Monday, December 10, 2007

One more step down

We are still waiting for the Dong Nai officials to complete their end of our paperwork, but the US Embassy has been moving ahead on their end. For those of you who don't obsessively keep up with the state of adoptions in Vietnam, you have missed quite a roller coaster ride. Sadly, some agencies who work in Vietnam are more concerned with their own bottom line than with the well-being of the children who come into their care or the prospective adoptive parents who hire them. As a result, the US Embassy felt it was necessary to investigate the status of more than a few of the children for whom visas were applied, and even denied some, causing the parents to have to leave Vietnam without their children. In order to avoid future occurrences of this scenario, new regulations have been put in place. Parents need to apply for the child's visa before they travel and the adoption occurs. This way, if there is anything questionable about the situation, all parties involved know before hand. So, we applied for K's visa as instructed and have been waiting for that approval as well. I was so grateful to find good news in my inbox this morning. The US Embassy in Hanoi has notified us that we have preliminary approval for K's visa and that we are welcome to travel. If only...

Aside from adoption drama, life continues to go on. It is all Christmas all the time here. The tree is up, the house is decorated, and Christmas carols are on the stereo. The little boys have been getting into the spirit of the season, often singing to themselves as they go about their day. While it is wonderful to listen to, I think we need to work on some of the words. At the moment, D seems to be under the impression that the chorus to "O Come All Ye Faithful" is "O come let us play baseball", giving me recurring visions of Little League teams visiting the stable and offering gifts of baseballs and mitts.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Monday, December 03, 2007

Reader Question

I just noticed that Jena had asked me a question in a comment on my post about obedience. As I was writing my reply to here, I thought maybe others would be interested in my answer as well. Here it is:

I just noticed your comment on my blog, sorry it it's been a while since you asked your question! There are a couple of things we do to encourage first time obedience. One tactic I use regularly, and probably works best for grade school age and up, is that if the child doesn't respond cheerfully and right away to a request, a second job will be added. Pretty quickly the child learns that it would have been easier to just do the initial request in the first place. Doing the request immediately, but with a poor attitude also merits an extra job. We are also training them all to respond with, Yes, Mommy or Yes, Daddy (or something along those lines) when we call them. If they are in the middle of doing something it is entirely acceptable for a child to respond, Yes, Mommy, may I finish "X" first? I also try to be considerate about what and when I'm asking them to do things...unless, of course, it was an assigned chore which should have been completed already. For the younger ones, practice seems to work best. If I call a little boy and he doesn't respond (or responds in an inappropriate way), we practice responding. I call the little boy and he responds (appropriately), multiple times. My goal is to make disobedience as mind-numbingly dull as possible. Practicing going into his room and not slamming the door ten times is just not on the average 4 year old's list of fun activities. The door hasn't been slammed since. I have found that if I am inconsistant, neither of these tactics work. The children are willing to play the odds to see if I carry-out the consequences. If I make a point to enforce the consequences every single time, even when it is not convenient for me, the results are seen nearly immediately. Also, I try to dole out the consequences in my most "matter-of-fact" way. (This can be hard for me sometimes when I just want to stand and scream...and sadly I'm not always able to stop myself from giving into this sinful behavior.) But, by taking the emotion out of it, and acting as though this is just what happens, the children respond better and don't feel as though it is a personal attack.

Oh, and still no call...about anything related to adoption or Dong Nai province or Vietnam.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Please pray!

We still have no provincial approval. We are now at 9 months of waiting for something that by Vietnamese law is supposed to take two to four months. According to our agency, there is nothing wrong with our paperwork, just that the provincial officials don't see the need to move quickly. (Well, we're long past quickly, now we're just talking movement.) In the meantime a little boy heads quickly toward his second birthday, still living in an orphanage, still waiting to have surgery to correct his cleft palate. We are not the only family. I believe there are three other families whose files have gone past the average time for approval. Please pray with us that the officials will be moved to approve the files of these children. I believe that only divine intervention will cause these officials to act.

Monday, November 19, 2007

And now for something completely different...

This is Mr. Adventure Guy. He was a gift to TM for his birthday. Mr. Adventure Guy came equipped with two outfits, an ATV, and a bicycle. TM loves Mr. Adventure Guy very much, and wouldn't let anyone touch him for the first couple of days. But, then, after the newness wore off, I started finding Mr. Adventure Guy in unexpected places. The first time, I looked into the front hall and discovered Mr. Adventure Guy riding his ATV across the carpet, without any clothes, but, since he is a responsible adventurer, he was wearing his helmet. It became seriously amusing to me as to where he would turn up next, and I started taking pictures of him.



The next time, I found Mr. Adventure Guy, was when I was walking down the upstairs hallway. A hot tub of sorts had been thoughtfully made for him and he was relaxing after his hard day of ATV riding. Now for those of you who may wonder at the explicit photos of Mr. Adventure Guy, I want to reassure you that he is also modest. No skinny dipping for him; he sports subtle, flesh colored underwear.

Refreshed from his dip in the pool, Mr. Adventure Guy must have decided to go
Multi-cultural, because this is the charming ensemble in which I found him. Somewhere in A and P's room is a doll in need of pants. I am unclear how Mr. Adventure Guy obtained the pants and the Vietnamese hat (a non la); perhaps they were a gift.
By this time, the exploits of Mr. Adventure Guy became broadly known. At least I assume that's what happened, because the tableaux are more intricate. I am informed that Mr. Adventure Guy is trying out the role of caveman (with pet dinosaur at his side) in this photo.
I'm thinking that Mr. Adventure Guy really needs to go take a rest somewhere, as he is beginning to become a nuisance. It is difficult to open kitchen cabinets when Mr. Adventure Guy is pretending it is Mt. Everest. All I can say is that it's a good thing that we have no Barbies in the house.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Compliance or Obedience?

A couple of weeks ago, while watching us have a short battle with TM about him wearing his coat, a friend made the comment about how this must be shock because all of our other children are so compliant. This has started me thinking about the meanings of compliance and obedience and why, as a society, we rarely ever talk about child rearing and obedience in the same breath.

To start, some definitions...

compliance n. 1. the act or process of complying to a desire, demand, or proposal or to coercion 2. a disposition to yield to others

obedience n. submissive to the restraint or command of authority

As a parent, I would much rather have an obedient child than a compliant child. Why? It is because obedience involves a conscious decision, while compliance is an unconscience character trait. To me, a compliant child is one who has no inner strength; a child who is so used to giving in to others that it is not a decision, but a habit; a child who has no sense of what true authority is, and is in danger of led astray.

An obedient child, on the other hand, is a full participant in what is asked of him or her. Obedience involves a choice; it is active, not passive. Obedience also recognizes authority. Only true authority requires obedience. Obedience does not require giving in to just anyone with a demand, but requires knowledge of who deserves to be obeyed.

So why don't we hear about obedience with regard to modern child-rearing? We hear about self-esteem, independence, child identity, and spirited children, but when was the last time you picked-up a parenting magazine (I spend a lot of time waiting in the orthodontist's office) and saw a big headline: "Create an Obedient Child" ? I believe it's because obedience isn't just for children, but adults also have areas where they should be obedient. We should be obedient to the laws of our country, to supervisors and bosses, and, for believers, to God. But it makes us squirm a bit, this idea of being obedient, with its implied definition of submission, to another person. We want to jump to those exceptional circumstances, that more likely than not will never happen, to explain why we can't do this obedience-thing. We have trouble with absolutes, and obedience sounds pretty, well, absolute.

I think there is another side to obedience, though. And I believe when God speaks of obedience in the Bible, this is what is meant. Requiring obedience is a form of love. God knows what is best for us; if we listen to Him and obey Him, we will avoid a lot things that could make us miserable. It is the same with a child to a parent. The parent (usually) has the best interests of the child at heart. We ask things of our children because we believe that it is best for the child. We ask our children to obey us because we love them and want what's best for them. Please note, I'm not saying by obeying God, we will avoid all unpleasantness in life, this isn't true. A child who obeys a parent is not spared pain, either. The pet will still die, other children can still be cruel, mistakes will still be made; we live in a fallen world.

