Monday, November 30, 2009

I'm not Super Woman

even though I sometimes forget that little fact. I'm always over estimating what I can get done in a day/week/month, and the problem has only gotten worse with nursing two babies. I can't decide if I'm delusional or just overly optimistic. Either way, I just don't have the amount of time available that I think I do. This really is leading somewhere, I promise.

Every year for the past 12 years, J. and I have hosted a large Christmas party. We enjoy doing it and love having a chance to visit with friends. I don't think we've ever sent out less than 60 invitations. As the date for the party approached, I found I wasn't thinking of it as fondly as I have in past years. Actually, the word fondly shouldn't be considered at all. I was closer to dreading it. Not the actual party, but all the preparations it involved. It finally occurred to me that we don't have to have it this year. So we're not. It is a huge weight lifted off my shoulders and I feel as though I can enjoy the Christmas season now. It makes me wonder what else I can jettison in order to make my life feel calmer.

In other family news, we had a wonderful Thanksgiving last week. We always spend it with J.'s aunt and uncle and much extended family. I think the total number of people this year was 33.

E. with L. on Thanksgiving.

Every year, there is a huge bonfire. I'm convinced that some of my boys think the whole point of Thanksgiving is to set things on fire. I never made it out to the fire this year...those nursing babies, you know. But I hear it was very hot to be close to. Here's some pictures:

TM and P.

And a cute picture of sleeping babies (L. on left and G. on right) in the hotel room. The picture is somewhat ironic given that they didn't do much sleeping in the hotel room at all.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Time for more baby pictures

Thanksgiving is quickly approaching and I am (or really, should be) elbow-deep in dough for 9 dozen rolls. So, I'm taking the blogging version of the easy way

B. with his babies. L. on left and G. on right.

L. on left and G. on right. They were in matching dresses until L. had a diaper incident.

These are my newest creation for the girls. I am working on a second pair which I could finish if the growth spurt the girls are in would ever end. They will have a different cupcake design on them. I'm just a little proud of them since they are the first thing I've ever sewn for which I made the pattern. They're even lined with flannel on the inside so they are soft against little legs.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Parenting adolescents

A few days ago a woman on a Yahoo group I belong to wrote asking for advice about her teenage daughter's attitude toward her younger siblings. After I responded with my thoughts, several people wrote and thanked me for my ideas. Since they seemed to be helpful, I thought I would share them here.


I'm not sure I can help you with your current situation with you oldest daughter, but I will share how my husband and I train our children who are in their teen(daughter 16, son 14, and daughter 11). First, I just have to say that we don't ever use the term 'teenager' when referring to our children. We feel that teenager has such negative connotations and even just using the term gives a tacit 'pass' to obnoxious behavior. Along the lines of, 'Oh, those teenagers! What can you do?' We give our children a choice of being a young adult, which means that they behave in a mature way, are helpful, and consequently have privileges that the younger children do not have; or of being a child. If they are behaving like a child then they also lose the privileges that a young adult would have. We have discussed this with all of them and they understand the difference.

We also focus on tone and attitude...a lot. It is so easy for this age to fall into habits of being sullen, or snide, or condescending to others around them. I call each of them on poor tone every single time I hear it. We also do not allow them to roll eyes, stomp off in a huff, or to pout in one's room. If one of them says something mean to another I point out why what they said was interpreted as being mean (or sassy or whatever tone I hear) and ask them to rephrase what they said. If it was something mean to a sibling, they must say three nice things about that person. I will sometimes ask the (now) child to do something nice for the injured party or for them to take over the injured party's chores for the day. My goal is to make that kind of behavior completely unworthwhile for the older child. It is going to cost them in a major way. The key here is that we do this every single time, and for all relationships. If a child stomps away from me, I have them practice walking away calmly. Sometimes we do this multiple times. All the children know what the consequences will be for this type of behavior. If they don't comply with the consequence immediately then we practice the correct behavior more times and I often have chores (often involving physical labor) that can be given the recalcitrant child as well. I also (try) to never react myself over this behavior, but keep it very matter-of-fact. If you do this, then this happens. Every single time. I believe that young adults can be in control of what they say and they know what they can get away with.

If I have a child who is needing correction more than usual, I need to ask myself why this is happening. Have I spent enough (positive) time with them? Are they worried about something else and poor behavior is they only way they know to deal with it? Sometimes a string of bad behavior is not about the presenting problem, but only a symptom of something else going on. I really think detective should be added to the list of parenting duties. And if I'm completely truthful, sometimes bad behavior on my children's part is mirroring my own poor attitude. Nothing like seeing my children mimicking my own bad behavior/attitudes to pull me up short. Ugh.

