Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Because who can resist a flower that smells like rotten meat?

One of the many things I love about homeschooling is the flexibility to drop everything when something interesting comes along. Take this morning, for example. Earlier in the summer, the Chicago Botanic Garden had a titan arum that they thought was going to bloom. Well, Spike (the flower), fooled them all and didn't bloom. Never fear, though, they also had a second that looked as if it would bloom, but decided not to publicize it this time until they were sure. Yesterday they announced that last night was the night and that they would be open at 2 am for people to come and see.

Now, if I was truly the really cool mom, we would've all treked up to the gardens and camped out to see the flower in full bloom. But, I'm a cool mom who really values sleep, so we did the next best thing. We wen this morning. We missed out on a little bit of the fun. The flower had already started to close, so we didn't get to see if fully open, plus it stops emitting its special aroma (the smell of rotting meat, which it uses to attract flies) at sunrise, so we didn't notice any smell, either. But we saw it and it was cool. It is a really huge flower.

Plus it turned into a beautiful morning and it was lovely to walk a bit in the gardens and enjoy the day. Better than a text book any day. And you never know when creativity will strike. Towards the end of our visit, D. asks me if I have something to write with. He's had a great idea for a story and doesn't want to forget it. I do carry a notepad and pen, so D. happily took it and began writing as we walked through the gardens.

Since I'm always showing artwork of other children, it seems only fair to share D.'s creative endeavors. Here is the beginning of his story that he wrote as we walked. (I've only edited his spelling and punctuation, everything else is just as he wrote it.)

"The stones glittered as the man walked down them. His foot steps echoed across the hall. When the man reached his destination at the end of the hall he stopped. As he gazed up at the statue, he took a deep breath. the statue itself was made entirely of pure silver. It was the size of a large tree. The head of it gazed at the ground as though it was looking right into the man's soul. It was a statue of a... ?"

And that's where he came to a stop as he was drawing a blank as to what creature would be magnificent enough for his purposes. If he keeps working on it, I'll let you know what happens.

Now is where I would put a nice picture of some children standing in front of the giant, stinky flower, but I can't. My iPod stopped working when it tried to do the most recent upgrade and I need to take it in to see if it can be fixed. My camera has something wrong with it because I continue to have batteries not work whether they are brand new or newly charged. I think we were the only people there without a camera. I'm afraid you'll just have to use your imaginations.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

A better day

Today was better. Much better. Phew.

Today I also had only one thing that had to be done and was gone for just 30 minutes. I realized it has been a long time since this has happened, and I realized how much I need time just to be at home. I was able to do little things, such as clean the kitchen before it was time to cook dinner. I was also able to just sit for a few minutes.

Of course this sitting was the best possible sitting. G., L., and K. were playing quite nicely and had brought down all the play food to the kitchen. As I'm sitting with my feet up, I'm realizing that an entire restaurant has been created around me and that I have three hovering waiters waiting to fulfill my every whim. I was served ice cream, cupcakes, grape wine, more ice cream, broccoli, fish, more cupcakes, more ice cream, and at the end, fish with ice cream. That was K.'s contribution. When his little sisters found out what he had served his mother, they fired him from their restaurant. He then commented that he wished he had his own play food, not appreciating his sudden lack of employment.

My message to you today? Don't be like me and take too long to remember what we're really doing here, raising our children. My children felt as though they had my undivided attention (which they did), even amidst the chaos of stuff strewn around us, as we hadn't yet picked up for the day. I was just enjoying my children, not telling them to do (or not to do) something. It left us all refreshed and calm and happy.

Plus, how else can you eat approximately a gallon of ice cream, a dozen cupcakes, an ice cream sundae, multiple glasses of wine, plus some fish and broccoli? L. did warn me, a little after the fact, that, "If you eat too many sweets, then you will get a stomach ache. That happened to me."

So just go sit and play. The other things can wait.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Well, at least the day is almost over

It's been one of those days. One of those days where you find yourself saying, "I can always pick up the phone and enroll you in school."

Yep, bad days and disregulated children and a disregulated mother happen here, too. There were more than a couple moments which were not my finest. Some children were uncooperative. Some children were recovering from a very big weekend of canoe camping and were more than a little scattered. Another child's complete and total memory function seemed to go offline for the morning. I hate getting behind in my schedule, but since there was an open neurology appointment today I took it. It turns out it was a good thing to be able to cut the schoolwork short this morning. It was truly going no where. Well, no where good, that's for sure.

The neurology appointment went fine. H. is due for another EEG. This means the night before she has it, we get to make sure she is good and exhausted from little sleep the night before so she will fall asleep during the test. And in order for her stay up, a parent needs to stay up as well. In the great scheme of medical tests, this is pretty easy. I just don't enjoy the lack sleep part, though.

Once the doctor has the EEG results, we'll discuss which medicine to try next. Also not my favorite activity.

So now, people are doing some picking up in the house. I've been to the grocery store and D. helped me put the grocery's away. We're about to start fixing dinner, and then I can put all these people to bed. I'm not sure the article I'm supposed to write and turn in is going to happen tonight, but I have time tomorrow. I've decided I'm going to blame all the wonky behavior on the moon.

