Friday, January 31, 2014

Some people will do anything to appear on the blog

Public schools in our area closed on Monday and Tuesday of this week due to cold weather. Even though there was some heavy lobbying for us to cancel school, we did not. I pointed out that since they did not need to set a foot outside, nothing was hindering them from cracking the books. This worked well for Monday, but Tuesday, J.'s school closed the campus, so he was home. With Daddy home, I relented and gave everyone the day off as well. 

As I watched my children entertain themselves all day, it became obvious to me (again) that so much of learning happens outside of textbooks. What did they do all day? Well, there was a lot of reading, of course. D. decided to teach HG how to play chess, which he did, and the chess set has been out ever since and receiving heavy use. More mancala was played. This has become H.'s favorite game (a definite step up from endless games of Uno. A quick aside... I have been greatly impressed with how H. has mastered this game. When she started playing it this summer, her choice of moves was pretty random, with no discernible thought behind them. At that point, I was impressed that she could manage the basic rules. Now, after many, many games, both against herself and others, she has really figured it out. In fact, she can beat her siblings and no one gives her any quarter when playing with her. It makes me happy.

Our old version of Zoo Tycoon (on our even older dinosaur of an upstairs computer) has also been receiving some heavy use. While it is not exactly educational in the strict sense, it has lead to some interesting dinner discussions about the relationship between cost and profit. Sounds impressive, huh? Well, on the flip side it also teaches them what happens when you lock the gates to the zoo so your visitors can't get out and you open the tiger cages. Sigh.

A. had a lesson in learning to make hard candy and we now know how to test for the hard crack sugar stage without a candy thermometer. (Where, oh where did my candy thermometer go?) P. also did some baking and is becoming quite adept at following recipes.

Later that afternoon, the Klamms and the Currys did a child swap. TM and D. went to their house where they played and played and played. Miss Klamm came here. K. also had the treat of having his best buddy P6 come over for a while. I took H. to the doctor. Yes, again. An eye appointment this time. The good news is that her weak eye slowly grows stronger with the patching. This time she measured at 20/60, though she also read a few letters on the 20/50 line. Remember, she started at 20/200. Her eye doctor, whom I like a lot, still continues to have his universe rocked. Children this age are not supposed to respond to patching because it is thought that their brains are no longer open to change. I'm pretty sure this is not true.

K. and P6 played and played and played. A. and Miss Klamm made a mess. (They were supposed to be grinding flour for Miss Klamm's mother, but something went awry and they ended up cleaning and cleaning and cleaning instead.) And what went awry, you ask? I wasn't here, but it seems to something about not keeping an eye on the grinder because they were too busy taking pictures in hopes of me putting them on the blog. So, since they worked so hard making the mess and cleaning it up just to appear on the blog, what else can I do but oblige?

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Napier bones

Today was a short school day for us because H. had (another) pre-op appointment. (For those of you have never had the joy of a child going through surgery, what you don't realize is that for the two weeks preceeding the surgery your life is filled with innumerable appointments at doctor's offices at the exactly the same time you become obsessed with keeping your child away from germs because if the child has a cold, the surgery will have to be postponed. It makes for parental craziness.) This is why we spent the remaining part of the morning opening up the Multicultural Math learning box which we had checked out of the Field Museum.

Inside the box were the things you would expect to find... abacuses (abici? what is the plural for that noun?) and tangrams. But there was also something I had never heard of: Napier bones. These are the coolest things and I'm sure that someone with a better math brain than mine could figure out how the series of numbers were figured out. Have you ever heard of them? They were invented by a Scotman, John Napier, in the 17th century. They were originally made out of bone or wood and merchants used them to aid in accounting. Really, what they are is a pretty nifty way to multiply.

Here is what they look like:

Each of these are long rods with numbers written on them. It took us a while to figure out how they work, but we managed and have been playing around with them ever since.

How do they work? Let's take the problem 6 x 635 as an example. First, I take the index rod and lay out the rods '6' '3' and '5' to make the larger number. Now, just like in a regular multiplication table, run your finger down to the yellow '6' and read the numbers across.

Here is the row I'm talking about:

To figure out what the answer is, you need to add the numbers in the parallelograms together. So, the first '3' is by itself, the '6' and the '1' will be added together, the '8' and the '3' will be added together and the '0' is by itself. Here I have written it out for you.

Once you have done this you have the answer: 3810. Cool, huh?

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Some new old books for you

The boys and I finished reading a great book which I want to share with you. As I was perusing a website which had a long book list which contained many of the more obscure books I'm always pushing at you, I came across a comment recommending a pair of books I had never heard of, nor had I ever heard of the author. Trust me when I say this doesn't happen very often. I was intrigued and immediately searched for them in our library's catalogue. I was thrilled to find them both there and placed them on hold. (I could go into long raptures about how much I love being able to do book searches at home and then reserve the books and have them delivered to the library one an half blocks from my house, but I'll save that for another time.)

The books are The Lost Island and The Island of Horses both by Eilis Dillon, an Irish author who wrote mid-century. The books are set on the western coast of Ireland and portray life there as well as on the islands off the coast. We just finished The Lost Island last night and it was wonderful. It had a great adventure story where the danger was real, but never became too much. It had humor and an interesting view on life on the coast and on the islands. And it had a great ending. We ended up reading two chapters at a time because we wanted to find out what happened. In The Lost Island, a boy goes off to find his father who had been lost searching for a fabled lost island that was supposed to contain treasure. I highly recommend it. We'll start The Island of Horses tonight. I love finding new old books that I love.

The island parts of the book made me think of the Katie Morag picture books. While these are not new to me, I love them and perhaps you have never heard of them. Katie Morag lives on a fictional island in the Inner-Hebrides of Scotland. She has adventures and you get a peek at life in this remote locale. We love them.

But on to the other new old book I discovered. When we go to the library, the picture book crowd often just picks a pile of books at random from the shelves. I do a little sorting before we check out, but I'm never quite sure what we have until we get home. (Only sometimes has a book been quietly removed and returned.) Usually, most of the books are fairly mediocre and I'm glad to return them at the end of the month, particularly if one of the mediocre book became a favorite with someone. Every so often, though we come across a really good one. Such is the case with this past library visit because we have discovered a new friend... Bruno. Bruno is a beaver and he is charming. The book we came home with is Bruno the Baker by Lars Klinting, and sadly it appears it is out of print, though it looks as though you can get used copies fairly inexpensively. This is just such a gentle and wonderful story for preschoolers.

The story is simple. It is Bruno's birthday and so he and his friend, Felix, bake a birthday cake together. The thing I love is that it fills the need that preschoolers have to learn things, and it does it without making of joke of it. Have any of you noticed the trend that when talking about homemaking skills to children, the tendency is to make it into a joke... some how or other something goes wrong, either through not caring or inability, and ha, ha, isn't it funny, this must not really matter enough to work at it. Well, Bruno does none of the these things. He bakes the cake accurately and the children are given names for tools and a good picture of what it looks like to really bake a cake. He enjoys what he is doing, and while the kitchen does get a little messy, Bruno and Felix clean up together (without drama or grumbling) while the cake is baking. It gives the child the idea that this baking business is both enjoyable and doable. There are other Bruno books including Bruno the Tailor and Bruno the Carpenter that I think I really need to investigate. Wouldn't it be wonderful if enough people fell in love with Bruno to convince a publisher to put it back into print?

