Friday, December 30, 2011

Let's Talk About Tian

Most of my posts about language development have centered on Travis, who is deaf.  His language progress has intrigued me because 1: he's my first deaf child 2: he came to us having been exposed to no formal language.

Tian, however, has made amazing language strides in his own right!  When we first read his file, we assumed he was at least hard-of-hearing, if not deaf.  As we read more about microtia and atresia and got more information on Tian, we quickly realized we needed to keep an open mind because he most probably could hear.  Now that he's been home with us almost 6 months, we can tell that he not only can hear, but seems to have keen hearing in many circumstances.  Just this morning, he heard the faint sound of a faraway helicopter outside, perked up and signed, "helicopter!"  Other times, it seems he doesn't hear some things, but that may just be his age.

Obviously, he doesn't have complete hearing in his right ear.  That's evidenced in the fact that the canal is closed and in how he turns a complete 360 degrees to look for a sound coming from his right.

When we first met Tian, he was two day away from his second birthday.  He would say about three things in Mandarin that sounded to us like "way-uh" "doe-uh" and "nye."  We were told that he was just babbling, but that one phrase meant "go" and another meant "here we are" or "we are here."  Other than that, he wasn't talking.  Reports given to us by his foster family and welfare institute also said he wasn't speaking.  I've showed him photos of his foster mom, who I'm told was referred to as "nie nie" (grandmother), but have never gotten him to say it verbally.  We've also had Chinese friends, both in China and here at home, count to ten to try to get him to repeat the words, but he never would.

In the almost six months we've had him, Tian's language has grown exponentially in both ASL and spoken English.  For the first two months home, Tian would speak and gesture very generically.  He couldn't form the "I love you" hand-shape among others, but would try to sign as best he could with his limited fine-motor skills.  Over the past couple of months, he's been able to form the "I love you" hand-shape and a lot more!  It's been fun to see his ASL vocabulary grow.  He's speaking less and signing more, which doesn't concern us in the least.  He overhears plenty of spoken language and does verbalize quite a bit, so if signing is his preference right now, we know that won't harm him in the least.  (I can't wait until he grows up so we can prove this fact.)

When he wakes from a nap, the first thing he does is ask (signing),"Where's Travis?"
He says/signs "better!"  For example, yesterday, the batteries in his airplane were drained. He brought the airplane to me, signing, "broken."  I told him we needed to put in new batteries. (He also signs "batteries.")  After the batteries were replaced, he ran into his room, tested it out, then ran back in to me signing/saying "better!"
He says "Potty" and "pew peewww."  The way he signs "poop" is too cute.  He signs is correctly but upside-down.
Another cute word he says and signs is "hot toto!" (cocoa)  He signs "HOT CHOCOLATE."

He corrects his brother, which drives Travis crazy.  The other day, Travis was sitting on the couch, unhappy about whatever was happening, kicking his feet.  Tian walked over to Travis, pushed down on his ankles, attempted to "flick" Travis' leg, then signed, "NO NO! UNDERSTAND?"

Here are a few pictures and videos of Tian. Enjoy!

Balancing the Bios

Although they make rare appearances here, we DO have three older kids.  However you want to say it: birth kids, original 3, biological children, fruit of our loins, made in America.  Some of those are politically incorrect and one is just gross, but they are all terms that could be/have been used to describe the oldest three Brownies.
Could you just die?  December 2006

Five years later, they would NEVER agree to do this pose! They love their brother, but would no longer be willing to smooch him on the cheek and have it saved as a framable photo forever.  Ah, the sweet, younger years.

The three oldest kids have had quite a 2011!  They moved from a kids' dream house and neighborhood into an apartment half the size of the house. They went from having their own room to sharing a room.  They left the street that held some of their dearest friends.  They happily, and without a second thought, gave up a spring cruise on the Disney Dream, were content with a very humble holidays,  and heard lots of, "No, we can't afford to do that right now" statements from their parents.

If you asked any of them if they regretted one sacrifice, they would say no, then talk about how having their brothers is more than worth any of those things.  Do they sometimes miss those things?  Certainly!  But there is no comparison.

The Brownies are far from perfect kids.  They are imperfect, just like their parents.  They are sometimes selfish, whiney, lazy, and ornery, also like their parents.  But, they are also selfless, considerate, open-minded, willing, passionate and giving.  That has all been evidenced over this past year.

Before you feel too sorry for all they've given up, understand what they've gained.  Above all, brothers.  That's priceless.  They also enjoyed a month in China, traveling to 5 different provinces and cities.  Thanks to another's kindness, they were able to fly first class both to and from China.  They got to  witness 14 sets of parents welcome their baby to the family for the first time.  They rode a ski lift up to the Great Wall, walked this one of the Seven Wonders of the World, then toboggan-slid back down!   While they have sacrificed much this year, they've also had a year of adventure.

The kids have grown up a lot this year; not only due to becoming big brother and sisters to two toddlers, but also because they've had to live among some difficult people and situations.  They've been bullied, teased and ridiculed really for the first time in their lives.  Other kids have attacked the Brownies personally, as well as our family.  They've taken shots at the fact that they have a Deaf dad, a signing family, adopted brothers, a big family in a small home, and a close-knit family.  Some of these instances have made them cry (and made ME flaming mad) and some have made us all laugh.  The kids were most recently teased because they like to spend time with their family.  We have fun together.  The kids tell us just about everything, including telling on themselves when they are less-than-perfect.  Some other kids can't seem to handle it.  They don't understand it, so they ridicule my kids for it.  Thankfully, that is one insult that just makes our kids feel very sorry for the ones teasing them.

