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Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy B-day to my hubby!

We celebrated my DH's birthday with a bit of snow...only a couple of inches but enough that shoveling was required in the morning. Thankfully, the storm passed quickly and the rest of the day was cold but clear.

Craig declined to request a special meal for his birthday dinner, instead asking me to surprise him. I went with an Asian theme: homemade chicken fried rice for the younger palates and a spicy Thai pork with curry and black pepper for the grown-ups. In another life (the one before kids), I used to make blistering hot Thai food on a regular basis. This Thai pork recipe was the dish that Craig claims made him fall in love with me...so hot it drew tears to his eyes and made his nose run and oh, so delicious. I haven't made it in years, didn't have exactly the right kind of curry paste and this time I couldn't get it spicy enough...but it's the thought that counts, right? The flavor was still good and the kids enjoyed challenging each other to eat Mom and Dad's spicy food.

Dad's Bday cake...an ice cream snowman!

First cake, then presents

Madiyar gave Dad a new pillow so he can sleep on a cloud!

Kate gave him a Star Wars flashdrive!

The other kids gave him gift certificates, tasty food treats, and coupons for chores to be done without complaint...like picking up poop in the yard and shoveling snow (Way to go, Tanya!)

Date night!

As for me, I gave him a gift certificate for some quality time...some weekend between now and the end of March, we will slip away for a quiet dinner for two and a night's rest in a quaint little country inn...no children invited. Can't wait...

Hope you enjoyed your birthday, honey!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas 2012 in pictures

First we shopped for our tree...

Some of us looked for the perfect shape and size

Some of us looked very cool in the process

One of us paid the bill and carried our pick to the truck                

Then we did holiday things...

We had a marshmallow roast...

and some of us pretended to be aliens

We remembered the reason for the season...

and sang Christmas songs with church friends

Christmas morning finally arrived.
The calm before the storm

Let the games begin

Aniyar found the pickle and got to open the first present!
Some of the gifts were a little freaky

No worries...they're just ski masks for our next NH trip!
Our prime rib dinner was awesome and shared with the best of friends.

From our family to yours, we hope you all had a merry little Christmas!

Monday, December 24, 2012

As usual, it's crazy busy around here...and it's Christmas Eve. Today I was fairly insane with all that wasn't finished for the big day: last minute shopping still to do, cooking prep incomplete, wrapping not even close to done. It was in the midst of the frenzy that my younger daughter came to me and asked if I would watch her favorite Christmas movie with her. I started to list all the reasons why I couldn't possibly...then I stopped and thought. She's 15...half the time, she'd prefer to text with her friends than hang with me. Hmmm...I put aside the To-do list for a little while and went to watch a bit of "The Polar Express" with my girl. So glad I did. The smile and hugs I got were better than any gift under the tree.

Note to self...remember to breathe and cherish the moments left of childhood. Let my kids know they are more important than any To-do list.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Simple pleasures

Our old tea kettle was dented (dropped and banged around a few too many times), had chipped enamel (ditto); even worse, the (also dented) whistle had slowly morphed into a melted, crumbling mass. It wasn't pretty, folks...and it wasn't very functional, either. We were all at risk for steam burns every time we made tea...so a change seemed like a good idea. My DH, mensch that he is, ordered us a new tea kettle. Sometimes it's the little things that can brighten my day....and here's my latest simple pleasure. It's a lovely Kitchen Aid kettle.*

It's a cheery pear green and it looks great in our kitchen. I love the silicone grips that keep us from burning ourselves constantly; even our youngest is safer using this kettle. Even better, it's pristine: shiny, dent free, and fully functional. Since our kitchen gets hard use with the 7 of us banging around in it, the pristine part isn't likely to last too long...but I'm enjoying it while I can.

As for the cherubs, are they happy with the new kettle? No, siree. They hate it. It's different. It's not the old, familiar red one. It doesn't feel right. It's too hard to use. The cherubs don't adapt to new things easily...but Old Red went out with the recycling as soon as our Pretty Pear arrived. How can I say this gently? Suck it up and deal, kiddos. Mama has a new kettle and she's not afraid to use it. After a while, you won't be either. Think of it as a life lesson in change.

