Saturday, August 30, 2014

Those times you realize you're on the wrong side of young

I realize I'm not really old old and that my mother and her friends will just laugh (go ahead, I know you will), but I'm not enjoying the more frequent moments I've been having of being reminded I am not in my 30's anymore.

First, there are those signs in the stores that announce, "We card anyone under 40." And I buy a bottle of wine and I'm never carded. Ever. I like to think it's because they just don't follow their own guidelines, because otherwise...

Then, a couple of weeks ago, I was filling in for a good friend and being the stand-in mother for a catering taste test. M. was there as well and the caterer knew she was my daughter. In making chit chat it came out that I also had five year old children. Now, just a word to the wise, everyone. If someone says to you that they have five year olds, please don't goggle at them as if Methuselah suddenly appeared in your midst. It was really that bad. I even went and checked myself in the mirror just to see if I looked as I normally do and that I didn't suddenly look like my grandmother when she was 93.

The most recent kicker though, was glancing through my post-visit report from the eye doctor earlier this week. My eye doctor is part of the same network as many of my other doctors, so it was pretty complete. Imagine how I felt when I looked at the section labelled 'known medical issues'. (Well, first, I didn't realize I had known medical issues other than my eyes, which weren't even listed.. but I digress.) Get this, the first item under known medical issues was: Elderly Multigravida with Antepartum Condition or Complication. The translation for this is I was old (in the eyes of the medical world) when I gave birth to a child that was not my first and that after delivery I needed a blood transfusion and developed post-partum preeclampsia. This was not news, but it was the elderly term that felt a little unnecessary. Really, elderly? At 43? (For those of you who are now feeling compelled to do the math, I'll save you the effort. I'm 48 and despite this post, don't really care.) I'm used to the term 'advanced maternal age', but elderly kind of hit me. Once again, it wasn't as if I was in my 80's or 90's.

So, I will now take my elderly self off to read stories to my surprisingly young youngest children. I'll try not to break a hip on my way upstairs.

Friday, August 29, 2014


I just finished reading the gut-wrenching post at The Blessing of Verity. It is Susannah's first post after the accidental death of her son. It is raw and painful to read. It also confirms something I've been thinking a lot about recently. That would be the clash that happens when parenting bumps into God's grace. And believe me, it is a clash.

When you have children, you realize that you have suddenly become far more susceptible to pain than ever before in your life. You love this little person. You love this little person so much that if anything were to happen to this child, you are not sure you could go on. But it is not only that, you desperately want what's best for them. You are overwhelmed with the responsibility that parenting entails. If you are not going to ruin this precious child's life, you need to be the best parent you can possibly be. To fail in that mission means that you have not done your best for your child. It means there could very well be life-long consequences for your child.

And this is true to some extent. How we parent does have implications for our child's life. Neglect and abuse can damage a child and forever change his or her life.Yet modern parenting has taken this notion to such an extreme that it leaves little margin for error. If you don't do things a certain way, you have failed your child. There is a blog post (Back to School: the 70's verses today) being shared about just this notion that perfect parenting will turn out a perfect child. Christian parents have their own take on this. Unless things are done a certain way, your child will grow up and turn away from Jesus. The pressure (and the stakes) are high and it leaves parents anxious, fearful, and overwhelmed with the responsibility they carry.

In this mind-set, it's all on the parents' shoulders. Everything from health to education to socialization to belief from now until eternity. We parents take on so much more than we were ever intended to carry. We cannot bear up under this burden. We just can't no matter how hard we try and here's why: we are not perfect and we will not be perfect no matter how hard we try. We will fail our children at some point in our lives. We won't mean to, but we will. For some, that failure comes early, for others, we can go along for quite some time operating under the assumption that we are the 'good' parent; the parent other people wish they could be... if they would just try harder. But sooner or later, every parent... every single parent... will find that they have failed, that they have not lived up to their responsibility and their ideals. We will all have a moment (or more) where we wonder how on earth God could have thought that giving this child to me was a good idea. We realize that we cannot be a perfect parent. We will realize that sometimes we can't even be a good parent. Surely this child deserved more, more than me as a parent.

And here is where the clash between grace and parenting happens. Right in that moment when we realize that we cannot be the parent we want to be; the one we feel our child deserves. In that moment we can get a glimpse of what God's grace really and truly means. He knew we would fail. He knew just how spectacularly we would fail. He knew all this and still He gave us these precious children to love and care for and nurture. And when we fail, He still loves us. This is grace. When we have a glimpse of exactly how sinful and selfish and incapable we really are and Jesus puts His arms around us and tells us how much He loves us anyway.

I've said it before... parenting is humbling. If there were one 'right' way to do it, it would have been discovered and perfect children would already be being raised. No formula is going to do to this. We are sinful creatures, both young and old. If there were a formula, we adults wouldn't be able to carry it out, but it wouldn't matter because it wouldn't work on our sinful children. We don't get perfect this side of Heaven. Instead, we have to learn to function despite our failures... to learn to extend the grace that God extends to us to ourselves and to our children.

I often wonder if God gave us children because it would mean that we would be living out the Gospel on a daily (or sometimes hourly) basis. Nothing so perfectly shows us our failures as being a parent. It is in those failures that we truly see the need for a savior, some one to save us from the mess we see inside ourselves. And it isn't until we see that mess that we see the Savior and discover His overwhelming love. Because there is nothing like the love that is experienced when the person doing the loving knows all the bad stuff and loves you anyway. Grace. Amazing.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The eye doctor and seeing

H. had another eye appointment today. The difference between now and two years ago is slightly astonishing. Two years ago, H. had no idea what we were doing or why and, despite having an interpreter present, we had no real way of explaining it all to her. It was baffling and frightening; just one more baffling and frightening experience that she endured in those first six months. Today, she understood why we were there, what eye drops were and why she needed to have them, the ability to express how much she didn't like them, and the self-control to allow them to be put in her eyes. It was also the very first time that the doctor was able to correct her eyesight in her good eye to 20/20. We have a new prescription and are just waiting for the new lenses for her glasses to be made.

