August 30, 2015

The Great Road Trip of 2015 (Part 2)

Posted in Atticus Garrett, family, life, Madeleine CaiQun, Miranda Grace tagged , , , , at 10:42 pm by alison

The Great Road Trip of 2015 was so great that it is necessitating multiple posts, in order to avoid any one post becoming so lengthy that even my family doesn’t want to finish it :) If you missed part one, you can check it out here.

As our time in Virginia came to an end, we piled back into our car and headed to Washington, D.C. for a couple days. Danny and Sharon had asked if it would be possible for us and for her family to meet during this trip so that we’d all have an opportunity to get to know one another a bit before the wedding next spring. I’ll admit that I was somewhat nervous about how it would go to have so many people packed into one apartment for 2 nights, but it all worked out!

We arrived in the city on Friday afternoon and were treated to a motorcade passing in front of us at an intersection – Danny and Sharon guessed it most likely belonged to Vice President Biden.

After getting settled into Danny’s and Sharon’s apartment and having lunch, we headed out for an afternoon of sightseeing. We opted to travel by metro, much to the girls’ delight!

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Madeleine CaiQun said, “Mom, do you know why I’m crying happy tears?”

“No, why?” I asked.

She replied, “Because I’m just so happy that the train is moving so fast that I have happy tears.”

Asked later, both girls said that their favorite part of the day had been the train ride.

However, we were also able to take in some other noteworthy sights! Our first stop was, of course, the White House!

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Moments after we took this picture, security guards asked everyone to back off across the street.

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They didn’t tell us why, but Danny and Sharon said they’d never seen that happen before, so something interesting was probably going to happen. We could see snipers on the roof.

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We waited around for probably about half an hour and were just getting ready to move on when we heard a helicopter flying overhead. We were able to see one helicopter fly behind the White House to land…

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…another take off from behind the White House…

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…and another fly by off to the side.

Apparently any time the President is flying in a helicopter, there are also 2 decoys that fly nearby to provide added security for him. We definitely enjoyed getting to see that! But then we headed to our next stop, the Washington Monument.

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We would have loved to see more of this awesome city, but the girls were getting tired, and it was approaching dinner time, so we headed back to the train…

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…in which we managed to fit 5 people into one seat, which was highly entertaining to my mother :)

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The next day we spent relaxing at Danny’s and Sharon’s apartment and at their pool.

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And we did indeed get to meet Sharon’s parents, who are lovely people :) I’m really thankful that, just as I married into a family of people I genuinely like, it seems like Danny will be marrying into a family with great people. Unfortunately, I apparently considered the day to be so relaxing (I actually took a nap! by the pool!) that I failed to get a single picture of us hanging out with them! We really enjoyed the time with them, though, and it was nice to meet in person in a low-key environment.

Sharon’s mom, Patti, actually suffered a stroke just 2 days after our meeting. She seems to be recovering incredibly well, which is a huge answer to prayer, but if you are a praying person, I’m sure she would appreciate continued prayers, as she has a long road of recovery. We’re looking forward to seeing both her and Sharon’s dad again next spring at the wedding!

After Sharon’s parents left, we just hung out at the apartment for the rest of the evening and enjoyed our time together. Atticus, in particular, enjoyed their sweet dog, Dixie :)

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That was our last night with my side of the family, and the next morning we headed out toward Matt’s side of the family in upstate New York (coming up in part 3!).

August 23, 2015

the tipping point

Posted in life, family, adoption, Madeleine CaiQun tagged , , , , , at 12:01 pm by alison

Today’s the day – or at least our best guess as to the day. Madeleine CaiQun has been with us as many days as she lived in China without us. My emotions as I’ve thought about this day have been something of a mixture.

On the one hand, I believe that it is best for children to grow up with the mothers who gave birth to them. A mother bonds with her baby during the 9 months the baby spends in her body. A baby recognizes his or her mother’s voice at birth. It’s good and natural and right for families to be preserved whenever possible.

Sometimes, however, family preservation is just not possible. I don’t know the circumstances surrounding Madeleine CaiQun’s departure from her first family, but whatever they were, she and they suffered a profound loss at that time.

And while I believe most nannies in most orphanages do the best they can to care for the children with whom they are surrounded, the staff-to-child ratio is generally far too low, the resources far too scant, and no matter how good, an institution can never replace a family. Some children fare better in that environment than others, and our little one was not doing so well. At age 2.5, she was beautiful but only the size and at only the developmental level of a 15-month-old. She was so small, so behind, that she actually qualified for a failure to thrive diagnosis at her first visit to our pediatrician. As prepared as I was for all sorts of possibilities, I felt a lump in my throat as I looked at the lab slip with those words written across the top.

