Thursday, March 31, 2016

Happy 10th Birthday, K.!

Today K. turns 10.

I find that sentence staggering. He's now in the double digits and surely it was just yesterday that we came home with our exceedingly tiny two year old boy. (He wore 9 month size clothes at that time.) I remember being so worried about him... and us. He could walk, but that was about it. Would he ever talk? Grow? Gain strength? What was our future going to look like? Would we be able to manage it? There were so many unknowns. But he was sweet and cute as a bug and we loved him.

I wish I could go back in time and tell myself not to worry, that K. would be just fine. In fact, he would be more than just fine. He would grow into a pretty fantastic boy with no limitations. Without the worry I could have enjoyed his first years home a little bit more. This is probably a good lesson for me right now as well. I have an over-active imagination that is not always put to good purpose. Ninety-nine percent of the time, my wild imaginings of a bleak future never pan out.

So Happy 10th Birthday, K.! You are such a funny, kind, and bright boy. I love watching you push yourself to learn new things, and I love your enthusiasm about life. I love your kisses and hugs and, "I love you's," at bedtime. I love how you care for your little sisters.

Pretty much, I just love you, K.!

We're celebrating tonight, so I'll have pictures tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Attachment tips

A while back, someone asked me to write out the things I wished I had done from the beginning of our adoption journey to facilitate attachment (yours, not the child's but the child certainly benefits) and healing. I say wished because they are the things that took me years to figure out and had I done them, I think life would have gone a wee bit smoother. It certainly wouldn't have fixed everything, but I wouldn't have made things worse. I'm also not saying that these things are easy. They take conscious effort and are often the exact opposite of what your feelings are telling you to do at the time. It takes practice to be able to override your emotions and do what you know is right even if you are not feeling it. With those caveats, here is my short list.


  1. Smile. This is possibly the singe biggest thing you can do to aid your attachment to your child. It is also great for how your child perceives you. The trouble comes when things get hard, our initial reaction is to let that hard reflect in our face and our body language. Oftentimes we aren't even aware of it. The end result is that when life is hard or our relationship with a certain child is hard, we go through life scowling. This scowling does two things. First, it signals to the child that you aren't a particularly nice person to be around, thus confirming their suspicions that they are better off keeping these new parent-types at arms distance. Second, frowning signals our brain that things are bad and our brain reacts accordingly, sending out the correct signals to the rest of our body. When we smile, our brain gets the news from our face that life is pretty good and also responds accordingly. It's crazy, but it's true. What you do with your face can affect your emotions and outlook on life. So, check your face when your child is around. Are you telling your child and your brain that things are bad, bad, bad (even if they are), or are you changing the atmosphere around your child and inside your brain that things are going to be OK?
  2. Control your thought life. At my worst moments in my parenting journey, I let fear and panic take over. At the just general hard parts that lasted for long periods of time, I would mutter about the unjustness of the whole situation and would fantasize about what life would have looked like with different choices having been made. I will tell you, that none of this is helpful, even if at the time it is what you want to do. It is the emotional equivalent of eating the entire package of cookies or the entire gallon of ice cream. It really feels good at that very moment, but makes you feel lousy afterwards and takes a long time to reverse the damage. Be careful about what neural pathways you are making in your brain. The more you think something, the easier it is to continue thinking it. Practice makes perfect and sometimes we perfect that wrong things. Yes, it takes effort to stop the little mental panic attacks or pity parties. Yes, it takes practice to force yourself to think of something else. (If you can't make yourself think about the positive side of the current situation, then at least think about a neutral topic.) Yes, it makes a difference. We act on what we believe at a deep level. If we have allowed ourselves to believe the worst, then that is going to color our actions with our children, even if we are trying to make those interactions positive. We have to stop the negativity in our own brains first. I will repeat, yes, I know first hand exactly how difficult this is. Kicking bad habits is never easy.
  3. Assume the best. Our children, even (especially?) our children from hard places, are doing the best with what they have. Sometimes, due to the past hurts, they just don't have all that much. We cut babies a lot of slack because we know (at least we should know) that little babies just don't have the capacity to do anything but react to their immediate need. When they're sad they cry. When they hurt, they scream. When they're happy, they giggle and coo and smile. Older children are not really all that different, it is just harder to figure out the cause of the behavior. With babies, the choices are few; with older children the choices are far greater and oftentimes they don't even know themselves what is making them upset. I know I spent far too long in the mindset that my son was acting in a way just to annoy me. That it was all about me. Instead, the behavior is pretty much all about the child. Deciding to join our child's team and figure out what is at the root of a behavior is far more useful than being on the opposing team and getting angry that the child scored a point off of us, the parent. Trust me when I say this is a game that no one wins at. 
  4. Give yourself a break. This type of parenting is emotionally and physically exhausting. I think oftentimes we play this down and do not fully accept the level of effort required. We all know that when we are tired or sick everything is just that much harder, yet most of us who are therapeutic parents, are parenting from exhaustion and that makes our job that much more difficult. This is probably the most difficult thing to fix as well because often it depends on having outside resources that not everyone has available. I would strongly urge you to continue to look for ways that you can build breaks into your life. Your brain needs a rest. Your body needs a rest. It is not healthy to maintain the hyper-vigilance required to parent our children. If you are able to get a real break and rest your brain a bit, the sense of renewal gives us a sense of how utterly exhausted our children must be as well. One way J. and I have built in a break for me is to have a code. If I say I need to go to the fabric store, particularly if it is out of the blue, he knows I just need a break. He takes over and I get in the car and look at fabric. (You don't need to look at fabric, you can go do something else.)
I know these four things don't seem like a whole lot, but they were what was missing in our early adoptive years and I believe we paid the price in our relationship with our son. They are those things that sound overly simplistic, are incredibly hard to actually do, and have real payoffs in the end.
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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Master players

