Monday, February 17, 2014

A New Path for Alex

Ten years ago Jon and I made the decision to home educate our two boys. We wanted to be able to provide the best education for our children and homeschooling was our path. For ten years I have covered every subject for my big boys. For ten years I have helped them through their struggles and rejoiced with them in their successes.

Tuesday will be the first day that one of them will enter a brick and mortar school. Alex is going to be taught by someone other than me. He's going to experience school in a different way than we imagined all those years ago. It's time to set aside what we desired from the beginning and make decisions based on what will be best for our creative boy.

There comes a point in time when it's ok to admit that things aren't working. I've come to that point. Alex needs more than I can give him. He needs to be taught in a way that brings life to his subjects. So often he and I just try to get it done and check it off. Tempers start to flare and frustration reigns. My desire is for him to love to learn and right now he doesn't. A change needs to be made.

Alex will be finishing up his seventh grade year at Kepler Neighborhood School. Kepler is a charter school located in downtown Fresno. This school focuses on hands on learning and has a service component. Students work together in small groups with a lot of personal attention.

I'm very excited for Alex and this new adventure. He is not. Please pray for him as he transitions. Pray that he will develop a love for learning and that he will understand what is being taught. Pray for friends.

I also ask for prayer. Pray that The Lord will give me the energy to accomplish all that is before me. These next few months are filled with at least four appointments per week. I will now have one child downtown for school, one at our neighborhood school, two homeschooling, and two preschoolers. My car and I are going to have a very close relationship!

Monday, January 27, 2014

One Year Ago Today

One year ago today we met Kaelyn for the first time.

She has changed our lives in so many ways.

One year ago we learned that the child we were adopting was not the typically developing girl portrayed to us in her file. We faced the decision of whether or not to proceed with her adoption. Obviously, we did. And I praise God everyday for her.

That first week in China was scary. She spent most of her time in the hotel rubbing her fingers against the wall or chair. We discovered that she could not drink from a cup, and her communication skills were almost non-existent. Playing was something she knew nothing about.

Once home, we made slow progress. Doctors have evaluated Kaelyn and therapy's have been attended. Step by step we have seen a beautiful butterfly emerge from her cocoon.

Kaelyn has begun to initiate conversation. Questions are being asked. Statements are being made. She has become stronger and more confident. Learning has begun. The once vacant look in her eyes has disappeared, and vibrant eyes have taken their place.

There are days when I am unsure whether she will ever be independent. She may not. However, she is showing me everyday to not underestimate her. Jon and I will continue, with the Lord's help, to help her reach her fullest potential. In the process, I expect to see God's hand at work. God's glory will be shown through this little girl's life. I am so excited to be the mama He chose to witness this little miracle.

January 26, 2013

December 2013
I want to take a moment and thank some special people in Kaelyn's life. I'm not sure if they would ever read my blog, but I wanted to acknowledge those that changed her life.

Bev- Thank you for noticing Kaelyn in the orphanage two years ago and bringing her to your foster home. God worked through you to give this precious child a new start in life. Thank you for fighting for her. Thank you for finding ways to improve her life. God heard your prayers.

Nannys- Thank you for loving our girl so completely for a year and a half. Thank you for teaching her to take care of herself, feed herself, and begin to speak. I know it wasn't easy. I'm sure there were moments when it seemed like she would never learn. Thank you for praying and fighting for her. 

Loren- Thank you for devoting so much of your time in China with our sweet Angel. Thank you for your stories and insight into her past. You have given her precious memories that we will treasure forever. Thank you for praying for her. 

A thank you, also, to the many people around the world who prayed that our sweet girl would find a family. We are so blessed that she is ours.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Proud Mom of Special Needs Kids

A few months ago I was walking through the parking lot at the market and saw this car.

"I'm the proud mom of two special needs children."

My initial reaction was "good for you mom." Standing up for your children is a beautiful thing. Speaking out and advocating for special needs is incredibly important. I know. I have four kids with special needs. Three of my sweeties are legally blind. One of those three has global developmental delays. My fourth has nerve damage to her arm which causes it to barely function and grows at a slower rate.

I walked into the store nodding my head in agreement. I'm a proud mama of special needs kids, too. And then my thoughts took a different turn.

Should I be shouting out the differences of my children to the world?