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Large families, older siblings, and vocabulary

There are many articles (though I use the term loosely as they belong more on the Op Ed page) about the disadvantages of growing up in a large family. Some of them are so critical you would almost think it was a form of child abuse to selfishly have more than one or two children. Since most of them are so far from reality and written with obvious bias, I just ignore them.

Sometimes, though, one comes across my path that I just can't leave alone. Such was the one I happened upon today from Reuters titled, "Sibling Relationships Tied to Children's Vocabulary Skills". It's not that the whole article was bad. They did try to point out something positive about large families, though in a 'with friends like these...' back-handed sort of way. The gist of the article is this. Parents obviously have less time to spend with younger children of a large family and thus their vocabularies suffer based on standardized tests. But, if those young children have older siblings who are engaged and interact appropriately with them, then all is not lost and the younger children might score better on tests. What caught my interest the most was the amazing ability to take what I think is one of the strengths of a large family and turn it inside out and make it sound marginally positive at best.

First let's tackle the whole idea of parents not having as much time for the youngest children in a family. Now, I am not so naive as to think every large family out there is a paragon of family unity and excellent parenting. Just because parents have many children does not mean they are excellent parents, but on the other hand, just because parents have one or two children does not make them excellent parents, either. Family size does not determine ones ability to parent... going either way.

Though I know it is difficult of people with smaller families to imagine, but I do have time for all of my children. I make a point of it. I love my children and enjoy spending time with them. It may not always be individual time, but since when is that a requirement? (Oh, and just because it is a familiar complaint, my older children do NOT raise my younger ones. J. and I do. The older children may help out, but we are responsible for raising all of our children. Can you tell how tired I get of this statement?) In fact, if you were to ask my children, I'm pretty sure every single one would tell you that they are quite content with the amount of parental attention that they have. When I mention how much more attention I could give them if there were fewer in the family, some of them actually quiver with horror. Children don't necessarily want or need 100% full time parental attention.

One last comment of this point, just to show the blind spot in this thinking. Mothers of large families are often vilified for not giving their children all the attention those children need and deserve, despite the fact that most if us are home with our children all day. Yet, those parents who work full-time and spend 40 hours a week away from their children are not the recipients of quite the same accusations. I'm not trying to contribute the Mommy Wars, just pointing out the disparity in the tone of the articles that are published. And yes, I'm also quite aware that working mothers are the recipients of just as much vitriol. My point is, it gets tiring hearing others condemn your family choices out of hand.

But what I want to get to is the idea that children who come later in the birth order are somehow intellectually stunted. This is where real life experience can shed some light on this phenomenon. Living with children who are numbers 9 and 10 in the birth order gives me some experience with this. Yes, G. and L. are very different from M., my first born, but I don't think their vocabularies are that much different. (G. and L. probably do not have quite the extensive technical amphibian and reptile vocabulary that M. did, but that is a function of interest not parental input.) What is really different about the three of them is their desire to please. M., being a first-born was interested in pleasing her parents, plus she was surrounded by adults all day (and both J. and I are first born, ourselves) and thus her way of looking at the world was colored in a certain way. G. and L., not being first borns, are wired quite differently. They are not quite so interested in pleasing, well, anyone. They have been surrounded by doting parents and older siblings all their life and their mindset isn't so much to please as to be pleased. (I'm not saying this is good or bad, but it is certainly how it is.) They also have had a variety of behaviors to observe and these were not all of the adult variety. It makes for a much more carefree child.

What it boils down to is, if we could make M. and G. and L. all the same age at the same time and gave them a test, M. would care and G. and L. would not. There have been numerous studies done showing that the amount a child cares about the results of a test affects how well they do, regardless of native intelligence. (I can't find the actual test results right now, otherwise I would share the documentation with you.) G. and L. would not do as well on the test. I guarantee it. Remember I watch them do school-type work everyday. They are very bright, but motivated by other things. I also happen to know that their vocabularies are very large, unless someone is asking them a question and they don't feel like answering it. In that case, they would look like mutes, though L. might make some grunting noises for you. Trust me, they excel at parental embarrassment. Can you tell I don't put much stock in the results of whatever tests they are using to determine the intelligence of younger siblings?

The recipe for raising a child with a large vocabulary and an inquisitive mind is the same regardless of family size. First, turn off the screens and actually talk with the child. Use real words. Discuss ideas. Ask for opinions. Do not belittle what the child has to say. Second, read to them. A lot. Read lots of different types of books. Read everyday. Let them see you reading. Make it important. Third, eat a meal together. We discuss many things as a family over dinner. It is where a child first learns the art of conversation. It is where a child learns a sense of family and it provides a strong foundation for facing the world. Knowing there is a set family dinner time provides a sense of security that can be gained no other way. Fourth, model what you desire to see in your child. Learn something new. Be interested in the world. Share your discoveries.

These are things that any parent can regardless of family size. But I do have a bias. I think those younger siblings that most people fear are so neglected have something most of us do not. Not only do they have their parents, they also have older brothers and sisters who care for them just as much. Instead of missing out on things because there are so many children, they gain something. They gain more love, more care, more security. Because ultimately, the biggest problem with the theory that large families cause the younger children to miss out is the mistaken idea that love is a limited commodity; they are operating from a position of scarcity. But love is not limited. The more you employ the use of it, the more you have. It can't be used up.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Doing adoption agency research

When I posted my little rant about adoptive parents doing a fantastic ostrich imitation when it comes to ethics, someone posted a question in the comments about how, exactly, to do due diligence and research ethical agencies. I have done a little research myself and I'll share what I've found, though don't take this for the only way to research. And if I've forgotten something, please chime in and share what you have found to be effective.

First, let me describe how we went about research 8 or 9 years ago when we were first starting this journey. In some ways, even though our dependence on the internet was a bit less back then, I think it was a little easier to do research. I knew what agencies we were interested in and set about to investigate them. At that time, each country had a couple of pages run by other adoptive parents that were a sort of gathering place. People who had adopted from that country would list their names and what agency they had used and whether they were interested in being contacted. I went down the list and sent many, many emails to people asking about the agencies we were thinking of using. (While the agencies gave a list of references, I assumed that they would only choose people who were happy with them. I wanted a more unbiased review.) The emails I received back were illuminating. As a result of some people's experiences, there were agencies that I crossed off my list and was happy to not be involved with them. Because it was a private email, the respondents were much more likely to be free in sharing their stories. Sad to say, it was not unknown for an agency to slap a lawsuit for slander on a person if they publicly shared a negative review of an agency. You can see why people might be hesitant to share their stories.

Today things work a bit differently. While we have so much more information at our fingertips, I'm not sure it is really all that useful. Larger entities have become even better at protecting their online presence and probably much of what we see about any corporation or organization is heavily filtered. So what to do?

Here are the places I would look. First off, I would join the Yahoo group, Adoption Agency Research. I know these groups are going the way of the dinosaur and I'm not sure how much longer this one will be around. But if it still exists, join it and take advantage of the huge archives. People have been pretty free with their stories on this list because it is heavily moderated and there is some pretty eye-opening stuff that has been written. I think it will be a real loss when the list closes.

