Our journey to homeschool

A friend asked me recently why I decided to homeschool my son. We decided to homeschool our 5th grade son partially because of the pandemic but primarily after trying other options over the years and exploring both public and private alternatives around us we realized that a hybrid homeschool program is the best schooling option for him. After looking into several schools my husband and I felt that only one school in our area of San Jose, CA was a reasonable fit for our son. Let me repeat that: only one school near us was fit for our son. It is a public charter school that you get in by lottery. The school has a hybrid homeschool program where kids are in school just 2 days a week with a teacher and homeschooling 3 days.

You might ask, “What is wrong with your son that other schools weren’t a fit for him?” but that’s the wrong question to be asking. The question we all need to start asking is, “What is wrong with our schools that a boy like my son doesn’t belong in most of them?”

Let me tell you about my boy. He like many kids today that I’ve seen at our public schools has ADHD and struggles with anxiety. He does best in a class that is well controlled and structured. When my son’s anxiety is big he has a hard time managing his emotions. In school he doesn’t thrive in the core subjects (math & writing) but he manages slightly below grade level and does well with one-on-one tutoring or small groups of kids with similar needs. He is a really great reader, better than most with outstanding reading comprehension. In his writing he has a lot to say on certain subjects and his stories are incredibly creative, however his organizational skills are sometimes lacking and he might possibly be dyslexic, but our school district doesn’t test for dyslexia so I’m not certain. He knows an amazing amount of history, particularly WWII history (all self taught.) He enjoys learning about other countries, science and doing hands on experiments. He has a HUGE imagination! He learns best through role play and creative play. At home he often draws and he creates stop animations of actual WWII battles using his Lego mini figures and doing his own voice overs. He learned to do all of this primarily on his own. He is driven to learn about things that he is interested about, yet most schools around us don’t support him.

Why is that? As an active parent volunteer in the public school system I have witnessed some things over the past six years and I have some theories on this.

Public schools in San Jose, CA cater to the average kids and active ADHD kids aren’t average since they often fall behind in reading, writing and math, the subjects that they push really hard at school due to Common Core testing on those subjects. Kids who excel in those subjects aren’t average either and often end up bored in public school; they might thrive in a private school where academic standards are often higher but private schools like that would be a nightmare for a kid like ours. Girls tend to fair better in school overall than active boys who crave movement and have a lower tolerance for sitting still for longer periods of time. Class sizes in the elementary classrooms are too big for any one teacher at 25 kids or higher. The schools that allow parent volunteers to come into the classrooms to help manage kids do better, however many schools don’t have enough parent involvement and since Covid hit, districts like ours no longer allow parents to help out on public school campuses. Kids will suffer from that decision. Common Core State Standards were implemented to strive to get all kids to the same academic level at the same time but this goal is unrealistic. Richer districts with more parent participation have a greater chance at success since teachers are getting help in the classroom but regardless of how much parents do or don’t do, all kids (rich or poor) learn differently and develop at different rates and no amount of parent participation addresses that.

Last year during the Covid school shutdown I got an even clearer view of what was expected of kids inside the classroom. Because my son was having such a hard time I sat with him and helped him while he was online from 9:05-3:15 which was the required time on Zoom calls these kids were asked to endure. I saw his anxiety appear daily due to the teacher giving lessons that were far too long for kids with ADHD to follow and assigning work that with unrealistic expectations. So great was the focus on math and writing there was little time left over for science, social studies or the arts. The teacher seemed to have little choice in this as she was constantly having to prep the kids for the next math and writing assessments. My son’s IEP small groups were not very helpful either as the kids in those groups had a widely diverse set of needs and many times the needs being catered to them were not what my son needed. The only benefits in those IEP small groups were that occasionally he got individualized help from his teacher and he got regular interaction with his peers. Had I not seen first hand what was going on last year I wouldn’t have known what a poor fit this school environment was for my son and I wouldn’t have switched to a homeschool program.

His new hybrid homeschool is a much better fit for him for many reasons. The class size is smaller with only 19 kids. The work he gets now in school is at an appropriate level for him so he isn’t overwhelmed by it and learning is led by the students’ interests. Kids don’t have to participate in regular math and writing assessments, therefore, being slightly below grade level in some areas is acceptable so long as he is continually learning and moving forward in those areas. Writing work is geared toward his interests not topics strictly assigned by the teacher. The teacher is firm but kind. There is a lot of play based learning and little to no worksheets given for kids to do as they do mostly hands on exercises.  He is given time in school to interact with his classmates and have a snack. There is no homework given leaving time for more play based learning outside of school. Quiet reading time is given in the classroom after recess to ease in transitioning back to learning time. At home my lessons with him are catered to his needs and are way more effective than his group IEP was. The focus is more evenly distributed between math, reading/writing, science, art, social studies and P.E. Due to all of these things I am not seeing the anxiety at school that I saw last year (or in previous years for that matter), nor am I’m getting push back from him in the writing or math assignments that I am giving him at home. It’s a complete turn around from last year. My son loves school now and he’s learning a lot!

