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I'm a 30-something wife and mom. My boys are my pride and joy. Together, we are navigating being a forever family post international adoption.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Halloween!


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Making Friends

Buddy is used to not only going to class with his peers, but also spending 100% of his time with them. They would eat, play, work and sleep together. They saw each other at their best and worst. They were not only friends, they were a family.

Now Buddy has separate home and school lives, and a Mom and Dad that he spends a lot of his time with. And he isn't used to making friends that way.

We have watched Buddy around other kids his age, and he is a bit of a creeper. He's still not confident in his spoken English, so he prefers not to speak in unfamiliar social settings.

He tends to lurk in the background of a group of kids and often ignores anyone who tries to engage him.

He gets along better with kids who are younger and more immature. It doesn't help the fact that he is small for his age and people always assume and comment that he looks younger than he is.

Buddy is physically and emotionally delayed and it affects his ability to make friends.

I will say that he is great at making short term connections with kids. He can pal around on a playground or join a game of soccer pretty easily. What he struggles with is actually connecting with his peers.

We work at home to build his confidence and his English proficiency. We enrolled him in public school so he would be surrounded by kids during the day. We take him places in our free time where there are other kids he can play with. We try not to pressure him or make him feel different. Otherwise, I think the rest is up to Buddy.

In his own time.

Monday, October 27, 2014

School Daze

We put Buddy in school about a month after we got home. He was going stir-crazy and really wanted to be around other kids. I had to go back to work only three weeks after we got home. I had hoped to take more time off, but our time spent in-country was longer than we had anticipated. Since Hubby was on his own all day with a pent-up Buddy, we decided it would be best for all of us to let him go to school.

We had picked the school we wanted Buddy to attend even before travelling. This school had a bi-lingual program in what we assumed would be our adopted child(ren)'s native language (we were wrong about that one, BTW). How great, we thought, perfect match, no need to look into it further. Oh how naive we were.

To be fair, there was nothing wrong with the school, it just wasn't the right school for Buddy. It was at the very end of our catchment area and Hubby had to spend about 3 hours a day driving Buddy to and from school. Since Hubby had to go back to work eventually, we decided to sign Buddy up for the bus program so he could try it out. Well, it turned out that wasn't an option because there was no school bus that drove all the way to our house.

Besides the transportation issues, the classroom wasn't equipped for Buddy. It was a blend of 3 grades, none of which Buddy was capable of working at. He had 7 different teachers. It took over 2 months to get an academic assessment and IEP. When we voiced concerns, we felt we weren't being heard.

To top everything off, Hubby and I were emotionally raw and kept overreacting to each issue with school that we encountered. Looking back, although we were a bit (very) intense, our hearts were in the right place. We had a feeling something wasn't right, and I wish I had trusted my gut instead of waiting and hoping.

The straw that broke the camels back was the day Buddy came home and volunteered information about what he did that day. Getting him to talk about school was like pulling teeth, partly because that's most kids and partly because the language barrier meant that he had no idea what was going on half the time. But he definitely knew what was happening when his teacher asked everyone in his class to draw their family tree during social studies.

At this point Buddy had been with us for less than 6 months. He didn't want anyone to know he was adopted and he was trying desperately to fit it. He was not ready to share his family tree with his classmates.

I was furious, and I felt violated. I knew that this seemingly simple assignment had stirred up everything inside Buddy he wasn't yet ready to deal with. It was then that Hubby and I took action. We took much more care in selecting a school closer to our home that was a better fit for Buddy and transferred him there. The switch was traumatic, but well worth it in the end. Buddy is flourishing at his new school.

If I were to do it again, I would think more about what Buddy needed. I would stay close to home and interview any school before making a final decision. I would put more weight on the fact that a teachers experience and personality has a huge impact on how they interact with the kids in their class.

And I would trust my gut.

Thanks to Leah from The Kohler's Journey for inspiring this post, and for being shoulder to lean on. You rock, Leah!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

RIP Cpl Nathan Cirillo


“We often take for granted the very things that most deserve our gratitude.” ~ Cynthia Ozick

Thursday, October 23, 2014

An Afternoon in the Park


We have been so lucky with our weather lately. It gets pretty crisp in the evenings, but the days have been warm and sunny. Last Sunday afternoon we had a little bit of free time. Church, grocery shopping and homework were all in the bag. Hubby had been on "Buddy duty" all afternoon, so I suggested to Buddy that he and I go to the park.

