Friday, September 19, 2014

It Takes A Village


It takes a whole village to raise kids.  It truly does.  I believe it takes even more than that when you are raising an adopted older child.  I think most adoptive parents could agree with that.  I am thankful for my village.  My village includes neighbors, friends, teachers, family, doctors, and so many others.

A few days ago, I contacted our friends who adopted the same time as us from the same orphanage and their child is the same age as Matthew.  They expressed that their child also struggles with basic math such as 5+5 and 2x4.  They expressed that their child also cannot read well in English even after 7 months of daily tutoring.  They also have an older child that they adopted from Ukraine many years ago who said this new child can’t even read or write well in Ukrainian.  So it looks like both children did not get much of ANY education EVER.  I’m still trying to grasp this concept.  We are starting with a 12-year-old from ABSOLUTE scratch.

This week while working on 2x4=8 for the 7th month in a row, I finally asked Matthew, “What did you ever learn in Ukraine in school?”  His answer was a defensive, “Nothing!  I learned nothing.  My mama and pop had no money and they say I know nothing and they not spend money on a boy (who knows) nothing. They say I stupid.”  I held back my saddened emotions and continued, “Well, if you learned nothing, then what did you do all day long, every single day?”  He answered, “My mama and pop, they leave early when it still dark, they lock me the door, I stay home alone, one piece of bread and some water. They come home after dark, maybe 12 hours.”  So if I understood him correctly, he was left alone from the ages of 4-7 all day, every day while both his parents worked. I recall the apartments in Ukraine had these old-fashioned shaped keys that you had to turn to open the door and turn to lock the door.  They don’t have latches like there are here in America.  You have to have a key to open and close the doors.

 Keeping in mind that these people are actually his adoptive father, and a step mother, I continued.  “When did you go to school?”  He said, “I went to school maybe 7 (years old), then mama said (that) I know nothing and (that) she did not want me. I too stupid.  She want (her) own babies, not me. I go to (orphanage) and they teach me, (but) I still know nothing.” 

I really had to choke back the tears.  Someone called MY little boy STUPID and it’s hurtful!  He was crying at this point in our talk.  I am actually the THIRD MOM in his life.  His bio-mom is elsewhere.  According to him and the director his step mom didn’t want him because she wanted babies of her own, not an older boy.  So this really makes sense why he is so guarded with me while very open with Tim. 

I assured him that he is NOT stupid and he DOES know things and that I LOVE HIM and I WANT HIM.  Then I asked him, “Well, do you want ME to teach you to read and me to teach you math?” 

He nodded. 

“Will you promise to try to learn?” 

He nodded. 

“I honestly don’t know HOW to teach you, but I promise to TRY to teach you if you TRY to learn, okay?”

He nodded and more tears flowed.  He wiped them away like a tough guy and we got busy with more times tables and reading.  When we finished he gave me a GIANT hug and said, “Mom, thanks for teaching me to read and math.”  It was such a great feeling!

I’m excited that it’s been a great couple of days as he gets home from school and grabs his book and ASKS ME to read.  It’s not like it’s been the last 7 months where I feel like I’m talking to a brick wall, and he feels like learning is some kind of punishment.  He’s open and he’s actually REALLY improving quickly. And it’s neat because reading time together every day is kind of our “thing” now.  It’s our special time of laughing, snuggling on his bed and reading together.

I’m thankful for our adoptive friends who gave us that encouragement that this is NORMAL.  These kids are not taught anything in some of the orphanages in Ukraine. 

I’m thankful for our neighbors….A few weeks ago the boys were getting a little wild with their air soft guns.  I’m doing the best that I can to balance not being the hover-helicopter-mom trying to protect my baby boy because of what happened to Brandon, while letting “boys be boys” while being realistically SAFE.  

One of the boys got hit in the inside of the nose, right by the eye.  Since Matthew didn’t do it, we gave him a verbal warning to ONLY SHOOT at the designated targets that we bought from Dick’s Sporting Goods.  A few days after the eye incident, Matthew came inside sheepishly.  I’m finally picking up on his facial expressions.  I guess one of the neighborhood girls was struck in the ear by a bee bee that had ricochet off of a light post.  The father of this girl disarmed ALL THE BOYS in the neighborhood.  Again, Matthew was NOT to blame for that misfire, but I was OH SO GLAD this dad stepped up and took away all their guns and said, “Have your mom or dad come get your guns from me.”  This held these boys accountable to either tell their parents what happened or not get their expensive guns back.  I appreciate their wisdom when our backs are turned.

Wednesday Matthew came home from school looking highly stressed out and frankly a little sheepish.  He wasn’t open to talking when I asked him what was up.  A half hour later the doorbell rang.  Outside there stood an upset AA mother with her son in an orange shirt.  She explained that “orange shirt” had been bullied by our Matthew and that there were several boys bullied by Matthew and they are all afraid of him.  She mentioned on Monday there was an incident that had happened where Matthew knocked down “orange shirt.” He then looked me in the eye and said to me, “I just want peace.  I just want to go to school and come home in peace.  I don’t want none of dat.”  I quickly apologized for the incident, thanked her and “orange shirt” for letting me know of the incident and assured her that we’d try to resolve the situation.  We exchanged phone numbers.  My heart sank.  I really did not want to hear that MY son is being a bully. 

