Archive for October, 2010

Weekly Wrap Up – Initiative

This week weekly homeschool wrap up (read more wrap ups at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers) is best summed up by sharing our biggest success this week…our lesson in “initiative”.  I had noticed that one or two of my kids will regularly do something that needs to be done without being asked, while the rest of them will walk past a wrapper on the floor without so much as bending down to pick it up and tossing it in the garbage, even if it is their own wrapper!  Wanting to change this, what I did was take note the week before of the times when someone in the family took initiative and did something without being told to and wrote these incidents down so that I would remember.  It was a very short list.  At the beginning of the homeschool week, I wrote down the word “initiative” on the white board and the definition and then we talked about what it really means in a practical sense and how it can positively impact a family.  I then read out the examples I had of people who had taken initiative the week before one at a time, praising that person and then we all clapped for each of the examples and gave them a “hip hip hooray”.  They were beaming!  Next, I gave some concrete examples of how we could all practise initiative and told them that their biggest assignment this week was to show initiative.  Every day, I gave a pleasant reminder in the morning that we should all be on the lookout for ways to show initiative and praised specifically each example of initiative from the previous day.  Wow!  The response has been incredible!  This is actually the second week and I have little ones running around picking things up and saying “mommy, I’m doing initiative”, eight year olds who I “catch” emptying the dishwasher because they noticed that it was done washing, and even older kids who seem to be pitching in a bit more!  Conclusion of this experiment…initiative is a lesson worth teaching!

These pictures were done by Eliana and Gracelyn at one of their art classes, entitled Pop Art, about making pictures using small dots a la Roy Lichtenstein.  Pop Art was the art class last week that five of the kids attended.  This week’s art class was Assemblage Sculpture and I have no photos of the results from that one.

Jonah has started hockey and four of the kids have started swimming lessons.  Jonah is in level 10 and is thinking he may want to continue on and perhaps train to become an instructor.

We finished reading “The Swamp Robbers (Sugar Creek Gang)” and on Tuesday after coming home from art class, I had the younger kids get their pyjamas back on, snuggle up under blankets, enjoy some treats, and watch “The Swamp Robbers” movie.  Afterwards, we discussed how the movie was different from the book and the power of our imaginations when combined by descriptive language when it comes to reading.

The rest of the time has been the usual…lapbooks, spelling, math, devotions, reading, memory work, and Story of the World.  To finish off, here is a picture Josiah drew of Elijah driving a tractor.

 

Tech Help Needed!

We just had a family picture taken…finally…thanks to my brother who is a talented photographer, and I would like to add it to the top of this blog.  The problem is that I cannot figure out how to do that.  Anyone who has used WordPress and has any idea how I can do it, please let me know.  I am not that technologically advanced and most of my blogging years have been spent on Typepad, so I know how to do it on that only.  Thank you.  And here is the picture…

I love Birthday Gifts!

Mark and our oldest son, 15 year old Mackenzie leave soon to go to Ethiopia.  When they are there, one of the things they will be doing is going to Faya Orphanage in Adama and bringing donations and playing with the kids.  Faya is one of the orphanages we visited when we in Ethiopia last time to adopt Elijah and Sedaya and it totally captured our hearts.  The staff there is doing a tremendous job and the joy in the kids is infectious.  As the Canadian affiliation with Faya recently changed to a new non-profit, there is some catch-up in funding that needs to happen.  This place is doing so much not only for the children in its care, but also for the surrounding community.

My birthday is this coming Thursday and I love receiving gifts, so I am asking that anyone who would like to give me a gift for my birthday please give in one of the following ways:

-if you live nearby, between now and Thursday, drop off a tube of antibiotic cream, a container of children’s multivitamins, Crocs, or cash for Mark and Mackenzie to take with them to Faya.

-if you don’t live nearby but would like to donate cash for them to bring, contact me at oursevenblessings@gmail.com about making a donation via Paypal.  Some of the cash Mark and Mackenzie are bringing will go directly to Faya for their operations fund and with the rest, they will be purchasing formula, food, and other necessities for Faya, which will also support the local economy.

