Friday, October 09, 2015

Shopping with boys

I had promised TM and D. a trip to the local game store and Vietnamese market this afternoon, so that is what we did. They love this particular trip, going out without a whole bunch of little people, and were in quite pleasant moods. I only had to ask them to put their antlers away once. The trip pretty much sounded like this.

Boys: Vaguely inane and specific discussions about various cards in their deck-building strategy game they love (and the reason for the trip to the game store). I try to tune it out because it makes no sense and I don't care enough to try to have it make sense. They understand this about me and only once in a while do they attempt to explain the game. I will abbreviate this ongoing and endless discussion by just writing cards, cards, cards. You will get the idea.

Me: Silence. My super power is to be able to tune out all but the most vociferous arguments or screech of pain.

Boys: Cards, cards, cards.

A boy: How many miles to where we are going?

Me: I don't know, I'll see if I can watch the odo...

Boys: Cards, cards, cards.

A boy: Do you know what I've never liked about Popeyes? That they don't serve spinich.

Me: Silence. Because, come on, what does one say to that?

Boys: Cards, cards, cards.

We arrive at the game store. The boys head straight to the cards to stare and plan and discuss the best cards to have and how much they should be worth. I wander around the store looking at the boxed games. So many of them look so cool and so fun, I could seriously spend far too much money here. (As an added plus, in the next room you can actually play any of the games to try them out.) On my third time around the store, though, a clerk asks if I need any help. I point to the boys and say that I'm with them. He says, "Ah," and goes back to what he is doing. D. finally decides what he is going to buy and TM decides he doesn't want anything. D. pays, I buy the birthday gift I needed, and I start to head out the door. The clerk points to something and both boys' head swivel, they say, "COOL!" in unison and I wander around a little bit more. The clerk did apologize and we both laugh about how close I came to actually leaving.

Finally, I drag the boys out of the store and we head to the Vietnamese market a couple of blocks south. The few blocks consist of more talk about cards, this time the cards D. got in the packs that he bought.

Now, one reason I love the Vietnamese market is that the things I buy don't cost that much so when a child says, "Oooh! Seaweed! Can we get some?" I can say yes. We bought seaweed snacks, pandan cakes, dried pineapple, wasabi peas, a lot of instant pho, prawn crackers, banh xeo mix and the herbs that go along with the banh xeo.

We get in the car and head home. This time the boys' discussions are punctuated by the crunching of seaweed snacks by one and prawn crackers by the other.

Boys: Cards, cards, cards

A boy: Can I have one of those? said to his brother.

Boys: Cards, cards, cards

A boy: Mommy, do you know what dark matter is?

Me: I have no idea what dark matter is.

Boys: You don't know what dark matter is?!?!?

Boys: Cards, cards, cards

Boys: (Their heads swiveling in the same direction at the same time) FLASH!

Boys: Cards, cards, cards

A boy: Can I have one of those?

Boys: Cards, cards, cards

All the way home... which it turns out is about 5 miles. I did answer their question, but I'm not sure they were interested by the time I had an answer.

They were good, if comical company, but by the end, I often feel the need to spend some time in a sensory deprivation tank. You know, where it is absolutely silent and no one is talking about trading cards.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Tea Time

I've learned that sometimes a schedule that has worked for years, suddenly doesn't make sense anymore and needs to be reinvented. Ever since M. was in kindergarten, I have read a chapter book at lunch. It allowed me to read interesting books that my children wouldn't normally sit through, but because they had their lunch in front of them, they were virtually a captive audience and I could get away with it. Usually we ended up loving the books we read, but sometimes we gave up on one by general consensus. I loved those times with my children.

As we began our homeschooling schedule this year, something seemed off. We had made it just a few pages into the book we were reading at lunch and I was getting complaints about the whole process. We had done this for so long that I was a bit stymied. As I thought about it I realized a few things. For various reasons, much of our group time this year is spent in reading books. That is going very well, People are engaged and interested and its working. But it also means that to turn right around and read a lunch chunk from another book is less appealing, both for me and for my children. My voice is tired, and they have already expended all of their listening energy on the last book. This means I needed to put a small break between the two times. Yet, then my whole 'captive audience' thing flew out the window and we kept running up against people needing to leave for various afternoon commitments. I didn't want to give up our chapter book reading, yet it wasn't working.

