Welcome to this week’s edition of notes on hosting “Valentine,” a 10-year-old orphan from Eastern Europe.  The end is getting nearer; we have one more week of “normal” before we leave on our family vacation that will culminate in taking Valentine to the airport to fly back to his country.  Two of the photos are not actually from this past week. They are from the beach trip my friend organized a couple weeks ago (Take 4 here), but I just got the pictures from her.

  1.  Probably the most exciting thing this week was flying kites.  I’m a little disappointed that I missed it; Don took the boys to a park while I stayed home with a napping Clara.  Normally I’m all about having that kind of break, but I bought a kite for Simon in the spring and two more kites (for Peter and Valentine) before Valentine arrived and we still hadn’t flown them (due to a combination of the weather and being busy with other things).IMG_8801 small
  2. Valentine is getting better at playing card games.  He first learned to play Uno; the last thing he had to get the hang of (which I think he has figured out now) is that he should pick a color of a card in his hand when playing a wild card (more than once, he named a color that no one else had and it would go around to him and he wouldn’t have one either).  We have recently started playing one of the simpler variations of Aquarius.  He understands the game but isn’t a particularly strategic player.  He totally has the hang of Go Fish, which we play with phonics flash cards (matching uppercase and lowercase letters).  When he first came, he was a very sore loser.  We have emphasized and demonstrated good sportsmanship and he has shown improvement.
  3. Valentine continues to clown around a lot.  I think that his acting silly is a behavior that has been reinforced by living in an orphanage; if he can make his peers laugh, that gives him status.  Sometimes he is funny but sometimes it gets annoying.  Lately, he and Simon have been fond of the words “stupid,” “stinky,” and “caca” and their reactions to each other are motivating them to keep using them, despite Don’s and my attempts to discourage them.

    Hancock Beach

    What are pool noodles for?  Battling, of course!

  4. Eating, for Valentine, is a purely utilitarian activity.  He doesn’t seem to have the concept of sitting down and enjoying a meal and the company of the family.  He would eat every meal standing up in about five minutes, then clear his place and be on his way, if we let him.
  5. Another sound that Valentine has difficulty pronouncing is /i/ (the short “i” sound).  (Take 5 of my hosting report #5 noted that hard /th/ sound (like “this”) and /w/ (“wow!”) are challenging for him.)  He mostly pronounces it as /ee/, like “seet” instead of “sit.”  However, the word “stinky” comes out as “stanky,” which brings back memories of my years teaching at a high school in inner-city Detroit–there was a dance that was popular among my students at the time called “the Stanky Legg.”Hancock Beach
  6. I was impressed with how Valentine used his English to tell a story.  Our cat, Malou, caught a chipmunk.  He dropped it on the grass and it lay limp for several minutes, but then ran off.  Valentine witnessed it and reported to Don, “Malou eat chipmunk.  Chipmunk no I’m dead.  Chipmunk bye-bye.”
  7. Valentine is starting to apply his knowledge of phonics to try to spell words in English.  He has written simple words like “Mom,” “Dad,” and “bug” when he was playing around with the little whiteboard that we use for lessons.  Then he drew some superheroes and labelled them “Spoyderman” and “Bet Man.”  (Vowels are the hardest for him to identify in English.)  He came to me when he wanted to know how to write /oo/ for “Superman.”  I was proud of how well he sounded them out all by himself.

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Here is the latest edition of notes on hosting “Valentine,” the 10-year-old orphan from Eastern Europe that my family is hosting this summer.  I’m sorry, but I didn’t take many photos this week and most of the pictures I took show Valentine’s face, so there’s only one to share.

