Friday, February 28, 2014

Day O' Doctors

It's been one of those days where I am in and out going to various doctor's appointments. I have them more often than I like and have another day like it coming up on Monday. (Yes, that would be the Monday right before we leave on a major road trip.) And why did I schedule so many doctor's appointments right before we leave? It's a good question. I didn't mean to.

On this very steep learning curve of being a parent of a child undergoing tissue expansion, I learned something new today. If your child has a mild cold (slight cough, runny nose), do not bother to drive a half hour north to the doctor's office for the next round of expander inflation. This is because they won't do it. Now, I have to say I'm happy that my daughter's doctor is conservative and is very careful about infection. Evidently because of the huge foreign objects implanted under the skin, it can be very easy for them to become infected, even from something as benign as a mild cold. Thus, antibiotics are prescribed, not because they will do anything for the cold, it won't, but because it helps to ward off unwanted infection of the expanders. We will go back on Monday morning, assuming H. is better, and do the expansion then.

The morning wasn't a total bust, though. I received more training about how to fill the expanders and feel fairly confident I can do it. Plus, they sent me home with all the supplies we'll need to do expander-stuff on the road in case H. isn't well enough yet to warrant us going into the office. The most helpful thing was when the nurse showed me an expander with a port so that I could visualize what I was doing. Knowing what the ports under H.'s skin actually look like helped me understand what exactly I was doing with that needle. It still feels wrong, though, to be sticking needles in my daughter's head. Just sayin'.

This afternoon was a visit to the neurologist. We are backing down off the Kepra medication which caused the poor brain function. I may go down in the annals of epileptic parenting for how I described H.'s behavior when on high doses of the stuff, though. I told the doctor that it was like living with an 11 year old Alzheimer's patient. When I said that I thought the doctor was going to bust a gut. "Oh, I'm going to have to use that" quickly adding, "Of course I would never mention the patient's name." He then sobered a bit and said, "I can't write that in the file, I'll say 'depressed brain cognition' instead." He did continue to chuckle throughout the appointment. I like a doctor with a sense of humor. The serious part of the appointment was that once H. is weaned off the Kepra, we will try something else. It's a matter of balancing the desired affect of stopping the seizures with the side effects that each medication has. Since each person responds differently to each drug, it's really a matter of trial and error to find the correct one sometimes. We're just not going to jump to what happens if we can't find a drug which will control the seizures. Just not going to go there...

Thursday, February 27, 2014

It's all about connection

(Can you stand another book review?)

I'm finishing up the book, The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are Creating A Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids by Madeline Levine. It's a sobering book, but one that I think parents should really read, even if you think your child is doing fine. It has some real insight into the developmental work that teens are doing and how parents can best support them in this work. 

What it really boils down to is that teens want a real relationship with their parents, and not just one based on achievement. They also need to start building their own internal life... to know who they are and to feel they have mastery over different aspects of life. In order to do this, they need to try to do a lot of things without fear of disappointing their parents. Notice I didn't say without fear of failure. This is because our older children (and I would include our younger ones as well) need to try things and not succeed at them. They need to have the experience of picking themselves back up and trying again. As a parent, I can tell you it's painful to stand by and watch, but we do our children no favors when we rescue them too soon or too often. What we can provide is emotional support as they experience these painful lessons.

Here are some quotes from the book to get you interested.

"Kyle, a fifteen-year-old patient of mine [the author's, of course] succinctly clarified my confusion: 'It's so odd that I feel my mom is everywhere and nowhere at the same time.' Being 'everywhere' is about intrusion; being 'nowhere' is about lack of connection. While affluent kids often feel that adults are crawling all over their world, intruding into territory that rightfully belongs to the child and directing their development with something approximating military precision, this does not mean that kids feel connected. Parents can be overinvolved and children can still feel isolated. Controlling and overinvolved parents typically leave kids feeling angry or alienated, neither of which is conducive to emotional closeness. And it is emotional closeness, maternal warmth in particular, that is as close as we get to a silver bullet against psychological impairment."

"Study after study shows that teens want more, not less, time with their parents, yet parents regularly overestimate the amount of time they spend with their teenagers."

"Friends, nannies, housekeepers, au pairs, or older siblings cannot fill the role that a concerned and involved parent occupies. There are certain aspects of family life that pack a lot of 'bang for the buck' for busy families. For example, parents need to remember that kids love rituals and depend on them for a sense of continuity and connection. Perhaps the single most important ritual a family can observe is having dinner together. Families who eat together five or more times a week have kids who are significantly less likely to use tobacco, alcohol, or marijuana, have higher grade-point averages, less depressive symptoms, and fewer suicide attempts than families who eat together two or fewer times a week. Eating together reinforces the idea that family members are interested, available, and concerned about each other. It provides a reliable time and place for kids to share accomplishments, challenges, and worries, to check in with parents and siblings, or simply to feel part of the family."

"Play experiences are among the child's earliest internally driven experiences. Kids play because they are driven to touch, taste, manipulate, explore, and confront their environment. Parental involvement for safety reasons is essential. However, when parents become overly involved, play no longer retains its function as an activity where children develop independence, competence, and a sense of control, and instead becomes another arena in which children become overly dependent. Many of the affluent kids I see in my practice have made it clear that they much prefer organized sports activities to spontaneous play. When asked if they ever go down to the schoolyard for a pick-up game, they look sincerely puzzled, and ask, 'Who would referee?' The very notion that twelve- and thirteen-year olds could rely on themselves to organize and set standards for a simple ball game is foreign to many upper-middle-class kids who have had adults directing their athletic activities for as long as they can remember."

