Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Upside of the Family Tree Assignment

I've been thinking a lot about this family tree/family heritage assignment.  As I do, I've thought of a few positive things about it, especially coming at this age, and for this kid.

When our son was in 3rd grade and having similar assignments, he'd just been with us a year.  He is also much more reluctant to talk about his past, and has a lot more trouble expressing his emotions, much less analyzing them.  So with him, we simply let him do a timeline of the one year he'd been with us for the timeline project, and put together a rudimentary tree of our family without any in depth analysis.

Our daughter is starting her 4th year with us, and has always been more equipped to analyze herself and her feelings about her past.  For Linden, I think we will be able to use this assignment as a way to open up some conversations.  If we do the root-and-branches adaptation of a family tree, we will still have very little information about her "roots," but we can put in what we know, and talk a bit about the grandfather they lived with when they were babies as well as siblings.  We can talk about the mystery of birth dads and some more about the life of their birth mom.  This will be a great reason to pull out their books of photos of their birth certificates, hometown, and orphanage, and for me to pull down the further documentation I have stashed in the closet and let them look through it.

They have a sister living in their home country, whom we have had very little contact with, but whom Linden thinks about and talks about from time to time.  This assignment will give me a kick in the rear to reach out to her and her family again, to try to build a bond between the siblings.

We are fortunate in that my grandfather was from my kids' country.  (Well, it's not a coincidence, and was also an asset in the adoption process.)  So the assignment that involves researching your ancestors' culture will work both in a bio- and adopted- family way.  We can share the research, as is the intention.  I sometimes wonder if my kids and I are distantly related by blood--it's a small country, so it's possible, if unlikely.  My kids recently worked out that the fact that their dad is a descendent of Ben Franklin does not make them descendents of him, which was disappointing.  Maybe knowing that their cultural history matches mine will help them feel connected in some way.

I'm hopeful that Oak will also get interested in what we're doing and talking about.  Having it be his sister's assignment might actually make it easier for him to express interest.  I'm picturing family conversations that grow naturally out of our exploration of the past.  We do bring all of this up periodically, but the structure and depth of the assignment might be a good tool for extending our conversations and giving the kids information appropriate to their current stages of development.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Family Tree

No, I haven't died.

Yes, life has been busy.

Also, I started a book blog this summer, so my writing time/energy/mojo has all been going to that.

But then something happened that I wanted to write about, and it's more adoption related than book related, so here I am.

I went back to school this week--well, last week, counting setting up your classroom and going to boring meetings inservice week.  My kids go to school in a different district, so they don't start until next Tuesday.  A few days ago, we did their meet-your-teacher-and-drop-off-supplies events.  Oak is still in the behavior classroom at a different school, and his teacher is totally cool with his various issues.  Oak is also reassured to be returning to a familiar teacher and classroom.  All change is seen as potentially lethal, so the last week before school starts (and the first week or two of school) tend to be, um, challenging for all of us.  This year we're at -3 days in the countdown, and he's still doing okay, so yay for Mr. Nelson and the EBD classroom.

Linden is still at our neighborhood school, where everyone knows all four of us pretty darn well at this point.  I love the principal, and just hope she stays there until Linden moves on in a few years.  The decision to move Oak to a different program came with a lot of tears on her staff's part; they were willing to work with him, but realized they were not able to give him enough academic supports to make the constant disruptions worthwhile for anyone.  So I know this school has my family's back.  Therefore, I was a little taken aback to be handed the 3rd grade's first assignment packet.

  1. Make a family tree.
  2. Interview a grandparent about your ancestors
  3. Research and present on your ancestors' culture, including dress, food, religion, etc.

I know enough now to know that it is not just my kid who will be thrown by this.  What about single parent families?  Families with toxic grandparents?  What about African Americans who have no way of knowing their country of origin?  The thing is, I'm sure the teacher will allow kids to adapt the assignments if they need to, but why isn't the assignment already differentiated, so everyone can choose to learn the skills in a way that's approachable, instead of having to feel singled out and awkward by asking for permission to adapt it?  