Next, I would go to the Council on Accreditation Monitoring and Oversight list and scroll down to the bottom of the page and click on the list of 'Substantiated Complaints and Adverse Actions'. This lists nearly every agency (both for home studies and for placements) in the country. If there has been a problem with the agency, it will listed. Some agencies have had none, others have long lists of issues. Now, to use the list is a bit awkward. It looks as though you should just be able to click the agency name and it will immediately scroll down to that agency's listing. I couldn't get it to do that, so ended up having to manually scroll down to the agencies I wanted to look at. This is a good starting point.

Another great place to look through is PEAR's blog. This acronym stands for Parents for Ethical Adoption Reform and it's blog has a wealth of information. At least one of the founders of the group has been working towards ethical adoptions for a long time, starting with her experiences in Vietnam. The site is worth looking at.

Of course, there are always stories out there that are important to hear, but that don't always get reported for various reasons. To do good research, you need to be open to hearing and not dismiss out of hand the hard stories. The biggest criticism leveled against the two sites I'll share next is that they are too negative, the writer's don't like adoption, the stories cannot possibly be true. The only reason people say this is because they don't want them to be true. They want to preserve the rainbows and happy trees narrative and turn a blind eye to anything less than pleasant. But we need to hear the ugly stories as well. We need to know what we are walking into and not unknowingly contribute to a problem. We cannot fight against injustice if we don't know the injustice exists. You may not want to read them for long stretches of time, but you should take a look at Pound Pup Legacy and Research-China.Org.

Now the last recommendation I have for you is to use some common sense. For instance, learn the laws and regulations of the country you wish to adopt from. If an agency is breaking those laws, don't use them. I'll give you an example. When Vietnam reopened to adoption, one of the requirements was that each agency working in the country be licensed in the country. It was not considered legal for one agency to use another agency's license, yet it happened all the time. And parents defended these agencies because they often had fast timelines and thus 'more children could be rescued'. I never quite understood how parent could justify their agency breaking a law so blatantly, but they did. So, rule one, be sure your agency is following the laws of both countries. Even if you don't like the laws.

Second, look at your contract carefully. Some agencies were notorious for including a gag order that nothing negative was allowed to be broadcast publicly. Hmm... makes me think that agency has something to hide. A contract with an adoption agency is still a contract and can be negotiated. If you have a question or concern about something in the contract, ASK. Don't just sign it 'because of the child'.

Next, as one other commentor mentioned, if you are working with a country that has yet to sign the Hague, you should still work with an agency that is Hague accredited. It just makes sense. Nearly every agency in the country has now received their Hague accreditation and an agency that doesn't makes me wonder why. Yes, it is always a pain to fill out more paperwork, but if the agency is trying to tell you that by not getting accredited it is saving you time and money, I would wonder what they have to hide and why they don't think the accreditation would be issued.

Finally, when you receive a referral, if something looks fishy, it just might be fishy. For example, the older children who were adopted out of China who turned out to have living parents and were told this was a great way to get a US education... in all their files it said they were abandoned at an older age, yet not a single one of them could remember anything at all about their family. It strikes one as odd, doesn't it. Or an example a little further back. Once an orphanage director in Vietnam claimed to have been walking home one night through a cemetery and discovered 6 or 7 infants all laying on the ground together. You think? Or if there is information in a file that is blatantly contradictory... why is that? Now I will be the first to say that much of what is in our children's files (especially depending on country) needs to be taken with a grain of salt. But if you have significant concerns about something, don't just plow ahead.

Be aware of the game before you jump in. Know what the problems are. Actually, just being aware that there are problems puts you ahead of the vast majority of adoptive parents. Do not unwittingly hand over money to an agency which cares more about its bottom line than the lives of the parents and children involved. Be wise.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Our week of Night of the Moonjellies

This past week was another attempt at Five in a Row style learning for the younger set. We read Night of the Moonjellies by Mark Shasha. It's about the author's memories of working at his grandmother's lobster roll stand when he was a child. One day he finds something jelly-like on the beach and shows it to his grandmother. After they close the stand for the night, she takes him out on the ocean to where the moonjellies are. Everyone enjoyed the book and happily sat through it each day.

On the first day we looked at a map to see where New England was. This, of course, turned into a discussion about where Arizona was and how we would get there. Since we were not planning to imminently go to New England, their interest in it was minimal.

On another day we made moonjelly paintings with black construction paper and pastels. Since moonjellies are bioluminescent, they glow in the ocean and the pastels on the black paper have that same quality. It was one of those "it turns out well no matter what the age" art projects.

On Thursday while I was learning about skin expansion, A. read the book to the littles again and spurred them on to running an imaginary lobster roll stand for a good part of the morning. Construction paper hats were made and the name of the stand was written on them. They decided to call it "Pandy's Hot Dogs". I think G. had a strong vote in the naming process. Hats were still being worn when I arrived home.

Yesterday was our long-planned field trip to the Shedd Aquarium. (We have discovered that the most cost-effective way to visit the aquarium with large families is to plan a field trip and go together as a school group.) This is really the reason why I chose to do this book this week. A trip to the aquarium where we could actually look at real jelly fish after having read about them (though moonjellies are not technically jelly fish) seemed like too good plan to pass up.

We had a nice time, though, every time I'm there it feels as though all we're doing is fighting our way through huge school groups. We saw leafy sea dragons (my absolute favorite sea creature):

We saw the dolphin show...

and garden eels (I love these things. I don't know why they make me so happy.)

A. took pictures, even though she doesn't like my camera.

That evening, to top off our week, I splurged and made lobster rolls for dinner. Have you seen the price of lobster if you live in the land-locked midwest (or maybe even if you don't)?! It was probably the only time we'll ever do it, but I wanted to let everyone taste what we had been reading about all week. The guy at the fish store thought I was a bit crazy to be making lobster rolls in January, but understood when I told him about the book. (He didn't give me a discount in the interest of children's educations, though.) We decided it was our summer dinner in January meal since we also had corn-on-the-cob and garlic potatoes as well. It took all of our powers of imagination to pretend we were eating outside in 80 degree weather.

Friday, January 24, 2014

The low down on tissue expansion

I don't know exactly what I was expecting at the doctor's yesterday, but it wasn't what I got. It was training so much as education about the whole tissue expansion process. And there were a lot of pictures. Oh my. I had to take a lot of deep breaths and force myself not to start flapping around the office and yelling. I'm not sure I'm ready for this and I'm not sure H. is ready for this, but then I don't think we'll ever be ready, so now is as good a time as any.

Here's the deal for those who don't know about this procedure. Tissue expansion is used to create new skin to surgically replace skin that is compromised. That can be skin that was burned or poor skin grafts or, as in H.'s case, skin with nevus and/ or sebaceous skin. The benefits are that it is the patient's own skin, so there is no risk of rejection, the color matches, and both nerve cells and hair follicles remain intact and are present. The new skin is grown by the use of expanders and then the poor skin is removed and the new skin moved over to replace it. While it doesn't sound terribly fun, it seems pretty straight forward.

Until you see the pictures and try to imagine your child with the expanders in and fully filled and your mind starts to reel a bit. At least mine did.

This is because the expanders when fully filled are pretty enormous. This of a moderate sized balloon and then imagine it under the forehead or scalp of your child. Just take that size of object and imagine what it would look like under the skin. Yeah. It's going to be long three months and I wish we could just fast-forward to the second surgery.