We are fortunate to live close to several parks. We decided to go to a pretty big one that has lots of different areas to explore. When we got there, it was clear that a lot of other families had the same idea. The children's playground was packed, and Buddy gets a bit nervous in big crowds. We went off to explore the flower garden and duck pond first. Of course, I stepped in dog poo while taking a trail through the trees. Otherwise, I had a lot of fun hanging out with Buddy. After about an hour he was ready to take his chances at the playground.

He ran and slid and climbed for another hour and a half before the day cooled off and we needed to get home to Hubby. I'm glad we decided to stay at the park and wait for Buddy to feel comfortable instead of packing it in. It is good for him to experience small stresses so he can learn to deal with them without shutting down.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Sleepover at Grandma Bear's

Buddy loves my little brother. He is very close with his whole adoptive family, to our pleasant surprise, but it is Uncle Bear who stole his heart. My brother is 6'4"+, but deep down he is a kid who loves to play video games, eat junk food and goof around. He is a little boy's dream come true.

Once a month, Hubby and I have a date night and Buddy spends the night at Grandma Bear's house. Usually my brother stays over so he can give my Mom a hand. We pick Buddy up the next day around lunch time.

Buddy and Uncle Bear in their natural habitat
Grandma's house is more relaxed than ours. There isn't as much importance placed on proper eating (pizza pops for breakfast, sure!), acceptable screen time (4 hours straight in front of the TV, no prob!) and homework (5 minutes of flashcards and skip everything else, why not?!?). And before you tell me "That's what grandparents are for," let me remind you that Buddy is not an average kid born and raised in a typical environment.

At Buddy's last sleepover, my Mom put him to bed at his regular bed time. At 2 AM, Buddy got up, snuck to the den and stayed up all night playing video games unsupervised. He even accepted an invitation to play an online multi-player game, which is strictly verboten and he knows it. He was pretty impressed with himself the next day and it was all he could talk about to anyone who would listen. Including strangers at Starbucks. He was also insistent that Uncle Bear woke him up and invited him to play video games, which my brother swears (and I know) isn't true.

At the core of things, I am disappointed in Buddy for taking advantage of my Mom and brother. And then for throwing my brother, whom he adores, under the bus. They love him so much and want to give him the world on a string. I wish that they were able to do that, but Buddy is not ready for such freedom. If he is given an inch he will take a mile.

Because of this, I had to have a conversation with my family. I think they better understand now the reason that we have so many "rules" for Buddy, even though he seems so "normal" and "happy".

I am hopefully things will go differently next time, because I am not ready to throw in the towel on date night just yet!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Running for Grandpa

My step-father died a few years ago after a long battle with cancer. He raised my brother and I from a young age and although he wasn't legally my father, he was definitely my Dad. I get a lot of who I am from him; my strength, my stubbornness, my work ethic. Most importantly, it is because of my Dad that I never doubted for a second that I would be able to love a child who wasn't my blood.

My Dad's dad died before I had a chance to meet him. I am sad to say the same is true for Buddy and his Grandpa. We talk about my Dad all the time, so even though Buddy didn't meet him he knows a lot about him. He often remarks how similar I am to Grandpa Bear. That makes me smile, because I never questioned that my Dad loved me as his own. He was protective, encouraging, and expected the best of and for me and my siblings. If that is how Buddy sees me, that isn't half bad.

This week Buddy's school did a run to raise money and awareness for cancer prevention and research. Each child got a sticker to put on their shirt that said "I'm running for... ______ " and on Buddy's, he wrote " My Grandpa".

I know Grandpa Bear is so proud. I am, too.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Soccer Playoffs

Buddy played soccer with our local community club this summer. The team started off on a hot streak but soon began losing the majority of their games. Buddy had never been on a team before, so he was a tentative player who didn't know his place.

