Woohoo! We're on Top Mommy Blogs! Please click on the banner to vote for us...and thanks.

Visit Top Mommy Blogs To Vote For Me!

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Shh, don't tell the kids!!

After a week of waaaay too much screen time, very little exercise, too much overstimulation and not enough structure for our precious children, Mom has decided it's time for a little change of scenery. Don't get me wrong, we've had a blast with all the holiday festivities, lots of great food, and a wonderful visit from Craig's brother and sister-in-law. We've even taken in a movie, gone to a museum, and celebrated Dad's birthday yesterday...but now that Uncle Dale and Aunt Laura have gone home and Dad has gone back to work, the natives are bored and whining. New Year's Eve in the US isn't much fun for kids (in Kazakhstan, it's a big deal, much more like Christmas here). We will be staying home, having lots of appetizers and a late dinner with our good friends. For our brood, that plan is tres dull so I've planned a surprise for today that should delight and exhaust them.

Even though the temperatures are in the 20's today and we're expecting snow this evening, we're putting on our swimsuits and grabbing our beach towels. We're headed to Coco Key, an indoor water park where my bored darlings can hurtle down water slides, ride the lazy river in a tube, negotiate the water obstacle course, and get wet with wild abandon. If all goes well, we've play most of the day and return home with children too tired to whine throughout the loong evening...as Craig said, if they fall asleep before midnight, that's fine. Now the question is...who is going to keep Mom awake 'til midnight?

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas to all!

Well, the stockings have been raided and all the packages unwrapped...and Santa was good to us again this year. He left a note telling our kids that he was so proud of them for how hard they've worked to become a family and he left them all gifts that they could play with/use together now that they've gotten so good at sharing. There's a race car track and a magic set, along with some practical items which everyone will enjoy. Then there are the usual gifts of clothes, books, toys, etc. as well as a special dreamed of item for each kid (Madiyar wanted ice skates, Kate wanted a leather jacket, Aniyar and Max got Halo Wars megablock sets, and Tanya got her very own clock radio.) Mom and Dad gave the whole family snowshoes which we'll use in New Hampshire next month, part of our resolution to establish a family winter fitness routine. Dad got a new expresso machine and Mom got a new Kitchen Aid mixer, practical gifts again that reflect where our priorities are...a couple of good lattes and cooking with the kids are among our greatest pleasures.

However, our greatest gift this year arrived yesterday in the person of Craig's brother and sister-in-law. It has been such a delight for us to have family here to share our holiday, something that happens very rarely. Laura was a huge help with gift wrapping, both for our kids and for us and Dale kept the kids very entertained...not to mention that they're feeding us as well. Dale roasted a smoked brisket last night that made all of us barbecue lovers swoon but Christmas dinner promises to exceed even that. Chef Dale has been cooking all day...prime rib, rosemary bread, a mile-high apple pie, Yukon gold potatoes, and roasted asparagus are just an hour away...and I'm blogging instead of cooking. This is the life!! I wonder if Dale and Laura would be willing to adopt me...

This is Aniyar's and Madiyar's first Christmas in America and I'd say it's been a hit with them. As for me, I must be the luckiest woman on the planet...blessed with a wonderful husband and fortunate enough to have great friends and family. Best of all, our 5 kids are healthy, happy and home at last.

P.S. Christmas dinner was as delicious as it looks...and the leftovers were pretty darn awesome, too. My favorite was the incredible beef vegetable soup Dale made with the rest of the prime rib ...and he baked fresh bread to go with it. I didn't cook hardly a thing all week...Dale and Laura, you guys can come visit anytime!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas eve eve

Tonight we began our holiday celebrations in earnest, starting with cooking major traditional favorites...at least for our family. We stuffed and roasted a turkey, baked pumpkin pies, and made a big pot of borscht. (I have 4 kids from Kazakhstan so borscht is pretty much a given as we blend cultures and traditions.) It was also the last day of school for Aniyar and Max, our youngest kids, so we sent homemade cinnamon rolls out the door as teacher gifts. I love being able to cook and bake at the holidays...it fills our home with good smells and a warm feeling all day long.

Tomorrow, we will welcome Craig's brother and sister-in-law who are flying in for the holidays. Since Craig's brother Dale is a food scientist and a great cook, we're looking forward to some stellar food. Dale sent ahead some wonderful treats...barbecued ribs and brisket, prime rib for Christmas dinner, yummy appetizers and my favorite veggie..asparagus. The best part is that I don't have to get up at 5:00am to stuff a turkey on Christmas morning. Have I mentioned that I love this plan?

Why the heck did I roast a turkey, you ask? Well, traditions are funny things and in my family, we have turkey croquettes for New Year's day dinner...but that means you have to have a turkey and all its trimmings. Kate wasn't willing to give up the croquettes...so we now have the key ingredients for New Year's dinner while also anticipating prime rib for Christmas Day. Life is good.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Kate says we should join the circus...or the zoo

OK, we're not your average family most days...but lately, we've been even wackier than usual. Take tonight, for example. No, I'm not talking about holiday stress. I'm just talking about life in the looney bin...like this evening when somewhere between Tanya's basketball practice and a late dinner, our psycho dog, Nellie, ate 3 Christmas ornaments right under our noses. After that, we celebrated our dog Fletch’s 5th birthday with a peanut butter and bread cake for the dogs to share only to have Nellie get the peanut butter and bread stuck to the roof of her mouth so that we almost needed the jaws of life to unglue her. Then Craig and I suddenly heard Kate screaming as if being murdered. Don't worry, she's fine...but her glasses aren't. They fell victim to a rather violent pillow fight and are irreparably shattered...the other party to this pillow fight, Madiyar, retreated to his room and hid under his comforter after we delivered our standard lecture. (You know the one, "It's all fun and games until someone gets poked in the eye!") A chastened Kate slunk away to the shower and Craig and I settled down for all of 10 seconds before we heard Max yelling that he had gotten a Lego stuck in his ear...Huh? Yes, a Lego...he claimed he rolled over on it in bed and now it was lodged in his ear canal. Now you have to understand that I defer all things remotely medical to Craig since his father and ex-wife were both doctors...therefore, I called in my quasi-medical expert for the Lego removal. I was pressed into service as hand holder while the tweezer extraction took place and I was amazed when Craig withdrew a 2 inch long Lego from Max's ear canal. A brief but heartfelt lecture about punctured eardrums, hearing loss, and sign language followed...then Aniyar helpfully ratted his brother out, debunking the accidental nature of the episode and explaining that Max was digging wax out of his ear with said Lego light saber and Mom felt compelled to further comment on the real dangers of hearing loss. In the middle of all of this, Tanya wanted to know if she could go the movies with her friend Tyler...a boy. Gulp...hyperventilating...breathe, Mom...OK, Tyler's mom will chaperone so it's a go for Saturday. We'll squeeze it into the schedule right after Max and Aniyar's appointment with the doctor tomorrow...and Kate's appointment to get new glasses.

Now it's almost 11:00 and all the kids are finally settled in bed...for a while, anyway, it's quiet. I think I'll go sit by the Christmas tree for a while, maybe listen to a Christmas CD and wrap a gift or two. Tomorrow will be here before I know it...and it'll probably be even loonier than today…and did I mention the snowstorm that’s headed our way?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

From Ded Moroz to Santa Claus

Aniyar and Madiyar are just about to round out their first year here in America; they've now celebrated every holiday except Christmas and New Year in our home. Our new sons are very excited about celebrating the holidays and are enjoying all the preparations. Here are a few of the things they've done for the first time:

Decorated gingerbread houses
With 5 kids, we had a whole village!
Shopped for gifts with their own money
The younger kids found some great deals at various holiday and craft fairs...and Mom and the teenagers made a couple of late evening shopping runs to Target and Kohl's...very exciting to be shopping until 9:30 pm.
Watched half a dozen Christmas movies
They liked Tim Allen's three Santa Clause movies
Discussed the existence of Santa Claus vs. Kazakhstan's Father Frost (Ded Moroz) and his granddaughter, Snegurochka, pictured above.
The discussion ended when the other kids told them what my mom always told me...
Non-believers are non-receivers

Wholeheartedly embraced the existence of Santa, his reindeer, and all the elves
I told you they're smart kids!
Picked out a Christmas tree with the whole family
No, it's not decorated yet...that's the next post! I did, however, enjoy watching Madiyar help his dad bring in the tree and set it up.
Learned Christmas carols and songs
Aniyar even sang in his first Holiday Concert at school...and of course, I cried; he's made such progress and he was so proud of himself.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

What were we thinking?