-visit the website for the Canadian non-profit in support of Faya and consider either making a one-time donation or sponsoring a child or a community family on an on-going basis.

I have the feeling that this will be one of my best birthdays ever!

 

Hope International Dinner

Friday night, Mark and I attended the Hope International Fundraiser Dinner.  This was our third year attending and our second year hosting a table, but this year I was particularly looking forward to it.  Each year, the evening highlights one of the countries that Hope has projects in and this year, it was ETHIOPIA!  We decided at the last minute to bring our 15 year old son Mackenzie with us, as he and Mark will soon be traveling to Ethiopia and we thought he might enjoy watching the short documentary, “A Thirst for Africa” that is shown and hearing more about the country where he will be visiting and where two of his siblings were born.  Our friends D, N, M, S, and D also came with us and it was an added bonus to have an evening of adult company.  All of us are adoptive parents, so there was some adoption talk around the table, but other topics came up from time to time as well!

I loved seeing and hearing the impact Hope International has already had in Ethiopia.  They spent 11 years bringing clean water to the Derache region in Southern Ethiopia, where when they began, only 11% of the people had access to clean water.  Now, 85% of the people there do.  In the Derache region, there has been such tremendous change with the access to clean water, bringing with it improved health, the ability of girls to attend school now that they do not have to walk for hours to get water, and Hope implementing microfinance programs that have brought self-sufficiency to the region and sustainable income.  Now, Hope is focusing their efforts in Ethiopia on a region known as the Bonke region, hoping the bring clean water to most of the people there.  Hope International is doing tremendous work in developing countries all over the world and it was great to feel like a small part of something so powerful.

Election Thoughts

This week marked our local election and I was struck again by what a privilege it is to live in a country where we have the freedom to elect our leaders.  I feel that it is our responsibility to vote because of those who fought for our freedoms and because of those who live in countries that still today do not have the same liberties that we do.  I am grateful for those who choose to serve by putting their names in the ring in an election.  I am sure that the scrutiny that comes during an election is difficult for them and for their families and I appreciate their willingness to put themselves out there to represent their constituents.

I also was aware this year that even the issues that were swirling around during the campaigns were ones that point to how blessed we are to live where we do.  One of the main mayoral issues in our area was having a hospital built, which points to how fortunate we are to have our health care system and be discussing a hospital in our relatively small community, when there are at least six hospitals within half an hour’s drive of here.  With Mark and Mackenzie leaving for Ethiopia relatively soon, and as we are gathering donations for them to take, basic things such as antibiotic ointment, I am reminded once again that so much of what we take for granted was determined solely on where we were born.

Adopting Older Children – What I Wish I Had Known

With Mark’s trip to Ethiopia creeping up, I have been doing a lot of thinking about our time in Ethiopia just over a year ago when we went to pick up our adopted son Elijah, who was 7 at the time, and our adopted daughter Sedaya, who was 4 at the time.  In a lot of ways, things did not go very well.  Our adoption agency had gone bankrupt, so we were traveling four months sooner than we had planned and were not prepared emotionally, financially, or in a practical sense.  Due to the circumstances, Mark was there for a week before I arrived and he had a really hard time communicating with the kids, leaving all three of them frustrated.  I was able to pick up Amharic (the language they spoke) much easier than Mark was, so that did help, but I still did not know enough of the language to be able to really put the kids’ fears at ease.  The kids were, in general, traumatized and terrified and our time in Ethiopia was, in all honesty, a bit of a nightmare.  Reflecting on it now that things are settled and I am not in an emotional or exhausted state of mind, I am able to see what I wish we had done differently or had known at the time that would have helped us.  I hope that by sharing, others can have an easier transition than we did.

1.  It gets better! Our kids have been home for fourteen months now and things are a world away from what they were when we first brought them home.  They have adjusted.  We have adjusted.  Our other kids have adjusted.  Things are actually going incredibly well.  It took a lot of work, but it also just took time.  I wish I would have been able to know with certainty that things were going to get better because I lost sleep, tears, and worry at the time, wondering if life was always now going to be hard.