The results after the expanders are removed are truly extraordinary and that's what I have to focus on. H. is not going to be thrilled by it all, but she is pretty easy-going and resilient so in the end I think she will do OK. Plus, she really, really wants the nevus on her forehead to be gone and this is the only way to do it. I'm not sure I'm cut out for all this medical stuff. February 10 is the beginning of all the fun.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Off to learn to be a nurse

First, let me point out that being a nurse was never on my list of potential occupations, so I find it slightly amusing and baffling that this is where I find myself. Of course, I'm not really learning to be a nurse, but I do have to take some training to learn to inflate the skin expanders with saline over the next two and half months. I'll just add it to my list of accomplishments along with removing stitches. Some people have bucket lists, I have a list of things I know how to do, but wish I didn't. I'll let you know how it goes.

Also, thank you for the suggestions for blogging topics. I always appreciate writing suggestions. Plus, I saw the question about how to choose a reputable agency. I think this is a more complicated thing to answer these days than it was a while ago. I'm going to do a little research and get back to you with a report.

Since I don't have time to write, I'm going to link to some much older posts that newer readers might never come across.


Oh be careful little mouth what you say

Cozy, cozy, cozy

Have you seen these?

I'm not Superwoman

If I'm not lost, why do I have to find myself?

Enjoy... you'll probably have more fun than I will be.

Oh, and here are some links to the stuff I wrote about in those posts:

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The post I have to write but wish I didn't

I have been putting off writing this post, but I don't like what I see, so I guess I just have to get it out. In the various adoption forums and groups I am a part of I have seen a rise in discussion about ethics violations in countries whose adoption program was ethically inviolate. I know it surprises and saddens many people that fraud happens everywhere, but it does. This is especially true when you are dealing with the toxic cocktail of parents who either desperately want a child or desperately want to help a child, poor families in poor countries, and a large amount of money that changes hands.

As a parent of two sons from Vietnam, the stories of fraud, trafficking, unethical agencies and facilitators, and ostrich-like parents are not new. In fact, a country I love is closed to international adoption because of it. Other parents have similar stories about the countries of their children's birth. It is sadly the same story. Here is how it goes... fill in the country name of your choice.

Country is open to international adoption. Usually this country is ill-equipped to handle the orphans, the number of whom has escalated due to various societal factors. It seems a good way to find these children homes and to alleviate the toll of caring for them from the government. Agencies and facilitators jump in and the parents desperately wanting children, especially young and female and healthy children quickly follow. More and more players enter the game and the demand for children quickly outstrips the supply of young, healthy, and female. Not to be missing out on the thousands of dollars to be made, more and more children are 'found' to feed the market. Allegations of fraud, corruption, and trafficking arise causing concern. Some parents take the concerns seriously. They do their research, work with agencies who have ethical reputations even if they don't have the fastest timelines or the cheapest fees and try to not feed the corruption. Others turn a blind eye, insisting that the rumors of corruption have no basis; that those who provide the information are merely anti-adoption and do not want children to find homes. The questionable facilitators and agencies are touted as being 'so nice' and superfast timelines are extolled. Or the 'best' excuse... my agency is Christian, I don't need to check up on them. More and more parents add their name to the waiting lists. More and more stories of corruption trickle out. The US government starts to be concerned and difficulties obtaining the children's visas at the embassy begin. NOIDs (notice of intent to deny... issued if the child is not legally an orphan or if paperwork seems questionable) start to be issued. Wholesale denigration of the embassy begins. The government is a bully, they don't want these children to enter the country, they should put the desires of their citizens first because they have already spent so much money. The government of the country in question gets involved and begins to wonder if this is all worth it. Why should the US tell them how to manage their affairs? Foreign relations are strained and sentiment towards adoption begins to be negative. Rumors of the country being closed to adoption abound even as adoptions rise and questions of ethics abound. More and more families are stuck with NOIDs and it seems the country is not as sure a thing as it was before. Life continues like this for a while longer and then the country closes to international adoption. The number of actual orphans does decline, but for those children who genuinely did not have a family to care for them, they are stuck.

The details between countries may change, stories of abuse in the receiving country may play into it all, but the stories of each country's closing is remarkably similar.

So where do I want to go with this, other than bring up some fairly ancient history? Well, I have seen some disturbing comments in relation to the most recent allegations of fraud in the largest sending country. The comments go something like this: "We don't need to worry about which agency we use because in this country everything is ethical. It doesn't matter what the agency did in another country." "You shouldn't say these things out loud because it might cause the country to close." "You don't really like adoption." "We are just helping children and they are better off with us than in their country. Does it really matter how they got to us?"

I am so tired of blatant denial. I am so tired of parents willingly turning a blind eye to anything that is unethical. I am so tired of parents not willing to do their research and continue to feed money into agencies that have horrid reputations in other countries. This is especially true if the agency has the word "Christian" in its name. I am so tired of the argument that it is more important to help a lot of children and the couple that slipped through the cracks don't really matter. I am so tired of people not willing to do the right, hard, and ethical thing.

Because it does matter how your agency behaved in another country. It does matter that every single adoptive parent do due diligence before shelling out thousands of dollars. That one child who was effectively sold does matter. That one child whose life was completely erased in order to make him more adoptable does matter.

Do not be part of the problem. Do your research. Insist on squeeky clean reputations even if that means you don't like the outcome (longer time frames, higher fees, insistence on rules). Do not fall into the trap of thinking you know what is best for a child or for children. Be the one who says I will not participate if something doesn't seem right. Listen to the stories even if you do not like them. Do not be an ostrich.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Visions of sunny days dance through their heads.

It's a balmy 8 degrees in Chicagoland and we received yet more snow overnight. I know I can't start moaning about it yet because it's only the middle of January and we still have a couple more months of winter to get through. The housebound children and dog, though may not make it to the end. Or maybe just their parents won't make it to the end. All that to say it's been a more winter-y winter than we've had recently.

This is why my parents' Christmas gift to all of us is so very well-timed. They are helping us to make the trek to Arizona in March, over J's, M's, and B's spring break. WooHoo! (And of course, the only reason I'm telling you about it in advance is because we have a house/dog sitter for Gretel while we're gone.) The big trip is only 6 weeks away and it's pretty much all anyone talks about. G. and L. have even gone so far as to pack their knapsacks. At the rate they're going, I will never be able to find anything when it comes time to actually pack.

Of course, we have an eventful six week before that point. H. has the first skin expansion surgery in February which feels like a huge hurdle, and one I need to get through before I can really embrace pre-trip enthusiasm. For those of you who will be seeing her (H., that is), know that I have yet to tell her about the surgery. I am putting that off as long as possible. I think I am dreading this one the most because it will involve the unaffected side of her face. I just know she is not going to be thrilled with them messing with the part of her face that she likes. I know I'm not.

I should also spend some time looking at the warm weather wardrobes of those children who have grown significantly over the fall. I don't want to come up to two days before the trip and discover that there are five children who have no warm weather clothes. It does feel a bit silly to even be thinking about it when it is below freezing outside.

Six weeks seems about right for preparing 15 people to travel across the country. Sometimes I fear it is not quite enough time... there are a lot of details to plan and a lot to prepare. But it does provide a pleasant distraction when the weather is frightful.

