Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Confused Noise

"What I say," said Eeyore, "is that it's unsettling. I didn't want to come on this Expo -- what Pooh said. I only came to oblige. But here I am; and if I am the end of the Expo -- what we're talking about -- then let me be the end. But if, every time I want to sit down for a little rest, I have to brush away half a dozen of Rabbit's smaller friends-and-relations first, then this isn't an Expo -- whatever it is -- at all, it's simply a Confused Noise."  (From Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne)

This was part of the chapter that I read to G. and L. at naptime today and it pretty much sums up my morning. It was simply a Confused Noise. You (the parent) decide it is a grand day to set out on an expedition (learn new things, do projects, play outside, etc.) and all that happens is you end up brushing away small creatures all morning who are making lots of noise.

The other quote that nearly made me laugh out loud was:

"Hallo, Rabbit," he [Pooh] said, "is that you?"
"Let's pretend it isn't," said Rabbit, "and see what happens."
"I've got a message for you."
"I'll give it to him."

Just replace the name 'Mommy' for Rabbit and it, too, will give you a sense of the morning.

The type of morning which leaves one edgy and grumpy and for which there is no one moment that can be pinpointed as to the cause. It's doubly aggravating when the sun is shining, the doors are open, and it's the first day that I am not wearing an extra cardigan.

It's now quiet time. I will do my best to regroup, then maybe do some picking up, and see what I can salvage from the day.


Monday, April 29, 2013

The desire to look like everyone else

We went in to the plastic surgeon's office this morning so they could check how H. is doing. The drains are still in for a couple more days, though the nurse redid the dressing holding them so that they were more comfortable. It turns out that not only are they redirecting excess liquid, but the suction that they cause is helping to keep the skin in place so that it can better remain in place. (Sorry if that is a bit too gruesome...)

We also seem to be past the point where they are concerned about infection and are switching from keeping the sutures covered with Bacitracin to using Aquafore. Evidently Aquafore is the plastic surgeon's best friend and it should help with the itching as the sutures heal and will also help the healing process in general, cutting down on scarring. The nurse went on and on about all the ways she uses it and we may also try using it on K.'s incredibly dry hands.

H.'s face is still very, very swollen, which I sort of knew (her eye is evidently very swollen), but her cheek is about the same size that it normally is so I guess I wasn't interpreting that as swollenness. It is amazing to think that it actually is and that over the course of a couple of weeks it will reduce in size dramatically. Then, even after the initial swelling has left, it will continue to lesson over the course of months. I am eager to watch the transformation.

How is H. emotionally dealing with all of this? Well, first of all she is a very resilient child. This can't be enjoyable and must be very uncomfortable and painful, but she continues to accept what comes her way with a good nature. Every so often yesterday she was a little grumpy, but considering what she's been through it's completely understandable. I'm surprised the grumpiness is as little as it is. I don't think she believes us when we tell her that her face will look good again. She has now described her right eye as her 'pretty eye' and I wonder if she really thinks that her left eye will never look good again. That kind of breaks my heart. What must it be like to have had surgery that you don't completely understand, thinking to the best of your ability that it is going to make you look better, only to discover that you think you look worse than before?

Yet the desire to look like everyone else and to like what you see in the mirror is very, very strong. More strong than I think those of us who have normal faces realize. As we were waiting for the nurse to come back into the waiting room, H. points to the place on her forehead that still has bone overgrowth and several rough nevi and says she wants that fixed, too. I didn't answer immediately because I was too overcome. To have gone through significant surgery that is only just beginning to heal and going on the promise (which you may or not believe) that what they've already done is going to look good, and sit there and request more so that your face doesn't look different any more to me... well it's staggering. Stop for a moment and be thankful that your face is normal.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

How about something different?

H. continues to slowly heal, though her eye is still tightly swollen shut and she does NOT like it. The best comment of the day came this morning from K., who looked at H. and announced, "Hey! I didn't know that H.'s cheek looked just like everybody else's!" He was looking at the repaired side, and being able to overlook the sutures realized that it didn't look all that different anymore. Of course, I think he missed the whole surgery-thing, but he probably wasn't paying all that much attention because it didn't have to do with cars in any form. Sometimes he can be happily clueless.

But what continues to roll around in my head in between my nursing efforts on one hand and my referee career on the other is the book The Boy Who Would be a Helicopter by Vivian Gussin Paley, which I read while H. was in surgery. I still don't have anything coherent to say, but wanted to share a couple of the great many quotes I wrote down from it.

(Some background. It is written by a preschool teacher who uses children's story telling as the basis for learning in her classroom. At first glance, it might not seem a deeply interesting subject, but it is her conclusions that she draws from her years of observing children that I find so fascinating.)

So, just a few quotes for you to chew on as well...

Gail [one of the author's assistants] is already leafing through a dictionary. "Here," she says." 'Perseveration: continuation of something to an exceptional degree or beyond a desired point.' Okay, next. 'Persevere: to persist in a state, enterprise, or undertaking in spite of counter influences, opposition, or discouragement.'"

Trish [another of the author's assistants] looks worried. "Then is it only a matter of semantics? All these terms I'm learning, are they just arbitrary - uh, made-up...? I mean, don't these problems slow a child down?"

"Look Trish [spoken by the author], I'll admit I've little faith in your lists of so-called learning disabilities. But, in any case, none of the labels apply in a classroom that sees children as storytellers. These labels don't describe the imagination. A storyteller is always in the strongest position; to be known by his or her stories puts the child in the most favorable light."

Trish jumps up. "Of course! I really do see what you mean. How can a storyteller be fast or slow?"

And this...

Furthermore, these same children, who argue so ferociously over equal distribution of blocks and cookies and pink paint, defend a classmate's right to display unusual characteristics and make unreasonable demands. The children's concept of fairness is not limited by conformity; they want the equal opportunity to demand special treatment. It is unfair for Jason to disrupt a story, but he has the right to be the only one who builds a story room heliport.

One last one...

That [the boy building his heliport so that he could tolerate being in the story room] was one way of solving this diminishing problem. It worked for a while and then created problems of its own.

This is nearly always the way. Problems are not meant to be solved. They are ours to practice on, to explore and possibilities with, to help us study cause and effect. Important issues can't be solved with one grand plan - or in one school year. Some are worked at for a lifetime, returning in different disguises, requiring fresh insights.

Play itself is the practicing of problems.

I take it back. This is the last one, but it's short.

Those of us who presume to "teach" must not imagine that we know how each student begins to learn.

I highly recommend the book if you have or with with children. Just lots and lots to think about. And I didn't even get into the section on the time-out chair.

Friday, April 26, 2013

And we're all home

Evidently late at night is my new blog posting time... at least for the time being.

H. had a good night last night, though I'm sure how much sleep J. actually got between the frequent vitals taking and the glow from the light that wouldn't turn off. I, on the other hand, slept better than I had in a week. It makes me realize I was probably much more stressed about everything than I realized because if it's one thing I excel at, it's sleeping.

By late morning, H. was cleared to leave the hospital and I drove up and brought everyone back home. She was quite ready to leave the hospital. I had prepared all of her brothers and sisters for her appearance and while they were curious (especially about the two drainage tubes), they handled it all just fine. Even some of the younger ones commented that both sides of her face look the same now. Which is pretty darn observant of them to be able to see past all the sutures, but also says a lot about the scope of what was accomplished.

People have all been wondering about her pain level. So far, it doesn't seem too bad. She is uncomfortable definitely. She can't open her (good) eye, so her sight is rather impaired for the time being and she doesn't feel comfortable moving her mouth very much. There have been a couple of times that she has said it hurts, but after a dose of the pain reliever it seems manageable again. Because of her experience in institutions, we are taking even the slightest complaint about pain very seriously. Often institutionalization teaches a child to never complain or show they are hurt, and H. very rarely complains about injuries or not feeling well until it is at such a proportion that she can't ignore it. So, we figure if she is complaining about it hurting, then it must be REALLY hurting. She is more likely to talk if she is feeling comfortable (she is a bit of a chatter-box), so we are using that as an indication of comfort as well.

