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Friday, December 23, 2011

We're almost ready for Christmas!

It's been busy around here but we're getting it done. There are sparkly lights on our porches and wreaths on our doors. Pans of cinnamon rolls, trays of cookies, and homemade hot chocolate spoons have been made and shared with teachers and friends. We've searched for and procured the perfect Christmas tree...Max found it this year and it's a beauty!

Isn't it lovely?

Trust me, Max is smiling with pride on the inside...really.

Two of my sassy elves, just part of the decorating team.

My faithful reindeer/elf is proud of our finished product.
As you can see, we've decorated said perfect tree and wrapped gifts started appearing under it...until our evil psycho greyhound started turning them into chew toys...grrr.

On the naughty list...

Gifts are now being placed on tables instead...and we've gated off the living room. We'll see if she can earn her dog treats from Santa or if it's coal in her stocking this year.

Kate's been busy wrapping gifts, both at home and for a fundraiser at a local mall. Doesn't she look professional?

My shopping is almost done, just a few little things left. The prime rib has been purchased for our Christmas feast and the rest of the dinner is planned and in the house. Unfortunately, I still haven't wrapped a single gift. Hmmm...Ohhh, Kate!!! Want to earn some cash?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A few days ago, my friend Anne at Bringing Borya Home honored me with a "Most Versatile Blogger" award. I'm pretty excited about this because it comes from an awesome writer who I really respect...so thanks for the early Christmas surprise, my friend!

There are some strings attached to this gift (or would that be ribbons?).  If you accept the award, you're honor bound to write a post listing 7 things about yourself, and then pass the award along to fifteen other bloggers. I know what you're thinking...sounds like a chain letter...trust me, this is much more fun.

So, here are 7 things that you might not have known about me...

I was born at home, right in my parents' bedroom...and the doctor made a house call for the occasion.

I am 1/16 native American; my great-great-grandfather was from the Mohawk tribe.

I love espresso but can't stand the taste of regular coffee.

I hate broccoli with a passion.

When I was in my teens and 20's, I swore I'd never have kids. (Ha!)*

After my first marriage ended in divorce, I was sure I'd never get married again. (Again, ha!)*

I used to drive a sexy little sports car and lived in a very tidy townhouse on a beach in Florida...alone.*

*Let me just add this..I wouldn't trade my kids, my husband, my Mom van or my messy life for the world these days.

Now for the 15 bloggers I'm tagging with this award. All of these talented folks are awesome writers who I read regularly:

Christine at Smiles and Trials
Kelly at Twist and Shout
Lisa at K is for Kindergarten
Lori at Five of My Own
Ree at Pioneer Woman
Stephanie at Nienie Dialogues
Courtney at C. Jane Enjoy It
Sari at Mommy Used to Be So Pretty
Kenny at Red Neck Peril
Susan at Divine Secrets of a Domestic Diva
Reagan at Reagan's Blob
Tamara at American Girls in Moscow
Tina at Tina in Connecticut
Anne at Bringing Borya Home (I know you tagged me but I just had to tag you back!)

Congratulations and happy whatever holiday you celebrate to all of you!!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Peace on Earth

Have to be grateful...the past few days have been remarkable. Maybe it's the Christmas tree smell in our living room from the 7 ft tall evergreen that has taken up residence there. Maybe it's just kids who are being extra good just in case Santa is watching. Maybe it's just my own improved mood as the holidays approach. Who knows or cares? I do know the following:

For two days straight, we have sung Christmas carols in the car on the way to school...and it's been fun.
Today I baked and bought treats...pans of cinnamon rolls as teacher gifts, a snowman cake, Russian candy to share with classmates...
I'm laughing a lot...and so are my kids
My kids are reminiscing about Christmases past and demanding that we stick to our traditions  (What?? No Gingerbread house??)
I have an eerie Zen kind of peace about the things that normally drive me crazy.

Thanks, Santa...for the early gifts.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Another FASD victory

I believe they can fly...

I have 2 kids with FASD, one with moderate to severe and one with mild impact. Both kids basically deal with the effects of irreversible brain damage due to actions taken by their birth mothers...and yes, they both know what they're dealing with, the hows and whys, and we talk openly about the hand they've been dealt through no fault of their own. Their issues notwithstanding, both are kids who own my heart and who amaze me each and every day with their sheer grit. to overcome their challenges. Take my girl, for example...

My younger daughter, though to a lesser degree than her brother, struggles with short term memory problems as well as executive functioning and impulse control issues...and for an adolescent girl, the impulse control issue in particular can be a problem. Sometimes my girl can be really blunt, even hurtful in her comments to peers. She has also been known in the past to adopt an in-your-face attitude when she feels she has been wronged. This has resulted in misunderstandings at school...and since teenage girls do love gossip, there's always a fair amount of drama anyway. In spite of this past history, our girl has been having a good year...no discipline events at school all year so far, no missed homework, an exemplary record that she's been very proud of. Sadly, that was all called into question recently...

Last weekend, our girl came to us and asked for help. She went to Craig first, and asked him to print out Facebook chat transcripts of a conversation with a classmate who accused her of threatening a girl at school via text messages and calling her a liar when she denied the claim. Next she brought the printed transcripts to me and asked me to take both her phone and the transcripts for her protection from the rumors that were flying. As if that weren't enough, she also asked me to take down her Facebook page. (OK, let me just mention that for a kid with FASD, this is huge; seeing the big picture, being able to predict where something is going and asking for help is pretty complex stuff.) I did just as she asked and praised her for her choices to stay out of the unfolding drama. Of course, that wasn't the end of the story...

