Saturday, May 30, 2015

Good-bye velociraptors

It's one of those life moments that just sneak up on you and feels both like less a deal than you thought, and more a deal. M. is in the process of moving out to her new apartment in the city which she'll be sharing with three other friends. (So, yes, she is feeling much better, though really, really hates the lifting limits.) This was supposed to happen earlier this week, but her appendix had other ideas.

All this morning, she has coerced siblings to help her move, carrying things to the van, driving the van, carrying things into her new apartment. I think she plans on being moved in enough to sleep there tonight. It seems we have an official grown-up on our hands.

It's weird.

And wonderful.

And weird.

And I'm not quite sure what to make of it all. We are quite blessed that she is really just 25 or minutes away and will see her often. But this is different from moving onto campus, this is really moving out.

Weird.

I'm not quite sure how this happened. I'm excited for her. She is ready for this. I also vividly remember moving into my first apartment at this age. It's good to remember how I felt at 22 and how perfectly ready I was to be responsible for myself. My parents were terrific about letting me be a grown-up and I will offer my daughter that same gift.

But even the velociraptors are moving. And it's weird.



Friday, May 29, 2015

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or why D. has purple hair

Tonight is the opening for Thin Ice Theater's production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. D. is playing Willy Wonka and he is very, very excited about it. (Even better, his grandparents have flown in to see him.) He even got to color his hair purple for the part, though I don't think he ever takes off his hat so that the audience can admire it. Here are some pictures from the dress rehearsal. You can also see some of the red doors that M. created... before the little bout of appendicitis. That was one of the frustrations about the whole thing, was that she was supposed to finish making and painting the set. C'est la vie.





Thursday, May 28, 2015

Just a quick update

I didn't want to leave anyone hanging. I was able to bring M. home this morning... almost 24 hours later than anyone had hoped. They just couldn't get her pain and nausea under control. It was particularly disappointing last night when she was in a wheelchair, ready to leave, when the nausea  and pain kicked in again and everyone decided that going home wasn't a good idea. But now she's here and doing much better. We'll baby her for a bit before she moves into her apartment.

I don't really mind that part at all.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Emergency surgery

Just in case anyone was feeling as though life here in the Big Ugly House may have been getting a little too dull and predictable, well, we have just the fix for that. Emergency surgery!

Yesterday, when M. woke up to get ready for work, she came and told me that her stomach had been hurting badly enough to wake her up in the middle of the night. She was pretty sure it wasn't due to any dairy ingestion because it was hurting down low, across the base of her torso. As any card-carrying worrying mother will tell you, appendix is what first leapt to mind. Since she has been hired by her former university for the summer, I told her that if the pain got worse to go find her father and ask him to drive her to the doctor. I've said words of this sort for so many years to so many children over so many imaginary appendixes, that I didn't really think anything would come of it.

Then, as I wrote yesterday, when I arrived home from my little jaunt downtown, J. calls me on the phone and says, "Guess what I'm doing right now?" The answer to that question would be driving M. to the ER for further testing. The pain did not go away and did increase and M. did ask her father to drive her to the doctor. The doctor examined her and sent them off to the ER. After many tests in the ER, it was determined that she did have appendicitis and that she would need surgery. That would be surgery right away.

It was pretty quick, no more than a half hour all together, and no huge incision, just three holes. The surgery went well and she did fine. No more pesky appendix to worry about, though "get appendix removed" appeared on no one's to-do list yesterday. In theory, the recovery should be easier than from her two previous knee surgeries.

That would be in theory. I spoke with her this morning and she is in quite a bit of pain that they are just barely managing to control. If all you wouldn't mind praying for pain relief and healing, we would appreciate it.

Total family surgeries to date? We're now up to 11, with two of those being of the unplanned, happen-in-less-than-24-hours type.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

How to Certify and Authenticate Documents

I spent the morning downtown getting some of our dossier documents all officially sealed so that we can finally submit our dossier to China. Since some of you will never have the pleasure of getting to do this, I thought I would share the process so that you can feel as though, you, too, have been there and done that.

Step 1: Gather your documents together and make sure they are all in order and notarized. Make copies of everything.

Step 2: Recheck your documents so that you are sure you still have everything because something might have disappeared in the previous five minutes.

Step 3: Convince a good friend that she wants to go downtown with you because you want the company and moral support.

Step 4: Recheck your documents again and borrow your daughter's Ventra card because you don't take public transportation enough to have one yourself.

Step 5: Get up so you can get an early start and not get caught in the Chinese Consulate lunch hour break.

Step 6: Remember at the last minute that you need to print out the application form that needs to be turned in with your documents as well as a photo copy of your passport.

Step 7: Leave to go get on the train, stopping by the coffee shop so your friend can get some tea.

Step 8: Recheck your documents while you wait for the train to show up.

Step 9: Board the Evanston Express train which should whisk you downtown in in about 40 minutes.

Step 10: Spend an hour and forty minutes on the express which is not.

Step 11: Find the building which houses the Secretary of State Index Office and head up to the 10th floor.

