An Overdue Update

DSC_0421-Edit-3-2It occurs to me that I haven’t updated you all in a long time on this guy’s progress through school.  It’s been quite a fall for us.  Early in the year, we received notification that he had been tested for ESL, and his scores were noticeably lower than they were last year.  That means that his English is actually less proficient than it was before.  Of course, that’s not what it really means, as each year, they test to his grade level, so he was doing pretty well at 1st grade English, 2nd grade English not so much.  So we decided it was time to take a little action.

You will recall that Ayub, since arriving in the US at age 5, has not received ANY services from either of the public school districts where he has been enrolled.  No speech therapy; we did that through our insurance. No OT;  we did that through our insurance (who only paid for eight visits).  No paraprofessional.  No ESL (because he English was too good).  No reading coach.  We are lucky that he has had a string of great teachers, but he hasn’t had any additional help.

But this year, I knew he was going to need more.  Starting with our first homework packet, there was already reading that was too advanced for him.  Even the word problems in math were beyond his reading level.  And his handwriting is atrocious.  We have known for a while that he needs additional OT help.  So, we started some conversations with school.  Here are some of the things we were initially told:

  • He can’t be tested for speech, because he has only been in the US for three and a half years.  It can take 7-12 years to become fluent in a second language.  (Hopefully he’ll be in college by then.)
  • He can’t qualify for OT unless he has an IEP for speech already in place. (Seriously?  What about kids who have ONLY OT issues?)
  • He couldn’t be placed in a Title 1 group (special reading supports) because he scored a 20.9 and the cutoff was 20.  (Don’t even get me started.)

And then I lost it.  Thanks to some great friends, I quickly became an expert on language development in adopted kids.  OK, not that quickly and not an expert, but I read a lot of stuff.  (I’ll put some links at the bottom in case some of you could also benefit.) I inundated the speech therapist (who was now the lead person in determining all of his services) with more information than she could ever read.  She talked to the principal, who agreed to waive his 20.9 score and put him in the reading group anyway.  The speech therapist told me she wanted to wait 12 weeks to see if the reading group caught him up to grade level.  If not, THEN she would do speech testing.  I almost lost my shit.  Seriously?  We’ve been sitting around for 3+ years of schooling and he hasn’t caught up, and now you want to postpone it 12 more weeks, which is an entire grading period, and would put us into the Christmas holiday.  Ummm…NO!  I sent her some more research and had two strongly worded phone calls (during which I may or may not have raised my voice).  Suddenly, she decided she would go ahead and test him.  And guess what?  Drumroll…he qualified for speech therapy!  He is now receiving speech two-three times per week, receiving a daily Title 1 small group session for reading, and he’s also in a group with the guidance counselor once a week to work on social skills and making friends.  We’re meeting again next week to get the findings of the OT, and hopefully, he will qualify for services with her as well.

Now is where I get on my soapbox.  Think with me for a moment.  What if?  What if there was a child with the same issues as Ayub, but the parents weren’t us?  What if they believed what their school, the “experts” in education, told them?  What if they didn’t have fabulous friends who could point them in the direction of scholarly articles on the topic?  What if they found those articles, but didn’t have a high enough education to understand what they meant?  What if they thought the school was looking out for their child’s best interest?  What if they didn’t raise their voice and subtly threaten to bring an outside evaluation and an attorney to the next meeting?  Then that child would likely be sitting in class, falling farther and farther behind.

Why?  Why in this age of No Child Left Behind are so many children being left behind?

Some articles I hope you never have to bust out at an IEP meeting:


My High School Kid

So a few days ago (maybe it was longer), I was taking Sam for his first day of Kindergarten.  I was so proud of myself.  I didn’t cry like some of the other sniveling moms who just couldn’t let their babies go.  I was happy for him.  I was excited for him to have a new experience, learn new things and make new friends.  First day of Kindergarten…no problem.  Then, a few weeks later I was dropping him off at school.  He hopped out of the car, slung his backpack around onto his shoulders and walked away from the car.  And for some reason, I lost it.  He looked so grown up.  He was so comfortable in his new surroundings, and he didn’t even look back for comfort.  I cried so much I had to go home and redo my mascara before I went to work.

