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I wrote a fairly extensive post on homeschooling for preschool back in 2009.  An even more extensive comment that was made on my post a couple months ago brought it back to my attention.  It was interesting to re-read my post six years later and see how my approach to homeschooling for preschool has evolved.

My overall approach to literacy education is very similar.  I still swear by Diane McGuinness’ book Why Our Children Can’t Read And What We Can Do About It.  I am still using The Phonics Handbook by Sue Lloyd.  This time around, I am photocopying the page for each letter and having Simon color it, since he doesn’t mind coloring (Peter really disliked it).  We’re doing slightly different practice activities, such as tracing Montessori sandpaper letters and playing Go Fish and memory/matching games with index cards that I wrote the letters on.  One thing I am doing differently this time is teaching uppercase and lowercase letters together; with Peter, I focused on lowercase letters, but then when he started reading he had to go through a period of learning which uppercase letters corresponded with which lowercase letters.  I’m taking it slow on introducing letters/sounds, going at a pace of one a week, in the order that they are presented in the Jolly Phonics program.  This gives us time to do the Jolly Phonics story/action/coloring page and two art projects per letter, and it’s not an overwhelming pace for Simon, who was 3 1/2 when we started.  Because we took several weeks off here and there, we’re about halfway done with the alphabet (I know there are more sounds than letters, but I’m focusing on the most common sound associated with each letter for now, and we’ll get to digraphs and alternate pronunciations later).  We practice segmenting and blending orally a couple times a week; Simon can identify the first sound in a word pretty reliably, but has trouble with the last (or any other) sound, and he doesn’t have the hang of blending yet.  It will come.

I have added the book Alphabet Art by Judy Press.  Even though I don’t do the rhymes and fingerplays in the book because they focus on letter names instead of sounds, this book has still been a great resource.  Every letter has an art project to make the capital and lowercase letter out of cut and decorated paper plates; for example, M has macaroni glued on and S is “silver” (wrapped in aluminum foil).  Each letter also has an art project to make an animal that starts with that letter.  I have been impressed that all of the projects have been relatively simple and use inexpensive materials that I mostly already have around the house, like yarn, paper bags, aluminum foil, paper muffin cups, and pipe cleaners.  Simon is getting good fine motor skills practice cutting the letters out of paper plates and doing the gluing, etc.  It’s good exposure to the letter shapes, and he enjoys playing with the various animals that we’ve made.  For me, it’s been motivating to have appropriately-scaled art projects all planned out; I always felt like I should be doing more creative stuff but didn’t have the energy to plan it.

I chuckled when I read that I had written, “I’ve had a hard time finding decent simple phonics readers at a reasonable price.”  I really struggled to find appropriate very-beginning phonics books; most “phonics” books use too many irregular/more advanced words, and most have very little text and rather dull stories.  I felt like I hit the jackpot when I found Little Stories for Little Folks.  For less than $1 per story booklet, the forty-five stories in this program progress from extremely simple (only two short vowel sounds are used in the first story) to what is easily second-grade-level text.  They are broken up into four levels; when Peter went through them, we had a family celebration with ice cream every time he finished a level.  They don’t dovetail perfectly with Jolly Phonics; that’s why I’m skipping digraphs like “ch” and just teaching Simon the most common sound for each letter.  Little Stories for Little Folks develops basic reading fluency before introducing digraphs and other more complicated phonics. I found them a great value, and they helped Peter become a very strong reader (at the beginning of this school year, in 5th grade, he tested at a high school reading level).  Note that Little Stories for Little Folks is an unapologetically Catholic program.  If you’re not Christian, then you might not be comfortable with the content.  If you’re a non-Catholic Christian, you might be okay with using it, knowing that you would have to explain a few Catholic vocabulary words and/or concepts (such as the rosary and the fact that priests are called “Father”).  As an aside, the person who commented on my previous post made me aware of these free phonics readers based on the Jolly Phonics program.  They look like a wonderful resource.  I don’t plan to use them for Simon, however, because I want him to learn to read from paper, not from a screen (I know they can be printed, but that would be an extra expense).  I already have Little Stories for Little Folks and I like it, so I will use it again.

