Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Toto, we're not in the city anymore

K. is doing as well as can be expected. His hip hurts and he is truly hating the restricted diet he is currently on. He also is finding a completely enclosed nasal passage to feel a wee bit odd and uncomfortable. But let's talk about things other than unhappy children and surgical procedures, shall we? I'm ready for a change of topic.

Last Saturday, J. and I loaded up whichever children wanted to come along (there were 7 of them), and we all headed out to the nearest Farm and Fleet store. This was our first time in such and store, and it was a revelation to the children. They loved it, and oohed and ahhed their way around. There was an actual reason we were there, though, and not just for the amusement factor, though that was pretty high. You see, we had to go and place our order for chicks and ducklings.

On March 7, I will drive back out, probably with a lot of children in tow then as well, and pick up twenty chicks and five ducklings. These chicks and ducklings will then get to move into their brooder boxes which will probably be living in my kitchen. I have a feeling that this will be one of those things that is kind of fun for the first few days, and then will quickly grow old. This will probably in direct correlation to the size of the growing birds. I've also heard that ducklings, while incredibly cute, are also kind of stinky and very messy. They may have to be moved to a different room in the house once the initial novelty wears off. It will be motivating to us to get their coop in the backyard done.

Speaking of which, this morning, at some point, we will have a shed kit delivered which we bought last Sunday. It will need to be constructed and then converted into a proper pen for the new birds. It's all very farm-y isn't it? Everyone is very excited for the little baby birds to arrive, but due to our complete novice status as far as this goes, I've forbidden people from naming the birds. Anyone want to place a bet on how long this naming ban lasts?

Oh, and to those who are curious, for the chickens (all pullets), we ordered five silver laced wyandottes, five barred rocks, five cinnamon queens, and five Easter eggers, you know, the ones who lay pastel eggs? The five duck (all hens) will be khaki campbells. All of these birds are supposed to be excellent layers as well as friendly and docile. The other plus is that the chickens are supposed to devour Japanese beetles. Oh, how I hope so!

Monday, January 29, 2018

Another one in the books

Surgery, that is. I did some adding, and by my calculations, this was family surgery #12. That doesn't include all the surgeries my children have had before they joined our family. That adds at least another 6, if not more.

K. is doing as well as can be expected after his bone graft surgery this morning. His hip is really hurting, but the next dose of pain medication is starting to help that, and he is not thrilled about the limited diet he has to endure for the moment. But it is over, he is fine, and I am very happy to be on this side of things.

As well as this being our 12th surgery, this was also our chance to experience a fourth hospital for surgery. (And compared to some of my friends, this number is small potatoes.) I think I was almost as nervous about a new hospital as I was about the procedure itself. There is something reassuring about knowing where things are, how things are done, and at one point, we were even recognizing some of the pre- and post-op staff. This was going to be all new, except for the surgeon.

We did not start out auspiciously. Google lied, and the 50 minute estimated trip to the hospital turned into a 100 minute slog through rush hour. (Even though we left at 5:15 am. Crazy.) So we were already a little bit late arriving. Then we realized that the instructions as to arrival we were given when the hospital called before the surgery were less than helpful. We ended up driving around a little bit trying to figure out which parking garage we were supposed to park in. I even tried calling the hospital concierge for clarification, but no one ever picked up the phone. Finally, we got up to check-in, a little more stressed than was quite necessary. One thing about arriving late, there is not a lot of waiting around. We were whisked back, and all the pre-op procedures happened quite rapidly.

At this point I wasn't too sure about this hospital. There wasn't a dedicated peds unit, and I was quite relieved that I wasn't there with one of my children who suffers from medical trauma. While people were friendly and informative enough, there wasn't the same level of attention that I had been used to. There was also a lot of assumptions made without the parents being consulted. This also set my teeth on edge a bit. For instance, the nurse added Versed to K.'s IV without even asking if this is something we wanted for him. In this case it was, so I didn't go completely berserk, but I have another child who reacts extremely badly to Versed, and I always turn it down in her case. K. was a trooper and was quite calm through the whole thing, so I kept my temper in check for his sake.

I was not a terribly contented mother as we headed towards the waiting room.

We settled in to wait. I tend to do handwork when waiting in surgery waiting rooms, so that is what I did. (Reading takes a little too much concentration.) I was able to finish one of a pair of mittens I've been working on, and to start the other. Surgery lasted the two hours which was expected and we were called to the consulting room. Things were fine, the surgery went well, and we were taken to post-op, where K. was still extremely dozy. Unlike others in my family, K. comes out of anesthetic rather quickly and in fairly good spirits. He also doesn't seem to be bothered by the anesthesia, and doesn't experience nausea. All of this makes for a fairly short time in recovery.

It was as we sat in recovery that my opinion of the hospital changed. I've decided that every recovery room looks alike. At least in the four very different hospitals I've now experienced they do. It doesn't matter the size or luxury of the hospital itself, the recovery rooms are pretty standard. Our nurse was great, and because of the lay out of the room, I could also amuse myself by paying attention to what was going on around us. All the nursing staff seemed to be extremely caring and pleasant. This is as it should be, but this group of nurses had an even more challenging job. While we were there, I heard Farsi, English, Spanish, and Polish being spoken, and that was just in our little corner. The nurse next to us was doing her darndest to use her phone to translate into Farsi for her patient, as they awaited the relative's arrival. It impressed me as these nurses not only worked to care for their patients, but had to overcome the language barrier as well, both for immediate care and for all of the take-home instructions. I left a much more contented mother.

