Friday, September 27, 2013

Pretty as a Picture


I love how this photo captures Julia's sweet spirit and natural beauty.

It looks more like a painting than a photograph, even though it wasn't a major effort. 

We were meeting some friends at a local park Thursday afternoon. Knowing we'd get there about 15 minutes before the other family, I asked Julia if we could try to shoot her 5th grade homeschool pic.

The minute we finished, Julia slapped her hair back into a low ponytail and ran to the park restroom to slip on an old t-shirt and sneakers. 

I love watching her grow up.

And speaking of photographing my kids, I want to remind you that registration for Nancy's next Manual n More class starts Monday, Sept. 30. I can't recommend the class highly enough.

Linking up at Favorite Photo Friday.

Ni Hao Yall

Monday, September 23, 2013

He Called Her "Real Mom"

I'd love to know your opinion on this one.

The other day Wenxin and I were talking, and I'm not even sure how it came up. I think I was telling him that I bet his foster mother would be so proud of him.

And then he asked.

"What about the other one?"

"The other what?" I replied.

"The other mom. You know . . . my REAL mom." (emphasis mine)

"Oh, I see. I bet your first mom would be so proud of you, too."

We talked for another minute or two, and as he ran out the door to go play, I said with a wink, "Hey Wenxin, don't forget. I'm REAL, too."

Big grin, and he was off.

So here's the question. He's 10 years old and adopted for three years now. Is it important for me to teach him what most people consider to be appropriate adoption language? Should he call her his first mom or his birth mom instead of his real mom? Does it really matter?

My gut tells me he should be able to call all the mothers in his life whatever seems appropriate to him -- because it's his story. My gut says I should follow his lead on this one. But he is only ten and is still making sense of his own history. On this issue, does he need guidance from me? Specifically, does he need me to choose his words?

I'm not concerned about my place in his life. I know this kid loves me. I also know I'm his third mom. I'm OK with this. And I think I can live with him calling her his real mom.

But since it's not what's normally done in the adoption world, I'm wondering if I'm missing something here?

I also have a real fear that some adoptive parent will correct him. It could happen, you know, cause calling the birth mom the real mom. . . those are fightin' words in a lot of places.

I'm also pretty sure he'll call her whatever I ask him to call her. He's sweet and obedient. And he believes what I say about things. If I say he should call her his first mom or his birth mom, then I'm pretty sure that's what he'll do -- for now, anyway. But do I want to make that decision for him?

So what do you think? What would you do in my place?

Waiting for all of your words of wisdom.

If you are an adult adoptee, please let your voice be heard on this one.

Sharing today over at Emily's place.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Can We Just Give Other Moms a Break?

A couple of weeks ago, one of my Facebook friends asked a question.

"Do you think that kids today throw fits at older ages than they did in years past?"

As the opinions rolled in, I felt myself getting more and more agitated.

The traditional wisdom that kids only throw fits when it works for them was a common thread.

In other words, if a 7-year-old is melting down in Wal-Mart, it is definitely because he has parents who have given in to tantrums in the past, teaching him to throw a fit whenever he doesn't get what he wants.

Kid throwing a fit in public = a bad / permissive / weak-willed parent.

While many of the comments were kind and sincere, others adopted a superior tone. Not one commenter confessed her own bad parenting that resulted in her own kids throwing fits well into their elementary years. Nope. This was all about the other moms out there.

It wasn't wrong for my friend to ask the question. She's the mom of two very active little boys, and I suspect she had personal reasons for wanting to know. And I'm not trying to blow the discussion that followed into something it wasn't.

Maybe I'm just touchy.

Thing is, I know a few big kids who still melt down in public.

Each one of them has a hidden special need.

First, there's the kid who had a mild brain injury at birth. He looks normal on the outside, but he and his mom face ongoing learning and behavioral struggles that are baffling to them both.

Then, there's this beautiful child who is autistic. He has the world's best parents. Place this child in a group of same-age peers, and you can't tell the difference at first. But it doesn't take long to notice that something about his behavior is off. There always has to be an adult, ready at a moment's notice to remove him and keep him safe if his behavior becomes explosive.