It may not be popular, but we, as a family, will continue to work on obedience. It is something we practice. The children practice first-time obedience to J and I, and J and I practice first-time obedience to God. It is not always easy, and often what is asked of us is difficult. It is a discipline. A discipline through which God shows His love to us and through which we show our love to our children.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

National Adoption Month

November is National Adoption Month. If you are considering adoption, the Cry of the Orphan website, put together by Family Life Today, Focus on the Family, and Shaohannah's Hope is a good place to get started. But as much as I like these organizations and pray that all children who genuinely need homes will find them, I believe there is a glaring omission. The subject of ethics in adoption and the need to do research on an agency is either non-existent or too minimal. Here is the letter I wrote to the above organizations:

To Whom It May Concern,

I am an adoptive parent and strongly support your efforts on behalf of the orphans of the world. I am writing because of what I see as a glaring omission in your campaign. That is the issue of ethics in adoption. I am sure you are not unaware of the crimes committed against children and families in the name of adoption. Cambodia has closed because of it and Guatemala is well on the way. Vietnam was closed for 2 ½ years, but has reopened, though it doesn’t seem as though the problems with child trafficking have gone away. As Christians, I believe we should be the first in line to object to these practices. In an effort to supply the demand for healthy, young infants that prospective parents in the West desire, children are being ‘procured’. Biological parents are either being paid outright for their children or are being lied to with promises of education. Either way, the child’s history is erased and his or her past becomes a black hole with no hope of finding the truth. We cannot allow this to continue and one of the only ways to stop it is to educate the public in general and prospective adoptive parents in particular that these practices occur.

It seems that many prospective adoptive parents are unaware that adoption is more than rosy pictures of children and parents being joined to create a family. They are unaware that many agencies sound good but are really only in adoption for the money. Unfortunately, prospective parents sign with these agencies and it is not until they have lost thousands of dollars and still do not have a child or they do have a child but find out what they thought was the child’s history is all a lie that they realize they should have done some research before choosing an agency. Sadly, even some agencies with the title “Christian” in their name put the money before the child.

Please as you continue to encourage families to consider adoption, be sure to tell them to do their research. There are ethical agencies out there. But it is too important a decision to make without knowing exactly to whom a family is giving money. We are called to be wise stewards of our money and to stand for what is right. Encouraging families to do their research before signing with an agency would seem to be in keeping with the dictates of Scripture.

Thank you for your time,
E.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Peace

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, with prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." Philippian 4: 6-7

On the whole, I have been quite peaceful (especially for me) about K's whole adoption. There have been bumps along the way...last Friday for instance...but they have been rare. This process has taken at least twice as long as TM's, but I was far more anxious during TM's shorter process. Since I am a world-class worrier by nature (my personal motto seems to be "Jump to the worst-case senario first"), I have surprised myself by my reletive equilibrium. This sense of peace I can attribute only to God. All along I have felt this adoption orchestrated by Him; it is in His control.

It doesn't hurt, that 6 children keep me pretty busy and leave not so much time for obsessing. Plus, there are other outside distractions, such as having a family of 10 as houseguests for two days. Last night we said good-bye to our new "real life" friends, the Greens. Kim and I knew each other through blogs and emails, but had never really met. Another real life friend of mine also knew Kim, but only through the computer as well. We all decided it was time to meet face to face. So the Greens drove in, and the three families spent two days getting to know each other. Between us we have 20 children, but we managed to feed and house everyone. The children all made friends and had a ball playing together and the adults all made some new "real" friends.

One of the highlights of the visit was taking everyone to visit the Museum of Science and Industry. We were joined by a fourth family which made the child tally jump to 25...and we didn't lose anyone. (Well, at least not for long.) We did have to spend time explaining to more than one person, that, no, we were not a school group, but just a group of friends. Travelling with 25 children, does make one stand out a bit.

Now, all this is not to imply I wouldn't like the phone to ring RIGHT NOW, but I continue to remind myself that God's timing is perfect. God's timing and my timing are not always the same thing, but since God knows better than I, I will wait for His.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Tired

I'm tired. Tired of waiting for some government official in a country halfway around the world to finally push K's file around and approve it. We've been waiting for 8 months and I'm done. I want to bring my baby home.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

My daughter made me cry

M. is at the beginning stages of working on her gold award for Girl Scouts. As part of the requirements, she had to attend a preparation workshop at the district office. The short synopsis of that meeting is that it was a bust...frustrating and uninformative. It seems (in my humble opinion) that much of Girl Scouts has accepted society's view of adolescent girls. This is the view which says that teenagers are only interested in what's "hip", that things have to be dumbed down to get them interested, and that they are incapable of taking on adult-sized projects. This is not the case with the young women I know (my daughter included.) In fact, they can smell pandering a mile away and have no patience with it what so ever.

But back to the poor excuse for a workshop...to help them with the gold award, each girl must find a mentor. It was suggested to the scouts that they should probably look for a young woman in her 20's, who has a full-time job and is "with it." When my daughter and her friends asked if they could have their mothers be their mentors for the project, they weren't given a flat-out "no", but were strongly dissuaded from considering the idea. It seems, in the wisdom of the Girl Scouts, that it would put too much strain on an already strained relationship and that the mothers might be tempted to do too much of the work. It just wouldn't work.

After the meeting, where other questions or comments the girls had were either ignored or shut-down, the three girls approached the leader of the workshop. My daughter assures me they were polite and respectful as they voiced their concerns about some of the views expressed. This is what M reports having said, "We don't mean to be rude, but we would like you to rethink your position on mothers as mentors. We all get along with our mothers. They are homemakers, raise children, and homeschool us. They are our role models and we want them to be our mentors. We think you should rethink the stereo-typical way that you portray the relationship between mothers and daughters." At this point, as she's telling me, I'm feeling rather sniffy and thinking I should get a tissue. I am so proud of her for standing up for her beliefs and am so thrilled that she could tell me about it.

As an aside, I'm sure you're wondering why my daughters are still in Girl Scouts if I have such issues with them. It's because I love the troop they're in and the adults who lead it. The adult who attended the meeting was just as upset as the girls were.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Words you don't want to hear...

It has been pretty uneventful around here, not that I'm complaining, mind you. But there are events that happen which make one appreciate ordinary-ness. Such as the one that happened this afternoon. I'm standing in the kitchen working on dinner, when D comes in from outside screaming that he has something in his eye. I'm elbow-deep in dough, so I send B in to help D wash whatever it is out. I continue making dinner until I hear, "I can't see! It hurts! I can't see!" being screamed from the bathroom. I knew that great quantities of blood make me drop what I'm doing and run, but now I know that potential blindness also fits into that category. D still had an intact eyeball, so I was able to calm my initial panic. While I was flushing D's eye with water, I sent B out to get his father. In B's typical under-reacting way, B told his father that I wanted him inside because D couldn't see, in a tone of voice that one would use for a statement such as, "I'm going to go play at a friend's house." J, as he ran inside, couldn't decide whether he should be grabbing the car keys to rush to the ER, or to send D a message to just open his eye lid. In the meantime, the flushing had done it's job, and sight had been restored. D was still complaining that it hurt and we were a bit mystified, because we couldn't see anything in the eye. We were mystified that is, until A walked in and informed us that D had been playing with some ornmental hot peppers; opening them up and lining all the seeds along his fingers and hands. I can only imagine how much that stung to wipe all that hot pepper oil into his eye. And what's the moral of the story? That ornamental peppers look great in a pot on the porch, but don't forget to give all members of the family warnings about breaking them open and inserting them into one's eye.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Passports!

I guess that the passport processing offices are not as backlogged as they used to be. I was shocked to receive both M's and B's passports in the mail on Saturday. That was a week turn around time, though we did have them expedited. Had I known things were moving so quickly now, I might have saved myself the extra money and done regular service. Oh well, the important thing is that we have them...so we can get that call now...really, I'm ready anytime...just a few gifts to buy...it won't take me long to do the shopping. Did I mention we can are ready to get a call anytime now?

Monday, October 08, 2007

Some travel plans

No, not THOSE travel plans (you know where we go to Vietnam), but plans related to them. For a while we have been wondering about the arrangements we would need to make for the five children we were leaving at home. Very close friends of ours offered to watch them. (In fact we had taken care of their children while they were in China last month.) But, that would give them 10 children, 14 and under, with one of those children recently home from China. In order to make room for the 5 extras, some common space would have been needed to be used for sleeping space. I know they were genuine in thier offer, but we somehow felt those of us in Vietnam with the grieving toddler and traumatized 5 year old would be having the better time.

But, we a have a solution. I wish I could take credit for the brilliance of it, but the credit has to go to the above-mentioned friend. So, the answer to our child care conundrum is that we will be taking M and B to Vietnam as well as TM. This solves our problem in multiple ways. First, it lessens the number of children requiring care. Three children will fit in our friends' home much easier than five. It could possibly lessen the trauma that TM will experience, and having a big brother and sister along will at least be distracting. We will have two pairs of extra hands for carrying, entertaining, and various other sherpa-like duties. M and B are old enough (14 and 12) to remember the trip. They are both excellent travellers and both are adventurous eaters. Plus, they are both excellent company and can be very entertaining. M, exhibiting her oldest daughter traits, has already started planning, down to details such as what will be going on the IPod.