His team played until August when rec sports took a month off. During that month, we enrolled Buddy in a sports program with one of our local universities. In that, he took a week of soccer camp. For those 5 days he and other kids his age learned from university students who played on the school's soccer team.

When rec sports started back up in September, it was clear that camp had worked wonders for Buddy's skills and self-confidence. Hubby would text me from his games and report on how well Buddy was playing. When I watched him at a rainy weekend game I was so impressed with how much he had improved.

The final game
This week was Buddy's last game. His team played another group of boys they had consistently lost to. Many of the boys on Buddy's team had become discouraged and several of them had quit. When we showed up to the soccer pitch there were only 8 other players, so there were no substitutes. Each boy had to play the full hour with only one 10 minute intermission.

Buddy played so well! He scored 4 goals, leading his team to a 7-4 win against the opposing team. He cheered on the other boys, passed as much as he shot and didn't rub his goals in the other team's face. I am so pleased at Buddy's growth and, most importantly, I am glad he had the chance to learn about the importance of teamwork, good sportsmanship and fair play.

Bring on the pizza wind-up!


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Fall and New Beginnings


Usually people associate spring or New Years with new beginnings, but I think of fall. It's the time of year when Hubby, Buddy and I were finishing up in-country adoption requirements, travelling home and trying to adjust as a family of three. Last fall was a blur of rushing, waiting, documents, excitement and worry. It was the craziest time of my life, up until that point.

Now that we are one year in, we are still going through a season of change. I read an excellent post by Jen Hatmaker called The Truth About Adoption: One Year Later. She talked about the 4 stages her family went through in their first 12 months home. It's really insightful and honest, and I suggest you check it out.

Our stages have been different in a lot of ways. It might have something to do with the fact that we adopted one child, or that we didn't have bio kids. I would guess it is mostly to do with the fact that my family isn't her family so there is no way we could have the same story.

However, there have been lots of similarities. We have gone through the cycle of honeymoon, spaz out, triage and rehab. We continue to go through them. Sometimes we rapid-cycle like lightning and sometimes we get stuck for weeks or months in one stage. We have also gone out of order, from spaz out to honeymoon to triage back to spaz out... Some days feel like a game of emotional Russian roulette.

Buddy has learned to protect himself by locking his pain deep down inside himself and pretending it's not there. His spaz outs come when he can no longer keep those "bad" feeling repressed and they flood violently to the surface. They are quiet and introverted and we can see him trying with all his strength to retain control of himself and the situation. They sometimes involve self-hurt as a release. They sometimes involve suicidal ideation. They are also not new, he has been going through this long before Hubby and I were in the picture. They terrify me and break my heart.

Now that we are one year in, we can see there is a greater level of trust between all three of us. It is an easier, more honest way of living. There are still spaz outs, from all of us not just Buddy, but they are less tumultuous and end quicker. The self-hurt is fewer and far between. He still does not like to talk about his pain, but he will listen and even nod his head sometimes.

I wish that my family moved easily through our stages, like checking off boxes on a to-do list. Our transition has been confusing and messy. But I am starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel. We may never reach it, but it brings me a great deal of comfort just to know it's there.

I am looking forward to the next season and the changes it brings.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Snap

Buddy and Hubby
Last night, Hubby snapped. It has happened to me more times than I would like to admit, but I can only remember Hubby snapping one other time. He is normally so good at keeping calm and expressing his frustrations at appropriate times. But last night he boiled over and even though it isn't optimal, it is ok.

Hubby has a lot of responsibilities. He spent over a year off work during and after our adoption. He is now working full time, sometimes up to 60 hours a week. He cooks dinner almost every night and he grocery shops. He takes care of Buddy after school and supervises homework, lunch making and evening chores. He is a very buys guy and sometimes it can be overwhelming for him. Understandable.

So, like I said, not optimal for Hubby (or I or Buddy) to have a melt down. Would I rather we never fought? Of course! But that is just not possible and it is in the times of push and pull that we grow. Once the dust settles, we see that we are all still invested and determined to make this family work. We learn what our triggers are, how to disagree constructively, how to apologize and how to accept apologies.

And we learn that our love is always bigger than our mad.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

I love you because...