A few days later, I got a message that the Dean of Students wanted to see me about our girl's supposed text threats. I went with my daughter, armed with phone records and Facebook chat printouts. I provided my girl's phone number and challenged the Dean to match the phone number that the texts in question came from with her number....and guess what? The numbers didn't match...someone was posing as my girl, signing her name and setting her up...and the texts continued long after my girl's phone was in my safekeeping anyway. That stinks...but my daughter handled herself with such maturity through the whole mess that it doesn't even matter.

My girl came to us for help and told us exactly what she needed. (Did I mention this is HUGE?).

My girl stood up for herself when her friends accused her falsely. (Did I mention this is HUGE for a kid with low self-esteem?)

My girl met with the Dean, made good eye contact, and told her story in a polite but assertive way. (Um...HUGE!!)

When she was vindicated, my girl didn't gloat...she just glowed quietly with pride and accepted the apologies from her peers with grace. (Also huge...but I could see how much she liked basking in the feeling of being RIGHT, being BELIEVED, being STRONG!)

So proud of my daughter and all the progress she has made...from a shy and frightened orphanage kid to a feisty young woman who can stand on her own two feet!! Here's the score in our house these days:

Home team--2                     FASD--0

Friday, December 9, 2011

FASD gets pwnd

This is my youngest boy...he's sweet, caring, and cute as can be. He loves climbing trees and will go to any height to pick a perfect apple for his mom. He loves being helpful, gives great hugs, and is unfailingly kind to animals and little children. He still likes being tucked in bed each night and never fails to tell me he loves me as he settles down to sleep. He has so many wonderful qualities that far outweigh his challenges...but his challenges are very real.

My boy lives every day with the effects of FASD (and that means the rest of us do, too.) He has short-term memory loss and poor impulse control. He struggles to learn even the most basic of concepts in school...and all too often, a skill he seems to have mastered one day often evaporates into thin air by the next. It breaks my heart to see this child try so hard...and yet at almost 14 years old, my boy still hasn't been able to learn to read. What kind of future lies ahead for my child without basic literacy skills? It's a question that has kept me up on more than one night...but it's the season of miracles, isn't it?

This week, my boy brought home a book from school. It was a very simple emergent reader book on the K-1st grade level. I sat with my son as I do most days and listened to him try to read...most of the time, this means I end up reading the book to him when his frustration level starts to go through the roof. This time was different.

This time, my boy read to me WITHOUT HELP.

This time my boy read the whole book BY HIMSELF.

This time, my boy used picture clues and sounded out words!

The next day, my boy was able to read another book aloud to me ALL BY HIMSELF.

And the next day, he did it again.

Did I mention that each time, I cried?

Then we laughed and high-fived each other...he's sooo proud of himself!

Sometimes, you just never know what will or won't work to help a kid with FASD learn. After months (or years) of little to no progress with concepts like time or money, something will finally flip a switch and a new skill will be acquired. We've seen that kind of growth in math but literacy has been very elusive.

So far, my boy seems to be retaining this new skill...and I still get teary eyed each time I hear him read to me. I have my fingers crossed that this is one gift my boy gets to keep. As my other kids would say to their brother:

Epic fail, FASD just got pwnd*!

*Pwn is a leetspeak slang term derived from the verb own,[1][2][3] as meaning to appropriate or to conquer to gain ownership. The term implies domination or humiliation of a rival,[4] used primarily in the Internet-based video game culture to taunt an opponent who has just been soundly defeated (e.g., "You just got pwned!").[5]
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pwn )

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011

What a lovely day! It started with the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade while Craig and I cooked together, something we've always enjoyed. The kids wandered in and out when they were hungry but otherwise amused themselves with some form of electronic entertainment. This pretty much lasted until early afternoon when we started munching on appetizers that our best friends/next door neighbors brought over...and they also brought us this cute table decoration!

We seated 11 people at our early dinner and served enough food for twice that many! Our next door neighbors joined us and shared in the cooking. We had a true feast of both ham and turkey, white and sweet potatoes, dressing and cranberry orange relish, fruits and veggies. Dessert was 3 kinds of pie and a lemon tart...and Irish coffee for the adults.

The kids disappeared again once they were sufficiently stuffed and sugared up, returning to their various pursuits. For the boys, this included some kind of shoot 'em up computer game where they played in teams. For the girls, this included watching Christmas movies, cutting out paper snowflakes, and playing Christmas carols on the piano. Once the dishes were cleaned up, Craig and I watched "Miracle on 34th Street", our all time favorite holiday movie which never fails to fill us with the Christmas spirit. We all ended the day happy and grateful, not a single cross word spoken all day...now that's something to be thankful for!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Three years ago this Thanksgiving,..

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Thanksgiving...and fear

We've been back from Kaz for 2 weeks now. If all had gone as we had hoped, we'd be on our way back for our anticipated Dec. 2 court date...but it didn't happen.