This also went a long way to explaining the little pop quiz I had to take and pass after our general surgical instructions were given over the phone before the surgery. I thought it was odd, as I have never had to do that before. Listening to the different languages swirl around me in the recovery room, I realized that many of the people who have surgery at this hospital use English as a second language. It made sense that the hospital would have put safe guards into place to be sure the instructions were understood. It's all about context, isn't it?

Still, better instructions about where to park would have been appreciated, and I will probably be sure to never take my medically traumatized children to this hospital.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Dinner in New Zealand

In our trip around the world, we've been spending time in New Zealand this past week. Along with the usual map work and reading about the country, we've done some art projects and eaten some food.

The art projects were not our most successful. We looked at some Maori koru art, and then tried to make our own. The instructions I was following were a little vaguer than I usually use. That's my excuse. Also, just for future reference, if you are doing a project with oil pastels, and you want the black paint to be resisted by the pastels, do not use acrylic. Either it adheres to the pastels, or you have to dilute it so much that it doesn't turn your white space to the degree of black you had hoped. Here are the less-than-spectacular finished projects.







Our dinner was much more successful. We made a Pineapple, Chicken, and Kumara (sweet potato) salad. It was a salad with lettuce greens, tomatoes, and cucumbers, as well as poached chicken and boiled sweet potato. On the side was a pineapple salsa. Everyone ate it up, though not everyone enjoyed the salsa. There was much sweet potato eaten.

To go along with it, we made Maori fry bread. It's fried bread, so it's good. There was none left. Because fried bread...

The hit of the evening, though, was the pavlova we made for dessert. A pavlova is a baked meringue base, topped with whipped cream and fruit. We used kiwis since we were studying New Zealand. I don't normally like meringue, but I really did love this. I'm sure it will make more appearances on the dinner table in the future.

During dinner, we listened to an album that TM found for me of Kiri Te Kanawa singing traditional Maori songs. This worked out particularly well because all week we had been reading Maori folktales which were collected by Dame Kiri Te Kanawa in a book called, Land of the Long White Cloud: Maori Myths, Tales, and Legends. It's a lovely book, and everyone has been enjoying it. What I like are the introductions she writes to each story about her memories of hearing it as a child.

To finish up New Zealand, we are still going to watch Whale Rider (we've already read the book), and there are a couple of other picture books we will read which focus more on the English culture of the country. But before we can do that, we first have to get through K.'s bone graft surgery on Monday morning. We are due at the hospital at the bright and early hour of 6:30 am. The good news about that is it means he is first on the surgery schedule. I'll keep the FB page updated as to how things are going.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

January thaw

The weather is goofy. We spend a couple of weeks never getting above -4. Then we get a bunch of snow dumped on us. The snow sticks around for a while, and then melts in nearly 50 degree weather, to be followed by more snow. At least it's not boring.

Earlier this week was one of the unexpectedly warm days, which saw many children playing outside. They started out playing near and in the small creek that runs across the front of our property, and then went exploring with TM. You can tell it is warm, based on the lack of coats on any of the children. TM also played photographer and got some great shots.

Y., G., L., H., and K. in front

Near the creek

G. and L.


H. and Y.

TM and Y.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Once upon a time revisited

I took a deep breath today, and sat down with H. to see if we could get through this new book before falling apart by the second word. As I had planned, we started with the idea of, 'Once upon a time...' I'll say it again, one of the great benefits and beauties of homeschooling is the ability to follow a rabbit trail when it appears and seems necessary.

When it was H.'s turn, I grab a piece of paper and write, 'Once upon a time,' on it. Before we even try to sound it out, I ask the people in the room how they think stories start. As I had anticipated, quite a few shouted out, "Once upon a time!" (I think they were hoping that I would then begin a story.) I then showed H. the words on the paper and tried to explain what they said and when we would see it. I say tried, because I could tell she was already on the 'unable to do work' roller coaster.

Because I'm slow, it took me a minute to figure out why. I hadn't asked her to read them, just look at them as I read and pointed. I hadn't really asked her to do anything at all except to listen. How had we gone so wrong so fast? After getting her to come emotionally back to the room, I started asking questions. Yes or no questions are the best at this point because she can shake or nod her head. Actually getting words out would be too much to ask. After a couple of false starts, I asked, "Are you upset because G. and L. knew about how stories can start and you didn't?" She grudgingly nodded yes, and finally the light bulb goes on above my head. It's always nice to at least know what the problem is.

We then spent a long time talking about how children learn things. About how G. and L. have had 8 years learning things in their first language. About how she didn't even start to learn English until age 9. About how it is so easy to miss things when you don't start out in a language. About how everyone doesn't know everything. (My complete lack of knowledge about anything passed the very first three Star Wars movies was a plus here, because H. knows a lot more than I do about them.) About how languages can work differently. About how it's OK not to know things. About how we can all always be learning things. About how who you are is not the same thing as what you know. About parents loving their children because of who they are and not what questions they can answer. It was kind of along conversation.

Finally, we could get back to those four words on the page, because H. could finally hear me. We wrote down the beginnings of some fairy tales. She was thrilled when she could name some and tell me the stories. I was thrilled to show her she knows more than she sometimes thinks she does. After spending some time on this, we headed over to sit together on the couch while she read her new book. Without hesitation, she began the story, "Once upon a time... " We were off and she is enjoying the story as much as I had hoped she would.

