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!

Monday, February 28, 2011

Better late than never...pictures from New Hampshire

Brrr! It was very cold, icy winds and snowy skies...but the view from our deck was so beautiful. It's hard to believe that this is the same lake where we all go swimming and kayaking in the summer time. It looks like a different world in February!

We braved the elements to enjoy some winter sports all week long.

We all went night snow tubing again...gotta love it!

Dad went sledding...

...with the boys...

...while Kate took a spin around the ice rink.
The girls got in some shopping and had a horsey ride, too.
We slept late, ate well, spent time with our friends, and enjoyed our kids. The kids also spent hours in the recreation center pool. They got lots of exercise while Mom sat poolside with her laptop.

Nicest of all was that we had no major meltdowns or stress-related episodes. With four kiddos with post-traumatic stress disorder, it's something that we're always braced for when we make any change in routine or schedule. PTSD hates change, even good changes, so we try to be careful when we plan vacations to minimize the disruption to our family routine. We've been lucky to have our own condo in New Hampshire that we visit several times a year; we can get away but still keep our own schedule for meals, bedtimes, etc. The kids are all very comfortable with their surroundings which makes them less anxious and more able to just relax and have fun. This week was the most laid back vacation time we've had to date as a family of seven so I think we're on the right track.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Gone sleddin'

Wondering why I haven't been posting much lately? We've been gone, baby, gone!

We took advantage of the kids' winter break from school and went off to play as a family. We've been enjoying our place in the White Mountains of New Hampshire for the past week. We had a great time but I could honestly use a vacation from our vacation at this point.We came back home yesterday in a snowstorm/rainstorm, white knuckle driving as we counted the number of cars spun out on the side of the road. We're just glad to be back home safe and sound. Our brood is spending the weekend resting and treating the colds and coughs that seem to be following us everywhere...but no stinkin' virus can keep us down. We had a blast anyway, from snow tubing to sledding to swimming...and we even managed to avoid any major meltdowns for our kids who struggle with change (even fun change) due to their PTSD. I promise to post pics and stories later today...stay tuned!

Monday, February 21, 2011

What's the definition of real?

This morning, I was acting as referee in a disagreement between two of my kids when I heard these words:

"You like Kate best because she's your real daughter."

Ouch. Deep breath, try to stay focused on the behaviors at hand and not be drawn off the point...but with adopted kids, this kind of thinking is bound to come up. It deserves a considered response...so here's mine. This is for the child of my heart who is ever wondering (and not just in moments of anger) if I can possibly have enough love for each and every one of my kids.

As defined by The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th edition Copyright © 2010:

re·al 1 (rēˈəl, rēl)
  1. a. Being or occurring in fact or actuality; having verifiable existence: real objects; a real illness.
    You definitely exist, my child...I have a stack of documents from two countries and the battle scars from the fight we put up to adopt you to prove it...and I'm glad every day for your existence.
    b. True and actual; not imaginary, alleged, or ideal: real people, not ghosts; a film based on real life.
    While you have a great imagination, you're not at all imaginary.
    c. Of or founded on practical matters and concerns: a recent graduate experiencing the real world for the first time.
    I'd say raising you is a very practical concern of mine...because I love you ...and I chose you to be my child.
  2. Genuine and authentic; not artificial or spurious: real mink; real humility. You've always seemed genuine to me. If you were an android or robot, I'd think my grocery bill would be less.
  3. Being no less than what is stated; worthy of the name: a real friend. Trust me, when I call you "my child", it's with pride. You're worthy of the name.
  4. Free of pretense, falsehood, or affectation: tourists hoping for a real experience on the guided tour. There are times when you demonstrate pretense, falsehood, or affectation...but that makes you human...which is as real as it gets. It doesn't make you any less loved by me.
No, you weren't born from my body. I wasn't in labor with you in the physical sense. No, I didn't have the chance to give you your first bath, sing you to sleep at night, see your first steps, hear your first words. Yes, I had all those times with your sister Kate and I cherish them. Sharing these things with a baby is a precious gift. It should create a bond between mother and child that will last a lifetime...and I won't deny that Kate and I have that bond...but that doesn't lessen what I feel for you.