Being a close family is something Ken and I are strategic about and unapologetic for.  We WANT the kids to feel like they have the most fun when we are together.  We know as they get older, they'll have more and more fun with their friends and not always with us.  That's a good thing!  But we want many of our times together to be fun-filled and memorable.

We spend a LOT of time inside these four walls doing pretty mundane activities: school, chores, cooking meals, chores, cleaning up after the boys, school and more chores.  We also don't believe kids need to be entertained every moment (or even a majority of the moments) of the day.  We don't have cable, extensive gaming systems nor a TV in every room.  But...

But we do want to provide ways for us to have fun and have fun together or at least here around the house.  In our family, that could be board games such as UNO or Yahtzee, watching endless episodes of iCarly or The Cosby Show, Wii games such as Harry Potter Lego or Just Dance, and this year, lots and lots of wheels!  Skateboards, scooters, bikes, Striders, Ripstiks, and a ramp to add an element of excitement.  Boy, that ramp has drawn a fairly large crowd of kids to our driveway this past week!

Ken's and my anniversary is next week.  We'll be celebrating 15 years of marriage!  What a blessing!  Instead of a fancy dinner out that would be over in 2 hours, we decided for the first time ever to get season passes to our local amusement park.  We surprised the kids tonight and they're already anticipating our first visit of 2012.   Now Ken and I have our date nights set and paid for the entire year!! (We are rollercoaster-lovers.)  We also can take the older three kids on special one-on-one dates, or have one of us take all three of them once every few weeks.   We can take the littles, too.  Tian is free until July and Travis' ticket will be fairly cheap.  But with so much focused on their two new brothers, Ken and I wanted to do something special just for the older three.
Just Dance!
Ken and I are both so thankful for our oldest three kids.  They have been our training ground.  They've grown us.  They've humbled us, tested us, and worn us out at times.  They also swell our hearts with pride and love.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Keeping the Boys' Pasts

One of the many things I took away from the various adoption blogs I read and on Beth O'Malley's newsletters about creating lifebooks, was this:

Don't forget that your adopted child had a life before they came into your family.

It seems many adoptive parents have made the mistake of telling the child's life story beginning at "gotcha" day or the day the parents first saw their file.

This came to mind this Christmas as we were decorating the tree.  Each of my birth kids were given an ornament to commemorate their first, second and third Christmases.  

I considered how to commemorate the boys' first Christmases.  Without previous consideration, I may have called this year their "first Christmas," but it wasn't!  Before we met them, Travis lived through 3 Christmases and Tian, 2.  So I began a search for ornaments for the boys.  My first thought was to search eBay for year-appropriate ornaments similar to their older siblings'.  But as I looked, I thought we should find a way to keep their Chinese heritage in the equation.

A search for "Chinese Christmas ornaments" turned up some interesting ideas.  But my affection and wallet landed on these sweet ornaments:

They are pretty small, so I used a fine-point permanent marker to write the year and Christmas number on the bead.  I'm happy with the results!  I hope they will cherish these through the years and be able to reflect on their first two and three years in China.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Dinnertime Chatting

Last night, as we were finishing up dinner, I noticed Ken and Travis visiting about some of the China photos they were viewing.

This map, along with another map showing us flying east to China, was one of the photos they were looking at.  I started recording the video when Ken was explaining who flew TO China, then who all flew back to the USA.

In the first segment of the video, Travis is mimicking everything Ken signs which, in this case, is each of our names.  Hearing kids do this same type of mimicking when they learn to converse. (At this point, Travis knows all of our names and can identify each of us by name.  He can also identify a number of other people by name or title.)

After scrolling through a few more photos, then returning to the map again, Travis points at the map and happily states, "Travis!" Travis was on this flight!  Ken corrects him.  I love the look on his face.  You can tell he totally thought he was stating a fact.  So he tentatively asks, "Tian?"  Was Tian on this flight?
Ken answers, "No," then shows Travis the photo of flight home from China, explaining, "Travis and Tian were on THIS flight home."

In the second segment, the were looking at a picture from several years ago, so Ken tells him it's an "old picture."  "Picture" is a new sign for Travis, so Ken helps him express it correctly.  Compared to parents with hearing kids, this is just like helping them correctly pronounce a difficult word.  (You'll also see TJ in this clip! He was telling us that Tian had to potty and so I told Tian to "run!" to the bathroom. :)  I removed the sound, because in a family of 7, there's a lot of noise!)

In the third segment, Ken and Travis are looking at photos Ken took that day while he was on the tarmac in the airplane.  They're looking at the planes waiting at the gates.  Ken was showing him which plane was small and which one was big.  Right now, Travis can sign these words, but doesn't grasp the concept 100% yet.  By watching this conversation though, I can tell he's very close to the light bulb moment of understanding "big" and "small."  I can also tell he knows that they are opposite, because when he names the plane "big" and Ken tells him no, he corrects himself, signing "small."  (I love these insights into his brain process!  We wouldn't have these without ASL.  We'd be stuck gesturing, mouthing words that look like nonsense to Travis; and we'd have one very frustrated little boy.)