I tend to be slow to offer advice about raising adolescents since my oldest is only 16 and I have yet to raise a child to functioning adult. But, I thought I would share about how we deal with the attitude issue. It has worked for us pretty well and I don't have to deal with these issues very often. I hope you can work through this with your daughter so you can begin to enjoy her again.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

What? Thursday already?

Dropping off shoe boxes to the Operation Christmas Child drop-off site. Check.

Buying needed supplies to create Christmas gifts. Check.

Working out rides and logistics for A.'s tech rehearsals and shows this week. (A. is in pictures #2 and #9, counting from the top.) Check.

Being interviewed about homeschooling. Check.

Appearing as the homeschooling representative on a panel about educational options. Check.

Having anything substantial to say on my blog. Um, not so much.

So instead, I'll share the blog that is my newest obsession: Sew, Mama, Sew. It is complete escapism on my part. There is something so enjoyable about seeing what other people have created and to be given the instructions for if I wanted to make it myself. I find the possibilities totally addicting.

And lastly, because nursing half of my waking hours isn't enough, I find myself reading about it as well. If you haven't read about nursing in Mongolia, you really need to.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

'Tis the season

As much as I would like to only think about Christmas during the month of December, I just can't get it all done if I wait. Ideally, I have all the gifts taken care of before Thanksgiving, because then I can enjoy the season without being focused on things. But, since money is a little tighter this year, I don't feel as though I can just push a few computer keys and have all my gifts delivered to my door. And that combined with my inability to do significant garage sale/rummage sale shopping this past summer, my stores are pretty low. All this to say, I'm planning on making a significant portion of the gifts we give this year, and really, I should have started planning and making a few months ago. I hope the babies continue to go to sleep nicely because I foresee a lot of late nights.

I'm actually kind of excited about it as I love to make things and because it makes the gifts a bit more special. Plus, we don't really need more stuff. I spend far too much time fixing, putting away, and then giving away stuff. We've talked with the children and explained there won't be as much under the tree, but emphasized we would still do all the things we usually do that make Christmas special. They all seem OK with it. They're probably more OK with it than I am since I love to give them gifts.

We've also changed one other family tradition this year. In the past, I have helped each child make a gift for each sibling. It started out manageable enough. Four children meant that each child made three gifts. I would get kits or some project for them to do and part of the specialness was the new craft plus time alone spent with Mom. As the number of children grew, this process became incredibly unwieldy. I was really scrambling last year to come up with ideas for each child to make and the time to work on them. Something had to change. So this year we have drawn names. One child will make a gift for one other person. Since we aren't including the babies this year, that's 7 gifts. Actually it's 5 gifts that I have to help with because M. and B. are quite capable of tackling that project on their own. The children all decided that they wanted to keep the names a secret so as to add to the surprise. They are quite happy with the new plan. They like the idea of being able to take a little more time and do something a bit more elaborate for their chosen brother or sister. We drew names a couple of nights ago since they all wanted to start planning right away.

And because no post is complete without baby pictures:

A blurry G. because she was being very wiggly...but she's smiling.

G. on left and L. on right. Once again, G. is the moving blurry one. Many people think they look identical, but we have started seeing a lot more differences between them. We've even let G.'s red toe nail polish wear off.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Preparing for the Enlightenment

Our history co-op is finally getting going for the year, though a bit later than usual. We cover the eras of history in chronological order, so the Enlightenment is our present focus. Since we have so many children between the five families involved (27 children) and the age range is so vast (17 years down to the babies), we split the group into two, with the olders doing more in depth study with more rigorous reading and writing and the youngers doing more story-based, hands-on learning. The picture is of M. and B. working on preparing the assignment that they need to have done for the first class tomorrow...they had to look up ~67 key people from the period, listing dates and major works (if any), then they had to create a timeline for those people. The timeline has ended up being about 12 1/2 feet. Each student will then give a presentation to the group on two of the people as well as a two presentations on key events. We also do a literature component which involves reading major works from the period. This year it will be Pilgrim's Progress, Gulliver's Travels, and Robinson Crusoe.

Here are the baby girls being entertained by the timeline work:

L. (with her soft dolly)

G. (who refused to smile no matter what I did)

And since we're talking about school-type stuff, here is the creation that K. made yesterday while playing with the Cuisinaire Rods. It's a person and an oven, of course.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Crochet confessions

My obsession with sewing for the baby girls continues. Here are a trial set of soft baby shoes for them. I wasn't sure how they would turn out, so these are made from some acrylic felt I had lying around. Having practiced, I'm now ready to use the wool felt I made from some thrifted wool skirts.

