Thursday, November 6, 2014

Why I am trying to become even MORE of a helicopter parent

And so it begins. Last week I attended yet another school meeting to discuss my little RADish. I came prepared with an official letter asking for my son to be re-evaluated in an attempt to reopen his IEP. I brought two short teaching articles to pass out to the team, because I know that despite the many combined years of experience in the room this particular group of educators doesn't have a lot of experience with the unique cocktail of anxiety and behaviors my youngest presents daily in the classroom. I have made many attempts to educate the school team on early life trauma and its effects on a developing brain. I have given tips on managing behaviors and preventing sensory overload. And because of the challenges my youngest son faces in a peer setting, I have shared, in detail, the story of his adoption.

As most adoptive parents will tell you, these stories are sacred. You can ask me how I feel about the adoption movement currently sweeping through churches, and I will tell you. You can ask me generic adoption questions, and, if I am able, I will answer. But if you ask me a personal detail of my sons' adoption stories, my lips will be sealed.

"Was he abandoned? I hear that the babies are just left by hotels and police stations. Where was (insert child's name here), found?" 

"Did his real mother do drugs? Is that why he is 'the way he is'?". (I shudder at this one. I am his REAL mother. And the WAY HE IS is perfectly made by God, thank you very much.)

So you can ask, but unless you have a valid reason, you will not hear the details of their early days from me. Everyone in our world is on a need to know basis, and most people do not need to know.

I felt that the school team held that golden ticket to the entire story. I have found that many of the resources we come in contact with, from therapists to church caregivers to school teachers do not have a clue what havoc early life trauma can wreak on a young child. So I take a deep breath, say a little prayer that this time I will not cry, and share.

All of that to say this: this school team knows my baby's background. So imagine my surprise when I ask the innocent question, "What is a social story?".  I was informed that my son was having these social stories read to him daily, and I had never heard that term, so I asked. And the team very proudly showed me a binder with a photo copied story about keeping our hands and our feet to ourselves. Very appropriate, right? After all, we have one of these at home, that I made for my son two years ago. Seems I was ahead of the game. And then I read the story. And then I quietly explained that they were not to read this to my son again, not without changing a few things, and that I needed to see every social story they were sharing with him.  And here's why.

"If you hit and kick, no one will want to be around you. No one will want you around,"

Um, can we say unfriendly adoption language? Seems while I was fighting for an understanding of my son's specific needs I dropped the adoption ball. I assumed that the school understood the adoption and abandonment part of my son's story. The light bulbs going off in the surprised eyes around the room told me otherwise.

November is National Adoption Month. A month to bring attention to the beauty of adoption. A month to spotlight the plight of orphans around the world. And I love adoption, of course. I do not, however, believe that adoption is the right choice for every family, and so I am careful about the way I advocate. So for this special month I want to bring a different aspect of adoption to light- the fight that many adoptive parents are fighting every day for safe adoption language. In their kids' schools. In their kids' television shows. In the movie theaters. Adoption adds a whole other layer to the media and conversations our children are exposed to. We scour the Internet for movie reviews before we allow our young ones to attend a movie field trip with their day care class. (Bet you didn't know that adoption themes run unchecked throughout popular childrens' movies.) We stop relatives from making yet another "Everything that is made is China is cheap" remark while our innocent little ones are unwrapping Christmas presents. (And yes, that actually has happened to my family, twice.) We arm our elementary age kiddos with the ammunition to answer intrusive questions from peers at school. We help create  "All About Me" posters that have no baby pictures and offer to visit classrooms to explain the Chinese New Year and Autumn Moon holidays.

I have done all of that. And I will continue to do it for as long as my boys need me to. What I didn't do, what I didn't even think I needed to do, was oversee every single aspect of their school careers. But those two sentences in my son's social story? They could have been setting him up for failure every time they read to him.

I am not a helicopter parent. Or at least I try not to be. I let my oldest son wander off in stores, knowing that he knows his boundaries and rules. I no longer keep my youngest within arm's reach on play dates, fearful that he will bop his new friend on the head with the heaviest toy he can find. A few weekends ago I sat on a park bench chatting with my sister in law while my boys ran around with their cousins. At one point they were no where to be seen, having wandered into the woods. I could hear them, so I knew they were still close. Every day I walk that fine line between letting them be boys and explore their worlds and wanting to keep them wrapped in bubble wrap and in my line of vision at all times.

