Wednesday, August 27, 2014

When it's beautiful in Chicago...

you go out and take advantage of it. Because Chicago really is beautiful and quite enjoyable when it's not frigidly cold with grey skies that have overspent their welcome. We went to the Lincoln Park Zoo and also enjoyed the formal gardens just outside the west side of the zoo. Did you know that this is one of the oldest parks in the city? That's OK, I didn't, either, until I read the sign.





Tuesday, August 26, 2014

First day of school

So, it would appear I lied in yesterday's post about the block party when I said no one in the house was starting school the next day. I realized much later that someone did start school. A. headed off to her first day of a real class ever... she is taking Spanish 1 at the university where J. teaches (and M. and B. attend). And I didn't get a picture. Can you believe it? A child goes to her first day of school at the tender age 16 and her mother doesn't take a picture? Actually, I can believe it, without any difficulty.

It sounds as though her first day of class went well, though I'm getting that information second hand as I haven't actually talked with her yet. You see, when she went down to school last week to buy her book, she also landed a job at the bookstore during their peak times. (That would be the first week of class when everyone is buying books and the last week of class when everyone is selling them back.) It worked out extremely well because we don't begin our school schedule until next week, so she was free to work some rather long hours. To add to the fun, A. decided it made a lot more sense to spend the night on the futon in her older sister's living room instead of coming back home and then turning around and heading back down the very next morning. She is probably right and this is why I haven't seen her to actually talk to her yet.

I have a feeling my high school junior is going to enjoy her pseudo-college student year, very, very much.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Block party numbers

1 - Use of the Polarcare 300 which is an icing machine left-over from one of M.'s knee surgeries.

2 - Number of times the new bike jump was used before having to make use of the Polarcare 300. It is also the number of people it took to carry TM into the house after the second use of the bike jump.

D. went over it without incident, but he was not going as fast as he possibly could, like TM. When you go as fast as you possibly can, the bike goes a good three feet in the air. Then if you are strong, you can manage to hold onto the handle bars even if the rest of you goes flying up above the bike. But then what goes up must come down, first behind the the seat onto the wheel followed by a nice long skid along the pavement on your leg. It was spectacular and we all wish we had gotten a video of it... but only because there were no broken bones. We treated the wounds, iced his leg, he rested and within two hours he was back up and riding his bike again.

3 - Friends who unexpectedly dropped by. These are friends we haven't seen for years and it was wonderful to see them.

4 -  Dogs playing together. Gretel had fun, too. She got to go down the street and have a play date with three other dogs in our neighbors yard. She also got to play in the water being sprayed by the fire engine.

5 - Band-aids applied during the course of the afternoon.

6 - Minutes, approximately is how long G. and L. stayed in the costumes they had donned. We don't know why the decided costumes must be worn, but they did. We only just talked G. out of wearing her fleece panda costume, worrying that she would pass out from heat exhaustion given the level of humidity and temperature. L. decided to be a cowboy... riding an unicorn.

(She is wearing her serious 'cowboy face'.)

7 - Dollars earned by L. at her 'Art Sale Table'. We have no idea what put this idea into her head, but a couple of days before the block party, L. announced that she would have an art table and sell pictures. I first thought that she would forget about it, but she never did. Signs were made, pictures were created, and as the party approached she made plans as to what needed to be brought outside.

G. held the sign and L. badgered passing adults into buying her artwork, sometimes following them down the street until they acquiesced. It was a pretty impressive display of rabid sales tactics. Then she announces to me, "I am going to earn money so I can go to Disneyland."
"Oh, you are?"
"Yes... how much money do I need again?"
I let it drop, once again hoping she would forget. (I should know better by now.) At the end of the day, L. counts her money and is quite satisfied at the seven dollars plus change, and then asks, "I have my money now, can we go to Disneyland tomorrow?" Oh, how I wish I could do that for you my darling girl.

8 - Gallons of juice/punch/lemonade/water consumed by small children. Small children with small bladders and houses that suddenly seem a little too far away. 'Nuff said.

9 - o'clock, the hour we finally got everyone tucked into bed and were very thankful that no one in this house, at least, was starting school in the morning.

10 - The level of enjoyment K. had playing in the water from the fire truck.

Saturday, August 23, 2014


The end of warmer weather marks the beginning of the seasonal migration of the animal known as collegium discipulo or as they are more commonly known, the college student. The first sign that the coming migration will be occurring is the frequent sightings of these not-so-rare animals at stores selling office supplies, cheap furniture, and clothing. Scientists seem to believe that this behavior stems from the widely held belief that the items sold in the these stores are unattainable in the migratory habitat.