Math is the area that I’m doing completely differently with Simon than I did with Peter.  I started Peter in Saxon Math K, then we did some Singapore Earlybird math, and then I came across an incredible program called RightStart Math.  This program is hands-on, very visual, and focuses on building mathematical concepts; I wish I had learned math this way.  Because Peter had already done two years of kindergarten math before I found RightStart, I started him in RightStart level B.  With Simon, I’m skipping the other programs and starting him in RightStart level A.  Level A is technically a kindergarten program, and we started when Simon was 3 1/2, but I am taking it very slowly for now and he is keeping up (Peter did Saxon Math K full-speed starting at age 3 1/2, but I also think Saxon Math K was less intellectually challenging).  We have been doing one lesson a week, repeating so that we’re doing the same lesson two weeks in a row.  Simon’s 4th birthday is next month and after his birthday, I’m going to bump up to one lesson a week without repeating (the timing is not just because of his birthday but also relates to finishing the introductory sequence of lessons; I wanted to make sure he developed a solid understanding of them).

Read-aloud is still a big part of homeschool preschool.  We’ve mostly been reading picture books from the library, but we have recently started on some of the books from Sonlight’s pre-kindergarten list.  Simon was enchanted by the Milly-Molly-Mandy stories and is now enjoying the Uncle Wiggly stories.  I love how older children’s books have sweet, innocent stories and rich vocabulary; they are so different from modern books written for children.

When I was homeschooling Peter for preschool, I was actually afterschooling him.  I was working full-time and Peter attended a center-based preschool part-time while my husband was in school.  This time around, Simon is home with me full-time.  I am making an effort to do things with him (like crafts) that I didn’t do with Peter because I figured that the preschool Peter went to would pick up the slack.  Every month I print out a blank calendar and put it on the fridge.  Every day, Simon and I color the day’s square following a pattern (this month, it’s orange-orange-blue-blue).  We have our Montessori room and we do Montessori activities a couple times a week.  I feel like we should do Montessori more often and I would if Simon were more independent, but he always wants me in the room with him, usually wants to talk to me about what he’s doing, and often wants me to do it with him.  It’s a great learning experience for him, but it means I get nothing else done for an hour or more, and I can’t always afford that.  I try to incorporate some French into every day, whether it’s responding to him in French, playing a game, discussing a book, or just watching tv.  In addition to our weekly grocery shopping trip on Mondays, we have been going ice skating on Wednesdays, sometimes to story/craft time at the library on Thursdays, and to gymnastics lessons on Fridays.  Of course, other things pop up here and there too, like taking Peter to the dentist.  I try to have at least one day a week where we don’t leave home; those are the days that I get (sort of) caught up on housework.

I’ve deliberately taken a flexible approach to scheduling this year and it has been going well.  I suspect that next year will be more challenging, with the addition of a baby to the household, but if I remain flexible and focus on what’s most important, I think we can make it work.

Lego special dinner

Last year, my only resolution was to try to have a special themed dinner once month.  We had a winter-themed dinner in January, a Valentine’s dinner in February, a St. Patrick’s/green-themed dinner in March, a totally tubular dinner in April, and a Victoria Day dinner in May.

June was busy with the end of the school year and travelling; near the end of the month, I hadn’t settled on a theme, and then we got crazy busy preparing to host about 50 people for a Canada Day party on July 1st.  So even though it wasn’t technically in June, I decided that our Canada Day party was our June special dinner.  We had Canadian flag decorations on our fence, in the yard, and on the house.  I made tourtières (meat pies), tartes à sucre (sugar pies), and Nanaimo bars.  We had traveled to Canada in June and brought back with us butter tarts and potato chips–ketchup, all-dressed, and poutine flavours.  Of course, we had Canadian beer for those of age (we also had pop and juice).  We grilled burgers and brats and our guests came with potluck food, so we had quite a feast.