On November 20th, we were notified by our agency that our judge had decided that our adoption dossier was out of date and we needed to redo it. For many, this would have been the death knell of the adoption. Never mind all the updated docs that we had given to the judge in Kaz while we were there...she wanted the full dossier, 30+ docs, all approved by the Kaz Embassy. She gave us until Dec. 9 to accomplish the near impossible...assembling an adoption dossier generally takes 2-3 months, then another 2-3 months to get it approved at the Kaz embassy in Washington, DC. If we can meet her goal, then she says we can have a court date of either Dec. 17, 18, or 19. Sigh...I did a lot of whining and not sleeping for the first few days, then I kicked it into high gear and started assembling a dossier...for the fourth time. Our adoption friends have been a great help...our home study agency and social worker have moved the world for us to update our docs; our friend and personal notary even showed up at our house in her bathrobe late one night to notarize docs for us. Our international agency arranged for emergency translation services so that each document could be translated as I completed the notarization and apostille process, even over Thanksgiving weekend. People we don't even know have hand-carried docs for us from Kaz to the US which they will send to our agency tomorrow to complete our dossier...and yes, after I finished whining and complaining, I did manage to assemble a 25+ document dossier in a week's time. Craig and I sent it via Expressmail yesterday to our international agency. Our new docs and the updated docs that were returned to us from Kaz will be married up, checked for accuracy, and sent to the Kaz embassy this week. We have been told that the person who reviews dossiers there understands our special circumstances and will review our paperwork on an emergency basis. We can only hope...so what do we have to be thankful for? Oh. Just everything.

In the frenzy that existed this past week in our house, I was still able to see what we have to cherish...3 great kids who are frustrated by not being able to have Aniyar and Madiyar here with us...but who also are happy to have Mom and Dad home for Thanksgiving. We watched the Macy's Day parade, stuffed a turkey, made cranberry-orange relish, started our Christmas shopping, enjoyed Max making French Toast for the whole family's breakfast and Kate's Apple Crumb pie. I had the great joy of going to both the library and the Early Bird sales, sharing Family Movie Night and then reading with my kids before bed.

So much to be grateful for...but I just wish we had been a little closer to 2 other kids who wait for us on the other side of the planet...still waking in a cold sweat at 4am, afraid we'll fail after all of this. Dawn helps...keeping busy helps...and I'm no quitter. We'll play the hand we've been dealt and hope for the best. Tomorrow's goal...write to the boys, try to explain all of this and the new timetable...hmm...how the heck do I do that?

Fast forward 3 years...5 kids in our house...our traditional homemade borscht for dinner...no dossiers to revise, just lots of singing, cooking, and laughter. The most stressful thing we have planned is hitting the Black Friday sales. Words like "Thanksgiving" and "thankful" don't begin to cover it...but "miracle" does.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

What will I say?

This week, I'll go to a college class and talk about adoption just like I've done several times before over the years. In the past, I've talked about our travels to Kazakhstan, the struggles of the international adoption process, the transition and adjustment period that adopted kids go through, the issues older adopted kids face, etc...but now that I have a house full of 5 teens, what else could I possibly add?

Should I mention the son who is struggling mightily with hormones and a medication change at present? Should I mention that he has picked fights with sibs, screamed and sworn at us, and threatened to kill us all in our sleep this week?

Should I talk about my other son who put a hole in the wall out of frustration after an argument with the aforementioned son?

Should I talk about my daughter who is grounded after sneaking out of the house with her friend last week?

Should I mention that there's been a lot of singing and dancing around the kitchen, hugs, and laughter lately in spite of these other things?

Maybe I should talk about the dinner my oldest cooked for the whole family all (well, mostly) by herself...

Or the fact that my boys ratted out their sister for sneaking out of the house (and took pictures of her) because they were actually worried about her...

Or that two of my sons have already finished their Christmas shopping for their sibs because they just couldn't wait...

Or the way I've noticed my kids helping each other...when they're not trying to kill each other.

Maybe I should just talk about how building a family takes work...

And how building a family with traumatized children who have no reason to trust takes even more work...

And that teenagers are by definition difficult...and traumatized teens can be doubly so...

And yet...by some small miracle,

And against all odds...

In spite of different blood and different ethnicity and coming from opposite sides of the planet...

In spite of spending our days riding a roller coaster of trauma and hormones and teenage angst,

And dysfunctional though we may be...

We are a family.

Friday, November 11, 2011

My less bloggy life...

Sign language interpreter symbol
For the past few years, I've blogged mostly about my kids....in fact, I started Kate's Wish when we were preparing to adopt our last 2 kids as a way of chronicling our journey as a family. Since 2007, I've been a stay at home Mom so many folks may not even be aware of my professional side. (To be honest, there have been times since I became a mother of 5 when I wondered if I even still had a professional side.) However, in the past year or so, as we've emerged from the adoption transition period and settled down in earnest to raise our teens...and as the tough economy and spiraling fuel and food costs have taken their toll on our checkbook...it's become clear that one income only stretches so far. That means Mom has returned to the workforce (well...it's not like I wasn't working, was it? I just wasn't being paid, now was I? But don't get me started...)