TM and ran to the store today to stock up on supplies I didn't know I needed, such as soft foods, especially pudding and applesauce. This is what she want to eat right now, though she also ate a scrambled egg and some spaghetti cut up very small. I'm hoping that tomorrow I can convince her to go back to swallowing her pills because it can't taste very good to eat them crushed in pudding. (Though I'm mighty enamored of the pill crusher we came home from the hospital with.) Tomorrow I need to run out to the thrift store and find some button down shirts for H. There is no way to put anything over your head when your face is covered with sutures and your head is wrapped in bandages to hold the drains in place. The clothing implications just never occurred to me.

And H. is starting to realize how things are different. This afternoon, she was realizing that her lips are a significantly different size. "My lips are small," is what she has repeated over and over. Sutures aside, watching her, it seems a little like a baby trying out body parts; as though she needs to figure out these lip-things all over again. And depending on what the nerves are doing, it may very well be that this is what she needs to do.

I'm glad tomorrow is Saturday and everyone will be home. Some members of the family were feeling just a little unbalanced with the coming and going and the unknowns of surgery and it will be good to have a day where we all just relax. Well, relax and change drainage tubes and give much medication and apply antibiotic ointment. For the record, nursing and doctoring never made it to my top 10 professions that I ever imagined myself doing. We just never know what paths our children are going to lead us down.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Surgery update

I'm pooped, but want to take advantage of the quiet moment between putting small people to bed and crashing into bed myself to give you all a slightly longer version of H.'s surgery today.

First, thank you all so much for your prayers. They were definitely felt and the whole day went smoothly. I, who tend to be a bit of a worrier, felt calm for the entire day. The biggest plus is that the surgeons were able to do more than they had hoped, but more on that in a bit.

We ended up being the first scheduled surgery, which meant that we needed to be at the hospital (which is 30 minutes away with no traffic) at 6 am. This worked out well, despite it being long before my typically functioning time because there was really no waiting period for H. We woke her up, she got dressed, and we left.

Once at the hospital we got checked in and were waiting for the parade of  doctors and nurses to begin the pre-op routine when we look up to discover a long time friend walking into our room. This dear friend is a doctor at the hospital and took a few moments to stop by, say hi, and offer some encouragement. (She also made a point to check in with us and with H. at various points in her day as her schedule allowed.) It was the perfect way to begin a stressful day of surgery and was much appreciated.

H. was very calm about the whole thing, even a little excited, until the doctor and nurse parade started to increase and more and more medical-type things were beginning to happen. We could watch her face as the reality of what was about to happen began to register. Thankfully, the amount of time between this dawning realization and the taking of the Versed was very short, so she only had a short amount of time of feeling anxious.

At 7:40 we kissed H. good-by and she was wheeled into surgery and we went to begin our long camp-out in the surgical waiting room. I have decided that I am a little bit phobic about the idea of being stuck some place and not having anything to do. When I was packing this morning, I kept adding things to the bag "just in case I had time to get to them". Eventually I ended up with my kindle, two other books, some notes for future writing projects, a laptop (which never did connect to the wi-fi), and two knitting projects. Even though we were in the waiting room without news until 12:15, I was able to focus and actually be productive. (I ended up reading and taking pages of notes on the book, The Boy Who Would be a Helicopter: the uses of storytelling in the classroom by Vivian Gussin Paley. It is an absolutely fascinating book and has launched dozens of new thoughts and ideas into my head. I'm sure you you will be hearing much about it in the future once I get them all sorted out. My thoughts, that is.) Jud worked on writing papers for his doctoral program. Poor guy... that's all he ever gets to do these days.

At 12:15 the two surgeons came in to tell us how surgery had gone. H. had done very well and both doctors were very pleased with what they were able to accomplish. Among the tasks accomplished they removed the left cheek bone and orbital (the bottom part of it anyway) and reshaped them and then grafted them back in, realigned her left eye to match her right eye, removed some more bony mass above her nose, removed some of the nevus which was above her nose, removed the excess tissue which was on her cheek, remove the excess tissue that was part of her mouth, reshape her mouth, and slightly straighten the line of her nose. It was a lot and more than I was thinking they could do.

They were going to allow her to sleep in the recovery area for another hour or so before even trying to wake her up, so J. and I took advantage of the time and ran and had some lunch as well as make a few phone calls. Not long afterwards we were both able to join H. in the recovery area as the nurses began to wake her up.

I'm not sure you can be quite prepared for how your child will look after significant facial surgery. I'd seen post-op photos of other people, but it's still not the same as looking at your own child. I will admit to a moment or two of deep breathing because at first glance one's reaction is, "Oh my goodness, what have they done to my child!?" And then the second thought that flits through ones head, at least if they happen to be a parent of a child who is currently rehearsing the part of Jonathan in Arsenic and Old Lace is, "Oh my goodness, that would be excellent make-up for the Jonathan role." (And are then immediately ashamed of yourself. But evidently not so ashamed that you don't then share it with the whole world.) And then, once those two reactions are out of the way is to start to really look past the dozens and dozens of stitches and the terribly swollen eye and mouth and skin and realize your child is going to look very, very different from now on. It looks like you child, but it doesn't look like your child all at the same time. You also start to think it is going to look really good once it heals and that your child is going to be pleased. At least you hope so because you still aren't sure what her expectations were to begin with.

And then you realize that you need to stop talking about yourself in the third person and get on with telling the story. (I'm feeling a little punchy right about now.)

We spent about an hour in post-op, all the while H. would wake up a little bit, give a little wave with the hand not wrapped up because of the IV, and then fall immediately back to sleep. At one point when the nurse asked her if she would like a Popsicle she woke up a lot more and was interested in the first lick of the Popsicle and then went back to sleep again. She was not very much more wakeful when she was moved to a room.

As she was rolled into the room, she woke up enough to pay a little attention to the floor nurses who joined us. One of them greeted her and she valiantly tried to smile and wave at them. This, of course, immediately endeared her to every last one of them. I imagine that by the time I get back to the hospital tomorrow she will have them all wrapped around her little finger. She is that kind of girl... a sweetheart whom everyone loves.

Finally after an hour more of sleeping, she woke up and told us she wanted to watch a movie. The nurse was also able to give her some applesauce with a syringe and some sips of apple juice. Which seemed like a really good thing... until it wasn't. She currently has a lot of drainage going on. There are two drains in the side of her face and there was a lot of drainage down her throat during surgery that ended up in her stomach. Consequently her stomach was not so excited about the food and drink as everyone else and she was immediately sick. (I've mentioned before, I think, about how devastating H. finds it to throw up. It is the only time she cries.) So this made for a very unhappy little girl. The nurse and I helped her to the bathroom and got her cleaned up. She walked pretty well, all things considering, though we kept a good grip on her. By the time we got her back in bed she didn't want to watch the movie and soon fell asleep.

This is where I left her (and J.) and came home to take care of everyone else. Because, of course, we have more children than H. They were great, which is no small feat considering the number and personalities and the stress involved in the whole thing. We said good-by to those who needed to say good-by to us when we left in the morning and woke B. up telling him he was now in charge and then they all went back to sleep. The plan (which worked) was they they would all wake up at a more appropriate hour, eat breakfast (a treat of cold cereal), get people dressed, pack some schoolwork in bags, and then B. would drive them all to our very good friend the H-S family. There they spent the day with B. going back home occasionally to take care of Gretel. They had a wonderful time and J. and I are forever grateful for the very good friends that we have.

