Monday, February 29, 2016

One month (or so) home

I realized today at our one month post-placement visit that the blog has been a little thin on posts about how the new girls are doing and adjusting. One reason is that there is just so much else going on in my head that I'm not thinking entirely straight these days. The other reason is that R.'s and Y.'s transitions have been pretty easy all things considered. Part of this is due to the girls themselves. Though each has her moments, both of them are just naturally sunny. Even after the worst upset, it is difficult for either of them to stay unhappy for very long. The other part is that by adoption #4 and #5, J. and I have very few expectations as to how these transitions go. We have learned everything shakes out in the end and there is no point to rushing or feel as though we have to tackle every little thing. We've been pretty relaxed, therefore the girls have been feeling pretty relaxed.

Of course, that doesn't mean that we aren't gently beginning to work on a couple of things to help them acclimate to their new home. For instance, yes, we do knock on doors before we open them and walk in. We do have to sit next to a sibling our place has been set next to at dinner even if we would rather not. We do have to use soap when we wash our hands. That kind of stuff.

As I think I've mentioned before, while the rest of the children are back at the schoolbooks, I'm holding off on Y. and R. They both play with the firefly and Y. does some math when she is feeling up to it. I get out the preschool activity boxes and they have enjoyed playing with those. Y. has now taught herself to write the alphabet (and clearly has been watching her siblings because she then taped it up on her wall above her bed) and this afternoon she came over and showed me she had written her name using English letters. Too bad I'm not teaching her anything, huh?

R. has also been learning. I have been a little hesitant to really write about R. and her needs here. She is sweetheart and has an amazing gift for faces and names, but I also know how people view those with significant learning issues. I don't want people to think of R.'s needs first and the person second. I wonder how to write about struggles and her successes while keeping the person in the forefront. How to be honest and yet avoid the "poor child" syndrome? I don't actually know.

Probably the best thing I can do is show you R.'s success for the morning. Pattern blocks are a favorite around here for all ages and that was the box that R. chose to work with this morning. So I pulled out a card where you put the pattern blocks inside the marked spaces and make a picture. It is something that G. and L. have been doing for ages and ages.

I knew from previous efforts that this was right up at the top of R.'s ability and was even a bit of a stretch. I let her work on her own for a while as I was working with other people, and then I came and sat next to her. Forty-five minutes later, with a lot of help from me in the form of showing her where the block did not fit inside the given space, she did this.

For her to manage this (with me merely pointing and not actually moving the blocks) was a pretty big deal and she was quite happy to let me take a picture of her work. I know that R. managing this is equivalent to Y. writing the entire alphabet after being home just a month. It's just a little bit more difficult to communicate that to the wider world.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

I ain't nothin' but a hound dog... or healing a hole in my heart

I have spent the past couple of weeks looking at dogs on shelter web sites. Not having a dog was evidently just too much of an emptiness given everything that we had all been through in the past two months to bear. I was still comforting weepy children at bedtime that Gretel wasn't around anymore, and I didn't feel much differently. Today everyone was home and we were free, so we decided to head off together to a shelter I had been stalking to see if we met any dogs that would be a good fit. We are an unusual family due to size, family make-up, and also having a cat. It would take a special dog to be able to handle all that love without being stressed and upset.

I truly had no idea if we would meet a dog that would work for us, but thought we should at least try. Well, since you all know what's coming, I'll spare you the suspense and introduce you to...

(This is from our first meeting, photo compliments to TM)


Kenzie is a 60 pound, two year old Lab/hound mix. He looks more Lab, but he has got a funny hound-sounding bark. He seems like a great dog and did great interacting with everyone. Now I need to give my heartiest recommendation for the Felines and Canines Shelter. (It's on the northside at Devon and Paulina, if you're interested.) We, all 11 of us, walked in and were instantly greeted warmly without a sideways glance at the number of children we had in tow. (And trust me, at this point in my life, I am highly attuned to the slightly surprised, slightly disapproving sideways glance. I have found some rescues in particular to find the number of children in our family highly suspect as I have dealt with them first looking for a cat and then a dog over the past year.) Instead, the shelter employees found a room large enough for all of us so we could really have space to meet the dogs. The employees were also very careful to only bring in animals that they were sure would be good for such a large group of children. We ended up meeting three dogs, but Kenzie was the first.

He was great even when surrounded by people who wanted to pet him. He still has some young dog behaviors, but nothing worse than Gretel... and actually in comparison, he seems quite subdued. Everyone really took to him. The other two dogs were also quite nice. One was an older black lab puppy, who was beautiful, but we all agreed that he was a bit much for us right now and would require just a little bit more training than we were up to at this point in our lives. The other was another hound mix who was incredibly sweet, but seemed a little too subdued to be really comfortable in our energetic house. The children all liked all the dogs, but Kenzie is the one who stole our collective hearts.

The staff at the shelter were great. You could tell they really cared about and knew each of the animals. It was a great experience and we are pretty darn happy with our new dog. They even cat tested him before we made our decision to be sure he wouldn't go after Midnight. Want to see some more pictures?

Out of the shelter's porch after we did a trial walk together.

So now we're home and getting to know each other. I think we'll be keeping him close to us on the leash for a while during the adjustment period. Midnight seems less than excited and upon first meeting, while Kenzie was happily wagging his tail, did a proactive swipe with his paw. (Kenzie just seems hurt and doesn't seem to want to attack, which is just what he did with the cat at the shelter.)

It just seems right to have a dog again. After we were home and I was putting dinner together to go in the oven, J. and I noticed K. sitting at the table having a snack and laughing to himself. When we asked if he was OK (because is sounded a little manic), K. replied he was fine, he was just so happy to have a dog again.

Friday, February 26, 2016

The benefits of odd hobbies... or more on language learning

Time. I just need some more time in my life. A recurring theme in conversations between M. and me is our moaning about not having enough time, either daily or in a lifetime, to try and master all that we wish we could. On my own personal list is the desire to be functionally fluent in multiple languages. In my imagination, multiple means upwards of six. There's good news and bad news about this little fantasy. The good news is that it is totally doable, even as an adult. Anyone can learn a new language, even if they have missed the optimal window of learning it naturally as a child. Our brains are pretty amazing things, and being multi-lingual is not out of the realm of reality for anyone, provided they are willing to put in the time.

And there's the bad news. Learning a new language, even if one has a natural aptitude for languages just takes time and the effort to memorize the new grammar and vocabulary. I can carve out a bit of time throughout my day to work on language learning, but it's difficult to carve out enough time to really make the progress that I would like. Being on the optimistic, compulsive side, I keep trying.