"Dr. David Fassler, a child and adolescent psychiatrist and a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Vermont practices in Burlington. He is insightful and succinct when he says that the affluent kids he treats 'haven't had enough bad things happen to them.' Clearly, Dr. Fassler is not suggesting that we encourage our children to participate in unsafe activities. Rather, his point is 'that in order to learn how to cope with normal frustrations, with ups and downs, we have to first experience them.' Affluent kids are often so protected from even the most minor disappointments and frustrations that they are unable to develop critical coping skills."

That's just a small bit. Get the book and read the rest. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The book I was looking for

I might have mentioned a while back I saw someone had asked the question, "What books would constitute a good reading list for parenting a child from hard places?" I have lots of books about the why and some about the how, but what I felt was missing was the hope. I wasn't aware of any books that told the story of a family with a child from a hard place, who had been through the mess and ugliness, and had come out on the other side successfully.

Well, I have finally found that book! It is called God, Are You Nice or Mean? Trusting God... After the Orphanage by Debra Delulio Jones. Oh, how I wish I had come across this book two years ago, it could have offered me a little glimmer of hope when I was feeling fresh out of the commodity. It tells the story of a family who brings home a little two year old from a Romanian orphanage. Things start out fine, with the child exhibiting some difficult behaviors, but two and three year olds can have their difficult moments. The difficulties don't go away as the boy grows, but get bigger and more difficult to manage, finally coming to a head when their older daughter throws out the ultimatum that she can't live like this and it's her or her brother. The family then enters into an intense home therapy regime directed by Dr. Karyn Purvis (though at this point, she was still working on that doctorate). The ending of the book, with the boy addressing when she recounts he son standing in front of a group of adoptive parents at conference and telling them that he was there because his mother never gave up on him and urging the parents seated before him to never give up on their own children.

While the family in the book went through difficulties that exceeded what we have experienced, I could identify with everything described... the feelings of fear, hopelessness, frustration, anger, and feeling utterly abandoned by God. Any little bit of hope during those times was a priceless gift. If you are currently living in that pit, I urge you to get a copy of this book. It is short and can easily be read in just a few retreats to the bathroom. Let it be that little glimmer of hope to get you through the next moment or two.

I'll offer my own little glimmer of hope as well. We are in a much better place than some of those dark, dark days of last year. We have seen improvements. We have seen real hope that the future can be a brighter place than we thought it would. I would never call our life calm or easy, but things are better. Connecting with your child so that they are able to feel your love really does work.

Soli Deo Gloria

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A little bit of summer

I might have mentioned last summer that one of the things I canned were sweet pickled cherry tomatoes. B. grew an abundance of them and I tried various preserving methods to deal with the glut. They were so pretty in their jars.

The recipe said that if you put the contents of the jar in a blender, the tomatoes became an excellent salad dressing. It was right. It's pretty much the only salad dressing we've used in the past month. It is so yummy. Actually, the recipe suggested blending the contents of the jar with some olive oil, but I'd forgotten that last bit when we used the first jar. It works fine, but next time I think I will add the oil to help stretch the dressing and to coat the salad a little better.

It's a little like eating summer in a jar. And believe me when I say we need every little bit of summer feeling around here right now.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Belated Tet party

Last Saturday was the annual Families with Children from Vietnam group's Tet party. It is something my children look forward to every year. Crafts, good food, visiting with friends, and of course, lion dancers. Here are some photos from the evening... at least until the camera battery died.



A. and L.


L.'s 'face painted' tiger. (She didn't want it on her face.)

G. (with face painted pandas on her hands)

G. and L. (who didn't really want to have her picture taken at this point)

H. (She chose a flower and then a butterfly tattoo.)

My one picture of one of the lion dancers. 

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Homemade preschool learning games

I am a firm believer in the idea that you can give your child an excellent education with only a library card and that if you have a computer, printer, and laminator as well, then you're completely set. (This would apply for all grade levels, but I'm only going to deal with preschool here.) Access to things to learn (thus the library card) is really all you need. There are plenty of ways to make this information engaging and interactive.

At the beginning of the school year, I spent some time making some more preschool activities. Years ago, I had spent an entire summer putting together preschool activity boxes which formed the bulk of what I did with my preschoolers. They could be played with individually or with an older person (parent, brother, sister) and we still use them. But this year, as I was thinking about my current student population, I realized that it was heavily weighted in the actual preschool or developmentally preschool ages. Especially since some of these children were filling in important gaps which had been missing in their early lives, I decided I needed to supplement my preschool program. I needed something that was a little more purposeful in teaching certain things than I had been doing (which was fine for emotionally healthy, developmentally on target children from a stable environment.)

Thus I created a set of preschool learning games. A while back I came across the book, Kindergarten Learning Games by Mildred Swift and Lois Rather, in my father's stash of stuff from his teaching days and, ahem, acquired it. (As an aside, looking at this book really highlights how different kindergarten is now from what it used to be. In my opinion, I don't think it is an improvement. The book is interesting and worth the 99 cents to buy it used if you are teaching preschoolers.) Inside is page after page of different games that a teacher can make to facilitate listening, following directions, and learning basic concepts. They are simple and straight-forward, and based on the reaction of my group of preschoolers, really fun. They have loved every single one and ask to play them.

The first one is called "Copy Cat". (As you can see, they are nothing fancy. I used the laminator [a lot] and whatever container I happened to have lying around.)

It has laminated circles to delineate the work space and sets of five blocks... one large set for the parent and smaller sets for the children. The idea is the leader builds something with the blocks and the children recreate the building with their own. It was not so hard as to be frustrating, but challenging enough to be fun. They all wanted to play and all wanted to take a turn being the leader as well.

Next is a game for counting and numbers.

Inside the box are laminated cards with numbers of objects ranging from one to eight. (Obviously, you could go up to any number you liked... I didn't think my crew was ready to go past eight.) There are also small wooden sticks and smaller laminated cards with the number printed on them.

