Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thankful

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:

Darkness
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.

Aimless
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.

Hopeless
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.