OK, I admit it...I didn't really think it through when we put our house on the market a couple of weeks ago. Oh, selling the house in favor of moving to a bigger one still seems like a great idea. It's just the logistics that have me down. Intellectually, I knew we'd be having open houses and requests for showings and brokers walking through...after all, that's what it takes to sell a house, right? What I didn't fully get is how hard it would be to keep the house clean and clutter free so that it's ready at a moment's notice to make a good impression on prospective buyers. After all, there are 7 humans, 2 rather large dogs and a rather smelly guinea pig living under our roof...and we all are very good at making a mess. As a result, I have spent much of the past few weeks cleaning carpets, tidying messy rooms, vacuuming, mopping, dusting, scrubbing bathrooms, and browbeating children to pick up after themselves on an almost daily basis....and no, that's not normal for us. (Tanya walked in after our first open house and said the house was so clean and neat that it was scary...speaks volumes about my housekeeping practices, I guess!) All of this is further complicated by the season...we're making gingerbread houses, wrapping gifts, and getting out our boxes of holiday lights and decorations. Packages are being delivered by Fed Ex and UPS...and our agent is gently reminding us that we need to keep the clutter to a minimum...sure, that'll happen.

As if the constant cleaning weren't enough, whenever we have a showing, we have to leave the house...common sense right? However, it means that I have to load whatever kids are home and the 2 dogs into the van and drive around town until I get the all-clear phone call from our real estate agent. Yesterday, Max ate his after school snack and did his homework in the front of the van while the dogs snoozed in the back. It was an hour before we could go home again...such fun.

On the other hand, our offer has been accepted for the house we hope to buy. The purchase and sale agreement is being finalized now and should be ready for signatures in a day or two. The girls have been inside the "new" place and are already discussing how to decorate their rooms. The boys are dreaming of a bigger basement playroom with a larger TV to play videogames on. Craig and I are dreaming of knocking out walls and adding a 3rd bath into the master bedroom. Now if we can just sell our house...sigh...time to tidy and clean again for the next showing.

Is this the doorway to our future? We'll see...

Sunday, November 29, 2009

We have so much to be thankful for...

Last night, we had a rare pleasure. We hosted a friend from Kazakhstan at our dinner table along with the charming son of another adoptive family we met while we were in KZ last year. Arman, our trusted friend from KZ, was one of our translators and drivers as we made our daily trek to Ridder and we're thrilled that he's visiting here in the US now. We also shared our dinner table with our closest friends here in MA, eating Thanksgiving leftovers and treats from our local Russian store...pelmeni and turkey, kolbasa and cranberry orange relish, borscht and cheese and crackers. We had a delightful evening of stories and good food and kids wandering in and out of the kitchen as they felt hungry. As I recall last Thanksgiving and how afraid we were that this day would never come, I'm counting my blessings...

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Last year at this time...

We were home from our first trip to KZ and expecting an early December court date from our judge in Ridder. Instead, on November 20, she demanded that we redo our entire dossier and gave us until December 9th to get it compiled, approved, and legalized through the Kazakh Embassy. I spent the days before and after Thanksgiving feverishly updating documents, having them notarized, apostilled and translated into Russian. Every day was a dash to the finish line on one deadline or another and it was mega stressful...but we pulled off the miracle and I can now look back and smile (not laugh...not yet anyway). The boys are here and last year's story has a happy ending...and we're on to new adventures.

Max learned to ride his bike today, something he was never able to fully master before. Craig taught him the basics a couple of years ago but he just didn't quite have the confidence to keep trying...until Madiyar decided to teach him. Kate and I were returning from a trip to the library when we saw the boys riding their bikes and grinning from ear to ear. Max was thrilled with himself but credited Madiyar for his success, saying, "He's the master, Mom!" Madiyar was delighted to have helped Max and liked hearing what a good role model he had been. It's a particular pleasure for us to see our boys becoming so close!

Our other big news is that we've put our house up for sale. We have a chance to buy a bigger house right next door to our best friends and only two blocks from where we live now. This change would mean more room for our larger family (6 bedrooms instead of our current 4 bedrooms) and no change in schools for anyone. We've made an offer on the house and have decided to take the plunge...now we just have to sell our place! Keep your fingers crossed for us in today's economy...we've priced our house to sell but you never know these days. Anyway, our hopes are high...we'll keep you posted.

Thanksgiving is going to be awesome this year...we're all exactly where we're supposed to be and we have so much to be thankful for!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

There's a new dog in town and her name is Nellie Bly

Yes, it's true...we have a new greyhound girl. After several days of listening to our Fletch whine and pace around looking for Rika and Joy, we decided to visit the Greyhound Rescue to look at other dogs who needed homes. We met several greyhounds who were all very sweet but in the end, we let Fletch make the choice. He ran and played in the yard with all the dogs; some intimidated him. (He is, after all, our big chicken dog!) Some didn't interest him at all. Nellie Bly seemed to have just the right amount of playfulness for our boy; he was quite smitten with her! We brought Nellie home over the weekend and she's been settling in well; she's a very funny dog with a lot of personality. She loves stuffed animals and steals them from the kids' beds, then piles them on her dog bed. (Hmmm...she has a hoarding problem, not uncommon in kids who have lived in an orphanage and never had toys of their own. Is this the perfect dog for us or what?) Fletch has stopped pacing and whining and is delighted to have a doggie pal to run with in the yard again. Watching these two beautiful dogs run for the sheer joy of it is balm for our sore hearts. Nothing can erase the pain of losing our old girls...but rescuing another dog is a testament to how much we loved Rika and Joy and how they touched our lives.

It was nice that our new sons were able to be a part of picking our new dog. Aniyar and Madiyar especially liked that Nellie will play with them, too. She loves to chase toys and runs around the yard with wild abandon. Her higher energy level is great for our high energy kids and they are sure to provide her with plenty of exercise. It's also interesting to hear them talk to the dog, reassuring her that she is safe and that we are a good family who will always love her and never hurt her. It's so good to know the boys have internalized that message and feel comfortable to share it with our newest family member. Another successful adoption in the Risley-Schoelles family!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

And now there's just one...

It's been 2 days since we lost Rika and we all miss her terribly...Craig and I shed buckets of tears as we drove her to the vet but we knew it was time. The kids could see it, too...they said their goodbyes sadly but bravely, knowing that our girl was suffering. Rika slipped away with dignity and grace (she was always a class act) and we returned home, shedding more tears. We're all so very sad...but Fletch, our remaining greyhound, seems to be the most distressed of all of us. At least we humans understand that our other two dogs are no longer in pain and we can draw comfort from that. Fletch doesn't have a clue about any of that; he just keeps wandering around from room to room, looking for the girls. He's a depressed pup...and we all know how he feels.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Our Rika

Sometimes life just really stinks...and today is one of those times. Only a few months ago, we had 3 wonderful greyhounds. It was pretty traumatic to lose one of our old girls, Joy, to bone cancer at the end of September. It seems doubly unfair that only a month later, we're going through the same thing all over again with our Rika. At 5:30 today, we'll take our 12 year old diva dog to the vet and put an end to her suffering. Deja Vu...and have I mentioned that it stinks?

The bone cancer that has ravaged Rika's body has taken its toll; she has lost weight in spite of our best efforts to feed her multiple meals a day. She has a huge amount of swelling in her right shoulder and down her right leg as well as a lot of pain. Her back legs have also weakened so much that she has trouble standing up without help. She can't negotiate stairs at all now and has to be carried in and out of the house and from floor to floor. She can still walk slowly around the house but even that is becoming increasingly difficult for her. She pants constantly from the effort of just moving a few steps or trying to lie down. A good night's sleep is difficult for all of us as Rika wakes up frequently, often crying pitifully. This sends us scrambling for the powerful pain medicine that gives her some relief...but what seems to comfort her most is being with us, her humans. She's sleeping in our bed at night and prefers to be close to one of us during the day. In fact, as I'm writing this, she is pressed up against me, her head resting on my foot. She's restless, twitching in her sleep...maybe she's dreaming of running in the yard or flying up the stairs at breakneck speed...or taking long walks with us. She can't do any of those things now and I know it's time to let her go...and yet I don't want to.

What I want to do is put my diva dog in the car and run away...I want to hide her from the bad guy cancer cells that are stealing her from us. I want to find a patch of sunshine for her to bask in, hoping the warmth would restore her. I want to have a wand or potion to cure her; just like my Tanya, I wish I had magic powers. I want to go look for robot legs just like my Max suggested. I want to get mad and argue that it's not time, that we should wait a while longer...but I have to be a grown up. Sometimes being a grown up stinks, too.

Monday, October 26, 2009

What's red and eaten on a stick?

Well, if you're a kid from Kazakhstan, you'd know that the answer is not a candy apple. It's the pomegranate, long a much loved Fall treat in that part of the world. About this time of year, you can stroll through any market place in KZ and see these unassuming fruits, sectioned to display the tasty treasure inside; the ruby red seeds are filled with juice and glisten like little gems. Produce vendors offer them served on a stick to be eaten on the go...we saw them everywhere when we were in KZ and cautiously tried one. It was a bit intimidating to eat and certainly messy...but we quickly discovered that our kids were aficionados who dearly love them.

