It's been a rough few days as Dominick and I are both fighting off what started as allergies, or so we thought, and now is a chest cold. Matthew seems to have a touch of it, Angela and Olesya just got over it and Josh has a touch of either some sort of stomach flu or something is bothering him emotionally that I can't get out of him as over the past couple of weeks he has had tummy trouble at school. Needless to say we are all in need of some down time but are trying to plow through this last couple of weeks of school as best we can.
Thanks to everyone who posted comments and suggestions about the learning challenges we are having with Kenny and Olesya. I followed up on a few and even had a long conversation with a staff person at Texas Christian University where for the first time I felt like I wasn't a complete nut case when discussing these issues with someone. Turns out we are not the only ones who are experiencing the exact same struggles, and that often it is not caught by others until they work loong term one on one with our kids. Long story short, areas of the brain are not well developed due to trauma, neglect, etc. Sometimes it comes back, sometimes it doesn't. I have another reader who emailed me and is sending me some info as well, which may offer a couple of suggestions about how to work with these kiddos.
Yesterday I had an IEP meeting at school for Kenny, and they had test results to share with me. Turns out he has significant memory challenges as well as some receptive language problems. It was nice to see on paper that some of our frustrations were validated, although a bit heartbreaking as well to realize that the son we love so much has been affected in ways that can not necessarily be "fixed" by his past. Sure, we will find strategies to help him learn more effectively, but he will always have these short term memory challenges. So sad to see in a kid who is SO sharp, but it does explain a lot to us and will guide us as we work with both he and Olesya, who I am 100% certain would test similarly as the behaviors are identicle.
It is also scarier to think of homeschooling with even more issues ahead of us than we first knew of, but makes it feel even more imperative that we do so. We can provide (if I can manage to be creative enough in my own thinking) the opportunity for more hands on learning experiences that will help cement information than public school can. This will be an absolute necessity for both kids, and at their ages those hands on learning opportunities lesson as the focus turns more towards reading, writing and learning through lecture. Exactly the areas where they will both find it very challenging to retain information or gain skills. The big question is, can I do it? I am NOT very creative or "out of the box" with my thinking, and it takes hours and hours of research for me to come up with ideas
Did I tell you I am scared? Yea...totally...but feel even more strongly commited to doing whatever it takes to help our kids succeed and find a path to a rewarding life. How will I do this? Not a clue...but love is a strong motivator.
I thought I'd give a quick update on progress with the girls, as many have asked how they are doing with language, etc. We are now home just a week short of 3 months. Both girls in the past couple of weeks have had to turn to each other to ask what a word is in Russian, as they are beginning to lose some of it already. This doesn't seem to concern them and in fact they find it funny that their native language is slipping away so easily. Angela grinned and shruggef the other days saying "2 months...me no more Russian, only English!". We are able to hold remarkably good conversations with the limited language we share, and Olesya in particular is adept at sticking with it, searching her brain for words she can use or clues she can offer to express things.
Olesya has done a little bit of toddler-like testing, nothing at all that is beyond slightly humorous to us but things like asking Papa for something, getting an answer she doesn't like, then going to Mama. She got caught at it and spent an hour or so in tears in her bedroom, but did understand that what she did was wrong and on her own apologized for it. Thankfully, Angela has done a fantastic job of letting go in this area and was unconcerned about our discipline of her and in fact looked at me with a knowing look saying "She malinky...you teach!" with a smile.
We have yet to have a sibling argument...yea, I know it sounds ridiculously "Fantasy Island-ish" but it is true. We are SO blessed this way, as I recall when my brother and I drove our parents NUTS with our fights and whining (me). All our kids have pretty mellow personalities, none enjoyes engaging in battle, and each seems concerned with the well being of others. I don't know how many times I have been asked by each of them how I am feeling. It is a real gift to be part of a caring family, something I know many do not have. But it is an even greater gift to see our children nurture and care for each other. Matthew spent an hour helping Kenny with his homework as we sat at Angela's softball practice last night. Olesya takes care of anyone and everyone, making sure everyone is supplied with water bottles for soccer practice. Kenny helps carry everyone's things, Joshie helps in the ways he can. Angela steps up quickly to help in the kitchen and with laundry, as well as watching out for Josh and Kenny when we are out somewhere. It is as if these kids have been siblings all along, not for a mere few months.
In public the girls are not shy but are still very uncomfortable as they worry that others will engage them in conversation and they can not respond. They gamely try but are far different at this stage then they are at home when they gab with ease to the best of their ability. Angela has told me she is scared of people talking to her because she doesn't know how to speak enough English yet.
Academically they are rocking! They have completed basic phonics instruction and are reading in English at the basic reader level. Of course their vocabulary limits their comprehension but that is growing exponentially day by day and it is fun to hear a new word added when used in conversation the first time. Both are working in math, where Olesy truly struggles but we are working at 2nd grade level and she is feeling more confident as we review basics she knows. Angela is working on 4th grade math and we have already hit new material for her so I am glad I didn't decide to go with 5th grade math. She loves math a lot!
They are happy...happy to be in our family, happy to be in America, and all of it has started to feel more normal these days and they are less overwhelmed by everything they see and do. They are acting more settled the past couple of weeks...their bedroom is now far less than perfect and clothes are strewn about, they are leaving things lay around the house, and in general they are acting more like they live here and are not temporary guests on good behavior.
One thing we need to work on is Angela is still on high alert in some ways. Lately she is very much attuned to me and my well being, constantly checking in with me to see if I am ok. The closer she has grown to me, the more she is worried about "mothering" me a little bit. As flattering as that is, it is not helathy for her and I want to see her relax more and be a kid, not always having that radar up to make sure her world is still solid and all is ok. I wonder if that will ever fully go away? That fear that things will collapse on her, or that she can not rest easy and let others do the caretaking. I am grateful that she is allowing me to be mom in all ways, but want her to let go of fear and worry.
There is a low level exhaustion for me that Dominick and I laughed about from hearing "Look Mama Look!" all day long as new discoveries are made. It is like stepping back in time to the 2 and 3 year old stage, as I am in the bathroom 30 seconds before one of them is at the door saying "Mama...you ok?" or "Mama...come look!". Every. Single. Time. I know this is a short lived phase, so take it in stride and am ever so grateful we got to it so soon, but I'll admit that it can be tiring to keep up with.
We have a busy next couple of weeks with my own ministry classes on Saturday, end of the year field trips, trying to iron out travel plans for our trip to Chicago for Kenny's next surgery in mid-June, soccer and softball, and everything else. To say our plates are full is a bit of an understatement!
Through it all is the joy of learning, the wonder of watching, the continual joining and connecting of hearts to one another. It is an amazing and gradual process, one that is hard to explain. People will ask casually "So how are the girls doing?" and I stand there wondering how in the world do I answer that question. What words can describe all we are going through together here? How can I express the distance we have traveled so quickly, both physically and emotionally? How can I sum it up in a few words? I usually say something lame like "Great! it's like they have always been ours." which is true, and yet it is within the blank spaces of what has not been said where the more interesting and moving story exists. It seems almost dismissive of our experience to reply "Fine!", but I also recognize that to others, our little journey to become a family is a sound bite, and not a novel to be read.
But my life is far richer for being one of the characters in that novel. Wouldn't trade a bit of what we have gone through, not matter how hard. And it is hard, believe me, on levels I can not begin to even share adequately with you all here. Harder than any marathon you might run, harder than any arctic expedition you might undertake.
But worth it all.