of actions has a trigger followed by some sort of reward (and the reward can be as small as having successfully completed a task), then those actions have become a habit and the instructions for this habit are housed in the basal ganglia. Since the basal ganglia is housed at the base of the brain, this makes it pretty far away from the frontal cortex (the rational, thinking part of the brain) and the middle of the brain where much of the memory functions are housed.

Now the interesting story in the book is about a man who had brain damage that wiped out some of the memory centers of his brain. He couldn't form new memories, and only had access to older ones. Yet this man, it turns out, could create new habits which he then performed unconsciously. He could go for a walk around the block and make it back home even though he couldn't point out his house or tell you how to get there. However, if something on the block looked different (the triggers for his walk around the block habit), then he would becomes completely lost and not make it back home (the reward). It's a really crazy thing if you stop and think about it too long. Which is precisely what I did, because deep in the workings of my own brain this was starting to sound far more familiar than just having read it before.

It felt as though it was talking about someone I knew.

And then it came to me. I had the answer for why R.'s world was so totally and completely rocked when she joined our family. I had the answer for why she suddenly was functioning at such a significantly lower level than anyone in China had described. A small bit of R.'s brain suddenly made sense. Here's my hypothesis.

R. has some significant issues with her frontal lobe, both because of her basic brain structure and because of the resection surgery she had which involved removing some of the frontal lobe. Her rational thinking is impaired in many ways. Also because of natural brain structure, other parts of her brain are also compromised. Working memory is, well, let's just say it's not a strength. We knew all this going in, but her reported functioning seemed to indicate that she was still pretty functional, so something in her brain had to be doing at least a minimum job. Well, it seems, if my hypothesis is correct, is that her basal ganglia is doing just a bang up job. I posit that the reason she functioned so well in China is that she had developed enough habits, housed in her basal ganglia, that allowed her to get through her day. When she came upon the certain triggers in her world, then that chunk of neural action fired, she did that chunk, and received her reward, whatever that might have been... doing something successfully, food, love, whatever.

And then we brought her here. There were no triggers because nothing was the same. Not the same language, people, landscape, nothing. Thus there were no habits to fall back on to get through her day. She was a child untethered from literally everything and this is what we experienced. A child at sea and completely lost. We were baffled by it for a long, long time and could never quite reconcile the two R.'s together.

This would also explain how difficult it is to move her out of what is familiar and what she is used to doing into doing something, anything new. We are working against not conscious thought, but against habits. If you've ever tried to break a bad habit, you know how difficult that can be. I often joke that she doesn't have myelin coating her neural connections but concrete, because it felt that difficult to move her from point A to point B. (Myelin is the coating that covers and helps to solidify often used neural connections and which facilitate speed of thought.)

To my mind, this explained everything. It allowed me to make sense of what we had seen and why it seemed so disconnected to her behavior in China. I cannot even begin to express how exciting I find this. It feels so hopeful to have some insight into how she works. With this little bit of insight, we can harness it and help R. to function even better. We can be careful about what habits we encourage and it gives us tools for changing habits we don't want her to have. This is a great big huge deal.

This doesn't mean that we won't continue to hope for better frontal lobe functioning. I believe she can attain it. I believe that with continued therapeutic parenting and education that we can help her gain greater intellectual functioning, but this will help us help her in the interim.

I love brain science.

Oh, and for those who didn't click the link at the top of this post, the book is The Power of Habit: Why we do what we do in life and business by Charles Duhigg. Highly recommended.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Gelatinous Mutant Coconut... in syrup!

Having passed up the mutant coconut two weeks ago, I couldn't go passed it again without throwing it in my cart. Nearly everyone in our family loves coconut gels by the same company, so it seemed likely that most people would like this. And truly, who can pass up gelatinous mutant coconut? 

 It was our dessert after dinner last night.

 Here's what it looked like inside the jar.


K. and P.

G.

L... I think that her face shows what she thought about it.


H. liked it.

And R. really liked it.

The overall verdict? We probably won't be getting it again as not enough people really enjoyed them, but definitely worth it to say you've eaten mutant coconut.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

One year anniversary... or 20 peas of progress

Five days after Y.'s adoption day, comes R.'s. We've now lived a year of polar opposite adoptions, and I've been wondering for days what I would write today; how I would convey our present reality; how I would communicate everything that has been roiling around in my head for this past year. Forgive me if this seems more personally therapeutic than a well-thought out blog post. I process my life through writing (if you hadn't already noticed), and the one year mark of R. being home seems to be a good time to start.