The moral of the story? Learning is about so much more than decoding or solving or answering a question with the correct answer. For H., I knew she could cognitively do the reading I was asking her to do, and was baffled as to why she wasn't doing it. It would have been all too easy to assume that she was being stubborn or willful or manipulative. But the fact was, it had nothing to do with her ability or desire to do the reading I was asking her to do. We had to first stop and figure out a piece of culture that she had missed, as well as reinforce her sense of self-worth and her relationship with me. What started out as a brief missing step on her educational and cultural scaffolding had become a true road block to her learning because it touched on how she was viewing herself and her value to the world. I'm sure I do not catch this with all of my children all of the time; I wish I could. But it is also something to be highly aware of when working with children in any venue. All too often, the issue is not what we are presented with, but something completely different which feels overwhelming to the child.

And a coda, just to highlight exactly how much one can pick up as a native speaker and learner without even trying. As we started the story and G. heard which one we were reading, she pipes up with, "Ooooh... is this a wise man tale?" I promise, I have never taught her that phrase or even overtly given the idea to categorize stories in such a way. Our children who join our families at an older age have missed so much.
I have another new article published: How to Guide a Child Who Doesn't Want to be Guided Click and share to your heart's content.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Coordinating dresses

It's been a crazy weekend with little time to be home and feel calm and in control. It's all been good stuff, just a lot of it. I do not thrive with this type of schedule, and try to avoid it as much as possible. Sometimes, it's just not possible to avoid it. Monday isn't looking as though it's going to improve much. We'll see what Tuesday brings. In theory life should calm down then. We'll see. And then we have K.'s bone graft surgery scheduled for the 29th, so in some ways, I won't really feel as though life has settled down until we are through that. All this is my way of saying, don't expect a lot as far as posts go for the next little bit. All is well, just a little crazy.

A while back I shared about the dress I had made for G., and that I was making one for L. Well, that dress is not only done, but the girls decided to wear them at the same time, so I could get a picture. Sort of. These dresses are working for them at the moment, because, as I was informed, they don't match, just go together. They only like to match when they come up with the idea.

Here are the dresses. And a brief pictorial essay about why posed pictures just don't seem to happen much around here.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Friday bullets, January 18, 18

It was one of those weeks where I thought it would be fairly relaxed, but turned out to be just the opposite. I'm so glad it's Friday, because I could use some down time.

  • We had our social worker visit for the two year post-placement report for Y. and R. I love our social worker. Visits usually last a couple of hours because we are having such a good time chatting. It was also our last social worker visit, since the next three reports are self-reported. This makes me kind of sad. It's been twelve years of social workers... some were great, some were mediocre, and I fired one. It seems odd to be done with that season.
  • Our local Sam's Club announced it would be closing. Darn. That's really all I have to say. As a result, last week everything was 25% off and this week everything (well, what was left of it all) was 50% off. I waited for the frenzy to die down and did some kitchen pantry stocking. My personal rules were to only purchase what would store and things I would have bought at full price anyway. Unsurprisingly, the things I was interested in were still on the shelves when I went. My pantry is starting to feel happy again. I had pared it down so much for the move, I've been slowly trying to build it back up again. This helped a lot. See?

  • Here is my frugal outerwear tip for the day. K. was playing in the snow earlier in the week, but his gloves were short and wouldn't stay tucked under this sleeves. This made for very cold wrists and he was not happy. I went upstairs and raided the odd socks that will never have a partner, and I wonder why I bother to keep them. I took two longer socks, cut off the toes, cut a slit in the heels, and handed them to K. They worked perfectly. His thumb went through the slit in the heel, the toe being cut off meant his fingers could go in the fingers of his gloves, and the tops of the socks reached up under his sleeves and stayed there. It was a total win.
  • Speaking about outerwear, I am in love with my new snow pants and snow boots. I have never been so warm in the winter outside in my life. I actually took Kenzie through the forest preserve on a long walk through the snow, and was comfortable. There really is something to this whole idea about proper clothes. Here are some pictures from one of our walks.