You can use this game in a variety of ways. The children can count the objects and match the object with a stick, working on one-to-one correspondence. They could count the objects and match the number card.

They could identify the number card and lay the correct number of sticks on it. Or they could lay the number cards out in the correct order. Or they could do any combination of the above.

Another game I made is called "Find Your Partner".

Inside are laminated pictures taken from magazines which I cut out and then cut in half. It is a very simple form of a puzzle. This is much more suited to 2 and 3 year olds, but G. and L. (who are 4 1/2) really enjoy playing with them. I think they like the laminated shapes and pictures.

The last game I made from the book is called "Is He Happy? Is He Sad?" which is a game for learning to identify emotions. (This is something some of my people really need to work on.) The title is somewhat hard to read, but I wanted to show you that some games can just be stored in a folder.

Inside we have a couple of things. First we have a feeling identification chart, for reference and to give an introduction to the idea of what faces can tell us.

The other items are faces taken from magazines (and laminated, of course) that show a variety of people showing a variety of emotions. (As a complete aside and not to get off on a rabbit trail, but can I just say that it is not easy to find people of color showing pleasant emotions? A disturbing realization that I have discovered from doing this.) Obviously, to use this game, the leader selects a picture and asks the children question about it. Except for smiling photos, which the children were all good at recognizing, it took some discussion to identify other facial emotions.

The last game is one I came up with myself. Prepositions are a little tricky for new English users and not always easy for native preschoolers, either. So I came up with this game, imaginatively called the "Preposition Game."

Inside the box are some blocks, laminated cards with a variety of prepositions, and a small plastic elephant.

The idea is, the child takes a card and either reads it himself or the parent reads it, and then uses the blocks and elephant to show what the preposition means. Here the elephant is demonstrating 'on'. Maybe it was the elephant, but this was a huge hit. Even some of the older children wanted in on it.
On a completely unrelated topic, J. and I went to a screening of a documentary last night made by a friend of ours. It is called Spilled Water: Women in China Defining Their Worth, made by May May Tchao. In it, she introduces four women who live in China and who all live very different lives. They discuss their feelings and realities of being a woman in that society. It was beautiful and very well-done. If you go to her website (link is attached to the title), you can see the trailer. If you are part of a Families with Children from China group, I would highly recommend looking into seeing if you could arrange a screening for your group. Highly recommended.

Friday, February 21, 2014

One down

H. had her first tissue expander filling this morning. She did great. While she is willing to do just about anything we ask, and we have explained to her how all this works, I can tell that deep down she is really wondering at our judgement and if this is a good idea. I admit, on the face of it, it seems a bit crazy.

How this all works is this: The first surgery was to implant the balloons under her skin in two places. These balloons each have a port which is also under the skin. The saline is then injected through these ports. First, lidocaine (it numbs the skin) is applied to the places on skin under which the ports are located. Once the skin is numb, a needle, which is attached to a long tube which is attached to syringe filled with saline, is inserted into the skin at the port. The saline is injected and you're done. This time, since it was the first injection, the nurse only put in 20 cc of saline into each port. Even that was enough, though, for H. to feel her skin stretching a bit. It didn't hurt, but did feel odd.

Since we have gotten home, she has been playing with the skin where the balloons are, pressing them because they are fairly squishy. This has completely wigged out various brothers and sisters, so I imagine I will be seeing her doing it more. There's nothing like the ability to gross out your siblings.

So, things are going well so far. I imagine that H. will be less and less happy about the whole thing as the balloons continue to increase in size. I'm really, really glad that we have our big Arizona adventure right in the middle of it because it will be a good distraction. Of course, this means that I am the one who gets to put in the saline. I'm just beyond excited to get to stick needles into my daughter's head. Not. Plus it means I get to add a whole other list to the items we need to pack.

What's is like to have a boring life?

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Love your feelings?

It's the monthly Hearts at Home blog hop and today's topic is "Love your feelings". I very nearly didn't participate this time because one doesn't always want to be the contrarian; I'm just not feeling the love for this topic. You see, I don't always love my feelings, and with good reason.

Our feelings do not always reflect reality. Perhaps I am hyper-sensitive to this, having adopted three children whom I did not readily attach to, but there is so much more going on than just how we feel about something. Let's look at some examples.

The first is the one I just alluded to. It is possible, and very often necessary to love someone whom you are not feeling love for at that moment. It could be a child, it could be a spouse, it could be a friend. We should love them, we are told in Scripture to love them, but we don't always feel those lovey-dovey loving feelings. It really doesn't matter what we are feeling at that moment, it matters how we act and treat them. We treat them lovingly even if we are not feeling loving. In my experience, the feeling follows the action. You want to feel more love or a spouse or child? Treat as if you already do.

The second example is how much our emotions and feelings are influenced by outside sources. Think about how endless strings of cloudy days make you feel. There doesn't have to be anything difficult going on in your life, but day 10 of nothing but clouds can make you feel vaguely (or very, depending on temperament) depressed. There is nothing that has actually caused the blues to set in but the weather, yet, if you are like me (I do best with plenty of sunshine), you find yourself becoming more cross and more unpleasant as the cloudy days roll on. It takes a supreme act of will to not embrace the emotions and to climb up out of the cloudy pit of despair and be a pleasant person again.

Finally, our feelings are just as much a part of our sinful nature as anything else, maybe even more so. Think about the range of negative emotions we can feel towards other people... jealousy, envy, dislike, annoyance, contempt. Some people just rub us the wrong way. Then there are also those feelings of prejudice (which may even be unrecognized) that we all feel towards other groups of people. We can be prejudiced against other nationalities, income levels, occupations... just about anything. Really, we humans are a mess.