I have also been thinking about the improvement in her eye sight since she has been home. Why should it be getting better? It's not like we are patching to strengthen the good eye. Aside from wearing glasses, there has been nothing that we have done to help her vision improve and yet, we see small changes to the positive each time. It seems odd. Yet, I don't think it really is. Living with H. over the last two years has been like slowly watching a metamorphosis. Actually, is has been a metamorphosis and not just like one. H. is so much more aware of herself and her place in the world now. She understands things that she never understood before. She is learning that she can have opinions and can like things and dislike things. The world is slowly opening up for her even as she opens as a person.

I've always had a sneaking suspicion that so much of what happens inside our heads is interrelated. You can't just separate out sight from memory from physical ability; it all seems somehow interrelated in that mass of brain cells we keep inside our skulls. Since this is my made-up hypothesis, it has no basis in any research what-so-ever, but still it seems to make sense. Imagine my pleasure, then, when I come across something that seems to support my own made-up pet theories. I came across something rather interesting in the book I'm currently reading, Proust was a  Neuroscientist by Jonah Leher. (It's thesis is that certain artists predicted truths about the brain that science is only now discovering. Fascinating.) Anyway, this little bit has to do with how we see. Instead of paraphrasing, I'll share the few paragraphs with with.

"So far, the story of sight has been about what we actually sense: the light and lines detected by the retina and early stages of the visual cortex. These are our feed-forward projections. They represent the external world of reflected photons. And while seeing begins with these impressions, it quickly moves beyond their vague suggestions. After all, the practical human brain is not interested in a camera-like truth; it just wants the scene to make sense. From the earliest levels of visual processing in the brain up to the final polished image, coherence and contrast are stressed, often at the expense of accuracy.

Neuroscientists now know that what we end up seeing is highly influenced by something called top-down processing, a term that describes the way cortical brain layers project down and influence (corrupt, some might say) our actual sensations. After the inputs of the eye enter the brain, they are immediately sent along two separate pathways, one of which is fast and one of which is slow. The fast pathway quickly transmits a coarse and blurry picture to our prefrontal cortex, a brain region involved in conscious thought. Meanwhile, the slow pathway takes a meandering route through the visual cortex, which begins meticulously analyzing and refining the lines of light. The slow image arrives in  the prefrontal cortex about fifty milliseconds after the fast image.

Why does the mind see everything twice? Because our visual cortex needs help. After the prefrontal cortex receives its imprecise picture, the 'top' of the brain quickly decides what the 'bottom' has seen and begins doctoring the sensory data. Form is imposed onto the formless rubble of the V1 [the first stage of the visual cortex in the brain]; the outside world is forced to conform to our expectations. If these interpretations are removed, our reality becomes unrecognizable. The light just isn't enough." (pp. 107-8)

So, what this is saying is that we see things and then our brains translate what the images are into something it recognizes. It is far more than our eyes acting like a camera lens. Interesting, huh? Wouldn't it make sense that a brain that is more aware of the surrounding world would see better? I think so.

This isn't to discount the fact that the images we are taking in with eyes need to be in focus. Considering my glasses prescription, it would be crazy for me to state otherwise. But there seems to be so much more to seeing than what our eyes take in.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

When it's beautiful in Chicago...

you go out and take advantage of it. Because Chicago really is beautiful and quite enjoyable when it's not frigidly cold with grey skies that have overspent their welcome. We went to the Lincoln Park Zoo and also enjoyed the formal gardens just outside the west side of the zoo. Did you know that this is one of the oldest parks in the city? That's OK, I didn't, either, until I read the sign.





Tuesday, August 26, 2014

First day of school

So, it would appear I lied in yesterday's post about the block party when I said no one in the house was starting school the next day. I realized much later that someone did start school. A. headed off to her first day of a real class ever... she is taking Spanish 1 at the university where J. teaches (and M. and B. attend). And I didn't get a picture. Can you believe it? A child goes to her first day of school at the tender age 16 and her mother doesn't take a picture? Actually, I can believe it, without any difficulty.

It sounds as though her first day of class went well, though I'm getting that information second hand as I haven't actually talked with her yet. You see, when she went down to school last week to buy her book, she also landed a job at the bookstore during their peak times. (That would be the first week of class when everyone is buying books and the last week of class when everyone is selling them back.) It worked out extremely well because we don't begin our school schedule until next week, so she was free to work some rather long hours. To add to the fun, A. decided it made a lot more sense to spend the night on the futon in her older sister's living room instead of coming back home and then turning around and heading back down the very next morning. She is probably right and this is why I haven't seen her to actually talk to her yet.

I have a feeling my high school junior is going to enjoy her pseudo-college student year, very, very much.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Block party numbers

1 - Use of the Polarcare 300 which is an icing machine left-over from one of M.'s knee surgeries.

2 - Number of times the new bike jump was used before having to make use of the Polarcare 300. It is also the number of people it took to carry TM into the house after the second use of the bike jump.

D. went over it without incident, but he was not going as fast as he possibly could, like TM. When you go as fast as you possibly can, the bike goes a good three feet in the air. Then if you are strong, you can manage to hold onto the handle bars even if the rest of you goes flying up above the bike. But then what goes up must come down, first behind the the seat onto the wheel followed by a nice long skid along the pavement on your leg. It was spectacular and we all wish we had gotten a video of it... but only because there were no broken bones. We treated the wounds, iced his leg, he rested and within two hours he was back up and riding his bike again.

3 - Friends who unexpectedly dropped by. These are friends we haven't seen for years and it was wonderful to see them.

4 -  Dogs playing together. Gretel had fun, too. She got to go down the street and have a play date with three other dogs in our neighbors yard. She also got to play in the water being sprayed by the fire engine.

5 - Band-aids applied during the course of the afternoon.

6 - Minutes, approximately is how long G. and L. stayed in the costumes they had donned. We don't know why the decided costumes must be worn, but they did. We only just talked G. out of wearing her fleece panda costume, worrying that she would pass out from heat exhaustion given the level of humidity and temperature. L. decided to be a cowboy... riding an unicorn.

(She is wearing her serious 'cowboy face'.)

7 - Dollars earned by L. at her 'Art Sale Table'. We have no idea what put this idea into her head, but a couple of days before the block party, L. announced that she would have an art table and sell pictures. I first thought that she would forget about it, but she never did. Signs were made, pictures were created, and as the party approached she made plans as to what needed to be brought outside.

