Yesterday was my "day off", as Dominick was off work and it allowed me to get a lot of running around done which right now is easier without 5 kids trailing as some of it was involved and would have had 3 or 5 kids bored sitting around for a couple of hours. We also feel it is extremely important for the girls to see Dominick in the role he truly has, co-parent, not just "Bread and Butter" man. Olesya is not as comfortable with him just as Angela is not as comfortable with me (although far more extreme than the Olesya/Dominick dynamic), so it is good for him to have extended one on one time with them. He ended up doing school work with them the entire morning and then taking all the kids plus Matt's buddy sledding later in the afternoon. I was engaged far later than I thought I would be so he also got them all dinner. Yea....I know...my hubby totally rocks, doesn't he? But having been down this road before with Josh, he also knows how intense this can be for me specifically, and that I need the breaks as we can fit them in so I can come back full swing. We may have our moments, our arguments and our Annual Garage Cleaning Battle, but we tag team extremely well and it is one of the reasons we can handle jumping into something like this.
So after a stop at our bookkeepers office where I was able to express our gratitude face to face for her handling ALL our household bills while we were gone to help us out, it was on to Matt's school for a 3 hour meeting. For those of you who came late toe the party and found us after we began our adoption trip, Matthew is homeschooling through a public school hybrid program while Josh and Kenny attend public school. We found Matthew was not engaged in class at the beginning of the year for a variety of reasons, so we elected to pull him out and give homeschooling a try. It has been the best thing we ever did for him, and I am SO glad we took the big leap even though it was at the most inconvenient time in my life to tackle such a task without any sort of preparation.
Because of the girls' ages and skill levels, we have determined that for now, homeschooling is the best option. We think that for us and our expectations, it would be a recipe for disaster to drop them in middle school or 5th grade without language skills or a strong and firm bond with family. Olesya would be technically a 5th grader and yet can't yet add without counting on her fingers or subtract well at all, nor does she have a command of the English alphabet. She began her education 2 1/2 years ago at 8 years old as their system is different than ours. She is the one we are most worried about academically of the two, however she IS a sharp little cookie and will do well if we give her the support she needs to thrive.
Angela, on the other hand, is proving to be further along than we expected which has been a wonderful surprise. When working with her yesterday Dominick saw that she was sounding out the words on the backs of the flashcards, definitely knows upper and lower case alphabet letters, and we began more intense math work to see where she is at and she can do long division although both that and multiplication she performs with approaches we have never seen before but she gets the correct answers. I think her language learning will come along very quickly, and I predict she will be reading at a 1st or 2nd grade level by the end of summer if we don't have anything interrupt her progress. However, for her our fear would be the social draw to less then desirable elements as she struggles to feel comfortable within our family.
So knowing we were going to need a unique and flexible school plan, I met with several folks yesterday at the Vision School (Matt's school) to see what restrictions we would have if we enrolled the girls and what sort of support they might be able to offer. Should we just stay "off the grid" and homeschool with no public school agenda? Is it going to be flexible enough that our goals will satisfy them even if they at first are light on academics? And exactly HOW do you go about homeschooling 2 language learners with deficits in areas we have yet to discover and some we know about? To tell you I am a wee bit terrified about this is also a wee bit of an understatement, but I am more terrified of girls heading into middle school with the issues we have before us. Dominick and I feel this is the best and only alternative for us right now, even if I feel utterly incapable.
