Friday, November 30, 2007

Big Boy is Back!

Ahhh...I may have been "Mean Mommy Extraordinaire" but I got my Big Boy back! Kenny has been wonderful the past few days, and I am relieved that our tough time in Salt Lake City was the end of it for a bit. We had the most wonderful conversation with Kenny last evening as we were preparing Matthew for speaking in front of a room full of people. I did not ask Matthew any adoption related questions, just some goofy questions to get him used to providing more information than just "yes" or "no". After a few minutes Kenny said "Momma...do me!" so I started asking him questions that turned into an adoption oriented discussion. My, what depth this little boy has, what maturity lurks beneath the surface...and how fortunate we re that we ended up being his parents. He often acts so young, so silly and toddler-like that we forget that there really is a 9 year old in there and he just feels safe enough to regress and relive his younger unparented years with us.

We ended up talking about what it was like for him to learn he was going to America and going to be adopted. He had told us earlier that he overheard a conversation in the Director's office and he and Turat, his buddy, listened at the door and heard he was being adopted. Last night I asked him what he had thought about it as now his language skills are so good he can really express himself well. He said he was very scared as he had never heard of America and he didn't know what to expect. He also was excited. We talked about the photo album we sent and I asked him what he thought when he first received it and was surprised when he said "I cried, I so happy!" and he said that everyone even the adults looked at it and was disturbed that one adult ripped a page. Then he added "I scared of Matthew though, he look big and like he fight me!" and then we laughed as we realized it was because we included a photo of Matt and Josh doing pretend karate chops! So, word to the wise...even if it is funny not karate pictures in your albums! Hahahaha! But when I asked him what he thought of Matthew when he met him he said "Oh, he nice nice brother, not mean...but he's bigger than me!". He said Turat was happy for him, and now he was happy that Turat had a family too :-) I am as well as now I don't have his face haunting my nights.

What a mix of emotions for a very little boy. Can you imagine being in his shoes, or any other older child's shoes who leaves behind the known albeit sheltered environment for the big old world hand in hand with complete strangers? And Kenny did it with such gusto, such zest. I am continually amazed at all our sons but particularly with Kenny's courage.

When I put him to bed not much later after our conversation he gave me a long hug and whispered in my ear "Thank you mamma" and I said "Thank you for what?" and he said "Just thank you..." with a gentle kiss. Reliving those days from 6 months ago (can you believe it has already been 6 months??) obviously brought back some emotions.

Sitting there watching him on the couch as he spoke, I was thrilled as I caught a glimpse of the deep, intelligent child that will eventually emerge. He was so adult as he spoke with us, so serious and thoughtful. Interestingly, af all 3 of my sons, I think it is easiest for me to picture the man Kenny will one day be which is really odd as currently he is the least mature of all 3! Perhaps it is because I see so much of Dominick in him and I know how Dominick turned out :-) Even at this age Kenny is the Protector, he is the Do-er, he is the Fixer. He has more confidence than he has a right to have at this stage :-) He will be a wonderful and loving father, a caring and connected son even as an adult. What an incredible blessing he is to our family!! I am making a prediction that within 2 years we see a much more mature child who is pretty close to age appropriate.

I also sat there in the lowered light of our cozy living room and watched him, and I thought to myself "Kenny is so beautiful!". Of course, I know every mom thinks this about her kids, be they boys or girls, but I was struck by the softness of his features, of his relaxed smile and realized I was falling a little more in love with him every day.

Bringing a stranger into your home, even though they are a child, doesn't mean you instantly love them. That love takes time to grow and it must be nurtured. Now, I have loved Kenny for a long time now but there are still things I am discovering, and to add to that he continues to morph and change rapidly with the love from a family. Just as I get used to one Kenny, a new one replaces him! We go through rough times like this weekend when his behavior isn't so lovable and you get frustrated and angry, and then you come out of it and tell yourself he has taken another tiny step towards learning and growing. Funny, as we drove yesterday to the orthodontist 2 1/2 hours away wee had time for conversation and he spoke about this weekend and said "I no like sleeping while Matthew and Joshie play, I not be bad again!" so perhaps we have found a perfect weapon to add to our discipline arsenal should things backslide again...hahahaha~!

Despite the challenges, which in our case have really been relatively few (or perhaps it is just that Joshie was such a proving ground that Kenny seems easy in comparison!) older child adoption has been a tremendous success for us, something we are filled with gratitude for having God give us the courage to do, He had a terrific reward for us in Kenny!

And now I am off for the weekend with Matthew, who the past three days has quietly looked at me and whispered "Only 2 more days! Only 1 more day!" so someone is very excited about our "Mom and Matt" overnighter. I am so blessed to have children who enjoy being with their mom. I now it won't last as they all grow older but for now I am wallowing in it and enjoying every single moment. We will be visiting close friends of ours who moved to Denver this summer and who we have missed very much, so Matthew gets to visit his buddy as well and they are kindly putting us up for the night. We are facing driving in blizzard warning conditions for 5 hours to get to Denver, so we are hoping we don't get hit too hard. I am a bit nervous about speaking tomorrow at Adoption Alliance's training class, but hopefully I will do well and I pray that someone present there needs to hear what I have to say, that it touches someones heart. Thanks to all for your suggestions, I incorporated almost all of them! Your comments both on the blog and via email really touched me, and let me know that this blog has touched many of you in ways I never would have imagined. It is why I am keeping it up rather than quitting writing it. Thanks again!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Any Suggestions Anyone??