  1. It’s been a busy week but mostly for boring reasons.  Trips have included the campus police station (to get paperwork notarized), the post office, the health department, the local school district’s homeschool partnership program office, and the library.  Even when we were home, I was preoccupied with paperwork.  It hasn’t been the most fun week, but important stuff has gotten done, including all the registration forms for Peter and Simon for next school year and the application for Clara’s certificate of Canadian citizenship.
  2. The most exciting thing that happened this week was that my parents came for a short visit.  They arrived Sunday evening and left Tuesday morning, so we mainly had Monday to spend with them.  It was a particularly hot day—it was in the 80’s (F).  I know that’s not very hot for most of the country, but it is for around here, and we don’t have air conditioning in our house.  We can generally keep our house comfortable in the summer by opening the windows to let in cool air at night and closing them in the morning to keep the cool air in.  However, my dad is allergic to cats, so he tries to spend as little time as possible in our house.  We spent most of the day hanging out on the porch, with some time spent in the RV (which is our summertime guest bedroom).  Valentine and Simon ran through the sprinkler, had a water fight, and showed off their bike-riding skills.  My mom read a book to Valentine and then he read to her.  He also pulled out the toy clock and demonstrated his time-telling skills (he can tell time to the hour and half-hour now).  My dad played checkers with Valentine and commented that he has obviously played before.  In the evening, we went to a nearby waterfall.  It would have been nice if my parents had stayed longer, but I understood my dad’s desire to get home.  He had been on a motorcycle trip from lower Michigan to Alaska (he made it to the Arctic Circle) and back since before Valentine arrived in the United States.  My mom drove up to meet him as she stayed home and thus hadn’t seen him in a month and a half.
  3. Valentine claimed us as his parents.  Before my parents arrived, I explained to him that they were coming and who they were, my mom and my dad.  He then said, “This my mom” and hugged me, and said, “This my dad” and pointed upstairs to where Don was.  I agreed with him.  What else was I supposed to say?
  4. Valentine got to add “snake” to the long list of animals he has seen here.  Apparently there was a snake on the seat of his bike; I didn’t see it.  However, I did see a snake on our front porch later that day, and then Malou, our cat, got out of the house when my parents were here and met up with a snake not far from our porch.  There was a long and entertaining battle between them (it was a pretty small snake—we weren’t worried that it would hurt the cat).  The kids declared that Malou killed the snake, but they were wrong.  In the end, it got away.IMG_8773 small
  5. Valentine continues to learn new things all the time.  Lately, one of our focuses has been on saying “I am hot” or “I am cold” rather than “me hot” or “me cold.”  It doesn’t help that Simon has taken to imitating Valentine’s incorrect grammar to communicate with him, saying things like “me book” and “bike no.”  In our lessons, Valentine has made it through book eight of level one of Little Stories for Little Folks (there are fifteen books in level one).  He can read sentences like, “It is cool in Ann’s room.”  He enjoys being read to; I’m still reading easy readers to him.  He sometimes looks at pictures in books in his free time.  He’s still not 100% with the names for numbers up to twelve (he often calls 8 “eleven”), but he’s getting there.  He is working on counting by 5’s to 100 using a hundreds board as a visual aid; he’s a little shaky on the names for 15, 20, and 30 but has improved a lot on the others.  He can read time to the hour and half-hour on an analog clock and has been introduced to telling time to 5 minutes.  I have been making a point to tell him that things will happen at specific times (like, “You can eat a snack at 3 o’clock” or “TV off at 4:30”) and to ask him what time it is when I see that it’s on the hour or half-hour so that he can start getting a sense for what happens at different times during the day.  I’ve just introduced the digital clock way of showing time.  He is working on writing English letters when I say the most common sound for the letter (a precursor skill to spelling); he is able to write maybe 80% of them without help.
  6. The end is coming.  When I flipped the calendar on our kitchen wall to the August page, Valentine pointed to the 29th and said, “Me bye-bye.”  I was surprised that he remembered the exact date that he is leaving; it was several weeks ago that I showed him.
  7. We have about two more weeks of “normal” before things get crazy.  Valentine has to be at JFK airport in New York City on the 29th to fly back to his country.  We decided to go on a family trip and take him there; we will be taking our RV.  Don has been excitedly researching attractions and planning a route.  I am mostly trying to ignore the fact that our departure date is getting closer because I am really not looking forward to the trip.  Our test voyage before we picked Valentine up convinced me that travelling in the RV with Clara is very challenging.  She did not sleep well away from home and I basically had to hold her the whole time she was awake.  Plus, in general, I find that after about a week of vacation, I’m ready to go home, but Don’s current schedule has us gone for almost two weeks.  I’m sure there will be some fun and memorable moments on the trip; I just hope they are worth the amount of stress I will experience to make them happen.