There are only two negatives to the whole plan. The first is that it will obviously cost more money. But, hey, at this point it's only money, right? The other downside is that we can't take everyone. A in particular is feeling that life isn't very fair right now. But, she's only 9 and she's got time for other trips in the future. (Still, it was very sad to have her break down sobbing when she heard the news.)

I'm feeling much more at peace about travelling since we made this decision. Having come to this point I can say I'm ready...really, really ready...to get that call that we have provincial approval.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Four Things

Mary at Ethiopia Adoption Blog had a four things meme that I thought I would jump in on. So....

Four Things About Adoption

Four things I thought about adoption when I was a child:

  • That adoption was a normal way to build a family (I had adopted cousins)
  • That I wished my parents would adopt
  • That I fantasized about children being left on our doorstep to raise
  • That I wanted to adopt when I was an adult

Four things I've learned since then:

  • Adoption involves incredible joy and incredible loss
  • It's not the "easier" way to have a child join a family
  • Attachment is hard work...and that attachment goes both ways
  • Love is a choice first and an emotion second

Four things that are hard about adoption:

  • Being at the mercy of governments and bureaucracies
  • That other people don't see my family the same way I do
  • Missing out on the early years of my child's life
  • Not instantly falling in love with my child

Four ways my adopted child has surprised me:

  • How quickly he learned English
  • His unwillingness (or inability?) to talk about his life in Vietnam
  • How much I would melt when he gave me the first real hug
  • How close TM and D would become

Four things I wish everyone knew about adoption:

  • Not all players in the adoption game have the best interest of the children in mind. There are unethical agencies out there....prospective adoptive parents need to do their research.
  • I am the lucky one, not the child
  • That boys are just as desirable as girls
  • Intercountry adoption is the last best choice for a child. Other avenues should be pursued that seek to maintain family and country ties.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Books that make us weep...

[J]

It's an endless source of amusement to our kids that both E. and I are capable of bawling as we read them certain books. E. just finished reading aloud The Last Battle, the final Narnia book, tonight (to A. and P., this time), and that final chapter did her in. Somehow, she struggled to the end, gulping back the tears, but it wasn't easy. I would've been no better, having done the same thing. I've also been reduced to tears reading aloud from the final chapter of The Lord of the Rings. And both E. and I are nearly incapable of reading aloud from The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey (a wonderful picture book). The only way we can get through it is to read tag team.

I think that as I get older, I find myself more emotionally vulnerable (?) to stories. In certain literature classes that I teach, there have been times when I've nearly broken down in tears reading aloud to the class. This has happened with passages from King Lear, poems by Dylan Thomas (and others), and Flannery O'Connor stories. -- And I'm grateful that E. shares this proclivity. How awful it would be to have a spouse who was baffled by or dismissive of this quirk.

Of course, this doesn't mean that we don't enjoy reading these stories! It just means we have to keep the tissues handy. Ah well, it amuses the children. And I have no doubt that at least some of them will suffer the same fate.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

But it not

One of the fascinating things about adopting a child who already has language is observing the switch from birth language to second language. TM was pretty functionally fluent in English by the time he was home four months. (I'm still not sure he is completely fluent, even at this point, anything that is a lot of just language...books without a lot of pictures for example...still seems to go over his head. But he is only 4 1/2.) Anyway, the process, while astounding, is not without some quirks. For TM at least, he will latch on to a certain phrase and use it over and over and over and over. And over and over until I am convinced that if I hear that phrase one more time my head will explode. It's not that he just goes around saying these phrases like a verbal tic, but more as a device to sort and categorize all the information coming at him. Then, once he has it out of his system, that certain phrase will disappear, never to be heard again.

His first repetitive phrase was, "But it not". This one lasted most of the winter, and while it was trying to hear him use it ad infinatum, it has become a family catch phrase. TM also spent a lot of time this winter comparing things, "That car is like our car....but it not." "That ____ is like ____ ... but it not." You get the idea. Then one day we realized we couldn't think when the last time we heard TM say, "But it not". I wasn't sad at the time, but I kind of miss it now.

"But it not" was replaced by "It a long, long day." As you can guess, this was useful as he spent the spring trying to figure out how long things lasted. I didn't find "It a long, long day" quite as endearing and was not sad to see it go.

Now, evidently, TM feels the need to conquer size and the phrase of the season is, "As big as the whole world." It is with great relief that I tell you that TM seems to be reducing his need for repetitive phrases and that the food on his plate is NOT "As big as the whole world."

I fear that I will look back on this phase and think how easy I had it. You see, TM, who along with his very inquisitive mind, also has a need to conquer his physical world through muscle and speed. He has amazing physical strength and agility and seems to be something of an adrenalin junkie. His dearest wish right now is to be able to ride faster than B (who's 12) on his bicycle, and if he could do that while riding with no hands life would be just about perfect. J and I sometimes torture ourselves by imagining what sort of high risk career TM will be drawn to. Fighter pilot, NASCAR driver, and X-Game participant are all things that have come to mind.

On the adoption front, still no word that K's dossier has been approved. I was really thinking last Friday was the day we would hear something....but it not.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

I just wanted the drain unclogged

You have probably noticed that we call our home the "Big Ugly House". It was built in 1896 and was always big, but not always ugly. Over the years, there have been owners with questionable taste and an inflated sense of remodelling abilities who have left it with areas that, really, the only way to describe them is ugly. Well, ugly and often of questionable structural integrity. The masking tape holding the (live) electrical wires together gives a good sense of what we are up against.

In one of the bathrooms (not the ugliest, but in the running) the sink had recently been used to change the turtle's water which caused a few too many wood chips to go down the drain. So the drain became clogged. Blithely thinking that this would be a simple task, surely no more than a half an hour at the outside, I asked J. if he could clean out the trap and unclog the drain. Silly me! One thing led to another and it wasn't very long before the drain was empty. Well, empty and no longer attached to the sink, because there was no sink to which it could be attached.
This picture doesn't quite do the bathroom justice. What it doesn't show are the ripping linoleum tiles with the nice ceramic tile underneath. Or the area by the radiator where it was difficult to lay the cheap tiles, so white paint was used instead. Or the bright yellow butcher paper thumb tacked to the ceiling. Knowing that much of the "remodelling" that was done was just a big cover-up job for real problems, none of us have been brave enough to remove the butcher paper to see what lurks underneath.
The reason the whole sink went, was that as J. was removing the pipe to clean it out, the sink started to fall apart. He discovered that the sink was not attached to the vanity, the whole thing was not attached to wall, the only way to turn off the water were valves in the basement, the list goes on....

In order to make the new sink fit, J. had to remove the "soap dish" which had been "installed". This is what lay underneath. So, on top of the sink, tile work was also required. (Yes, that is wood and rubble you are looking at.)

So, after four weekends, five trips to the hardware store, a new drill bit, and some choice words for the manufacturer of the cheapest sink that our big box home improvement store sells, we have a new sink....

The bathroom is still ugly, but a little more functional. And we can turn off the water supply without running down two flights of stairs!

Friday, September 14, 2007

He's not a baby anymore!


We just received our quarterly update on K. The lip repair looks pretty good and the report says he is eating and drinking better as a result. I knew he would look different after surgery, but the combination of surgery and a haircut makes him seem almost like a different child at first glance. He has learned to walk and evidently loves to play where there are a lot of children. That is a good thing, considering where he's coming home to.


