Friday, October 17, 2014

Link to an essay in Brain, Child magazine

The following is a link to an essay of mine that was recently published as a "Web Exclusive" for Brain, Child magazine. The incident I wrote about was M's head injury and the subsequent trip to the Emergency Room. While you're there, please have a look at the rest of the Brain, Child site. And do keep an eye out for the magazine in print.

Link to the essay:
(And don't worry: the photo isn't of M, and the names aren't the kids' real names.)

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Why The Big Deal? (Re: Sick Boy)

M has finally, finally gone back to school after being sick for almost nine days. The fever would not stay down, and the cough would not leave him alone. Even Peter was concerned, and he tends to be pretty relaxed about health issues, having seen plenty of sick kids as patients.

Some of you might say, "Why the big deal? Your kid, who is basically healthy, is sick for nine days. So?"

My answer: "It had never happened before."

It's true. Remember, we adopted M and K at ages 2 years, 9 months and 3 years, 9 months, respectively. We did not parent them though colic, croup, and all the other health horrors of infancy. When M and K have been sick or had surgery, they've bounced back quickly. This 9-day stretch has been the worst extended health trouble either child has had since we've known them.

As hard as "late age" adoptive parenting can be, I take my hat off to those of you who have parented your children--by adoption or by birth--from infancy.

Friday, October 10, 2014

A Sick Boy

An update; nothing deep today. M has been sick for almost a week with a bouncing fever accompanied by a headache. He has a cough that won't quit. He missed the entire week of school. Our clever pediatrician discovered strep throat and otitis media (middle ear infection); M has been on antibiotics since Wednesday. They have given him stomach pain and diarrhea. The fever of 102.5 F finally came down enough today for him to eat a couple of meals, but after dinner it bounded up even higher. I swear I could fry an egg on his back. Right now he's sleeping, with two kinds of cough medicine in him as well as the antibiotic, a probiotic, and Tylenol. (We usually leave a fever alone, but this one makes his head ache too much for him to sleep.)

We have never needed to call the pediatrician for advice before, but Peter did so yesterday because the fever hadn't come down after 24 hours of antibiotics. She said to ride it out another 48 to 72 hours. Peter suspects M has a wily virus in addition to the two infections; so while the infections may well be responding to the antibiotic, the virus isn't giving a damn.

M is so completely our kid that being touched by either one of us helps him feel better. His favorite thing to do when ill is to sleep with his head on my stomach or in the room in which I'm working. I've been rubbing his neck and shoulders when the headache is bad; he says it helps.

And how am I? Hypervigilant, except when Peter's home or the fever comes down, when I succumb to physical and emotional exhaustion. I have a large freelance editing project due on the 20th, and I've got assignments due for an online writing course, but I am able to get little done because of the interruptions for fluids-medicines-temperature checks-hugs-etc and because of my own worry. The damn cough invades my every thought and makes poor M's throat, head, and stomach ache. (I'm dosing him with wild cherry bark tea and honey in addition to the two cough medicines.) I can leave M alone for short periods, but the last time I did, he called repeatedly about a new stomachache, then left the phone off the hook so I couldn't call him back, and I panicked on the drive home.

Peter is working all weekend, of course. It's a three-day weekend. That's what it's like to be married to a doctor: they leave you to take care of other people. He's great when he's here, but that's not often.

That's it for now. I'm going to bed.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Girl, Confidential

K and I had an astounding conversation the other day. It concerned mean girls and birth control.

Before this conversation, K had been nearly silent about school. Peter and I had been trying nightly to open her up, asking easy questions like, "Who did you have lunch with?" and "What was your favorite part of the day?" She would always answer, but tell us no more than we asked. I wanted to respect her privacy, but I did not want her to feel alone with whatever she might be encountering. Peter and I have always had a general attitude that is best described as, "Observe closely but don't intervene unless necessary." However, we had not yet found a way to observe K's school day. 

So I'd been searching for a way in when I happened to ask K whether she remembered that a specific girl in her homeroom had been a friend in preschool. (The girl's mother and I had been in touch.) K smiled and explained that the other girl had remembered her first, and now the two of them have rekindled their friendship. My adoptive parent's heart filled with happiness at this continuity in K's discontinuous life.

She went on to tell me all about the alliances that have formed since the start of school: who is friends with whom, who is mean to whom. K said that one girl in particular has said cruel things to her preschool friend. "So I'm not friends with that girl. She even invited me to be in her group, but I don't want to be."

I asked, "Because she's mean to your friend?"

She replied, "Yeah. And because she dresses and acts so...weird. She pushes her sweaters off the shoulder, and she wears tight clothes, and she wiggles her butt a lot. So do her friends. But I don't want to."

Trying to sound casual, but secretly thrilled, I reflected back, "You don't want to?"

She said, "No. I think those girls want to do things I don't want to do. Like, go to parties where people are making out and stuff. I am SO not into that. I don't want them to invite me."

My adoptive parent's heart wondered, How is it that this kid, who is supposed to have identity issues, knows exactly who she is and what she wants?  My skeptic's brain also said, Yeah; just wait for the hormones to kick in.