I've been doing a lot of reading about the power and benefits of play. This is a usual topic for me, but with the arrival of R., it has felt vital. I am more convinced than ever that imaginary play is something incredibly needed by all children for mental and emotional growth. Imaginary play is how children practice new ideas and new skills. It is how they practice interacting with the people and the world around them. It is how they practice being human.

The book I just finished is, The Play's the Thing: Teachers' Roles in Children's Play by Elizabeth Jones and Gretchen Reynolds. While it is directed at early childhood educators, I find it has plenty to say to me as a parent in how to encourage and make the most of my children's play. It also helps to give me more language as to why it is so important. (Great, you're thinking. Just what she needed... more ammunition.) This book is very much in the same vein as Vivian Gussin Paly, whom I rave about at intervals, and is heavily influenced by the thinking of Lev Vygotsky, one of my favorite educational theorists.

What I love is how seriously the play of children is taken. And if you've ever watched a child engrossed in imaginary play, you can see that for them, it is extremely serious work. I also love the term they use for children experienced in imaginary play, that can be sustained for hours: Master Players. It just fits. I realize that I am so used to having master players in my house that I take it for granted a bit. At least I take some children's ability to play for granted. It seems that G. and L. were practically born at the level of master player and have just worked on refining their art. It is just what they do; who they are. Yesterday, children happily took the new box of sidewalk chalk from Easter out to the backyard where they proceeded to create an entire town on the cement slab that is back there. It was only later that I realized it was more than the usual suspects, G., L., and K., at work. Added to the mix were H. and Y. Having watched Y. in action for the past two months, this didn't surprise me. She came to us primed for this type of play and has loved every minute of imagining things with her new siblings. But H. was playing! Can I say it again? H. was playing!! It was real playing, not the parallel-stuff we had gotten so used to. But real, honest to goodness, collaborative play!

If there is one thing I can point to that truly explains just how far this child has come it would be this. If you can play, you have a life inside your head. You can imagine different things. You can try being different things. You can practice being brave in the face of scary things. If you can imagine, you have a chance at staring down your demons. If you can imagine, you have a chance at seeing what can be and not just what is. It gives me hope for R.

There is one small beef I have with the book. Over the years I have watched my own master players play... and play and play and play up through elementary school. Because of our schedule, they have always had the freedom to engage in as much play as they needed without regard to age. This book (and nearly every book I've read like it) cuts off the play at age 6. Somehow, modern society has gotten into its head that at age 6, life becomes serious and schoolwork becomes the prime directive. Why? What is so magical about six except that we have set our schools up that way? Children still need to play, even at the ripe old age of six. Heavy duty academics can wait.

Besides...