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How time flies!  It seems like it’s only been a few days since I wrote my last update on hosting “Valentine” (not his real name), a 10-year-old orphan from Eastern Europe, but another week has passed.  Bonus–lots of pictures this week!

  1. We celebrated Clara’s first birthday.  My in-laws came to visit for the occasion.  My mother-in-law, who used to own a patisserie and makes amazing cakes, made a giant cupcake.  She also made regular cupcakes and let Valentine and Simon decorate them, which they enjoyed.IMG_8700 small
  2. While my in-laws were in town, we went out to eat at a sit-down restaurant for the first time with Valentine.  It was not a particularly successful experience.  First, the menu overwhelmed him.  I knew better than to try to give him all the options, so I just picked a few things for him to choose from.  He didn’t have much trouble choosing a hamburger, but he had a meltdown when I asked him to choose a side.  I ended up taking him out of the main part of the restaurant to an area that was quieter and not full of people.  I went through the six options for sides using Google Translate, but he did not want to choose.  I went through them again and he started crying.  He did not want to choose.  I refused to choose for him, so I picked two that he had seemed interested in (corn and mashed potatoes) and asked him to choose from them.  He still didn’t want to choose.  I rubbed his back and reassured him, but I insisted that he choose.  Finally he made a decision—corn.  (We go through this at home sometimes also.  He’ll say, “I don’t know eat” and shrug his shoulders.  I might suggest a couple things he could eat, but I won’t just tell him what to eat.  I suspect he doesn’t get to make decisions about what to eat, or many other things, in the orphanage.  I know it’s hard, but I think it’s important for him to practice making decisions, and what to eat seems like a good place to start since it concerns him personally.)  Then, after all the stress of choosing his food, he was not very patient in waiting for it to arrive.  I ended up taking him, Simon, and Clara outside until our food was ready.  He enjoyed his food when it came, but on the whole, it was not a great experience for him.IMG_8517 small
  3. Don, my in-laws, and the boys took a day trip to explore the natural beauty of the Upper Peninsula.  They did some hiking in the Porcupine Mountains and visited some beautiful waterfalls.  We had written in our welcome letter to Valentine that we would visit waterfalls, so he had been looking forward to that.  I stayed home with Clara; it was easier than carrying her around all day and messing up her nap schedule.IMG_8602 small
  4. A friend of mine organized a wonderful outing for the boys in support of our hosting experience (though Simon decided at the last minute to stay home with me).  She picked them up in the morning and took them to the beach, where they had fun with her kids and those of another friend.  I came in the late morning with Clara and Simon, after Clara woke up from her morning nap.  The two other moms brought a picnic lunch for everyone and the mom who organized it treated the boys to ice cream.  I appreciate her putting that together so the boys could spend the whole morning at the beach; with Clara still napping twice a day, I can’t take them out anywhere for long periods of time.IMG_8617 small
  5. Valentine had his dentist appointment for his filling.  It was quick and easy and they didn’t have to numb his mouth.  I had prepared him ahead of time for having to have a shot, so he was relieved that he didn’t have to have one.  His comment afterwards was, “No ouch!”IMG_8627 small
  6. Valentine has a knack for injuring himself.  We’ve taken to bringing a first aid kit with us when we go on outings and we’ve had to use it more than once for cuts and scrapes.  For weeks after he got here, he would slip and fall on our kitchen floor; I wondered if he was used to wearing shoes all the time and found it slippery to walk around in socks (I tried asking through Google Translate but didn’t get a clear answer).  He falls on his bike frequently (which is understandable as bike riding is a new skill for him).  He smashed his finger with a rock when he was trying to bang it on another rock and now has a big bruise under his fingernail.  I don’t know if he’s just naturally clumsy or if he lacks the kind of judgment that comes from having a wide variety of experiences.IMG_8752 small (1)
  7. Valentine’s bike riding skills have progressed considerably in the past week.  On Sunday, Don took Valentine and Simon to a small park to practice riding on paved trails.  Yesterday, I dropped off the three boys in town and let them ride their bikes on a riverside bike path to a local park.  I met them there and we had a picnic lunch.  Valentine told Don and me through Google Translate that riding a bike has become easy for him.  We told him how proud we are that he kept trying and didn’t give up.  This is a real accomplishment for him.

