Thursday, April 30, 2015

So why don't you?

Please, please, please, if you have not already done so, phone and email the senator's on the committee who will be hearing HB3079 next Tuesday. This is so important and they need to hear from everyone. This blog will wait, stop and do it now if you've been meaning to and haven't gotten around to it.

Ever since M. was a baby, I have had a lot of difficulty with the idea that God loves my children more than I do. How could that possibly be? I loved my children so much that I couldn't imagine anyone, even a sovereign, omniscient, loving God, loving them more. I can remember sitting in a Mom's Bible study at one point when M. and B. were little and we were talking about this very thing. That God loves our children more than we do and while we cannot keep them safe every single moment, He knows what is best for them and can do that. During the prayer time, I remember bursting into tears because while I could intellectually understand this, emotionally I just couldn't make the leap. What if I gave my children back to God (in the metaphorical sense) and He decided to take them away? I was too fearful to do it and the tears were a part of the struggle between wanting to trust God with my children and my fear of doing just that.

Well, having many children and going through many different adventures with them has a way of changing ones perspective. As I watched my children grow and mature and as we faced things that I never imagined having to face changed my perspective. A lot. There is so much in this world that I do not have control over and to think I do is crazy. Also I've learned that there are many, many things that I have no control over in regards to my children and I would much rather turn those things over to Someone who does. It doesn't feel scary anymore... the opposite certainly does, though.

I had thought I had worked all this out in my head and given myself permission to not be in charge. God has a way of showing us when we are wrong, though, and yesterday afternoon was one of those moments. I was thinking about my children and worrying about one in particular. (If you haven't figured it out by now, I can be a world class worrier if I allow myself, too. And that would be every moment that I am not purposefully reminding myself that I don't need to worry.) I thought to myself, "It would be so nice just to enjoy this child and appreciate this child and not have to worry about this child." I was feeling enormously burdened about the worry I was carrying and longed to be free of it.

After thinking this thought, there was another voice that asked, "So why don't you?"

It was one of those moments that take you by surprise and that you have to ponder for a while. It was a freeing moment. God does not need my help and He certainly doesn't need me to worry in order to keep everything all together. If I really trust Him as I say I do, then the only responsibility I have is to love my children and be their mother. Worrying about their future (or even their present) doesn't help anyone... me or my children.

And so I learn another lesson and take another step on the not-worrying path. It is definitely a work in progress.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The best years

Call, call, call the senators who will be hearing HB 3079 in committee next week. They need to know people really care about this bill.

I was intrigued by a recent comment on my post about homemaking with toddlers. The commentor said that it is hard when you are in the middle of those years to hear from older moms about how these are the best years and it would go down a little easier if there was some commiseration before hand. I don't disagree. There have been many times when I have been talking with a mother a stage or two ahead of me and I feel as though that person must be suffering from amnesia about what parenting young children is really like. That being said, I'm pretty sure that I have never told a young mother to appreciate these years because they are the best.

A friend with twins asked me recently when it got easier. I had to stop and think for a moment. I thought about my incredibly inflexible child whom I also love madly. I thought about when both five year olds are feeling overly tired and are both incredibly needy at the same time. I thought about when they both absolutely positively have to have the exact same thing at the same time, causing possibly hearing loss to those in the room. I had to admit to her that it doesn't get easier, it just gets different. Of course there are many things about my girls that make up for the challenges... babies and toddlers have those things as well. The true challenge of parenting is to focus on those positives which keep the negatives in perspective. I think it is this perspective that older parents are so anxious to communicate. Perhaps they didn't appreciate those early years as much as they should have and want to spare a young parent their own regrets.

While perspective is a very good thing, I also think it is a mistake to imply that one parenting stage is better than another. (It's right up there with telling a high school student, "These are the best years of your life." Really? How depressing.) Yes, of course, there are wonderful, never to be repeated things about having a newborn or a toddler in the house. But as much as I loved those years and sometimes long for my grown children to be little again, there are also some pretty wonderful things about the ensuing years as well. There are positives and negatives to every parenting stage... just like everything in life. How many parents of young children have also heard the dire warnings of, "Just wait until they're teenagers."? Even though it has its challenges, I actually love the teen years. It is fascinating to watch this child slowly turn into the adult they will become. They are interesting to talk to, can attend to their own personal hygiene, are capable of doing things, are filled with ideas, and (at least mine) have well-developed senses of humor. If I were able to turn the clock back and make my older children young again, I wouldn't do it for very long as I would miss the person they had become.

So what are the best parenting years? The one you are in right now. I am just as adamant about parents appreciating their older children as I am in urging them to appreciate their younger ones. Live in the moment and make the most of it. Do not rush to make your child older, but also do not mourn for who they were and miss who they are now. Learn to look for the positives and practice being thankful for the child in front of you, whether they are 8 months old, 8 years old, or 18 years old. We don't know what tomorrow brings, don't waste today wishing for it.


Monday, April 27, 2015

Too nice to be inside

Remember to write the senators on the committee who will be hearing HB 3079 next week. This is our chance to do something about IL very broken adoption system. Everyone needs to call and to write.

We are finally seeing the weather warm back up which is lovely. Well, lovely except for the fact that J. and I walked around outside yesterday and realized the amount of work we need to do on our yard. They're funny things, yards. If you ignore them they don't seem to keep themselves up and insist upon going to wrack an ruin. Normally we're OK with this state of things when it's just us. (Well, OK enough that we aren't compelled to do something about it... we complain enough about the state of our amongst ourselves.) But when there is other people involved, it becomes a different story. We're hosting two parties in the next two months here and we will be using the back yard. One of these parties is a large wedding rehearsal dinner and I just don't want shoddy to be the overall theme. Therefore, the yard must be taken in hand.