This week I dropped him off for his last day of middle school.  He slung the backpack around one more time, and just like that…my kid is in high school.


Lately, Sam has really been impressing me.  Here’s an example.

As we all know, Sam lives and breathes baseball.  We’re in full swing around here, between Sam’s team and Andrew coaching Ayub’s team.  Things are pretty busy.  But Sam heard that they needed some extra umpires for the U8 league (which is where Ayub plays).  On his own, with no encouragement from us, he emailed the director of the program and told him he would be willing to help out with umpiring, as long as it didn’t interfere with his game schedule.  A few days later he was late getting home.  When I asked him where he’d been, he told me he’d gone to his interview.  That’s right, he rode his bike after school to a job interview.  And while he isn’t old enough to be paid for umpiring, he was put into the rotation.

That showed some initiative, which is something to be proud of.  But there’s more.  Andrew and I both told him about “good” umpires we’d liked when he was that age.  You know the ones.  They help the kids understand, they help the coaches the coach.  They are like an extra person to help, not just to call kids out.  We told him these stories, then sent him out to ump his first game.  (By the way, he rides his bike to these gigs, because we can’t handle one more drop off and pick up in a week.)  A few days later, Andrew was talking to one of his peers (another poor schmuck who got roped into coaching).  She told him that Sam had been the umpire at her son’s game.  She sang his praises and told Andrew that he had suggested one of the kids use a lighter bat.  They tried it and the kid got a hit.  We’ve since heard from another coach who said he did a great job and was really helpful to the coaches.

I’m not surprised, because Sam is a great kid who loves baseball and wants everyone else to love it, too.  But when you hear back from other parents that your kid is the rockstar of the U8 umping rotation, you get a little lump in your throat.  Because that little Kindergartner with the backpack has turned into an actual, real grown up.  High school…here we come.


Calm Down Corner

I had to share my latest project.  I’m totally proud of this Calm Down Corner I created in Ayub’s closet.  He has a huge closet, as it is really a walkway to the attic space.  When Sam moved into his own room, it left Ayub’s closet with two dressers, one of which wasn’t being used.  Add to that one of the cats who got locked in the closet and peed on the carpet, and it was time for a closet makeover.  But I didn’t just want to find a way to store more junk, so I decided to make a calm down spot where he could go when he’s starting to get upset but isn’t in a full-blown rage yet.  I started by ripping out the carpet and replacing it with laminate squares.  Then I filled it up with the following:


  1. A fuzzy carpet (feel)
  2. A collection of fidget and stress balls (feel)
  3. Skin brush (feel)
  4. Essential Oil roller with Vetiver and carrier oil (smell)
  5. Gum (taste)
  6. Calm down jar (sight)
  7. Loud ticking clock (hearing)  (We are also going to get a battery-powered radio, since there is no outlet in the closet and music seems to do wonders to calm him down.)
  8. A few of his favorite books (just because)

So, we have all five senses covered, which is important for our little sensory-seeker, as frequently different things tend to work for him.  Now he has everything available to him in one place.  He’s pretty excited about it.  I’m not naive enough to think that this will always prevent meltdowns, but if it only heads off a few of them, then it was worth it.

Eight is Great

And another year has clicked by.  Ayub turned eight today.


At eight, Ayub is amazing.  He is the kid who definitely can make my emotions swing the farthest in both directions.  I feel sometimes like I am living on the verge of tears. One minute I want to cry because he is so out of control – hitting his brother or racing after his sister saying he wishes she was dead – and I wonder if we will ever get this under control.  The next minute I feel the lump in my throat because I’m trying to get school accommodations, and I know that they will never understand that the precious kid who sits in that classroom is capable of so much more if only they find a way to tap into the way his brain works. Then I cry tears of joy when the principal calls to tell me about a fight he was in at school, in which “he did everything right,” tried to deescalate the situation, and tried to protect his friend from a bully.  This kid.  He is so full of surprises.