But last week I learned that I need to become even more of a helicopter parent when it comes to the adoption messages my boys hear. I know that I may come across as over protective and slightly unstable to my non adoptive parent friends. But I vow to no longer let that bother me. While I looked around that meeting room last week and saw those light bulbs go off in the eyes of my son's school team, I have to say that I had a light bulb moment as well. I cannot expect my sons' school to use appropriate adoption language. So it's up to me. I have already rewritten a few pieces of the social stories being used with my son. I have already let both of their teachers know that I am available to talk about appropriate adoption language with them, if they ever have a question. My Special Needs Mom cape has been firmly attached for a while now. But my Adoptive Mom cape had quietly fallen off. Think how high I'll be able to fly now that I am wearing both!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

My Christmas Planner

The Christmas season is upon us and, as usual, I am super excited. Like, super excited. I have always loved the holiday season but people, it is so much more fun with the little guys around. So. Much. More. Fun.

Which is why I have already pulled out my Christmas planner. I have been using the same planner for a few years now, which is great for a few reasons. First of all, this planner was created from a hard covered wire bound notebook. I chose one with two dividers. For my planning needs I require five separate sections:

  1. To Do
  2. Gift List
  3. Holiday Activities
  4. Giving (time, monetary, donations)
  5. Recipes & Table Decor (meal planning)
Because my notebook only has three sections I added the extra ones I needed by using red metallic holiday tape. Simply add the tape to the edge of the page and fold over to the back and voila - holiday inspired tabs! 

Every year I just tear out the old pages and start fresh. Reason number one why this planner is great- no need to buy a new one every year. I am going on year number three with this one, and I anticipate I will get at least a few more years out of it. Very cost effective. Now I don't know about you, but I am all about keeping costs down during the Christmas season!

The second reason why I like using the same planner year after year is this: memories. This morning, while the boys were eating breakfast before school, I sat at the table with them, my coffee, and my Christmas planner. Before I tore out last year's pages I took a little walk down memory lane. Last year's notes, to do list, recipe ideas, (Oh those reindeer cookies were NOT a good idea!)... There's the snowman sticker my youngest son stuck on the cover last year. And there's the homemade gift ideas the boys and I created last year. Remembering Christmas past- always a good thing. 

I don't know about you, but I need my lists. There is always something popping up, stealing my time and energy. This week alone I have found myself adding a birthday party invite for my oldest son, (on a school night!), a music therapy consult, and about a thousand telephone calls to my already busy To Do List. So if I don't plan, I find myself seeing the world pass me by. And passing my boys by as well. There are television shows I want to share with them. There are tree lighting ceremonies to attend and Christmas lights to drive by. There are handmade gifts to make, cookies to bake, and fire stations to deliver those cookies to. And there are budgets to stick to, am I right? And what about all those great ideas you find while scrolling through Pinterest? (Wait, what? You don't stalk Pinterest while watching TV at night? I swear there are days that I have some sort of attention deficit.  I cannot simply sit still on the sofa and watch a show. But that's a post for another day...)

I keep the To Do List in the first section, so that it is the first page I see when I open the planner. Every time I think of something that needs done I simply jot it down on the running To Do list. All those little things, like asking the teachers what school supplies their classroom needs so we can send in a gift, and getting the dog groomed before any holiday gatherings in our home find their place here. I use the Franklin Planner method of tracking progress, marking my tasks as either "in progress", completed, or delegated to others.

In the Gift section I keep track of store sales and websites where I might be able to find the best deals. This way, I don't have to pull in my sweet husband on every little detail. I make it a point to sit down with him a few times over the gift buying season to show him a particular website or store ad so that we can discuss gifts, costs, and logistics, such as online ordering versus driving all over town. I do the same with our home decorating. My sweet husband really doesn't care what decorations I choose each year, including what I choose to re-purpose or what needs to be purchased. He just needs to know the bottom line- how much is all of this going to cost. And I have to say that by using my planner wisely, that cost is much lower than it would be without it. Knowing what we have on hand, knowing what hand made items I would like to try, and knowing where to get the best deal on decorations that need purchased prevents me from impulse buying or duplicating what we already have in storage here at home.

Every Holiday season we are just bombarded by philanthropic requests. We want to help everyone, don't we? But honestly, we can't. We can, of course, keep all those needs in our prayers, which we do. But I need my boys to see how we determine where we spend our money. And I need our boys to see us giving of ourselves. But I am human, and I will forget all of those needs. And I am OK with admitting it - my brain is like a sieve.

My boys are learning from my Christmas planner as well. They are seeing me plan and prepare. They are hearing about budgets and they are helping me to plan our donations and service. They are active participants in planning gifts for others and they always have something to look forward to when they check out the Holiday Activities section. 

The only rule to my planner? The boys know that they are not allowed to open it or look at it unless I am with them. I wouldn't want them to read about the gift ideas we have for them. I remember the days when I didn't have to worry about this - but now the oldest can read to the youngest. I swear, teaching them to read has not always been helpful! (Calm down, no haters please, I am just kidding. But seriously, do they have to read EVERY sign they see out the car window?)

My love of organization and my love of Christmas, married. What could be better? 

