Friday, July 31, 2015

Win-Win

I love to sew for my girls and when they are little it is pretty easy to find cute patterns and whip something up. When I was at the fabric store the other day, it became clear to me that it is going to become increasingly difficult to find patterns to make things for H. She is 12, and if you've ever tried to dress a child, either boy or girl, who is in between little kid sizes and teen/adult sizes, you already know that it is a vast wasteland. Trust me when I say that it is even worse when you 12 year old is still very much a little girl and likes little girl things. She wants pretty dresses, not the pseudo-sophisticated inappropriate overly grown-up bilge that one finds so often for this age. (Hmmm... think I have an opinion on that?) Yet even in pattern-land, it is difficult to find things that she would like in her size.

Imagine my joy, when idling about looking at websites (because I was too depressed to get off my duff and actually do something and you never know when some little bit of good news about your adoption will suddenly appear on your computer screen), I made a discovery. Take a look.



It turns out that I need to look at French pattern companies. I know the artwork on the fronts of these patterns is of a little girl, but look at the ages of the patterns... 10 years, 12 years, 14, years, 16 years! And they're cute. In the right fabrics, I think they will be great for H. and that she will love them. Plus, the store I bought them from (Fiddlehead Artisan Supply) has many other French patterns in teen sizes. Even better is that the store has provided English translations for the written instructions. So, not only do I get cute patterns that will work for H., I get a free French lesson of sewing terms. With that information, I should be able to venture to other French pattern companies and perhaps find other cute patterns.

Now I'm off to clean off my sewing table. It has become more of a repository of general stuff than an actual work space, so step one to making cute clothes is to find my work space.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

I've got to say it somewhere

(No, I don't have any information on the adoption paperwork snafu. I need to take a break from it all today. Maybe J. will call for me tomorrow and find out what happened with it all. Supposedly it is all taken care of.)

I am part of a fairly (ridiculously?) large number of facebook groups. In terms of keeping up with goings on in the adoption world and especially in the rare disease world, they are truly invaluable. (Where else would I even begin to find a group of people who have children with Linear Nevus Sebaceous syndrome?) I also belong to some other parenting type groups (slippery slope and all that, I think), and sometimes I read things and just have to walk away... or write about them more generally here and get it out of my system. It just seems better than to start a firestorm in the comments section somewhere, even if I think I am right.

At the risk of repeating myself, this is for parents of preschoolers, which these days is evidently age two and up. (I think I'll save the rant about whether two year olds should go to preschool in the first place for another day.) And what is my message for you? One word: Relax.

Our society, especially if you live where I do with a particularly affluent and educated population, does a great job of selling you a bill of goods. And that bill of goods is the idea that education is difficult and expensive and time-consuming. Am I saying that teachers are not important? No, a good teacher can make a subject come alive and spur a child to want to learn. Am I saying that some children don't have difficulties in certain areas and that specialized help can be useful and even necessary? No, I live with a child who needs specialized help and know first hand that not all children learn the same.

What I am saying is that there are things that no child needs. No child need hours of homework after a full day of school. No child needs a schedule so full (of even good things) that there is no time to just sit and think. No child needs ridiculous amounts of testing. And no preschooler needs academic work. To think that children need any of these things to learn is to let fear take over and to forget that children are hard-wired to learn. It takes a lot of work to turn off  the wiring, but a heavy dose of the things I just named will do the job rather nicely.

What children need is time and space. They need time to grow and mature so that they can learn difficult subject matter at the appropriate time rather than being pushed into learning something prematurely. They need to sit and think and look like they are doing nothing. Our brains do best with a rest time to sort through what we have learned, to ponder things, to let our brains make connections that only time will allow them to make. They need to play. Play is integral to how children learn, particularly young ones. Play is how they learn. Little ones were meant to explore and experiment and make messes and wiggle. They were not meant to sit in chairs and do worksheets.