In July, we had a Lego-themed dinner.  I don’t have pictures of everything, but we started with rectangular crackers with little circles of cheese on them (to resemble Lego bricks).  I made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cut them into rectangles, and did the same thing with little circles of sandwich.  I wrapped juice boxes with construction paper and glued cardboard circles with construction paper circles on top of them onto the sides of the juice boxes.  I made sugar cookies which were supposed be be rectangular, and Simon and I decorated them with M&M’s to try to make them look like Legos (I’m sure you can tell in the picture which ones I decorated and which ones Simon decorated).  We had popcorn in yellow paper cups that I drew Lego-style faces on.  For a decoration, I put some yellow paint in a small glass jar with a lid, shook it up to cover the inside of the glass, and drew Lego faces on it.  (Many thanks to the internet and people who shared their kids’ Lego-themed birthday parties for giving me inspiration.)  Here are some pictures:

After July, I never put together another special dinner.  They were fun, but too much work for me to do every month.  I’ve been meaning to post about our Lego special dinner since it happened, and I didn’t even get around to doing that until almost six months later.  I’m not making any year-long resolutions for this year, but I did resolve to at least get this post up to sort of finish up last year’s resolution.

Facing 2016

It’s a new year.  I’m not crazy enough to try to make any New Year’s resolutions for this year.  I’m expecting a baby in July, and I know better than to try to be ambitious while being pregnant for half the year and taking care of a baby for the other half.  I struggle enough trying to keep up with things now, and I don’t expect it to get any easier this year.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I can be a good homemaker or I can be a good mom, but I can’t be both at the same time, at least not in this stage of life (as a stay-at-home mom with an almost-4-year-old).  Being a mom takes precedence, so I settle for trying to be a “good enough” homemaker.  Everyone in the household eats regularly, has access to healthy food (whether or not they actually eat it), has clean dishes to eat off of (though there may be an unsightly collection of dirty pots and pans on the counter), has clean clothes that mostly fit (even though they might be in a laundry basket, waiting to be folded and put away), and goes in for doctor/dentist/optometrist appointments as necessary.  The kitchen floor may be littered with crumbs, the living room floor may be covered with toys and books, and both boys’ bedroom floors may be covered with Legos, but I just can’t do it all.  My kids have appropriate academic and recreational opportunities (doing this for Simon takes a lot of my time during the week when I might otherwise be cleaning) and get a fair amount of parental attention and guidance (which they don’t always appreciate, but someday they’ll thank us).  On the whole, although I always have many things that I could/should be doing, I keep up with the most important things.  That’s as much as I can expect from myself for now.  And so, in 2016, that’s all I’m going to try to do.

For years before my trip, I felt called to go to Haiti.  Before I left and during my stay, I prayed that I would see or feel or experience whatever it was that I was being called to Haiti for.  I can’t say with certainty what it was, but there were three things that struck me while I was there:

The first was how lovable the kids were.  If it weren’t for the expense and the long, unpredictable timeline for international adoptions from Haiti (some families have been waiting for three years AFTER being matched with a child, knowing who their child is and that their child is growing up in an orphanage), I would be all for adding one or more Haitian kids to our family.

The second was a feeling of confidence that I will return to Haiti, that my relationship with Haiti is not over yet.  I don’t know when or under what circumstances I’ll be back, but I am sure that I will return.

Finally, I was touched by how much the older children (older than toddler age), in particular, were affected by living in an orphanage.  I saw how much the children craved individual attention and how they sought attention from strangers.  I could see how much they would benefit from the love, attention, and security of a family.  I also felt the pain of the many losses in their lives.

On my way home, I had a hard time with the juxtaposition of the extreme poverty I saw in Haiti and the wasteful excesses in America.  A billboard in Fort Lauderdale advertised a Maserti lease for $699/month.  Do you know how many Haitian families you could feed for that sum?  Do you know how many Haitians don’t make that much money in a year?  While I was sitting in an airport, I saw a commercial for an airbrush make-up tool.  I reflected that make-up and expensive cars were all about appearances.  Why do we put so much emphasis on appearance, rather than substance?

