Monday, November 30, 2015

A Week, Briefly (Thanksgiving)

It has been a week of tremendous heartache and tremendous joy.

Brother loves going to therapy.

Ladybug had a joyful reunion with her school teachers when she went in for her weekly therapy appointment.  She'd been asking to go back to school, so I was uncertain and vulnerable when they asked her if she wanted to come back.  She answered, "No.  I want to stay home with Mommy."  I breathed a sigh of relief and blinked back tears of exhaustion and gratitude.

Her behaviors as she struggles to adjust have been quite difficult.

Daily use of our quiet buckets has helped her settle into life at home.

The oldest girls collected goods for servicemen/women and for Syrian refugees with the church youth group. 

Belle had her first riding lesson--a combined Christmas/birthday gift.  She came home glowing.

We had our dog put down.  She was nearly 14 years old and suffering greatly from old age.  When she couldn't get up to get a drink of water or go to the bathroom, and she began crying, we knew it was time.   It was a hard day for most of the family.  She's buried under at the bottom of the hill in our yard--right where the deer she loved to chase will step delicately over her.

We wrote messages on hearts and placed with her leash and bowl in the grave with her.  We wrapped her in a favorite old quilt.
 We cooked a lot.  I told the older girls I was not feeling ambitious enough to do much cooking, so they took over, and I acted as an administrator/facilitator. 

We ate much good food with beloved family.

We fit 18 children and 4 adults in our dining room!
 We hiked. 

We jumped in mud puddles.

We admired the effects of the freezing rain that fell all through the holiday weekend.

(I share the following at the risk of over-sharing but with the deep desire to be honest about our struggles.)
Rose Red violated house technology rules, had her phone taken away, violated the rules again using someone else's device, and then ran away from home because she was angry at us for enforcing the rules.  Fortunately she ran to a church member's home only a block away.  This dear friend listened to her, got her to call home, and encouraged her to climb into the car when her dad picked her up.  She's talking with us, and we're praying for her heart to soften and for our hearts and minds to be inspired as to how to love and reach our headstrong girl.

We finished reading Cry, the Beloved Country and 50 Famous Stories Retold

We did no formal lessons, only life lessons of the most important kind.

I'm ready for some "boring" days.

Quiet Bins --> Quiet Buckets

On a whim one day some months ago, I bought this book.  I keep it next to my blue rocking chair where I feed babies and browse through it for ideas when I have a quiet moment.

(Yes, all of these ideas can be found for free online, but I don't like to be on the computer all of the time.  Sometimes a print format is such a blessing.)

Since our newest 4 have arrived, I've felt a strong need for some quiet, independent-but-somewhat-directed play for all of the preschoolers/toddlers.  Quiet bins are perfect for this, but I didn't want to go out and buy a bunch of bins--not even cheaply at the dollar store.  I feel that we have so much stuff around our house already . . . what to do?  What do do?

On the other hand we've begun to buy birthday ice cream in big plastic buckets; 1.5 quart bricks aren't big enough for our growing family.  We have a lot of birthdays each year, and the buckets have begun to stack up . . . what to do?  What to do?

This week I finally put 2 and 2 together!

We now have really cool quiet bins stored in plastic ice cream buckets.   I station the kids around the dining room table, hand each kid a bin, and they can play quietly and independently for 15-20 minutes.  Then we rotate bins around the table, and we've got another 15-20 minutes of quiet, independent play.  Right now I have 5 activities (lots of our buckets ended up outside for water play this summer), and that gives us the potential of 100 minutes of quiet play.  We don't often reach 100 minutes--that's a lot to ask of any toddler--but we have enough really focused minutes to help us all breathe easier each day.

