Sunday, November 30, 2014

Advent Calendar

Tomorrow is December 1st. That means Christmas is 25 days away. Some of you already have Christmas traditions for your family. We currently don't have anything special except travel around to see all of the family. This will be our "real" first Christmas with Smalls. She did experience Christmas last year with us but doesn't remember a thing and it had only been a little over a month since we returned from Poland-those days are bit of a blur for all of us. I hope to create some Christmas memories for her that she will grow up remembering through adulthood.

What could we do for our Christmas traditions? I've heard a lot of families talk about advent calendars, but to be honest-I've never heard of that before. When I was growing up, we never did anything like an advent calendar, so I was completely clueless. I had to google to find out what exactly an advent calendar is and what it's purpose. I like the general idea of the advent calendar after my research about it. How do I get one-preferably a free one? After searching the internet world, I couldn't find one that I liked. So I attempted to make my own. I used ideas from a couple of different advent calendars.

Let's go ahead and site my sources:

I'm sure there are other sites that I got inspiration from, but these two are the main ones.

What's the purpose of my advent calendar?
To teach Smalls about why we celebrate Christmas. We can also lift up others who may not have a family for Christmas (orphans) and for those who do not know that they can be adopted into the greatest family ever. So there are several purposes to this advent calendar.

What is so special about our advent calendar?
We hope to go over the story in an accurate way for Smalls. We also would like to have an activity (because we are active learners) to go along with the passages that we read. In addition we would like to incorporate a Christmas light scavenger hunt, Christmas movie nights, and some other ideas that I'm currently researching. I am taking Lifesong's idea of collecting money for orphan care. We will be giving the money to Edgewater's adoption fund.

Starting tomorrow I will post our homemade/hodgepodge version of an advent calendar that we are doing this year. Hopefully this will be a good tradition for our family. I don't have any cutesy or artsy way of presenting our advent calendar-maybe next year? Instead I will just write it on a slip of green or red paper and hang it up by some clothespins and string.

Does your family have any special traditions? How about an advent calendar? I'm interested to see what everybody does around Christmas time.

Advent Posts:
Day 1 
Day 2 
Day 3
Day 4
Day 5
Day 6
Day 7
Day 8
Day 9 
Day 10 
Day 11
Day 12 
Day 13
Day 14
Day 15

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Character Lessons

Here is a great resource for teaching your kids Godly character traits. I like to use the lessons in our homeschool curriculum.


This is a free website where you can print off individual lessons on a variety of character traits.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

What is blanket training?

I love this technique!

But first let me give a disclaimer. There are some critics (and rightfully so) about this technique. I couldn't find the specific articles that they were referring to, but just in case you all have read them I want to clear up any misunderstandings and that I do not use this technique in a way that would hurt my child.

Some critics say that in blanket training is when you put a blanket down and expect a baby or a child to sit on the blanket for a certain period of time. If the child gets off the blanket before the time, you hit them with a ruler. Obviously, I've gone through extensive parent training and have read more books about the subject than anyone that I know. I am not saying this is the definition of blanket training. This is completely opposite of all my training and knowledge about parenting an adopted child.

What is my definition of blanket training?

My definition is simple. Blanket training is an approach or tool used to help teach self-discipline and control. My daughter's world was out of control when she first arrived in our family. Smalls protested this blanket training at first. Oh, she hated it! I think it was because it's something new and she was new to America and let's be honest-she protested everything we did. But guess what? She loves her blanket now! When we go somewhere new, we bring the blanket and put it in her quiet, safety spot with a couple of her toys. She knows that the blanket is a safety barrier and no one else is allowed on it except her and her toys.

How did I blanket train her?

This was no easy task. I would set her on her blanket with her toys and she would play for 5 minutes. We did this for one week. Then the next week we moved the time up to 10 minutes. We kept moving up the time by 5 minutes each week till we reached 30 minutes. We did the exercise everyday of the week for 6 weeks. Between 15-30 minutes was the hardest. Smalls would get real fidgety and cry because she couldn't see me for a brief moment. And of course she would try to get off the blanket. If she did that I would pick her up and put her back over and over again. Yes, it was exhausting.

Why do it? 

It gives her control over her world (her blanket and toys) in a world that she may feel like she doesn't have any control. It teaches her how to occupy herself quietly. When we are at someone's house with no kids, that's not a problem. She is well-behaved (most of the time). It gives her security at a big house party with lots of noises. Smalls also has never been made to sit in one spot and do an activity, so this training has helped her to stay focused in school a little longer than before the training. And most importantly we have connected through this training. At first she wanted to have control over me and what I did on a daily basis. This was hard because I wanted her to be right next to me all the time to help build that connection, and we did that for some time. But we grew in our relationship together, so I decided to stretch our bond a little by keeping her on the blanket while I was in the next room washing dishes or doing laundry. She had to trust me that I wasn't going to leave her even though she was confined to the blanket.

