How Do You Teach That?

Three incidents, all rather recent:

#1:  The parent of another girl at Eleanor’s tennis tournament starts asking me about the kids.  She inquired about the regular things.  Did you adopt them?  Where are they from?  What happened to their parents (did not answer)?  And then, she says “It’s such a shame.  There are so many kids here (meaning in the US) that need good homes.  It’s too bad you couldn’t take some of them.”  Lucy was sitting on my lap at the time.  I understand that Lucy is too young to understand that comment, but one day she won’t be.  How do you teach her to be proud of her history when others aren’t?

#2:  Sam had a rather unfortunate discussion with a kid on his bus.  I would love to blog more about it (mainly because I don’t feel like I handled it well and would love to hear what you would have done), but feel like it’s Sam’s story, and so I want to protect his privacy.  Bottom line, the 6th grade has its share of small-minded, ignorant, bigots.  It left me feeling like we haven’t prepared Sam well for dealing with the comments he will have to deal with.  How do you teach an 11-year-old to deal with such complicated issues?

#3:  I just watched an episode of the New Normal.  For those of you who haven’t seen it, it is a new sitcom about two gay men, using a surrogate to have a baby.  Talk about some inappropriate stereotypes…the grandmother on this show is possibly the least politically correct character ever.  The sad thing is, she is based on real people who exist…she just says what some people keep internally.  Anyway, on this episode they faced some discrimination and struggled with how they would teach their unborn child to deal with those same types of comments.  How do you teach that?

Yes, I know there are books.  Yes, I know there are movies.  Yes, I’ve visited the web sites.  Yes, my kids have good role models of all races and sexual orientations.  Yes, my kids’ school has a guidance program where they talk about respecting everyone.  Yes, we watch political races and talk about issues like same-sex marriage, women’s equality, and poverty.  But really, do any of these things prepare a kid when they are faced with stupid remarks?  How do you teach them that?

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My First Day of Kindergarten

I recently read all the articles in the back-to-school issue of Adoptive Families magazine.  I was overwhelmed with the number of issues that school raises for adoptive kids.  Some of it I had thought of before, but some was completely new to me.  (I especially enjoyed the part about whether or not to tell the child’s teacher that your child is adopted…ummm…not really an issue for us.)   I did realize that Sam has been working on a timeline project of his life, and I felt bad that I hadn’t even considered how that will be a problem for Ayub and Lucy some day.  But there were some issues that made me stop and think.  How much of Ayub’s story should his teacher know?  Should I talk to the class about adoption and why Ayub doesn’t look like me?  Should I prepare him for comments he may hear?

Then the perfect opportunity presented itself.  This is the first week that the class has had a Star of the Week.  You know, your pictures are on the bulletin board and you get to tell the class all about your family, your pets, your likes/dislikes.  And guess who’s name got drawn to be the FIRST Star?  You guessed it…the kid who is least able to articulate any of this.  Still, we tried.  I asked him what he wanted to show his class.  He didn’t understand the concept and was just excited that his teacher had given him a special piece of paper with stars on it.  (Funny aside…he kept saying, “No touch this…it mine.  Teacher give it to me.”)  I sat him down at the computer and went through some possible photos and asked him if he wanted to show his class.  Still, he was not getting the concept.  I finally emailed his teacher and asked if it might be possible for me to come in and read a story to the class about adoption, show them some pictures of Ethiopia, and help Ayub explain his pictures.  She was totally on board and invited me to class yesterday.

Thanks to one of the articles in the magazine, I had a pretty good start at how to talk about adoption.  I started by asking the kids what does a mommy do?  After the first kid answered, “DISHES!” I thought we might be in trouble, but pretty quickly they were back on track and named things like take care of you, feed you good food, give you hugs and kisses.  Then we read the story A Mother for Choco by Keiko Kasza.  It’s a great book about a little bird looking for a mother who looks like him, until he realizes that mothering is about what you do, not what you look like.  As if scripted, one of the kids mentioned the word adoption when she took Choco home to meet her other kids.

When the book was over I said that I’d heard someone say the word adoption and asked if anyone knew what that meant.  The kid who raised his hand said, “It’s when you take a kid, ummm….like from somewhere, and keep it.”  While that may actually be the definition of kidnapping, we went with it and talked about how some kids needed a mom to do all those things that we talked about earlier.  Then I told them that I do all those things for Ayub now.  They all seemed pretty OK with that.  I was pretty grateful that no one asked why his first mom couldn’t do those things, but after all, they are only five, so they took it at face value.(I skipped over my soapbox speech about Ethiopian adoption and ethical adoption practices…)

Next we moved on to talking about Ethiopia.  I showed them Ethiopia on a map after one kid correctly stated that Ethiopia was in Africa.  Impressive.  Then I showed them pictures on my iPad of our trips to Ethiopia.  I showed them the huts that people live in, showed them the animals we saw in Afar, and showed them pictures of Ayub on the day we met.   They were  pretty interested and asked some entertaining questions.