Pom poms, tweezers, and plastic cups are in one bucket.  I am amazed at how many ways the kids can find to play with these . . . from the 2-year old all the way up to the 8-year old!
I threw our lacing beads into another bucket.  They'd gone unplayed with for months.  Now that they're in a bucket, they're a hot commodity!  In the background you can see our counting toys (purchased 2 years ago for $1 at a second-hand sale) that have taken on a new life since being placed in a bucket.
 And we have another bucket in the freezer . . . and 4 December birthdays . . . so I anticipate having a pretty cool collection of quiet bins in the coming months.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Adoption: Don't Kidnap the Children

image found here

The judge granted permission to transfer the children to our home after a lengthy delay.  We knew the children were not in a healthy atmosphere at their current foster home (the state closed that license as soon as the children left), and the whole team had been anxious to get them out.  When the social worker told us that he couldn't transfer the children for a minimum of 5 more days we were discouraged; however, he told us we could pick the children up ourselves at our own convenience.

I didn't want to do this, knowing it would be an emotionally devastating experience, but I didn't want to leave the children where they were.  

We made arrangements to pick them up on Saturday evening--a day that wouldn't disrupt their school/daycare schedules and allowed for extended family and friends in their current placement to say their goodbyes.

We arrived in our 15-passenger van, our whole family.  We piled out, met the people who had loved and cared for the children (in their own confused way) for the past 2+ years, and then experienced every ounce of emotional trauma I had feared.  Without going into detail, it was devastating for all involved.

However, eventually we were able to pull away and head home with our newly expanded family and start settling in.

As we've settled, though, a thought has been forming . . . we were the children's kidnappers.

We came to their house, took them unwillingly away from their home, and have kept them ever since.

One day I voiced this concern to Ladybug's therapist.  She hesitated, not wanting to hurt my feelings, then she carefully said, "Unfortunately, because the transfer was not made by the social worker, you probably do have that stigma.  Had the Children's Division informed me about the transfer plans, I would have recommended that the social worker should effect the transfer, but we can't go back.  All we can do is move forward to the best of our abilities."

Since then I've had confirmation of this concern by other therapeutic members of the team.  

We are our own children's kidnappers.

It doesn't matter that what we did was perfectly legal and at the state's recommendation.  The children are far too little to understand laws and rules and judgements.  All they know is that they miss their other mama, their other home, their other life . . .

even if it was a dangerous and scary place to live.

So the first lesson is this:  Always leave transfers to the social worker.

Adoption: What I've Learned Along the Way, an Introduction

photo found here

At Brother's therapy intake meeting a week ago the sweet therapist looked me in the eye and asked, "Would you consider writing about the lessons you've learned in your foster/adoptive experiences?  You could help so many others."

My brain whirled:
  Yes, I love to write.
  Yes, we have rather a lot of collective experience around here.
  But I'm up to my eyeballs trying to love and care for my family as it is.  
  It's not my season, I reasoned.

But I think it is.

The therapist's request lent weight to unformed thoughts I already had slipping here and there through my mind.

Which leads me to the here and now in which I will write about lessons learned in no particular order and following no particular schedule.  Rather I will write as I am living--sometimes frantically, sometimes peacefully.

And someday I will have enough lessons to order them, organize them, and share them with others more formally than on this small but dear-to-me blog.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

A Week, Briefly (#15)

It never fails . . . the things I'm absolutely sure I'll remember all week are absolutely gone from my memory by Saturday morning.   I didn't make the notes I thought about making, and now I'm sitting here with a blank mind about Monday and Tuesday.

I know that we completed our fairy tale unit for our literature lessons--The Emperor's New Clothes (pride) and versions of Cinderella from various cultures (archetypes and true beauty).  The older girls had to write essays about how to engrave the image of Christ on their countenances (inspired by Alma 5:19).

We did not do any chemistry lessons, but Rose Red completed All About Spelling Level 1 and finished lesson 1 of Vocabulary from Classical Roots.

The older girls did 2-3 math lessons each this week.

We finished reading Old Yeller.  I cried . . . I always do.  The older girls smirked and pretended indifference to the beautiful story that we all know and love.  The little girls were quite affected.  It was a good book to have read right now as we're preparing to have our dog put to sleep; she's terribly old, has begun to cry a lot and can't move about comfortably any more.  