A year after I left COTP, the cute little girl that I didn’t get to push in the stroller on Tuesday morning has gone back to her family.  Mr. Smiley has gone back to his family.  The twins that I mentioned went back to their family.  There were actually two sets of twins there; the set that I didn’t mention is still living there.  The girl who was the first child I met at COTP is still there.  She is waiting for all the bureaucracy to wrap up so she can go home with her adoptive family.  The same is true for my other favorite girl.  The little boy who had recently been admitted, the one who was so weak he couldn’t always hold up his head, is still there.  The baby girl who stayed with us in the volunteer house because she was sick is still there.  The girl with special needs who smiled instead of sucking on her bottle is still there.  The boy with spina bifida is still there and, at least as of September, has not yet been chosen by an adoptive family.  Of all the kids there, my heart hurts for him the most.  I can see how much potential he has to grow and develop, given the love and resources of a family, but even if he is chosen soon (which is unlikely), it may be two years or more before he goes home with a family.

I wish I could share pictures of the beautiful children with you, but COTP’s policies do not allow me to post pictures of the children online.  (I can share them privately.)  However, you can see pictures of all the children currently in their care on their website.

I also encourage you to read this blog post that COTP shared in August: A Story About a Boy

I’m sorry that I didn’t include photos in my posts.  I know that would have been more interesting, but it was enough work as it was to keep up with writing the posts (almost) every day.  Without further ado, here are a few pictures from my trip:

View out the airplane window as I was arriving in Haiti

View out the airplane window as I was arriving in Haiti.

A street scene in Cap Haïtien. (photo taken by the other first-time short-term volunteer)

A street scene in Cap Haïtien. (photo taken by the other first-time short-term volunteer)

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Haitian countryside near COTP. (photo taken by the other first-time short-term volunteer when we went on our Sunday evening walk)

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Entrance gate to COTP.

My Haitian lunch on Saturday.

My Haitian lunch on Saturday.

Tarantula on the outside of the window in the volunteer house. (photo taken by the other first-time short-term volunteer--she got a better picture than I did)

Tarantula on the outside of the window in the volunteer house. (photo taken by the other first-time short-term volunteer–she got a better picture than I did)

The mango tree in the central courtyard. I sometimes sat under the tree holding a child.

The mango tree in the central courtyard. I sometimes sat under the tree holding a child.

A taxi boat that we did not take because we drove on the crazy road over the mountain instead.

A taxi boat that we did not take because we drove on the crazy road over the mountain instead.  The boat’s name, “Merci Dieu”, means “Thank you, God.”

A view of the little beach resort we went to.

A view of the little beach resort we went to.

The picture shows the stone staircase we walked down to reach the resort from where we parked, a comforting

This picture shows the stone staircase we walked down to reach the resort from where we parked, a comforting “No Handguns” sign, and the sandy beach that was right there.

My view as I sat on the beach.

My view as I sat on the beach.

Another view from the beach.

Another view from the beach.

My bed, after I got a mosquito net.

My bed, after I got a mosquito net.

The canopied area where I often hung out with the kids (picture taken in early morning before the kids were out).

The canopied area where I often hung out with the kids (picture taken in early morning before the kids were out).

Swings next to the canopied area.

Swings next to the canopied area.

Canopied area where all the laundry is washed by hand (including cloth diapers).

Canopied area where all the laundry is washed by hand (including cloth diapers).  You can see laundry hung to dry on the clotheslines behind and on the fence.

The building that I stayed in. The volunteer house was the lower floor. (The volunteers have since been relocated and children now live in that space.) The trench wasn't there for most of my stay, but I didn't get a picture of the building before they started doing a major construction project.

The building that I stayed in. The volunteer house was the lower floor. (The volunteers have since been relocated and children now live in that space.) You can see the mango tree just outside.  The trench wasn’t there for most of my stay, but I didn’t get a picture of the building before they started doing a major construction project.

This cup in the volunteer house cracked me up.

This cup in the volunteer house cracked me up.

A goat. Because no photo collection from Haiti would be complete without a picture of a goat.

A goat. Because no photo collection from Haiti would be complete without a picture of a goat.

And finally, a picture taken out the back of the pick-up truck as I was leaving. You can see the huge puddles in the road from the rain. The sort of squared-off shape on top of the mountain a little to the right of center is the Citadelle Laferrière.