So no, I didn't hit my child with a ruler if she got off of the blanket. We connected through this training and building connections with your adopted child is what matters the most!

What are your thoughts on blanket training? Have you heard about hitting your child with a ruler if they get off the blanket? Do you know where that idea came from?

Monday, November 24, 2014

Art Projects for Kids

I have been homeschooling Smalls for over a year now. We are learning how to do the "school thing" and even though I majored in educational psychology and took a lot of education classes I am still learning what works for us. If my degree has taught me one thing, it's that each kid is different. And Smalls is just that a different kid.

We struggled with homeschooling at first because Smalls has not had ANY schooling whatsoever and she was almost 8 when she came into our family. The traditional method of schooling was out the window. At first I bought a "big box" curriculum set because I didn't know where to start. I soon learned that is not going to work for us. So I am creating my own curriculum that works for Smalls (where is the time for this going to come from?). I will post the resources that we are using in our homeschool for others who have also embarked on this endeavor because homeschooling an adopted child has it's own special challenges.

We are half way finished with 1st grade and here are some great art projects or ideas for teaching art that we have found helpful:
-Love this website. You can use the search tool to bring up thousands of ideas!

If you aren't planning on homeschooling your child, these are also great websites to help keep little ones busy during the holidays or while you are in country adopting. Click here for my Travel Craft Box that we would have brought to Poland with us if I had thought of it sooner!

Do you have any great homeschooling art project websites?

Friday, November 21, 2014

Tips for Adopted/Foster Care Kids and the Holidays

The holiday season is upon us, which can be fun times or not-so fun times.

I remember last year when we experienced our 1st Christmas with my daughter (I really do need to give her a blog name-how about "smalls"?), it was a joyful and fun time and then it was an awful rip my hair out time. Holidays can be difficult on an adopted child because they DO NOT KNOW what to expect which leaves them feeling out of control. How do we help them feel in control for the holidays? And why can't I find a list like this on the internet? Surely, someone has this written down somewhere!

Tips for Adopted Kids and the Holidays

#1   Tell them everything that will happen.
Well, as much as you can, of course. Sometimes there will be surprises that pop up. Write it down on a piece of paper. Let them hold that piece of paper. When we first arrived back from Poland, I had to do this with Smalls (kind of catchy name, I like it). Smalls would get out of control-even though I went over the days events a week before, a day before and the day of. She got to hold that piece of paper and cross out everything that we did. She felt in control of her world because she knew what was going to happen to her. You can even add one or two blank spaces for the surprises that may come up-"wild spaces".

#2   Inform the host
If you are visiting a friend or relative's house, talk to them in advanced. Ask for a tour of their house. If you don't live too far from them, see if you can go a week before the big crowd gets there. Or ask for pictures if you live far away.

#3   Bring items of comfort
Having some familiar toys to a child in a new place can be comforting. They can play with their toys and not have to share. They know they have complete control over their toys. I've "blanket trained" Smalls when we got back from Poland, so when we are in a new place we can bring her blanket with a few toys and books and we are ready just in case of a meltdown. She knows that she can stay on that blanket and feel in control with her comfort items. She knows that she is safe on that blanket.

#4   Prepare them BEFOREHAND to meet a lot of new people
This is hard for kids, especially adopted kids or kids who have experienced trauma. They do not know that those other people are NOT going to hurt them. They are in the fight or flight mode. Practice meeting people. Get all the stuffed animals together and pretend that they are strangers that you are meeting for the first time. Reassure your child that they are not going home with anybody else except you-the mom or dad. I tell Smalls that she must be polite and at least say hello then she can hide behind my back. If I have pictures of family members, I will show them to Smalls before she meets them to give her some more added control. If pictures aren't available, we will draw a picture of them.

#5   Find a safety, quiet spot
This is so important to Smalls. She needs a spot to feel safe-to be hidden from the chaos. And of course, it has to be "top secret". Only a few select people know about her safety, quiet spot and she feels in control because of it. She knows that no one is going to bother her if she is "hidden". It's all about giving your child a little piece of control so they can feel in control of themselves in their surrounding area. And who doesn't like a top secret hiding spot?

#6   Come early, Leave Early
Come before the big crowd gets there. Get a tour of the house and find that safety quiet spot. Smalls' ears are very sensitive and when she walks into a crowded room with lots of laughing and talking she goes nuts-to say the least. If we get to our destination a little earlier than the start time, her ears can gradually adjust to the noise. Now sometimes her ears are on alert so it doesn't matter how early we get there, we will eventually have to retreat to our "safety, quiet spot". Leave early. You've met everybody. You've caught up with Uncle Joe's latest fishing accident and Aunt Bertha's mole removal. Give your kid a break if they start acting out. You've been in a new place for over 3 hours now, which to a kid seems like a week. It can be hard on our kids to be around all these new people who smell funny and talk extremely loud.