I was pleasantly surprised to find they have pulled together a team including an ELL person who right now will be 100% at our disposal as she has no other ELL (English Language Learner) students! They had suggestions for software and programs we might consider using, explained that our goals for the year could be as detailed or lower reaching as we wanted them to be...and not necessarily what others would see as academic. For example, if one of our goals was to teach the girls how to use knives and forks properly, we could even put that as a measurable goal. They see that learning comes in all kinds of ways and will allows us the latitude to work on areas that are just as important, if not more so, than the 3 R's. We can document language learning without having to be "textbookish", which is sort of what we did with Kenny over the summer before he started school by living life and introducing vocabulary. Basically, it will all be driven by me, but measured by them and support offered including free tutors in any area we need. Perfect! I am not 100% alone, will have some support and a little funding to help, and we can create something that makes sense for where they are right now. My little square blocks won't be forced into circle holes. Not sure exactly yet what all of this will look like, but real life will figure heavily into it, cooking, art, PE, vocabulary building and some math facts drills to gain speed while we work on vocabulary to eventually add in more language based math concepts. We started Time4learning.com yesterday for them and Dominick said they enjoyed it and asked to use it again even after an outdoor break.
I have found what I hope will turn out to be a terrific tool in the updated version of the Oxford Russian-English Picture Dictionary. It is brand new, has workbooks to go along with it along with teacher's guides which I don't have and might get, and it has hundreds of vocab words, scenes and other things including pictures of verbs which will be our "textbook" for the year I think. It is really fabulous and well done, current and updated and I highly recommend it to anyone with an older language learner.
So, we will enroll the girls in the program with the understanding that our goals will be more lifeskill and language learning oriented than anything this year, and moving gradually into the academic next year. I have no idea if we will continue homeschooling them long term, but will give it a try until September and maybe through next year if things are going well, then re-evaluate. Our kids have been products of institutions their entire lives, and we feel it is far more important to let them fully experience a different model (home life) and be immersed in that for awhile. Then we will see where we sit and make changes if necessary.
Matthew had taken his first comparative testing to chart progress since we entered the program, and while there Kris, our Consultant, pulled up his results so we could check them out together. This was sort of important to me this first time, as it would help me see if I was succeeding or failing. Is Matthew making progress? Has he moved backwards? Will MY report card as his educator be an A or an F? I had resolved that if we had little measurable success over the course of this year then we would look at re-entering him in public school. However, this first semester was a real mind blower, wasn't it? Starting late, taking several weeks to determine what materials might work best for him in certain areas, then leaving for 2 1/2 months with a couple extra weeks off throughout that time frame for travel. Needless to say, it was not my preferred perfect testing time but it is what we have thus far so I leaned over and looked at the computer screen for my own personal Judgement Day.
Surprise, surprise...it's working!!! Matthew started the year as a 5th grader significantly behind in one area, language arts. I did not know until our baseline testing with the program that he was testing out at only 3 grade 3rd month level for grammar, punctuation, spelling, etc. I was not surprised as I knew he struggled a bit in this area but didn't realize that as a new 5th grader he was that low. Yesterday we saw that he jumped exactly 2 full grade levels already and is now working fully at grade level!! Yea!!! Math was a bigger surprise...he was working right at grade level at the start of the year, but is now mid 7th grade level! His reading score dropped a bit but is so high (the reason we pulled him from public school actually) at 9th grade level that there is no concern at all. We figure that part of it is that he is reading older material with his 1950's novels and he is learning vocabulary that isn't used today and not tested for.
I think I really needed that boost to give me courage to move forward with the girls. Seeing that kind of really strong progress helps me in the Confidence Department...jumping 2 grade levels in such a short time in 2 subjects is significant, and shows me that at least with an average learner I can handle it. Now, what about a more challenging learner? Can we do it? We'll give it a try and see how it goes. Might not be as measurable for the girls, but surely they will learn something this year.