Anyway...I've been accepting freelance interpreting assignments for a few months now. See, I'm a nationally certified American sign language interpreter, have been for a few decades or so. That means I'm lucky enough to have a skill set that 's a bit unique and in demand so I'm getting offered quite a bit of work from referral agencies. I have the luxury of booking assignments that normally fits within the kids' school schedule...but working outside the home again means I have even more balls to keep in the air in my daily juggling act. How does this impact a typical day? Ahh, multi-tasking! It often looks something like this:

6:45am          Leap cheerfully out of bed to make breakfast for the cherubs (first cherub is already awake, showered, and dressed, thanks to Dad)
7:15am         Wake 4 remaining cherubs; feed, medicate, sign forms, pack lunches, prepare for day as needed
7:40am         Wave farewell to Cherub #1 as he boards the bus
7:45am         Shower & dress in appropriate attire for work, vainly attempting to avoid dog hair and food stains
8:00am         Drive remaining cherubs to school in the Mom van
8:10am         Scurry off to the interpreting assignment du jour (could be legal, medical, or mental health...or almost anything else...somewhere within a 40 mile radius)
9-9:30ish      Arrive at assignment somewhat harried after fighting Boston area gridlock; next 2 hrs are spent in an alternate universe where no one calls me Mom...I am in fact often addressed as Madame Interpreter...fancy that! )
11-11:30ish  Leave assignment; begin calculating total earnings...roughly $130 for 2 hrs work.
12:00noon    Stop at grocery store; spend $100 on food
12:30pm       Stop at gas station; spend $50 for fuel for the Mom van
1:30ish          Arrive home
                     Put away groceries
                     Begin dinner prep
                     Start laundry
                     Clean house
                     Long for a nap...vain hope!
                     Answer a zillion emails, text messages, voicemails
                     Check calendar, book work, do billing
                     Confirm dental, medical, and therapy appts for cherubs
                     Write blog post (Ha!!!! Another vain hope...)
3:00pm          First cherub arrives home from school; Mom's snack wagon and homework help center opens
4:00pm          Mom van collects remaining 4 cherubs from school...unless someone an after school activity
4:15pm          Mom's snack wagon and homework help center continues to provide service
5:00pm          Mom van returns to school to pick up stragglers
5-6ish            Trips to library, driving practice, and assorted other errands take place;
                      Chores are completed by happy cherubs under Mom's watchful eye
6:15ish           Dinner is served at an actual dinner table without screens and with family dinner conversation
                      (Translation: no one gets excused until they share about their day...so help me God!)
6:45pm          Mom's snack wagon and homework center begins evening shift as dinner dishes are cleared
8:00pm          All screens go dark...cherubs get ready for bed/prepare for next day
8:30pm          First cherub goes to bed, others begin shower rotation, beg for extended bedtimes, etc.
9:30pm          Only the 16 year olds remain standing; Dad is already asleep...

10-10:30ish    Big kids wander off to bed
10:30ish         Mom is now alone to fold laundry, make lists, check calendar for next day
                     Answer a zillion emails, text messages, voicemails
                     Fill out field trip forms, medical forms, school activity forms, etc.
11:30ish        Mom downloads photos to computer, starts to write witty blog entry complete with pics
11:45ish        Mom falls asleep at computer keyboard (Oops...another day with no blog entry!)

Sorry, faithful readers...I'll try to do better...really.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween from Witch City

I stumbled on a YouTube video I just had to share in honor of my boys who love the idea of zombies, monsters, and scaring others...and my girls who are heavily into romantic encounters with werewolves and vampires but don't love being scared.

Just remember, boys…it’s Halloween. It’s Witch Ciity. Teenage boys smell quite tasty to zombie girls.

And girls…bring me home a heart. 

Mommy will be waiting for you all...mwahahaha

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Snow in October?

I'm so not ready for this...

but like it or not, we have snow. It's enough to cover the ground, bring out the ice scrapers, and send the kids in search of their winter gear. At least we don't live in Central Massachusetts where some places got 2 ft.!

It started last night, covering our cars and coating the flowers still in our window boxes...

Before long, pretty much everything was white. My crazy oldest son ran outside in his bare feet to gather up the first snow of the season...he brought it to me as a gift...crazy but kinda sweet if you ask me.

Time to go shopping for snow boots...sigh.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Screenless Sunday...What to do when Mean Mom bans the electronics and the kids are sooo booored!

When some of the trees look like this in New England,

we hit the local farm and climb a different kind of tree in search of...

tasty treats that look like this.

We spent 2.5 hours of our Sunday afternoon at Brooksby Farm under sunny skies in the crisp autumn air. For all that time, no one whined or complained about being bored. Instead, the kids ran through the orchard, scampered up tree trunks, hung from branches like monkeys, and did back flips off the limbs with their apples. Dad and Mom stayed mostly on the ground and dutifully filled the bags to bursting with Jonagolds and Cortlands, Granny Smiths and Golden Russets. (We also overlooked the extra few apples consumed by our little daredevils when they thought we weren't looking!)

A couple of my kids told stories of apple picking in Kazakhstan orphanage-kid-style...finding an apple tree and shaking it until a hail of fruit came down on them, then being chased by the owner of said tree when they were caught stealing his fruit. Aniyar remembered the hay ride we took at the apple orchard last year and the cider donuts we shared there. Then Tanya reminded me of the first time we took her apple picking.  She was only 6 years old and tired easily; she remembers that we carried her on our backs a lot that day...and she lost a tooth biting into an apple.
Can you believe these girls are now 14 and 16?

The cost for this family bonding activity:  

$7.00 per bag for 2 bags of apples picked = $14.00

It's true that I could have bought these same apples from the same farm at my local grocery for:

$4.99 per bag for 2 bags bought within 3 blocks of my house = $9.98

An afternoon together with 5 teens laughing, having fun, sharing and making memories = priceless.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Life with teens...a force of nature to be reckoned with

For the past few months, we've had nothing but stormy weather around here. Oh, yes, the sun came out and we had meteorological summer...but emotionally, it's been pretty much non-stop hurricane season for some of us. The some of us in question are primarily one of my kids and me, though the rest of the family has been buffeted by the gale force winds pouring off said child and myself.

