Saturday, October 20, 2012

Fall Family Fun Day

My sweet middle sister hosted Fall Family Fun Day this year. What is this event, you ask? Well, dear reader, it is a totally fabricated holiday celebrated annually by the Ross Clan. FFFD was the brain child of my sisters and I years ago, when my big kids were very little. I'm not sure exactly what spawned the idea but it grew to an EVENT, that rivals Christmas in the hearts of my children, and family. Family is always invited, friends, and friends of friends are welcome; it is a whole day affair. Amanda said this year there were over 50 in attendance. Over the years we've had:

-pumpkin decorating

gourd bowling

apple bobbing

carmel apple decorating

football matches

face painting

pumpkin seed spitting contests

pumpkin carving contests

and lots, and lots of food (brunch and then mid afternoon a chili cook-off)

Great grandma rocking babies, new ones every year, it seems.

Last year we missed FFFD, as we were just surviving a cross country move. We had no friends or family to celebrate with; it was sad.

This year, gratefully, we do have people we know and love that we COULD invite to celebrate with us. But I am hesitant to pull of such an event without my sisters, and mom and dad to help make it happen. FFFD is awesome, but I wonder if it is as awesome without the family part? I wonder if the world at large will "get" this fictitious holiday?

This year :

-my mom fought breast cancer.

-My dad is God knows where. (Anytime there is news of new uprising in the Middle East I say to myself, "Oh, Crap, is Dad in Cairo, or Beruit, or the West Bank?" But that is a post for another day...)

My baby sister lives a country away, in New Jersey, of all places....

My middle sister hosted Fall Family Fun Day without us. I'm glad she did, but it is triggering a bout of homesickness.

And seasons change...this year there is no Thanksmas with the Wood Grandparents, or FFFD in Littleton at Dad's. I am thankful for the season that was; it was rich with family, and I am learning to press into where God has us now. It is good. It is good. It is good. Just different.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Cognitive Dissonance, Baby

We're, just now, planning a trip to the Happiest Place on Earth. It's an American child's right of passage to pose for a picture in front of a gigantic fake castle with a gigantic fake mouse. True?

And yet, I am keenly aware that "happy" isn't reality for many.

A friend received an awful diagnosis.

My mom-in-law is trying to stitch together a world that works for a boy who is living through stuff that would make anyone threadbare.

There are babies in Haiti, and Alemeda County, and everywhere that are just now, as we plan our vacation, experiencing the neglect that leads to attachment disorders. And, dammit, I keep bumping up against the truth of it when I'd rather forget.

The very going to Disneyland is an irony, actually. I'm trying to decide if we need to get a "guest assistance pass" for our littlest since her's are invisible disability. The sensory overload and transitions could be unmanageable without accommodation. But we accommodate so well, and she CAN behave so typically that I'm afraid that people will think we are just cutting in line. So I thought...I'll just get her one of those t-shirts like the kids with autism get, so people won't judge me us if there is a melt-down. You know the ones that say, "I'm not being naughty, I have autism." - or whatever. I don't think this dilemma would exist if the Mouse could truly deliver utopia. The happiest place on earth is still a broken place.

Tangent: So is giving a kid a t-shirt that spells out her diagnosis to random strangers just totally jacked, or only a little jacked? The fact is that when they see her "behaviors" they are already labeling her (bratty), but the t-shirt would at least give the correct label, right? K. Probably jacked. And I'm probably wanting to go the whole t-shirt route because I want for people to think I have it together-ish. Which is pretty lame. Tangent finished.

So the cognitive dissonance is wrapped around the idea that I shouldn't really be spending money on vacation when the world is broken. I should be doing something about the brokeness, like beyond Space Mountain. Or, at least, we should be using the money to buy new tires, and put some into a 401k. Disney is so playful and frivolous and exorbitant and I am a grown up...

But the world is broken. And I have this little tiny window to lean into where I am - with these 4, and this man. We are within a days drive to vacation central. We are buying a memory, and investing in relationships. And these are the good things in the broken. So we will celebrate them. There is no dissonance in that. It is a chord resolved. Intentionally, we fuel relationships so that we have the relational capital to influence our children to see a world beyond themselves. And the venue of choice happens to have an animated human-sized rodent as it's mascot. This makes sense, people, it does.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

How Public school became excellent marketing for least in our case.

When a person writes she ought to have a well thought out premise or thesis. Be forewarned: I do not have a thesis. I am doing catharsis, which is different and messier. Join me or don't, but I need to say these things. 

