Saturday, May 31, 2014

Ways to support adoptive families in your church

About a month ago, J. and I spoke to one of our church's Sunday School classes about our experiences with adoption. The time went by very quickly and we weren't able to get to every topic we wanted to discuss. Since one of these topics seemed rather important, we were asked to write something that could be shared with the member of the class. I thought perhaps this could be of more general interest, so I share it here. (Plus, it's sort of like a free blog post.)

One of the things we never got a chance to discuss on Sunday was ways that the church can support adoptive families. Before I go on with my list, I want to first say that J. and I feel incredibly blessed to be a part of this church family. We have felt supported and uplifted in prayer and have never had difficulties due to the differences and needs of our children. In talking with many adoptive families from across the country, we realize this is no small thing. Sadly, our very positive experience is rather unusual. I want to clarify this before making my list, because when writing such a list it is easy to assume discontent on the part of the writer, and I want to be sure that everyone knows this is not the case for our family. So, here goes…

 Ways to Support Adoptive Families in Your Church

 • Pray for them! Do not be afraid to approach them and let them know you are praying for them. Don’t be afraid to ask them for specific prayer requests. I know I have greatly appreciated people who have approached me to say they have been praying and I always have a list of things that are of current concern.

 • Take the responsibility to learn appropriate adoption language. While most of us know that in general people mean well, it does get tiring to field questions such as, “Are they real siblings?” or “Are they your real children?” or “He’s so cute, why didn’t his mother want him?” If you speak of an adopted child in the same terms as a biological one, you should be safe.

 • Take a meal. Every so often, someone shows up with a meal and it is so appreciated. Not only does it help with just putting another meal on the table, it says that someone has been thinking of us and cares.

• Get to know the child/children as individuals. For those of us with larger families (even the non-adoptive ones), it is so refreshing when people take the time to learn a child’s name and not refer to them as one of a herd. We are so appreciative of those people who have taken the time to get to know our children. One woman has developed a relationship with a couple of our sons and every so often takes them on special outings.

 • Be tolerant. Some of our children are developing social skills. They don’t always sit quietly, they don’t always behave well, they don’t always respond as one would expect. We appreciate it when people understand that everyone is doing the best they can and to indulgently tolerate unexpected behavior. If a church decides it wants to support adoption, then it has to also decide it has a tolerance for a wide range of behaviors from those children.

• Be understanding of the harm of institutionalization and its effect on behavior. Living in an orphanage is not a good thing for any child and children develop coping mechanisms to survive. While these are great for surviving in orphanages, they are really not so great when it comes to living in a family. Children coming from these environments often show indiscriminate affection. This means that they have learned that if they hug and love and kiss the adults around them, they get things that they want. When they come home, this behavior doesn’t necessarily stop. It is also easier to be affectionate towards strangers than do the hard work of attaching to new parents. Here is where the congregation comes in. If a child is newly home and is suddenly holding your hand or telling you that they love you, gently redirect them towards their parent. While it is flattering to have a child seem to like you so much, it is not healthy for them. You can be friendly and keep your distance. If you are unsure, check with the parents. I’m sure they will be glad to share what the new child’s boundaries should be and appreciate the help in building them.

• Don’t tell us we’re saints. First, we know it’s not true and second, it makes it seem as though what we are doing is not something the average person can do. We may have learned specialized knowledge along the way because we had to, but believe me when I say we didn’t start out that way. We are no different from anyone else. If you want to share your appreciation of what a family is doing, try comments along these lines, “I love seeing your family.” “You are so blessed.” “I appreciate what you do, how can I support you?”

 • Know that sometimes parenting looks different. Children who have been hurt have very different parenting needs than healthy children. Sometimes that means we need to keep them close. Sometimes it means that we aren’t as free to do things as other people. Sometimes it means that our parenting doesn’t look like what you’re typically used to seeing. If you don’t agree, just keep it to yourself. Often the methods we are using come after years of trying more traditional methods unsuccessfully  and these new ones are working. (This has never happened to us, but I know other people, in other churches have had difficulty with this.)

• If you know the family, be willing to provide respite care every now and then. Being able to leave children who come from hard places can be tricky. It also makes it difficult for the parents to get out by themselves occasionally. If you have developed a relationship with the family and with the children, offer to provide occasional care for the parents. But do so being aware that, depending on how everyone is faring, the parents may or may not take you up on it. Do not be hurt if you are turned down.

 • Be a part of the solution. I can’t think of anyone in the adoption world who believes that every single person should adopt. That would be crazy. But we do think that supporting adoption and orphan care is something that everyone is called to do. For some of us, we feel compelled to advocate for children who are still hoping for a family because we have seen real, live orphans and cannot forget it. All we ask is that you be open to where God is calling you. Maybe He is calling you to adopt. Or perhaps you are called to financially support someone who is adopting. Adoption is expensive. While providing for the daily needs of a child may be manageable for a family, coming up with thousands of dollars to adopt is not.