I love the last clip.  This is a conversation Travis knows well and understands without thinking about it. We've been asking him since China if he wants more to eat.  He knows when he doesn't want any more food, he answers "no."  Here, he even adds, "Finished."  Now that he knows those concepts, Ken adds one more word that means the same thing as "No, I'm finished eating."  "FULL."  Then Ken tells Travis he's getting up to get coffee (another item Travis is fully familiar with in this family)!

I'm going to purpose to record more conversations.  Travis is ready to work on learning to identify numbers, so I'll try to get some of that learning on video.  We know he's ready because he can count to 10 and when he looks at a number on a page, he will begin signing random numbers, although not the correct number.  He does the same thing with letters.  When he sees a letter, he begins signing "B."

It's been a while since I taught preschoolers, but it's time again!  Thanks for sticking with me through this explanation.  The acquisition of language fascinates me, plus I happen to adore these two guys in the video, so you'll be seeing more of this!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Making Everything Visual

A while back, I blogged about the differences in rearing a Deaf child compared to a hearing child.  Something else came to mind this week as we were playing and being silly with the boys.

In the past, when my kids were toddlers and were upset about something, I could often soothe them by singing a song with their name in it.  Other times, when we were dancing or being silly, I would have them follow me while I marched and chanted their name.  They would always look a little stunned, then grin from ear-to-ear and even get a little shy at the sound of their name expressed in such a fun way.

Not long after getting back to the states with the boys, we were marching around the couch, playing follow-the-leader.  The kids and I started chanting Tian's name over and over again while clapping in unison and he loved it!  He reacted just like my older kids had when they were little.  I thought about Travis and wondered for a moment how I could duplicate this event so he could enjoy it, too.  I quickly realized it's as easy as making whatever we are doing visual. So, I let the older kids in on my plan and we started marching in unison while signing in rhythm, alternating hands: "Travis!..Travis!..TravisTravisTravis!"  When Travis saw what we were doing, guess what he did?!  The exact same thing my hearing kids had all done!!  He looked a little stunned, grinned from ear-to-ear, laughed, and gave us a shy look since he was obviously getting all the attention!  He loved it!  Making this auditory tradition into a visual event was easy and everyone enjoyed it equally.

Another event occurred last week.  It had been raining outside for two days and the song "Itsy Bitsy Spider" came to my mind.  I was in the bedroom with Tian, getting him ready for a nap.  I began to sing the song, doing the hand-movements right along with it.  Tian was curious, but not totally intrigued by the song.  I thought about how I would do that song with Travis, who was sleeping in the other room.  The hand movements look nothing like real signed language, so I figured I should change it for Tian as well.

I decided to STOP singing and just sign it.  As I did this, there were a few things I did or kept in mind:

1. I signed the story in a way that made sense. 
 If I just signed:
SPIDER-CRAWLING-UP, WATER, PIPE, RAIN, SPIDER, OUT, SUN-up, DRY, ALL, RAIN...etc, that makes absolutely NO sense to a deaf child or hard-of-hearing child who is learning ASL.

2. I signed the story rhythmically. 
The rhythm didn't match the original song, but who cares?!

3. I signed with super-expression.
This helps match the silliness and catchiness of the song.

4. I set up the song by telling a story first, then later gave them context.
When I first introduced this song, I told it like a story.  I set up a house with gutters, the rainy day, etc.  I spent time telling it like a story.  I also took the opportunity next time it rained to show the boys the rain coming down the gutter.  Right there in the middle of the rain, I signed the song so that they could have context to link to the entire thing.

After writing up this blog, I googled and found this excellent rendition by Terrylene at Clerc's Children.

Mine was not nearly as succinct, but the boys loved it!  It looked a little like this:

One last note: You may wonder why I would take the time to teach the kids a nursery rhyme.  I do it just because it's fun and will give them some cultural information they may use later.  My husband is completely oblivious to most nursery rhymes or even Christmas songs, yet he's happy and very successful.  I don't bank my boys' future on little things like these nursery rhymes, but I want to sing, sign, and play with them, so I figure why not use these things to build their vocabulary and cultural knowledge?  Hearing parents, don't settle for believing that your deaf child can't enjoy nursery rhymes and songs.  Just imagine being in their shoes, getting the information visually, and break away from how it's "always been done."  Then have fun with your kid!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Family Photos

We had a great time getting our family photos done a few weeks ago. Check out Veronica Skeldon Photography if you're in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.

This was our first time to do a "real life" shoot instead of sitting in a studio. I really liked the feel that came from these photos.  I'm having a tough time picking favorites, though!  This shoot reminded me of the one we did a year ago with the picture frame.  I remember dreaming about what it might be like to have the boys with us.  It's still surreal at times that we DO have them.  When I'm putting them to bed at night and gaze on their sweet, sleeping faces, I have to pinch myself.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Language Milestones

Tonight at dinner, we caught a video of Travis (age 3 1/2 in years, but only 4 1/2 months in language), "babbling."

It reminds me of this viral video of a hearing girl babbling.  Babbling is normally something kids do beginning at a very young age, then as they get closer to one year, their babbling begins to sound more like words, even though they are still unintelligible.  Just like the hearing parents respond to this girl by talking to her normally, as if they know what she's saying, we respond to Travis as if we are comprehending every word he's signing.

What's interesting about Travis, being 3 years old, but only 4 months old in language development.  He matches many of his 3-year milestones, but is also behind some of them.  All the while, he's hitting milestones for 12-24 months.