Should I explain why they are the way they are to strangers?

I'm not so sure anymore. My kids are going to grow up and want to blend in with the rest of their peers. Most teenagers don't want to stick out. My three with albinism will never blend in. Just yesterday a fellow shopper at Costco commented on how much they have grown. I had never seen this man before in my life. They stick out. I get that. However, I can treat them as typical kids and not constantly shout out their differences.

Most likely the mom who wrote the above phrase is a mom of a kid with special needs that encompass more than just a physical disability as my Mae has. Her kids probably have autism or some other mental/emotional special need. She is probably wanting others to see her as not embarrassed by the behavior that comes with those issues, but strong and capable of handling them. She probably wants the world to know that she loves her kids fiercely despite the daily challenge of raising them. I applaud her for taking that stand.

But, as my mind drifts towards other thoughts, I question why it needs to be publicly displayed. I, also, have a child with mental, language, and motor delays. We are prepared for her to live out her life under our roof. Yet, do I need to always explain her delays to the world? Do her differences need to follow her around every moment of the day?

Sometimes I think I explain her behavior so that others won't think poorly of her. I don't want strangers to look at her and be critical of her immaturity. Actually, I am realizing that I often give too much information so I don't look bad as a parent. I don't want to be criticized for the way my child acts. I struggle with wanting strangers to understand and have compassion on my beautiful girl. I want them to realize that she doesn't respond correctly when spoken to because she spent her first four and a half years completely silent in an orphanage.

My thoughts have swirled around this issue for quite some time. I have recently come to the conclusion that I do not need to shout it out to the world. I honestly don't think it is fair to my kids to always label them. It's as if I am putting them in a box and not allowing them to shine on their own.

From now on, I am not going to volunteer information about my children's disabilities or their past. It's their story to tell when they want to tell it. The man in Costco doesn't need to know that my kids were orphans in China, or that they have albinism and that is why their hair is white. The mailman doesn't need to know that Kaelyn has language delays and that is why she isn't responding correctly to his questions. You will never find me painting words on my car declaring to the world that I am a proud mama of special needs kids. I'm going to work hard at reigning in my words and not always volunteering information.

I realize that by discussing my life on this blog I am shouting out to the world about my children's special needs. I'm detailing their struggles and their victories for all to see. It's a fine line to walk. However, I view my blog as my witness. It's my opportunity for others to see Christ working in my life. I'm praying that my words will glorify Him. If I am able to have conversations with strangers face to face that will glorify God then I will share all that He has done. Most of the time that is not where those conversations lead. Then I will keep my mouth closed.

I tell you, this is a tricky topic for me. Finding the right balance is what I will continue to seek.

Please understand that I am not criticizing this mom for what she has done. I think that the views and opinions on this topic will vary greatly. These are just my thoughts for how I want to navigate the special needs in my children.

Monday, November 18, 2013

18 Years and Still in Love!

18 years ago today I said "I do" to my best friend. He has been that and so much more everyday since.

We never imagined at the beginning that we would be living the life that we are today. I would have laughed if you told me then that I would one day have six kids and four of them were adopted from China.

I am so thankful and blessed that God choose this life for us. However, the day to day living of it can be exhausting and take its toll on our marriage. We know that it is so important for us to have time with just the two of us. If our marriage is strong, then our family will be strong.

A few weeks ago God greatly blessed us through neighbors. a stranger, and family. We were able to go away for the weekend just the two of us.

We stayed at the nicest hotel we have ever been to. The rooms were amazing and incredibly relaxing.

We walked hand in hand on the beach.

We enjoyed each others company without little ones vying for our attention.

We sat on the beach taking in God's creation.

We rested and came back rejuvenated!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Waving My White Flag

I surrender!

I've realized the last few months that there isn't enough of me to go around. I'm drowning in all that needs to be accomplished every day. I'm not discouraged or depressed; just unable to get it all done. Unfortunately, when I feel overwhelmed I start to shut down and escape into books. I've read six books in about a week. (I read very fast at night or while waiting for appointments.) I know I should dig deep and fight through all that needs to be done, but I don't.  Kaelyn has too many appointments every week, the big boys have too many classes to attend, and there are too many little ones demanding my attention. Not to mention the cooking, cleaning, and laundry. I need another me!