I then had a brain storm. Tea! As in tea time. A quirk of this year's schedule is that except for Mondays, everyone is home and available at about 4:15. This also seems to be a time that is the beginning of the long, slow descent into the late afternoon malaise of tired children who would like to be entertained. Having tea together and reading a book seems to solve both problems. I pitched my idea to my children and everyone thought it sounded fun. (I'm sure my promise to add to our collection of teas and a small cookie every day didn't hurt.)

We've been at it for two days now. And while as P. has dryly suggested that anyone can be successful at something once or twice, I think this is going to work... as long as I keep the tea cupboard well stocked and remember to pick up a small treat for our four tea times a week. A small price to pay for having them sit and listen to a book for 45 minutes. And that is how long I read yesterday. The book everyone said they disliked and was boring, when read for a much longer chunk turned into something everyone loved. (It's Gary Paulson's Winter Dance, by the way. It's funny in a Bill Bryson-ish sort of way. It's also not one I would hand to a child to read as I do more than a little on the fly editing for language as I read. I have 6 year olds in the audience, remember.)

It has also helped with that late afternoon malaise. Buoyed by tea and cookies and a rest as they listen, everyone has seemed to be quite ready to go back to playing as I fix dinner. I love it when a plan works. Plus, it fulfills my Anglophile desires to say, "Children, come and have tea."

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Help me out here

I'm trying to figure something out. This isn't meant to be snarky or back handed, I just really do not understand. I've been reading and hearing in lots of different places about parental frustrations with homework. I'm not in that world. We don't have homework here. We are able to get the bulk of our schoolwork done in the morning and we move onto to other things. I truly do not understand homework.

When I was in school, until I got to upper grades, the only time I had homework was when I didn't take the time to get the work done in class. I never had specifically assigned homework. There might have been a special project assigned every so often, but in my memory those seemed rare. (And the only reason I spent hours on a report on horses in sixth grade was because I wanted to. Turning in a multi-page report complete with multi-page bibliography and illustrations says far more about me than about the assignment.) I don't think the children of the human species have changed so much in the past 40 years or so that they need different education techniques.

So, I don't get homework. I don't understand the purpose of it. I mean, what child is really going to get anything beneficial out of more book work at the end of a long day? And I really don't understand why, if parents hate it so much, they put up with it. Perhaps this specific question, once again, tells far more about me than about anything else. What would happen if parents just said no? We are done with homework. We want to reclaim the lives of our children and our families. We want to be free to pursue other interests and activities that are just as important as book work.

Really, I don't mean these questions in any derogatory sense at all. I'm really trying to understand why parents cede that much control over their lives to the schools. Yes, I know I don't play well with others, by the way, but I still wonder. This really is a genuine question. Why?

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

One of the problems of a voracious reader

The other night I'm happily reading a book. I was ready for a new mystery and this was proving enjoyable. As I got further into the book, I start thinking to myself, "Gee, this seems a lot like another book I've read. You would have thought the similarities between the two would have been mentioned in the somewhat extensive introduction." I chalk it up to an interesting, yet inconsequential coincidence and keep reading.

I reach a part that is particularly exciting and continue to feel as though it really is very similar to another book. Well, I think it is similar until I get to a part and suddenly realize I know exactly what is going to happen. I am proved correct as I continue reading and slowly have to face the fact. I have read this book before.

I have no recollection of having read it before, but since I exhibit ESP in no other realm of my life, I have to assume that I have. As I continue to read the book, I remember details as I get to them, but still have no idea how it will end. It is a very odd feeling of not knowingly knowing what is going to happen. It's a little unsettling.

And it has happened before.

More than once.

One time I suggested a title for a book club because I thought it sounded interesting and I had always wanted to read it. Evidently I wanted to read it so much that I already had and didn't figure it out until about a third of the way through, very much like my current book.

When I expressed concern to J. over the state of my mental healthy, he pointed out that it didn't seem surprising. I read so much, so fast that sometimes something doesn't stick. At least, as far as I know, I have never done this a third time to the same book.

Monday, October 05, 2015

Just sayin'

You know, I can see the stats of how many people have looked at a particular post. It is always interesting the things that garner a lot of attention. Sometimes I can predict what will be popular and other times I am completely baffled. One thing I have learned though, is what is not popular. I can guarantee that whenever I write a post advocating for a child or children who need a family, the number plummet.