We know that we are lucky for so many reasons, the primary one being that we can afford for me to not work and that I have the ability to teach my son and give him this kind of education. We are also fortunate that we got a good number in this school’s lottery! It would be nice if everybody who wanted to homeschool their child could do it. But my wish is this: I wish that all schools got rid of Common Core Standards and more schools offered hybrid homeschool programs or 5 day a week in school programs using the model that my son’s current school does. I would love to send my kid to in person school 5 days a week but the types of schools like the one I’m looking for are rare or nonexistent in most areas.

Our plan is to continue to either homeschool our son at the school he’s at or find some other non-traditional teaching solution for his middle and high school years for as long as we are able to. When he does transition into middle school next year not even the homeschool program he is currently in will be an ideal fit as middle school class sizes reduce to much smaller sizes (this year’s middle school homeschool class is just 9 kids). Families opt out of homeschooling in middle school for different reasons: parents not wanting to educate beyond elementary school years or opting out since the school doesn’t offer sports or other after school activities that some kids want at that age. My son may be lacking as many peers in class to interact with next year. If anyone knows of a middle or high school in their city or town similar to the ideal one that I was describing please let me know about it as we would consider relocating!

Letting go of expectations

Yesterday I turned 51. This was the second birthday I celebrated since Covid began in the U.S. I feel as though I’ve been through several marathons and aged about 20 years since last year. A year ago on my birthday I wanted to surround myself virtually with family and friends via multiple Zoom video calls. This year was different. After a very tough year of dealing with Covid and everything else surrounding it my husband and I also dealt with (and are still dealing with) behavioral issues from my 9-year-old son which resulted in countless multi-hour, meltdowns throughout the year. I had no energy or patience left for Zoom. Instead I chose to spend my day solely with my husband and son and opted to go out for a hike in nature instead – something that I love to do.

I had a great birthday morning at home. My husband and son made me feel special by decorating the house for me and had gifts for me to open. They treated me well. I also enjoyed getting various phone calls and messages from friends and family throughout the day. Yet, the afternoon of my birthday did not go as I’d hoped it would as my son had a big meltdown which disrupted our afternoon and my vision of a perfect birthday. These expectations of how I feel things ‘should’ go are a problem as things rarely ever go as planned for anyone – especially for those living with a willful, defiant child. There is a simple equation for this: Expectations = Disappointment = Unhappiness.

During this past year this simple equation has become more and more in my face as I’ve told myself countless times that I would benefit greatly by letting go of my expectations. But my brain can not help but remain hopeful. I somehow think that if I just try hard enough I’ll be able to figure things out and control the outcome. Whether it be the problem of my son’s behavior or anything else. I’ll try to fix it, to make everything alright, but I am slowly learning that that this kind of thinking is not at all realistic and perhaps the most important thing for me to do right now is to let go of any expectations of how the outcome of something is going to turn out and to be OK with whatever it is now and whatever it becomes in the future. When I am able to successfully do this, I notice that I free myself from possible disappointment and in the end I am happier.

Yesterday, on my birthday, I WAS able to let go of my expectations. Instead of getting upset as I often do when my child blows up (in this case right when we were getting into the car to leave the house for our hike), instead of reacting as I might have done in the past, I stepped away and let my husband handle the meltdown and I took my cellphone to our backyard. I laid down on the grass and looked up toward the big walnut tree in our backyard and basked in the sunshine and talked on the phone with my sister. Sure there was some yelling and screaming happening in the background of our phone call at times. Sure I was annoyed that we weren’t leaving for the hike when we planned to leave for it and we actually left much later than I would have liked. However there was nothing to really do about any of it and in that moment in the grass talking with my sister I was as present and as real as I could get. I simply let it all go – and was fine with it – even slightly blissful if I dare say.