Fast forward to October 2009 and guess what we've been eating? Yep, all you have to do is look in my kitchen these days and you can find telltale drops of pomegranate juice on the table and errant seeds on the floor no matter how hard I try to clean. Then there's the matter of Aniyar's face and hands, died red and leaving sticky little pink pawprints on everything he touches. Pomegranate eating is serious business which each of our kids attack in their own way; Tanya digs out the seeds neatly, the boys eat them pulp and all, and Kate prefers just the juice. Dad and I barely get a chance at them...the kids descend on them like locusts on a wheatfield the minute I bring them in the house...shhh, don't tell them how healthy pomegranates are!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Things I hope my kids will learn before I die...

For our boys:

1. Mashed potatoes are not a finger food; neither are scrambled eggs or peas.
2. Ice cream does not constitute an entire food group.
3. Dirty clothes belong in the laundry basket; they are not a decorating tool.
4. Videogames aren't vital to survival.
5. Lift the doggone toilet seat!!!
6. You won't die if you don't get a new videogame every week.
7. Wrestling with your brother in a manner that cracks the ceiling/floors/walls is too rough.
8. Bodily functions aren't really that funny.
9. Swearing doesn't make you cool.
10. Videogame time isn't an inalienable right under the constitution; it's a privilege that can be lost. (See #9)
11. Mom isn't deaf.

For our girls:

1. Boys aren't really a lower life form...even if they do think bodily functions are funny.
2. Cell phones aren't an inalienable right under the constitution; they're a privilege that can be lost. (See #3)
3. Sending over 400 text messages in 2 weeks is excessive.
4. "But everybody else is doing it!" isn't a good defense....ever.
5. Shrieking, dissing your sibs, tattling, and eye rolling are not cool traits.
6. Sharing with your sister is good...but it's polite to ask first before borrowing things.
7. Mom never had a sister...so keep your paws off my stuff (i.e. my socks, my sweatshirts, my tank tops, my makeup) unless you ask first...as in a written contract...notarized and apostilled.
8. Making a fashion statement should also include knowing how to use a napkin, a hairbrush and a toothbrush.

And most importantly, even when we're driving each other crazy:

1. Family is forever
2. You're here to stay
3. We're stuck with each other, angry or happy, good day or bad
4. You can trust us
5. We love you!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A year ago today...

We were in Kazakhstan, half way through our bonding period and basically clueless about the fight we would have to adopt Aniyar and Madiyar, let alone the struggles we would face during the first few months our boys were home. We thought we knew what we were getting ourselves into. After all, we had adopted twice before from Kazakhstan and we knew these boys; we were braced for some adjustment difficulties since we were adopting older kids, age 11 and 13. Experience has taught us that generally, the bigger the kids you adopt are, the greater the emotional baggage they come with. Little did we know that our new sons were arriving with steamer trunks of issues! (It's probably just as well that we didn't know how hard it would be...ignorance is bliss, as the saying goes.) We've all been through a lot of changes in the past year but we've survived and have finally returned to what passes as "normal" family life with our 5 kids. Here are a few examples of how far we've come:

Aniyar now sits in his seat and does his work at school, something that was impossible for him last spring. Last year, he often tried to run away from school and was very aggressive when he was frustrated, often being sent to the crisis room where he would rage and try to throw furniture. This year, he hasn't been to the crisis room at all; he hasn't hit, kicked or bitten anyone either. He even has homework...which he does as soon as he arrives home from school without complaint. Is he on grade level with his work? Not even close...but at least now we can focus on academics since his behavior has improved so dramatically.

Madiyar was our pouty, sometimes defiant bad boy when he first arrived. He especially liked to test me about anything related to school...he would refuse to get out of bed in the morning, refuse to get dressed, refuse to wear clothes that met the school's dress code, or try to hide when it was time to go to school. Once at school, he would refuse to get out of the car; once he was in school, he would be disruptive, disrespectful, or withdrawn. There were days when he would crawl under a table and sleep or refuse to work at all. This year, Madiyar gets up in the morning, dresses appropriately for school, jokes with his sisters in the car, and enters the school with a smile on his face. He does his work and is proud of his academic progress; while he still has some catching up to do, he's rapidly closing his educational gaps. He's also socially appropriate and follows school rules...and he loves being on the soccer team. At home, he is polite, helpful, and kind...and he doesn't pout nearly as often these days. He's a good kid who has decided to trust us, allowing himself to be a part of our family in the real sense.

When they first arrived home, the two boys were wild and broke just about every rule we have for our kids...life was chaotic and our other 3 kids were pretty ticked off that their new brothers were so rude and undisciplined. Mom and Dad felt like our family was coming apart at the seams...and the strain took its toll, exhausting us all and raising old demons with our kids who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Ironically, Aniyar's crisis and hospitalization played a big part in breaking the negative cycle, giving us all some respite as well as addressing Aniyar's needs. Every cloud has a silver lining...and we had a whole lot of clouds...but we weathered the storm. We now have 5 kids who bicker, tease, and pick on each other in normal sibling fashion...but they also stick up for each other, play together, and laugh together. While it still appears that our newest sons were raised by wolves at times, they've learned to be polite and kind and to follow the house rules. There's a lot more laughter in our house these days...also singing, dancing, and dreaming. Life is pretty much what we were hoping for a year ago today...not perfect or even easy but well worth every tear shed, every mile traveled, every battle fought. When I look around the dinner table each evening these days, I see the family we were meant to have...and I'm so grateful.

Friday, October 9, 2009

October in Witch City

For those of you who don't know it, we live in the Halloween capitol of the United States. Salem, MA is the place to be for aspiring witches, ghosts, and goblins during the entire month of October. The city even has a name for the month-long series of events; tourists come from near and far to participate in the Haunted Happenings. As a result, it's not surprising to see zombies ordering lattes in our local Starbucks...even the undead get thirsty after the annual Zombie Walk through downtown. It's also darn near impossible to drive around the city all month as the streets are chock full of tour buses and pedestrians with guide books and cameras in hand...just yesterday, Kate was muttering imprecations at the folks blocking the crosswalk while they took pictures of the Witch Museum and Salem Commons. Our girl is definitely a townie, having been born and raised here and she loves the Halloween season even more than Christmas...but she doesn't think much of the increased traffic which can double or triple our drive time to the other side of town. Ah, well...we have to take the bitter with the sweet and there's plenty of both this year.

Here are a few of our sweet memories of October 2009:

Taking all 5 of our kids to the Topsfield Fair
This is an annual event for us, and watching Aniyar and Madiyar's faces light up as we entered the gates and they saw all the exhibits, food stands, games and rides. Kate, Tanya and Max had a blast showing the boys all their favorite things to do. Dad and I were reminded that last year when we came to the Fair, we only had 3 kids and we were preparing to leave for KZ two days later to adopt the boys...last year, we were just dreaming of the day when we could share the Fair with Aniyar and Madiyar. This year, it's a reality...a very cool reality.

Becoming a soccer mom
Madiyar is on the soccer team at school. In his first game, he scored a goal and his team won. The huge smile on his face and the excitement of his teammates were a thrill. I can't wait for his next game...and that's saying something for me, the athletically challenged.

Tanya's phone!

Yes, it's true, our new middle schooler has earned a cell phone. Her dad took her to the Sprint store and she picked out a jazzy red flip phone. She's been busily picking out ringtones and taking pictures...and she and Madiyar have been texting each other non-stop. I have to smile...Tanya has had a love of phones ever since we met her. The little girl who visited us in the summer of 2003 desperately wanted a phone...and when she flew back to Kazakhstan, she had a Barbie flip phone in her backpack. Tanya is still mad at the boy in her group at the orphanage who broke her Barbie phone...and she swears she's not going to let any of her friends touch this phone.

As for the bitter...well, it's more like bittersweet:

Finding Aniyar and Madiyar's birthparents
Not long ago, Madiyar told me he would like to know if his parents in KZ were still alive and I promised him I would try to find out. I asked the same searcher who helped find Tanya and Max's birthfamilies if he could help us again and he agreed. I wasn't sure how much luck he would have as we didn't even have an address, just the name of the town where the boys were born and their parents' names...but Ruslan worked a miracle for us and found both birthparents. We're still waiting for the detailed report but we do have pictures of both parents and also of the house the boys used to live in. Neither of the boys recognized their mother or father from the pictures. Madiyar wants to write to them but Aniyar was worried that we might send them back to live with their birthfamily. He told me he liked this family better and I reassured him that he and Madiyar are staying right here with us...but I'm glad they have the pictures and some idea of what happened to their birthparents.