Now, this is not to say that feelings do not have any value or serve no purpose. Love, joy, and peace are the emotional places we can embrace and wish we could experience all the time. Hope is often the only thing that gets us through difficult times. We need emotions. Our feelings can also act as an early warning system that something is off. How many of you have experienced those vague unsettled feelings that something is wrong and when you finally pinpoint what is bothering you, you can relax? We are often aware of difficulties in our emotions before our rational mind has caught on.

While it is extremely important to be able to accurately identify what you are feeling, it is also necessary to check what we are feeling against reality. Is what we are feeling an accurate reflection of what is going on around us? Is life really as bad as it feels at that moment? Do people really love and care for me even if I am not feeling that is true? Am I controlling my feelings or are they controlling me? Sometimes it takes an outside source to help us really understand if what we are feeling is meshing with reality.

Learning to identify and regulate ones emotions is a learned skill. Babies and young children do not regulate their emotions at all... they can't. They rely on their parents to externally help them regulate and they also pick-up on the adults' emotions as cues to how they go about doing it. Children who have not had this type of nurturing grow up unable to do this. Either through neglect or trauma, their ability to recognize and control the emotional part of their brain is limited. Once again, they rely on the adults around them to help them learn to regulate. Since I live with children like this, I can tell you, it's easier to start when you're a baby to develop this skill than as an older child.

Having lived with people with unregulated emotions for a while now, you can understand why I am a little hesitant to embrace the "Love your emotions" message. I don't always love them and I don't always think they deserve to be loved. Understand your emotions might send a much better message. You don't have to love everything about yourself. We are sinful by nature, so it follows that there is going to be yucky, unpleasant stuff about us. Don't love it... ask God to transform it.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Not looking back

More often than not, when I prepare for the girls' Bible study I lead, I get far more out of it than they do. At least it feels that way sometimes. Take this week for instance. We are slowly working our way through Luke and we are about in the center, finally finishing up chapter 9. Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem and he talks with several people on the way. He either asks the person to follow him or they volunteer and Jesus says some (in my opinion) fairly cryptic things. (vv 57-62) I will admit that none of it made much sense to me. But in studying and preparing for the Bible study, I made some realizations. (I'm a bit slow sometimes.) Jesus' comments have more to do with what it means to follow him... the need to have mercy, that there will be hardship, that it is urgent. These are important things to know, but what really struck me was the last. If you choose to follow Jesus, you can't look back.

As a younger person, this just didn't make sense. I couldn't make out what was wrong with looking back, either in Jesus' statement in ch. 9 or even with Lot's wife escaping Sodom. Why was this so wrong? Having a lot more years under my belt, I realize my perspective has changed entirely and the clarity of understanding I felt when I worked on this passage again was nearly blinding. It suddenly makes perfect sense.

There are some roads we are asked to take, sometimes even volunteering for them, that prove to be extremely difficult as you get down them a ways. This doesn't mean that we regret taking them, but living in the middle of the hard part isn't really enjoyable. It's scary and tiring and lonely and sometimes it feels as though it will go on and on like this forever. In better moments, we know this isn't quite true, but it is hard to escape feeling this way. During the hardest parts of our journey, it was so very tempting to look back and play the 'what if' game. What if we hadn't chosen this path? What would our life look like now? I must have been so much happier back then when life was easy. Think of all the things we used to do that we can't now... think of all the things we could do now if we had chosen a different path. Trust me, this kind of thinking does nothing helpful. All it does is create even more discontent with the current situation than there already was. And frankly, I'm pretty sure my life wasn't nearly as carefree as the haze of memory would have me believe. We like to erase the yuckier parts from our memory.

During the worst parts of 2013, I have to admit that I looked back with some frequency. My little pity parties, at moments, were something to behold. When I remembered that... those backwards glances at what I had given up for something I knew was better, if harder... Jesus' words suddenly made sense in a way they never had before. Even the whole story of Lot's wife makes so much more sense. If we have chosen a certain path, there is nothing good that comes of looking back, either wishing we hadn't taken the path we did or looking back at things in our life that might have been fun, but certainly weren't pleasing to God.

We have to keep looking forward because that way our hope lies. When we focus on the past, we aren't working to help our present, we are just wallowing and feeding our discontentment. Living in the present, knowing that God is there with us, even in the muck and yuckiness, is what will ultimately help us. God redeems all things in His own time.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Parenting and control

Children want to feel safe. They want to know that there are boundaries, where they are, and that the adults in their lives also know where the boundaries are and will uphold them. Knowing that the adults in their lives are in control allows the child to relax and get on with the business of playing and growing. I don't think anyone would have trouble with that idea. The problems come when adults get confused about what being in control means. More often than not, being in control has much more to do with managing ourselves and very little to do with being in control of other people.

A while back I read about a study that was done regarding  playgrounds and children. (If anyone has also read this and can point me back to where I found it, I would be happy to attribute it. I just can't remember where I came across it.) Children were watched as they played on different playgrounds. In the playground without a physical boundary, the children tended to play in the center of the area and did not explore or play in the whole area. Then children were observed as they played on a playground with a fence around its perimeter. In that playground, the children played on the entire space; they used and explored all the area available to them. The children felt safer and freer on the playground with the known and visible boundaries. This is also what our children are looking from us as parents as well.

How do we do this? Well, the first is obvious, but I'm afraid that many of us miss it. We need to be in control of ourselves and our reactions. Do we fly off the handle at the least little thing? Are we inconsistent in how we enforce rules or in our expectations? Have we even thought about what our family rules and expectations are? Do we lack the internal knowledge that as adults, we have permission and the obligation to make such rules?