No Expectations = Fulfillment = Joy

If 2020 was a year of survival and of hanging on to unrealistic expectations that couldn’t possibly come to fruition; perhaps 2021 can be a more realistic and accepting year. May this be a year of letting go of dreams that didn’t happen just as we wanted them to. Let this be a year of whatever we end up with in the end is still alright and that we can grieve our losses but still be grateful for what we’ve got now. It might not be a year that we envisioned or as pretty looking on the outside as we’d want it to be, but it will be one that is a lot more freeing, realistic and real.

The need to know

Nine years ago today was the day we first brought our boy home with us from the hospital. We’ve been telling our son his birth story since the day we brought him home so it has never been news to him. If you were to ask my son about his adoption story he would be very comfortable telling you about it and about his birthparents as they are as familiar to him as his aunts and uncles.

I am so thankful that we took this open approach with my son and that he knows where he came from. Every adoptive child is different in their want or need to know about their birth family but I can tell you with certainty that OUR son is glad to know.

We recognize this through his favorite stuffed animal, Blue Dog who has been at our house since just before our son’s birth. Usually when someone gives me or my son a gift I am good about remembering who gave it to us and when it came into our house. However, in the case of our son’s favorite stuffy, I can not for the life of me remember who it came from and my son is really, REALLY bothered by that. He has asked me repeatedly over the years who gave him Blue Dog and despite my narrowing it down to the packages I received right before he was born I haven’t been able to pin point the sender.

“Ma, think!” He will say, “You must know who. Just ASK some people!” Which I have! There were a few people that gave us a bunch of stuff right before our son was born and I’ve asked them all, one friend even as recently as this month, yet still I have no clue of his origins.

“Why do you care so much where he came from?” I’ll ask.
“Because I’d want to thank them for him,” he says.
“But isn’t the important thing that he is here now for you?” I’ll ask.
“Yeah, but I still want to know where he came from!” he’ll say.

OK. There is no arguing with that. It’s his favorite stuffy after all. But I told him that this is something he may need to accept that we won’t ever know.

In my head I say silently to myself, “Thank goodness we did an open adoption!” Thank goodness this is a stuffy we are talking about and not his birthparents we are trying to find since he obviously cares very much about a things source.

In terms of his stuffy, sometimes I think it’s actually better not knowing its sender. Instead we can envision that Blue Dog divinely appeared in our house 9 years ago and was placed charmingly inside his crib to be there for my son to love.

At least that’s the current story I’ll tell my son and I plan to stick to it unless I hear otherwise!

Do YOU know where his loved Blue Dog came from?

Adoptive mother: Broken hearts

This past weekend I crushed my 7 year old’s heart…and my husband’s…and mine too while I was at it. It was quite the productive weekend.

This heart bashing event was the grand finale of my son’s begging for a dog which went on for months and intensified as the weeks passed by. I felt massive guilt with this dog begging because I knew a pet would be good for my son as he’s an only child – it would be a sibling for him. However, I really did not want a dog. I know dogs are cute and sweet and you get attached to them and I hear you learn to ignore the mess and inconvenience but frankly I didn’t want to deal with the walks, the poop, the mess in the house, the scrapes on doors and furniture and basically all of the added responsibility and expense that dog ownership brings. I was finally gaining some freedom back in my life from years of raising a young child and I want the ability to be able to just go somewhere when I want to go and not have to come back to let the dog out or arrange for a dog sitter. And unfortunately cats and any other dander producing, furry friends which might be less impacting are not an option for us due to my allergies.

So weeks and weeks of my son’s begging finally caused me to cave and I said I’d be open to a dog under the stipulation that the dog was a smaller, non-shedding dog. And we began our dog hunt.

The whole dog search experience brought back memories of our adoption search for our son. I know this sounds crazy but it’s really not that dissimilar a process although on a much less expensive and shorter time scale. Like adopting a child, adopting a pet is an overwhelming process for a new pet owner as there is so much to learn and decide. First you need to research breeds of dogs you want which isn’t much different from deciding the race of your child. There is also much to learn about the differences between shelters and other rescue organizations you choose to work with much like differences I found in organizations in adopting a child. You feel good about certain organizations and not so good about others. How the organization operates is super important as well and how they handle placements that don’t work out. Also, after looking around and waiting for awhile your criteria for what you will accept in your animal (or adopted child) begins to change. So after several weeks of looking around for a non-shedding, small dog which are hard to find I realized that perhaps it was more important and cost effective to have a shedding dog with a mellow personality from an organization that we felt good about.