"Synchrony - precisely coordinated timing - is a basic characteristic of industrial society. It is no historic accident that the clock has dominated the schoolroom wall and that every day in most kindergartens begins with "calendar." But as society moves from the rigidity of the assembly line to the flexibility made possible by information technology, our children may be better served by schooling that fosters their exploration and initiative, instead of schooling that fosters unquestioning obedience to clocks and calendars.

Obedience is a virtue in a stable society where the unexpected doesn't often happen. But in a rapidly changing society, children have greater need for confidence n the face of new problems to be solved. Children regularly encounter problems in their dealings with the physical world and with other human beings, big and little. Teachers can help them to become increasingly independent problem-solvers.

An animal that depends on the accumulated knowledge of past generations has to have some time to acquire that knowledge. An animal that depends on imagination has to have time to exercise it. Childhood is that time... When we're children we're devoted to learning about our world and imagining all the other ways that the world could be. when we become adults we put all that we've learned and imagined to use." (The Play's the Thing, pp. 30-31)

Monday, March 28, 2016

Happy Easter 2016

Over the weekend we dyed eggs...

Y.

Y., G., L., and R.

D.

R., H., and J.

The whole passel of children (three families total).

Then we celebrated on Easter morning.






Yes, that grown man there is B. No, I have no idea how that happened.

L.

G.

R.

P. and Y.

L., R., and H.

After church we did our annual egg hung. The weather was not overly cooperative, so we opted for inside this year.


TM played the piano to accompany the hunting. (Once again, I have no idea how he has grown so big.)

L.



Then we had dinner with family at J.'s sister's home. All in all, it was a fairly relaxing holiday. Well, minus the last-minute panic about getting everyone ready and out the door for church on time. That was probably not our finest moment.

He is Risen! He is Risen! He is Risen!

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Here I can be normal

Earlier this week, I made a new friend. She is the friend of a friend and is also parenting an atypical child. We had a nice visit, chatting and comparing notes. Afterwards she wrote me an email, thanking me and said, "For two hours, I felt like a normal person." And I understood what she meant. We didn't have to explain our lives to each other. We could share frustrations without fear of someone silently pointing out we volunteered for this job. We didn't feel as though we had to live up to "wonderful" and, in fact, commiserated about how exactly un-wonderful we each were. I enjoyed our time as much as she did.

It got me to thinking. We who are currently in the trenches parenting our special children need the support of each other. It's not always easy to find time to get that support or to even know the people who can offer that support. Thus an idea was born.

If you are in the Chicago/North Suburban Chicago area and are an adoptive parent of a child or children with an alphabet soup of letters after their name (both visible and invisible needs), I want to invite you to something. Announcing:

Here I Can Be Normal
Adoptive parents of special needs children support group

First Friday of each month, beginning April 1, 2016
7:30 pm
at my home (message or email me to RSVP and for directions)
I will provide coffee and tea

Ground rules:
1. The phrases, "You're so wonderful," "I don't know how you do it," and "You have your hands full," are not allowed.
2. Each family's school choice is to be supported. Our children are each different and their schooling needs will be different as well.
3. Discussion will be from a connected parenting viewpoint. Our children have already endured enough hurt, parenting from a consequence-based style will not help.

Please share with anyone you think might be interested.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Good food from randomness

No doctor's appointments today, but we did make it to the library. Nearly 100 books later we are at home and I am going to try to start to dig out from the chaos. Because of that chaos and the fairly random assortment of groceries I picked up yesterday, we have a new favorite pasta dish. Well, J. and I have a new favorite pasta dish... not all of the children were entirely convinced, but since it is rare that everyone is happy with the meal and since I cook for me and J. anyway, it works. I thought you might like the recipe. It was pretty easy and very good.

Random Grocery Shopping Trip Pasta

Serves 10, so you may want to halve it if you aren't feeding quite so many

2 lbs linguine
1 large onion, thinly sliced
2 large packages (bundles? fist-fulls?) of thin asparagus, trimmed and cut into ~ 1 1/2 inch pieces
1 large bag of fresh spinach
2 cans diced tomatoes

(Start your water while you cook the topping and then let the topping simmer while you cook the pasta.)

Saute the onion in olive oil until soft. Add in asparagus and saute some more. Once the asparagus starts to cook a bit, add in the spinach and cook until wilted. Add the diced tomatoes (do not drain). Stir well and add in a little salt, a lot of black pepper, and some basil (I used dried, but fresh would be better.) Simmer until pasta is cooked. Serve over pasta and with some fresh Parmesan or Romano ont top.