#7   Avoid Over stimulation
I know, this is a joke right. It's Thanksgiving or Christmas. We need to see EVERYBODY! If your family has a lot of holiday traditions, like say, drive to Aunt Bertha's house for cookies, drop off presents to Uncle Al, visit Aunt Ruth and sing some carols, and then have a bunch of people over at your house for dinner. Wow, that's a lot of activities for one day let alone an afternoon. Ya'll know I'm a big fan of The Office, so here's a quote of Dwight quoting Michael, "Keep it simple stupid was the best advice you ever gave me". Keep It Simple Stupid (KISS). Do you really have to do everything? No, of course not. Let your child pick 1 or 2 things to do so they can feel control over their situation and they will not be overstimulated by the hugs and kisses and the new smells and all of the other new things they aren't used to.

#8   Compliment Your Child
So you've been somewhere new for a couple of hours. Tell your kid that they are doing a good job regulating themselves. Tell them how proud you are that they didn't cry when your cousin who just turned 1 years old screamed so loudly it practically deafened the whole family. Find a reason to tell them how proud you are of them.

#9   Fill Up on "Parent Juice"
When Smalls starts to get fidgety and start to look like a sourpuss, I sit her on my or my husband's lap for a little bit. She just needs that security of being with us amidst the chaos. She is able to fill up on "mommy or daddy juice".  This helps to minimize the amount of meltdowns that we will have in a new place and we are able to stay in a new place longer by filling her up on parent juice.

#10   Limit Physical Contact with Others
This is a great tip for anyone who's adopted, in general-doesn't have to be a holiday specific tip. Don't expect your kid to hug everyone at your family's gathering. Your child does not really know who's a stranger and who's not, of course you do because you grew up with all of those people that are visiting you. Your child is going to be confused when they are expected to hug others when they were lectured to not hug strangers. A simple handshake, high five or a wave would be much better to do rather than a hug. The last thing you want after the holidays is to correct their attachment behavior to strangers you don't even know after you let them hug relatives that they have met a few times or just met.

Ok, that's all I could come up with. Can anybody else add to the list? I want this holiday season to be fun with minimal meltdowns!

Update: Here are some more tips!

#11  Holiday seasons can bring up feelings/emotions that are not pleasant
This tip came from Smalls. I was taking out all of our Christmas decorations and putting up the tree and my daughter started to get really emotional. I asked her what was wrong and of course she didn't know (she never knows). We talked about the Christmas tree and some of her memories from the past. I held Smalls while we were talking which gave her added security. Within 15 minutes of this emotional breakdown she was completely back to normal again wanting to play her computer game. Changing of the seasons and the holidays can be hard for our adopted kids. They are not very good with change because so much change has happened to them in the past. I am now extra sensitive to the changes of the seasons.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Travel Craft Box

When you adopt from a foreign country, you have to expect long days (in country) while waiting for a court day, appeal periods (especially in Poland), visas/passports, etc... While we were in Poland some of our days seemed like they would never end because there wasn't much to do outside our apartment-especially with a child who is not familiar with the outside world. We definitely saw the sights in our little town and went to the playground, but after 50 times you can get a little stir crazy.

One idea to not get cabin fever is to pack a craft box in your suitcase filled with small crafting supplies before you get on the plane. Key word here is: before. Why did I not think of packing a craft box in my suitcase? That could have saved my sanity at times. Below is my travel craft box that I would have taken to Poland if I someone would have told me about this cool idea.

Craft box items:
Coloring pencils
Markers (both skinny and fat)
Glue stick
Glue (wrap in a ziplock bag for the plane ride)
Safety Scissors
Colored pens
Mechanical Pencils (if opt for non-mechanical pencil bring a pencil sharpener)
Watercolors with brushes

Craft items that wouldn't fit, but would be a good idea to bring:
A folder with preplanned craft activities
Ideas: practice cutting sheets, coloring sheets, word searches, craft cut outs, and various worksheets. Click on the links below for thousands of ideas. I know that some of you may not be homeschooling your child, but these links have thousands of craft ideas to do while in country. Use their search bar to find holiday worksheets, craft ideas, fine motor skills worksheets, etc...
Construction paper
Kid's washable paint

Did I miss something? What would you put in your travel craft box? Do you have any great printables that you are willing to share?

Click here for the list of things we wished we would've brought to Poland. 

UPDATE: Here are more website for art projects while in country!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Was it love at first sight?

I was at a holiday party the other night and a friend and I were talking. This friend recently had a baby. I asked her how she liked motherhood and her response was "it was love at first sight as you have probably felt with your adopted daughter". My heart sank all the way to my stomach. Actually, no. We did not like each other a year ago. Although I showed love to her, I didn't feel it. I didn't get those butterflies when holding her while she slept in my arms. She has never fallen asleep in my arms-she's too hypervigilent!