I am going to be a guest speaker at Adoption Alliances training this weekend, and I am putting together some ideas for what I will be talking about. Matthew will be going with me so we have a special Mommy and Matthew weekend ahead of us, which I am really looking forward to. I know he is only 8 but he is such a neat, interesting, intelligent little guy and is great fun to be with. Matthew also wanted to speak a little at the training so it will be very interesting to see what he has to ay from an 8 year old perspective. I am very proud of him wanting to do it and figured it would be best if I did it in question and answer format for him with me asking questions and him responding.

So as I put this together I realized I have the best people to bounce this off of right here who are my blog readers! Do any of you have any suggestions for topics that would interest you if you were attending? What do you think I should absolutely include? Do you have any ideas for questions for Matthew that you would be curious to learn what his response was? If you are a waiting parent, what is your biggest fear or concern? I realized as I was writing some material that with this having been our 3rd adoption many of those initial fears have receded and I am trying to dredge them up...maybe you can give me some reminders. After all, for us at this stage it is more like "OK...so let's see...we'll hop the plane and go get our son!" and not "Oh My Gosh! I can not believe we are really really going to do this strange thing!!!!"..we were there the first time around but not for time #2 or #3 :-)

Please give me your input, I am really anxious to see what you all think! You can comment on the blog or via email to CyndiLJ@aol.com . Thanks so much!!

Time4Learning

"akindofmagick said...
Cindy: so, how's time4learning working? Enquiring minds want to know!!"

I thought that I would respond with a post rather than burying my response in the comments section.

time4Learning.com has proven to be a terrific tool in our house, and one of the kids' favorite activities! This is NOT a paid endorsement at this stage, but this is real learning and reinforcement of educational material. I can see how someone could easily use this as the basis of their homeschooling curriculum and then supplement as desired.

Joshie loves doing anything on the computer and thus far has not been very interested in many learning activities otherwise. He can easily do most of it by himself with little intervention from me, and he actually enjoys it and doesn't really see it as learning.

Matthew, well he is my real book worm and school lover and this is one of his very favorite things to do, go to "online school". He loves the history and science portions and has blown through several of the language arts activities as he can go at his own pace, so he isn't slowed down as he is during the day at school. There are tons of activities though, so he is not in danger of finishing them any time soon...and thre are printable worksheets that are provided and can be used to reinforce the subjects learned online. Everything is so interactive that it keeps the momentum and interest way up.

For Kenny this has been an awesome tool to work on the basics that he is having to get in a hit or miss fashion at school, and it has had another added advantage of helping us see where hie defecits really are. As the parent you can print out reports of their activity and scores, so you can see if an arad needs more review or not. Sometimes with the language issues we have, we (and he) think he knows something and it turns out he has only understood a portion of it, so this helps us spot problems so we can correct it.

So overall, we feel this is one of the best tools we have come across for our kids and their education...we will no doubt continue to use the program for years to come. Those with older kids coming home (4 or 5 on up) from another country would find this to be an excellent resource to use to help them learn but have fun at the same time.

Hope this helps those who were wondering!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Salt Lake City or Bust!

We had a wonderful week last week, beginning our holiday with an early Thanksgiving dinner with friends and then moving on to our 5 1/2 hour drive to Salt Lake City Thanksgiving morning. We woke up to a VERY cold crisp 20 degree morning with no snow and hot air balloons flying overhead. We have a hot air balloon festival in our town over Thanksgiving weekend and often they fly right over our home, as was the case this weekend. As we loaded up the car we waved to the balloon pilots and yelled out "Happy Thanksgiving"!, and aside from our yells the only sound was their heaters huffing and chuffing as they silently drifted right over our house.
After a few "pit stops" along the way we arrived in Salt Lake City and our crew of 10 looked as if we were a traveling band of gypsies as we unloaded our cars in front of the Marriot (Super inexpensive thanks to Priceline!) and traipsed through the lobby with board games, swimming noodles and Walmart bags in tow. We spent the weekend swimming, walking around Temple Square with thousands of other people to view the glorious display of lights, and doing a little bit of clothes shopping for Matthew who really needed some long sleeved shirts.

That hour spent shopping with him for clothes was a very sweet time for me, as it was the first time he has shown an interest in his own clothing, and I was reminded that he is really growing up so quickly. We had such fun standing among the piles of clothing that others had pulled off racks in a Black Friday frenzy, and finding just the right things for him at huge discounted prices. At one point when he found a really cool black shirt with red trim and words in white that said things like "Honor" and "Courage", he giggled, jumped up and down and said through a huge grin "Mommy, I think we hit the jackpot this time!".

The evening we spent at Temple Square was so beautiful with everyone milling around in great spirits, politely enjoying the scene. We are not Mormon and I'll bet more than half of the people there were not as well, but we all came away with a renewed respect for those of different religious traditions and backgrounds. There were helicopters flying overhead capturing the scene for the evening news, projected snowflakes high above the city on sides of buildings, reflections of the lighted trees in beautiful pools, it is a site to behold and anyone within driving distance should put this on their "Life List" as a must-see at least once. While I had hoped to hear the magnificent organ played that accompanies the Tabernacle choir, we missed the brief window of opportunity on Friday so maybe one day I can go back and hear it and the choir as well. I well remember the recording my parents used to play of Christmas carols performed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir when I was a kid and it would be awesome to hear them in person some day.