So I'm gathering my resources and crafting my letter to the teacher.  As a teacher myself, I sure don't want to start our yearlong partnership off by pissing her off, which I could do by sounding judgmental (like it the paragraph above) or like I'm telling her her job.  But I want to not just advocate for my kid, but encourage the teacher (or the 3rd grade staff at our building) to think about how else they can present this unit so ALL kids can get involved without parents having to do all this pre-work.  

Again, as a teacher, I know nobody is ill-intentioned.  I run a lot of what I say and do in the classroom through the filter of "how would this sound to my kids?", and it's embarrassing how often the filter actually makes me change how I present something.  Like all forms of privilege, coming from a two parent family means that becomes your default image for how the world is.  I should know better, and I still slip up, so I understand how another privileged person can be oblivious.  Still, the responsibility always remains to educate yourself and to recognize your bias.  I guess this is my chance to help my daughter's teacher grow!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Spot the Reindeer and Cous Cous the Hedgehog

I was surprised today to see that Kristen at Rage Against the Minivan is featuring a "What I Want You to Know" piece I sent her months and months ago.  And wouldn't you know it, the only thing I've written on my own blog lately is about the exact same topic--dealing with the Winemaker's depression.  That felt sort of awkward to me--if anyone clicks over here from there, I sure sound like a one track record.  (Boy, I just dated myself with that simile.)  So in the spirit of proving that there are other things in life, I bring you...

stuffies!  The one on the left is Puppy, and the one on the right is Spot.  These two were among the first dozen or so of the numerous stuffed animals my kids have.  I can't even guess what the grand total is.  60?  Five million?  Somewhere in there.  My kids have big stuffies, small stuffies, gift stuffies, bought-at-Goodwill-with-allowance-please-don't-have-bedbugs stuffies, and the occasional I-saved-my-allowance-for-weeks-so-I-could-get-a-special-toy-but-I-fell-in-love-with-this-stuffed-animal-at-the-store-instead stuffies.  The most recent addition being Cous-Cous Sushi G. the Hedgehog.   Cous-Cous is in the last listed category.  Oak saved up a whopping $20, $1.50 at a time, and was all set to replenish his bullet-less nerf gun.  On the way out of Target, he spotted the roly-poly hedgehog, and the bullets were returned to the shelf.  

When the number of stuffies seems closer to five million than to any reasonable amount of stuffed animals for two children, all I have to do is listen to my son talk to one of his animals.  "Hi there, Cous-Cous," he says gently in the back seat of the car.  "My name is Oak.  We're going to be your family now.  What do you like to eat?"  At night when his dad lies down with him, they will each pick up a stuffy and "be" them.  Their favorites have distinct personalities.  Spot tends to turn any conversation toward whether or not there will be fresh grass available.  Tiny and Sparkles, two huge dogs, like to sneak downstairs at night to raid the fridge, although Sparkles is a vegetarian.  Fluffy Buffalo likes to play hide-and-seek with Seal. 

Interestingly, where Oak is more consistently tender with his animals than with any people, Linden tends to be harsher on hers.  Our sweet and compliant child will threaten, punish, and spank her animals for imaginary infractions.  I guess they are both working different things out with their safest friends.  She can also play kindly with them, of course.  She creates elaborate stories with all her horses, plastic and soft.  She doesn't anthropomorphize them quite as much as her brother, but both panic when I suggest passing a few one, especially if they are going to acquire more.  At some point I will have to put my foot down and insist on a one-in-one-out rule, but I don't have the heart to yet.  For kids who were starved of affection for so many years, having so very many creatures to love is something of a miracle.  

Besides, Spot is part of the family now.  I've been known to pick fresh green grass when I'm out to bring home for him as a special treat.  What can I say?  When he tilts his head just so, I am putty in his hooves.  