His most recent advances in communication:

  • He clearly and consistently tell us "yes" when he wants something and "no" when he doesn't.  For "no," he uses both the proper sign for the word, and will sometimes appropriately wave his hand gesturally and shake his head.  It's SO cute and such an improvement from the fussing, head-turning, and pushing away that he did in the past.
  • He is beginning to ask for a specific color of something.  Right now, he seems to just know blue and red, but I know from my other kids, that means the other colors will quickly follow.
  • He's understanding turn-taking in conversation.  At church, a friend came up to visit with us. When she stopped talking and looked at him, he started signing, "Airplane, helicopter, car, truck."  It was just a string of his favorite things, but he understood that he was "visiting" with this gal. He is also beginning to "chat" with his little brother.
  • He (obviously if you watch the video) knows that people communicate with their mouths as well. He will mimic speech, and even "talk" on the phone to grandparents.
  • He is getting better at paying attention while we get out a short, but complete thought to him.
  • He loves to tell his siblings, "No!"  I must get this on video, because it's too adorable.
  • He's using language to joke around.  He's pointed to something, then signed the wrong thing, laughing, knowing he's being funny.  He will also "tease" his siblings by telling them "No!" then smiling and giggling about it.
  • He will sign, "WHERE, ______, WHERE?" Then shrug his shoulders or sign, "SEARCH."  He uses appropriate non-manual markers.  This would be equivalent to a hearing child saying, with all the right inflection "Where is my jet? I'm looking for it."
  • He copies every...single...thing...we sign.  Whether we're asking him something or telling him something, he mimics everything right back to us, often sign-by-sign.  We love this because it's another normal, on-track language milestone.

Overall, we are still astounded at the rate he's soaking up language.  I need to try to capture more of his signing on video.  I hope parents with young deaf children will see these videos and be encouraged to sign with their kids!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


In honor of the Thanksgiving holiday, I thought this would be an appropriate time to list just a few of the things I'm thankful for, specifically over the past year.  Let me be clear.  I'm not just generally thankful, like, "Thanks, Universe, for randomly happening so that the events of my life might be what they are at this moment."  I'm thankful specifically to the God of the Universe for the people, circumstances, gifts, location on the planet, material items; the list could go on and on.  In fact, here it is:

  • My husband, who has been my partner in life, worthy leader, loved daddy of my kids, and best friend for the past 15 years and will be from now through eternity.
  • Hannah, our firstborn who is sensitive, helpful, and soft-hearted.
  • Mackenzie, our little pixie girl, who is delightful, happy, and obedient.
  • TJ, now our oldest son, who is ALL boy, but still loves his momma and isn't afraid to show it.
  • Travis, who we first saw in picture one year ago this week.  We only knew him as XE1010.8.2, but now he's 100% our son! He's a joy, constantly smiling, being silly, and smarter than we ever could have imagined.  
  • Tian, our little guy who started it all and rocked our world forever.  He's such a delight, full of giggles and singing.
  • The fact that my kids truly like being around each other and Ken and me. Lord, may that continue throughout adolescence!
  • The adoption, a miracle in itself.  If you don't believe me, go back and read from the beginning.
  • Our social worker, whom we've grown to love.
  • CCAI, our agency.  We couldn't have asked for better guides through the entire process.
  • CCCWA and the Chinese people, government, country who graciously allowed us to enter their country and bring home two of their precious children.
  • Both boys' birthparents, for choosing life and well-being for their boys.
  • Tian's foster mom and family.
  • Both boys' many aunties and uncles who helped care for them for their first years.
  • The China trip and that our 3 Brownies were able to travel with us.
  • The miracle that we all five got TO China together and that all seven of us got BACK to the USA together flying standby!  Even the flight attendants were astounded!
  • The Deaf friends we were able to meet in China.
  • The sale of our house earlier this year. It was on the market three months and we've seen some houses in our area on the market an entire year.
  • Our new place we've been calling home for the past six months.
  • The funds we needed (Nearly $45,000) to bring our boys home. Miraculous.
  • The generous grant from JSC Foundation and the new friend who followed the Holy Spirit's leading to tell me about it.
  • The people who gave sacrificially to help us, whether it was a meal, a crib, clothes for the boys, $50 or $1000.  Our friends and even friends of friends and family astounded us with their selflessness.
  • For the friend who made it possible for us to afford flying our kids with us to China.
  • Our church, where God put us at just the right time.
  • Our church, for providing a special classroom for the boys as well as Mrs. Courtney for making the drive  to our campus just to be with our boys so Ken and I can attend church.  
  • Our Deaf ministry group and our new home group.  We've prayed for this for the past four years and God has proved Himself faithful yet again.
  • The FAM (Foster and Adopt Ministry) group of ladies at church.  I love them even though I've only gotten together with them a couple of times.

There is so much more I could list, from extended family, to food and clean water, to friends and health and abundance.  God, may I use it for Your glory and never forget to thank You for all of it.

If this isn't enough, we kept a detailed prayer request page here on this blog.  I've left it up because I never want to forget how God provided for us over and over and over again.

May I keep the attitude of these three guys from the book of Daniel.  They chose to serve God regardless of God's action in the moment.  They knew God was good regardless of circumstances.

"Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.” (Daniel 3, emphasis mine.)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

First Dentist Visit

The boys did fabulously today at the dentist. I'll let the photos tell the story.
The boys have come here twice before for siblings' appointments.
The train is always a hit!
Already opening wide!