What I would do differently next time is add a whole dried red chili to the vegetables and let that simmer along with everything, taking it out before serving. When you do this, it doesn't add too much heat, but does add some more flavor.
______
And a housekeeping note... the "Recipes" tab up on top is pretty much the only one that didn't need updating. It's a handy way to find other recipes I've shared.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

It's like hitting the jackpot

I think I have mentioned here before about my trials finding a neurologist that I can work with. I don't mean to be the difficult, crotchety parent. I really don't. But I am also not uneducated about my girls' syndrome, and living with them, I certainly know them better than anyone. Finding a doctor who would take me seriously, even if my thoughts were a bit off of the traditional track for standard seizure treatments was very important. And very difficult. After many phone calls, (the kind of calls where I'm sure there is now some code after my name which means "Run, don't deal with the crazy woman," in many medical data bases) I made appointments for R. and H. with a new neurologist.

I wasn't sure I was going to be entirely happy. I didn't know much about this doctor and she practiced in a suburb 45 minutes away in no traffic. On the plus side, though, one of the nurses whom I routinely work with in another office was doing some investigative work for me as well, and came up with the same name. I was guardedly hopeful.

It is with great relief that I say, I think we have found our new neurologist. I really, really liked her. She listened to me, took me seriously, was willing to think outside the box and look at the actual child, and had realistic expectations. She even had a few ideas for things no one had ever mentioned to me before. And the cherry on top? Our first appointment lasted for an hour and forty-five minutes while she took the time to go over each girl's history and as I discussed prior treatments and their results. H. liked her, too, at one point declaring, "Dr. ___ is beautiful!" The doctor likes H. as well. R. did pretty well, though like H. when she first came home, being in a doctor's office was a bit triggering and it was the more manic R. who met the doctor.

As a treat I took the girls out to lunch before the long drive home, and even better, we stopped at the grocery store as well. Going anywhere with Mom with just a couple of people is a treat for my younger children, even the grocery store. Normally, I wouldn't have needed to go to the grocery store, but life hasn't been running with its regular clockwork around here. Pretty much I can do one extra thing a day other than the general care and education of my children, fixing dinner, and throwing in laundry. If I have to do more than one extra thing, than one or more of those basics doesn't happen. Laundry is usually the first to be jettisoned, with actual meal planning and preparation coming second.

Having back-to-back days of long appointments along with holiday planning, and so a quick grocery store trip was essential in order to feed the masses. (We'd been eating out of the pantry, freezer, and refrigerator for about four days already and things were running very low.) I didn't even have a list, but threw random things into the cart which looked like the things I normally buy. I'm hoping I picked-up enough randomness to make meals for the next few days.

I don't know how long it will take me to get life back under control, but it always takes longer to put back together than it does to fall apart. But, the chaos is so worth it to know that Y. is OK, and to have a good neurologist in our corner for H. and R.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Breathing a huge sigh of relief and now able to tell the rest of the story

Today was the day that Y. had her initial appointment with the orthopedic doctor to address some of her mobility issues. I am so happy to say that there is really nothing but good news. Some really good news. But to fully appreciate the good news, you need to hear a part of the back story that you have been missing.

Way back almost a year ago, when we were finally able to ask to look at Y.'s file because we finally received approval to adopt two children, we were thrown for a bit of a loop. We knew that cerebral palsy was the possible diagnosis, but I wondered why such a cute girl with a mild to moderate special need was still sitting on the shared list. Cute females without serious delays or serious medical needs don't just sit around. There had to be something else going on. I received the file and started to look through it. Everything looked fine until I got to the page with the results of an (uncooperative) CT scan. In the results was buried one little word. OK, the word itself wasn't so little. It was leukoencephalopathy. Specifically, the white matter seen on the scan indicated a possible leukoencephalopathy. It's not a common medical term and so I looked it up. There were several different types, but each of them boiled down to the same thing: degenerative fatal brain disease.

I will admit to having a moment or two of not being able to breath.

This was why her file sat on the shared list. This was why she was still waiting for a family. This was scary. If indeed this is what she had, there was nothing to be done. There is no cure, just a short or long (depending on type) decline of cognitive brain function ending in death. It is not a pretty word. It is not a pretty diagnosis.