The one thing that marred the weekend was Kenny's behavior. He has been steadily sliding downhill since his birthday, and we had a few struggles this past week with things culminating over the weekend. Don't get me wrong, it was not over the top awful, but definitely backsliding from the great gains we have made over the fall, and it was a little disappointing...and somewhat expected, honestly...to see Baby Kenny emerge and Big Boy Kenny recede for several days. We have several things we still are working on with him, things like grabbing things out of people's hands and speaking far too loudly (we've checked his hearing, it is fine), as well as his need to be in control and run the show. These behaviors are slowly improving, but over the weekend they returned with a vengeance and then some. We also had a real problem with him walking way ahead of our group and getting lost in the crowd. He simply refused to stay with us, and it was not out of excitement but out of a desire to control what he did. A couple of times we kept him in sight and let him wander off until he couldn't see us, and then he was scared when he couldn't find us...but he went right back to doing it again 5 minutes later.

By the end of the evening Friday night we had reached our limit as he continued trying to control the situation, complained about it being too cold, that he was too tired (after walking only 10 minutes), that his tummy hurt, etc. all not real complaints but his subtle way of gaining the upper hand. So when we returned back to the hotel, we played it up and said "Poor Kenny, he is not feeling well, and he is tired and his tummy hurts...so he has to go to bed..." and it was only 7:30 PM. While we had hamburgers we grilled in our room (the only way we can afford to do things like this is to go "on the cheap" and not eat out, so we had "cooler meals" and used our George Foreman Grill the entire weekend!) he had a cup of instant soup. After all, we didn't want to make his tummy worse ;-) . Then while I took Matthew and Josh down to the pool with our friends Kenny had to stay in bed while Daddy remained in the room. Once or twice he tried to ask for something more to eat, but we said "No, your tummy was really bothering you while we were seeing the lights, so you must be sick and we can't give you anything else until you feel better."

Did I feel awful? Yes...like a Mean Mommy Extraordinaire. Thankfully I was with friends who totally "get it", went right along with us on it, and were very supportive after I left the room saying "You are not a bad mom, it won't kill him!". Having that kind of support is worth it's weight in gold when you are not feeling so hot about yourself at the moment. It helped keep it all more lighthearted and kept the spotlight off of my own reaction and more on correcting Kenny's behavior. We also are so blessed to have friends who understand that this is a long road, not an overnight express train to having a son who eventually will mature and be the boy we know he can be. There are great moments and there are set backs, and it will be a couple of years before we are where I know we will ultimately end up with Kenny.

For me, the most frustrating part is having 9 year old Kenny sometimes, and then he disappears and 2 year old Kenny appears!! There were moments during this weekend when I looked at 4 year old Joshua and saw a boy far more mature than Kenny. Then there were also moments when I looked at 4 year old Joshua and remembered him at 2 and realized we have come so far, and have much to be thankful for...and I am utterly confident Kenny will be there too one day.

Then there were the moments when I looked at Matthew, who was hanging out with his 15 year old special friend, going to the gym and "working out", walking around the hotel together just the two of them, and I realized my little boy is long gone, and my older son has arrived, his body is growing and changing, his face is no longer little boyish, his interests are growing and widening. Matthew has a rare gift in his friend, a young man who has created a trickle down effect in our family without even knowing it, leading the way by taking Matthew under his wing and Matthew then sets the example for his younger brothers (ok, younger in actions not age!).

All in all, despite the challenges with Kenny, we had an awesome weekend. We needed the time together as a family as we head into our family's busy season with me returning to work full-time for ski season and the long winter daily drives I have to look forward to. I will begin in about 3 weeks, and then we all rarely have time like this together until the beginning of April. It is worth it for the 8 months I am home the rest of the year, but the 1.25 hour drives one way along totally deserted roads the entire time gets a little lonely. However, I am priviledged to see things on a daily basis that others pay thousands of dollars to come see. Eagles soaring overhead, herds of deer foraging on mountainsides, big horn sheep blocking my path on the road, snowy pristine mountains as far as the eye can see, and miles spent driving along Blue Mesa Reservoir, going from rippling waters to a frozen slab and then back again during the course of my time working in Gunnison. Each day brings a new surprise, a new and ever changing scene, so I guess I can't complain too much.

It also gives me long hours for private conversations with myself and God, and right now I need that more than ever. Things are brewing for our family, changes may happen in the coming year that would require walking with God in an even more powerful and connected way than ever before. I am not at liberty yet to share anything about it, and it may not come to pass, but I would ask all of you who read this who feel called to do so to pray that God's will would be revealed in a clear and unequivical way for us. I'd also ask that you pray for a speedy resolution to this circumstance, whatever that final resolution may be...and that if it is His will, that it falls into place easily and smoothly leaving us no doubts at all. I apologize for not revealing more, but there may ultimately be nothing to reveal so I will keep quiet until we know more. However, I fully realize the power of others speaking with God on our behalf, and feel a strong need to put this out there right now for all of you who might be willing to carry us around for awhile in your hearts.

And with that small request I leave you to go try and do my budget Christmas shopping! We have Joshie's birthday the day after Christmas as well, so we need to keep it all very strictly controlled in terms of cost. Luckily when they are his age it takes very little to make them happy and the things they enjoy are not very costly. Target's dollar bins are awesome for stocking stuffers!! We finally have a Target in town as a lone alternative to Walmart and I am thrilled to shop this year!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Happy First Birthday Kenny!!