Friday, May 30, 2014

The difference a good haircut makes

Today H. and I trekked an hour and a half to see the hair stylist who specializes in surgical hair design. I had no idea what to expect, but really felt as though we needed to do this. Becky turned out to be a lovely person who really knew what she was doing, plus she was great with H.

As you know, the one thing H. really, really wanted to do when she first came home was to have long hair, so that is what we have been doing. The trouble with having waist-length hair is that when you have surgery and half you head is shaved, it makes for not a great look. I had warned H. that we would probably have to trim her long hair or else the short hair would never have a chance to catch up. H. was OK with this... not thrilled, but OK. Becky did a fantastic job of showing and explaining to H. what she was doing and why. H. has ended up with shoulder-length hair (which I think suits her quite well), and even better, when she was done, H. announces, "I love it!" She even felt confident enough to leave off the headband to go home.

Here are some pictures. (I couldn't decide if the one with the flash was better or not, so I'll just put them all up.)

This last one is from the side where the majority of surgery took place. You can see the hair on top at the back which is starting to grow in, but at first glance the fact that this side of head is shaved is not terribly noticeable. The other thing Becky is doing is ordering some hair clips to add onto this side. These are strong barrettes which have 18 inch strands of hair (matched to her hair color) attached to them. We tried one out and she has enough hair grown back already that the clips stay attached. By adding this hair pieces, it will fill out this side and her surgical scars and lack of hair will be barely noticeable.

One other thing which may be of interest to anyone who has a child on seizure meds, Becky told me something interesting. (Side note, I was particularly interested to talk with her [Becky] about seizures since what started her business was when she had brain surgery to try to stop her uncontrolled seizures.) She felt and smelled H.'s hair and asked me if she was on medication. When I said she was taking seizure meds, Becky replied, "I could tell." It turns out one of the ways the medicine exits the body is through the hair. She used a specially formulated shampoo and it took the smell (which I have been aware of, but not been able to figure out) right away. Needless to say, we have ordered some of that shampoo.

But there is still one more cool thing about this visit that I need to share with you. A long-time friend, whom we hadn't seen in a while, contacted a few weeks back and offered to pay for H.'s visit to this stylist. How cool is that? We feel mighty blessed.

Was it worth driving for three hours today? In short, yes. The look on H.'s face when her hair was finished and the shaved patches barely noticeable was priceless. I would have driven twice that far to give this child who has had very few moments of really liking what she sees in the mirror that experience.

For anyone who is interested, here's a link to Becky's website: Surgical Hair Design

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Cross patterning and the brain

There was a question on yesterday's post and I thought I'd take a moment to answer it. I had mentioned cross-brain patterning and someone asked what that was. The comments also mentioned crawling and EMDR, thus giving me a chance to roll all that information into a blog post. (Hooray!)

(First, my usual disclaimer. I'm not a brain-scientist and neither of my degrees relate to brain science at all; I'm just well read. Take my post as a starting point and do your own research.)

As I said yesterday, our brain has two halves. The left half controls the right side of the body and the right half controls the left side. As well, there are certain functions which are usually housed in different sides of the brain, though the brain is continually talking back and forth between the two halves. In fact, we function best when the brain is easily able to do this communication between each half of the brain. Sometimes, though, the communication isn't always that great and things get stuck. (Now you see the need for the above disclaimer. I'll probably use the word 'stuff' at some point as well.) But, there are certain things people can do to help their brains By doing something physical that causes the brain to move back and forth between the two halves, we facilitate that type of movement when we use our brains in other ways.

This brings us to crawling. When I was little, my father taught first grade, then when I entered first grade, he made the switch to teaching kindergarten. (This was at a different school, but I always thought it was funny that while I was moving up to first grade, he was moving down to kindergarten.) The only reason this is important is that he had a lot of experience with reading readiness and teaching children to read. I can remember him describing how he would make sure every child was able to crawl because that would aid in their ability to read. (Note this doesn't mean that the child actually used crawling as their means of locomotion, but that they had the ability to crawl. As another side note, I never crawled as a baby.) It is not the crawling itself, but the extreme cross patterning that happens when you crawl. Think about it, you have opposite arms and legs moving in a pattern, thus activating the entire brain and forcing both halves to work together. Crawling is good for your brain.