Our girl came to us hungry for food and for love.

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And now, 2.5 years and 5 days later, she’s had as much time as a beloved family member as she had without us. To say that she has blossomed would be an understatement. No more silent tears. No more clutching at a snack cup as she drifted off to sleep. Our little Madeleine CaiQun is a beloved daughter, sister, granddaughter, and niece, and she knows it. She radiates joy and is full of love. Her innate intelligence is readily apparent and her perseverance admirable. She empathizes easily and is quick to share and to encourage.

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We’ve been oh-so-blessed by the years we’ve had with her thus far, and we’re so looking forward to the future we have together.

The Great Road Trip of 2015 (Part 1)

Posted in Atticus Garrett, family, friendship, homeschooling, life, Madeleine CaiQun, Miranda Grace tagged , , , , , , at 11:23 am by alison

As I wrote this post, we were homeward bound for the last part of our great road trip of the summer – 16 days with 15 nights spent in 5 different locations! It felt somewhat crazy at times, but it was really good. Since we have no family nearby, we have to travel to see everyone, and maintaining those relationships is important to us, so off we went!

Our first night was spent in Louisville. We had a cookout and enjoyed seeing some good friends who used to live in Columbia but have now moved on to Louisville (and some of our current CoMo crew who were also in Louisville at the same time for a conference).

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The kiddos appreciated the play time, and, for my part, I enjoyed the opportunity to connect with some other mamas whom I really respect and enjoy. Ann, then Jessie, and then I had our first babies between the spring of 2009 and spring of 2010 (with Ann serving as our doula for Miranda’s birth!), and here we are with our third babies, all born between the winter of 2013 and winter of 2014.

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The next morning we were on the road bright and early, heading for Virginia, where we’d rented a vacation house with my parents and brothers. The girls settled right in – just look at the joy on their faces as they enjoyed a pillow fight with Danny and Sharon!

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Mini-golf (in Anna and Elsa capes made by my brother David!) was a hit…

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…though some of us have rather interesting technique!

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Atticus started out in the ergo but quickly grew frustrated during the times I’d stand still and was happier once my dad came and hung out with him.

IMG_7591One evening we walked around a nearby lake and enjoyed some beautiful views.

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Everyone enjoyed the first part of the hike, but some of the smaller members of the family got tired and rather histrionic as the hike progressed. At one point Miranda proclaimed loudly, “We’re not going to make it! We’re all going to die!!!” She has a bit of a flair for the dramatic :) We opted to shift the arrangements a bit at that point, and instead of Atticus riding in the stroller, Matt pushed Miranda in the stroller, Sharon carried CaiQun, and I carried Atticus the rest of the way.

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That wasn’t quite the ending I’d been hoping for, but we got some exercise, and most of us enjoyed the walk. Apparently even Miranda told one of my brothers the next day that she’d had a good time walking around the lake and was looking forward to doing it again. Hmmmm…

The next day we went out to Luray, where Danny and Sharon are getting married next spring. We got to see their wedding venue, which is gorgeous, and the girls practiced for their flower girl role, about which they are quite excited.

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We also got to visit the Luray Caverns, which was really cool. The girls remembered learning about stalagmites and stalactites from our science curriculum from last year, and we all enjoyed the tour through the caves.

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Here are the girls, back at the house, showing off the matching Anna and Elsa t-shirts and necklaces my mom brought for them. Frozen is the first full-length movie we’ve had the girls watch, and they’re quite into it right now!

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CaiQun had a birthday coming up the week after our time in Virginia, so everyone brought gifts for her (including those Frozen items), which she very much enjoyed.  Matt’s favorite of the gifts was from my dad, who brought her a laser light that shines as thousands of little dots. I’m sure we’ll have much fun with that in the future!

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We spent a fair amount of time hanging out at the vacation house, but we also tried to get out and have fun. One morning most of the group went hiking on Storybook Trail, while my mom and I stayed at the house, me to get work done, and my mom to help with Atticus. That was definitely a highlight for Miranda, who spent the rest of the vacation talking about her mountain climbing abilities.

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One afternoon we went swimming at the community pool. Miranda especially enjoyed it, swimming all around the pool with her water wings on – she’s really improving in her swimming skills this summer. My dad and Danny talked me into playing football with them, which was more humorous than successful, as they are both inches taller and many pounds heavier than I am, so it’s nearly impossible for me to catch a pass with either of them defending me or for me to defend against them. It was entertaining, though :) And while we played, my little guy napped.

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He came down with a cold and was sometimes willing to nap at strange times and in strange places in order to get in a little bit more rest!

