Amina’s T-shirts

When we hosted “Valentine,” clothing him was easy.  I just went into our storage closet and pulled out boxes of clothes that Peter had outgrown.  However, when we decided to adopt Amina, our only daughter was not yet two, so we didn’t have a stock of hand-me-downs for an almost-11-year-old girl.  Our community stepped up and several families generously donated quite a collection of clothes to outfit her.

Neither Valentine nor Amina could read the words on the t-shirts that were provided for them, but they wore them anyhow.  Seeing Valentine wear Peter’s old shirts brought back memories for me, but I recognized that they didn’t have the same meaning for him.  Seeing Amina wear shirts that had no personal meaning to her or to me was a different experience.  One of her favorite t-shirts was from an after-school child care program, which she never participated in.  Another was from a dance recital in a town that’s a couple hours’ drive away that happened when Amina was three years old.  I couldn’t blame her for liking the bright-colored images of people dancing, but I felt sad when she wore it because it was so obviously not reflective of her own life.

Fortunately, now that she’s been home a little over a year, Amina has accumulated a number of shirts with memories attached.  She has a t-shirt from the ice show that she skated in and a jersey from her soccer team that she sometimes wears just as a shirt.  She has t-shirts from Totus Tuus (Catholic summer day camp) and the sleep-away camp that she went to in June (her first ever and a very big deal to her).  She has two bright orange shirts that we bought at Goodwill before she went to camp because she was going to be on the orange team at camp.  She has a t-shirt from my family reunion in July and a shirt that she tie-dyed while we were there.  With this influx of shirts that mean something to her, she rarely wears the old hand-me-down shirts now.

Last fall, it was very emotional for Amina when she outgrew the clothes she’d brought from Ukraine.  Now, she has clothes that are tied to experiences she has had here.  Her wardrobe reflects the fact that she belongs here now and her life is progressing here.


Happy Birthday to Me!

Today is my 40th birthday!

Five years ago today, I arrived at our house for the first time with Peter and Simon.  (Don and a friend had come a couple days early to do some painting, while I broke up the driving into shorter days since I had the kids–Simon was only two.)  Don had been to our house for an inspection, but although I’d seen photos and videos, I’d never been here until I arrived to move in.  I had thought it was pretty cool to get a house for my birthday until Queen Elizabeth gave Prince William a helicopter for his birthday.

The two older kids have been at camp this week (Peter at Scout camp and Amina at a Catholic camp).  Amina’s camp ended today; Peter will be done tomorrow.  Don took the two younger kids camping yesterday and then brought them with him to pick up Amina, giving me over 24 hours of being home alone.  It’s been wonderful.

Last night was the first time since Clara was born that I slept at home without her here.  I woke up this morning and realized that no one was going to need me to get out of bed; I could stay in bed as long as I wanted without anyone interrupting my rest.  However, I didn’t stay in bed late as I had so many things I wanted to do with my rare free day.

Most of my morning was spent being productive.  I worked hard yesterday to get my “regular” chores done–I finished all the laundry, cooked a bunch of food, and washed all the dishes–so that I wouldn’t have to deal with those things today.  (Simon didn’t understand when he saw my weekly meal plan why I would schedule “leftovers” for my birthday.)  This morning, I tackled the jobs that seem to keep getting shoved down my to-do list–cleaning the stove top, cleaning the bath tub, and organizing Clara’s outgrown clothes so I could pass on hand-me-downs to a friend.  It may seem strange to decide to start my birthday with a couple hours of cleaning, but it feels good to finalize get those jobs done and I appreciate having a cleaner-looking house.  I’ve long said that you do things for two reasons–because you want to do them or because you want to have them done.  Those were things that I didn’t particularly want to do, but I wanted to have done, and thus were a good use of my time.

After spending my morning working, the rest of my day was more on the “things I want to do” side.  I had lunch with a group of friends; we got take-out from a favorite restaurant and ate by the waterside.  Then I spent some time playing with my new toy–my birthday gift from Don.  It’s a gizmo called Arsenal that attaches to your camera and uses artificial intelligence to help you take great pictures.  I’m still learning how to use it; stay tuned and hopefully I’ll share some stunning photos in the near future.  So far my best picture is one I took of a Lego piece on the floor.  Here it is:


Here’s to my next forty years!

What we ended up doing this school year is so different from what I planned that, for months, I have been feeling that an update was in order.  Here’s what we actually did this school year.