Now we move onto EMDR therapy. It's often shortened to its acronym because the full name, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy. EMDR is easier. It is actually my experience with EMDR that made me think of trying the whole tapping-thing with H. As a therapist explained it (very simply) to me, when trauma happens, our brains can store it in two ways in different halves of our brains. Our rational side can think somewhat critically about the event, but we can store a more visceral emotion-laced memory of it somewhere else. The trouble comes when the two parts of our brain do not integrate those two very different types of memory. EMDR works because of the cross patterning (with lights or buzzers) that happens during therapy. It sounds a little crazy and a little too simple, but many people have had great success with it.

The last thing you need to know (or remember) is how plastic our brains actually are. They are constantly forming and deleting connections all based on current usage. (This is going to segue so nicely into my book review I'm going to do soon.) The more we do something, the more brain cells are devoted to it and the more secure those connections become. We can practice new ways of doing things. We can give ourselves new ways to think. It can take time and persistence, but we can change our brains.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

A simple experiment

I'm not sure I have ever explicitly mentioned this, but since H. has linear nevus sebaceous syndrome, it also means that she has left-brain hemiplegia. That sounds dire, I know, mainly because anything diagnosis which has the word 'brain' in it kind of makes everyone's stomachs do a flip-flop. There's a couple of things to know (which I certainly didn't) about this and about syndromes in general. Having been given the diagnosis of a syndrome is really just having a name for a particular group of medical issues. The syndrome itself isn't a disease, but a description. The actual physical difficulties that a person has are each their own 'thing'. Having a syndrome doesn't mean you will have every possible diagnosis that can go along with the syndrome. It also doesn't describe the severity of each of these diagnoses. It took me a while to wrap my head around what a syndrome is and isn't.

So, back to the hemiplegia. Because linear nevus sebaceous syndrome describes tissue overgrowth... specifically brain, bone, and skin... it is not surprising that brain overgrowth would have some complications. Hemiplegia is really just a fancy, Latinized name for something going wrong with half of the brain (hemi=half and plegia=paraliysis). In general, H. is very unaffected by her hemiplegia. She has very little noticeable difference in her use of body, including very good fine motor skills in her right hand (which surprised her neurologist). Where we do notice it the most is in her ability to access short-term memory and moving things she has learned from her short-term memory into her long-term memory. This is very frustrating for her (and I admit, me as well.) As we have been working on this, it has gotten much better, but every so often she still has moments where remembering is very difficult.

You know I have a little reading habit which includes reading everything I can about the brain. I know that the two halves of the brain need to communicate in order for optimum functioning. (We do a lot of things that encourage this cross-brain communication, believe me.) But one day while H. was struggling and frustrated with not remembering something, I decided to try on the spur of the moment a little experiment. While I was telling her correct information, I gently tapped her shoulders, alternating back and forth. I don't really have any scientific basis on which to say this, but it seems to be working. The things that were difficult to remember before I tapped her shoulders, were no longer difficult and she has continued to remember them. I don't claim that this is a cure-all for everything, but it is a big small thing that has really given H. a boost of confidence.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Too busy playing

The weather is lovely, the big events are nearly over, and we are getting closer to having everything finished. Thus, we have been enjoying the day and each other and I haven't written anything. (Which is not really good because I have two conference sessions to write and they need to be done immediately.) I also have a few blog posts brewing in my head (adoptive families and the church; another teaching/homeschooling idea; a book review about a book that chronicles how the internet changes our brains), but they still need to sorting out before I can write them.

Instead, I will resort to a cheap and easy post that sends you to past posts that I've written and you might not have seen. (It's been pointed out to me that I write a lot and its easy to miss some things.) So if you still need something to read, try one of these. Some of these are really old and some have books or things listed that you might be interested in. I'll put current links to those couple of things at the bottom.

A Tale of Two Treehouses

How I Create an Unit Study

Have You Seen These?

Sing With Your Children

A Little Story About a Little Owl

The Lost Sheep

The Return of the Twelves

The Cost of Raising a Child

Are We There Yet? by Alison Lester

Storm Boy by Colin Thiele

Diary of a Wombat by Jackie French

Egg Molds

The Return of the Twelves by Pauline Clarke

Monday, May 26, 2014

Just a little party

Yesterday HG was baptized and I thought the occasion called for celebration, so invited three other families to have lunch with us. That doesn't sound like too much, huh? Well, there were 34 people here (we invited our pastor and his family as well), with 29 children. (Though counting 'children' is becoming more difficult because some of them aren't exactly children anymore.) We served 8 pounds of pasta and the other mothers brought salad, bread, and cake. It was a fun afternoon with many children playing in the back yard on the zip line, slack line, and with jump ropes. (I sometimes look at my back yard and think perhaps I should have a waiver form I ask parents to sign.) The most exciting part of the afternoon came when a bird flew into the house. It was eventually caught and let go outside.