We parents need to have thought about what is important, about what our goals for our children are, about how we would like to be treated and treat our children in the same way. Just because they are children, doesn't mean that rudeness or arbitrariness or any other negative interactions are acceptable towards them. Children will naturally push the stated limits. They want to know if those limits are important enough that you will enforce them. They want to know where those boundaries and fences are so that they can relax and feel safe. If they push against the boundaries and the boundaries fall, then safety isn't achieved and they will continue to look for where the actual boundary is. If we parents don't know where the boundaries are, how can we keep them from falling?

Calmly enforcing our stated boundaries and allowing for natural or related consequences is vastly different from outright punishment, though. If we punish our child, what is our goal? Is it to make them feel bad? Is it because we think we should? Is it because we are afraid if we do not our children will grow up to be brats? I think most parents' goals are to raise children to be functional and capable adults. We need to keep that in mind when disciplining our children.

How about some examples? Three year olds and teens are both notoriously difficult to live with. Both are doing the same cognitive and emotional work of becoming an unique person and they are trying to figure out where their parents end and where they begin. Plus, both ages are doing a lot of physical growing which is exhausting. If you look at the behaviors of both ages, they are remarkably similar. If you live with either (or both) of these ages, you often feel as though you are on a roller coaster.

In parenting, I actually find both of these ages to need the same things... lots of love, lots of understanding, and lots of sleep. If your three year old is pushing, pushing, pushing at your buttons all the time, it usually means a couple of things. First, they really are trying to figure out what they are capable of. They want to do things themselves, learn new things, try new things. I have found that if I slow down my day and let them try new skills, some of this pushing and negativeness goes away. Second, they are growing and using a lot of energy and their sleep needs are huge. A tired three year old is not a pleasant creature to live with. If one of my three year olds was being particularly negative and unpleasant, then punishment isn't going to help that, but a nap certainly will. Lastly, a crying, whining three year old is probably needing some time with Mom more than anything else. My nearly fool-proof method for this is to sit down with the child and stack of books and spend time snuggling and reading together. Try it, it usually works wonders... for both the child's mood and my own. The best discipline takes the time to see what is really needed instead of dealing with the presenting problem.

That's great with a three year old, you say, but how about the teen? Because they are bigger and more verbal and have toxic levels of hormones coursing through their bodies, the possibilities for unpleasantness and outright nastiness are much higher. Usually, though, they often need the same things as those three year olds. Teens want to do things themselves, to learn competence, to feel grown-up. Let them! Give them adult level responsibilities to try out while you are still around to pick-up the pieces when it doesn't work out. Let them fail. Let them struggle a bit with a skill. Give them meaningful work. (Just to clarify... there is no way you can convince me [or them, probably] that schoolwork constitutes meaningful work.) Teens are also growing and need sleep. If you live with a child in their teen years, you know that sleeping is possibly their favorite thing to do. Is your child crankier and more unpleasant than usual? Send them to bed to sleep. Everyone feels better after a nap. Children this age also need a parent's love just as much as a three year old. It is a scary age to experience... not knowing what the future is, wanting to grow up, yet not wanting to. Find ways to connect with your child. The sit and read picture books may not work, but you can come up with other things. Watch a movie together... play a game... go have a meal together. And give them hugs and kisses even if they brush you off. J. and I joke that parents need the Babel Fish from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy in our ears to translate what our children say into what they actually mean.

Of course, the extra challenge with this age is that they are quite capable of outright disobedience even if they are well-rested and well-loved. They are human after all. We do need to impose consequences if needed, though the art is to make the consequence related to the crime. Out too late? No, you don't get to go out the next time. Problems with saying where you were? Car keys are off limits. Rude to your parent? A lot of physical labor working for that parent isn't a bad option. It does help to state the consequences up front, before a problem occurs... it takes away some of the drama when the consequence has to happen. The parent doesn't need to add to the drama, but to calmly state what is going to happen next. (This is probably the key to raising this age... just don't add to the drama!)

Ultimately, the only control a parent has is over their actions and choices. You just cannot control another person, no matter how much you try, and you certainly cannot control 100% how your child will turn out. There are not guarantees, no matter how hard we parents look for them. Work on controlling what is important... your attitudes, your reactions, your consistency. You can think carefully about why you do certain things and make sure they align with what is important to you. You can apologize when you make mistakes (because you will). You can decide not to parent out of fear and parent out of love, instead.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Since I spend my life going to doctor's appointments...

there are just some days there is literally no time to do much of anything else. Today is such a day. This morning, I took H. into the plastic surgeon's office so that the drains in head could be removed. This is always a fantastic event because it means she can go back to showering and makes her feel much more human and less patient-like. Hooray! This afternoon is my little four jaunt to TM's therapist. In the snow. Again.

A commentor had asked about parenting and control since I had mentioned in a previous post. I have been thinking about it a lot and it is a huge topic. I was thrilled to see today that the Parenting with Connection blog has a new post up about control, particularly in dealing with children of trauma. (Need I mention that it is not just children who have been adopted that can have past trauma? Take a look at the ACE's test to see all of the things that can contribute to trauma.) It is great and now I don't have to write about the angle. Tomorrow, which according to the calendar is a much less scheduled day, I will tackle parenting and control in general.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Valentine's Day Party

We had a little Valentine's Day party here yesterday. Just us and 13 of our closest friends, making for 24 people in all. Oh, and a dog.

A. made a cake...

Then another mom planned a mailbox making craft and everyone spent most of the time creating their mailboxes so that they could receive their Valentines. And then once the mailboxes were made, the Valentines needed to be delivered.

A few of the older people decided they didn't need to make mailboxes, so they got piles of Valentines instead.

More delivering...

And then there were many treats. Here is everyone.

The posed version...

And the one they didn't know I was taking.