Did I love her at first? Yea, maybe. I don't know. I definitely showed it to her by teaching her appropriate ways of acting, teaching her in school, teaching her to groom herself, teaching her social norms of society, adopting her into our family, etc...We went through the actions of love but did not  feel love.

What I didn't feel is those butterflies that you can get in your stomach. I feel like a terrible parent because I didn't "feel the love" towards my child like others have felt. Connecting with her was anything but easy this past year. I read blog after blog about how adoptive parents loved their child and made connections and they were so happy. I saw a lot of happy pictures of adoptive families. Why wasn't my family like that? Then Wes, voice of reason, said that those people get to choose which picture to put up on their blog and no one is going to take a picture of a child having a major meltdown kicking, screaming, and fighting. Duh (Does anyone still use that word?)! He is so right! They choose that one picture where everybody is smiling and happy. So don't compare yourself to other adoptive families. It will make you feel like a terrible parent! We don't know exactly what's behind that happy picture. That 10 year old in that perfect picture could be wearing a pullup because he has bladder issues from trauma, or that 8 year old girl who looks so cute and small, but is severely malnourished from neglect.

If someone were to ask last year do you love her? I would've said yes. If someone were to ask a year ago if I've felt love towards my daughter, I would've said no. I didn't have that "feeling".

I am beginning to have that feeling of love towards her. It's a nice feeling to have amidst the chaos that we've experienced this past year. We had my daughter's birthday party this past weekend. Watching her reactions to opening her gifts and thanking everyone for the presents that they brought gave me butterflies in my stomach. She was truly a happy child at that moment and that's what gave me my first butterfly. Seeing my child truly happy gave me butterflies. It has been a long journey of healing and we are continuing that healing process, so it's only going to get better. My daughter is able to express emotions! She couldn't do that a year ago.

And I want to thank some of my blog followers who've contacted me personally. You all are awesome and have helped me get through the rough patches during the bonding phase with my daughter. I would've have gone completely nuts if it weren't for my awesome blog followers. Thanks  for telling me that I am "normal" and that what I was feeling is "normal".

Resources on this topic:

Monday, November 17, 2014

I Have an Announcement to Make:

I coupon.

Yes, that's right. That's the BIG announcement. I learned this skill back in August. And let me show you why.

I went into Target today looking for their 50% off toy of the day promotion that they are running till the end of November. Today's toy is a Barbie with a horse. My daughter has been eying this toy for weeks. I would've have bought it for her birthday but regular retail value is $42.99-not in our budget! And of course when I get to the Barbie section of Target, two other ladies are looking for the same toy that's 50% today ONLY. I cut my losses and went to the toy clearance section to find some stocking stuffers. And lo and behold there it was-the Barbie with a horse that's 50% off today only! I grabbed it and hid it in my buggy because I don't want anybody stealing it from my cart. The packaging looks like somebody played football with it in the store, but other than that it was in perfect condition.

And this is the best part. When I shop I like to know exactly what I'm paying before I check out. I even have a tally sheet with me to keep track of it all. So I went to the price scanner to double check the price-you never know the exact price with store sales and plus the packaging looks horrible and Target usually likes to mark down on items that look rough around the edges. I scanned it and the price was $22.48 (50% off the original price)! So I paid $11.24 for a piece of plastic worth $42.99! That's 75% off (50% marked down b/c the packaging looked rough and then 50% off by using cartwheel)!

Ok back to my shopping trip. Regular retail price for all this stuff is $105.57. And I paid $28 for it all. The beef jerky alone could've set me back about $26 without coupons. Couponing and using Target's Cartwheel made it possible. I plan to go back tomorrow and get some more. Target is having a promotion right now if you buy $50 worth of food products you will get a $10 gift card.

Anybody want to go shopping?

There is Hope in Healing

For those of you who have emailed me, know the struggles that we faced over 1 year ago with our daughter. It was a hard time for our family.

We learned a lot in the past year.

I just wanted to post a mini update on how my daughter is doing and how we are doing.

I've been observing my daughter closely the past year. Just like a psychologist, doctor, therapist, or some other specialty discipline would. It's amazing what I've found in doing that. And yes, I did take clinical notes on my daughter-call me crazy but I'm glad I did to chart our progress through the year.

When she first came into our care, she was a cat. No, seriously. Her persona was a cat. That's how she acted-on all fours, meowing, and purring. It was cute at first but then we realized that this was her life. She lived her life through animals. That is what we started with- A CAT. Now, ya'll know I love my cats. I love little furballs and they have their place in my life, but not as my human daughter.
I'll never forget our 6 week social worker visit. My daughter came up to the social worker just like a cat would, meowing and purring, waiting for a pet on the head. It was a little embarrassing.