Finally, there are our kids adopted from hard places. 

So when you see a big kid throwing a terrible-twos style tantrum in public, I recommend that your first thought be, "There's probably more to this story than meets the eye." And then I recommend compassion.

Because the mommas in these situations are dealing, first of all, with parenting a child whose daily challenges are exhausting. Second, as if to add insult to injury, they find themselves judged by strangers. Judged according to traditional parenting wisdom when their situations are anything but traditional.

Give them a break.

"But how can you know for sure?" you might ask.

You can't. That's why you choose to give them the benefit of the doubt.

I choose to give them a break because really, the only person's parenting I need to evaluate is my own. That's the one situation where I have all the facts. That's the one situation where I can make a difference. I own that one.

Dealing with my own parenting challenges is a full-time job.

And by the way, I'm not so sure that the kids of this generation are so much worse than the kids of previous generations.

"Kids these days. . . "

Haven't people been saying that since the beginning of time?

Links - Because I Love to Share What Others are Saying

A Plan of Attack for My Picky Eaters - Traditional parenting wisdom says, "If they get hungry enough, they'll eat whatever you put on the table." But what if they won't? What if your newly adopted child will lose weight before she touches most foods? What if mealtimes trigger outbursts on a regular basis? Nancy shares her heart and her plan of action for her pickiest eaters.

Dear parents, you need to control your kids. Sincerely, non-parents - This dad takes on a single man who is criticizing a mom because her child is melting down in the grocery store. This one goes on my list of posts I wish I'd written myself.

It's like a theme park for your peace of mind - If you happen to be on the receiving end of criticism related to your parenting, this one's for you.

Sharing at WFMW.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Moon Festival Adoptive Family Style: Year II

China's Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the Moon Festival, is Thursday.

Am I the only adoptive parent who feels totally inept when it comes to important holidays from my child's birth culture?

Last year was our first time to celebrate the Moon Festival as a family. At the last minute, I ran out and bought a couple of mooncakes and made a quick dinner of frozen pot stickers. We played Chinese folk songs as we ate. I'm glad no Chinese person (other than Wenxin) could see my lame attempt at honoring his birth culture. Yes, it was pretty lame. But it was a start.

Sometimes it's important just to start.

And you know what?

It was fun.

This year in August Wenxin reminded me. "Mom, don't forget. The Moon Festival is coming up."

So yesterday we made a day of it. We drove downtown to an area with lots of Asian restaurants and shops, and we had lunch at my favorite Vietnamese place. We all chowed down on noodles and rice, and everyone tried bubble tea for the first time.

Those tapioca pearls kind of freaked everyone out. They'll be talking about it for days.

After lunch, we headed to an Asian supermarket to shop for mooncakes. Last year we had the ones with red bean filling. This year we bought a tin with four different flavors. We chose the kind that have a salty egg yolk in the middle. From what I understand, the egg yolk stands for the full moon. I just couldn't bring myself to do the cooked egg yolk in the middle of a cake thing last year, but this year I'm game. Why not? Mooncake is pretty much outside my comfort zone no matter what's inside. And Wenxin's pretty excited about those egg yolks.

Next, we dropped by a gift shop and bought paper lanterns for decorations. The Chinese ladies there even talked me into buying a huge paper lantern that floats up into the sky when lit. Wenxin is convinced it is destined to come crashing out of the sky and cause a fire.

"That one's a fire hazard, Mom. If we're going to light it, we need to go somewhere FAR FROM OUR HOUSE."

Last stop: the public library for a book about the Moon Festival.

Thursday night, provided there's no rain, we plan to set up our porch table in the backyard under the full moon. There will be candles and lanterns and our favorite Asian foods. 

Our family is a blending of two cultures, so it just seems right that we should incorporate some of the best things from both. For us, that means adding the Mid-Autumn Festival and Chinese New Year to our list of family celebrations.