Finally, Ayub showed the class his pictures and told what he could about them.  I filled in the details for him.  He told them Ethiopian food was yucky.  But he did enjoy telling them all about the camels, how to ride one, and where they walked.  Note that I don’t know if any of this was true.

Overall, I would say it was a successful introduction to quite a few topics: adoption, Ethiopia, and, more subtly, race.  At least now the other kids know that it’s okay to talk about these issues and ask questions.  I would rather they find out good information than just wonder.

 

The New Toy

Lucy doesn’t really like toys.  Not dolls.  Not blocks.  Not anything that makes noise, lights up or plays music.  Although she is surrounded by toys, she isn’t really entertained by them.  For a while, her favorite activity was putting linking rings into an empty tissue box.  With that in mind, I set out to find something that would occupy her for a while when I was busy helping the bigger kids with homework.  The result?  The amazing pom-pom stuffer:

I had a few bags of pom poms that I had purchased a while back in the Dollar Spot at Target.  This was the only financial investment in this project.  I took an empty butter container and asked Eleanor to make it pretty.  Lately she has been loving designer duct tape, so she used a little to spice it up.  (She picked the fast food tape because, “Lucy likes to eat, right?”)  Let’s face it, this toy would not be nearly as cool with the Country Crock logo staring at you.  Once it was beautified, I cut some small holes in the top, slightly smaller than the pom poms so that she has to work to get them in there.

And the result?  She loves it.  She played with this more in the last 24 hours than any of the fancy toys we have.  Added bonus, it’s quiet.

Excuse the crazy hair…she played while I finished my breakfast.

Fine motor skills…here we come!

You gotta hold your tongue right to make it work.

Pet Peeve of the Week

Most of you know that Ayub and Lucy are biological brother and sister.  I can share that with you because we’re friends.  (Actually, I’m friends with a handful of you, and have no idea who the other few hundred are because you don’t leave comments, but for the sake of this post, I’m going to pretend like we’re friends.)  However, if you were a stranger, I would think it would be very rude for you to ask “are they brother and sister?”  Yet I am getting that question more and more when I’m out in public with the kids.  The woman at in line at Target, the mom at the library, and the woman in the waiting room at the doctor’s office.

There are, of course, variations on the question.  My favorite is “are they real siblings?” said while Eleanor was also with us.  Ummm…how to answer that.  “Yes, these two are, but that one isn’t?”  Really?  Did she really think I would say that?  And, I don’t want to seem overly sensitive, but would people ask at all if they were white kids?

So, here’s the quiz for the day.  Which do you think is the best response?

A.  (Educational Response)  “Yes, they are biological siblings because I worked with an ethical adoption agency that only allows related children to be adopted at the same time?”

B.  (Confrontational Response)  “None of your damn business.  How would you like it if I asked if those were your real boobs?”

C.  (Advoidance)  “I don’t really remember.  I have so many kids that I have kind of lost track.”

Please vote.  Then I’ll know what to do AND I will know who you are.

Does it really matter?

Six Months Home – What’s Worked

Six months ago today, we arrived home after a 33-hour journey.  Wow.

As most of you know, I devoured every blog I could find in our two years of waiting.  So many waiting families have a blog, then when they get home with the kids, the posts begin to dwindle and then stop completely.  No criticism…just disappointed that I didn’t get to see how it all turned out.  What I really loved reading back then were the milestone posts.  You know…one month home, six months home, one year home.  I’ve been thinking for a while now about my six month post and decided that I would share with you the things that have worked for us.  These are not all “by the book” solutions.  It’s not because we didn’t know about the books or bother to read them, but it was more a case of finding what worked for us.

FOOD

Ayub has been a challenge in this arena.  We were surprised to find that instead of spicy foods (even ones using berbere), he preferred everything bland.  His diet at first mainly consisted of white rice, dinner rolls, hard-boiled eggs, bananas and Ritz Crackers. Lots and lots of Ritz Crackers.  Costco sells a giant package with about 12 rolls and we went through them consistently.  We always had at least one of his favorite foods available to him and then offered whatever the rest of the family was eating.  He has slowly expanded and now eats pasta with marinara sauce as a regular staple.  He is also starting to eat peanut butter (on a spoon, not on any kind of bread) and some meats, so at least he’s getting some protein.  He also loves Taco Bell.  He can eat six tacos at a sitting.  Last week he told me he wished he could sleep at Taco Bell so he’d be there when it “woke up” the next day.  Anyway, lesson learned is that he is slowly expanding what he eats.  I feel like as long as we keep offering him lots of choices, his nutritional needs will be met.  He sometimes surprises us and we discover a new food that he’ll eat.  Until then, we”ll keep giving him multivitamins.