One of the areas I find most challenging is the aural component. That is, understanding what people say when they are speaking the language I'm trying to learn. It's one thing to read it... I'm pretty good at that and I even enjoy learning Mandarin characters. The listening-thing is where I struggle a bit. One of the tools I use to help with this is a website called Fluent U. The owners take videos, mainly from You Tube, and subtitle them in both English and the target language. I find this so helpful to hear a language being spoken by a native, in a native context, and also have the words down below. If you are learning another language, I highly recommend it.

As I was doing a little listening this afternoon, it suddenly occurred to me that not only does this site do English to other languages, they have an English set of videos for non-English speakers. Y. in particular, has been really wanting... needing... to learn more English. The firefly is great, but she is clearly needing more. On a whim, I set her down in front of the computer and started the first video. She loved it! Y. quickly figured out how to work the mouse and navigate the page, and spent the next hour watching English learning videos. R. wanted in on the game, too, so pulled up a chair and the two girls repeated English words together. Thus it had the added benefit of being an activity they could enjoy together.

So, if you have a new English speaker in your home, check it out. It's free for much of it, though about half of the videos are part of their premium package that you have to pay for. I have found enough to keep me busy in the languages I'm learning that I haven't felt compelled to upgrade, but if it turns out to be something that continues to work for the girls, I might go ahead and do it.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Good mail

Sometimes the mail brings nice surprises instead of large, vaguely anticipated bills. Such was the case yesterday when a large box arrived. Like a parent entering the bathroom or picking up the telephone, the arrival of a large, unexpected box brings children out of the woodwork.

"What is it?"

"Who's it from?"

"What did you order?"

"Is it for me?"

"Do you know what it is?"

"Are you going to open it?"

"Did you know it was coming?"

Were chorused all at the same time. I briefly thought about just letting the box sit there, unopened, and watch the masses of children do their combination Greek chorus/interpretive dance on the theme of unopened packages, but I wanted to see what was inside, too. Once I saw the return address, I had a feeling I knew what it was.

J.'s aunt and I had a conversation a while back about what I could use in terms of pottery, as she is a potter. I needed a new utensil holder since I had never been terribly fond of the one I had. I thought perhaps this is what the mysterious package might be. So we opened the box.


 there was bubble wrap.

The Greek chorus resumed.

"Bubble wrap!!"

"Can I have some?"

"Can we pop it?"

"How come her piece is bigger?"

"I want some. I didn't get any."

"Hey, don't pop my bubble wrap!"

In the meantime, I'm investigating the actual item that was inside the bubble wrap. I was right. I now have a new, personally made for me, utensil holder.

I love it! Thank you, Aunt Ginny!! (Oh, and the bubble wrap was a hit, too.)

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

And sometimes...

Grief doesn't sneak up on you so much as knock you down like a beach umbrella in a tsunami. This was me for the past two days. I'm a bit better now, but I wasn't much fun to be around. I also didn't do a whole lot. Well, unless you count moping around, bursting into tears, and compulsively looking at pictures of shelter dogs doing something. For instance, the laundry, which did not get done, is now a mountain of epic proportions. I must get to it this afternoon because otherwise I'm not entirely sure what people will wear tomorrow.

It's bad enough to lose someone you loved dearly, but, I wasn't quite prepared for how grief butts its ugly head into every part of life. Some days I just can't seem to do the most basic of tasks. Other days, I can do the basics, but anything more is just beyond me. This plays havoc with trying to keep up with post-adoption paperwork and doctors' appointments (both the making and the keeping). Looking at the state of my desk and its environs will give you a good sense of what the inside of my brain must look like at the moment. As a somewhat overly capable person, this lack of wherewithal to get anything done is frustrating. I'm ready to tick the grief box and be done with it. It doesn't seem to work that way, though, does it?

And let me just say that losing Gretel on top of it all is just the straw that broke this camel's back. She was goofy and loud and sometimes obnoxious, but I miss having her around. I've actually been a little blindsided by exactly how much I miss having her around. I'm sure it is all part of this strange cocktail of extreme grief, extreme change, and extreme unsettledness that loosing a father and gaining to new older daughters within four weeks of each other will do to a person.

I want to be on record as saying I don't recommend doing things this way.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Happy 9th Birthday, Y.!

Yesterday was Y.'s 9th birthday. She knew her birthday was coming, how old she was turning, and she was clearly excited about it. I was a little trepidatious about it since she hadn't yet seen any other birthdays celebrated in her new family. I hoped that she didn't have expectations that we wouldn't meet. 

I needed have feared. She had a wonderful celebration. First, we ordered Chinese take-out for her birthday dinner. We asked our friend who does some translating for us to ask her what food she missed the most and it turns out it was shredded sauteed potatoes. (Who knew? I can actually make that.) Anyway, our friend helped us find a restaurant that served what Y. was missing, so we ordered from there and got some other things as well. She was pretty excited about a plate full of home.

Her birthday dessert was a little trickier. She has not shown herself to be a big dessert eater, though she occasionally likes chocolate. What she loves more than life itself are bananas. She adores them and cannot get her fill. So we decided to make a banana cake with chocolate ganache. (And by we, I mean D. made it. He's my resident baker.) I thought it was a pretty darn good cake.

Y. with her cake. The idea was really fun, but after a little taste she decided she would pass. Next year she and we will have a much better idea of what would make a good birthday dessert.

And then presents...

Here she is opening the gift from A. You can see that A. was able to join us through the wonders of technology. P. facetimes with her on her iPod and she was able to join us that way. (B. was the only one who couldn't make it since he had to work.)

Do you think she liked A.'s gift?

Here's why she was so excited. Yes., the camera-fiend now has her own. (It was A.'s old one that she doesn't use anymore.)

Also, did you notice the candle that had the correct age? And look at this adorable wrapping paper. It almost looks as though I was prepared in the birthday-detail department. No, it's all because our friend from Shanghai, whom we stayed with, took pity on our state and sent us home with a stack of wrapping paper and every number we could possibly need. (Thank you, Renee!)

Finally, the gift from Grammy. She was pretty excited about new clothes as well.

Happy Birthday, my adorable Y.! We are so glad you are part of our family now. We already can't imagine our lives without your smiling face.
A couple of other things. First, I have a story up at No Hands But Ours: Looking Past the Needs to See the Child

Second, remember the post I wrote about the business with the egregious commercial? Well, I'm happy to say, it has been pulled. Go to When We #Shout Together, We are Heard to read the details.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Pity the cat

This is Midnight.
This is Midnight hiding.
This is Midnight hiding because otherwise this is where you will find him.

It doesn't need to be H., it could be anyone of the 9 children currently inhabiting the house. I probably see him being lugged around by each child at some point in the day. If they can find him. He has been hiding a lot.

It's hard to be the only pet in a house full of pet loving children.
Midnight would like to have a new dog friend to take some of the pressure off.
The children would like to have a new dog friend.
The parents would like to have a new dog friend.
We have to wait until after our Arizona trip.