Peter, grade 8:

Peter’s curriculum changed the most from what I had planned.  By mid-October, it was obvious that things weren’t working.  I decided to make some radical changes, based on inspiration from a podcast by Jennifer Fulwiler on “Joeschooling.”

I wasn’t prepared to have Peter study only one subject at a time, but I felt it would be reasonable to take a semester approach.  I decided to pare down the number of subjects he did at a time and have him do more work in each subject, then switch subjects midway through the school year.  Because he was taking weekly saxophone lessons through the local school district’s homeschool partnership program and he was taking an online Great Books course, saxophone practice and Great Books stayed on his daily schedule all year.  Besides those, he had two core subjects and one “other” subject at a time.

In the first semester, Peter’s core subjects were history and math.  In math, he finished Life of Fred Decimals and Percents, Pre-Algebra 1, and Pre-Algebra 2.  For history, he read Story of Civilization volume 1 and Light to the Nations book 1.  So far, this is what I had planned, just done at a faster pace to be able to finish earlier in the year.  However, inspired by “Joeschooling,” I bought a subscription to the Great Courses Plus.  For history, Peter watched all of the lectures in The Foundations of Western Civilization I as well as selected lectures from The Other Side of History: Daily Life in the Ancient World.  For math, he watched all of the lectures in Mastering the Fundamentals of Mathematics and The Secrets of Mental Math.  The video lectures seemed to be a good fit for him; he often set up a laptop and started watching a lecture while he was eating his breakfast, whereas previously it was a challenge to get him to start his work each day.

In the second semester, I intended to have Peter’s core subjects be science and English grammar/composition.  However, despite the fact that he had done well in the Life of Fred pre-algebra books, Peter didn’t quite do as well as I would have liked on the STAAR grade 8 mathematics test.  We decided that continuing to work on math would be more beneficial than switching to science, so we dropped science for the year.  Peter worked on Khan Academy’s grade 8 math until he had earned 60% of the possible points, then he re-took the STAAR test.  I then selected one activity on Khan Academy that dealt with the topic of each problem he missed.  After finishing each of those activities with a 100%, he moved on to Life of Fred Beginning Algebra, which he will continue over the summer.  He probably won’t finish it, but he’ll be better prepared to succeed in an algebra course in the fall.  For English, he used the writing and grammar programs I had originally planned to use.

In addition to the core subjects, Peter had one “other” subject at a time.  For the entire school year, his “other” subjects were: typing, religion (1st half), art history, formal logic, and religion (2nd half).  I ended up dropping current events, memory work, and French altogether.

Amina, grade 5:

Just about everything I planned for Amina, we did, plus I added more.  She did science with Simon all year (all of grade 1 science and half of grade 2 science).  By mid-year, her English comprehension had improved so much that I had her join Simon for religion, history, and read-aloud.  Both of them did art together until Christmas break, at which point I dropped it (I will bring art back for summer lessons).

In addition, inspired by “Joeschooling”, I added workbooks to Amina’s daily schedule.  She started with Brain Quest grade 1, then did Test Prep grade 1, moved on to Brain Quest grade 2, and is now on Test Prep grade 2.  The Brain Quest workbooks have been good for introducing a variety of topics, such as basic grammar concepts and US history and geography, for providing opportunities to write, and for giving her more practice in reading and math.  The Test Prep workbooks help familiarize her with standardized testing formats (a reality she’ll have to face when she goes to school–she would rather go to school than be homeschooled so we are working towards getting her caught up enough academically that she could succeed in school) and give me another means of assessing her learning.

Simon, grade 1:

After about a decade of using Sonlight, I finally gave up on Sonlight history and geography in February.  I was putting too much effort into trying to modify Sonlight and wanted a history curriculum with a Catholic perspective.  I decided to switch to RC History’s Connecting With History instead.  We did the first unit of volume 1 and started the second unit.  Because of uncertainty about what will be happening next year (we may be doing volume 1 Connecting With History with a co-op), I decided to take stop there and wait until the fall before continuing history.

I did do most of the Sonlight read-aloud books with Simon (and Amina, once she started being able to understand them).  However, I also added first grade read-aloud books from Angelicum Academy’s Good Books program.  We haven’t read all of the books on that list yet, but we will continue them over the summer and into next school year.

Simon was complaining about his math being too easy, so in December I gave him the Beast Academy placement test and he scored well enough to start level 2A.  The comic book format of the textbook as well as the variety of interesting, thought-provoking problems in the workbook proved to be a good fit for him.  He finished level 2A and is currently on the first unit in 2B; once he finishes this unit, we’ll put it away until fall and switch to Life of Fred for the summer.