I have to admit that each quarterly report becomes a little more difficult. There are huge milestones we are missing... parts of his past we can't ever back up and regain. It has been 9 months since we first saw K's picture. With TM, 9 months after we first saw his picture, we were in Vietnam meeting the real boy. Sometimes I can't even bear to think that we have at least 3 1/2 to 4 months before we can hold K. But, we are now at the point that we could realistically being to think that we will have the provincial approval we are waiting for. And when I think about that, instead of getting excited, I start to panic. I have done nothing, absolutely nothing (aside from buying one small outfit for K.) to prepare to travel. When that call comes I will have more to do than I care to think about.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

14 months

Both Mrs. Broccoli Guy and Law Mommy have posted recently about how they and their new children are faring. (I feel particularly connected to these women since we all used the same agency, all adopted the same age of child, and were all waiting together to bring our children home.) It makes me realize that I haven't written about TM in a while. TM has been home for about 14 months now. His...and my...adjustment continues. I find this to be a difficult thing to write about. TM has made so much progress in the last year. When I look back on last summer it hardly seems it is the same child that I am thinking of. In so many ways, he behaves completely age-appropriately in all areas of life. But...(you knew it was coming)...there are still some things that don't seem quite right. My compulsive reading on all things adoption and attachment related never stops, so here's what I've found. TM's oddities seem to match the behaviors of people suffering from trauma. Most of the time his behavior is fine, until he comes across one of the things that trigger his fear and anxiety. Up until this past week, I knew that vacations (and hotels and suitcases) and the Vietnamese language cause him to lose self-control. Well, this week has been the week of discovering more triggers, the most extreme being talking to someone using the camera phone on the computer. I had a suspicion before, but his transfer to us last summer was incredibly traumatic for him and we're still dealing with the fallout from that. All the things I mentioned are directly related to our adoption of TM last summer. Knowing what the triggers are seems to be half the battle, though. The first time we used Skype (so the children staying with us could talk to their parents) TM became pretty nutty...he looks very hyperactive when triggered...and when J tried to carry him to a different room he was thanked by a swift kick to the shins. But we have discovered something which helps him calm himself and short-circuits the fear response....the sling. Just holding him in my arms doesn't seem to do much, but by putting him in the sling, the extra fabric seems to act as swaddling which he finds quite calming. The calming results are nearly instantaneous, he will relax and his head on my shoulder after being in the sling for less than a minute. As an experiment, the second day I put TM in the sling before we joined everyone by the computer...and it worked! So, it seems if I know the triggers ahead of time I can take preemptive action and he will remain calm. You can bet that come January, he will be in that sling long before we walk into the government building for K's Giving and Receiving Ceremony. He missed Ho Chi Minh's statue the first time and I'm not taking any chances on giving him a second try. (If you need more clarification, look in the archives under July 2006 and scroll down to Chapter 7.)

A part of me hesitates to write this because I don't want it to sound as though I regret adopting TM, or I don't love him, or that my life is completely miserable because he is our son. None of those statement is true in the least. TM's trauma is not who he is. Who he is is a bright, talkative, thoughtful, energetic, obedient, cheerful, dinosaur-, plane-, and truck-loving boy whom I am proud to call my son. Dealing with his trauma is just something that is a part of life. It seems little different to me than the fact all of our biological children have to suffer through the bad collision of genes that make up their mouths. They all have very narrow mouths and very large teeth, the roots of whom do not dissolve on their own, but must be pulled. We know our orthodontist and oral surgeon quite well by now, and there are still two to go. But wearing braces and expanders does not define them, even though application, care, and maintenance (not to mention the price) of all that metal can be a pain...it's just what has to be done. I think the tricky part is that it is so much easier to apply this to issues that can be seen, it is more difficult to do this when the issue is emotional. It takes a while to find out who the real child is underneath the fear.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

The children who fight over kale

I sometimes feel as though I live in an alternate universe. At dinner tonight, there was great discussion from the nine children about how much kale they got to serve themselves and wondered if there would be enough for seconds. Really. I wish I could take credit for raising incredibly adventurous eaters, but two facts stop me. First, three of them are guests and I have had very little input into their eating habits. Second, this wasn't your average kale. These were kale chips which are really just a salt and oil delivery system. They are incredibly yummy. Here's how I make them so you can begin your own adventure with kale:

Wash as much kale as you are going to eat. (I use two bunches and never have leftovers.) Rip it into largish size pieces...potato chip size. Place them in a mixing bowl and mix well with olive oil...I don't have an amount, just until they are all coated. Place the pieces in a single layer on a baking sheet and sprinkle with salt. Bake for 10-12 minutes in a 350 degree oven until the kale is crisp but not brown.

Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

And then there were nine...

children that is, living in our home for the next fifteen days. Good friends of ours leave tomorrow for China to bring home their new 4 year old son. Two of their children are going with them and we are watching the other three. We spent the weekend making bed and dresser space for everyone and did a general tidying-up. Nine children in one home brings its own chaos and I didn't want to start already behind. I've gone to the store and have stocked-up on lots of food so no one will go hungry...at least for a few days. We'll spend tomorrow settling everyone in and organizing school stuff to be ready for our first official day of school on Thursday. So that gives us (temporarily) two 14 year olds, a 12 year old, an 11 year old, a 9 year old, a 7 year old, a 6 year old, a nearly 5 year old, and a 4 year old. They are all great friends, so it should actually be a pretty fun 2 weeks.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Bad Dreams

I know the wait is starting to get to me when I begin having bad dreams. The other night I had a really disturbing dream about K. I'll spare you the gruesome details, but suffice it to say it was one morning where I was glad to get out of bed. Our next quarterly update will be coming out this month and it will be a relief to see the pictures of K's repaired lip and that he is doing well. I'm choosing to believe my bad dream was not prophetic but merely the over anxious workings of my brain.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Bye, Bye Froggies

The family pet tally is now down by 7 frogs. But, before you break out the tissues, let me assure you that they are well and happy. At least they were well and happy at 8:15 this morning. That was when M. released them back into the pond where she had scooped them up as tadpoles and brought them home. This is the second time we've had the opportunity to watch the transformation process and it remains miraculous. Bullfrog tadpoles are quite large, but by the time they metamorphose into frogs they are pretty little...so 7 of them can fit into a 10 gallon tank. But they grow and the bullfrogs were running out of room. There was also the whole issue of feeding them. They enjoy live food. M. started out feeding them crickets, but that was getting expensive and causing her to run to the pet store every few days because crickets don't live all that long even if they haven't been fed to a frog. So she turned to meal worms. This explains why 1000 mealworms were delivered to our house by the FedEx man one morning. It was a suprisingly small box considering the number of wiggly things which were in there. Lest you think I win the "understanding mom of the year" award, let me tell you that I drew the line at the cockroaches she really wanted to order. And to continue with the whole food supply issue, if she had kept them, they can grow quite large (~10 inches) and need a correspondingly larger menu. I'm informed that they eat "pinkies" (for those who know what these are, enough said, for those who don't, really, I think you're happier than if I told you.) So, although the bullfrogs were fun to look at and watch flop about their tank everytime they were startled, I'm just as happy that they are now independently supplying their own food.

Monday, August 20, 2007

We either need a schedule or...

that machine used by the Cat in the Hat when he cleans up the house at the end of the book. The beginning of summer is so wonderful. The schoolbooks are put away and huge amounts of free time stretch out before us. There is nowhere anyone has to be except for frequent trips to the beach. But I find it all becomes too much by the end of August. The free time that seemed so glorious in June is starting to feel a touch burdensome. Here in late August, the main occupation of Thing One and Thing Two, oops, I mean TM and D, seems to be creating messes. This is not to say that no messes were made in June, it's just that their scope has broadened. Neither want to actually play with something so much as just remove it from its container. To keep any sort of order I find myself following along behind them reminding them to put away what they got out. If I want to go and do other things, such as freeze the 25 pounds of blueberries we picked last weekend, I am greeted with chaos of unbelievable magnitude. Entropy has us in its grip and I'm afraid only a real, honest-to-goodness schedule will help us escape. That or the Cat's machine. If anyone knows where he got that, who knows what amount of money I might be willing to pay?

Thursday, August 09, 2007

How do you do it!?!

This is a question I've been asked a lot recently. It's a question that always leaves me baffled as to how to respond. The snarky response which my evil twin would love to give someday is, "Well, it's because I'm a superior mother and my children must be more pleasant to be around than yours." Just asking the question does in some way imply this answer. There must be something intrinsically better about me to be able to raise and homeschool 6 children and still wear clothing that matches and is clean. But I can never use that response because it's just too rude and, well, it's not true. I lose my patience, forget things even though they're written on the calendar, and more often than I like to admit, children (or I) run out of clean underwear. My children, in my humble opinion, are bright, but no one has learned to read excessively early or begged to begin learning calculus. And, as far as behavior goes, they are a pretty average bunch. There are good days and there are bad days. How bad they can sometimes be is evidenced by how clean the bathroom floor is as a result. (We firmly believe that physical labor can be a wonderful antidote for the attitudes that cause one to want to smack one's sister in the head.) So life around here is not perfect, if perfect means calm, quiet, and organized.

So, what do I answer? Often I mutter something about it not being really so hard and that the children help out a lot and that really it's just a matter of more laundry and cooking larger amounts of food. This will often end the interrogation, er, discussion. But the questioner never seems convinced. The forced smile and slow shaking of the head imply that I have discovered some secret that I'm not willing to share.