Sunday, February 22, 2015

You Know You're Screwed When They Start Bringing You Casseroles

What I'm dealing with right now is pretty much what I've been dealing with for the last year and a half or so.

*Changes in my job that should be exciting and energizing, except that the increased focus on evaluating teachers based on standardized test scores means that my love of teaching the "hard" kids is affecting my job performance ratings, which stresses me out and takes my focus off mastering the new developments and curriculum I should be working on.

*One kid who loves me to pieces and can't go to sleep unless I'm home in the evening, and who has trouble giving me personal space when we're both in the same room.

*One kid who struggles mightily with rules, friendship, reading, remembering, and sitting.  Who went from ELD to IEP to BED classroom.  Whose moods are unpredictable and for whom various medications seem to have no effect on.

*One husband who is severely depressed, which means
  1. I worry about his well-being.
  2. He spends a lot of time in bed and/or hiding behind screens, leaving a lot of parenting and general running of the house to me even though I am the sole breadwinner of the family.
  3. He needs my time and attention as much as the kids do.
He has also developed a serious noise sensitivity issue meaning our kids' normal voices sound like screaming to him, and their noisy voices make him either hide in the room or make them go outside to play.  Basically, he spends a lot of time either avoiding or scolding the kids, and very little time having positive interactions with them.

He feels so crappy about all of this that he has trouble believing I would actually care about him.  He feels worthless and full of despair.  So much so that last weekend I took him up to the hospital and told them I was concerned for his safety.  Now he is in an outpatient psychiatric program for the next month.  Being the eternal optimist that I am, I am hopeful now he will get the help he needs to make the changes that will improve his life.

But really, other than the fact that the Winemaker is at this program during the day while they kids are at school, our situation looks and feels very much like it has for a long time now.

And yet, in the past week...
My "work spouse" brought us a casserole and salad.
My mother-in-law has babysat the two days our son was out of school so the WM could still go to his class.
My sister came by the other day with food for two meals plus snacks, had a picnic lunch with me and the kids, and then did my dishes.
Another friend brought us homemade cinnamon rolls and strawberries this morning and sat and talked with me over coffee. 
My other two sisters have called to check in repeatedly.

And it is helpful.  Getting the jumpstart on my kitchen spiraled into me actually vacuuming the damn floor for the first time since removing the Christmas tree (which, granted, was a long time after Christmas).  Having food brought in helps not only in the basic "yay, food" sense, but also takes off some mental pressure.  Having people come to my house, not judge its state, and sit and chat with me makes me realize how hard it is for me to socialize right now, with my family needing me so much. 

We are getting all this support right now because we are "having a crisis."  Yet actually, I think we're in a more hopeful place than we've been in a long time.  Seeing our life through others' eyes makes me realize that we've been living, not having, a crisis for awhile now.   No wonder I sleep too much, eat too much, and lose my shit too often.  No wonder I'm not able to put enough energy into my classroom  in order to do the job I think I should be doing.  No wonder my house is a mess, my kids are glued to screens, and I am incapable of reading anything besides YA fantasy.  People are bringing me casseroles, and I'm all, "But this is just how my life is.  Why do I get food just because we're trying to do something about it now?" 

Or maybe the question is, "Why the hell didn't I ask for help before?"

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Well, this is embarrassing.

What I mean to do after the kids go to bed: prep lessons for the next day.

What I do: fall asleep in my kid's bed, wake up groggy at 11:30 pm, and stumble into my own bed.

What I mean to do after the kids go to bed: Have an elegantly sophisticated glass of red wine.

What I do:  Make two chocolate mug cakes, one for me and one for my husband.  Eat one.  Eat the other one.  Hide the evidence.

What I mean to do after the kids go to bed:  Read.

What I do: Circle an endless loop of Facebook, email, and Dumpaday humor sites.

What I mean to do after the kids go to bed: Meditate and do yoga.