Thank goodness tomorrow is another day and a chance for a fresh start.

Friday, September 25, 2015

The muddy waters of adoption fundraising

I don't write about the cost of adoption very often here. People are funny about money. People are even funnier about money when it involves bringing a new child into a family. I don't know why, but it's a thing. While I have never been at the receiving end of some of these comments, other families report that they receive a great amount of criticism over their fundraising efforts. Among the chief complaints...

"If you can't afford the adoption, how are going to afford the child?"

"You should never fund raise because it is demeaning to the child."

"Don't you have enough children yet? You can't rescue them all, you know."

"I'll donate, but I want to know that you are only doing the bare minimum to get this child home. I've never had an nice international trip."

And some of these can come from within the adoption community itself. People are funny about money. Now you start to see why it's a topic I generally avoid.

Yet just like remaining silent about the realities of living with a child with past trauma doesn't help anyone, remaining silent about the financial portion of adoption doesn't help, either. If we can learn to talk about rationally, it would be a good thing.

In order to do so, I need to make one thing perfectly clear. When we are talking about money and adoption, we are NOT talking about buying a child. The fees do not go to pay for a child. Adoption is not child trafficking. The fees associated with adoption go to a variety of places, but they are all to pay for the processes that the process involves, not for the child. Children are not a commodity to be bought and sold.

What are some of those fees? Well, if we start at the beginning there is the home study. You pay an agency anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000 for the social worker to come to your home, for the agency to keep up its Hague and state licensing, and for the processing of the paperwork it is responsible for. You may need to pay for FBI fingerprinting for everyone over 15 (I think... A. had to be fingerprinted), and for us that was $60 a pop. Next comes the US government wanting their share. To apply for the immigration permission, everyone over 18 needs to be fingerprinted again. By the time you've added all the fees for that application up, you are very close to $1000. Then there is your placement agency who works with the chosen country to facilitate your child coming home. They also have state and Hague licensing to maintain, they have to pay for staff to do a variety of jobs, they are the ones who prepare and send your dossier, and also to coordinate travel and guides in country. They need to pay staff and for office space. It all adds up. You can expect to pay between $6000 and $10,000 for these services depending on the agency and the country. But, you're not done yet. You will need to pay an orphanage fee of ~$5,500 so the orphanage can continue to provide a home to orphans. While many orphanages are state-run and funded, they are bare bones operations. Now you still need to travel for the actual adoption. There are plane tickets, hotels, food,  and transfers to pay for. All in all, if you add everything up, an international adoption will cost between $20,000 to $40,000.

It's a big chunk of change.

Then we have to add in another factor that makes funding an adoption tricky. The vast majority of people do not have this kind of money just lying around. They may be doing fine on a daily, monthly, or yearly basis, but this is a big number. Plus, there is no adoption insurance where you can file a claim and have the insurance company pay most of it, which is what happens with birth children. (Spare me the stories of people without insurance at this instance. You know that is not my point nor topic.) Additionally, even to qualify to adopt, your financial situation needs to be stable and a certain income or equity proved. It becomes a catch-22 to qualify for the actual adoption and then make yourself look needy enough to qualify for the handful of grants available to adoptive families.

Let's talk about those grants. There aren't enough by far to allow all the families who need one to receive one. In order to even apply the paperwork-weary must complete more rounds of applications and photocopy more reams of paper in an amount that just about equals the actual adoption paperwork. Some even have an application fee which add more money onto the amount that is needed. Even after all of that, the vast majority of people are disappointed. Some grant giving organizations prefer to give money to families whose church is also significantly supporting them. That makes if difficult for families whose churches aren't quite on board. For others owning your home disqualifies you. Or maybe your story isn't as compelling as another family's... You just can't count on being given a grant.

So where does that leave the vast majority of families? They either do fundraisers or take out loans or both. And as I noted at the beginning, the minute you start soliciting funds, you also tacitly solicit opinions. It's a touchy subject.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if families didn't have to solicit funds from others? Wouldn't it be wonderful if the second a family's community heard they were adopting that everyone felt compelled to hand them ten or twenty dollars? Wouldn't it be wonderful if children were so considered valuable and of great worth that an entire community would rise up and want to play a part in bringing that child home? Wouldn't it be wonderful if the family didn't have to resort to spending every waking moment touting t-shirts or puzzle pieces or any of the myriad of things families try to sell in order to bring their children home?

You may be able to tell I'm a little ambivalent about fundraising. Yet, in all honesty, I am still crunching numbers to see exactly what is needed to bring home T. (Remember for R., we won that lottery in the form of a giant grant which was given to her specifically.) As we get closer and closer to our official approvals, we may find that fundraising is our only choice. While it may sound as though I'm asking in a back door sort of way for money. I wouldn't turn it down, but really am just sharing what our reality currently is and what is going through my head.

Because if you want the reality? Money to fund the adoption is the #1 reason families don't adopt. They are afraid to start, probably because they have yet to see communities rise up in support of adopting families. The bottom line in all of this is that children miss out on having a family. And that is the ultimate cost.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

It's time again to call the neurologist

But, in all honesty, I don't want to. I am already a little late in making the next appointment, and if I don't get on it soon, I will veer from just plain old every day scatter brained mom to truly bad and negligent mom. I am really coming rather close to the dividing line between the two. But I have a reason, I really, truly do.

