Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Where we are in 2 months

The girls are adjusting well, and I thought I'd write a couple of updates about how they're doing with English, Reading, Math, etc.   There are some definite differences in English acquisition - and I thought it might help for others to hear how they're doing.  Both girls are similar in aptitude, (very bright) so I think there are some definite factors other than age at play in their progress.

Factor 1:  Sarah has a Chinese speaker in her class, and she is definitely lagging in English acquisition because of this.  Jenny is completely immersed each day, and has much better understanding of conversation.   Their reading is progressing at roughly the same rate - but since Jenny had an understanding of general English phonics (th, ch, sh sounds, etc.) before she arrived, she stays ahead.  I think being in the K5 class gives Sarah an edge despite her age, as each day she studies phonics.  Jenny, on the other hand, passively listens most of the time in a 3rd grade class - increasing her auditory comprehension - but not her phonics understanding for reading.  Because of this, I think the ideal situation for an older child is morning school (the mandatory 4 1/2 hours) and then home early with mom to work on basic phonics and reading - she needs 1st grade resources. 

Factor 2:  ESOL has been a HUGE help and my girls qualified for one on one tutoring since they were enrolled early after arriving and had no language skills whatsoever.  My 4 year old was already too proficient when she was old enough for K5 at 5 years old - she did not rate ESOL intervention.  Sarah's teacher was out the first 3 weeks, and Jenny shot past her because of the 1 on 1 help.   

Both girls are able to follow basic math instruction at home, we are working through Grade 3 materials with Jenny.  Measurement and weight is difficult since she is unfamiliar with this as well as Roman numerals.  For now, I have set this aside since it can be memorized quickly when her language skills increase.  She does not "understand" many math concepts, but has progressed in the past through rote memorization of sequential math concepts such as borrowing, etc.  Doing the 3rd grade work and focusing on understanding each basic concept (place value, rounding, etc.) has been helpful and worthwhile so that she understands what she's doing.  We are "plugging holes" and skipping what she knows well.

At 11 years old, the 1st grade work is too easy for Jenny, but still needs to be covered at a faster pace.  While she has some of her phonics sounds, she has not covered punctuation basics such as periods, question marks, capital letters, etc.  She has never encountered "igh," "oa," "ow," etc., and needs to understand double vowels and silent letters.  So we will plow through some 1st grade books - again - to plug holes.  They are reading the 2nd set of "Bob Books" after 2 months - I think that's amazing!

Not surprisingly, both girls approach reading from a whole language perspective, so while they're making fast gains, they're unable to differentiate between sight words and decoding words.  While I've been able to explain this to Jenny, Sarah can't quite comprehend this yet, and often tries to separate the "th" sounds, etc, to "t" and "h."  English is so confusing!! 

Handwriting has been HUGE and we use the BJU Press videos for this.  It gives them a feeling of success, it is their favorite thing to do, and reportedly develops brain wiring similarly to piano playing.  It also instills a sense of excellence as I expect good work from them.  They are so proud of how well they write now, and it's worth the resistance to high expectations at first.  Unlike reading, it's a quick mastery item, and it's wonderful to see them grow in confidence! My dd adopted at 5 years old loved handwriting, too!

I LOVE the youTube songs for months of the year, days of the week, and shapes!  The girls love anything learned through song - and it's so helpful for memory items.  I only wish there were better ones out there for measurements!!

I model a lot of conversational quips that are useful in everyday life:  "May I please have...,"  "I need a.....,"  "Can you help me.....," "Where is....,".  These are great exercises in the car when driving.  "I am hungry," "I am thirsty," "I am tired," - they love doing charades to these. :)  When I'm tired, I don't do this, and we don't make as much progress.  These kids are hungry to learn, and it's hard to keep up with them.  They were asking to do school on Sunday!  Since they're so enthusiastic most of the time, I also try to note when they have their own tired days and just find something else to do so they don't get discouraged. I am so glad to have Emily helping twice a week, as I am definitely the first to give out - and need a break from round the clock learning!