G. held the sign and L. badgered passing adults into buying her artwork, sometimes following them down the street until they acquiesced. It was a pretty impressive display of rabid sales tactics. Then she announces to me, "I am going to earn money so I can go to Disneyland."
"Oh, you are?"
"Yes... how much money do I need again?"
I let it drop, once again hoping she would forget. (I should know better by now.) At the end of the day, L. counts her money and is quite satisfied at the seven dollars plus change, and then asks, "I have my money now, can we go to Disneyland tomorrow?" Oh, how I wish I could do that for you my darling girl.

8 - Gallons of juice/punch/lemonade/water consumed by small children. Small children with small bladders and houses that suddenly seem a little too far away. 'Nuff said.

9 - o'clock, the hour we finally got everyone tucked into bed and were very thankful that no one in this house, at least, was starting school in the morning.

10 - The level of enjoyment K. had playing in the water from the fire truck.

Saturday, August 23, 2014


The end of warmer weather marks the beginning of the seasonal migration of the animal known as collegium discipulo or as they are more commonly known, the college student. The first sign that the coming migration will be occurring is the frequent sightings of these not-so-rare animals at stores selling office supplies, cheap furniture, and clothing. Scientists seem to believe that this behavior stems from the widely held belief that the items sold in the these stores are unattainable in the migratory habitat.

Once the needed supplies are laid in, the next step of the seasonal ritual begins.. the one of packing all personal possessions into bags and boxes. It is one of science's most enigmatic mysteries as to how the physics of this process works. The quantities packed seem to take up such a mass as to not fit into the significantly smaller seasonal migratory dwellings. How the animal eventually stores their possessions away into such limited space has yet to be solved, though if it were, it could have vast implications for personal storage business.

This playing with physics of space continues as the next step of the migratory practice continues. In order to actually migrate, the animals must now store all of their boxes and bags into a vehicular conveyance. The distances traveled are often great and personally carrying said possessions would be an impossibility. Those species which migrate the greatest distances seem to have modified this behavior somewhat. For those that travel greater distances, not all possessions seem to be carried back and forth. Instead a small token amount seem to be transported and the rest are safely tucked away in a secure location until the next swing of the migration continues.

Those species who travel shorter distances have not developed this habit of leaving behind some possessions and instead transport everything back and forth between the two habitats twice a year. Scientists are still working to discover what causes the differentiation in the species. That is, why do some animals choose to migrate long distances while others choose to simple move to another side of town. Studies are still in progress to discover the cause and it is hopeful that some type of prediction criteria with be forth coming.

The penultimate step in the annual migratory pattern is that of the leave taking. The collegium discipulo, anxious to return to the migratory habitat, gives quick hugs and kisses to the non-migratory family members and enters the vehicular conveyance. One of the non-migratory members seems to be necessary and makes the initial voyage with the migratory members. The difference is no possessions are transported for this member and the appointed member returns as soon as the possessions are appropriately stowed.

As the family members live apart, life seems to go as normal for both parties, though communication continues between the two. The season of living apart is a longer time period than the living together period, encompassing the cooler months. As the weather warms, you can expect to see signs of migration once more. The difference is that the acquisition of supplies does not seem to be needed for this part, but does seem to require a significant amount of soiled laundry in order for the return migration to occur.

So as the migration season continues, keep your eyes open and you might just spot one of these fascinating creatures.

Friday, August 22, 2014

When life is overwhelming

It seems to be a difficult season of life for many of my friends, and I'm writing this post with each of you in mind. I know all too well what it feels like to have the rug pulled out from under your feet...and the panicky, breathless, nausea-inducing, blinding fear and sadness and anger that goes along with a major detour in a well-ordered life.  I also know when my life seems precarious, it can be difficult to function. I'm living in my head too much. Not only is there the thing that has upset me in the first place, but more than that, my own imagination is often the cause of much of my anxiety.

I've shared before that I can be a world-class worrier. I can jump into worst-case-scenario-mode in less time than it takes to reheat my cup of coffee. This is especially true when it is something involving my husband or children. I cannot tell you how often this happens to me. I'm slowly getting better, but it is a very conscious effort to not go down that path. You know, the path where everyone dies, or is estranged, or has something else equally horrible happen. The path where the horrible thing keeps happening and that's your future and there will never be anything good about life ever, ever again. That path.

Excuse me while I pause a moment and take a couple of deep breaths.

But when life has thrown us a curve ball and that curve ball has hit us firmly in the head, that's about the only place it feels comfortable to live. Because, really, how could life ever be good again, once this thing has happened? We continually play out in the vast panoramic, technicolor screen in our minds, all the ways that this will end badly. Over and over and over. We play out how we could have averted the crisis. Then, after having had a nice little wallow in the mud pit of regret, we go back to the epic of disaster we are creating in our mind. Back and forth, over and over, until we are so emotionally wrought we don't know which way is up.

The trouble is, when I do this, I find I am as much upset over the events of my imagined future, as upset as if they were actually happening, as I am about reality. And you know what? While there have been some yucky things in my life that I have experienced, not once has one of my imagined scenarios actually ever played out. All that wasted worry and anxiety and fear over something that was never going to happen.

So how do I stop (or make a valiant effort to stop) the crazy upset and worry? Well, this is a work in progress. I still have a long way to go, but here's my short list of living through a present and very real crisis. 1. Pray, pray, pray. The second I find myself going to those imaginary futures in my head, I have to consciously make an effort to pray. Are these prayers eloquent? Ha! More often than not they go something like this, "Help, Jesus, help! Oh, make it OK, Please, please, please, make it OK! Help, Jesus, help!" 2. Remind myself, as often as is necessary, which would be, oh, about every five seconds, that just because I have imagined that future, doesn't mean that it is going to happen. In fact, it is extremely unlikely it will happen at all. I am not the creator of the universe and just because I've imagined it doesn't mean it will happen. 3. Share your worries with someone. There have been many times I've shared my worried imaginings with J., and even as I'm saying them out loud, I begin to realize that they are pretty far removed from reality. 4. I try to follow Elisabeth Elliot's very wise advice and, "Do the next thing."