  • We did get quite a bit more snow. Here is what our drive looks like.
The drive is going across the middle of the photo... I don't know if you can see the faint tracks in the snow.
  • Discussions about Fifi the pig are still on the table.
  • D.'s new passion is chess. Well, technically it's a renewed passion. He wants to play me in chess, and I suppose I will have to break down and agree to a game. But the truth is, he is very much better at chess than I am, and he doesn't so much want to play with me, but beat me. I've been putting off my downfall.
  • We are now in the 12th or 13th spot for TM's husky puppy on the husky breeder's list. He (TM, not the puppy, nor the breeder) has a whole schedule made up for getting ready for the puppy, and figuring out how to get in all the walks/runs the puppy will need.
  • On Tuesday, we left Easter Island and flew directly to New Zealand. It is amusing to me that everyone is most interested in what the meal will be for each country. We say a picture of a Pavlova dessert in one of our New Zealand books, and based on the exclaiming over how good it looked, I think that will have to be our dessert for that meal. (Any NZ friends want to chime in on meal suggestions? I was thinking some type of lamb [did not excite the masses] along with roasted sweet potatoes [also did not excite the masses]. I thought it sounded good. Any other suggestions?)
  • I really do think we are starting to hear a bit more language from R. since we started the seizure medicine wean.
  • I sliced up all those red peppers I showed you last time and ended up with three large bags full of them. I also roasted half the poblano chiles and have the equivalent of 9 of the little cans of diced roasted chiles. I roasted a lot of chiles last week. I think I have finally figured out the easiest way to do it. Preheat your oven to 500 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil and lay the chiles on. Put in the oven for 10 minutes. Check. You may need to turn them. If they are not roasted over 70 % of the chili, put them back in. I found I only needed another 5 minutes or so, but oven tends to be hot. Take them out and immediately put them in a bowl with plastic wrap over the top to let the skins steam off. Here is where I went wrong the first time. Don't let them sit too long. If you let them get cold, they are nearly impossible to work with, After about 10 minutes or so, check to see if you can hold one of them. I found it easiest to peel off the skins if the chile was just barely cool enough to touch. Any cooler than that, and they started to get too slippery. Once you have them peeled, slice them open and take out the seeds and membranes. You can then move along to whatever you were going to do with them.
  • One half of the chiles I turned into chiles rellenos. They are so very, very good. They are so very, very time consuming. I think I only make them every nine to twelves months because it takes that long for the craving for them to overcome the memory of who much work and how many bowls they take. I never took a picture of them, I was too busy eating.
  • Finally, after having taken a brief hiatus, I have a new article published. My checkbook would be thrilled if you clicked on it and shared it. What Can We Do to Address the Current Problems in International Adoption
[Edited to add... the link to the article isn't currently working due to issues at's end. When it is all sorted out, I'll let everyone know. Thanks!]

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Once upon a time...

Sorry to continue to debrief my reading with you, but you may have to put up with it for a couple of weeks while I get my non-fiction stack back down to manageable levels.

I've been thinking about this all day.

"Enjoyment appears at the boundary between boredom and anxiety, when challenges are just balanced with the person's capacity to act." (p. 52) from Flow: the psychology of optimal experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

What if it is not just enjoyment, but also true learning that also happens in this thin space between anxiety and boredom? I think this is so thought provoking to me today, because once again, I had the experience of trying to teach a child something I knew she could do, yet she wasn't sure herself.

H. reads quite well. Sometimes. Last week she zipped through a Dr. Seuss book with nary a problem, and she enjoyed doing it. I've caught sight of her sitting and reading the same book to herself over and over. Since that book went so well, today, I thought we should try another easy reader. I know she really likes it when we read 'real' books, as opposed to readers, so I went and found one that I was pretty sure she would have no trouble with.

She read the title, The Cow in the House, with no problem, and laughed at the title, eager to start reading. (It's a great easy reader, for those who have children at that stage, by the way.) Well, now I know that the first word in a book has got to be one that she can read with no effort. The first word of this book was 'once'... as in 'Once upon a time..." She stumbled on 'once' and never got back on her feet again. We eventually, after a few attempts which become more and more random and ridiculous as her brain went further and further off-line, put the book down and moved on to something else. No forward progress, or anything positive actually, was going to happen.

So what went wrong? I've been doing triage on it ever since. First, we came smack up against a cultural issue that any native born child would have sailed through. If you are given the word 'once' at the very beginning of a book, the vast majority of children who spent their entire lives here, would know in an instant that the three following words will be, 'upon a time'. They wouldn't even need to sound them out, and probably they wouldn't even really look at them. How else would a story start?

H. doesn't have that knowledge. While we've certainly read our share of fairy tales (and re-read and acted out and re-told) over the past nearly six years, it has not been enough to ingrain the phrase into her being. 'Once' is not always followed by 'upon a time'. In fact, it's anybody's guess as to what would come next. H. sees the phrase as four separate and distinct words, whereas many of my other children would see them as one inseparable phrase.

The second thing that went wrong, is that by choosing a book she didn't have immediate success with, I triggered her anxiety about her ability to actually be able to read it. She may have lived with us for nearly six years, but she still has lived the majority of her life somewhere else. A somewhere else that was not always kind to her. A somewhere else where she learned, and learned very well, that unless you are very sure about something, it is far, far better not to try at all. A somewhere else that taught her she was not capable. It is very slow and painful work to show her that she is capable, that trying is of value of not something to be afraid of, that we are on her side.

When we read the book again, I will spend some time talking to her about the phrase, 'Once upon a time'. We will read some easy words, probably in something else. I'll probably also write the phrase, 'once upon a time' out and we'll practice finding the words, and figure out how to read it. Only after we have done all of this will I get the book out again and have her attempt to read it.

And I know she can read it; it's why I picked it. But once she determined that she couldn't, or she might get something wrong, or she might make me unhappy or disappointed in her because she couldn't read it right away, then it might as well been Finnegans Wake by James Joyce for all she was going to be getting out of it.

Let's go back to that quote I first shared. Anxiety or its emotional compatriots... fear, shame, anger... are very close to the surface in our children from hard places. They are the default emotions for a great many situations. It takes years of a child feeling safe before these emotions are not the first ones out of the box. If enjoyment, and I would add learning, since true learning is so closely tied to enjoyment, can only occur past the edge of anxiety, then is it any wonder that our children struggle so much with learning? That their learning appears so mystifyingly jagged? That there is the constant feeling that they could do so much more if they only would?