It is difficult to wait so we fill our days talking about different types of dogs. Everyone has an opinion... or two or three. Some of the types of dogs which have been suggested include: Husky, German Shepherd, Great Dane, St. Bernard, Irish Wolfhound, Pitbull, Sharpei, Corgi, Dalmation, Newfoundland... I'm pretty sure there were many others mentioned. Do you see a pattern? With the exception of the corgi (which is really just a large dog who seems to have lost his legs), they are all fairly large to enormous breeds. Of course, as P. pointed out, when you have to wait to see who is available at the shelter, it does curtail your options a wee bit.

A small pony would probably make people happy, too.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Adoption 101: Files can lie

If you spend any time at all lurking in adoption groups, you will know that a very common theme under constant discussion is the accuracy of a child's file. For those of you who do not lurk, a child's file is the collection of documents that is compiled to give prospective adoptive parents information about the history and physical health of a particular child. I am sad to say, that these files are not always accurate. In fact, sometimes they are so inaccurate that one wonders if the person compiling them was looking at a different child. Of course, sometimes they are correct, but before actually meeting the child in person, there is no way to know which kind of file you have in front of you. And of course, a child's file will never mention past trauma.

Our experiences with children's files has run the gamut... pretty accurate, missing information, wrong information, and in the case of K., a diagnosis that he never had. There is not much you can about it, except accept that fact that you just will never know essential facts about a child for sure, and decide you can live with the worst-case scenario. Sometimes that is a worst-case scenario that wasn't even listed because the file was wrong. Adoption, like any form of parenting, is a giant leap of faith with absolutely no guarantees.

It can be a shock to parents to arrive in country and be expecting one child and feel as though they have received another. This can be because the needs of the child are far greater than what was listed in the file, or it can be because the trauma of the situation is making a child behave in less than fantastic ways, or some combination of the two. Sometimes this can be so shocking and unnerving and terrifying to the new parents that they decide to not go through with the adoption. This is heart breaking on so many levels. Of course the parents are devastated. Not only are they not coming home with a child, but there is a lot of guilt and distress. It is even more devastating for the child. Once again, this child has been abandoned by adults. While the family was in process, this child was off the lists of available children and has lost that much more time to actually be in a family. If the child is older, this time may cost the child a family forever. Sometimes it means that the child will be labeled as unadoptable and have their file pulled. It is loss upon loss upon loss. No one wins.

This is why experienced adoptive parents spend oh so much time repeating themselves over and over and over...
Do not trust the file.
Commit to the child no matter what.
Be prepared for the absolute worst.
Have a support system in place to talk you through the rough parts.
Educate yourself about trauma and the negative behavior it can cause.
Know what a child in a traumatic transition can look like and be prepared for manic behavior, raging, autistic behavior, non-stop crying, rejection of a parent, or all of these combined.
Listen to the voices of experience and know that what you see in country is not the real child.

We do not mean to be depressing or scary. We want to avoid children being left again. We want parents who are educated and have realistic expectations, and not parents whose eyes are filled with rainbows and happy trees, knowing, just knowing, that the bad stories won't happen to them. Why, they know God called them to do this; He will make sure it is going to be wonderful. (I'll save my personal response to the theologically questionable line of reasoning for another time.)

All of this is really a prelude to my unspeakable anger at a certain commercial produced by a certain cheap ticket company. Essentially, the story line of the commercial goes, couple is adopting, couple buy cheap tickets to go to the child, couple comes home without the child because he was too old. Now, in fairness, I know it is supposed to be funny. Too old in the commercial is a large, hairy, adult. But it's not funny. It's not funny because children are actually left in their country of origin because the adoptive parents deemed that child too old. It's not funny because it happens. Adding more trauma upon trauma to a child is not funny. Ever.

I am also savvy enough to know that any publicity, even bad publicity, is good. The more social media outlets which mention the commercial and the company's name, the higher in the world of internet rankings both of those things go. I refuse to help. Instead, I am going to link to a blog where she does mention these things, but also have several step-by-step instructions as to how you can voice your outrage at this humorless humor. Please, take the time to click the link and follow the directions.


It's one small way that you can help show that our country has not completely lost its collective moral compass.

And since we're on the topic of meeting new children, you can also go and read my latest article about our time in China. Letters from China: An Adoption Story, Part 2 It's that paying gig, you know.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Movement and cognition

"Your activity not only affects brain functionings; it can also provide a window into how your mind is operating. Take walking. Doctors used to think that signs of Slow walking were just a normal part of the aging process. They were wrong. It turns out that slow or unstable walking is often an indicator of subtle cognitive impairments. Many of the same brain circuits that control complex cognitive activities also help us coordinate the complex movements needed to walk down the hall. Using walking to assess cognition represents a real departure from how mental fitness is normally assessed in older adults: while they are sitting down. Many neuroscientists studying the aging mind firmly believe that, when older go to the doctor and get their eyes and their blood pressure checked, they should get their walking checked too. Even subtle signs that walking is slowed or impaired may tell doctors that something important is going on in the brain." (p. 186, How the Body Knows its Mind by Sian Beilock)

I wasn't going to post anything more from this book until I finished reading it, but this passage caught my eye and I have been thinking about it ever since. It isn't the gerontological aspect of the study that interests me, but the interaction between cognitive functioning and physical functioning, mainly in terms of what I see in H. and R.

When H. first joined our family, she moved like an infirmed 90 year old woman. She shuffled, she would feel for each step, she was slow and unsteady, she held her arms out. I know some of that was her eyesight, but it couldn't have been all of it. It took us over three years to get to an eyeglass prescription where she was really seeing well, with a couple of years of patching thrown in there as well. While seeing well can't help but enable a person to move easier, this explanation couldn't have been the whole story, as she started to move quicker and more easily long before sorting out her eye issues. It was also something that we specifically worked on. We practiced stairs, we hiked, we jumped, we stretched, we climbed, we lifted weights, we did sit-ups, we did push-ups. A lot. Eventually about a year and half home, A. comes running into the house to announce that H. ran. Really ran down the block. A. had been coaching her and she was finally able to put the pieces all together. (And can I just put in a plug for the role a large family plays in doing this? There are a lot of people who are always moving and doing things. One of the therapists who worked with K. early on would often comment that just trying to keep up with everyone was the best therapy he could receive.)

After about a year of doing this, we noticed H. moving significantly better in her world. We also started to see gains in her cognitive abilities. We were seeing more complex sentence structure, and increasing awareness of the world around her, an awareness of her own emotions, likes and dislikes, etc. It has very much been a two-part dance of physical ability and cognitive ability. I had never quite put the pieces together until I read the above paragraph.