So after picking the organization we liked, which primarily accepted well tempered rescue dogs, we chose to visit their most recent batch of dogs. That’s when we met Luke. Luke was a mixed breed shedding dog and couldn’t have been sweeter. We got to visit with him at a neighborhood home in a peaceful environment and take him for a walk. We all got good feelings about him and liked him very much so we decided to give it a go.

Once we got Luke home it became very clear that having a dog was going to completely change our lives. Our son was no longer the center or our world – now this dog was. We learned right away that Luke must have been cared for at his shelter by a female as he followed me around (the only female in the house) like a shadow. At first it was very cute and endearing but then the reality of what I had just agreed to take on became very overwhelming to me. I began to retreat and I froze up. I felt paralyzed in my own home and this sweet, loving creature somehow made my living space feel very small. I began to wonder if I would get used to things over time but inside my gut was screaming that I didn’t want to get used to this. All the while my son and husband were bonding more and more with this loving new found furry family member.

After one very restless night and after going to church solo the next morning and reflecting on my predicament, I decided I needed to be honest with myself and my family and fess up about my feelings. Telling my son and husband that I didn’t want this dog was quite possibly one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. In just a few short minutes my son’s innocent little heart and dream of having a dog was squelched. I saw visible disappointment from my animal loving husband. I truly felt like the worst person in the world.

After lots of crying from my son, myself and misty eyes from Scott after dropping the dog off at a foster home, we are all recovering from this today. We truly hope that Luke lands in a good loving home where ALL the family members are on board – he deserves nothing but the best.

Adoptive mother: My son, the donkey

I heard an interesting talk a few Sundays ago from the reverend at my church (cslsj.org) about a monkey trying to get a donkey to climb a tree. The monkey kept getting frustrated again and again in his seemingly endless pursuit. The reverend’s point in short was that often we, monkeys, try to get others, donkeys, to do or think what we want them to do or think when really what we need is more monkeys. That’s so true. How many times in our lives have we wanted donkeys to be monkeys and visa versa? I’m totally a monkey and I’m trying to push my son, the donkey, up a tree. I want him to be more like me when he’s not.

My son is GREAT just as he is. He’s an adorable, healthy, innocent boy with lots of personality, energy and intelligence. I’m truly blessed. Yet as his parent there is sometimes a contradiction going on because I think that he would be great IF he actually tried at things he did, or IF he actually listened to me. (AKA: came up in the tree with me which mostly he does not do because he’s doing his own darn stubborn thing on the ground!)

As an adoptive parent of a child who is quite different from me, it’s easy for me to get wrapped up in the fact that my son does not have my genes and therefore is not like me in many ways. But really, as my husband pointed out, does this matter when raising a child? Isn’t the point of raising a child, any child not just an adopted one, to raise him or her to be the best person that he or she can be even when sometimes he or she seems nothing like you and pushes you to the limit daily. I have friends with biological children that might attest that their children too can be donkey’s in their lives and I’m certain my parents would tell me at many points while raising me and even today that I was or am a donkey in their lives.

I believe it’s the ego that desires the children we raise to resemble ourselves. To be Mini-Me’s, which is why I think many adoptive parents need to mourn the loss of having their own biological children. I know first hand what that grieving period was like, yet I didn’t expect that after 6 years of raising my adopted son my ego would still being desiring that my son take after me at least a little bit.

I wonder if my path would be an easier one if I lived with someone who was more similar to me vs. living with someone who’s sometimes more of my polar opposite which can be utterly exhausting. Being female and raising a boy can feel overwhelming for any mom; we all know the saying, “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus.” Well having an adopted child of the opposite sex sometimes adds complexity to this saying because it can feel like your child is not only from a different planet but is also from another galaxy!

Finding a way to deal with and to embrace my child’s uniqueness has been a process for me, one in which I’m clearly still working on but I know it’s worth the effort or I risk being continually disappointed throughout my life. I believe all parents need to grapple with this at some point, both adoptive and biological. We all must let go of wanting our children to be carbon copies of ourselves and push our egos aside because there is nothing wrong with a child that is vastly different than us. On the positive side it can be very eye opening and enlightening seeing the world from such a different perspective from your own. Being able to let go of our own desires and expectations and embrace what we have allows us to stop fighting endless battles with our children and gives them allowance to be the unique beings that they are.

Whether our child is the donkey, the monkey, or a creature from a different galaxy altogether he or she can the live his or her life to their fullest potential without interference from us because we’ll no longer be getting in their way pushing him or her to be different; instead we’ll simply be watching our child shine.