Both girls only speak in English now - even to each other.  It's interesting as it makes it difficult to communicate sometimes, and I wonder why they do it?! (why not just ease into Chinese when you need to?)   When we visit Chinese friends, they will speak Chinese easily and happily - just not with each other.  It's very interesting and I can't wait till their English is better so I can understand more of their thoughts.  Sarah has told me some interesting story bits that make no sense - and I'm curious to know what she's trying to convey! 

I don't know if this is helpful or just boring - but I was very curious as to the English acquisition of other kids as they got home - so wanted to give others an idea of where we are.   Blessings, Kim

Friday, April 13, 2012


 Is it just me or is this kiddo cute?? 

She's so stinkin' cute that I kept forgetting to make that appointment to get her an eye prosthesis!  As a matter of fact, we've gotten kind of attached to the little smiley and "winky" look of her small eye that matches her endless look of joy and cheerfulness.  People (especially children) often stare and ask curious questions - which always surprises us since we don't notice it all.  She has asked several times about getting an eye prosthesis, however, so I finally made the appointment this week and just the two of us headed out to see about how it all works. 

During the drive - out of nowhere - she began to explain to me in very broken English how she came to be an orphan.  She told me that where she is from, "mama no like one eye, so no mama."  She followed it up with an explanation that the same held for her sister with "one ear - mama no like - so no mama and baba."  The timing was of concern to me since she felt the need to talk about this on the way to seeing about "a new eye."  I also wondered how she had come to this conclusion or if someone had spoken to her about it.  She was very matter of fact and didn't seem sad about it which was also surprising.  I reassured her we loved her just the way she was, and knew she was our daughter from the first moment we saw her.

When we arrived at our appointment, and the doc brought out the "pretty new eye," she was reluctant to let him try it out.  He suggested we come back and watch an older girl get hers cleaned and put back in.   It was an easy process - took less than a few seconds - and the older girl's eye looked fabulous.  But our little one was still reluctant and when asked if she really wanted the prosthesis, all she could say was, "I don't know."  So we left.

I just don't think I can make this decision for her - particularly after our conversation.  She knows that we can get her a prosthesis any time she wants - but suddenly it doesn't seem to matter to her any more.  During our first week together, she asked if she could come to the U.S., get an eye, and then go back home.   I wonder if she thinks the eye means she's done here?  With such difficulty communicating - it's hard to know what these little ones worry about - and this sweet girl seems happy every day with her new life.   It must bother her to answer questions about her eye all the time - but she is such a beauty just the way she is - and we want her to know that.

Some days I can't believe how blessed we are to have these treasures come into our lives - and I'm sad that they and many others lay hidden for so long.  I'm amazed at their courage and willingness to adapt so quickly to all the changes in their lives.  And while Jenny can push my buttons (and everyone else's) with her complaining and counting, and Sarah has more energy than 5 nuclear plants, we can't imagine life without them.  It scares me to think what might have been if we hadn't stepped out one more time.  What a boring life we would have had...

Today I sat on the porch and listened to them singing their Jesus songs on the swingset and just thanked God for my blessings.  I'd like to post my struggles, but other than petty irritations and occasional exhaustion from requests to "look at me, Mom" for the 50th time in one minute - it's been a really easy transition.  (maybe I've just forgotten all the bad spots like we do with labor and delivery?)

If you're reading this, Kimi and Vicky, I hope your girls do just as well.  I'll be praying you through your trips.  Blessings, Kim

"Rejoice in the Lord always.  Again, I say rejoice!" Philippians 4:4

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Adopting two at once

Adopting two children at once was the best thing we ever did.  It has been harder in some ways - on both sides - but there are so many more blessings as well.

The shock and fear of the transition was greatly reduced for our daughters.  I was replying to a friend this morning,  telling her that I missed that "depth of communication" with my new children, and I realized that they still have that with each other.  Can you imagine having no one to pour your heart out to?  It must be a lonely first few months for an older child.  Older children have more complex worries - school, communication, future concerns, friendships, and without having someone to listen, it must be very hard.

Our daughters also help each other with perplexing situations.  They laugh together over miscommunications - and help the other when one solves the charade more quickly.  They understand the language issues better as they come up double time vs. one at a time.  They feel successful when they alternately guess right and help their sister.  They bring different gifts and struggles and recognize they are not alone in this.   They see another child struggle with language and realize it's not hopeless - just a process.