Sorry, I have no pictures because we were all enjoying the party and didn't think to take any. We are now off to another get-together (and we had one on Saturday and two last weekend). I think we will just come home and collapse. All this socializing is exhausting!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Artist Trading Card Party

Yesterday was our long-awaited Artist Trading Card party. I decided that it would work best if each person had a place to display their cards and then they could walk around and see what the others had made and trade if they wanted to. I had no idea how this all would work out. I am happy to report it was a great success. There was much admiring of cards at first, and then after a few tentative trades, things got into full swing. I think everyone enjoyed it. Pictures include children from the H-S Family and the P. Family.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Real life

At one point I received a suggestion to live-blog about a typical day around here. Well, since the computer is off most of the time, the live part won't work, so I did the next best thing. I took notes through out the day, so I could recreate it for you. I kept waiting for a day that would sound pretty spectacular and earn me my blog readers' everlasting awe and admiration. Since that day never came, I decided just to pick a day and let you see the real stuff and let go of the whole awe and admiration-thing. Without further ado, here is what our day looked like around here yesterday. I would say it was pretty typical, though with little disregulation, for us on our more relaxed summer schedule. I will also say that I find this long and not terribly interesting, because really a day around here is not any different than in any other family with children. But, some people say they are interested, so here it is.

7:30 J. wakes me up and hands me a cup of coffee. For the next half hour, my brain slowly begins to function while many small children jabber at me and jump around the room.
8:00 I get up and head downstairs. Small people are eating breakfast. I turn on the computer, refill my coffee cup, and begin responding to email.
8:15 I start writing a blog post.
8:30 J. leaves for work on his bike. Older people start to stagger downstairs and fix breakfast. D. and TM are awake but are in their room in sorting through their trading cards (which go along with a game that M. taught them to play).
8:45 M. leaves to catch the bus to head down to school. She needs some papers signed for her summer internship and then will spend the rest of her day with her boyfriend. Since she has to work tonight running sound for band rehearsal at church, we won’t see her until late tonight.
9:00 D. and TM come downstairs and eat breakfast while playing their card game. HG takes the energetic younger people outside to play.
9:20 A. begins the cake she is baking for a party tomorrow night. I erase the blog post. 9:45 After a little more dithering, I finally head upstairs to get dressed.
9:50 A. discovers we’re out of sugar and leaves to get some at the grocery store.
9:55 Younger people come running back inside announcing a neighbor stopped by with some new toys for Gretel. They both squeak… dog and children are overjoyed. Gretel begins the toy demolition process.

10:10 Game of Uno begins at the kitchen table with HG, HG3, L., K., and H. (G. is looking at books.)
10:11 D. and TM take their game back upstairs.
10:12 P. takes the computer upstairs to work on Japanese. (She is taking this seriously and everything in her room is labeled.)
10:13 L. has a great big noisy fit (GBNF) about the color of Uno card which has just been played. A. returns from the store with the sugar and continues working on the cake.
10:25 Uno game ends, and K. HG3, G. and L. begin playing ‘Car Trip’ with the kitchen chairs, effectively blocking all paths through the kitchen. After discussing cake carrying arrangements with A., I take D. and TM to the local craft store to pick-up some cardboard cake rounds. B. gets up. First dog toy official destroyed.
10:52 I return from my errands, during which I was told by the same child, both that, “It took too long,” and “We never spend enough time looking in that store.” B. is now working in the garden and A. has the cakes in the oven. I decide we need to do something towards finishing the books we have been reading and start to photocopy coloring pages of sea creatures for children to color while I read. [An aside: this week has been a little wonky because of the extra cleaning and room prep for painting. I plan on getting back into more of a routine of working with H. and K. on math and reading each day next week. Just in case you were wondering.]
11:00 I read about shells and mollusks while people color… or not. Do not imagine this is a calm and serene scene. Every other paragraph or so, you must add in the sound of the dog barking, or a child poking the dog, or the phone ringing, or the dog barking.
11:30 We finish reading and I get out our basket of shells for everyone to look at.