K and I discussed the fact that she has a handful of girl friends moving at about her speed. I'm glad. I didn't have any friends like me when I was her age--rather, I had one, but she went to a different school. And then--I forget how we got there-- she asked me about preventing pregnancy. This didn't surprise me. She plans ahead, and in general she is curious about the human body.

For the record, we have not yet talked as a family about values concerning premarital sex. However, we have always been careful to discuss sex as something that happens between consenting adults in a committed relationship who have known each other a long time. 

I've mentioned before that I used to work for Planned Parenthood. One of my responsibilities was educating clients about reproduction and birth control. I did this so many times that I learned to do it with and without props, in simple and complex language, and so on, but I rarely had to do it with 11-year-old girls who are not even menstruating. But I still had my skills.

If you don't want to know what I told her, please skip the following paragraph.

I explained very simply that what works best is abstinence and what works worst is the calendar method and pulling out. Then I ran down the list of available methods, making sure to emphasize that every one of them is more effective if used with a condom. I mentioned using condoms to prevent STDs. I mentioned that there are other kinds of sex to have besides intercourse. And that was all she wanted to know.

I have deep respect for parents who don't wish to discuss such matters with their kids; if you're one of them, I'm not recommending you change your views. You know what works for your family. What I said to my daughter is simply what works for mine.

For the record, K thanked me, folded up the paper I'd drawn on, kissed me, and went to play with her brother. Since this conversation, she has talked to me every day about the social scene at school (not about birth control).

I am so grateful we found a way to connect. I got a little more connection than I bargained for, but maybe it'll teach her that I'm safe to approach even about sex.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Listening to Puberty

Remember when I nearly drove into a tree when K reported underarm hair for the first time? Well, now both kids are reporting a lot of hair. All over. K has started sleeping late; M has started to be hungry all the time. Their feet are growing like gangbusters. M and K are 10y 6m and 11y 6m, respectively.

I didn't get body hair or menstruate until age 14, and I didn't have much interest in the opposite sex until some time afterwards. Peter's timetable was even later. It took listening to my adoption support group for me to recognize this growth for what it is: an early stage of puberty.

One of the hard parts about puberty for adoptive families is that our kids can't refer to us to find out what to expect. Information is out there, of course. K and M are fortunate in that our school system provides units on puberty; and the literature for kids has expanded considerably since my own childhood. Peter's a physician; I used to do education for Planned Parenthood. K and M will have access to any information they need. But not much that's personal. I was always told, "Ask your mother how it went for her," but K won't find a whole lot that's relevant if she asks me.

Another hard part about puberty for adoptive parents? As our kids learn about what causes pregnancy, issues may come up for them concerning the circumstances of their own birth. Peter and I can't anticipate what these might be, if any come up at all, but we've got our ears open.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Permission To Keep Blogging, 2014-25 School Year

I do this every year, but I've never posted the actual conversation I have with M and K, so here goes. We discussed this two days ago, in the car.

Me: "Guys, you know I write about you on the internet, right?"

M and K: (nod, not looking up from their books)

Me: "Guys, I can't look back there. Did you hear me? You know I write about you in a blog?"

M and K: "Yes."

Me: "May I keep writing about you? To teach other people about being an adoptive family?"

M and K: "Yes."

K (finally looks up): "You don't use our pictures, right?"

M: "Or our real names? You had that stalker, right?"

Me: "Right. No pictures. No names. You have your privacy."

K and M (noses back in their books): "Okay!"

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Two Schools Once Again

We are into the second week of the school year, and once again K and M are in different schools.

Way back in September 2008, 5-year-old K moved on to kindergarten while 4-year-old M remained in preschool. They were in different schools, which meant different buildings, different schedules, different friends. They fought like devils for about three weeks prior and three weeks following the first day of school. Why? M told it best at the time: "I scared kindergarten. When I see K--, I think kindergarten and I feel scared; so I hit her."

Peter and I braced ourselves for similar outbursts this month, when M starts his final year of elementary school while K starts middle school. So far, no problem. While we did notice that both kids sought lots of hugs and kisses from us, and both had trouble sleeping for a few nights before school started, they have not been fighting with each other any more than usual. I guess that's what happens when you grow up a little.

The middle school here is just fabulous. The faculty really seem to "get" this age--they are firm and flexible, with a healthy sense of humor. I think I'll learn a lot from them. K is thrilled by the choices opening up to her. Sing in chorus? Study French? Learn ballroom dance? She has always enjoyed new things, so she's happy. M, meanwhile, gets to enjoy the privileges of 5th grade, such as extra recess and running PTO Pasta Night.

Both kids are once again on different schedules, which means I get more time alone with each of them than I have during the last few years. I'm now realizing what a gift this is. Both kids are beginning puberty, as are their peers, so they have questions and observations that they want to share privately. (I'll post separately about those.) I get close-up of each child's tiny, daily changes, which I hope will help me respond to them better as they enter this challenging time.