Sorry it has taken me so long to post folks, we had a busy weekend here and I didn't have time to sit down for long enough to think and write.

As everyone knows from my last post, Kenny had a birthday...his first real birthday...last week. We were surprised that the night before he did actually manage to fall asleep reasonably early but he sure popped right up out of bed quickly Thursday morning! I lucked out and all 3 boys went to school with Dominick early for "Donuts with Dad" in the library, so I was able to easily sneak into his classroom and decorate his desk. I later learned from his teacher that ALL the kids were excited about that and wondered who had done it. He went to school wearing his "Birthday Boy" ribbon so everyone would know it was his special day...not that he didn't end up telling every single person in sight :-) This was such a big deal to him, and the night before just as he was falling asleep he asked me to pick out "church clothes" for him to wear to school so he could look sharp for his birthday.

Later that afternoon I went to school with a store bought cake with a "Cars" theme and we celebrated with his class. He then got a birthday spanking from his teacher with Joshie holding his feet. His teacher and I laughed as my natural born leader directed the entire event, telling the class when to sing, then directing them to sing to him in Spanish as well, then organizing the helpers to get the plates and hats distributed. It was a total riot and I realized even more just how similar he is to his Daddy, and that he will have to be self-employed someday or he will never be able to keep a job because he'll be canned for telling people what to do all the time!! Hahahaha! They then all played "Heads Up Seven Up" which I still remember from my school days, and I was allowed to play as well.

A moment I will never forget my entire life came when Kenny was sitting giggling in the desk in front of me as we waited to begin the next round, and he turned to me held my hand and said "Momma...thank you so much for my Happy Birthday...thank you for come to school for me.." and then he gently kissed the palm of my hand and carressed his cheek with it...

And that, my dear friends, is one of the many, many rewards of older child adoption. Yes, you miss first words and first steps, but you sure get to witness other remarkable firsts that touch you to the core.

On to Party #2 at home, and at this stage Kenny had a hard time holding it all together and we had a couple of pushy moments and he was sent to his room to mellow out. He had been awesome at school all day, much to all of our surprise, but the excitement was just too much. After a little down time we all decorated and got ready for our friends to arrive. We had a houseful, probably more than I have ever had in my house at once before. We had about 25 people with kids of all ages running around and parents visiting while we ate Kenny's ideal meal, spaghetti. I bought some of those small plaster cars and animals and had a Paint Station set up and then we all played a memory game, had a jelly bean hunt, and then the big moment arrived...presents! I kid you not, within 5 minutes every package had been ripped open, ooohed and aaahed over and then cast aside to move on to the next colorful package. I am grateful that everyone present understood that this was not a sign of ingratitude (Indeed not, as I didn't even have to prompt him to say thanks to each person as he opened their gift) but was mere excitement at the first time of ever having presents that were all his. I don't think he stopped smiling the entire night!

Cake time came and our family has a young special friend who is our Cake Expert and she made Kenny two cakes...a chocolate cake and a Superman cake!! We sang in English and Afrikaans (I know it makes no sense as it should have been Russian, but who cares? It's our party and we'll sing what we want to!) to him which he loved and then it was time for blowing out the candles and consuming it with great gusto.

Slowly everyone left and the whirlwind receded, and it was time for bed... and I was surprised to have tears out of Kenny. When I asked him why he was crying he replied "Because my Happy Birthday all over!!!". I explained to him that he would have another one next year, that this was only the first of many Happy Birthdays to come, which seemed to do the trick and he then drifted off happily to sleep, no doubt reliving his very special day.

I was also very proud of Matthew and Joshua, who throughout the day never showed any signs of jealousy or envy despite all the attention being paid their brother.

Birthday still wasn't technically over as we still had to go pick out a brand new bike that Grandma Alice sent money for and buy a few toys with money that Grandma Toni and Auntie Liz had sent.

All in all, I think Kenny had a spectacular birthday, and now maybe mom can have some peace and won't have to keep doing the coundown...at least not until June next year when he will start thinking about it again!!

And now it is time to look forward to Thanksgiving, one of my favorite holidays of the year. Christmas I could actually take or leave, as I join others in the lament of how commercialized it is. I had a conversation with a friend just last night about Christmas, and how our modern culture and media presents us with this image of what the perfect Christmas should look like, and how in real life it never lives up to that unrealistic expectation. Families are scattered and shattered, our houses are never decorated to the degree that we are shown on TV, people go in debt to a ridiculous extent thinking they have to show their love for others with things rather than time spent with them. It is so sad, and has ruined a wonderful time of the year. One of the biggest annoyances to me is seeing Christmas items in stores in September and hearing Chirstmas Muzak in October. Ugh!

But Thanksgiving, that is another matter...other than spending money on a turkey and some spuds, it is about loving one another, stopping to think of our blessings rather than dwelling on all we think we need but don't have. It is a day when we all stop our harried lives for just the briefest of moments to relax, visit, eat and say "I love you". Thanksgiving is a day that reminds us of how we should live our lives every day of the year, with a thankful heart surrounded by loving friends and family...for isn't that what is really what makes life worthwhile?