They are able to see how unpleasant behavior in their new sibling causes discomfort for all.  Watching another child tantrum makes it less attractive as a personal behavioral choice.  They learn from each others' good and poor choices.  There is less training and teaching involved as they learn from watching.

Most of all, they realize that they are not alone in their beginnings.  They understand that there are other children, hidden treasures like they were, in other places.  They are not abandoned, but human beings with great worth and purpose- special enough to have God personally reach across the oceans and move minds and hearts in far away places.

The downsides are jealousy, sharing of attention, and not having the spotlighted, single entry into the family.  But these are also issues that come up with singles - and then the problem is usually the newly adopted child versus "home kiddos." There's much less insecurity with two new kiddos about less toys, clothes, etc., when you realize your new sister is in the same boat.  They realize it's late arrival- not favoring - that causes the unequal material possessions.  Having had toddler twins many years ago, we recognized the importance of exactly equal gifts for the most part, and duplicate birthday cakes this year, lol.  While this won't always be the case, we know that better communication and family skill maturity in the future will allow us to develop the security and confidence they'll need to be more separated as individuals.  For now, we need to keep things as equally perceived as possible.

Prayer has been the biggest help in this adoption.  We have asked for it continuously, fellow believers have prayed for us faithfully, and the Church as a whole set aside time to pray for our new daughters in the service the other day.  We tried to rationalize it away, but our daughter has been at peace - and so happy since that service, not a term we would have used to characterize her in the past month.

I also ignored the impassioned (and sometimes nasty) admonitions from others who warned against traveling alone with my 11 year old dd.  She was more help than 10 adults, and like my new daughters together here in America, gave me someone to talk to and laugh with in English. We had a WONDERFUL adventure - the best time we've ever had!  I can't imagine how different my trip would have been if I'd listened to anonymous internet experts who didn't know my daughter or how capable and wonderful she is.

Also, many families posted "must sees" and "must do's."  We are all different - keep that in mind.  2,000 years of history in a medieval town wasn't worth my daughters puking for 3 hours in a car.  We chose the not so exciting for me - but really exciting for my girls - aquarium that was 5  min. away, followed by McDonalds and a pic next to the Ronald McDonald statue.  (They still delight in that picture and meal.)  I canceled every temple and other visit for the rest of the week and spent time at Walmart in the toy and puzzle aisle for MUCH less money.  My girls had normal days of TV watching, puzzles and playdough, dancing and coloring.  The trip is about them - not us - take your cues from them and change it up if need be.  There is wonderful information available from veteran travelers - BUT - you know yourself and your family best.  Make your own decisions. 

I read many, many, posts warning against adopting two at once, and wanted to pass along our experience to others who may be on this path.  Ask for help!  Pay for it, use available resources, be a prayer hog.  It is physically and emotionally draining to meet the daily emotional needs of two children with such big changes in their lives - but it gets easier every day.  Putting them in school, even as a homeschooling family, was a huge help to both their and our transition to a new family dynamic.  We are given time to refresh each day while others come alongside and help with the many needs - both in academics and communication (ESOL). 

The medical professionals at our International Adoption Clinic have been wonderful and covered many more bases than in the past.  They now do complete checks - vision, hearing, OT, and every other thing that may have been missed in foster and institutional care.  

We are thankful for the many people who have supported the homecoming of our daughters both in prayer and deed.  While it may not be this easy in every adoption our experience with two has brought more blessings than challenges to both us and our new children.  I have had bad days - mostly of my own making - and the next day I start over since "God's mercies are new (to me) every morning."  Because I accept this for myself, I extend the same to my new daughters whatever the previous day may have held.  I can't imagine the frustration they must feel on a daily basis from the overwhelming changes in their lives.

If God is calling you to this path, do not listen to the naysayers, but listen to Him who will provide all you need each day.   While it may not be this easy, depending on the experiences and challenges of your children, God will equip you and those around you to meet their needs in time and comfort you when you struggle. Blessings, Kim