At eight, here’s a run-down of Ayub’s favorite things.  In no particular order.

  • Army guys
  • Knights, castles, and battles
  • Messir Wat
  • Taco Bell
  • Comic books
  • Wii
  • Wild Kratts
  • Science
  • Bear hugs
  • Hot sauce
  • Bike riding
  • Coffee
  • Long showers

And a few things he doesn’t like.

  • Winter
  • Cheese

Happy birthday, dude.  May this year be a great adventure.


Annual Report

I just mailed my annual post-placement report to Ethiopia.

I know that there are many adoptive parents who have stopped doing these. And I understand why. No one ever reads them anyway. Hardly any kids are being adopted out of Ethiopia these days, so it won’t hold up others’ processes. But here’s the thing. I promised to it, so I will do it. Every year until they are 18. Which some days seems like a very, very long time from now.

But, on with my story. The report asks details about the child, health issues, school, relationships with friends and family and contains some photos. Theoretically, the report and photos are delivered to the orphanage where the kids were relinquished. That way, if their living relatives show up and the orphanage and ask to see the report, they would be able to. I understand that a lot of things are unlikely here. First, I doubt that the reports make it to the local level (although I do think that in my situation, this may be happening). Second, I doubt that any relatives will show up looking for the report. Third, I doubt there is a great filing system so that if they did, anyone would even be able to find the right report.

Yet here’s where I get weird. They ask us to provide 5-7 photos of each child. They can have other family members with them, but 5-7 photos of each child. I am a photographer. And they want me to pick 5-7 photos. 5-7 photos that sum up the year. Out of 400 photos of each of them (no kidding), I have to pick 5-7. This is so hard for me. I agonize over which photos to send. Which ones show their personality? Which ones show how much we love them? Which ones make us look like good parents? Which ones show them pursuing things they love? Which ones show them learning? Which ones make them look most healthy?

I overanalyze the photos. I try to guess what I would think if I lived in rural Ethiopia and saw that picture. Is it culturally appropriate? Do they let kids jump on the bed there? Oh, wait, their family probably doesn’t have a bed. Will they get that this picture is him doing homework for school? Or will they think he’s just doodling? Will they know she’s wearing a backpack because it’s her first day of school? Or does it look like she’s strapped into something? Have they ever had a birthday cake with candles? Or will they think we’re letting him play with fire? Seriously. I think about these things. But in the end, I put 14 pictures in an envelope and send them off to Ethiopia, knowing that there is no way to convey what their lives are like here.


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Lows and Highs


Ayub. There are some days where he is so frustrating and wears me out. Then the next day he lights up my world and makes me see things in a whole different way. Examples…

A few weeks ago, we got another call from the babysitter. It seems that the dogs had escaped the yard again and the kids had gone to catch them. Somehow, in all the chaos, the dogs came home. Sam and Eleanor came home. But Ayub didn’t come home. He had wandered off, in the snow, and got lost. He walked “to the really big street” where a man saw him and asked if he was alright. He told them man that he was cold and lost. (For those of you who are TBRI followers, you’ll laugh to hear that when Ayub retold this story to me, he said “I asked him to help me, but I asked very ‘spectrally.”) The man called the police, who came and got Ayub. He couldn’t remember our address, so the policeman asked him where he went to school, drove him there, and Ayub was able to point the way home.

He can’t remember his address, but he is wicked smart. Last week he started telling me all about how islands are made by volcanoes. So while I was Black Friday shopping I saw a book on the clearance shelf about the Earth. I took it home and we started reading it together. We got to the page on volcanoes. Before I even started reading the page, he pointed to the picture (a cross section of a volcano) and told me how the lava builds up inside until it just can’t hold it in any more. “It’s like when you have to poop, and you hold it in, but there’s just more and more until you have to get it out.” I am, of course, laughing hysterically, to which he responds, “Mom, stop it. This is serious. I’m trying to teach you something.”

Yes, kid, you’ve taught me a lot.