And while we were out a lot, we also enjoyed our time just hanging out at the house. One day we had a potato chip taste test – the rest of the family had gotten some snack size bags of the trial flavors of Lays potato chips – truffles, gyro, Rueben, and sausage, egg, and biscuit chips. Most of us agreed that the best was the sausage, egg, and biscuit flavor, but the others were pretty horrible. CaiQun had a slightly different opinion, announcing that she liked each and every one, so she finished off all of them!

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The girls and I learned about volcanoes in science the week before our trip, so one day we did the classic baking soda and vinegar volcano eruption science experiment. The girls and I mixed up the clay to make the volcano.

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The “clay” was really more like dough, though, and the girls did not particularly enjoy attempting to shape it into a volcano, so Danny and I took over and made a valiant attempt.

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And then we took it outside and let it erupt!

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We also took advantage of our time at the vacation house to play some games. Many of my childhood memories are of playing games with family and friends, and we always had a large assortment of board games and card games around, some well-known and others rare. It’s fun that the girls are now getting old enough to enjoy game-playing, as well – though my dad seems puzzled by our attempts to keep the focus on fun moreso than on competitiveness! Here the girls are playing what I remember as one of the earliest games I played, Orbit, with my dad and brother David.

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All in all, our stay in Virginia was really enjoyable. We appreciated the opportunity to spend so much time with family and explore a different area of the country!

August 18, 2015

some reflections upon reading Wish You Happy Forever

Posted in adoption, books, family, God, life, Madeleine CaiQun tagged , , , , , at 10:02 pm by alison

I just finished reading Wish You Happy Forever: What China’s Orphans Taught Me About Moving Mountains by Jenny Bowen, founder and CEO of Half the Sky. It’s the story of her adoption of a little girl from China in 1997 and her efforts thereafter to encourage truly nurturing care for the children remaining in China’s orphanages. She started Half the Sky, an organization that now works all over China to help care for those children most in need.

The book was particularly moving for me, because our little Madeleine CaiQun spent much of the early years of her life in an orphanage that benefits from a Half the Sky program.

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So many children who have been adopted have almost no information about their lives prior to adoption. Because of Half the Sky, we have early pictures of CaiQun, bits of information about what her life was like, and progress reports on her development from the time she spent in China.

And while CaiQun was behind developmentally when she came to us, I believe it is in part because of Half the Sky that she was able to grow and develop as much as she did while in China. Orphanage life is never ideal, but the work Half the Sky has done to improve physical conditions and cultivate environments of loving care within orphanages is huge.

It’s shocking to me when I stop to think about it how far we have left to go in our world today, how much evil persists, how much cruelty and how much negligence there are, how much need there is.

And when confronted with that reality, I’m always forced to stop and wonder, am I doing enough??

I don’t know.

This stage of life, home-schooling and caring for 3 kiddos age 5 and under, feels pretty full to me. I find that most of my time and energies are spent serving our little family and doing the normal rhythms of our life – trying to be involved in the art community in our city and be involved in our church community, going to shows, having people over for dinner, and other such daily-life type activities.

I want to be continually evaluating, though, whether there are other areas in which I and we can serve within this world. Matt and I have started talking more concretely about our next adoption – when and how to proceed. There are so many children in the world in need of parents, so many children we would love to love. We’re looking forward to adding to our family again.

And beyond that, we’ll have to see what God might have for us!

July 22, 2015

a resurfacing of loss

Posted in adoption, family, God, life, Madeleine CaiQun, parenting tagged , , at 5:00 pm by alison

“Jie jie shouldn’t say that; it’s unkind,” says Madeleine CaiQun from the back seat of the car, with a pout.

We were on our way home from the park, and Miranda had looked out the window and announced, “There’s the hospital where Atticus and I were born!”

—–

Through much of our daily life, the loss that is an integral part of adoption remains in the background. Of course we acknowledge it, and its presence frames much of the way that Matt and I have chosen to parent. It informs our choices about our parenting philosophy, about our sleep expectations, about how we discipline our kids, and about where we keep food in our kitchen. And certainly we have conversations about China, about adoption, and about Madeleine CaiQun’s life before she joined our family with relative frequency. Most of the time they are quite matter-of-fact.

But every once in a while, our little girl has a viscerally emotional response to a situation that we know is rooted in that deep loss she has experienced. There’s a wound there that will always be a part of her story – and a huge part of that wound is the reality that we just don’t know.

I can tell Miranda and Atticus the specifics of when and where they were born and what the first hours and days of their lives were like; I have no such information to give to Madeleine CaiQun, and that’s a loss she feels deeply.

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Adoption is a beautiful thing. Children should grow up in families, and those who, for whatever reason, cannot remain with their first families deserve to grow up in another. But it is always, always, always born out of profound loss, and never can we forget that. Our kiddos who come from hard places need to be loved in light of that reality, and sometimes that brings up hard stuff.

