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This thing called parenting…

Prior to being a stay-at-home mom for the past two years (well…a year and a half so far…), I was a middle school social studies teacher for 14 years. And I had a good handle on adolescent development, learning styles, how to teach certain things, and on and on. I would venture to say that I had a relative basic knowledge of early childhood development but since it was not the focus of the age group I was teaching, it was filed in the back of my mind.

And then I became a parent. And even though I do have a somewhat basic understanding of early childhood development, it was pretty clear, pretty quickly that I have no idea what I’m doing. As a reader, I tried to prepare myself for this parenting thing by reading several different books in addition to the ones we had to read for our adoption parent training classes. I also realize that not everything in the books is going to apply to every child or every parent. We all have different parenting styles just as students have different learning styles. Even my DH and I have different ideas about how much freedom to give E as he learns and explores the world around him. So, we’ve worked to try to figure out how to make it all work based on our parenting style(s) and E’s personality, etc.

But here’s what I’ve also learned in the 17.5 months E has been home with us and we have been parents…Everyone is just doing the best they can. It’s so easy to think you know that you wouldn’t do that with your child, or you wouldn’t allow your child to behave like that in public, or your child would be potty trained by that age, and the list just keeps going on and on. BUT, you have no idea the other issues going on in that family’s life. You have no idea if the child has other issues that cause this behavior and that mom/dad is doing what they can given the circumstances. You have no idea if the child’s issues are merely behavioral or are a manifestation of something else such as some trauma they have suffered, a medical problem (whether physical, mental, etc.), etc.

So rather than making judgments about the child or parent, based on what is happening in the here and now, maybe we should be more supportive of each other. When a child is having a meltdown in the middle of the store, offer a smile to the mom/dad that is dealing with it or quietly ask mom/dad if you can do anything to help them. More often than not, they will say no…but they will know that you were at least being supportive rather than judgmental. And maybe they won’t feel so self conscious about themselves as parents or about their child’s behavior/issues, etc.

While there are definitely differences in how you parent a child that has special needs, whether physical or otherwise, a child that was adopted, or whatever, we are all in this parenting thing together and we could all use the support of each other.

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What a difference less than 20 miles makes

There is only a little over 17 miles between my house and the location where our church is meeting, a school in the community that our pastor was called to serve and plant a church.  You wouldn’t think that less than 20 miles would mean such huge differences.  But it definitely does.

Where I live, there is a schedule of school repairs, maintenance, and new buildings.  There is a rotation of painting the schools, putting in new lockers, making significant building repairs (though currently some would argue about this point…but that’s a different matter), cleaning and/or replacing tile/carpet/flooring, etc.  The school that our church is meeting in hadn’t had any interior painting in at least ten years!  There are lots of small repairs to be made, in addition to bigger issues of replacing old flooring, etc. There are issues like one of the faucets in a girls bathroom continuously running, or a one-stall bathroom near the front entrance of the school having no light, no lock on the door and holes in the wall behind the toilet.

The school I formerly taught in (in the same district as where I live), while it did not have many windows to the outdoors, save for in the science wing addition that was completed while I was a teacher there, is bright and has wide hallways, inviting spaces and classrooms, a well stocked and used library (we were consistently at the top of the district’s list for number of books checked out and number of students checking out books) with a library/media specialist on staff (this is true of every school…elementary, middle, and high)…Where our church is meeting, the school had no librarian on staff until this year (what?!?), has almost no windows to the outdoors, and is very dark with narrow hallways.  I have not seen classrooms other than over the summer when everything was pulled off the walls and packed away so I can’t speak to how the teachers make them inviting spaces for learning during the school year.  And this school seems to be one of the better schools for the district (different than where I live).

Think about this school as a learning environment and as a workplace. How does working in an environment such as this help you to do your job well? And this doesn’t take into account the other stresses that come with being a teacher. This district claims that they spend the most per pupil of any district in the state. And on paper, that is true. But where is the actual money going? Based on evidence at this school, it is not going to paying for repairs and facility maintenance, it is not going to the salaries of teachers and other school level staff, it isn’t paying for each and every school to have a school librarian or a usable library where students can actually check out books, it isn’t paying for new textbooks or other resources for teachers and students to use in the classroom. In this kind of workplace with this lack of support from your district level staff and higher ups, what would make you want to spend any additional time there or doing your best and most effective work? While teachers get into teaching to help their students and have the best of intentions when starting out, you can pour out into others, even your students, only so much before you need someone else to pour into you. And it appears that even the administration can’t pour into the teachers because the administrators are just as defeated as the rest of the staff.