What if it is more of a chicken-and-egg question than the above paragraph implies? What if there is a correlation between physical adeptness and cognitive function that is more of a two-way street? This is certainly what we have seen in H. It is also what we are currently seeing in R., our new resident 90 year old woman-type mover. Once again we have a daughter who is very unsure of her own movements. She walks slowly and deliberately, there is a stiffness in how she holds and uses her body (not in the actual musculature, she bends and moves her limbs and body just fine), and her coordination is poor. (I am working on teaching her to crawl.) Currently, she absolutely refuses to even try to stand on the trampoline, whereas Y., the child who has a physical reason for being unsteady on her feet loves it. I know we need to have R.'s eyes tested, but her hesitancy to move in her environment seems more than eyesight related. It feels just like H.'s movement issues did.

My gut told me we had to work on the physical stuff before we even tried to do anything more remotely academic. I love finding actual studies which confirm my own little pet theories. The brain is just so gosh darn interesting, isn't it?

Monday, February 15, 2016

Hijacked by crafting

On Friday, I made a run to the craft store. I had become a little bit obsessed with stump work. (It's essentially 3D embroidery. Do an image search to see the possibilities.) While my stash of crafting supplies was vast, I was still missing a few key bits and pieces to do it. Can you imagine, P., TM, and D. didn't want to accompany me to the craft/fabric store? But, in the throws of a new obsession, I was desperate. This is why I voluntarily took six children, ages 6 - 13 (the oldest being H.) with me to get my supplies.

While I'm sure we were a pretty hilarious sight navigating the store, they were all very good. This was due in no small part to the stern pre-store lecture which was delivered in the car before we entered. You want to know what it consisted of? 1. Stay with Mommy 2. Do NOT touch anything 3. Do NOT ask me to buy you anything.  Repeat, have children repeat, repeat, then get out of the van. H. has definitely graduated from "one of the children who needs a helper" to "helper" category. I'm sure I don't need to elaborate on how happy this makes me, or how huge this is.

So there we were, walking up and down the aisles as I looked for the things on my list. The trouble was, I guess I emphasized the 'stay with Mommy' rule a bit too much. I would dash down an aisle quickly, and instead of waiting at the end of the aisle, I would turn around to dash back, only to look down and see a line of six children immediately behind me. It is hard to get that particular train turned around, but we managed, the next aisle would come, and the whole parade would happen again. At the fabric cutting counter, the woman looked at the line of children, then looked at K., and asked, "Are you the only boy?" K. nods despondently and agrees. She replies something along the lines of aren't you nice to come along. I add in that he is the only boy who didn't have a choice about coming. I'm pretty sure that was just background noise because being faced with six children there wasn't a lot of room to imagine even more. K. survived, so don't feel too sorry for him.

This weekend, I spent some time beginning to teach myself how to do stump work. Want to see the results? This is a little leaf. The way I made this is to embroider a piece of wire onto cloth and then embroider inside of it. Once it was all done, I carefully trimmed away the extra fabric.

The leaf worked, so I started a butterfly. This is the beginnings of a wing.

What am I going to do with the little wonders? I have no idea. I just became consumed with the idea of making them. As I was buying the wire, I did have the phrase, "Jack of all trades, and master of none," which has haunted me for most of my life. I do like to dabble. But then, M. who is also a dabbler, but pretty much manages to master each of her new activities as well, found the rest of the saying. The whole thing is, "Jack of all trades, master of none, better still than master of one." So there.

I guess I just raise dabblers. There are worse things in the world. M. and I decided that dabblers find it very difficult to be bored. I know I have said it before, but if you want your children to be interested in things and to do things, you have to be interested in things and do things yourself. If you are trying to do something, suddenly it will be the thing that everyone wants to do. Kind of like when a parent is talking on the phone.

Before I took the hoards to the craft store, I spent some time sorting through my stash to be sure of what I had. Well, just looking at all that craft stuff flipped a switch or something. Suddenly hand work erupted everywhere. TM and D. suddenly decided to start knitting again. It's a form of competitive knitting, but they have been knitting steadily all weekend. It a bit as though we suddenly have les Messieurs Defarge taking up residence in front of the Netflix fireplace. They have both made one full scarf and have started on another. Here is D.'s.

Of course, the knitting bug is contagious and other people had to learn. I've taught Y. and K. so far. Y. has picked it up fairly quickly, but I think it requires too much sitting still and concentrating for K. to really get the knack yet. G. and L. really want to learn as well, but I need to invest in some more shorter needles before I tackle teaching them. I can really only handle two beginning knitters at a time.


H. has not been knitting. In fact today, after a weekend of listening to endless sibling requests to knit was the first time she has even mentioned it. But that doesn't mean she has been idle. While at the craft store, I picked up some jewelry findings for her. She has been on a jewelry making kick recently and has been doing a great job, but her supplies were somewhat below her current jewelry making level. I showed her how to use crimp beads to secure fasteners and she loved stringing the beads on wire and making "real" jewelry. 

The Hello Kitty necklace is one she made with her old supplies and the smaller bead necklace is the one she made this weekend. It was a pretty complex repeating pattern that she set out for herself.

H. also loves embroidery and got out her embroidery kit when she saw what I was doing. I finally found an appropriate sized needle that she could thread herself, which saved my sanity. Here is her latest work. 

It's lightening bolts, in case you have trouble seeing, and she actually has a pretty good, consistent stitch.

Now, I know this all sounds lovely and calm and civilized, doesn't it? I'm afraid the reality is a bit more chaotic. Here is a brief window into yesterday afternoon. I get out my embroidery project and I start. One of the boys gets into trouble with his knitting, so I look at it, fix the problem, and hand it back. I pick-up my needle. H. tells me she needs her needle rethreaded. I rethread the needle, and hand it back. I do a little stitching. Y. has finished a row of her knitting and needs help. I knit the next row to smooth everything out and get her going again. I make a few more stitches. H.'s needle comes unthreaded again. I dig out a needle threader, show her how to use it, and get her going again. I stitch some more. Fix more knitting. Stitch. Get out L.'s embroidery because she wants to sew something, too. (And trust me when I say it is difficult to put her off.) Stitch. Fix L.'s problem. Stitch. Fix L.'s problem. Fix a knitting problem. Stitch. Put L.'s stitching away. Stitch. H.'s needle threader breaks. I find her another needle she can thread. Stitch. Change H.'s thread. Stitch. Fix another knitting problem. Etc. Etc. 

I have been sitting down and fixing various people's knitting problems for the past three days. Even the writing of this blog post has been interrupted by needle threading and knitting help. Heck, even that last sentence took fifteen minutes to write because I paused to do some extensive yarn untangling. When the crafting bug strikes, it kind of takes over all of life. It means that much doesn't get done, but since there is so much else that is of benefit, it's a worthwhile trade off. Of course, I need to constantly remind myself of this...