The suckage factor was really high when did our first serious stint with public school last year. One of my children did just fine - theoretically. He just came home with a newly acquired bad attitude about being inconvenienced by those who were younger and weaker than himself. So for all the talk of tolerance, the attitude being sponged up at school was one of intolerance. And the language and behavior of this attitude were being wrung out in our home. Not cool. But, sadly, it was benign compared to my other kids' experience.


My daughter had the misfortune of being in a class of a tenured teacher. Tenure isn't so bad if its a fabulous teacher who has it. I believe many fabulous teachers are tenured. However, there are some real skunks in the bunch. And the thing is that public school teachers are up against some major hurdles. Their funding stinks, they must teach to a (lame) test. The system is clunky, classrooms are large, kids come to school burdened by the brokenness of their own lives. Good teachers have a challenge. Bad teachers don't have a prayer. What's worse is that they can do real damage. My daughter started having panic attacks about reading out loud, and hid in the bathroom to cry. Things fell apart for this smart girl, but she could have made it, I think. She could have survived. Not thrived, but survived.


But for my youngest son school was devastating. He was placed with 2 teachers doing a job share. Word on the street was that one of these teachers was quite the yeller. And from the few times I was in the classroom I tend to believe it. This class was also full of kids with special needs, so many that any teacher would have struggled. Plus, there were 30 kid in the class to begin with, many of whom were English language learners. My son was placed in a table group between two boys with severe ADHD. As my son also has ADHD (well no H, actually) there couldn't have been a worse spot in the room.


Caleb was not unfamiliar with the classroom. He'd had lots of OPTIONS teachers (via our old homeschool charter) And he'd had a loving Kindergarten teacher and wonderful aides at the little Christian school we attended. Yet as he floundered, the teachers dismissed my cries for help by saying that because Caleb had been homeschooled he simply didn't know how to behave in a classroom (he wasn't misbehaving), and that he had not been given educational opportunity.


Never mind the ADHD, or the strong suspicion of auditory processing issues. I was just his educated, invested mother meddling. What could I possible know about my child?


All of my kids were stunned by the harshness of their teachers and the misbehavior of the students. Caleb was floored. He developed some SERIOUS school anxiety. He stopped eating, couldn't sleep and was plagued by nightmares. By the time we unenrolled him, I was literally having to drag this unassuming, laid back kid out of the car and force him into the classroom. Not going to school was a hill he was willing to die on. He hated it.


The only silver lining is that I became absolutely certain that there was something BIG going on. My son was drowning. So the RTI (response to intervention) process began, at my insistence. What they don't tell you is that response is slow and the intervention is inappropriate. There is push back when you ask an underfunded, overworked school staff to spend cash and resources on discerning the precise problem and crafting an appropriate educational plan. The law says that every student has the right to a "free and appropriate education", yet the RTI process can become a loop hole to get around having to actually write a 504 or an IEP. Plus, with so many kids acting out, it's relatively easy to ignore a quiet, underperforming kid with his head in the clouds.


The one thing they tell parents going through this process is that a parent should never attend a student study team / IEP / 504 meeting along. But who was I to bring? Eddie had to watch the kids, and we didn't know anyone in the state of California. I thought, I'm pretty smart and articulate. I know what I want for my son; I don't need to bring anyone. Pfft. I was the girl tied to the tracks and the Student Study Team and School Bureaucracy were the locomotive headed my way. It was totally traumatizing. I was so utterly pissed and flabbergasted.


So we enrolled Caleb in a homeschool charter and I started homeschooling again. Lo and behold my son started to eat and sleep. He began to learn. He was smart, gained confidence, and became his well adjusted self. Yet the issues didn't disappear. ADHD was still looming; the auditory processing challenged that were debilitating in a classroom faded into the background. But something was amiss.


So as we began this year I donned my nerd cap and went investigating. It turns out that the specific auditory weakness my son has are more akin to language processing issues, and could be classified as a specific learning disorder. In short: Dyslexia. I just needed a diagnosis to prove it. So, I began the process again, through our charter. This week we had a meeting that was akin to a student study team. I was have PSTD flashbacks, and was ready for a fight.


Guess what happened? The literacy coordinator listened to me. She took me seriously. She offered some suggestions, and agreed we'd need to monitor progress. Then, she offered a 504. Offered it. What's more she ordered the (expensive) testing to be done. Just like that. Without me asking. And she was ... nice.


I. am. stunned.


So. Grateful .