*No, I'm not being paid by Kitchen Aid to say nice things about them; I just like their products. Wouldn't complain if they wanted to pay me for an endorsement, though. Hello, Kitchen Aid folks??? Are you listening??

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Trauma tales

Last week, one of my kids said to me, "Hey, Mom, did I ever tell you about the time my little brother drowned?" Umm....well, I guess that sounds like a lead-in to a joke to most folks but in our family, it probably isn't.

By now, it's no secret that our family is comprised of Mom, Dad, and 5 kids, 4 of whom were adopted long after infancy. In addition to being older at the time of their adoption, our 4 also were with their birth families long enough to have memories of them....and many of those memories are rooted in trauma. Some memories are still surfacing as the kids grow up and begin to make sense of their past. Even though our kids have been with us for several years, they still have stories that are new to me. When my kids start to talk about their memories, I often find myself holding my breath, bracing myself for what may come next.

Deep calming breath. "Well, I figure your brother didn't actually drown because he's home playing video games right now...but do you want to tell me about it?"

"OK, yes, it was kind of funny."

"Um, really?"

"Yeah, my dad built us these little cars out of pipe and wood. They had wheels and seats and we were racing them down the hill. The cars were fast and a lot of fun. My brother's car went off the road and into the lake. I remember him getting all wet and my dad was scared."

"So did your brother almost drown?"

"I don't remember for sure.  It was before we went in the orphanage, so  I was probably about 5 or 6 and he was only around 3. I remember that our dad was scared and my brother was crying. Mostly I remember the cars."

Hmm. How to respond? Think, think. "Well, sweetie, here's what I like about your story. I don't know much about your birth father but this tells me that he loved you boys and wanted you to be safe. He wanted to build you those cars, and he was afraid when he thought one of you might be hurt. That's a happy memory, the first one you've mentioned from your past. I'm so glad you shared it with me...I like imagining you and your brother as little boys, flying down the road in those cars, having fun."

After that, we moved on to other topics...homework, holiday shopping lists, the latest news from high school. It was a short conversation embedded in our everyday life...and yet, it's a huge step.

After years of trauma tales, a happy tale. I don't delude myself; the very real trauma and abuse that my kids suffered will never go away. It's a part of their history and it's etched onto their souls...but if they can reach past the pain and find something positive, then just maybe they are healing themselves. Processing trauma is hard work and most of it falls to my kids. All I have to do is listen...and remember to breath.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Giving thanks...

In the past week, I've had many opportunities to count my blessings. Here are just a few of the things I'm thankful for:
  • Four years ago, I spent Thanksgiving weekend in a state of panic, redoing our adoption dossier and wondering if we would be allowed to adopt our last 2 boys...so thankful that turned out well and I never have to go through it again!
  •  This time last year, we began to struggle with mental health challenges with one of our boys. The experience rocked us all and made us wonder if we'd ever see a "normal" family anything again. So thankful our boy is stabilized and we're all in a much better place now.
  • This year, we had no earth-shaking crises, trials or tribulations...yay, us!
  • We spent Thanksgiving Day cooking, watching the Macy's parade, and enjoying all 5 of our kids.
  • It was a "normal" family holiday, maybe even a little boring by evening.
  • Given our past years of drama and angst, I really love normal and boring these days.
  • I had flashbacks all day of other Thanksgivings, some good, some bad, some ugly.
  • Did I mention I'm grateful for normal and boring? Because I am...I really, really am.

Aniyar entertained us by showing us how to make a hand turkey!

Madiyar uncapped some sparkling apple cider for our celebration.
Thanksgiving dinner 2012...and all of us were at the table!

Monday, November 19, 2012

We ran away...