And finally, a picture taken out the back of the pick-up truck as I was leaving. You can see the huge puddles in the road from the rain. The sort of squared-off shape on top of the mountain a little to the right of the tall mountain is the Citadelle Laferrière.

We learned that orphans are easier to ignore before you know their names.  They are easier to ignore before you see their faces.  It is easier to pretend they’re not real before you hold them in your arms.  But once you do, everything changes.  (David Platt)

Haiti trip day 7

I left Haiti on a Thursday.  I wasn’t too happy about that, because I had originally been scheduled to leave on Friday.  Unfortunately, I booked my flights with IBC Air before American Airlines announced that they would start flying to Cap Haïtien.  American’s flights were significantly cheaper and they drew so much business from IBC that IBC was cancelling flights.  They cancelled my flight and scheduled me on a different one, but I would have missed my other flights home, and there were huge fees to change my other flights.  After much hassle, IBC booked me on American so that I wouldn’t miss my other flights, but I had to leave a day earlier.  So I paid more for my flight than if I’d taken American in the first place (which hadn’t been an option when I booked it), had to deal with all the hassle with IBC, had to deal with the time/hassle/expense of traveling between Fort Lauderdale and Miami, lost a day in Haiti, and had to pay for an extra night in a hotel room.

I was up early, as usual.  I got out of bed as soon as I was sure it was getting light.  I ate some breakfast, even though I didn’t really feel like eating.  I went out to see if the kids were up and saw my three favorite girls, along with the nanny I’d chatted with the most.  Then I went back to the volunteer house, finished packing, and said my good-byes.  I had arrived with a suitcase, a large duffel bag, and a cloth carry-on bag.  Because of the donations I left and the food I had brought with me and eaten, I was able to fold up the duffel bag and put it in my suitcase, thus avoiding having to pay extra baggage fees for the domestic portions of my return trip (I had planned it that way).  I appreciated not having as much luggage to have to manage on my trip home.

As I was about to leave, I saw the first girl I’d met, the one who had asked to nurse (she was one of the three favorites I’d seen earlier).  I ran over to say good-bye to her, gave her a hug, and kissed her on the back of her neck.  The stricken expression on her face pierced my heart.  As I left, I realized that she had had so many losses in her short life, and there I was, just one more person to give her a little attention and then abandon her.  I had experienced many powerful emotions on my trip, but thinking about her losses and how I was adding another one, I cried for the first time.  I was glad to sit in the back of the pick-up truck (there were two other passengers, plus the driver) so I could quietly wipe my eyes as I tried to compose myself.

As we were driving through the countryside, I took a few pictures of the scenery out the back window of the truck.  I didn’t take any pictures in town (throughout the time I was in Haiti), for a couple reasons.  One was that I was trying to live in the moment, keeping my eyes and ears open to experience Haiti directly instead of from behind a screen (on my tablet computer that I used as a camera).  The other was to be respectful.  I had heard from multiple sources before my trip and while I was there that Haitians, as a general rule, don’t like to be photographed by foreigners without their permission and don’t appreciate foreigners taking pictures that show the poverty of the country.  Can you blame them?

We first went to a guesthouse on the outskirts of the city where the long-term volunteers were having a retreat.  The two other short-term volunteer passengers were going to help with child care there.  I was there from about 9:30 until 10.  The kids were dancing with a video on a projector, then they put on a David and Goliath cartoon.  Some of them were sucking on bags of water.  In Haiti, you can buy a small plastic bag of drinking water for a few cents.

The driver then took me and a couple other people who needed to go somewhere else.  I was dropped off at the airport at about 10:15.  I checked in and went through security.  They unpacked and examined everything in my bag of liquids.  My bug spray was scrutinized but it passed inspection.  However, the guard had a problem with my shaving gel and threw it in the garbage.  I knew it was fine; I had carefully researched all the requirements before my trip and I had already gone through security with it twice in the States.  However, I didn’t feel it was worth arguing about.  After I got to the waiting room, I realized that in my carry-on bag, I had my water bottle full of water.  Oh, well.