Our Rika
Our ailing greyhound is getting weaker as her cancer progresses. She has to be carried both up and down the stairs now as she just doesn't have the strength in her legs to make the climb. She still likes to wander slowly around the yard and she's gotten quite good at telling me what she wants. I've learned to differentiate between her whines; there's a difference between her "I really need to pee" whine and her "I really need you to pet me right now" whine...but the hardest and most distinctive sound she makes isn't really a whine...it's a heart-wrenching keening that begins when her pain meds start to wear off. Sadly, the hours between doses has decreased and the amount of medication has increased so we know the time is coming...but for now, she's eating well and loving the fact that she's allowed to sleep on our bed whenever she wants to. (I knew we bought that Tempurpedic mattress for something!) We're soaking up every moment we can with Rika as her days grow short and she is milking the attention for all it's worth. She wants to be where the humans are and will move slowly but with great determination around the house with us. She also still regally solicits pats, belly rubs, and her much loved peanut butter...and we're all spoiling her silly while we have the chance.

Autumn is definitely here...the leaves have changed color and are starting to fall. The wind swirls them through the air like colorful little tornadoes. Soon the kids will rake the leaves into strategically arranged piles and show their new brothers how they jump from our top steps into them. Our summer garden is almost gone now; only a few tomatoes and our pumpkins remain. It always makes me a bit sad to see Craig put the garden to bed because it signals the approach of the long winter...and this year the feeling is underscored as we say goodbye to our canine companions. However, we have so much to be grateful for. We'll have 5 lovely home-grown jack-o-lanterns just in time for Halloween...and we have 5 terrific kids who will have the fun of carving them. The boys are still debating about Halloween costumes; Aniyar thinks he'd like to be a mummy...or a vampire...or a zombie. Madiyar wonders if he's too old...Kate has informed him that she intends to dress up until she's 30...and here in Witch City, that's pretty much the norm. Tanya and Max are still undecided. As for Mom and Dad, do they have costumes for parents who have survived a year on an emotional roller coaster? Anyway, we're just grateful that life is pretty normal these days, even with the bitter mixed into the sweet.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The vigil

We're missing our Joy and are also anxiously watching our other old grey, Rika, as she struggles with the progression of her bone cancer. Rika's pain can be controlled and she still has quality of life, enjoying cuddles and wandering around the yard on a warm day. She hops around the house on three legs, can climb up stairs but not down them. This means she has to be carried outside or from the 2nd floor to the 1st floor...Craig and I are getting a lot of exercise with squats and lifting our 55 pound greyhound these days. Rika's appetite is diminished due to her pain meds so instead of her normal 2 meals a day, we're feeding her small amounts 4 or 5 times a day. Spoiling her with frequent snacks does encourage her to eat and we're also giving her fish oil capsules which may slow her deterioration. She likes snoozing on my bed while I work on my computer each morning after I get the kids to school...she can longer jump up on the bed by herself so she stands next to it and whines until I lift her up. Then she settles down with a satisfied sigh, putting her head in my lap. Her days are pretty good but her nights are more challenging. She wakes up at least once or twice in the night crying and we have to figure out what's bothering her. It's a lot like having a baby again; we go down a very similar checklist to the one we used when Kate was an infant...is she hungry, thirsty, cold, in pain, needing to go out? We're taking turns with the night shift and with sleeping next to Rika when she needs us...sometimes she trembles until the pain meds kick in but she seems to draw comfort from one of us being with her. Even the kids are in on the act, bolting out of bed to offer hugs when Rika starts to cry and sneaking her bits of her favorite snacks during the day.

Is all of this tiring? Sure...but as I tell the kids, this is what families do...they care for each other.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Losing Our Joy

The past month has been bittersweet to say the least, ever since two of our 3 greyhounds were diagnosed with bone cancer. We've tried our best to keep our old girls comfortable with pain meds without sacrificing their quality of life...and we've been spoiling them rotten with lots of attention and tasty treats. We've also tried our best to prepare our kids for the inevitable...illness and death are never easy and for our kids, it's particularly difficult to accept. Max suggested that we just get the dogs robot legs and they would be fine; Aniyar didn't seem to understand at all; the other 3 kids struggled with the idea of putting the dogs to sleep when the time comes. Craig and I have tried to explain that we will do all we can to keep the dogs with us as long as we can...but when they no longer enjoy life and are suffering, it's time to let them go. For our Joy, that time came over the past weekend.

Joy's cancer was in her right foreleg, causing the bone to weaken rapidly. Her leg developed a tennis ball size swelling that was rock hard and hot to the touch, making it impossible for her to bend her leg and support her weight on it. Her back legs also weakened rapidly so that by the weekend, she could no longer stand without help and had to be carried up and down the stairs. She became incontinent, losing control of her bladder frequently. It was hard for her to lay down and she kept licking her sore leg. The vet said the bone was probably fracturing as it weakened and said all they could do was amputate the leg to reduce her pain...but it wouldn't save her life. We made the hard choice and encouraged the kids to say their goodbyes. The girls sat with Joy, stroking her and singing to her, feeding her tidbits of cheese and other tasty morsels...the one thing Joy never lost was her appetite. The boys wrapped themselves up in videogames and denial, avoiding a final goodbye as we left for the vet. Kate went with us, comforting Joy during the ride. On Sunday afternoon, just 3 weeks after her diagnosis, Craig carried Joy into the vet's office and we held her and cried like babies as she was put to sleep. We could see her relax, could see her pain ease...and then our tail-wagging, sweet tempered, enthusiastic, goofy, gorgeous silver brindle drew her last breath. Our Joy is gone.

Painful as it is, death can bring its own lessons. Our kids have been observing us closely as we go through this process of caring for our sick pups. They've asked questions like this one from Tanya as she watched me hand-feed Rika her dinner, "Doesn't the dog food feel gross when you pick it up and when she licks it out of your hand?" "Yes, it does, sweetie...but it's hard for Rika to bend her head down now to get the food from her bowl. I love her so I help her by feeding her." Tanya thought about this for a minute, then said, "Can I try?" Then there's Max who has watched me mop up dog pee several times a day the past few weeks, vowing that he'd never do anything so disgusting...but when I ran to the store last week and he was alone with Joy who struggled to get up, cried in pain and then peed all over the kitchen floor, my boy mopped it up and sat with Joy, feeding her peanut butter ("...to keep her calm, Mom") until I got home. Then there's Kate who smiles through her tears and swears that Joy is free and happy now ("I felt her, Mama, she told me she's OK!") and Madiyar, my strong, silent boy who met us at the car when we came home from the vet, wrapped his arms around us and held on tight because he knew we needed a hug...and even Aniyar who doesn't quite understand and who keeps asking, "No Joy?", then says, "Mama sad..." and pats my back, senses the loss. Yes, Aniyar, you're right...no Joy...and Mama is sad...but I'm also proud of our kids and the lessons they've learned about caring even in loss.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Madiyar's birthday

Madiyar turned 14 yesterday...what a difference a year makes. Here's what he tells us he did on his 13th birthday in Kazakhstan: the older boys in his boarding school helped him sneak out of the 2nd floor window and into the woods of Ridder for a party to celebrate his becoming a teenager. He says the boys stole money from some of the teachers' purses to buy food and drinks. They gave him vodka and taught him how to huff gasoline...he says he saw lions chasing him and he was scared...but it was the celebration they gave him to mark his rite of passage into manhood.

Yesterday, our oldest son celebrated his fourteenth birthday, the first since he joined our family...and it was all about giving him back some childhood. Ever since he arrived, Madiyar has been taking note of the birthday rituals observed by our family and asking me if he, too, would get the special treatment that his brothers and sisters have gotten. He's been increasingly excited as his special day approached and he's loved the little perks of the birthday child in our house. As such, he did the following:

Made a birthday wish list and hung it on the fridge for all to see weeks in advance
Revised said list frequently as he came up with more wishes
Got to choose the menu for his birthday dinner (he picked takeout Chinese)
Checked the mailbox each day to see if he got birthday cards addressed just to him (he did)
Chose the type and flavor of birthday cake complete with his name on it
Received a gift as soon as he woke up in the morning (soccer shin guards)
Sat in the specially decorated birthday seat of honor at our dining table
Blew out the candles and enjoyed presents from all of us after dinner
Tried out his new roller blades even though it was dark outside
Got one last gift right before bed (comic books)
Got a hug from Mom and leftover birthday cake for breakfast the next morning!

And tomorrow, we'll all head to Roller Palace for Madiyar's birthday party. He's invited a friend from school and his brothers and sisters. He even had a celebration at school in honor of his first b-day in America; his ELL class brought in treats, made him cards, and decorated the room with streamers. Someone gave him a cool new soccer ball...he was grinning from ear to ear at the end of the day.

It should be noted that there was no vodka or gasoline involved in this birthday and the boy was in bed shortly after 10pm...but he was allowed to read one of his new comic books. Pretty tame stuff compared with a year ago but he didn't seem to mind. I think he's waited a lifetime to be spoiled a bit...and he told me recently that he doesn't want to grow up too fast. Smart kid, isn't he?

Friday, September 4, 2009

Beginnings and endings

As summer draws to a close and a hint of fall wafts in on the morning breeze here in New England, I find myself turning contemplative. After all, Autumn is a time of inherent contradiction which lends itself to philosophical musings about change. This fall is all about change for us, some very good and some very sad.