See your clean, shiny teeth?

Tian brushes the doggie's (or is it a kangaroo?) teeth! (This would have terrified Travis!)

Cool in his shades.

She said, "I wish they were all this good!"

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Growing By Leaps and Bounds

Language, I mean.  Their language astounds us every day.

I'm posting these videos to show parents (and plead with those parents) who have deaf kids that it's never too early nor too late to start signing with your kids!!  The sooner, the better, but if you're a parent who, for whatever reason, chose not to sign with your kids, it's not too late to start.  You may be scared when you hear that there is an optimal "language window" from birth to 4 or 5.  You may feel nervous that you've let that window pass while chasing an "oral dream."  Don't be nervous!  Just start learning.  Start signing!  Start giving your child access to language.  They can certainly work on speech and hearing as they grow, but don't deny them language NOW!  :)

Here is Travis.  At three years old, he had NO language.  After four months with us, he's "re-reading" the book I just read to him.  Sorry about the poor video quality.  I was filming this at night in a dark room as the boys were preparing for bedtime.   As for the jarring bumps, that's Tian, hitting my arm, trying to get my attention to watch what HE's signing.

Here's what Tian was doing.  Tian can hear and will speak, but prefers signing right now. He's just 28 months, but can name everything in this book.  He's not just regurgitating.  Both boys use these words (and over 200 more) in context every day.  And this is after just four months of exposure to ASL.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Life With a Deaf Child

After parenting three biological children for the past almost 12 years and now parenting two adopted toddlers for 4 months (seems like so much longer than that), I've begun to make some observations in comparing the two.

More than the "adopted" difference, I see a difference in how we parent Travis since he's completely deaf.  Here are a few things that I've noted as different from how I parented my first three and even how I parent Tian.

Crying for seemingly no reason.
In the beginning, Tian did this now and then, mostly in the middle of his nap or at bed time.  Those episodes quickly stopped, though.  Now he cries when most kids cry: when he's hurt or when he's not getting his way.
Travis will still cry sometimes when we have no clue what he wants.  He will be pointing and crying, but we can't figure out what it is he wants.  He's perfectly able to tell us he wants water or milk. He can tell us "No, I don't want that" when we offer him something.  He can tell us he sees someone crying and is sad.  He can ask where his airplane went.  He can tell us what clothes he prefers to wear, that he wants to go outside to play, that he thinks he's funny, that he wants to color, that he wants a towel to dry off his face, that he wants a kiss, a hug, or that he loves us.  When we leave, he can tell us he'll see us soon.  If there is something he can't express, he's pretty good at leading us to it so that we can understand then teach him the sign for it.

But there is still an inability to communicate everything.  At this point, neither of the boys can express everything they are thinking.  Partially because of their age (especially Tian, being just 28 months), but also somewhat due to lack of language for Travis.  Because of the language gap, which happens to be closing very quickly, we still have a few moments now and then when we simply can't figure out what Travis wants or is upset about.  Thanks to American Sign Language, though, these occurrences are few and far between.

Using voice as a soother.
I didn't realize how often I used my voice as a soother for the kids.  I will say in a soft, sing-song voice, "It's okay. Mommy is here."  I can use that voice to calm a hearing child even when I'm out of their sight, such as when they are in their car seat and I'm driving, or when I'm taking a moment to put down my books and papers to make my way into their room when I hear them crying.  Travis loses those auditory cues, so I find ways to make them visual.

Facial expression.
A furrowed brow of concern may look a lot like the furrowed brow of anger. I figured that out the first time I checked to see if Travis was okay 1after he accidentally rammed his head into Hannah's nose.   Along those same lines, my smiling face saying in a sing-song voice, "Time to come inside!" can lead Travis to believe I'm just playing and don't really mean it.  I've had to pay close attention to my facial expression and give more thought to what he is seeing minus sound.

Getting face-to-face contact.
This is the big one.  When Travis doesn't like what I'm telling him, he just turns his head to the side, looking away.  I lead his chin back toward me and he rolls his eyes as far off to the side as possible.  I move over into his line of vision and he looks off the other way.  When I'm correcting him or giving him an instruction or warning, I have to slow down, decide it may take a few extra seconds of my life, and deal with it.  He's figured out that I can wait out his attempts to ignore me, so it doesn't usually take more than several seconds to get him to look at me long enough to finish a thought.  Often, though, it looks like this:
"Travis, look at Mom....Push.."
Travis looks away.
"Push Tian."
He turns again. I cup his chin in my hand, helping him stay focused.
"Push Tian. No...Not.."
He turns again. I lean into his line of vision. He cries.
Once he's finished fussing a little, I get his attention back.
"Push. Not nice. Tell Tian..."
More beaking eye gaze. More directing of the head.
"Tell Tian sorry."

Whew!  I don't see how parents who have deaf kids, but don't know ASL manage.  I assume they must have angry kids and they must be stressed out themselves.  The process I described above really doesn't stress me out.  (Trust me, there are plenty of things that do!)  I just sit there and think about Ken and all the stories his mom, aunts and grandma have told about how he would sit down and shut his eyes when he didn't want to "listen."  Ken came through it a good kid and so will his son.