I know cats and dogs are cute. We like cats and dogs around here. I'm sure once I have something that takes pictures again, you will get to see more pictures of our three furry friends.

But the posts that get ignored are about children. Real, live, living, breathing children who do not have a family to call their own. Children who will spend the rest of their lives in some sort of institution if they do not find their family. I know it is hard. I know it is painful. I know what it costs to give a child such as these a family. I know.

I am begging you to do the hard thing. Look at the posts. Really look. Think about your favorite nine year old or thirteen year old and imagine that precious child in the same situation. I know it is hard to allow your heart to be broken. I'm sure the children wish they had a choice.

Here's a second chance. Because I can't un-know what I know

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Because I can't un-know what I know

It's one thing to know the huge numbers of orphans in the world. (Current estimates put the number at between 500,000 and one million in China alone.) It's another thing to know the actual children behind those numbers. The statistics alone can be overwhelming, so overwhelming that it is very easy to lose the humanity they represent. This is especially true for anyone who has not had their world rocked by spending time in an actual orphanage. And while I certainly don't advocate orphan-tourism, because of the negative effects it can have on the very real children who must live in them, there is no escaping the positive effects it has on the adults who visit. Because all at once those huge numbers and daunting statistics have a face... a personality... a deep, deep need to be loved and to belong to someone who will call them son or daughter. Everyone needs a place to belong, a sense of permanency, a promise of unconditional love.

It is impossible to meet even one of these children and not be changed. It is impossible to see their reality and not compare your own with theirs. And at least for me, it is impossible to view my abundant blessings and not wonder why I am hoarding them; to ask myself what my life is all about anyway. Be careful with those thoughts and questions, though, if you value comfort and ease, because the answers are anything but comfortable and easy. What do you want your life to say was important to you when you get to the end of it?

I hate the fact I am a finite person with finite resources. Advocating for children means hearing about them, knowing their stories, seeing their faces. It means I am confronted time after time with the enormity of what I cannot do. And sometimes there is a face or two that haunts me, who makes me wonder, "What if...?" even as I know the little fantasy I have created in my head has no bearing on reality. So I do the only thing left to me... I share what I know. I pray that someone else will see this child and need to make a difference in his or her life. To long for someone to say, "That is my child," or "I can't adopt, but I can make it financially possible for someone else to." Because, the cold hard truth is, if either of these children's adoptions were fully funded, there would be no difficulty finding a family for them. Reality stinks.

First there is Gracie. I've written about her before and even shown you a video that was made. She needs a family. Really, really needs one if her future is going to include more than being in an institution for the rest of her life. (And trust me when I say that would be the better of the two possible scenarios.)

She has cerebral palsy and needs a walker to move about. But should this physical challenge forever doom her to a life without a family? Since when does family membership come with physical requirements? She needs a mother and father to love her and make her their beloved daughter. Click on the link embedded in her name and read more about her.

And now Peter, the boy who keeps me up at night.

Peter is 13 and will turn 14 in just nine short months. For most children, turning 14 is exciting. It means they are getting older, high school is just around the corner, and a learner's permit is just a year away. For orphans in China it means the possibility of losing everything they've known. Once a child turns 14, they are no longer eligible to be adopted. It also means that depending on their living situation they are turned out of their orphanage. This does not happen to all, and there are organizations working to make the lives of older orphans better, but it is not a happy story. Can you imagine being considered completely on your own at 14? Can you look at your own 13 or 14 year old and imagine that beloved child in the same situation? It is wrong.

Peter will forever lose his chance of a family in seven months. Peter is blind, but has been living in a foster home which has taught him life skills. He can get around on his own. He can care for himself. He is bright and personable. And he is a musician. He sings and plays at least two instruments. He does not have a family. Seven months is time for a family to start from scratch and bring him home. It is not too late if you start now. How can any of us say we love children and let this boy age out?

Please, read about this child. Do something, for Heaven's sake. Because he breaks my heart.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Truth and consequences

(Don't read more into this post than is intended. We're fine. I actually can't write coherently when we're not.)

I've discovered this is a thing. Parents who have successfully raised biological children who then adopt and are thrown for a loop when those traditional parenting practices don't work. More of the same doesn't work. (Isn't that one of the definitions of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over and over and expecting different results?) I'm certainly a founding member.