Actually not-so-little children were meant to do these things as well and I think I could make a pretty good case for adults resting, day dreaming, and playing, too. Why are we so afraid of letting children have time and playing? Why are we so afraid of letting them grow up at their own pace rather than ours? Why are we so afraid of them not learning something? You know, it's OK if a child does not do every activity offered. They'll survive. You won't ruin them. You might actually regain your family's sanity by not driving hither and yon every single non-school moment of your day.

Keep your little ones close. What they need most is you. You, the parents, are the people who are most important to your child. You are the people who help them to regulate emotionally. You are the people who give them their sense of safety. You are the people who make them feel loved. You are the people who teach them the most important things of life. This comes first. This is what is important.

Reading can wait. Math can wait. Even college can wait. Help your child develop into a person first, with interests and self-knowledge and empathy and the ability to do hard things (the ability to work through frustration and failure). Stop being afraid of the wrong things and be willing to stand up for what you child really needs.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Just pray

Let's just say a call from USCIS at 9:30 am is not a good thing. Please just pray that all the home study details get worked out and we do have to have another RFE, which would cost us yet another two weeks.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Five things I've discovered about parenting a large family

You know, J. and I never planned on having 12 children. We thought four seemed like a great amount and that is what our initial "plans" were, for what they were worth. I'm sure God had some good chuckles about all of our plans. His were much better, though we were unaware of them at the time. So I am pretty much an unexpected mother to a large family. I come from a very small family and while I used to fantasize about having 11 other brothers and sisters (really), I had no real experience with larger-than-normal families and I am still constantly surprised at some of the things I discover about parenting them. What I didn't know...

1. Is that I would at some point be seen as the slacker volunteer. When my oldest were young I volunteered a lot. I did years of VBS and midweek programs and holding positions in our homeschooling group. Years. The people who had young children at the same time, saw me as a contributing member of the groups I was a part of. Now? I still have young children, but I need a break from the volunteering. The trouble with this is that the generation of parents who have children my younger children's ages don't see me volunteering. I am that parent. The slacker one. The one who just drops her children off... when they choose to participate.

2. Is that people would assume I can talk about nothing but my children. At least this is what is feels like. When I chat with people, they are the ones to bring up my children... the number, how each of them is doing, how I do whatever it is I do. While I don't mind talking about my children (I do happen to find them interesting), I have discovered that it is all people talk to me about, even if I try to steer the conversation onto other topics. I know this is a "thing" because if people don't know the number of children I have, we talk about other things. The second they discover I have many children, that is the topic. Only. And I can talk about other things. I have more than a passing knowledge and interest in a wide range of topics... books, music, education, learning languages, sewing, horses, knitting, crocheting, travel, history, theology, cooking. I might even be able to manage a cursory discussion of some of these topics in French. In fact, if you speak French and want to help me give my rusty French some practice I would love it.

3. Is that my family would make other people feel guilty. I've written before that other moms don't act normally around me. It's as if my presence makes them feel as though any problems or difficulties they face aren't valid around me. I've lost count of the number of times someone has apologized to me for having parenting problems in front of me. There is also the tacit feeling of our choices making others uncomfortable. Others with the same family demographic as ours have expressed this same feeling. It is easier to avoid us than to look at that feeling. I wish this weren't the case. I'm not really making judgmental statements about your family by raising mine. I'm just raising my family. I'm not thinking about how I am such a better person because I do more laundry. Heck. I don't think I'm a better person at all. I'm a mom just like anyone else, I just happen to have a couple more children. I admit that as a result I have a broader range of parenting experience, but my children still throw me for a loop and I still don't know the perfect way to parent. Parenting any number of children is both terribly difficult and terribly wonderful. My experience does not negate yours in any way.