Jon and I sat down this weekend to come up with a new plan for my days. I need to spend at least three hours everyday with Alex. Kaelyn probably needs me for an hour, Nathaniel needs an hour, and Lily and Mae beg me to do school as well. I'm so thankful that Micah is an independent learner! If I was home everyday all day I could probably manage. The problem is that I am not. And the reasons for leaving the home are necessary. Kaelyn needs speech, OT, and PT. Micah needs to take Biology, and his other two classes. I can't cut those things out.

What we did realize is that we could put Nathaniel back in public school. He thrived last year in kindergarten. Public school is not what we want long term, but it seems like the answer for the moment. I would no longer need to worry about planning his school. Someone else would assign, teach, and check his work. That will take one load off of my shoulders. I realize I will still oversee his homework, but I won't have to think about what the homework will be.

One of the amazing aspects of the school district he attends is the vision program. I think we have THE BEST vision teacher ever. She works hard to provide every possible service that would help him to be successful. He will have a personal aide the majority of the day. He will have a CCTV in the classroom and any other devices that will help him visually. She will make sure that the computer lab has a program where he can learn to use the computer. Any possible service that he qualifies for she will work hard to provide for him. I'm positive that he will thrive in this setting.

I do have some misgivings about sending him. Probably the biggest is having to follow all the rules of the school! I will no longer be in charge of our schedule and that will take some adjusting. I worry about him out at recess and how he lacks self control. I dread packing a lunch everyday. I worry about the fact that my curriculum is paced differently than the school and he will appear behind. These aren't big worries, just niggling the back of my mind.

Probably the biggest fear is disapproval from others and feeling as if I have failed. In the end, it doesn't matter what others think. We are trying to do what is in the best interest for our family. Right now, the best is having Nathaniel in school.

I'm excited and a little nervous about this new adventure.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Speech: A Few weeks in

Kaelyn has now been attending the speech program for a few weeks. The first three are spent assessing and getting a baseline. It is not surprising that she tests below the 1% for her age. We can only go up, right!

Last week the therapist started working on having her express what she wants. When presented with two choices, ie a doll and a paperclip, she is to say "I want doll, please." It wasn't clicking at first and then the light bulb went on. Just yesterday she came down the hall and said "Kaelyn highchair." Then she stopped and rephrased it to "I want highchair, please." I was so proud of her!

Our next task is for her to be able to reply 'yes' or 'no' to a question. She gets very confused with this concept. I'm confident that we will get there!

We are also working on her articulation. It is terrible! This week she tackled 'm', 'b', 'p', and 'n' sounds. Sometimes she can do it and other times she drops the sounds. She has come so far since we adopted her that I know she will continue to progress.

I am so encouraged to finally have some help navigating this journey with Kaelyn. Please continue to pray for her as she grows and her mind is challenged. Pray, also, for Jon and I that God will give us wisdom in how to best help her meet her fullest potential. She is a blessing!

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Moving Forward and a New Diagnosis

We have had some huge success this last week with receiving some help for Kaelyn. We finally were accepted into the speech program at our local university. Praise The Lord! I can't wait to start getting some direction with her speech. Language is coming and it is exciting to watch. The other day Kaelyn said, "Micah. Where are you? Micah, hug." We all stopped and dropped our jaws. Did she really just say that???? We were floored. Even in Mandarin Kaelyn did not put independent sentences together. Just today she told me that she wanted to do something. "I will do it," she said. Awesome!

We also had an evaluation with a physical therapist. Kaelyn's gross motor skills just seem a little off. She walks funny and doesn't seem very strong. The therapist says that she has hypotonia. We now have some exercises to help strengthen her muscles. We may also end up getting some inserts for her shoes. It's so encouraging to have a plan.