After our last anti-seizure medicine disaster, it took a while to wean H. from it. (That's one of the problems with this whole little endeavor... it just takes so stinking long to go anywhere.) We were going to monitor her for a month or so and then call and make an appointment to start the fun all over again. But I don't want to start again. I know it's important, so you can save your lectures, yet I have some very good reasons for my reluctance.

You know that learning new things is something that is difficult for H. It takes her significantly longer to really learn and remember something than it does for a child whose brain is formed normally. She works hard for every gain. She probably works the hardest of all my children if the truth be told. The downside to every single medicine we've tried is that it makes it that much harder for her to learn and remember. It has been interesting having her off all but one drug over the past few months. We've seen amazing and fantastic progress over the past couple of weeks. She is doing things now that she struggled unsuccessfully with last spring. Counting by 5's? Check. Being able to name 2-digit numbers? Check. Able to define words that she already knows? Check. She is so proud of herself for being able to do these things.

Last night, though, I discovered exactly how great her gains have been. I know I've mentioned before that in most areas of life, she is an imitator being unable to come up with things on her own. She is quite happy to copy other people's pictures, copy the games they are playing, copy just about anything they are doing. It's a stage, and an important one, but I was wondering if she would ever be able to leave this stage and advance to one with more original thought. I was not feeling overly hopeful.

So back to last night... right before bedtime she shows me a picture that she has drawn. I was absolutely floored. She had drawn multiple images that I hadn't seen the other children draw recently or ever. One of the things H. drew was an ear of corn, one of her favorite things. I'm quite sure that no one else has drawn an ear of corn. And it was identifiable. There was a husk and kernels, and better yet, the word corn written out in inventive spelling. I'm not sure if I can adequately exactly how amazing this is. Before, H. has written words when they have been in her phonics books, and then she is doing more copying than anything. Even when the K. started doing massive amounts of inventive spelling, it just wasn't on her radar. it was as if the possibility didn't even exist for her. Yet last night I looked a paper that contained five or six drawings and the words which labelled them. While the spelling was indeed quite inventive, I could read each and every one of those words.

And now, perhaps you can understand my lack of enthusiasm for making our next neurologist visit. Because hand in hand with these intellectual jumps, we have seen a little more seizure activity than before. Nothing huge, but they are there. And the current line of thinking about seizures is that it is never good to have them uncontrolled. A brain allowed to seize is thought to always increase in activity and the areas that are involved. If you look at the literature, it doesn't take too much looking to see a progression of uncontrolled seizures leading to stronger uncontrolled seizures leading to death. Surgery is often detailed as the only option for patients whose seizures cannot be controlled with medication.

It is not a pretty picture. Once again, I feel left with a rather pathetic pair of choices. Drugged child (and I've seen what that's like and it isn't pretty, or for her effective) or surgery or death. Great. Yet when I ask specific questions of the neurologists I've talked to, it is still rather a vague science. There is so much they don't know. I find the whole thing incredibly frustrating.

But I guess I need to make the phone calls I've been putting off tomorrow, lest I fall into the negligent parent side of life.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Why you should learn something new... especially if you are teaching

Every time I am in the process of learning a new skill, I am struck once again about how uncomfortable the process can be. This time is it horseback riding that has moments of being uncomfortable. (Both mentally and physically... I wrenched my lower back this afternoon when my horse shied away from a new all. More on that horse in a minute.) For the most part, riding has gone quite well. I am continuing to remember all that I had forgotten and to improve my skills. While it is hard physical work to ride, it hasn't been all that difficult.

Well, that is until last week. My trainer put me on a different horse and the entire lesson was a train wreck. Just when I thought I had it all figured out, I became very much aware of how much more I had to learn. In this case, on this horse (the same horse I've already mentioned), I realized that my lower leg strength was not what I had thought it was. To keep this uncooperative horse in a canter required much more work than previous horses I had ridden. Finally by the end of the lesson, I got him to canter around the entire arena. Well, almost around, I think he broke down to a trot at one point. It was frustrating and I knew in my effort to keep him going at the right gait, my form was all over the place. I felt like a beginner all over again. At the end, when I was feeling not so encouraged, my trainer told it me was a good first lesson on this horse. P. also mentioned that the first time she rode him, she couldn't even get him to canter, much less keep him in one. It did make me feel better... a little bit.

I had a feeling that I would be on the same horse today, and I wasn't looking forward to it. There is nothing like expecting your lesson to be a train wreck. I am happy to report that it was actually fairly successful (aside from the shying). I was ready for him from the start and had a good sense of what tricks he likes to use. I also knew that my lower legs were an issue and really focused on them. All in all, it was a much better lesson and I was even able to go over some poles. As a result, my attitude about riding has shifted to a better place once again.

Now, I have no illusions that the vast majority of you care a bit about horses or my horseback riding lessons, but I have a bigger point. For those of us who teach, it is easy to forget how hard it can be to learn, especially if that learning doesn't always come easily. By learning something new, especially if that something doesn't come easily, we teachers can develop a bit more empathy for our students and possibly give us insight into the learning process.

