As I write for the blog, 90% of the time it is for our kids to read someday. I want to share my love for them, and I want to preserve those moments that we all wish we could remember forever. Someday, hopefully many years from now, they will look back on it and find this electronic diary just oozing with love for them, and they just might gain a glimpse into the soul of their mommy. They'll know me intimately from reading this, which is why I try to be as forthright as I can be.
However, despite that it is really a family memory album, I do realize that there are many folks who read about our family who are considering adoption, or are knee deep in the struggles that come hand in hand with taking on a child whose background has created issues that others in your "real life" might never be able to fully understand. I hope that for some of you, this has been a place where you could say "Oh...maybe I am not so crazy when I see this happening with my child!" or "OK, they made it and we can too. It's not easy, but it IS doable." and maybe even "Hmmmm...maybe we could handle an older child or a special needs child. Maybe we can widen our idea of what a perfect fit is." So I share things here with you in mind at times as well, for I would dearly love it if someone came to new understandings or if someone was encouraged to hear how far we have come. That means we have to be open about the struggles and challenges we face in many areas, but it also means I post about our baby steps forward too. I want to make it clear that it is not my intent to make us ever appear to be some sort of perfect family who has perfect kids, and I hope I have shared enough of the hard stuff to disabuse anyone of that notion. But sometimes you just gotta do the Happy Dance!
Today was one of those Happy Dance days...not just for Kenny but for all 4 of our older kids. It was much needed and hard earned. With our public school homeschool program, we have to do testing 3 times a year in four areas...math, language arts, reading and science. We will never score well in science because that is largely based upon following state scope and sequence guidelines. We can't do that as we have to go back to the beginning and start there, so we will never cover the material they test for that was supposed to have been covered in specific grades. We are not a cookie cutter family, so we have to throw out the science scores altogether and just make sure we are covering ground in a focused and steady way, and look toward high school being the time when maybe we might match up.
Anyway, we started out testing for this period today, and we began this afternoon with math. Josh is left out at this stage, as he has to begin in 3rd grade. When all kids were done, we had immediate access to the results. WOW!!! WOW!!! Kenny, is our little guy who is valiantly struggling with all sorts of learning issues, who at 12 years old should be in 7th grade but was held back this year and is working as a 4th grader to try and allow more time to gain reading skills and is reading at about a late 2nd grade level. Mr. Kenny saw such success tonight that his face was just beaming. It almost brought me to tears to see such joy at finally having real, solid academic achievement to be proud of.
When we began homeschooling this summer, Kenny tested at beginning 5th grade math. He has always done well in math, and he was staying on target but finding it harder and harder as the curriculum required more reading ability. Kenny's scores tonight showed massive improvement, he moved forward almost TWO FULL GRADES in math! He scored at 6.8 grade level, improving by over 160 points! Oh, how he needed this, how he desperately needed to see his intelligence laid out right in front of him.
Not to be left behind, Angela and Olesya blew us away as well. Angela started her homeschooling 9 months ago with no English and many gaps in math that we quickly discovered. She is considered 4th grade here but would have been 6th class there in Kazakhstan. She tested at 3.8 grade level in math with English assistance through an interpreter when she came home. Tonight, she had no help whatsoever and scored at 5.0 grade level, and did it all on her own. She increased over 120 points. What delighted me though was to hear her sincere encouragement of Kenny, and her telling him "You are SO smart! See? You just think you are not smart, you are much better in math than I am!" as she grinned from ear to ear and patted him on the back. Such kindness and no need to make her own success shine over his, as she understands how his self-esteem had needed such a bolster.
Matthew gained the least, but even at that he boosted his overall math competency score by 78 points! This lifted him out of 8th grade level as a 6th grader and placed him solidly at the 9th grade level. Not sure how, as he is not working on 8th or 9th grade material in his text book, maybe he is a good "guesser" on the test, but his gains over the past year and a half since coming home show him steadily pulling past all his grade level peers, as he initially started at exactly the same level as all the other 5th graders in the district, but the gap is now quite wide between he and the other kids in 6th grade. Is Saxon math curriculum that superior to what is being used in schools today, that a child who was working at the same level would show that much of a gain by simply switching curriculum? I have no idea, but something is working well, and it sure isn't superior instruction from mom!
Olesya struggles with math the way Kenny does with reading, and there is definitely a problem there that we have not yet identified. At 11 years old she still can not quickly answer her addition math facts without using her fingers, and telling time is enough to make her groan as it did when several questions came up on the screen tonight. But even Olesya showed serious growth in this, her most difficult subject. She is now operating at the 3rd grade level she is actually assigned to! Her increase was over 100 points and we are thrilled to see that sort of progress in an area we know she will be challenged by for years to come.