After she left I went into Matthew’s room and asked him what happened because I wanted his side of the story.  He said that orange shirt pushed HIM first and so he retaliated.  Of course that’s what happened.  That’s what any boy would say that didn’t want to be in trouble. At this point, I wasn’t sure what story to believe because it’s one boy’s word against the other.   I called Tim and he got off work immediately to “handle things.” 

Tim ended up spending the next 2 hours walking with Matthew down to 5 different boys’ homes around our neighborhood and speaking with both the boys and the parents of the boys.  As it turns out, Matthew was telling the truth.  This group of boys was goofing around knocking back packs, pushing and shoving in a playful way at first and then things escalated.  “Orange shirt” pushed Matthew down first.  Matthew lost his balance because he wasn’t expecting the push, and the backpack was quite heavy.  “Orange shirt’s” friends started laughing at Matthew, so Matthew gave him a solid push back knocking “orange shirt” down and walked away.  At the end of this investigation the boys apologized and the mother apologized for blaming Matthew and it all worked out.

We were proud of Matthew for telling the truth and I was thankful Tim was able to get to the bottom of things before it got any worse.  I was SO relieved that Matthew is not a bully.  He does have a history of fighting in our neighborhood, but thankfully his fighting is generally more self-defense than instigation.  If someone throws a punch he has no problem defending himself so kids don’t usually mess with him a whole lot.  I will admit Matthew can be obnoxious with his “talking smack” around peers, especially if girls his age are around.  Oh, yes, we are at that wonderful age in a boy’s life.  God help us and the world!!!

Anyway, Matthew seemed happy to know that Dad had his back.  It was fun to look out the window and see Matthew happily skipping alongside of Tim yapping a mile a minute as they walked home after things had been resolved.  He came home from school the following day all smiles and said, “(Orange shirt) said he (is) sorry and he like(s) me. We (are) friends.”

Again, I am so thankful for “the Village.” It is NOT easy being parents in the 21st Century.  It is not always a walk in the park for raising older adoptive kids with language barriers either.   I was glad Orange Shirt’s mom came to let us know that something had been happening.  I’m thankful for the boys that are Matthew’s friends and walking buddies.  I’m thankful for the neighbors. Any and all help we can get from others is greatly appreciated. It definitely takes a village! 


My village will definitely be extra useful as these kids inch closer toward adulthood with driving right around the corner.  What about you?  What do you like about your "village?" Comment below or send me a message at followingclosely@gmail.com.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

7 Months Home!


Today marks the time when seven months ago we set foot on American soil together!  This boy has grown 3 inches in such a short time! He's looking pretty tall these days!  I wonder what his director would think of all his long HAIR!  She only ever saw him with all his hair shaved off.

This has been a transitional month for Matthew.  Prior to this month he was at home and basically playing all day.  This is the first month where he has had to get up every morning and spend 7 hours at school each day.  He actually seems to thoroughly enjoy school.  He doesn't come home exhausted like Brandon used to back when he attended private school.  I swear Matthew has an eternal dose of energy and is rarely tired out.

I'm not sure what all the school is working on as far as ESL.  We try to ask Matthew, but he jabbers on and on about anything and everything except what he's learning at school.  I have yet to receive an email from any of the teachers of his latest team working with him in 6th grade.  I assume if there was a problem, someone would be contacting us.

When he gets home every afternoon, I have him listen to some phonics pronunciation cds and then I have him read to me for about an hour.  He can read maybe 3 pages in a full hour in a 1st grade reader.  He's being tested now at school to see if he has a learning disability or if it's more behavioral, but he's not improving with his reading much at all.  He still struggles with what sounds each letter makes.  His orphanage director told us over and over how smart he was so maybe the public school is correct that it is behavioral.  Maybe it is a different cultural opinion of what "smart" is.  I know a lot of the work in the orphanage was just copying word for word what was written on the black board.  There wasn't a whole lot of memorization.  I've read a lengthy thread in an adoption forum that said, "Until you can convince an older Ukrainian boy that an education will benefit HIM, you will be hard pressed to get him to do anything."  Probably 20 or 30 families agreed with that statement and elaborated that culturally Ukraine boys do not see a value in education.

This is just one of those things that a lot of adoptive parents struggle with regarding their older adopted children.  We don't know how hard to push him, but he needs to be pushed.  Matthew has high hopes of being a sniper in the US Air Force when he turns 18.  The problem is, he HAS to graduate high school in order to enlist in the Air Force.  They no longer accept the GED for the US Air Force.  However, if he is 12 now and not even able to read, he is really going to have to work hard in the next 5.5 years to fit everything he needs to in order to graduate.  So, dear friends and family, if you could pray that a light bulb goes off soon that would be wonderful!