I can count on one hand the number of times my husband and I have gone away from home together without the kids. With 5 kids with special needs, abandonment issues, and complex schedules, it really is easy to feel somewhat irreplaceable...but that means Mom and Dad don't get much time to themselves and that's not too healthy for a relationship. In keeping with my new "self-care" goal, I've been reminding myself that my DH and I could do with some alone time that was a bit more exciting than our weekly trip to Costco for groceries...but until this weekend, we hadn't managed to pull it off.

One of our best friends was celebrating a milestone birthday and we were invited to join in the celebration. It was a 2 day affair in Mystic, Connecticut which is about a 2 hour drive away from us. When we first found out about it, I was sure we couldn't possibly participate...after all, who would watch/feed the kids? Drive them to appointments? Supervise in-home therapy? Administer their meds? Prevent sibling bloodshed? Impossible...just too many details in our fairly complex family dynamic to ask someone else to take over...forget about it. Then my DH looked me in the eye and said..."Dee, it's one night. In a hotel. Without kids or dogs. And a meal in a restaurant. With adults." Well, when he put it that way, it did sound appealing...so we decided to go for it.

We are blessed to have several very good friends of the "It takes a village to raise a child" variety. Two of our friends volunteered to stay with our kids. This meant basically taking over our whole routine for about 30 hours so we could go away...awesomely brave souls, these friends! I did what I could to streamline our routine, provide easy meals to serve the cherubs, and prep the kids for our absence. (Remember those abandonment issues? You would have thought we were going off to war instead of Connecticut.) 

On Saturday late morning, we hit the road, secure in the knowledge that our kids would be well supported in our absence. We also said a little prayer that our friends would still be our friends by the time we returned...teenagers can be tough and filling in for us had all the potential of turning into the familial equivalent of "Let's give the substitute teacher a hard time." We left our worries behind us and reveled in the 2 hour drive...the longest uninterrupted conversation we've had for a very long time...and arrived at our hotel in great spirits. It was all party time from there. Here are the highlights from Mystic:

  • We greeted our friends, surprising the birthday fellow 
    • His first question was "Who's watching the kids?"
  • We checked into our hotel room; it was pristene, an oasis of calm. 
    • There was no clutter
    • There were no dogs on the bed
    • There were no children in our bed watching our TV
      • In fact, we never even turned on the TV
  • Before dinner, we went for a walk, strolling in and out of shops our kids would have hated
    • We spent a long time in a couple of kitchen stores
    • We sampled fancy vinegars and oils
    • We didn't set foot in a single video game store
  • I actually soaked in a bathtub for at least 15 minutes (gasp)
    • No one was pounding on the bathroom door, asking for help settling a dispute
    • The towels were fluffy, white, and DRY! 
      • No one else had previously used every blessed one of them 
      • They were neatly folded, not in a soggy mess on the floor
    • So was the bathmat...amazing.
  • I took my time getting ready for dinner
    • I was able to use a curling iron and put on makeup for the first time in...well, never mind.
  • We spent the evening doing grown-up things
    • Before dinner, we joined our friends for a glass of wine and appetizers in the lobby
    • We ate things our kids wouldn't touch for dinner
    • After dinner, we joined our friends for drinks and birthday wishes
    • There were no screens, video games, or arguments over the aforementioned electronics
    • There was actual adult conversation
  • The night was passed in peaceful slumber
    • No dogs asked to be let out
    • No children came to us with illness or night terrors
  • The next day was perfect
    • It started off with Starbucks eggnog lattes
    • Breakfast at the Mystic Diner was a To-Die-For Greek omelette
      • The only person who begged to share with me was my DH
      • At least he shared his omelette in return!
    • We spent a few relaxing hours at the Mystic Aquarium
    • We took our time driving home, even stopped at Costco and BJ's...so romantic!
We got back home around 4pm on Sunday, found the house still standing and the friends still friends. See? I told you they were awesome. They claim our house is "a well-oiled machine" and claimed all went just fine. (I wonder who those Stepford kids were that they were watching??) Any way, we are beyond grateful. Without the Marvelous Mackeys, we never could have pulled off our little get away. Thanks, you guys!!!!