I don't feel as though I am holding back on anyone, but I think there are some factors that are peculiar to large, homeschooling families that we know, but others may not be aware of. (And, for the record, we are, in comparison to some of the other families of which I know, not a very large family at all.) So, without further ado, my "secret" to how I do it:
  • In my opinion, having more children is easier than having just one or two. I am not responsible for everything; there are a lot of other workers in my home. Everyone has chores, appropriate to their age. With a lot of workers, that's a lot of jobs I don't have to do. I do very little with the laundry these days and B. just learned to make bread. I actually spend more time supervising and checking that jobs were completed than doing any jobs myself. I noticed how much my children pitch in when two of them were gone for a week...it was more work having them gone. (To be clear, we're not talking hours of labor here, I don't think anyone has more than half an hour of work a day.) Plus, there is always someone to play with. I don't have to be the sole entertainment. They often play together, which gives me a suprising amount of time to myself...outside of the bathroom, even. I find that six children is infinitely easier than two children were. But it does force you to learn to delegate and relinquish some control over how things get done.
  • The homeschooling issue is the other part of the equation that trips people up. The problem is that a parent of schooled children takes their experience and instead of replacing it with what happens in our home, adds on what they think is happening. For example, in talking with friends, it seems that the two areas of life that are particularly stressful for families with children who attend school are (1)getting everyone ready and out of the door on time and (2)homework and fitting in other classes and such. Both of these stressful parts of the day don't exist for us. We have a time we aim for starting our bookwork, but it's flexible and sometimes it's a little earlier and sometimes it's a little later...and if the day has not started well, sometimes the teacher is still in her pajamas. Most of the bookwork is completed before lunch, which leaves us with plenty of time for classes and outside activites, and there is no homework. I believe that having our children home with us also makes their interactions with each other easier to manage. There have been times throughout the years that one or two or three of the children will be involved in things that have them out of the home for signigicant amounts of time for several days in a row. It is these periods of leaving and coming back that I find most challenging. There are many more altercations between siblings when the one who was gone returns and has to readjust and find their place in the family again than when someone is gone for just an hour or two.
  • Finally, probably the biggest "secret" to how I do it is simply that I'm home... and making a home for my husband and children is what I enjoy and what I focus a lot of attention on. It is not dull and I can't think the last time I was bored. I enjoy spending time with my children, discovering who they are and helping to guide them into adulthood. They are not my sole interest or focus of my attention, though. I have outside interests and activities...I do get out of the house. But I try to be careful about the balance of how I spend my time. Too much time spent on things outside the home just makes the work of running a home harder. There have been times when life has seemed too out of control, but often it is when we have become too busy and must rethink our schedule.

It is somewhat counter-intuitive that when everyone is home and together more, life is correspondingly easier, but it seems to be the case for us. I don't feel like Superwoman. (Or look like her for that matter....I tend to avoid spandex.) There are many things I don't do: baby books jump to mind (no one, not even the oldest has one); the tennis class I took was a bust; the list could go on and on. And there are many things I only do moderately well. And then there are the things I continue to try to do but have yet to do even moderately well. Plants - indoor or out- are an example. My mother-in-law used to rescue houseplants from my home to take to hers and nurse back to life. It's funny that they never seemed to return once they were green again. I still continue to try to grow plants but can't shake the feeling that when I'm at the nursery, they are all cowering in fear each pointing to his leafy neighbor and looking as sickly as possible so as to try and ward off certain death from coming home with me.

But back to original question of "How do I do it?" The short answer, for those of you who have made it through the long one, is: I don't. That is, I certainly don't do it on my own. The Bible's directive to pray without ceasing must have been aimed at mothers. I find myself praying pretty constantly, for patience, strength, wisdom, the list goes on and on, but always with great thankfulness that God has blessed me with the care of these wonderful children. I couldn't do it without His support and strength; I am not the perfect parent, but He is.

Friday, July 27, 2007

What we did on our summer vacation....





Painting.....










Reading....









Kayaking....







Sand sculpture (it's a penguin sunning himself, of course).....






Sparklers......









Walking on the beach.....



THANK YOU, Aunt G. & Uncle W.!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

To TV or not TV

A recent thread on a bulletin board I am on has me pondering the following question: Is it hypocritical to say one's family is TV-free and yet either still own a set or watch videos and DVDs? My gut says no, but I'm a little fuzzy as to why I have that feeling. If I write down my reasoning, maybe I can stop having arguments with myself and be able to focus on other things.(You know, like all those children running around my house.)


We have not always been a TV-free family. (Note: For the sake of argument, I will consider being TV-free as not watching commercial or cable television. This is different from being monitor-free... i.e. no screen-related activities of any kind.... [Sort of like vegetarian vs. vegan....] ) Our oldest two children have certainly watched their share of PBS shows in their younger days, and J. and I once had shows that we enjoyed watching most nights of the week. (Back in the days of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and "Deep Space Nine"!)

As M. got older, though, I noticed that if she watched television (or any TV-type thing), she was whiny and cranky and generally unpleasant. The whining was often over wanting to watch more TV. To preserve my sanity, I decided it was better to not allow TV in the morning, even if it meant I had to stop using it as a babysitter. A happy child who wanted to help me during the morning was better than a half hour to myself followed by an hour of torture. Besides, nap time was coming right after lunch. It was at this same time that J. and I realized that M. was much more aware of the world around her and we became more conscious of what we were viewing. Did we really want our little girl to hear or see some of these things? There was also the question: If our daughter shouldn't see something, should we even be watching it ourselves?

Our whole family's TV watching continued to decline to the point where the children were watching no TV, and J. and I watched just a couple of shows. We never started watching any new series, so as the shows ended, we were left with nothing that we regularly watched. Consequently, when we moved to our new house, we decided not to have a television in any of the living areas. We had a family room in our old house where the TV lived, but our new house was set up very differently and there was no obvious place for one. Our one little 9-in TV went to live in the guest room, where it lives forgotten by all most of the time.


We did not stop watching television because we believed that all TV is BAD; it's not. There are some good things on television. We stopped watching because most things on TV just aren't worth our time. Both J. and I look at our lives now and wonder how we had time to watch even the smallish amount of TV that we did. We don't miss it.


Now to the original question of hypocrisy if one eschews television, but still watches DVDs. I guess for me the question is one of intent and money. What was the reason we stopped watching the television? We didn't like the time it took; we didn't want to expose our children to some of the things on it; and we wanted to model what we saw as a mature way of dealing with media to our children. We didn't stop because we saw something inherently evil in watching something on a screen. I also try to be careful about where my money is going. I won't pay for cable and am too cheap to pay for any of the services that allow you to tape television. Renting DVDs seems like a good option for us. We can choose what comes into our home and when we watch it. We can also preview a show that we aren't sure about before letting our children watch it. And yes, we can even rent a television show we might be curious about but never saw. (Though often we do this out of sheer curiosity and are usually disappointed... I'm beginning to think I am humor-impaired.) And I will admit that when one is sick in bed (and when getting up will have disastrous consequences), a movie (or two or three) can be a very good thing.

So, I guess I agree with my gut that I'm not being hypocritical in my actions. (Well, OK, that last argument might have questionable worth.) Ultimately, I want to be the one to control the medium. I want my viewing to be an intentional decision on my part. For me, at least, the continual flow of broadcast entertainment that keeps going as long as the TV is turned on means that I am more likely to continue to watch, even after the original show that I chose to watch is over, controlled by the medium. After all, that's what all broadcast TV is all about: hooking viewers so that they ooze seamlessly from show to show and ad to ad, without any inclination to turn it off.

Maybe we could get the same "broadcast-TV-free" effect with something like TiVo or another digital videorecording device... but I'm not sure it's the same thing. To some extent, these devices still render the viewer at the mercy of the broadcaster. I expect that I'd record lots of things just because they might be interesting... and then feel obligated to watch them because I'd gone to the trouble of recording them.

Maybe there will come a day when we decide to make a clean break from all video and film entertainments, but that position seems more extreme than I'd like to live with. (Similarly, while we don't consume a regular diet of meat, we also love the occasional hunk of medium-rare steak. No vegans here.) -- So, I declare myself not a hypocrite... but rather a reactionary who prefers not to give the broadcasters a toehold.

Monday, July 09, 2007

In for the Long Haul

Well, it seems I was correct in my estimation that we wouldn't travel until at least January. K.'s province is moving even slower than usual and the timelines have changed to expect at least 9 months between dossier submission to travel. We knew going into this that it wasn't going to be a fast process, but never in my wildest dreams did I think I would have to start worrying about whether Tet would be an issue in travelling. On the positive side....warming-up in Vietnam while everyone else struggles to keep warm during typically brutal January weather sounds lovely....then there are the post-Christmas sales for gift buying....yeah, well, there's two items on the positive side.

