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:

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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.

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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.

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Eight is Great

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

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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.

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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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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

Baby No More

When we were waiting for a referral, I didn’t really expect that we’d get a baby under a year old.  In fact, the week before our referral, we had a conversation with our case manager about whether we should raise the bottom of our age range.  I was getting older, our kids were getting older, and starting over with a baby just seemed daunting.  Then, I saw her 4-month-old referral picture and it didn’t seem so overwhelming.  We brought her home when she was 10 months old.  And today, she turned THREE.

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So what that means is that I had two babies, then they grew up.  They learned to get up and entertain themselves on weekends.  They took their own showers and got dressed on their own.  They didn’t wear diapers.  Life was relatively easy.  Then, I was suddenly plunged back into the world of sippy cups, rocking to sleep, and footie pajamas.  And you know what?  I liked it.  And now it’s over.  Earlier this week, Lucy was outside my bathroom door and I said, “Is that my baby out there?”  Her reply?  “I not a baby!!”  And she’s right.

Our three year old has tackled school with her usually unflappable nature.  She now knows all the kids names, knows the routine, and doesn’t want to come home at the end of the day.  She is super-smart.  Sometimes, I’ll ask her to remember something for me, like we have to get cat food.  Later, she’ll actually remember to remind me.  She loves people.  She talks to people everywhere we go.  She may be the only one of our kids to follow in her dad’s fundraiser footsteps.  She would definitely be good at it.  Not only does she talk to people, she makes them feel good about themselves.  She has gotten more picky about her food lately, becoming kind of a bland eater.  Right now, I’d guess her favorite food is salami.  We ate Ethiopian food for her birthday, not because that is necessarily her favorite food, but because she loves the restaurant owner.

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She loves animals.  Of all our kids, she is the only one who truly seeks out an animal to play with.  The cats are so tolerant of her need to drag them around, sometimes by their neck.  She is fascinated by people who are hurt.  Whether it’s a splinter or a missing leg, she is sure to ask them about it.  Just last week she saw a woman with a walking cast on her foot.  She asked at least 10 questions before I could drag her away.  She loves band-aids and frequently tells me “I have blood” just so she can get one.  She is starting to exhibit her sense of style, and I’m sad to say that it’s girly-girl and pinky-pink.  She asks to wear dresses almost every day.  And she loves to get her fingernails or toenails painted.

And now she’s three.  Three has never been my favorite age.  Although the terrible twos have a bad rap, I’ve always found that age three presented more whining, more testing of limits, and more general crankiness.  I am already seeing the beginning of this.  But for the most part, Lucy is a happy, bold, compassionate kid.  Kid, not a baby.  And while I miss that baby, I am kind of liking the kid she is turning into.

 

 

The Hair

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As a white woman with super-stright, incredibly fine hair, I was worried.  I mean, really worried.  Before our referral, I secretly hoped for two boys, so I could just keep both their heads shaved and not have to worry about learning to braid.  Then we found out we were getting a girl.  And the panic set in.  I started following chocolate hair vanilla care, watched youtube videos on braiding and rented Chris Rock’s Good Hair.  I learned about natural vs. processed.  I went to Sally Beauty Supply and consulted with a (not-so) helpful salesperson who told me what I needed.  I bought it all.  And then Lucy came home.

Now that I had this precious head of hair in my control, I faithfully applied creams, conditioners, shea butter, coconut oil, smoothies, and curl enhancers.  I tried braiding, with little success.  I painstakingly put in beads that fell out the next day.  I only washed once a week.  And, if I do say so myself, she rocked it.

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Then, I took her for her first hair cut.  I’d been nervous about this because it’s one thing for a woman at the grocery store to compliment you, but it’s another to have a professional evaluate your work.  I felt like I was showing my stick figure drawing to Claude Monet.  And you know what he told me?  She doesn’t have African American hair.  Ummm…what?  Yea, she has middle eastern hair.  Huh?  It’s curly, but with loose curls, and is finer and more elastic than African American hair.  Wow.