We want to push. We want to make up for the lost years, and not have them lose any more time. It is a worthy goal to want a child to succeed. But what if the most healing option is to do just the opposite? To give them time to learn what safety and love feel like. To keep things simple as they learn they are capable and they don't have to be anxious about every single thing. To let them go back and get a giant do-over for all the things they missed over the years. To help them understand that to hear the words, "Once upon a time..." opens up a world of wonder and adventure that they can participate in.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Pleasure and enjoyment

One of the things I've been working on this month is to read down the pile of books next to my bed. These would be the books that I've started, but haven't finished before picking up another book. They are all non-fiction. In general, I like to have one non-fiction and one fiction book that I am reading at a time. I'm not quite sure when or how the non-fiction pile got away from me, but it did, and it's been bothering me. How can a person who only likes to have one book from one genre going at a time have so many books with book marks in them? I don't know, but I've decided that something has to be done.

I finished one yesterday, and am now working on the next in the pile. Currently, I'm working on Flow: the psychology of optimal experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. (That would be pronounced: Mee-high Chick-sent-mee-high, emphasis on second syllable of the last name.) This is one of those books which appears on nearly every bibliography I come across in my light, neuroscience-brain stuff reading. It seemed as though I should actually read it, so I asked for it for Christmas.

The jury is still out as to what I think about it, but today I came across this quote:

"During the first few years of life every single child is a little 'learning machine' trying out new movements, new words daily. The rapt concentration on the child's face as she learns each new skill is a good indication of what enjoyment is about. And each instance of enjoyable learning adds to the complexity of the child's developing self.

Unfortunately, this natural connection between growth and enjoyment tends to disappear with time. Perhaps because 'learning' becomes an external imposition when schooling starts, the excitement of mastering new skills gradually wears out. It becomes all too easy to settle down within the narrow boundaries of the self developed in adolescence. But if one gets to be too complacent, feeling that psychic energy invested in new directions is wasted unless there is a good chance of reaping extrinsic rewards for it, one may end up no longer enjoying life, and pleasure becomes the only source of positive experience."

Before I discuss this, you need to know that Csikszentmihalyi defines pleasure as a feeling of contentment when outside experiences meet expectations. Pleasure is short-lived; it does not cause growth in an individual. Opposed to pleasure is enjoyment. Enjoyment is reached when the is novelty and accomplishment; it causes growth and helps to create a more complex person. Pleasure takes no effort, whereas enjoyment can only happen with 'unusual investment of attention.' Pleasure can be obtained by the use of drugs, while drugs are the antithesis of enjoyment.

Knowing this, go back to the quote I shared. A child starts out learning naturally, and gaining enjoyment from the ongoing struggle and eventual mastery of new information and skills. We all know that if we feel enjoyment while doing something, we are that much more motivated to do that same thing again, and often at a deeper level, even if it felt hard initially. Or maybe because it felt hard, and we kept going and mastered it.

But at some point the child stops feeling enjoying from learning new things. Csikszentmihalyi proposes it has something to do with starting school. As I think about this, I would propose that many traditional classrooms (please notice I didn't say all, before you click that comment button) teach children to enjoy the easiness and quick fix of pleasure over the hard work and more intensive effort of enjoyment.

The child in a traditional classroom is learning on someone else's time table. The content of the learning is dictated, as is how it is to be learned. It doesn't really matter if the child is interested or even ready to learn what is put before him, that's what's on the plan. Instead of being invested in the learning for its own sake, the child then learns that pleasing the teacher, by turning in appropriate work, is what is going to be the most rewarded. An 'A' on a paper or test provides a bit of pleasure at the end of the work. Or, for a child who does not fare well in this environment, she learns that there is no pleasure whatever, and that just finishing or ignoring the assignments will provide the most pleasure because it will be done, or even just ignored.

These are two vastly different students, but ultimately they learn the same lesson. There is not intrinsic enjoyment of learning. The idea that there is something positive to struggling to master something, or to accept an intellectual challenge other than the sheer enjoyment which comes with success.

It is a damning statement he makes at the end, and it is actually a chilling indictment of modern schooling. Extrinsic rewards can eventually rob a person of enjoyment of life. It's something to ponder, isn't it?

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Words matter

I receive relatively few questionable comments as I go about my day, especially when I compare notes with other mothers of adopted children or many children or many adopted children. Maybe I give off a scary vibe, though I don't feel particularly fearsome. Maybe people are just so overwhelmed by the opportunities presented as to which avenue to take when making thoughtless comments, that they are speechless as a result. I don't know. But whether I'm at the receiving end of the comments or not, people's words do matter, especially when talking about other people.

In that spirit, I'm feeling as though it is time once again to give a quick run-down of words and phrases which just shouldn't be used, pretty much ever. I'll even give the reasons why. Onward with my public service announcement and plea to always put the person first in your speaking and comments.

1. "Your own"

This would be in the context of, "Do you also have children of your own?' or "She adopted a child, but also had children of her own," or "I can't decide whether to adopt or have children of my own." This is perhaps also one of the most abused phrases, and one I am actually going to hear on a fairly regular basis. I realize that for the most part, at the root of it, is a lack of appropriate language. The speaker usually doesn't mean anything by it, but is merely trying to differentiate between an adopted or biological child. If I am by myself, I will usually give this a pass. If my children are with me, you can be sure I'll do a little education.