They were pretty easy to make until I got to the crocheted laces. You see, I don't crochet. I can do a lot of other crafty-type things...sewing, knitting, embroidery. I can even spin wool on a spinning wheel. But crochet? It's just one of those things I don't do. (It's right up there with making jello, but that's another post.) My grandmother tried to teach me once (to crochet,not make jello), but when I couldn't hold the hook the proper way she gave up. After that one attempt, I never tried again. My desire to finish the shoes made me overcome my crochet hang-up and I can now crochet a single chain thanks to a brief lesson from a friend. M., A., and P. were amused at my efforts since all three of them can crochet single chains at what seems to me to be the speed of light. (Obviously, I did not teach them this skill.) I did get faster by the fourth lace, but I'm pretty sure I'm not holding any part of it the correct way.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Such a Monday-ish Monday

"Well, life isn't very good around here anymore. No clothes to wear; no raisins for the oatmeal. I think I'll run away." ...Frances in A Baby Sister for Frances by Russell Hoban

Many children around here a having a "Frances day". Mondays can be difficult in general, but some Mondays are more trying than others. It's as if over the weekend, they lost all memory of what they know and how life works. Consequently, when I remind them that they have chores and schoolwork, there is much complaining. Surely no other child in the universe has been made to pick-up dirty laundry, eat oatmeal and drink orange juice, or (the horror!) do math. Instead of being the calm and understanding mother, I turn into something more of a drill sergeant. (Yes, you can count be threes. Figure out what the next number is. No it's not too hard.) I have learned that Mondays are key to a successful week. If we can grit our teeth and get into our schedule, life settles back down into a normal (and calm) routine. But if Monday escapes without it being wrestled back under control, the whole week is sabotaged. I feel as though we're a living example of entropy. The worst is usually over by lunch, and so it was today. There have been just a few left over grumblings.

The littlest family members seem the most unaffected by the Monday malaise. K. continues to play in his toy kitchen, feeding us a non-stop stream of 'food' which he has lovingly prepared. We are hearing new words everyday, the newest being 'wummy' (yummy). For the past couple of meals, he has announced to me that this 'food wummy, Mommy!' It's hard not to smile at that even on the Monday-est of Mondays.

And a couple of baby pictures for the grandparents (and anyone else who likes to follow the babies' progress.)



Thursday, November 05, 2009

Attachment revisted

Before we brought TM home, I read a lot about adoption and attachment. I knew the signs of anxious attachment; I knew a whole bunch of activities to foster attachment; and I knew that it was unlikely our new son would immediately fall head over heels in love with us. These were important things to know, but something vital was missing in everything I had read. All of these things dealt with the attachment of the child to the new parent; very little was mentioned about the attachment of the parent to the new child. It never occurred to me that this was something to be concerned about. I liked children, I loved my children, our new son was, by all reports, handsome and intelligent, why would there be a problem?

As I waited for our paperwork to slowly make it way through the layers of bureaucracy, I continued to read about adoption and read accounts of other's adoption experiences. Most of these accounts were of the 'hearts and butterflies' variety...the new parents fell instantaneously in love with their new child, and aside from a few bumps here and there, life seemed to be heading to happily ever afterward. While I certainly didn't go looking for the hard stories, they were not easy to just come across either. From what I knew as we headed out on our first adoption journey, parents fall in love with children, but children may take a while to fall in love with parents.

This all goes to explain why I was completely blindsided by what actually happened. Not only did I not fall instantaneously in love with my new son, his difficult transition made it very difficult for me to even like him. And because I didn't know that parents can have as much difficulty attaching to children, I also had a heaping dose of guilt and failure to go along with these incredibly unexpected feelings. We all made it through those traumatic first weeks, though I'm convinced it was solely through God's grace that we did so, and back on home soil, TM and I began a dance together that would eventually make us truly mother and son.

My first inkling that what I was experiencing was more normal than anyone let on was coming across an essay by Melissa Fay Green, where she described her first experience with adoption. Finally, someone who described what I had been feeling! Perhaps there wasn't something wrong with me. I have since had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Green and was able to thank her for her life-saving essay. My autographed copy is not something I'll be parting with. As I began to mention my difficulties with this part of adoption, I slowly began to hear other's difficult journeys which all began to sound remarkably similar. The theme running through all of them was the burning, gut wrenching question of, "Will I ever love this child as they deserve to be loved?"