This doesn't seem all that earth-shattering at first glance, but it really is brilliant. By focusing on just the next thing, we stay in the present... none of that imagined future-thing going on. By focusing on just the next thing, we take life in a small enough bit that it is manageable, even if that next thing is shower or eat breakfast or go to the bathroom. Or breathe. You take life in very small chunks and get through each of them one at time. Slowly, slowly, they add up and you discover you've made it through a day. And each day begins to add up and you realize you've made it through a week. The more time that passes from the day life exploded, the easier it gets to breathe. The farther you go into the future, the more you realize that the horrible imagined future isn't happening.

Yes, whatever caused the initial plunge over the cliff may be truly horrible. I don't want to make light of that. But it will be navigated, perhaps not without heartache and pain. Keep praying. Keep breathing. Keep just doing the next thing.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Precocious readers

Precocious readers are those children who love to read and read at a very high level at a young age; they often start out as precocious listeners, listening to complex story after complex story. Having a precocious reader and sharing how difficult it is to keep them supplied with books is a little like complaining that your pants are too big and fall off or your house is so big it's hard to keep clean. It's not something that engenders much sympathy.

Yet, if you do have a precocious reader, it can be a real problem. It's not the volume of material that they read, but level at which they read it. There are many, many books that it's just not appropriate for a 9, 10, or 11 year old to read. My most current precocious reader is D. It is a perpetual challenge to keep him supplied with books. Like most 11 year olds, he does like series and they do keep him occupied most of the time.. sort of like me with mysteries. He reads them fast and because of their nature they become pretty interchangeable. And like me and mysteries, D. can only take so much of this before he desires some 'real' books. Books that are interesting and slightly challenging. It is at these moments that I find myself scurrying around staring at my bookcases trying to find something that fits the bill AND that I would hand to an 11 year... and a sensitive 11 year at that.

I wish this was going to turn into a nice, definitive list of all the wonderful books I've discovered. It's not, because it's just not that long. Usually I end up finding some juvenile fiction book that he hasn't read on the shelf and hand that to him, postponing the problem for another day. There are not often times when I hit upon a book that engages him at the level he desires.

I am discovering that at least for D., books written pre-1950 or so, are going to be my friend. He has read Sherlock Holmes and really liked that. The most recent success, and the book that has caused this post, is Captain Blood by Rafael Sabatini. It has taken him more than two days to read (hooray!) and he has been carrying it around happily telling anyone who will listen what is happening next. Is there anything better than seeing your child reading a book and then hear them shout out loud because they are so engrossed in it and something exciting happened? It's good that Rafeal Sabatini wrote several more books, because that means I'm set for at least a month.

(Captain Blood, for those who are unfamiliar with it was written in 1935 and set in the 17th century. It tells the tale of a doctor who is unjustly condemned to death, escapes, becomes enslaved, escapes again, and becomes a pirate. It has themes of justice and the evils of slavery running throughout.)

When we're done with Sabatini, I will start to plunder more older books and see what else we can turn up.

One more book to suggest. Precocious listeners can be challenging as well. When M. was little, I read a recommendation for The King of Ireland's Son by Padraic Colum. Written in 1916, it starts out as a series of folk tales which are then woven into a larger story by the end. I remember M. sitting enthralled, at age 6 or 7.

OK, now it's your turn. What are your best suggestions for precocious readers? Maybe there will even be a prize if someone can suggest a book that 1. D. hasn't read and 2. is challenging and engaging. This will be no small feat, he reads constantly.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Adoption hot topic: visiting foster parents

It's been pretty light, content-wise, around here, so let's change that for today. There's been a discussion on one of the adoption pages that I read that has generated a lot of comments and some diametrically opposed opinions. The question that was originally posed was (in my own words), "I am in my child's country and have a chance to meet the foster parents. My child is grieving heavily and having a difficult transition, should I take my child to see the foster parents one more time?"

What follows is my personal opinion, and while I'm certainly not a therapist, it has been an educational past eight years. The two differing opinions seem to be: 1. Take the child to see the foster parents one more time, even though it might be hard, and 2. Go and see the foster parents by yourself, but do not take your child. It would just add trauma onto trauma and the child needs to start bonding to you and let go of the foster parent.

At various times in my life, I have strongly held both opinions, and I will be the first to say that it is a difficult call. To see how I have ended up at the opinion I currently have, we need to step back eight years and revisit our time in Vietnam adoption TM. (You can read the blow-by-blow account by clicking on the 'Adoption' tab up above and following the links to TM's adoption. I will also add that I cringe a bit to read these early posts... I know so much more now than I did then.) If you are not familiar with the story, here's the short version. TM's transition was hard. Very, very hard. He grieved and fought and grieved and attacked anyone within arms' reach. He was a mess; we were a mess. Even though I had dutifully prepared by reading and reading and reading everything I could on adoption and attachment, nothing prepared me for what we were facing. I don't believe anything truly can until you have lived it.

In the midst of this upheaval, we had the chance to meet with TM's foster father. We went back and forth and back and forth. Do we take him? Do we just send J. alone with a camera? What do we do? We certainly don't want to make things worse (as if!). We want him to attach to us. Our agency representative suggested it might not be a wise idea. So we opted for TM to stay with me while J. went to the meeting with a camera.

And I believe with every fiber of my being that it was the single worst decision I have ever made in my life.

Yes, it would have been hard. Yes, it could have made our lives a little more miserable in the short-run, though frankly, it's difficult to picture what that would have looked like. While I don't have a crystal ball to tell me what how our future would have changed, if at all, if we had made a different decision, I still think we should have taken the chance.

You see, ultimately, it was an incredibly selfish decision to not take TM to the meeting. If I am really honest with myself, it was a decision made to make my life a little easier. (To extend myself a bit of grace, we were in a difficult spot without a lot of knowledge and truly did the best we could at the time.) It was because it might have upset him more and an upset child always makes the parents' lives more difficult. It was so that he could begin to attach to me and start to leave his attachment to his foster parents behind. It was so that he could begin his new life RIGHT NOW and start to put his past life behind him sooner, to get over it.

But you and I know that we don't just get over pain and grief and loss. If you have ever lost someone close to you, you know that it takes a long time to function again. It takes a long time to feel as though life is normal again. You never really get over it, and even years later, something will catch you off guard and the grief will feel brand new. You learn to live with it because it is now a part of you. Forever. And if you were given a chance to see that person one more time... even if it was just for 15 minutes, I bet you would do it. You would do it even though it would make that grief raw and present all over again. Because seeing the beloved person just one more time would be worth the pain. Love is that strong.