Can you tell I really didn't have anything to write about today? Please, send prompts or questions! Some days I just sit and sit and sit and stare and stare and stare at a blank screen wondering what I should dither about. Help!

And one more self-serving, slightly self-embarrassed announcement. For anyone in the Phoenix area who is in a church group or adoption group looking for a speaker, I will have a little free time while I'm there. I thought I'd throw it out there since it's an area of the country where I'm not normally,

Monday, January 20, 2014

A futon, a dog, and a new bed

As Gretel gets older, she slowly becomes a well-behaved animal. She is chewing a little less on things she is not supposed to chew on. She is able to greet visitors without totally drowning them with her tongue, knocking them down, and deafening them with barking. We don't have to have the kitchen blocked off with a baby gate. But she is still a Labrador who is only a year a half, so her improvements are still a work in progress.

Sometimes the dog forgets herself. Every so often, we will all realize that it has been a while since we have seen her. If when called, Gretel comes happily towards you, all is well. But if the dog skulks and slinks and pretends she isn't there, you know something is amiss. And you can be assured that it will be unpleasant and most likely involve pee. On a bed. It is her least endearing habit. So far the lucky recipients have been me and J., P., and TM. This most recent occurrence was the futon which K. had been sleeping on while B. was home. On the plus side, the futon wasn't currently in use. On the far more negative side, it is filled with cotton batting which absorbs pee like a sponge and is nearly impossible to clean. Despite our best efforts, it continued to stink, the stink just became more interesting as varying layers of cleaning attempts were added. Finally, we shoved it in a corner and pretended it was a problem we didn't have to deal with at the moment.

And then I receive a message out of the blue from a friend. She had a trundle bed with mattresses in her storeroom, would we be interested in it?

This is one of those questions we didn't even have to think about. Yes, we wanted it. It would solve multiple difficulties all at once. First, we could dispose of the stinky futon and still have a place for both boys to sleep when B. was home. Second, it was a far better alternative since the trundle is made so that the mattress is far off the floor, thus making it a much warmer sleeping situation. A trundle bed is really the perfect solution to that sleeping problem, but we had never considered it because buying a new bed just wasn't in the cards.

I told my friend how perfect it was and we both exclaimed at the wonder of God's timing. You see, the same day when the dog was inappropriately marking her territory, my friend was feeling able to tackle her storeroom... something she had been avoiding for various reasons.

God is good. Gretel is trying. (In both senses of the word.)

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Building blocks

I love blocks. If I had to reduce our toy collection to just a few toys, our blocks would definitely make the cut. They are played with nearly continuously around here. Blocks stand in for other objects, they (obviously) are great for building, they encourage creative and imaginative play and thinking. The trouble with many modern toys is that they dictate to the child how they should be played with. Blocks don't do that, it is completely up to the child to decide how to use it. Toys that make noise and light distract the child from real play because the child gets distracted by making the light and noise happen. That's not play, that's just button pushing. (Plus it's terribly annoying.) Allowing your child open-ended toys and plenty of free time is the recipe for creativity. 

Case in point. K. came to us the other day wanting to show us what he had built on the third floor. We were expecting a building of some sort, what we weren't expecting was his version of the Chicago skyline. If you know the skyline at all, you can see he did a pretty remarkable job. 

Here's the John Hancock building.

J. and I were just a little stunned and impressed. There are some moments where I remember vividly when I worried if the child would ever talk or learn, and this is one of them. (Edited: I initially wrote walk or talk. I don't know where my brain was, because he could most certainly walk. He had little muscle tone, but that's something he could do. Duh.)

Here is the proud builder with his city.

And as so often happens, one spurt of play encourages another. D. and some others decided they would get in on the action and built a palace. D. wanted me to post it on the blog as well, so took the pictures so I could share.

There was even a pool for the pet whales,

and long passageways.

I love blocks.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Socially isolated

As I was idly looking through the newspaper yesterday morning, I came across a (front page?!) article about how there are still some people in the world who purposefully choose to not own a smart phone and still manage with a little flip phone instead. My interest was piqued because I happen to be one of those people, so I read the article. It was everything you would expect it to be, except it included the phenomenally ridiculous statement that people who do not choose to use a smart phone risk social isolation.


I often wish newspaper articles were actual dialogs because what I really wanted to know was exactly how this could be. (Warning, slightly snarky and facetious commentary ahead. If you tend to take your smartphone usage too seriously, you may be offended.) To me, socially isolated means that you have little human contact. That you don't know how to communicate with people. That you have difficulty interacting in groups when you are with people. That when you are out in public, people don't really see you as a person.

I can't quite make out how my little flip phone manages to do this. It must be far more remarkable than I thought. If anything, it causes me to have social interactions because of the comment it receives when I pull it out. On the other hand, I think I can make a strong case for why a smart phone does exactly what my flip phone is purported to do... cause social isolation.

Let's look at human contact first. Yes, I know you can text and text and text and facebook (can I make that a verb?) and facebook and facebook your little heart out on your smart phone. And presumably there are actual living people at the other end, but I think it's stretching it just a bit to call this genuine human interaction. That would involve actually talking with another human being. You know, where you can at least hear their tone of voice if not see their face. Written communication is not bad, it is just missing something and that something is often tone, and thus liable to be misinterpreted. Of course, this assumes that actual subjects are discussed via text and chat.

Then comes not knowing how to communicate. U hav 2 no how 2 rite. I have written exactly one text message in my life. (I just don't like it, so I don't.) It was written to B. and was about a paragraph long. The full words and complete punctuation helped to lengthen it, I'm sure. He has it saved because it makes him laugh. But back to text shorthand. I understand why it evolved, and if it was done occasionally that would be fine. Since we learn what we do, there are many people who seem to have lost the skill at real writing. They either have forgotten or never learned the ability to code switch because I see this shorthand more and more in places where it shouldn't be.

How about difficulty interacting in groups. This could be true of any cell phone user, but seems to be particularly true for those with smart phones. Not only is there the actual phone, but there are the texts, and facebook that must be checked all. the. time. Forget the fact that you may have an actual person in front of you, the screen comes first. It's feelings are hurt very easily, you know, and it might think you didn't care for it if you were to pay attention to an actual person. You all know what I'm talking about, so I don't need to go into much more detail.

Finally, social isolation happens when the people around you don't see you as an actual person. We are slowly training ourselves to ignore people talking on their phones. It's as if when you are on the phone, you have ceased to exist for all the attention people give you. The easiest way to hide yourself is to pick up a phone. A person sobbing on the curb might elicit attention. A person sobbing on the curb with a phone is ignored. Someone else is already dealing with the problem, we don't have to.

Like most technology, the smart phone is a tool. Used well, it can be useful and helpful. Used poorly, it is neither of those things. We humans are not good at limiting ourselves and often go overboard. Anything that allows us to forget our problems for a while or makes us feel important are easily misused. Well, problems don't go away regardless of how often we ignore them and we, none of us, are as important as we'd like to think. The world won't end if the phone is turned off and put away.

I know I take a perverse pleasure in not being technically up to date, but even if you love the latest gadget, all I ask is that you think carefully about its usage. Or maybe even question whether you need it in the first place. A small stupid phone still makes phone calls and texts. And even better? With a pay-per-use plan, you have to think whether that phone call is really important. Often it's not.