And by the way my daughter did not show any emotions. We had her birthday party shortly after we returned from Poland and we gave her presents to open. Was she happy and excited? Maybe, I couldn't tell. She just kind of stood there like what am I suppose to do with that?

My daughter had never been in school. So schooling her was a hard task for us. Have you ever schooled a human cat? Yea, me either.

We couldn't discipline her. No playground today or no tv today. She didn't care. She would rather play with her fingers or roll up into a ball and pretend to lick herself like a cat.

That's what we started with in our parenting adoption journey.

Now, observing my daughter these past few weeks have been very enlightening. It's amazing to see where she is now. She is a delight to be around. We have fun. She enjoys playing with her toys. She laughs at movies. She can take a shower without me having to be in the shower with her-this is a recent development. I can teach her in school without having a meltdown after meltdown.

I know that there is no such thing as a normal child, but I just want to shout out loud "SHE IS BECOMING A NORMAL CHILD". We still deal with some awkward tendencies in public, but overall she has been doing amazingly great!

We've done a lot of therapeutic parenting this past year to help our daughter heal from the trauma she's experienced in her short life. We've also let her experience what being a kid is all about. We gave her comfort and security.

She has gained 30 lbs. Her brain is growing by leaps and bounds. I am really excited to see what level she takes this next year to!

There is hope in helping the traumatized child heal from terrible wounds!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Teaching Your Children about Adoption

Here is great article that I read today about teaching your children about their adoption story. The article gives great advice about the importance of teaching or coaching our adopted children how to handle tough questions from their peers.

Ok, funny story. Obviously, I'm white and obviously my daughter is white. We do have similar features, so we don't experience the "adoption-race" criticism that other adoptive families may experience like in this article. We, my daughter and I, visit the playground frequently. My daughter will play with other children her age and I will occasionally strike up a conversation with the other moms. The other moms usually think that I'm her older sister or her baby sitter. I inform them that she is in fact my daughter. At that moment, I can see their brains doing the math of how old I look  and how old my daughter looks to figure out if I got pregnant when I was a teenager, or I will get the "wow, you must have been young when she was born" comment. I usually pipe up and say that she was recently adopted. And they usually reply with an "oh, yea, ok". So I may not get the whole "race-adoption comments" but I do get the teenage pregnancy ones! I didn't think about that when we decided to adopt an older child. If you are thinking about adopting older children in your twenties be prepared for teenage pregnancy comments!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Preparing Your Child For the Plane Ride to America

How did you all prepare your daughter for the airplane ride?

We played airplane, of course. We practiced giving our ticket to the gate, putting our suitcase underneath the seat, having the stewardess come around with drinks and snacks, and of course we took turns flying the airplane. My daughter's stuffed animals became passengers. We made it fun and not a scary event. My daughter was really excited because she had never even seen an airplane up close before let alone ride one! We also showed her youtube videos and pictures of what it's like inside the airplane (all about feeling in control).

She was so pumped to get on the airplane! She stayed awake as long as she could on the plane. The one thing that we couldn't prepare her for was going to the bathroom on the airplane. That's a hard thing to practice. So whenever she went to the restroom I had to go with her and a small space just got smaller!  Seriously, they should make bigger bathrooms on the airplanes. Maybe have one family sized one on each plane. She got to watch movies, she got to drink coke, although her eating habits were horrible so we had to feed her the airplane food (I know, not the best tasting food, but it's at least an 8 hour plane ride with no McDonald's).

Did we give her Benadryl? No, but click here for a previous post about it.

Here's a great blog about flying with children from a former attendant:
(You may have to scroll a bit to get to the children part)

Keep the questions coming, ya'll!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

How long is adoption court in Poland?

Great question!

It really depends on the judge. We spent well over 2 hours in court, which to me, seemed like a lot of questioning. We did have some paperwork issues at the beginning of court, so our court time would've taken about an hour and a half. Some of my blog followers or saying it is taking between 1-2 hours.

I remember being so nervous. I knew the answers to the questions, but I had never been questioned by a bunch of judges before-especially in another country. I sweated bullets! Wear extra deodorant. Bring a bottled water and a snack bar (your blood sugar might crash from being all "nervousy" from standing up and answering a billion questions).

Click here for the list of questions we were asked in court.

Click here to read about our experience in court.

Click here to see what we wore for adoption court.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Our Own: Adopting and Parenting the Older Child

I stumbled upon this book yesterday while browsing on the net. Our Own: Adopting and Parenting the Older Child. I haven't read it, so I can't give an official review. My local library doesn't carry it :(. I guess I will have to wait till Christmas!

It looks like a great resource for families adopting older children.

Have you read it?  What are your thoughts on this book?

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Gotcha Day: An Adoptee's Perspective

I read this wonderful article today in Huffington Post by a 17 year old girl adopted from China. She talks about her feelings and emotions around the celebration of her gotcha day. This could give us, adoptive parents, some insights into how our children feel.