I had left instructions for what to put in the crock pot before they left in the morning so they could eat when they got home and I came home not too long after that. J. and I decided that it was best that I come home both because he functions far better than I on interrupted sleep and TM functions best when I'm around.

So now I'm home, the younger set have had storied read to them and are in bed, the older set are camped out and watching a movie, and I am going to bid you all a good night and see if I can manage to climb the stairs and get myself into bed before I lose consciousness.

I'll update more tomorrow as we see how H. progresses, but don't expect pictures for a week or so. She has stitch line encircling her left eye and running from her left eyebrow, down the side of her nose, angling over to the corner of her mouth and then out to the side of her cheek, plus some running along the inside of her bottom lip. It really isn't a pretty sight and I can't imagine her 14yo self being happy that I posted them for everyone to see.

Thank you all again for your prayers and support, they mean so, so much to us.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Dealing with fear

A couple of years ago I spent a lot of time thinking about how to become less fearful and more serene. I stopped mentioning it not because I have been successful but because it seems like such a life long project that to write continually about it would become tedious for the reader. But the idea is ever present in my mind and has caused me to think critically about how I am feeling at any given moment.

My great conclusion is that we humans operate from a place of fear more often than we are even aware of. I really think that so much of our emotion and reaction is fear-based and that much of the time we aren't even aware of the fearfulness that lies underneath. I find dealing with a root cause to be so much more effective than trying to change the surface problem.

What has really brought this to mind this past week has been my ongoing attachment with H. I have mentioned before how it does not come easily or naturally, and possibly the most frustrating part of it is that she is a loving and sweet girl and it would seem that there is no cause for my attachment problems. It is frustrating to have no definite cause on top of everything else. And I talk with a lot of adoptive parents, this is not unusual, but seems to be fairly common. (So if you are reading this and I have discussed these things with you, rest assured that I have had nearly the exact same conversation with others as well.) But as I think about what is going on, I have come to a conclusion, my difficulty (and here I'm speaking for myself, though it may be useful for others) really has fear at the root of it.

What started me down this path was to start to analyse the different ways I think about each of my children. Some of those children I became immediately attached to when they were born, others the attachment grew over time, but for all of them I see them through the lens of love and am able to overlook their sometimes odd and potentially annoying quirks. Because I love them, those quirks, which I realized could be truly annoying to an outsider, are just those little things that make each child unique and that I find just a little bit charming. I am not afraid of those quirks because most of them are because they are young and I know that they will not grow up and still act like a very young child. I can overlook the quirks because I am not afraid of them.

And then I thought about H. She, too, has a lot of quirks. Many of them are due to learning a new language and changing cultures and learning to live in a family. Many others of them are due to being developmentally behind where most 10 year olds are. There are many quirks. And my great revelation was that, whether I acknowledged it or not, I was actually afraid of all the quirks that she exhibits. Afraid that she would have them all her life. Afraid that she would never really adjust to her new environment. Afraid that life was never going to change. Afraid. Afraid. Afraid.

When you are reacting from fear, it does some odd things. Because the behavior you are seeing is causing you fear, the behavior is what you fixate on. It becomes a greater problem than it really is. What we are afraid of, we fixate on. We either spend all of our time thinking about it or spend all of our time avoiding it. Either way, it takes all of our energy. When you are spending all of your energy dealing with fear about a child, it is very difficult to focus on the actual child.

To pinpoint what was actually going on was actually a relief. I have always been disturbed by why I felt as I did without having a real reason behind it. Being able to name my fears has helped me to set them aside. And I have to say that the past week has been incredibly pleasant, but yet nothing about H. has changed. I have, though. I realize that I was reacting to behavior way above what was called for because I wasn't just seeing the behavior, but seeing the behavior in terms of forever. Instead of seeing an endearing quirk that would probably pass, I was seeing something set and permanent. Fear was truly making mountains out of mole hills. (It often does.) I know we still have a ways to go, but this has been a big change for me and one that I can already feel is making a huge difference in my emotional feelings for my child.

Fear is something that has always been a constant issue for me, and I know it won't be going away anytime soon. But this is why everyone needs to read the Winnie-the-Pooh books. It was Winnie-the-Pooh who helped me take my first step toward managing it. Piglet is a very timid little character and is constantly worrying about what might happen. He expresses a particular worry to Pooh, who then asks very matter-of-factly, "But what if it doesn't?"

As parents we often spend an awful lot of time worrying and being fearful about so many things that could possibly happen or not happen to our children. I think we all need to take a page from Winnie-the-Pooh and ask ourselves, "But what if it doesn't?" Do we want to spent far too long being fearful about what will never happen or do we want to enjoy our children right now?

"Do no fear for I am with you, do not be afraid for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand." Isaiah 41:10

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Opened a can of worms I did

I don't really want to address all of this, but since I'm a bit stuck on it and won't be able to rest easily until I do, I guess I have to. Probably most of you are scratching your heads wondering what the heck I'm dithering about. A few days ago I posted a link to a friend's post on facebook (that wonder of misunderstanding). I mentioned that I thought she did a great job with what she wrote. And I still think so. I agree with the focus of her post that there are hurting children all over the world who desperately need families to love them and most people are willing to turn a blind eye to the situation.

The trouble comes because what started her ponderings on the subject was the now fairly infamous article in Mother Jones about Evangelical adoption. And I'm afraid some people may have mistaken what I intended to communicate. (And truly, nothing puts me in a dither faster than feeling as though I've been misunderstood.) As a result, I really feel the need to clarify a few things, and then perhaps I can get a good night's sleep again.

First, in full disclosure, I will say that I am a long-time reader of Above Rubies magazine. Even though it has been labelled a fringe publication, I actually know an awful lot of women who do read it. I find most of it to be very supportive and encouraging as a mother whose main focus is creating a home and raising my (many) children. It is a nice reprieve to read something that does not tacitly call one's life choices into question. With that said, my reaction to the Mother Jones article may surprise some of you.

Second, very little of this will make much sense unless you have already read the article and/or are familiar with Above Rubies.

So here goes...

If I were to sum up my feelings about this article, it would be one of extreme sadness about all of it. There are absolutely no winners in this particular story, but I think the story in general has a lot to say to all of us.

I am saddened because of the children (and the families, too) who were hurt. I was one of those readers who was increasingly disturbed by the inexplicably missing children. From my own personal experiences with adoption, I knew that something was going on and it was most likely not good. I have no reason to doubt most of what the article describes. Adopting a child (much less four or more) from a very hurt place is incredibly difficult. It is challenging in a way that nothing can truly prepare you for. And without proper education before hand, and huge amounts of support afterwards it can break you. What started out as something with good motives can become something truly horrendous.

I am saddened because it highlights the collective silence that has typified adoption discussions in the Christian community. Why are we afraid to talk about the hard stuff? To read much of Christian adoption related writing, it gives the impression that a family's love is all it takes; that giving a child a family will make everything better; that the child will immediately become 'yours'; that you take the giant leap of faith and bring a hurting child into your home and everyone will live happily every afterwards. And then when many families find out that this isn't the real story they react in one of a few ways. Either they feel incredible guilt and shame because their reality doesn't match the given story line, or they try to force the child to conform to the story line with devastating effect, or they give up and sometimes become opposed to adoption. The end result is the same with each... broken families, (more) broken children, and a whole lot of hurt and betrayal. If we Christians were brave enough to tell the whole truth at the beginning, we could stem some of this from happening. What are we afraid of? We are told to have no fear about anything, yet we behave quite otherwise.