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So I know that I have it pretty easy when it comes to Lucy.  We comb out her hair every night after bath and every  morning before school.  Yep, it’s that easy.  And we don’t use as many products any more.  I gave up on braiding after a woman at the salon told me they wouldn’t even be able to do a style that would last more than a day or two.  The exception is when I do this, which may be my favorite style:

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Then a few weeks ago, I read an article.  And I realized that I do deeply care what black women think about Lucy’s hair.  I am mortified when Andrew takes her out of the house for a weekend breakfast without doing her hair first.  I hate it when Eleanor tries to be helpful and puts Lucy’s hair in a ponytail because she doesn’t get it all to lay flat.  I hate going anywhere after nap time because I don’t want people to think her hair started out that way this morning.  I’m not normally a vain person and don’t really care how I, myself, look, so it was puzzling why I would care so much about Lucy’s hair.  But that article made me realize what it is.  It’s because I feel like an ambassador.  I am on a goodwill mission between races.  I feel like one way I can show transracial adoption as a positive is simply by being aware of what’s important to another culture.  And to black women, hair is important.  I respect that.  And I want them to see that I respect that.

A while back, I had braided Lucy’s hair in two french braids down the sides, like I used to do for Eleanor.  It was a very simple style, but looked pretty cute.  An African-American woman was behind me in line at Target and asked me if I did it myself.  I hesitantly answered yes, not knowing what was coming next.  And then she began to gush about how great it looked and that she couldn’t braid at all and so her daughter’s hair was always a mess.  I felt a wave of relief and then a jolt of pride.  She may not have African-American hair, but I’m doing something right anyway.  Who cares if she sometimes looks like this after nap time?

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Another Birthday

And then he was seven.

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It’s hard to remember back to when Ayub was just a little four year old wearing mis-matched pajamas and pink Crocs and staring at us from a faraway referral picture.  I remember searching that photo looking for clues about who he was.  That look on his face…was it fear?  Or was he just a serious kid?  Was he waiting for someone to come and get him?  Did he know someone would?

Now, I look at him with just as many questions.  Does he know what it means to be loved unconditionally?  Does he know that he is permanently a part of our family?  His birthdays mean more to me because they are not only a marker of his age, but they are a marker that we are a little closer to him being with us longer than he was without us, although we are still only halfway there.

But today, we celebrate.

To most people we meet, he just an all-American, seven-year-old kid.  He eats hot dogs and pizza, but hates vegetables.  He loves Ironman and Captain America, hates “bad guys” and bullies.  He loves recess and tolerates the rest of school.  He plays hard, but also enjoys long showers (with lots of singing).  His favorite animals (Woosha, Timmy, and Buzz Lightyear) all sleep with him, tucked under his covers.  He asks “why” more times in a day than any kid I’ve ever met.  He still gets confused by the concept of “tomorrow.”  As in “how many sleeps till tomorrow?”  He loves his ice skating lessons and dreams of being a hockey player.  Or at least of owning a really cool helmet.  His world is expanding.  He was sad a few weeks ago when his teacher told him that Pluto used to be a planet, but isn’t any more.  He thinks that’s mean.  He has a fierce temper, but is also just as quick to laugh.  He loves tickle fights more than anything.  He lines up his favorite, special toys in neat rows beside his bed and gets totally bent out of shape if they get messed up.  He loves TV, movies and playing Lego Star Wars on the Wii.   He prefers jeans to sweatpants.  He is the only kid in the family who takes his boots off outside, hangs up his coat, and puts away his backpack.  He wiggles incessantly, but will cuddle up to read a book in a heartbeat.

This week, he told me that, if I want, I can kiss him every morning when I wake him up.  [Melt.]  I think I will.

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Sweetness

Sometimes, in all the madness that surrounds life with Ayub, I forget what a sweet, compassionate kid he is.

Today is hat day at school.  Kids are allowed to wear a hat if they bring $1 for cancer research.  So, this morning, I emptied out our change jar into a Ziploc bag and handed it to Ayub.  I told him to give it to his teacher so that he could wear a hat.  He wanted to know why, so I told him it was for cancer research.  This led to a lengthy explanation on my part of what cancer is, that it is a disease that many makes many people sick, and that some people even die from it.  I was rushing around getting the kids ready for school, so didn’t really stop to have the conversation, even though I could see he was very serious about it.  He walked away, I assumed to put the money in his backpack.  But he stopped at the fridge and pulled out an apple.  Used to living with an ADHD kid, I just assumed he’d gotten distracted (again) and forgot what he was doing, so I asked him if he was taking that apple to eat at snack time.  His response?  “No, I’m gonna give it to the sick people.”  Huh?  “I learned that if you eat an apple every day, you won’t need a doctor.”  Oh, my sweet, innocent, little boy.  He frustrates me to no end, but inside he has such a big heart.  And to him, the apple was a much more real way to help a sick person than a bag full of money.

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