12:00 Insist younger people pick-up from the car trip game. I stack the summer picture books back up (again). Boys are upstairs in their room measuring (and arguing) about how to rearrange it once the painting is done. Threaten to take the dog toy squeaker from a certain boy if I hear it one more time. A. comes upstairs inexplicably humming, “Close to You.” We stop to sing it together and I realize that I can’t remember the last verse.
12:20 Everyone is waiting around for the corn dogs to bake. (HG had brought them as a treat.) New Uno game is stared along with a new GBNF from L. 12:30 Lunch and A. leaves to go babysit 12:40 TM and D. decide to join us. TM drops his cards down the stairs (again)
12:45 Everyone settles down and I read a chapter from The Bronze Bow. B. leaves to go watch the Thin Ice Theater rehearsal.
1:00 A friend’s child comes over while she has a meeting. TM, D. and friend head upstairs to play Nancy Drew on our ancient computer. I read two pictures books to G., L., and H. before quiet time.
1:10 I pick-up more stuffing that Gretel has strewn around in effort to destroy her toy, then change the sheets on my bed.
1:30 I go to help a girl in the bathroom and then start to bring up four loads of laundry from the basement to start folding.
1:40 I go upstairs to tell the boys it is time to switch players on their game. Continue to fold laundry.
1:50 P. starts to follow me around saying that there is nothing to do.
1:55 P. asks if I have any way for her to earn money. I say that I thought she had a lot of money, but it turns out it is in 20’s. She has a ‘thing’ about getting change when she buys something and wants to go buy a magazine. They are only $5, so she wants to earn $5… thus no change. I suggest she straighten and clean the back porch. She seems to find this a suitable occupation and heads off to work on it.
1:59 P. asks which cleaner to use and where to find supplies.
2:10 Friend comes over to pick-up her child. I offer to make tea and we sit and visit for a while.
2:30 D. makes another artist trading card when he discovers our party is tomorrow.
3:00 Say good-by to friend, inspect porch to see if P. is done, give suggestions for improvement, and go back to folding laundry. Younger people play in the back yard.
3:05 P. finishes porch and leaves to take care of the cat she is sitting and stop at the magazine store.
3:08 “Discuss” with L. over whether or not it is time for a snack.
3:09 Tell the little girls they can’t play out in front with only K. outside for supervision.
3:11 Repeat snack conversation
3:15 Offer to pay D. a dollar to watch the small people out front
3:45 Finish folding laundry. Agree that L. can now have a snack and brace myself for the onslaught of other people wanting snacks
3:50 Everyone else shows up wanting snacks. I apply one band-aid to an injured knee and try to negotiate snack desires. Much wailing and gnashing of teeth follow. 
3:52 G. carted upstairs to rest and collect herself
3:54 G. returned to bed once again
3:55 A. returns from babysitting
4:10 A. starts to work on her cake again and discovers something went wrong with the layers she baked that morning. A. realizes she needs to start over. I try to offer sympathy and turn on the computer to try to do some work.
4:15 P. returns
4:18 I sit and stare at a blank page on the computer trying to come up with something to write for an article that is due tomorrow.
4:19 I can’t think of anything to write and eat a handful of chocolate chips. A. feeds failed cake to the undiscriminating, snack-obsessed masses.
4:30 Search the phrase, “Questions people ask about homeschooling’ in an attempt to come up with a topic 
4:40 B. returns and asks if he can invite his girl friend over for dinner. (While the term ‘girl friend’ is technically true, she is also one of the H-S family and A.’s very good friend, so it doesn’t seem quite accurate to just say girl friend.)
4:53 I finally figure out a topic and plead with A. to change the music to something that allows me to think 
5:07 Allow the masses to watch their hour of video before dinner. Much running and shouting ensues.
6:00 The article is done, HG is cooking dinner (Thursdays are one of her nights to cook), A. is still having trouble with the cake, and friend arrives.
6:10 I start to work on some outlines which are due for a conference J. and I are doing. I can’t say more than that because it could endanger the participants. That makes it sound all very exciting and interesting. That’s my life. Not.
6:11 I get frustrated with the computer and B. fiddles with it so I can see everything I need to see.
6:30 P. leaves for church. Now that she is going to be in high school she can start to learn to volunteer with the sound team. M. decided to start training her sooner rather than later.
6:40 J. comes home
6:50 Dinner. A dinner which is much quieter than usual. We decide it is because M. wasn’t there. She has a way of making others loud. Singing only broke out once.
7:30 Everyone (meaning those younger than P.) head upstairs to get ready for bed.

I thought about detailing the whole day, but really, if you even made it this far, you’re probably done. Everyone had stories read to them. Everyone made it to bed. A. finished her cake, but not without a bit more angst. P. and M. made it home and P. enjoyed learning about doing sound. I finished a book and started another. Just another ordinary day.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The before

First, thank you so much to everyone who is praying for my dear boy. It means more to me than you can possibly know and I get a little teary every time I think about it. Please, don't stop!

But since we are beginning to embark on making the Big Ugly House a little less ugly, I wanted to show you before pictures. We spent the morning cleaning out the boys' room (no small feat) and we're off to buy paint in just a little bit. So, to show you what things look like around here on a daily basis (in case you had any illusions left about us), here is what the boys' room looked like this morning... and what it looks like every morning.

K. (who used to be in this room, too), left his mark all over. We should have named him Zorro.

And if you were ever wondering what three boys do to a room in 6 years, take a look. Ewww!