I am saddened because of the tendency of Evangelicals to close ranks and not look at a problem objectively. I have seen several blog posts trying in some way to excuse the travesty which happened. If a publication such as Mother Jones (which isn't known as being terribly sympathetic to conservative Christianity) has the word 'Evangelical' in the title of an article, then it seems there must be a knee-jerk reaction against it. This is ridiculous and does nothing to change a certain segment of the population's assumption that Christians (at least those of the conservative variety) are unthinking sheep who are incapable of critical thought processes. A much, much better (and possibly more Christian) reaction would be to look at the facts of a case such as this and call sin, sin. None of us is without sin and we are told to go to a brother or sister who is in sin and call them to account. Then we are to lovingly restore them to fellowship in the body if they repent. To look at the modern church, no one would get the idea that this concept is even in the Bible. We actually stink at this. If we were all honest about our sin (there's that whole truth-thing again), then it would probably say a whole lot more to the world at large than our silence.

I am saddened because in the end, it is the children who will be hurt by this. I can see it in the comments on things already. The take-away message is that adoption is just not a good thing. By focusing on a tragic and somewhat sensational case, the writer did ignore the thousands of families who have adopted children, yes, some from very hard places, and are making it work. The children are healing and even thriving. Many children are alive because they would have died if left in institutions. Many, many children are happy in the adoptive families. Our H. is definitely one of these. She is old enough to remember the before and after of having a family and she has told us that a family is far better. She is happy here. But happiness doesn't sell magazines or get shared on facebook or get hits on the web.

I am saddened.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Night at the museum

Last night we went to the Member's Open House at the Field Museum. In my opinion, being able to go to this event is worth the membership cost all by itself. They open up the entire museum, even the back areas and floors you don't normally get to see and you can wander at will. There are also activities and things to do and watch. It's just very, very cool and something we all enjoy. (Plus, the Field Museum has one of the few actual family memberships. When we purchase a family membership we are all invited to come and not just the few number of children which are deemed appropriate.) 

In the main hall there were a lot of very cool puppets and marionettes. I was particularly struck with this one (and took a lot of pictures for M. who is rather fond of large-scale puppets). It's a cheetah that was worked by a combination of strings which were attached to the puppeteer's head and rods which the puppeteer held. The strings wen from the puppet's head to the person's head so that however the person moved it was mimicked by the puppet. The rods moved the front legs. Very ingenious and fascinating.

Everyone liked it a lot and we spent a long time looking at it and petting it.

This was going to be a very, very cute picture of L. and K. smiling and petting the puppet, but just as I was pushing the shutter, they decided they were done and walked away. Darn.

Then we wandered around seeing different exhibits. We saw a special exhibit on bio-luminescence  we looked at some of the Native American cases, some of us watched them work on mounting mammal specimens (which was basically dissection), and some of us didn't. Our family is pretty split on such things. The majority find it very, very interesting and there is a small minority that cannot handle even the mention of how it works. Even though I find it interesting, I took the more squeamish ones somewhere else.

We wandered up to the third floor to the plants department because B. is all about all things plants. It actually was a good place to end up because evidently not everyone is terribly interested in plants and it was pleasingly empty. They had a station where you could mount some pressed flower specimens.  Here is L. carefully applying glue to her flower.

And I made a happy discovery. Years ago, I signed-up to be part of the Harris Loan program. At that time, only schools could join and they allowed homeschoolers to take part. For a small fee, you could check out learning boxes and display cases of specimens. We loved this. At one point we were working on a unit study based on the book, The Swiss Family Robinson, so we checked out several things in relation to this. There was a coconut learning box which contained materials and specimens relating to all things coconut that we could look at and touch and do. And at one point in the book it mentions either a falcon or a kestrel (I can't remember exactly), but we were able to check out a specimen to bring home. It was very cool to be able to bring home a big wood and glass museum case with a preserved (ie stuffed) specimen inside. The children spent a lot of time studying it and trying to draw it in the month that we had it.

Then we started to do other things and I let my membership lapse because I didn't have the time to drive down to the museum once a month to drop off and pick up. When I remembered it again and checked into it, I was told it was no longer a functioning program. I was pretty sad about it. So imagine my joy when I walked into another room with the squeamish trio and discovered it was the headquarters of the newly reopened Harris loan program! Everything about it was the same, though they have redone many of their loan materials. I signed up then and there and we were even able to bring home a learning box, saving me a trip down. (We checked-out "Great Lakes Plant Diversity".)

If you live in the Chicago area, I encourage you to look into this. And it's not only for schools now, private individuals can also sign-up to borrow materials. What's even better is that they have free parking right outside the west entrance specifically for people who are using the loan center making returning and picking-up materials fairly easy.

We had a great time. Everyone held it together, the little girls managed to walk the entire time (with brief rides from B.), potties were used before it was an emergency, and I think everyone learned at least a few new things.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Don't wait!

"It seems to me that whether it is recognized or not, there is a terrific frustration which increases in intensity and harmfulness as time goes on, when people are always daydreaming of the kind of place in which they would like to live, yet never making the place where they do live into anything artistically satisfying to them. Always to dream of a cottage by a brook while never doing anything to the stuffy house in the city is to waste creativity in this very basic area, and to hinder future creativity by not allowing it to grow and develop through use."
         - The Hidden Art of Homemaking by Edith Schaeffer

I put this quote up on the Ordinary Time facebook page yesterday, but I wanted to be sure everyone had a chance to see it. I love this book. If I had to limit my library to a very few volumes, this is one book that would make the cut. If you haven't read it, I encourage you to get a copy and do so.

The idea of not living in the present, but waiting until some fictional, future time to do everything one wants is pervasive in our society. We are all so busy working toward and waiting for this fictional future that we forget to enjoy the present. And more often than not, the fictional future never materializes and we are left with a lot of disappointment. Kind of depressing, huh?

But it doesn't have to be because we can decide to live in our actual present and work with what we have.  It is so tempting to think, "Oh, if only __________ were different then life would be great." Or some variation of this idea. If my kitchen were bigger (nicer, newer, brighter) then I would cook dinner more often. If my yard were sunnier then I would grow my own vegetables. If I had more storage then I would never have to pick up toys again. If my house were bigger (nicer, newer, brighter) then I would invite people over.

Edith Schaeffer is reminding us to something about our situation now. That we can use our creative powers to make a home we want to live in and have it be the actual home we are living in. Notice she doesn't say spend money to make it nicer, but to use our God-given creative abilities to create a home we can be content with. Sometimes the most satisfying creative endeavors come from using what we have at hand. Sure it would be easier to go out and just buy what we want, but it's not quite as satisfying to my way of thinking.

It is the habits of thought and action that we create now which will determine how we function in our future. If a person suddenly finds themselves with a gourmet kitchen if they haven't developed the habit of cooking, the gourmet kitchen isn't going to suddenly endow them with the skills and desire. If a person does happen to move to a larger home that can easily accommodate guests, without the habit of hospitality inviting people over will still seem scary and intimidating.

Begin to develop the habit of creativity now. How can you make your living space as nice as possible within your time and budget? How can you make your lives as peaceful as possible? How can you do God's work with what you have right now? Do not wait for your external circumstances to be perfect before doing what you long to. Start now. Otherwise you run the chance of looking back and regretting all the lost time while you were waiting to begin your 'real' life.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Embracing the mess

"Tut, tut, it looks like rain" is probably what I should have titled this since it has rained for nearly 24 hours straight around here. No one slept well because of the thunder and J.'s (and M.'s and B.'s) school was closed today because the river it sits next too was flooding the campus. Thankfully, though our side yard is looking a bit bog-like, we are pretty much dry. Stir-crazy, but dry.

School was not cancelled for my children this morning, though, rain or no rain. We did math, I worked with the learning-to-read group, we did an art lesson, A. finished an essay on the 1st amendment and did biology, B. was doing some botany. And in among all of that, the littles played, this time cutting paper into little, tiny scraps. Everyone manages to keep busy during the morning and then suddenly it's lunch. People are sooo hungry that they push the stuff on the table aside and fix lunch. They eat while I read our current chapter book and then it's quiet time.