Step 12: Complete the application, check the documents one last time, write the check, and turn everything in at the window.

Step 13: Sit down for two minutes, then go back up to the window when your name is called.

Step 14: Despite the fact that you've attended this rodeo many times, hear the reason why the Secretary of State is rejecting three of your nine documents. Resign yourself to making this same trip two more times and rewrite the check.

Step 15: Wait for ten minutes and then pick-up your state certified documents.

Step 16: Recheck documents again, this time being absolutely sure nothing happens to the precious staples holding the certifications to the documents.

Step 17: Take a 20 minute walk north from State Street, across the Chicago River, and up to near the Magnificent Mile. Enjoy the scenery and the fact it is not yet pouring as predicted.

Step 18: Find the building where the Chinese Consulate is located, sign in at the desk in the lobby, and take the elevator to the fifth floor.

Step 19: Enter the Consulate, push the button on the number dispenser which says, "Authentication/visas". Receive your number and realize that there are at least 30 people ahead of you.

Step 20: Use the rather bizarre copy machine in the waiting room (15 cents/per copy) to copy the certifications you just picked up at the Secretary of State's office. In the course of doing this, help several people understand the copy machine and help them with change.

Step 21: Find a flat surface to organize your stack of original documents, copies, application, and passport copy. Realize that the bizarre copy machine didn't scan your last document and instead gave you a copy of the previous one.

Go back and repeat Step 20.

Repeat Step 21.

Finally break out of this endless loop and move to...

Step 22: Wait for your number to be called. Now, you don't want to take this step lightly. There are three windows which call numbers. There are a lot of people waiting. The PA system is not very loud or terribly clear. If you happen to not notice your number is called, the person at the window will wait approximately two seconds before she calls the next number. Vigilance is necessary.

Step 23: Step up to the window when your name is called and hand in your stack of papers. Breath a small sigh of relief that you have learned not to add paper clips to anything, so you avoid the slightly annoyed and shaming sigh of the person on the other side of the window. Receive your receipt which says you can pick-up your documents on Monday.

Step 24: Very, very, very carefully place the receipt in a very safe place. Without this little piece of paper, you will never receive your documents. Just like the woman at the pick-up window didn't receive her passport while you were waiting for your number. NEVER LOSE THE RECEIPT!

Step 25: Recheck where you put the receipt.

Step 26: Go out to lunch with your good friend, catch the train and head home. The non-express train will zip you home in about 40 minutes.

Step 27: Enjoy watching everyone eat all the treats that B. brought back for them from Taiwan. Many of my children love seaweed.

Step 28: Receive phone call from J. that he is heading to the ER with M., who may have appendicitis. I'll keep everyone updated.

Step 29: Realize that you get to do this all over again, at least once more, but probably all by yourself and hopefully without Step 28.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Mom's day out

Last Saturday was the big semi-annual bulk order pick-up day. That means that I and a few friends load ourselves into the largest vehicle we own (we actually all own huge vehicles, so it's whoever can drive) and head southwest of the city for two hours. Then we load between 500 to 1000 pounds of food into the large vehicle, have lunch, and drive back home, stopping at each person's house to schlep their food inside. (Yes, I'm not too humble to say I can carry 50 pound bags of wheat around.) Do we know who to have fun, or what?

Actually, it is quite fun. The small town and the highway to get to the small town are hardly designated scenic routes, but we have come to count on our twice a year trips where we have six uninterrupted house to visit with each other. How often do mothers (regardless of the number of children they have) get to have actual conversations with each other without being needed every five to ten minutes? If your life is like mine, not very often. I really do look forward to it. Plus, this time I had hit that sweet spot where we had run out just a few days before of many items I was picking up. More often than not I either run out too soon and actually have to purchase these items in a store to get us by or I am just about to run out, but have the difficulty of not having enough storage space for it all until I do.

I am blessed with exceedingly good friends. We share a lot in common... we have a strong faith, we have many children, both adult and younger ones, we live in the same area, and we've known each other for a long time. We are also different... we don't all attend the same church, we don't all homeschool, our children are interested in different things and involved in different activities. We talk about a lot of things and discuss problems and difficulties. Spending time together is a wonderful by-product of what amounts to a very long grocery store run.

So, we are all stocked-up again, both in terms of food and time spent with friends. Because I know someone will ask, I'll also share what I came home with time. Here's a (probably incomplete) list:

Wheat berries (for grinding for flour)
Whole oats
Cane sugar
Baking powder (and then I discovered another can hiding behind a grain bin when I was putting everything away... we now have A LOT of baking powder)
Beans
Various spices
Sunflower oil
Yeast (and other bread baking supplies)

Inevitably, we each discover as we watch each other's order being loaded in the van that we forgot to order something. This time for me it was raw wheat germ. I hope I still have some lurking in the freezer downstairs.

I hope everyone enjoys their Memorial Day. We did most of our Memorial Day appreciation over the weekend. A. did traffic control for a Memorial Day parade with her Police Explorer post and J. took most of the children to a local cemetery to join TM and D.'s Boy Scout troop in placing flags on each veteran's grave. He figures they did about three miles of walking in the process. We have so much to be thankful and grateful for.