So, in my usual way of dealing with things, I have compulsively begun to garden, the entertaining version of cramming for an exam. If the writing seems sparse, you can be guaranteed that it's because I'm outside trying to tame the weeds and make it look like people actually live here.

Anyone got some nice perennials they'd like to donate? (I'm full up on hostas and daylillies... they are about the only things I can grow.) Or anyone have a deep abiding need to remove ugly trees just because they are a blight on the landscape?

Yes, yes, I know we don't need to remove ugly trees just for a party, after all I've lived with the ugly trees for 15 years... but this might just be the excuse I need to finally do something about them.

I promise pictures when the yard is all dolled up and ready for the party. I should probably take some before photos just so you can appreciate the transformation. I hope there's a transformation...

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Homemaking when life isn't perfect - life with babies and toddlers - part 3 of a series

When you wake up bright and early
In your roasty toasty
With your covers wrapped around you
And your pillows on your head
And you peek out at the morning
That's a cozy kind of way
To begin the cozy doings
Of a very cozy day. ...

Sniff the air for cozy smells;
Smell of flowers, fire, food
Roses blooming
Wood that's burning
Bread that's baking
They smell good! ...

Cozy places?
Attics, cellars
Closets, cupboards
Nooks and crannies
Halfway up or down the stair
Underneath a chair or table
Tucked behind a screen or curtain.
--from The Cozy Book by Mary Ann Hoberman

This is one of my favorite books to read to children. I love how it makes me feel and it helps to remind me of what I want my children to experience. While this post can be stretched to apply to grade school age children as well, homemaking with this age doesn't feel as challenging as it can with babies and toddlers. 

When we are in a season of caring for little ones, I find it is helpful to keep before me an image of what I am working for. Since a pristine home is really not compatible with having babies and toddlers, it is best to try to erase that image in our minds and replace it with another, more manageable vision. Adjusting our expectations is probably the single best thing a person can do when living with these little, adorable, demanding, mess-making people. They can't change who they are or what they are (or are not) capable of, so we need to learn to make the most of life in this stage.

The first thing to remember is that this is a season of life that won't be here forever. Sometimes that thought can make a mother burst into tears and at other times it can make her long for that day to arrive sooner. And often these diverse reactions can happen all in the same day... or hour. The adage is true that the years are short, but the days are long and sometimes we need to remind ourselves that we won't always be nursing or getting up in the middle or the night or changing diapers forever. I know it can annoy mothers of young children to hear us older mothers say to enjoy everything because it goes by too fast, but it really is true. I know it is also hard to remind yourself of that when your young child has just screamed no at you and is now throwing everything off the table as you try desperately to calm that child without losing your temper as your grasp on that control grows ever thinner... Oh, hi there. I'm back. See? Since that just happened around here last night I really do understand. Just trust me when I say that the child pushing you over the edge will be looking for her own apartment in just a day or two. Remind yourself to appreciate everything... even the frustrating, yucky parts. You don't get them back.

Now that you are in the right mindset, we can move onto the next item. Since this is a season, when you are living with this age you need to think about what they need and how that is going to balance with what you want to do in the homemaking department. Home life with a newborn means expectations that reflect that child's level of need. Clean underwear and something for everyone to eat was always my minimal expectation. Did everyone get fed? Did they have clean underwear? Did I spend time feeding and caring for the baby? If I answered yes, than that was a successful day. If you add in a slightly older child to the baby mix, then I added one more requirement of time spent with that child. Now, notice, I did not say time spent alone with that child. I can spend time with my child... reading, talking, snuggling... while nursing the baby. A lot can happen while nursing a baby. 

Thankfully, the newborn stage really does not last forever, and life with a more settled baby is a bit easier. Now is the time to go back and start to dig out from the newborn chaos a bit at a time, but be careful how much and how fast you add things back in. Take it slowly and give yourself permission to not have a perfect house. Any person who has lived with a baby knows that amount of time it takes and understands an imperfect house. (If they don't, then since they are not dealing with reality, I give you permission to not worry about their opinion.) Some babies are easier and you can add more routine house keeping tasks in sooner, some babies are not and you can't. The child is always more important than the dust.

And then the baby does a remarkable thing. The baby starts to crawl... and then to walk... and then to run. Why, oh why, are parents so anxious for these steps to happen? I've never understood it. Life becomes so much more challenging when those darling babies become mobile. Keeping a house relatively clean and life relatively organized becomes so much more important and so much more difficult at this point. 

So now let's remember what is important in our home making (and why I quoted The Cozy Book). We want our homes to be comfortable, to the adults as well as the children who live in them. We want to promote an atmosphere of warmth and love. We want to feel able to offer hospitality without embarrassment, but remembering that our homes don't have to be perfect. We also want our homes to be functional so that we can do the business of living in them without working harder than we need to. 

I find it helps to keep these things in mind as I prioritize what I need to do on any given day. So for living with toddlers, I work towards an environment that they can have some freedom in. Yet, I also want to keep some places where I don't feel as though I'm living in a preschool. For us, baby gates were the solution. I hate living with baby gates, but they made the rest of life simpler and they were worth the trade-off. Or in the kitchen, moving non-breakable things to bottom drawers. Every toddler I have ever met loves to empty drawers, so if I moved the plastic storage to the drawers I knew they would open, they could empty to their heart's content and I didn't need to worry about. While there is a time and place for teaching children to be careful with things (we move them to glasses rather than cups at the dinner table fairly quickly), I certainly don't want to have to be supervising this sort of learning every minute.

The other thing I try to keep in mind as I create a home with little ones, is what will they like... what will give them joy? Is there a centerpiece that I know they will love? I try to use it. Did some little hands bring me a bouquet of dandelions? They join the table as well. Sometimes I will serve lunch on special plates or in special baskets... just because. Are there places for little people to curl up in and read books? Blankets to snuggle in? Toddlers love to help. Have I purchased tools that they can use to help around the house? Feather dusters are a favorite as well as hand brooms. They won't want to help forever and while their help isn't perfect, even a little less dust is helpful. Look at life from their view and see what you can do to help incorporate these little people into the life of the house.

