Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Mission Impossible

[Cue music] Duh, Duh, Duh-duh, Duh, Duh, Duh-duh...

Your mission, should you choose to accept it includes,

1. Declutter, clean, and stage a very large house with 12 occupants and 3 pets in approximately two months.
2. Teach five young children to read while doing #1.
3. Begin to develop new household habits in those 12 occupants so that the old habits of leaving personal items strewn about the house are changed to more organized behaviors.
4. Once pristine, keep the very large house with 12 occupants and 3 pets pristine.
5. Do this without sending the 10 year old human tornado to another residence.
6. Also do this while continuing to teach young children to read.
7. Do not lose your mind or your patience along the way.

This message will self-destruct in 10 seconds.... leaving behind a pile of ash which will then need to be cleaned up.

[Cue music] Duh, Duh, Duh-duh, Duh, Duh, Duh-duh....

(Yes, I know we can only do what can do. But we would really like the house, once on the market to sell more quickly rather than more slowly. And when discussing it with realtors, hearing the words, 'unique' and 'very large' and 'unusual' are not overly heart-warming, because I know enough to know that they are code words for plan it on taking a while to sell. Clean and pristine, along with well-priced, can help a lot.)

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Saturday thankfulness

The news is depressing and distressing, and not good for one's mental health to fixate on, so I'm going to take a break and remember all the things around me to be thankful for. So on this Saturday, I'm thankful for....

Big dogs with big barks.

J. and D. were camping last night with the Boy Scouts. I happily stayed home in my warm house and my comfortable bed. When J. is gone, I leave Kenzie's crate door open. He loves his crate and we usually close it, but it just seems better to have him loose when I'm home alone. Of course it is unnerving when the dog wakes you up at 2:30 in the morning, using his scary, 'there's a predator at the door' bark. (This is different from his, 'ooh, ooh, there's squirrels outside and I must chase them' bark.) When he didn't stop, I went downstairs and cautiously peered out the back door window. No one was there, but he was definitely alert to something. The rest of the night passed uneventfully, though it is a bit hard to get back to sleep after such a shot of adrenaline.

Cooperative children and piano lessons.

I teach piano on Saturday mornings. I chose this day, even though it is a bit difficult to find students who can make it work, because J. can be home to keep an eye on the resident chaos. It is always a bit tricky to teach and keep the chaos in check all alone. But the older people who were home were fantastic at crowd control, and R. only wandered out once because she wanted to play with my hair. I am also thankful I am up to nearly a full morning of teaching, because it makes the checkbook very, very happy.

A free afternoon.

With nothing on the schedule today, we could take our time over lunch and then everyone pitched in to get the house clean. The house now looks as good as it ever does (and boy, are we going to have to up our game once the house goes on the market), and people are now playing happily.

A place of rest.

Even though I hesitate to write it, everyone is feeling pretty even keeled today. Jobs have been done without a whole lot of drama. People are getting along, and this allows me to finally write a longer article that's been due for a while now. There is a fire in the fireplace, G. and L. are playing library near me, soup I pulled out of the freezer for dinner is thawing on the (clean) counter, and I feel more peaceful than I have for a while.

My goal is to make our home a place of calm and peace, but this doesn't always happen. The hard part is, if I am feeling out of sorts or preoccupied, then that tends to transfer itself to the rest of the household. The ridiculous part is that I can intellectually tell you how one should go about battling those out of sorts feelings and preoccupations, but I also am terribly good at ignoring my own advice. But today I have, and am enjoying its fruits.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Friday bullets, Jan. 27, 17

It's Friday and I can't decide if the week went quickly or dragged heavily. A little bit of both. Everyone, myself included, has been a bit discombobulated about the changes that are ahead of us. It's so distracting to think about your life being so upturned that it can make it difficult to focus on much of anything. Difficult to focus probably pretty much sums up the entire week.

  • K. now has a shiny new expander inside his mouth and I'm getting a chance to use my mad expander turning skills. (This is the fifth one in various children's mouths.) He was not happy about it (understandably) and was uncomfortable, but he's been a trooper and the discomfort is a lot less today.
  • In other mouth news, G. FINALLY pulled out the front baby tooth that has been pointing forward from above her adult teeth. Hooray! Hooray! I can cross off 'call oral surgeon' from my to-do list, because I was becoming increasingly convinced that the tooth was never going to come out on its own.
  • Zillow is addictive. And frustrating. Especially when you are in absolutely no place to even start looking at houses. I don't do living in limbo well. I'm more of a Veruca Salt-type inside my head. I want to do a thing right NOW! Sorry. I'll go back to being reasonable.
  • There's nothing like an impending move to motivate one to take care of annoying little jobs that tend to get ignored. Like dealing with the basket of table linens that have been staring at me for far longer than I'm willing to admit in public. Let's just say we're not talking months here.
  • Tet and Chinese New Year may be postponed in the Curry home this year. In all of the other mental chaos, it kind of got left behind. See introductory paragraph.
  • Animal bonding continues. The other day Nefertiti walked up to Kenzie, sniffed him, and walked away, all without hissing. This is real progress.
  • You never know what is going on inside your children's heads. I had mentioned the cats needing  check-ups at the vets and that I was going to make appointments for them. For the next couple of days after that, H. went completely off the rails. We eventually were able to figure out that she thought me taking the cats to the vet meant that they would never come home. It is so hard to teach permanence to a child who has had so little.
  • On a lighter note, I'm pretty sure the receptionist at the vet had never heard of the Egyptian queen, Nefertiti, based on the number of times I had to spell the cat's name for her.
  • Playing the card game, War, and the imaginary game, Family, have been the all-consuming pastimes of the 7 to 10 year old set around her this week. No, I don't think the two games are in any way related.
  • I have a small reminder for everyone. Five of my children are immigrants. They are also naturalized US citizens, but that doesn't change the fact that they are indeed immigrants to this country. When people in charge start throwing around words without careful definitions, then it affects everyone. Immigrants are not evil; they are not to be feared. Fear is a (not so) funny thing. Fear short-circuits the brain and causes the rational thinking parts to go off-line. People in the grip of fear are not thinking rationally and are susceptible to anyone who says the things that make them feel better, whether or not the thing that is said is actually true. And for the Christians reading here, you of all people need to look at your fear and call it what it is, because our God is bigger than anything we can be afraid of. Parental lecture done.
  • Here's Sapphire. Get used to seeing her picture because I need to advocate for her because she needs a family. Think what H. and R. could be doing now without the years of neglect they experienced in early childhood. Let's not let her linger without a mommy and daddy any longer than absolutely necessary. I also have a video I can share of her sitting up on her own and playing. For those who are interested I can share it via email.
  • I forgot one I was going to add, so I'm editing it in. I read a newspaper article a bit ago about some librarians who were under investigation because they had created an imaginary patron who then checked out library books which were on the purge list if they didn't circulate in time. These were good, classic standards that libraries should stock. I shout hooray for the librarians. I used to do this when our library books still had date due stamps in them. I would browse the shelves and always look at the last time a book was checked out. If it was a long time ago, I would check it out to extend its life. I would even volunteer to check out books on death row at the library, if there was some way I could be fed a list of what books are endangered. Boy, I miss those date due stamps.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

A Homeschooling Reading List... with annotations

The fact that I read a lot of books is a known fact around the blog, but in all of the many and varied book lists I have posted over the years, I realize that I have never posted a reading list for the homeschooler. It's actually probably going to veer more into an educational theory reading list, but I find it difficult to draw a line between the two. The other thing that some of you might find interesting (unusual? odd? surprising?) is that the vast majority of these books are not written from a Christian perspective. We have never homeschooled for strictly religious reasons. While our beliefs are extremely important to us (I would even go so far as to say essential), neither J. nor I have ever felt frightened of opposing viewpoints. We also feel secure enough in our theology that we are able to sort and sift through these opposing viewpoints to find what is good and valuable in them. And there is information in these books that is good and useful. Not all of it, but I feel that way about Christian books as well. Rare is the book I agree with wholeheartedly.