I was reminded of this quite well when during our church service yesterday members of our Congregation were asked to write on a slip of paper what they are thankful for. The overwhelming response was "My Family" from young and old alike (I'll admit I said "Macaroni and Cheese" as I have an overdose of expressing my gratitude for my family on this blog!!! Hahaha!). Funny...it wasn't "My new car", "my big beautiful home", "my bank account"...it was parents grateful for their children and children thankful for their parents. Why do we lose that in every day life, if that is what is really the single most important thing we are thankful for? Why do our families often get relegated to the back seat behind work, golf, new vehicles, etc.? Why does our pursuit of financial and material gain cause us to spend less time with those who really are what give our life purpose and meaning? It is when I contemplate that very thing that I am extraordinarily grateful for my husband who works hard for me to be home with our kids to be a mom most of the year, a man who leaves work to lead Cub Scouts, a man who cancels appointments to go to his son's class for an event. I may not have a beautifully appointed bedroom, granite counter tops or a brand new car, but I have a happy home and family, I have a husband who nurtures his children and wife, and I have the gift of time to give my kids as they grow up just as my mom and dad gave me. To me, that's what Thanksgiving is all about.

We will actually not be celebrating with a turkey and trimmings on Thursday, but will instead be having our traditional meal on Wednesday with friends and then along with them will make the trek to Salt Lake City where we will stay for a couple of nights so we can see the beautifully lit city and Temple Square, hear the street musicians and with any luck I will be able to hear the pipe organ at the Mormon Tabernacle for the first time, something I have always wanted to do. We are doing this "on the cheap" planning on eating out of coolers the entire time but we wanted Kenny's first experience to see Christmas lights to be a special one, and I have never in my life seen a display like Salt Lake City puts on. We went two years ago and it was the one thing that has gotten me quickly into the spirit of the season, as I hope it does this year as well.

If I don't get to the blog before Thanksgiving arrives, I wish every single person reading this a very memorable and special day. Some of you may spend the day dreaming of children awaiting you, others like our family may be celebrating first Thanksgivings with newly arrived sons and daughters. Still others may have nothing to do with adoption but read this blog regularly and have spent the past year praying for us and holding us in your hearts. We are thankful for each and every one of you and wish you a love-filled Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Will He Sleep???

Tomorrow is the Big Day...Kenny's birthday. Man, is he over-the-top excited and I am sure he will be wide awake most of the night. We have a few friends coming over tomorrow evening for the little party but if Kenny had his way we would have invited the entire world! He is so cute as he says "My Happy Birthday tomorrow!!". I am going to surprise him and sneak into his classroom before he goes in and decorate a little around his desk. I will bring his cake to share with his classroom late in the day. He selected a Cars themed cake for school, so we bought the plates and hats to match for everyone. I don't normally spend that much (those character plates are expensive!) but this is a special one for him so we went ahead and did it. For at home later that night we went with generic birthday plates.

I got the giggles myself as I was on the phone with my friend sharing Kenny's antics tonight. This is such a precious time for us as a family, even Matthew and Joshie are very happy for him and excited without a hint of jealousy. Joshie wanted to know if he could sing Happy Birthday to Kenny tonight to be the first, but I told him it wouldn't count until tomorrow when he was really 9 years old. Matthew took some money he had been saving that had been a gift to him and decide he wanted to buy his brother a really nice gift and spent it all on him. Now he is anxiosuly awaiting tomorrow so he can give it to him. For those of you reading this who have bio children or adopted infants, imagine for a moment that your child was almost 9 and had never in his or her life had their special day marked by anything...not by a gift or a cake. To most of us that is unfathomable, but to almost every child in an orphanage this is reality. Kenny may be the one getting the gifts tomorrow, but for the rest of us LaJoy's witnessing his glee it will feel like Christmas has arrived a month early.

You know, Kenny's birthday brings up thoughts in my mind of his birth mother and birth father. I don't think of birth parents every year on the boys' birthdays, but this first one with his new family is significant for Kenny and perhaps that has triggered my thoughts. I sometimes wonder if they mark the date in their minds, if when they see November 15th, June 12th or December 26th roll around do they pause for a moment and wonder about the fates of their children. Do they try and create a picture in their mind of what their son would look like as a 9 year old boy versus the infant they elected to relinquish? Do they call their lost sons by a secret birth name known only to them rather than the false birth name assigned each of my three sons by strangers at police stations or hospitals? Do they ever regret making the choice not to parent, reagardless of their reasons? It is often hard when I think of them, knowing that my greatest joy in life which has been parenting these three little boys has been served to me on a platter of sorrow from someone else. A quick little prayer of thanks is given that at the very least, they can contemplate their son's unknown future on his birthday rather than considering his abortion date.

Kenny's presence in our family also brings up other interesting thoughts at quiet moments...like what would Matthew and Joshua be like had they not been adopted at such young ages and instead had been institutionalized until they were 8 years old. Would they have come out of it with the same resilience that Kenny has shown? Would they be hardened to the point of no return?

And what would our lives have been like without them the past 7 1/2 years?

On a lighter note, (OK...maybe not!!) Matthew had an accident at the end of last week, and we are very blessed it wasn't worse. You'll see in photos I'll take tomorrow that he injured his left cheek just barely below his eye. He ran into a metal handicapped parking sign that easily could have taken his eye out. We are amazed that it is healing so quickly as it was quite a gash. At school kids kept asking me what had happened to him and Matthew grinned as I told them straight faced that he had been bitten by a shark. Evidently Matthew didn't use his injury for bragging rights as no one seemed to know what had happened. While not quite on par with the "Q-Tip" incident that my older Blog readers are familiar with, this one was at least self-inflicted and thankfully didn't require an ER visit. We had a brief converstion about his skin and what it would look like when it heals. You see, with his much darker skin color the pigment changes, often for years afterwards, after he gets banged up. He has a spot on his forehead that he rubbed raw when he was little and still self-soothing by rocking himself to sleep that has only recently faded close enough back to his natural skin color that one has to look very closely to notice it. I think we will find this injured area looks much lighter for a long time to come. He didn't say much about that but I think it bothered him a little bit. Maybe it will "turn color" more quickly than other injuries have, we'll just have to wait and see.