Little Princess and I finished her flower fairy alphabet lessons.  She's quite proud of her beautiful book full of flower drawings and scripture story copywork.

And I never posted any pictures of her number lessons, so here's one--it's one of my favorites.
 We shopped for final base costume pieces for the dance shows; it's harder than you'd think to find white button down blouses and black pants when you're thrift store shopping.

I met with a play therapist for Brother.  She's wonderful!  I have high hopes for how she'll help our boy.  His first appointment is bright and early Monday morning.

Sir Walter Scott had to work on Tuesday night, so the kids and I all headed to the church for youth activities.  The big girls did some planning for the year ahead while the littles and I got a lot of exercise in the gym with some of the other moms and little siblings who were waiting for their teen family members.

 We attended Ladybug's final day of school party on Wednesday.  It was sweet, and low key--just right for children with special needs such as Ladybug's.  She got a few going away presents, and she handed out little boxes of chocolates as gifts to her teachers and helpers, but the true treasure was a book her teacher put together that had pictures of and projects done by Ladybug over the past 2 years.  Such cute pictures of her when she was only 2 and 3 years old!  Such a sweet documentation of how she's grown in mind and body and spirit.

This is a family portrait she drew during her last week of school.  When she had the first 2 rows done, her aide asked her if she was done.  She answered "Oh, no! Mr. G---, I have a lot of work to do still!"  There are too many of us in the picture, but I still think it is a priceless treasure!
 On our way home from school for the last time, I pulled into the parking lot of the nature center for a spontaneous outing.  We spent a happy hour watching snakes, touching turtle shells, asking questions about birds of prey and doing puzzles.

Then Sir Walter Scott and I headed off to the art museum for a date--just the two of us.  We've not been diligent about dating, but we're resolved to fix that error.  We're grateful for how much babysitting our older girls did this week.  I don't count their babysitting for legal school hours, but I do count it for true education.  They are very good caregivers and will be so very prepared for motherhood.

The kids did 2 shows at 2 different nursing homes on Thursday.  The shows were delightful.  The kids and parents are now happy and exhausted.  It is too painful to recount how crazy the day was for me when I got to the first show--23 miles from home--and realized that in spite of my checklists and careful organizing I'd somehow left 4 base costumes at home.  Suffice to say, several moms and my darling, darling husband helped save my sanity while I raced, praying, to a nearby thrift store and experienced a miracle when I found replacement pieces for everything I needed and made it back before show time.

Poor Little Princess broke her toe Thursday morning when she ran into Super Star in the hallway.   It's a pretty good break, necessitating a trip to urgent care before the dance shows, and another trip to the orthopedist this coming Monday.  She didn't get to dance.

While the rest of us danced, Sir Walter Scott took Ladybug, Little Brother, and Little Sister to a local historical site where they got to play in a miniature cabin and covered wagon.  I want to read Little House in the Big Woods to Ladybug, now!

On Friday we recovered by cleaning out the van and baking pies for the teen homeschool Thanksgiving dinner.  I realized only 2 hours beforehand that I was responsible to deliver a crock pot full of soup for a church member's funeral.  I frantically assembled the soup on the stove, transferred it to the crock pot, and got it delivered with 10 minutes to spare.  I came home to find that the big girls had successfully fed lunch to everyone else.

Hooray for my big girls!

Little Brother had a grand time when the truck arrived to clean out our septic tank (ugh--I won't go into detail about how we might have to have our entire system replaced!).  He is truly captivated by all things mechanical, and big trucks are simply the delight of his life.

Amazon delivered our subscribe and save items in an enormous box that the kids played in for hours.  I love imaginative play with boxes.

This morning the 3 oldest girls are off with the other church youth to do yard work for some widows in our congregation.  Then it will be time to clean house, send Sir Walter Scott to bed so he can work tonight, greet the septic tank guy who is going to trouble shoot our system, send Rose Red off to a church dance, send Pixie off to a babysitting job, and get the rest of the kids to bed on time to be ready for the sabbath.