And now, never seen before on this blog are the rooms behind the locked door. You'll understand momentarily why we keep it locked. This is where B. will probably some more demolition in the next month.... after he's done playing in the garden, that is.

From the doorway

Inside the main room

Inside the rounded room (which I love and think that someday in the far future would be a really excellent sewing room). If you look up at the line drawing in the header, this is the room that looks like a little tower on top of the house.

More ugliness.

Yes, that's a completely fake fireplace someone built. It's backed with horrible red flocked material.

And now the boys and I are off to pick-out paint. They did a great job of clearing their room this morning and I want to keep the momentum going.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

What to do with college students in the summer

Well, I don't know about you, but we take advantage of the free labor around here. Both M. and B. have summer jobs and internships lined up for later in the summer, but these first few weeks are free. And I have claimed them!

First, M. will be painting TM and D.'s room. It needs it after having years and years of little boys living in it. The walls will get new paint, plus she is going to paint some Bible verses on the walls. Before she can do that, though, it needs to be cleaned and everything pulled to the center of the room. This will be the most difficult step, trust me. I'll be sure to take before and after pictures. I might even be motivated to make the window valences. The window valences I've had the fabric for for, oh, about 6 years.

B. will be putting in a garden and I think I'm going to send him upstairs to continue demolition on the set of three rooms on the third floor that we keep behind a locked door. It would be wonderful to someday have use of those rooms, but there is so much that needs to be done, first. Taking down the rest of the plaster would be a necessary, though small, first step. I should probably take before pictures of those rooms as well. They're something, I tell you.

Having put my big people to work, what will the rest of us do? Well, I think we need to do some serious cleaning up of the third floor, change the winter books to the spring/summer books (finally), and stay out of the productive older people's way. Or maybe we'll just play outside and enjoy one of the rare nice days we've had this spring.
For those of you who have been praying for TM. I think we have seen a very small glimmer of real hope. Please, can I ask you to join me in storming the gates of Heaven that TM is overwhelmed with a very real and tangible sense of God's love for him. Also, could I ask a small favor? If you are praying for him, could you just add a comment (anonymously is fine) saying what city you are praying from. Someday I would love to be able to show him the list of how many people have been loving and caring and praying for him. Thank you.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Doing a little language learning

Inspired by Fluent in 3 Months which I recently read, I have decided to really work on learning another language this summer. The specific language may surprise you. It's not French, though I've had the most experience with it. It's not Italian, though I've studied it for a year. It's neither Vietnamese or Mandarin, though they are some of my children's first languages. It's Spanish. I settled on this for the sole reason that if one has a native speaker of a language living with them, one should take advantage of the fact. HG is a native speaker and I don't feel too self-conscious speaking a new language with her. Plus, she is right there for any grammar and pronunciation help. Logistically these are great reasons, but the deeper reason is that if I learn to speak Spanish I can communicate even better with someone I care deeply about. HG has become a part of our family and while her English is now pretty darn good, I would love to honor her by learning her language as well.

But, argh! I am reminded as to how slow going the very initial language learning stages are. I do not enjoy the part where every single thing seems new and awkward. And that's even with some significant experience with Romance languages. It's sheer mental labor that needs to be done every day. It makes my brain hurt. The little people in the house are joining in on the fun and are pretty good with about five phrases that they say all the time. It doesn't seem to make their brains hurt. I think that's the real difference between learning a language as a child and learning language as an adult. It feels less like work when you are little and learning a new language solely through conversation.

P. is the only one who is charting a new course and has been working on learning Japanese. She has always been interested in all things Japanese, including manga, and it is fun to watch her broaden her interest by working on the language.

It looks as though this is our summer curriculum... intensive language learning for all. Not a bad way to spend the summer, huh?

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Funny little girls

We are forever laughing at the thing G. and L. say and do. (If you are not a fan of hearing other people talk about the cute things their children do, now's your chance to escape. You've been forewarned.) Last week, I took the six youngest children down to the Field Museum because D. and TM were signed-up for a pottery class. That meant for two hours I walked around the museum with just G., L., K., and H. It was a rare treat to have just the four youngest, though I did spend a lot of time searching for children who weren't there. Four just didn't seem quite enough children to keep track of. We had a lot of fun and spent a lot of time looking at the animal displays. They were also just cracking me up.  Some examples:

L. turning after staring at fish display for a while, "Mrs. H-, Did you know that G., HG3, and I have laser eyes? It's because we're super heroes."

G., after putting her hand on the metal cast of a gorilla hand, "Apparently, my hand is smaller than his."

L., after walking by the pyramid in the Egyptian section, "The pyramids were builded by aliens." (Trust me, I didn't teach her that. When J. asked her if the pyramids were built by aliens at dinner time, she gives him a look that says, 'parents can be so clueless' and replies, "Noooo!")