Everyone took their mailboxes home to open and look inside, so we opened ours after the party.

H. and TM

L. and A.



L. and G.



Friday, February 14, 2014

Reading at lunch

Ever since M. and B. were little, but old enough to listen to chapter books (they were probably 6 and 4), I have read a book aloud at lunch. It is the perfect to time read. I have a captive audience, they are happy to sit and each their lunch and listen, and we can tackle books that might be a stretch at other times. Classics, historical fiction, biographies, etc. For instance, I think M. and B. were about these ages when we read Jules Vernes' Around the World in 80 Days. (That was actually kind of fun, now that I think about it. We followed the characters around the world, charting their course on a map and reading a little about each country they passed through.) Anyway, it has been the perfect time to read.

Since we are learning about ancient Rome this year, we have been reading a couple of historical fiction novels. I had never read them before, despite the fact that this is my third time through this time period with my children and I have seen the books on multiple lists. They are The Ides of April and Beyond the Desert Gate by Mary Ray. Of the two, I think we enjoyed the first one most, but they were both good. They are related, but not so much that they cannot stand alone; there is one common character between the two.

In The Ides of April, a murder is committed and one of the slaves must figure out who the real killer was or all the slaves of the household will be killed as required by Roman law. While the subject sounds a bit intense, it is written with care and the content either went over the littles' heads or my audience could deal with it. This is true even of D., who has a very low tolerance for anything too gruesome. What the book does is an excellent job of portraying what life was like in Rome around 60 A.D. Plus it was an exciting story. The story is fairly complex and sometimes I had to help the grade school bunch sort out what was happening. It was a perfect book for reading out loud, if I were to assign it to be read individually, the writing and story is probably better for a junior high or high school student.

Beyond the Desert Gate is set in Palestine around the fall of Jerusalem, ~70 A.D. The siege of Jerusalem is mentioned, but thankfully the story is not set there. That wouldn't be a book for children. This book tells the story of a 13 year old boy who lives in Philadelphia and whose life is then brought into contact with the occupying Roman troops. It is a darker book than the first, but then, life in Palestine under Roman rule was no picnic, even if you weren't a Christian or a Jew.

We have now started on 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne. We are also studying sea creatures, so I thought this would be fun. We've only read a couple of chapters, so the jury is still out about the 'fun' part. I'll let you know.

In keeping with today's book theme, if you have a (very) reluctant reader as I do, you know how exciting it is when they hit upon a book which strikes their fancy and makes the effort of reading worth it. My very reluctant reader happened upon a book at a friend's house and was so interested in it that he asked me to get it from the library. He has also actually spent a good chunk of time reading it. It is called Firestorm by Joan Hiatt Harlow. It is historical fiction about the Chicago fire. I'm surprised by the whole thing, since historical fiction is NOT what I would have (or had been, for that matter) chosen for him. I haven't read it myself, but thought I'd share the title for others who have reluctant readers. The author looks as though she has six other titles, which makes me happy in case it is the author's writing and not the subject that appeals.

Happy Valentine's Day! If you want to read more about how we have celebrated, take a look at my new article, Valentine's Day Celebration.

And one last item of business and in full disclosure: I am an Amazon Associate which means I receive a small amount from purchases made through the links I provide. I don't accept any other advertising on this blog and this small amount of money is helpful.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

At the end of the day

You know those feelings where you should be doing something, but you are unsure whether it is worth the effort to make yourself do it? Those times when it would be so much easier just to sit down with a good book and a bowl of chocolate chips and ignore the things that should be done? And then do you remember your feelings about yourself at the end of the day when you are surrounded by laundry and a mental to do list that remains unchanged? Speaking from experience, I know that I feel fairly rotten about myself as I lie in bed thinking about the day and what I accomplished. Or didn't accomplish as the case may be. We all harbor suspicions about our true character and a day of avoiding tasks we should have done only serves to confirm our worst fears.

Having experienced this feeling more than once, I'm embarrassed to admit, I don't enjoy it and try to avoid it if I can. The key to avoiding it is to remember during the day, at those moments when I am tempted to turn to the book and chocolate (or whichever pleasant, yet time wasting diversion you prefer). In those moments, it is helpful to stop and think, "How am I going to feel about this at the end of the day?" Sometimes the answer is actually, "Yes, I will feel better, as will everyone else, if we take a break." If life has been too busy and crazy, taking a break for the usual and letting the to do list go is the healthiest thing you can do. Our brains and bodies need to rest.

Usually, though, this is not the case. Sometimes I may be tired or it has been cloudy for too many days or I just have a general malaise and doing anything productive does not seem appealing. It is so much easier just to avoid it and do whatever is easiest. The trouble is, what is easiest is not always going to have a positive outcome. At the end of the day, it's not going to feel good at all. Not only because nothing was accomplished, but because the negative feelings which were the cause of it all were fed.

If I can ask myself the question about the end of the day, and give myself an honest answer, and can pick myself up, something happens. Just the decision to get on with life has the effect of turning the poor mood around. Then, there is the added benefit of feeling as though you accomplished something (or at least set out in that direction). Rarely will I get everything done that I had hoped, but working towards that end is often enough.

This is not to say that we must always be doing something, accomplishing something. That way madness lies. We need to take breaks in our day to rest. We need to sit and cuddle with our children. We need recess. But making the conscious choice to take a break is a lot different from feeling unable to stand up and do what needs to be done. With the latter, we don't have true rest because we are feeling guilty all the time we are immobile. With the former, we can truly rest because it is planned and we know we will continue on with our day afterwards.