And so, last night, we talked about the sadness inherent in feeling different from her siblings and in the un-knowing-ness of her story. But we also talked about the beauty in God giving each person a different story and about how we celebrate each one. And we’ve promised to take Madeleine CaiQun back to China, hopefully to the city from which we believe she came, to fill in what gaps we can for her. We hope and pray we can love her well as she continues to express her emotions and raise any questions she may have.

July 14, 2015

Summer 2015 Goals – Mid-Summer Update

Posted in adoption, Atticus Garrett, books, family, God, homemaking, homeschooling, life, Madeleine CaiQun, Miranda Grace, money, parenting tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 9:47 pm by alison

It’s the middle of July, so we’re about halfway (or more!) through the summer, so I thought it would be a good time to take a look at how I’m doing with these summer goals! See my initial thoughts about this season’s goals here.

1. Work with the girls on moving toward learning how to swim.

Yes! We joined a pool, and we’ve been going multiple times every week, weather permitting. Both girls did great with their swimming lessons and definitely grew in their comfort with being in the water. Miranda in particular has been growing by leaps and bounds even since then. Earlier this week she was celebrating her ability to put her head under the water unasked and without plugging her nose by doing it over and over again. I’m really happy that they’re making progress toward swimming, and we’re all enjoying our pool time!

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2. Be consistent in working with the girls to develop self-control, kind words, and gentle hands.

We’re working on it! One encouraging development has been that we’ve been having some times in which the girls are really playing well together without my constant refereeing. I’ve been honest about the fact that we’ve been in a difficult season of parenting, and it has been very encouraging to me to see these glimmers of hope.

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3. Work through 4-6 weeks of school curriculum.

We’re doing pretty well with this! Our summer has been pretty laid back so far – on most days we work through half of a day’s worth of curriculum, so we’re almost halfway through our 3rd week, which puts us on track to have about 4 weeks finished by the end of the summer. I’d love it if we were closer to having 6 weeks done, but really, we’ve been enjoying our weeks of summer, and we’re all learning and growing, so I’m not going to sweat it :)

4. Get set for a mobile baby – and some days, 2 mobile babies! 

We’re working on this – in actually a much bigger way than I’d anticipated. I mentioned to Matt one day that I had an ideal vision in mind of what I’d like to do, but I wasn’t sure what to do in the meantime. When I told him about what I really wanted to have long-term – essentially floor-to-ceiling built-in shelves in the playroom – his immediate response was that we should just build that now!

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We (and by “we” I really mean Matt) are actually quite a bit farther along than this picture shows. It’s all coming together really nicely, and it’s going to be such a huge help to me!

5. Organize the playroom.

See above! Right now the room looks like a total disaster – toys piled on top of each other, tools all around – but we’re making real progress, and I’m excited about the room’s potential.

6. Blog!

I have pretty much dropped the ball on this. Between the playroom bookshelf project and doing some extra work to train a friend who is starting to work for my company, our last few weeks have been very full, and there just hasn’t been much free time. I’m hoping to get a few more posts written during the last half of the summer, though!

7. Read more, in particular the parenting books I ordered this spring.

I’m working on this one! After finishing No Drama Discipline, I started Ruth Beechick’s The Three R’s, and I finished that a couple weeks ago, and I’ve now started How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk, which I’m enjoying. Matt bought me Wish You Happy Forever: What China’s Oprhans Taught Me About Moving Mountains for our anniversary, so I’ve also been reading that. Its author founded Half the Sky, an organization that worked in the orphanage Madeleine CaiQun lived at, and I’m so thankful to them for the benefits I know she received from their care. My heart is feeling increasingly drawn back toward adopting from China again.

8. Make it a priority to have fun. Say yes to things like walks, time at the park, and time at the pool.

We’re definitely having fun this summer! Spending time at the pool has been a big way in which we’ve been doing that, but we’re also having popsicle picnics on the porch, reading books, doing science experiments, and just playing together. This afternoon the girls and I rolled around on the living room floor, and I tickled them and gave them airplane rides – we all had a blast simply playing, and this evening at dinner all of us listed that as the “high” from our day.

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9. Enjoy Atticus.

Of course there is always more I could be doing to enjoy our little guy, but I think I’m doing a pretty good job of taking time to snuggle him, play with him, laugh with him, and generally enjoy him. He really is such a sweet little boy, and even though parenting kids over a larger age range feels like more of a challenge than just having our close-together girls, this boy is such a blessing for our family, and I’m so thankful he’s here.

10. Write in each child’s journal at least once.

So far I’ve written in Atticus’s journal but not the girls’ – I need to get to theirs soon!