We did find out that K. only had his lip repaired. But we also learned a new piece of information in that the doctor reported that his palate was not too bad, so he didn't want to repair it at the same time. I'll take this as good news; we had no idea about the extent of clefting in his palate.

In housekeeping (blog keeping?) news, I apologize for anyone's comments not showing up. It seems the moderate comments option had somehow become engaged and my techno-savvy self didn't realize it. I think I have fixed it, so feel free to comment. Really. Yes, you, the three people out there who read this.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Update on K

We have had some news about our newest son, K. The biggest piece of information is that he had surgery to correct his lip the second week of June. He was in the hospital for 5 days and is now back at the care center, eating and sleeping normally. A confusing aspect of the report is that is says his palate was also corrected. I suppose this is possible, but in all my research, I have only heard of the lip and palate being repaired separately. I am so glad that he came through the surgery without any problems. It means that we won't necessarily be looking at surgery immediately upon bringing him home. But, it also breaks my heart that we weren't there to hold him as he recovered.

The other part of the update states that he is now crawling (very fast...he will fit right in with the other boys in the house) and is beginning to pull to a stand. He likes attention and smiles when people talk to him. This was all two months ago, so who knows what he is doing now.

We are now at the 4 month mark of waiting for K. For TM's adoption, 4 months was the total time we waited after submitting paperwork...this adoption is looking to be twice as long. I'm beginning to wonder if planning on travelling in January might be a good idea...

Sunday, June 24, 2007

She Came Back!

Last week B. and A. were at church camp. We all drove them up last Sunday, then had dinner and came home. We had spent a lot of time telling TM what was happening and how they both would come home in a week. How much he believed us is up for grabs. It was a fairly miserable week for those of us left at home. TM had not one, not two, but three great, big, noisy fits, one of which lasted for an hour and twenty minutes. I'm sure the whole thing felt a little too familiar... parents taking a child (or in this case children) to an unfamiliar place with a lot of other children and then just leaving. From TM's point of view, he had no experience that told him they would return. Well, we survived the week, more or less in one piece, and J. went up Saturday morning to bring them home. About lunch time they arrived home and A. was the first one in the door. TM happened to be standing across the room when she walked in and luckily I happened to catch the whole scene. TM sees A., bolts across the room toward her shouting, "A.! A.! My A.!" and launches himself into her arms. From the sound of the sheer joy in his voice, one would have thought she had come back from the dead....which maybe in TM's mind is exactly what happened.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Just Because it Makes me Laugh

The prize for signing-up for our library's summer reading game was headbands with alien heads on springs. (It's a space theme this summer, so not entirely random.) The littles had a lot of fun with them. Especially TM and D, who made-up a new game...

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Toga! Toga!


Our family has been involved in an history co-op for the past seven years. Each year we cover an era of history and the six mothers take turns teaching. (Although this year was wonderful in that a couple of the older children/young adults [one never quite knows what to call 14 year olds, especially if one doesn't believe in ther term "teenager"] took on quite a few of the classes.) Since we do the eras chronologically, this past year we have been covering Ancient Rome. The highlight of each year is the feast we have to celebrate the end of the school year. Everyone dresses in costumes of the period we had been studying and we try to fix food that is an approximation of what would have been served. (There was great rejoicing when the renaissance rolled around and we could serve chocolate and tomatoes.) Often the children provide the entertainment with some sort of readers' theater. This year we had the (very) abridged version of the Aenead, with Aeneas' crew made up of many grade school aged girls wearing long dresses. I have to say, I thought this version was much more amusing than Virgil's original.


Actually, I've decided that my family needs very little excuse to dress-up in costumes. (I'm sure this all comes from the acting genes on J's side of the family. I can't recall very many times I dressed up in a costume as a child and not particularly enjoying it when I did.) TM must think that every family in the US dresses up in a costume at the drop of a hat. Since TM has been home there have been multiple costume opportunities.....Halloween (we had two princesses, a civil war general, a lion, a robin, and a billy goat), Christmas (because of the pageant...we had a sheep, a billy goat [yes, the same costume], a shepherd, two angels and a poor boy), Oliver! (I'm sure I don't need to go through the list again), M's birthday party (a murder mystery party set in Egypt in the late 1880's and everyone dressed as archeaologists), a friend's birthday party (also a murder mystery party, this time the costumes were literary/fairy tale characters, so we had Goldilocks and Huck Finn), and, finally, the feast ( most of us were just general Roman-types, but we also had a centurian and Ceres, goddess of the harvest.)

As far as I can tell, the summer looks to be costume-free. That's good. I can store up my costuming energy for next year. The middle ages follows Rome and I can no longer get away with clothing everyone in long, white pieces of cloth like I did for Egypt, Greece, and Rome. That's seven actual, constructed costumes (J and I can wear what we wore last time...it will fit, it will!) Maybe I should just start now....

Thursday, May 31, 2007

A Tale of Two Treehouses

We have a treehouse in our backyard. J. and some of the children built it over the course of two summers. They designed it together, poured the concrete footings together, and garbage-picked some of the materials together. It has been played in pretty constantly since it was built...although I feel a lot better about it since the railings went up. And, it looks like a kid's treehouse.


A month or two ago, some builders started work in the backyard across the alley from us. As we watched the progress of what they were building (from the vantage point of our treehouse, of course), we realized that it was also a treehouse. To use the term "treehouse" for both structures doesn't seem quite right. It is the same feeling I get when I have to use the word "dog" to describe both a chihuahua and a great Dane....same general animal, but a completely different breed. We watched in wonder as the treehouse was constructed. Well, wonder doesn't quite describe the emotions we experienced....dumbfounded may come closer as the cedar shakes went on, followed by out-right disgust as the insulated windows (which really look much nicer than any window in our house) were installed.

And if I am quite honest with myself, perhaps a touch of jealousy that I can't have as nice a treehouse built for my own children. But this feeling doesn't really last for very long. You see, the ironic thing about this treehouse of our neighbors is that it was built for children we didn't even know existed. Seriously, I had no idea any children, much less three of them, lived in that house. The actual children have been spotted exactly one time playing in their very nicely designed and constructed treehouse. (I know this because many of my children are practicing their snooping skills so as to be the next Mrs. Cravits of Bewitched fame. Our treehouse does provide a very nice post from which much of our block can be seen.)

So, I have decided it is much, much better for my children to have a treehouse that they helped build and in which they actually play, than it is to have the designer model which holds no memories and in which there is no time to play. Plus, I find the juxtaposition of the two endlessly amusing.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Home for 10 months

I realize it has been a while since I have updated everyone on how TM is doing. The short answer is incredibly well. His language ability is equivalent to D's (with his pronounciation being, perhaps, a little better.) Every so often we run across a word that he has to ask the meaning of....but then he's only four. He has amazing physical ability. He loves riding anything with wheels, and rides them well. We fully expect him to learn to ride his bike without training wheels this summer. (This does cause D some jealousy, having just recently conquered riding the tricycle.) One of the most amazing parts of TM's development has been watching his drawing skills develop. When he first came home, it was pretty obvious that he had never really had the opportunity to color and draw. His first attempts at coloring looked very similar to something an 18 month old might do....just scribbling. He had no idea of what the lines in coloring books were for or any concept of representational drawing. Over the past 10 months, we have watched him move through all the stages of drawing and coloring that our other children have experienced. The difference is that where they took several years, TM has taken several months. He moved from scribbling to drawing basic figures (the circle for a head with the arms and legs coming directly out), to slightly more complex figures (adding a line for a body) to geniune four year old type drawings. Now he draws many pictures of vans and cars (complete with doors, windows, tires, steering wheel, and windshield wipers) with people inside. It has been incredible to watch.

Attachment-wise, things have improved considerably. The concerns I voiced the last time I posted about this have pretty much disappeared. The need to talk all the time has abated. He still talks a lot, but it seems to have lost its controlling edge. The amount of things that were "accidently" broken has also lessened. TM is learning to be more careful and is developing self-restraint that he didn't have before. He can still get wound-up when stressed, but like everything else, its intensity is less. He seeks out hugs and attention from J and me and it has been a long time since I felt as though he is avoiding eye contact. TM and D have become the best of friends. They play together, often by making up elaborate imaginative games, all the time. Except when one has punched the other one....then they are upset with each other for a few minutes, after which they go back to playing. As I was describing this process to a friend, she said that sounds just like any pair of four year olds....perfectly normal...what beautiful words.