Our children losing their previous lives is the same thing. It is a loss and one they will never get back. This is particularly true if they were close to and loved their foster parents or a particular person at the orphanage. They will most likely never see that person or persons again. It is like a death. And it is particularly difficult because often they are so young that they can't understand what is happening. Sometimes, the whole problem is compounded by a child so not understanding the situation that they believe they have been kidnapped. I believe this is what happened with TM, and I can't say I blame him for coming to that conclusion.

We need to be the grown-ups and make the hard decisions. We need to make the decisions that will be best for our child and not one that will make our lives a little less painful. Because watching your child grieve is hard. In some ways it is almost harder because there is nothing you can do to make it better. All you can do is offer support and love and wait by their side while they go through that valley. It is painful because while you have been in love with a picture for months, they don't know you at all and would really, truly rather be with that other person they do love. It is hard to love someone and know they don't love you. It is hard to be patient and wait and let love grow. We want to DO something about it. We want to make them love us.

As you can probably tell, I now believe that we should allow our children the gift of a last good-bye if it is possible. It allows them closure. It allows them to see that beloved person one more time. It honors them as fellow human beings with real emotions and loves. Will it hurt? Will it make your life and theirs, feel more difficult for a while? Will it cause pain? Yes, it probably will. But you can't go through the grief without the pain. The pain will always come out somehow. It is better to face it head on together... even if it's hard.

It will be your first parenting lesson. Parenting is hard. When you love your child and that child hurts, you hurt, too. You hurt more than you could possibly imagine because you love that person so much. It's all part of the package.

One last word about the advice of guides and agency reps. We have had some lovely, caring people when we have been in our children's various countries on adoption trips. They have truly cared about children and want to do what is best for them. We have had very, very good experiences. That said, they are not trained in attachment and trauma. They have not lived life as a therapeutic parent. They want everyone to be happy... both children and parents. It does color their opinions. Just because one of them suggests something, it does not mean it is the best advice. Take it with a grain of salt.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Short public service announcement

We interrupt this blog for a brief, but important message.

On a whim, I thought, "Oh, fall is coming. I'll just look to see when the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival is." So I did. Ack! It's September 8th this year. It feels really early. Does it seem early to you?

I guess it's time to go find some moon cakes and see about lanterns. Do you need to make some lanterns? I wrote a tutorial for making your own paper lanterns. It's not too late... though it is getting really close.

Paper lantern tutorial

Now you may all go back to your regularly scheduled summer activities. At least those of you for whom this is still summer... like us. Not to rub it in or anything.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Madison Avenue would be proud

A friend dropped by a bag of coats for us the other day thinking we could use them. It was quite a jackpot since every single item in the bag worked. The two pieces A. (who was helping me) and I weren't quite sure about were the fleece ponchos. But they were so cute... and the same size... and in two different colors... they were perfect for two little girls we knew. Now. G. and L. are not always predictable (that is quite an understatement, by the way) and I never know what they will love or not love. A lot depends on presentation and little luck. So I sent A. out to the little girls with the ponchos and a plea to sell them well. 

So guess what my genius child came up with. "Hey, G. and L., look what I have for you. They are capes... superhero capes... that are special because they keep you warm!" It was the perfect spin and G. and L. decided the 'warm superhero capes' were pretty darn cool. 

Here's G. modelling hers...

and L. "modelling" hers... despite the promised bribe of a chocolate chip.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

A pink and plump and perfect cake?

"Not so long ago, they say, a mother lived, just like today.." So begins the book, The Seven Silly Eaters by Maryann Hoberman. It is one of our favorite picture books. I have read it so often, I can quote great chunks of it from memory. One of my favorite bits, for obvious reasons, being, "'They really are a splendid crew,' sighed Mrs. Peters, pinning pins and diapering her brand new twins: little sisters, quick and smart, impossible to tell apart;"

Thus I was pretty darn excited when a friend posted on her blog about making Mrs. Peter's birthday cake. We needed to make this cake. (Mrs. Peter's birthday cake recipe link - I've included it because it has worked before, but Ms. Hoberman's whole site seems to be down currently so the link is broken. Maybe it will be fixed and working again in the future, thus the link.) I printed out the recipe and promptly forgot about it.

Until yesterday, that is, when TM needed, needed, to bake something. We had the ingredients and he went to town. Here is the cake when it came out of the oven. (He added some sprinkles before baking, if you're wondering what those white spots are.)

So far, so good. Everyone was excited by the prospect of cake for dessert. The cake was served and everyone waited with eager anticipation to begin. And then...

"It kind of looks like Play-Doh."
"I think it kind of tastes like Play-Doh."
"What's it supposed to taste like?"
"TM, did you put any sugar in it?"
"Yeah, a tablespoon, just like it said."
A child runs to get the recipe and reads, "1 1/2 cups of sugar."

And it did kind of look and taste like Play-Doh. See?

I don't think it was the recipe. My sister-in-law made it and told me it was a great cake. Plus there are dozen and dozens of blog posts out there of responsible parents baking with their children and reporting on delicious cake outcomes. I think it was user error.

In fact, I am sure it was user error and that's OK. It was one of those brilliant, unplanned, life lessons with real-life consequences that speak louder than any words I could have ever said. You see, one of the things about a child from a hard place is the whole issue of control. Because they often feel out of control, they try to control everything and everyone around them. There is no room in their life to allow others to know what they are doing or have opinions different from the child's. This includes recipes. The child from the hard place ALWAYS knows best. Sometimes TM bakes things just fine. He will follow the directions for the most part and things will turn out edible if not exactly as the recipe had planned. And sometimes he doesn't. Sometimes he thinks he knows better and we get Play-Doh on a plate for dessert.

There were some other lessons learned last night as well. He handled it with grace and good humor. There was quite a bit of ribbing from brothers and sisters over the need to actually follow directions. He was able to laugh along with them and at himself a bit for the error. If you are raising a child from a hard place, you can understand the magnitude of this small interchange. Learning that it is OK not to be in control all the time is a very difficult lesson to learn. I hope that last night we walked one more step down that path.

And at some point, I'll need to make the cake myself to see what it was really supposed to taste like.
I have a new article up. Strength for the Journey, take a look.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Jogging your memory

It's been a while since I posted about these two little girls. You may have forgotten about them, but they are never far from my mind. 