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“Valentine,” the 10-year-old orphan from Eastern Europe that we are hosting this summer, has been with us for a month now and has a little more than a month left in his stay.  Here is this week’s update:

  1.  Last Saturday, Valentine and Simon participated in a kids fun run that was part of a larger local run/walk event.  They ran a quarter mile down a closed-off street to the finish line; the starts were staggered by age so the little kids wouldn’t get trampled.  All the kids who participated got a medal; Valentine was very proud of his.
  2. On Sunday, we visited an Orthodox church.  Valentine’s religious background is Orthodox, and we actually have a little Orthodox monastery and mission church in our area, so I wanted to give him the experience of something somewhat familiar.  The service was in English, so he couldn’t understand it, but the church was richly decorated and the rituals were interesting to watch.  I had contacted the hieromonk in advance.  He arranged for a parishioner who speaks Valentine’s language to meet with him and us before the service.  She translated for him and Valentine, then he took Valentine to a part of the church where we could see them but not hear them and had Valentine make his confession.  He gave Valentine communion during the service; none of the other people in the congregation took communion, just the monks and what I would call the altar servers, so that was something special.  Afterwards, we were invited to join the monks and some of the parishioners for a meal in the rectory.  We had cabbage soup and rolls, followed by cake and ice cream (the dessert was in honor of the woman who had translated for Valentine; she was returning to her home country after visiting here for a year).  On the whole, it was a very interesting experience to observe the service and note the aspects that were familiar and those that were different from what I’m used to.  Several aspects of the service reminded me of things I have learned about the history of the Catholic church, like the parishioners not taking communion every week and the priest facing away from the congregation when he was praying at the altar.
  3. Simon and Valentine went to the eye doctor on Monday.  I was proud that Valentine had learned the English alphabet well enough to read the letters on the eye charts (saying the sounds rather than the letter names, because I teach the sounds first).  The verdict was that he doesn’t need glasses.  I am grateful to the optometrist for donating his services for the exam; he would have also donated a pair of glasses if Valentine had needed them.

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    Playing in the sprinkler when we couldn’t make it to the beach.

  4. We finally made it to the beach on Wednesday.  Unfortunately, we were only there for an hour, including the time it took to eat our picnic lunch, because we had to get Clara back home for her afternoon nap.  Having a baby who still naps twice a day means we’ve been getting out less than in previous summers.  Valentine has been wanting to go to the beach and I’ve been looking for a good day for weeks, but we’ve had a lot of lousy weather and it seems like we had somewhere else we had to go every day that was nice enough.
  5. Valentine’s English is improving.  He uses two-word phrases and the occasional three-word phrase, such as, “I like,” “Good-bye, house,” “my nose,” “three motorcycle,” “baby apple,” “big truck,” and “spider eat bug.”  When my in-laws arrived yesterday with their fluffy little dog, our cat was scared and jumped onto a high ledge to get away from it.  That inspired Valentine’s longest utterance in English yet, “Look, Mom!  Cat sit, is looking dog.”  We’ve been practicing the pronunciation of the hard /th/ sound (like “this”) and /w/ (“wow!”) because they are challenging for him.