A note about toys, they breed. That is the only explanation I can come up with for why I can get rid of bags of the things and the next time I turn around the floor is littered again. Children don't need extreme amounts of toys to play with. In fact, my experience tells me that the more toys that are in the environment, the less they are played with. We rotated toys in and out of service for years. Just a few things out allows for more creative play, is faster to pick up, and is far easier for adults to live with than a toy on every surface.

Living with babies and toddlers means making your life move at their speed while they are little. Less outside commitments, fewer expectations, and the ability to take time all result in a calmer family life and calmer children. I can always tell when life has become just a little too crazy. I don't have the time to spend on either the house or the children and they both start to fall apart as a result. Save busy for retirement and focus on what is important right now.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Art Friday - Being Monet (or not)

Remember to write and call the IL senators hearing the Adoption Reform Bill (HB 3079). It is so important that everyone contact the senators so we can help change the adoption laws in Illinois. I did speak with the Sen. Harmon's office staff today (he is now the bill's sponsor) and it looks as though the committee hearing will be postponed a week giving us more time to rally our forces. Keep sharing the information and encouraging people to call.

And now back to our regularly scheduled post.

For many years now, we have been doing picture studies as part of our homeschool curriculum. Each year we take an artist or two and spend time learning about him or her and looking carefully at some of that artist's paintings. Once we have looked at a painting, I then hang it up on the wires we have strung in the kitchen so people can keep looking at them. It is a great way to expose my children to art and the artists who create it. All of this became infinitely easier when I discovered Simply Charlotte Mason's art guides. Before, it was a big pain in the you-know-where to find the photographs of the paintings I wanted and I often ended up buying huge art books at used book sales just to make it easier. With these guides, they've done all the work for me and I love them. (This is just my humble opinion and I have not been compensated. Darn.)

Anyway, this year we have been looking at Monet. When I did my homeschool planning I came across a painting project that imitated Monet's water lilies paintings and decided to try it. The actual project used paper and tissue paper to create the water lilies on the painted background, but though I offered this, everyone wanted to paint all of it. So we did.

Here are the results (in age order).

L.

G. (She likes to add people to her paintings... see the stick figure?)

K. (We've decided this is as close to drawing a truck when painting water lilies as you can get.)

D.

TM


This is mine, but I have to do a little explaining. I had shown everyone what we were doing and for the most part, people got it. I thought that H. seeing the picture would be enough as she is usually quite happy to have something to color. Well, entering weird brain territory here... yes, she's great at copying when someone else is actually drawing it, but seeing the different components in a completed painting is evidently very different. She can't seem to take it apart and figure out how to do it a part at a time. She was getting frustrated, so I decided to try making one myself while sitting next to her. That did the trick and she was able to see how each part was added on and do the same thing on her painting.

It makes me think this is a new avenue to pursue with her. Looking at bigger objects and seeing the different parts. I'll have to think about how to do this, but I find it all extremely fascinating.

H. (As you can see, she figured it out. When TM asked her about the two bridges, that stumped her for a moment, as if she had no idea how that second bridge got there. When we said it was OK and that it was her painting, she decided that the bridge at the top was a railway bridge.)

Thursday, April 23, 2015

HB 3079 is moving to the Senate... what you need to do right now

The good news is that last week the IL Adoption Reform bill passed the House unanimously. That is, in part, thanks to everyone who took the time to comment on the bill and contact their state legislator. We all did a great job! But now it is time to get back to work. HB 3079 has been assigned a Senate Committee and it will be heard (and voted on, I believe) on Tuesday. That gives us just three days to write emails and make phone calls.

I cannot stress how important this is. The truth is, the IL House passes over 1000 bills in the course the year, the Senate usually passes less than 200. The vast majority of bills never make it out of Senate committees. We absolutely cannot allow this bill to get lost. We need to fight for our families and for the children who need homes. We and many other families have lost valuable time with our children because of this unnecessary and costly requirement. A child does not have that many years to be a child, yet DCFS and the Intercountry Adoption Coordinator take their time to review home studies of people they have never met and usually only end up making superficial and non-important changes to those home studies. How can that possibly be worth a child spending two more months without a mother and father.

What you need to do:

Call or write the senators on the committee. The link will take you to the committee members and is linked to each of their contact information. I know some of you will ask for what you are to say. Here are the main points to make:

1. This is a redundant position that is costing tax payers money and is doing the same job that the state licensed social workers have already done.

2. The requirement of the state approving home studies is also redundant because the US is now a signee of the Hague Agreement which comes with stringent requirements.

3. The position of Intercountry Adoption Coordinator, because of the way it is structured, allows personal biases to play into the decisions about families. Families, I will reiterate, the holder of the position has never met.

4. This bill allows parents an easier and less costly way to obtain a US birth certificate of a child who is already legally theirs.

Everyone needs to do this. Share this with your friends, family, and acquaintances. We absolutely cannot let this bill die in committee. Our children deserve better.
_____________
Alright, here's the deal. I just spent about 20 minutes calling every committee member. People, get on your phones now! Only one of the people I'd talked to had even heard about the bill. We need to do better or this bill will die in committee and we will be stuck with our rotten system for who knows how long.

I know it can be intimidating to phone a lawmaker's office if you've never done so. Here's what will happen. Out the list, three offices had answering machines on. That was easy. Leave your name, the name of the bill, and why you support it. The rest of the offices had real people answering. They will ask your name, phone number, what city you are from, and some will ask your address. Tell them you are in support of HB 3079, the Adoption Reform Bill, and, if they give you chance, why. Some only wait long enough to hear that you support it. Everyone was quite friendly and the process is easy. But EACH AND EVERY ONE OF YOU NEEDS TO CALL. We need these senators to know about this bill and that many people support it.