In science, even at a fairly easy pace, Simon and Amina wrapped up the grade 1 book around February, so I started them on the grade 2 book.  I figured that Simon could handle it and Amina would benefit from getting caught up a little closer to her age level.  We made it halfway through the grade 2 book.

Memory work, French, and art all suffered this year.  We did them, but not consistently throughout the year.

Final thoughts

Looking back, I see how much we’ve done and how much all of the kids learned this school year (especially Amina, who still regularly used Google Translate to communicate at the beginning of the school year).  I wrote this post to detail their curriculum more than their learning, but the learning shines through.  I have struggled to meet the very different needs of four children this year (as well as my own needs) and it does make me feel better to see what we have accomplished.  There are changes in store for next year and not all decisions have been made yet, but I trust that summer will restore me and I’ll be ready to dive in again wholeheartedly in the fall.

Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day is not one of my favorite days.  To me, Mother’s Day is the day when I have to pretend to enjoy the super-pulpy fresh-squeezed orange juice one of my offspring made me for breakfast.  Mother’s Day is the day that the carnation I receive at church gets broken by one of my children before we make it home.  Mother’s Day is the day that my husband gets stressed out trying to keep an eye on the kids while making dinner for me and I always think, “I have to cook with kids underfoot most days.  What’s the big deal?”  Mother’s Day is the day that I take “off,” knowing that I will have extra work to do the next couple days to catch up.  Mother’s Day is just not particularly special to me.

Amina, however, has been looking forward to Mother’s Day for weeks.  This is the first Mother’s Day she can remember that she has a mother (they do celebrate Mother’s Day in Ukraine, but on a different day).  Talk about pressure!  I was concerned about how she would handle it–and about how *I* would handle it–but all went well.  Her birth mother did come up in conversation briefly, but it didn’t turn into a big emotional thing, which was good.  I’m not sure if the day completely met her expectations, but she seemed happy.

As far as Mother’s Days go, it was a pretty good one.  I gave Don my breakfast and dinner menu requests ahead of time (trying to keep them simple so he wouldn’t get too stressed out) and he, Amina, and Simon prepared delicious food for me.  I went out to Don’s office (in our garage) for several hours of alone time in the afternoon, which is something I crave and don’t get enough of.  Two years ago, the last time we celebrated Mother’s Day, Simon ended up in the emergency room for stitches.  This year, we were able to avoid the ER, but he singed his hair on one of the candles he put out for my fancy breakfast table setting.  Good thing he needed a haircut anyhow!  All in all, it was an enjoyable Mother’s Day, and now it’ll be another year before I have to put up with this display of filial love and devotion again.

In adoption circles, people commonly say that it takes about a year for an adopted child to not be “new” anymore.  It takes about a year for the family dynamics to adjust, for grief to be processed, for attachment to strengthen, for a new “normal” to be established.  After a year, special events start to repeat–instead of it being the adopted child’s first Thanksgiving or Christmas with their new family, it is their second one; they know how it was done the previous year and doing it again the same way helps them feel a greater sense of permanency.  The one-year mark is not a magic finish line, of course, but I trust in the collective experience of the greater adoption community that things get easier after the first year.  I knew this before Amina came home.  When the going gets rough, I remind myself to take the long view and look ahead to that one-year point.  We’re a little over three-quarters of the way there and things are already so much improved from the insane stress of the first several months.

Last year, I wrote about the losses associated with adoption.  In addition to the ones I mentioned then, because of adoption-related travel, we were not together as a family to celebrate Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, or my birthday last year.  Celebrating Easter together, at home, as a family this year has been healing for me.  When I put away our Easter baskets and plastic eggs two years ago, the last time I touched them, I was looking forward to hosting “Valentine.”  So much has happened since then.

Ash Wednesday this year was the anniversary of the day that we learned that Valentine had already been adopted.  Today, Easter Sunday, is his twelfth birthday.  A major part of Lent for me this year was grieving my loss of Valentine and letting go.  He is growing up, without us.  He has a family now and doesn’t need us.  I am happy for him and I hope that he is doing well.

She is who she is

When I was in elementary school, I saw depictions on tv and in books of teenage girls who were obsessed with boys and with their appearance.  I remember thinking that it was silly and that I would never be like that.  I never was.  (It’s not that I cared nothing about boys or my appearance, but they weren’t at the top of my list of interests.)