4. Is that I would end up in a no man's land in terms of friends. It is true that people tend to associate with those who are in their stage of life. When I was a mom with just young children, I had a lot of friends who had young children like mine. For the most part, those friends' children are grown and in college and they are in a very different place than I am, who still has a couple of six year olds in the house. I see them and they have a different level of freedom than I do. I am acquainted with mothers of children who are younger than my girls. Young moms with babies and toddlers who have much less freedom than I do to socialize. I realized the other day that I don't really know anyone with early elementary school aged children. It feels a bit like I need to start all over in the making friends department, but at 49, I'm in such a different place from younger moms whose oldest are six that I'm not quite sure how to go about it. It doesn't help that in G. and L.'s age group at church, they are currently their Sunday School class. Sorry, I'll stop my little pity party.

5. Is that the general excitement over a new child gradually decreases. OK, in truth this doesn't surprise in theory, just in practicality. Everyone with more than three children has noticed this phenomenon. Head over heels excitement on the part of everyone for the first baby, nearly as much excitement over the second, especially if it is of the opposite sex, and then gradually decreasing from there. The trouble is, for the parents, there is just as much excitement and wonder over this new little life, just less audience to share it with. Sometimes there is even outright negativity. And that hurts because to the parents this new little baby or new child is just as special as the others. Perhaps even more so because of being an added blessing, one not deserved or even barely hoped for. Every child has value, but it seems to the general public, the first and second born of a family have far more value than any others. My tip for the day? If someone tells you they are expecting or adopting, regardless of the number of children the family already has, the ONLY appropriate response is a big smile and a big congratulations. One time I heartily congratulated a mother on hearing the news she was expecting number five and she looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, "Thank you. You are first person to be excited by our news." The other thing to remember is that for adoption news, that this is a child, a real child, you are hearing about. the family adopting that child is doing so because they want that child to join their family. They want that child to be theirs. They are not adopting to do a good thing or because they are good and amazing people. They are adopting because they have fallen in love with a child. Just say congratulations.

Large families and the people who parent them are not so different from anyone else. They have good days and bad days. Sometimes life works well and sometimes it barely works. Sometimes parents enjoy their children and sometimes its good to have a break and do something with other adults. We are not superheroes. We are not better than anyone else. We love our children... we just happen to have a few more than normal.

Monday, July 27, 2015

The backward process of moving forward

It's been an interesting summer with H. You'll remember that she has been home now for 3 years. It is one of those adoption truisms that a child's emotional age will mirror the time spent in their new, stable, enriching environment, no matter what their chronological age. It is also true that children need to move through each developmental stage in order to reach the next one, also regardless of chronological age. I can say without a doubt that we have these two phenomena playing out in our home.

When H. first came home and for a good while after that, she was bizarrely happy and agreeable. No matter what happened, she was happy with it. She cried real tears only two or three times in those first couple of years. You would think that having an always happy and agreeable child would be a dream, but it turns out this is not the case. It is just weird. I think it feels weird because the child's presenting emotion is so out of touch with what is happening around them. As we all learned from the movie Inside Out, we need to feel a variety of emotions, but that feeling those emotions can bit scary.

This past year, H. worked on trusting us a little more and allowing her true emotions to come through... sometimes. She learned and processed that she could be mad or sad and Mommy and Daddy would still love her. While she is still working on learning this lesson, she has made a lot of progress in this area. This year, we have started to see her become a "real" child. That would be a child with an internal life, with likes and dislikes, a child whose emotions seem more in tune with what it going on around her. Kind of like what happens with a three year old.

If you've even parented a three year old, you also know, far too well, that the other thing that a three year old is doing is developing a sense of independence. The three year old wants to try to do things themselves. The three year old wants to do things the way they want to do them. The three year old is most likely the least cooperative little being on the planet because of this. The three year old also is still developing some key verbal skills and emotional regulation. When you combine a person who wants to be independent, yet cannot verbalize all they want to, and is easily frustrated and upset, well the three year old is also possibly the loudest little creature on the planet.