I know none of us will ever be 100% successful in this, but I find when I stop and ask the question, I'm more successful than not. So, ask yourself if you will feel better at the end of the day if you do or don't do something. No one wants to go to bed feeling rotten about one's self.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Towards a more humane discipline

I sometimes spend some time on social media places where mothers with younger children hang out. That would be mothers having their first, second, or third child... there aren't a lot of us who have four year olds who are numbers 9 and 10. I don't always chime in with my opinion (really... you probably find that difficult to believe), but I do every so often, and recently I've been finding that my opinion is often quite a bit different from most other people's. It makes me realize how much I've changed in the past few years. Not having an opinion different from other people, that's usual and unexpected, but that my opinion actually differs from what I would have written 15 or so years ago.

I wasn't a bad mother back then. I had wonderful children who were well behaved and easy to live with. Having children who fit the norm in most ways has the effect that it gives the illusion that the parent's ability has a huge amount to do with it. Now, I'm not saying that parents don't have an impact on their children. They do. But if you are blessed with typically functioning children and you are a responsible and loving parent, chances are that things are going to turn out in your favor.

I didn't see that then, though. There was a lot of fear that I experienced because I wanted to do it 'right'. I didn't want to raise a brat. I wanted to be sure I was in control. If I gave an inch then all would be lost and my children would become feral, wild children who would fail in life and it would all be my fault. I see this underlying fear in a lot of the questions and responses in those places populated with younger mothers.

I've changed a lot since those early years. I've been humbled and realize that my formulaic parenting methods do not work across the board. I've been forced to rethink what I thought was important and question why I did certain things. So that when a mother asks what to do about the 9 month old or the 14 month old who screams to get her way, I'm not thinking, "Yeah, you need to nip that in the bud right now. You need to show her who's in charge or she'll become a rebellious teenager. Isolate her until she is able to meet you on your terms," which seems to the be majority tenor of responses. I'm thinking, "She's just a baby. She must need something. Ignore the presenting behavior and search for what is causing the shrieking." I sit back and wonder why we parents are so quick to become the enemies of our own children. Why do we let it become a battle?

I still fight the internal 'must win at any cost' parenting style. I have to stop and think about why I need to have a certain outcome. It usually boils down to me and my own pride. No one wants to feel bested by a young child. But I think when I start to feel that way it is because I am looking at the problem in the wrong way. My role as parent is not to create submissive beings who jump at my every command. Yet when I start thinking in oppositionsal terms, ultimately that's what I really want. If I am painfully honest with myself. I want my children to be obedient, but I have to ask myself what that means exactly. Does it mean they do everything I want the second I ask? Am I being realistic in what I am asking them? Why do I want them to do this thing? Is there a better way to accomplish what my goals are?

I imagine this is becoming a little difficult to understand. Let's take household chores. Why do I want my children to help with them? There are several good reasons for children helping around the house. First, it teaches them the skills they will need to know how to manage their own homes when they are adults. Second, it is good to help keep the place you live clean and tidy and to help the family in that task. And, third, by helping it helps to counteract feelings of entitlement that can come by being served others. These are just the three that leap to mind. So, it's a good thing. Now, I can go about enlisting my children's help in one of two ways. I can foster a general feeling of mutual aid and affection and explain why we help each other, or I can tell everyone that this is what they have to do and explain the consequences if the jobs are not done.

In most families the line between these two approaches is pretty blurred. Things roll along pretty well until there is a child who rocks the boat. This child may be suffering from previous trauma, they may be going through a rough patch in other places in their life, they may have something going on internally which makes it difficult to fall in with the proposed plan. And life explodes. This is the point at which the two different parenting styles play out the most. When stressed the parent resorts to the style that they actually use. If the child will not comply with the demand to do the work, then things escalate, usually from both the child and the parent. I've been there; I know.

I make the problem all about me when it should be all about my child. Why are they acting this way? Why is pouring the milk, or cleaning the room, or sweeping the stairs proving such a problem? For a little person, the job just may feel too big. For a bigger person it could actually not be about the job at all, but about something completely unrelated that makes the job feel undoable. As adults, we have this happen to us all the time. Something goes wrong at work or at someplace unrelated to the home and we so obsess with the problem that doing something simple at home feels too much. As adults, we tend to just not do it... children don't always have that option.

I guess what I'm getting at here is to put yourself in your child's place. How would you like to be treated? Do you show your children grace? Do you assume all poor behavior is an effort to control you? (I know a little about control, it's a whole other post, but even the need to control is rooted in something different.) Do not make your child your enemy, enlist them as a partner.

And if your 9 month old is screaming, please pick your child up. Let go of your fear that you will spoil her and give her the comfort she needs. That's really what this all is about. Love your child first.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

How the day went

H.'s surgery was scheduled for 9:30 am which meant we were to be up at the hospital at 8 am. Since the hospital is about 40 minutes away, that meant dropping all the children off at the H-S Family home at about 7:20. We are not early risers. We were just a little later than the 8 am arrival time. I do not like to be late. This was probably the most stressful part of the day for me, but I got over it.

It does mean there is a little less waiting around in pre-op, so once we arrived there wasn't a lot of time to sit around and keep H. entertained and distracted. Other than our own lateness, everything else went like clockwork. H. was calm, though we still weren't convinced she understood exactly what was happening. There were a couple of moments where we thought she was telling us that this surgery would mean that the nevus on her forehead would be gone when she woke up and we kept explaining to her that it wouldn't... not this time. Do you know it is incredibly difficult to really explain to a child why they are having surgery when nothing will be different at the end except they will feel bad and have drains in their head?

H. is a trooper and was calm. Unlike K., the Versed just makes her drowsy so we didn't get front row seats to a lounge act. They wheel her off and J. and I go to the waiting room. J. does work and I knit and read. The surgery was fast, just over an hour. I love the hospital where the surgeon works; they are incredibly family friendly. The second that the post-op nurse thinks the child will be waking up, the parents are called back to be with the child. Both parents. It's great when you don't have to fight for what you want to happen.