Hypotonia is a medical term used to describe decreased muscle tone.  Normally, even when relaxed, muscles have a very small amount of contraction that gives them a springy feel and provides some resistance to passive movement.  It is not the same as muscle weakness, although the two conditions can co-exist.  Muscle tone is regulated by signals that travel from the brain to the nerves and tell the muscles to contract.  Hypotonia can happen from damage to the brain, spinal cord, nerves, or muscles.  The damage can be the result of trauma, environmental factors, or genetic, muscle, or central nervous system disorders.  For example, it can be seen in Down syndrome, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, Prader-Willi syndrome, myotonic dystrophy, and Tay-Sachs disease.  Sometimes it may not be possible to find what causes the hypotonia.  Infants with hypotonia have a floppy quality or “rag doll” appearance because their arms and legs hang by their sides and they have little or no head control.  Other symptoms of hypotonia include problems with mobility and posture, breathing and speech difficulties, ligament and joint laxity, and poor reflexes.  Hypotonia does not affect intellect.  The opposite of hypotonia is hypertonia.

 It's interesting to me that so many things that she has circle around cerebral palsy. I may continue to press that issue. If she was diagnosed with CP, then she would get services through California Children's Services. That would be so helpful! I love the OT there.

I still need to have her seen by an occupational therapist. I've learned that there is a drought on pediatric OT's. We can only be seen through the children's hospital and they are booked through the end of the year.

So, my week is quickly filling up with therapies for our sweet girl. I'm so encouraged to finally be developing a plan for Kaelyn.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Special Needs and the Emotional Impact

For the last three years I had pretty much convinced myself that adopting a child with special needs was completely different than giving birth to one. And for the most part, I think I am right. When I choose a child with special needs I know what I am facing. I'm prepared. Prepared for the worst even. When I gave birth to my two oldest, I dreamed about having a perfect little one with ten fingers and ten toes. I imagine that my world would have been shaken a bit if they would have had severe vision issues or limbs that didn't work. However, I barely bat an eye adopting legally blind children and a child with one arm that doesn't work. I was prepared.

My friends and I toss around a phrase about the special needs are children have. It goes something like "____ is overrated." You could fill in the blank. Having two arms is overrated. Having perfect vision is overrated. It's not meant to make light of their disabilities, but to recognize that those disabilities do not define them. They can accomplish whatever they set their minds to. God will use them for His glory. They are defined by the fact that they are a child of God.

Then along comes Kaelyn.  Our sweet, sweet girl.

I was not prepared.

I was not prepared for the six year old that acted two. I was not prepared for the battle of getting help. I was not prepared for the emotional impact of dealing with a child with developmental delays. There are many times when I find myself holding back tears when talking to a medical professional. This is hard stuff. I have no idea what her future holds. While who she is is defined by being a child of God, her delays will greatly impact her life. I feel a huge weight to teach her and help her reach her fullest potential.

My head knows that God will provide and that He will carry us through this. I know that His plan is greater than any I could dream of. But, my heart hasn't caught up yet. I'm grieving what should be. I'm still letting go of my dream of a little six year old girl that can keep up with others her age.

This is where I realize that it's the unknown special needs that create such an emotional impact. The unknown is scary. It's hard to let go of what you thought your child would be like.

I don't have a lot of answers right now. Someday I will be able to write an update to this post giving Him glory for all He has done in Kaelyn's life. I praise the Lord every day for bringing her into our lives. I'm just still processing the impact that her needs have made on our lives.

A wonderful, wise friend of mine wrote this to me:

Kaelyn is fearfully and wonderfully made by a loving Creator Who has specific things for her to do in the Kingdom. I know it's hard for you! I'm not making light of that, but I have been convicted and learning lately about how the Body works best when all members are utilized, including those whose broken-ness is more obvious than the rest of us. I am looking forward to hearing about Kaelyn's part in the Body!

This has been such an encouragement to me and I am working on trusting Him who loves Kaelyn more than I ever could.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Homeschooling with a Large Family, Multiple Ages, and Special Needs

We have just entered our sixth week of school. Six weeks and I still feel like I am trying to find my groove. I have only ever schooled two kids, so jumping to six school aged kids has made a real impact on my day and how I structure it. I also have kids all over the map in ability and grades. Micah is in ninth grade and fairly independent. Alex is in seventh and struggling to get by. I'm fairly certain he is dyslexic, so we are trying to find the best way for him to learn. Kaelyn and Nathaniel are both first graders this year. Nathaniel is doing great despite his visual impairment. Kaelyn is developmentally delayed and needs to be taught everything from the beginning. I try not to get overwhelmed with her. Lily is still preschool age, but doing kindergarten/first grade work. She is a sponge for learning even with being a borderline braille reader. Mae is also preschool age, but ready to take the next step up.