As I teach my children and my piano students, it is good to remember my own feelings of frustration. Part of learning is understanding how to beat frustration and I spend a lot of time talking about how to manage it. My own bad lessons help me to remember how difficult it is start again if the last lesson wasn't so great. Giving my own students something good to remember about the lesson makes coming back to it that much easier. I find this is especially true when I am teaching my own children reading or math. It is so tempting to just keep pushing a little bit more. "Let's read one more page or do one more math problem," even though I know a child is getting tired. It is always a mistake and I have to consciously decide to end on a high note instead of squeezing one more whatever out. Finally my riding lessons teach me that there is a very fine line between constructive encouragement and too much criticism. This will probably be different for each person, but I know I don't like to have things too easy. If the teacher has nothing to suggest that I improve upon, it makes me feel as though I have gone as far as I can and there's no point to trying for more. On the other hand, having a trainer never give me a compliment or point out what I'm doing well, leaves me feeling hopeless.

Learning something new not only helps to make us more interesting people, it also keeps us humble. So what new things are learning these days?

Monday, September 21, 2015

Hundreds of cats, Thousands of cats, Millions and Billions and Trillions of cats

OK, it probably wasn't that many cats at the shelter yesterday, but there were quite a few. Yesterday being the big day, P. and I, plus D. who really wanted to come along, headed downtown to the Anti-Cruelty Society.  It is right downtown, and though it has free parking it is in a garage, so I was very glad I waited so we could take the little car and not the van. 

(And now an aside on living with a van in/near a large city. The van and downtown really do not mix. I know where I can park to get to certain places we go to often, but figuring out where to put the van is always a part of the equation. Most parking garages don't work and open parking lots in the city either don't accept vans or charge you so much you wonder why you didn't hire a limo to drive you. This particular garage was surprisingly tall enough, but like so many city garages, had a very tight turn that I'm not entirely sure the van could have made. At least it wasn't one of those garages where you go round and round and round very tight steep circles to get to the next level. I hate those.)

But back to my story. 

After our less-than-terrific experience with the cat rescue we first tried to get a cat from, we read the Yelp reviews fairly carefully before heading downtown. Most were quite positive, so I thought we would be OK, with only small reservations in the back of my mind. I had no idea what to expect. 

When we first got there, we signed in and headed for the room with cats. Lots of cats in their cages with information about each of them on the front. It was a little overwhelming and we wandered a bit. After a while, I pushed P. a little to start narrowing down the choices so we could ask to meet a cat. She chose one and I found a worker. The worker was very up front about the positives and negatives of the animal, and we decided to look at some other cats. When I told her about the population of our home, she didn't bat an eye. Actually, no one at the shelter batted an eye or made any type of comment. Do you know how refreshing that is? So after going through what we felt we needed in an animal (easy-going, likes attention), she suggested that we head over to the free range rooms because those animals tended to be pretty mellow. 

In the free range rooms were several pairs of cats which were bonded and needed to be adopted together. One of the pairs were two black, medium-hair, cats who were just over a year old. Pretty much P.'s ideal cat. We spent quite some time there with them and then P. thought she would like to meet a pair of cats in the other room. We were shown to a play room and the cats were brought to us. They were pretty cute... a little bit older than the first pair, part-Siamese calicos, and very curious and sociable. Now, P. had a quandry. Both pairs were lovely and she liked them both. 

This is where I really appreciated the staff worker who helped us. At no point did she every pressure us, but shared her opinions about the pluses of each pair, and at P.'s request, the likelihood of each pair being chosen. She then watched P. interact with each pair and had some good insight as to what she saw. Ultimately P. went with the black pair. 

All of this took some time, and then we needed to go through the application process. It was fairly painless, just time consuming. (I also haven't been schooled in how to do paperwork for nothing. The intake person was rather surprised at my preparedness. Heck, if paperwork doesn't need such things as notaries, it's a breeze.)

So meet Moon and Midnight.

I'm sure P. can tell, but I'm not entirely sure which cat is which in this picture.





Moon (with TM who was surprised by the flash)



So far so good. The cats are living exclusively in P.'s room at the moment and we will gradually introduce them to Gretel. Gretel thinks our timeline is not fast enough. She knows there is something in there and wants to know what it is. Even though we have showered the silly dog with attention, something is different in her world and that is not good. J. and I are a little blurry this morning because when Gretel is disturbed, she whines. She whines a small and pathetic whine that is nearly continuous. Gretel was disturbed by the smell of cats all night, thus Gretel whined all night. Gretel is a great dog and very patient with the small, energetic children, but she also doesn't seem to be the sharpest knife in the block. At some point she will adjust to her new companions... I hope. 

And if anyone was looking for a pair of very friendly and lovely cats, here are the links to them. Alagalla and Ahmar

Saturday, September 19, 2015

I picked 8 apples today

We went apple picking today. Since it was pouring when we woke up, I was a little unsure if we would have nice weather, but it cleared up beautifully. After an early lunch, we left and drove two states away. (It sounds worse than it is.) We only picked two bushels this year. After my compulsive summer of canning literally gallons of various food items, I'm not sure how much steam I have left to deal with turning bushels of apples into apple sauce. Plus, we already had some apples from my brother, so I already have dehydrated apples and pectin for next year's canning.