Is it all bad at this school where my church is meeting? No. There are definitely positive things happening at this school. Here’s a start:

(1) They have a librarian this year whom we have helped by organizing the fiction books by author’s last name and type of book (picture books for younger students on the bottom of shelves with chapter type books on the higher shelves), so now the children can check out books to read at home or use for school projects.

(2) They have started a PTO this year with several parents getting involved and serving as president, vice president, and secretary.

(3) They have had several events to get the community, parents, and students involved such as an Open House event before school started, Back to School Night, a fall Trunk or Treat event, and events for each day of American Education Week.

(4) Many hard-working teachers that do their best with limited resources and time to teach the children in their classes.

(5) A committed community member that serves every day during the three lunch shifts in the cafeteria as the lunch monitor and runs an after school program.

And I’m sure there are other things that I haven’t included in this list…

But here’s the thing…there is MUCH work to be done here in this community that we are serving. To be sure – there are needs in the community in which I live. BUT, it appears that by addressing the needs at this school less than 20 miles away, we will have a more significant impact on the teachers, students, parents, and community there. And let’s be clear…we are not doing this to receive a pat on the back or a thank you, though those are nice to receive. We are doing this for the kingdom impact it will make…maybe not tomorrow, next week, next month, or even next year…but as we help pour into the staff, the staff can pour more into their students…a domino effect so to speak.

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Reflection on National Adoption Awareness Month

As it is the last day of November, I thought I would post a reflection about the daily (ha!) Facebook posts I did during the month and how that turned out.

First, let’s be honest here…shall we?  I definitely did NOT post articles and such every day.  As much as I wanted to post, life just kind of got in the way the way it does when you have a toddler running around, church stuff throughout each week, plus the beginning of the holiday season, a sick toddler just after Thanksgiving, and the list goes on.

However, the links I did post didn’t really start any conversations the way I hoped they would.  I understand that people that aren’t intimately involved in the adoption triad are being confronted with some of the more complex issues and that it may take a bit to process some of that.  Even those that are involved in adoption from whatever perspective often have a difficult time when first dealing with these sorts of issues.

Essentially, it is a beginning for many of my friends and family to even read the articles that I did post.  And it is a beginning to a lifelong learning process for us as we journey through this parenting adventure.  Here’s to hoping that next year’s posts generate more conversation.  Thanks for reading!

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November – National Adoption Awareness Month

November is National Adoption Awareness Month and Sunday, November 8 is referred to as Orphan Sunday and is the focus of services at many churches across the nation.  Prior to our own journey through adoption, I probably would not have really even known about this month being NAAM or Orphan Sunday, as the churches I have been involved in over my life have not done anything to be part of this movement or to focus their services on the idea.  Obviously, all of that has changed through our adoption of Eli.  On my facebook page, I have chosen to post a link each day that focuses on some aspect of adoption.  Thus far, the articles have been pretty short and non-controversial, at least in my own mind.  The point of doing this is to hopefully inform people that are not intimately involved in adoption (through being part of the triad, working in the field, etc.) and to maybe open up a discussion.  This has not yet occurred.

While we often hear about adoption through the voices of the adoptive parents (such as myself), it is important and vital that we also listen to the voices of the adoptees, especially those that are now adults that can help us, as adoptive parents, understand the perspective of our children.  By reading material (books, blogs, etc.), viewing videos/movies/documentaries, listening to interviews, finding adult adoptees in the local community and developing relationships with them, we #flipthescript to privilege the adoptee rather than the adoptive parent.  This is not to say that the perspective of the adoptive parent is not important or valuable; it is.  But it is definitely a different view than the adopted child will have and in order to be a better parent, we must understand the child’s perspective.  We must also understand that the child needs to develop their own story and voice.  There are definitely things that we don’t share with most people as they are not privileged to know those details unless Eli decides to share those when he has the ability to choose to do so or not.  What is most important for us is that we parent Eli well, both from a simple parenting standpoint, but also the added complexities of a transracial adoption.