As the leaves turn vibrant and the air crisps, we're facing the beginning of a new school year with a mixture of excitement and trepidation...even though our kids claim to want summer to last forever, they all got a bit bored and were ready to see their friends again. The older 3 have all been back to school for almost 2 weeks now and have all settled in well. Tanya was worried about starting middle school but has now decided she likes being one of the big kids...especially since she now has a later bedtime! Kate is thrilled to be back at school and is enjoying the designation of high school student...and Madiyar has started 8th grade and happily joined the school soccer team, earning the right to practice with the high school students because of his advanced skill level. Aniyar and Max start school this coming Wednesday, not a moment too soon in my opinion since they are both witchy and bored all day with no sibs to play with. All 5 kids are acting like true siblings, bickering one minute and playing together the next. We've come a long way as a family and now that things have settled down, we are anticipating a fun fall as we share some of our favorite activities with Aniyar and Madiyar for the first time...the Topsfield Fair and Halloween being at the top of the list.

Unfortunately, we have reason to believe that the next few months will also bring us great sadness. Our greyhound, Rika, was diagnosed with bone cancer in her right shoulder last week. As if that wasn't enough, our other old greyhound, Joy, started limping badly...and when we took her in to the vet yesterday, she was diagnosed with bone cancer in the right leg. Both of our girls are 12 years old, an advanced age for greys, and we're grateful that we've had 9 wonderful years with them...but this news is hard. There's no cure...nothing we can do but keep them comfortable with pain meds and spoil them for the time they have left. Our young boy grey, Fletch, is most confused because no one will run and play with him now...I'm not sure he will like being an only dog. As for the rest of us, we're taking it a day at a time and trying to savor the days we have left with Rika and Joy.

Having already experienced too many losses in their young lives, my adopted kids don't do change well...but in this case, Kate, Mom and Dad are right there with them. Some changes, while a part of the natural order of things, still stink.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

What we did on our summer vacation…

We flew to Florida with our 5 kids, effectively filling more than one full row of the aircraft and drawing comments from ticket agents, ground crew and flight attendants re: the size of our family.

In light of the fact that JetBlue doesn’t serve meals, Mom the Thrifty packed a healthy dinner for our family to eat on the plane. I was very proud of my fruit, cheese, crackers, and yogurt plates that I was planning to offer my darlings while winging our way south…who knew that yogurt was considered a liquid and therefore banned by the FAA? Say goodbye to the Activia, kids…it ended up in the trash at security. Oh, yeah, guess what? Hummus is also a liquid according to the FAA so the treat I packed for Mom and Dad went in the trash also. Live and learn.

We now know that ushering 5 kids through an airport is like herding cats. We also learned that ushering 5 tired, hungry and excited kids through a strange airport, baggage claim, and a wait at the car rental counter too close to the children’s bedtime is like transporting volatile substances on your person. In order to avoid spontaneous combustion, we made an emergency pit stop at Checkers for burgers, fries and milk shakes, then completed our day’s travels with another 30 minutes in the car to a repeated chorus of “Are we there yet?”.

We experienced the joys of attempting to explain to our new sons that our rental van wasn’t ours to keep…nor was the beach house we rented on the Gulf of Mexico.

We remembered that Florida is really, really hot in August…as in almost Africa hot. On the positive side, the Gulf water was a perfect 90 degrees, just the way I like it!

We introduced our new sons to our Florida family, just about frying their poor brains with the effort of figuring out who was related to whom. After a few days of family visits, dinners, an overnight to Orlando to meet some more cousins, and a family reunion picnic in the park with almost all of Craig’s relatives, the boys were a bit overwhelmed. Luckily, when overload set in, we could take the kids back to the beach and let them swim and play to relieve their tension headaches..

Aniyar discovered lizards and the fun that can be had chasing them. All 3 boys spent a lot of time in this pursuit, even caught a few…then Mom had to explain why we couldn’t bring the lizards home as pets.

The kids also loved discovering coquinas, the tiny colored shellfish that burrow in the sand at the water’s edge…and Mom had to explain why we couldn’t bring the coquinas home as pets.

We showed the kids the areas marked off on the beach where sea turtle nests were located…sigh…no, Aniyar, we can’t bring a baby turtle home as a pet.

We enjoyed the beautiful sea oats that have been planted on the beach to help with erosion…they’re protected and picking them can result in a very stiff fine…no, Aniyar, really, Mama doesn’t want you to pick them….nooooo!!

Kate enjoyed convincing her brothers to bury her in the sand so she looked like a mermaid complete with tail…and Aniyar and Max were more than happy to dump wet sand on their big sister.

Madiyar liked learning to body surf on a rare day when there were waves due to a tropical storm…and during the summer thunderstorms, the kids all liked doing arts and crafts and playing with games that our relatives provided. Tanya, Kate and I painted each other’s nails and pasted on tiny gems. The boys loved drawing and painting and Max especially liked the Lego set he got from Grandma’s store. The beach toys that cousin Matt provided were also a huge hit…but all the kids liked swimming with Matt just about better than anything.

Grandma Schoelles gets the award for the best way to keep 5 kids busy while grown-ups chat…she gave each of them a $5 gift certificate to The Coffee Mill, her store which obviously sells coffee but also stocks yummy candy and small toys. (Here's a pic of Craig's mom and sibs at the Mill.) On our last day in Florida, our brood spent a long time quietly perusing Grandma’s shelves and making their selections. Some chose candy, some gum, some trinkets…and they all had cookies and frozen treats from the coffee bar. Kate helped Grandma price some new stock and Tanya did some sweeping up of spilled coffee beans, too…I think the girls are angling for a summer job in the future!

We flew back to Massachusetts after a week of sun and fun and were reminded once more that one of the best things about going away is the coming home again…we ended our vacation with Chinese takeout and snuggles with our dogs.

(BTW, for those of you who are wondering how we’re doing, rest easy. Life is almost normal again here in Witch City. We’re gearing up for a new school year and looking forward to fall. Our kids are adjusting well now and family life is much less dramatic these days. Aniyar is still a challenge but his medications have made a huge difference in his ability to function positively and control his impulses. We are proof positive of better living through chemistry!)

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Is it August already?

We just returned from two nights in the White Mountains and couldn't be much more pleased. We had a great weekend of the old-fashioned variety, more like the kind of fun Craig and I had as kids than what our kids do today. We arrived at our condo in NH on Friday afternoon, had a quick dinner and headed to the pool for an evening swim. Saturday morning, we took a deep breath and turned the kids loose to swim in the lake...it's so wonderful that we've come so far in our bonding and trust level that we know they will watch out for each other! We checked in with them frequently and were pleased to see them having fun but being safe and looking out for each other. It's also simply amazing that Aniyar has come so far that we can let him join the other kids; after a month of his therapeutic camp and swim lessons, he is a much stronger swimmer...and his new meds make him less impulsive...and all of his siblings now keep a watchful eye on him. The kids spent most of the day swimming (Tanya and Madiyar) and chasing small catfish (Aniyar and Max); Kate and Mom ventured into the Pemi River and spent some time building a dam and a footbridge out of smooth river rocks; Dad watched some TV and snoozed, something that almost never happens. Our evening was spent munching popcorn and watching movies and the History Channel after dinner. Sunday morning came early and included Dad making pancakes, corned beef hash, and eggs for kids who frankly wanted to be at the lake instead of eating...but the weather was not kind and everyone ended up back in our condo watching Scooby-Do movies (Aniyar's favorite) until lunchtime. Then we headed home, arriving around 4:30 and greeting our dogs with wild abandon on both sides. As Tanya said, it's nice to go away but even better to come home again. We concluded our weekend with our Sunday family movie night, takeout Chinese food, and ice cream...life is really good and we're so grateful. It feels like we've turned a corner...

Monday, July 20, 2009

Six month update...and the future looks brighter

OK, it's been a while since I posted and I'm sure our family and friends are wondering what calamity has befallen us. I'm happy to report that quite the contrary is true! We've been busy traveling to New Hampshire for the 4th of July, settling everyone into summer camps and classes, and planning for our trip to Florida next month. Yes, it's true...Aniyar has been doing so well at home and in his summer activities that we feel ready to make the trip we've dreamed of to visit our friends and family down south. We couldn't be more pleased! Here's a recap of recent events:

We spent 3 nights in NH over Independence Day, a travel trial run to see how Aniyar could do in a different setting. In short, we had a blast all weekend. The kids went fishing (caught nothing but had fun), swam, and played from dawn to dusk. Aniyar and Madiyar won 2nd place in a sand castle building contest...in 30 minutes, these artistic boys made an incredible castle that had a moat and gardens made from peat moss. They would have won 1st if not for the huge castle that another family started on the day before...but they were very pleased with their prize of beach toys and splash bombs. The kids all loved swimming endlessly, playing tennis and basketball, and eating non-stop. We loved seeing our kids enjoying themselves and finding common ground with each other. Some of my favorite memories include watching Aniyar and Max wading in the shallows at the edge of the lake in search of minnows and crayfish, watching Madiyar demonstrate his famous back flips and tumbling runs and then listening to his stories of how he and his friends taught themselves these skills in the orphanage. Best of all was watching our 5 kids chase each other through an open field in a game of tag as we waited for the local fireworks display, then huddle together under blankets to watch the show. We packed a lot into a short time; we enjoyed a cookout with our friends, and even managed a picnic by the river.