I promised an update on the Time4Learning web site and response from the boys (and this is unsolicited and unpaid now). We have been using it for a few days now, and I can honestly say that this is a phenomenal learning tool, and if you have kids at home and haven't checked it out I urge you to do so without delay. Yesterday Matthew rushed in from school begging for "computer school". He sat there easily for over an hour. Kenny spent an hour on it as well the past two days and Matthew would have gone for 2 or 3 hours tonight if I had let him. Josh even at not yet 5 years old easily understands how to progress within the program and how to operate it himself with almost no assistance from me, it is that user friendly...and this is the one thing I have found that will keep him motivated and interested in pre-school readiness activities. All 3 boys adore this, and although there is a "playground" option that can be used after studies are completed which contains over 100 games, they have spent relatively little time there and almost all their time on actual learning activities. This is far more intensive study than I had at first imagined...if you are comparing it to the standard old learning software out there, think again. This is challenging, serious educational material presented in unique and creative ways that keep kids coming back for more. Matthew's third grade subjects and activities are real learning, and cover far more than he would get it in school and in more depth. To say that Dominick and I are impressed is a little of an understatement...we are thrilled with what have found. It is the perfect tool for all three of our kids, but especially Kenny with us unique set of learning issues and gaps. We took him down to 1st grade math although he has functioned fairly well in Math this year at the second grade level...and already in 3 days we found an area that was an obvious gap and was important for him to understand...and have easily brought him up to speed. We literally had to rip the kids off the computer tonight so we may find that we have another problem that arises, too much screen time!!

Well, I guess it is time for mommy to go to bed too as I have a lot to do for our busy day tomorrow! I have my oldest son's First Birthday Party to host!!

Monday, November 12, 2007

To Homeschool or Not to Homeschool

I have had this ongoing internal conflict since Matthew started school...should we be homeschooling? We happen to have a wonderful school environment where our kids go to school, it is warm, inviting, has a caring and involved staff, very welcoming to parental involvement, etc. Thus far Matthew has had excellent teachers who do a great job...with the curriculum they are forced to teach. Therein lies part of the problem, the curriculum is far too heavy on reading and language arts and other subjects lag behind due to this emphasis on "No Child Left Behind" . Additionally, the wide range of skill levels in the classroom leaves many kids bored because the work is too easy or moving along too slowly, and other kids bored because it is way over their head. There is almost no time at all for teachers to involve more creative learning, more hands on experiences, no exploration of subjects that interest particular kids. It is a standard public school, better than some, but still it is a public school with all the limitations inherent to this kind of education.

Matthew is not a genius, but he is an above average student who is gifted in a couple of areas (as I think every child is). He has an ability to think logically that most kids his age do not, his curiousity is piqued by history and science (both virtually ignored in many respects in public school..or glossed over quickly), and he is a good reader...not the best in the class but near the top. He does well in math and can think outside the box when it comes to building and putting things together. And he is often bored in class. It is not that the work is too easy, but that it is presented too slowly and there is not enough variety. He also is a very self-motivated person who can stay on task for hours when involved in something, so luckily his boredom at times is not causing behavioral problems in school...but when he comes home with pages and pages of various aircraft he has drawn during class because he has finished his work so early you begin to get a little frustrated at the pre-packaged way in which our kids are taught.

Then there is Kenny. He is in ESL (English as a Secong Language) for about an hour and a half each day and then with the rest of the class the remainder of the day. His ESL teacher is great but is often stifled herself by the curriculum requirements placed on her. Also, he was placed, rightfully so considering all factors, in second grade. But what about all the material he missed that was covered in Kindergarten and 1st Grade? Let alone all the material that he is missing due to langauge issues that is presented in 2nd Grade? Although ESL is doing a good job with the time they have, they simply don't have him immersed in it all day long. I know he is learning some things when back in his regular classroom too, but without any doubt we are looking at some huge gaps in his education that we need to be proactive about catching him up on, and my fear is that we won't know what he doesn't know...if you can understand that circular sentance :-).

At various times I have spent hundreds of hours over the past several years looking at online homeschooling web sites, curriculum, etc. I know I could teach my kids at this level, that is not the problem. I know I could do it better than the public school in some regards, that also is not the problem. The way I see it, there IS no perfect solution...the kids will miss out on the socialization aspects that I think are important, the other activities such as PE and music and art that I am NOT inclined to teach or feel competent to do so. There is the day to day learning of how to get along well with other kids, teachers, etc. who view the world differently and have different personalities. Our home would be a wonderful place to learn, and we still may do it in the future when those outside influences become more challenging but for now, it feels more "right" for us to supplement our public schooling with other educational opportunities...and something beyond the standard old workbooks which mimics too closely how they are spending their time all day. We don't need to add to the boredem factor, my goal has always been to make learning a natural part of our daily living, because frankly learning IS fun! We're the kind of family that when questions come up we tell the kids to go grab the globe, or we look it upon online or reach for the dictionary.