The difficulty is, in every instance I've ever heard it used, it makes it quite clear that the adopted child is not 'my own.' How do you suppose this makes that child feel? I'll tell you... pretty rotten. My children are all my own, regardless of how they arrived in my family. My children are all, equally, full members of my family. They need no qualifiers. So, people, unless you are specifically talking about an adoption issue, there is very rarely ever a need to differentiate between how a family was formed. The children are all their own.

2. "To get"

This phrase is also adoption related, used in the sense of "What kind of child can you get from [insert country name]?" or "I want to get a child from [insert country name]," or "Can you still get babies from [insert country name]?" I find this phrase to fall off the lips of potential adoptive parents, new adoptive parents, and the general public in equal measure, and every time I hear it, it sets my teeth on edge.

Why? Well, the phrase implies shopping or picking out or otherwise obtaining, usually an object. It commodifies the adoption relationship and the child at the center of it. To go to a country to get a child, makes it seem like a business transaction. It does not even begin to carry the weight of what is actually going on... the losses which the child endured or the level of commitment the new parents must make to the child. It also tacitly tells something about the country the child is from, and that something is not good. It implies that the country is not our equal, that their children are ours for the taking, that we have some right to them. This is not true, of course, but this is what is implied by such a seemingly innocuous verb.

3. Any number of phrases other than congratulations

When you are confronted with someone announcing that they are either pregnant or pursuing an adoption, there is one and only one phrase that is appropriate: Congratulations! That's it. Nothing else. Not what you think about over population. Not a joke asking the person if they know what causes it. (Trust me, they've heard it.) Not asking if they are crazy. Not expressing concern over that person stretching themselves too thin. No comments about how the other children in the family will suffer. Do I need to go on?

Just stick to congratulations. Really. I don't even care if you mean it. Just say it. Because really, a new baby or child joining a family is a cause for celebration. And no one is asking you to raise the child, are they?

4. "Retarded" or "Spas[tic]"

I was reminded just yesterday, that the last bastion for vaguely publicly acceptable 'jokes' are aimed at those who are least able to defend themselves. It would seem obvious that overt jokes at the expense of the intellectually disabled are bad, but sometimes people still use these two terms that I've written to indicate that something is stupid or out of control.

Yeah, don't do that, either. The English language is rich in descriptive words. Choose words which don't immediately denigrate a person. Do I really need to expound any more on this particularly item?

5. "Shithole of a country"

Oh, please tell me you knew I was heading here. Setting aside the singularly unimaginative use of language, let's just talk for a moment why this is a problem. It boils down to people, and how we perceive them, because what's being talked about here is not just a place. To parse the phrase a bit, what would you find in a shithole, but shit. It's nearly impossible not to get to this conclusion. It's just never good form to call another person that. It's even more egregious for a represented official in charge of a country to liken another human being to excrement.

And you know what (because I've been hanging around social media far too long to know what comes next), it doesn't even really matter at this point whether or not this is exactly what he said. It's enough that the vast majority of the public doesn't have to tax their imaginations to imagine that him saying it is possible. He has not made himself above reproach. Far from it. Now, say if Fred Rogers were still alive, and someone made a statement to the media that he had said this phrase, it would be different. It would not be something people would believe of him, and he would be given the benefit of a doubt. This is the benefit of living your life above reproach; to be honorable. It doesn't mean you are perfect, but you've not jumped head first into the pig sty of your own volition. And once you are sitting in that pig sty, it hardly seems worth the effort to point out that some small part on your body is clear of... filth.

If you are a follower of Jesus, I find it appalling if you can find it in yourself to defend this. This is not who we are supposed to be. We are to love people. We are to love all people, even our enemies. We are to be so outrageous in our love that people will mark it and ask why. We cannot sit by and allow our fellow humans to be denigrated. Ever. No matter what.

"Whoever keeps covenant. Whoever does the will of my Father. Whoever believes. Isaiah, Jesus, and Paul all sing variations of the same song. What the prophets hinted at, Jesus says straight out. And Paul recognizes it, seeing how God is weaving this family of belonging from the time of Abraham. Anyone can become a member of God's family -- this is the base line for their song.

Jesus embodied this kind of family largess. Watch him, and you'll notice the company he kept. He was at ease with street kids, sick people, prostitutes -- the outcasts of society. He welcomed women, foreigners, and Roman functionaries. He dined with religious elite and partisan politicians. This is what you'd expect from someone unlimited by the boundary markers of ethnicity, class, and clan. Anyone could be close as kin to Jesus." from Adopted: The Sacrament of Belonging in a Fractured World by Kelley Nikondeha

Friday, January 12, 2018

Friday bullets, Jan. 12, 2018

It's been one of those crazy weeks where I seem to only barely manage to keep my head above water. This inevitably happens on weeks with doctor's appointments, especially ones which involve driving 100+ miles. Having a couple of people down with various illnesses didn't help either.

  • I know more than a few people, both with children requiring lots of appointments and without, wonder how homeschooling works when you do need to take time out for appointments. Well, first of all, I find it is all easier to change our style of homeschooling based on what life is looking like at any given moment. Times that are calm with not a lot of appointments, we can be more schedule and workbook oriented. Times with craziness or appointments or surgeries or any of the other surprises life tends to throw about, it is useful to think of education in different terms. This has been a more unschooling sort of week than is typical, but then, I've never even pretended to subscribe to any single homeschooling method. Why be constricted? I know that unschooling (learning without prescribed curricula or textbooks or plans), makes more than a few people nervous, and I'm not sure I could even do it full time, But that said, it is often during our unschooling seasons that I am most aware of what my children are learning. Maybe it's because it is more organic and driven by the individual? Anyway, I took some pictures to show you what I mean.