As I think about the last ten months, I'm coming to the conclusion that in some ways the whole process has been the most difficult for me. (By saying this I in no way want to discount the enourmity of what TM has weathered...4 placements in 3 1/2 years, loss of loved foster parents, loss of country, loss of first language and having to learn a new one...it's huge. Looking back, I'm suprised how few problems we've really had.) While I knew that TM faced many challenges in joining our family, I didn't fully acknowledge the challenges which faced me. I didn't fully understand the work and faith it takes to fall in love with a child...especially one that isn't acting very lovable. With my biological children, there was no effort in loving them. The minute each of them was placed in my arms, I was madly in love. It just happened; nothing was required of me. With TM, I overestimated the automaticity of this process. I didn't immediately love TM (or even really like him) at first. I had to decide to love him. I had to decide to act toward him as if I felt love, even if it wasn't what I was feeling. One of the biggest lessons I have learned is that love is a conscious, intentional act; it is so much bigger than just what one feels.

Through this whole experience, I have learned many, many things about God and about my relationship to Him. I have learned that good and safe are not the same thing. To worry about doing what is safe is to miss out on something that can be wonderful. I have learned that God will get you through the hard parts. Adopting TM is one of the hardest thing I have ever done. There were times it was so hard I found it difficult to pray. I relied on Scripture which I had memorized (it would come unbidden into my mind) and on the support and prayers of friends. I have learned that in order to see God work, you have to take an initial step in faith. You have to be like Peter and get out of the boat.

Now all of these things are good and wonderful things to know about God, but I believe that only by watching and experiencing human adoption can we even come close to understanding the idea of being adopted by God into His family. We initiated our relationship with TM, just as God initiates His relationship with us. TM didn’t really want to be part of the adoption. In fact, he openly fought it tooth and nail (literally). During his rages, J and I would hold him and tell him over and over again how we loved him. If we, as imperfect, human parents, can do this, even if we are not necessarily feeling love, how much more does our Heavenly Father love us? I will forever have the image in my head, whenever I am feeling upset with God and spewing my anger at Him, of God holding me in His arms while I rage, telling me He loves me. We chose to love TM, even when he wasn’t being lovable. I am sure I often act in an unlovable way, but now I am absolutely certain that God loves me in spite of myself. Adoption is truly a miraculous thing.

There is one last thing I have learned. From TM's point of view, the worst had happened. He lost everything: home, country, language, and the only parents he could remember. To him, our adoption of him was a tragedy. But, from an adult perspective, the situation was very different. As a ward of the state, TM had no future. There was no guarantee that he would be able to stay with his foster parents. They were an older couple and it was uncertain if they would be around to support him as he grew older. His prospects were not very rosy. Through adoption, he has a permanent family with a secure and bright future. How often do we bemoan events, when our viewpoint is too limited to make a real judgement about the “goodness” of things? I am certain, if we could see things from God’s perspective, we would find ourselves saying, “Of course, this is the way it has to be.”

Thank you, thank you very much

Thanks to Mrs. Broccoli Guy for awarding me a Thinking Blogger award. It's kind of cool to know someone other than my immediate family reads this blog.

As a result, I'm supposed to nominate five other blogs that make me think. The first is The Green Family. I admire the way Kim is able to act out her faith and she often says something that I find myself pondering over. Next comes Mommylife. Barbara writes about on a broad spectrum of topics and is always gracious and logical in her arguments. Thirdly, Amy at Amy's Humble Musings can always be counted on to be funny or thought provoking...or (often) both. My newest find is Jess at Making Home. She has many, many thought-provoking posts. Finally, I want to put in a plug for Mrs. Broccoli Guy's newest endeavor, Voices for Vietnam Adoption Integrity. It is brand-new, but there are already three very excellent posts touching on ethics in Vietnamese adoptions.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

LWB Cleft Nutrition Video

Since K. is cleft-affected, I have a soft-spot for cleft children. This video is about the needs of cleft children in China, but the information transfers well to Vietnam.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

So many topics, so little time

I can't quite decide what to post about...there are so many choices. I could tell you about all the furniture that has suddenly landed in our living room, or our venture in vermicomposting (that's composting worms, if you were wondering), or I could tell you about being stalked in the grocery store. Or perhaps I should say a little about all three, since part of the problem is I don't have enough to say about any single topic to make a decent entry.

The furniture is from J's mother's house which we are hopeful will sell at the end of the month. (That is, if everyone can agree on what we pay for, what we don't pay for, what we fix, what we don't fix, etc.) The moving van arrived yesterday with our share of the larger items. Some of the pieces we have made room for, but not all. I think I was a great source of amusement to the three moving guys. They would bring in something...it was wrapped so well I could never tell what it was...and ask where I wanted it. So, I would have to ask what it was and they would unwrap it. Upon seeing what was arriving, I would say something along the lines of, "Ohhhh, I didn't know that was coming. Well....just put it in the living room for right now." (This has to be heard in the vaguest voice possible.) While not hysterical, long about the 5th or 6th time I could tell the movers were becoming quite amused. The funniest moment for me was when one of them brought in a box and asked where I wanted it. "It's full of wood," he says. I'm sure I baffled him since I actually had a place for it (unlike some of the seemingly more useful items.) It was a box of wooden blocks, and of course it went with all of our other blocks.

Right after our living room became a public storage look-a-like, we all piled into the van to go to the vermicomposting class I signed us up for. This seemed like a good idea. I had been meaning to do some composting, all the children like worms, and the worms have the added benefit of providing food for the various reptiles and amphibians in residence when other sources of food run low. When I signed-up, the description of the class said that we would come home with a vermicomposting set-up. Silly me, I took this to mean that we would come home with actual worms. But, I was wrong. Instead I paid for the most expensive plastic bucket and shredded newspaper I will ever buy...and still no worms. Now all of the children are excited about feeding the worms so I will have to buy them. Our (very expensive) bucket can hold ~1 pound of worms, or about 1000 of the wiggly things. I was shocked to discover that red worms run about $25.00 a pound. That's more than steak; the frogs and turtle are going to be living well. Plus, our 1000 worms will be able to eat and consequently compost about one pound of vegetable matter a week, which sounds reasonable until you find out that a 2-person household generates about 5 pounds of vegetable matter a week. I'm not turning over a room (which is what our family of 8 would need) to worms so we can compost it all.

And to generate that much vegetable matter, it has to be purchased somewhere, which is why I was doing the grocery shopping today. At my the third of my regular grocery stores (don't ask, I'll blog about it someday), I was busy doing my comparison shopping (always look at the price per ounce on the sign, sometimes the smaller container is a better deal), an older man makes a comment to me. I always try to be nice, so I respond and go on my way. I didn't think anything about it until out of nowhere he approaches me again and says something. I respond again, perhaps not quite as cheerfully as the first time, and think it's odd. The third time he appears, I'm starting to become annoyed and am happy I'm done and can leave. As I push my cart toward my van, a car pulls up and the driver motions to me. I think it must be someone asking directions (I know, I know, it's amazing that I've made it to my 40th year), so I stop and it's the same guy again. This time he announced that he's a very good cook and would I like to come to his house for dinner. I reply that I'm sure my husband wouldn't like it and without missing a beat he says that's all right, he has a wife and we can both come. (So, now he is a jerk as well as a creep.) Always polite, I ask if that includes my 6 children. This does make him pause slightly then he ruefully shakes his head, says he has four and I have him beat and drives off. At this point I'm not sure whether to start laughing or call the police. I decided on the former, but compulsively kept checking my rear-view mirror all the way home.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Q. When is a Family not a Family?

A. When the family has more than 4 members.

Evidently I've been feeling a little crotchety lately, but there are a couple of things that are always guaranteed to tick me off. One is children being hurt as a result of adults' actions (see my previous post); another is when groups or organizations decide what constitutes the "correct" family size. Before I go on, I will admit that we have chosen to have a larger than average family, and do not expect special accomodation as a result. But I do expect clarity in language...don't say one thing when you mean another. When someone says "family" I take that to mean two adults and all of their children. I do not take it to mean 2 adults and 2 children. That is not my family, nor is it many other families that I know. How are we expected to choose which children to leave home? Draw straws?

The two areas that seem to have the most egregious offenders are contests and museum membership/entry prices. The most recent contest I came across is from Colorado...the Family Adventure Package [ http://www.letstalkcolorado.com/familypackage.html ] for You and three family members. Wouldn't it have been just as easy to say Group Adventure Package? It doesn't conjure up the same warm fuzzy feeling as "family", but then leaving people home doesn't seem very warm and fuzzy, either.