I was the first passenger in the waiting room, at about 10:30.  The incoming flight from Miami wasn’t even supposed to arrive until 10:50 and my flight wasn’t scheduled until 1:15.  I settled in and made myself comfortable; I actually put my sweatshirt on because I was chilly in the air conditioning.  I looked at the pictures I’d taken on my tablet and was disappointed to realize that I hadn’t taken any pictures of Mr. Smiley.  (I later got some from COTP’s Facebook page.)  I did have pictures of my other five favorite kids, though.  I wrote in my journal, ate some snacks from my bag, and spent time people-watching as the room filled with other passengers.

Coming home was a long, slow process because of the change to my flight schedule.  I flew from Cap Haïtien to Miami on Thursday, from Fort Lauderdale to Chicago on Friday, and then from Chicago home on Saturday.  It reminded me of how scuba divers have to come up slowly after they have been diving in deep water.  Although I was really tired of traveling and very glad to be home on Saturday, I think it did help to have time to start processing my thoughts and emotions from my experiences in Haiti before dealing with my normal life again.

Even though I kept my journal until after I got home, I think that the moment of leaving Haiti is a good time to end this day-by-day telling of my story.  However, stay tuned for one final post in this series with some photos and reflections.

Haiti trip day 6

The sixth day of my trip, and my last full day in Haiti, was a Wednesday.  I was up early again, about 6:40.  I came out of my room, went into the common room, sat on the couch, and looked out the window.  I saw a tarantula on the window.  This was a BIG spider.  I tentatively looked closer and verified that it was on the outside of the window screen, then I settled back on the couch and waited for other people to show up so I could show them the tarantula.  Everyone was most impressed.

I went to hang out by the baby room again and the nanny I had chatted with before was talking animatedly with another nanny.  I couldn’t follow every word, but I gathered that she was telling about the tarantula, the surprised/scared reaction of one of the other volunteers, and how the tarantula met its end when one of the Haitian staff members knocked it off the window and stomped on it.  I was excited to join in the conversation and tell them that I had been the first person to see it.

I took lots of photos that morning; I had intentionally not taken many before as our volunteer handbook had cautioned us not to go around taking a lot of pictures until we got to know the place, and the staff members and kids got to know us a bit.  I let three of the girls take turns playing with the kids’ drawing app on my tablet.  A couple of the girls and the boy I had spent a lot of time with the day before shrieked with excitement when I put on the forward-facing camera and they saw themselves on the screen of the tablet.  I took several pictures of them reacting to seeing themselves and they are probably my favorite pictures of the trip; they always make me smile.  The girl who had asked to nurse on my first day there borrowed my tablet (it was turned off) and pretended to take pictures of the nannies.

Five more short-term volunteers arrived and I had a roommate for the first time on my trip.  I showed her our room and showed her around the volunteer house before the volunteer coordinator came to take her on a tour of the property.

I hung out under the canopy with various kids.  I held a girl who was about 2 years old and had significant special needs; she couldn’t sit on her own.  A nanny gave me a bottle for her and I tried to give it to her, but she didn’t want to drink.  When I tried to wiggle the nipple in her mouth to get her to suck, she just smiled and bit on it.  A nanny gave me a big bowl of food for her.  My new roommate came and held her while I tried hard to feed her, but most of what I got in her mouth just oozed back out.  She kept closing her eyes and seemed sleepy.  It felt like an endless task.  I was about to give up when a nanny came and took her.

After lunch, I was tired, but my roommate was napping and I didn’t want to disturb her, so I sat on the couch in the common room and looked at some of the binders on the shelf.  I read the therapy book and the revised volunteer handbook.  I hadn’t seen it before and I wished someone had sent it to me before I came.  Among other updates, it described the new pick-up routine for the airport, which would have saved me a lot of stress if I had known it.

One of the nurses brought in reports for EEG tests for possible epilepsy that had been done on two of the kids in Port-au-Prince a couple weeks before.  She had mentioned that she needed to get someone in town to translate them because they were in French, so I offered to look at them and see if I could help her understand them.  I was able to translate them aloud to her, then I typed up the translations and e-mailed them to her.