Can't speak for the kid, so I'll just summarize my perspective on recent times. I've been struggling. I've found it difficult to sleep. I've been cranky even on my good days. There's been little  peace in my heart or contentment in my soul. I've been witchy, snarky, and intolerant. With my kids and all their issues, the stormy me just doesn't serve them as effective parenting. I have to admit, I haven't felt like a very good mom in the past few months, not to the hurricane child or to my others who were caught in the storm surge on more than one occasion.

My child and I didn't get into this mess over night. It's been brewing for a few months. It started like a small squall, just a few fibs or breaking a few house rules here and there. It grew into a nasty tropical storm of lies, deception, surliness, and disrespect that was fed by miscommunication and fear on both sides. A painful breach of trust occurred that left us both shaken to the core and reeling under Category 3 winds. As a result, an emotional distance has developed between my child and me, placing us on opposite sides of the raging storm.. Attempts to find our way into the peaceful eye of the now Cat 4 hurricane have been made by both of us; all have failed one way or another, bringing me back to feeling lost and miserable. (I suspect I'm not the only one who has felt this way...but the child in question would rather die than admit it, I'm quite sure.)

For my child's privacy, I won't mention what set this storm abrewin'...it's enough to say that it could have been a deal breaker for either of us. It could have been the thing that undermined all the trust we've built. It could have been the thing that broke the bond we've forged. For me, it has certainly been at least a heart breaker that's been hard to let go of. I've been simultaneously obsessed and distracted by the struggle to right our off kilter world. I've been hoping for a change in the weather but couldn't figure out how to effect that change.

Well, this past weekend, our family went to the White Mountains of NH. While there, under peaceful skies and surrounded by Autumn's colors, I tired of living in a storm. I decided it was time to try to change the weather. I put on my big girl panties and my rain galoshes and swallowed my pride, my fear, and my anger.

I took my child out for a ride, just the two of us. I spoke my heart. I listened to what my child's heart had to say in return.
  • No one shouted. 
  • No one rolled their eyes. 
  • No one was deceitful or disrespectful. 
  • No one sat in judgement. 
  • I asked my child to forgive me my mistakes and I offered my forgiveness as well.
  • I asked for a return to the relationship that was based on honesty and kindness and mutual respect. 
  • I told my child this:
    • I will always love you, even in the middle of an angry storm
    • I will always be your mom, like it or not
    • For me, there are no deal breakers to either my love or my role as mom.
    • I miss your hugs.
  • My child told me a few things, too...but that's not my story to tell.
    • Hugs resumed...
And just like that, the rain stopped.

Friday, September 30, 2011

A rare perfect day...

Unless you're raising kids in Stepford, CT, nothing is perfect and parenting is never easy. No matter the age of your kids, there are always challenges, whether it's the Terrible Twos or the teenage years. Each day brings some new crisis adventure to be experienced. Many of these adventures in parenting result in Mommy or Daddy clutching her/his head and reaching for the Excedrin bottle. It's to be expected in any family and it's a given in our family...we do have 5 teens, after all. (I know, I know....what were we thinking when we chose to adopt 4 kids who were all roughly within 2 years of each other and our bio child in age??? Did we not realize that they would all become teens at the same time??? Couldn't we foresee the Hormone Hell we were heading for??? Logic clearly didn't enter into our reasoning. Funny thing, emotion...it leads you to do some pretty crazy amazing things.) Anyway, the days are often long and fraught with drama in our house...but just once in a while, we get lucky.

Yesterday was darn near perfect. Here's why:

  • The morning routine and school day went smoothly 
    • No one got their panties in a twist, sulked, or misplaced their homework folder
    • Everyone got to school on time
    • No one forgot their lunch, binder, or any other item which would necessitate Mom making another trip to school
    • Everyone had a good day in the pursuit of learning
  • On the van ride home from school, everyone was in a good mood (a minor miracle)
    • There was laughter and good-natured teasing, no hurt feelings or unkind comments
  • No one got into an argument (another minor miracle)
  • Everyone did their chores and homework without complaint (Ummm...who are these kids?)
  • We had actual dinner conversation, complete with stories of everyone's day, jokes, and laughter
    • At one point, Craig and I just looked at each other and smiled, basking in this rare moment of familial bliss
    • Our kids were being loud and funny and fun to be with at the dinner table
    • No one was asking to be excused  2 minutes into the meal to return to a videogame or a TV screen
    • Successful family bonding time...check!
  • The rest of the evening continued the same way...
    • Kindness was exhibited between sibs
    • No one got their panties into a twist about a single thing (This was when I started thinking about Stepford kids...)
    • No one argued about bedtime, screen limits, or showers (OK, there was a little grumbling about the last item...but only token resistance from one cherub so I'm calling it a victory.)
  • I actually got to watch TV with my big kids, another rare treat
    • All homework was done early and all the chores, too.
    • The younger kids were in bed ON TIME!!
    • My 16 year olds watched a couple of episodes of Vampire Diaries on DVD
      • No one bickered or argued
      • No one hogged the remote
      • I thoroughly enjoyed their company
      • They went to bed without argument around 10:30...
  •  I got to watch TV all by myself after that (Now that's an unusual occurrence!)
  •  I went to sleep smiling and counting my lucky stars...all 5 of them.
While I'd love to have times like this every day, I don't have any illusions. My kids are human and so are their parents...none of us are Stepford models of perfection. It may be a while until we get another near idyllic stretch of harmony around here. My goal is to store up this positive energy and draw on it the next time life in Hormone Hell gets a bit crazy...it's either that or move to a strange little town in Connecticut.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Madiyar is 16!