Friday, May 22, 2015

My day

What I did today...

Got fingerprinted for the 8th time.

Stood around the building supply store while M. bought the supplies she needed for her scenic design job.

Made people lunch.

Cleaned a very messy kitchen.

Hung around while the phone guy came to fix our horrible phone/internet service. Again. For the ~8th time in a year.

Made the menu for the week and made a grocery list.

Took H. to a birthday party.

Read many stories to little girls.

What I didn't do today...

Actually make it to the grocery store (I'll be leaving in a few minutes.)

Laundry.

Make any plans for dinner tonight.

Work on a massive writing project that is due at the end of the month.

Write a thoughtful and well-crafted blog post.

If you were looking for thoughtful, then I can send you to two articles that were recently published. (Go ahead and click and share... it's one of those writing gigs where the money I get paid increases with the amount of page hits.)

Book Review: Attaching Through Love, Hugs, and Play

5 Ways to Increase Attachment with Your Child after Adoption

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Science experiments

A while back, a friend shared a website that was giving away a free middle school physics kit to teachers and they allowed homeschoolers to participate. It sounded interesting so I signed up... and promptly forgot about it. A couple of months later, a box arrived on the doorstep. It was most mysterious as I hadn't ordered anything and neither had any of my older children. It wasn't until I opened the box and took a good look inside that I felt the vague stirrings of a memory of signing up for something scamper around the edges of my brain.

That's what it was. Three complete kits of a set of optics experiments, including laser pointer, flashlight, Fresnel lens, and other interesting things. The workbook is also part comic book with a story line that ties the optics experiments together. This week seemed a good time to spend some time with them, so that's what we have been doing.

I'm not sure how much actual science learning is going on, but the laser pointers and Fresnel lens have been popular, as have these water cubes.



They started out as teeny tiny little cubes and overnight they grew into these huge shapes. (We made three kinds... water, saturated with sugar, and saturated with sucralose.) They were part of an experiment to show the difference in refraction that occurs with different substances. I thought it was interesting, but I think everyone else was just a wee bit fascinated by the cubes. This morning we played with difference sized water balls and discussed convex and concave lenses as well as magnification.

The producer of these kits is Physics Central and it seems they make a new kit every year. (I don't know if they give them away free each year, but I'll keep an eye on it.) All of the kits for this year have been given away, but you can still download previous year's manuals, complete with the comic book story. You would need to gather the necessary supplies yourself, but the information is there.

If you have junior high aged students, it looks like a site that may be of interest.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

A new favorite from the library

I've written quite a bit on the idea of storytelling and using stories to make sense of one's life. To catch-up, you can go back and read some of these posts.

Story Telling
How Pictures Work, and
A Book Report

If you don't feel like clicking and catching up, the gist of these posts is that stories help us make sense of our lives and that by learning to change our stories, it gives up a sense of control instead of feeling helpless. I'm sure all of us at some point have felt helpless in the face of current circumstances and being able to reframe the events of our lives can go a long way towards helping us through these crises.

Children can experience and practice these skills through play and story telling. Stories, and especially fairy tales, can give practice with facing and overcoming scary things. I think this is why I particularly love children's picture books which give children a hint as to how to do this. All of this is lead up to sharing one of our library books with you.

Have you heard of Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein? It has become a new favorite around here. The story is pretty straight forward... a father rooster is putting his little chick to bed and she wants a bedtime story. He agrees, but only if the little chicken won't interrupt. As he begins each fairy tale, the little chicken interrupts with words or warning (or common sense) to the main characters in each story and saves them all from unpleasant endings. At the end of the story, when the father has run out of fairy tales, he encourages his little chick to write her own story. L. was particularly taken with the ending, proclaiming, "Hey, that's just like me. I write stories!"

Check it out. It's both a fun story to share together and a great discussion starter. Plus, it might even encourage a young author in your family.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

A good adoption news day

First, if you haven't already heard, HB 3079, the adoption reform bill, unanimously passed in the IL Senate this afternoon!  Hip Hip Hooray!! The last step is for the governor to sign it. As soon as it is signed, it will become law and IL families will no longer have to have DCFS approval for their intercountry adoption home studies. This has been a pipe dream for so long, I am having a little trouble really believing that it is happening. I have one last request for all of you. Please call Gov. Rauner's office and urge him to sign the bill as soon as it arrives on his desk. Here is the link to either call or email his office.

The other piece of adoption news for us today is that we unexpectedly received new photos and five, count them FIVE, new videos of Y. today. We now have video of her walking and jumping and cutting and putting on a sweatshirt and coloring and making her bed and working in the kitchen. It's pretty amazing and her skills have come a long way from the last videos we have of her. It says a lot for her care center that they would take the time to send us these videos and ones that cover such a lot of territory. We are truly thankful. I don't feel comfortable publicly sharing the videos, but I'll share one of the new pictures... this is from yesterday.