In the afternoon was a birthday party for one of the little girls, who had just had her first birthday.  One of the social workers had asked me and another volunteer if we would make the birthday cake.  We both agreed, but the other volunteer ended up making it without me.  After I saw the result, I was glad not to be associated with it.  The list of suggested items to donate had included CAKE MIX (in all caps, standing out from the rest of the list) so I had brought a couple boxes.  Clearly, other people had also responded to this seemingly urgent need, as there was a fair selection on the shelf.  However, if/when I ever return to COTP, I will bring stuff for decorating cakes, as decoration options were lacking.  I know the woman who made the cake tried hard with limited resources, and the cake tasted great, but it was the ugliest birthday cake I’ve ever seen.  It looked like it was topped with melted marble cheddar cheese.  The “happy birthday” message was written with colored non-pareils (little ball sprinkles) and could really only be read if you knew what it was supposed to say.  The message was further obscured by the Oreos that she had crushed and sprinkled around.  The only redeeming feature of the cake was the candle that looked like a crayon.

There were 19 kids at the party, plus numerous adults.  It was under the canopy where I often hung out with the kids.  I enjoyed watching the kids eat their cake; they were having fun.  I had an empty lap for a surprisingly long time (most of the kids were sitting at the table) until the social worker handed me the baby she’d been holding so she could take pictures.

At 5:50, I went back to the volunteer house.  COTP’s mid-week praise and worship service was supposed to start at 6:45 and I’d been told it would be in the volunteer house, so I wanted to be sure I had enough time to cook, eat, and clean up before then.  The service didn’t actually start until about 7 and was in the area that they used for their prenatal program, not in the volunteer house.  No one else from the volunteer house went and I was tired, so, feeling a little guilty for skipping out, I didn’t go either.

Heavy rain started about 8:20.  I was hoping to get to bed early, but with more people staying in the volunteer house, I had to wait to take a shower, so I didn’t get to bed as early as I hoped.  Since I was leaving the next day, I packed my bags and made a list of the things I needed to do in the morning.  I got to bed shortly after ten but had a hard time shutting off my brain and getting to sleep.  I kept telling myself to stop thinking and just listen to the rain, but it didn’t work.  Eventually I did sleep, my last night’s sleep in Haiti.

Haiti trip day 5

The fifth day of my trip was a Tuesday.  I got up at 6:45; that’s about the time it started getting light.  I found I couldn’t sleep in during my time in Haiti, even if I wanted to.  I was the only one up, so I enjoyed some quiet time by myself on the couch in the common area of the volunteer house.

The volunteer coordinator came in and I asked her if I could have a mosquito net for my bed.  She helped me get one and set it up.  It had a strong smell, sort of like soap.

I went out about 8:15 to see the kids.  I hung out with several toddlers, including the little boy I’d fed on Saturday (I fed him a bowl of mushy corn meal stuff for breakfast), a set of twin boys, and a little boy with fluffy red hair (the red hair is a sign of malnourishment) whom I nicknamed Mr. Smiley.  I chatted with one of the nannies, the second one I had been able to talk with one-on-one.  The nannies mostly hung out together, and I was a little intimidated to talk to them in a group setting.  My Creole was good enough for a basic conversation with someone who was patient and willing to speak relatively simply, but I had a hard time understanding the nannies when they spoke amongst themselves.  They did take more interest in me than they did in the other short-term volunteers (excepting the one who had been there many times, but she mostly stayed in the volunteer house with the sick baby).  Word quickly got around that I spoke some Creole; it was obvious that most visitors didn’t speak any Creole except perhaps a couple memorized phrases.

At 9 am, I heard the morning worship that some of the nannies do with the kids, so I took one of the twins and went to listen.  After that was over, the other first-time volunteer showed up and was mobbed by two of the girls that had really enjoyed going on stroller rides with us on Saturday.  I offered to take one and she could take the other, but she noticed that one of the girls needed her diaper changed.  She took the girl who didn’t need changing and I was standing there waiting for the other girl’s diaper to be changed when a nanny picked up a little boy and handed him to me.