Well, as Dominick and I have again revisited this discussion this past week, we purchased a software program at Target for Elementary School, which was a bomb. Miserable interface, didn't hold any interest and was in my own words "lame". I feel like I wasted the money on it. We do have a commonly used homeschool book called The Story of the World Volume 1, which has activities to go along with stories about the segment of history being studied and I think we might start attacking that a project at a time. But I was really looking for some way to work with the kids that would be fun, sequential in order so we don't miss anything for Kenny particularly, and that would allow us to step back to Kindergarten for him if we could...which then might be able to be used for Joshie too.

I stumbled on a possible solution when I found the Time 4 Learning web site www.time4learning.com. It is an online curriculum for Pre-K through 8th grade which includes math, language arts, science, social studies and other activities. It is not just a copied work book presented onscreen, it is interactive cartoon movies, games, activities and even worksheets with more activity suggestions to supplement the online learning experience. It can be totally customized by subject for each child, for example Kenny is working at 2nd grade math level but I already know a couple of key concepts that he doesn't quite "get". So even though he is in 2nd grade we can set the program to present 1st grade math concepts and Kindergarten langauge activities and he can progress through them at his own pace, eventually catching up we hope. Matthew can work ahead on the areas he enjoys and we can then supplement the subjects with outside books from the library, etc. And we can do all of this on our "free" time outside of school hours. We may have just hit the jackpot!

Today we got it set up and tried it with Joshie this morning. Josh is my more reluctant learner. I am not at all certain we may not have some learning issues there as well but, time will tell us that. This morning he spent over an hour actively engaged with the preschool and kindergarten activities. He was eager to do it! I was surprised as even the other prepackaged software programs we have used like Reader Rabbit and others just don't seem to hold any appeal for him. And even at this level, it was fun but the real deal. He learned about books, what a title page is, what an author and illustrator are, where to find their names, what a table of contents is, and started working on familiarity with the alphabet through various other activities. Now, we have worked on the alphabet for 2 years with him and he just hasn't cared at all about making it stick in his brain. After a few activities, as he ended each one the characters popped up that worked with the stories and he waved and said "Good Bye Friends!".

From the sample programs for other levels it is obvious this is not just "fluff" but real subjects are being taught in a step by step fashion, in logical order, and reinforced continually. After only one day and one child I am very impressed, and can't wait to see how Matthew and Kenny take to it this afternoon. Matthew was looking over our shoulder yesterday begging to use the sample programs, and in the middle looked up and said "Mommy, this is really good...I hope you get it!". They offer a two week trial period, so there is nothing really to lose if we find it doesn't work in the long run, but I have a feeling that with this program we may have come up with a solution for our immediate concerns.

I want you all to know that as I write this, I am hopefully going to receive one month free from them. I also hope that all of you know me well enough by now to know that if it stinks, I will be honest about it. I am NOT posting about Time 4 Learning for the free month (but since they are offering it, why not??), I am posting because I know there are other adoptive families out there who have brought home or are bringing home kiddos like Kenny who really need access to all the help they can get. I know that personally I have been a little overwhelmed when I let my mind wander to try and wrap around all that Kenny has missed and will continue to push further past if we don't find a way to catch him up in those areas. I feel time slipping away and it would be easy to just let the school do it all, as best they can, and assume all the bases are covered. It is obvious that those bases simply can't be covered with the constraints they have. I am praying we have found something that might allow him to go back and get those basics without the inappropriate social placement of stepping back to kindergarten where he really needs to be educationally.

I will keep you all posted about how this is working for our family, and if I see that it is a temporary interest rather than a long term tool I'll let you know that as well. If I see that activites are too easy, simplified or too difficult I'll also share that. But from the research I did before we signed up for it, and from what I have seen so far, this is the single best thing I have found short of fully homeschooling our kids. If you have a young English Language Learner at home, this goes letter by letter working on sounds, etc. if you step back to the Kindergarten level, which is really what Kenny needs.

And if any of you are using something that works well, kick in on the comments section and share it with me!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Halloween and Other Holidays




Dominick and I returned Sunday night from our little getaway weekend. We spent the weekend exploring Boulder, where we had never been before, sleeping in late, and pretty much doing as little as possible. The kids had a blast spending the weekend at our friends' house and we were able to escape completely worry free, knowing they were happy and well cared for. We haven't been alone together like that with one exception in over 7 years, and it was wonderful. This past year, heck, the past 7 years, have been pretty stressful in many ways. It was nice to have a conversation without having one or another boy tugging at our sleeves, to talk about our future and reminisce about how much our lives have changed. We actually managed to spend much of the weekend talking about something other than 3 little boys, although I'll admit to feeling a little bit too footloose. It is hard to believe we were married for 13 years without children and we spent that much time alone...and quiet!! Well, with me around, I guess it is probably never really quiet...hahahaha!

While in Boulder we visited an artist co-op where I fell in love with the most expensive yet expressive furniture! It is nothing I could ever afford in a million years, yet would die to have. It is a line called "Sticks" and you can see it at www.sticks.com . What I loved about it was that it was colorful, whimsical, could be personalized, and had phrases on many pieces that describe our lives to a "T". Tables and wall mirrors carved with sayings like "Be Creative", "Cherish Family", "Give of Yourself", "Seek Knowledge" and many others that support our notion of what a good life is all about. As I have often discussed in this blog, I am not anyone's image of a Martha Stewart-type, and the last thing on earth I am likely to ever take an interest in is furniture, but these pieces blend a folk art feel with sentiments that mean something to me, and although I will never be able to afford any of it (Not at $1200 and up for wall mirrors!!) it is one of the few things I have ever seen that has grabbed me that way and held my thoughts long afterward. If I ever have a spare $2000 sitting around (don't laugh too hard at that one) one of the huge wooden carved wall calendars will be mine!!