H. has been trying her wings at a little self-will these days. It is both frustrating and exciting to watch.... just like dealing with a three year old. And her verbal skills, while continuing to grow, are still not quite sufficient to express everything she wants to say and her emotional skills are also still developing so that it is difficult for her to name what she is feeling. Just like a three year old. A very big three year old. She's never been a loud child, though, so she would be a quiet three year old. Thankfully. I have a very loud 6 year old who is still working on that emotional regulation-thing. I don't think I could two at the same time.

But it's not all frustration around here. Along with all those other things, we are starting to see other skills slowly emerge. Such as looking at something and being able to imagine it to be something else. Before H. had been relying on that great imagination trio of K., G., and L. for her imaginary input. But something  extraordinary happened the other day. I was cleaning and asked H. to put a box in the recycling. She looked at the box and announced that it would make a great computer. She needed a little prompting by me to get to the next step of asking for the box so she could make it into a computer, but once we got through that, she cheerfully dug out the markers. Here is her computer creation. First the raw material... the box.


And then what she made.


Now, she has seen the imagination trio make computer-like things out of other boxes and such, but this is the first time she has ever all by herself been able to imagine the raw material into something else. Pretty cool, huh?

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Truman's Aunt Farm

As well as finishing up previously scheduled art projects, we are also working our way through the books I chose to do Five In A Row style at the beginning of last year. (You'll remember that there was a mass revolt of small people who wanted to do "real" work instead.) I had the books and the plans and supplies, so it seemed a shame to waste them all. People are much more amenable to the whole idea if it is just a fun activity as opposed to Work.



This week I got out Truman's Aunt Farm by Jama Kim Rattigan. It is a very cute book that everyone enjoyed. The general gist of the story is that Truman is sent a certificate for an ant farm by an aunt. Instead of ants arriving, aunts start arriving. He takes care of them and eventually finds them all good homes. There is a continual play on the ant/aunt homonym.

Our first activity was to sort out this ant/aunt difference. (In some parts of the country, I realize that this isn't an issue as the words are pronounced differently, but here in the Midwest, they sound exactly the same.) So I made some cards.


We talked about the difference in the words and then held up the appropriate card for which ever word was used in the story.

The next day, I had a surprise for everyone.


How can you read a book about an ant farm (or even and aunt farm) and not have a real ant farm? We need to order the ants still (just like Truman), but everyone is very excited to watch the ants in action.

Finally, we made a craft. Guess what it was... that's right, we made ants.




Well, sort of.

Some people made ants.

By G.


By L. (She decided it was an army ant.)


By K.


Other people felt limited by ants...


D. made a cyclops butterfly.




TM made a... um.... well, he says it is a sewer bug.



H., inspired by D. and never one to turn down a chance to do anything with butterflies, also made a butterfly.



Now we just need our real ants to come.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Safety

One of the bonuses of driving to Great America on Wednesday was that we could finish the last disc of the recorded book that we were listening to when we drove to Michigan. It was a book that J. and I were interested in and wanted to hear the end of, so we were thrilled that Great America took 45 minutes to get to.

And what was the book? It was Museum of Thieves by Lian Tanner. The actress reading the book was particularly good, so I can also recommend the recorded version. (And look! I've recovered my Amazon Associates information so you can all go back to buying things through my link, thus sending a teeny, tiny bit of money my way. Thanks.)

It was the good combination of a well-written book with a story that was exciting enough for the younger crowd, but had some interesting ideas to think about for the adults. It has had me thinking about the idea of safety for a couple of days now.

We live in a society that is a wee bit safety obsessed. While safety isn't a bad thing, I have to wonder if we have veered off to the ridiculous. Sometimes we act as if we can keep our children perfectly safe if we do all the right things, and the truth is, we can't. No matter how hard we try, the world is still going to be a dangerous place. A better question, I think, is to wonder at what point are we actually harming our children by trying to keep them safe.