What I do:  Watch "Continuum" on Netflix.

What I mean to do after the kids go to bed: Write a blog post.

What I do:  Read blog posts.

What I mean to do after the kids go to bed: Reclaim my own time.

What I do: Fritter away the only unstructured part of my day.

This "blog post" was written as part of Finish the Sentence Friday.  The prompt was "When the kids go to bed, I..."  Link up here.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015


Oak has had some really bad days lately.  When I say "lately," I mean for the past six months.  Since school started, really, which is why he is now at a different school with a behavior classroom, so when he freaks the freak out, the adults can handle it, instead of it throwing off an entire classroom.

I have had some really bad evenings during this time period.  Like, he freaks the freak out, and my reptile brain goes, "Oh yeah?  You think THAT'S nuts?  I'll show you NUTS, buddy!"  And then we are both freaking out, and Linden goes into super-charmer mode, and the Winemaker hides in the bedroom, unless things get really wonky, in which case he emerges and takes over, and I run outside and cry and hate myself.

In other words, my family is highly disfunctional right now.  And our social worker is due for a visit.  Yay.

Two nights ago we had a bedtime freakout.  Yesterday he did okay at school, and continued to do okay through the evening.  Today he did FANTASTIC at school, and is very cheerful and cooperative and interactive now that we're all home.

I was thinking to myself, "It's the calm before the storm," and "It's not like this will last," and super positive and helpful things like that, because I am just that good at therapeutic parenting.  But then it hit me--

If he is out of control 50% of the time--which is a really high estimate, honestly--but in control 50% of the time, it is just as realistic to say, "Oh, he'll bounce back from this," or "This is just a hard day," when things are going crappy.  Instead of nay-saying the positive times, I can work instead to not let the negative times become what I define as normal.

Take THAT, reptile brain!

Friday, January 2, 2015

Faux poem. Fauxetry?

I just came across this poem while cleaning out computer files. I wrote this about four years ago, when I had to have an ultrasound to determine what was going on with this month-long period I was having. I've never been pregnant, so it was my first ultrasound, and we were early in our adoption journey, so I was not entirely sure I'd ever even be a mom. (It turned out to be just a peri-menopausal anomaly.) I'm no poet, because whenever I try to write poetry, I find myself writing prose with weird line breaks instead. But for the same reason I felt compelled to attempt this poem, I kind of like the result. Here it is. 

When I first realized I was an adult,
I was so pleased.
Walking down a city street in a strange land,
carrying a sack of groceries
purchased with money I’d earned myself.
A few years later, another sign.
The twelve-year old looks up trustingly from her desk
and asks me to feel her forehead
to see if she has a fever.  
Becoming an adult
is what you spend childhood preparing for
(especially those of us
who spend our adolescence rolling our eyes at our classmates’ antics).

But now it seems that time
insists on carrying me along
in her relentless march.

My mother gone
too soon for her, with projects started in her studio
seeds ordered for the garden
talk of a camping trip next summer.
Too soon for me as well.
I still need her guidance.
“How do I do this?”
I want to ask
as I lay on the table while the technician
rolls a wand over my belly.
She peers at the screen, not looking for a telltale tail
but just to determine if this unending ellipses of a period
is merely my body giving up on fertility in yet another way
or the sign of something more malignant.
This ultrasound won’t become my profile picture
won’t be posted on my fridge
at best, it signals hormone therapy and hot flashes.
“How do I do this?”
I want to ask Mom,
veteran of heart disease, stroke, breast cancer.
But when I get home, feeling forlorn,
there’s no Mom to call.

So I find comfort in some chocolate
and the nook of my husband’s neck.
Younger than me, but feeling his age as well.
Twelve years without his father,
and the young bucks during harvest season reaching over to help with the heavy loads.
How do we do this?  It keeps getting harder.
And our foundations have disappeared.

So we do what they did.

We lean on each other.  We keep going.