- You dance like no one's watching
- You ask me if I need any help
- You are nice to people, even if you don't really like them
- You know I'm scared of rodents and don't tease me about it
- You will try something even if it makes you nervous
- You pick up the dog poop
- You aren't a morning person
- You are passionate and enthusiastic
- You're funny and even a bit sarcastic
- You sing to yourself when you think no one is listening
- You give good hugs
- You can't lie, even if you try
- You love animals
- You say "bless you" when someone sneezes
- You kill bugs and spiders for me
- You narrate your actions
- You're silly and wacky
- You smell good
- You are brave and strong of character
- You are beautiful, in and out
- You gave me my most important and favorite job
- You are the missing piece of my heart

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Middle of the Class

Last year in Buddy's class the students were broken up into 5 groups based on their ability. The academically stronger students spent language arts with Mr. Black and the others got more individual attention from a lovely woman who was the classes educational assistant. Buddy was one of the latter, which made sense given he was new to English.

This year, Buddy is in the same classroom with the same teacher, but the EA has been moved to a class where there is a greater need for her. Since there is no EA in his class, Buddy needs to be more independent. We completely support this, because being responsible for himself is something that Buddy struggles with and the practice is good for him in preparation for going to a new school next year.

So far, Buddy has been doing really well. He has remembered his homework and agenda every day and only forgot his lunch kit once (in the gym after inter-mural soccer, so hard to blame him since he had just scored 4 goals and lead his team to victory!). He is doing his homework mostly independently and overall has a good attitude while doing it. He has also started making his own lunch and picking all his own school outfits. For anyone who has adopted an older international child, you know how big that is.

This morning over breakfast we were taking about an upcoming spelling test. I asked Buddy, in passing, how many groups were in Mr. Black's class and he said there are three. I asked which group he was in, and he replied the middle one. The MIDDLE one! That means that Buddy is in the middle of the pack, which is extraordinary given everything.

You better believe I praised the crap out of him. I told him how proud I was and he was honestly surprised. He is used to getting yelled at or hit for bad behavior but not used to praise for working hard. He laughed off my gushing, but I could see from his body language that he was so pleased to get the positive attention.

I am so proud of my Sweet Boy for all his dedication and continued hard work!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Crying Over Spilt Milk

Six nights a week we eat as a family with no distractions and good table manners. We practice portion control, eat more vegetables than starch and listen to each other talk about our days. When we have our Friday night take-out and movie, it's pretty much a free-for-all where fingers get saucy, veggies are minimal and talking takes a back seat to watching explosions and car chases. I am a big believer in allowing ourselves to "let our hair down" on Friday nights.

Buddy has seen more movies than Hubby and I combined, but he's never seen the Jurassic Park trilogy. Last Friday we were chowing down on chicken wings and french fries, engrossed in the first movie from 1993. Side note: I can't believe it is that old, I saw it at the drive-in when it first came out! Buddy has a habit of perching his drinking glass precariously close to the table edge. Usually we notice and remind him to move it further back.

We were at the part of the movie where Newman has stolen the dino-DNA and is trying to escape the island in the middle of a terrible storm. If you don't remember, he goes off the road and ends up with an angry dinosaur inside his car. Not terrifying, but unexpected. Well, the dino unfurled his hood and pounced, and Buddy jumped and knocked his milk onto the floor.

In slow motion, I saw the milk hit the floor and Buddy go from perfectly fine to dysregulated in the blink of an eye. He froze, his eyes glazed over, and the dominoes started to fall. Buddy has learned that mistakes, even if they are accidents, lead to something bad. My poor boy is wired to expect the worst whenever something goes wrong.

With milk pooling on the floor, I scooped Buddy up, put him on my lap and gave him a big hug. I rocked him and told him it was fine and that we loved him so much. Once his fully processed that no hitting or yelling was coming, the tears started falling. He wrapped his arms around my neck and said, "Sorry, sorry, sorry. I am always doing bad things." My poor Sweet Boy has been through some really tough times and, since he is only a child, he thinks they are his fault.