Reading books.
As toddlers, my three birth kids were voracious book-listeners.  From infancy, I would read to them.  When they were old enough to walk, they would go grab a book and run, diaper making that "swooshing" diaper sound as they ran to me, book in hand, then would climb up on the couch for me to read a story.  I can't say for sure it's a Deaf thing, because neither of the littles can sit long enough to get through an entire story.  Tian did sit through The Napping House the other day, but that's the only story book he's tolerated in four months.  Travis won't tolerate more than one or two pages of a story book, if even that.  He loves to sit and look at books on his own terms.  He adores picture books and wants us to teach him signs for everything he sees.  But story books?  No way.  Not happening.  (Sometime soon, I'll post a blog and video showing how we interact with books with Travis.)  I know the day will come when they will both like being read to, but that time is not now.

It's a joy to be rearing all five of my kids.  Each of them bring their own challenges.  I consider it a privilege to be Mom to all of them, Deaf, hearing, and in between.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Walking In the Light

Over the past several months, even before we left for China, I've been feeling like I'm wandering without direction.  For almost an entire year leading up to the adoption, our lives were consumed with paperwork, homestudy, grant applications, budgeting, selling a house, moving, unpacking, more paperwork, and waiting.  A lot of our schoolwork and anything resembling a "normal" schedule went out the window during those months.

Once we had settled into our new place, we also reached the end of our paper chase and began the couple of months of just waiting.  During that time, I purposed to get a lot accomplished, but didn't.  I think that waiting time began my season of wandering.  (Yes, I mean wandering and not wondering, although a lot of that was going on, too.)

Almost immediately after we started the adoption process, I started dumping outside responsibilities.  At the time I was serving on the board of our amazing homeschool co-op, facilitating our monthly homeschool support meetings, teaching a for-credit ASL class, and co-managing the kids' summer swim team.  I ended my summer commitment with the swim team and let them know I'd slowly bow out over the year and that someone else would need to lead the summer '11 season.  I wrote a letter to our co-op board to say I could no longer sacrifice the huge time commitment it required. I began looking for a replacement to take my ASL students that wanted to continue one more semester.  Our homeschool support group went through a transition during the time I began seeking a replacement to plan and facilitate the meetings and I slowly reduced my involvement with that group.  In addition to all of that, I stopped going to my boot camp class I had been attending three times per week.  (In 2010, "boot" and "camp" were in my top 5 most-used words in my Facebook status updates.)

Letting go of those things was the right thing to do.  I have no regrets!  I needed that time before our China trip to pour into my birth kids.  We spent a lot of time (aimless as it might have been) taking trips here locally, playing outside, and just hanging out together.  Once we moved, then after we brought the boys home, it was crucial that I had nothing going on other than focusing on my family.

However, now that our family is getting settled, I'm feeling disconnected form outside life. 

Because of the season of life I'm in (nearing 40, newly-expanded family, major life-changing move, and weight gain that ticks me off greatly), I've been experiencing days feeling very low.  I've blogged before about how I don't like using the word "depressed" lightly, so I don't think I'll use it here.  But I've been feeling dark, low, melancholy, aimless, and tired.

I know a few naysayers are thinking, "Why did she adopt 2 kids?  She's too overwhelmed."  To you, I say, "Ppppht! This is real life.  I had short seasons of this type of feeling all through my life at different stages.  I adore my family, my husband and ALL FIVE of my kids.  I've known myself all my life and the number of kids I have has nothing to do with my own moods I'm having at the moment, thank you very much." (I know naysayers are out there because these very things have been said to me directly, so I wanted to make myself clear.)

I have an excellent husband.  While I've been sitting back, hoping he'd just read my mind and my moods, he's kinda been clueless.  He travels.  A lot lately.  When he is home, I don't want to be cranky and whiney (trust me, I've played that game before and it's no fun for anyone), so I just buck up and deal with my feelings on my own.  Since I didn't tell him how I've been feeling, he didn't know.  Go figure.

The problem with not telling him or someone is that is the feelings just fester and grow.  Due to the festering, I've been feeling, really for the first time in my life, bouts of not only aimlessness, but anger.  Real anger that I physically feel burning in my chest.  For me, I spew ugliness out of my mouth when I'm angry and my older kids have gotten to receive the brunt of my anger, especially this last week.

My kids keep me in check and humble me to my knees.  Just today, after having a much better couple of days, I told the kids I was sorry I had been in such a bad mood over the past few weeks.  They said, "You haven't been in a bad mood! You're the nicest mom!"  Hannah sent me an email card that told me I was the best mom ever and she was lucky I was her mom.  *heartbreak*  I sure hadn't felt like the best mom.

So what am I going to do about this darkness I feel I'm walking in right now?  Well, first of all, I did tell my husband what I've been feeling.  I made sure he understood that none of the feelings I have come from anything he or the kids do.  It's just how I'm feeling.  I almost wish it was something he or the kids were doing.  Then they could just quit and I'd feel better, right?   

Ken encouraged me to get out once or twice a week, whether it be to work, attend our monthly support group meeting (which I am beginning to facilitate again), exercise or just have some time alone to blog, work on school plans, or have quiet time to seek God's direction.  Along those lines, I took a day last week to fast and pray about what God wants me to do and how He'd have me do those things.  That prayer led to an answer just today when a friend emailed me about going to boot camp.  She's willing to drive an hour to attend and that put my 15-minute drive excuse to shame.  It was just the support I was praying for.  I know God will provide the same help to me for homeschooling, time management, and other areas in which I'm struggling right now.  Ken is right here by my side as well and I need to lean on him more than I do instead of trying "not to bug him."