Lucy is now a champ at eating.  With her, we basically started over from the beginning, as if she was a six-month old starting on solid foods.  Although she had been eating table food in Ethiopia, she didn’t want it here, so we were forced to revert to stage 1 baby foods and rice cereal.  However, she quickly expanded her tastes and rapidly caught up, until today, when she is eating entirely table foods.  Meats were also low on her list, but she fell in love with bacon at first sight (who wouldn’t?), which I think helped her develop a taste for turkey and chicken.  She also loves cheese, which Ayub still won’t touch.  And, like her mom, she has already developed a sweet tooth and cried when I wouldn’t let her have a second cookie last weekend.

Ayub with a dinner roll. We buy them at Costco in packages of 36. Gone before they go stale.

SLEEP

Sleep?  Huh?

Actually, we are doing pretty good in this category.  Here’s where some of the attachment parenting folks are going to have a stroke.  Our kids have slept in their own beds from their first night home.  Not in our bed.  Not on a mat in our room.  Not in their room with us in their beds.  And certainly not with us on the floor next to their beds.  That doesn’t mean they’ve been completely alone.  They both share a room with an older sibling, so there is someone in the room with them, although the big kids are not in there when they fall asleep.  So how did we do it?  Luck, mostly.  But we did the same things that worked with our older kids.  A good bedtime routine, with baths and books, then some cuddling, then lights out.  At first, we would lay with Ayub and we slowly shortened the time we spent with him.  We promised to check on him and always followed through on that promise…Andrew was good about setting his timer for five minutes and going back in.  I think that helped.  Ayub used to wake up during the night with night terrors, but those subsided after about a month home.  When that happened, we would just take him back to bed and lay with him, usually only a few minutes, until he was back asleep.  With Lucy, she was still getting bottle during the night, and I was worried it would be hard to break her of that habit, but she pretty much did that herself, sleeping for longer and longer stretches until she made it through the night.  With her, we’ve had some periods where she has trouble falling asleep, and on those nights, I take my iPad into her room and read until she falls asleep.  I think she likes that the light from the iPad lights up my face enough for her to see me, and I like that I’m not really giving her too much attention, so she gets bored and goes to sleep.  Most of the time, though, both of them happily crawl into bed and fall asleep pretty quickly.

Our happy sleeper

LANGUAGE

This was obviously our biggest obstacle.  With Ayub being almost five when we came home, he had definite wants and needs that he couldn’t make known.  This was frustrating for both of us, and I think the cause of most of our early tantrums.  Everyone assured me that language would come quickly and in no time he would speaking English.  I have to admit…on this I feel a little misled.  It took a lot longer than I thought to be able to communicate basic needs.  And even now, I still miss a lot of what he says.  But, for the most part, he has a passable understanding of the English language.  And even people outside of our family can understand him.  Mostly.  I really want to do a full post that shows the evolution of his language…maybe someday when I sort through my video clips.

As for Lucy, language development is her only developmental delay.  She now has a handful of words which she uses consistently (Mama was finally added to the list this week).  Her pediatrician and the group that evaluated her both believe that it is merely a case of changing languages at a crucial developmental point and that she will completely catch up.  In the meantime, we are using baby sign language with her.  We used this with both of our other kids for brief periods until they could speak, and I FULLY believe it helped immensely to cut down on the amount of frustration and the number of tantrums.  Maybe I’ll do a follow-up post on this, too – I’m a huge believer in this method and think whether your kids are coming from another country or not, you should definitely explore it.  It is amazing how well babies and toddlers can communicate through sign before they are ready to speak.

BEHAVIOR

This has been a tough one for us.  Ayub is all boy.  He is wild.  He is extremely physical.  And he was not used to any boundaries.  I read The Connected Child by Karen Purvis before we travelled and was convinced that her strategies would be the perfect way to approach behavior issues with him.  Then we got home and I remembered…HE CAN’T SPEAK ENGLISH!  Duh!  Telling him “gentle and kind” or giving him a chance to “do-over” wasn’t going to help.  We put that on hold for a while and started with the “time-in” philosophy of holding him on our laps while he melted down.  Scratches, bites, and bruises ensued.  Then I realized that we didn’t need to hold him.  If we sat close by, he would calm down much quicker and we could then start discussing his behavior.  We didn’t have any time limits, we based the length of time out on how long it took him to calm down.  “No hurts” was the main theme in the beginning.  As his language developed, we asked him to apologize to the injured party…this worked sometimes better than others.  Now the threat of time out is a powerful tool, and will usually correct his behavior.