Because, truly, this safety-thing has reached ridiculous proportions. Heavens, in IL, it is actually illegal to leave a 13 year old home by him or herself. Really. If you are never on your own for a little bit, how do you learn to make choices? to use your own resources? to think through problems? I would much rather have to rescue a 12 or 13 year old from their poor 12 or 13 year old level of problems than a 20 year old. The stakes get higher as the child gets older. The book asks us to think about the question: When does keeping someone safe actually start to harm them?

Of course there are other interesting things in the book... a museum that has a life of its own, bristle hounds, escapes, danger, a huge storm. I'm going to see if I can find the second book in the series for our next car trip.

Highly recommended.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Another school lesson checked off

Would you believe that one of the reasons some people offer as to why children shouldn't be homeschooled is that if they don't go to school, they won't learn to stand in line? I know, it's ridiculous. Well, never fear that my poor deprived children have missed out on the line standing lesson because yesterday we all went to Six Flags Great America.

(It was a good deal because I only had to buy two tickets due to having participated in the Read to Succeed Program which offered free tickets to elementary school students and their teacher for reading during the school year. It wasn't until I went online to buy those two tickets that I realized quite how good a deal it was. I can't believe ticket prices.)

We had beautiful weather and a lovely day. It had been quite some time since I had been to Great America during the height of summer and I realize that my tolerance for standing in line isn't quite what it was when I went during my college years. P., TM, and D. took themselves off to do their list of big roller coaster and J. and I took H., K., G., and L. on smaller rides. I had no idea who everyone would enjoy them.

The surprise of the day was to discover that H. absolutely loves roller coasters. She had a ball and by the end of the day graduated up to the older group to do one last big coaster with them. She has deemed the American Eagle her favorite and hopes if we do this again some time to start out with the older group and do more of the big ones.

The second surprise of the day was that my little daredevil K., does NOT like roller coasters. He likes the spinning rides and anything involving trains, cars, or boats, but NOT roller coasters. Not even the little ones. This surprised me almost as much as H. loving them. Just when you think you know your children...

G. and L. just loved everything. They were great fun and it took very little to make them happy. I imagine once they hit 42 inches, they will be game to try everything in the park.

Some pictures from our day.

L.

G.

K., J., and H.

H. and K.

On the train

J., K., and H.

G.

In the spinning teacups (L. is in there, between me and H.)

The boats where you turn a crank and spray water. It is very difficult to tell, but G., L., and K. are all standing up in order to work the spray gun and were the cause of the loudspeaker announcement that all parties are to remain seated. K. chose not to hear and I noticed kept standing for the rest of the ride.

At the end of the day. It is much later than we planned to stay and we still hadn't had dinner. I was impressed that we managed to get any sort of smile out some very tired and hungry people.

(The three oldest people all had to work so they didn't get to come with us. I still find it a bit surprising that I can have three children old enough to have full-time jobs this summer.)

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Summer crafts

Life is settling down a bit and time is starting to hang a little heavier on certain younger people. Well, not all younger people. Some children often have more plans than they know what to do with and become easily frustrated when a parent-type cannot immediately help with said plan. That is one reason why I have been impressed with what L. has been up to for the past couple of days.

She was quite taken with the acorns she found while we were up at the lake house and brought back a huge back full. Unbeknownst to me, she also brought back many pine cones.


She has kept herself quite busy making things with them all. I'm not quite sure what she is busy making, but it involves a lot of glue. I think that some of it is making the pine cones into people because at one point I heard L. exclaim, "I made Abraham Lincoln!" I haven't heard anymore about Mr. Lincoln, so I don't quite know what to make of that.


L. hard at work.

But back to those children who are not quite as adept at creating and doing huge plans. There were a couple of crafts that I had planned for last school year that we had never quite gotten around to. Since I had the supplies, I decided that it made sense to do them and occupy the masses all at the same time. 

Today's project was to paint Japanese fish wind socks.