Here are some encouraging reminders from God's Word related to some of the feelings I've been having:

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge Him and He will direct your path.

LORD, you know the hopes of the helpless. Surely you will hear their cries and comfort them.
When doubts filled my mind, your comfort gave me renewed hope and cheer.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Bigotry and Bullying

A couple of months ago, I blogged about the negative comments my kids were hearing regarding our choice to homeschool.  In addition to the homeschool comments, my kids have been told by other kids in our neighborhood that they "don't matter," they are "idiots" "fa**ots""gay."  They have a stupid family.   They've been introduced to the "n" word for the first time ever and have gotten an earful of other colorful expletives.  We can deal with so-called "bad" words, but the name-calling and cruel terms are the ones that get to me.

The kids had an interesting way they learned about the "n" word.  They were playing with two of their friends who are Black.  An older Black boy casually called another Black boy this name.  My girls wouldn't have even noticed, but their girl friends gasped and covered their mouths.  My girls asked them what that meant and the girls said, "You need to ask your mom, but it's worse than the "F" word! Our moms would KILL us if we ever said it!"  I appreciated their friends guiding the girls to talk to me.

As far as drama, it's been crazy since living here.  For weeks, the kids came home in tears over hurtful things being said to them.  As I talked with them about what "went down," I learned that my kids were throwing ugly comments right back!  Not the direction I want them to go.  They've gotten better about rude comebacks, but it's still a struggle.  I want them to stand up to bullying, but stop before they become hateful and ugly themselves.

At this point, I'm not sure what to do about it.  Earlier this week, I did go talk to one child's family.  She has called my kids every name in the book, flipped them off, and has been generally cruel.  I had already had words with the child and ever since, her harassment of my kids only increased.  So the other day, when TJ ran in, extremely hurt after being called a fa**ot for the umpteenth time, I went straight to the adults.  Not sure how much good that will do since my kids saw the girl slapped by her own mother out in front of everyone (this, before I talked to them).  I am heartbroken that some of the kids are mistreated by their family, but also can't let that be an excuse to let them bully and harass my (or any other) kids.

My struggle is that I want to show kindness, forgiveness and love to these kids.  I also want to yell at them and never allow them near my kids. When the kids come home hurt after being treated cruelly, my "momma bear" mode kicks in and I want to (and have a couple of times) run out and give the kids a piece of my mind.

We had one "troublemaker" girl in our old 'hood.  In the four years we lived there, we may have had 2 or 3 run-ins with her.  On occasion, we had kids with hurt feelings, but I was in regular contact with the moms, so we would talk about things and once, even sat the girls down to talk with each other.  This neighborhood is completely different.  I don't see the majority of parents.  Ever.  So I feel stuck.

Let me add that the kids DO have several very sweet friends.  TJ has a couple of boys that are great.  I've met the parents and/or grandparents and they play together nicely.  The girls also have a few friends that are good kids.  However, because we have shared common spaces such as the ball courts, I can't keep my kids away from the bullies unless I keep them inside at all times and I refuse to do that.

I do know of two kids whose families were forced to move out due to the kids' bullying.  But in both cases, they were physical bullies, hitting the kids they were picking on or destroying property.  I'm not sure what can be done about the bullying.  Maybe our community could have someone come in to talk to all the kids.  That is, if the parents would allow the kids to attend.

Ironically, today, we were reading from Little Britches, Set in a ranching community in 1906, Ralph is being bullied and beat up at school.  He doesn't fight back because his mom told him not to.  But after days and days of being bullied and teased, the bully pulls Ralph's pants off.  This is what happens:
"I didn't care whether Mother would be ashamed of me or not.  I couldn't be a gentleman with my pants off, and I didn't want to be one anyway.  I plowed into Freddie with both fists...
(the fight is described in detail, then I adore what the teacher does)
"...I glanced up toward the schoolhouse.  Miss Wheeler was peeking out the corner of the window, but she didn't ring the bell till it was all over and Grace had pinned my pants back on."
Later, Ralph's dad asked, "Did you lick him?"
"Yes, sir."
"Good."  That was all.  He never mentioned it again.

Lest you think this book would encourage my kids to physically fight, don't.  In the very next chapter, Ralph lies, telling his mom that his dad gave him permission to take the unbroken horse down to the gulch to pull out some of the railroad ties.  When he has trouble getting the tie, he goes home and confesses his lie to his mom.  His dad disciplines him by making him wear a certain suit (one he hates and one that spurred on the teasing he endured in the first place) to school every day until he gets all 18 crossties out of the gulch.  (It takes him two weeks.)  And he's not allowed to go with his father on any errands, something Ralph cherishes.  Ralph's dad says,
"Son, there is no question but what the thing you have done today deserves severe punishment.  You might have killed yourself or the horse, but much worse than that, you have injured your own character.  A man's character is like his house.  If he tears boards off his house and burns them to keep himself warm and comfortable, his house soon becomes a ruin.  If he tells lies to be able to do the things he shouldn't do but wants to, his character will soon become a ruin.  A man with a ruined character is a shame on the face of the earth."

Bullying is nothing new, but it's morphed.  Kids have morphed.  Parents have morphed.
Nothing is resolved here, so I guess this is mostly a "venting" blog.  I'd love advice.  How do you handle bullying?  How do you keep your kids from bullying back?