We arrive and walk around tasting apples to see what we want (I don't know why we bother, we always end up choosing Jonathans), and set to work picking apples. I picked about 8 apples when one of the little girls announced she needed to go to the bathroom. So, I set down the bag and took the little girl down the road to the port-a-potties. By the time returned, all four bags had been filled. (It really doesn't take too long to pick 2 bushels of apples.) We also picked a few concord grapes for the older child who like to freeze them and eat them straight out of the freezer. 


D. with P. and a H-S boy (We met the H-S family at the orchard, the P. family couldn't make it.)

K. is wearing a picnic blanket because my children are still under the impression that it is high summer and dress accordingly. I was a little chilly when we got there.

L. (I love this picture.)

And now we're back home. Not everyone can say they drove two hours to pick 8 apples, can they? Tomorrow P. and I have a date to go visit the animal shelter in downtown Chicago. She's excited, I'm a little wary. I'll let you know how this all turns out.
And here's an article that was published a while back that I completely missed. Passing for Normal (When You're a Mother of 10)

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Not my photography

So by now you all know that we would starve if we were reduced to relying on my photographic ability (or non-ability as the case may be) to support our family. This does not seem to be the case for TM. He likes to take my iPod and take pictures with it. Yes, this is the same device that I have so magnificently failed at. He really wanted me to share some of the pictures he's taken recently.

And a picture of his most recent art work. He is all set to turn the heat gun on this and see what happens. (Those crayons are glued on.)

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Humbled parenting

His mercies are new every morning and by dinner time yesterday, life had settled back down and the meal was actually pleasant. And in the light of day and through the grace of God, our little eruption yesterday might only be a small set-back instead of the great leap backwards that it felt like in the morning. Regardless, in the light of a new day, both parents and child are in a better place and more regulated. Thank you for your prayers.

My relationship with my child, though, never ceases to teach me new things about my relationship to God. It is only through the prism of human adoption that we can begin to comprehend the magnitude and beauty and grace that accompanies God's adoption of us, His imperfect creation. I try so hard and parent so imperfectly in the midst of hurt and pain, that it is staggering to think that this is how I appear to God and how He manages to love me despite it all.

At the root of the most current crisis, is the desire for things. And the current desired item-du-jour is not one that would be either feasible or appropriate. In fact, possession of it would be a train wreck from the beginning. There are very good reasons for saying no and all are done out of love and care and concern. We, the parents can understand this, but it is very difficult for the child. All the child sees is that the thing perceived as bringing joy and happiness, the thing that will make life perfect and bearable, is being denied. And that one item becomes the focus to such a degree that is shuts out any other good gift that has been given. Though awash in plenty, all that is seen is the lack.

And then, when you add in a recent birthday and seeing a sibling get something that was greatly desired, it add fuel to the fire. Not only is your heart's desire not being granted, but it must mean that you are not worth it because other people are being given their heart's desire. Surely that is the only plausible explanation. Quickly, despite all logic, the child is plunged into feeling worthless and unloved, which quickly spiral the child down into darker places.

I sometimes want to pull my hair out over this thinking. I mean, J. and I often bend over backwards to fill this child's life with good things, things that are wanted. How can this not be noticed? How can desire for one item that has been denied so skew the thinking? How can another child getting a good gift so set a person on edge?

But then I have to stop and be honest with myself. How many times have I done this exact same thing? How often have I fixated on something and become angry at God for not being a divine vending machine, churning out my every wish? How often have I become discouraged because someone else was given a good thing and because I, too, did not get a good thing at that very moment, it must mean God has withdrawn His love? Too many times to count, I'm afraid.

The truth is, I act towards God almost exactly as my child acts towards me on a fairly regular basis. While I admit I do blow up occasionally despite knowing that in good connected and therapeutic parenting, it does no good, I can be in awe of God's eternal patience and love towards me. And if I am continuing in my honesty, that what I am most angry about is my child's unwillingness to admit his mistakes and come to me and let me hold him and love him while we work through it. It hurts when I receive anger and rebuke when it is so far from what I desire.

I must hurt God all the time. He just wants to hold me and love me in the midst of the messiness of life and often times I, too, storm off in a fit of anger, pushing Him away. Yet, just as I, an imperfect parent am still there for my child, God is so much more perfectly there for me.

We all need adoption in the church. Not only because it is the act of putting the lonely into families, but because it so greatly illuminates our need for God. If we can put ourselves in the place of our children, it is a truly humbling experience. And this is the very best place for us to truly meet God.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Sometimes that light at the end of the tunnel...

Is a train.

We have had one of those 10 steps backwards moments with a child around here. I will be the first to admit that this morning was not my finest hour. Please pray as we work to sort this all out...

For feelings of hurt,

Sometimes parenting is hard.
Sometimes parenting a hurt child is harder.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Appropriate birthday gifts for a 15 year old girl

We celebrated P.'s birthday last night. As requested, we didn't sing or have candles, thus we didn't need to scrounge the candles and figure out how to make them work with ice cream. Everyone was able to come except A., who needed to work on a paper. The little girls were thrilled to have B. back for a bit. 

