Monday, October 31, 2016

Lots of pictures of pumpkins

Everyone carved pumpkins yesterday and we got to watch our new daughters have another 'first'. It was both Y. and R.'s first time making a Jack-o-Lantern and while they enjoyed it, I also think it was one of those rather odd things that their new family does.

This is K. working in L.'s mad scientist studio. This little venture deserves its own post, so I'll describe it more later.

And the finished products. (I promised I would credit D. with the photos.)

H.'s (she wasn't feeling as though she wanted to be in the picture right then.)



R. (P. carved it for her.)

L.'s, who initially didn't want her picture taken...

and then decided she did.



The energy level today has been frenetic, even without candy. While we made an attempt at school this morning to help pass the time until it was time to extort candy from the neighbors, I wouldn't call it our most productive school day.

Tomorrow I'll show you costumes, and then the day after I will do TM's (not) birthday post.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Adoption 101: Chronological and emotional/developmental ages don't always match

Children who have been deprived of normal developmental experiences still keep growing, but they age while missing key milestones. Without those milestones, they will have difficulty becoming a mature and functioning adult. One of the things which often surprised new adoptive parents is that their new child will very likely seem much younger than the age on their paperwork. Some parents panic at this and think something is severely wrong. Nothing is wrong. Well, nothing is wrong with the child. The child is behaving in a way that makes sense if you factor in a less-than-ideal background. Given the proper support, these children will go back and pick-up the experiences and developmental/emotional work they missed the first time around. But this work must be done for a healthy child to develop.

This is why for the past week we have been living with an eleven year old 2 year old.

When a child experiences safety and consistency and love and support, that child is finally able to start to grow. For R., due to how she processed and experienced the radical changes that happened in her life with her adoption, she regressed to about the level of an 18 month old. I've raised a few children that age, and everything she was doing, how she was behaving, screamed 18 months old. So that is where we met her. I rebought toddler toys, which she loves to play with. I tried to keep all tasks and learning at an early toddler level. We gave her the same amount of support and structure that we would a toddler.

The most difficult thing about doing this is that your brain sees an adolescent girl and interprets her behavior as being out of sync. The disconnect can be hard to reconcile and it is a constant effort to override one's emotional expectations. But it seems our hard work is paying off. Because now we have a two year old.

You know, the terrible twos.

There have been some pretty impressive temper tantrums around here for the past few days. I'm an experienced therapeutic parent and know when my child is in a completely disregulated meltdown. There is no turning back from those. There is no awareness of what is going on around them. There is not choice but just to suffer through it with the child. A temper tantrum is a different being. A tantrum is purposeful with a goal in mine. One day the goal was to complain about the bowl she was given. During the tantrum, I would notice a pause every now and then to determine if anyone was paying attention and was it working. A tantrum can be turned off. These have most definitely been tantrums. It's been loud.

Here's the good news. It means that R. has reached a new developmental milestone. It means she is aware of her surroundings, which she most definitely was not for the first six months or so, she was too disassociated. It means she has an idea about what she wants and does not want, and also feels she has the power to do something about it. I attribute this ability to her wonderful foster family who spent the last two years nurturing her. In contrast, it took H. nearly three years to be able to express any sort of desire. It means she feels at least a little secure enough with us to let her emotions show. These are not small achievements.

But like a two year old, it also shows us the road R. still has to travel. Language continues to be an issue, and the desire to communicate, but the difficulties with language are, like for any other two year old, at the root. Also like a two year old, the development of self-control is still emerging. It is oh, so much easier to whack the sister who got you the wrong bowl instead of collecting yourself and using words to ask for a different one.