This year's Moon Festival holds special meaning for us. It's the third anniversary of the night Wenxin came home and all my kids slept under the same roof for the first time. The night we became a family.

Do all internationally adopted kids want their new families to celebrate their birth cultures? Should you push birth culture when all your kid wants is just to fit into his adopted culture? Kayla addresses these questions today at No Hands But Ours in a post called Chinese, if you please.

works for me wednesday at we are that family

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Is Older Child Adoption a Special Need?

The other day, someone mentioned on Facebook that I had adopted a special needs child.

That phrase took me by surprise.

Because sometimes I forget. 

Being an older child is considered a special need in the adoption world.

That used to really bother me.

It used to bother me that China would call my perfectly healthy, incredibly bright son a special needs kid.

It felt like a put-down, like they couldn't see his potential.

It doesn't bother me anymore. . . well, not as much as it used to. 

Because being adopted as an older child is a special need.

I've said it before. No older child is available for adoption because he's had a great life. Older children available for adoption have experienced real trauma. And being a trauma survivor is a special need with long-term implications.

The death of a parent = trauma.

Abandonment = trauma

The loss each time they were moved from foster home to foster home or into an orphanage = trauma

Being adopted internationally and having to adjust to new parents, a new country, a new language, a new culture = trauma

It's easy to forget. 

It's easy to think that a lot of love and plenty of food and having so much more materially than they ever had in their birth country will fix everything.

It doesn't.

So if you're thinking of adopting an older child, it may help you to remember that older child adoption is a special need.

Think about it this way. If you were adopting a child in a wheelchair, you'd be constantly aware of their special need. You'd be prepared to deal with it long term. You might hope that with great medical care your new child would learn to walk one day. You might even be praying for a miracle. But in reality, you would also be preparing to push that wheelchair for years to come. 

Adopting a kid with a background of trauma is no different, even though their special need is hidden. 

You would never tell the kid in the wheelchair, "You've been home for 18 months now. We've taken you to the best doctors. Everyone at our church has faithfully prayed for you. You can't let this thing limit you forever. We're done pushing this wheelchair. It's time for you to quit making excuses and get up and walk."

You would never do that.

But it's done all the time when a kid's special need is hidden. 

Here's what I'm not trying to do in this post. I'm not trying to limit your child or put them in a box. I'm not telling you, as a parent, to excuse all their negative behavior. I'm not encouraging you to set the bar low.

My son, adopted at age 7 1/2 and home three years now, has made amazing progress. His heart has healed in so many ways. I am full of hope when I think about his future. Please don't ever give up hope! But in the same way, please don't ever forget to be compassionate as you parent a child with a real, but hidden, special need. 

I'll give you an example. When we started our new homeschool year back in August, both Mike and I noticed subtle changes in Wenxin. He was needier, clingier, louder . . . he seemed to be on high alert. We remembered that with his background, change is hard for him. Change makes him afraid. 

So we made subtle changes in our behavior in response to what we saw in him. We held him more, snuggled him more, kept him closer to us. Even though he's able to do a lot of his homeschool work independently, I spent a few days doing almost everything with him. That little bit of extra attention from us was all it took -- this time -- to help him feel safer and more confident starting a new school year.

I read a great blog post this week that reminded me to parent with compassion for the long haul. When I read it, I knew I wanted to share it with you. 

Sharing today at Emily's Imperfect Prose and Ni Hao Y'all.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Would You Allow Me to Show Off a Little?

This little beauty was visiting us when I captured this shot. Her eyes are to die for!

"Hey, Dana -- what kind of camera do you have?"

The question popped up on my Facebook the other day.

I think that's code for, "Wow. You're taking some nice photos these days."

I'm pretty happy with my recent photos as well. That's why I'm showing off a little on the blog today.

Remember how I took the Manual N More class earlier this year? Well I'm smack dab in the middle of another one of Nancy's classes. This one is called Lightroom 101.

I'm learning to edit my photos in Adobe Lightroom 5, and the results are. . . well, just look at the photos above. The results are breathtaking.