As for the cherubs...they were ready and waiting for us. We waded right back into the chaos that's pretty much our family life. Some had complaints about siblings. Some had homework that they needed help with. One was sick and in need of Dr. Mom's ministrations. One wanted to know what was for dinner. They offered and received hugs, told us they missed us and declared that we can never leave them again. And guess what? We missed them, too. It was a nice little break...but it was even better to come back home, refreshed and ready for Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Halloween in Witch City

 I have the dubious honor of living in a place that many consider to be one of the coolest spots on the planet around Halloween. I'm not just talking about on October 31st. either...the frenzy ensues around the end of September and continues into early November. Tour buses line the roadways, parking spaces are non-existent, and costumed tourists throw themselves like suicidal lemmings into the street directly in front of on-coming traffic. For the entire month of October, there are (even more than usual) ghost tours, haunted houses, psychic readings, and witchy everything going on. There are parades, too...some for school kids, some for motorcycles, even one for zombies a few years back. It's pretty much a non-stop carnival that ramps up a bit more each day as the month progresses. By late October, we are literally cheek to jowl with vampires, werewolves, witches, and wizards. There are also enough porta-potties set up around the downtown area to accommodate a small army of vampire slayers...or undead, take your pick. Now it's true that this can all be great fun...but it does make daily life a bit bizarre for the residents. Case in point...in the last month, I have:

  • waited in line at the grocery store behind a bloody zombie prom queen, 
  • braked for a coven of witches who threw themselves in front of my minivan, 
  • been late picking up my son from soccer due to a zombie apocalypse
  • witnessed Big Bird walking down the street carrying an Obama-Biden campaign sign. 

Frankly, I've had enough fun for this year. I'm glad to be able to move freely around town again...and since tomorrow is election day, Big Bird can go back to his day job, too. Looking forward to Thanksgiving!

Friday, October 26, 2012

I went to a mid-semester parent teacher conference for my 8th grader the other night. I sat with his teachers and heard their thoughts on my boy's progress. I heard that he has some trouble staying focused. I heard that he is likeable and pleasant most of the time but that he also has anxious times, especially around testing. I heard that he is doing well in History, his grade in Science is in the 70's, and he's flat out failing Math and English. I heard that he tries to avoid doing his work, is at times disorganized, and has to be redirected often to stay on task.

Honestly, I couldn't have been more grateful or more proud to sit in that chair and hear what these wonderful folks had to share with me...
  • because for a big chunk of last year, my boy was in a locked psychiatric unit for his protection and ours
  • because 4 months ago, my boy was incapable of sitting in a chair, staying in class, or completing the simplest task at school
  • because at the end of the last school year, it looked like my boy would not be able to function in a mainstream academic setting due to his mental health issues
And yet, here we are in late October with him back in school, goofing off in class, griping about homework, studying and passing what he likes, trying to catch up on what he missed last year in the classes he doesn't love so much. This conference seems like another one of those mundane things that is really an amazing gift...another miracle.

I came home from the conference, walked in the door and was greeted by my anxious son who wanted to know what his teachers said. I put my arms around my boy and told him I was proud of him. He was startled. "Wow, Mom, I didn't expect that! Why are you proud of me? I'm failing 2 classes." Well, for now, maybe...but my boy has come so far and that's just what I told him. I reminded him of how he was feeling last year and where he is now. I was rewarded with a big smile from my boy...a smile as bright as my hope for his future.

Then we sat down and worked on his English presentation together...on Homer. He got an A. In your face, PTSD and Bipolar disorder.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The little things

So I picked up my kids from school this afternoon and the normal chaos ensued. There was laughter, teasing, griping, and complaints about homework all around. The music was blaring, the kids were loud, and the traffic was horrendous; in other words, just another normal ride home for us  Then one of the sister cherubs planted a big noisy kiss on the cheek of one of her brothers and that drew the following response from another brother:

"Eww!! A sister kissing a brother? That's just wrong!!!"