So parents who are adopting an older child, be prepared. Few older children will be as delayed as R., but delays are normal. They are also not the end of the world. Be prepared to meet your child where he or she is. Let them experience what they missed. Support them where they are rather than pushing them to a level or developmental phase they are not ready for. There is no rush. There is not rule that says a child has to be completely done by 18. Allow them the time to grow and mature and to experience love that they missed at the beginning of their lives.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Parking adventures... or why we ended up looking at Iranian movie posters from the 1950's

Things always sound so good on paper, don't they. This morning, I needed to head to the South Loop to pick-up a few things from my sister-in-law. I thought that since we would be heading that way, we could make an event out of it, and swing by the Art Institute to both see the lions with Cubs hats on (for the first time!) and to do a quick visit to the museum. There is great street parking behind the museum that makes it easy to park the van and since we were right there and the weather was good, we were all set to go.

Now, anyone who lives in a city and uses a car knows that the parking of that car takes up no small amount of time and effort. This is doubly true if you drive a very large van. Most parking garages are out for me because they are either too short or the turns too tight for it to fit. I have even called places to find out exactly how tall the parking garage is. This is not always successful as people do not always know. Knowing I could park on the street behind the museum is what made this little venture possible.

Until I discover that we can't park on the street. The entire length has chain length along it and very obviously no parking is allowed. So I decided to drive around the block, at least we could drive by the lions with their Cubs hats. TM grabbed my camera and took a couple of pictures as I drove by.

Also notice the 'W' banner hanging there above the entrance. For the two people who might not know what it means, it's the 'win' flag that is flown above Wrigley Field after a Cubs' win.

Then I remembered that the Art Institute has valet parking. I even knew where it was and it just required an easy right turn. So I do that, and optimistically pull-up to the parking guy, "We wanted to go to the museum. Can you park my van?"
"Yeeaah...," he says slowly, "for forty bucks." Inwardly I'm sighing, but not quite ready to give up yet. "But the last time I was down here and I asked about my van, the guy said it would be no problem and the regular price." (Which is entirely true. I also noticed that the valet parking fee had doubled in the interim.)
"Well, it's busy and the lot is pretty full and your van would take up two spots," he replies. (Those must be really small spots, I think to myself, because I park in regular spots all the time without taking up two of them. You would think that valet parkers would be better at driving than this. I do not say any of this out loud because I can tell that I'm not going to get anywhere.) I briefly think about whether the $40 would be worth it, and decide no because it wasn't going to be a long museum trip anyway. I ask about the street parking and it is closed due to a movie or a race or some sort of event that is constantly closing down the city to the people who actually live here. And we drive off.

At this point, L. realizes that she is not going to get to go to the art museum. (L. adores art museums... and looking at artwork... and learning about artists. Yes, my L. is an unusual 7 year old.) Great wailing from the back seat is then heard. Just at this moment, we pass Maggie Daley Park, which K. then decides would make a good alternative activity. I have to tell him the park is out, too, because of the whole parking issue. Now K. (and a few others who suddenly think that park sounded like fun) is upset.

Ahhh... the joys of happy children driving home.

We get home and every goes inside and we have lunch. I decide we are going to have an outing whether it kills us or not and do some quick research. Since L. had her heart set on an art museum, I decide that heading to the Block Gallery at Northwestern is our best bet. It's free, it's close, and it's small, thus leaving us enough time to play at a park as well.

After more parking tribulations, which involved moving the van once to a different parking garage we made it. Which is why we found ourselves looking at a room full of Iranian movie posters from the 1950's. (Some were rather steamy. It was a bit surprising... to me, anyway.) Then we went upstairs and looked at another of the exhibits, which, even though I went through it, I still cannot actually tell you much about it except that they were photographs of a guy in front of famous places and with (possibly?) famous people.

This particular museum, is on the modern edge of things. I knew that, but sometimes they have something that is interesting, so I hoped today would be one of those times. Not so much. Instead it was more edgy than that. At least the very nice man at the front desk of the museum gave me a heads up about what I should not take my children to see. To make the most of my parking fee, I thought it would also be fun to stop into the new music performing arts building at my old Alma Mater. It has a lovely view of the lake, but I'm afraid that I had a more extensive tour of its restrooms than anything else.

Finally we made it to a park, which we had all to ourselves. A little crazy on a pretty nice fall day, if you ask me.