Nature Angel has been learning about circuits with an Usborne book.  I checked an old science supply box I had stashed and found the bulbs, holder, wires, and other electrical supplies.  Dad found batteries, and she's had a grand day.

First haircut
 I'm not emotionally ready for Thanksgiving to be here yet!!!!

Sunday, November 15, 2015

A Week, Briefly (#14)

This week our only schooly school day was Monday.

The older kids and I did literature lesson 4 about The Nightingale and The Ugly Duckling; the theme was our unique missions in life.  We also completed chemistry lesson 4 about using the metric system.

For preschool we danced.  I found this cute site.  We danced to the first 2 classical songs and then to the Teddy Bears' Picnic.

Preschool dancing--the only "school" picture I took this week.
 On Tuesday our copy of Black Ships Before Troy finally came through which we needed to read for our cousins' book club meeting the very next day, so we spent the whole day snuggled around the living room reading and eating popcorn and sliced apples.  With interruptions from babies and toddlers, we made it through 92 pages.

In the late afternoon Rose Red made tang hulurs to take to share for the book club we should have had in October for Little Pear (it was repeatedly canceled because of illnesses).

On Wednesday Nature Angel had a dermatology check up for her bald patch--it's still bald, but the steroid shot at least halted the growth.  Now we have a set of ointments we have to apply morning and night to see if we can get hair to grow back.

While she was gone with Dad, Rose Red made pork and cabbage dumplings to go with the tang hulurs.  The rest of us did chores and packed a picnic lunch to eat in the car on the way up to our cousins' house 75 miles north of us.

Once we got on the final really, really country road, Rose Red got to drive.  The best moment was seeing our cousins' faces when they saw Rose Red behind the wheel as we came down the long driveway to their house.

We had our double book club meeting, enjoyed each other's company, and Rose Red got to practice 3 point turns in order to get out of the yard and back onto the road.  Our cousins whooped and hollered and cheered her on.

On Thursday we organized dance costumes and realized that Rose Red and Nature Angel needed some new base costumes.  We packed another picnic lunch and headed out the door to The Salvation Army to look for clothes.  We had limited success, but before we could go to another thrift store, it was time to head to our earlier-than-usual dance practice.

The teachers had the kids practice our introductory and final dances, and they practiced dancing and singing with the microphones.  My group of 3-5 year olds charmed all of the older kids who got to see the littles dance for the first time (we practice in the church kitchen while the others are in the main basement rooms).

After dance, Rose Red headed off to communications class, and I dropped Pixie and Super Star off at the meeting place for the youth temple trip

On Friday Rose Red and Pixie had an extra dance rehearsal in the morning, and Brother had a doctor's appointment about a rash on his arm, so that blew my plans to have a school day.  I did work with Little Princess on her flower fairy alphabet (letters U and V), though.

The babies have been extra needy of late, so I spent a lot of time taking care of them.

The best part of Friday was that Sir Walter Scott's brother came to visit.  He came armed with a truck load of pizza and soda, and we'd baked him a birthday cake, so we all laughed, talked, played, and celebrated the afternoon and evening away.

And the week was over.

There will be lots of dance next week as we have 2 performances and still need to find a few costume pieces!!!!

Saturday, November 7, 2015

A Week, Briefly (#13)

We began a literature unit this week--we're studying fairy tales for style, structure, themes and.  Lesson 1 covered The Princess and the Pea.  The older 4 girls are assigned to write their own fairy tale this week.

We also began chemistry lessons with God's Design for Chemistry: Properties of Matter.  It is excellent.  Lesson 1 was easy and fun for everyone from preschool to high school.

The littles and I danced to the 1812 Overture.  It was terribly exciting.  Parts of it were so exciting that they actually stressed Brother and Little Brother, so we'll dance to less stimulating music next week.

Another lit lesson.  Another chemistry lesson.  We began reading The Disappearing Spoon.  I'm intrigued. 