We also celebrated Max's 12th birthday in NH; we threw together an informal party in the recreation center. Max was thrilled to be allowed to choose an action movie from the rec center's DVD collection and view it on their large screen TV. We had a private room for the affair and Mom played caterer, serving barbecued chicken, watermelon, chips, and birthday cake. Max even had one of his best buddies at the party, not to mention all of his brothers and sisters. Even though his actual birthday was still a few days away, we gave him one of his gifts...a new set of swim fins, snorkel, and mask to use in the lake and pool.

OK, this post is long overdue and I know some of you are worried about us...don't fret, just know that we're fine and (who knew how busy we could be with 5 kids, therapy appts, summer school, sports camps, etc.) looking forwrd to a vacation in Fla starting Aug 14-22. Tonight we went to a minor league baseball game with all the kids, it was tons of fun even if we did get home later than our normal bedtime. More details later...did I mention that we're returning to NH this weekend for 2 nights? We really love the slower pace and the fun our kids have there. Adam and Sandi, we'll see you soon... We've rented a house on the beach for a week, we can't wait to see you guys, also Matt, Noah and Tina. A lot of Craig's family is coming to visit too...we're really blessed to have so many people who care for us!

More later--Dee

Monday, June 29, 2009

Rainy summer days

Well, here it is the end of June and it feels more like November...we've had two weeks of rain, drizzle, grey skies, and high humidity...gotta love New England weather. Of course, we refuse to let the crummy weather stop us so we slog along to our various events and activities which range from doctor visits to summer camps to the last few days of the school year for two of the kids. Poor Kate and Madiyar don't finish school until July 2 but at least this week, they're having fun activities like field day and beach day...if it doesn't rain.

Aniyar has been home almost 2 weeks now and we're all doing better than we had actually expected. He is responding well to the medications he's on and he's much less impulsive. I like the new psychiatrist who is monitoring his meds and supporting us as a family. Aniyar has also returned to therapy with our Russian child psychologist and she says he's responding well in her sessions with him. Aniyar is starting to test the boundaries a bit at home but no more than our other kids and he responds well to redirection now. He still has more energy than any kid I've ever met so he started a specialized therapeutic YMCA camp today which should give him a physical outlet. He'll be swimming twice a day, playing in the woods, doing outdoor adventure activities, and playing sports until 4:30 each day...and he's been assigned his own counselor to keep an eye on his behavior and redirect him as needed. Next week, he'll start summer school in the mornings, then go to the YMCA camp in the afternoons...our goal is to provide him the structure and support he needs while also letting him make friends and have fun in a safe setting.

Madiyar has been a bit conflicted about his brother's return. He was delighted to have him home but also a bit jealous of the attention Aniyar got at first. I think Madiyar was also worried about how Aniyar would behave with the other kids...and for the first few days, Madiyar took it upon himself to act as Aniyar's cultural guide in regard to our family dynamic, often whispering in Aniyar's ear to remind him to be polite to his sisters or to be kind to Max. It has been touching to see Madiyar trying to pull all of his siblings together. I can see him attempting to weave the threads of his relationship with Aniyar and then his relationships with all of us together into a new fabric...our family tapestry. Of course, don't get me wrong...Madiyar is also a 13 year old boy who can be as difficult as they come. Kate has nicknamed him "The Pouty Prince" because he tends to sulk when he doesn't get his way...

Of course, keep in mind that Kate is known as "The Drama Queen" and she comes by it honestly, especially now that she's a teen who will begin High School in the Fall. She now has an opinion on almost everything including the state of the economy, the environment, and world peace. She likes to stay up late and sleep until 10am on the weekends. She often finds her siblings immature and seeks "privacy", and her "own space" where she can read, dance, and write dark, angst-filled poetry. I can hear my mother laughing from the pearly gates...Kate is just like I was at this age, all dramatics and poetry, with her grandmother's love of dance and the Night Owl gene thrown in to boot.

Tanya completed 5th grade and is now officially a middle schooler. She's going to a YMCA summer camp each day, riding a boat to Children's Island in the middle of Salem Harbor where she spends the day swimming, sailing, kayaking, and playing games. She had her first overnight camping trip on the island last week and she loved it. It was family night so I took Kate, Madiyar and Aniyar out to the island for a picnic dinner; Tanya loved showing everyone around and taking the boys swimming in the saltwater pool...but I think she liked waving goodbye to us as we returned to the mainland and being allowed to stay overnight even better!

Max is in a summer playground camp; he spends each day at a nearby park where he plays tennis, kickball, dodgeball, baseball, and goes swimming under the watchful eye of his city recreation program counselors. He comes home every afternoon dirty, wet and tired...fine with me, it beats videogames and TV any day. Max also had a great thrill yesterday...his flag football team made it to the division tournament and he was able to play in the championship rounds. His team won 2 games and made it to the finals but were eliminated in the 3rd game....since it was drizzling the whole time, I don't think Max was too disappointed that he didn't have to continue to play in the rain...and Dad was proud of Max and glad to cheer him on but soaked to the skin and chilled to the bone by the time they got home.

We're all headed to New Hampshire for the July 4th weekend. We'll only be able to stay 3 nights but we'll make the most of it by leaving early on Friday since all the kids will be out of school, then returning on Monday...there's a cookout planned for Saturday and Aniyar wants to go fishing. The kids all want to take the inflatable boat out on the lake...now that we have 5 kids, Craig and I decided one rubber boat that seats 2 kids wasn't enough so we popped for a second one at Big Lots. ($20.00, we're such big spenders!) We can now seat 4 kids in boats and let the 5th wheel use a raft or inner tube. (This plan has already resulted in squabbling about who gets the first turn in the boats...there's nothing like sibling rivalry and bickering to make a Mom crazy...can't wait for the 3 hour drive in the van with all five kids!) There are also plans to celebrate Max's birthday in NH with a movie and ribs from his favorite BBQ place. We have friends who will also be there to help us keep an eye on the kids so it should be fun for all of us.

Now if it will just stop raining...

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Home again...

After two months in a pediatric psych unit, Aniyar was released from the hospital yesterday and has spent his first night at home! It was a pleasure to see the smile Aniyar wore most of the afternoon and evening...and to see him interacting so positively with the rest of the family. He was a relaxed and happy kid last night, singing and dancing and being sweet and silly. He was able to accept limits and went to bed without complaint; he also was up and dressed for school this morning with no problems so we're off to a good start. We've missed Aniyar and we're grateful to have this chance to bring him home again...but we'll also be monitoring closely for signs of stress and any indication of the unsafe behaviors that led to Aniyar's hospitalization in the first place.

During Aniyar's visits home on day passes, we have been delighted to see a great improvement in his ability to control his impulsivity and behavior. We are optimistic about his return to family life but we're making sure we all have as much support as possible for Aniyar's special needs and for the safety of the rest of the family. I've spent the past week preparing for Aniyar's release, attending meetings with his case manager and educational team, consulting with his psychologist, finding a psychiatrist who can monitor his meds, and arranging for a therapeutic day camp and an extended year school program to support him during the summer months. The wonderful social workers from Adoption Journeys (a great resource for families dealing with post-adoptive issues like ours) have visited our kids here at home to help them prepare for Aniyar's return; they'll continue to do regular home visits which will give all the kids a chance to talk about their feelings. Then there are the therapy appointments and summer camps which will provide structure, support, and just plain fun for our other kids...and my new full-time job is born. I'm a mental health case manager/social director/bus driver...in addition to my other Mom duties. The other day, one of the kids asked me if I didn't just love summer because I didn't have as much work to do....HAH!!!!

Thanks again to all of you who are keeping us in your thoughts and prayers...we're grateful!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Finally Spring...and Summer

May and June are two of my favorite months because the time is chock full of special events. Between Mother's Day and Father's Day, we celebrate 2 birthdays, a wedding anniversary, and the end of the school year with all of the attendant ceremonies and activities.

In New England, May also usually means that the weather will actually be warm more often than not and the chance of snow is finally behind us. The old willow tree in our back yard is green again, the grass is growing in spite of our 3 greyhounds, and our vegetable garden is taking shape. Craig is cooking a lot of burgers and steak tips on the grill and we're all enjoying being outside more. On a couple of nice evenings, Craig and I have even been able to relax on our deck while the kids play basketball, street hockey, soccer, or catch until it's too dark to see the ball. Other times, we rush to feed everyone, then race off in different directions to get Tanya to a softball game, Max to flag football, or Kate to piano. We laugh a lot more these days and the atmosphere in our home is much more relaxed. It feels almost normal around here...but the reality is that we're still missing one of our 5 kids so nothing is really normal at all.