My Thoughts on Ferguson

This is a hard post to write. Mainly because I know lots of you will disagree with me. But, last night my Facebook feed blew up with outrage that Darren Wilson wasn’t going to be charged with murder. I get it. I do understand. There is a desire for justice, and no one feels like they got it.

But here’s the deal. I agree with the grand jury decision. Maybe I worked with law enforcement too long. Maybe it’s just my “by the book” personality. But I don’t think that a police officer should be charged for murder for events that took place while on duty and within the scope of his job.

Don’t get me wrong, I think he’s to blame. He killed a man who shouldn’t have been killed. But let’s face it. He had some reasons other than skin color. He did a shitty job of doing his job. He screwed up. Luckily, I work in a job where when I make a mistake, no one dies. Sadly, he made a terrible mistake and now someone’s son is dead. He sucks at his job. He didn’t control the situation. He didn’t make wise choices. He didn’t have necessary equipment (I’m assuming here that he didn’t have a taser, although I don’t know that for a fact). And, maybe, just maybe, he made assumptions based on race. Should he be fired? Absolutely. He has proven that he doesn’t have what it takes to do what is a very difficult job. But is he a criminal? I don’t think so.

I think we want very badly for him to be a criminal. Because if he was, then we could pretend that the world is fair and this was just an isolated incident. But deep down, we all know the truth. That walking down the street while being a black man can be a crime in itself. That the world we live in is still divided by haves and have nots. That the playing field is not level. And THAT is the reason that I want to protest. I want to scream out at the top of my lungs how unfair it is that my kid won’t get the same chance as my friends’ kids. Even the same chance as his white brother. And I so badly want to blame someone for that. But not Darren Wilson. He’s just a symbol of a much bigger problem. He should not be prosecuted because he has been raised in a racist society. He has been preconditioned for his entire life to think a certain way about black people. And that night, it was the failure of our society that pulled the trigger, not him alone. Racism is a systemic problem, and we are stuck with a broken system.

And to those who can’t understand the protesters, the looters, and the rioters, then you don’t understand racism. You don’t know what it’s like to not be afforded the same rights as those around you. You don’t know what it’s like to be harmed in thousands of little micro aggressions. You don’t know what it feels like to know that no matter what you do, you won’t have a fair shot. That’s why they riot. Not for what happened this week, but what has been happening for hundreds of years. I haven’t had these experiences either. I grew up slathered in white privilege. But I stand with them. If you don’t, then shut the hell up, because you just don’t get it.

I am the white mother of a black son. Some day, that son will walk down the street without me. And that scares me. I don’t know how to prepare him to face a world who sees him differently than I do, a world that see him differently than he sees himself. There is a delicate balance between the message of “don’t let anyone push you around” with the message of “do as you’re told.” How on Earth do I let him know how precious he is, but at the same time tell him to be careful because others think less of him? I’m scared. Prosecuting Darren Wilson wouldn’t change that.


So…this happened.

“Ayub is in the top of one of the pine trees in our backyard I’m racing home.”

That was the text I got from Andrew while I was on my way home from work.  I actually arrived first.  I had to stop and let he fire chief pass me on the way  into our subdivision.  When I arrived at our house, there were lights flashing, fire trucks, police cars, the works.  And still, Ayub was in the tree.  They had a ladder against the tree, which only went about half-way up to where he was.  They shooed us all inside.  I am not an idiot…I knew they didn’t want us out there when he fell.  They brought another ladder.  This time a 36 footer.  Still not tall enough.  At the same time, they were pulling huge fire truck with the ladder into our driveway so they could extend the ladder over our privacy fence.  The fireman on the ladder finally talked him through climbing down.  He made it to the top of the ladder with some coaching, then scampered right down.
Why?  As a parent with significant emotional needs, I find myself asking that question all the time.  Is this just normal behavior?  Or is this related to adoption?  And the answer I usually land on is adoption.
That day, Eleanor had a tantrum which disrupted the morning routine, so Ayub didn’t get to finish his homework.  It was a half-day at school.  So there were two major changes in routine.  And he just. Can’t. Handle. That.  So when the babysitter insisted that he do his homework, his fight or flight kicked in.  And this time his flight was up a tree.
We talked to Ayub about how he could have gotten hurt.  He doesn’t believe it because he’s a very good climber.  He even told the fireman so.  We talked about how he scared the babysitter, and his siblings, and us.  He doesn’t think we should have been worried.  I am thinking that instead of convincing him not to do this again, we should put those aluminum wraps around our trees that you use when you don’t want squirrels to climb up.  But, there will always be other trees, either literal or figurative.
Enjoy this video of the situation, filmed by Sam, with additional commentary by Lucy.  Yes, I am able to laugh about it now, and this is pretty funny footage.