Once the needed supplies are laid in, the next step of the seasonal ritual begins.. the one of packing all personal possessions into bags and boxes. It is one of science's most enigmatic mysteries as to how the physics of this process works. The quantities packed seem to take up such a mass as to not fit into the significantly smaller seasonal migratory dwellings. How the animal eventually stores their possessions away into such limited space has yet to be solved, though if it were, it could have vast implications for personal storage business.

This playing with physics of space continues as the next step of the migratory practice continues. In order to actually migrate, the animals must now store all of their boxes and bags into a vehicular conveyance. The distances traveled are often great and personally carrying said possessions would be an impossibility. Those species which migrate the greatest distances seem to have modified this behavior somewhat. For those that travel greater distances, not all possessions seem to be carried back and forth. Instead a small token amount seem to be transported and the rest are safely tucked away in a secure location until the next swing of the migration continues.

Those species who travel shorter distances have not developed this habit of leaving behind some possessions and instead transport everything back and forth between the two habitats twice a year. Scientists are still working to discover what causes the differentiation in the species. That is, why do some animals choose to migrate long distances while others choose to simple move to another side of town. Studies are still in progress to discover the cause and it is hopeful that some type of prediction criteria with be forth coming.

The penultimate step in the annual migratory pattern is that of the leave taking. The collegium discipulo, anxious to return to the migratory habitat, gives quick hugs and kisses to the non-migratory family members and enters the vehicular conveyance. One of the non-migratory members seems to be necessary and makes the initial voyage with the migratory members. The difference is no possessions are transported for this member and the appointed member returns as soon as the possessions are appropriately stowed.

As the family members live apart, life seems to go as normal for both parties, though communication continues between the two. The season of living apart is a longer time period than the living together period, encompassing the cooler months. As the weather warms, you can expect to see signs of migration once more. The difference is that the acquisition of supplies does not seem to be needed for this part, but does seem to require a significant amount of soiled laundry in order for the return migration to occur.

So as the migration season continues, keep your eyes open and you might just spot one of these fascinating creatures.

Friday, August 22, 2014

When life is overwhelming

It seems to be a difficult season of life for many of my friends, and I'm writing this post with each of you in mind. I know all too well what it feels like to have the rug pulled out from under your feet...and the panicky, breathless, nausea-inducing, blinding fear and sadness and anger that goes along with a major detour in a well-ordered life.  I also know when my life seems precarious, it can be difficult to function. I'm living in my head too much. Not only is there the thing that has upset me in the first place, but more than that, my own imagination is often the cause of much of my anxiety.

I've shared before that I can be a world-class worrier. I can jump into worst-case-scenario-mode in less time than it takes to reheat my cup of coffee. This is especially true when it is something involving my husband or children. I cannot tell you how often this happens to me. I'm slowly getting better, but it is a very conscious effort to not go down that path. You know, the path where everyone dies, or is estranged, or has something else equally horrible happen. The path where the horrible thing keeps happening and that's your future and there will never be anything good about life ever, ever again. That path.

Excuse me while I pause a moment and take a couple of deep breaths.

But when life has thrown us a curve ball and that curve ball has hit us firmly in the head, that's about the only place it feels comfortable to live. Because, really, how could life ever be good again, once this thing has happened? We continually play out in the vast panoramic, technicolor screen in our minds, all the ways that this will end badly. Over and over and over. We play out how we could have averted the crisis. Then, after having had a nice little wallow in the mud pit of regret, we go back to the epic of disaster we are creating in our mind. Back and forth, over and over, until we are so emotionally wrought we don't know which way is up.

The trouble is, when I do this, I find I am as much upset over the events of my imagined future, as upset as if they were actually happening, as I am about reality. And you know what? While there have been some yucky things in my life that I have experienced, not once has one of my imagined scenarios actually ever played out. All that wasted worry and anxiety and fear over something that was never going to happen.

So how do I stop (or make a valiant effort to stop) the crazy upset and worry? Well, this is a work in progress. I still have a long way to go, but here's my short list of living through a present and very real crisis. 1. Pray, pray, pray. The second I find myself going to those imaginary futures in my head, I have to consciously make an effort to pray. Are these prayers eloquent? Ha! More often than not they go something like this, "Help, Jesus, help! Oh, make it OK, Please, please, please, make it OK! Help, Jesus, help!" 2. Remind myself, as often as is necessary, which would be, oh, about every five seconds, that just because I have imagined that future, doesn't mean that it is going to happen. In fact, it is extremely unlikely it will happen at all. I am not the creator of the universe and just because I've imagined it doesn't mean it will happen. 3. Share your worries with someone. There have been many times I've shared my worried imaginings with J., and even as I'm saying them out loud, I begin to realize that they are pretty far removed from reality. 4. I try to follow Elisabeth Elliot's very wise advice and, "Do the next thing."