2.  Their initial behaviour is not a reflection of your parenting. This one may seem obvious to others because of course if you have only met the child the day before for the first time, their behaviour has nothing to do with you or your parenting skills, but at the time, I felt like I must be the worst parent in the world.  When we would go out in public and they would tantrum, I would feel like people were judging me.  When we were alone in the hotel room and they were having tantrums, I was judging me!  In retrospect, they were two scared little kids who did not speak the same language as me and were going through a traumatic time.  I was a complete stranger and their behaviour or sadness had nothing to do with my parenting skills or lack thereof.  I wish I had been able to relax and not take it so personally.

3.  Take Time to Think.  We were so sleep deprived before even arriving in Ethiopia.  Add to that the time change and the stress, and our brains just were not working at their full capacity!  Looking back now, I am able to see simple solutions for things that at the time, seemed like major problems.  As an example, our kids usually only wanted to eat doro wat (which is like a chicken stew).  Traditionally, it is served with a hard boiled egg.  Our kids would fight and tantrum over who got the one egg.  They didn’t want us to cut it in half.  They didn’t want to take turns.  They would not share it.  Every time, this egg was a huge issue.  Now that I can think clearly, I realize that we should have ordered it with an extra egg – such an easy solution but one that did not occur to us the entire time!  Of course, eventually you want your kids to learn about turn taking and sharing, but during the most tumultuous time in their lives is probably not the time to start insisting that!  So, my suggestion would be to take a step back and take a deep breath and consider simple solutions.  I can think of about ten other examples of this same type of thing during those weeks just because we were so stressed out that we were not thinking clearly.

4.  Don’t count on anything.  Many families travel to pick up older children and find that their children are easy and they are able to tour the country and spend time with other adoptive families.  This is often the case because most children will have a honeymoon period initially.  But there are exceptions and in our case, our kids did not have a honeymoon period while we were in country.  It soon became apparent that our plans to travel around Ethiopia were not going to work out.  If you have strong expectations for what your kids are going to be like or for travel or sightseeing that you plan to do when you are there, you will likely be disappointed.  I wish we had gone into it with less expectations and been more easy-going about it.  When we finally resigned ourselves to the fact that our kids did better if we just stayed in the room and ate our food in the room and did not go out, things improved dramatically.

5.  Visit orphanages or schools prior to having custody of your child/ren.  We did go to visit two orphanages to bring donations, hold babies, and play with the kids, but that seemed to heighten our kids’ fears.  From talking to them now, I know that they thought we were going to leave them at those orphanages.  They did act out on those days, but their English was not good enough to share their fears and though we reassured them in our attempts at Amharic, we obviously did not do a good enough job.  So if I were to do it again, I would plan to visit the orphanages prior to taking the kids with us.

6.  Learn the language.  This one may seem obvious, but before we traveled to Ethiopia, most families who had previously adopted older children told us not to bother, that the kids learn English so quickly that it is a waste of time.  With all due respect to those families, I disagree.  Our earliest days with our kids were spent with them fighting for their lives because they thought we were going to hurt them or even kill them and we were not able to calm them or reassure them.  I felt helpless and so sad for them.  We did have our driver and guide interpret for us, but they were not there most of the time and it’s not the same thing as you talking to your child.  The little bit of Amharic I had learnt before I went (thanks to the Simple Amharic for Adoptive Families CD) was invaluable and I asked questions of most of the Ethiopian people we met on the trip to learn as many words as I could.  One day, Sedaya accidentally locked herself in the bathroom and was hysterical.  My sister-in-law and I were frantically trying to look up the word for “open” in the phrase book we had and then we butchered the pronunciation so she couldn’t understand us anyway!  The other bit about learning their language is that now, the only Amharic words they remember are the ones I still use with them on a daily basis.  We are now hoping to learn Amharic as a family to help them to maintain a bit more of their culture and ties with the Ethiopian community.