Buddy calmed down, helped Hubby clean up the milk and we continued on with the movie. He was no longer dysregulated, but it took about 16 hours before he was back to his normal self. Is it possible that because we don't yell or hit that the stressful situation doesn't feel done for him even after it is?

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Let's go fly a...

We have definitely transitioned from summer to fall. The weather is cooler, the leaves are turning and soon it will be winter. So, this past weekend, we took the opportunity to go and fly a helicopter. A remote controlled helicopter, that is.


Buddy got a RC helicopter last Christmas from Santa. He was very excited and I remember him exclaiming "Wow, I never had my own helicopter before," as he stared in amazement at the box. Unfortunately, the helicopter doesn't work well in cold weather and we last year was the coldest winter anyone could remember. The helicopter was put on the shelf and forgotten.

This weekend surprised us all by being beautiful. The sun was shining, there wasn't a cloud in the sky and the breeze was blowing gently. Buddy came out of his room on Sunday afternoon and asked if we could go to the park so he could fly his helicopter. By some miracle we had no prior commitments and the batteries which had been sitting since December were still charged. So, off we went.

I don't think Buddy will be getting his pilots license any time soon, but he had a lot of fun chasing after his helicopter. As I sat on the park bench breathing in the warm fall air I couldn't help thinking how far we've come in the last year and how happy I am.


Friday, October 3, 2014

Late Night Confessions

I have to pee in the middle of the night every night, at least once. I promised Buddy pretty early on that any time I get up to pee I will check on him. Buddy has never slept alone and he is not a big of being all by himself even though Hubby and I are just down the hall.

Usually when I stick my head in Buddy's room in the middle of the night he is fast asleep, snoring softly. Sometimes he is talking in his sleep and if he sounds distressed I tuck him in again and he quiets down. He is almost never awake. The other night, I was greeted by a cheerful "Hi!" and a wave when I checked on him. Do you remember I mentioned over-cheerfulness signals something is up? So I walked into his room, got into bed and wrapped my arms around him. He snuggled in and I was just nodding off when he said, "Can I tell you something?"

Apparently Buddy's class had been outside for "free time" with his teacher when Buddy started goofing around and doing something he wasn't supposed to do. His teacher, Mr. Black, simply said "Ok Buddy, what do you want to miss, gym or computer class?" These are Buddy's favorite subjects, and it was Mr. Black's way of telling Buddy that bad choices have consequences.

Poor Buddy was worried he was going to get in trouble at home, too. When he first started school, he had a teacher just out of college and her "communications" book turned into a bit of a "tattle" book. I fully support the people who educate my son, but I don't need to hear about every little misbehavior.

I thanked Buddy for being honest, said I was proud of him for being brave enough to tell me and reassured him that school trouble stays at school unless there is a big problem. With that, Buddy gave me a kiss, threw my arm over his body and went straight to sleep.

A year ago, Buddy never would have admitted to getting in trouble. I am amazed what a little time and a lot of love can do.



Wednesday, October 1, 2014

A Letter to my Family


Dear Family,

This article describes a list of behaviour common in internationally adopted children who have lived in orphanages. Since Buddy displays behavior from each of these categories, it paints a pretty accurate picture of what he struggles with.

I am so proud to have Buddy as my son, but the behavior he sometimes displays is not healthy. We really need support from our families to reinforce what we are trying to teach at home so that Buddy can learn to self-regulate. It is very important to us that we are all on the same page.

I am not going to insist you to change how you interact with Buddy. It would actually be bad to have him feel the rules are changing because I said so. He needs to know that certain expectations of him exist even outside of his immediate family. If you read the article and see the long-term importance of Buddy having consistency in his life, hopefully you will make that decision for yourself.

Please don't blame any changes that need to be made on Hubby and I. We aren't the ones who neglected, traumatized, deprived and abused Buddy. It is our job, as his parents, to help him move forward.

I am sorry that we haven't been open with what we deal with, it would have been better if we had shared more with you so we could have avoided the situation we are in. We are struggling to balance the fact that Buddy's story isn't ours to tell with sharing enough to help the people that love him understand that he is not happy and healthy, no matter how he seems on the surface. He is actually a very broken little boy.

I love you and I hope you will have time to check the article out.

Mama Bear