As I had mentioned earlier, we have made a brief stopover to Easter Island/Rapa Nui on our way to New Zealand. Nova had done a really great series about lost civilizations where various experts and scientists tried to recreate how different things were accomplished. The moai on Rapa Nui were one of them. We watched the show on Monday, because that's what was on the schedule, but also because more than a couple of people were sick, and it seemed like a low key activity. 

So back to the photos. Everyone was very taken with the island and the statues. The top picture are moai created out of Lego by K. (Really, in K.'s world, something doesn't exist until it has been recreated in Lego.) The bottom two photos are G.'s work. One of the hypotheses of how the moai were moved, was that they were put on a sled and rolled over logs. The next day, G. had built the top set-up, then she calls to me and announces, "This would not have worked because they could never have turned the sled!" She then proceeds to show me how the sled could not have turned. The second picture shows the moai on the sled. 

There was quite a bit of other learning that happened, and this was just a small bit of it, but it does show how life and learning go on, even in the midst of other stuff.
  • I have been working on getting the amount spent on groceries under control. This means paying far more attention than I had been to sales, and planning my meals around those things. I will admit to having gotten out of the habit, and it showed. I've also decided that I need to be a little proactive in taking advantage of those sales for future use. You know, buying a lot of something at a good price and storing it for later. Here is what I came home with on Wednesday.

Yes, that is a lot of red bell peppers and poblano chiles. They were both on sale, with the red peppers being really quite low. I'm in the process of slicing half and dicing the other half in order to freeze them. You can't eat them fresh that way, but I use them enough in cooking that they will be really useful. The poblanos, at least those that don't get turned into chiles rellenos, will be roasted, diced and frozen.
  • H. read all of Green Eggs and Ham to me today. She had absolutely no difficulty on any of the words, and she was understanding it. I know it's not a difficult book, but it is not entirely made up of easy words. You have some 'would's and 'could's, and you need to know what 'e' on the end does as well as what happens with two vowels to be able to read it. Another milestone was that I think the rhyming was actually helping her. Anyone with a child whose first language was not English knows that rhyming is one of the last things to develop. 
  • There is a grassroots campaign among children for us to get a pot-bellied pig which is at an animal shelter. I think a good part of the reason is that it's name is Fifi. Well, that and the cachet of having another extremely unusual pet. As A. mentioned last night, we left normal behind a long time ago. There are some bad stories about dogs and pigs, though, so... 
  • The second session of the women's Bible I'm in started Wednesday night. You know what was the most exciting thing to me? I wasn't the 'new girl'! I knew people, they knew me, it felt like a huge relief.
  • P.'s second semester French class at the local community college was cancelled at the last moment due to low enrollment. I'm both annoyed and frustrated. Anyone local know of someone who would like the money that the community college would have gotten, to tutor P. through the second half of her French book? I could do it, but in reality it is more likely to happen if I outsource it.
  • Olive is now up to 80 pounds. She can easily rest her head on the dining room table without stretching. Not that we encourage that behavior.
  • Q. continues to lay eggs. I have quite a full glass of them in the refrigerator now. She is laying an egg at least probably twice a week these days.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

It's been two years

It's been two years since we added numbers 11 and 12 to our family. It's hard to believe that it's been that long. It's just as hard to believe that it's been so short. Time is funny like that.

It seems as though the two year anniversary is a good time to do a little catch-up post about how everyone is doing. I'll do Y. first. It's a little more straight forward. Maybe.

Y. fits right in. She is bright, imaginative, engaging, curious, and more than a little stubborn and a bit perfectionistic. This pretty much describes a great number of our children. And since I'm also a (ahem) little stubborn and perfectionistic, I get that about her. I think it would be fair to also throw in the word driven. Driven as in, don't get in her way if she has decided she is going to do something.

In the past two years, Y. has developed a lot of muscle, and can now walk and run for great distances without getting tired. She can jump on the trampoline and ride a two-wheeler. These are certainly two activities she wasn't even close to being able to do when she first came home. She can read phonics-rule-following words as well as quite a few sight words. And due to her driven nature, she can still read quite a bit of Mandarin. Her receptive Mandarin skills are quite good, though I fear her expressive skills in her first language have plummeted. It was one thing we lost in the move... good friends who could speak Mandarin with her on a regular basis.

She loves her family, but still misses China and her friends there. It's completely understandable and normal. I'm all for normal emotional responses. In short, Y. is doing great and is a joy.

R. is, as always a little more complicated. Putting on my detached, clinical hat, R. has actually made quite a bit of progress over the past two years as well, especially if you consider where she started. We just had a neurologist appointment yesterday, so the realization of this is fresh in my mind. It helps to have the eyes of someone who only sees her twice a year.

R. is significantly stronger than she was when she came home, and she is slowly gaining some muscle control and proprioception. Her vestibular awareness has also increased. Her list of physical movements that she can do now, which she couldn't when she came home include: crawling, high kneel, standing on her heels, alternating feet down stairs, and... standing on one foot! This last was done for the first time in the neurologist's office when she asked R. to do it. R. even did one sort of hop on one foot... being able to do it with both the left and right feet. I admit to cheering when she did. It's what we've been working on (and on and on), and there has been much shrieking and side eyes. Followed by the inevitable statement, "In China, no me do this!"