Dominick and I are seeing that Olesya too tends to think of herself as "dumb", and has assumed that role in her sibling relationship with Angela. Like we all do, we find our niche, even if it is unfair or unsuited. Olesya often assumes the sort of "dumb blond" persona which really frustrates me, as I don't know how to shake her out of seeing herself in that light. In time, maybe, with enough success in varying areas, she might step out of that role. Being in an environment where she is not being constantly compared to Angela as she was at the orphanage might help as well, but it will take time. It is so obvious that she sees herself as inferior to Angela's intellect, but when I "call her" on it and force her to step up, she does so and shines.
For example, this past week we finished watching the mini-series "Roots" as a family. We stopped often to explain what all was going on, and when it was over we put the kids into teams and then had a game show style competition with 75+ questions I found from a study guide online that was put together by a high school teacher. Olesya, answered a few questions, but sort of blanked out and let the other kids and their enthusiasm take over. I saw what was going on, and finally said to her quite bluntly and with a little anger in my voice "Olesya LaJoy, I am not putting up with this. You watched this movie along with everyone else and I know you are smarter than you want everyone to think. Quit pretending you don't know the answers, I want you to show off what you and I both know you know!!". I then asked her what the Civil War was about, and this kid turned it on giving me a full detailed answer that showed she had all the basics down pat telling me who fought and why. I then threw out another question to her to explain the Revolutionary War which was at the beginning of the movie and she fired off that as well as who was our first President and that Abraham Lincoln was our 16th President at the time of the Civil War and was killed (she didn't know the word "assassinated"). I jumped up and down with glee, pointing my finger at her and saying "I KNEW IT! I KNEW IT! You are SO STINKING SMART! Don't you EVER try and pretend you are not smart with me, because I KNOW better!" and then we all gave her 3 bonus points for the best answer of the night, as she couldn't wipe the grin off her face. One of my biggest challenges will be to keep that fire going, to help her light come out from under Angela's bushel.
But when I think of the fact that these girls have been home less than one full year, and have had to learn an entirely new language as well as learn so much else new surrounding culture, family and identity, I marvel at what they have accomplished and how utterly amazing it is. Here is my 11 year old daughter rattling off facts about American history that many American adults embarrass themselves about on Jay Leno as they stammer and stumble to explain. And she is able to do it in a brand new language. Incredible. Those of you who worry about adopting older kids because of the language issues, PLEASE rethink that. They will surprise and astound you.
Older kids ARE adoptable...as adoptable as they are adaptable. Is it hard? Sure it is. Is it frustrating? Of course it is, and we are not done with frustration by a long shot. But there are tons and tons of other Kenny's, Olesya's and Angela's out there, and there is a singular delight in watching an older child blossom and express their joy at being part of a family.
In church today the kids were asked to define things as part of their children's sermon lesson. Words like table, piano and candle were first. Then came the tough one...:"love". Kenny and Matthew shared that it is hard to define or label something so big, Then, as with the other words and as part of the illustration of how difficult it is to label something like "love", our pastor asked them to go place a card with the word "love" on it wherever they found it in the Sanctuary. The candles and piano had already been identified by Joshie and Olesya. Kenny grabbed up that card and said with a broad grin "I know!" and proceeded down the aisle to hand that card to me.
Man, that kid does it to me every time.
To personify "love", isn't that what it is all about? Whether it be a mom who loves you unconditionally, a friend who hangs in there with you through thick and thin, or the love a stranger shows one another when sharing their harvest with a food bank...labeling "love" might be hard for some, but for others we see God's love every single day in hundreds of ways.
So tonight we broke out the sparkling cider and hefted a glass to celebrate our accomplishments. I am most worried about the reading and language arts scores, as I hope to see some decent gains made there too but have a feeling we might not have made as much progress. I think that those scores will be the most instructive to prospective adoptive parents of older kids, as I get repeatedly asked in private emails how long it took for the kids to learn English. I'll share what we discover when those tests are completed so that other parents can see that the scary language barrier is overcome more quickly than they might ever think possible. Of course, the kids could "tank" as well and I'll share that and my frustration over it too! Hahaha! I do not live and die by these scores and when we eventually catch up I will likely not care one whit anymore as I feel standardized testing is for the birds. But right now it is about all I have to tell me if homeschooling is a success or a big fat flop, so it is a tool I will grudgingly use over the next couple of years to help guide me and keep me on track.
Kids, you rocked the house tonight, and you made us very proud of your hard work. It has not been easy for a single one of you, and you have much to smile about. Your strong work ethic is paying off for each of you, and your encouragement of each other is a priceless gift you offer one another. Never stop doing that, never stop being each other's biggest fans (with the possible exception of your mom and dad, of course!). Amd know that test scores could be cast aside, but our love will only deepen. We don't love you for your brain, we love you for your heart. But being around both your brain and heart makes a combo package that is unstoppable!!!