Here are some scenes from the evening.

This is us not singing to the birthday girl.

B. and K.

M. and D. (You can see that M. is particularly enthused by her younger brother.)

L., in front and G.

(I'm still working out how to do the zoom-thing on the iPod... but you'd be disappointed if I didn't show you truly awful photography, right?) Happy girl with a check from her grandparents.

This is her with one of her gifts. A gift, I might add, that she really didn't expect to receive. Think for a moment... if you were a 15 year old girl, what would you ask for? A phone? No, we do that at 16, so she didn't ask. Clothes? No, but she did ask for more riding breeches. Shoes? No, but she wouldn't have turned down a pair of tall riding boots. Give up?

Throwing knives.


This is why she didn't think she was getting them... because every time she would say, "I want some throwing knives," her mother would say, "What?! What are throwing knives and why would someone want them?" Ha Ha, fooled her, didn't I? Because what is she holding in this picture? Yes, throwing knives. Am I the cool mom, or what?

She also received another exciting, cool mom gift. Want to know what it was? Look in the picture, can you see her holding that nice big bag of....

kitty litter?! I mean, come on, what 15 year old girl doesn't want a big bag of kitty litter? Well, it turns out this one does because it also means that her parents are finally giving in and letting her get a very long desired cat. She has been doing tons of research on shelters and available cats and how to introduce cats to bouncy Labradors. Yep, I'm the cool mom.

The little people were only vaguely aware that there was gift opening going on because B. was here and this is what was happening over in their corner. P. opened presents to the sounds of B. driving race cars with his little sisters.

M. and P. 

I don't know when said cat will actually arrive, but I expect it will be rather soon. You can probably expect a whole slew of blog posts about it, because what was the internet created for if not to show cat pictures.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Why didn't you tell us?!

Even though my readers must feel as though I spend an inordinate amount of time talking about our current adoption on my blog, J. and I don't spend a lot of time talking about in real life. In fact, we have actually told very few people in person. On the face of it, this might seem odd. When a couple is expecting a child, whether through birth or adoption, usually that is all they talk about and can't wait to let people know. I know we were certainly this way with the first five or so.

Yet, once you hit a certain number of children, people's reactions start to change. Instead of big smiles and hearty congratulations, there is something else. The smiles become more forced... the congratulations (if they come at all), come after some moments of pausing words such as "um... ah... oh... " as the person's brain catches up to their emotions. There are awkward moments while the parents-to-be stand smiling and waiting and the responder hems and haws. Everyone always seems to leave those encounters with unsettled feelings. Enough of these encounters and you can understand why the parents become a little more hesitant to share their news.

Then, if you have reached a number of children that most people don't have, the reactions become a bit more extreme. This is especially true if the children which are coming into the family have some sort of special need. Since J. and I are actually quite excited (as well as a little scared and trepidatious... just as with every single one of our other children), these reactions become a bit disheartening. The disconnect between our excitement and others' shock can be jarring and a bit joy stealing and we try to limit our amount of exposure.

Let me give you an example. (And this experience is not unique to us. I know quite a few large adoptive families. It's a thing.)

J. runs into someone whom he knows on a professional basis. This person says, "Hey, is it true you are adopting again? Why didn't you say something?" So J. says, "Yes, two girls." The first and immediate reaction of his acquaintance is, "Are you guys crazy?" And J. replies, "To answer your first question, this is why." The conversation continued on from there.

J. and I are not saints. Far from it. J. and I are not super humans. Far from it. We are actually rather normal and dull people. We just happen to have a few children. And just like expectant parents everywhere, we anticipate and are excited for each of them. My public service announcement for the day is: If someone... anyone... regardless of how many children they have tells you they are expecting another child, there is one, and only one correct response. This is to smile broadly and say, "Congratulations!" This is done no matter your personal feelings on the subject.

The expectant parents of the world thank you.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Happy 15th Birthday, P.!

Today is P.'s 15th birthday. Fifteen always seems as though it's a bigger leap from fourteen than other years, doesn't it? We will be celebrating tomorrow night because of various schedules, but we had donuts this morning. (Donuts without any additional protein which would explain the complete and total meltdown from L. in the middle of the morning. It took me longer than it should have to figure out what was going on, but when I did, a bowl of peanuts help pull her back from the brink.) We won't be singing,"Happy Birthday to You," though. I promised we wouldn't as it is something P. really, really, really doesn't enjoy.

P. is my animal lover and I have really enjoyed having our Wednesday afternoons together at the stable for our riding lessons. She is becoming quite a proficient horsewoman and is routinely jumping small fences now. P. and I also share some other interests.... travel, languages, having time alone, oh, and that dislike of being sung to-thing. Of all my children, she reminds me the most of myself when I was her age. If she has her way, I will lose her a year early, too, but for a different reason than A. P. is really interested in participating in an exchange year either next year (her junior year) or the year after. She has done immense amounts of research and will be working on applying some time soon. Despite me telling all my children to stop growing up, they insist on doing so. It's a good thing I like the older versions of my children as much as the younger ones.