The truth is, I feel cheated out of all those special times that I missed with you. I'll always be sad that I didn't get the chance to forge that from-the-first-day bond with you. Sometimes, I wonder if I'll ever be able to fill that gap for you. I'm sad that based on your life experience, you have no good reason to trust me to love you the way you deserve to be loved...but I do. I've thought hard and searched my heart for the answer to your actual question: Do I love Kate more than you? I'd have to say no...which is not to say I love you all exactly the same way...because you are all unique...but that's a different story. I'd have to say no because of what my heart tells me each day. Born to my body or my heart, the love I feel for you is just as intense, as precious, as strong as the love I feel for your sister. I hope some day, you'll trust me enough to believe that.
With all my heart, 
            Your very real Mom

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Secret Admirer?

I got a package in the mail yesterday. It's a box of Jelly Belly candies, a very nice assortment that the kids (now mostly recovered from last week's record-breaking plague) were ready to devour the second the package was opened. It was a nice surprise...and I do mean surprise...because I have no idea who they're from. The package was addressed to me but had no card to tell me who sent it. It came from a company here in Massachusetts but that's all I know. I could call and ask the company who sent the gift...but I like mysteries and would rather figure out who my “secret Valentine” is on my own.
My kids are also having fun speculating on who sent the treat:
  • Tanya thinks that Mom has a boyfriend and is wondering why Dad isn't jealous. 
    • Don't worry, honey...these days, my idea of excitement is a good night's sleep
    • Dad's not the jealous type...and he's sure not going to lose a good night's sleep over Jelly Bellies
  • Max thinks I've been chosen by the company for free samples of candy for life...
    • Note to self...explain the expression "There's no such thing as a free lunch" to Max.
  • Kate has searched the packaging for clues and speculated on possible suspects. 
    • Ever the analytical girl, she's running an investigation that would make NCIS proud.
  • Madiyar was sure Grandma sent it from Florida
  • Aniyar just wants to know how many Jelly Bellies he can eat.
    • Who the heck cares where it came from? It's sugar, let's just eat it!

Can anyone out there give us a clue who to thank? It was very sweet of you! (OK, I know that was cheesy but I couldn't resist...)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A New Record...

Multiply by 5, then shoot me.
I have 5 kids who are normally pretty healthy...but like most kids, sometimes they get sick. This winter, we've had some form of cold, stomach bug, sore throat, earache, yadayada circulating around our house a fair amount of the time. It's not uncommon for one of the cherubs to miss a day of school or for the school nurse to call me to pick up a sick kid...but in all my years as a mom, I've never had more than one kid home sick at a time. Until yesterday.

Aniyar went down first over the weekend; he had a bad cold, then a fever, voluntarily went to bed early Sunday night and I knew he probably wouldn't go to school on Monday. I found Madiyar in bed a short time later...and he never goes to bed early. He was running a fever by morning. Tanya made it downstairs for breakfast but she was coughing, sneezing, and spiking a fever...sigh. Kate didn't even make it out of bed before I declared her unfit for duty after checking her temp. Max was the last man standing; he was dressed and ready for school, telling me he didn't want to spoil his perfect attendance record. Of course, he was swaying on his feet, coughing and sneezing enough to be an epidemic waiting to happen to his school...and his ear was killing him. Ear infection??? Back to bed, mister.

OK, that's five for five. I mean what are the odds? I wish my luck with the lottery was this good.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

I Heart Salem Academy Charter School

I've always been a big supporter of public school education in general and of our local school district in particular. My kids received a truly wonderful elementary education at the Horace Mann Lab School, a gem in the Salem public system with a small student population and a very big heart. I'll always be grateful for the educational, social, and emotional foundation my children received from the dedicated professionals at HMLS. When the time came for our children to move on, I was reluctant to send them on to the district's very large middle school that was such a huge change from their previous experience. I wanted a setting that would meet the diverse needs of my kids in a supportive environment, preferably a small school where my shy kids could blossom, where my kids with trauma issues would feel safest, and where each of my children would have a chance to develop to their full academic potential. I found just what I was looking for at Salem Academy Charter School (SACS), an excellent educational option available to us which serves grades 6-12.