Here is a post of our Adoptiversary.

How was the first year of motherhood?

Ok, it's officially been ONE YEAR (Nov. 2) since we landed in New Orleans with our new daughter from Poland. We were first time parents. We had just adopted a 7 (almost 8) year old who had experienced lots of trauma in her short life.

Big question: How was it? What's the first year like?

Here goes my story.

It was the hardest year of my life. I survived on salsa and chips. Salsa and chips are one of my comfort foods.

The first 6 months were the hardest of all. I have never been so mad or upset in such a tiny period. I cried a lot for the first half of the year. It was an emotional roller coaster. Feelings of extreme happiness, sadness, grief, and anger-for all of us. I called Wes almost everyday at work because I needed help or I needed to talk to someone. I questioned all of our adoption decisions. Did we really do the right thing? Did G@d really say adopt? The time went by fast and slow at the same time. We were learning how to be parents-that's a hard thing to learn. Our daughter obviously did not speak English very well during the first 6 months. She didn't even speak Polish very well-which was her native language. It was like we started with an infant-a big infant (one who could run, kick, scream really loud, needed to be held, rocked, not tell us what she needed/wanted, etc...). I made so many mistakes during the first 6 months of parenting her. Like any other parent, I wished I could go back and do over some things from the knowledge that I have gained from parenting (a traumatized child) in the last year.

People usually ask how you are doing and I try to be honest and tell them that it is a really difficult time for adjustment. Some pro-adoptive people understand your trials, but the general population of people are clueless and they are just being polite when they ask how you are doing. I will never forget the time that one of my friends asked how I was doing and I was honest and said it was more difficult than I imagined and her response was "well, you knew what you were signing up for right?". Would you have said that if I had my child biologically-no, of course not. Would you ever tell a mom who's biological baby/child has a heart defect or autism and they are having a rough day that-well, you knew what you were signing up for right when you decided to create life? When you adopt a child, you don't know fully what you are taking on until that child is in your care. You are taking on risks just like having a biological child-there are risks involved. So when someone asks how am I doing, I just respond with Forrest Gump-life's like a box of chocolate, you never know what kind of day you are going to get until you take it on. And that usually subsides the conversation.

I sought out people who understood me-people who have adopted, but unfortunately no one in my circle had adopted an older child or knew what it felt like with an older traumatized child. I scoured the internet for blogs of people who had adopted older kids with issues. They had become my support group. I am very thankful for our agency with their post adoption support. I could email them or call them if I had an issue. If you are contemplating on adopting, find an agency that has a good post adoption support because you WILL NEED it.

I've also learned that I had to educate others who are clueless about adoption. We don't get to just "pick a child" to bring in our family. We get referrals. We get to look at the information and pray whether or not it will be a match for our family dynamics. If the child has severe allergies to a dog and we happen to own a dog farm, then that child is not going to be a good fit for our family because that child would constantly be sick. And yes, we are "in over our heads" or "we've gotten ourselves in a pickle". This kind of questioning from friends did not help my sanity during this time. It made it much worse. Yes, I am "in over my head". Any mom or dad who allowed a freeloader into their house via biological or adoption is in over their heads. We all are because we can not control every breath our child makes, despite contrary belief, children are not robots and they have free will. We can raise them to be respectful and loving, we can pray that they will be successful or have a long and wonderful life, but we can't make them be just like us or have a life that we want for them. Some things are not in our control.

Adoption Tip: If you have a friend who is going through their first year of adoption, bring them a happy once a month or so. That kindness can go a long way. My friend Katie gave me all of the seasons of Saved By The Bell-what a wonderful gift! Bake some brownies, give a coffee gift card, or bring some comfort food. The first year is a doozy and having some outsiders understand a glimpse of what you're dealing with can be reassuring to the adoptive parents that not all of the human population is clueless about adoption-it sure feels that way when some people comment.

Letting our newly adopted daughter adjust to our home with the new smells, sounds, and sights was hard. Adjustment takes time and it took a toll on my mental, emotional, and physical health. The first 6 months have worn me to the bone. I've never been so tired in my life. I feel like I should apologize to everyone that I have talked to during that time. No telling what kind of jibberish came out of my mouth.

My daughter did not want to be with us. She wanted to be back in Poland living with the foster parents. This was not a "oh, I'm so happy and grateful I have a family now and I will not give you any problems" kind if situation-is it really ever? We expect these victims (adopted/foster children) to be grateful and thankful for our generosity to them, but they are just scared, not trusting, and feel alone.
We had to show her over and over again that we love her and that we want her in our family. We showed her new things like the playground, age appropriate toys, toy store, the zoo, aquarium, etc... We bought her new clothes that she got to pick out and that she liked. She got a pet fish named Fluffy and a hermit crab named Myra. We wanted her to be happy with us, which was a hard task that we ultimately had to give it to G@d.