The socially-engaged, happy, non-ranting blogger will return tomorrow.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

She laughs at the time to come

Today is the monthly Hearts at Home blog hop and the topic is "Love Your Dreams/Goals" and I have to admit I wasn't feeling really in love with it. It's not that I don't have dreams or goals in my life. I have plenty.... probably more than I have years to fulfill them all. I could spend this post writing something along the lines of be sure you have plans and dreams, especially if you are in the middle of you child raising years because you need more in life than raising children. But you already know that. Then this morning came the underwear incident.

I was listening to the little girls getting dressed and G. was having an unhappy moment about her underwear. L., helpfully was telling her, "You picked it, you just have to wear it." G. was shouting, "No, I don't! And the washer stretched it out!" This was curious. J. wanders in to see what is going on and the next thing I hear is J. saying, "G., that's not even your underwear. I don't know whose it is, but it certainly isn't yours. Let's get you some that fits." And I laughed out loud. Up to this point, I wasn't feeling terribly excited about the day. I was feeling as though it was going to be a slog and I was just hoping to get through it. Until I laughed (really laughed) about the underwear. Immediately I felt my mood lighten and my whole attitude took a turn for the better. It felt good.

I've admonished you to be sure to include the discipline of laughter (if you missed it because it was in December, you should read it) into your lives before, but after the little underwear incident this morning, I began to think about it in different terms and two Bible passages came to mind. The first was the line from Proverbs 31 about the wise woman laughing at the time to come and the second was the story in Luke about Jesus sleeping in the boat during the storm and the disciples panicking and waking him up. I know they seem incredibly unrelated, but bear with me.

The Luke passage is part of what we studied in my girls' Bible study on Tuesday. We had discussed how could Jesus sleep through what amounted to a hurricane. We came up with two reasons. The first was that he was exhausted from continuously moving around and preaching and healing people and being surrounded by crowds. The second was that He had absolute confidence in His Father to protect Him. When we assured of God's love and care, we can truly rest.

Thinking about this knowledge of secure love led me to the woman in Proverbs 31 and I realized that I had been reading the passage wrong. In the past, I had always assumed that she could laugh at the future because she was so organized and so prepared and so on top of things. She had no reason to worry because she had it all together. Her sense of security and her ability to essentially thumb her nose at the future was because of all she had done for herself. And I think this explanation is dead wrong.

She was able to laugh at the coming days because she is first and foremost a woman of God. Yes, she's also pretty amazing in the organizing and doing departments, but if we only focus on that we miss something important. Some of the things she does, she can only do if she if putting God first. She lives out her faith. We see this in her respect for her husband, in her commitment to the poor, in her kindness in her speech, in the love her children and husband have for her, and that she is described as having wisdom. If you have read the rest of Proverbs, you know that wisdom is always equated with the fear of God. She is able to do the things she does because she has her priorities straight. She is also able to look to the future, not with fear, but with laughter, with joy. She is describes as wise, so she would not be so foolish as to think life will always be pleasant, but even with this knowledge, she has joy.

Joy is a gift, a fruit of the Spirit. It comes from the assurance that we are in God's hands no matter what. We can laugh because we know God's got our future. We can sleep in the hurricane because we know God's in charge. So don't stop making plans, but do hold them lightly because God may have other ones. If you had told me when J. and I first got married that we would end up with 10+ children, I'm not sure I would have believed you. I'm not sure that would have been my plan. It would have been laughable, and that would have been the only reaction I had correct. It would have been laughable, because God's plans are always better, always more unexpected, always (ultimately) joyful.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Thankful for sad

I want to start out by bragging about my college age children a bit. If you have children at college then you already understand that the transitions between vacation and school can be tricky to navigate. At school your child is an autonomously functioning adult. They are responsible for what they do and when. Yet when they arrive home for vacations, they enter a grey area. No longer are they responsible just for themselves, but they are back in a family with other people and they must think of those people. Also, it is so easy for both parent and child to fall back into old patterns, all the while the young adult tries to somehow maintain that sense of independence at school.

I will say that I think my young adults manage these transitions pretty well. On our parts, J. and I try to remember that their role in the family has changed. This means we try not to tell them what to do and when. I also try not to assume that they will be free to do something, and am sure to check their calendars with them. I will admit to taking advantage of the extra childcare available a few times and the extra driver more than a few times, but I did check first. On their side, both of them are very good about asking if they are needed at home before going ahead with plans of their own and also letting me know ahead of time if they won't be around for a meal. It works well if everyone makes the little extra effort to be considerate of one another.

What impresses me most about these two is the effort they take to keep relationships going with their younger brothers and sisters. It is not something that they need to do. They could spend most of the their time focusing on their own stuff and not pay much attention to the little noise makers who live in the house. Yet they do take the time with them. I have loved watching the relationships continue even though M. and B. are not around as much these days. As a parent, it makes me so happy.

Of course the flip side of this it means that when it is time for M. and B. to go back to school it is a very sad thing. K. spent the entire weekend announcing how he didn't want Sunday to come because he didn't want M. and B. to go. It was pretty pathetic, but not unusual for him to express how he is feeling. This is as opposed to TM, who as a rule cannot interpret the emotions he is feeling and as a result was captive to them. He knew he felt something and that something was making him miserable, but didn't know why and pretty much took all this miserableness out on those around him. TM and M. had had a particularly nice time together over break and I knew he would be extremely upset to see her go back to school. And so I braced myself for the storm which I knew would come.

Sometimes I am wrong and in this particular instance, I am extremely happy to be wrong. Life has been as even keeled as it ever is around here this week. Why is that? Well, I think it is solely due to one thing. TM was able to self-identify what he was feeling and express it. If that doesn't count as a miracle, I don't know what does. On Sunday, TM was watching M. pack up her stuff to move back that afternoon. As he stood and watched her and looked at the boxes and bags, he says, "I don't like to look at all that stuff because it makes me sad." The earth probably shook as a result, did you feel it?

I don't think I can fully express how huge this is. He felt something, he was able to identify what he was feeling and the cause, and he was able to verbalize it out loud. Huge. Huge. Huge. It made me teary when it happened and it still makes me a bit teary to write it out.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Adoption 101: glitches

I'm not sure I'm completely qualified to write this post, though in truth, I think there are probably very few people who actually are. With that caveat in mind, I will heedlessly jump into the fray and discuss something that a lot of people talk about privately, but that doesn't get mentioned publicly very often. That topic would be the irregular workings of our children's brains... at least those children who have come from less-than-ideal circumstances. I'm not sure anyone really knows what to call this, so I'm going to stick with glitches. Since a glitch is defined as a short-lived fault in a system, it seems to cover what I'm talking about.

I have a feeling that some parents are already nodding their heads in agreement, but probably many others are wondering what this is. Let's see if I can explain. I know a lot of adoptive families and a lot of adopted children. I also am on many internet groups of adopted parents, so my sample size is actually fairly large. Here's what I hear a lot.

"My child does really, really well on something and then it seems as though he forgets everything and has never seen the material before, even though he just did 9 of the same problem."

"My child says everything out loud. I say, 'I'm going to the store," and my child immediately asks, 'Are you going to the store?'"

"My child makes odd noises nearly continuously."

"My child doesn't seem to remember anything."

"My child interrupts. A lot."