Ahhhh. Quiet time. Except that by the time quiet time rolls around, I look at the house and every single day it seems as though a tornado has blown through. There are dishes on the counter and table that need to be washed. (I usually save the breakfast dishes until after lunch so that I can start working on school at a more appropriate time.) The remains of craft projects are on the floor. School books lie, well, just about everywhere. Upstairs toys are scattered hither and yon. Did I mention this happens every. single. day?

People ask me what the downsides to homeschooling are. Honestly, in my opinion, there aren't a whole lot, but this is the one that I mention every time. A house that is lived in by people who are interested in a lot of things and who are allowed extended time to play and who are home most of the time gets crazy messy. And apart from strapping children into chairs for the better portion of the day, I just don't see a way around it. A homeschooler's house is used and lived in. And it looks like it.

I am at heart a pretty compulsive, type-A person who likes a place for everything and for everything to be in it's place. I thrive on order (though my desk seems to be the great exception to this rule). Raising and homeschooling so many children has been, um, stretching for me. If I can learn to appreciate a lived-in house, then I'm pretty sure that just about anyone can.

Because most of the time, I do appreciate it. The trick is to focus on the mess-makers and not the mess itself. Paper scraps can be swept up, but it is so worth it to watch a little girl make us of her new-found scissor skill. (And paper is far, far better than pigtails. I know this from experience.) Breakfast and lunch dishes strewn about look really messy, but once again, are easily picked-up. It does mean that people were able to eat (and often without me having to prepare food). And it goes on and on like this. The alternative to having a messy house is to have one that is spotlessly clean, but without the little mess-makers. While I think I would really enjoy a spotlessly clean house (really enjoy it), I think I would miss all my little people.

And we do manage to get much of it put back together by the end of the day. To not have a regular pick-up time would mean that chaos would take over and we might not be able to move around. I work hard at finding a balance between the mess that comes with living and playing and exploring and stopping it before it goes too far. I'm not always successful, but I try.
I have several adoption advocacy related items that I really hope you will read.

The first is to share about this little girl, "Holly".

She had been in foster care, but just over the weekend was transferred back to the orphanage (and not a great orphanage at that). She desperately needs a family. Could this be your daughter?

Next, do you know about Sevenly? They sell clothing, but in order to raise funds for good causes. This week's cause is to help fund adoptions through Reese's Rainbow. Why don't you buy a shirt? Then we can compare and see if we bought the same one.

And last, Brandi still needs a family!

She is 6 years old. She lies in her crib and waits and waits and waits for someone to scoop her up and tell her how loved she is. Just imagine a grin on her face, her hair allowed to grow out. Imagine how transformed she will look when she is loved. Pray that she doesn't have to wait too much longer for her parents to find her. While her file has been sent back to her country, it can be obtained. I can put you in contact with people who can help you do this if you are interested.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

It feels like it might be hope*

*The line is borrowed from the Sara Groves song, "It Might be Hope", which I really, really love.

Since I have shared several times about the tumultuousness of parenting TM on his road to healing, I realized I should update you on how life has been recently. And, praise God, we are seeing glimmers of hope for the healing of his deep, deep wounds. I am experienced enough now to know that we will probably have to go back over old territory more than a few times, but I am also experienced enough now to better appreciate the positive gains that present themselves.

And what are those positives that we are seeing? Well, the first big one is that we have watched him be able to self-regulate better. Things still frustrate him, but he is more likely to remove himself from the situation or redirect himself. This is pretty huge.

We've purposefully done a couple of things to help facilitate that ability. The first, at the recommendation of our therapist, is that we made a caution card. In therapy discussions, we have discovered that we think TM begins to disassociate long before we are aware that we are in dangerous waters. By the time we've made that realization, he is too far gone to even be able to hear us and if we engage too much with him, we just exacerbate the problem. Words just don't work at this point. So we have made something that can be a visual clue which circumnavigates the non-working language parts of the brain so that the information can register. TM and I made it together. We chose a day-glow yellow index card that I drew lightning bolts on. TM wanted me to add the word 'caution' as well. When I show this to him, it indicates that he is heading into dangerous territory and that he needs to take himself away to regroup. I have only had to use it a couple of times, but it seems to help.

The other thing we did was to bite the bullet and buy a weighted blanket. We've known for a long time that he is a sensory seeker and really needs deep muscle input. It helps him to feel that everything is in the right place. I have to say that I wish I had bought one sooner... it has really been a great aid for him. He loves it. When it arrived, we opened the box and he immediately put it around his shoulders and let out a deep sigh. His next statement was illuminating. "I can't be wild when I have this on." He has been sleeping under it at night (and his bed is significantly less like a hurricane hit it in morning) and every so often just sits with it around him during the day. If you have been on the fence about spending the money on one, I encourage you to go ahead and do it.

Another interesting thing I have noticed is that he is interested in verbalizing things more. It's one of the things we're aiming for, in fact. But in the process, I am noticing that he doesn't always have the right word available at the moment he needs it. I can watch him struggle to find the word that he needs. I have been giving him lots of room to find what he wants to say before I jump in and that has helped. He eventually gets to the word he wants, but is makes me wonder.

It makes me wonder if some of the frustration we have seen from him in the past is actually language based. Many children adopted at a young age learn the new language extremely fast. TM was functionally fluent in English after being home just three months. But functionally fluent and actually fluent and able to use the language in an academic fashion are two very different things. Seven years is the number I hear for a child to be able to be academically fluent in a language. At that's at about where we are... 7 years home in July. In conjunction with finding the right word to use to express his thoughts, we have also seen a jump in his reading comprehension, ability, and willingness to read. I know there is so much going on besides language acquisition, but everything is tied in together and a greater facility with language can't hurt.

Another positive we have been seeing is that at least a couple of times TM has expressed a feeling to me. As in, "I feel happy" or "I feel excited". I know this might not seem to be a big deal, but you have to know that in all the time we've been his parents, he has never uttered a statement that expressed how he was feeling. (OK, I take back the never and I'll change it to once. That one time he told me that he loved me.) Part of the way he deals with his past hurts is to cut himself off from what he is feeling. It's not that he doesn't want to share, it's that he has no knowledge of what he is feeling. He just doesn't know the majority of the time. His therapist has been doing a lot of work with naming feelings and we have been doing the same at home. Essentially, I have spent a lot of time naming the feeling that I imagine he is experiencing. Thus, to have him share even once or twice, how he is feeling is kind of big news.

The biggest thing that tells me that life has been a little less rocky around here is the fact that I now go for days on end without my stomach tying itself into knots. It's quite relaxing, actually. And, as the therapist commented when I shared this with her, it can't but help the entire household. She's right. A relaxed mother goes a long way towards helping to create a relaxed household.

Now, life isn't perfect; it never is. We still have a long road to go, but with this respite I feel recharged to continue the battle when the next round comes. And I will remind myself of the positives we've seen. Because sometimes you just need a little hope.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Meander around my brain

I have started and deleted I don't know how many posts today. Either I didn't like the tone or wrote two sentences and discovered I had nothing else to say or the whole thing was so incredibly boring even I didn't want to read it. Among the different topics I didn't write about include the idea of children being seen only as consumers, the benefits of having a wide range of ages in ones children, how a clean sink is the key to wanting to cook, and a little tirade over the movie Stuck and the Hague convention. So many titles, so little content. My brain has been like that today.

Instead, I find myself pondering questions such as why this post about Civics and SB 136 has suddenly been getting so many hits. Or how we could have run out of oatmeal (an item I buy in 50# bags) with still over a month to go before we pick up the next bulk order. Or how long it is going to take before I finally decide to put my recipes in a new binder because the old one has fallen apart and is kicking around the floor by my desk.