In the beginning of my relationship with TM, I was convinced that it was his attachment which needed all the work. If I could just get him to the right place, then I would be able to fall in love with him. I'm a bit embarrassed to admit it took me a very long time to realize that focusing on my attachment to him was just as important. As I look back over the past few years, I am struck by how much emotion follows action. The more I behaved as though I loved TM, the more love I was able to actually feel. I needed to hug and kiss him, play games with him, smile at him, and think positive thoughts about him just as much as he needed me to do those things. Even today, I must be vigilant to be sure we both experience positive is too easy to fall into old patterns.

So, if these experiences are actually quite common, why don't we, as an adoption community talk about it more and more openly? I notice on blogs and message boards, that it is not a subject commonly talked about, but if someone asks a question about it (and often that someone is feeling horrible and ashamed because of their feelings), the flood gates open and story after story comes out about how it wasn't all rainbows and happy trees at first. Let's cut to the chase. It can be hard to learn to love a child you have adopted, especially one that is past babyhood. It takes time. And by time, I don't mean a few weeks or even a few months. I'm talking years. I think we get impatient and expect everything to fall into place right away, but how often does that happen with anything?

If you're wondering how TM and I are doing these days, I can honestly say we're doing well. There are still times we butt heads, but perhaps because in many ways we are remarkably similar. For better or worse, I think TM is as stubborn as I am, and it's not always pretty. But I love him...really, truly love him...stubbornness and all. A few months ago I had a dream which was very telling. In my dream I discovered that we were merely TM's foster family and that in a few days he would be leaving to join his adoptive family. I was devastated. I couldn't figure out how this could happen. I thought I was going to get to see him grow up and always be a part of our family. It was one of those dreams where I cried and cried; the kind that are a relief to wake from. It was a great relief to wake from this particular dream, both to know that it wasn't real and to know that I had finally found a permanent place in my heart for this little boy.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Render unto Caesar

I don't want to write this post because writing it down makes me admit to myself that this is reality. Our county's property tax bills came last week. (They were several months late, but that's a different story.) And because our tax bill came that means we need to pay it; which we can...this time. This house has always been a stretch for us, but now for various reasons, it appears to have become too much. When we moved in 8 years ago, the taxes were already outrageously high (especially when compared to other parts of the country), but they were doable if we were very careful with our money. But in the past couple of years, our property taxes have doubled. Even if we were to only eat beans for meals there is no way we can pay them on a continuing basis. And now with the poor performance of the stock market, we are at the end of our resources. This leaves us with several options (and I am thankful we have options):

1. One of us finds a winning lottery ticket on the ground. (I'm not buying one you know.)

2. J. is able to find another job in the area which will allow us to stay in this house.

3. J. stays at his current job and we sell this house (probably at a net loss given the market) and buy something smaller that we can afford.

4. J. finds a job elsewhere, we sell this house and we move.

I like #1 the best, but, sadly it is the one which would be the most miraculous. Given the current job market, #3 seems the most likely. I spend my days alternately being devastated that we have to leave this house and being devastated that we own this house and wanting to get rid of it. It is the definition of a money pit. Much of it is tied up with my memories of J.'s mom. She loved this house and it was through her love and generosity that we were even able to buy it in the first place. She often spoke of how perfect it would be when J. and I were older and all of our children and grandchildren came home to visit. I think it is our inability to fulfill this wish of hers that makes me most sad.

Moving will also change my life considerably. One reason we chose this house was its location. It is very close to everything and I have become spoiled. My older children can walk or ride their bikes to everything they need to get to and we live within walking distance of church. There is no need for me to get in my car for anything during the week except to go grocery shopping. And the only reason I need to do that is because I'm unwilling to pay the prices at the store within walking distance. But all this convenience comes with a price and our taxes reflect this. I don't look forward to the day when I have to go back to driving my children everywhere they need to be.

I ask for your prayers as we consider what we need to do. I also ask for your prayers for me and my ability to negotiate this change with peace and grace. Because I have to admit I'm not filled with peace at the moment. Right now the only bright spot for me is the thought of someday living out from under this financial guillotine which is where we are currently residing.

The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The weekend, part 3

And now we're back to Friday. The day began with a little pumpkin carving...



A., K., and P.

In the evening, it was then time to move on to celebrating TM's birthday. His actual birthday is the 31st, but with everything else going on that day, I think it's nice to celebrate it on its own the night before. TM turned 7, and has now celebrated more birthdays with us than with anyone else. Our children get to choose what kind of birthday cake/pie they want and this year TM chose a chocolate cheesecake. There are no candles on it; B. is following me holding some for TM to blow out. Have you ever tried to put candles in a cheesecake? Don't.

