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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.