Now, go and call the governor and I'll go and enjoy the sun that is finally making an appearance.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Thinking unhappy thoughts about my camera battery

Last Saturday was A.'s graduation party. It went quite well and I think A. had a good time. Many of her friends were able to come which is no small feat given that it was a Saturday in May. That would be the month where everyone has a possible 10 activities on every weekend.

I took some pictures of the parts of the yard that we worked on.

One side of the front porch. It helps that the tree and bushes we planted a couple of years ago seem to have outgrown their stick phase and are starting to look more like real plants.

The vegetable garden

Of course, the part we have worked on is a very small portion of a much neglected yard. Here is a glimpse into the backyard which still needs hours and hours of work to make it look cared for.


So I took these pictures and my camera battery died. That's OK. I told the girls who were hanging out together that I would be back to take their picture. I go inside, switch batteries with the one that was charged and head outside. I start to take a picture of A. and some of her friends to discover that the battery I just put in has completely died and will not hold a charge.

No camera batter = No pictures of the rest of the party

It was very nice. There was lots of food, lots of little children playing, lots of adults visiting, and a whole gaggle of high schoolers hanging out. When I asked A. this morning if she or her friends had taken any pictures (because their phones/iPods/whatevers are constantly attached to them) she looked at me and informed me she was visiting and wasn't going to spend time taking pictures of the visiting.

Touche. I suppose I can't complain because I do remind my children not to view their lives through their electronic devices.

Instead you'll just have to imagine a lovely party with lovely weather. It's hard to believe we are now the parents of a third high school graduate.

Friday, May 15, 2015

FAQ's

Since I've spent the day alternately working on getting ready for A.'s party tomorrow and trying to encourage (coerce? badger? demand?) the house full of children to help, I have to resort to an easy blog post.

Since we have made our announcement about Y., I have received some questions and since some of them seem to be along the same lines, I thought I would answer them here.

1. Are they sisters? To clarify, I'm pretty sure anyone who has asked me this means, "Are they biologically related?" The answer to this question is, no, they are not. As a point of education (and please don't take this the wrong way, because I haven't been offended), this question is one of the top vote receivers for annoying question asked of adoptive families. Usually this becomes an annoyance when the children are already in their family because it implies that the adoptive relationships are less "real" than the biological ones. My standard response (and that of many others) is to reply, "They are now." Usually this is enough to satisfy someone, but I have had a person push and reply, "No, you know what I mean." Hmmm... yes I do, I was giving you the information I was willing to share.

2. Do they live in the same city? No, they don't. The cities they are from (Urumqi in Xingiang and Zhengzhou in Henan) are about 1800 miles apart. We will have to visit both cities in succession when we finally get to travel.

3. Have they ever met each other? No, they haven't.

4. Do they know they are being adopted? Not yet. I will send care packages to them including a photo book introducing our family once we have our Letter of Acceptance... which will be a while yet.

5. When will you get to travel? That's the big question, isn't it? Since we are still waiting for the last piece of our dossier, your guess is as good as mine. The general rule of thumb right now is 4 -6 months once your dossier has been logged-in. We are more than a few weeks away from that milestone, I think.

6. Who will travel with you? Well, that is still in the deciding stages. We certainly know who wants to go and we know who will be in college and won't be able to go. The rest will depend significantly on finances. While we have found it incredibly helpful to have another child with us to ease the transition of the new child, it is not an inexpensive thing to bring extra children along. I hope we can manage it.

Did I miss any? These are the ones I have heard a lot recently. Add your questions if I didn't answer it.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Catching up

Seeing as how I went an entire week without blogging, there were a few things that happened around here. I'll just make a list so we're all caught up with each other.

  • We are continuing the seizure medicine wean with H. The first day of the wean was dreadful. The worst behavior we've ever seen. We have seen gradual improvement, but there are still odd things that seem unusual and I hope will go away as the wean continues. There is also some weird attachment-stuff we're seeing again and I hope we haven't lost ground. In good news, H.'s eyesight is finally 20/20 with her glasses and when using both eyes (as opposed to having one patched.) 
  • B. finished his semester and came home for one day. He left early Sunday morning to fly to Taiwan for two weeks as a part of an environmental studies class. We are all a little jealous.
  • All three older children are gainfully employed for the summer. 
  • M.'s friend and future apartment-mate is bunking here until they can find an apartment. I will admit as proud as I am of my child who is ready to go out into the world on her own, my heart does a little flip-flop every time I think about it.
  • My compulsive gardening continues apace. (And I am so sore.) The front is looking better and all the vegetable plants and seeds are out in the raised beds. The yard will be decent for A.'s party on Saturday. I may not be able to move, but things will look good.
  • D. will start tech rehearsals week after next for Thin Ice's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. If you want to come see D. play Willie Wonka, put the dates down on your calendar. (5/29; 5/30; 5/31)
  • I heard the bad, bad news that there is now a back log of applications at the visa processing center which could slow down our adoption even more. I am trying not to grind my teeth because this, too, is IL's fault. Had we been able to apply when our home study was first finished, we would have missed the back log. Bringing the girls home before Christmas feels as though it has just slipped through my fingers.
  • I spent Mother's Day at the library and then home looking at the books I checked out. We ordered in pizza for dinner. That counts as a nearly perfect Mother's Day in my book.
  • I have a new article up at The End in Mind. It's the second part of my series on Homeschooling the Gifted Child.
  • Has anyone reading here ever done any pressure canning? Is it as scary as it sounds? I've been reading about it and it would be fabulous to be able to can the things you are able to in a pressure canner. But it also sounds a wee bit intimidating. Who has done this?
  • I have finally caught up with the laundry. This is possibly the least interesting thing for you to read on the list, but it is certainly one of the most exciting things for me.
So there you go, our week in bullet points. I'll try to get some pictures of the results of my gardening up in the next couple of days. When I do so, you will be instructed to ooh and ahh. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Cheaper by the dozen