J. and I talked. We decided this was our child regardless of diagnosis. A friend summed it up best. Is it better for a child to die in an orphanage or surrounded by the love of a family. We went forward. After talking with a neurologist, it seemed as though the chances of her not having this diagnosis were in our favor. She had shown no decline in function in the years since the CT scan, CT scans are not generally able to show a leukoencephalopathy, and she was still alive. In the more aggressive types, death happens fairly quickly after diagnosis.

But we didn't share the news. We didn't want her labelled as the 'dying child.' We didn't want to be held up as saints for having fallen in love with a child with a fatal diagnosis. These things were especially true if the diagnosis turned out to be incorrect. If it was correct, then that news would travel fast enough.

Can you guess why I'm telling all of you this now? Yes, it's because seeing the doctor today, we feel 99% sure (we will still need an MRI to officially rule it out) that the leukoencephalopathy diagnosis is wrong. What Y. has is spastic diplegia. A fancy sounding name for a type of cerebral palsy which affects the muscles and makes them tight. It is actually the most common form of cerebral palsy and the doctor seemed pleased with how much function Y. has. He believes that the confusion about what was going on with her CT scan is because white matter in the brain has a part in the CP diagnosis. It is not uncommon for the white matter to look different and the English word for both diagnoses is similar, due to the reliance on Greek words for roots. The white matter showing signs of CP became white matter causing a fatal brain disease. Essentially, Y. is too functional to have the bad one, but extremely typical for the CP one.

Even though we were pretty sure the diagnosis would be incorrect, it still hung over our heads. It is with great relief and great thankfulness that we can stop having this hovering in the background. It also confirms that this child is so truly meant to be our daughter. Due to the need for having to ask for waivers because of our family income, we stand a greater chance of being approved for a child with significant special needs. It's just how it is. Y.'s are just not that serious. I'm sad that she had to wait for so long for us to find her, but am thankful that she is now a part of our family. She fits in so well. There is so much that we are discovering that she loves that is also a big part of our family's life. The whole thing just has the hand of God all over it.

We now need to get braces made and we will be getting forearm crutches to see if they help her. There will also be some physical therapy to help with strength and exercises to see if the tightness can be stretched a bit. There is also the possibility of some surgery if the physical therapy can't do enough with the tightness. But this is all doable. The doctor was pleased with how much of her legs looked and seemed very positive.

Thanks be to God.

Friday, March 18, 2016

An autodidact's fan letter

This is the email I just sent to the author of the book, The End of Average: How We Succeed in a World That Values Sameness by Todd Rose.

Dear Mr. Rose,

It is rare that I write a fan letter to an author, but having just finished your book, The End of Average: How We Succeed in a World that Values Sameness, I found I needed to. First I want to say thank you. In your account of how the concept of average and there being one “best” path has crept into and influenced our society, you have managed to give me words to explain so many things that have been lurking around the edges of my mind.

Even though I excelled at school, happily being one of those extremely quick students who were placed at the top of any curve, I knew intuitively something was wrong. I knew it when I would do what I considered to be mediocre work only to have teachers fawn over it. I knew it when I tried in vain to tell teachers that math was difficult for me, only to be placed back in the top math group… because I was ahead of the curve of everyone else. And I knew it when I had learned to work the system in school to do the bare minimum in order to maintain my 4.4 GPA, thus allowing me the time to learn about the things that actually mattered to me. I knew the system wasn’t about me as a person, but couldn’t say exactly why.

As an adult, I remember watching my young children hit benchmarks at vastly different times from the other children in our play groups. I remember watching mothers fret needlessly about the future of their children because of when each of their children learned to walk. I remember telling a friend that we needed to widen our idea of what average was. Even then I couldn’t contemplate the idea that there was not really such a thing as average, yet that is what I was intellectually deciding.

So thank you for giving me the words and facts to support what I had been suspecting all along.

In return, I would like to share a suggestion with you. In your book, you focus on the traditional schooling system. I would encourage to consider looking at the homeschooled population, especially those of us who have been doing it for a long time and chose to because they saw traditional schools as not being able to tailor an education to the individual child. While we may not have had the words or studies to back us up, I believe that we have been doing for years some of what you propose.