I actually think there is great benefit to struggling with ideas you do not necessarily agree with, and a few of these books I did wrestle with. I believe it was this act of wrestling that helped to form my ideas about what learning is, how education occurs, and what school should look like. I recommend many of these books not only for the information they contain, but for the intellectual struggling which will ensue as a result of reading them. The beliefs that cannot endure a good struggle with an opposing view are not really beliefs worth holding.

Without further ado, here is the list of homeschooling and education related books that I believe anyone considering homeschooling, or just interested in education in general, should read. I'll try to put them vaguely in the order in which I came across them, but it will be more of a guess than anything.

Family Matters: Why Homeschooling Makes Sense by David Guterson

  • This was the first homeschooling book I ever read. I had just finished Snow Falling on Cedars by this same author for a book club, and happened to see that he had written a book on homeschooling. This was before we had made the decision to homeschool. In fact, when I read this book, we were still planning on sending to M. to kindergarten. Homeschooling, to my mind, was weird and not a great choice for a child. David Guterson also had a bibliography (I love bibliographies) which I then read through in my ongoing inner discussion with the particular book. Which is how I met...
How Children Fail and How Children Learn, both by John Holt
  • There were so many times that these books made me want to scream out loud. John Holt was calling into question everything I thought I knew and believed about school and education. I'm still not sure I agree with him 100% on everything, but boy, did he give me a lot to think about. Anyone interested in education should really make themselves wrestle with his ideas.
  • Not necessarily having much to do with the idea of homeschooling, but an interesting look at the value of self-learning.
  • Back to struggling with an author's ideas. Rewards for performance made intuitive sense to me, just as consequence-based parenting made sense to me. This really forced me to the look at what was really being said underneath it all. It was uncomfortable. I didn't know if I agreed with it. And I'm not sure I fully embraced this book until we had committed to a connected parenting approach. I'm actually more surprised that it hasn't had a resurgence among those who are proponents of connected parenting because it falls so closely into line with that type of relationships. 
  • This book came out about the same time as the enormously popular, Reviving Ophelia. I read Ophelia for a book group as well, and quite honestly detested it. I found a more positive view of girls and adolescents in this book. Homeschooling did seem to allow girls to develop in more positive ways.
  • Ah, Mr. Gatto, the one time New York State teacher of the year, and current education curmudgeon. There is nothing subtle about him and I'm sure more than a few people heartily disagree with him and find him hard to stomach. I kind of love him for his no filter views on what schools actually do. Once again, everyone in education should probably read him, if only to then put his picture on the wall and use him as a dartboard. Highly entertaining and inflammatory and interesting.
  • Ms. Dobson will not be throwing darts at Mr. Gatto, but taking him out to lunch. A proponent of radical unschooling, Ms. Dobson also questions the status quo and writes about how it can be different. 
  • This isn't a homeschooling book at all. It is also one of the very first brain science-type books that I read. I love this book. Anyone with children should read this book. Dr. Healy makes a very strong case for why actually talking to your children, being present in their lives is so very important. (This is as opposed to putting them in front of screens and thinking the screens are doing the job that parents should be doing.) Excellent and highly recommended.
  • In this book, Ms. Macaulay introduces the educational theories of Charlotte Mason. You could also read books by Charlotte Mason, but I sometimes find it a bit of a slog to get through them, and actually prefer the more modern, adapted approaches to her thinking anyway. I like so much of the Charlotte Mason method.... good books, narration (telling back what you've learned), being in nature... this is a good introduction.
Wild Days: Creating Discovery Journals by Karen Skidmore Rackliffe
  • More Charlotte Mason-style learning. This time the discussion centers around the making and keeping of nature journals.
  • Being in the trenches of homeschooling can be hard and tiring. Ms. Field, an adoptive homeschooling mother herself, is highly encouraging and very practical. I found this book to be helpful when surrounded by so many littles all needing something from me and so little of me to go around.
I know experienced homeschoolers on the list might find one glaring omission. I have purposefully not included The Well-Trained Mind (WTM)on my list of resources. Once upon a time, it would have been right up there at the top. I wanted my children to learn. I wanted them to learn a lot. I didn't want to fail them in any way, and the WTM had such nice lists and resources and plans all laid out ready for me to make use of. If we just followed the lists, nothing would fall through the cracks. I wouldn't fail my children! They would be amazingly well-educated people and everyone else around us would be astounded at their learning and knowledge. And deep in the back of my mind, I also added, and they would know it was all because of ME. I didn't add this book, because over the years of trying off and on to implement all of its wonderfulness (and thereby making me and my children look wonderful as well), I realized that it was unworkable. No one can keep up that pace. No one has a child who is going to be able to do it all. Life would inevitably fall apart at sometime because of its unrelenting, joyless rigor, and then instead of instilling all that wonderfulness, the poor homeschooling family would be left with feelings of disgrace and failure. The book is not realistic; it is not kind; it is not joyful, therefore it is not on my list... well, at least in any positive way.

Happy reading... and wrestling.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Adoption and learning

When I find myself writing the same things to different people more than a few times, I realize it's time to write a blog post. Not only will it save me repeating myself, but the topic must be of a more general interest, and could be useful to a wider audience. I believe I wrote on a similar topic before, but I now have a few more years of experience to add.

It is a very common occurrence that among older children who are adopted academic learning when first home is not easy. This is true for a wide range of children, both for those who have delays of one kind or another and for those children who considered intellectually and developmentally on track. Here are a few of the behaviors that parents have observed in their children: slow to grasp new concepts; extreme jaggedness in functioning; emotionally young; working memory issues; and working below the academic level expected. I've had children on all different levels of functioning, from severely intellectually delayed all the way to gifted, display all of these behaviors. As you might expect, I also have a few opinions as to why they (the behaviors) are there and what to do.

First, the why. Our children coming home at older ages have not had the best start in life. Even my child who came from a fairly stable and loving family environment also experienced trauma to a degree most of us do not understand. Others of my children experienced neglect. Still others, far too many different care givers over a short period of time. The changes and losses all of these children experienced are big, even if the child appears to be resilient. The combination of loss, trauma, and neglect is hard on developing brains. Trauma has been shown to rewired the brain. Neglect, even if benign, can stop a brain from developing to its full potential.