Shudder....another 16 year old in the house. Yet another one old enough to prepare for his driving permit test, think he's all grown up, be fresh and sassy, and push the edge of the envelope at times. More valium, please...

We celebrated with Chinese takeout for dinner, then Pioneer Woman's chocolate sheet cake decorated with Skittles at the birthday boy's request

As for gifts, well...we couldn't resist having a bit of fun. He's quite the comedian, our oldest boy...fond of telling tall tales to see if he can get away with fooling us...so his dad decided to return the favor on his birthday. Craig told him that we knew he'd really like a car for his 16th birthday but we thought he really deserved more than just a stinkin' car. We decided he needed wheels and wings!
Envision hopeful, excited expression at the mention of a car...even more hopeful, excited expression at the mention of more and wheels!  

Envision puzzled and then suspicious expression upon hearing mention of wings...

The wheels in question were in the form of a really cool skateboard. The wings were in the form of a remote control fighter plane.

Envision rueful grin when he realized he'd been had.

Oh, don't worry about him...he actually has been begging for a pintail longboard for months and was also drooling over the planes so he wasn't really disappointed.

M with his wings and wheels

First test drive on new wheels...no learner's permit required.
The rest of his big gift includes wheels, too...Madiyar and Craig are headed to Loudon tomorrow for a full day of NASCAR car and truck races at NH Motor Speedway.. Father/son bonding at its best...fast cars, risk-taking behavior, testosterone, noise, and junk food. Could it get any better?

Happy 16th. to our Mad Dog! We hope you had fun....

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

It's been a while...

So which should I go with when I get me to a nunnery? The traditional Carmelite habit or the modern tunic?

A long time has passed since my last post, about two weeks. There's been plenty to write about...another birthday, the ups and downs of parenting teens with special needs, autumn's arrival in New England, the wonderful picnic we attended with other adoptive families last weekend, etc. I have dutifully taken pictures and thought about my posts but somehow, the muse hasn't been with me. Why, you ask? Well, I'm in a funk...or beset by demons...or both.

Between increased homework responsibilities, my role as in-home therapist and mediator of all disputes (someone's always got their panties in a twist around here about something), school/home special education liaison, and my schedule as chauffeur for soccer season, medical appointments, social engagements and more, I'm busy.

I've also started accepting more freelance interpreting work to ease our financial situation. (Five kids can really eat and always need new clothes; then there's the approach of the holidays...and college.) My brain is pretty well fried after a full day of interpreting and yet the fam still needs dinner when I get home...but it's not only the cooking that makes it tough.

There's the daily stress and conflict of living with 5 teens who are obviously much smarter that the adults in the house. Lately we've been dealing with significant testing of family rules and limits by one of our kids, medication changes and behavioral challenges with another, and the onset of puberty with a vengeance that is really causing emotional upset with yet another. There's been more yelling and door slamming than usual even for us. Sometimes, it feels like we live in the middle of a hormonal hurricane.

For good or ill, I am often the lightening rod in these storms; I hate conflict and wish I could avoid these battles...but parenting requires intervention and I'm usually the dispenser of justice around here. When wrongs need to be righted, some applicant or another will appear at my side, asking to be heard in the Court of Mom (COM). (You know, I'm not making this up...just the other day, I overheard Kate warning one of her sibs that she was going to petition the COM if they didn't stop disturbing her while she was doing her homework. Exact words, no lie...) One can also be summoned into the COM for lying, breaking house rules, abusing privileges, etc. Not surprisingly, the summoned party is rarely happy to be found in front of the court. In fact, the summoned party is often surly, defensive, and at times downright verbally abusive to the bench.

I don't like feeling like the bad guy; I don't like being told that my kid hates me. I don't like being sworn at. It hurts. 

I feel stretched to the limit and beyond. I'm quick to anger, short of patience, in need of respite. There's none in sight.

Sometimes I want to run away and join a nice, quiet convent (hence the pic at the beginning of this post)...so far, I've settled for going for a loooong walk instead.

I also feel like I've lost a bit of my soul (or is it just my self?) somewhere along the way...but that's probably another story.

I'm so tired.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Fall is here and the last kid has returned to school...

Handsome, isn't he?

Also pretty handsome about now...

It finally happened; the bus appeared at our door and transported my youngest to his first day of 6th grade. After what seems like the longest summer on record, all 5 of the cherubs are back to school. Aniyar started Middle School today, two weeks after his siblings returned to their Charter School. Wish my youngest could be with the others since we dearly love our Salem Academy Charter School but his special needs and educational delays are just too great for that setting.