So, Happy Birthday to my beautiful daughter. I love who you are now and can't wait to see what you do in the future. I love you very much, and I may even tackle you at some point today to give you a birthday hug.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Homeschool burnout... a not-so-short treatise

Well we survived our first day back at actual lessons. Now, I could paint the rosy picture... the schedule worked, everyone did their work with a minimum of fussing, everyone was ready to learn and anxious to start the new school year. And that would all be true. Or, I could share the less than ideal moments... the boy, stressed by school work momentarily who swears, blames it on his brother and stomps out of the room, the little girl who decides she isn't entirely happy about the chapter book we are reading at lunch, the complete disinterest of everyone (except D. who likes to please his mother) in learning to tie a diamond hitch knot, or the need to constantly remind H. and K. that they are supposed to be listening to what I am reading. And that would be all true as well.

The reality is that the truth lies somewhere between. My children are not perfect little robots who sit uncomplainingly before a stack of school books, but neither are they completely oppositional. They want to learn and are interested in many things. When the mood strikes, any one of them has been known to do a huge chunk of work at a time. The are also human and just as in adults, there is always so much more going on inside and outside of them. The trick is to know what each child's personal difficulties are and try to mitigate these difficulties the best you can. For instance, the momentarily over-stressed child? I knew that the little outburst was in response to having school work again. While it may have seemed pretty bad in the moment, I knew that he is quite good at regulating himself if he can be alone for a few moments. And he did... plus, he had taken his schoolwork with him and completed it as well. Correctly. The children who have trouble listening? Well, it was a good reminder for me. They both need to fidget while they listen, I had failed to provide something appropriate (and quiet!) for them do occupy their hands with. The blocks really did not work. I actually knew this, but had forgotten. I'm not perfect. My children aren't perfect. Tomorrow will be better. Or it might not be, but if it isn't, we'll figure out why and move on.

There's a point to all of this. I have seen over and over again recently a sort of backlash against homeschooling from within the homeschooling community. It seems to be mainly coming from parents who are just burned out... tired... unenthused... feeling like failures. It takes a couple of different forms. One is for the long time homeschooling family to ditch homeschooling all together and enroll everyone in a brick-and-mortar school. (Which, is fine with me. Each family is different. What works for each family is different. That's great. I personally think all school should be like a library... use it when you want and to the degree you want and don't when you don't want to. But I digress.) My beef is only when these families then go on to tell everyone what is wrong with homeschooling. The other form is for a homeschooling mother to tell everyone that the secret truth about homeschooling is that it is hard. And because you think it is the best choice, then you must lace up your boots and slog through it anyway because it is the "right thing to do."

This is my 18th year of homeschooling a variety of children with different strengths and weaknesses and learning styles. While there have been hard moments (as with anything), this feeling of slogging through something that I feel it is my duty to do come hell or high water is not my experience. Sure there are moments where I wonder what the heck I'm doing or send me to the bathroom for some quiet time. Sure there are moments where I despair over getting everything I need to get done, done. Sure there are moments where I wonder if a child will ever learn the thing I'm trying to teach them. But this is not unique to homeschooling. These are experiences that all parents get to experience regardless of where their child goes to school.

So how, in my humble opinion, does one avoid the despair these parents have experienced and bring some joy back to their homeschooling (or bring joy in for the first time)? Here's my short list.

  • Know why you have chosen this path. The most joy-less homeschoolers I've met over the years are the ones who are homeschooling out of fear. They are afraid of the public schools and so they decide to homeschool even though they have spent no time really thinking about why it's a viable option. Fear will kill joy every time. Without a real basis for choosing alternative education the goal becomes doing everything the public or private schools do except without the staff and external supports. You know what? This way madness lies. One person cannot duplicate everything a public school does. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. Homeschooling is different from public school and once again I remind everyone that different is not the same as bad. (I should put that on a t-shirt.) 
  • Understand that homeschooling is not the same as salvation. This is a corollary to #1 and a trap I see many, many, many homeschoolers fall into. Of course, it is somewhat understandable as the monolithic Christian state homeschooling groups and the speakers they hire for their conferences do a fantastic job of implying this is so. The story goes like this. Public schools are evil and if you send your child to public school they will be so corrupted by the world that you will lose them forever. Therefore, you should homeschool them and tightly monitor everything they come in contact with with the end result of a perfect Christian when you hand them their high school diploma. Balderdash. (I don't swear much, but trust me when I say the word I wrote is not the word I thought.) This is a crock on so many levels. I think one reason why some families are becoming critical of homeschooling is that they believed a bill of goods about what homeschooling could and would deliver and there was not pay off in the end. In fact, in some cases, their worst fears were realized. Salvation is personal. It is not something you can foist on someone else, even with every box checked and perfect curriculum bought.
  • Cut yourself some slack. Remember no one is perfect. You will fail to teach your child something. But you know what? So will the public schools... because no one is perfect. We all have gaps in our education and the vast majority of us are functioning human beings. I'm pretty sure that for those who are not functioning, it is not because they missed out on learning about Ancient Rome or never quite understood how to find the percentage of something. So relax and enjoy the learning process. You can't do it all, but you can enjoy what you do. And trust me when I tell you if everyone enjoyed learning about something, they will remember it better.
  • Be willing to adjust your expectations. This is the biggest one and if I really wanted a short list, it would be the only thing on it. As in the rest of life, we becomes frustrated and angry and upset and any other host of emotions when things are not aligning with our expectations. If you start homeschooling with the expectation that one curriculum will do the trick, or your children will happily work for you for six hours a day, or that you will be able to stick with your overly ambitions schedule every single day without a hitch, you will be disappointed. It will be hard. You will but heads with your children. You won't like homeschooling. But if you are willing to play things a little more by ear, to follow your children's lead, to relax more, to take the time to find your own rhythm, homeschooling can be a joyful thing. 