K., as we were walking through the Egyptian part where there are some mummies, "Are these real mummies?" When I reply yes, he then announces, "At night the mummies wake up and scare everyone in the museum." (And no, I didn't teach him that, either. Where do these children go to school?)

Someone, it might have been K., was heard to announce that, "We saw a lot of animals. Sometimes they move, but today they didn't."

They keep us laughing. Yesterday, M. was letting G. and L. play in her room while she was working on her computer when she hears, "G., let's play worm!" M. turns around to see two little girls flopping around on the floor in an imitation of their version of a worm. The game then switched to playing roly-poly, where they curled up into balls.

Nothing wrong with their imagination (or vocabulary). When children are safe and loved and given room and time to play, this type of imagination is a natural thing. Not every child has those things, though. I remind you about Lena and Grace.



They need families. If you have any questions about adopting from China or finding their files, let me know and I'll do what I can to answer questions or help.

I'm also afraid that my list is going to get one child longer instead of shorter. Meet Ting:

I just recently became aware of her and have been chatting with the place she is currently living. I'm not a doctor and this is not an official diagnosis, but I would bet very large sums of money (and I'm not a gambler) that she has the same syndrome that H. has. They sound like remarkably similar little girls. Ting is 9 years old. You have watched H. blossom in her home; you have told me how much H.'s story has touched you. Are you Ting's family?

Friday, May 16, 2014

Everyone home... or enjoying your college student

Did I mention that everyone is home? M. and B. came home from college last week and it's nice to have them back. I love having everyone under one roof. It's fun. It's loud. The littles love, love, love having their big brother and sister home, and G. and B. have such a relationship that we all wonder how either of them survives when B. is away at school.

The table and the house are very full and I love it.

I will give my older children credit, in that it is not always an easy transition to come home from being away at college, especially to a house full of younger children. (Yes, my children go back to school to get some peace and quiet. Not every college student can say that.) They are both incredibly gracious when it comes to interacting with their younger siblings who want their every attention every moment.

In that spirit, I know I'm not the only one who has returning college students for the summer. Here are some things that have worked for us in easing the transition between college and home.

1. Remember you child is different now than when he or she left for college the first time. (Yes, I give you permission to go into the bathroom and have a little cry about this. In fact, I may join you. In a different bathroom, of course.) Living on one's own and being responsible for one's schedule changes a person. And as any adult knows, once you have experienced that freedom, you don't really want to go back to a situation where someone else is in charge all the time. We parents need to treat our children as we would an adult who was staying in our home.

2. The returning student also needs to realize that they are different and that being home will feel different. This is not any more comfortable for the student than it is for the parent. I find it helps to just say it out loud. "Gee, it might be kind of difficult to come back home after having been away at college. I remember when I first came home it felt as though I was both a child and an adult all at the same time. It was weird." Just saying something can help everyone to get past the uncomfortableness.

3. R-E-S-P-E-C-T! Things will go smoother if everyone makes use of this one little word. As a parent, don't expect your child to return to being one of the mass (if you have a mass) of children in your home. Give them a heads up as to calendar items you would like them to be aware of. Ask them to join you instead of assuming. Don't assume they will become full-time babysitters upon their arrival. The student also needs to remember that there are other people in the house. Tell everyone ahead of time if you are going out. Tell them when you can be expected. Pitch-in with household chores. This is not a hotel you are staying at for a couple of months, but your family. Be considerate... all of you.

4. Siblings. Hey, college students! Your little siblings missed you while you were gone. You don't need to spend every waking hour with them, but don't ignore them either. You could even schedule some time to spend just with them. (My children are particularly good about doing this.) But, those siblings were also growing in the months you were gone, they are no longer the same people they were, either. Be careful not to treat them younger than now are. (This is another time where saying it out loud isn't a bad idea. Point out how capable the younger siblings have become in the student's absence.)

5. Different hours. College age students just keep different hours. You probably noticed when they were in high school that evenings and nights were better for communication. This is also true of college students. If you want to have a real conversation, wait until the littles are in bed and stay-up a bit later to have it. The trouble is, some of us parents have college students and preschoolers, thus giving us good early morning for one set and good night hours for another. That makes the hours for sleeping a bit shorter.

6. Enjoy them! The time when they are living at home is going to get shorter and shorter. Take joy in the time you do have with them. Don't waste these moments. Appreciate them. Take advantage of the time you have to love your children. Your relationship with them will be different, but as I remind myself and those around me, different isn't bad or good, it's just different.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

End of the school year

Having nothing else to write about at the moment, I thought I would share our end of the school year plans. (Well, I could write about the ongoing conversations with the car repair guy, but I won't. Let's just say when I hear his voice on the line now, three phone calls later, my heart does not leap with joy.) Things are winding down around here and we are starting to ooze our way into a more relaxed summer schedule. (Which is pretty relaxed because I would already describe our general style of homeschooling as already on the relaxed side.)