There is a lot of back story that has been going on around here that I am now able to fill you all in on.

As you know, about a year ago, I first became aware of a little girl who looked as though she has the same special need as H. and who needed a family. I was absolutely jolted by her from the moment I saw her and felt a strong connection even though I knew at that moment it was an impossibility that we bring her home. There were oh, so many reasons why it wouldn't work out. Yet God is far, far bigger than any problems that we can seen and you've known for a while now that we have Pre-Approval for this little girl.

(Tina will now have an official blog initial and will from now on be known as R.)

This is where the craziness quotient begins to become significantly increased. You see, at about the same time that I saw R.'s picture, I also saw the picture of another little girl who also needed a family. This in itself is not unusual, there are hundreds of children being advocated for on social media sites every day. What was different was that I felt that same jolt upon seeing this child's picture as I did for R.'s (and for H.'s). It was an immediate and intuitive sense that this was my child even though I knew nothing about her and there was no way we could bring her home.

And so life went on. I would check on her daily to see if she was still available and she was. This itself was a bit odd. She was female, she was mobile, she was cute. Often children with this combination of things going for them find a family rather quickly. Yet there she sat waiting and waiting. In the meantime we learned about R.'s grant and decided to move forward. Surely this little girl could not also be our daughter because we committed to another child.

A strange and outlandish plan began to hatch in my brain. If we are already in country for one child, then the costs would be slightly less to adopt a second one. There would still be a lot of hurdles to get over, but the idea was planted. Our social worker was on board and after much debate we decided to go ahead and ask to be approved to adopt two children on our home study. This was sheer insanity given our family size and IL's reputation. We knew that there was always the possibility that we would have to reduce to the number to just one because we weren't going to jeopardize R.'s adoption. This explains somewhat my all out letter writing effort to get our home study approved as written. I didn't want to have to leave this other little girl behind but we also weren't going to lock-in her file before we had approval because it was risky. We didn't want her to miss a chance of having a family if someone else was going to step forward before we had all our approvals in order. Besides, even if we did get the approval from IL, there was no guarantee that we would get the approval from her country.

Receiving our home study approval was not without it's own stress and drama. I felt as though it was doubly hard because the future's of two little girls hung in the balance. Unbelievably we were approved... and approved for two... without having to go through any additional hoops. We were finally free to ask for permission to adopt the little girl I could only dream about a year ago.

God has moved mountains and I am thrilled to announce that when we finally get to travel, we will be travelling to bring home two daughters. You've already met R., now I'd like to introduce you to Y..

This is the picture of her when I first fell in love.

Here is a more recent one. She is 8, almost exactly one year younger than K.

We are humbled at what God has done. We are feeling as though we are more than a little bit crazy. We have no idea how God will manage to work out the details of the rest of the unknowns. It all feels exciting, overwhelming, scary, and wonderful all at the same time. 

It is amazing the paths God will lead you down when you are willing to say yes.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

The windmill is almost down -- the progress of HB 3079

I have some very, very good news to share. Yesterday afternoon, the IL Senate Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to approve HB 3079! We are almost there everyone! Thanks to everyone's phone calls and emails the laws governing IL adoption could very well change for the better. As this has been tried before and failed, this is a significant accomplishment.

Even better, the full senate could hear the next reading of the bill and vote on it as early as tomorrow. This doesn't give us much time to educate the rest of the senate on the importance of this bill as well as share one more time past abuses of the position of Intercountry Adoption Coordinator and the resulting lost time with our children. We are almost there people, we all need to squeeze out of few minutes of our afternoon to pick up the phone and open our email. (And if you saved you previous letters, then it will be even easier.)

Step 1: Figure out (if you don't already know) who your IL state senator is. To do this, you will also need ot know your district. Use this District Locator if you are not sure. Once you know your district, it is easy to find your senator on the Senate Contact List. You may have to do a little digging to find the email address, but I have been very successful with doing a quick internet search.

Step 2: Phone your senator and say how much you support the passing of HB 3079, if the person answering the phone lets you, you can mention the reasons why. (I list them in a past post if you still feel fuzzy about them.)

Step 3: If you have another minute or two in your afternoon, send an email to your senator as well.