First comes Grace. She is 7 years old and has a repaired heart defect and may have some other issues. We got to meet her when we were adopting H., though Grace is now back in her orphanage and not in the foster home where she had been living. She is a sweet, sweet little girl and followed A. around for the time we were there. 

And then there is Tina (or Ting Ting, depending on where you are looking). She is 9 years old and has the same syndrome that H. does. (I'm nearly 100% sure of this, though my disclaimer is that I'm not a doctor) She has had quite a few surgeries and I think her condition is well-managed at the moment.

Both these little girls need families. They need someone to hug them and love them and give them a secure future. Neither of their futures look terribly rosy if they hit the ripe old age of 14 and age out of ever having a family. The society of their home country is not currently set-up to treat them kindly. Let's find them families before the last desperate push that will inevitably happen the few months before they turn 14. They have time, but wouldn't it be better to have spent that time with a family?

Can we also talk about the elephant in the room? The one no one ever really wants to say out loud, but it's there? If you are familiar with waiting child lists at all, you have seen this phenomenon. Our eyes and our emotions are drawn to beauty. If there is a little girl who appears on a list and is classically beautiful and is sporting pigtails, it doesn't really matter what the child's need is... it can be really, really significant... but that child will not be on the list for long. Beauty trumps everything. A child with relatively minor special needs, but has a poor picture or is not classically beautiful or has a really bad haircut will wait longer. We don't want to talk about it because we don't want to admit it; it is not one of humankind's more endearing traits. I am not immune, I do it, too. You see the extremely cute pigtailed little girl and your heart gives a twinge whether you want it to or not.

I don't know what the antidote is to this. I don't know how to find families for children who are not classically beautiful or photogenic. It's a flawed system. Children shouldn't languish for years in orphanages because they are not cute enough. But it happens. All I can ask is that we all begin to look beyond the surface and start to look at the child within. One of my new facebook loves is the page, myFace, the new face of the NFFR (National Foundation for Facial Reconstruction). Take a look at it. I truly believe that familiarizing our eyes to a variety of faces will help us all to see the beauty in everyone.

And if anyone wants information about adopting one of these two little girls, contact me and I can help put you in touch with the appropriate people.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

What I did on my summer vacation -- a diary by Gretel

Day 1

There are suitcases out. I do not like suitcases, they make me nervous.
There is the leash. Now I will go for a walk and my people will leave.
Oh, wait. I am getting in the van. I do not like the van because it means I am getting a shot.
We are still riding in the van. This makes me nervous. And excited. And nervous. And I wonder when I will get the shot. I decide to sleep with my head under the bench so they ca not see me.
Now we are stopping. Everyone is getting out. I am getting out, too. I know I am going to get a shot.
Hey, wait! All my people are walking away! Hey, stop! What if they get lost? I must bark. I must bark very loudly and all the time so they do not get lost.
Everyone came back. My barking worked.
We ride some more. Maybe I am not getting a shot.
We stop again. Everyone gets out. I get out. They take off my leash. I can run! And sniff! And run! There are no cars here for me to run into. This is fun!
We go down to the lake. I get to swim! And run! And swim! And run! See how fast I run!
Now it is night. I do not want to sleep. I want to sniff and run. I am in my crate so I cannot do these things. This is sad. I cry. My person takes me out. I can sniff things! My person puts me back in my crate. It is sad. I cry. My person takes me out again! I can run and sniff things! My person puts me back in my crate. It is sad. I cry. My person doesn't care. It is sad.

Day 2

I play on the beach. I swim. I chase my people in boats. I run. I chase the stick. I swim. I run. I chase.
I love the beach.
I am a beach dog.
I love this place.
I love my people.
I cannot stop swimming and running and swimming and running.
Must keep swimming and running and swimming and running.

Day 3

Overdid it.
I am sore.
I am tired.
I walk funny.
It is raining so I will sleep.
My people just sit and stare at things.
I sleep.

Day 4

Stick chasing!
My people make me rest in the afternoon. I do not like it. Maybe I like it a little bit.

Then we get in the car again. Maybe I will get a shot. I am nervous. I am excited. Maybe I am tired. I will sleep.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014


I knew there had to be a word for my condition,well, aside from acrophobia (fear of heights) and claustrophobia (fear of enclosed spaces). And what does this wonderful word mean? It is the fear of running out of reading material. I was talking with a friend who is one of the few people I've met who reads as much as I do (we are constantly adding to each other's reading lists) and I asked her if she is ever bothered by the idea of finishing a book and not having a new one to immediately start. We had a moment of bonding when we realized that we both shared this little pathology... one that a few of my children share as well.

It is why I often check out 8 - 10 books at the library at a time, often of vastly different subject matter, because you just don't know what your going to feel like when you're ready to start a new book. In fact, when I get down to just two books on the shelf that I haven't read, I start getting a little nervous and begin wondering if I will be able to get to the library in time. It's even worse if we are going on a trip. What could be worse than going on a trip and running out of books? It's why I found myself having to choose from a vastly limited selection of English books in a bookstore in Hanoi one time. (I settled on King Solomon's Mines, which turned out to be a lot of fun.) Someday I'll have to write on update on my non-Kindle use, but I will say it still has a place when travelling by plane, when I can't carry pounds and pounds of hardcover books with me like in a car.

I suppose there are worse things to be pathological about, but just imagine my panic if I'm ever trapped in a small elevator at the top of a tall building and my Kindle isn't in my purse.

Monday, August 11, 2014

It's hard to be one of many

After a summer of my older children going hither and yon, everyone is back together again for a couple of weeks, then begins a new school year and once again moving older children back onto campus. So I'm enjoying the family togetherness while I can get it. In the midst of everyone catching up and enjoying each other's company, there have been some funny things that have come up. My children notice that there are some things about growing up in a large family that are different from many of their friend's experiences. Here is a short list of things they have come up with.

1. Every parent has trouble getting a child's name right the first time, but when you have multiple siblings, the list of potential names to try before the parent hits the correct one is quite long. And sometimes your parent does not even quite remember the order of ages and will accidentally call your younger brother your older brother multiple times within the same minute even while trying to correct the problem.