7.  Let it go!  I had this foolish notion that while we were in Ethiopia, we should have rules for them and consequences so that they could begin to adjust to our house rules (our family isn’t overly strict, but we do have some basic rules).  I was convinced that if we were pushovers in Ethiopia, they would walk all over us once we got home.  When I think about that now, about how I gave them time-outs (they were probably completely bewildered because they couldn’t even understand most of what I was saying), my heart just breaks for them.  I wish I could go back and just hold them more, play with them more, and let everything else go.  Who would it have killed if Sedaya had worn Elijah’s flip flops instead of her shoes every day or if they had not brushed their teeth for those two weeks (they ended up having over four thousand dollars of dental work that needed to be done so I’m sure that an extra two weeks of not brushing after years of not brushing wouldn’t have made a difference!)?  My advice to others would be just to relax and get used to each other slowly during the trip.  The rules can be introduced once you are home.  Then they will just think it’s a Canadian rule!  (or American)

8.  Try not to predict their personalities.  This is a really tough one for people because all we have of our kids are these pictures and so we have spent hours analyzing the pictures and poring over every detail, including their facial expressions.  From that, we naturally make assumptions about their personalities and then when we meet them, if they do not match what we expected, it can be a difficult shift.  In Sedaya’s referral and update pictures, we thought she looked so sad, heartbroken actually.  Now that we know her, one of those looks is kind of a sad look, but more of a “I didn’t get my way” kind of sad, and the other, a mischievous look!  From Elijah’s pictures, we pegged him as being outgoing and fun and happy.  It turns out that though he is friendly and very likeable, there was a lot of sadness hiding behind that small and underneath those bright eyes, was a traumatized boy who needed help to work through his feelings and his past.

9.  You cannot do it alone.  The first weeks home are much harder than anyone can prepare you for.  Even if your child is in a honeymoon phase or just an easy child, it is a huge transition for the whole family.  You will have jetlag and even possibly be ill.  If you have other children at home, they will need extra time and attention when you get back, not only to reassure them that they have not been replaced, but they will have missed you while you were away.  Many mothers experience post adoption depression, from mild to severe.  The language barrier alone is exhausting.  The extra laundry, extra cooking, extra thinking, extra emotion, extra stress, and the extra appointments as you sort through parasites, fungus, and perhaps even therapy for your child create a life much busier than the one you had before.  ASK FOR HELP!  Better yet, set it up before you leave, while you are still able to think straight enough, while you have time to make the phone calls.  Arrange for people to bring meals, do laundry, clean your house, or take your other kids out for outings.

10.  Attachment and bonding are possible.  With our previous adoptions, we had gotten our kids as newborns or babies, so I did not expect that I would be able to attach as much to older children.  I knew that over time, they would feel like my kids, but I thought that it would take a long time.  Secretly, I worried that maybe I would never be able to love them with the fierceness and passion that I love my other kids.  I wish I had known then what I know now…that sometimes just thinking about or talking about Elijah or Sedaya can bring me to tears, that the first time I went away without them, I missed them with a hollowness that is difficult to describe, that they are a part of me.  I wish I had known that even with kids who were seven and four the first time I held their hands in mine, I would be forever changed by their love.

A Mickey Mouse Birthday Party

For his birthday party, our son Elijah chose a Mickey Mouse theme.  The cake was a big hit!

For the cupcakes, I made a spice cake, iced with buttercream, and then cut three circles out of fondant to make a Mickey head on the top of most of them.  I don’t usually make a cake AND cupcakes for the kids’ parties, this party was extra special as it was Elijah’s first real birthday party ever.

I made Mickey Mouse shaped Rice Krispie treats on lollipop sticks and displayed them by hiding a Kleenex box inside a gift bag and poking the sticks in holes in the bag and box.  I handed them out to the kids as they were leaving.

The birthday boy loved the celebration just for him.  We had fourteen kids here, plus our seven, and seventeen adults.  For food, we served Mickey shaped hamburgers with the fixings, a layered dip, potato salad, Asian salad, devilled eggs, crackers, cheese, pickles, pickled asparagus, and cheese dips.  It was a beautiful day, so the kids played outside most of the time and I didn’t need to organize many activities.  We played Mickey-Mickey-Minnie (like duck-duck-goose) and I had Mickey party colouring sheets for the kids with markers set out.  It was an easy theme to work with as far as colours and decor go.  Most importantly, Elijah absolutely loved all of it!!!