TM, R. and H.

Go Cubs!

Thursday, October 27, 2016

My little known super power

I'd really like my super power to be something cool and useful like controlling the weather or becoming invisible. No, my super power, I've discovered, is not even close to those, and I am not quite sure of its usefulness. You want to know what my super power is? It is the ability to stop any conversation cold with one sentence. When I utter this sentence, all conversation seems to stop, even if I thought it was an interesting one. This one sentence also seems to have the power to make people look at me as if I suddenly grew an extra head.

I bet by now, you are really wondering what this sentence is. Ready? It is...

I have twelve children.

When I utter this sentence, there are a couple of usual responses. One is the total jaw drop. Yes, people have stood there staring at me with their mouth literally hanging open. Another is to laugh, as if I just told the best joke ever, and then say, "No, really, how many children do you have?" They usually then move on to the first option, thus covering all their bases. The third, and this usually comes from other mothers if we were discussing the raising of children, "Oh. Well, I guess I can't complain about anything, can I?" Then these same people pretty brutally cut me out of any continuing conversation. No, I don't think I am overly sensitive to people's reactions. The change in attitude between before-they-know and after-they-know is too distinct. Plus many people have the overwhelming urge to continue bringing it up over and over. The number of my children then becomes the topic regardless of what we were talking about before.

Rarely, though, have I come across so blatant a display of negative reaction as I did yesterday. I was having a parenting discussion online over whether or not it was possible to homeschool and pursue ones own interests. As you can imagine, I was arguing the position that it is possible to be a parent and still have outside interests. The conversation went back and forth a bit, when the inevitable happened and I was asked how many children I have. Knowing what was coming, I tried to make light of it a bit, and then answered with the number. The response was immediate.

Oh. You're different. You're one of those super moms. Followed by radio silence. End of conversation.


If that doesn't make a person feel good, then I don't know what does. And if you not read that sentence as absolutely dripping with sarcasm, you need to go back and reread it with the appropriate tone.

It just doesn't feel good to be accused of being that mythical creature, the Super Mom. You want to know what I hear when I hear Super Mom?

Super Mom never makes mistakes.
Super Mom cares more for appearances than content.
Super Mom wants to make other mothers look bad, and if she can make them feel badly too, then so much the better.
Super Mom is proud.
Super Mom is used to getting her own way.
Super Mom has no compassion for other people, or even her children.
Super Mom never has to work hard at anything.
Super Mom knows better than anyone else.

But you know what the worst is? The second someone accuses another of being Super Mom, that means the other mother, the accused, is suddenly not someone to take seriously. Because a Super Mom operates in a different universe. The regular rules don't seem to apply to her. She has nothing to say that is of any value to a 'regular' mom. She doesn't count anymore.

I don't know why the facts I have twelve children and that we all still manage to function at a fairly normal level makes some people so upset. It's not as though we had these children just to annoy them. But that's how it feels on the receiving end sometimes.

And for the record, I am NOT Super Mom. My house is never spotless. We have too much stuff and it often lives out its life on floors, chairs, and counters. Dinner is pretty much never done on time. The laundry piles up. I have some very important emails that I really, really, really need to respond to, but just cannot work up the emotional energy to do so quite yet. I forget things. I make mistakes. And yes, I have even forgotten to take a child to a birthday party. Don't even mention our tooth fairy track record. Trust me. If I suddenly discovered a way to add six more hours into a day, or how to do away with the need for sleep, you would all be the first to hear about it. No secrets here.

I'm just like any other regular mom. It's not the number of children, it's just life.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Maybe these bullet points will become a weekly occurance

I have still to teach piano lessons to K. and Y., as well as go over TM's schoolwork before I run out in the car to collect P. from the stable, so this will have to be short. (Hey, your sigh of relief doesn't have to be quite so loud.) And, since bullet points proved to be so popular the last time (over 1000 hits so far... really?), I will resort to them once again.