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    More sprinkler fun.

  6. Valentine is still learning some American habits.  I’ve had to remind him to put toilet paper in the toilet and flush it (in his country, it is usually put in the garbage, not flushed).  I also have to remind him to put on clean clothes every day; in the morning, he will often change from his pajamas into the clothes he was wearing the previous day.  I’m guessing that in the orphanage, the kids wear their clothes several times between washings to save on laundry.
  7. Valentine is still working on learning to ride a bike.  Don put one training wheel on his bike to help him out, and he’s making progress.  Yesterday I saw him ride maybe 20 feet before he lost his balance.

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Here is the fourth installment of my reports on orphan hosting this summer.  If you’re just joining us, we are hosting 10-year-old “Valentine” (not his real name) from Eastern Europe.

  1.  On the whole, things are going well.  The house isn’t a total disaster, everyone has clean clothes and bathes at least semi-regularly, we’re eating well, the dishes get washed, the boys are doing at least a few academic-type things to keep their minds from atrophying, they’re doing chores daily, and we’re getting out and taking advantage of the natural beauty of this area and some of the local events.  I’m pulling off this “taking care of four kids” thing (although Peter is gone to Boy Scout camp this week, so it’s only been three kids, but it hasn’t been much of a break because Don has had to work late three days this week).
  2. Speaking of bedtime, that’s the one area that continues to be a challenge.  We were finally back on track after the fireworks threw us off, then Peter left for camp.  Valentine doesn’t like to be alone at night, so we decided to move Simon to sleep on the bunk bed with Valentine.  It went well the first night, but the second night they keep each other up until I finally sent Simon to his own room at a quarter past ten.  Then I had to do bedtime by myself the next night (I usually put Clara and Simon to bed and Don usually takes care of Valentine and Peter).  With Valentine missing Peter and Don, it didn’t go well.  On top of trying to comfort Valentine, Simon wouldn’t go to sleep, so I had to keep dealing with him.  Valentine has adopted one of Peter’s stuffed animals, a husky dog that he has named Rex, and he sleeps with it.  He really doesn’t want the bedroom door to be closed, but he’s been doing okay sleeping by himself with the door open.  By the time all the kids are in bed asleep, I am worn out, but I need some down time without kids, so I keep going to bed later than I should.

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    We visited a nearby wetland this week.  Here are the boys, who just happened to all be wearing blue shirts.

  3. While Valentine is basically well-behaved, we have seen a lot of whining, begging, pouting, and sulking lately when he doesn’t get what he wants.  I am trying to be loving but also set firm limits, or as Gordon Neufeld writes, I’m trying to be “both an agent of futility and an angel of comfort.”  He has to do lessons and chores before he can play on the Wii.  If his Wii time is over for the day, he doesn’t get another turn, no matter how many times he asks, “Play tv?  Please, Mom?  Please?”  I am now enforcing no snacks in the morning and only one snack in the afternoon and before bed, because his snacking was getting out of hand.  I don’t buy him candy from the check-out line at the grocery store and he can look at the arcade games but not play them.  In short, I’m treating him the same way I treat my kids.  One of the goals of the hosting program is for kids who live in an institution to experience family life, and I’ve embraced that.  I’m not the magic summer vacation fairy, I’m a mom.  That’s what he needs, even if it’s not always what he wants.
  4. We do try to remember that the way we experience or understand things may not be the way he perceives them.  A simple example is his shirts.  He’s wearing hand-me-downs from Peter, so his shirts are familiar to us.  It’s even a little heart-warming to see him wearing things that bring back good memories.  However, they don’t mean the same to him.  He doesn’t even understand the words written on them.  How would you feel wearing a shirt that had something written on it in a foreign alphabet, not knowing what it said?