Stop what you are doing right now and pick up that phone. I want to hear that people on the other end are starting to say things such as, "Oh, we've been getting a lot of calls about that today." This would be much better than the responses I received which were, "Oh, I don't think I've heard of that."

Ready?

GO!
_______
I've done some digging and here are some email address:

Sen. Kwame: info@kwameraoul.com 

Sen. Hastings: http://senatorhastings.com/index.php/contact-us

Sen. Haine: http://www.senatorhaine.com/contact-us

Sen. Harmon: http://www.donharmon.org/contact-senator-harmon

Sen. Hutchinson: http://senatorhutchinson.com/contact-me

Sen. Mulroe: http://www.senatormulroe.org/contact-me

Sen. Noland: http://www.senatornoland.com/contact-us

Sen. Silverstein: http://www.senatorsilverstein.com/contact-us

Sen. Barickman: http://senatorbarickman.com/Contact/ContactForm.aspx

Sen. Connelly: senatorconnelly21@gmail.com

Sen. LaHood: http://www.senatorlahood.com/Contact/ContactForm.aspx

Sen. Nybo: http://chrisnybo.com/contact/

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Let's revisit family dinners

I was part of a discussion a while back and someone asked how we manage to stay connected with our children, since we have more than a few of them. I thought about it and came to two conclusions. The first is since we homeschool, I get to see our children and interact with them for much of the day. But if a family doesn't homeschool, this isn't really a terribly helpful answer. The second conclusion was having a routine of eating dinner together every night.

I realize that more and more people struggle to share dinner all together as a family, but I would strongly encourage you to begin to create the habit. This is especially true if your children are younger. If you begin now, it will be easier to keep it going when the teen years (and their accompanying crazy schedules) hit. Of course, if your children are older, you can still start, it will just be a little trickier.

Why should you?

I'll share what I see as the positives. First, it provides a daily routine that children (and frankly, adults) thrive on. Dinner together happens every single night. They can expect it. They can know that they will see everyone (or nearly everyone) at that time of day. There is no wondering when or how food will arrive. To eat dinner together every night creates a safe and predictable environment which is especially important for children who are coming from less than ideal circumstances.

Having dinner together also provides a chance to reconnect with family if various members have been apart. To operate as a family, the family members need to spend time together and share experiences. As children get older and their schedules become busier, this can be more and more difficult to do. It is important to set apart a time where everyone is together. It nurtures relationships not only between parent and child, but between brothers and sisters as well.

By eating together, you will also all eat better. While, having to feed more than yourself requires a little more planning, it also means that the meal was thought about. It has been documented in many studies that families who eat together have a better and more varied diet. In the long run, it'a healthier to eat together.

Of course, someone has to cook the meal. That, too, is often a matter of learning and habit. While it can feel intimidating and overwhelming to cook every night of the week, it is actually quite a doable thing once you get the hang of it. It is a learned skill. Like every learned skill, it must be practiced in order to develop. If you are not in the habit of cooking every night, it will take a little work to become automatic and not feel like a big deal. But I will tell you, it does eventually become pretty automatic. I don't think very hard about feeding between 9 to 12 people every night and it's not because I'm some super chef or super mom. I've just had a lot of practice. No super human skills are needed to be able to do this.

Finally, for family dinners to work, you need your family on board and both parents need to see it as important. You need to be willing to make the hard choices early on that outside activities (in general, we have always made exceptions when we felt it necessary) do not trump dinner. If something conflicted with dinner, the choice to participate was easy, we just said no. This, too, becomes a habit and something your children get used to. As our children get older, we are a little more flexible. For example, A. is part of Police Explorers which she loves, but since we eat late, she needs to leave before we are sitting down. We have decided that since it is every other week, that it is valuable enough to her that we don't insist on having dinner with us. (And, if we ate at a more normal time, she wouldn't miss dinner at all, but our family schedule doesn't work that way at the moment.) If a child was missing more than a couple of meals a week, we would be having a conversation. (They love that.)

Time is running short and this end, and words are running long here, so I'll stop here. If you want to read more, you can look at these past posts:

Rules for Large Family Meals
Family Dinner Tips
I'll Say it Again

One last comment about these older posts. As I read through them, they can sound a little strict in our rule setting. While the family rules we have laid out are usually enforced, it is also the case that in reality they are pretty flexible. Is a child having a particularly hard day? There's some grace allowed there. Is a child still learning to function in a family setting or learning to feel safe? Things can look a little different. Relationship and felt safety always trump external rules and J. and I have been known to break a few of these ourselves.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Listening to stories

The younger group around here have discovered the joys of listening to stories on CD. This is wonderful to me for a couple of reasons. First, many of them seem to have unlimited capacity for listening to stories and I have yet to reach a point in reading picture books to them where they grow tired of listening before I grow tired of reading. It just doesn't happen. They are insatiable. With them having discovered recorded stories, it saves my voice and gives me a little more free time. Plus, they have been listening a lot while I have been working with the middles in the morning during school.

The other reason I am excited is that it is just so good for their brains. Listening to a story without having pictures to go along with it is great for developing imaginations and attention. We have read a few chapter books to G. and L., but they haven't been quite as interested in them as in picture books and I haven't pushed it. I imagine once they have some more practice with recorded stories, it will be an easy step to reading and enjoying more chapter books together.

So what have they been listening to recently?

Jim Weiss' stories have been perennial favorites around here. We have quite a few, though I just discovered a lot more that have come out since I stopped buying them a few years back. (I even got a chance to see Jim Weiss in person once when M. and B. were little and we have a couple of signed CD's from the event.) G. and L.'s current favorite is The Queen's Pirate, which baffles me a little bit since it is one of the slower stories that he has done. But they are enjoying it and learning something. When I was reading history the other day and mentioned a certain king of England, one of the piped up and said, "He was in The Queen's Pirate CD!"