Having G. and L. growing up in the midst of raising my other children who come from hard places is a constant reminder of what the others missed. From Day 1, G. and L. were in a safe and nurturing place. From nearly Day 1, they had books read to them and language spoken to them. When they cried, someone was always available to pick them up. (I think B. and J. wore grooves around the kitchen table walking with a crying baby.) As they got older, they had toys to play with; they were allowed to try things, taste things. touch things, pour things, even break things. They had freedom to explore their world and were purposefully given interesting things to look at, play with, and experiment with. Their world was steady. The same favorite people were around consistently. They heard the same language every day.

My children from hard places? This is what they didn't have. Some may have had these experiences at times, but there was also great upheaval. Special people changed, sometimes without warning. Books were rare. For some, toys were rare as well. There was a lot of energy spent in surviving with not a lot left over for playing or exploring. Then, they had to change families, languages, and cultures. What made sense in one world, did not make sense in another. In a sense, we took brains already compromised and compromised them a bit more with further global change.

Have you ever spent time in a different culture and a different language? (Sometimes I think a month of immersion in a foreign culture, all on your own, should be a requirement for international adoption. It would give a sense of empathy that can sometimes be lacking.) If you ever have, then you know how exhausting it is. You know that having to do something such as go to the post office is so taxing that you can only plan on doing that one thing that day. You know that sometimes the fatigue of it all can just make you want to sit and cry for no reason. Your emotional and intellectual margin is very, very thin. Sometimes it might be non-existent. Remember those feelings, and then ponder how you would have fared had someone started throwing math problems in your barely second language at you. Probably your initial reaction would be to throw them right back.

So when a new child enters a family, is it any surprise that he or she is not working at full capacity? Would you? I know I wouldn't.

Thus, we see a child who is battling two extreme experiences at once. First their hard backgrounds have compromised their brains to some extent, and then we add the stress of navigating a new culture, language, and family. Given this scenario, what surprises me more than anything is when children acclimate well. And some of the do. With very little fanfare, they learn their new language, fall in love with their new family, and move forward. Some do not fare this well, and it takes much longer for them to find their footing in their new lives.

There is the why. Now what about the how?

Well, in my opinion, the last thing we should do is choose their grade based on their age, hand them a stack of textbooks, and tell them to go to work. (And for the sake of my bigger argument, I will leave aside my thoughts on this type of education in general.) The best thing to do is to get into your cardboard time machine, and let your new child experience what they missed in their earlier years. Get out the little kid toys and let them play. Play with them if they don't know how to create an imaginary world to explore and inhabit (if you are not blessed with built-in master players to show the new people the ropes). Give them sensory experiences... clay, water, sand. Physical experiences... running, jumping, crawling, balancing, hopping, skipping, rolling, spinning, rocking. And be sure they can actually do these types of physical activities. If they can't, now you know where you need to start. Just as a toddler begins with crawling and then walking before we put a phonics book in front of him, this is what you need to do with your new child, as well. Read books. Many, many books. Look at the pictures. Talk about the pictures. Point out writing that is present everywhere. Narrate your life... just as you would for a toddler. Count things. Over and over count them. The number of stairs, the scoops of dog food, the plates on the table, the toys on the shelf. Do all of this before you even get out the pencil and paper and expect these number and letters you are going to talk about to make sense.

Because, in truth, you do not know what they missed. You do not know what gaps occurred in their early childhood because the time that they would have naturally done something was short-circuited by loss or fear or hurt. It won't take five years to create a child ready and primed to learn. An older child will pass through these stages faster than a younger one. But without the opportunity to pass through the earlier stages, the foundation for later, more academic and theoretical learning, will be faulty. At some point, when things get harder and the lessons more abstract, the foundation will crumble.

You have the time. Really, you do. Just because someone, somewhere decreed that childhood and the education of childhood ends at 18 does not mean we have to play along. If a child goes to college at 20 instead of 18, what difference is that going to make in the long run? If a child doesn't go to college and chooses another path for his or her life, is the world going to end? If a child doesn't really learn to read fluently until the age of 14 (or 15 or 16) because they were busy making up for the earlier losses and missed chances in their life, what difference will that make when they are 30? Do not worry about the future. Worry about the now. Give your child what they need now. Not what you think they need, because that is what everyone else's child is doing, but what your specific child needs. Maybe your child has been so hurt that you spend a year just holding them and nurturing them as you would a baby. You have given that child a gift that cannot be measured. The academics can always be made up later... there aren't actually that many of them, when you come right down to it.

Do not buy into the academic shoulds of the world. Focus on the needs. Focus on the relationships. If you do this, you will never fail your child.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Ch- ch- ch- changes

We've had emotions all over the board around here today. (Wrote this on Saturday, but had to wait to tell family before posting it, hence the delay.) It's been like living on a roller coaster, and I think we're all feeling a bit woozy from the effects. Do you remember earlier in the week when I alluded to some things that were going on around here? Well, now I feel as though we are at a place where I can tell all of you.

Last week, J. was offered a job at a different university, one that is about 1 1/2 hours west of where we currently are. It is a very good job offer and a terrific job opportunity. I am so happy for him and can't think of anyone who deserves something like this more than he does. It does make life a little more complicated around here for a while, though.

He will be starting in mid-March. Because of various commitments of family members through the school year, he will be making a fairly horrendous commute for several months. Knowing that this isn't sustainable long term, it also means that at some point this year we will be moving.

That little phrase makes it all sound so simple, doesn't it? We're just going to move. As if you wake up one morning and that's what you do. It doesn't really describe the work of getting the house ready to sell. It doesn't mention the effort to purge the stuff and pack away unnecessary items to make the house look as though if you live here, you will be actually living in a magazine. This phrase also doesn't mention the stress of actually selling a house while 12 people are living inside of it. (Trust me, I don't linger too long on this particular item, because I don't have a paper bag handy to breath into.) Then there is the finding of the new house... which fits and is within the budget. And figuring out how to sell one house (to get the equity) and buy a new house without becoming homeless for a time. And packing and moving and unpacking a household of 12+. Gahhhhhhhh....

Let me take a few deep breaths. I'll be right back.

There, that's a bit better.

This is big. And there are a lot of moving pieces. All in all, though, both J. and I feel that this is really the right thing for our family right now. It allows us to remove the albatros that is the Big Ugly House. Because as much as we love it, we just cannot afford it. It also allows us to get some acreage which we all have been wanting for some time. Small people already have the new place stocked full to bursting with animals and we are still months and months away from the actual move.

It's also hard. We've been in this house for 15 years. We've lived in this city for much, much longer. It will be hard. When we told everyone today, there were all sorts of reactions over the course of the afternoon... sobbing, cheers, worry, excitement, more sobbing, more excitement. I think everyone is now a bit emotionally exhausted, and we are just beginning.