We have spent the past month in countdown mode for Kenny's birthday, which is next Thursday (the 15th). You have no idea how many times I have answered the question "Mom, how many days my birthday???"! I know most kids his age are excited about the arrival of their birthday, but though this is technically Kenny's ninth birthday, it is really his first birthday...his first ever celebrated with a cake and presents and party hats, the whole nine yards. It will also be the first ever celebrated with his family beside him. Matthew's eighth birthday was only a week after we returned home with Kenny, and Kenny's understanding of what was going on was evident and thereafter his desire to have his very own birthday was neverending!

We will have a cake at school, and then a small party at home with friends. I had to explain to him that the kids at school would NOT be bringing him presents, that they would celebrate by eating cake and singing to him. Surprisingly, we are having a hard time coming up with ideas for birthday and Christmas gifts for him. You would think it would be so easy...this child who has had nothing for his entire life, shouldn't this be simple? But he will be nine years old, he is developmentally in many ways closer to 6 (but also surprisingly mature in other ways), he has no reading skills yet, he doesn't much care for cars or sports, and he has shown no strong desires yet as everything is so new. Then throw in the mix that I am fairly particular about what we spend on our money on...wanting it to be something substantial and durable that will last and is not necessarily the latest Walmart plastic toy that will break in 5 minutes and we have a real conundrum.

And then...and then...here is where some of you might chide me...I don't want him to develop a less-than-grateful heart. There is this balancing act with older adopted children, one that requires that you walk that tightrope carefully or your decisions will lead to years of "undoing" what you initially did out of compassion (and, let's face it, the desire to prove how much you love your new child by giving them everything they have never had!). With Kenny, right away it was apparent that he had no concept of what things cost, and as expected had a distorted view of how "rich" we were. The first couple of weeks we had him while still in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, he asked us for EVERYTHING he saw. He threw tantrums in stores, picked up everything thinking we would buy it for him, and had to have several firm sit-downs to "get it", that his new family did not have loads of money. Our young Kazakh friends did us a favor and had it out with him at one point, offering explanations and probably telling him a few choice things they didn't translate for us :-) After we returned home, a friend of ours gave all three kids each a dollar and Kenny looked at it with a bit of disdain and said "Only one dollar?" which mortified me and surprised both Matthew and Joshua. With much consistency, that beast has now been somewhat tamed, and I fear that buying too much for his birthday will not only set a precedent we are not wealthy enough to maintain, but will undo much of the work of the past several months as we have focused on helping to create a grateful heart in him.

I know, I know, it is his first birthday and I should just let go of all of it for awhile, right? After all, what harm could come from a little spoiling? I find myself see-sawing back and forth on this one, all the while knowing that my more practical self will win out and we will keep it well under control even if there is that Fairy Godmother part of me that wants to hand him over several hundred dollars and turn him loose in a Toys R Us! But his spirit is worth far more than the short term pleasure we would get. Not everyone understands what we are trying to do with him, actually with all 3 of our sons, but that is ok. I want them to see that real joy comes from relationships and shared love, not things or monetary rewards. Dominick and I together have had times in our lives when we have had more, and times when we have had less and we could never look at the times when we could be freer with money and call them happier. Often it is the anticipation of something long yearned for that brings one happiness, while the realization of that dream is often a little lackluster. We are in lean times now, and yet we want for very little. It is my heartfelt desire that Kenny somehow takes that in and can use it to sustain himself later in life when the going gets rough.

We left the day after Halloween and I didn't get to post about Kenny's first Trick Or Treating extravaganza! I spent the day at school, carving pumpkins and dancing back and forth between parties in 2nd and 3rd grade classrooms. It was so much fun to see the kids all wound up, costumes on, smiles wide. That evening we went into town for trick or treating with friends, and within the first house or two Kenny was WAY into it and there was no stopping him. As it often has been with him, we find that he blends in so easily and handles new experiences so well that we have to remind ourselves that he is "new". At the end of the night with candy spread from one end of the floor to the other, all the kids started haggling for things they wanted to trade...Smarties for Twix bars, Tootsie Rolls for M & M's. The silly part of the evening was watching all of us make sour faces after popping a "Warhead" into our mouths! My camera battery decided to suddenly stop holding a charge, so I had to rely on my friend to snap pictures for me of the kids in their costumes, as you can see from the photos shown here. My Superman, Power Ranger, and Pilot all kept me safe for the evening!

I had a special "Mommy Reward" yesterday when a friend called me up to share what had happened at school between Matthew and her son, who had broken his arm this weekend. Matthew's buddy was concerned about how he was going to use the restroom because he couldn't maneuver well enough to work with pants! We had a talk the night before and Matthew said he would help...but you always wonder if something like that will be too embarassing for an 8 year old boy. Well, on the phone the mom told me that you always hope your children will find special friends who will really stick by them, and she felt very fortunate that Matthew was her son's friend, that he helped make his buddy feel much more comfortable at school that day. And there, once again, my quieter less flashy son works his special magic, and I prayerfully give thanks for him, that he is the "older" child in our family and sets such a wonderful example of kindness, diligence, and obedience to both Kenny and Joshua, who also have their own special magic they work in our lives.