11. Finish writing and sending thank you notes to people who blessed us around the time of Atticus’s birth.

I’ve written a few more of these but still have a lot to do.

12. Go on at least 2 dates per month with Matt.

We did this in June, and we’re scheduled for another date night this week, so I just need to plan one more for July, and we’ll have hit this goal for 2 months in a row!

13. Replenish our savings.

We’re working on this! Thus far it hasn’t been so much of a replenishing of savings as much as earning enough to keep up with the playroom update expenditures, but we’ve been able to do that, so I think it’s a win so far, and I think by the end of the summer we will have been able to put more money away in savings.

14. Build a more consistent prayer life.

Honestly, working toward this goal has been one of the most encouraging parts of my summer. I think, as a mom of littles, I am constantly seeing new areas in which I need not to let the “perfect” become the enemy of the “good.” What I would like for my prayer life is to have a long period of totally uninterrupted time each day to read my Bible and actually write out prayers to God in a prayer journal. That just isn’t going to happen right now, but that doesn’t mean I should throw in the towel. I realized that I do have multiple periods of the day that are quiet and somewhat solitary – when I’m nursing Atticus before he takes naps and goes to bed at night. After he would start to drift off to sleep, I’d been using those times primarily for checking my Facebook feed, but, wonder of all wonders, when I made Facebook less of a priority, there was more room for prayer! I’ve also been re-reading David Powlison’s Seeing With New Eyes with some friends, and I’ve found his words about prayer to be particularly helpful and encouraging. I’ve also been faced with daily reminders to pray as a young man from our church came down with a sudden illness a few weeks ago and had to be life-flighted to a hospital 2 hours away and is still fighting for his life there, and our church family has been praying for him continuously. I’m praying more often with more depth and am feeling anew my dependence on God and the contentment that comes with that realization.

Overall I’m pleased that I’ve been able to make progress (or recruit my husband to make progress!) on a number of these goals, and hopefully I’ll have more progress to report at the end of the summer!

June 15, 2015

Summer Goals – 2015 Edition

Posted in Atticus Garrett, family, God, homemaking, homeschooling, life, Madeleine CaiQun, Miranda Grace, money, parenting tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 1:40 pm by alison

While my girls continue to insist that it is not truly summer until we hit its official start later this month, Matt is done with his semester, we have finished our homeschooling school year, and the temperature is regularly surpassing 90 degrees, so we’re going to go ahead and act like it’s summer :) To that end, I’ve been thinking about how we can best spend these summer months, and I’ve come up with some goals for us. In no particular order, they are –

1. Work with the girls on moving toward learning how to swim.

Miranda is 5 and Madeleine CaiQun 4, and I’ve done approximately nothing to help them learn how to swim before this summer. I think swimming is a valuable life skill to have, though, so this summer, we joined a pool, the girls are enrolled in swimming lessons, and hopefully we’ll be making some progress toward swimming!

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2. Be consistent in working with the girls to develop self-control, kind words, and gentle hands.

I think this one is pretty self-explanatory :) These are growth areas for us, and while I can’t force hearts to change, I can be consistent in encouraging good behavior and addressing issues that arise.

3. Work through 4-6 weeks of school curriculum.

I’ll share more about our plans for Miranda’s kindergarten and Madeleine CaiQun’s pre-k school year soon, but for now, I’ll just say that I think year-round schooling works best for our family at this stage, and I’d love for us to get a solid start in our curriculum for this upcoming year before the fall actually arrives!

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4. Get set for a mobile baby – and some days, 2 mobile babies! 

One reason for us to cover some ground with school this summer is that we’re going to be watching a friend’s baby two days a week starting in the fall, and obviously 2 babies require more care than 1! I’d like to have a better idea of what our school days are going to entail and be able to plan accordingly. Beyond school, though, we’ll need to make some changes to the set-up of our house, doing some child-proofing, etc.

5. Organize the playroom.

A few weeks ago I did some de-cluttering of the playroom and a bit of re-organization, but I’d really like to get it set up more fully and organized in such a way that is conducive to mobile babies!

6. Blog!

I really enjoy writing and blogging, and I’d love to be more consistent in writing this summer. I have some ideas for some posts I want to share with you all, and feel free to let me know if there are topics you’d like me to cover here!

7. Read more, in particular the parenting books I ordered this spring.

Another of my loves is reading, and with 3 little ones for whom to care and a multitude of tasks to accomplish, it’s easy to push it off to the side. I think it’s important, though, for me to expose myself to ideas outside of myself. Right now I’m finding it really encouraging and helpful to study parenting and learn more about strategies I can employ in shepherding my kiddos. I have a small stack of books I ordered this spring about parenting, and I’d like to make my way through them during the summer.