2. When visiting friend's homes, you find it hard not to laugh at the cookware because it is so little and cute.

3. Answering the question of how many brothers and sisters you have is not always a simple thing. Sometimes it involves using fingers to determine with correct number of boys and girls and please, don't try to discover the ages of the siblings.

4. When you leave home and start to live on your own, you discover that you are incapable of cooking for any less than a dozen people. Cooking for one or maybe two people, proves to be an impossibility and you often find you need to invite the rest of your friends over to eat the surplus.

5. While most people find living in a dorm to be a bit loud and crazy, children with many siblings seem to find it a quiet and relaxing place. More than once I've had a child mention that it will be nice to go back to school where it is quiet.

6. If you miss dinner, there will not be leftovers for you when you get home, even if the dinner was your favorite meal.

Yes, it is a hard life I'm asking my children to live. Poor things.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

On reading Vivian Gussin Paley

Having discovered Vivian Gussin Paley last year when I read The Boy Who Would Be a Helicopter, I've been a little obsessed with her. When I came across her book, The Girl with the Brown Crayon, by chance at the library on our last visit I grabbed it off the shelf and have been waiting for a quiet moment to sit and read it. Yesterday afternoon delivered the quiet moment and I read the whole thing. (It's pretty short.) Once again, I am loving Ms. Paley.

It is Ms. Paley's ability to enter into the lives of the children in her classroom and accept them as the small human beings they are that I love the most. In order to do this well, it means a lot of sitting back and watching and listening. It means being willing to follow the child's lead instead of imposing an agenda on what happens. It means that you value what the child has to contribute and that you see what they are doing as important... even if it seems to be just play.

It is the listening, waiting aspect to all this that I personally find most challenging. I often find I am too quick to jump in. I want to correct things; I want to share all my good ideas; I want to interrupt and get them back on track. As I read about Ms. Paley's dealings with children I realize she doesn't do this. She is fully aware of the need of children to work things out, to have the experience of having their own ideas, to have continuity.

[The classroom has been reading through Leo Lionni's books during the school year and using them as a narrative that weaves a thread through everything they do.]

     "Cleaning up together after school, I say to Nisha [her team teacher], 'I thought of a fancy way of describing what's happening to us this year. Narrative continuity. We have discovered another way of achieving narrative continuity.'

     Nisha puts down the paint jar she is washing and smiles at me. 'I think you once told me that play is narrative continuity.'

     'That's exactly the point,' I reply. 'It feels as though we are marching to that same rhythm, as in play, or as you did when you heard the stories from the great epic every night. Now we are putting Leo Lionni to the test. Can he provide yet another vehicle for this instinctive need to concentrate for a long time on a connected set of images and dramatic events? Let's face it, what school usually does is continually interrupt any attempt on the part of children to recapture the highly focused intensity of play. What we need to do is help them -- and ourselves -- get back on track.'" (pp. 74-75)

To teach children, to help them discover and learn and grow, is an awesome responsibility, fraught with dangers that can have life long implications. How many people are there out there who think they can't do something because, somewhere, sometime, a teacher told them they couldn't? If I think about it too hard, the seriousness of teaching can feel a little overwhelming. Perhaps this is another reason I resonate with Ms. Paly. She, too, sees the dangers inherent in her profession and is constantly trying to do a better job.

     "So then, if Walter [a newly immigrated Polish boy] is Pezzettino [a character out of the eponymous book by Lionni], it must be the teacher who makes him feel inadequate. He plays checkers with Bruce and runs outdoors with Arnie; he allow Reeny to tie a scarf around his head when she needs a prince, and he lets Cory instruct him on how to hold her doll while she's at the sand table. They need him. It is with me that he hesitates and falters.

     When did I ever properly appreciate Walter's squares? Reeny perceives their artistic integrity, comparing him with Leo Lionni. His 'I not can it' is heard when the one-who-teaches comes around. then he is most like Pezzettino.

     Leo Lionni's skill in portraying the feeling of being 'less than' is remarkable. Pezzettino is every child who has ever walked into a classroom. 'Do I belong here? Does someone care about me?' Perhaps the lonely island Pezzettino is sent to does in fact represent school, where children are broken into pieces in order that adults may observe, label, and classify them. And, having been so dissected, how does the child become whole again?" (pp. 53-54)

Ms. Paley always makes me think. Highly recommended.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Chasing the elusive clean

I spent nearly the entire day yesterday cleaning  digging out the youngests' rooms. (That would be G., L., and K.) Both rooms had gotten so bad that no one could walk across the, much less play in them. Well, you could walk across K.'s, but that's because he employs the bulldozer approach to room cleaning. If the center of the room is clean, then it's all good, thus, he just pushes everything in the center into all the corners and he's done. The little girls don't even bother with clearing the center. They seem to be oblivious to the mess on the floor and just walk right across it. Of course, they have no other choice as there was no way to clear a path.

It was time to do something. I needed to be able to look in both rooms without having my blood pressure rise. Plus B. comes home this evening from his summer on the farm (hooray!) and since he shares a room with K., something needed to be done so he could live comfortably in the room.

Now, usually, when I clean a room, I have the child help me. It gives me a chance to begin to teach them to clean the room as opposed to push everything in the corners. But I've come to the conclusion that you just can't do major cleaning with five year olds. So, I put in a fun movie to distract the masses and, armed with garbage bags, set to work. The movie wasn't quite long enough and before I was done, in came my two little 'helpers' to see how I was getting along. It took some major distraction to keep them from burrowing through the baskets I was filling up with items that live elsewhere. "Why is this in here!?!?!??!" "This is my special _______!!!!!!!" Quickly seeing that if I didn't do something immediately my 1 1/2 hours of work was going to be undone in a matter minutes, I rushed them downstairs and fed them lunch. Then, lured with the promise of being allowed to make a mess paint with the watercolors, they stayed downstairs and out of my bags and baskets.

I then moved on to excavating K.'s room. He is old enough to help and he was actually helpful. We did this room quite a bit faster than G. and L.'s. I think there must be some unusual magnetic force in the room which sucks random items from the rest of the house into it. The amount of stuff that was residing in the corners which lived elsewhere was astounding. It's as though K. is some sort of mutant jackdaw.