  • My nutty children are playing outside. This doesn't sound too unusual except for the fact it is raining and 48 degrees outside. At least they are helpfully refilling our bird feeders in addition to getting wet and muddy.
  • Just when you think your children are not paying too much attention to what you read to them in school, they prove you wrong. G. and L. had created some huge imaginary play this morning. I was informed that they were in George Washington's camp and they were soldiers. I think it was Valley Forge because the third floor was a wee bit chilly.
  • A. is going to be going on a mission trip with her university crew team to Nicaragua in January. If you are interested in reading about it, or sending some money her way, you can take a look at her fundraising page
  • Can I just say again that I am not supermom, whoever that is? For instance, last night we were due to have potpies. When J. arrived home at 7pm, I had the crust made, but the filling (which I had neglected to take out of the freezer in time) was still thawing at an incredibly slow rate. We decided rather than eat at 8:30, which is when the pies were looking to be done, we would order pizza and eat at 7:45 instead. This is late even for our generally late eating family. We'll be having the potpies tonight along with a much earlier bedtime.
  • J. and I both agree that it seems that R. has done a little maturing. Instead of feeling as though she is working at 18 month old level, now we see her more as a 2 to 3 year old. Kind of a 'terrible twos' sort of thing, though we tended to experience it more of a 'terrible threes'. It's progress. At least that's what we keep telling ourselves.
  • Remember the speech therapy evaluation for Y. that was so not fun to be a part of due to Y.'s lack of enthusiasm? Well, I got the written evaluation in the mail the other day. I learned that the child was very cooperative in the session. Really? Were we in the same session? The child I saw was doing everything but holding up a sign to signal how unhappy she was to be there and her level of cooperation reflected that. It could be why the evaluator decided that the child was not physically able to sit up straight. Evidently body language was not part of the course work to train future speech therapists.
  • I've been keeping track of how many books I've read this year, mainly because I'm curious and I like to be able to remind myself of what I've read. I just wrote down the title to book #60 a couple of nights ago. You need to know that I include any books I've read out loud to my children, so that bumps the number up quite a bit. I know I used to be able to read between 8 and 10 books per month when I was younger and had more leisure time, so as far as my personal reading statistics go, this feels a little low. (Can I write this as merely information without it sounding like bragging? I have no idea how this comes across.)
And now, life beckons and I hope it stops raining before I have to go out in the car. I don't really like to get wet.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

STEM, schmem

You've all heard the acronym, STEM, by now, right? If by some chance you missed it, it stands for Science Technology Engineering and Math. And whenever I read it or hear it, it always sounds a bit like this to my ear: IF WE DON'T TEACH OUR CHILDREN THESE INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT THINGS STARTING WHILE THEY ARE STILL GESTATING BECAUSE WAITING UNTIL THEY ARE THREE IS TOO LATE THEN WE WILL RUIN OUR CHILDREN AND THEY WON'T SUCCEED IN COLLEGE AND LIFE AS WE KNOW IT WILL END!

With all this screaming in my ears, you can understand why I find the acronym and the hype surrounding it to be a wee bit annoying. Because hype is really what it is. Why do we need to push our children to do things as early as possible? What is the ultimate purpose? My sneaking suspicion is that if we really get down to it, the root of it all is that every parent wants to be special, and the best way to be special is to have special children. No, not the special that means behind the curve, but the special which screams says advanced. My mother liked to term them 'gifted parents' and secretly enjoyed pulling me out of the gifted program (at my insistence) because of the reaction she got from other parents when she told them. (I didn't fall far from the tree in that respect.)

Sorry if I just alienated a bunch of you, but I really am going somewhere with this. The end is a worthy goal... to have children, who, when they are grown, have a good working knowledge of the maths and sciences. It's good to have an educated populace. It is good to have citizens who can invent and create new things.