And so sure we made the right choice. It is hard work. It is unconventional. But it is best for us in this season.








Two others didn't

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

I maintain: Adoption is not Ideal

In response to an anonymous commenter:

(scroll down a post or two for the context.)

I'm not sure you'll ever read this...but here goes:
Adoption is redemptive. Adoption is good. Adoption has been a priceless gift for us. And in many situations adoption is the very best possible choice for a child.

And I maintain: Adoption isn't ideal. Ideally, 2 people committed to each other (in marriage) have a baby together in circumstances that allow them to parent forever. Ideally, this is how it works.

Anytime a baby/child is removed from his or her birthmom there is trauma; no one in the field of adoption or neuroscience, or chid development disputes this. And rarely (especially in today's adoption) is that the only trauma a child faces. Some kids are really resilient, and sometimes the trauma is minimal and in those cases families may see little fall out. That's great, and I would say it is also increasingly rare.

Also,I cannot conceive of a birthmom out there who wouldn't call the termination of her parental rights traumatic. It is a deeply sad thing to not be able to parent your child. The very thought of it is like a punch in the gut. Sad, can give birth to beauty. But sad is alway the seed of adoption. It is.

I think I'm a "Hero", you say? Yeah, well maybe, once, I was enamoured with the romantic notion of "saving an orphan." But that was before she was placed in my arms and I was so humbled by the precious gift and daunting responsibility. I'm sure you understand. It sounds like you are a parent too.

She is my daughter, you see. She isn't an orphan. She's mine. I help her dress, and brush her teeth. I read her stories and apply band-aids when necessary. I get annoyed when I tell her for the zillionth time she needs to put on her shoes and she's still futzing with a coloring book. There is nothing heroic in the day to day. I am a mom; I am not a hero.

And let me assure you, my bio kids do not see their little sister as the "emotionally damaged adopted child". That's just totally offensive. They bicker with her, and love on her, and put up with her antics just like they do with each other. They are sibs - all four of them. The end.

But how many 10 year olds do you know that can spot the signs of disregulation and know immediately that "heavy work" will give the sensory input necessary to calm a situation? How many kids do you know that end up with sleep issues themselves because their sibling cannot regualte sleep cycles. The "bigs" (as we call them) have absorbed the impact of trauma. It was one of the great miscalculations of our journey to assume that my husband and I would be most deeply impacted by the choice to add to our family. It's not a "them" vs. "her" thing. It just is the reality of living with a child with a disability. And her disabilty is not adoption - that isn't a disability per se. But my daughter's story, and the lifelong challenges she will face, cannot be seperated from the circumstances that led her to us. And her "melt-downs" are not of the typical variety. They stem from brain differences. But as you are an anonymous commenter, you would have no way of knowing this.

Incidently, my bio son also has some acronyms. And, incidently, those impact our family too. We are savvy about his stuff, as well. But this particular story was not about that.

And, um, I may not yet be a veteran parent , but I'm no rookie, either. So, yeah, I've had a kid or two lose it before. Heck, I've thrown a juvenile hissy fit a time or two.

This is not the same. At all.

Get to know a child with FASD. Talk to a momma raising a child who has come from very hard places. Be slow to judge, because you know not of what you speak.

The mammas who commented before you have walked a very hard road. Until you have walked it too, please be slow to judge.





Saturday, September 15, 2012

Homeschool Dorks


This is awkward. Bear with me.

Yesterday, I went to a picnic feeling like a seventh grader with a big pimple on her forehead. It was, you see, a picnic for a homeschooling support group. After some internal wrestling, I had decided to join. The name of this particular group of homeschoolers is so flagrantly velveeta-esque in christian cheesiness I can barely palate it. I prefer to use the acronym, so I don't have to string this particular combination of words together - you know, out loud. In fact, if there wasn't already an acronym I would have made one up, just so I wouldn't have say I belong to a group by this name. I've always felt that if Christians are going to be dorky, they should at least try to be a little covert about it.

Yet there I was, four kids in tow, not sure if I should try to fit in, or burn my bra in some misguided attempt at defiance towards christian sub-culture dorkiness. Not that I actually would burn my undergarments, but can you imagine? All those homeschooling mamas shielding their babies' eyes? The very thought makes me giggle. Alas, I am not that bold, and my tween children would never forgive me. It would cost a lot in therapy, for them, and I am too cheap to send my kids to a counsellor for nonsence like that. They'll just have to wait until we really screw them up.

But, I digress.