This doesn't seem all that earth-shattering at first glance, but it really is brilliant. By focusing on just the next thing, we stay in the present... none of that imagined future-thing going on. By focusing on just the next thing, we take life in a small enough bit that it is manageable, even if that next thing is shower or eat breakfast or go to the bathroom. Or breathe. You take life in very small chunks and get through each of them one at time. Slowly, slowly, they add up and you discover you've made it through a day. And each day begins to add up and you realize you've made it through a week. The more time that passes from the day life exploded, the easier it gets to breathe. The farther you go into the future, the more you realize that the horrible imagined future isn't happening.

Yes, whatever caused the initial plunge over the cliff may be truly horrible. I don't want to make light of that. But it will be navigated, perhaps not without heartache and pain. Keep praying. Keep breathing. Keep just doing the next thing.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Precocious readers

Precocious readers are those children who love to read and read at a very high level at a young age; they often start out as precocious listeners, listening to complex story after complex story. Having a precocious reader and sharing how difficult it is to keep them supplied with books is a little like complaining that your pants are too big and fall off or your house is so big it's hard to keep clean. It's not something that engenders much sympathy.

Yet, if you do have a precocious reader, it can be a real problem. It's not the volume of material that they read, but level at which they read it. There are many, many books that it's just not appropriate for a 9, 10, or 11 year old to read. My most current precocious reader is D. It is a perpetual challenge to keep him supplied with books. Like most 11 year olds, he does like series and they do keep him occupied most of the time.. sort of like me with mysteries. He reads them fast and because of their nature they become pretty interchangeable. And like me and mysteries, D. can only take so much of this before he desires some 'real' books. Books that are interesting and slightly challenging. It is at these moments that I find myself scurrying around staring at my bookcases trying to find something that fits the bill AND that I would hand to an 11 year... and a sensitive 11 year at that.

I wish this was going to turn into a nice, definitive list of all the wonderful books I've discovered. It's not, because it's just not that long. Usually I end up finding some juvenile fiction book that he hasn't read on the shelf and hand that to him, postponing the problem for another day. There are not often times when I hit upon a book that engages him at the level he desires.

I am discovering that at least for D., books written pre-1950 or so, are going to be my friend. He has read Sherlock Holmes and really liked that. The most recent success, and the book that has caused this post, is Captain Blood by Rafael Sabatini. It has taken him more than two days to read (hooray!) and he has been carrying it around happily telling anyone who will listen what is happening next. Is there anything better than seeing your child reading a book and then hear them shout out loud because they are so engrossed in it and something exciting happened? It's good that Rafeal Sabatini wrote several more books, because that means I'm set for at least a month.

(Captain Blood, for those who are unfamiliar with it was written in 1935 and set in the 17th century. It tells the tale of a doctor who is unjustly condemned to death, escapes, becomes enslaved, escapes again, and becomes a pirate. It has themes of justice and the evils of slavery running throughout.)

When we're done with Sabatini, I will start to plunder more older books and see what else we can turn up.

One more book to suggest. Precocious listeners can be challenging as well. When M. was little, I read a recommendation for The King of Ireland's Son by Padraic Colum. Written in 1916, it starts out as a series of folk tales which are then woven into a larger story by the end. I remember M. sitting enthralled, at age 6 or 7.

OK, now it's your turn. What are your best suggestions for precocious readers? Maybe there will even be a prize if someone can suggest a book that 1. D. hasn't read and 2. is challenging and engaging. This will be no small feat, he reads constantly.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Adoption hot topic: visiting foster parents

It's been pretty light, content-wise, around here, so let's change that for today. There's been a discussion on one of the adoption pages that I read that has generated a lot of comments and some diametrically opposed opinions. The question that was originally posed was (in my own words), "I am in my child's country and have a chance to meet the foster parents. My child is grieving heavily and having a difficult transition, should I take my child to see the foster parents one more time?"

What follows is my personal opinion, and while I'm certainly not a therapist, it has been an educational past eight years. The two differing opinions seem to be: 1. Take the child to see the foster parents one more time, even though it might be hard, and 2. Go and see the foster parents by yourself, but do not take your child. It would just add trauma onto trauma and the child needs to start bonding to you and let go of the foster parent.