The other perennial favorites are the storied from Adventures in Odyssey. We seem to go through seasons around here where our life is accompanied by constant playings of these discs. Currently, while I'm writing this, one child is listening to one disk here in the kitchen and another group of children are listening to another in the living room. I may have to pick up some new ones just because I am so familiar with the ones we have... something new would be nice.

G. and L. have yet to discover Your Story Hour, though the discs are here. (We like set 7 the best.) These are stories from American history and have been favorite stories with my older children. Sometimes it's funny, how one particular story will affect children in different ways. The story about yellow fever on one of the discs in set 7 is one of those stories. This is a story that I've discovered my children either love or hate, with the sides being pretty evenly split. There have been innumerable little spats I have broken up over the years about whether or not the yellow fever story was going to be listened to or not. I'll be curious to see who the younger group divides over it... it is often not how I expect.

One last CD which has been popular, but also has not been discovered by the younger set yet is Fire in Boomtown. This is a great story and song telling of the Chicago fire. It is well done and has some catchy songs. If you are studying Chicago or Chicago history this is an absolute must. Even if you aren't planning on studying Chicago, it is interesting to listen to.

We have quite a few more, but these are some of my children's favorites. What did I miss? Do you have any favorite audio stories that you want to share?

Oh, one more thing. The little girl, Grace, whom I shared about the other day? Well, her Reece's Rainbow account is still at $0. Can you give even $5 towards her adoption? She needs a family, and the sad fact is, the people who are most willing to adopt a child like Grace, also tend to be the people who don't have a lot of extra cash lying around. While they could manage the day-to-day expenses, the $30,000 adoption costs/travel fees are just beyond most families. A child with a large grant has a significantly better chance of getting a mother and father. You could help make a difference for a child finding her family. A child, who, if we are honest, has absolutely no future in her country once she turns 14 and ages out.

Monday, April 20, 2015

How do you spell relief?

Evidently it is spelled, A-P-P-R-O-V-A-L. I feel like a new person. I have slept well for two nights in a row... something that had not been happening and I don't do well with enough sleep. I feel as though I can tackle the bills piling up on my desk, though I'm not looking forward to it. There is a good chance I might actually get to the loads and loads of unfolded laundry in my bedroom. And, I don't have to spend the majority of my day forcing myself to do my regular activities or reminding myself to relax my shoulders. (I tend to carry all my stress in shoulders as I find they get tenser and tenser and rise higher and higher when I am stressed.) I can breath and it feels good.

I would like to publicly thank a few people. First, I would like to thank Sen. Mark Kirk and his extremely responsive and kind office staff for advocating for us and our daughter. I would also like to thank our two agencies, Adoption Link (our home study agency) and CCAI (our placement agency). Both advocated heavily for us and we appreciate that. When push comes to shove, it's really great to have agencies that have your back, and we certainly did. Thank you all.

Now we can get on with the business of bringing our daughter home. I have had many people ask what this means for when we would travel, and sadly, I have to remind everyone that we are still at the very beginning of the paperwork process, even though we had our Pre-Approval since late November. (Go to my explanation of how it all works if you want to see how much farther we have to go. We have moved onto Step 6.) I will file for initial immigration permission this week and when that arrives we will finally be able to complete our dossier and have it submitted to China. I am really hoping that we can have it submitted by mid-June. Once the dossier is logged-in, travel can happen anytime between 4 and 7 months, depending on how long each subsequent step takes. There is still a chance we could travel before Christmas, but it could also very well be January. Because of a variety of factors, we won't travel during December, so if it looks as though that is going to happen, we have the ability to push it back a month. Really the short answer to "When will you travel?" is, I don't know, but it won't be soon. There is still an awful lot of paperwork between now and then.

Sunday was lovely. We had our approval. K. received his Bible in church and was terribly cute. I took the 6 youngest children to see the very funny show that J. and B. are in. It was good to enjoy my family, laugh, and relax. And really, do you need a laugh? You have one more weekend to go see Kung Fu Suburbia: Cul-de-Sacrifice. I may be just a little bit biased, but even so, I think B. was incredibly funny (and handsome and talented) in the show. Really, really funny. Like Tim Conway funny. You should go see him. Because I like to show off my children and have people tell me how great they are. (J. is also really good and the show looked great. I am now hyper-aware of sets and props because of M.'s involvement with them.) It's easy to order tickets online. Go and enjoy yourself.

Now to go back to being a functioning person and dig out my house.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Rainbows and Happy Trees

Direct from Happy Bloggy Land, I present to you...

Rainbows...


and happy trees.


Because my children are always up for a craft even if its sole purpose to provide blog fodder for their mother.


Cheery aren't they?

Raise your hand if you know what children's book the title of this post references? It's from Russel Hoban's A Birthday for Frances. I think the Frances books are part of my short list of required picture books for children. Mr. Hoban managed to capture how children think and what they feel without it being cutesy or pandering. The other thing I love about these books is that the parents are actually parents. They are neither extraneous nor are they buffoons. Frances' mother and father are caring and loving. They allow their children to have adventures yet are always there to help out. And they are sometimes baffled... just like real parents. 

The quote comes from the conversation between Frances and her little sister, Gloria. It is going to be Gloria's birthday soon and Frances isn't exactly excited about it not being her birthday. 

"Frances," said Mother, "wouldn't you and Alice [Frances' imaginary friend] like to come out of the broom closet and help us make place cards for the party?"
Frances came to the table and sat down and picked up a crayon.
"What are you putting on the place cards?" she asked.
"Pretty flowers," said Gloria. "Rainbows and happy trees."
Frances began to draw on a place card, and as she drew she sang:
Rainbows and a happy tree, Are not for Alice or for me. I will draw three-legged cats. And caterpillars with ugly hats. Frances stopped singing. "I'm telling," she said.
"Telling what? said Mother.
"Gloria kicked me under the table," said Frances.
"Mean Frances," said Gloria.
"Gloria is mean," said Frances. "She hid my sand pail and my shovel, and I never got them back."
"That was last year," said Mother.
"When Gloria is mean, it was always last year," said Frances.
If you haven't read these stories to your children, go and check them out of the library right now!