Our oldest child entered SACS as a shy 6th grader; she's now a self-confident high school sophomore who has flourished socially and academically. Through the intervening years, each of our children have moved up from elementary school to the charter school so that at present, we have 4 of our 5 children enrolled at SACS. In a total school population of roughly 350 students spread over grades 6-12, our family is a presence. (This means that you can't walk down the hall without tripping over one of my kids at some point.) Even more important to me is that in a very real way, my kids count...not because we have one of the largest sibling groups in the school...but because every kid counts here.

Last night was Mom's marathon, also known as Parent-Teacher Conference Night at SACS. Conferences are scheduled on a first come, first serve basis between 5-8pm. Sign up sheets are provided at each teacher's door for 10 minute blocks of time. When I had one child in the school, seeing each teacher was a simple process. However, with 4 kids, it's a tad bit more complicated. I left the cherubs at home with a pasta casserole, gave Dad reminders about the evening's schedule, and told him not to expect me home until who knew when. I arrived at the school at 4:45, laced up my running shoes, and began careening through the halls, scribbling my name into an appointment slot for each of the 20!!! teachers I needed to meet with. Amazingly, I managed to touch base with every teacher for all 4 kids, a personal best for me...usually I miss someone and have to schedule a meeting at a different time...but I'm so glad I did because I'm just so darned proud. I'm proud of my kids and all their hard work; it was wonderful to hear praise for each of them. (When I got home, each child demanded a report on what their teachers said and it was a joy to see their smiles widen with each bit of positive feedback.) Even so, it's not just my kids I'm proud of; it's their educators. This post is dedicated to them and here's why:

I'm proud because my kids are real people to their teachers, known as individuals and treated with respect.

I'm proud because my kids are held accountable for their work and their behavior...but they are still accepted for who they are and what they are capable of. 

I'm proud because these teachers stretch the strong student to maximize his/her strengths and provide a support system for the child who might otherwise be left behind.

I'm proud because these teachers have taken the time to know what makes my kids tick, what pushes their buttons, and what helps them learn...even when learning is a long, arduous process.

I'm proud because these teachers are willing to partner with me to meet my kids' needs...even when those needs are great.

I'm proud because these teachers genuinely rejoice in my kids' successes and empathize with their struggles.

I'm proud because these teachers never back down from a challenge, are willing to think outside the box, to reach out to the community, to set the bar high and dream big. In so doing, they offer that energy to my children who are already internalizing that example as they look to the future.

I'm proud because both the teachers and the administrators are passionate about what they do. They have dedicated themselves to their vision for the school and the students they serve. These folks walk the walk; they REACH every day.

To each and every one of you at SACS who have touched the lives of our precious children...faculty, administrators, and staff alike...know that we are grateful. 

You are all our special Valentines this year.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Trauma hides

My first son has been with us now for 5 years, coming to us from Kazakhstan at age 8. His early years within his birth family were fraught with abuse and trauma, experiences that he recounted to us with chilling clarity. He's made a lot of progress vanquishing his demons through therapy, medication and time. Given all he's been through, it's no wonder that even now, his view of the world is more glass half empty than half full. In spite of his pessimism, our boy has come a long way and we are proud of his progress.

At 13, he's a funny, bright, good kid who has done well (OK, actually better than I expected) as he made the transition from elementary to middle school. I like to think I know him pretty well and I've kept a close eye on him since September, watching for signs of anxiety and/or triggers to his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Change is so hard for kids with PTSD and our boy generally reacts with anger when stressed so I tried to be proactive. I met with his teachers to explain his diagnoses and accommodations. I talked with him about the new school's expectations. I've maintained close contact with his teachers and have been delighted to see that he's held it together in school, accepting correction without outbursts. Guess I let my guard down...and I totally misunderstood what happened next.