There are some other benefits to this particular job and location, as opposed to something farther away. We get to keep our specialty doctors. I drive for them anyway, so it doesn't make much difference where I start. We keep our supplemental insurance for our more medically needy children. We can still see our good friends, even though it will take a little more effort and it just won't happen as spur of the moment. We will still be able to drive into the city to see our favorite museums. The homeschooling laws we work under won't change. I will still be able to get my twice a year bulk order. We won't be moving away from Aldi!

It still all seems extremely surreal. I may be typing this and explaining it to you, but I know there is a good chunk of my brain that just hasn't caught up.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Friday bullet, Jan. 20, 17

It's Friday and my to-do list seems to have suddenly grown exceedingly long. This is probably because I have been studiously ignoring more than a few items and have now realized I cannot ignore them any longer. Anyway, I'm getting a jump on things and getting the day's post out of the way, and will then start whipping around the house like a crazy woman.

  • R. continues to make progress! It seems the one year mark being home has been a huge turning point for her. (I know it was for me.) We are suddenly hearing a lot more English, and more complex English. Intellectual functioning is also markedly improved. I took a photo to share with you.

This is a pattern block card that has the colored shapes on the left side that the child matches and then a space for the child to copy the same picture on their own. First, R. asked to do this box. It was the first time she had ever shown any interest in any of the activity boxes in the schoolroom. That was the first win. (Of course I said yes to such a direct question.) Now, when we did this the first time, she absolutely could not fit the shape into its outline. It was as if she couldn't even see that it wasn't lined up. Fast forward to yesterday. Not only was she able to see that the shapes weren't lined up, she was able to fix them. So I tried something a little more difficult. We did a patterning card. She matched the shapes and with just a little coaching from me WAS ABLE TO COMPLETE THE PATTERN. Sorry for yelling, but that is kind of big deal in my book. After that success, I thought we'd try one more thing... the card I'm showing you. The last time we tried this, I couldn't even get her to match the shapes, and we only completed the little cat with a lot of help from me. Yet, yesterday, not only did she match the shapes, she made the matching little cat on her own. She needed just a little help to get those ears touching at the corners, but otherwise she did it on her own. Huge, huge, huge.
  • I just finished a book that was wonderful. If you love dogs and love special needs children, then you have to read The Underdogs: Children, Dogs, and the Power of Unconditional Love by Melissa Fay Greene. It is a combination of dog history, special need parent memoir, and brain science all rolled into one. Plus, I love Ms. Greene's writing, which itself is wonderful. I'm going to see if I can get some older people around here to read it now. Highly recommended.
  • As I was getting out of the car yesterday, I realized that I wait until the song on the radio reaches a tonic chord before turning off the car. I just cannot leave a musical phrase hanging, unfinished. Am I the only one?
  • For Christmas, one of D.'s gifts was the Great Courses course, Everyday Gourmet: Rediscovering the Lost Art of Cooking. It's essentially a really well done cooking course and D. is enjoying it. I'm enjoying it, too. I told him if he works through the entire course and actually cooks the assigned food for each lesson, I would give him a culinary arts credit for his high school transcript. He was all over it. As a result, one day a week, I'm not cooking, he is. Last Wednesday was his first meal and he made us baked minestrone. It was good and is now all eaten up.
  • I am the guest blogger over at Thankful Moms today. I'm pretty honored to be there, as Lisa Qualls, who writes the blog has been a huge influence on my parenting. Reading her story as she and her husband struggled to help their daughter heal from her past traumas was always helpful and hopeful. Head over and read A Tale of Two ER Visits. Writing there kind of feels like the Big Time in blog land to me.
  • For those of you who might be visiting here for the first time, from Thankful Moms, welcome! My initial system of identifying my children can be a little crazy making if you are new. If you click the 'About' tab up at the top (it's a little hard to see, I'm not webpage designer), it will give you photos of each child who goes with the initial to help keep us all straight. 
  • When I took K. to his orthodontic appointment earlier in the week, we couldn't park in the lot, so had to park in the street. This meant that I needed to wind my way through some residential streets to get going back the correct way as I couldn't turn around on the busy road we were on. Let's just say that curving streets, particularly those found in the Sauganash area of Chicago never fail to completely turn around my sense of direction. We wandered for a good little bit until I got my bearings again and headed home. After a little bit K. pipes up from the back seat, "Mommy, maybe you shouldn't turn the way those little arrow tell you to," because the intent was they clearly weren't helping. It took me a moment to figure out what arrows he was talking about that I should stop following because I wasn't following any arrows. Turns out he was talking about the turn signals. A lesson in how cars work followed.
  • It's been a long time since I advocated for a child. I think when you are struggling with a newly adopted child, it's hard to encourage others to join you on that particular path. So I think it's a sign of how well things seem here that I can start thinking about advocating for children again. I want you to meet Sapphire. I'm not a doctor; I'm not qualified to diagnose a child from just one picture, but this little girl reminds me strongly of my two with Linear Nevus Sebaceous syndrome. She needs a family. She needs love and support and encouragement and stability. She needs a mommy and a daddy. Plus, she is darn cute. If you are interested in becoming Sapphire's mommy and daddy, email me, and I'll put you in touch with her agency advocate.

Now, on to that to-do list.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Where did the day go?

How did it get to be 6pm? I swear it was just 10am. We were doing school, then a quick lunch, a moment to throw dinner in the crock pot, then a trip out to the therapist (though I should add that's not quick and takes most of the afternoon). That was followed by teatime, a moment for me to sit an regroup, and then it's 6pm and I have to put some water on for egg noodles. Thursdays are like that, and I've just come to terms with the fact my house, by the end of the day, looks as though a three day party took place in it. And the people at the party played with a lot of Legos and ate a ton of food which seemed to require every dish and pan in the house to be used.

So once again, you all are faced with a blog post which has no content whatsoever. How about I give you a cat and dog picture and a link to some real writing? First the picture.

And my latest article: Adoption Books/A Review of Mine in China by Kelly Mayfield As always click and share and add to my paycheck. Thanks.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The possibility of unusual pets

I don't know if any of you who are non-bloggers are aware of this, but there are two parts to a blogger's world. The blog-able part and the non-blog-able part. Even though it might seem I just throw everything out there, dirty laundry and all, I really, really don't. There's always stuff going on in any family that is private, and this is especially true if one is blogging about more than just oneself. Sometimes this stuff is good stuff and sometimes it's not so good. (And yes, A., that sentence was for you. [She and I have an ongoing discussion about the use of the word 'stuff' in writing.]) But I have found that everyone doesn't need to know everything, so I do censor myself a bit. I realize that sometimes that may be difficult to believe.

Then there are the times that the non-blog-able becomes the focus of life here for a while and I am left with not a whole lot I want to write about. (Don't worry, this time it's all pretty good.) This is why I'm going to tell you about what I just ordered....

I just ordered a Mini Chick-Bator!!

What, you say, is a Mini Chick-Bator? There are all sorts of possibilities that leap to mind... some sort of new kitchen gadget.... or a bizarre chicken-alligator hybrid... of some sort of specialty bird call that can only be heard by mini chickens.