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8. Make it a priority to have fun. Say yes to things like walks, time at the park, and time at the pool.

We are doing some school and trying to keep some semblance of structure to our days, but I still want to enjoy and facilitate our kids enjoying this summer. I want to take advantage of nice weather, when it appears, and get outside and have fun.

9. Enjoy Atticus.

Our little guy is so incredibly adorable and sweet. I’m such a task-oriented person by nature that it can be easy for me to take advantage of the times when he is content to accomplish something from my “to do” list, but I also want to make sure I take time to snuggle with him, tickle him, smile and coo at him, and just enjoy the little person he is.

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10. Write in each child’s journal at least once.

From before our kids were born or joined our family, I’ve maintained a journal for each in which I write letters to them. I know that I won’t always remember each little thing they do that makes me smile or how I’ve thought about them at different times, and I want them to have a record of those things. I want them to know how much I’ve loved for and cared for them throughout their entire lives, how precious each one is to me. It’s hard to set aside the time to write, though, so my goal is to write to each child at least once this summer.

11. Finish writing and sending thank you notes to people who blessed us around the time of Atticus’s birth.

I’m generally pretty awful at writing thank you notes (as evidenced by the fact that Atticus is now 6 months old and I have still not sent out these thank you notes!). I truly believe it’s important to thank people who have taken time out of their lives to bless us, though, so I want to finish writing these and get them out to people.

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12. Go on at least 2 dates per month with Matt.

Matt and I just recently celebrated our 12th wedding anniversary :) I think the first year after adding a child – whether through birth or adoption – is always challenging for a marriage, and we want to be intentional about sustaining our relationship.

13. Replenish our savings.

We’ve had several significant expenditures recently that have depleted our savings beyond the level we like to have it, so we’d like to earn and set aside some funds this summer to replenish that fund.

14. Build a more consistent prayer life.

This is something I consistently find myself struggling with. I find that parenting has driven me to prayer like nothing else, but I still am not sure when to set aside a specific time (or times) to pray, and I find myself often, in the moment, responding before praying, and I’d like that order to be reversed! Moms of littles, any suggestions??

 

This feels like a pretty ambitious list, but I’m hoping we can get a good amount of it accomplished before the summer is through!

June 5, 2015

Home-Schooling 2014-2015 – Year in Review

Posted in family, homeschooling, life, Madeleine CaiQun, Miranda Grace, parenting tagged , , , , , , , , , at 12:56 pm by alison

As of yesterday, we have finished our 2014-2015 school year! Miranda completed her pre-k year and Madeleine CaiQun her pre-school year.

"Why, yes, Mom, we'd love to pose for a 'last day of school' picture for you!"

“Why, yes, Mom, we’d love to pose for a ‘last day of school’ picture for you!”

The work they did was sometimes in line with those grade levels, sometimes not (for more on our curriculum choices for the year, see this post), but everyone worked where they were at and grew, which, I think, will always be our goal!

Hand-writing is an easy area in which to see progress, and this morning I was looking back at some of the girls’ early work and was encouraged to see how they have grown. It can be hard, in the day-to-day, to notice the ways in which they are learning and growing, but looking back over the course of the year, I can definitely see it!

Madeleine CaiQun really could not write recognizable letters on her own at the beginning of the school year, and now she can write her name (though she still needs help remembering what all the letters are toward the end)!

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Note also the addition of “Anna” to her name – we’re just slightly obsessed with Frozen these days!

And here is a sample of Miranda’s copywork from week 4, followed by some of her copywork from week 34!

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Miranda has been practicing reading, and CaiQun is ready to start reading out loud, which is definitely exciting for this book-loving mom! Both girls have grown in their understanding of math and numbers, as well. We’ve all been memorizing some Scripture together (we’re trying to finish up 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 right now). Another cool development has been the lengthening of their attention spans, such that we are able to read longer chapter books now. All in all, I’ve really enjoyed doing school work with them this year.

Of course, character is king, and our big growth areas continue to be kindness, gentleness, and self-control. We’re working on it!

I took the girls out for ice cream last night to celebrate the completion of our school year :)

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When asked what her favorite part of the year was, Miranda replied enthusiastically, “Math!” That’s also what she reports she is most looking forward to about our upcoming school year. This girl loves her math :) She says her favorite book that we read this year is our final science book, Why Do Tigers Have Stripes, in particular the part about panthers. I asked CaiQun what her favorite part of this past year was, and she told me it was, “L, because I like doing the down and then the over.” Funny girl :) She said she was too busy eating to talk to me about what she was most looking forward to about next year or about her favorite book from this year. Overall, though, some of the books both girls really enjoyed were all of our science books and The Milly-Molly-Mandy Storybook.