I also referenced Frances in an earlier post from last week.  When I titled the post I Guess I Forgot to Say No Backsies, I was thinking of the book, A Bargain for Frances. This one isn't as well known as the rest of the Frances books. I think it's because for a very long time now, it has only been issued in an I Can Read format. (A travesty, in my humble opinion.) In the book, Frances is planning to go and play with her friend, Thelma. As she is walking out the door, her mother warns her to be careful. When Frances asks why, her mother says it's because when she plays with Thelma, Frances always seems to get the worst of things. Frances heads off to play with Thelma and in the course of the story, ends up buying Thelma's ugly plastic tea set with the money she had been saving to buy the nice blue china one. As they transact the deal, Thelma makes sure to say to Frances, "No backsies," knowing that she has just sold her tea set for enough money to go and buy the one Frances had been saving for. (Thelma had convinced Frances to buy the tea set by telling her that she didn't think you could get that kind of tea set anymore. Not really truthful on her part.) In the end, Frances is able to get the tea set she originally wanted by using the whole 'no backsies'-thing in her favor. It's a nice little morality tale. Read into my sharing it with you anything you want. I'm not being controversial or complaining right now, remember?

And now a brief advertisement. You have a chance (assuming you live in the Chicago area) to see the Curry family acting chops in action. For this weekend and next weekend, you can go see North Park University's production of Kung Fu Suburbia: Cul de Sacrifice. This is actually a three-for-one deal. Not only was M. hired to do props, but B. is in it as well. And if that isn't enough to convince you, J. is acting opposite B. in their respective rolls. (This will be the third time they have acted together. The first was in the Thin Ice production of Oliver! and the second was in Thin Theater's production of Our Town.) It's a funny, tongue-in-cheek, musical comic book adventure for the stage. Why would you miss it? Tickets can be purchased by following the link up above and to further entice you, you can watch the trailer below.


Thursday, April 16, 2015

Puppies and bunnies

I promised, didn't I?

I can't quite produce a puppy, but how about a very puppy-like 2 1/2 year old Labrador named Gretel?





Do you see a bit of a theme here? There are many children in the house who think that Gretel's sole purpose it to be a large, droopy-eared doll who can be dressed up. I'm not sure she really loves it, but is very patient about the whole thing. She is getting much much better. (That would be the euphemism for getting easier to live with.) Gretel still has her areas for growth, though. Her least desirable habit is still her utter and complete conviction that the best way to get her favorite people to play with her is to stand at bark continuously at that person. We have yet to be able to communicate with her how not endearing this is. But she is maturing and is incredibly patient with all the children, so that is no small thing.

Bunnies are going to be just a little bit more difficult to produce at this time of year. If it were June, I would have no end of opportunity to walk out into my front yard and ask an entire warren of bunnies to pose for you, but they have yet to come out in large numbers. I can give you some links to past posts about bunnies, though, so all is not lost and I can fulfill my promise of cute and non-complaining posts.

Cute Pictures
Another Unexpected Biology Lesson
Survival of the Dimmest

I do have one more little bit of cuteness to share with you. This is of the cute child variety and not the fluffy type. A friend of mine works with and advocates for children who need families and this little girl has been particularly on her heart. Once you watch this video, I'm sure you will see why. She really does desperately need a family to support her and love her and cheer her on. Little Grace has cerebral palsy and it doesn't affect her mind, only her limbs. For those who don't know, cerebral palsy is a static diagnosis. This means that it won't get worse, and with good treatment and therapy (and the support of a family) can get better. From cerebralpalsy.org's website: "There is evidence that children with cerebral palsy far exceed initial assessments. Children that physician's have once said would never walk have not only put one foot in front of the other, they've climbed mountains." Ask yourself, what is really important in life? What could be better than giving a hope and future to a child? Is this your daughter?




Grace also has a Reese's Rainbow account, but at the moment the amount of money donated towards her adoption is at $0. You probably know that adoption is crazy expensive. While there are reasons that it costs so much, the reasons don't make it any easier to dig up the money. Very few people have the amount of money needed lying around and must find it in other ways. Even if you are not called to adopt (and I know not everyone is), you can still do your part to give children a family by helping with the financial side. It's a sad fact that children who have grants are more likely to find homes because it does cost so much.

I'm pretty sure I haven't ventured into either critical or controversial territory. At least I don't think wanting to adopt a child is controversial, but I've been wrong before.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

A teeny tiny bit of good news

I just heard that HB 3079 passed the IL House unanimously this afternoon. Next it's on to the senate, starting with committee and then going on to second and third readings and then a vote. It's good progress.

And now I'll stop here. We wouldn't want to be controversial or critical about anything. Maybe tomorrow I'll write about puppies and bunnies and the next day it will be rainbows and happy trees. I bet you all can't wait.

Monday, April 13, 2015

No news is just no news

Number of days we have lost with our daughter due to the negligence of the state of Illinois: 62

Well, the only time the phone rang today was when solicitors called wanting me to change my electric provider or to take a survey or to donate something. Until we hear from DCFS, the blog may be a little sparse. I find it's better to just keep doing things instead of hitting refresh constantly hoping to hear some news. The whole hit-refresh-thing I did last week didn't really help anything and now my laundry is completely out of control, so I think I'll try something different this week.

Plus, the past couple of days we have had extremely nice weather and I have spent most of time outside soaking it up and watching the littles play... or sell lemonade... same thing. So for those of you looking for a post, don't worry if you don't see one, I'm just being avoidant and keeping busy. You can be sure I will let everyone know the second we have news.