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    Valentine and Simon checking out the pond

  5. In general, I am not a fan of easy readers.  I think they have a place for children who are learning to read, but I don’t think they should be read aloud to children.  Read-aloud books should expose children to rich and varied language, language that they can’t read for themselves.  However, easy readers are just right for reading to Valentine right now, with his limited knowledge of English.  Simple vocabulary and sentence structures and lots of repetition are just what he needs to understand and enjoy listening to stories.  As mind-numbing as I find “I do not like them in a house.  I do not like them with a mouse”, I will read Green Eggs and Ham enthusiastically, five days in a row, for Valentine’s benefit.
  6. We went to the dentist on Tuesday.  First I had my teeth cleaned and checked, then Simon had his done, and then it was Valentine’s turn.  He did great; he was very cooperative and thanked the hygienist when she was done.  He picked out a toothbrush with pictures of fruit on the handle (very appropriate, considering how much fruit he eats), a sticker, and sticky stretchy hand thing (a little toy).  I’ve heard multiple stories of children hosted or adopted from his country needing major dental work, and he told me through Google Translate when I asked that he doesn’t go to the dentist in his country, so it was great news to hear that he only needs one filling.  I scheduled it for later this month.  I am grateful to our dentist for donating his services to help Valentine.

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    Clara and me

  7. On Sunday, I asked Valentine about his friends in his country.  He said he had one friend, “Stephen” (not his real name), but Stephen is now living in America.  I asked if Stephen was living in America for the summer or for always, and Valentine said for always.  I sent a couple e-mails and less than 24 hours later, Valentine and Stephen were talking on the phone.  It was quite the surprise for Valentine–he was so excited!  Stephen and his brothers were adopted last September and I’m sure Valentine thought he would never see or hear from his friend again.  I’m glad I was able to do that for him.  We hope to get the two friends together on Skype one of these days so they can talk face-to-face.

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Here is the latest installment of notes about hosting 10-year-old “Valentine” (not his real name).  I thought last week was busy, but this week has been even busier.  It’s been a week full of life experiences and making memories.  While it has been great, I’m looking forward to things settling down a bit.

