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.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Summer Check-in

Hi, readers. Thanks for staying with me. I've been vacationing and taking a writing class, so I've not had much time to keep up here.

It's been a busy but relaxing summer. I am now caught up on sleep for what must be the first time since we got the adoption referral eight years ago. I'm gathering editing work for during the school year, meanwhile cleaning out the garage and my office, neither of which has seen much attention in some time.

M and K both were CITs (counselors-in-training) at the day camp they've attended since age 4. They spent two weeks at an overnight camp, forming friendships that they still talk about. Both kids asked to go back next year, though K says she'd like to stick with two weeks "because there were spiders in my cabin." Peter and I spent our kid-free weekend visiting friends who have a quiet cabin on a lake (read: sleeping a lot).
      The kids are now in tennis camp. M loves tennis; K, who continues to be able to pick up any physical skill in a day or two, loves it less. Peter and I dearly hope they will both want to continue it during the school year.
I'll be away at a writers conference for the next several days: five nights, the longest I will have been away from home since we've had the kids. My anxiety shows itself in my nightmares, which are about going to a faraway college for a four-year degree. Sheesh.

Both kids are now comfortable staying home alone for short periods of time (under 2h for K, under 1h for M). While K was sick last week, I did not have to cancel all my appointments and stay home with her, which made me much more cheerful. This stay-at-home practice will be helpful during the coming school year, when the kids will be on different schedules at different schools. (K is entering middle school, remember?)

Thursday, July 03, 2014

A Reminder: Preadoptive? Be Prepared

We spent the weekend before last with several families from FRUA, Families for Russian and Ukrainian Adoption. This organization provides educational resources and a sense of community to families who might otherwise not have either. Over the course of the weekend, we witnessed or learned about issues with which some families are wrestling. While I can't say anything about individual families, I will list these issues below to remind you that some adopted children--like some children by birth--need more help than others. I've mentioned some of these in other posts over the years, but it's time I did so again. Please note that my parenthetical comments are NOT intended to be diagnostic. I'm not an expert, even on my own kids.

That weekend we saw or otherwise learned about:

-Sensory issues such as dislike of bathing, certain clothes, many foods
(Can stem from early childhood confined indoors, or to a crib, or otherwise lacking in sensory exploration.)

-A lifelong habit of poor hygiene
(Can be a remembered protective measure against sexual abuse.)

-Theft and vandalism
(Can happen for reasons including, but not limited to, memories of poverty; distorted conscience or boundaries because of poor attachment; lack of understanding of consequences because of FAS [Fetal Alcohol Syndrome].)

-Oppositional or violent behavior towards parents
(Can come from early learning that adults are not to be trusted--e.g. neglect or abuse. Sometimes, kids contending with this issue cannot live at home.)

-Lack of empathy for other people and animals
(Can result from lack of empathy and/or lack of understanding of consequences; see #1 and #2 above.)

I cannot emphasize enough that adoptive parents must be prepared to learn and seek help. Peter and I risked adopting preschool-age children raised in an eastern European orphanage because we live in an area where help is easy to find. If we lived in an area where such adoptions were rare, where no medical professionals knew international adoption medicine, and where no therapists worked with kids who have attachment issues, we would not have adopted K and M. Why not? Because we would have risked damaging already fragile human beings. Yes--this means that, rather than adopting our beautiful children, we would have allowed them to be placed where they could have gotten better care. In other words, adoption is not about the parents. It's about the children.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Busy Transition

There's a lot going on, but today is the kids' last day of school--a half-day--so I am awfully short on time today and all week. Meanwhile, I've got a small freelance PR project going, a pro-bono book critique, and lots of homework for a class I'm taking.

We took a weekend trip with a group of families with children adopted from Russia and Ukraine, and I learned a lot that I'd like to detail here, but it's going to have to wait. Meanwhile, here's my usual advice to parents during this end-of-school transition.
-Hold fast to discipline and routines to help your kids feel secure.
-Remind yourself and your kids that endings often evoke many feelings at the same time, and all are acceptable. (The feelings are acceptable. How they're acted upon, of course, might not be!)
-Have compassion for your kids' feelings of loss, which may run deeper than you realize.
-Cherish the moments when you yourself can find replenishment.