Our charter school requires tutoring after school for any kid who has a grade below 70% in an academic class. For our boy, that class was English (no surprise there since it's not his native language). He's been attending tutoring once a week after school, grumbling about it but steadily improving his grade. Last week, he got a certificate of improvement from his teacher, documenting a substantial increase in his grade. We made a fuss, hung up his certificate on the wall, and congratulated him on his hard work. He told me that he figured he could stop going to tutoring since he was doing so much better. I reminded him that he was still a couple of points from the magic number and he should talk with his teacher first. Well, the next tutoring day happened to be on a day when I had some oral surgery. While I was sawing logs in a medicated stupor at home, Craig picked up the kids from school...and Max didn't go to tutoring, telling his Dad the teacher had excused him. It was later that evening when Mom emerged from LalaLand and asked how the day went that the drama unfolded. It went like this:

Mom: How was tutoring, Max?
Max: I didn't have tutoring because...remember how my teacher said if I did better, I didn't have to go any more?
Mom: Oh, so you talked with your teacher and she excused you from tutoring?
Max: Uhhhh...remember how she said I was close to 70%? She did, Mom, I'm not lying!
Mom: So you actually talked with your teacher and she excused you from tutoring today, is that right?
Max: Uhhhh...I'm sure she said if I was close to 70, that was good enough...
Mom: OK, did you talk to your teacher about missing tutoring today, yes or no?
Max: Uhhhh....no, but...
Chorus of unhelpful siblings: Oooo, you're so busted! You're going down! You'll have an after school for sure!
Max: (now agitated) Shut up!!!! You're all stupid jerks and you don't know anything!
Mom: (shushing siblings with the Mom glare) Unfortunately, Max, your brother and sisters are right. If you skipped tutoring without permission, you'll get an after school detention tomorrow. The best thing to do is to talk to your teacher, explain that you made a mistake and accept responsibility for your error.
Max: (yelling) Not happening!!! Stupid school, stupid rules, I hate ELA. I'm not going to school ever again!!! You can't make me!!!!

Well, you get the picture. It went down hill from there, especially after the school called to confirm that he did in fact have a detention the next day. It was an evening from the bad old days, lots of yelling, swearing, tears and venom until he finally wore himself out and fell asleep. The next morning was only a little bit better but he did go to school (I might have said something about videogames disappearing from his life for eternity if he chose not to go to school). I was left scratching my head wondering why we had a total mega meltdown over this when he had been doing so well. I emailed his teacher and let her know what was up; he managed to talk with her and to accept her decision that the detention would be served. I picked him up after detention braced for more anger...but when he got in the car, he was actually in a good mood. HUH? Then he said...wait for it...

"I had a good day, Mom.
You know, detention wasn't so bad.
They didn't even hit me."

Sometimes I'm so dense...because I missed it. I forgot that inside my 13 year old there still lives a toddler who was beaten every day, called stupid every day, made to feel worthless every day. I forgot that he had never been to detention and so he expected the worst thing he could imagine. I forgot how when he first came to us, the intensity of his anger was a sure sign of the intensity of his fear.

I looked my son in the eye and said, "Max, I am so sorry. It never occurred to me that you thought they would hit you. No one at your school will ever hit you!" "It's against the law to hit kids here, right, Mom?" "Yes, son, it's against the law." "Detention was kind of boring..." "Well, that's the point, son...so let's both learn something from this and not go there again, OK?"

It's tricky, parenting kids with emotional baggage. They grow bigger and stronger...but the trauma remains, lurking just beneath the surface, the damage done to an innocent. Don't get me started on who I'd like to hit...

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

It just won't stop...

Well, I tried. I buried Penguin Girl upside down in the snow as a sacrifice. I even made Craig go out on the roof for an anti-snow ritual (he thought he was just shoveling the old snow so the roof wouldn't collapse.) In the end, it didn't matter. We've had 2 more days of snow that canceled school both days. We've also had rain, ice, and sleet. We spent most of the day clearing away snow and ice as best we could. Rivers of icy water and slush threatened our driveway and garage so canals were built to the nearest storm drain. The temperature has dropped again and our front walks are like a skating rink. Now it's snowing again, creating a pretty white frosting on our stinkin' 8 ft. tall snow piles.

The phone call just came in...tomorrow the schools will open but there will be a 2 hour delay. The weather should improve tomorrow in the late morning. Then we should be all set for a few days...until the weekend when the next storm is predicted.

Thank heavens Phil the Groundhog says there will be an early Spring this year! I know I'm ready...