In the meantime, we are enjoying this spark of energy!  This past weekend I went on a date with just him to go see a movie.  It was the first time I got to go out with just him so it was special.  He was dying to see the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle movie.  He absolutely loved that movie.  I was pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed the movie as well. We had popcorn and slushies.  Afterward we went to a restaurant to have delicious sub sandwhiches, which was what he requested.  It was so much fun and a great time of bonding.

If any of my fellow adoptive parents have an creative ideas for us to help him learn his phonics or any parents of boys who have ideas on how to motivate a 12-year-old boy to learn, we are open to suggestions.  Feel free to comment below or email me at followingclosely@gmail.com.






Thursday, September 4, 2014

These Kids!

 Things are going really well so far this year with homeschooling the girls.  The girls do their video courses for 4 of their online classes and then I teach them individually English, Literature/Reading, Spelling and Poetry.  They all have said they enjoy the one-on-one time I give them as a teacher.  So far we have straight A's and wonderful attitudes!  The above picture is Haley reading with wonderful expression and clarity POOLSIDE!!! 
 The other day Haley was sitting in her bedroom "listening to her video lecture" while gazing outside and somehow she spotted a lizard swimming in the pool.  She is SO easily distracted from school and I swear she has freekishly good vision to be able to see from her bedroom window such a small critter in the pool!
 Oh, how this child loves her critters!
 The poor lizard died later that day because I don't think the pool chemicals were good for it.  Matthew thought he'd be funny and throw a lizard at me and I screamed and jumped so high I almost landed in the pool fully dressed....Thankfully the lizard he threw was a rubber one, but he got a good laugh out of scaring the absolute daylights out of me.

 I've been teaching the girls a little each day how to cook in kind of a hands-on cooking class.  One day for lunch Kylie chose to make Velveeta Mac and Cheese.  I had her read the instructions herself to make her meal.  She accidentally mis-read the instructions and added the packet of liquid cheese to the boiling water along with the noodles.  She somehow missed the steps that said to boil the noodles first for 10 minutes, then drain them, THEN add the packet of liquid cheese.  She was so unbelievably and uncharacteristically angry that she screamed, "Ohhhh!!  I HATE HATE HATE cooking!  I hate it! AHHHHH!!!!" She wasn't screaming AT me.  She was just screaming into thin air. I went in my bedroom and closed the door to answer a phone call.  I guess she assumed I was upset at her outburst, so she slid the following note under the door:

"Dear Mom, Sorry I yelled @ you.  It's just that cooking frosterates me.  Remind me not 2 cook again.  Sorry if I spelt wrong.  I love you. Love Kylie."

I love her tender heart to apologize over becoming "frosterated."  She is always so quick to apologize.  She's a precious girlie!  She has since successfully cooked Velveeta Mac and Cheese!!!  If at first you don't succeed, try, try again! 
 Bella, in her old age, has discovered how to jump over the baby gate to get out of the kitchen.  I came out one morning and she was not in her kitchen, but comfy sleeping on the couch.  Thankfully she didn't go through all the garbage cans and shred everything like she normally does! 

 Kylie is in the midst of her very first volleyball season.  She is improving every day.  She has made new friends and I'm so thankful she is dedicated to practice.  Tim usually works with her a little each day on how to hit or serve the ball correctly.  Volleyball is one game I never learned well.  I just play sand volleyball whenever for fun, but I'm sure I don't hit the thing correctly.  I'm just glad when I get the ball over the net! Anyway, it seems all Kylie does is practice, practice, practice!!  She's amazingly disciplined in that way!



Fall is always such a busy time of year.  We love it though! We are anxious for the weather to cool off a bit!  This week has been in the 90's every day.  Every weekend in September is full of something.  We have Tim's birthday coming up.  Next weekend is Kylie first volleyball tournament and Katie's first all-day craft fair of the season.  The following week Katie has a youth group trip out of town to a theme park and Christian music concert.  It's a good thing iPhone has a calendar so I can keep everything straight for these kids!  

Monday, September 1, 2014

Church @ the Lake

Yesterday our family had a blast at the lake!  All of our kids are truly water babies and LOVE the lake.  Our girlies have been in water since a week after they were born.  Kylie even started swimming when she was 2!! Katie and Haley swam well by 3.  Matthew just learned to swim since he came to America, but he's just about keeping up with the girls.

We enjoyed the tubing, kayaking, swimming, dinner, brownies & ice cream, rock climbing, roller blading, arcade games and so much more.  The kids played HARD the whole time.  It was nice just getting away from town and relaxing at the lake with our friends.  The weather was absolutely gorgeous, though it was a little nicer later on because it was cooler once the sun went down.

We all came home with bruises, scraped elbows, sore muscles and exhaustion, but we could not have asked for a better time!

The guys at the lake



Sweet teen girlies

My best friend and I

The gorgeous lake...my friend took this pic and she was kind enough to let me use it

One tired boy!