Good luck. Be gentle. 

Friday, June 13, 2014

M At A Transition Point

After last week's success on the 4th-grade overnight trip, M seems to have regressed several months. Darn.

Monday, his afternoon home alone with me, he forgot to look at his homework chart, and actually forgot that he had brought one home. It had been months since I'd needed to remind him to check.

Tuesday, he took the bus home instead of getting on the afterschool van. He had not made this mistake since the winter. Frantic administrators called around until they found him by calling me, who had just seen him get off the bus. I had him fetch his tennis racquet (which he had also forgotten), then took him to afterschool myself so he could catch the end of tennis class. (I would have kept him home, but we've paid too much for tennis to waste even one session.) That night, he came upstairs after bedtime because he couldn't sleep. Peter was working late. It had been months since M had trouble sleeping on Peter's late nights.

Yesterday, he did not do his homework at afterschool even though K was right there with him, doing hers. "Nobody reminded me!" he complained. "And whose job is it to remember?" I countered, the same thing I'd said the last time this happened, in January.

M has also been rude, demanding, and even more careless than usual with his possessions. These are new behaviors.

Now that I've told you all this, here's what's happening in his 4th-grade life that we think might be freaking him out:
-His sister is graduating from 5th grade (this is a big deal in our town)
-He and K will be at different schools for the first time in 6 years
-He and K will be at different after school programs for the first time ever
-K will not stop talking about these changes
-He and K are growing physically, starting to experience early adolescence
-M's special ed teacher (his only male teacher) is retiring

No wonder he'd rather be safely ensconced in January, when everything was known and comfortable!

But what about the new behaviors? We're guessing that what isn't simple hormonal surliness might be a form of testing--as in, "There are new circumstances in my life. I'm scared, so I need to feel the same hands holding me, the same arms keeping me safe. And this is how I break rules now that I'm 10." I don't know how common this sort of testing is among non-adopted kids, but it's common among adopted kids, and it's always been M's modus operandi. And like always, it makes me want to nail him into a crate and mail him back to Russia.

So how are we coping? Besides fantasizing about a crate, I mean?
-We try to stay mindful of what's going on from his point of view (see above).
-However, we don't slack off on discipline. It is essential for both kids that we remain stable so they have something to push against.
-When M is rude, we don't hesitate to exclude him, put him out of the room, ask him to "stay silent until you can say something kind," etc. (FYI, he is rude only to us. He is as gentlemanly as Peter with everyone else. This is as it should be: it means he feels safe with us.)
-We hide aces up our sleeves (that is, we keep strategies ready just in case). The latest: "I know you asked me to buy that special snack, but, you see, I spent so much time today [insert job he should be doing] that I just didn't have time." We might also use, "I do favors for people who are kind to me." (This is a pure Love and Logic technique.)
-We bring up topics of conversation that might prick up his ears, even if he doesn't feel like participating. I eat with and drive both kids the most, so this duty falls mainly to me. Peter and I want to start "family movie night" with this idea in mind.  (Another tip from Love and Logic.)
-We try to do things with M that don't require eye contact, such as playing cards. (K craves face-to-face contact, but M prefers side-by-side, like most guys.) Peter loves to play cards, and he has an intuitive understanding of how boys interact, so he does this more than I do. We want to start a "family game night." (K's idea!)

Aside from these parenting strategies, there's also how I take care of myself. I continue to work out regularly--real weightlifting, with the big guys--and cook simple, clean meals. I've learned that I need to keep a regular bedtime. I try to hang out with Peter more and talk to him on the phone when he doesn't get home. Perhaps most importantly, I'm working on my career. I've been writing more, sending out more pieces for publication, and doing freelance editing. In other words, I'm allowing myself islands of competence to stand on even though the seas are starting to get choppy.