While annoying, the whole contest-thing doesn't bother nearly as much as museum memberships. Contests are completely extraeneous to life, but I love museums; I love to share them with my children, and I think my children benefit greatly from the exposure. We have many museums in the Chicago area and they run the gamut of how family-friendly their memberships are. The best one, in my opinion, is the Museum of Science and Industry [ http://www.msichicago.org/ ]. A family membership is just that. J, E, and all the younger Currys are welcome to come, no matter how many we are. I believe this is smart business for them. Sometimes, though certainly not always, we will purchase snacks or other things. The more mouths we bring, the more snacks we buy. Plus, that is a lot of people who grow up enjoying the museum and are likely to want to share that same experience with their own children.

On the other end of the spectrum is the Shedd Aquarium. My children love this museum, but I'm afraid our days of purchasing a membership are numbered. And, with no membership, there is no way I'm paying admission prices. We just won't go. I find the Shedd's membership policy to be extremely punitive to large families. Their family membership includes 2 adults and 4 children [ http://www.sheddaquarium.org/membershipbenefits.html ]. If you have had the gall to go past this number, you will pay an additional $15 per child. I find it hard to believe that a small 3 year old costs them $15 in maintanence a year. Also, by feeling gouged at the membership desk, I am far less likely to spend any extra money inside...they have enough of my money. To make matters worse, when J wrote complaining about their policy of only four children, a representative wrote back that perhaps we didn't know about the opportunity to purchase a membership for each additional family member. Gee, I don't know why I'm not jumping around all excited about this information, because, you know, I just sit around wondering how on earth I'm going to spend all my money....NOT! If this policy annoys you as much as it does me, perhaps you want to drop this institution a note [ http://www.sheddaquarium.org/contactus.html ].

In the mean time I have better ways to spend my money...food, clothing, property taxes...so we'll patronize the establishments who really are family-friendly. And maybe we'll buy a fish.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing - Edmund Burke

There has been a lot of discussion on various Vietnam adoption list serves over whether there is an ethical crisis in Vietnam or not. Obviously, I believe there is since I don't think the title of this post is over the top. Some thoughts...

I am very concerned about some of the things I have been reading in regards to adoption from Vietnam. I do feel for all the PAP's (prospective adoptive parents, for those of you not up on your adoption jargon.) out there who are trying to navigate the world of adoption. I remember how shocked and discouraged (still am...and hope I never cease to be) I was when I would read stories of the sordid underbelly that exists whenever large sums of money and children are combined. (For an example of how sordid, go to http://www.fleasbiting.blogspot.com/ )I do not see a frenzy over ethics occuring. In fact, I see just the opposite. Over and over I read requests asking which agencies have the fastest referrals and travel. But for those of us voicing concerns over the current situation in VN, just voicing concerns does not make a situation exist. Merely stating something does not call it into existence. There were people voicing conerns over Cambodia and others who denied any wrongdoing and the same situation occured in VN before the shutdown. Just because we don't like a situation does not mean we should remain quiet about it, especially if it means children will be harmed.

I am also concerned about the reports of 50-60 infants seen in orphanages. That is just an overwhelming number of babies, espcially in light of a report of the low number of children when she travelled during the moratorium. And if they were all abandoned, then, yes, I do find that very suspicious. Relinquishing a child is not illegal in VN and allows someway to check on thefacts of a child's history. Adoptions out of VN never completely stopped; children were being adopted to western countries...just not the US and Cananda. But when the US (and US dollars) entered the scene again. there seems to be an explosion of abandoned children. But only in certain areas. Not all the agencies licensed in VN have experienced this same epidemic. I have read the arguments that it is a matter of area. But the agency we worked/are working with does not have orphanages filled with babies. And it's not that the orphanages are in remote areas that are sparsely populated. They are in the three major population areas of the country. Curious.

I am also not sure I buy the argument that poor mothers are hoping for a better life in the US for their child and that is the deciding factor in sending the child to the orphanage. I'm not saying it never happens, but that cannot be an explanation as to why there are suddenly so many babies. I would bet that many of the general VN population have no idea of the numbers of VN children that are adopted to the US and other countries. A country does not publicise the fact that they are sending children away. If you don't believe me, go ask someone in your community if they know that the US is a sending country for Canada and Europe...mainly of African-American infants.

Adoption should be about the child. They are the part of the triad who have absolutely no voice in the process. Birth parents may feel as though they have no choice or may have been given wrong information in the making of their decision. For them, my heart breaks and I pray for a world where no parent has to relinquish a child. I would hope that agencies and facilitators do not act too fast, giving birth parents time to reconsider. The best scenario would be that the agency would do all in their power to keep the birth family together. If infants are referred at 1 month old, how could any of this been tried? Prospective adoptive parents may also feel as though they have no voice. Others approve us, others match us with a child, others approve or disprove the match...but we also know what is happening. We are adults and aware of the implications of our actions, and we can always say, "No". An infant or young child has no power to say "No" to an adoption. The adults in the game are expected to act in the child's best interest. But, it seems, too often the adults act in their own best interest. I believe international adoption is a child's last best choice. To remove a child from birth family and birth country, culture, and language is no small thing. And just because we are richer and have more resources and opportunities does not make it OK. Read Camryn Mosley's statement at the trial of Lauryn Galindo http://www.ethicanet.org/galindo_victim.pdf I am not againt intercountry adoption. I am the mother of one son from VN and waiting for another. For children who have no other hope for a family of their own it is a wonderful thing. But it is not something to enter lightly. Our actions affect not only our own families but have far reaching consequences. Money poured into unethical agencies just encourages wrong-doing. Please do your research carefully and do not dismiss experienced voices because they say things that are uncomfortable or are things you don't want to hear. Remember you are entering into a business contract and the nicest, most sympathetic voice on the end of a phone does not guarantee that you are more important than your money.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

This is for you, Patty...or Oliver!, Revisited

I meant to write this post three weeks ago, but between trips to the doctor for pnuemonia (TM), nearly broken finger (M), strep throat (P), and stomach flu (everyone), I have been a little preoccupied.

I promised my friend, Patty, that I would discuss the educational benefits of what we have come to call the "Oliver! Curriculum". Since Oliver! became all-consuming to our family for much of the month of March and left very little time for much else (we managed eating and sleeping...laundy didn't make the cut), I thought I would take a look at what our "learning outcomes" were as a result. So join me as I translate the musical Oliver! into education-eze.

Language Arts:
  • Listened to the unabridged recording of Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
  • Discussed Charles Dickens -- where and when he lived, who his contemporaries were, and how he wrote his novels (He was paid by the word for those who are interested.)
  • Memorized lines for Oliver!
  • Compared and contrasted the novel, Oliver Twist, with the musical, Oliver!
  • Discussed unusual vocabulary words, taking special note of archaic or Bristish-based words
  • Discussed the use of satire to comment on social ills
  • Improved public speaking skills

Mathematics

  • Discussed the pricing of renting various musicals, why they were priced differently, and how that affected our choice of musicals
  • Discussed the rental fees of different theaters--what was included and excluded, what extra or hidden fees there were (ie hiring cleaning staff, insurance), and how to figure total cost
  • Discussed how ticket prices had to be based on the various costs of putting on the show

History

  • Discussed the Victorian period in England--what was happening within England, what was happening in other countries, how was society different from ours at that time, how did society allow what happened to children such as Oliver, what effect did Charles Dicken's novels have on society
  • Research on clothing of Victorian England

Arts

  • Watched both live and recorded versions of Oliver!
  • Learned the musical score--involved choral singing, solo singing, singing in parts, dynamics, articulation, awareness of pitch and tempo
  • Practiced and improved acting skills and abilities
  • Developed an awareness and understanding of the various roles and occupations available in theater--director, musician, actor, lighting coordinator, set designer, costumer, stage manager

Physical Education

  • Learned choreography for show, including learning a gavotte
  • Increased physical stamina--singing and dancing a two hour show is physically challenging

While these academic-type things are well and good, it is the intangibles that I believe make all the effort worthwhile. The cast members learned what it means to have someone depend on you and the consequenses if you don't do your part. They learned that to do something well takes hard work and that hard work pays off in the end. They learned to take directions and both compliments and criticism in a public setting. they learned to work with and become friends with a wide group of people. (The cast ranged from five years to adult.) They learned to speak in front of an audience. Considering the number of adults who are afraid to speak in public, this is a skill which will last a lifetime. So, while the math books may have gathered a little dust, I believe it was well worth it.

Thus ends my final post on Oliver! (really). The show went incredibly well and played to sold out crowds all three nights. The cast had a ball and the audiences loved it and I was incredibly proud of everyone. I laughed, I cried, it was better than Cats.

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