In addition to parenting our daughter in the first 6 months, we had to finish her paperwork (social security number, certificate of citizenship, recognition of foreign adoption, and passport) and see medical specialists for checkups. Throughout all of those dealings I feel like I grew thick skin. I don't like to hurt other people's feelings but now I don't mind if I step on a few toes if it moves the process along a little further. I guess parenting a special needs child or a child who doesn't speak English well does that to a parent, because who else is going to defend or stick up for your child when they can't express themselves. The adoption process makes parents bolder and tougher because of all the trials that we have experienced.

I don't want to speak for my daughter, but I imagine that the first 6 months were the hardest for her too. She just learned that she is moving to another country and is going to be living with some new people that she has to call mom and dad, both of which she was not prepared for. And then we arrived to her new home only to be checked out by a bunch of doctors, given shots, and pulled some teeth, and had to go to school-all of which she had never experienced before. Not exactly the warm welcome to your new home party one might want to receive, but those things had to be done for her health and quality of life at the time. She also had to learn to communicate in another language, which was hard. She had to learn what's appropriate and what's not. It was a huge growing experience for her too.

And what about school. Geez....this I think is where all of the gray hairs that I now have, have come from! Last week, I started dying my hair for the first time. I chose to homeschool my daughter for lots of reasons. She had never been in any type of school, EVER. And we adopted her at almost 8 years old. She couldn't even spell her name. When we were in Poland, she told me her favorite color was brown (in Polish). Who's favorite color is brown? Well, she thought the word for brown was for the color purple-she didn't even know the colors! The first 6 months of schooling was a nightmare. Teaching my daughter how to do school was the hardest. Teaching her to learn and recall what she has learned was so difficult. We started out schooling 20 minutes at a time and then take a 15 minute break. I used the Montessori approach starting out because the formal-pencil and paper school- was not going to happen. I taught my daughter by experiencing and touching. We would read about the elephants and then watch them at the zoo or watch them on tv. My daughter need to gain some life experiences before formal schooling, because she basically had none. After the first 6 months we started 1st grade. The first month of teaching 1st grade was rough. We started a more formal schooling approach with workbooks and worksheets. My daughter had to get use to writing more frequently. Now that she is in the groove of how school is done and what is expected most days run smoothly. And by the way, she can read level one books! Amazing for someone who couldn't even spell their own name or speak English 1 year ago!!!

For the first year of school for my daughter, I did not have specific grade I wanted her to be in. I wanted her to be in whatever grade her brain would let her be in. We can always catch up to her age grade level later if she chooses. The first year I wanted to concentrate on experiences and stimulation.

My daughter's brain has grown so much this first year. She was malnourished and needed lots of extra nutrition. I can only imagine what this upcoming year will bring for her as her brain continually develops with the proper nutrition and vitamins. Also another big surprise to me is that treating a malnourished child is expensive! 8 vitamins a day plus 3 or 4 special drinks on top of the regular meals and snacks throughout the day. My grocery budget thought I was feeding a couple of teenage boys.

No doubt the first 6 months were horrible, but we had to get through them. I'm so glad that we have moved past them and have learned from our mistakes.

The last 6 months of the year was a little smoother and not has rough as the first. Her language really kicked in and she was able to understand almost everything we said. She also started getting almost 8 hours of sleep (thanks to more vitamins), which helped her behavior. Our parenting skills also became sharper and we had a good game plan of what worked and what didn't worked with our daughter. I didn't cry as much or question our motives of adopting in the past 6 months as much as the first 6 months, although we do agree that it will be awhile till we adopt again. Connecting with our daughter seemed like a possible task rather than an impossible one.

Our days are getting tolerable, although we still have a fair share amount of dark days. We are able to see "the light" that people talk about. We have glimpses of hope during the last 6 months of the first year of being home.

School was getting easier for everybody. We can sit through a couple of hours of school with small breaks in between. We don't have as many of meltdowns when we are learning new material. I am learning how to homeschool. My teaching skills are getting better. I am also finding lots of resources and encouragement in the homeschool online community.

We can now go out in public and not have a panic attack because there are a lot of people. Although we still are combating some overstimulation issues-they are much better now. We don't completely freak out all the time just when there's loud music.

I feel a since of empowerment or control in these past few months. Even my daughter is feeling in control of her situation which makes living with her easier (if you've ever lived with a child who felt they had no control over their life then you know what I'm talking about).

I don't call Wes everyday about problems we are experiencing like I did before. Learning how to be a mom is hard. Learning how to be a mom to an 8 year old is hard. And learning how to be a mom to my 8 year old daughter is hard. I guess all moms have this learning curve when they are first starting out.