I am on my 18th year of homeschooling my children. I can tell you that not a single one of my children or the other homeschooled children I know, have learned in exactly the same way. It is one of the things you learn fairly soon when you decide to eschew traditional schools. We live with the idea of jaggedness every day. Even though they are from the same family, each of my children has learned to read at a different age and in a different way, even despite my initial attempts to do things the same with each of them. I have watched my children (and myself) go through what I have always termed “learning jags” (though I didn’t realize at the time quite how appropriate my terminology was.) Every one of them has gone through phases where there was an insatiable need to learn about a certain thing, and during that jag, they couldn’t get enough of it. We couldn’t check out enough library books, watch enough documentaries, or talk about that topic enough. And then, almost as if a switch was flipped, when satiated with that topic, interest would turn to something else… or nothing for a while as their brain processed all the new information. Since we are not tied to a certain time table or scope and sequence, we have the freedom to allow for these detours of learning.

We (I and many families like mine) are able to send our children to college without much of the drama that I see the families of traditionally schooled children go through. Since there is nothing average about how our students have chosen to do high school, they tend to stand out in the college admissions process. They are noticed precisely because of their individuality. To look at their experience in the college search and application process could be an interesting comparison to the more average path. (Yes, pun intended.)

Finally, I can only hope that the country takes your writing to heart quickly. I am an autodidact at heart. I research heavily any topic I am currently interested in. I have probably read and discussed enough material to give myself several more degrees over what I already have. But the way our current system works, what I have learned on my own doesn’t matter. Because I don’t have the correct letters after my name, I do not have the university-granted authority to speak on any of them and be listened to. It is supremely frustrating. I long for your credentialing system that would give a way for autodidacts such as myself a way of validating to the outside world what we know.

Isn’t it funny, that as a country we hold up the autodidacts of our own history…  Jefferson, Franklin, Lincoln, etc., yet, if they had been born a century or two later, they would never have existed. Their self-learning would not have counted. Greatness and averageness cannot exist at the same time.

Once again, thank you for your book.


Sincerely,

Thursday, March 17, 2016

A little bit of mail fun


Jimmy... Jimmy... Jimmy... Jimmy... Jimmy... still needs a family.
_________________
I realized yesterday that I inadvertently used the same type of title phrase two days ago, so decided to keep it going. But it was some fun mail that arrived today. Look...


Who doesn't love to get surprise presents in the mail? Certainly no one around here. This is from my virtual-turned-real-life-but-we-don't-see-each-other-nearly-enough-because-we-live-too-far-apart friend, Ann, who blogs over at Crazy for Kids. She sent gifts for the new girls, treats for everyone, and even a box of cookies for our tea time. We had them today. Everyone was thrilled to have a different type of cookie from what I usually buy.

R. and Y. especially loved their packages. I told each girl that they were from Mommy's friend. Or I told them they were from Mommy's apple. For some reason, my old brain cannot keep straight the Mandarin for those two words and I routinely get them wrong. It just adds to their conviction that their mother is insane. Still, they were quite happy with the gifts whether they were given to them by an apple or not.

Y.

R.
So thank you, friend (apple?)!! I suppose since you've been here twice, it's time for us to head to the west coast. Wouldn't that be fun?!

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

A little bit of color

Jimmy still needs a family. He cannot age out. How else can he become a pianist like he dreams of being if he doesn't get a family? Get used to seeing this...
_______________

I don't normally go in for pastels, except during the months of March and April. In those months I positively crave them. I think it is due to only having seen greys, browns, and whites outside my windows for so many months. And since Easter falls during these months, the bulk of my Easter table decorations are definitely on the pastel end of things. It does make it easy to mix and match things acquired from previous years; I'm nothing if not consistent.

This is all a prologue as to why, when I saw instructions for an Easter table runner, I was suddenly overcome with the need to make it. Well, except I didn't want a runner. To fit fourteen people around our dining room table, we have to put two tables together, and the result is very long. So long, any normal size table runner is not really going to work, and certainly not a three panel one. I also didn't want the quilty look. I love it for blankets and quilts, just not so much for table linens. Instead, I decided to make place mats.

Here's my trial run.

(Sorry, I'm just now realizing that the shadow of my sewing lamp got in the way.)