Thing is: I have 4 kids; I homeschool them, and I am a Christian.

So, I look the part. Heck, I AM the part.

But I get a little itchy with it. 'Cause I was going to marry a rich guy so I could hire a maid, and a personal secretary. Then, I was going to do a little work with an NGO, and do a little writing. Probably, I'd end up with a Pulitzer, you know, that sort of thing. It's not that having children was entirely out of the question. But I thought they would be sort of a side gig, or passtime, to augment my real life - as a socialite/humanitarian/award-winning author.

And yet...there I found myself, picnic in hand, four children who shared my sur name, running ahead. And I stood on a precipes wanting to belong, and desperately not wanting to belong. It was so junior high.

I think God was laughing at me.

For all my talk I am a middle class mother of four children. I homeschool them, for Heaven's sake (really for Heaven's sake). We go to The Church of Obnoxiously Large Crosses. Bottom Line: I derserve to belong to a group with acronym that stands for a name of dubious quality and unquestionable dorkiness.

God served a dish of humble pie to me yesterday at that picnic. I met some people I actually really like - including those who were probably integral in chosing the name of this support group. They're smart, articulate, and successful. And they're not even weird. The prize for arrogance goes to For God shows up in the most unlikely places, and as it turns out, he is not all that concerned with hanging out with the not-so-hip crowd.

I think he might even prefer them.

Which is good for me, because the whole Pulitzer/Rich Girl/Humanitarian of Coolness thing is turning out to be something of a flop.








Thursday, September 13, 2012

Invisible Disability, Trauma, Attachment, and My Pride

It's not PC to say adoption changes things. Nor is it PC to say adoption is always predicated by brokeness. It's nicer to talk about "forever families" and "solving the orphan crisis one child at a time." But that, my friends, is spin. It tells one side of a story that is far more complex and messy. Adoption is never ideal. Never. It is only necessary when something goes wrong. Trauma, disability, attachment challenges are the reality in many adoption stories.

The people writing copy for adoption agency brochures weren't at preschool yesterday when I came to pick up my five and a half year old. Because the *#it that went down just then would not have made the cut for footage in agency promotional material.

The daughter of my heart did not want to come home with me. Even a little bit.

So, I pulled out my best Karyn Purvis therapeutic parenting tactics.

-I stayed light and playful.

-I gave time for transition.

I provided a transitional object and sensory input.

I tried distraction

then, I gave 2 choices given at eye level in a low calm voice.

fail, fail, epic fail, fail, fail.

So, as the awkward tension built in the room, and while on looking parents tried politely to avert eye-contact, I was left with one less than fabulous choice.

I hauled that kid up, gave her a giant bear hug, and made a bee line for the car to the soundtrack of: " I don't want to be with you, I love Miss Jenn (who she's known for a week). I want to stay at school forever."

And 30 minutes later she stopped. My eardrums are in recovery.

My older children have developed coping mechanisms for these type of public displays. They are far from uncommon, and my trauma savvy bio crew can spot the signs of a meltdown a mile away. They ask for the keys to the car and wait there until I can come to them. (Yes, CPS, I send my bio kids to sit and wait for me in the car. Yes, I know it is illegal. Yes, I believe it is the best, and safest option for them in these moments. So, rookie social workers, you can tell me how to raise my kids when you've broken a sweat restraining my out of control child, and lived to tell about it. Then, you may have an opinion.)


Sometimes I can figure the triggers to such melt-downs. Sometimes, I simply cannot. The preschool pick-up debacle was predicated by a tough transition morning, and an unexpectedly absent lead teacher, plus some weak cause and effect reasoning. My daughter felt that if she left, her lead teacher (whom she adores) might not come back to school. And she was a helpless, hysterical puddle. For me. She was delightful all during preschool, which is how it works, my friends. Mamas take the brunt of it.

Healing comes at a price, and sometimes healing doesn't come at all. Birthparents pay. Adoptive families pay. Adoptee's pay. Entire cultures pay. And the cost of early trauma is monumental.

So I pulled out a my figurative checkbook, and wrote a check to my daughter. The cost? My pride. Because, um, we got some looks, as she pummeled me and screamed on the way to the car. But what the preschool parent crowd didn't see was the 20 minutes we sat snuggled up in our favorite chair with sup-ups, warm milk, songs and soggy kisses. She is a precious treasure. I love her with my whole heart - so much it aches.

The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure that a man discovered hidden in a field. In his excitement he hid it again, sold everything he had to get enough money to buy the field.