I’m also thoughtful about what I’ve learned about teaching my kiddos this year. It really isn’t a problem to do school with Atticus around (which I’d been worried about before he arrived!), but I need to be careful not to start something new with the girls when he’s getting fussy but instead to wait until I’ve gotten him to a good place. Both of the girls like having choices – choices about what work to do first, which books to read first, what writing implement to use. Miranda responds best to my setting out my expectations in some external way from the beginning – if I give her a list of all the work she’ll need to accomplish on any given day, it goes over better than just telling her verbally (CaiQun likes having a list, too, but I think that’s mostly just because Miranda has one). And sometimes, even if they have choices and have their lists, things don’t go well. My personality is to love checklists and love challenges, so I need to be thoughtful, in those moments, about whether I’m pushing too hard and setting us up for problems or whether they’re being rebellious and need to be shepherded through that.

We’re all learning together, and I’m looking forward to diving into our next school year with my girls! Kindergarten and pre-k, here we come!

June 1, 2015

a great parenting resource: No-Drama Discipline

Posted in adoption, books, family, God, life, parenting tagged , , , , , , , at 4:32 pm by alison

Several years ago, as Miranda was growing out of the baby stage and as Matt and I began preparing to embark on our journey to become adoptive parents, we started reading and researching more about parenting. Interestingly enough, it was the resources aimed specifically toward helping adoptive parents raise their children that we found most compelling. Those books rely heavily on the latest research about child development, neuroscience, and the ways in which children learn, particularly with regards to the skills necessary for the ability to develop successful relationships.

One of the tenets of the philosophy we have embraced is that the purpose of disciplining children is to teach them – not to punish them – and within that context, nurturing our relationships with our kiddos is of paramount importance. I just finished reading No Drama Discipline: The Whole-Brain Way to Calm the Chaos and Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson, a book that subscribes to that same philosophy, and I found it to be an incredibly encouraging read with a number of examples that offered timely application for our family.

Siegel and Bryson describe how many of us default to punitive discipline strategies that our children experience as pain or rejection, and they discuss the ways in which our children’s brains respond to those disciplinary strategies – primarily by shutting down their higher brain functions (which are the areas that enable them to learn) and instead staying locked into more primitive, reactive areas of the brain. However, we as parents can instead choose strategies that focus on setting healthy boundaries while also respecting and nurturing our children.

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Our children’s brains are still developing, so, as we give them practice using their higher brain functions, they’re learning the very process of how to use those functions and even structurally building their brain in a way that predisposes them to be able to calm themselves, exercise self-control, think rationally, and have empathy in the future. Hebb’s axiom tells us that “neurons that fire together wire together” – in essence, as neurons respond together to various experiences, the connections between those neurons grow, making it easier for them to respond together in the future (p 42-43). When our kids experience a problem, we can train them to calm down and be thoughtful about potential solutions, and then their brains will be wired in such a way to encourage them to default to those modes in the future.

If we focus on connecting with our children and making sure that they – and we – are in a good place to address any issues that arise, we’ll be cultivating our relationships with our children and we’ll be much more effective in teaching them. I remember it feeling like a revelation to me when, during one of the CCEF courses I took, the instructor discussed the ideal that the driving force behind our approaching anyone about an issue we see with their behavior should be their good – it shouldn’t be about getting something off your own chest or making you feel better, but about whether it’s actually in that person’s best interest for you to discuss the issue with them. It’s interesting to me that many of us who are Christians embrace that idea when it comes to our interactions with other adults but feel perfectly comfortable expressing immediate frustration or displeasure with our children. I want to be treating my children with at least as much care as I treat the adults in my world, though.

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Of course, children are not adults and need to be treated appropriately. No Drama Discipline encourages us as parents to “chase the why.” Behavior doesn’t exist in a vacuum but is the outflow of what exists inside of a person, in their heart. Our children may not be able to express to us why they’re acting in a particular way, but we need to dig deeper and seek to understand the reason for the child’s behavior, because if we address only the behavior, we’re going to miss out on anything deeper going on with our children at the heart level.

And children need their parents to establish and maintain consistent structure. Our end goal, though, should not be to obtain mere obedience. We want to help our children gain insight into themselves, grow in their ability to be empathetic and thoughtful, and develop the capacity to participate in healthy relationships. In this book, Siegel and Bryson offer numerous strategies (and examples) to help parents do just that.

Matt and I are finding it both encouraging and transformative.