In the meantime, here is another article that was published today: Homeschooling and the Gifted Child, Part 1

Saturday, April 11, 2015

For connoisseurs of extreme heat

Number of days we've lost with our daughter due to the negligence of the state of Illinois: 60

TM loves hot sauce. Really, really loves it. It is the rare spicy item that is too hot for him. We even travel with hot sauce because he often worries that where ever we are going won't have the appropriate level of heat. TM has been overjoyed to discover the entire shelf in our grocery store devoted to habanero hot sauces. He has been working his way through the vast variety of different types at about a bottle every two weeks. (He puts it on nearly everything.)

So, when I was at the store a week ago I picked him up a new one since I knew he was out. This is the one I picked.



It seems like a good choice, huh? Notice it specifically says not to play tricks on the weak and elderly.

TM seems pleased with my choice. I sit down to check email and I hear him opening it up to try some of it. The next thing I hear are rather panicked sounds and the words, "Wow! That's hot!" (Or something to that effect.) He also says that he doesn't think he can eat it. This is a rare occurrence in our house. I go back to my email and am aware that things are going on behind me. Suddenly I hear a scream from another part of the house and then see A. come dashing through the kitchen in search of something... anything... to cut the heat.

So I guess when the warning label says not to play tricks on the weak and elderly, that it is tacit permission to play tricks on your older sister. In TM's defense, there are very few of us in the house who will take him up on his offer of, "Try this... it's not hot." We know our boy. It's just not a challenge to be accepted. A., though, is never one to back down from a challenge and for some reason decided to believe her brother when he insisted it wasn't hot. I'm pretty sure she won't be falling for that trick again any time soon.

Friday, April 10, 2015

The importance of play

Number of days we have lost with our daughter due to the negligence of the state of Illinois: 59 (Sigh... and it's the weekend.)

In order to distract myself, I've been diving into some research when I have spare moments. I have a large stack of books that are all tangentially related and have been dipping into them as time allows and as I come across them. The list includes Tools of the Mind: the Vygotskian approach to early childhood education by Elena Bodrova and Deborah Leong; The Play's the Thing: teachers' roles in children's play by Elizabeth Jones and Gretchen Reynolds; Distracted: the erosion of attention and the coming dark age by Maggie Jackson; and A Child's Work: the importance of fantasy play by Vivian Gussin Paley. They are all interesting, all rather connected, and I keep coming across the name Lev Vygotsky which is interesting.

I'm sure I will have much to say about this batch of reading when I'm all done and have thought about them some, but for right now there is one particular thing I want to share. As we've added to our family and watched our children grow and learn, it has become more and more apparent to me that play, particularly imaginative play is extremely important. This idea of play became even more important to me when H. came home, mainly because she had no idea how to do it. To discover this in your 9 year old is a tragic thing.

You see, play is no small thing. In order to play you need language, imagination, and a willingness to try new things. It is through play that children make sense of the world around them and try out new ideas and concepts. It's how they work out their fears and worries. I've listened to my children put things that scare them into their stories and imaginary games; I've heard them try out new words; I've seen them experiment with being different people... What is it like to be the bad guy? How does it feel to be completely powerful? Does having super powers really take away the things you are afraid of?

Yet H. could do nothing of this work of play. She would sit and watch her new younger sisters and brother as they acted out and narrated a whole imaginary world that she had no concept of. We had given her a doll when she first came home and I would watch as she held it, staring at it as if baffled as to its purpose. We encouraged her, helped her to see what games her siblings were playing, pretended things, and slowly, slowly she would sometimes join in. It still doesn't happen very often and she is still more comfortable with concrete activities... coloring, drawing, looking at picture books. Yet for even these activities she still needs the imaginative input of others. Take drawing for instance. Her repertoire of pictures that she draws is slowly growing, but she has yet to add a picture that is her own complete creation. The pictures that she has added have been the invention of another sibling that she particularly liked. Once she has seen that picture of someone else's she will try to do it herself, if she is successful, it is added into her drawing rotation. (I will say that this sometimes makes her brothers and sisters a wee bit upset. "She's copying me!" will every so often be heard.) It is a slow work to imagine things.

I know that H. is an extreme case, but I have always contended that older children joining their new families in another country and culture, especially if they are coming out of an impoverished environment, just need to play... or learn to play. There is plenty of time to learn academic-type things, but to be successful academically, a child needs to be comfortable in his or her own head and knows how to use imagination. The only way these skills can be learned is through play. And that would be the play that we typically think of as 3,4, and 5 year olds do... not some grown-up version of "learning" that is only vaguely disguised as play. Children can't be fooled and they know the difference.

It's an outrageous idea on some level, and when I've suggested it to parents, I tend to get smiles and nods to appease the crazy woman and I wonder if anyone has really heard me. And since it's just really my (rather educated, but without letters) humble opinion, why should anyone listen? Well, I reading the Vivian Paley book last night and nearly shouted. I did stop and insist that J. listen to it as I read it out loud. Here is what got me so excited.

Sara Smilansky, the Israeli educator who pioneered in the study of play, had wondered why the children of certain North African immigrants to Israel had difficulty learning their new language. ... Smilansky discovered that many of the children were not familiar with the sociodramatic play that occurs spontaneously among preschoolers. It seemed to her that for the newcomers to risk a new language and engage in other school experiences, they must first learn how to play. The absense of play was a major obstacle in their path to learning.
Establishing a scale of play skills, Smilansky developed a method of peer-tutoring in which those who knew how to play "taught" those who did not. The skilled players served as models for those who placed lower on the scale. In the daily repetition of dramatic play, the children demonstrated the power of play as a learning tool.
As the less-experienced players gradually entered the world of play, they increased their language fluency and followed through on other concepts introduced by the teachers. Smilansky had shown a significant correlation between play and other measure of learning deemed important in a school setting. (pp. 70-71, A Child's Work by Vivian Gussin Paley
Playing isn't wasting time. In fact, it is using a child's time in the most efficient way possible. Turn off the screens, get out the blocks and plastic animals, and get out of the way.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

And the drama continues

Number of days we have lost with our daughter due to the negligence of Illinois: 58

Are you tired of hearing about our home study? I know I'm certainly tired of writing about it. Here's the latest.