  1. We have done a lot of things.  In the space of seven days, we have done the following, besides the usual everyday stuff:  Thanks to a friend who gave us complimentary day passes, I took the kids to the recreation center at the local university on a chilly, rainy day and let them burn off some energy there.  They tried soccer, basketball, volleyball, punching bags, running on the track, racquetball, and badminton; Valentine was disappointed that he couldn’t try hockey.  We hosted about 50 people for a Canada Day party; Valentine ate s’mores for the first time.  We went to church.  We walked to a neighbor’s yard and checked out their chickens.  The boys helped Don return cans and bottles from the party along with others that we have accumulated.  We went for a walk and saw a mama skunk with her babies (and we didn’t get too close).  Don took the boys to see fireworks.  We went to a state park on Lake Superior, where Peter found two geocaches, Valentine threw rocks into the water, Simon climbed on playground equipment, and Clara ate sand.  Don and the boys went out geocaching.  Don and Valentine replaced one of the man doors in the garage (the old one was rusting).  I took the kids to a church potluck.
  2. Bedtime has gotten a little out of hand.  It was already drifting later due to the daylight lasting far into the evenings and Valentine’s stalling (he becomes quite conversational at bedtime; he and Don do a lot of chatting through Google Translate before bed).  Then Don took the boys to see fireworks on Monday night and they didn’t get home until midnight.  We’ve been trying to get them back to a somewhat normal schedule all week.  Clara has been waking up early and Simon has been having a hard time getting to sleep at night, so I’ve been dealing with kids from 6 am until 10 pm.  I need them to get to bed and to sleep earlier so I can have some downtime and get to bed myself at a reasonable hour.
  3. Valentine seems to be doing okay at finding things to do.  We have so many toys that it took a while for him to try them all.  I wondered what he would do once he got through them and there wasn’t something novel to play with.  He has pulled out the maze book we sent in the care package and drawn pictures with the colored pencils.  He hasn’t made much effort lately in the bike riding department, but he had fun riding a scooter.  He really enjoys jumping on our trampoline.
  4. Valentine is learning more English every day.  He’s progressed from using single words to using occasional two-word phrases like “Eat banana?” or “Play TV?” (what he calls playing on the Wii).  We have read such literary classics as Goodnight Moon, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You Hear?, and Where’s Spot?.  He has a fantastic memory for phonics; he has learned the most common sound for 20 letters of the English alphabet and how to write them, both uppercase and lowercase.  He should know them all next week (I’ve been introducing two a day).  He has finished reading the first two books in Little Stories for Little Folks; we’ve spent three days on each in order to build comprehension before moving on.
  5. Valentine is joining us when we do the sign of the cross and doing his best to recite prayers with us (we say a prayer during “together time” when we start lessons for the day and we are saying the standard table grace before dinner while he’s here—we figured it would be easier for him than our usual practice of each person saying three “thank yous”).  He is singing along with the song we sing during together time and was trying to sing along at church on Sunday.  He wears a necklace with a small crucifix under his shirt all the time.  I asked him about it and he told me that it was given to him by a priest when he was baptized on his tenth birthday.  I’m not sure how much religious education he’s had, but at least I know he’s Christian so I feel that it’s appropriate for him to participate in our family’s religious life.
  6. Valentine continues to make representations of our family.  On the 4th of July, after getting caught up on some work around the house, I sat down to paint some peg dolls.  There are more productive things I could have done (like organizing the photos we’ve taken during the past week), but it was nice to sit down and do something not kid-related for a bit.  Valentine came to see what I was doing, so I showed him the dolls that I’ve already painted.  He pulled some out and identified them as Mom, Peter, Valentine, Simon, and Clara.  He was upset that there wasn’t a Dad or a cat, so I offered to let him paint them.  He did, and I think he did a pretty good job.Peg doll dad and cat
  7. It’s going to be hard to say good-bye.  On Sunday, Valentine was looking at the July calendar on the wall.  He noticed that Clara’s birthday is this month.  Then he flipped the pages and found Don’s birthday (I made a custom calendar with a photo of each person on their birthday).  I showed him on the calendar when he has to go back to his country (August 29th) and that it was before Don’s birthday (September 6th).  I told him that he has two months here still and showed him all the weeks left before he leaves.  He asked through Google Translate, “I will come for Dad’s birthday?”  I told him, “I wish you could come for Dad’s birthday.”  We left it at that.  It was a difficult conversation because I knew he wanted to be here and he won’t be.  The next morning, Valentine pointed to Clara’s birthday on the calendar and said, “Clara two one” (meaning that her birthday is on the 21st).  Then he lifted to the next page and pointed to the end of the month and said, “Bye-bye.”  He was sad for a moment and I hugged him.  At that point, he hadn’t even been here for two weeks and I could already tell that it’s going to be hard (for him and for us) when he leaves.

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It has been a very busy and full week.  I am keeping up with things, but at the expense of getting enough sleep.  That needs to change soon or I will get run down and it won’t be pretty.  Nevertheless, I stayed up too late on Thursday night to get this together for Friday morning for your reading pleasure.  Here are this week’s reflections on hosting 10-year-old “Valentine” (not his real name).