But where to start, that's the question. I suppose the brutal, honest truth is always a good place. It's been hard. It's been hard on everyone, and by everyone I am definitely including R. herself, for whom it has been the most difficult. Now, often when people say an adoption has been hard, it usually has lurking in the background the unspoken reality of raging and pain and destruction. The reality of feeling as though one is living with a ticking time bomb and every interaction is akin to tiptoeing through a mine field. That's not the hard I'm talking about. R. is extremely loving. In theory, we could just let her float through her day and she would be the most pleasant person in the house.

This is where it becomes difficult. I want more for this child. I want her to gain skills and awareness. I want her to develop an inner life. Heck, I want her to develop an outer life, one she can fully participate in to the best of her ability. I want so much for her. Yet the hard reality is, she is so trapped inside her own head and her own ingrained way of dealing with the world that she has no conception of there being anything outside of what she already is comfortable with. To break through this comfortableness is hard. To recreate the natural desires of childhood, the desire to explore, to discover, to experiment, to test, to push oneself. When a child has settled down into a very narrow window of what is comfortable and is afraid to leave that window it is challenging. And frustrating. And usually makes the parent feel more than a little rotten. This is especially true when any slight push out of this comfort zone is greeted with shrieking from the child at a level one would expect if a person's fingernails were being pulled off.

It's been a year of knowing what she needs to do (this would iclude expanding her vestibular awareness and proprioception) and a year of being met with incredibly resistance at even the most basic of challenges. (If you're wondering what I might consider to be a basic challenge, well, doing a high kneel is one such challenge.) We've gone through multiple cycles of pushing and resting, never quite finding the correct balance. Too much rest and she loses any microscopic gains she has made. Too much pushing and the stress of it all causes a complete shut-down of any cooperation, combined with a ratcheting up of attachment issues and disassociation. Her traumatized brain can only handle so much.

Her traumatized brain has also affected so much else in her life. Her attachment to us? It's kind of meh. We're OK with her, especially if we are doing what she wants (or not making her do what she doesn't want.) The indiscriminate affection is still pretty rampant. She has a very small world right now and the other people she associates with know the drill and are good about keeping her at arms' length. If there are new adults in her view, we still need to keep a physical hand on her to keep her from parent shopping and wrapping her arms around them. R. has had to switch caregivers so many times in her previous life that nothing is permanent and it is almost too hard for her to do the attachment work necessary to fully accept us as her own.

Her English acquisition? Also kind of meh. She has basic words now. Mostly. We came to the slow realization the her wonky brain was not differentiating between Mandarin and English. She was treating them as one and the same language. Even though both J. and I have enough (VERY) basic Mandarin to understand the words she typically uses, we have had to play dumb. It has been the only way we've found to help her sort the two languages out in her own head. (And as a side note, before I am blasted with comments... what would be considered best practices for any other child on the planet, it seems are not the best practices for this child. Her brain is unique and processes things very uniquely. We are having to rewrite what I would do or suggest for any other child. And we are doing so very carefully.) So far, our success is that she has officially switched from 'wo' to 'I'. We are still working our way through other pronouns and verbs. I attribute this inability to switch languages to be one of the roots of many of her difficulties and one of causes of the overwhelming trauma she experienced with the adoption.

If we are going the brutally honest route here, I will say I have never felt like such a failure as I do much of the time parenting this child. Knowing what to do, then actually doing those things... patiently, trying to fill her love tank that is the equivalent of a black hole. These are all difficult things. They seem endless. There is very little real return. By real return, I'm talking about genuine emotion. Reciprocation. A baby, when a mother spends time cooing over him, will happily gaze into his mother's eyes and smile. He cannot do anything for himself, he takes a lot of work, but those smiles and gazes are enough to cause the mother to want to love and care for this small, helpless human. While R. is just as needy as a newborn.. and perhaps more so... when trying to develop a relationship with her, there is no reciprocity. No return gaze, instead there is constant effort to avoid looking into anyone's eyes. There is actually constant effort to not even open her eyes. There is no smile of happiness... instead there is often a shriek of some form or another because I have asked her to open her eyes. No, the smiles only come at inappropriate times. I know about trauma. I know about attachment disorders. I've lived with these things in more than one of my children for years. Yet this time it feels harder. Much harder.

Along with the feelings of failure, come the feelings of guilt. Guilt that I am not living up to what all the people in China had hoped for their darling girl. There are two churches' worth of people in China who adore R. Who poured out love and resources on her at a time when she desperately needed that. Who took her into their hearts and prayed for her. J. and I met these people. They showered us with their love and prayers as well. It is always humbling to be the answer to so much concerted prayer. As a result, I always have in the back of my head, "Am I living up to what all these people hoped for this child." I fear that too often, I have to answer myself in the negative.