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Play Dates

As a SAHM to a now toddler (1 month walking…woot!), it is becoming increasingly difficult to simply “stay at home” so that Eli is entertained and kept active.  As his attention span is limited, we typically spend some time playing at home, usually switching between playing in his room with some toys there and then going to his playroom in the basement where the majority of his toys and books are kept.  I used to have the six bins in the toy shelf organized for each day of the week with Saturday and Sunday being one bin, as we were usually not home very much on those days.  Shortly after moving to this house, I switched the bin organization to type of toys.  For example, there’s a bin for all of his stuffed animals, another bin for all of his Lego people/Fisher Price animals and the like, another bin for stacking type toys (stacking rings, blocks and such).  Many toys in the basement are too large to fit in the bins so we have those sitting out along the wall so he can decide to play with them whenever.  I’m trying to figure out if I should go back to the organization of a bin of toys per day so he sees different toys and such while still have some toys the same all the time.

Anyway, the point of all of that is that both Eli and I have needed to have play dates with friends.  Eli needs the socialization that play dates encourage and I need the time out of our own house to spend with other moms.  It helps when Eli is not the same age as the other child/children, so that he can see older children, learn how to play with different toys, learn to play together with others, sharing, etc., but also so he can see younger children and how to be gentle and kind, sharing with those younger, etc.  For me, it gives me the opportunity to have adult conversation with other moms, encourages socialization for us (so that we don’t feel isolated and alone in our own four walls), and often gets us doing things we might not have done ourselves with our child (going to a place is more fun with friends).

Here’s to more play dates with friends!

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Rainy Day Activities

Here on the East Coast, we’ve been inundated with lots of rain the past several days and there’s more to come with the hurricane off the coast in the next few days so I’ve needed to find some rainy day/evening activities for Eli and I (and my husband, too) to do while being stuck in the house. So, I went back to my pinterest boards and found a few things I thought might work well.

The first was shaving cream painting. I found the idea on pinterest and then went to the original post to find out more about how to do it, materials needed, etc. I added some things to our shopping list like shaving cream/foam since we only had gel in the house. I already had some Crayola kids paint from previous activities so we used that and then I just printed some leaf templates onto regular computer paper. My husband thought it would be better to put the shaving cream/paint mixture on the reverse of the page so that we could still see to cut out the leaf shapes. So here’s what we did.

IMG_2629 Because it was painting, we decided to just have Eli in his diaper. Less laundry clean up afterwards. ;-)

IMG_2631 We used a shallow baking sheet and filled it with shaving cream. Then my husband smoothed it out a bit with a spatula. We added a bit of paint of fall/leaf colors orange, red, yellow, and green.

IMG_2633 We helped Eli mix the paint into the shaving cream with a spoon. There was a lot of help here because Eli couldn’t quite figure out what to do even when we showed him.

Once the paint was mixed into the shaving cream, we took one of the papers with the leaf template and helped Eli press it onto the mixture. Be sure to really press it down on all parts of the paper so that the shaving cream/paint mixture adheres to the paper. IMG_2634 Let the paper sit on the mixture for about 10 seconds or so.

Remove the paper carefully and put on a paper towel to dry for about ten minutes. Use a squeegee type tool (we had one from Pampered Chef) to remove the shaving cream and paint off the paper. IMG_2636

IMG_2637 Then let the paper dry. We let it dry for a few hours before cutting out the leaf shape. We only did two of these leaves but we have more templates printed out for future use. After the first leaf, we added paint to it and did more swirling. I would recommend this. It might be a good idea, especially if you have more than one child doing this, to give each of them their own baking sheet of shaving cream, or have multiple baking sheets ready so the paint doesn’t become too dark and too mixed, since the point is to show the swirl/marble effect. We wanted to see how it worked since this was our first time trying this activity. Now that we know, we will do more in the coming days. It’s a fun craft to do and then you can use the leaves to decorate your home, give to grandparents, etc.