  1. We are still doing a lot of “firsts.”  I made a point to stay home for a few days after Valentine arrived to give him a chance to settle in.  Then, when I was ready to take him out, we got hit by a nasty spell of chilly, rainy weather, which meant we didn’t make it to the local park with the huge climbing structure until several days later than I had planned.  So far, we’ve only ever been anywhere once.  He’s had his first trip to Wal-Mart, to church, to the movie theater (truth be told, it was Don and the boys’ first trip to the movie theater since we moved here three years ago–they really wanted to see Cars 3), to the park, and to a birthday party.  When we go to church this Sunday, it will be the first time we go somewhere that he’s already been.  There will still be lots of “firsts,” but I think it will help him feel more comfortable when some things are more familiar and everything isn’t a constant stream of new experiences.
  2. Food is not an issue.  Valentine eats pretty much anything.  I think that being a picky eater probably doesn’t get you very far in an orphanage.  A few times, he has refused a food, then eaten it shortly thereafter.  I think it’s more about testing to see if he’s allowed to refuse something.  He loves fruit–oranges, bananas, apples, pineapple, kiwi, and watermelon have all been devoured.  We had pierogies for lunch today and he particularly enjoyed them.  He eats very quickly; he’s usually the first one done and hopping up to clear his place while we all sit and enjoy our food.  I kind of want to make him stay at the table like I sometimes require of my bio kids, but I’m letting it slide because his English is so limited that he doesn’t get  much out of the dinner table conversation.  Maybe as the summer continues and he starts to understand more, he’ll be more inclined to relax and hang out with us at the table.

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    Valentine made our family with Magnetix.  Baby Clara is on the right and Malou, our cat, is in front.  In real life, his tail is the same color as his body, and Clara’s arms and legs match.

  3. The only difficulties so far, other than some frustration when Google Translate wasn’t working well and communication was hampered, have come at bedtime.  A couple nights, Valentine has been upset at bedtime.  I think that during the day, there’s enough activity and stimulation to keep him occupied, but at the end of the day, he’s tired and all the stress of everything he’s dealing with comes crashing down on him.  He doesn’t like to go to bed alone, so we have been letting him stay up until Peter is ready for bed (they are sleeping in the same room).
  4. Because of his background, I’m not assuming that Valentine has the knowledge or skills that you would expect a 10-year-old to have.  He does know how to tie shoelaces.  However, he can’t ride a bicycle or tell time.  He was super excited when Don fixed up one of Peter’s old bikes for him, but his first attempt to ride it ended in tears of disappointment and frustration.  I reassured him that it is difficult to learn to ride, but that he will learn if he keeps practicing.  He hasn’t given up; he’s been out practicing almost every day (in between the rainy periods).

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    Don had the idea to take Valentine out on our Trail-a-bike so he could feel what it’s like to ride a bike.

  5. Parenting is more work when you can’t easily talk with a child.  One of my biological kids could come to me (or yell across the house) and ask, “Mom, can I play with the Mr. Potato Head?”  I could say, “Go ahead!” and he could pull out the Mr. Potato Head stuff and go to town.  If Valentine, however, wanted to play with Mr. Potato Head, he would say, “Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom,” while gesturing for me to come or pulling on my arm.  I then would have to leave whatever I was doing and follow him across the house, where he would point to the bin of Mr. Potato Head stuff.  If I said, “Go ahead!” he would look at me quizzically and ask, “Yes?”  I would then have to respond, “Yes,” and get the bin out for him.  Repeat 15 minutes later for the train set when he’s tired of Mr. Potato Head.  I am trying to be patient as I know he’s doing the best he can, but it can be a little frustrating to be frequently interrupted for such things.
  6. It’s helpful that he is in between our boys’ ages.  He can look to Peter, who is older, as a role model.  However, he more often plays with Simon, who is younger.  I think it’s mostly because Simon is more social and Peter prefers to curl up alone with a book, but it lets Valentine catch up on some of the experiences he may have missed.  He has enjoyed playing with toys that are aimed at younger children; I think he’s just filling in gaps in his life experience.
  7. Humor transcends language.  Valentine has a silly streak and likes to clown around and make us laugh.  He also enjoys it when we joke around with him, especially Don.  We’ve had a lot of jokes about chickens and bananas.

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