Step 4: Share this with as many other people as possible so that we are contacting as broad a range of senators as possible.

Hang in there, if all goes well, this will be the last time that we need to make these phone calls and write these emails. (Unless of you course you want to call/write to thank the legislators for their work after the bill passes... I think it would be a nice touch.)

Ready... Set... Phone!

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Crossing another medicine off the list

In the past three years since I've become a parent to a child with seizures I've learned a couple of things. The first thing I've learned is that the variety of seizures that H. has is pretty mild in the great scheme of things. Some children, despite medication, still have multiple big seizures in a day and their parents are helpless to do anything but be supportive. I know that these parents are desperate to find relief for their children and that it is a difficult balance to find the right amount of medication.

Even though H's seizures are on the very mild end of the spectrum, the goal of the neurologist is still to get her seizure-free. I can understand this goal and for the most part I share it. To reach this goal requires trying different medications to see how they work. Each medication reacts a little differently in each child and different doses can also react different ways. (Sometimes a higher dose has fewer side effects than a lower one. Go figure.) But these medicines are tricky things and not something you can just start and stop. You need to slowly add medications, wait to see how they will work, and if they don't, slowly wean them away. It is a time consuming process.

Yesterday I had multiple phone calls to the neurologist's office because of my concerns with the effects of drug #4. On the plus side, with this drug, the seizures seemed to lessened a bit, so that we could go a month without a seizure, but the next month we could be back to her regular cluster of 2 or 3. It wasn't perfect. Since it seemed to be doing something positive, the doctor upped her dosage. Now, I had already been seeing behaviors I wasn't crazy about, but when they are starting, it can be difficult to be really impartial. Was what I was seeing really a side-effect of the medicine or of my over-active imagination? You start to second guess yourself.

With the upper dosage, though, there was no question that we were seeing some disturbing things. I had thought that schoolwork was becoming increasingly difficult, but now it was even more so. There was a vagueness about H. that was also disturbing. She is a child that really has to work on being present in her surroundings and we were beginning to miss that presence. She was more and more becoming an empty shell of a child. Even more disturbing and more unusual was that we were slowly losing the happy, positive H. that we were used to seeing. Every night we noticed that she was extremely depressed and sad. We have also seen oppositional behavior that we had NEVER seen before. She was changing before our eyes, it was just so slowly that we didn't see it at first.

What finally caused me to make the phone call was two nights ago I was tucking her in and as usual she asked what we would be doing the next day. I answered that we would be doing schoolwork in the morning. Now, every single time I've said this to her in the past, her response has been, "Yeah!" Even though it is not always easy for her, she loves doing her schoolwork. Two nights ago, her response was, "Oh," in a very depressed, sad tone of voice. This was clearly not the same child.

The next morning I decided to try another round of schoolwork, though it had grown increasingly difficult and H. had grown increasingly uncooperative. When she couldn't even think clearly enough to get through one very simple page, I knew we had reached our limit and called the doctor. We are breaking in a new neurologist and it took multiple phone calls to get the agreement to completely wean the medicine so we could try something different. I know this game now. I'm not going to spend time messing around with something that is clearly not working.

And I am very glad that I pushed. Last night as I was reading to G. and L. (H. and K. were waiting for J. to read them the book they are listening to), I heard a loud crash as though a bookshelf was falling over. When no one called back in my yell of, "Is everything alright?" I jumped up and ran to investigate. I found H. coming out of K.'s room and when I looked around, I couldn't seen any furniture toppled over. I was pretty confused. It took a while for me  to make sense of what happened and also deal with H. who had completely disassociated on me, Here's what I think happened... though I'm still not sure. H. was on the stairs to the 3rd floor and somehow slipped and fell down on a pile of toys. In her distress she ran and hid in K.'s room. She had hurt herself (mainly bruising), but that wasn't the most concerning thing. As I tried to figure out what happened and reminded her that when she's hurt I want to know and she should run to me or yell that she needed me (living with G. and L., she clearly has living models for this behavior... they do it all the time), she continued to not meet my gaze. I asked why she wouldn't call for help and her response was, "Nobody likes me."

Yeah. That was my reaction, too.

So, we are beginning the wean off the drug today and it can't happen fast enough in my book. I just hope that as the drug leaves her system we find that her security, felt safety, and attachment are still in tack, somewhere under there. Otherwise, we have just had an enormous set-back in her emotional well-being.

Once again, I am left wondering which is the lesser of two evils... the seizures themselves or the drugs that are supposed to help. I hate this.

Monday, May 04, 2015

It's springtime and the locusts have descended

At least that is what it feels like to keep these children fed.

There is something about the combination of nice weather for the first time in months and spring growth spurts that makes for ravenous children. I buy groceries... what was a sufficient amount for the slower, indoor winter months... and two days later the locusts have eaten just about all of it and complaining that there is "nothing to eat." (Don't feel too badly for them, this doesn't mean that the cupboard is empty, just that their preferred food of choice is no longer around.) This is what comes of children who are doing a lot more playing outside in the fresh air. Two breakfasts, a mid-morning snack (fruit or graham cracker with peanut butter or today it was leftover popcorn), lunch, two mid-afternoon snacks (same choices), and dinner, with people have up to thirds and fourths.