Here’s our finished product. IMG_2638

The second rainy day activity I tried with Eli was a Fall Sensory Bin. This is Eli’s first ever sensory bin so I wasn’t quite sure how he would react to it. ;-) First, I knew we had a plastic storage bin that would be perfect to use for this project so I didn’t need to buy another one of those. The original post I found here, with lots of ideas for fall crafts and activities for kids. Many of these are a bit too old for Eli but I thought the sensory bin might be fun for him. We were running out to Target so I made a list of the supplies I would need for this activity (I tried the dollar store first, but they didn’t have bags of rice and such that were large enough). I did find the fake gourds and pumpkin at the dollar store as well as a package of fake fall leaves to use. We bought white rice, brown rice, lentils, popping corn, and red quinoa. I had Eli help me pour the items into the plastic storage bin and he really enjoyed that.

Here’s our sensory bin. IMG_2640 I put the fake leaves in and then showed Eli how to cover them up with the stuff and then that he could find them again. We also already had the shovel, rake, and sifter from a birthday present (they came with a sand pail).

Here’s Eli playing in the bin.

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We learned that the sensory bin is probably a better outside activity as Eli enjoyed trying to scoop it and then throw it. LOL! The leaf activity would probably work better for a child a bit older than Eli but he seemed to like it with the help.

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I Didn’t Learn That in School!

Often I read things or come across things that I did not learn in school. I think part of why I come across these things so often is because I am constantly reading as well as traveling to new places or visiting sites I have not been to before. Generally speaking, my first thought when encountering this new information or seeing a new place is “Wow! How cool is that?!?!” or “I didn’t know that!”

However, I often see people lamenting that they “didn’t learn that in school” or “How come they don’t teach ______ in school?”

There is just so much as far as information and skills that teachers have to teach that there is absolutely no possible way whatsoever that teachers/schools can teach everything. All schools have to make choices about what to include in their curriculums, standards, and/or objectives to teach and, conversely, what not to include. For example, as a history teacher, there is no way any history teacher or group of history teachers can ever hope to teach the students in their classes about all of history! I mean, seriously! Let’s think about it…First of all, history includes not just European or US history, but the history of all the other regions of the Earth (Asia, Africa, South/Central America, Australia, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, etc.). Then, you have the various countries within each of those continents or regions, plus the smaller history of the various ethnic groups that live within the borders of those countries. We don’t even teach all of US history. How many of you have ever heard of the Punitive Expedition that the US took against Pancho Villa? We don’t teach that because it’s not a MAJOR event in history. How many know about the Mexican Revolution in the early twentieth century and all the various factions that were vying for power? How many know about the dynasties of China? Tibetan history? The history of any country or people in Africa? (Don’t get me wrong…there are definitely things I don’t know, either!) And that’s just one subject.

There are things that schools just don’t have the time to teach. Most states require that students are in school for 180 days per school year and a school day is typically 6.5 hours. So, that works out to be 1170 hours, if each of those days was a full day. We know that there are many half-days so let’s trim it down a bit to a nice round number of 1100 hours. Within those hours, schools also have things like field trips, assemblies, track and field days, and all sorts of other special things that happen which take away those hours from the classroom teachers, and that doesn’t take into account the hours involved in all of the testing that we are now requiring of the students and teachers.

So, given that, how can we possibly add anything to what we are currently teaching? (Some of this goes to the arguments of getting rid of all the testing, allowing the teachers and other education professionals make the decisions, etc.) One of the current issues in the elementary schools is the removal of cursive writing, simply because they don’t have time to teach it with all that other stuff. (I have mixed feelings about that one)

Things like balancing a checkbook, budgeting, how to fill out forms, how to address an envelope (and where to put a stamp!) and other sorts of things like that just can’t be added to all the other things schools and teachers are doing. Or table manners/etiquette, table settings, appropriate attire for various venues or types of events (i.e., what you wear to a job interview is different than what you would wear to a music concert, church, etc.), grooming? (Thanks, Mr. James, for these!) Or navigating the public transportation system in any large city (especially if you didn’t grow up in a city), camping/survival skills, gun safety/shooting, strong work ethic? (Thanks, Robin!)

Now that I am a parent and former teacher, I realize the limitations of the public education system (as if I didn’t know that before) and that there are just some things that my husband and I (and extended family) will have to teach E at home. This means we will also have to prioritize what we really think is important versus the things that could be left til later or that maybe we don’t spend as much time on as others. Hmm….that sounds like exactly the choices that the public schools have to make. Ultimately this comes down to what we think the job of the public schools is.