My daughter likes being with us although she does miss some things about Poland, which is normal and I completely understand. She has found her niche in our family. It feels nice when things have order and people feel in place. We still have days when our order is disrupted, but they are manageable days and not as chaotic.

I can't wait to see how this next year is going to be on our family. I know that we will always have adoption related issues to deal with in our family, but now that we have laid the initial foundation of what trust and love are and that we are not leaving, we hope to build upon that in the coming years.

After the first year is said and done, I've reflected back on all of the psychological reports that we've received with our referral and I can honestly say that my daughter is NOT that person. She is a completely different person. One who is advancing in school, can read, construct sentences, have original thoughts, and her fine and gross motor skills are getting better everyday. Her attachment issues are getting better, even though (most likely) we will always deal with that in some sort of fashion. It's amazing to read what she was like before and then to see what she is like a year later.

Do you have any questions about the first year of being home? You can post in the comments or you can email me at    sarai dot barnett at gmail dot com.

For those who have adopted, what was your first year home like? Do you have a blog post about?  How was your first year of motherhood/fatherhood?

Monday, November 3, 2014

Homeschool Lesson Planner

When I first started out on the homeschooling adventure, I planned every day's lessons and activities. I enjoy lesson planning-super nerd here! After the newbie-ness wore off I soon realized that with a special needs child I could not plan more than 1 month in advance. Some super homeschooler moms like to plan a whole year out, but I can't because of my child's disabilities. One day my daughter can remember how to do addition and subtraction, but then the next day she has completely forgotten everything (including spelling her name). I have to give a lot of grace and patience with teaching new materials or topics.

I hate, absolutely can't stand, planning lessons and then having to erase my hard work because my daughter is in a funk and can't concentrate. I have googled hundreds of lesson planning ideas and lesson plan books, but they are either too expensive or I have to write out the lesson plan and then when my daughter gets in a funk I have to erase it with what we actually accomplished that day.

I found one super neat-o idea from a school teacher. I copied her idea to fit with my special needs homeschooling.

Click here for the original idea.

I took her idea and personalized our own notebook to our homeschooling needs.

If we are having a rough day, I can move the lesson to another day or just write what we did accomplish on a fun shaped sticky note. I DO NOT have to re-write out new lesson plans for the day!

 I like to write out all the books that we use or will use during the school year. If we have another first grader that comes into our family, I do not want to have to plan 1st grade all over again. I can just use this same notebook.

I like to keep a record of grades and a checklist of assignments that we do weekly. If the "schooling police" come and check on our homeschool, I want to show them the progress that we've made during the year. This step is not necessary in my state, but I like to err on the side of caution...or maybe I just like giving grades :).

There is one tiny con to this method: it takes a long time to create. It took about 3 hours to trace the lines for 36 weeks of school and write the days of the week and the subjects, and making the tabs for the 36 weeks of school. I didn't mind taking a long time creating this lesson planner because I like to do craft projects. I broke the time up into little chunks throughout the week to give myself a break from tracing.

I have enjoyed this lesson planner throughout our first couple of months homeschooling 1st grade. I love the idea of using sticky notes! When my daughter is having a rough day when can move over the sticky note to another day. I am now beginning to make 2nd grade's lesson planner. Although if you do not want to make one for each grade than you could just make one and replace your sticky notes with the new materials for the new school year. 

If you are not into making your own lesson planner, click here for a free sticky note lesson planner template that you can customize and print out. You can whole punch the printouts and place your lesson planner in a binder. I found this template after I started making the 2nd grade lesson planner-oh, well maybe I will use it for the 3rd grade.

Alright homeschool parents, what do you use to help plan you child's school lessons? Do you have any good resources that you're willing to share?

Homemade 2015 Planner

Alright ya'll, the new year will be approaching us soon and we better be prepared before we get carried away with holidays. The calendars that you would find in Walmart or Target are usually pretty expensive and not in my budget. For the 2015 year, I've decided to make my own or I should rather say print my own-I'm not that talented nor have the time (at the moment) to come up with cool, artsy designs. I found a cool "handmade" website where they took out the hard work involved in creating your own calendar.

This is the one that I printed for my 2015 Planner:

It looks totally cute and is budget friendly. Very little materials needed to make your own planner/calendar. I used an old binder, printer paper, and a hole punch.

Here are some pics of my planner:
My Calendar Binder

Note: I did not print out the cool and design-y cover sheet that went along with the calendar because I did not want to use a lot of ink. So I found this printable with the dates for the whole year instead.

I made tabs using sticky notes. I reinforced the sticky part by placing some clear tape over the homemade tab and over the paper. I don't want my beautiful calendar falling apart in mid July!

I love the blank pages that this calendar provides. I can write my grocery list, to do list, or schooling ideas down so I won't forget!

This really is a cute calendar. I don't think I will be going back to store bought. I will let you know next year how this homemade calendar works out!