What followed was a few seconds of silence from the rest of the car. Then the boy who had been smooched said, "Ahh, dude? Seriously, that's actually normal. We're family and that's what families do, man."

This from a boy who a few short years ago wasn't sure he really wanted or needed a family, let alone have a solid definition of the term. This from a boy who used to say we weren't his "real" family so he couldn't care for us like his "real" brother.

Sometimes in the midst of the mundane, little miracles happen. On this chilly fall evening, I'm basking in the warmth of our little miracle of family.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Apple picking our way...

It's fall and we live in New England...so that means a trip to our local apple orchard is pretty much a sacred tradition. With 5 teens, it's not easy to get everyone on board for family outings these days but apple picking generally still rallies the troops. In fact, our kids have been begging me to go apple picking for weeks. Personally, I think the kids just like an excuse to run through the orchard, climb trees, and gorge themselves on apples. Can't say I blame them...so off we went to Brooksby Farm.

Here's the best part...we had plain old fun. No drama, no outbursts, no safety concerns. A few months ago, we wondered if we'd ever be able to have "normal" family outings again...so grateful for the progress we're seeing.

We started out easy with lower branches but couldn't find much fruit...

so the boys took things up a notch.

Next my star athletes took over...Mr. Agility was up in the tree, pitching apples to Ms. Softball...

As you can see, he's awfully proud of his harvesting technique.

Apples were safely delivered to the sorter for bagging.

Our quality control specialist insisted on testing for flavor and ripeness.

The highlights and stats from the day:
  • Great afternoon, brought home about 20 lbs of apples. We got Jona Gold, Mutsu, Russet, Cameo, Golden Delicious and a few other varieties.
  • OK, maybe 15 lbs actually made it home but hey, we were hungry after all that exercise! 
  • We were thirsty too so we had to have cups of apple cider in the barn...and cider donuts. 
  • If you don't live in a place where you can get fresh, hot cider donuts on a crisp fall day...well, I feel sorry for you.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

It's over 4 years since I started this blog...287 posts chronicling the growth of our family through adoption, our triumphs and trials, and the adventures and misadventures of parenting 5 kids. For me, "Kate's Wish" has always been more than a way to keep in touch with family and friends...it's been a way to reflect, to process, to celebrate, to vent...in short, cheap therapy for a stressed-out mom. At least that's the way it used to be...but the last year has been challenging and my blogging voice has been all but silenced.

For those of you who don't know the back story, let's review...I am the mother of 2 girls and 3 boys ranging in age from 14-17. I have one biological daughter, the oldest of my kids. My other 4 kids were adopted from the far off land of Kazakhstan; they came to the US as older kids who had to learn a new language and culture. All 4 have PTSD from the trauma of their early years with birth family and/or in the orphanage system. All four are under IEP's at school and have special needs of one type or another. Two are on medication for behavioral and emotional management. All 5 are teenagers with all the attendant mood swings, drama, activities, and events that go along with the middle and high school years. When I tell people I have 5 teenagers, they shake their heads in dismay and ask how I do it all...I tell them I honestly don't know. I just know that life is pretty intense at our house...never dull but definitely intense.

Some days it's all I can do to survive, keeping all the plates spinning. You moms know the plates I'm talking about...the ones that hold the soccer schedules,  doctor appointments, homework, field trips, college visits, parent teacher conferences, not to mention the platters of housework, groceries, cooking, and laundry. Throw into the mix our boy's mental health issues and the boatload of therapy appointments, the medication regime that needs to be managed, the wonderful team of mental health professionals that support our boy with regular meetings...more plates spinning. It's not that I don't appreciate the value of the services we are getting for our boy or that I don't love being a mom to my kids, I do...but I just don't have enough hands to keep the spin action going. Lately I've been breaking a lot of dishes. It's hard to hit the keyboard for a blog post when I'm buried in broken crockery.