Saturday, November 5, 2011

"Like They've Always Been With Us"

Nearing our four-month anniversary with the boys, Ken and I often find ourselves saying things like this to each other:
"I can't imagine not having them."
"What if we hadn't listened to God's call to us to adopt these two?"
"I'm SO GLAD we adopted both boys at once."
"I have no regrets."
"I LOVE these boys!"
"I feel like they've always been with us."

These are good feelings to have.  We're very blessed to be in this place.

But....  (don't you know that, with me, there is always a but?"

But they haven't always been with us.  They had a life before they came to us; a life we will never truly know.  For Travis he had three full years of life: One year with a mom and dad at least.  Grandparents. Siblings, possibly.  Then he had two very unique years in, what appears to be a decent, clean, happy-looking institution.  We know he was exposed to a rich variety of people.  He had friends.  He had aunties and uncles he cared about and loved.  Tian had two full years, one of which was spent with an extended foster family.  From his pictures, it  also appears he had not only his Nie Nie, but also a dad, two siblings, cousins, grandparents, and lots of friends.

While Ken and I feel very comfortable with the boys, "as if they had been born to us," we have to constantly remind ourselves that they were not born to us.  You may wonder why.  Why not just go with the great feeling of thinking of them as our birth kids?  Because they aren't.  Because we have to parent them differently.  We have to view their cries, tears, rebellion, quirks, and fears in light of their history.  And most of that history is unknown.  When I forget their past, I do them a disservice by treating them like my birth kids.  Sometimes, I'm tempted to say, "Oh, he's just being bratty" when he's throwing a tantum about not getting something he thinks is his.  (Sometimes I DO say that. Sometimes he IS just being bratty.)  But I have to step back for a minute and think, "My birth kids have learned to share their toys. They understand they need to share most things.  This type of fit in one of them would call for specific training.  With Tian and Travis, I don't have any clue what their "sharing stuff" history has been.   I know from reading that sharing is simply a given in an orphanage.  Kids don't have their own stuff.  Who knows how their hurt feelings were handled?

Will I let them just throw a fit and never share?  No way!  Ken and I train the boys constantly, but we have to train them keeping their history in mind.

While we must keep their history in mind, I think it's a wonderful thing to simply feel like they've always been with us.  That "feeling" indicates a level of bonding that is healthy and good.  I can't read their minds, but it sure seems the feeling is reciprocated.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Fall Family Traditions

October has been full of some of our fun fall family traditions as well as a first for all 5 Brownies.

Pumpkin Carving
This is something the kids and I enjoy every year.  This year, the boys got to help by removing the icky, slimy guts from the pumpkin!
Before the carving

Pulling out guts!

Our owl, Hedwig

Visit to Oklahoma to meet The Brown Grands
The boys did fabulously!  They had a great time visiting, playing with their cousin Emily, riding bikes, driving RC cars, and riding around in Grandpa's "tractor."  It was the boys' first overnight stay away from home (still with us, of course) and they didn't seemed phased a bit!  However, the look of deep love on Travis' face when we pulled in at our house told Ken and me that he knows this is home.  Travis smiled, laughed, and would have wrapped his arms around the house to give it a big hug if he could.  It was heartwarming to witness.
Grandpa driving the boys.

Putting together the airplane.

Setting up for flight.

Flower Mound Pumpkin Patch
We've been visiting The Patch since the first season we lived here, 4 years ago.  We got to see it through toddler eyes this year and we all had a great time.  In fact, I think we'll make one more trip over there before October 31st.  The new $5 parking fee is well worth it.  Such great memories and tons of fall fun.

Sweet Peas

Silly boy has mastered the fake smile.

Love to see the older Brownies helping their little brothers.

More goofiness.

The State Fair of Texas
The Fair is a must here in Texas.  For the past several years, the kids and I have gone with my sister, niece and my parents.  This year, my parents were out of town, my sister went earlier in the week, and Ken could finally join us for the first time.  It was a little slower with the boys in tow, but we still had some good family fun.  We got to hang out with some friends, too, so that was a bonus!

The Alliance Air Show
We Browns get downright giddy about the air show.  If you know my husband, you'll understand why. This year, we had added excitement because the little boys adore airplanes so much.  We figured they'd simply freak out!  A big storm passed through the night before the air show and I woke Sunday morning feeling grateful that clear weather was forecast for the entire day.  We woke early, packed up, and headed out to Alliance Airport.  When we had almost arrived, I checked my twitter feed and saw Alliance announce that due to heavy rains rendering the parking spaces useless and even dangerous, they decided to cancel the air show.  Major bummer.  Not nearly as exciting as the air show, we stopped by Founder's Plaza at DFW airport to watch a few planes land.
Tian's sign for airplane

Wedding Celebration on the Lake
We're rounding out the month with a wedding celebration on the lake!  A good friend is getting married and (bravely) invited all seven of us!  It was the kids' first-ever wedding.  (And Ken and my first wedding on a boat!)  Can I have a momma brag moment?  The Brownies were fabulous!  They danced, golfed off the back of the boat, danced some more, played with friends, and had a great time.  The two littlest Brownies played with some toys another mom smartly brought.  As we left, Hannah said, "This was the best party I've ever been to!"

Ready to see the bride and groom.

How the boys spent most of their night.

And we still have trick-or-treating to do next week! Then it will be time for the holiday fun of November and December!  What are some of YOUR favorite fall or holiday traditions?