Fascinating, I know.

I just feel unsettled and unable to focus. I have found some interesting links that other people have written.

We couldn't afford the children... glad we didn't have to

It's not the end

What Gosnell and the Gospel mean to the brave

Why you can't standardize children

And my most recent article, Me? Patient?

Monday, April 15, 2013

Frugal large family meals: Lentil soup with spicy Italian sausage

I made this the other night and it was so good I wanted to share it with you. I had cut it out of a Bon Appetit magazine a while back, lost it, then found it again so I decided to try it. I tinkered with it a bit, so it is not the exact same recipe and it counts as large family frugal because you can up the amount of lentils and cut back the amount of sausage if you need to. My family really, really likes sausage so I went a bit heavy on it. I wouldn't then double the sausage if I needed to make more then, but just double the other ingredients. Does that make sense?

Here is  the recipe as I made it the other night. Once again, even if you aren't feeding an army, I encourage you to make the full amount and then freeze the rest. It should freeze fine... not that I had any leftover to freeze.

Lentil soup with Spicy Italian Sausage

2 pounds spicy Italian sausage (you could also use mild, but lentils can be bland and we liked how the spicy sausage gave it some zip) - cut into slices... if you can. Ours were more like little blobs.
1 large onion - chopped
2 large carrots - peeled and sliced
2 large potatoes - peeled and cubed, ~1/2 inch dice
2 stalks celery - sliced
1 pound (or 2 1/3 C) brown lentils
3 quarts beef broth
fresh spinach - destemmed and washed

In a large pot, cook sausage until browned. Use a slotted spoon to transfer sausage to a bowl. Add a little bit of olive oil the pot and saute the vegetables. Cook until onion is translucent and the vegetables begin to soften. Add the lentils, stir to coat. Add the beef broth (you can also add a little red wine if you are so inclined) and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until the lentils are softened, ~20 minutes. (Keep an eye on it and add more liquid if needed.) Add sausage and simmer for another 10 minutes or so. Stir in spinach. Cook until spinach is wilted, ~3 minutes. Serve.

Obviously, the more lentils you add, the more liquid you will need to add. This can be stretched quite a bit without having to add more of the expensive sausage.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Children and pickiness

Since I'm on a roll with blogging about my pet theories for which I've discovered outside validation, I figured I'd keep going and share my ideas about children's pickiness when comes to food. Plus, this is a topic that comes up when I ask people about what is difficult for them about meal planning in preparation for the session I'm doing at the ICHE conference in June. This will help me to organize my thoughts for that as well.

Let's first clarify what exactly I'm talking about when I say pickiness. There are some children who have difficulties with sensory processing or for other reasons food is a huge issue for them. I am not talking about these children in this post. I am talking about otherwise typically developing children whose range of acceptable foods is annoyingly small.

The easiest way to help a child develop an adventurous palate is to expose them to a lot of different foods from the time they are little. When we fed babies, it was rare that they would have the same food served exactly the same each time they ate. Once they were established with eating and we did due diligence in checking for allergies, our babies ate whatever we ate. We would grind it up in a baby food mill, often mix it with some ground rice and yogurt and feed it to them. I just didn't have the patience or brain power to figure out a baby-centered feeding plan. Pretty much they never knew what to expect.

It turns out that my lazy parent baby feeding method was a good thing. It seems that the research that is out there suggests that babies who are fed a variety of foods with a variety of textures at a variety of temperatures are less likely to become picky eaters. It's good to know if you have a baby, but there are plenty of parents out there with picky children who are past babyhood. This doesn't help them a whole lot.

After babies come toddlers. Let's just say right up front that every toddler is picky. It is just their nature. But just because a toddler is picky does not mean that you need to cater to their pickiness. It is still the job of the parent to provide a child with a balanced diet with lots of variety. The trick is to find the right balance between foods they really like and everything else. (Because there is no middle ground with toddlers. Either they really, really like something, or they really, really don't.) What to do?

First, don't make it a battle. There are a couple of things a child has absolute control over... pooping and eating. You can't make them do either if they don't want to cooperate and if you do, you run into the possibility of setting you both up for future problems. It's just not worth it. But just because you can't force a child to eat something he doesn't want to, that doesn't mean you are without weapons in your arsenal against pickiness.

Instead, take the emotion out of eating. At least your emotions. You offer the child food. If she eats it, great, if she didn't, she won't go hungry. Just leave it. You can present the food saying something is really yummy and that you like it. She can see you enjoy eating it. But the last thing you want to do is equate your happiness with whether she eats the food or not. As a toddler gets older, I try to encourage them to try something new, but I don't push.

Toddlers are also easily overwhelmed. Don't give them too much on their plate. If they love it, you can always give them more, but too much at the start may cause them not to want to eat anything. For instance, our children have all enjoyed salad from a very young age, but none of them enjoyed eating it at first. We started out by giving the child just one leaf of lettuce from the salad. Sometimes they didn't even touch it, which was fine. They were getting used to seeing it on their plates. Eventually, it would show up often enough that they might pick it up. After playing with it, they might even put it in their mouth... and take it right back out again. This would go on for possibly months. They would see everyone else eating salad and would try it and put it back. At some point, they were used enough to the taste and texture that they might actually eat a bite. After months and months of this, they were happily eating a small serving of salad. At this point, we might comment on it saying, "Isn't salad yummy?" and smiling.

But my children aren't toddlers, you say, and they won't eat anything!

Now comes the tricky part. If an older child is picky, then your job is to convince him that trying new foods is a good thing. It will be a tough sell, but I do think it can be done. This is also where my pet theory comes in. I have observed that in families with picky parents, particularly picky fathers, the children will also be picky. If you want a child who is an adventurous eater, you need to be one yourself. I read an article in the newspaper that mentioned a study that showed exactly that. (Sorry, I don't have the study details.) If you want children with a wide taste in food, adventurous eating needs to become a family value and both parents need to be on board.

If this is something you want to develop, here is what I would do (and do with my own children).

  • Serve a wide variety of foods. Try new recipes, try new foods, try new spices. Let your children see you trying these things as well. Doing this will serve two purposes. First, it will broaden your family's exposure to the types of food that are out there. Second, you may not like every new food you prepare. As adults, we tend to only fix what we want to eat. It is easy to forget what it is like to be confronted with a completely unfamiliar taste. We need to keep this in mind when helping our children become adventurous eaters because it is not always a pleasant experience. Some things really do need multiple tastings before you can begin to like them. For instance, I didn't really care for mangos when I first had them, but some of my children did, so I kept serving them. Over time, and always making myself take a small portion, I have developed a taste for them. Model what you want from your children.
  • Insist on at least a taste of everything. I don't want to torture my children with food they don't like, but I do want them to at least taste everything. If I know a child hasn't always liked something, I will only give a small portion, but they still get some. A. will probably never like okra (she's gone far beyond the supposed 11 tastings that are needed to develop a taste for something new), but we still put a small amount on her plate. And she eats it, though she does slather it with hot sauce now.
  • Expect politeness. Anyone dislikes something (except J. who is the least picky person I have ever met),  yet can still be polite about it and thankful for someone having prepared the food. We have zero tolerance for impoliteness. Usually it only takes a child saying, "Yuck! I don't like this!" and having the offending plate whisked away, thus being left without dinner to convince them that it is not a wise course of action. Yes, many of my children have gone to bed hungry because of this type of behavior. None of them have expired overnight. (I don't really need to say that this is for children who have emotionally stable backgrounds, do I? We do not tolerate impoliteness from our children from hard places, but it would not be healing for them to go without food. Hunger is too much of a trigger.) Pretty much, you can say, "I don't care for this" having tried some, but you can't offer disgust, and especially not before tasting it. Everyone is allowed their own opinion, it is a matter of how it is expressed.
  • Be caring. Sometimes someone just really doesn't like something. I try to accommodate them within reason. If it is something that is added on, such as shredded cheese, a child may most certainly opt out of that. If a child doesn't like peas, they are welcome to pick them out (assuming they tasted at least one) and quietly move them to the side of the plate. We don't all like everything. I was a fairly picky eater myself, until I went to a restaurant in college and in looking at the menu realized that because of my pickiness there was not one thing on the menu that I thought I wanted to eat. I realized that this was crazy and decided to not be picky. (Yes, it was really that easy.) I still do not care for mushrooms and will quietly give them to J. I want my children to feel they are able to navigate their likes and dislikes in an adult way; to know they can eat something if they must and how to avoid it politely if they can.
You can turn a picky eater around, but you need to decide if it is really worth it to you. Are both parents on board to make it something that is important and for both to model adventurous eating? Are you willing to allow a child to go hungry if they don't want what is served (without making it a battle)? Are you willing to go snackless while you are retraining your children? (If a child is getting all their calorie needs through snacks, they are not going to really care if they eat dinner or not, especially if they think they won't like it.) Are you willing to ignore the whines? It's doable, but it's also hard work. 