Aniyar has been in the hospital for 6 weeks now. He's still in a pediatric psychiatry unit in the Franciscan Children's Hospital in Boston where he's being evaluated and treated with therapy and medication for his impulsivity and his angry outbursts. We visit him frequently and have taken him out on passes both on and off the hospital grounds several times now. We were able to take him out to lunch with us on Mother's Day and he has been home to visit on the last 2 Saturdays. We do see some improvement in his ability to regulate his behavior and we're encouraged. We are hopeful that he might be able to rejoin us at home at some point as long as we can all be safe.

Time and the support systems we've accessed for the whole family have helped the rest of us to recover and regroup; we have help from social workers who visit us from a great group called Adoption Journeys. They support all of the kids as well as Mom and Dad. We also have on-going therapy for Madiyar who struggles greatly with his brother's absence...and for Max who is most anxious about Aniyar's return. The girls continue to do well with this roller coaster ride and Craig and I just keep hanging on with support from family, friends, and trusted advocates from our adoption community (Thanks, Ann and Leah!)

Life is even busier than ever now that my role as Mom also includes attending multiple IEP meetings for Madiyar, driving to Boston every few days for visits and family meetings for Aniyar, and continuing to support the other 3 kids as well. I feel like I spend most days in my minivan...or doing laundry...now if I could just put a washer and dryer in the minivan, I'd be all set.

Craig has taken on the primary role of sports enthusiast, adjusting his work schedule to take Tanya to her softball games and practices...the rest of us have watched parts of her games and one night we even cheered her on while we ate a family picnic supper...but Dad is the faithful fan who has been to every game. Little League softball has been Tanya's own form of therapy this spring; she's loving the physical activity and being a part of a team. She's making new friends and enjoying learning something that comes easy to her. Tanya is a good athlete; she's gained enough confidence that she asked the coach if she could pitch in the game they played on her 12th. birthday...and she got her wish. Our girl wasn't the best pitcher of the day...but it makes my eyes fill with tears to see her on the mound and know how far she has come in the 6 years she's been with us.

Max is doing well at school but struggling a bit at home...tonight he gave me a note telling me that he wanted to talk to me but he didn't want to interrupt since he knew I'd rather spend time with my new favorite son, Madiyar. Actually, I viewed this as huge progress for Max who has been really mad lately but not willing to talk about what's bothering him...his fear of being replaced. We were able to talk and I was able to remind my boy that he was my first son, my special boy and absolutely impossible to replace. (After all, how many other mothers have a son who is obsessed with squirrels and dreams of assembling a squirrel army to take over Canada?) We've turned a corner tonight as we've faced Max's worst fears about being sent away...no way, Squirrel! You're stuck with us and we'll always love you.

Kate continues to sail along through the year with her eyes on the prize...and this time, it's a gift card to a bookstore. She submitted a poem to a writing competition at her school and was selected as a finalist; she and the other finalists will read their works at a local bookstore tonight as a part of the competition. If she wins, I'm quite sure Kate will have the gift card spent before she lets us take her home...the child loves to read...so you won't be surprised to learn that her poem is entitled, "The Library", and is about one of her favorite places.

As for our Madiyar...this boy still delights and confounds us...and I must admit that he has a way of melting his new mom's heart. He can be rude and inappropriate and pretty darn annoying at times...but he can also be mature beyond his years and caring beyond measure. This is the boy who was recently suspended from school for kicking a teacher...arghh!!!...and the same boy who carefully picked out 12 items in the Dollar Store for Tanya's birthday, all painstakingly chosen to her interests and bought with his own money...awww! As for being suspended, I didn't want him thinking he was getting out of school that easily...so we brought his teacher and computer to the house every day and he did all of his work here at home. By the end of the suspension, he said he would never have a problem at school again; staying at home was just too boring! (Score one for Mom.) At home, our Madiyar is a gem, funny and kind and warm...and his English increases exponentially with each passing day, informed by friends and family, TV and Radio Disney. Yes, he sings along to all the songs in English...with a strong Russian accent and lots of enthusiasm.

Craig and I celebrated our 16th anniversary on May 29 with a quiet dinner at home (as quiet as it can get with all of our kids around). We fed the kids early and sent them off to watch movies and play videogames, then had our friends, Rick and Deb, over for a late evening grown-up dinner of salad and steaks on the grill. We shared a champagne toast and reminisced a bit, then called it a night. There was no expensive jewelry with lots of bling as a gift, no Ferrari with a bow on it in the driveway, no tickets for a 2nd honeymoon in Paris. Kate says we're boring and not very sentimental. (Our defense is that we shot the wad on 3 trips to Kazakhstan last year and our 2nd honeymoon was spent traveling the road between Ust-Kamenogorsk and Ridder.) At this point, the best gift of all for Mom and Dad is a peaceful evening at home and a good night's sleep...jeez, we really are boring...but never bored with our brood!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Our great kids

I've decided that we have an overabundance of negative energy and worry surrounding us at the moment and that's causing us to lose sight of the many positives we're experiencing. It's time to count our blessings..so here's what's new and wonderful.

Tanya got a 95 on her book report, a stellar accomplishment! She is also turning into a darn good softball player and loves her first season of Little League.

Max is playing flag football and loves it...and he also is really enjoying playing outside with Madiyar in the evenings. Our couch potato is starting to enjoy golf, soccer, and the kind of mischief only a pair of boys can get into...think bodily humor.

Kate has attended her first semi-formal dance...she was beautiful in purple and had a blast with her girlfriends. She's also received an award at school. She took the national mythology exam along with 20 other students from her school....and was one of only 2 kids who was awarded a silver medal for scoring between 92-99%. She's wearing the medal proudly...and telling us all one myth after another.

Madiyar is speaking an incredible amount of English now...truly amazing how much his language has changed in the past few weeks. He's also relaxed, funny, and fun to be with...and he's getting along so well with the other kids, figuring out how to interact with each of them on their own terms. He still has his moments of testing...but they're fewer and farther between each day. He misses Aniyar and wishes he would come home soon...but he's still trying his best to trust us to be the parents.

Aniyar has been transferred to a new hospital, Franciscan for Children in Boston, and so far, we're impressed with the services there. Our insurance company stunned us all by authorizing this additional hospital stay for Aniyar even after the first hospital said they felt he was ready to come home...when his insurance coverage ran out. We spoke with an amazingly supportive insurance representative who went to bat for us to place Aniyar in a step down program, a less restrictive environment where we could see if his impulsive and aggressive behaviors were in fact more under his control. In the first hour as I was admitting him, Aniyar tried to run away from the unit twice and it became clear to everyone that he wasn't safe to come home yet. He's being assessed and his medication is being adjusted; so far, there hasn't been much change in his impulsive behavior and he's still aggressive at times. We at least feel that this hospital is trying to respond to his needs and they are connecting us with support services for the whole family. We are starting to bring Aniyar out of the unit on passes so he can visit with us all...this weekend, we'll try taking him off the hospital grounds to see how he does.

We're hanging in there and trying to keep life as normal as we can. As I write this, Tanya, Max, and Madiyar are playing baseball in an empty parking lot behind the house; Kate is reading, the dogs are snoozing and Craig is catching up on the news. Soon it will be time for baths and bed...and there will be stalling, laughing, hugs, and bedtime rituals to be observed. We'll tuck everyone in for the night and then get some rest ourselves. Tomorrow is another day...it's spring here in New England, my flower garden is coming to life and hope is in the air...to all of you who are keeping us in your thoughts and prayers, know that we appreciate it. You're renewing our spirits...

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Things we wish would never happen...

One day last week, I heard the wail of an ambulance siren and knew it had been called for my own child.

One day last week, I pulled up to my child's school and knew the paramedics and police were there because of my child's crisis.

One day last week, I committed my child to a pediatric psychiatric unit.

Sometimes things don't turn out exactly as we hope...and when you adopt older kids with a troubled history, it's probably better to hope for the best but prepare for the worst. That's pretty much where we are right now.

Our new sons have been with us for 3 months and their transition has been increasingly challenging. Both boys have had problems adjusting to life in a family, following family rules, and being socially appropriate. Both boys have been really wild, especially at night when we're trying to get everyone ready for bed. A good night's sleep has been fairly impossible for everyone as the boys sought to control us all with their disruptive behaviors long past bed time; our home has been fraught with tension as Craig and I have struggled to keep order and enforce family rules. Both boys have had even bigger problems adjusting to school...neither one of them can be mainstreamed into a regular classroom at this point due to their anxiety, educational deficits, and behavior.

Madiyar is now receiving one-on-one instruction at school and is responding pretty well most of the time to a behavior modification system at school and at home. He's really trying to regulate his behavior and he has bonded well with us. We see him making progress even though many days it feels like he makes 2 steps forward and then one backward...but he's learning English quickly and the better communication is helping him to feel more comfortable now.