As interesting as some of those possibilities are, none of them are correct. It is actually a miniature electric egg incubator that is just big enough to incubate four hen eggs or six quail eggs. Now, I don't know about you, but that choice seemed pretty obvious. We're doing six quail eggs, of course. There's more eggs, so it bumps up the possibility that you'll get a chick, and how cool would it be to raise baby quails? Plus they had a deal if you got the Mini Chick-Bator (sorry, I have to use the whole name each time) plus fertilized quail eggs.

Yes, yes, I know there is then the difficulty of what happens if we do get actual chicks. How do we keep them safe from the bird predators in the house? Can one really have indoor quails? Would the city mind if we had a quail coop? (There are excruciatingly specific chicken regulations here in our fair city, but if I don't look up quails, then I don't know about them right? Right? Come on, work with me here.) I'm not going to spend a whole lot of time worrying about adult quails when the Mini Chick-Bator hasn't even arrived yet. But the possibilities are pretty fun to think about, huh?

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Owl Pellets

In our study of birds we are on to learning about raptors and this past week it was owls. Everyone in the house is already owl fans because owls are cool and because of having read about the barn owl, Wesley. If you are learning about owls, you have to dissect owl pellets, right? We were supposed to do this as our Friday activity, but put it off until today so that D. could be a part of it. (He was tech all week last week.) Today was an honorary Friday and we'll make Friday a regular school day. We listened to another selection of classical music based on birds and then dissected owl pellets.

L., who was thrilled we were doing 'real' science, and evidently dressed up for the occasion.

There was a lot of fur to be found.

Look at R. doing this all by herself. She was particularly excited to work on the owl pellets because she adores owls. It took a little explaining that these were not owl bones, but mice bones we were digging out. I'm not sure she was convinced.

The scientists hard at work.

Several skulls

It's hard to see, but this is R. triumphantly holding up a bone she dug out herself. I didn't really help her and she did a great job and was one of the longest working.

D. laid his bones out neatly so they could be seen.

TM found three skulls.

Everyone enjoyed it and worked hard at it. It felt a little wrong to then just toss the bones into the garbage, but that is what I did. They were all so small that it would have been impossible to keep them for looking at, and they were not clean at all and I didn't relish that process, either.

One funny thing. When I ordered them, it seems that owl pellets are one of the things that can be made into a standing order on Amazon. Really? How many owl pellets does one person need? Even science teachers can't be dissecting owl pellets that often, can they?

Oh, and Kenzie seems to be just fine, thankfully. No bonus trips to the vet needed.

Monday, January 16, 2017

And some Mondays are like that

Some Mondays have dogs who eat things they shouldn't (and could be heading to the vet if that dang bone does nasty things inside said dog). Some Mondays have vaguely uncooperative children. Some Mondays have overly tired children from an overly busy previous week. Some Mondays have dreary wet weather that you have to go out in because the garbage bag has to be out of the house to save the dog from himself. Some Mondays have too much mess made in the kitchen.

But we got through our school schedule even though I was sorely tempted to put everyone back to bed for a bit and try the day all over again. Tomorrow will be better. I can say that confidently because that is how it usually works out. Powering through a bad Monday means that the rest of the week goes smoothly. Throwing up my hands and turning belly up on a bad Monday usually means I can write off the week. I don't know why, that's just how it always works out.

And there have been some highlights as well. It's sometimes easy to over look the highlights when everything is heading you know where, isn't it? K. did some really spectacular reading, and even better he was understanding what he was reading. R. did some sorting for me and for the first time doing this particular box, understood the idea right away, and even better was picking up the small objects with her right hand thumb and fourth finger (as I had asked). That's willingness and success all in one activity, a definite win for her today. Everyone found lunch that they liked and ate it without drama. There is no where I have to go this afternoon, so can stay inside the enjoy the wet weather because I don't have to be out in it.

Well, unless I'm running the dog to the vet.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Friday bullets on Saturday

I was so excited about my little discovery and so excited to share it with you yesterday, that I kind of forgot it was Friday. So let's pretend it's still Friday even though it's really Saturday.

  • I finally got people to play our new game, Pandemic, last weekend. M. was over, and joined D., J., and me to play it. (It's just a four person game.) The goal of the game is to eradicate the five viruses that are spreading across the world. You are given a game character with certain capabilities, and together all the players try to beat the game. Now, usually I am not a huge fan of cooperative games. I like a game where I can beat everyone soundly and be pronounced the winner. I'm competitive like that. Everyone winning or everyone losing didn't seem as satisfying. Well, I have to admit that I really enjoyed playing this game. I think it was because to beat the game, there is a certain logic puzzle to it all. Who needs to do what and when, because the number of rounds you are given is rather limited. Now, we did beat the game and I did play the winning hand at the last possible moment, so that probably colors my perception, but I really liked it. Because of the amount of logic and cooperation required, I would say it would be suitable for ages 13 and up, depending upon maturity. D. did fine, but he is an experienced game player. 
  • Speaking of D., he is currently playing Oberon in Thin Ice Theater's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream this weekend. If you are in the area, you still have two more chances to see the show. It's a lot of fun and is a terrific introduction to Shakespeare for your children if they have never seen a live production. It's very funny. D. is enjoying being in it, though he did get in the car after last night's show and said, "I don't get any funny lines. I'm just a plot device." I'm afraid he has an accurate reading of Oberon's role in the play.