I've also discovered it's a thing as well, that while some people are willing to change, there are more than a few parents who are so committed to traditional parenting practices that they just can't bend. Often this is to the detriment of both the child and the family. It takes a huge amount of humility to say everything you thought about parenting is wrong and change. Especially if that change is to a method which on the face of it seems at odds with everything you thought was true.

I know I've hinted about at what these new methods we use look like, but I don't think I've ever really addressed them directly. Now, traditional methods work just fine with emotionally healthy, secure children. It's just that these methods do not work with children whose brains have been changed, for whatever reason, through trauma. (Some children, even biological ones, can have a very underdeveloped emotional system, and traditional methods don't work with them, either.) If this is a child's starting point, not only are they not on the same page as you, like your other biological children, they're not even in the same book. Through no fault of their own, they experience the world differently.

Now trauma can affect the brain in utero as well as at birth. I'm not making this up or making excuses. Do the research. These are actual physical results of brain changes due to extreme stress and trauma. The brains of children who have experienced trauma show the same types of changes that soldier's brains who have PTSD as a result of trauma show. And just the fact that I need to make this disclaimer shows the adult bias to assume that all children can behave as we expect them to, they just choose not to. If we just punish them enough, they will soon see the error of their ways, or at least the benefit of doing as told, and tow the line.

Well, the problem with this is that a child whose brain is changed through trauma is unable to see or understand cause and effect. They are essentially operating in a different universe.... one that is chaotic, illogical, full of things to be afraid of, and is out to get them. When the parent says something along the lines of, "Do this or else that will happen." It's as if the universal translator that trauma placed in his brain hears, "I don't love you and something bad is going to happen." That's not a nice thing to hear, so the whole fear cycle starts. Fear is something to avoided at all costs; it's scary after all. The single best way to avoid feeling afraid is to get angry. Really good and angry. It's impossible to be afraid if you are preoccupied with tearing a room apart. Of course, there is a part of you that knows tearing a room apart isn't a good thing, so the shame cycle then starts. Why can't you do anything right? No wonder no one loves you.

Rinse, repeat.

No amount of trying to punish the bad behavior and reward the good is going to work because you're not working from the same script. Someone needs to change the script and your child isn't capable of it, so it has got to be you, the parent. You have to be the one to bend. To bend down to your child and slowly show him that he can trust you. To slowly make new connections in her brain that the world is not quite the scary and chaotic place she thought it was . (Just turn off the news, or you'll land right there with her.) You have to bend. To stoop down out of your comfort zone, out of what you thought was right, and be willing to make adjustments that seem wrong. That will certainly get you kicked out of the "good parent club."

Because, frankly, connecting with your child first so that he can experience love and safety from you, looks backwards. It feels backwards most of the time. But I have here to tell you that it can, given enough time, begin to work. What does it look like in practice?

It may look like picking up all 2 million legos off your child's floor that were thrown in a rage. More than once.

It may look like ignoring the words, as much as it kills you to do so, and look deep at the meaning.

It may look like asking your child to do something (that is no big deal and something everyone else is expected to do) and when she starts to balk, offer to do it for her.

It may look like buying a dozen of a small something that was stolen from another child and giving them to the offender.

In short, it looks like grace. A huge over flowing outpouring of grace that even your child in the different universe cannot ignore. Slowly trust builds. Slowly shame recedes. Slowly. Slowly.

And if you think about it for any length of time, it is how God, the perfect and ultimate parent, parents us. Sure, he lets us experience natural consequences, but even though we extremely imperfect humans mess up all. the. time. God still showers his grace upon us. Even those of us who are supposed to know better mess up all the time. It's one of the things that drives non-believers bonkers... that fact that we don't do what we know we're supposed to. But once again, we've focused on the wrong thing. Once again the human focus is on the human, when it should really be on the divine.

We should be in a perpetual state of thankfulness that God does not parent us as we so often parent our own children. Who could stand? And if we can't do it, why do we expect our children to be able to? By bending toward your child, you are not losing a battle. You are not giving in. You are not in a position of weakness. You are playing out in a very small and microscopic way the entire message of the Gospel. You are remembering who your real enemy and you are winning your child. Isn't that worth picking up a million legos or so?
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