Up a Tree from Kristin W on Vimeo.

Back-to-School Edition

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged about life.  And I realized recently that I really miss it.  I write a post in my head every day, it just doesn’t always make it to the web.  But, I wanted to catch everyone up since school has started and we’re back in the real world for a while.

There’s so much to tell, it’s hard to know where to start.  I guess by telling you that Ayub has the most awesome teacher (for him) ever.  I went in to meet with her the Friday before school started.  I had printed out about six articles about adoption trauma and its effects on brain development and behavior.  I had a handout on avoiding “family tree” type assignments.  And I launched right into it.  After about five minutes, I took a breath and she said, “My two younger sisters were adopted from the Philippines and my mom fostered emergency placements when I was growing up.”  BING!!  She gets it.  She totally gets it.  She also said that she doesn’t do any family history projects because she prefers to get the kids looking forward at what they can be when they grow up.  Oh, and did I mention that she’s African American?  It’s like we won the lottery.  Seriously, if you asked me to write a description of the perfect teacher for Ayub, I think it would be her.  Only maybe a male.

DSC_1569So, you would think that all is well.  But, like is usual for us, when one thing is great, something else falls apart.  For the past few years, we have had a college student pick the kids up after school and take them home for snack and homework help.  This year, since all four kids are at different schools, and really only Ayub needed after school care, we decided to give the after school program a try.  The first few weeks of school seemed to go ok…not great, but decent.  Ayub was always STARVING when he got home at 5:30.  He was a little grumpier than usual, but I attributed that to the start of school and change of routine.  Then, one Monday evening, I walked in to get him from the after school program.  He was laying down next to some large trash cans, with the hoodie pulled over his face, in the fetal position, crying.  Seriously, his photo could have been on an anti-child-abuse poster.  I scooped him up and tried to get him to tell me what was going on, but he was in that catatonic state caused by flight or fright.  You adoptive parents know what I mean, right?  That stare that looks through you instead of at you?  Well, anyway, I hightailed it out of there and put him in the car, played some music and went to get Eleanor from violin.  (Yea, that’s another post for another time…)  By the time we got home, he had calmed down and told me what happened.  A bigger kid had kicked the trash can and blamed Ayub, who got in trouble from the college students that oversee the program.  They sent him to time out until I got there.  Who knows if that’s what they really said, but that’s what he heard.  I. WAS. LIVID.  Needless to say, he has not been back to after school since.  We are currently interviewing for after school nannies.  I have talked to his teacher and the principal and written a letter to the superintendent and the president of the school board.  I’m not sure where this will go, but the fact that they left an obviously distraught kid lying on the floor and didn’t really seem to care at all that he was there is a HUGE problem.  The program isn’t overseen by the school; the city actually runs it, which is a weird situation.

On the bright side, though, he is doing great.  He has spelling tests for the first time this year, and he seems to get it.  He’s doing pretty good at math.  His best friend is in his class again this year, and they’ve had some play dates.  He is excited about school and maintains his “let’s get crackin'” attitude every morning.  Our summer babysitter did a great job of preparing him for 1st grade, and I think it’s going to pay off.