  • We had our one year post-placement social worker visit this week, with yet another new social worker. (I've lost count as to how many we've had over the years at this point.) While they've all been nice enough, that's about where it starts and stops. This time? Wow, do I like our new social worker! I mean, you've got to love a social worker when your daughter, L., in this case, walks into the room in full velociraptor mode... short arms with claws waving, stalking, growling. The social worker talks to the velociraptor and the velociraptor growls back. After a while, with never breaking character or speaking a word of English, the velociraptor stalks back out of the room. There is a pause, and the social worker says, "Isn't she cute?" I wanted to hug her. The social worker, not the velociraptor. I've learned that velociraptors are very difficult to hug. 
  • K. has started the process to get an expander placed in his mouth later this month, starting with separators that were put in on Tuesday. This has meant that my child who suffered from severe malnutrition early in life is now more than a little obsessed about what he can and cannot eat. I'm going to take the suggestion of another experienced adoptive mom and make sure the office knows not to discuss banned foods with him. I can take care of making sure he doesn't eat what he is not supposed to. I forget his early trauma most of the time, and sometimes am caught off guard when it rears its head. The expander is to make room for braces, which in turn will make room for the bone graft to close up the hole (finally) in his alveolar ridge.
  • If it's too good to be true, it probably is. How many times must we learn that lesson? I just got off the phone with J. He was downtown, trying to pick-up a treadmill that someone was selling and we were going to buy. It was a nice treadmill and we were paying a tiny fraction of what it would cost new. All we had to do was bring some cash, dismantle it, and take it away. The story was that the guy was moving today and it wouldn't fit, so he was trying to sell it. He was always a little hard to get a hold of via fb, but I'm willing to understand not everyone looks at it everyday. Details were (sort of) worked out last night and J. and B. headed downtown. Well, a bit ago, B. calls to see if he got the phone number correct because the number he tried calling was not to the treadmill guy, and this guy was definitely not selling a treadmill. So they head into the building and the front desk has no idea who this guy is. He really went above and beyond and as the story unfolded, it turns out there wasn't even a moving van scheduled for today, which was the story treadmill guy told us. You want my theory? I think Treadmill Guy was planing on just meeting J. in the lobby of the building, taking him to a different building, and then showing him a hot treadmill. But, J. and B. were a little late, so Treadmill Guy couldn't hang around the lobby indefinitely, so left. And no treadmill. Drat.
  • A. went back to school today for the next semester. It was so much fun to have her here over Christmas break and we're all going to miss her. Some little girls I know were especially sad to see her go.
  • My people have been eating me out of house and home. I'm going to the grocery store later and the situation is rather dire. We've had no leftovers from dinner for multiple nights in a row and practically everything I keep on hand for lunches and breakfasts is gone. It could be a massive growth spurt for everyone at the same time. I hope it stops soon, because this is a significant amount of food they are eating in a week.
  • Over the past month, we have lost somewhere inside our house one library book and one Netflix DVD. I have no idea where they are and have searched high and low. It's not as if we are living in a hoarders episode... things are generally organized and have a place. This is a mystery. I think in all my years of using the library and the 1000's of books that I've checked out, I have only had to pay to replace two. One was because it was lost and never found and the other was because I accidentally mailed the book in the post office drop box instead of returning the book in the library drop box. They are next to each other. You would think that the postal worker would see a library book in the mailbox and just return it, but no, you would think wrong. It drives me a little nuts not to be able to find these things and have to pay for them. 

Friday, January 13, 2017

My eureka moment... or a little bit about the basal ganglia

It happened again. I was in a bookstore and picked up a book that I thought sounded really interesting, and added it to the small pile that I was buying with a gift card. I get home, happily pick the book up and start reading. And as I'm reading, I have the vague feeling that I've read it before because I know what comes next. No, I didn't suddenly develop ESP, perhaps just the opposite. I had read the book before and had completely forgotten it. It's one of the reasons that I started keeping track of my reading again, in the hopes that writing down the title, will help to cue my memory enough so that I don't purchase books I've already read. Don't hold your breath about that, because it turns out that not only did I previously read this book, but I blogged about it as well!

So much for my brain. Let's talk about someone else's and why I'm glad I had forgotten I read this book and bought it.

It's funny how you gain different things from reading books at different times. This time around I am completely overwhelmed with the information about the basal ganglia. The basal ganglia is a small bunch of neurons at the base of the brain, and it seems that one of its primary functions is to house our habits. When we chunk (and yes, this is actually the correct and scientific term) groups of actions together into one, and when this chunk of actions has a trigger followed by some sort of reward (and the reward can be as small as having successfully completed a task), then those actions have become a habit and the instructions for this habit are housed in the basal ganglia. Since the basal ganglia is housed at the base of the brain, this makes it pretty far away from the frontal cortex (the rational, thinking part of the brain) and the middle of the brain where much of the memory functions are housed.

Now the interesting story in the book is about a man who had brain damage that wiped out some of the memory centers of his brain. He couldn't form new memories, and only had access to older ones. Yet this man, it turns out, could create new habits which he then performed unconsciously. He could go for a walk around the block and make it back home even though he couldn't point out his house or tell you how to get there. However, if something on the block looked different (the triggers for his walk around the block habit), then he would becomes completely lost and not make it back home (the reward). It's a really crazy thing if you stop and think about it too long. Which is precisely what I did, because deep in the workings of my own brain this was starting to sound far more familiar than just having read it before.

It felt as though it was talking about someone I knew.

And then it came to me. I had the answer for why R.'s world was so totally and completely rocked when she joined our family. I had the answer for why she suddenly was functioning at such a significantly lower level than anyone in China had described. A small bit of R.'s brain suddenly made sense. Here's my hypothesis.

R. has some significant issues with her frontal lobe, both because of her basic brain structure and because of the resection surgery she had which involved removing some of the frontal lobe. Her rational thinking is impaired in many ways. Also because of natural brain structure, other parts of her brain are also compromised. Working memory is, well, let's just say it's not a strength. We knew all this going in, but her reported functioning seemed to indicate that she was still pretty functional, so something in her brain had to be doing at least a minimum job. Well, it seems, if my hypothesis is correct, is that her basal ganglia is doing just a bang up job. I posit that the reason she functioned so well in China is that she had developed enough habits, housed in her basal ganglia, that allowed her to get through her day. When she came upon the certain triggers in her world, then that chunk of neural action fired, she did that chunk, and received her reward, whatever that might have been... doing something successfully, food, love, whatever.

And then we brought her here. There were no triggers because nothing was the same. Not the same language, people, landscape, nothing. Thus there were no habits to fall back on to get through her day. She was a child untethered from literally everything and this is what we experienced. A child at sea and completely lost. We were baffled by it for a long, long time and could never quite reconcile the two R.'s together.

This would also explain how difficult it is to move her out of what is familiar and what she is used to doing into doing something, anything new. We are working against not conscious thought, but against habits. If you've ever tried to break a bad habit, you know how difficult that can be. I often joke that she doesn't have myelin coating her neural connections but concrete, because it felt that difficult to move her from point A to point B. (Myelin is the coating that covers and helps to solidify often used neural connections and which facilitate speed of thought.)

To my mind, this explained everything. It allowed me to make sense of what we had seen and why it seemed so disconnected to her behavior in China. I cannot even begin to express how exciting I find this. It feels so hopeful to have some insight into how she works. With this little bit of insight, we can harness it and help R. to function even better. We can be careful about what habits we encourage and it gives us tools for changing habits we don't want her to have. This is a great big huge deal.

This doesn't mean that we won't continue to hope for better frontal lobe functioning. I believe she can attain it. I believe that with continued therapeutic parenting and education that we can help her gain greater intellectual functioning, but this will help us help her in the interim.

I love brain science.

Oh, and for those who didn't click the link at the top of this post, the book is The Power of Habit: Why we do what we do in life and business by Charles Duhigg. Highly recommended.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Gelatinous Mutant Coconut... in syrup!

Having passed up the mutant coconut two weeks ago, I couldn't go passed it again without throwing it in my cart. Nearly everyone in our family loves coconut gels by the same company, so it seemed likely that most people would like this. And truly, who can pass up gelatinous mutant coconut? 

 It was our dessert after dinner last night.

 Here's what it looked like inside the jar.

K. and P.


L... I think that her face shows what she thought about it.

H. liked it.

And R. really liked it.

The overall verdict? We probably won't be getting it again as not enough people really enjoyed them, but definitely worth it to say you've eaten mutant coconut.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

One year anniversary... or 20 peas of progress

Five days after Y.'s adoption day, comes R.'s. We've now lived a year of polar opposite adoptions, and I've been wondering for days what I would write today; how I would convey our present reality; how I would communicate everything that has been roiling around in my head for this past year. Forgive me if this seems more personally therapeutic than a well-thought out blog post. I process my life through writing (if you hadn't already noticed), and the one year mark of R. being home seems to be a good time to start.