Instead, he'll be in a SPED self-contained classroom in the local school district's middle school which will hopefully address his learning challenges, memory issues, and emotional and behavioral needs related to his FASD. Not sure how it will go...Aniyar doesn't handle change well and he's been stressing about going to a new school.Can't blame him...I'm stressing about it, too. We're braced for some regression and acting out and have put supports in place to hopefully ease his transition. I've met with his teacher, the counselor, the principal, and everyone else I can think of to review his needs. I've also let everyone know I intend to be an involved parent who will advocate for her child. (This is polite code for pain-in-the-butt parent who uses the phone, email, IEP meetings, and foot-stomping as needed to get services for her kid .) Just call me Mama Bear.

Aniyar and I visited his new classroom last week and he's met everyone as well. He will have a one-on-one aide to help him, someone to escort him from the bus to his classroom and back, and tons of academic support. I've gotten him as much support as I could and I hope it goes well...I have my fingers crossed. Could the rest of you please cross your fingers and say a prayer for us, too?

I expect challenges. I expect crabby moods and resistance to homework. I expect lots of complaints about school and unhappiness about earlier bedtimes. In fact, I've already gotten a call from the school counselor about his first meltdown ....but at least he resolved his anger quickly and it ended on a positive note. We're moving forward...and I'm feeling a bit more prepared to cope.

For the past several hours, there's been a blissful silence under our roof. It's raining softly and the air is cool, whispering of autumn's approach; I've spent the day puttering around the house. I made a huge pot of soup and an even bigger pot of plov (a Russian meat and rice pilaf that my kids love) to warm my loved ones' bellies tonight. I hummed to myself as I picked tomatoes from our garden. I've cleaned, done laundry, made phone calls and set up appointments for the doctor, the dentist, the hairdresser. In short, I've been productive, had a break from the cherubs, and even a bit of rest.

Have I mentioned that I love Fall?

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Warning....stay off the roads!

It happened...we went to the Registry of Motor Vehicles on Tuesday. Kate took her test and emerged victorious. We now have an officially sanctioned driver in training in our family. I'm thinking of ordering her this button to wear:

Maybe I should have it made into a magnetic sign for my van? Aww, I'm just kidding, honey...we're so proud of you!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

PTSD and Hypervigilence

My youngest is a wonderful helper; he loves doing anything he can to ease my burden. He will dash down to the basement to get me a fresh roll of paper towels when we run out in the kitchen. He will jump to mop up a spill if I slosh water out of a pan. Most of this is cute and endearing...but some of it is scary. For example, the other day he decided to help me drive the car...and he tried to grab the steering wheel WHILE I WAS DRIVING IN TRAFFIC. Not so helpful.

He also likes to be a mini-parent. He scolds the other kids when they forget to close doors, put their dishes in the dishwasher, or pick up their dirty clothes. He shakes his head worriedly like a little old man and tells me how his brother makes unsafe choices or his sister didn't watch the dogs carefully enough when they took them for a walk. Each day, I tell him that my job is to be the mom and his job is to be the kid...but he has a hard time believing that.

He worries about almost everything from houseflies ("They eat poop and put poop on your food, Mom!") to zombies ("They real, Mom, and they gonna eat my brain!") He also worries about sickness or injury...if I cough, he gets me a glass of water and wonders if I'm dying of cancer; if I trip, he worries that I've broken a bone. When he's in the car, he worries about accidents ("That car too close, Mom, he gonna hit us and we gonna explode! Watch out!!!") and bad guys ("That man a bad man, Mom...he gonna shoot us and steal our money."). He is terrified of the gas stove and tries to turn the burners off if I have a pot simmering, telling me that I'm probably going to burn the house down. Same deal with the oven...it's tough to get a roast cooked or a cake baked when my boy is home. He lives his life in a state of constant red alert.

Sometimes my little guy's hypervigilence drives me a bit batty. Well, OK, in the interest of full disclosure, I'll admit that at the moment, it's driving me totally insane!!! This is in large part because he is the only one of my 5 kids who hasn't gone back to school yet so we're spending waaay too many hours together. He loves the one on one time and it's been fun for me, too...except we've had a week now as best buds, him in my hip pocket, shadowing my every move, following me everywhere, sitting outside the door even when I'm in the bathroom...sigh. I'll also admit that when his yellow bus shows up next week, I'll breathe a sigh of relief for that 6 hour a day break his school schedule affords me....6 hours in which to regain my sunny disposition, relocate my patience, and actually get dinner cooked.

Well, I guess some hypervigilence and separation anxiety is to be expected with a little kid, right??? Yes, of course...but my youngest is 13 years old. Between his Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, and his other emotional challenges, he functions at a much younger age than is on his birth certificate. Given his early history of trauma and abuse, it's no wonder he's hypervigilent, either. He has good reason to fear the world and much of what's in it, to see danger in the everyday course of events....and as batty as it makes me sometimes, I do see something positive in his constant worry about me, his Mom, and all of us, his new family. Even though he joined our family through adoption at age 11, he is able to love us...he frets for us...he doesn't fear us...he feels a bond...and he values that bond. My boy has come so far...so there's hope for tomorrow. I think I'll go out and buy some teal ribbon.

Thanks to Think Positive, Live Well, http://jacksanfernandes.com/ for this badge.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Let her eat cake!