Yesterday, our awesome family partner and intensive care case manager came to visit with me re: goals for our boy. They asked me how our boy was doing...and he's doing well. Yay! He's coping better, handling stress better, back in school, benefiting from therapy, all good...so the plate spinning is working. Then they asked me how I'm doing...or more specifically, what I'm doing for myself. Ummm...not much...and suddenly, I was crying. They gently observed that I seem to be crashing, that maybe it was time for me to be less of a super woman. They gently suggested that maybe I should take better care of me...because if I burn out, who will keep those pesky plates spinning? Hmm, good point. But where do I begin?

First step...put down the darn plates for an hour or two each day and do something totally self-serving. Maybe it will be a walk in the rain, maybe an hour of mindless TV, maybe (gasp) a nap in the middle of the day while the kids are at school. Maybe my voice will return to me and I'll blog more often. Maybe if I allow myself some time, I can worry less about broken dishes and do some mending of my own.

It's a start...

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

17 and a junior in HS...

Nine years ago, we met this boy and his little brother when they visited the US.

We even attended his 8th birthday party the day before they flew back to their orphanage in Kazakhstan.

Years went by but we couldn't forget those boys...certainly couldn't forget the 8 year old with the big smile and the devilish glint in his eye. Six years ago, we visited this boy and his brother in Kazakhstan...he was older but had the same smile...same devilish glint, too.

Four years ago, we traveled to KZ again to ask this boy and his brother if they would like to join our family...

Lucky for us, they said yes and became our sons...

This boy is a junior in high school now. He plays sports, stresses about homework, flirts with girls, worries about zits, dreams of a motorcycle, wonders about the future, and delights in teasing his mom...yes, there is an imp behind that devilish glint. He has the mood swings of a hormone-soaked teenager so he can be wonderfully kind, funny, and helpful or grouchy as a bear. In spite of the fact that he's concerned with his "cool" image, he is still willing to hug his mom in public so I can't really complain.

Yesterday, the devilish boy with the big smile turned 17...no more a little boy, almost a man.

He celebrated with a dinner of ribs and steak tips, fries and watermelon, ice cream cake and presents. It was shared with the best of friends...and a family dinner turned into a noisy, chaotic, crazy party that was filled with teasing and laughter. He smiled his great big smile the whole time...and as usual, it lit up the room.

Happy birthday, oldest son...you stole my heart when you were 8 and will keep it forever. I'm so glad you decided to let me be your mom because you are just so darn much fun!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Time flies...

Summer is all but over, 4 of my 5 cherubs started back to school today. We've been on a fast track for the last month...the diva returned from her Grand Tour of Europe and we started college visits. Our boy has done so well that he has been able to return to school with his sibs, fingers crossed for success with new meds and tons of support/therapy for him. The other kids? Awesome, resilient, slowly forgiving our boy for his past aggression. How amazing are these guys anyway?

Last week , we even managed a family vacation to NH with our wonderful friends from PA who also have a passel of kids both bio and adopted from Kazakhstan. I kept our kids out of the first day of school to make this happen and it was worth it...lots of swim time, walks, kayaking, and bonding...a total of 11 hormone-challenged kids of the teen ilk and the 4 adults who have to live with all those hormones.
Madiyar and his best friend in their cool twinsy shirts

These two lived in the lake all week

For the girls, it was texting and napping on the mountain

Did I mention that Craig's mom joined us from Florida, too? Talk about an experience...we're all over the place and this gracious lady hangs in there amidst the chaos as well as I do. So glad Grandma was here to vacation with us!!!! 

Grandma and Kate--Can you see the family resemblance?

Back to the question of just how amazing our kids are...So amazing that they didn't even whine much when our after-vacation fun was back-to-school shopping...clothes, supplies, backpacks, etc.
And as if we didn't have enough happening around here,  the diva celebrated her 17th b-day yesterday...but that's another story that began with 54 and 3/4hrs of labor. Good thing she was worth it...grin.

Our girl is 17 and a senior!!!