But where to start, that's the question. I suppose the brutal, honest truth is always a good place. It's been hard. It's been hard on everyone, and by everyone I am definitely including R. herself, for whom it has been the most difficult. Now, often when people say an adoption has been hard, it usually has lurking in the background the unspoken reality of raging and pain and destruction. The reality of feeling as though one is living with a ticking time bomb and every interaction is akin to tiptoeing through a mine field. That's not the hard I'm talking about. R. is extremely loving. In theory, we could just let her float through her day and she would be the most pleasant person in the house.

This is where it becomes difficult. I want more for this child. I want her to gain skills and awareness. I want her to develop an inner life. Heck, I want her to develop an outer life, one she can fully participate in to the best of her ability. I want so much for her. Yet the hard reality is, she is so trapped inside her own head and her own ingrained way of dealing with the world that she has no conception of there being anything outside of what she already is comfortable with. To break through this comfortableness is hard. To recreate the natural desires of childhood, the desire to explore, to discover, to experiment, to test, to push oneself. When a child has settled down into a very narrow window of what is comfortable and is afraid to leave that window it is challenging. And frustrating. And usually makes the parent feel more than a little rotten. This is especially true when any slight push out of this comfort zone is greeted with shrieking from the child at a level one would expect if a person's fingernails were being pulled off.

It's been a year of knowing what she needs to do (this would iclude expanding her vestibular awareness and proprioception) and a year of being met with incredibly resistance at even the most basic of challenges. (If you're wondering what I might consider to be a basic challenge, well, doing a high kneel is one such challenge.) We've gone through multiple cycles of pushing and resting, never quite finding the correct balance. Too much rest and she loses any microscopic gains she has made. Too much pushing and the stress of it all causes a complete shut-down of any cooperation, combined with a ratcheting up of attachment issues and disassociation. Her traumatized brain can only handle so much.

Her traumatized brain has also affected so much else in her life. Her attachment to us? It's kind of meh. We're OK with her, especially if we are doing what she wants (or not making her do what she doesn't want.) The indiscriminate affection is still pretty rampant. She has a very small world right now and the other people she associates with know the drill and are good about keeping her at arms' length. If there are new adults in her view, we still need to keep a physical hand on her to keep her from parent shopping and wrapping her arms around them. R. has had to switch caregivers so many times in her previous life that nothing is permanent and it is almost too hard for her to do the attachment work necessary to fully accept us as her own.

Her English acquisition? Also kind of meh. She has basic words now. Mostly. We came to the slow realization the her wonky brain was not differentiating between Mandarin and English. She was treating them as one and the same language. Even though both J. and I have enough (VERY) basic Mandarin to understand the words she typically uses, we have had to play dumb. It has been the only way we've found to help her sort the two languages out in her own head. (And as a side note, before I am blasted with comments... what would be considered best practices for any other child on the planet, it seems are not the best practices for this child. Her brain is unique and processes things very uniquely. We are having to rewrite what I would do or suggest for any other child. And we are doing so very carefully.) So far, our success is that she has officially switched from 'wo' to 'I'. We are still working our way through other pronouns and verbs. I attribute this inability to switch languages to be one of the roots of many of her difficulties and one of causes of the overwhelming trauma she experienced with the adoption.

If we are going the brutally honest route here, I will say I have never felt like such a failure as I do much of the time parenting this child. Knowing what to do, then actually doing those things... patiently, trying to fill her love tank that is the equivalent of a black hole. These are all difficult things. They seem endless. There is very little real return. By real return, I'm talking about genuine emotion. Reciprocation. A baby, when a mother spends time cooing over him, will happily gaze into his mother's eyes and smile. He cannot do anything for himself, he takes a lot of work, but those smiles and gazes are enough to cause the mother to want to love and care for this small, helpless human. While R. is just as needy as a newborn.. and perhaps more so... when trying to develop a relationship with her, there is no reciprocity. No return gaze, instead there is constant effort to avoid looking into anyone's eyes. There is actually constant effort to not even open her eyes. There is no smile of happiness... instead there is often a shriek of some form or another because I have asked her to open her eyes. No, the smiles only come at inappropriate times. I know about trauma. I know about attachment disorders. I've lived with these things in more than one of my children for years. Yet this time it feels harder. Much harder.

Along with the feelings of failure, come the feelings of guilt. Guilt that I am not living up to what all the people in China had hoped for their darling girl. There are two churches' worth of people in China who adore R. Who poured out love and resources on her at a time when she desperately needed that. Who took her into their hearts and prayed for her. J. and I met these people. They showered us with their love and prayers as well. It is always humbling to be the answer to so much concerted prayer. As a result, I always have in the back of my head, "Am I living up to what all these people hoped for this child." I fear that too often, I have to answer myself in the negative.

So there's that.

Up to now, this has probably been the single most depressing one year anniversary summary that anyone has done, so I don't want to leave you here, because we don't live in this place all the time. We have seen some progress, glacial though it may be. I also want to share R.'s successes. This time last year she could not walk downstairs alternating feet. Now she can do that about 90% of the time. This time last year she could not pedal a bicycle. Now she can, though I have a feeling we will have to do a little review on that skill when the weather warms back up. This time last year, she would spend a good chunk of her day disassociated if I didn't catch it and force her back into the present. Today I'd say that percentage is down to about 40% and she is quicker to come back when disassociated. This time last year she would "W" sit all the time and fought us when we asked her to change. Now she only very infrequently does it and will change immediately when asked. This time last year R. would use either hand indiscriminately and had equal (and rather low) facility with either one. Today, after concerted effort on everyone's part, she will use her right hand over half the time and is developing better control over it.

Probably the best way I can show you what progress she has made is to show you two photos. These are of an activity that I sometimes have her do during school. It's laminated cards which have a design on them. The child chooses a card and uses dried split peas to outline the design. (Just for information, in case others were thinking of creating the same activity, the peas live in a ziplock bag, and there are also bowls for scooping out the peas and holding for the actual activity inside the box that holds all the pieces. The children do the activity on an IKEA tray to contain the peas. Usually a child will start out doing the actual project and it will devolve into the child just playing with the peas. It's a great tactile experience, so I don't worry about it.) When we first started doing this activity together, this is what R. could manage. Five peas in a row. Any more than that and she would either stop lining them up and they would become just a messy bunch, or she would feel compelled to mess up her line on purpose. Either way, the line was never more than five peas.

This past week, I got the activity out for her again. (We've also done it every couple of weeks over the course of the year, so she's been working on it all along.) She sat down, and this time was able to line up about 25 peas, before the messy bunching/undoing would start.

It is so little and so big at the same time. It would be so easy to miss the progress, to see the success, in trying to see the bigger picture of what still need to be conquered. But it is big. R. is starting to do more, to try more, to expand her world a little bit. There are just so many foundations that need to be relaid; the process cannot be rushed. We need to be patient and work on focusing on the little things, the important things, and not get caught up in what still lies ahead.