I have tried multiple methods to my day. The first week I held a fairly rigid schedule. We accomplished a lot, but it was stressful and confining. The next week I let the schedule go completely. It was a lot harder to get things done without direction. So, I am trying to find a balance between the two. I need structure, but also some flexibility. I have found that starting with group time is great. We memorize scripture, read the bible, sing some songs, pray, and read our read-alouds for the day.

I've worked out a good system for everyone to be able to see at the same time. I use a doc cam while reading that puts it on the laptop and then to the external monitor. I need one more monitor and we will be set. No more complaining about not being able to see and I can actually read the words!

After group time I send two off to play while I work with the other two. It seems to work best if I start with Mae and Kaelyn. They are pretty quick and I feel successful when they are done. Nathaniel and Lily take a little more time. I've tried them all at once and it is a little chaotic trying to keep them all busy. Two is much more manageable.

As far as the special needs go, I do have a few accommodations.  Lily and Nathaniel both use a magnifier for their reading. I would love to have a CCTV for them, but they are PRICEY! It is a goal for the future.

They also need to write on an elevated surface. Slant boards are in our future, but binders are working for now.

With Kaelyn we are just working on very basic preschool skills. I'm trying to get her little mind to start working. Six months ago stacking cups were impossible. Today she gets them fairly quickly. She's doesn't do them perfectly, but her brain is working! Learning to let go of expectations and working with her where she is is key to teaching Kaelyn. I can't wait to see where she is in five years.

I am learning to take advantage of the kids to teach each other. Above, Lily is quizzing Mae on her letters and sounds. Lily loves to be teacher! Occasionally Micah and Alex will step in. One day I was gone in the morning and I came back to find that Alex had done group time with the littles. So sweet!

I usually finish with my littles by lunch. Throughout the morning, Micah and Alex are working on their independent work. We break for lunch and then all littles go down for a nap from 1-3:30. It's during nap time that I work with Alex and Micah. Most of that time is spent with Alex. Micah needs me for just 15 minutes or so. Oh, how I love an independent learner!

My school day usually ends around 3:30. I shoot for starting around 9, so it's a long day of teaching for me. I have had to accept that afternoons are no longer mine to spend how I want. I have come to realize that I need to keep my focus on God and how to give Him glory throughout the day. That's really the only way to have a successful day. The problem is that so many of the days I am in the trenches just digging with my head down. It's a constant battle to look UP.

ETA: I want to make sure that you, the reader, know that my days are filled with temper tantrums, attitude, frustration, impatience, and sinful people. I don't want this post to sound like we have it all together. This homeschooling thing is tough!

Friday, August 9, 2013

Two Years Ago

It's hard to imagine that two years ago we become the parents of Nathaniel and Mae. It's seems like the time has flown by and it seems like we have had them forever. I'll never forget the moment we met them.  Mae hated me with a passion. She cried, screamed, and hit me. One of my first phrases in Mandarin was "don't hit mama!" She eventually accepted me and then wouldn't let go. She was sweet, very quiet, and a tiny little thing.

Today Mae is such a different child than the one I met. She is spunky, loving, smart, a bit of a stinker, and such a sweet child to have around. I adore her!

I was busy with Mae when Nathaniel was brought to us. He went right to Jon because Jon had food. Food was essential to this little guy for his adjustment. We learned pretty quickly that this he was a quite a handful. Nathaniel was also delayed. Even though he was four, he acted like a two year old.

Nathaniel has made tremendous strides over the last two years. He no longer rages and he seems to be acting more appropriate for his age. This little guy picked up the English language incredibly fast and  now reads at grade level. He is inquisitive, loving, adventurous, joyful, friendly, talkative, and smart. This energetic boy has taught me to love with my actions and not my feelings; a great lesson to learn. I now love him with all my heart.

I praise God every day for these little lives that He brought into our family. I can't imagine life without them!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Still Here

We are still here. I'm just trying to find my groove. I will post more about that in the next few days. Here are a few pictures for now.

Little stinker

Sweet girl

Full of life

Our peanut

Growing so fast

Wild boy

Goofy hubby

We've been camping, celebrated Nathaniel's sixth birthday and Jon's 40th. Vacation is over for us and we just finished our second week of school.