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Since you asked... an annotated reading list

A reader asked in a comment on my post about reading fiction, what books I would recommend. You know, I sit around just waiting for questions like that. Really, I love nothing more than sharing my favorite books with people. Many of these I have written about before in previous posts, but this blog has been going for a while and since I write a lot of posts, and those posts tend to have a lot of words, it can be difficult to find things without the handy search engine available to the blog owner. Besides, I don't think people can really write about good books too much.

So, my rather eclectic and stream of consciousness reading list (for brevity's sake, I'll constrain myself by listing only books aimed at adult readers)...

A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth - This is a long book... well over 1000 pages. This, to my mind, is a real plus. Good books that end too soon are a disappointment. This book is set in India in the 1950's and follows the lives of several characters. As well as a good story, it is also a great history lesson on what was happening in India during those tumultuous years. I would read so much of this book at a time (because I couldn't put it down) that the characters would inhabit my dreams at night. Oh, and I'll spare you the embarrassment, the author's last name is pronounced, "Sate," with a long 'a' sound.

Since we're in India, I'll move onto...

The Vish Puri mystery series by Tarquin Hall, the books, in order, are:
The Case of the Missing Servant
The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing
The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken
The Case of the Love Commandos - These books are just fun. They give you a sense of India and the detective is just a really likable guy. Like some of the best mysteries, the books are not just about the puzzle, but have more going on as well. I am eagerly awaiting the next one to come out. I hope there is a next one...

In the category of a set of good books by one author...

To Say Nothing of the Dog
The Domesday Book
All Clear - all by Connie Willis - I have grouped these four books together because they are set in the same story line, with some characters who move from book to book. They are also stand alone books, except for All Clear which is more of a part 2 of Blackout and which you really need to have ready for when you finish Blackout, since it doesn't end so much as stop mid story line. (I'm sure this was an editor's decision because it then creates two long books rather than one extremely long book.) Anyway, the basic scenario is, sometime in the future in England, time travel has been discovered, but is used for historic research. This allows Ms. Willis to set her modern characters in historical settings and tell history from their point of view. To Say Nothing of the Dog is more of a comedy than the others and not quite so much historical fiction. The Domesday Book is set in England during the Black Plague and Blackout and All Clear are set during World War II, particularly during the London Blitz. while none of these settings sounds as though it would be light or entertaining reading, it is so well done that I didn't mind the upsetting parts. I would recommend saving the Blackout/All Clear pair for after having read one of the other two, It will just make more sense as you will already be familiar with the time travel part. One other warning, there are a lot (A LOT) of different story lines which are introduced in Blackout and it takes a while to have them start to fit all together. Be patient and keep going, the payoff is well worth it.

More vast, multi-volume historical fictions which will keep you in books for a good long time...

The House of Niccolo series by Dorothy Dunnett (In order they are: Niccolo Rising, The Spring of the Ram, Race of Scorpions, Scales of Gold, The Unicorn Hunt, To Lie with Lions, and Caprice and Rondo) - The first book starts in Bruges in 1460 and follows Niccolo (and the Renaissance) across Europe. They are exciting and challenging and thought provoking. If you are out of the reading habit, I might suggest you practice with some lighter books before tackling these, as they can be challenging reading. They are worth it, but do work up to them if you have only been scanning facebook and reading the newspaper for a while, otherwise you might not like them as much as you would otherwise. It has been quite a few years since I read the series, but I still find myself thinking about the characters and the story lines. They are the type of books that stick with you well after you are finished. Ms. Dunnett also has a second series, The Lymond Chronicles. J. has read it (and possibly enjoyed it more than Niccolo) and we own them all, but I have yet to tackle it. I know I will enjoy it once I do, but I'm just not sure I'm ready to devote the next several months to one series, which is what will happen once I begin.

In the same file folder labelled, 'books that are difficult, but worth it"...

Middlemarch by George Elliot - This books always makes my top ten list and I read it for fun about fifteen years ago. I picked it up because so many authors had named it their favorite book and I was curious about it. I really loved it, and was surprised to discover later that it is considered "hard." I didn't find it all that hard. It's long and was written in the 19th century, but once your ear gets used to the language, it's just a good story. Once again, it is one of those books that still come to mind often, even though it's been years since I read it. Give it a try.

Other books that you "should" read that are worth it...

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin - Will it surprise you to know that up until a couple of years ago, I had never actually read this book? Well, I hadn't and when my children's theater group did a stage version of it, I decided I needed to read it, if only to be able to discuss the play adaptation. I'm so glad I did! I think I binge read it over a weekend and loved every minute of it. I'm not sure I can join the Darcy fan club, though.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte - Another classic I read as an adult. It earns its reputation and is a good story with lots to think about. It is also worth getting over the older language hurdle. Besides, if you read Jane Eyre, it helps you to enjoy these next books even more.

The Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde (In order: The Eyre Affair, Lost in a Good Book, The Well of Lost Plots, Something Rotten, First Among Sequels, One of Our Thursdays is Missing, The Woman Who Died A Lot) - What's not to like? Book-loving characters who jump into and out of books. There is the special operations book world with the agents coming from literature (Miss Havisham, from Great Expectations, being one of the best). It is set in England, but an alternative England where mammoths still migrate, but now through people's gardens and dodo birds are a popular pet, provided you purchased the home-cloning kit and made it work. Time travel exists and it tightly regulated, except when it is not. What's there not to like? They are just good rollicking fun.

Also just for fun, particularly if you have ever followed the English royal family at all...

Freddy and Fredericka by Mark Helprin - Mark Helprin is a fantastic writer and excels at magic realism. I think this is his funniest book and there were parts in which I laughed out loud. This is not something I do terribly often when I am reading. It was the type of book that I would stop and be so taken by a passage that I would want to read it out loud to J. He would politely listen, but things are never as funny taken out of context, and he would good naturedly chuckle lightly. There are some definite pokes at the Prince of Wales and the whole thing is just fun. Well, its really quite fun if you enjoy magic realism. If it drives you a little mad, so will this book.

And two other books which have made me laugh out loud...

Life Among the Savages
Raising Demons by Shirley Jackson (Yes, that would be the same Shirley Jackson of "The Lottery" fame, the short-story which traumatized entire generations of high school students.) - I'm stretching the rules a bit as these two books are not fiction, but memoirs. I'm allowing it because they really do read like fiction. And they are hilarious. I find it a wee bit difficult to believe that this is the same woman who wrote the above named short story. These two books are some that I reread every few years just because they make me laugh.

Moving onto books I reread every so often (just two more series and I'll stop)...

Any of the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries by Dorothy Sayers, though hands down, Gaudy Night is the best and doesn't deserve to be limited to mystery readers. These are extremely well done mysteries with one of the most intriguing detectives in all fiction. I think it is because there is so much more going on than just the mystery. Do try them if you have never read them before, but read a few to get the lay of the land and to get to know the main characters before tackling Gaudy Night. You'll get so much more out of it if you do.

The Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters. I'm not going to list all the titles, because there are so many of them. But, do read them in order as the characters age and grow up and that is the best part of the series. They really do start to feel a little as though you really, really know them. In brief, Amelia Peabody and her husband Emerson are English Egyptologists  at the turn of the last century. These are the ultimate escapist reading book as they are light-hearted, well-written, and just plain fun. The first of the series, to get you going, is Crocodile on the Sandbank.

There you go. That should keep everyone in books for a little while. As you can see, I do read a lot. I used to keep track of every book I read, and that was really useful, especially for going back and checking on titles. I stopped, probably about the time baby five came along. I also used to write a short review of each book. I think that probably is what did in my record keeping. I've decided I'm going back to keep track, but minus the review. I have no idea how many books I actually read in a year and I'd kind of like to see the number. I'm only up to four this year, which seems very few, but we did do a three week adoption trip with its consequent jet lag and needy children. I'm sure I'll catch up.

Friday, February 12, 2016

The things I find on the memory card

I took a picture of the necklace H. made today, and as I was looking at the camera, discovered a whole series of photos that TM took out on the trampoline. They seemed pretty amusing and I thought I would share them.

Now as you look at these, remember where we live. You know, the cold, cold Chicago area where it hasn't been above freezing for the past couple of days. I guess it was really worth the effort to bring that trampoline home. (G. is in green and L. is in blue.)

This is far more interesting than me recounting my various conversations with children's hospital neurology departments. I just love having to spell out 'Linear Nevus Sebaceous Syndrome' when talking with the place I have called for help.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Don't be a sea squirt

Well, we're back in the land of seizures and questions about medicines and not a lot of sleep. R. this time, not H., thankfully. (I'll have a really interesting seizure post relating to H. once I can finally finish my phone tag game with Lurie Children's Hospital and find a new neurologist I can work with.) Anyway, this is the first time we've really witnessed first hand R.'s particular seizures and since they seem to involve sleeplessness, we're tired. (The analytical side of my brain is finding it highly interesting. The emotional side of my brain just wants to go and find a hotel room.) I have to give real credit to my children here at home who seem to take the current medical crisis du jour in stride. They are interested in what is going on, are patient with the patient, and are also completely nonplussed by odd behavior.

So once again, I will have to rely on someone else's writing to entertain my audience. I've been working my way through The Body Knows its Mind: the surprising power of the physical environment to influence how you think and feel by Sian Beilock. It's had some really interesting things about how our bodies influence our emotions and thinking. (It's also had some parts where I find myself arguing and thinking, "Wow, this sounds like a really sketchy conclusion," but that adds to the fun, don't you think?) The part about the use of Botox to help with depression was really interesting. It seems to work because if you can't frown, your brain assumes you are not unhappy. It's kind of weird and wonderful.

Since I like to think about education, I thought I would share this bit with you. First you have to learn about the sea squirt. It makes sense, I promise.

"The sea squirt starts off its life cycle as a tadpole-like creature, complete with a spinal cord connected to a simple eye and a tail for swimming. It also has a primitive brain that helps it locomote through the water. Its mobility, however, doesn't last long. Once the sea squirt finds a suitable place to attach itself, whether the hull of a boat, an underwater rock, or the ocean floor, it never moves again. As soon as sea squirts stop moving, their brain is absorbed by their body. Being permanently attached to a home makes the sea squirt's spinal cord and the neurons that control locomotion superfluous, so why keep them?" (p. 47)

Now read this about current educational practices.

"Probably more than any other institution, Western mainstream education embraces the computer metaphor of the mind. Even though the information we take in comes from five different senses -- visual, aural, smell, taste, and touch -- educators tend to characterize the storage of this information as abstract, removed from the very senses that helped load the mind's hard drive in the first place. Lesson plans seem to be designed with the adult sea squirt in mind, as if the body in unnecessary, with students permanently affixed to their desks. Physical objects such as blocks, which help teach children about math concepts, are scarce, and even fewer objects are used to help teach reading. Students are becoming more confined than ever to their chairs." (p. 49)

There's your visual take-home image for the day. Do not treat your children as though they are sea squirts. There's more to life... and education... than workbooks done in a chair at a desk.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The dregs of my writing for the day

Between the seizure/drug dazed child, the child who fell and cut her head, which then bled like Mt. Vesuvius (she's fine now), and an article which was due that ran to over 2000 words, there is not much left for you, my dear blog readers.

Instead, I'm going to send you to another article. This was sent to me by a good friend who shares my taste in books and, more importantly, reads as voraciously as I. We like to talk about books together. And give each other book recommendations. And discuss why finding time to read is a high priority for us. And worry together about running out of book titles.

And since we also share a love of research, articles that tell us why we are better off doing our favorite thing... reading... make us happy. Now you can share our happiness, too.

The Surprising Power of Reading Fiction: 9 ways it makes us happier and more creative

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

A public service announcement

Things are beginning to settle down a little bit around here. The girls are starting to figure out what our typical schedule is, where things are, how things work, etc. etc. There is just so much new to sort through for them. The other children are getting to know their new sisters and their personalities. Communication is starting to be a teeny, tiny bit easier. I am beginning the process of figuring out exactly where to start each girl in regards to school work. 

[An aside. That school work comment makes it seem as though we're plunging right into the books. We have started back to a regular school schedule, but really as a means of self-defense. If I didn't, the loose-ended children would self-implode. Everyone does better on a schedule. R. and Y. are doing little bits of things here and there, mainly because they see everyone else working and want to join in. I was ready for this and have been getting our preschool boxes out again in rotation. Watching them play with the things in the boxes (lacing, counting, fine motor skills, sorting, etc.) helps to give me a sense of where each of them is at in those areas. I also have some simple work books for the same reasons. R. needs a lot of fine motor skill work, plus a lot of eye tracking exercises, so that is what we will focus on. Without those skills, there is no point to trying to do anything else. Y. turns out to have a good number sense and can do addition and subtraction as long as she has enough fingers. I also have her working on some Mandarin characters each day to keep that up. The rest is play. It will probably be six months to a year before I even contemplate adding in anything else.]

The girls are also starting to feel a bit more comfortable and secure with me and J. Bedtime is much, much better and Y. even lets me kiss her goodnight and sing her a song. (This was really not even a possibility when we were in China.) It is so, so sweet to hear her little voice say, "I love you," when I tuck her in. R., who like H. loves every single person in the world, said, "I love you," immediately and without hesitation. We were the best people she had ever met. Well, in the bizarreness that is the adoption world, I'm happy to report that now, sometimes we are not the best things since sliced bread in her mind. We do not always do things which make her happy, and she is not terribly happy with us sometimes. As odd at is sounds, this is actually good. It means that we are on the path towards developing a real relationship. These real relationships, with both girls, are ones that take time. They are born out of multiple interactions that ultimately show the child that J. and I are both trustworthy and lovable. In order to show that, though, the ups and downs of life have to happen over time. Ups and downs such as, "What happens if I accidentally break a glass?" "What happens if I yell, 'No!'?" "What happens if I get hurt?" "What happens if I am sad?" "What happens if I don't eat my dinner?" and so on and so on. Every little interaction is a chance to show that there is love, caring, and limits in our house. 