It is the means I completely and totally disagree with. We do not need to hand small children iPads and phones to teach them technology. They will pick that type of technology up all by themselves, thank you very much. And if you think the technology you just handed your three year old will have anything to do with the technology they will have access to as an adult, you are not paying attention. Having math skills are great, but let's wait to introduce higher math until their brains have developed to a point where they can actually use it and not just perform it. Sure there will always be the outlier who can understand and play with numbers and advanced mathematics far earlier than most, but that's an easy and unique case which can be handled in and easy and unique way. The same with science. The best way to introduce science to children younger than adolescense is by allowing them to explore it, and more often than not, that exploring is much more effective if it is self-directed.

This isn't just me being reactionary and holding nutty ideas. This time I have some real articles to share with you. My tune doesn't change. What children need is to explore a wider world at their own pace, using all their senses. They need to listen to stories and to develop a strong relationship with their parents. The need real, solid objects to manipulate and hold and not some image on an ever present screen. They need freedom from tests and rigid book work and overly controlled schedules.

The first article is How to Raise a Creative Child. Step One: Back Off. I find this one particularly interesting as it discusses the adult life of gifted children and why we don't see that particular population well represented in the group of Nobel Laureates. The take away from it, for me at least, is towards the end where it discusses the wide spectrum of interests that these scientists have. They are dabblers (though I expect they all dabble quite well) in many areas... not just in STEM fields... and these areas influence them in their science work.

If we want adults who are interested in more than just the narrow world of their own particular field, we need to introduce the wider world of arts, music, and literature when they are young. Narrowly focusing and emphasizing one area of learning over another is not great for overall creativity, and without creativity, not only will the arts die out, but new discoveries in the sciences will as well.

It also turns out that creating scientists has more to do with literature and parental relationships than it does anything else. Reading to Children 'More Effective than Technology at Boosting Science Skills' is an article that my science-majoring son sent me. Pretty much books read and discussed with adults is the best way to create a skilled scientist. Books move at a better rate for children to make us of, and the added bonus of discussing the ideas of the book afterward with an adult makes that information useful. I love it when I find my recipe for education (play, read, read, play) supported by outside sources.

Finally, about those real books verses screen books. Take a look at Your Paper Brain and Your Kindle Brain Aren't the Same Thing. We use different parts of our brain to read different things. The part of the brain that reads screens is far better at skimming and jumping than the part of the brain that reads text off a page. It is the part of our brain that we use for deep and sustained concentration. If this part of our brain is not used, like any other neurological ability that is not used, the brain real estate is taken over by some other function and that original function is lost. It is not your imagination if you find reading an actual book, even one that would have been easy for you years ago, feels so much harder and more difficult to concentrate on if you are out of practice. We need these skills for much of our adult lives and by allowing our children to learn solely on computers, we are robbing them of even developing abilities at deep and sustained concentration.

Our children are natural scientists. They explore, discover, categorize, organize, question, and solve all the time. If we were to give our children the time they need to do these things at their own pace and their own time, we wouldn't need to come up with some backwards focused 'program' to fix what wasn't broken.

Monday, October 24, 2016

It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood

Yesterday was gorgeous. Warm (oddly warm for mid-October) and sunny and just beautiful. The kind of day where you have to spend it outside. So many of us decided to take a walk to a nearby park.

Our walk took us right by a favorite spot, the neighborhood Little Free Library. It was a banner day because yesterday it was filled with children's schlock. Princesses... pretty ponies... TV characters. It was so difficult for the younger set to choose.

And when you have new books, you must look at them, whether you are on a walk or not.

Seven blocks later, we made it to the park.

One of the highlights of this park, other than its size, is that it is right on the lake and there are plenty of rocks (otherwise known as blocks of concrete) to climb on.

More book reading.

See what a beautiful day it was? Looking south you can see the Chicago skyline,

and looking north you can see Northwestern.

Kenzie got to come along as well. He was very well behaved. Well, except for the barking at other dogs. That was tiresome. It is so nice to have a dog who can join us on outings. Gretel could never manage it no matter how often we tried. It just made her anxious and would pull and whine and pace and slather the entire time we would be out. It was not relaxing to have her along. It does make us appreciate Kenzie's calmer demeanor.