Here is TM before he opened his gifts. His wants were very simple this year. He asked for a kick stand for his bike and pudding. Yes, pudding, the pre-made kind that comes in a little plastic container. My children think pre-made snacks are kind of exciting because we never have them.

TM received his pudding, but not the kick stand. (The store J. was shopping at was out.) But we went the kick stand one better and gave him a skateboard. TM has been in love with skateboards since he came home at three, but since self-control has been an issue we've never felt comfortable with him having one. He has matured a lot and we decided to try it. You can see how much he liked it by his smile. We'll see if we live to regret the thing.

This has been TM's best birthday yet. The time surrounding his birthday has always been a bit difficult. Something about the anniversary causes some regression in the behavior department, and this year was no different. But it was better than past years and by the time the actual day he had regained most of his equilibrium and the celebration was very calm and enjoyable. In fact the whole weekend, as nutty as it was, was navigated with nary a great big noisy fit.

Anniversaries involving TM always cause me to think about what we've been through together. Consequently, I've been thinking a lot about attachment these days. Not about TM to us, but about me to TM. Discussions about attachment always feel a little one sided in the adoption world, and I think more needs to be said about adults attaching to children. But I'll save that for later in the week.

Monday, November 02, 2009

The weekend, part 2

Here's the whole gang in their costumes. My life was made much easier by the fact that four children chose costumes that were already made. That would be L. as a bunny, K. as a Dalmatian, D. as a lion, and TM as a frog. G. was a butterfly, wearing the first purchased costume any of my children have worn. But it was cute, I needed another baby costume, and I bought it at a rummage sale. P. and A. had new costumes. P. was a chimney sweep, which only required me turning a thrifted suit coat into a tail coat. A. was having difficulty deciding what to be, so decided to go as a chimney to accompany P. (Her head is supposed to be the smoke.) This required no work on my part, since long ago J. and I divvied up costume making into two parts: I do all sewing and he does all constructing. Chimneys definitely fall into the construction category. M. and B. were not in traditional costumes because they had other plans for the evening...

They and five of their friends decided since they were really too old to go door to door, they would put on a show in the front yard for the passers-by. They choose four fairy tales, which they rewrote into small one-act plays. The week before they rehearsed and made props and costumes and most of Saturday they created the stage. It was quite ingenious. Two sheets were used as both a backdrop and a scrim and they had four flood lights...two to light up the action and two to create shadows on the scrim. They also had a stand to tell what play was being performed:

And a hat to take donations...of candy:

The whole project was a great success. They learned to time it so that when a crowd was coming toward them, they would start. Once the audience was caught, they usually stayed for at least two scenes. Even though it was a bit chilly, the 7 of them performed from 4 until 7. (In case you're curious, this works because our neighborhood seems to be a 'destination' area for children in search of candy. We passed out over 350 pieces Saturday night...and that was even carefully doling it out one at a time. We definitely have the masses to supports roaming audiences.)

And because I think they're just too cute. Here are a couple more gratuitous pictures of the babies:

Sunday, November 01, 2009

We survived the weekend!

I'm still standing...well, at least sitting upright. In the past three days we've celebrated a birthday, driven 5 children to another birthday party, trick-or-treated (the youngers), produced dramatic forms of fairy tales on the front lawn (the olders), finished 2 baby dresses, hemmed 1 pair of pants, ironed three shirts, made a triple chocolate cheesecake, made 2 carrot cakes, had a baptism/christening/dedication for three children, hosted dinner for 28, hosted a luncheon for 33....on top of the regular weekend the house, doing laundry, teaching Sunday school. Are you tired yet? I'm a bit worn-out myself. It was all great fun and I have lots of pictures which I'll share over the next few days. I wouldn't want to do it every weekend, though.

I'll take it one event at a time, starting with the most recent. K. and the baby girls behaved admirable during the service. We even managed to connect the right name to the right child. I did have moments where I worried we would get the girls confused. But, on to what you really

The whole family after the service.

It's a party! Some of the 33...24 of whom were children.

K. -- He's wearing the outfit we bought in Danang, VN when we adopted TM. TM wore this when he was baptized.

G. on left and L. on right

Moments later when they tired of the paparazzi.

The much labored over dresses...remember you can click on the picture to make it bigger, Mom. For all of you who sew out there, I am inordinately proud of those little, bitty, teeny, weeny set in sleeves.

Close up of the bodice of L.'s dress.

Close up of the hem of G.'s dress.
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