When she came home, she carried her right arm as if it were palsied, with a claw-like hand. Over the two years, we have worked on that, and now she carries it down at her side, though her wrist still wants to turn up. That's a work in progress. The neurologist also noted that her RH finger dexterity was much improved over last time.

Other gains: We're hearing more English language, with less Mandarin thrown in, though it's still there. She is also still very heavy on the nouns, with verbs being nearly totally absent from her speech. She gets her clothes on the correct way nearly the first time every time these days. We have a lot less of her trying to clutch small items in her claw-like hand and carry them around and fiddle with them. (They were definitely an aid in disassociation.) She is better at looking at where she is going, and less-frequently runs into, through, or on things. There is less disassociation.

Academically, I've been doing a little more traditional preschool level work with her, rather than just straight toddler play. Perhaps I will actually be able to use all the books I stored away just in case, some day. I certainly didn't feel much hope in that direction six months ago.

Probably the biggest hurdle has been to figure out the whole seizure-thing. We are weaning down her second seizure medicine a bit to see what happens. Her neurologist is wonderful and puts up with my crazy ideas. But really, for her, it does seem that the more we can lower her stress and anxiety, the fewer seizures or auras we see. In her recent history, being in the same family every day of the week for two years is the most stability she has had. A brain that is relaxed and calm can learn (or begin to learn), because it is not on high alert and disassociated all at the same time.

R. still has a long way to go. There is so much I hope for her. I look at H. and would love for R. to reach the same level of cognition and functioning. I would love for R. to develop the same emotional knowledge that H. has gained over the past few years. But really, I would just really love to know who R. is under the results of all the pain and fear and hurt. When I look back at the list such as I just wrote, I think perhaps someday that might be a possibility. And that's good to know, because in truth, she is not an easy child to parent. What I've also learned, though, is that the issue of whether I perceive her as being difficult or easy, really lies with me, and my attitudes, and really has not a lot to do with the child herself. She is what she is. It's the learning to accept that which can be challenging.

I'm actually amazed at where we are, if I think back and remember carefully this day two years ago. One child couldn't stand us, did not want to be in our family, and loathed her new sister. The other child was a shrieking, flapping, essentially non-verbal, mess of anxiety and fear and trauma, who wanted to nothing except to cling to us, her only tenuous link to safety. We've all come a long way.

If you missed out on the circus the first time around, Here we go, is the first post of our three weeks in China to bring home R. and Y. If you click 'newer post' on the bottom, it will take you to the next installment. For those of you who don't want to wade through three weeks' worth of posts, here are the links to the posts about meeting each of the girls for the first time.

We now have 11 children

An even dozen

Rereading these two posts, I need to clarify something. Boy, I did a nice job of glossing over the hard bits. It all seems so pleasant and manageable to read about it. Usually I'm all about telling the whole story, yucky bits and all. I think it was because I was in shock as well as my girls. It's one thing to experience it, it's another thing to be able to process it to write about it. I couldn't actually write exactly how terrifying it was, because that would somehow confirm it and make it more real. I can be much more brutally honest about the hard now, because I am sufficiently removed from it, and my worst imaginings have not come real. Heck, I can even laugh about most of it. But not then, and not for a while afterwards.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Winter walk

The holidays are over, the temperature is not only in the positives, but in the double digits as well, so it seemed a good idea to get back to walking Kenzie in the forest preserve every day. 

This is made more comfortable by the fact I bought myself some new winter boots. We had credit card point, so those combined with a great sale, gave me a wonderful pair of boots at an affordable price. You can't tell, but they are red plaid. Very woodsy.

Winter out here is proving to be far different from winter in the city. It seems much more manageable. First, there are more places for the snow to go, so I am not continually trying to back my van out onto a busy street, while avoiding the piles of snow which narrowed my driveway. With no turning radius, this always made me hate leaving the house. Now, I have no narrow driveway to back out of onto a snow-narrowed street. It is so much easier, and so much less stressful. Also, with a lot more open space, the snow stays pleasant to look at. It's been since Christmas since it really snowed, and for the most part the snow everywhere is still white, rather than dingy grey to black.

Also, I don't have any idea if we have had more than our usual amount of snowy days, but my typical descent into the winter blahs has yet to happen. With the three large sliding glass doors all along the south side of our house, the amount of light that is let in is amazing. Even with cloudier days, I feel as though I'm getting more light than I used to. This is a very, very good thing.

Having this place to walk, even in winter, has also been fabulous. Walking and being outside, always lift my mood, and to be able to do so with real scenery as well... I'm feeling very blessed this winter.

Our house is right there in the picture below... just over the rise. I'm hardly that far from home, though it feels like it. Children have come to find me, if they suddenly need my presence.

Kenzie really enjoyed his walk. Both he and Olive are feeling a little housebound. Kenzie usually has pretty good leash manners, but today, he just couldn't help himself. He was so glad to be out and walking and sniffing. He is much more of a scent dog than we've ever had, and spent most of his time with his nose to the ground like this. I think there is very little Labrador in him.

I am looking forward to spring, but mainly because of what spring brings: continuing to fix up the property, adding some animals, finally working on doing what we need to get horses. For once, though, it's not because I cannot take the weather for one minute longer.
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