It was fun. I could use little bits of fabric. I could play with my stash and put colors together. It was pretty quick. All in all, a very satisfying project. It should be no problem to make 13 more. The egg is pieced together and then is back-appliqued under the pink fabric using freezer paper. Then I double top stitched the egg in place.


I put some fairly stiff sew-in interfacing inside and the back is the same fabric as the front.


I'm so excited to make some more. I have another pink one begun, but I've been doing planning for the others. Purples, more pinks, blues, yellows, oranges... It just makes me happy.



This was the first time that the new girls had seen me sew. They seemed to think it was the most magical thing they had ever seen. Y. was particularly entranced and would clap every time I finished something. When I had finished appliqueing the egg, I cut off the excess pieced fabric. Y. immediately grabbed it, exclaimed, "Beautiful!" and  put it on her head. She then proceeded to wear her new crown for most of the afternoon.


Seriously, I cannot get enough of this smile. As crazy-making as it was to ask the state of Illinois for permission to adopt two children, she is worth every ounce of worry, every grey hair, and every extra wrinkle.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

A little bit of hope

Yesterday I promised you news about R., so here it is. I'm pretty excited about it.

When M. was over on Saturday I made use of an having an artist-in-residence to create a manipulative that would help R. to learn to draw a face. I envisioned a laminated (of course) game along the lines of Mr. Potato Head with eyes, nose, and mouth that could be moved and placed on a face shape. My thinking was that if we removed the pencil skills part and focused on identifying facial parts, both having R. identify her own and identifying others, both other people's and in photographs, we could build her mental image of "face."

Here is what M. created for me. (Sorry about the photo quality... I was taking them quickly because K. has an ortho. appointment in a half an hour.)

Here is the blank face with the various parts.

An example of the some of the parts on the face.

Well, R. was highly interested in what M. was doing, and M. was great and took time to explain each thing and have R. show M. where each part was on her own face. M. also discovered that earrings were the clue to catching R.'s interest. (Thus the ears, with earrings on the game.) Sometimes you just have to figure out what is going to give a child a reason to learn something. Remember K. not learning his colors until J. thought to tie the colors to the Cars characters?

After the face parts were all made, R. went to get a notebook and pen and sat down at the kitchen table. Until this point, I had had no success in getting R. to even try to do any representational drawing; she had remained fixated on trying to draw letters and numbers, though this was extremely hit or miss and there was no real meaning in them for her. I cannot tell you how thrilled I was when she was willing to try to draw a flower. Then M. sat down next to her and went part by part showing her how to draw a person. R. then attempted to draw one herself. Here it is...


M.'s is on the right and R.'s is on the left. (Notice the ears on R.'s person have earrings.) This is huge. Huge. Huge. Huge. She then went on to do other faces and people. She even tried to draw a dinosaur because that is G.'s particular drawing fancy at the moment. 

The transition had been difficult for R. While she was happy enough on the surface, we also knew that because of her language and intellectual issues that it was also completely baffling. I think it was a huge shock and as a result we saw a lot of regression in many areas. This weekend seems to have been a turning point. There was the beginning drawing, plus she is also now a little willing to try using English. We have a long way to go, but it seems as though at least now, we are facing in the right direction. It's a start. It doesn't take much hope to keep people going.

And my children do have hope. They are in a family who loves and cares for them through good times and bad; a family who will stick by them even during the really yucky parts of life. Right now my heart is breaking for a boy who is coming very, very close to never having a loving family in his life. Do you remember me advocating so hard for Peter? Well, while I am thrilled that Peter has a family so very close to bringing him home (to Chicago!!), there is another boy, a friend of Peter's, who through no fault of his own, is still waiting. At the time I was advocating for Peter, he had a friend, Jimmy, also blind and a pianist, who was waiting for his family to arrive. Sadly, the family who was going to adopt Jimmy could not complete the adoption, and Jimmy now is without a family coming for him. He turns 14 in July, fourteen weeks away. There is precious little time for a family to complete the adoption. In order to squeak in under the wire, a family would really need to be starting right away. Can you imagine turning 14 and knowing you will never know the love of a mother and father? TM and H. both turn 14 this year, just a few months after Jimmy. Can you imagine? Jimmy needs a family. He needs a family who is willing to commit to him right now. I have no idea if an adoption can be started from scratch and be done in time. Ideally, a family would be able to add Jimmy onto a current adoption... or if a family recently returned home and had a current I800 on file, it could perhaps cut enough time off to get it done. Please pray for Jimmy. Please pray that his family find him in time. 