Matthew deserves a HUGE pat on the back for his progress, as he has worked so hard and has such a great attitude about education. When I got home last night I shared it all with him in front of the other kids, and it also seemed quite impressive to the girls which was part of the plan of "selling" homeschooling to them as it is a totally new concept to them. It also was obvious that it visibly lifted Matthew up in Angela's eyes, which she already held him in pretty high esteem and because he is such a great role model is a good thing. It has the added bonus of creating in Angela a drive to succeed herself as she is competitive in a good way, and I could see the light in her eye as I told her "Don't worry...you'll be doing just as well soon! You are SO SUPER SMART! You and Olesya BOTH will learn a lot at home!" and we pantomimed a lot about what grade I thought she might be at in a year...she giggled and said "Angela Zero Class...Matthew 7 Class" and I said "Angela 1 year 2nd Class...2 year 4 Class...3 year 7 Class!!!" and grinned at her as she grinned back. Olesya didn't seem disturbed or worried, and she too turned the corner a bit in her thinking about learning at home. Both seem to be enjoying the activities we are doing in a more laid back fashion, and might just be beginning to get a glimmer of the fact that learning doesn't have to be regimented and BORING. If I do nothing more than get the joy of learning embedded in them this year, I will consider myself successful.
Later, after my meeting at the school, I had the chance to decompress a little myself which was needed far more than I realized. It feels as if I have been holding my breath for 3 or 4 months and can't really let out that sigh of relief I so desperately need. Lots of emotions surrounding all of this and much more going on internally for me. I was able to spend a long afternoon with our Pastor, whose insights and presence allow me to process things on a level I can't really do with anyone else. So much of what we are experiencing is deeply intertwined with faith issues...ministry issues...life issues. Without this sort of support and care I think I just might explode, and it helped enormously. Keeping stable myself right now is NOT easy...living with the flip flopping and stress of trying to be the one with my finger on the pulse of everyone in the family as we maneuver through these new uncharted waters is a huge challenge. Everything we are doing right now is very emotional and will be for a long time to come. Then there are the details of managing this new and improved version of our life.
Oh yea...then there is keeping up on laundry :-)
A final visit with another friend completed a down right perfect yet busy day, and gradually I am feeling a tad bit more in synch with my old and new selves.
But watching this dance Angela and I are doing with one another is a privilege, seeing Olesya as she grows slowly closer to Dominick is a gift unlike any other. The joy on their faces as they watched video of themselves sledding yesterday was something totally cool to see, no one cared enough about them to take videos of them before! Their grins were ear to ear as they giggled watching the screen. Olesya burying her head in my chest as she says goodnight, squeezing so tightly she can't squeeze anymore. Angela hot footing it out the door last night to greet me before any of the others kids in PJ's and bare feet on a snow covered patio and grabbing my grocery sacks from me was a heart warming reminder that despite her struggle to feel safe and secure, she IS making progress in her understanding of who I am in her life, and she IS trying to grab hold of the possibility of a real mom-daughter relationship.
I left yesterday morning a bit disheartened as she virtually ignored my presence and turned only to Dominick for comfort, and returned home to her reaching out to me. Back and forth, the waves rock us gently if we allow it and give ourselves the respect and space we each deserve to build this thing called "family".
And you know what? Last night I realized it has already happened for faster than I ever expected. I love them both. Wholeheartedly and much sooner than I expected. This is mommy love...watching them grin as they saw themselves sledding, sitting at the table surrounded by everyone as they shared about their day with laughter and great joy, celebrating Matthew's victory and letting the girls know they too will have success one day, being hugged by Joshie and Kenny as they danced around the dining room...this is family...these are my sons and my daughters. Our gifts from God that are like no other. All trekked off the bed as Dominick and I caught up with one another and chatted...one by one they come up and hug and kiss us quietly saying "good night mommy"..."good night mama"...Angela in her side stepping barely touching way, Olesya in her bear hug style, and each of the boys so gentle and tender with their mom and dad.
I am sorry folks, but I have to say I have the best family in the entire world. We are NOT perfect by any stretch of the imagination. We struggle, we triumph sometimes, we continue on each day.
But here, in the heart of our home, there is love...there are attempts to grab on to that love...there is God...there is light. Sorrow visits but doesn't dwell amongst us, it is experienced and banished in lieu of something much stronger.
I'll take that any day over "perfect".