Now the rooms are clean. I like to look into them and appreciate the order and cleanliness. The children have played in them non-stop since I finished. The trouble with living with so many children, though, is that they make room cleaning the household equivalent of playing Whack-A-Mole. Because I spent most of the day upstairs, the children spent the bulk of their day downstairs. Making messes. As I was walking by the living room last night I realized that the vortex of disorder, having been dislodged from the bedrooms had moved itself downstairs. I guess I'll be working on that later today.

Thursday, August 07, 2014


Nothing much is happening around here. It's summer. We read books, play outside, the little people make messes. Hardly anything blog-worthy. I did have an interesting dream last night. I dreamt that someone (and I'm still not really clear how this happened) gave us 10 million dollars. I then spent the rest of the dream putting $1000 bills (do they even make those?) into envelopes and anonymously giving them to all my friends. I think we redid the siding and paint of the house as well.

It was a very nice dream. And now all my friends can be a little disappointed along with me that it was only a dream.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

How I do the homeschooling schedules

I had a question as to how I go about planning out our homeschool schedule and thought it might be of more general interest. I was asked if I planned things day by day or weekly or what. The short answer is yes... to all of these things. Here's how it all sorts itself out.

This year I was planning three high school schedules, two 6th grade schedules, and have four people who aren't ready for independent work. Plus, the 6th graders will join with the others to do our unit studies; the high schoolers are completely on their own.

For the high schoolers, I do weekly schedules. I talk to them about what they are interested in learning and I add in the things I know they need for a college transcript. I also ask if they want week-by-week or more detailed schedules. All three chose week-by-week. So, I go through each subject and assign what they need to do each week to finish by the end of the year. Sometimes the weeks are pretty detailed with chapter numbers assigned and other times all I need to say is do one lesson of math each day. This is the easiest of the planning as it is so straight forward. The part that takes the longest is finding the resources for the unusual classes my children are interested in. History of Police Work? That took a little time to research and gather the books.

For the 6th graders, things are a little different. They do a combination of independent and directed work. I use the independent work to help them learn how to schedule their time and learn the hard lessons of what happens when you put things off. (Putting things off always happens.) One boy just wanted me to tell him which subjects to do everyday and he could take it from there. The other boy wanted it much more detailed... exactly which lesson in each book was he to do. Then for one subject, usually something of special interest, I assign weekly work. It's usually not too much, but it gives them that practice and experience that is helpful to have before the more independent learning in high school comes along.

The unit studies and the earlier grades I plan at the same time and it is the schedule I use throughout the year. this I make very, very detailed. What I'm planning on doing with each person when I work with them individually, exactly what we are reading and doing for our unit studies, which craft/art projects we'll be doing and what supplies I need, down to which coloring page I will be copying for them to do while I read. I have found that I need to do this because during the school year it is easy for me to loose track of my overall plan. There is so much else to focus on that I don't have a lot of brain space in the morning to try to think back and recreate all of my great ideas. If I write it all out, it's right there where I can see it, then I don't have to be able to think and we still do all my great ideas. I may not follow them exactly, but all of my initial thinking is there to play with as we come to each thing.

One other thing I've come to realize as I do my planning is that life happens and never does the school year go as it did in my nice, tidy imagination. There are doctor's appointments, people sick, emergencies of other natures, unexpected opportunities to do or see things. In order to account for this, I plan in days where I haven't planned anything. Sometimes we need these days to catch-up with things we got behind on, other times we use these free days for a family game day. I also leave a couple of weeks at the end of each semester free as well for the very same reason. Knowing I have some leeway in the schedule allows me to be more relaxed when life happens.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

The phone call I didn't want to make

I phoned the plastic surgeon's office yesterday to schedule more surgery for H. If you know H. in real life, please don't mention this as we haven't told her yet. No sense in worrying about something if you don't have to. She'll know at the appropriate time. This set of surgeries is for more expanders... pretty much the same as last time. It was so not enjoyable last time, I wasn't in a rush to put her through all that once again. On the other hand, I also don't want to drag it out, either. It's just not wonderful either way.

The first will be in November for the expander insertion. This time, the surgeon will also be removing some of the nevi on her lower cheek, so it will be fairly significant surgery. I have learned that inserting the expanders is the worse of the two surgeries and when you add more scope to it, she could be a pretty miserable little girl for a couple of weeks. I think about that and sometimes can't believe we putting her through it. It feels rotten. The expanders will come out at the beginning of February if all goes well. I'm already looking forward to that surgery and we haven't even begun yet. Ignorance was definitely bliss the first time around.

If everything goes according to plan I think this could be the last tissue expansion she will need. I really hope it is the last tissue expansion she will need. I know there are more surgeries in her future, but I have developed a real dislike for tissue expansion and can't wait for us to be through this part. The first step was to schedule which is what I did. Finally. After having put it off for a couple of months.

Bleh. I know the grown-up H. will be glad for having done all this, but, bleh. Just bleh.

Friday, August 01, 2014

Carl, the little red pencil sharpener

Once upon a time, there was a little red pencil sharpener named, Carl.

He was a happy little pencil sharpener, but he was lonely. He traveled around looking for a family he could help. He was also a very helpful little pencil sharpener. Where could he find a nice home to live.

His wanderings took him far and wide. Then one day he arrived at a house where all of the pencils looked like this. Here was a family who needed him!

Carl, the little red pencil sharpener got right to work. He held each pencil carefully and sharpened it until it was sharp enough to be a lethal weapon. Carl was also a very well behaved little pencil sharpener and never sharpened the pencils down to a nub.

The people in the house were happy. All of their pencils were sharp. Very, very sharp. The family loved Carl so much that there was not one single dull or broken pencil in the house.

Carl was happy. The family was happy. The pencils were sharp. And everyone looked forward to living happily ever after together.
Carl is actually the Carl Angel-5 pencil sharpener in red. He also comes in blue and green and black and hot pink. After years and years of buying pencil sharpeners that work for a while and then break, I did some research and discovered this little cutie. So far, so good, and according to the reviews, the blades can also be replaced. What I love about it, besides its read cuteness, is that to put the pencil in you press the black knobs on top together which opens up the space for the pencil. When the are released, a mechanism grips the pencil which frees your hand to hold the sharpener while you turn the crank. The silver part helps to feed the pencil in as you turn. You really can't sharpen so much that the pencil wears down to nothing. (A real problem in a house with many children.) Can you tell I'm really happy with it?
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