You won't ruin your children if you focus on your relationship with your children first. You won't ruin your children if you take six months off from doing any math at all because all it takes is to pull out the math book for your child to melt down. You won't ruin your children if you take some time for yourself once a day and follow your own interests a bit. You won't ruin your children by chucking a text book halfway through because it didn't meet your child's needs. You won't ruin your children by spending an entire year studying something they are passionate about and never touching history (or science or writing or grammar... ). 

Because here's the real secret to successful homeschooling. The greatest gift you can give your child is to develop in them a deep and abiding interest in the world around them. The tools we use to explore that world... reading, math, science, history... are merely that. Tools. The things we use to make sense of the world around us. God has given us a marvelous gift in that we can explore and learn about the His creation. He meant for us to enjoy it, to relish it, to learn about it. Go be interested in things yourself and share them with your child. Your enthusiasm will be catching. For the burned out mothers out there, the ones who are slogging through the school year, but for whom the joy has left... go find something that interests you. Rekindle your own love of learning (or develop it for the first time). Then ask your children to join you on your adventure and learn together. I even give you permission to take a year off to do this exploring and wondering and learning. Because if you can do this, I guarantee the joy will start seeping back in. You will discover a great many things, not the least of which is that you didn't really take a year off at all. You just charted a new and exciting course.
And in case you don't think this was quite long enough, I have another article published: My Adoption Story isn't all Rainbows and Unicorns: Why I Still Support Adoption
Linked to the Hip Homeschool Moms Link-up

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Happy Not-Back-to-School Day

We didn't start school today, we took a field trip. It's what we always do. You can't beat going to a nearly empty museum when you are guaranteed that there will be no school buses pulling up in front. Today we went to the Field Museum and started out seeing the special Viking exhibit which is due to close soon. It was interesting and the older people enjoyed it, though it didn't really hold the little girls' attention. I ended up taking them through the Egyptian pyramid (again) because that is their favorite thing to see.

We started a little late this morning, so after the Vikings, we headed out to the car to have a picnic lunch before heading back in. Our friends the H-S family joined us and we started out having a nice picnic with a view of the Chicago skyline and the museum campus. It was lovely... until it wasn't. Rain had been forecast, but we were hoping it would hold off until we were done. Well, it started to drip, and then it started to rain a little harder and the sky was getting extremely dark, so we decided to gather up our stuff and all pile in our van. It's a good thing we did, too. Not so very long after our retreat, the sky opened up and it poured with some significant thunder and lightening. By the time the rain let up a bit, we decided that we didn't really feel like walking through the rain to go back to the museum and called it a day. Of course, our children are now having a play date since we cheated them out of a full day of socializing. And I certainly have things to do around here, including pickling some cherry tomatoes before they go bad.

Instead of showing you pictures of children enjoying a museum, I will share pictures of children crammed in a van eating lunch while it pours outside.

And what the weather looked like outside. This was after the worst of the storm had passed over. It was so dark all the street lights had gone on.

Tomorrow the real work starts. Any bets on how many I lose to tears before the day is through?
Here is one of my new articles which published recently. 6 Ways the Internet has Improved Adoption

Monday, September 07, 2015

The big reveal

The bedrooms are starting to look pretty good. Here are the new loft beds in TM and D.'s room.

TM's bed

Adding the decorations was his first order of business. The stark, all-white finish just wasn't working for him.

He added his won artwork as well. 

D.'s bed

He chose to have his desk go the other way.

These next pictures are to try to show you how the two beds fit into this room. The room is crazy because of the high volume of openings and radiator and funky short walls making it virtually impossible to arrange furniture.

And the rest of yesterday's progress. Look G. and L.'s room really does have a floor! (We were beginning to wonder.) J. and I can now enter their room at night without danger to ourselves.

Here is K.'s room (he shares with B. when B. is home... that is a trundle bed which gets pulled out when needed.) I realize that his floor is already covered, but it is all Legos and they go back into the black bin when he is done and the black bin goes into that square bookcase. Yes, it is the IKEA Expedit bookcase, the only thing I seem capable of decorating my home with.

Of course, the bedrooms are looking pretty decent, but it means the mess has just been moved to another area waiting for more sorting and purging. Here is the upstairs hall at the moment.

After this round of junk gets dealt with, it's on to H.'s room where we need to figure out how to get two more beds in, plus another dresser... and still have it be functional.
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