So there's that.

Up to now, this has probably been the single most depressing one year anniversary summary that anyone has done, so I don't want to leave you here, because we don't live in this place all the time. We have seen some progress, glacial though it may be. I also want to share R.'s successes. This time last year she could not walk downstairs alternating feet. Now she can do that about 90% of the time. This time last year she could not pedal a bicycle. Now she can, though I have a feeling we will have to do a little review on that skill when the weather warms back up. This time last year, she would spend a good chunk of her day disassociated if I didn't catch it and force her back into the present. Today I'd say that percentage is down to about 40% and she is quicker to come back when disassociated. This time last year she would "W" sit all the time and fought us when we asked her to change. Now she only very infrequently does it and will change immediately when asked. This time last year R. would use either hand indiscriminately and had equal (and rather low) facility with either one. Today, after concerted effort on everyone's part, she will use her right hand over half the time and is developing better control over it.

Probably the best way I can show you what progress she has made is to show you two photos. These are of an activity that I sometimes have her do during school. It's laminated cards which have a design on them. The child chooses a card and uses dried split peas to outline the design. (Just for information, in case others were thinking of creating the same activity, the peas live in a ziplock bag, and there are also bowls for scooping out the peas and holding for the actual activity inside the box that holds all the pieces. The children do the activity on an IKEA tray to contain the peas. Usually a child will start out doing the actual project and it will devolve into the child just playing with the peas. It's a great tactile experience, so I don't worry about it.) When we first started doing this activity together, this is what R. could manage. Five peas in a row. Any more than that and she would either stop lining them up and they would become just a messy bunch, or she would feel compelled to mess up her line on purpose. Either way, the line was never more than five peas.



This past week, I got the activity out for her again. (We've also done it every couple of weeks over the course of the year, so she's been working on it all along.) She sat down, and this time was able to line up about 25 peas, before the messy bunching/undoing would start.



It is so little and so big at the same time. It would be so easy to miss the progress, to see the success, in trying to see the bigger picture of what still need to be conquered. But it is big. R. is starting to do more, to try more, to expand her world a little bit. There are just so many foundations that need to be relaid; the process cannot be rushed. We need to be patient and work on focusing on the little things, the important things, and not get caught up in what still lies ahead.

And for anyone wondering about two very important things, and I don't blame you after all of this. First, yes, I love my daughter. She is a joyful person. She is cute. She is caring. And she is my daughter, make no mistake. Just watch me at a doctor's office if they try to dismiss her. It's just that it can take a while for emotions to catch-up with facts. I've been in this 'now but not yet time' before. It passes. The emotions will come.

Second, do I regret adopting her? No.

No.

No.

No.

Parenting can feel hard. Parenting can try your patience. Parenting can make you lose hope. Sometimes. Parenting can also make you a better person. Parenting can force you to see the world differently. Parenting can change your priorities.

And sometimes parenting can just be fun... if you allow yourself to let go of all that other stuff and just enjoy the present. My favorite memory from the year has to be from the Sundays in Advent when we all sing Christmas carols around the piano. R. adores music and has an amazing memory for it. Joy to the World is her absolute favorite song. When we would sing it together, she sang with gusto. Loud gusto. I'm quite sure that never has such a joyful noise been made to the Lord. It wasn't melodic. It wasn't beautiful singing as most people would describe that phrase. But it was joyous. R. has brought joy into our lives. Even through the hard, the joy is always lurking there underneath, waiting for us to rediscover it once again.

Monday, January 09, 2017

A post of pictures

Oh, I could go so many ways with the post. There's "How Older Children Structure their Free Time" or "Teaching Children to be Comfortable in the Kitchen" or "Don't be Afraid of Giving Your Children Free Time". I'm good with any one of those. But, since it's later in the day, we still have teatime to have, and then dinner to make, I'll just show you pictures.

TM has been on a quest to make homemade potato chips. His first batch turned out too thick for his taste, so I suggested he get out the mandoline. I showed him how to use it and he was off.

The mandoline. You should own one, if you don't already.

Y. helping him dry the potato slices on paper towels.

More potato slice drying.

Spraying the parchment paper for broiling. (You know that parchment paper on baking sheets is one of the seven wonders of the kitchen world, right?)

The finished product.



I thought they tasted pretty good. TM thought they were a little too soggy, so is going to try again with a little less oil.
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