Both classes have been a stretch for me. In fact, in both cases, I felt clueless and a little insecure at the start. I'm the kind of person who likes to make sure I understand everything before I begin. Wouldn't want to look foolish. But Nancy is very sweet, and once I dove in and started posting my work, I never felt dumb. Nancy, a former middle school teacher and mom to a house full of kids, has a knack for giving just the right amount of feedback.

The online format works for me. Lessons are posted 24/7on a private Facebook group. You can work any time of the day or night. Some are written PDF files, while others are videos. As we practice new skills, we post our photos on the Facebook page, and Nancy gives us feedback.

I'm learning so much. I'm having fun. And I'm getting to the point where I can see doing portraits of my kids myself, instead of hiring a photographer. See those two color portraits of Katherine. I shot those the other day as part of her fourth grade photo shoot -- my version of school pics for my homeschooled kids.

If you've already invested in a digital SLR camera, Nancy's Manual n More and Lightroom 101 classes are a fun and affordable way to take things to the next level and get the kind of photos that make friends ask, "Hey, what kind of camera do you have?"

Ni Hao Yall

Little by Little

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Do You Need A School Room To Homeschool? No.

You don't even need desks.

You do, however, need a place to put all the stuff. When you homeschool, you end up with a whole lot of stuff.

And quite honestly, most of my kids would be happy to leave their school stuff strewn all over the house, all the time.

And that. . . would drive me CRAZY!

So this year I got rid of Julia's desk in our family room. She NEVER worked there. . . it was just a clutter magnet.

In its place I bought this.

I'm in love. Each child has a cube for this year's school books plus a drawer for smaller items. The two big baskets up top hide craft supplies, math manipulatives, and learning games. If you reduced our homeschool to the bare basics, it could all live in this little unit.

Of course we have lots more than the bare basics.

So, a couple of years ago I bought these floor to ceiling bookshelves off Craig's List and made a little reading nook in the space where our smaller dining room table used to go. The basket on the floor is for magazines and library books. We love books. Can you tell?

We call the little number below the art cabinet. It was $35 at a garage sale. On the outside she's a bit plain, but at least she almost always looks neat.

On the inside, she is full of all kinds of creative, fun stuff. She hides all our art and drawing books, pencils, marker, crayons, rulers, and all kinds of paper. The stuff hiding in the art cabinet gets used on a daily basis around here.

On to the kitchen. We use every nook and cranny for all our homeschool stuff. Even our tiny kitchen.

Somehow, a few years back, we ended up with a big aquarium. It sits at one end of the kitchen. Instead of an aquarium stand, we opted to use a heavy duty two shelf bookcase. That's where I keep all my teacher's guides, along with a few cookbooks and extra printer paper, and of course, fish food. 

Since there's going to be a giant aquarium taking up that space one way or another, it's nice to be able to store homeschool supplies underneath.

Hmmm. . . if I'd noticed how dusty the bottom shelf was, I would've gotten one of the kids to dust before I took the photo.

I'm prideful like that

Oh well. That's how it really looks in real life. We have dust.

While I'm picky about having a place for all our homeschool stuff, I'm very flexible about where each child actually works. Some prefer the big farm table. Others like the breakfast bar. They snuggle up with good books on their beds or on the sofas. I've even seen them venture outside to do school sitting in the sunshine in the middle of the trampoline.

Homeschooling without a school room.

It works for us.

works for me wednesday at we are that family

Monday, September 2, 2013

Labor Day

I guess you could call it water tether ball. . . or something like that.

It was wet. It was rowdy. It was the perfect Labor Day fun for my four not-so-little kids.

Better still. . .I taught them all how to play Spades. It was a rite of passage for them and for me. Now they can play cards with the adults. And I've arrived at the stage of parenthood where I no longer have to play Candyland. . .or Monopoly. . .or Uno.

Looks like my partner is working up a pretty good poker face.

We won.

At this point, whoever is my partner is assured of winning.

Enjoy the last little bit of your Labor Day.