And these are just of few of the very consistent statements I hear from a lot of different parents. The only consistent thing about this group is that their children were adopted and that their children had some orphanage time. Other than that, the children come from different countries, live in families of different sizes, go to a variety of schools, and came home at varying ages. I will add that this is my experience as well, both with my labelled special needs children and the supposedly healthy ones.

If you are not expecting it, it can catch you off guard. It can also make you panic thinking that there is something horribly wrong with your child. It is so far out of the realm of regular parenting that 'something horribly wrong' is the only thing that seems to make sense. Until you hear that another family has experienced the same thing, then maybe the alert level heads down to 'very concerning'. Then when you hear the same thing from several other families, you start to be able to breathe again. Finally, when more adoptive parents admit to something like this than not, the whole thing becomes just vaguely annoying and a chance to show your child patience and love while their brains sort themselves out.

So there's the description, now here's my own take on the problem. And it's completely my own personal pet theories and pretty much made up, though based on experience and reading. Take it with as much salt as you like. Disclaimer stated. There are three main points I want to make.

1. These glitchy brains took a long time to create, we can't expect them to de-glitch in a matter of just weeks or months.

Depending on when the child came into care, what the environment was before they came into care, and the number of changes a child went through, there could be a very long history of maladaptation. We want the best for our children and it is hard to think that they will have difficulties with processing for a long time. We love them and really want to believe that this will make everything better. We want to make things better. Right. Now. We give them the enriched, loving environment that we know is good for them and wonder why it isn't working. It is doing something, the trouble is we want the results too fast and we give up too soon. What we are doing may be working, but we need to think in a much longer time frame.

2. We need to think about how a healthy child's brain wires itself and go back and give the glitchy brain a chance to rewire.

I am convinced that as well as supporting our children at the chronological age that they are that we also need to go back and support them at the age when the maladaptation began. If you are an infant and toddler in an orphanage, think of all the things you missed. Putting aside everything that a child learns about relationships in those years, just think about what a child learns to prepare for academic learning. When a Western child raised in a loving, enriching home enters school, they have already had years of learning experiences. They have been read to, sung to, have touched and explored different textures, have built and knocked down hundreds of block towers, have played in the dirt and sand and in water, have colored and practiced writing, been surrounded by print, and played many, many games from peek-a-boo and pat-a-cake to Candyland. They have had parents explain everything to them... how and why we get dressed, why we choose certain clothes at certain times, what we do each day and what order the days come in, what the weather is like and why, how to eat, how to sit and listen, how to share, how to wait and not interrupt, why people feel sad or happy, why they feel sad or happy. The list goes on and on. Much of what a child learns comes from interacting with loving adults.

Now thing about a child in an orphanage or other deprived environment. No toys, no adult thinking that child is the center of the world, no varied experiences, no books, no explanations, no play. A child is left to his or her own devices with very little to stimulate the senses. (I know that some orphanages are better than others, but the point still stands that it takes an adult to help the child order his world and to make sense of it.) When you add in the possibility that a child will move environments and not only have to make sense of the new environment on their own, but the changes as well, you can see why their brains are so different from a child's who has grown up in a stable and nurturing environment.

We really need to go back and let our children, even if they are older, experience those things that they missed. For those of us with little people, it is a fairly easy thing to accomplish since you can make it seem as though you are only playing with the younger, when really it is as much for the older child. (Borrow a younger child if your older child seems reticent.) Get out blocks, play in water, read dozens and dozens of picture books, narrate life the way you would for a younger child, sing songs, play games, hop, skip, jump, and crawl. If you did it with your babies and toddlers, do it with your new (or not so new) older child. It is both nurturing and meets some emotional and developmental needs. Of course, the tricky thing is to be able to do this as well as meeting them at their chronological age as well. I didn't say it was going to be easy. I still contend that having twin babies around for all three of my adopted children is the best thing that could have happened to them.

3. Rewiring is more difficult to do than getting it right the first time and will need more support to be successful.

We need to mediate our children's learning to a degree we don't have to with our children who were raised in stable environments. I posted a little about reading about mediated learning in the work of Reuven Feuerstein. It is still my dream to be able to afford the rather pricey training that is offered here in Chicago to learn more about this, because I think it has great potential to help this population of children. The trouble is that so few in adoption circles know about his work. But in the meantime, we can all be a little more purposeful in explaining and helping our children to understand the connections that are around them. They cannot help the glitches they live with, and as I watch H. grow and understand more of her world, I can see more and more that they frustrate her as well. She just couldn't even begin to verbalize how she felt about it for a long time. She still can't in words, but she can at least express the general emotion now. Can you imagine being so lost in your own head that you can't even begin to understand what is wrong, much less what you feel about it? This is a reality for many of our children. We need to reflect back to them what is going on inside their heads to they can understand as well as explain and describe what is going on in the outside world. It is as though we are slowly blowing away a fog.

If you take anything away from this, take this. Our children cannot help these glitches. They do not do these things on purpose, but only because it is often the only perceived option at the moment. There is no interior life of the mind yet, so everything must be done out loud or it doesn't exist. It is our job as parents to slowly help our children order their minds and their lives so that understanding and a sense of self develops. It is a slow process and often frustrating, but as frustrated as we feel, I truly believe our children feel it even more so. If you've ever asked God for patience, He has given it to you... as a skill to develop, which is, of course, the only way it happens. More than anything else, though, remember that our children are human beings, created in the image of God, first and foremost, and not a problem to be fixed. It may be that the glitches never truly vanish completely, but that does not make them any less valuable.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Crown factory

After a weekend of Romeo and Juliet, sending M. and B. back to school, and hours revising my schedule to make it match the reality of vacations and surgeries for the next few months all you get this morning are some pictures.

As I predicted, the crown that M. made for L. was hugely popular and all of the younger set needed crowns as well. TM wanted to get into the crown making action and made HG3 this one:

M. made a pink (by request) crown for G.

K. decided he wanted to make his own.

And TM made a butterfly crown for H.

And if you really feel the need for actual content, head over to Heart of the Matter and read my new article on Surviving the January Doldrums.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Queen Elsa

One of the fun family activities we did over Christmas break was to take everyone to see the movie, Frozen. Some family members really, really loved it. One of the favorite activities now is to sing the songs from it all the time. A. and TM are quite accommodating and hook their iPods up to speakers so the little girls can listen to the music. All. The. Time.

L., as is her wont, has embraced the movie in her own unique way. No more Superman around here, she has transformed into Queen Elsa from the movie. For four straight days she has chosen dresses and tights... because that's what Queen Elsa wears. Then into the second day, she found a random Lego piece that looked vaguely like a crown that she insisted we bobby pin on her head. This was find for a while, but it would come off and it didn't look like a real crown. The wonderful thing about having your designer older sister still home for break is that when you complain about your lack of crown, she offers to make you one. And not only does she make one, she makes it to your own specifications... it has to be a circle so it stays on the head and it has to have pokey things on top.

M. now has orders to make crowns for other young family members. G. has been willing to play Princess Anna to L.'s Queen Elsa, but she hasn't embraced it quite as fully. Plus, there was the fight the other day over which girl got to have ice powers... L. was not willing to share and G. really thought she should. It's a funny life when you have so spend time negotiating the sharing of imaginary powers.