Here are some of the fish that are drying. They will still need to be folded in half and reinforced at the end that is attached to the string. I'll take a picture of all of them when they are dry and finished.



In adoption news, our home study arrived in the mail today and I overnighted it to USCIS this afternoon. Pray that we receive a speedy approval.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Sorry about the little panic attack

Here's the back story to that last post. I guess the phrase, "have to wait for DCFS" is now enough to send me into full emotional crisis. And why did I have to hear this phrase yet again? Well there was a slight difference of opinion between me and my home study agency as to who had control over our completed home study. I (not incorrectly) believed that the home study belonged to me and I could ask for it and have it given to me. (You know, to send on to USCIS to finally fulfill that pesky RFE.) My home study agency (and I have now heard it reported that it is not the only one), is still working under the paternalistic, we know better than you mentality that typified the state of adoptions in Illinois for so many years. They seemed to think it was their responsibility to protect me from myself and had decided that I might do something rash with that home study, such as send it off to USCIS, and they thought it better that they wait until they had heard that DCFS has officially notified USCIS of the law change. Even typing those words is enough to raise my heart rate and make my breathing more shallow.

Well, after some bad minutes combined with the intervention of a good advocate friend who called the agency and politely pointed out the error of their ways, they understood that we could indeed request our home study. It also transpired that they heard the news that the director of DCFS has officially notified USCIS of the law change. Our home study should arrive on my door step tomorrow.

Now, you would think that I could start breathing again. But, no. Other agencies are still telling their clients that when they call USCIS, they are informed that USCIS has not officially heard of the change in laws and that they will issue RFE's regardless of what Illinois law now currently states until they officially hear. So what is one to believe? I have no idea, but I will be over-nighting our home study with our RFE to them tomorrow. I guess I get to be the test case after all. How exciting. (And if there was ever a need for a sarcastic emoticon at the end of a sentence, it was needed right there.) So, just pray. Pray that we will be issued our immigration approval this week without any more drama from any government agency. I've had my fill, thank you very much.

So, my day of panicking aside, we did manage to have a very nice vacation up at J.'s aunt and uncle's beach house.

(Yeah, I know. I'm still having trouble remembering where the lens on the iPod is.)


That would be about a 5 -6 foot drop down to the actual beach. This year the combined effects of dune and water didn't give much flat beach. My children were more than happy to do some demolition and work on creating a more accessible ramp to get to the water.

One of the ways to demolish a dune is to burrow a tunnel through it.


This was K,'s tunnel, so he went through it first.




D. wanted to go through as well, but he is a little bigger than K. and needed his father to help pull him through.



We walked down to an outlet of a lake and played where the water was a little warmer.



Long imaginary games were played. (G., L., and K. opened a restaurant for their animals.)


I had no idea that we traveled with so many pandas. G. has an extensive collection.


And then it was time to go home. On the way back, we stopped at the P. J. Hoffmaster state park to look at their dune interpretation center. There was also a short trail that begged to be followed. Well, to me and J. it begged to be followed. The children with us begged to not follow it and kvetched about it the whole way up and down. So, look at the pretty pictures and instead of serene music accompanying them, have a sound track consisting of the following phrases in various levels of whine, "Why do we have to do this?" "It's so far." "I'm tired." "I'm thirsty." "Can we go back yet?" The key to successful parenting is to use your universal translator (or Babel Fish, depending on which variety of geekiness you subscribe to) to translate these phrases into statements such as, "This is so fun!" "Thank you Mother and Father for taking on this beautiful hike." "I wish there were even more stairs to climb."

And there were some stairs.



The lookout that we climbed to.


The view. We think these oak trees grew up since had built the platform as they did get in the way of the view of the lake a bit.


L.'s teddy bear, Blue Teddy (or sometimes BlueBlue) came along as well. He enjoyed the hike and didn't complain at all.



So now we're home. I've paid the bills. One load of laundry is already done. Now to plan the week's menu and get to the store.
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