Amina is cut from that stereotypical teenage girl cloth.  She likes tight-fitting clothes, nail polish, and playing with her hair.  She has a crush on a boy at our church and wears a beaded bracelet she made with his name on it.  When she was visiting a few weeks ago, her grandmother gave her some make-up (without asking parental permission–don’t get me started), which is now among her most prized possessions.  Pop music is the soundtrack of her life.  She is only 11; I shudder to think of what she’ll be like in high school.

In the nine months that she’s been home, I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that she is who she is, not who I want her to be.  That is true for all parents and all children, but I think it’s an even more important realization for older child adoptions.

Children are shaped by genetics and their environment.  Amina is not related to me at all genetically.  She grew up in what was quite literally a foreign environment for almost eleven years.  There is no valid reason to expect her to be much like me, and she’s not.

It’s my job to be a good parent for her.  It would be easier for me to do that if she were more like me, but God doesn’t call us to do easy things.


This March has been a rough month, and it’s not over yet.

We had some child behavior issues that caused quite a bit of stress.  That wasn’t fun, but it’s mostly resolved now.

Don was going to take the three older kids on a three-night trip to the Twin Cities so they could have a fun vacation and I could have a break, staying home with just Clara.  Two days before they were going to leave, Peter got sick.  The next day, Simon was down too.  We’re talking 102 degree fever and lying on the couch in a daze, not just a runny nose.  The trip was cancelled.  Instead of getting a break, I had sick kids.  Then Clara got it too.  Fun, fun.

For some unknown reason, my left shoulder started hurting on Mardi Gras.  Over the next few days, it kept getting worse.  I was in pain nearly all the time and my left hand felt numb/tingly.  The worst was that I had sharp spikes of pain that reminded me of being in labor because all I could do was wait for the pain to pass.  I had made it nearly forty years in my life without being seen in a hospital emergency room, but I broke that streak on the first Friday in Lent.  (In my defense, I called my family doctor first, but she wasn’t in that day and the other doctor in the practice didn’t have any openings; the nurse who asked me about my symptoms recommended that I go to the emergency room.)  I greatly appreciated my small-town hospital (so small that the emergency waiting room only had eight chairs).  I walked in the door, was registered, waited for a room, was settled in a room, was assessed by a nurse, changed into a gown, saw a doctor, had x-rays, talked with the doctor about the results, got my discharge paperwork from the nurse, and walked out—all in an hour.  I know that there are big-city emergency rooms where you would wait for over an hour just to get taken back to a room to be seen for something not super-urgent like my shoulder pain.  My shoulder has gotten better, but it’s still not back to normal yet and I lost two mornings of homeschooling time between going to the emergency room and going to my family doctor for a follow-up.

Don decided to take the middle two kids to visit his parents for a few days (the week after the cancelled trip to the Twin Cities), so I had a semi-break.  Having two kids home was much quieter and less stressful than having four, but still kept me pretty busy.  It’s not like I got to just do the things I wanted to do during that time, especially because I hosted a meeting of our Catholic women’s group.  In preparation for that, I did a lot of housecleaning (which my shoulder did not appreciate).

On the way home from their trip, Don bought a new hamster for Simon.  Florence 2.0 didn’t even make it 24 hours.  Simon failed to close the cage completely and Florence escaped during her first night home.  Of course, this was disappointing and frustrating.  Maybe small rodent care is just not for us right now.

A child who will not be named here accidentally broke our living room television.  Now we can only watch tv in Don’s office, out in our detached garage.  Thus, we’re taking an unplanned Lenten break from most tv watching and from playing on the Wii.

On top of the things that actually happened this month, we’re now starting to hit anniversaries of major events in our adoption journey last year.  In reflection, last March was one of the most stressful months I have ever had.  We received our invitation to travel to Ukraine for an adoption, learned that “Valentine” (the boy we hosted for 12 weeks in summer 2017 and planned to adopt) had already been adopted, traveled to Ukraine anyhow, visited with an 11-year-old girl for almost a week, figured out that she wasn’t ready to be adopted, met Amina for the first time, and signed the paperwork to request a court date to adopt her.  What an incredibly emotional and exhausting month!

I just need to get through the first week of April, which will be a rough week.  Not only will I be doing the single parenting thing while Don and Peter are gone to Washington, DC (already plenty of work), it’s the week of the ice show that Simon and Amina will be skating in.  I will have to get them to practice, photo night, two dress rehearsals, and two shows by myself, and deal with Clara (whose schedule will be all disrupted) besides.  After that week is over, though, life should settle down somewhat.