Friday, January 10, 2014

The unexpected hidden cost of a large family

It all started because it was too cold and I needed to find the feather bed to help keep K. warm. This meant rummaging around in the blanket chest where it lives, under years' worth of photo albums. It being night and me being tired meant that I left the piles of photo albums on a couch... for several days. Yesterday, I decided that I must reclaim the couch and do something with with photo albums to keep them safe from little fingers. The trouble was that at the same time little fingers were interested in them, older children were really enjoying seeing them again.

In our old house (the charming, too-small one), the photo albums were more accessible and were often looked at. When we moved into the Big Ugly House, there didn't seem to be a convenient place to store them, and so at some point they ended up in the blanket chest. And since the blanket chest is often the pedestal on which our Harris Loan Program animals live, it is often difficult to get inside.

These are all the thoughts that went through my head yesterday as I pondered the massive pile of photo albums. I wanted to keep them out, yet I wanted to protect them at the same time. As I looked around, I finally decided to err on the side of practicality rather than charming decorating. The spot in the back living room above the glass-fronted book case seemed perfect, but it would mean that it looked a little 'decorated'. (It is the same spot I displayed the gingerbread houses a year ago.)

As I was putting them in order upon the shelves, I realized something. The first couple of albums covered 2-3 years of photos. The most recent albums were doing well if a full year was covered, and they were bigger. As I flipped through them, I realized it was a matter of number of children. While we didn't take any fewer pictures of the children when we just had one or two (in fact, we might have taken more), I could cover major events in fewer pages. One or two children carving pumpkins only takes a few pictures to adequately document the event. Taking pictures of 10 children carving pumpkins takes several pages' worth of pictures to cover it. I am always sure that I have a photo of each child when we do something; I don't want anyone to look back at the family pictures and ask why they aren't there. For a child who avoids the camera, this becomes challenging. Interestingly, they are always happy to find themselves in the pictures after the fact.

So this is my unexpected hidden cost of having many children. (You were wondering when I was going to come to it, weren't you?) Documenting our life is just more expensive and takes more room. I was reminded of this when I did my photo book for 2009 and had dozens of extra pages, and when I was ordering prints to finally finish 2008 in a more traditional album. At least I don't have to pay for film and processing any more! I try to be honest about the pluses and minuses of having a large family. I find the general criticisms about having many children to not hold much water in actual experience, so when I do find a possible difficulty I like to share. Sorry if it isn't quite as earth-shattering as some of you may have hoped.

Speaking of photos, here are two from Romeo and Juliet which opens tonight. Come see the show if you are in the area.

That's D. on the right.

A. is in the pink jacket and skirt.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Learning jags

I've been on a bit of a reading jag here recently... if you hadn't already noticed. As I've been thinking about it, it's how I function pretty much all the time. Get consumed with something, spend every moment of free time doing it, losing a bit of interest, and moving onto something else with the whole cycle starts again. My family is rather used to it and are pretty OK with it since I still manage to keep everyone fed and dressed. Usually. It's also how I functioned in school as well, though it wasn't always good for my grades to become consumed with the class I was auditing and not the class I was being graded in.

I have also noticed that in several of my children, they tend to function the same way. Being really interested in one thing, working on and reading about that one thing to the greater exclusion of the rest of their schoolwork, then moving on. I have learned to try not to interfere too much in this process as it usually averages itself out in the long run. It also helps to know the child since there are a couple of them that I know will never cycle through math and so I must be more insistent that they get to that subject. With other children, math will be part of the cycle, but another subject will not, so I need to be on top of that.

It is kind of like the education version of the toddler diet. You know the toddler diet... while being notoriously picky eaters, eventually given enough scope and opportunity they will eat a balanced diet. You have to look at it over a longer period of time, though, because the day-to-day diet doesn't seem all that varied. It's not much different with my children's education.

And even if they weren't able to get to every subject over a longer period of time, there is something to be said for learning one topic deeply. When you become so engrossed in something that you lose yourself in it, you are learning the true joy of learning. (What Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi terms 'flow'. [My public service announcement. I have asked J. how to pronounce this name so many times I can now do it. It's 'Mee-high Chick-sent-mee-high'.]) It also teaches you to dig deep and stretch yourself. Usually the more intensely you learn a subject, the more difficult it becomes. You stop with the easy and facile, and start to really work. If you learn to do this with one subject, the skills transfer to other subjects. And as you learn more about one subject, it opens up new avenues to pursue that are often only tangentially related to your original subject. Often you find yourself learning about things you didn't even know existed. Learning becomes an adventure.

I think this is what I find most appealing about homeschooling: Learning and discovering can remain an adventure and not just something that is required. It can allow a child to pursue his or her own bent. Sure there are things that still have to be done even if they aren't favorites, but even these are helped by the experience that learning can be enjoyable.

I'll also piggyback on yesterday's post a bit. If you want your children to be adventurous, enthusiastic learners, be one yourself. Have you learned something new recently? Have you been excited by a discovery that you share with everyone at the dinner table? If not, why? Pick something you're interested and learn about it!

(Don't you love how I have just justified my own little quirks yet one more time?)

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Do as I do

I read an interesting book last night, The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way by Amanda Ripley. While I'm drawn to books about education, I always approach them with a little trepidation because the theories and worldview behind them can be all over the board. This one turned out to be interesting, if only from an anthropological point of view. The author looks at three countries whose children scored extremely well on the Program for International Student Assessment or PISA. The interesting twist is that she follows three US exchange students as they get a front seat view into the schools of Finland, South Korea, and Poland. I didn't agree with everything the author espoused, but it was fascinating to see into the schools of other countries.

There was one interesting bit that I thought worth sharing here.

"Parents who read to their children weekly or daily when they were young raised children who scored twenty-five points higher on PISA by the time they were fifteen years old. That was almost a full year of learning. More affluent parents were more likely to read to their children almost everywhere, but even among families within the same socioeconomic group, parents who read to their children tended to raise kids who scored fourteen points higher on PISA. By contrast, parents who regularly played with alphabet toys with their young children saw no such benefit.

At least one high-impact form of parental involvement did not actually involve kids or schools at all: If parents simply read for pleasure at home on their own, their children were more likely to enjoy reading, too. That pattern held fast across very different countries and different levels of family income. Kids could see what parents valued, and it mattered more than what parents said." (from chapter 6; Drive)

Interesting, huh?

Our children are watching us. Our children are looking to see if what we say has any impact on our we live our own lives. If we tell our children reading is important, then they will watch to see if it is really important enough for us to do it. "Do as I say and not as I do" just doesn't cut it. Our children know what we really believe simply by watching us.

If what we say and what we actually do do not match up, our children will take the action over the words in their search for the truth. If we tell our children not to be picky eaters, but are picky ourselves, what are they going to believe? If we tell our children that faith and God are important, yet they see no evidence of belief or obedience in our lives, what are they going to think? If we say we should treat everyone with respect and not yell at others, yet that is exactly what we do when angry, how are they going to act?

It is an awesome responsibility to be a parent. It is also humbling because often the negative traits we see in our children which drive us nuts are very likely the ones that we also have, but just can't face. The next time you find yourself telling your children what is really important, be sure that you actually believe it yourself.

I have to say, I also love the above excerpt because it justifies my little reading habit. I love having someone tell me that I am furthering my children's well-being and education merely by indulging in one of my personal pleasures.

Go read something. You can't say I haven't given you plenty of ideas over the past week or so.
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