And then we walked seven blocks home. I'm thrilled to say that Y. was able to do it under her own steam, at the same pace as the rest of us, and never fell once, even though we didn't take her crutches. This is no small accomplishment and really highlights exactly how much strength she has gained in eight months.

There were a couple of scooters brought along and shared, and toward the end of the walk, R. really, really wanted a chance to try. She hadn't shown much interest in the scooters until now, so the fact that she noticed other people were having fun with them and that she might be able to have fun with one as well was kind of a small victory on its own. So for the last, homestretch block, we let R. ride on the scooter. With some prodding she managed to scooter, more or less, the rest of the way home.

Since her life is pretty much all therapy, all the time, I think I'll have her ride the scooter a lot more while the weather is still decent. It forces her left foot to not toe out, and oddly, when her left foot is straight, so is her right. Plus, she pushes herself along with her right leg, which is the one which needs more strengthening. (Because when the neurologist tells me that her right leg will just always be weaker, it makes me want to prove the doctor wrong.) And it forces a movement across the midline and balancing, which are also things that are still very much a struggle for R.

So, we made the most of the beautiful day.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Puzzles and games

I thought I would show you a little bit of the Big Ugly House that I think you've never seen, and it will give me a chance to talk about game and puzzle storage. Is this a never ending battle at your house as much as it is in mine? Homes for the games and keeping the games in their homes and returning the instructions to the proper games. Ugh, the instructions! It's as if my children purposefully go about removing game instructions and putting them as far away from the game as possible.

Many of our nicer, older people games live on the top of the armoire in the front living room.

It stays looking like this for a while, but then the games never quite go back as nicely as they were before and I will have to come along, empty it, and stack them all up nicely again. If the games could live in shorter piles, it would make the whole thing easier, but they can't, so we deal with it.

Small games or games that live in plastic bags because their boxes were lost or games that have silly containers live in the drawer underneath. This quickly becomes a mess because it gets riffled through and then the games are thrown back in. I ignore it for as along as possible and then have to empty it out, put all the pieces back in the right game, and make it look nice. It holds too much to be truly organized.

But we have more games and puzzles than this. I don't know about you, but I don't find piles of boxes in various states of disrepair particularly nice to look at, so as well as storage the trick was to find a place I didn't have to stare at them. Here's my solution.

I don't think I've ever shown you this part of the house. Can you see the door?

Here, I'll crack it open for you.

This little oddity was the servants' entrance. If you look down the half flight of stairs, you can see what is left of the exterior servants' entrance. It is sealed on the outside. When we bought the house, this door led to a full bathroom which was down that flight of steps. It was odd. Very, very odd. I can tell you that no one in our family ever used the bathtub that was in it, and only used the toilet in desperate circumstances. When we redid the kitchen, we moved a small working kitchen to the basement so we could eat. But, how would we get down to it? The only flight of basement steps was going to be part of the remodeling. We decided to demolish the bathroom and then J. and a friend constructed new stairs down to the front of the basement.

Now, it is not only a second entrance to the basement, but serves as useful storage as well.

This is where we keep the younger people's games (and the overflow of older people's), puzzles, and various other things.

There is the white cabinet and a black wire shelf that hold a bunch of boxes as well as insulated coolers.

On the wall opposite hang ice skates and our painting bags.

Then a little further down, on the top of a shelf that holds luggage there are even more games and puzzles. If by some chance we were ever snowed in for weeks at a time, we could entertain ourselves with no problem.

The room that the stairs lead down into also doubled as B.'s room when he's home. He decided living down here in a little cave seemed more appealing than bunking with a very early rising and energetic little brother.

The last category of games are those that are pretty and can double as a decorative object such as this Chinese chess game we brought home from China.

Would you believe that all of these games and puzzles are the ones that make the constant purging cut? I've decided that no family, regardless of how many people they are, need more than this. Pretty much, if the games and puzzles exceed this storage, something has to go. It is a never ending process.
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