Of course, correlated to the larger appetites, are the growth spurts. The five year olds are growing, the 9 year old is growing, and of course nothing can compare to the growing 11 and 12 year olds do. Sometimes I look at TM before bedtime and when I look at him again in the morning, I swear he has grown another half an inch. He is now officially taller than I am and D. is not far behind. And everyone's pants are too short and I am fearful their shoes are growing too small. I do wish they would spread out their growth spurts a bit so that the accompanying need for new pants and shoes was also spread out.

(As I write this, TM and D. have just whipped up a batch of chocolate chip cookies and, the recipe having only made 4 dozen or so, are complaining that is doesn't make very much. I hope there will still be some left for dessert tonight after everyone has had a chance to try one.)

Does anyone else experience this spring growth spurt and eating fest?
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Don't forget that today is the last day to contact the senators who will be hearing the adoption reform bill tomorrow. Here's another article about it: Adoption Reform Bill Seeks to Streamline Adoption in Illinois

Friday, May 01, 2015

Dog and pony show

You know that some people around here really, really love horses. (Yes, I would be included in that some.) It is difficult to live in an urban area, though, and be a horse fanatic. Our small yards and zoning ordinances do not lend themselves to keeping large farm animals. I've even had a daughter try to convince me that we could keep a miniature horse, call it a Great Dane, and no one would know the difference. While I agree that a miniature horse would certainly be smaller than one of the larger breed of dogs, we would be fooling no one. If it looks like a horse and smells like a horse and poops like a horse, it's a horse regardless of what we would like to call it.

(This is going somewhere, I promise.)

Now, some of you may have been wondering about my little temper tantrum a couple of weeks ago and my pointed efforts at writing uncritical and non-confrontational posts. There was a very large back story behind that and with our I800a application officially received at the USCIS office... the application which includes our DCFS produced home study approvel... I am ready to share the untold part of the story.

(Before I continue, I also feel the need to add that I have been in contact with a state senator and he agreed that this story needs to be told. It ceases to be fun to tilt at windmills when the windmill decides to fight back.)

It is easiest to just share what I wrote to the senator. Here is an excerpt.

<<Based on our experience with our last adoption, I knew that getting our home study approved by DCFS was going to be difficult. This was confirmed by my home study agency when I called to discuss having another home study written. No one I spoke with would say whether or not DCFS would approve us because it was known how difficult it can be for large families to be approved in Illinois. I was told that DCFS observes the capacity laws in the strictest sense and that while the agency was willing to write us a home study, they could not guarantee it would be approved. Since we had already been approved by China to adopt a child with the same special need as our daughter, we went ahead. I also felt the need to be proactive and write letters to our representative and senator informing them of the difficulty we had last time and to let them know I could possibly be asking for their help if we ran into difficulties. I also have a blog where I share what is happening with our family and where I share our adoption journey. While it has a moderate readership, it is small potatoes in the greater blog world. 

We received pre-approval to adopt our soon-to-be daughter from China at the end of November. We were diligent in working on our home study and had it completed by the beginning of February. Well, it would have been completed except we were waiting for the child abuse clearances (CANTs) to come back from IL. We had heard that other families (from a variety of agencies) had to wait up to 10 weeks for the clearances to be done while people from other states were waiting a maximum of two weeks. I wrote to the Governor’s office asking why the CANTs were taking so long. A week or so after having written that letter, I received an early morning phone call from someone in the DCFS advocacy office. (I really wish I had gotten her name, but it was very early in the morning and I had yet to have a cup of coffee.) She mentioned that I had complained to the Governor’s office and she wanted to talk with me about my concerns. My biggest concern at that time was that we were still waiting for our clearances (we would eventually wait a full 10 weeks.) She told me that it was my agency’s fault for not having processed the forms correctly. When I pushed a bit, saying that I knew a variety of families from a variety of agencies were having the same problem, she didn’t budge and insisted it was the agencies’ fault. Trying to remain polite, I then thanked her for taking the time to look into our case and her response was, “Well, you should be.” I was stunned. When she then said that they would be looking out for our home study to arrive I can tell you I didn’t know whether that was a positive thing or not. I did not feel as though the advocacy office was on our side and wondered whether I wanted them to know about us at all. 

After the phone call, I contacted my social worker to give her the “correct” instructions as I was told by the DCFS advocate. She mentioned that just a few days earlier the agencies had all received the same information and the CANTs clearances were now running just a couple of days. I don’t know about you, but I find the whole chain of events rather suspicious. The 10 week time frame had been going on for months and DCFS couldn’t share this information earlier? Did they not care that this was adding needless weeks onto a child’s time spent in an orphanage? This was on March 6, a full three months after our pre-approval and over a month after the rest of the home study was written. (At this point, in any other state, our home study would have been considered complete and we would have been able to move onto the next step of applying for immigration approval. If we had been able to do this, we would have stood a very good chance of having our daughter home for Christmas.) 