At various times in my life, I have strongly held both opinions, and I will be the first to say that it is a difficult call. To see how I have ended up at the opinion I currently have, we need to step back eight years and revisit our time in Vietnam adoption TM. (You can read the blow-by-blow account by clicking on the 'Adoption' tab up above and following the links to TM's adoption. I will also add that I cringe a bit to read these early posts... I know so much more now than I did then.) If you are not familiar with the story, here's the short version. TM's transition was hard. Very, very hard. He grieved and fought and grieved and attacked anyone within arms' reach. He was a mess; we were a mess. Even though I had dutifully prepared by reading and reading and reading everything I could on adoption and attachment, nothing prepared me for what we were facing. I don't believe anything truly can until you have lived it.

In the midst of this upheaval, we had the chance to meet with TM's foster father. We went back and forth and back and forth. Do we take him? Do we just send J. alone with a camera? What do we do? We certainly don't want to make things worse (as if!). We want him to attach to us. Our agency representative suggested it might not be a wise idea. So we opted for TM to stay with me while J. went to the meeting with a camera.

And I believe with every fiber of my being that it was the single worst decision I have ever made in my life.

Yes, it would have been hard. Yes, it could have made our lives a little more miserable in the short-run, though frankly, it's difficult to picture what that would have looked like. While I don't have a crystal ball to tell me what how our future would have changed, if at all, if we had made a different decision, I still think we should have taken the chance.

You see, ultimately, it was an incredibly selfish decision to not take TM to the meeting. If I am really honest with myself, it was a decision made to make my life a little easier. (To extend myself a bit of grace, we were in a difficult spot without a lot of knowledge and truly did the best we could at the time.) It was because it might have upset him more and an upset child always makes the parents' lives more difficult. It was so that he could begin to attach to me and start to leave his attachment to his foster parents behind. It was so that he could begin his new life RIGHT NOW and start to put his past life behind him sooner, to get over it.

But you and I know that we don't just get over pain and grief and loss. If you have ever lost someone close to you, you know that it takes a long time to function again. It takes a long time to feel as though life is normal again. You never really get over it, and even years later, something will catch you off guard and the grief will feel brand new. You learn to live with it because it is now a part of you. Forever. And if you were given a chance to see that person one more time... even if it was just for 15 minutes, I bet you would do it. You would do it even though it would make that grief raw and present all over again. Because seeing the beloved person just one more time would be worth the pain. Love is that strong.

Our children losing their previous lives is the same thing. It is a loss and one they will never get back. This is particularly true if they were close to and loved their foster parents or a particular person at the orphanage. They will most likely never see that person or persons again. It is like a death. And it is particularly difficult because often they are so young that they can't understand what is happening. Sometimes, the whole problem is compounded by a child so not understanding the situation that they believe they have been kidnapped. I believe this is what happened with TM, and I can't say I blame him for coming to that conclusion.

We need to be the grown-ups and make the hard decisions. We need to make the decisions that will be best for our child and not one that will make our lives a little less painful. Because watching your child grieve is hard. In some ways it is almost harder because there is nothing you can do to make it better. All you can do is offer support and love and wait by their side while they go through that valley. It is painful because while you have been in love with a picture for months, they don't know you at all and would really, truly rather be with that other person they do love. It is hard to love someone and know they don't love you. It is hard to be patient and wait and let love grow. We want to DO something about it. We want to make them love us.

As you can probably tell, I now believe that we should allow our children the gift of a last good-bye if it is possible. It allows them closure. It allows them to see that beloved person one more time. It honors them as fellow human beings with real emotions and loves. Will it hurt? Will it make your life and theirs, feel more difficult for a while? Will it cause pain? Yes, it probably will. But you can't go through the grief without the pain. The pain will always come out somehow. It is better to face it head on together... even if it's hard.

It will be your first parenting lesson. Parenting is hard. When you love your child and that child hurts, you hurt, too. You hurt more than you could possibly imagine because you love that person so much. It's all part of the package.

One last word about the advice of guides and agency reps. We have had some lovely, caring people when we have been in our children's various countries on adoption trips. They have truly cared about children and want to do what is best for them. We have had very, very good experiences. That said, they are not trained in attachment and trauma. They have not lived life as a therapeutic parent. They want everyone to be happy... both children and parents. It does color their opinions. Just because one of them suggests something, it does not mean it is the best advice. Take it with a grain of salt.
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