Like so many things, we need to stop and ask ourselves if something is really important to us. If it is, we then need to carefully examine how we are living to see if we are showing this in how we live. Sometimes these things line up, and sometimes they don't. It is a form of cognitive dissonance...where what we say we believe does not meet up with our experienced reality. You have to decide. Is it important enough to you to change how you are living, or is it actually not so terribly important after all? 

To end on a lighter note, I have some favorite picture books about picky eaters that I like to read to and discuss with my children. The first is The Seven Silly Eaters by Mary Ann Hoberman. I like this book for many reasons, not the least of which is to watch the mother and the laundry as more children are added to the family. The next is Mrs. Pig's Bulk Buy by Mary Raynor. It's not exactly about picky eating, but still fun. And lastly, the ultimate in talking with a child about picky eating is Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell Hoban. I love all the Frances books because the children are portrayed so accurately and the adults have such good common sense. I probably have this one memorized we've read it so many times.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Miss Rumphius

Since we completely switched gears with what we were learning about and started our story writing (which we're still working on), I have been thinking about what else we wanted to do. When we had the very brief spell of nice weather and were able to clean up the yard a bit, everyone was suddenly very interested in growing plants, so I decided to pull out the botany study I have.

So we are working with all things plants, which will be even more fun and interesting once things start growing. I also pulled out the book, From Butterflies to Thunderbolts: Discovering Science with Books Kids Love by Anthony D. Fredericks. This is an interesting book which gives a lot of extended activity ideas for various children's books on various science topics. (I have a love/hate relationship with the book in that I love the idea and sometimes get some good ideas from it, but also find myself often thinking there could have been so much more.) But it did remind me of the book, Miss Rumphius, by Barbara Cooney. I had been wanting to do another big art project and this seemed a great book to use. Recently, the only thing I use Pinterest for is to look up good children's art projects and I wasn't disappointed. I found this great idea of using fingers to paint lupines on paper.

We pretty much followed the instructions exactly, but first I ran to the art store because we needed some really spring-y colors to paint the lupines with. (Anyone else feeling incredibly color deprived at this time of year?) Don't you love these colors?

The first step was to use a pastel to color the background. That was pretty easy and straight forward (especially since we took off the wrapper and used the flat of the pastel), so I didn't take pictures of that step. Then we needed to paint the stems. This was the only time we used paint brushes.






Then came the fun (and messy) part. I gave each child a plate with all nine flower colors on it and they took their fingers and painted the petals on the stems.





L. and A.





I love an art project which works for the wide range of ages that I have. Each child's picture turned out well, despite their age and ability. Here are the final projects.






TM (I couldn't get him to pose with his)



 Beautiful, aren't they? I can't wait for them to dry so that I can hang them on our picture wire and enjoy some spring flowers in the kitchen.

And, you'll be happy to know that Rain was able to contact Snow before she arrived on our doorstep and she must have made other arrangements for her vacation.

On a not-so-light-hearted note, please, don't forget to pray for Brandi. She's still waiting for a family.

She is 6 years old. She lies in her crib and waits and waits and waits for someone to scoop her up and tell her how loved she is. Just imagine a grin on her face, her hair allowed to grow out. Imagine how transformed she will look when she is loved. Pray that she doesn't have to wait too much longer for her parents to find her. While her file has been sent back to her country, it can be obtained. I can put you in contact with people who can help you do this if you are interested.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

How to deal with an unwelcome houseguest

Dear Rain,

I'm afraid it's time we sit down and have a little chat. I hate to bring all of this up, but it seems as though no one else is, and really it's for your own good. This is because your recent behavior could be making you seem a bit overbearing and rude. People might start to get the wrong impression of you and I would hate for your reputation to be sullied.

I imagine that you are feeling a little guilty over neglecting us completely last summer and now feel compelled to make up for your absence. While we really did miss you, sometimes terribly, I think you may be going overboard. No one likes a house guest who overstays their visit, but, as sorry as I am to break it to you, I'm afraid your behavior is quickly entering this territory, especially since I heard through the grapevine that you plan on staying for the foreseeable future. This is really not how a polite house guest acts. And especially when you have not been polite enough to let your hostess know your future plans.

This is not to say we don't enjoy your visits. We don't even mind you visiting on a fairly frequent basis, it's just the non-stop stay that becomes wearing. I'm just not sure that my children can manage a stay for the length it seems you are planning. Couldn't you go and visit someone else for a while? I'm sure they must be missing you.

Oh, and one other thing that needs to be mentioned. Really, it is so incredibly impolite to invite a friend to join you when you are a guest at someone's home. It really must be cleared with the hostess in advance and even then, should be done very rarely. With that in mind, I have also heard through the grapevine that you plan having your cousin, Snow, join us tomorrow. I must put my foot down at this change of plans. We are full-up and absolutely cannot accommodate your cousin, even if she is terribly nice. Could we make future plans for her to come and visit at a more opportune time... say, January of next year?

I hate to be so blunt, but the hints I have been dropping do not seem to be making a difference. We're happy to host you, but let's come up with a plan for visits that are perhaps shorter in duration. And it really isn't fair for Sun if you continue to occupy the guest room. He has been eager to join us for a while, but until you move on, he has no where to stay. He is really rather broken-hearted about it. At least think of him.

I hope you don't take this letter in the wrong spirit. We truly do like you and enjoy your company, but sometimes it is difficult to have positive feelings towards you when you engage in thoughtless behavior. We just don't want you to be the person who people see and want to run away from.

So, think about what I've written and let's come up with a solution that works for all of us. Please let me know as soon as possible when you've made plans for other accommodations.

Mrs. C.

ps. And I cannot stress enough how you must write to Snow and let her know that she cannot stop here. I don't want to have to turn her away if she shows up, but I will if I must.  ec

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Children and play

I've been able to begin to catch up on the stacks of books I have started, but never finished, so you can expect quite a few posts as I finish them off. I think I've counted at least 7 different books that I've started. I don't usually have more than one book going at a time, so this is unusual. They began to pile up over the past few months and I'm taking it as a good sign that I'm beginning to finish them instead of just adding to my started stack.

The book I finished over the weekend (and was the impetus for my science experiment on Monday) was Einstein Never Used Flashcards: how our children really learn -- and why they need to play more and memorize less by Kathy Hirsh-Pasek and Roberta Michnick Golinkoff. It's an older book, having been written in 2003, but I didn't know about it until one of the people I interviewed for an article I wrote about play told me about it.