Kate requested a special cake for her sweet 16 birthday dinner...she loves watching "Ace of Cakes" on Food Network and had her heart set on something fancy, covered in fondant, and two-tiered. Since my baking skills are limited to boxed cake mixes and canned frosting, I set out to order the creation from a local bakery. When I saw the prices for even a small cake ($50-75 and up!), I decided to reinvent myself as a pastry chef overnight and bake it myself. I watched videos on YouTube about crumb coating, made a trip to Michael's for rolled fondant and other supplies, and started making a mess of my kitchen. It took most of the day but here's the result...far from perfect and Duff Goldman won't be feeling threatened, but it pleased our girl.
Purple, black and white...it matched her balloons and her dress!
Try to ignore the wrinkles in the fondant and just admire the pretty black and white sugar paper design instead.
Two tiers, fondant, fancy and girly...as requested.
The candles worked just fine!

Next birthday up...Madiyar in 3 weeks. I'm hoping he'd like a pan of brownies.

Friday, August 26, 2011

54 hours and 45 minutes is a long time...

August 26, 1995

That's how long I was in labor with my first born. Even the obstetrician said it was a doozy of a labor and delivery...but Kate finally arrived with the help of vacuum extraction at 8:14am on August 26, 1995. We noted her big feet, her cute little elf ear, and I called my mom to tell her she had a granddaughter. She fit in one arm...but now she's taller than me.

She's 16 today...old enough to get her learner's permit to start driving, old enough to be a junior in High school, old enough to be talking about college applications. How time flies....
August 26, 2011...what a difference...still has big feet, though...grin

Happy birthday, KT! You're worth every second of those hours in labor...and all the other ones since!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

First day of school for 4 out of 5!

It's here...we're back to early bedtimes, signing course syllabi, field trip forms...back to homework, structure, and schedules. Only my youngest is still home with me. He starts school after Labor Day...so for now, we're hanging out while the big kids are in session. Don't they look happy to be back in the swing of things? Well, maybe not Max...but the others are. Works for me...

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

IRS Adoption Credit Update...finally!

Well, it finally happened...
  • after 4 months of waiting
  • after three rounds of letters from the IRS but without being able to talk with a single live person for guidance
  • after many hours of digging through financial records from 2008 and 2009
  • after contacting our adoption agencies for copies of receipts for adoption expenses for our two sons
  • After providing translations of adoption documents from Russian to English
  • After calculating conversions from KZ tengee to US dollars for our living and travel expenses in Kazakhstan for the 3 trips we made between October, 2008 until our adoption was finalized in January, 2009...
On August 12, 2011, the Department of the Treasury deposited $16,000 and change into our checking account. To their credit, it was every penny of what our refund was supposed to be...no interest, of course...or penalties for being late. I bet if we were the ones stalling on our owed taxes, the IRS wouldn't have hesitated to sock us with both interest and penalties...but I'm so relieved to get this audit behind us that I'll just climb down off my soap box and let it go now...except for a few personal observations about how this audit has affected us as a family.

It's been a lean summer here. Craig and I were worried about what would happen if our refund was disallowed so we've been trying to limit our spending. The kids are getting used to hearing us say, "No, we can't go to the movies this weekend, money is a little tight right now." and "No, we can't order takeout Chinese tonight because it costs too much for our family of 7...let's learn to make Chinese at home instead!" and I don't think learning the realities of living on a budget has been such a bad thing for our kids who normally don't want for much. I won't pretend that it's been fun for any of us, especially for Mom and Dad who have been stressing more and more as the months dragged on, wondering if we'd ever see our refund. (Have I mentioned that it's OUR freaking money the IRS was holding all these months???) Even with our austerity measures, there are bills waiting to be paid, home repairs that need to be made, kids to feed, and school clothes to buy. 

I feel like we've been holding our breath all summer; I have to admit I've been feeling the stress. I've felt angry, worried, and frustrated far more often than I have liked and it's been hard to relax and enjoy the summer with this hanging fire. We returned reluctantly from our NH trip prepared to sigh and cry over our bills once more...but when Craig checked our bank balance and discovered the direct deposit from IRS, we were finally able to breathe again.

I suspect we're not alone....every family in the country who applied for an adoption tax credit was audited this year. Wonder how much money Uncle Sam made in interest on our money nationwide? How much money they kept because not everyone was able to produce documentation? How much....

Oops, sorry....climbing off my soapbox. Assuming lotus position, practicing Zen breathing, reciting Serenity Prayer...ommmmmm.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Our trip to NH....in pictures

I liked relaxing with my feet in the water...and hiking with my DH.
Dad liked grilling brats, dogs, and chicken sausage over charcoal on a beautiful summer evening.

The kids liked eating everything...

especially the smores!

On Saturday, we went to Clark's Trading Post to visit the Wolfman.

Aniyar enjoyed the shows...

he wants to try this fire twirling trick that the Chineses acrobats did...I think not...

and he liked that the bears get trained with ice cream.

Bumper boats are always fun.

Even Max had to admit that he wasn't bored any more.

The girls and Dad liked squirting Max from these water cannons!
In the end, they were all soaked but smiling.

It rained on Sunday but that didn't stop us. The kids still went swimming (no lightning and they were wet anyway, so why not?) The showers didn't stop us from grilling either; we used the covered picnic area and gas grill near the lake for a feast of  BBQ chicken, burgers, baked beans, watermelon,and more smores.

Some uninvited guests joined us for dinner
so we fed them, too.

The kids enjoyed the lake all weekend long.
The swimming was perfect and they made new friends.

Aniyar liked the fishing, too.
He caught a whopper with bread and his net.

Kate liked boating...she and I rowed out to the shark together...
but mostly, I liked sitting on the shore taking pictures of all the fun!