Which brings me to the important point of this post. It came to mind this morning when J. was carrying Y. to her room because she didn't exactly want to get dressed before breakfast, yet that was how things work around here. As he was heading to her room, she lightly slapped J. on the face. He immediately told her in both English and Mandarin that this was not allowed, which caused her to have a little smile and give another slap. The interaction was clearly inquisatory. "What happens if I do this? How far can I push things to get what I want?" Well, J. being the excellent therapeutic parent that he is, set her gently down, told her no once again, that she could get dressed and come down to breakfast when she was ready, and left the scene. Why drag out drama? I doubt she will try it again. It meant that her favorite person stopped interacting with her and the whole thing was pretty much lacking in excitement. And she still had to get dressed to eat. 

But what happens when a child (any child, this is not always an adoption issue) does not intuit the boundaries, or care if they are there, or doesn't seem able to stop him or herself from crossing them. Here is my plea to you, born out of deep regret and sad experience... if your child is fairly constantly having difficulty regulating, 
if your child is constantly crossing lines, 
if your child is regularly raging, 
if you find that living with your child feels as though you are living with a ticking time bomb that you must tiptoe around, 
if your child is hurting you (hitting, slapping, kicking, biting)

or (and this is the biggest one)

you find yourself constantly thinking things such as, "I think it's getting better," "It's a stage, she'll grow out of it," "It's been a difficult month/day/year, when things calm down, he will be better," 

listen to me very carefully.

If these things (all or some) are happening and you have said one or more of those statements to yourself more than once, things are not getting better. She is not growing out of it. Life will never be calm enough for it to make a difference to him. Please, you and your child need help. Things can get better, but usually only with people who can join with you and help. Please, find a family therapist and start your family on a path towards healing.

If your child were bleeding, bleeding that would sometimes stop for a day or two, and then start again, wouldn't you go find help? O would you say to yourself, "The bleeding will get better, I just have to give it time," or "Once my child is older, the bleeding will stop," or "Life has been pretty busy, once we can rest, the bleeding will stop." Really? That all sounds a bit ridiculous. Mental health is the same thing. It can be helped, but you need to find someone to help you. And just as in physical medicine, the earlier you catch something the better. 

I know firsthand how hard it can be to pick-up the phone and make that first call. I know how humbling it can be and how you can feel a bit of a parental failure. But listen to me one more time. The only failure is when you know deep down inside that something is wrong and you fail to act. If your family is struggling, pick-up the phone and make the call. Change your future and your child's future for the better.

Monday, February 08, 2016

Phonics Firefly

I have blogged about the Phonics Firefly before, but I feel as though I really need to give it its own post. It is a noisy toy, ie it uses batteries and makes noise. Usually noisy toys very rarely make it past the threshold of the house and if they do, the batteries are mysteriously short-lived. Yet, the phonics firefly with it's vaguely annoying voice and music has its batteries regularly replaced and we own not one, but two of the things.

Why? Why would we do this to ourselves? (Because let me tell you, when they are both going in the same room at not quite the same time... much deep breathing must ensue.)

We happily put up with this state of affairs, because the deal little firefly toy is a learning toy that actually does what it promises. It really does teach letter and sound recognition and children like playing with it. Learning toys either fall into one of two categories, they can teach, but it doesn't matter because children hate them, or they are fun and children play with them, but they don't really teach. Oftentimes, I find just regular old toys and games of the non-educational variety are more useful than the "educational" ones. I bought the firefly on a whim because of good recommendations, but truly didn't have great expectations for it.

Our two fireflies have been in nearly constant use since we bought the first one when A. was little. I will also add, that the play is entirely self-directed. I don't help the children. If they want to play with it, they are entirely on their own. I have better things to do with my time than make an electronic firefly tell me I'm doing a great job. I am firmly convinced that A. learned to read so early because she played with it so much and it has helped nearly every other child with early phonics.

My love of the firefly has been renewed over the past couple days as I have watched Y. play with it. She is a fairly competitive child, so testing herself with this toy is right up her alley. She is also strongly driven to learn and she has figured out that learning to read English is going to be in her best interests. A couple of days ago, Y. saw one of the little girls playing with a firefly and immediately picked-up on what it was doing. H. showed her how it worked and since then she has made amazing progress. The first "game" on the toy is it singing the Alphabet Song while each letter lights up as it is sung. The second game is to push a letter to hear the firefly say the letter name. The third game is to push the letter that the firefly says. I have watched Y. move between the three games as she teaches herself the letter names. I would say after two days, she is about 50% accurate. Not bad for having no English exposure up to now.

Watching Y. play with the Firefly has also encouraged G. and L. to get it out again. They know their letters and sounds, but are now branching out into the higher level games of spelling three letter words. R. also likes the firefly and has been spending a lot of time listening to the Alphabet Song. I love how the toy encourages children to pick their own level of learning. Usually when I'm watching the child will pick a level that is a bit of a stretch. They will play at that level for a while and then switch to an easier level for a while. Then it is back to the appropriate one. Every so often, they will try a level out of their reach, then go back to the appropriate one, and so on. I find it so interesting watching them challenge themselves and then give themselves a mental break.

So if you have a pre-reader in your home, or a child newly learning English, I highly recommend the firefly. It is pricier than when I bought our first one 14 years ago, but I would probably spend the money again, knowing how much it would be used over the years. I think we are on our 2nd and 3rd versions. If memory serves, firefly #1 at some point was invited into the bathtub and didn't survive the ordeal. We try to keep the surviving ones downstairs and away from running water.

(In full disclosure, that Amazon link up above is to my associate's account and I do receive a teeny, tiny bit of money for everything sold through that.)

Saturday, February 06, 2016

"Nothing will ever be simple again"

I won't kid you, the dog dying on top of everything has thrown me for a loop and I've been kind of an emotional mess. While we're really sad about losing Gretel, I have a sneaking suspicion that the overflow of emotion is not just about the dog. The dog was just the straw that broke this camel's back. I'll survive, but a period of relative calm would help greatly.

In the meantime, even during the extreme of amount of chaos around here, we have still be having our tea time/read aloud rest in the afternoons. This has truly been the single best idea I've had in a long time. It is good for us all to be together, to share a treat, and just listen to an engaging story. It has been a period of calm in a particularly un-calm time.