Jimmy (in red)

You can also read about him on the Twenty Less advocacy site.

Or just watch this video.


Or listen to him play the piano.


How could you not want this child to be a part of your family?

Monday, March 14, 2016

Pi Day craft

It's Pi Day (you know, 3/14, the first three numbers in pi?) It is also the first Monday after the dratted time change, which makes for tired cranky children. It also makes for a tired mother. These things are not a good combination. (An aside... I grew up in Arizona, a state which wisely does not observe the crazy time-change plan. I thought it was weird my freshman year in college and I still think it's weird. Why? Why put us through this twice a year?) 

We hadn't done a real art project in quite some time, so in my pre-fully caffeinated stupor, I ran across this post dealing with math art, and I knew this was what we were going to be doing. (My art supply hoarding pays off once again. I already had some graph paper [though I needed to print out some bigger grid for younger types], markers, watercolors, and watercolor paper.) 

I pretty much copied the instructions whole sale. First you graph the beginning digits of pi which then become skyscrapers in your skyline. If you have smaller grid paper, you have more buildings, and larger grid paper gives you less. After you have your skyline all colored in, you cut it out, paint a watercolor sky on your watercolor paper, glue on the skyline, and voila... you have Pi City.

The best part about this project? It was completely variable to allow for all of my disparate abilities. Everyone made a completed project. This is no small feat around here these days.


Here is R. working on her skyline. She would choose the color, I would outline each box, and then she would color it in. This was right in the middle of her abilities and she did a great job.


H. was able to do hers entirely herself!! The only thing that briefly baffled her was cutting out the skyline without cutting off the important parts. I outlined the cutting lines in black sharpie and she was set.

G.

Y. and TM

L.

Everyone else was pretty self-sufficient. I did cut out the four youngests' because it was a lot of finicky cutting, but that was all they needed help with.

Here are the final projects.

D. - You can't tell, but this is about 1 1/2 inches square. Sometimes D. has difficulties with perfectionism and a smaller scale was far less stressful for him. I actually love how the small scale works on this.

G. - G. really likes to write her name on everything. That actually says, "Pi City" and not "Pigigi City," though that is cute, too. The bigger news is that everything is facing the correct direction.

K. - What was interesting about K's was his use of perspective. Do you see those dark buildings in the back? He added those behind his pi buildings because he wanted a more varied skyline.

Y. - I can tell she has had limited exposure to painting. The other interesting thing is that she is not yet sure of herself as a creator of original work. she had made a unique city, then after looking around at other people's changed hers to match theirs. You'll notice G.'s influence in the sky writing, and once you see TM's (below), you'll understand why she blacked in all the buildings. I find it so interesting to watch a child develop their own sense of self from a more impoverished background.

L. - My always colorful one. She added smoke coming off the buildings.

H. - This is probably her most careful piece of artwork yet. It seems as though now that she has picked up how things are supposed to work, she has entered the extreme rule following stage. But, she also seems to have left the copy everything everyone does phase. She has a good eye; I can't wait to see what happens once she figures out her own style.

This is R.'s. It actually amazes me considering the level of coloring she was doing in China. I can't wait till I share tomorrow's post with you about her other big milestone.

And TM's. - I love how this turned out. 

Happy Pi Day everyone!

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Happy 23rd Birthday, M.!

Yesterday was actually M's birthday, but due to many people's schedules, we celebrated tonight.


We had cherry pie, so TM stood in as candle holder. It was a pretty low-key birthday, as birthdays become in your adult years. It was just nice to spend time together. Everyone was there except A., who flew to Florida today with the university crew team. She will spend her spring break rowing for six hours a day.

But back to M. It is also harder as an adult to think of what you want for your birthday, so we gave rain checks and some really good chocolate. (Because who doesn't want really good chocolate?) L. also decided that another show was in order. She had to make do with an abbreviated version between us getting dinner on the table late and the dratted time change. The main characters were once again K., L., and Y.



So Happy Birthday to my adored first born. You are fantastically talented and I'm always excited to see what you do next. (And I will be forever grateful for you teaching R. how to draw a face!) I love that you love to come home and spend time with everyone. Actually, I just love you. (And how on earth did you get to be 23, I would like to know.)
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