H. did fine during the surgery and two 350cc expanders were inserted, one in her forehead on the non-affected side and one on the affected side of her head under her hair. This is a fairly large expander size, so they will be pretty enormous once they are completely filled. H. wakes up from anesthetic very slowly and she slept for a good part of the afternoon. By 4 pm, she was awake enough to drink some juice and eat a popsicle and when she had shown that everything was functioning as it should, she was discharged. Things were fine until we got home and as she was walking to the kitchen, the nausea that she sometimes experiences with anesthetic kicked in, though she was very neat about. At that point, everything just became too much and she started to cry. It is so much easier to comfort a child who is expressing emotion than one who is passively accepting what ever comes. Just so much easier. She actually yelled at the dog. I wanted to shout, "Hooray!" Because, frankly, if I were her, I would be stinkin' upset by everything.... surgery, feeling rotten, expanders, getting sick, having to do it any of it at all.

This time around, she is complaining of her head hurting more than the last time. Since last year's surgery was so much more extensive and invasive, I don't know quite what to make of it. There could be several explanations. The first is that this just really does hurt more. The doctor said that what he did last time didn't usually cause extreme discomfort, though I still don't quite understand how that could be. Next, this time around she is just more willing to tell us she is hurting which makes me sad. Or lastly, she could just be a bit more in touch with how she feels and is better able to acknowledge it. Who knows?

H. slept fine and we're back to the routine of changing drains every four hours, administering antibiotics, and making more doctor's appointments. She is pretty droopy this morning and we're actually making use of the Codeine-laced Tylenol this time. We have a quiet week, so she'll just be able to rest and recover. I know she'll feel more herself in about a week when the drains can be removed. I'm sure there is just no way you can feel quite yourself when you head is wrapped in gauze and you have tubes coming out of your head.

The other young people did fine at our friends', though everyone was exhausted by a full day of playing. HG stayed home with her two and took care of Gretel and had dinner ready for us when we all arrived home. This was a huge help and blessing. I will get all them back on a regular schedule today.

Life is never dull.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Making stuff

Have you noticed we like to make stuff around here? (I use the word 'stuff' because it annoys A. I'm always telling her she may not use the word in her writing because she can find a more descriptive one, so when I use it, it gives her something to comment on. I point out that knowingly using a term is fine. But I digress... again.) Aside from the Roman mosaics, there have been a few other things which have been created.

M. is taking a three-dimensional art class at school and their first assignment was to install in a large project made out of fabric in a place of the student's choice. M. received permission to install hers in an unused shower.

It's a difficult project to take a picture of, but do you see the large tentacles coming out of the shower door? Supposedly they just want to hug you, but I have my doubts. When she writes more about making the project on her Tumblr page, I'll share the link with you.

My own creation was a bit more pedestrian. I showed you the skirt I drafted and made a while back, and now I have made a second one. This one is a bit fuller in the skirt and is very comfortable to wear. I also very slightly tweaked the fit, so I think it fits even better than the first one.

The trouble with showing you the fit of an item of clothing is that I have to appear in the picture.

Me: Hey, A., take of picture of me in this skirt.
A.: You look really stiff. You don't really stand like that.

Me: Well, how do am I supposed to stand? (Trying to look more natural.)
A.: Hahahaha... now you look like you're trying to look like a model. (I tell you there's nothing like your 15 year old daughter laughing at you.)

Many small people: We'll stand with you, Mommy!

A.: But now you're all covering up the skirt! (Can you tell she's laughing at the whole project?)

There... best picture yet.

Here's what I really want to show off. Invisible zipper (with matching seams) and notice how the pinstripes on the skirt line-up? This makes me happy.

And forgive me while I continue to push traffic to A.'s new blog. She has another post up about her next experiment. I'm actually a little impressed with how she is writing about what she is trying out and the way she is using the blog to keep track of what she's learning. My checkbook is also happy that she's found a way to practice cake decorating which doesn't involve making more cake. Take a look:  ABCakes

Please keep H. in your prayers on Monday. Her surgery is scheduled to begin at 9:30 am. And so begins our adventures in tissue expansion. Deep breath.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Roman mosaic craft

We have invited friends to join us for a Valentine's Day party next week. That means that we have to actually have Valentines to share. In an effort to have it count toward history as well as art, I decided that we should make mosaic Valentines. We have been learning about ancient Rome, St. Valentine lived in Rome, and I have a nice picture book about the saint with the illustrations done in mosaics (Saint Valentine by Robert Sabuda). So it all makes sense, right? I also checked some books out of the library with pictures of Roman mosaics that we looked at.

Here are some of the artists hard at work.

And a couple of the finished projects.


If you were to try this at home, here are a couple of suggestions. First, do all the cutting ahead of time. Even with a paper cutter, it took a little while to produce enough construction paper squares. Second, perhaps making a bunch of Valentines was probably a little over ambitious. In fact, most people made one or two and then moved onto other mediums to finish the many Valentines everyone needs to make. Everyone was very excited to start, but once they discovered the time-consuming, fiddly nature of the project, they were overwhelmed by the amount of work. I would give everyone just one or two 3x5 sized cards to fill. It really does take a while to stick on all the squares and I would make the ultimate project goals smaller. Lastly, while the littles had fun using glue, it really worked best for the 10 and up crowd. It takes some real manual dexterity along with patience to get the results the child wanted. If I were just doing little people I would use larger pieces of paper and larger squares of colored paper.

I will say, they all have a much greater appreciation for the amount of time and effort which went into the very detailed Roman mosaics now.
And, A. has a blog to show and tell about her cake decorating ventures. It's ABCakes. Take a look.
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