I received a call from our placement agency asking our permission that they could share our Pre-Approval document for Tina. It seems that in the requests for more information which were the reasons our home study was sitting on the DCFS desk, our family size seems to be an issue.

Raise you hand if this surprises you.

Anyone?

Anyone?

Bueller?

Since we have too many children in the eyes of the state, DCFS contacted our home study agency who then had to contact our placement agency because... get this...

It would be laughable if it wasn't costing us precious time with our daughter.

They want to know, does China know how many children we have?

I'll pause here while you clean off you computers because I forgot to tell you to put down your beverage.

Evidently that agency which has the power to deny our home study has NO IDEA AT ALL how intercountry adoption works. If they did, they would know that you have to submit an awful lot of documentation to receive Pre-Approval for a child. Argh! So much more that I could say...

I am not quite so calm about the state of things since this last bit of ridiculousness. You all realize there is a very good chance Illinois will deny our home study and we will have to spend time we could be working on the next step to bring our child home and instead spend it fighting Illinois?

I knew it was going to come to this.

I hate being right.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

I guess I forgot to say no backsies

Number of days we have lost with our daughter due to the incompetence of the state of Illinois: 57

You ready for this?

Because you know, I can't make this stuff up.

Sitting down?

Have you set your mug of coffee down?

J. answered the phone this morning to the bright and cheery news that DCFS essentially was saying to us, "Nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah... just kidding!" Yes, in the Twilight Zone world we are currently inhabiting, when Sen. Kirk's office called DCFS yesterday and was told that our home study was approved and in the mail... it wasn't actually ours! It was someone else's. Our home study is sitting on the desk waiting for some supplemental information from our home study agency.

Can I just say I am totally not surprised? Like, I don't think my blood pressure has even risen a little bit. I guess a not-so-small part of me just couldn't believe it would be so easy. (Easy, of course, being a relative term.) Sometimes I don't enjoy being right. So we're back to waiting again.

Stay tuned to find out what the next installment of this farce we call the adoption process will be. I know I'm on the edge of my seat.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

The best phone call ever

(Please note that this is not the good news that it seems. We are still waiting. See the next day's post for clarification.

Yesterday, when I arrived home at 5:10, there was a message waiting for me from my contact in my senator's office. I had written asking for his office to intervene in the interminable wait to have our home study approved and I hoped it was good news. But the office closed at 5, so couldn't talk to the person who left the message.

Was our home study approve?

Was there going to be some more delay or requests for more information? (We had to submit a lot more documentation the last time.)

Were we going to be asked to change something? (We ended up changing quite a bit the last time, including the age of child we were approved for.)

It was almost too much to hope for that it would be approved without any drama. I had completely mixed expectations when I dialed the phone.

But....

Our home study is approved as of yesterday, with no changes or requests for information.

I can barely believe it. I switch between wanting to jump up and down and yell, burst into tears, and fall into bed and go to sleep for a very long time.

I also want to thank Senator Mark Kirk's office staff for their help with this. We are so grateful for your assistance.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Monday, April 06, 2015

A few Easter pictures

Number of days we have lost with our daughter due to the negligence of the state of Illinois: 55

Well, Easter actually happened yesterday. It seemed touch-and-go there for a day or so but, the tomb would still be empty whether everyone is prepared or not. It was also not one of those holidays where I felt compelled to take a lot of pictures and instead just enjoyed the time with my family. B. did grab the camera, so there are a few pictures to share with you. (M., P., and D. are missing because they were already at church... it seems we are the only family who can run sound, and it is M.'s payed job.)









I made this. Impressed? Don't be, it was pretty easy, especially when compared with...

H.'s dress which was far more work than it should have been. But it fits well and she likes it. (Here you can also see a post-op photo of her forehead. I'm far enough away that the suture lines aren't terribly visible, but they are still pretty evident when you are close.)

G. (on left) and L. (I was thrilled their dresses from last year still fit.)

With the addition of K. It's probably my favorite picture from the day.

He is Risen!
He is Risen, indeed!
The tomb was empty and that changes everything.

Friday, April 03, 2015

Blogging when busy

Number of days we have lost with our daughter due to the negligence of the state of Illinois: 53

Well, it just doesn't happen, blogging that is. You would think I would learn, because looking back through several year's worth of posts around Easter, it seems every year I'm surprised by this. Next year, maybe I'll just sign off somewhere around Tuesday of Holy Week and alleviate the guilt entirely. If I remember... which is not guaranteed.

Read these Easter related posts if you need to read something:

Good Friday for Children

Seder Dinner

Or, go and read this brand-new article that just got published.

Stretching Ourselves: Adoption Travel, part 1 of 2

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Some birthday pictures

Number of days we have lost with our daughter due to the negligence of the state of Illinois: 51

K. loved his birthday celebration yesterday. Here are some pictures.

A. and TM (You'll notice that our candle issues continue. No '9', but we did have a '6'. TM solved the problem by putting the '6' candle upside-down and holding another candle behind it.)


TM and K. (K. blew out his candle with great enthusiasm. I am just so happy I caught this moment on camera.)

It's not just candles, we have issues with wrappings as well, hence the princess bag. For some unknown reasons Gretel was particularly excited by the present opening.

Here is a cardboard Hulk that L. made for K. (with just a little help.)

And the Legos from Grammy and Grandpa that haven't been out of his hands since.

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