I enjoyed it, though I do have a few quibbles. How can one not enjoy a book which confirms ones own pet theories? And not only confirms them, but backs them up with actual scientific studies of a much larger sampling than just my own children. Outside validation is always extremely satisfying.

I have proposed all along that children need just a few things for them to develop appropriately. (These are my thoughts now, though for the most part they are substantiated by the book.) They need a safe, caring family, exposure to books and language, and free time to play. Anything more than that either isn't really necessary or can be actually detrimental.

First off, emotional intelligence and health is huge. If you cannot interact well with other people or cannot control your impulses, then it doesn't really matter how intelligent you are. This is why, as we help some of our children heal from their past wounds, we only expect as much academic work as they can handle at the time. It is hard to learn self-control, power over frustration, and healthy attachment. Sometimes that's all the brain has room for. This is why, often during the middle school years, academics takes a back-burner in our home. It is a tumultuous time of life and the changes the body and brain are going through are huge. Sometimes helping a child navigate all those changes and come out of it with a continuing attachment with parents and siblings and a growing sense of self is far more important than fractions or grammar. These are the life skills which really matter and will dictate all future interactions. Academics can be caught up easily if a child can emotionally handle it.

Next, never underestimate the power of just reading and conversing with your child. Pre-literacy skills take a long time to develop, starting with a child just being exposed to print... seeing it on signs, on boxes, in books, watching adults interact with print. The book actually shared several very interesting studies on how much about print very small children have already learned. I was particularly fascinated by the results since they lined up exactly with what I had already noticed in my own children and their awareness. As an aside, even though H. came to us with some pretty severe deficits, because she is older, she is moving through the stages very quickly. She has been noticing more and more that so much of her world has writing on it and she has begun to realize that she can try to sound these words out. Plus, just yesterday, she made the connection that if she knows the sound a letter makes, she can try to put the sounds together herself to spell words and happily showed me that she had spelled 'nose' and 'lips'. These are huge, huge milestones.

It's not only reading to children, but actually talking with (as opposed to at) your children has huge benefits. It develops relationships, vocabulary, social and thinking skills. As an example, H.'s Mandarin abilities seemed to have topped out at about a 5 year old level. (More than one translator made the same estimation.) But she was only ever talked at, not to. There was no give and take to her conversations and usually involved just taking orders. And her language skills suffered for it. The best book I know about the value of children having conversation with adults is Endangered Minds by Jane Healy.

And lastly, we come to the big one. Play. This is not adult-engineered, directed play, but child-led free play. It's building with blocks or Legos. It's dressing up and role playing. It's doll houses and stuffed animals and dolls and tents under the dining room table. It's making forts in the backyard and staring at a bug for an hour. It's filling up the sink and getting the bathroom wet in the process. It's taking a toy and playing with it in ways that the creators never imagined. It's doing nothing. It's playing alone. It's playing with friends. It's what adults sometimes call wasting time. It can look as though it has no value at all. Yet it is the way children learn about and learn to make sense of the world around them.

Over and over and over again the studies done on play show that it is a much bigger deal than people generally give it credit for. Piaget was right when he said, "Play is the answer to how anything new comes about." I have watched a lot of children play for many years now. Each child plays a little differently from another, yet they are all doing the same type of work. They are using play to try out things, to practice being adults, to experiment, or to work through something that was scary. Often their play involves whatever new thing they have learned. Sometimes I will set-up a scenario for them, but then let them take it over and continue on. But play does take time, it can't be scheduled in half hour increments every other day.

Which leads me to my assertion that adding too much to a child's world can be detrimental. First, if you push things too early, before the brain is ready, you just might end up with maladaptive connections. Why push reading on a young child before their brain is ready for it? Yes, the child might end up learning to read, but is it a struggle? Do they enjoy it? Why not wait until it comes more easily and naturally? (And as a piano teacher, I find myself turning too-young students away with the same argument.) Second, all those classes and sports and activities? Yes, they can be good in small doses. But at best I really don't think they are going to make your child be a better adult than they would otherwise. At worst, too many of them can have some rather dire consequences. A child who never has free time does not learn to fall back on his own reserves. He is never responsible for his own entertainment and it teaches him that he needs to be entertained by others. It teaches passivity. And a child who never has free time never has time to play. Never has time to work out for herself all of the things she sees in the world around her. Never gets to practice new skills in a safe environment. Never gets to use her imagination fully. Never rises to her full intellectual potential.

I know that many parents over-schedule their children out of fear. Fear that they will be left behind in this highly competitive world. But I suggest that by not allowing their children time to play, to have free time, to be children, they are accomplishing exactly what they are afraid of.

Love, language, and play. It's really very simple.
Completely not related, though it's about a play (the noun) rather than play (the verb). Take a look at the trailer that was made for the show M. is in this weekend and next.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Bounce, bounce, bounce

Do you have any idea how difficult it is to take decent pictures of people jumping on trampolines? Well, you can look at these pictures and decide for yourself.


K., G., and H.

G. (with L.'s head in the foreground)


Yesterday we took a family trip to a local trampoline place. It was a Christmas present from one of J.'s sisters and her husband. (A fantastic gift, huh?) This was a much anticipated event and I wasn't sure that certain family members were going to be able to handle the anticipation. We had a morning of endless comments such as, "Oh no... it's raining, now we can't go!" "What if L. is sick and we can't go?" "The clouds are moving really fast. That must mean that there is a tornado and we can't go." "I don't want to go. What if we can't go?" This happened approximately every 8 minutes. All morning. You see, sometimes children from hard places have difficulty interpreting emotions correctly, if they can interpret them at all. Therefore, excitement, fear, anxiety, and anticipation are all felt and interpreted as exactly the same. I look forward to the time that this child can happily anticipate something without feeling incredibly anxious about it as well. As J. often says, "It must not be any fun to be in his head sometimes."

So while the flying monkeys were out in full force trying to ruin our trip, we all managed to survive the morning in tact. (This alone is a major accomplishment.) J. came home early and we headed out to the jump place. It was one of those highly successful outings where there is no drama, everyone has a good time, no one gets injured, no one cries, and the activity lives up to everyone's expectations. Given the number of children and the various personalities involved, this is no small feat.

One of the highlights of the afternoon was watching H. enjoy the trampoline. You'll remember from last summer that H. struggled with gross motor skills. Pretty much anything more than walking slowly on a sidewalk was beyond her. If we had tried to get her to jump on a trampoline last summer, she couldn't have done it. Yesterday, she walked right out on them and started to jump. And jump and jump and jump. She really did jump for a good portion of the hour, with only as much resting as most of the other children. She was also able to walk on the yellow bumpers without falling, even though it was an unstable and uneven surface. At the end, J. even got her to jump with her arms above her head. If we lived closer I would consider taking people more often just to get her on the trampolines more. 

After the hour of jumping, we loaded up and headed home, but with a stop for ice cream cones. Another big treat around here, but it was a double treat in that we were able to use a gift card that another person had given to us. Once again, no drama, even when confronted with too many ice cream choices. H. loved it because the ice cream store we went to is in an incredibly diverse city and makes some really interesting ice creams. There was avocado and jack fruit and green tea and pandan. J. was reading off the names and when he got to pandan, H.'s face lit up and she immediately knew what she wanted. It was as if she was meeting an old friend after a long absence. There weren't even any dropped ice cream cones, though K. and L. both picked Superman (imagine that!) and they were quite blue around the mouth for the rest of the day.

The day ended well that everyone was able to transition to being back home after some real fun. This is always a tricky time, and I admit to kind of holding my breath to see what would happen. There was only one brief moment of a certain child not being sure what to do, but it passed and the day ended well.

To have a good day with the family and have every single person enjoy it is a huge gift. And certainly not one we take for granted any more. God is good.
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