Unfortunately, the same progress hasn't really been made with Aniyar and it's now becoming clear that our youngest son has more problems than just cultural transition and language. Aniyar's behavior has been so inappropriate and unsafe that he had to be moved from the regular school where Tanya and Max attend to a program for kids with emotional and behavioral problems...and even that program has not been able to address his needs. Aniyar is sweet and charming one minute and then angry and aggressive the next; he has choked students, punched teachers, and tried to injure himself. At home, his behavior is marginally better than at school but still frightening; he lacks impulse control of any kind and has to be watched constantly to prevent behaviors that are unsafe for him or his siblings. We've tried everything we can think of...star charts, rewards for good behavior, therapy with our Russian child psychologist...and nothing has worked. As time has gone on, our other kids have regressed, expressing fear and confusion at their brother's behavior...and Craig and I have become more and more exhausted as we try to hold everything together.

Last Tuesday wasn't the first time Aniyar attacked one of his teachers and had to be placed in the crisis room...but this time, the teachers couldn't calm him down after 40 minutes of raging. When they called me to come and pick him up, it was clear that bringing him home wasn't an option. We had finally reached the point our psychologist had warned us about...Aniyar needed to be hospitalized in order to get some help. It took all day at the emergency room to assess his needs, determine that he was a danger to himself and others, and then find him a bed in a psych unit for kids. It was 7:30pm by the time we finally got him admitted and by that time, he was calm, asking to go home and telling me he would be a good boy at school the next day. Sad...

Where are we now? Aniyar has been in the hospital for a week now and we don't see much change in him. The psychiatrists tried him on a patch medication to reduce his aggressive behaviors and improve his impulse control but Aniyar wouldn't keep the patch on. They're trying other medications now...but Aniyar resists taking them. They also have him on a behavior chart...maybe they'll have better luck with that than we had. Sadly, even with meds and behavior charts, Aniyar is still acting out aggressively towards other patients and staff from time to time. We just don't know what will happen next.

As for the rest of us, we have an unnatural calm at home; evenings are much more quiet and bedtime is observed.The tension in the house has reduced greatly and we're all getting more rest. Madiyar misses his brother but seems to understand that he needs help; he seems to be trusting that we are trying our best for Aniyar. Since Madiyar has always been his brother's primary caretaker, this is significant; he has bonded with us enough to let us be the parents and to allow himself to be a kid.

We visit Aniyar every day; we miss him but are relieved that he is in a safe environment where he can be assessed and given the help he needs. We don't know what tomorrow will bring but we'll face it as a family...

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Things to remember

When it's late and I'm tired after a really challenging day, here are the things I try to to keep in mind. Even though we had weeping and wailing from all of our kids today, we also had some really great moments. For example, Madiyar had a great day at school and I loved celebrating that with him. Max had some struggles but he really worked hard at seeing the positives and he played well with his brothers...and he is still the best squirrel I ever had. Aniyar had a great time playing with his Dad tonight and Tanya found a way to join in and forgive some earlier linguistic misunderstandings. Tanya also showed me again how far she's come...it was 5 years ago today that she arrived in America and now she's a bossy, Jonas Brothers-loving 5th grader. As for Kate...well, she's Kate...and except for a minor meltdown when she forgot to prepare for her piano lesson today and was sure the world had stopped spinning (did I mention that this is Kate, AKA Drama Queen?), we worked things out. At the end of the day we had hugs and I love you's from all the kids, then we celebrated our 12 year old dog's b-day, singing and a cake made of bread and peanut butter was involved. All's well that ends well...now sleep.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Finally…an update!

We’ve been home for almost 4 weeks now and it’s been a whirlwind of activity around the Risley-Schoelles house. We’ve had physical exams, the start of school, language assessment appointments, and the long awaited adventure of just plain living with 5 kids. The daily living part has included a lot of good, a bit of not so good, and a touch of the ugly. (I’d have to say that trying to train 2 boys who are unaccustomed to toilet seats to lift said toilet seat and not pee all over the bathroom floor gets my vote for the ugly bit!)

OK, here are the lows and highs of our last few weeks:

In the first several days of school, our sweet Aniyar pinched his translator, swore at her, kicked his classmates and told the girl in his class who speaks Russian to shut up….and got sent to the principal’s office.

In the first several days of school, our sweet Madiyar refused to do any work in school, dissed his translator and his teachers, swore at his Art teacher, pushed a girl and called her names at recess…and got sent to the Dean’s office.

Sigh…adjustment to the new culture has commenced and the old and new worlds have collided, sometimes painfully.

On the positive side, I’ve received countless hugs from both boys and my first “I love you”s. I get grumbling regarding rules about bedtime, videogames, and TV but the rules are followed. I get smiles and hugs when I pick the kids up from school, polite behavior at dinner, help with chores, and gifts of swamp grass, pretty rocks, candy, and treats collected from the day’s adventures. A few days ago, I watched the boys climb our old willow tree and explore the frozen wetland behind our house. They happily discovered old tennis and golf balls and brought them home, rode their bikes in spite of the bitter cold wind, and dragged home scrap lumber in hopes of building a tree house.

I’ve also discovered that Madiyar can break dance; he was the star of his first school dance and is a minor celebrity now for his flips and spins. Of course, Madiyar can’t communicate much with his new admirers yet but that’s changing…students and teachers are learning phrases and greetings in Russian and Madiyar is quickly picking up English phrases. The school has also identified several Russian speaking students who are serving as Madiyar’s mentors so he has kids he can communicate with during the day which seems to help him feel a bit more comfortable. He’s also enjoying frequent chats with his friend Borya who was also adopted recently and who now lives in Pennsylvania

Aniyar’s artistic ability is drawing a crowd at the elementary school…the kids are lining up for his drawings and he’s thrilled to see them appreciate his artistic efforts. He’s making friends, many of them kids who knew Max when he first arrived; they don’t find a kid from Kazakhstan who doesn’t speak English all that different. Many of them are greeting Aniyar in Russian each morning.

At home, we’re settling into a more normal routine and the boys are getting more comfortable with life as we know it. They’re getting used to a regular bedtime, are taking baths (more) regularly, and are eating more American type of foods in addition to their own KZ favorites. (They’ve both discovered peanut butter sandwiches and are quite smitten.) They’re enjoying TV, movie, and videogame privileges as long as they follow our limits…and they’ve both earned brand new Nintendo DS systems with improved behavior at school and at home. They’re consuming enough fresh fruit that I wish I owned a produce stand…I’m going through 3-4 pounds of grapes a day, not to mention multiple pounds of bananas, apples, and pears, not to mention 5 dozen eggs and 4 gallons of milk a week…no, eating isn’t a problem. They really like some of our family events like our weekly movie night. This past Sunday, we all settled down in the family room to watch a Jackie Chan movie which had so much action that the language barrier wasn’t a problem. We snuggled under blankets and curled up with the dogs…and it was pretty darn normal. All the kids are playing well together and the language barrier is falling…the boys are trying out more English phrases each day and Kate, Tanya and Max are using more Russian again. We have a lot of dancing, singing, pillow fights, and horseplay and a lot of laughter. (OK, we also have bickering over the TV channels…but that just tells me that all 5 of the kids are really bonding as siblings!) Kate summed it up best when she said that our family now feels complete…and in spite of our minor ups and downs (arrrggghhhh, the toilet seat/missing the toilet completely issues!!!)…I totally agree.

As for Mom and Dad…the past 3 months and 3 trips to Kazakhstan have taken their toll. Craig and I are both mentally and physically exhausted, stressed in many ways, and financially nervous due to the state of the economy. Craig used all of his leave time on our adoption trips and is really busy catching up at work now so he can’t take any time off. I’m at home each day but so busy that I’m desperately trying to figure out how to fit in work on my consulting contract while still being available for all of the kids’ needs. Don’t get me wrong, we’re really OK…but we could sure use a vacation about now…and that just isn’t in the cards before summer. (At the moment, we’d settle for a babysitter so we could go out for dinner some time!)

Oh, and did I mention that it’s winter vacation week here in Massachusetts? The kids are off from school until next Monday…so far, they’ve been to the YMCA for 2 days of camp and we have some other fun activities planned…but it’s raining today and Kate and Max both have orthodontist appointments. I can hear the whining already….no, wait, that’s me…is it Monday yet?

OK, let’s review our current vacation week situation. We have 5 bored kids, Mom going crazy, trips to the orthodontist, non-stop eating, too much laundry, muddy shoes and paw prints from too much rain, teenagers who want to stay up too late and then sleep until 10am and pre-teens who want to be teenagers. Sounds pretty normal, doesn’t it? In spite of our fatigue and our adjustments, we still have to smile…we’ve waited two years for this and it’s finally here. Welcome to real life in our family of 7…more ups than downs, more good than bad…and it’s getting better each day. We’re so lucky to have pulled off this miracle!