I am convinced that God was acting through that nanny when she handed me that boy.  I had met him previously–he had climbed in my lap at one point when I was sitting on the concrete floor under the canopy–but I hadn’t really paid attention to him.  There was no mention of him in my journal.  I’ll be honest.  I didn’t really want to take him; I wanted the cute little girl I was waiting for.  But when the nanny held him out to me, I couldn’t say no.  I took him and figured I’d just give him a quick ride around and then drop him off and pick up the little girl.  It didn’t work out that way.

This little boy had spina bifida.  He had no feeling in his feet, so he always wore shoes to protect them, whereas the other kids were barefoot most of the time.  He had partial use of his legs; he could push himself up to a standing position while holding onto a chair or a low table.  He could sit on a riding car and push himself along.  He mostly got around by scooting. At one point, I did see him on his knees, moving his legs one at a time (I read later in one of the notebooks in the volunteer house that working on crawling was one of his therapy goals).

The stroller I was going to use was wet, so I carried him on a walk around the property.  He pointed at things but always shook his head if I asked him a question (Did he want to go there?  Did he want to touch that?  Did he like it?).  He vocalized but was mostly unintelligible; later on, watching him interact with the nannies, I determined that they also didn’t seem to understand him, so it wasn’t just me.  He did make some effort to repeat words, which was a good sign.  (Between Peter’s language delay and our former foster son’s language delay, I have some experience with language-delayed kids.)

After two circuits around the part of the property where short-term volunteers stayed, I figured I would take him back, as he was getting heavy.  He was bigger and heavier than my 2 1/2-year-old son, so I assumed he was older.  Later in the day, I looked him up in the binder with info about the kids and was surprised to learn that he was only one month and one day older than Simon.  This boy had been in the orphanage for the better part of a year.  He was available for adoption, but no family had chosen him.  I felt better about his language delays; he was still definitely behind, but not as much as if he were as old as I had assumed.  I also felt sad, as the fact that he was almost the same age as Simon made it easy to compare the two boys in their abilities, their current living situations, and their projected futures.

When I got close to the building where he lived, he whined and fussed and made it very clear that he did not want to return.  Instead, I got my tablet computer and took him to sit outside the building where the babies were.  I took some pictures on my tablet and then let the boy play with a kids’ drawing app.  When I demonstrated drawing lines with my finger, he could copy me.  He enjoyed drawing circles.

I tried to take him back again and he threw a fit, so I sat down with him outside his building and let him play on my tablet again.  I ended up putting him in the stroller (which had dried in the hot Haitian sun) and walked him around, singing to him.  After spending about two hours with him, I finally left him under the canopy.

After lunch, I worked with the first-time volunteer who had been there all week as well as a new short-term volunteer to clean the shelves and the plastic tote boxes on the shelves in the pharmacy.  These were quite dusty, as the pharmacy only had screens on the windows and was located near the driveway, where dust was raised when vehicles came in and out.  I worked on that from about 1:45 to 5:20.  It was the first actual project I had been given by the volunteer coordinator.  I had assumed that I would have more direction and was surprised by the amount of autonomy I had.

After I stopped cleaning, I went to see the kids under the canopy.  I pushed the cute little girl that I never did give a stroller ride to in the morning on the swing, tickled her feet, and played peekaboo with her.  Then I took her out of the swing and helped her and another kid take turns on the slide.  I sang The Itsy Bitsy Spider for her and she copied the actions and clapped.  After a nanny took the kids away, I went over to where the babies were.  Mr. Smiley climbed in my lap, sat down, and fell asleep sitting up; a nanny took him away.  I played with one of the twins and watched as the babies were being bathed and dressed for bed, then left about 6:45.

I cooked and ate, then sent e-mails to my husband and my mom.  It started raining.  We could hear the sound of singing coming from the church.  I tried to record some of it but the singing wasn’t distinct over the sound of the rain.  I went out in the rain and darkness to get closer to try to get a better recording, but they stopped just after I got close to the wall at the edge of the property near the church.  I showered and put on a polo shirt after my shower; it felt weird to wear sleeves because I’d been wearing sleeveless shirts and/or a sleeveless dress since I arrived.  I wrote in my journal and got to bed at 10:40 to sleep under my new, smelly mosquito net.

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