Of course, the irony here is that during our calm, restful hour of the day, we have been reading about the siege and fall of Constantinople. I can't decide whether knowing the city falls ahead of time helps or not. Either way, I highly recommend The Emperor's Winding Sheet by Jill Patton Walsh. It is an older book, written 1974, but in my book that is a plus since language and sentence structure in books written for older children (and younger ones, for that matter) over 30 years ago is significantly more complex. (I read a lot of books out loud and there is a noticeable difference. Children need to hear complex language or when they are adults, entire swaths of our culture will be unavailable to them. Sorry. Vent over, I'll go back to the topic at hand.) Because of the subject matter, this book is definitely best for junior high ages and older, and I can see boys in particular being engaged by it. I read it to a very mixed audience of listening abilities, but much of it went over the heads of the younger people, which was probably a good thing. The book is about a siege and sack of a city after all. It is not an easy subject. I felt the author did a good job of conveying the truth of what that looks like without going into unnecessarily traumatic detail. I have a very low tolerance for the horrors of war and while my own personal hair-trigger Geiger-counter was going off a bit, it wasn't enough for me to close the book. It is still not easy, though.

That said, there are so many redeeming parts of the book that it makes the yucky parts worth plowing through. The chapter that describes the Emperor Constantine (the last, not the first) going from person to person, begging their forgiveness if he had ever wronged them, and that cascading into every person in the room doing the same, on the eve of the final attack nearly brought me to tears reading it. It was so beautiful and moving and heart-rending. It was perhaps one of the most beautiful portrayals of Christian repentance and humility in juvenile literature.

At the book's heart, it is really about a boy (the narrator of the story) learning to see a broader and much more complex world. He starts out having a certain view of his world. It is a rather narrow and close-minded view and he is firm in his opinions of those around him. At the end, as he looks back on all he seen and all the people he has come to love, he wonders at the change in his outlook on the world. Eventually he is able to head back to England and ponders what it will be like to tell his family about all that has happened. He also realizes that it will be very difficult to convince them of the positives of the people he loved, because he knows that they are back in the mindset where he started. He realizes that nothing will ever be simple again. He has seen too much, has come to appreciate the humanity of people he didn't understand at first, has learned there is always more than one side to a story. His life has been made richer, yet much more complicated all at the same time.

This line speaks to me on a very deep level and I find myself thinking about it often since we finished the book. On this blog, I try over and over to convey the change that happens to people when they are confronted by real life orphans. It changes you. Suddenly, instead of just a depressing statistic, you know real faces, real stories, real children. You come away realizing that nothing will ever be simple again, because you cannot unknow what you know. This is also true parenting children who society has deemed less-than-perfect. Those of us who have been blessed by this experience, realize that our worlds have broadened. We know more now. We see things differently. We are thankful that we have not missed out on the joy and wonder our children bring us by staying on the traditional (and normal) path.

Nothing may ever be simple again, but it will be richer and deeper and more meaningful.
I have a new article up... and its stats look so, so lonely with no shares and clicks. Give it a little boost, OK? Letters from China - An Adoption Story, Part 1

Thursday, February 04, 2016

House of grief

I am so, so sorry to report that Gretel didn't make it through the night. It was a very difficult way for some of our children to wake up.

I'm so tired of grief.
I'm so tired of watching my children's hearts being ripped out of their chests.
I'm so tired of losing very young pets.
I'm so tired of not having any emotional energy to take care of the basics of life.
I'm just so tired.

These are pictures that TM took yesterday after he was able to put his heart back inside his chest.

We will miss Gretel greatly. She was a good dog.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

A brief update

A.'s surgery went well and she is doing fine. She is currently home to sleep tonight, making use of the Polartech 3000 (or something like that). That would be the ice machine for reducing swelling which we purchased for M's first knee surgery and never dreamed would be using for family knee surgery #3. A. kept telling us that she would be going to class tomorrow and we humored her, but based on how she is doing right now, she may be right.

So that's the good news.

The bad news is that Gretel is not doing well. That would be not doing well as in we really don't expect her to make it through the night. We've been in contact with the vet and since she doesn't seem to be in discomfort and is pretty constantly surrounded by her family who is doting on her, we are just taking care of her right now. It's hard. It's also hard to sit with your children as they grieve what is to come.

We'll just add both these events to the column, "Things that don't help with adoption travel or transition." It seems to be a list which just keep growing and growing. I'm more than ready to stop adding to it.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

The best part of international adoption

And by best, what I mean is worst. My worst, least-favorite part of the whole complicated process. Is it the paperwork? No, though that is pretty stinky. Is it writing big, huge checks? No, though that's not terribly fun, either. Jet lag? Missing my children? Grief? No, no, and no. None of this is enjoyable or fun or something to be anticipated.

You want to know what it is?

Yes, it is the testing of bodily substances one does not really like to deal with. It's bad enough for yourself or for a child who trusts you and shares a common language. A child who is not entirely sure about your reliability or sanity and who doesn't share your language? Torture. For everyone. Because really, how does one go about using gestures and limited vocabulary to explain what is needed? From past experience, the expressions on the child's face pretty much say, "You want me to do what where? And why? That clinches it, you are insane... how do I get out of here?" I'm just really excited about going through this whole process again, times two. And if you can't hear the sarcasm just pouring out of that sentence, I can't really help you.

As you probably have already guessed, today I took R. and Y. for their physicals with our pediatrician. And I really, really tried to get out of this particular test. Oh, how I tried. I like our pediatrician (which really stands for, I think she is good and what she does and she takes me seriously), but on this particular test she wouldn't budge. Drat.

The girls did well. The first doctor visits are always stressful because the new child is always expecting something horrible to happen. This is especially true if the child has had previous medical procedures or surgeries performed, and these two have. It takes a while for them to realize that regular doctor visits are usually pretty benign and that I can be trusted not to throw yucky experiences in their paths unexpectedly. While having an interpreter present can help, in some ways it adds to the unnaturalness of it all, which adds to the anxiety. The girls actually exhibited fewer anxiety-related behaviors than I was expecting to see, so that was good. Exhausting, but good.

The other good thing was that H. has officially graduated from needing a helper when we go places to being the helper herself. This is fantastically huge in my book. I knew that life would just be better if I had an extra pair of hands as we maneuvered these girls to the appointment, and I thought since H. is really good with R., I would try taking her along. H. did great and was really helpful! She held R.'s hand to and from the office, so I could help Y. with her walker. She entertained the waiting girl while the doctor was talking to the other. She carried things. She buckled seat belts. She made conversation with me. (Real conversation, even.) It was a pleasure to have her along. What a change from four years ago!! I am so proud of her.

Our week of doctors is almost done. Tomorrow, A.'s surgery is scheduled for 12:30 and should take an hour. The surgeon isn't anticipating any difficult repairing her torn ligament, but I will be glad when she is out of surgery and it's all done. I'll keep you updated.
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