As for Eleanor, we haven’t been so lucky on the teacher front.  She doesn’t have one.  They found out right before school that one of the teachers wasn’t returning, and haven’t yet hired a replacement.  Yes, for the first three weeks of school, they have had a substitute.  The walls are bare.  There is no routine, no homework folder, no organization and no stability.  But Eleanor says that on Monday they are going to announce who the teacher will be. It’s a possibility that it will be the substitute that’s been with them, but it might be someone else.  Welcome to 5th grade.


Sam is in middle school.  He doesn’t say much, so I guess it’s going well.  Except for Spanish, which is freaking him out.  Lucy is in the same class she was in last spring, so not much has changed for her.  Me?  I’m back to juggling work with pick-ups, homework, making lunches and trying to get everyone to bed at a reasonable time.

Wow…I feel better already.  I really have to force myself to sit down and write at least one post a week.  It clears my head.  Thanks for listening.




America’s Pastime


Last week, Sam’s baseball team travelled to Cooperstown to play in the biggest baseball tournament of the year.  It’s not normally the kind of thing that I would recap on my blog, but I just can’t stop thinking about it.  I think it is a perfect example of why I love what team sports can do for kids.

First, a little background.  We live in a cold-weather climate.  We don’t play baseball year-round.  We started practice in February.  Indoors.  That’s right, some good batting practice, but hard to work on realistic fielding on a gym floor.  The history of our team at this tournament was a horrible 1-12 record.  The boys were told that we’d go to Cooperstown, but that we couldn’t really compete with teams who have been together for years, practice year-round and have corporate sponsorships.  Yet they were excited and worked to raise money to pay for the trip.

Now, you are probably thinking that despite the odds, we prevailed and did great.  But, this is not a made-for-TV movie.  We sucked.  We lost every game, most cut short by the mercy rule.  That’s not the cool thing.

What happened was a display of pure sportsmanship, which was totally driven by a group of 12-year-old boys, and not a coach or parent.  We were a few innings in to a game and once again found ourselves down.  If we made it to the fourth inning, we were once again in mercy rule territory.  But then, another team (one who had beaten us earlier in the tournament), showed up onto the hill in the outfield.  


And they started cheering for us.  It seems that after the morning games, they had checked the standings and seen that we were ranked 31 of 32.  So they found our field and came to cheer us on.  And you know what?  It made a difference.  The inning that they showed up, we had a six-run inning.  It didn’t get us out of the hole, but it certainly turned around some momentum.  After the game, they came down and stood outside the dugout waiting for our guys.  When the team came out, they did so to a round of applause and encouragement to keep our heads up.  And for the first time, our ragged team didn’t look like they were miserable.  They looked like a team that was having fun, despite losing a game. But it doesn’t stop there.

The next morning, we played an 8:00 am game.  It was single elimination at this point, so a loss would send us home.  And guess who showed up?  Yep, they were there again.  This time, they had skipped their own camp breakfast so they could come and cheer.  And they had made signs out of a cardboard box they had in the bunkhouse.
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The story would be a lot better if I could now say that their encouragement led us to a victory, but let’s be real.  We lost again.  But our guys then turned around and cheered for their new friends later that day.

So my point?  We do a lot of complaining about kids’ sports today.  Too much pressure.  Parents are too involved.  Kids specialize in a sport too early.  The cost keeps the haves and have-nots separated.  But this week I was reminded of the power of team sports.  Our kids learned a lesson that we, as parents and coaches never could have taught them.  They learned how it feels to have someone on your side.  They learned what it means to play with heart.  They learned how to reciprocate a good deed.  And they learned how to take a loss and look at the good that came out of it.  Later in the week, after both teams had been eliminated, they played wiffle ball on the lawn.  Two teams from across the country, just hanging out, brought together by America’s pastime.  Cooperstown is a magical place.

To the parents of those 12 boys who came and cheered for us, I hope you’ll give yourself a pat on the back.  You’ve done a great job raising boys who understand the real meaning of sport isn’t winning or losing.  If there was a sportsmanship trophy for this tournament, I’m sure it would have gone to your team.  Your kids have heart.  And they taught our kids to have the same.  

The two teams together.

The two teams together.