And for anyone wondering about two very important things, and I don't blame you after all of this. First, yes, I love my daughter. She is a joyful person. She is cute. She is caring. And she is my daughter, make no mistake. Just watch me at a doctor's office if they try to dismiss her. It's just that it can take a while for emotions to catch-up with facts. I've been in this 'now but not yet time' before. It passes. The emotions will come.

Second, do I regret adopting her? No.




Parenting can feel hard. Parenting can try your patience. Parenting can make you lose hope. Sometimes. Parenting can also make you a better person. Parenting can force you to see the world differently. Parenting can change your priorities.

And sometimes parenting can just be fun... if you allow yourself to let go of all that other stuff and just enjoy the present. My favorite memory from the year has to be from the Sundays in Advent when we all sing Christmas carols around the piano. R. adores music and has an amazing memory for it. Joy to the World is her absolute favorite song. When we would sing it together, she sang with gusto. Loud gusto. I'm quite sure that never has such a joyful noise been made to the Lord. It wasn't melodic. It wasn't beautiful singing as most people would describe that phrase. But it was joyous. R. has brought joy into our lives. Even through the hard, the joy is always lurking there underneath, waiting for us to rediscover it once again.

Monday, January 09, 2017

A post of pictures

Oh, I could go so many ways with the post. There's "How Older Children Structure their Free Time" or "Teaching Children to be Comfortable in the Kitchen" or "Don't be Afraid of Giving Your Children Free Time". I'm good with any one of those. But, since it's later in the day, we still have teatime to have, and then dinner to make, I'll just show you pictures.

TM has been on a quest to make homemade potato chips. His first batch turned out too thick for his taste, so I suggested he get out the mandoline. I showed him how to use it and he was off.

The mandoline. You should own one, if you don't already.

Y. helping him dry the potato slices on paper towels.

More potato slice drying.

Spraying the parchment paper for broiling. (You know that parchment paper on baking sheets is one of the seven wonders of the kitchen world, right?)

The finished product.

I thought they tasted pretty good. TM thought they were a little too soggy, so is going to try again with a little less oil.

Saturday, January 07, 2017

One year... or traumaversery

One year ago today, we met Y., our 11th child for the first time. She was adorable, said hi, and shook our hands, and smiled that enormous, lovely smile of hers. We all smiled. We did a lot of smiling. There's not much else you can do with a nearly 9 year old you don't share a common language with. I briefly thought, "This is going so much better than I though it would," along with, "Oh my goodness, her walking is not as good as I thought it was." Yes it is possible to have vague panic and happiness bubbling away inside your head all at the same time. I contend that meeting your older child for the first time is one of the most surreal experiences that a person can experience.

Things went great for about the first hour as we piled back in the van and when to have the necessary photographs taken. And then we headed back to the government building to sign all the papers and the bottom fell out of everyone's world. Y., being smarter and more aware of everything than most children her age, understood the significance of going back to that office, of signing the papers, of what was happening to her. She understood that this was permanent; she wasn't coming back; she wasn't seeing the people she loved and cared about; she was going with people she didn't know at all and couldn't communicate with. Y. was terrified and devastated and began grieving with a ferocity that I have never seen. It was heart breaking to watch, to know we were the cause, to know there was nothing we could do in that moment to make anything better. The teacher from her orphanage and the government official were wonderful. They were calm, kind, caring, patient. They held her, let her cry, phoned her friends so she could talk to them one more time, cared for her. We watched... from across the room. Eventually they got her somewhat calm and she added her fingerprint to the needed paperwork. If she had been ten, the age a child needs to consent to an adoption, I'm pretty sure she would not have consented. Y. was not on board with any of this. It was hard and I questioned... again... if we were doing the right thing.

The rest of our time in China was calmer than those first hours, though had its ups and downs. When I think of it all, it seems so very far away; so distant from where we are now. This is because today I have a remarkably well-adjusted daughter whom I adore and who loves both J. and me. In the great scheme of things, her adoption and adjustment and attachment (and mine to her) has been the easiest of the five. She had melded into our family pretty seamlessly, and she and I share so many character traits, I find it a little surprising that we are not genetically related. Y. even has the language skills to discuss with me about that first day together, and my heart breaks for her all over again. I share this to prepare other parents, and to remind myself, that our culture and our children's cultures are vastly different. We cannot take anything for granted. When we think about how we would prepare a child for something as momentous as adoption, I imagine most of us think of presenting and talking about information in advance, giving the child a bit of time to live with it, to ask questions, to get used to it. This is not what Y. experienced, though she appeared ever so well prepared. Y. was told the night before that she would going to a different family and was shown the book we sent. The next morning, she was dressed in unfamiliar clothes (the ones we had sent, but she had never seen) and loaded up into a car. The things that were hers, a pair of socks from her foster mother that she was wearing and the pajamas which she wore under her clothes as a layer of warmth) are precious to her. Of course I had saved these, but it was months before she had the language and emotional ability to ask about their whereabouts. Please, parents, keep whatever you child came with, even if it seems as insignificant as a pair of socks. When I asked her how she felt that first day, she said she felt very scared and confused. She didn't realize that the place where she was living was not her permanent home, even though her best friends had been adopted a few months before. We have spent a long time discussing the whys of all this... slowly... carefully... and assuring her that even though it seems that every several years she has to move from a home she thought was permanent to a new home, she will never have to do that again. Parents, do not take anything for granted. You just do not know what is going on inside your child's head or what they believe to be true.

All this is so fresh in my mind this morning. Yesterday I was wondering if I would mention today's anniversary. For some of our children the day of their adoption is not a happy memory, so we do not acknowledge it. I think that Y. is going to fall into that category. There is not really a need for us to mention it to her at all. You see, our bodies are more connected to our brains than most people understand. Our memories are stored at a seemingly cellular level and I have watched time and again a child be completely overwhelmed by unpleasant feelings on the exact date that something dreadful happened to them. This morning was the most vivid example of this I have seen. I finish teaching my first piano lesson to come out to the kitchen to see J. holding a sobbing and extremely upset Y. on his lap. It seems that all morning long she has been flooded with memories of China, of homesickness for friends and foster family. I mention to J., (in French, our code language for communicating without our children understanding) that today is the anniversary of her adoption. He had no idea and had not mentioned it to her at all. Her body remembered and so far she has spent the day grieving all over again.

So today we will honor the day Y. became our daughter by holding her a little closer, by giving her space to grieve her old life where she was also happy, and by feeding her food that nourishes her soul as well as her body. (Spicy pork and green beans with noodles and dumplings.) We won't mention what today is for a while, but later, when this wave of grief has passed, we will talk about it.

We are so blessed to have this child in our lives. We are blessed to be the ones who will be her permanent family. We also, though, live in a funny place that we are her third best option for that permanence and must be content with that. We do not mean to supplant or replace what she has lost and what was important to her, merely we are adding, becoming more people in a long line of people who have loved her and whom she loved.
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