That doesn’t mean that we’ve left Karen Purvis behind.  I bought the DVD set before we travelled, but had never watched it until about a month ago.  Now we are at a much better place to use some of her strategies.  I highly recommend the DVDs – it helped me (a visual learner) to see her and others actually using these strategies on real kids.  We are now working with Ayub on “gentle and kind” to continue to eliminate some of the rough behavior.  Don’t have it?  Get it here.  Totally worth the investment.

HAIR

Again…lucky.  Lucy’s hair was in pretty good shape when we picked her up.  So much so that I haven’t even had to take her to get the ends trimmed…although I think we’re almost at that point.  Her hair absorbs water more than most African hair and she has beautiful soft curls.  Still, I admit that I have spent more on hair care products for her in the last six months than I’ve spent on myself in the last six years.  We have a lot of used-only-once products sitting around in our house.  (Andrew doesn’t like products that make her smell like an old woman, which many of them do.)  But, I think we have a pretty good haircare routine down right now.  And, once Ayub was able to tell us that he didn’t want his hair buzzed any more, we embarked on learning more about boys’ hair care.  He has made one trip to the barbershop, which was overall successful.  Not sure where we’re headed with his hair, as he can’t show us what he wants, just knows he doesn’t want it buzzed any more.  We’ll see how it evolves.  But, overall, the haircare issue is not as hard as I thought it would be.

First ponytail.

THE BIGS

Everyone always asks how the older kids are managing, so I’ll include an update on them.  Both kids absolutely adore Lucy.  Both kids enjoy playing with Ayub, but get worn out by him.  They have both had their share of frustration at having to share us, but overall, I think they’ve handled it great.  And I LOVE seeing how they all interact.  With four kids there are quite a few combinations of who can be at home at any one time.  It’s amazing to see how the interactions change based on who is here.  With school starting again, Eleanor has relished the role of teaching Ayub how “big school” works, and Sam has enjoyed being nowhere near any of his family members during the day!  There are days where Eleanor has told us that she wishes they never came, but after some one-on-one time, she usually changes her mind about that.  Overall, I have to say that they make good older siblings and that we’ve all adjusted to everyone’s new role in the family.

Sister love.

Best big brother EVER. He evens lets me dress them alike (if his friends aren’t around.)

THE PARENTS

And what about Andrew and me?  Well…we’re tired.  A lot.  Parenting four kids is tough.  Parenting kids from hard backgrounds is tough.  Parenting with therapeutic strategies is tough.  Neither of us get a down moment.  The other day, we realized we’d had an uninterrupted 20-minute conversation and were stunned.  I don’t think anything could have prepared us for how emotionally exhausting this process would be.  On the other hand, it has been a fantastic ride.  Ayub is the best hugger in the world and tells us “I love you” all the time.  Lucy is the happiest and cutest baby ever.  To see these two children who once had so little begin to thrive in their new surroundings has been incredible.

At one point in our pre-kids years, Andrew got really interested in Mount Everest and started reading a lot of books and watching documentaries about various climbs there.  I was worried that he would want to do it someday.  Now, I think our lives are very much like that climb would have been.  It has been excruciating at times, we have wanted to give up at times, and there has been a lot of pain.  But now that we’re at the summit, the view is beautiful.

 

Update on Summer Goals

At the beginning of the summer, I joked to Andrew that I had two goals for the summer:  to win the lottery and to lose weight without diet or exercise.  Ha!  Well, the world is a funny place…

A few weeks ago, I got the Powerball number.  No other numbers, but I matched the Powerball.  That pays out, my friends.  (Yes, you are going to be jealous when you read this next part.)  I WON $4!!!!!  I guess that in all my years of teaching goal setting, I should have know that when you set a goal, you have to be SPECIFIC.  But, nonetheless, let’s cross that one off my list.

Then, a few weeks ago, I got a stomach bug.  (You can see this coming, right?)  I LOST 4 POUNDS!  One more off my list!

Actually, my real goal at the beginning of the summer was just to make it through.  After all, this was my first summer being at home and my first summer with four kids – it was a little daunting.  But now the kids are back in school (well at least 3/4 of them) and it’s a little quiet and lonely around here.  Therefore, I’ve set some new goals for myself:

  • Find some fun ways to help supplement what Ayub is learning in school.
  • Find ways to manage our household so that I’m not constantly stuck doing chores.
  • Carve out more time for photography (including some online classes I’ve had lined up).
  • Manage the family budget so that I can continue to stay home (as my lottery winnings are already gone).

I’ll post more on all of these as I make progress, but if you have any suggestions, leave them in the comments!  In the meantime, I’ll be playing more Powerball.