This experiment--measuring which sweetener feeds yeast best--was simply a vehicle for practicing the scientific method.

Waiting, waiting, waiting . . . it turns out that honey causes the fastest and longest lasting reaction, but sugar causes the largest reaction over time.  Molasses was a clear loser.
 The littles and I worked on lesson 5 out of Behold Your Little Ones.   We can now sign letters A-F, and we practiced the sign for "family."

The older girls found rides to the church for youth activities because Sir Walter Scott had to work, and I had sick littles--fevers abound.

More fevers, more snot, more coughing.  We powered through lesson 3 in literature and chemistry, both.   As I read aloud from The Disappearing Spoon, I found bored faces on every kid except Belle--she was bright-eyed and sucking in every word.  I think we might have a chemistry-lover on our hands. :)

We studied The Fisherman and His Wife, and then we "fished" for that which brings lasting happiness. 
For preschool we did a lot of fingerplays and reviewed past lessons about how Jesus loves everyone, how to show love to others, and the Articles of Faith.  We're working on number 3.

It is hard to remember, sometimes, the difference between doing what I need to do versus what I want to do.  I wanted to have a literature lesson with the kids, and I'd spent over an hour creatively preparing for it, but Little Sister was still struggling to breathe, not eating, vomiting, and having diarrhea, so I called and got her an appointment with the doctor.

I left most of the kids at home watching a National Geographic documentary about ocean life, packed up the babies, and took Pixie with me as my helper.

It's good we went.  The doctor got RT to come suction Little Sister out, and she was like a new person after that.  She drank tons of Pedialyte, smiled for the first time in 3 days, and played with blocks for half an hour in the evening.  She also slept soundly for hours at at time--giving her time to recover.

After the appointment ended, we raced to dance practice--arriving 45 minutes late.  I'd spent half an hour in the morning finding PODs for the kids (Parents On Duty), so I dropped off the older 6 and took the younger 5 (Ladybug was at school) to the grocery store for some emergency shopping.

That's 5 kids under 4.

I'm counting my blessings that there was a cart with a two-seat/two-steering wheel car attached to it, so Brother and Little Brother sat there while Mister Man walked, Baymax sat in the cart, and I carried Little Sister.

I'm also counting my blessings that they were very well-behaved.

After dance Rose Red needed to work on her next communications speech, so she sat down to watch Supersize Me (she's writing a persuasive speech about eating fast food).  Most of the other kids sat to watch, too.

So it was a documentary school day.

No preschool.  No creative play.  No mom lesson.  No schedule keeping.  No writing . . . nope, that's wrong!  The older 4 are working on their fairy tales!

Even though our evening reading was much interrupted by small, sick people, we did do some reading.

So I was where I needed to be.

And that is what is important (says the mom who's still learning).

Another day of needing to go with the flow--Little Sister had to go back to the doctor's office to be suctioned again.  The good news was that we successfully got her hydrated overnight.  The other good news was that Sir Walter Scott was home to take her, so I didn't need to spend another day away from home.

Making banana bread was on the list for the preschoolers, but they got so busy outfitting themselves for cooler-than-expected weather that I left them to their work.  It took them all nearly an hour to find gear and bundle up, and then they had a fine time outside.  I made the banana bread, and had a warm snack ready for them when they came in.

The fairy tales I assigned the older girls to write were due today.  3 of them made it, but Pixie got so into her project that she simply couldn't get her story finished.  I extended her deadline. :)

Rose Red angled to have school be reading the fairy tales aloud.  I intended to have a proper lesson.  Rose Red got her way by offering to read her story while we had a snack break.  We got so engrossed in the stories that before we knew it over an hour had passed and we'd had an informal writer's workshop.

I was good with that.

In the afternoon Rose Red wrote her speech for her communications class, and I made play-dough for the littles.  They had a fine time hiding and finding faux gems in the dough.

I gave Rose Red her final lesson from Math-U-See Epsilon.  On to Zeta next week!