And so we moved on with our completed home study to waiting to get the approval of the Intercountry Adoption Coordinator at DCFS. With our past history, our large family, and my recent phone conversation with the DCFS “advocate”, I decided that I needed to be proactive and so contacted Sen. Kirk’s office. Another adoptive family had success with the Senator’s office being able to move their home study along in the process and we hoped to be able to receive some help. On April 7, a full month after our home study was turned in, we received a phone call from Sen. Kirk’s office saying that our home study had been approved and we would be receiving the official notice in the mail. Hooray! All the dire predictions I had been handing out had been incorrect and I was thrilled to be wrong. But… The very next day, we receive a phone call from DCFS saying they had made a mistake. The home study they had told Sen. Kirk’s office was approved wasn’t ours, it was someone else’s. Ours was sitting on the desk waiting further information.

Great. 

On April 9, we receive word from our placement agency (the agency whose job it is to act as liaison with China) that DCFS contacted them and had “issues with our family size.” They needed proof that China had already approved us to adopt and they asked, “Does China know how many children they have?” There are several extremely concerning issues with this interaction. 1. As the law stands, the job of the Intercountry Adoption Coordinator is to look at IL home studies and determine if the family meets the required criteria and whether the social worker has done his or her job to be sure everything meets IL’s standards. This office has no authority over other sovereign countries and what they decide to do. If DCFS approved our home study and China said no, they wouldn’t allow us to adopt, then that is between us, our placement agency, and China. It is not in the scope of the DCFS approval process. It is just not their business. 2. It shows that the Intercountry Adoption Coordinator and the supervising office truly have no idea how intercountry adoption works. This is a rather concerning thing considering that it is the purpose of this office to approve home studies for intercountry adoption. In order to receive pre-approval from China for a child, the parents must submit extensive documentation as to family make-up and finances. Of course China knew how many children we have. 3. DCFS is who made it about family size, I had not mentioned this issue in my public writing on this current adoption in either my writing for Adoption.com or on my blog. I knew better than to make any of this about family size, as it is a somewhat debatable topic. The reason to make this point will be seen in just a moment. 

Our placement agency shared our pre-approval notice with DCFS after securing our permission for them to do so, and we waited some more, though not happily, I will add. On April 15, with no news from anyone, my husband decided to call XXX at DCFS and who had made the call to us on April 8 telling us about the mistake in approvals. He wanted to see if he could find out something, anything, about the status of our home study. A little late that day, he received a phone call essentially giving him a slap on the hand for contacting DCFS ourselves and was told we are not to contact them. That afternoon, we learn about a three-way conference call between XXXX (Intercountry Adoption Coordinator [I have since learned she has resigned]), XXXX (from DCFS), the director of Adoption Link, our home study agency, and two staff members of CCAI, our placement agency. The purported intent of the conference call was to discuss our home study. I have been around the adoption world in IL for quite some time and I have never heard of a family’s home study needing a conference call such as this. We received reports of the call from both our agencies and the content of the call went something like this: the majority of the call was taken up with DCFS telling our agencies that I had been too vocal in my criticism of DCFS and the home study approval process. I had written too much about it on my blog and contacted too many law makers. I had said that it was all about family size when it was never and has never been about family size. I was to knock it off. (Obviously not exact quotes, but it is the message I received.) 

The last part of the call was to discuss one sentence at the end of our home study which had to be changed. And the content of that line? Well, it was essentially having to be changed to say that China would have to give us a waiver for our income because we didn’t meet China’s requirements. How kind of DCFS to be so concerned about China breaking its own laws. In the end our home study was approved as written and I will be sending out our immigration application today. >>

Good stuff, huh? One hardly knows where to begin, but I think we'll go back to the dog and pony show. While I have blogged about my issues with DCFS and their "concerns" about large families, I was careful not to make this the main point in my current advocacy. Because, really, everyone has been waiting and everyone has had to put up with nonsense and no one should.

But there have always been the underlying messages that large families were not welcome. At one point, after we brought K. home, I thought we were supposed to adopt a sibling set from Ethiopia. We had even signed on with a placement agency. Tried as a might, I could not find a home study agency in IL to write us a home study. (Now I know this was God firmly closing a door, but the answers would still be the same.) Our family was too large and the agencies had decided to only work with smaller families to avoid dealing with the approval process with DCFS. There have been many large families who, along with the approvals they fought hard for, received demeaning messages to go along with those approvals along with the line, "Never let me see another home study from you cross this desk." Those aren't my stories to share, but if you have one, feel free to leave it in the comments. And then there is the whole nonsense about asking whether or not China knew how many children we had. How can it not be about family size if they feel compelled to ask questions such as that?

So, just like that imaginary pony in my backyard that some would try to call a large dog, I don't think anyone is fooled. You can say something is a dog as much as you like, but if it looks like a horse and smells like a horse and poops like a horse, well... I'm pretty sure it's a horse.

Are you tired of this type of nonsense? Please call and write to the senators who are hearing HB3079 next Tuesday and help to get these laws changed.
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