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The other day, one of my girls was getting out a plethora of art supplies to work on a project, and she carelessly knocked my beloved water bottle onto the floor (twice), thereby breaking its straw. I ignored my immediate impulse, which was to yell at her and perhaps impose some arbitrary restriction on the art supplies, and instead I just asked her to pick it up. Later, when both of us were calmer, I asked her to come talk with me, and I showed her where it was broken. She offered to fix it for me and immediately attempted (unsuccessfully) to repair it. When I told her I was sad that she’d broken it and I couldn’t use it, she offered a genuine apology and went to her cabinet to get me a cup of hers that I could use until my straw could be fixed or replaced. Of course, it doesn’t always work out that smoothly – but I’m confident that I wouldn’t have gotten a heartfelt apology or creative attempts to repair the situation if I’d yelled at her and tried to force her to say she was sorry in the moment.

I’m hopeful that Matt and I will be able to live out, more and more, parenting strategies that build relationship with our kids and encourage thoughtfulness and growth in them. And I’d definitely recommend the book No Drama Discipline to any other parents out there!

May 30, 2015

reflections from a week of solo parenting

Posted in Atticus Garrett, family, God, homemaking, life, Madeleine CaiQun, Miranda Grace, parenting tagged , , , , , , , , , , at 8:24 pm by alison

Matt was incredibly excited to be invited to be part of Wakonse again this year, and we both knew it was a great opportunity for him. Last year he found it to be invigorating, encouraging, and helpful for continuing to refine his teaching, as well as a good opportunity for networking. I knew a week of parenting our 3 young kiddos would be intense without him, but I agreed that the trip would be good for him, and so, a little over a week ago, he boarded a bus headed for the shores of Lake Michigan at 6:00 a.m.

During the time that he was away, I found myself reflective. How should I view my week at home with our kids? What was the marriage and parenting context in which I was setting it? What did it look like to love and parent well during that time?

I preached to myself over and over a truth that Matt and I always make sure to discuss with young couples when we meet with them for pre-marital counseling – marriage is not a 50/50 proposition. Viewing it that way is a set-up for disaster. You’ll find yourself keeping score, tallying everything that you’re doing and comparing it to what you see of your spouse’s contributions, and it’s nearly inevitable that you will see him or her coming up short. It was so easy to start slipping toward making a list of all that I was doing during this week that Matt was away – changing diapers, making dinners, putting 3 kids to bed each and every night, and on and on and on; meanwhile he was obviously not here and thus doing none of those things. And I would find myself thinking of the rewards that I felt I deserved for my hard work…only to have to hit the brakes hard. This is my family, the people I love more than anyone else on earth. It is an honor and a blessing to care for them. And what I’m called to and what I’ve committed myself to is very different from putting in 50% of the work required to sustain our family; it’s putting forth 100% of what I can, looking for ways I can love and areas where I can serve, and doing so joyfully. That is what our marriage is about.

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Another realization I found myself having over and over again was that, often times, proactive parenting is what constitutes good parenting. All of our kids had a hard time with Matt being gone, more than I expected. It felt like our days were often off course before they even began. I realized very quickly that, particularly within that context, I needed to be proactive, to spot potential difficulties before they arrived and do what I could to steer us around them. The sensory bins came out on multiple occasions.

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We kept up with our structure as much as possible, doing school most days. We turned errands into adventures. I said “yes” when I could and tried to set us up for success.

On a related note, I reminded myself multiple times that I was making choices about the narrative I was telling myself about this time. I could choose to focus on the hard – and there was a lot of it – or I could choose to focus on the opportunities for fun. As much as possible, I tried to keep the positive narrative at the forefront of my mind, to see the blessings of our time and to plan fun activities for us. One huge blessing was that my brother David joined us for the week. While no one can take the place of a parent, having an extra pair of hands and some adult conversation is undeniably helpful! In part because he was here, we were able to pack a lot of fun into our week without Matt. We visited multiple parks, which was so good for everyone.

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We all enjoyed being outside, and as an added bonus, the kids’ energy expenditure made them significantly more receptive to bedtime in the evenings!

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Another well-received activity was making homemade popsicles and then enjoying them out on the porch during a rainy afternoon!

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We really did have fun together!

Of course, I was still counting down the days until Matt’s return…which, of course, led to high expectations of what that homecoming would actually look like. I think probably the lesson I’ve most consistently needed to learn from Matt’s travels has been that homecomings are not all they’re cracked up to be. Yes, it was great to see Matt. No, he didn’t waltz in the door proclaiming his undying love and expressing profuse thankfulness for my efforts at home during his absence. And when I build up the moment of his arrival, counting down to it for days, I set us all up for disappointment.

All in all, it was an exhausting week, but it was great to get some time with my brother, and he and I and the kiddos really did have some good, fun times. And being jolted out of our normal routines gave me an opportunity for reflection – and, hopefully, growth, that I wouldn’t otherwise have had!

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