Friday, October 31, 2014


Last night, as my husband and I were snuggled up in the basement family room, me reading on my phone and petting the puppy, my husband watching Lebron bring basketball back to Cleveland, it hit me. "Tomorrow is Halloween!", I exclaimed, sitting up abruptly and accidentally pushing Marley Pup to the floor. "The Great Pumpkin needs to come tonight!". My husband visibly rolled his eyes. And I agree- it might seem silly to rush around and set out little trinkets for every holiday. Maybe. But to me, it's a memory. It's excitement. It's a tradition I started when my oldest son first joined our family. His first American holiday with his new family was the Fourth of July. He was so pleased with his little flag and star spangled stuffed bear. And I was pleased with his sweet smiley reaction. A tradition was born.

As the years have passed I have witnessed my oldest son sharing his excitement about this holiday tradition with his little brother. I know it won't be long before I will have to navigate the maze of one kid starting to question how these trinkets show up every holiday while one little one still full on believes. But for now, for a short while longer, I can enjoy sneaking around the kitchen late at night, setting out whatever little gift I found. Placing it on the kitchen table, at each boy's seat. The lights low, the hour late, it almost feels as though the warmth in the house is brought out exclusively by the fuzzy feelings of love these family traditions bring on. This glow follows me upstairs as I sneak in to each boy's room, checking on them, pulling blankets up, (on the oldest), and down off the face, ( of the youngest). It sticks with me as I wash my face and climb into bed. I fall asleep amid memories of past holiday mornings. The St. Patrick's Day when my oldest found a small watercolor set waiting for him. The Valentine's Day that both boys found new heart themed plates and cups waiting on the table for breakfast. The July Fourth that brought blinking star sunglasses.

And those memories are amazing, sure. But it is what is underneath those little gifts that bring the true power of family traditions. The memory of sitting at the kitchen table painting with my son. Those heart themed plates? We still use them. And they still make me smile.

Family Meeting Night. Chinese Tea Parties. Apple picking. Christmas lights viewing. New Christmas books to read at bedtime. Bedrooms filled with birthday balloons. And little inexpensive gifts for holidays, always waiting on the kitchen table, ready to greet my boys as they bound down the steps in the morning. Family traditions are important. I already knew they were important to me. And every holiday, as I listen to my boys talk about the "Great Pumpkin", or the mysterious Valentine's Day gift giver, I begin to understand more and more how very important holiday traditions are to my boys as well. This morning, while my oldest son slept, his little brother ran to his place at the table, exclaiming at the spider covered drinking cup and puffy Halloween stickers. As I was sitting down to join him, gently cradling my mug of steaming coffee, the lights low and the house quiet except for my son's giggles, I smiled at my sweet husband. The skeptical one. The roller of the eyes.

"You know, when I was a kid, I only had Santa, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy visit my home. You are a very lucky boy.", my husband said, as he picked up the cup to get a closer look at the spooky spiders. I nodded my head in agreement, knowing that he understood why this tradition was so important to me. These two sweet boys had nothing. They came to us malnourished, scared, with no understanding of family or love. I want to give them the world. And I know that giving them the world really means giving them pieces of me to carry with them as they grow.

Family traditions. Tonight my boys will bounce into the house after school, ready to throw on their costumes and rush out into the damp rainy evening collecting candy from our new neighbors. But not before they eat a delicious dinner of meatball mummies with "bloody" tomato dipping sauce. (I am the mom of boys, after all!) This weekend we will cut out colorful construction paper leaves to write our "thankful thoughts" on. And throughout November, as I move about the kitchen, preparing meals, washing dishes, packing lunches, I will read and re-read each of those leaves, reminding myself of our many blessings. Big, like Forever Families, and small, like Coffee. Big to my boys, like Winning the Football Championship and small, like Crunching Leaves Under Our Feet as We Walk the Dog.

Creating these thankful thoughts won't be easy for my boys. Tracing the leaves, cutting them out- that they can do. But thinking thankful thoughts, reminding yourself to enjoy the small bits of life in between the big stuff- that is something that must be modeled and taught. Another positive result of family traditions, teaching stuff our kids need to know but don't always pick up on their own.

And after that we will move on to our next family tradition, marking the change in seasons and the growth in my family, as little trinkets go from matchbox cars to football cards, to God only knows what a teenage boy would find fun. Giving little gifts is fun for me, sure. Building memories, establishing a strong sense of family, teaching my boys to appreciate the little joys in life, and sharing with them the joys of anticipation, that is what creating family traditions is really about. Family traditions help to define our lives. They can provide a strong sense of safety and can ground us in this confusing world. 

 So this one has passed. And I am already dreaming of  turkey shaped erasers and heart covered pencils, (in blue, for my boys, of course!).