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.
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