Here is what we're doing this month: Older people are finishing up with their assigned work from the school year. They are finishing up text books, big projects, and such, though everyone will continue to work on math throughout the summer and A. will probably continue working through test prep books. For our group projects, we are finishing up leaning about Rome. We are nearly done with The Story of the Romans, which I have enjoyed, and we have at last one more big project to go along with it... building a model of a Roman road. Our lunch time read aloud is currently The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare. It is one of my favorite chapter books and it fits nicely with the part of Roman history we are currently reading about.

We are also finishing our study of sea creatures. There are just a couple of chapters left in the book, and then we will finish working on the ocean boxes the younger group of making. Plus, I have some documentaries coming that we will watch. We had been reading 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea to go along with what we were learning, but I just couldn't finish it. The lists and lists and lists of animals' scientific names, and endless descriptions of measurements and other such dry, dry, dry lists bogged us down and we all lost any interest in the story. Instead, I have done something I hardly ever do... we put away the book and ordered the movie to watch together instead. There are just some books (not many, but some) that are just better for the editing that a movie requires. It was a relief to set the book aside and everyone now enjoys our lunch time read alouds again.

There are also some other fun end of the year things planned. Next week is our artist trading card party with friends and we are planning a field trip to Old World Wisconsin. And then it is summer, which sometimes seems busier than the school year, what with camps and trips and things. During the summer everyone will continue with math and I will continue working with H. and K. because they are both on the cusp of gaining real facility with reading and I don't want to lose momentum. Actually, things don't look all that different around here during the summer, except that the weather is (supposedly) warmer.

This doesn't seem all that riveting, but I know sometimes I'm asked about the end of school and what that looks like for us. It's easier to describe what we do in the various seasons, because learning never really ends, it just happens in different ways.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

A week in Venice

Because life goes on, you know, even if one part of it feels as though you're back in crisis mode.

We spend last week reading Papa Piccolo as our last Five-in-a-Row style book for the year. This book was a huge hit with everyone and we did some fun things to go along with it. It is set in Venice and tells the story of Piccolo, a tom cat, who adopts two orphan kittens. It is a sweet story and everyone was a wee bit fascinated with Venice. A couple of children have blithely suggested that field trip to Venice would be a great idea.

The first day, we read the story and then found Venice on the globe. For the second day, I printed out pages so that everyone could color and cut out their own gondolas. Day three was cat day. I printed out instructions for simple cat drawings and everyone gave it a try. Well, almost everyone.



H's cats

This is L's attempt... could she be a bit of a perfectionist?


Day four was math... and an excuse to use my laminator. I completely stole borrowed this idea from another blog I found on Pinterest, though I modified it just a little bit. It is a gondola math game. ('Gondola' has become the word of the week around here. Many people talk about gondolas all the time.)

It's made out of a file folder and I made one for each child.

There is an envelope on the back to hold all the pieces.

Inside there are four gondolas, of two different colors, and there are numbers (up to 5) and cats (five of them as well) in those same numbers. There are also black numbers which go up to 10. The idea is you put some cats in their gondolas, matching the colors, and then put the correct number in the gondola beneath to show how many cats are there. The black number then shows how many cats there are all together.

Here's a close-up of the gondolas. The boats are taped onto the file folder so that the cats and numbers can slip inside.

These have been a bigger hit than I expected and children have been playing with them off and on over the past several days.




The last activity we did was an art project, using the idea of buildings being reflected in the water of the canals. I stole borrowed the idea, without any changes, from this blog. It worked out well. Most people were able to get the idea of how it worked and everyone came out with an interesting looking project.

by P. (on left) and D.

by K. (see the gondola in the water?)

the littles' work... L. (on left), HG3 (middle), and G. (on right)

by A.

by M. (on left) and H.

by TM

Back to some reality, though. If you are familiar with TM's previous artwork, it doesn't take a trained art therapist to see that something is up. I won't share specifics, but here are two concrete ways you can pray if you are so led. First, is that TM will find the courage/ability to cooperate in his weekly therapy appointments. If he can do that, his therapist feels that she can really help him. No cooperation, though, and there's not much anyone can do. If this is not the path we are all heading down, though, please pray that doors to appropriate treatment open. I feel we are truly at a crossroads at this moment and we want to make the decisions which are going to ultimately lead to the most healing and not just take the easiest path. The words of encouragement which some of you have shared really mean a lot.
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