Adoptive mother: 20 questions

We had time to kill in the car this past weekend during a recent road trip so my son suggested we play the 20 questions game. In this game a person thinks of someone and doesn’t tell the other person who they are thinking of and the other person(s) tries to guess who that person is thinking of by asking questions that are answered with either ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ I love and hate this game simultaneously (love because I like games but hate because if I don’t guess the person in a reasonable amount of time I find the game to be very annoying.) Keep in mind playing with my 6-years-old adds complexity to the game because I need to factor in that some of the answers he is providing me may not be accurate. Reluctantly I agreed to play. My son informs me he is thinking of someone.

“Is it a girl?” I ask, since we’ve just come from one of his girl friend’s birthday party. “No,” he replies.

“Is it a man?” I ask. “Yes,” he replies.

“Does he live in San Luis Obispo?” I ask, thinking it may be his girl friend’s father. “No.” he replies.

“Does he live in California?” I ask, thinking that will at least narrow down how I might know this man. “Yes,” my son replies. (Now a red flag should have come up for me when asking this question since I know that often my son confuses California with the greater USA; however, I mistakenly assume my son’s answer is accurate and I go on.)

“Does he live in our neighborhood?” I ask. “No,” he says.

“Does he have kids?” I ask. “No,” he says. What man without kids would my son be thinking of? Any California relatives on Scott’s side of the family that would be on our son’s mind would have kids. I need to take a new angle to figure this out.

“Does he work with Daddy?” I ask, taking a different tact and trying to figure out the connection of how I possibly know this man. “No,” he says.

“Is he friends with Daddy?” I ask. “He’s friends with ALL THREE of us,” he says (breaking the ‘yes/no’ answer rule.) This throws me for a loop. Now I am really confused.

A man, living in California, that doesn’t live in our neighborhood, doesn’t have kids, or work with Daddy, and is friends with all three of us… who is this man? I rack my brain for possible people repeating everything my son has confirmed about this man out loud a few times. Annoyed, I ask help from Scott who’s been listening the whole time from the driver’s seat. “Do you know of anyone that meets that description Scott, someone without kids?”

“Well he did HAVE a baby,” pipes up our son from the back seat, in which I respond, “Wait, you told me he didn’t have kids!” I’m feeling really annoyed now thinking how could he possibly get the answer to that question incorrect? I wonder if there are other questions he might have answered incorrectly as well. I’m processing this new contradictory statement in my head: he doesn’t have kids but he did have a baby. Did this man’s baby die? Before I could ask anything more, I hear Scott ask, “Is it John?” in which our son shouts triumphantly, “Yes!”

I’m dumbfounded. What? “Really?” I say. John, our son’s birthfather? Other than pictures we show our son we haven’t seen or talked with John in two years! I go over his description again: A man, that doesn’t live in our neighborhood, doesn’t have kids, or work with Daddy, and is friends with all three of us. He doesn’t have kids but had a baby. Of course! It all makes perfect sense now. Brilliant – minus of course the glaring geographical error of saying that he lives in California when he actually lives in New York!

It stuck me later how interesting the incident was because out of nowhere our son surprised us again by thinking of his birth parent at a time when we weren’t expecting it. He also showed us how unconfused and secure he is about his birth story which was evident through the answers he gave to simple questions about his birthfather which essentially described him perfectly: a man who doesn’t have kids, who had a baby, who is friends with all three of us.

Adoptive mother: Goodbye Erie, PA

This month my parents will be moving from my childhood hometown, Erie, PA and will relocate to Cincinnati to be closer to my brother’s family. Naturally this brings up a lot of sadness for me for a variety of reasons.

First and foremost, I will be losing my connection to my hometown and state. Once my parents leave town there will be no other compelling reason for me to go back at that point. Although I have family in a nearby town in New York state only an hour and a half away, my parents not being in Erie eliminates the need to visit Pennsylvania – there are simply too many other places to see in this world. If and when I return there someday (perhaps for nostalgia purposes) I know it just won’t be the same without Mom and Dad there.

Secondly, it will be harder to maintain regular face-to-face visits with my son’s birthparents and my extended family in New York state. Once Mom and Dad leave Pennsylvania, visiting my extended relatives in New York also will lessen as will visiting with my son’s birthparents who live near their same town. As much as I love my cousins and aunts and uncles in New York and my son’s birthparents, visiting them will not take precedent over visiting my own parents, brother and sister who live in other states and Scott and I are both really saddened by this. We know we have been so fortunate to have been able to form such strong connections with both my extended family and our son’s birthparents for as long as we have. It will be interesting to see how we manage keeping in touch with our New York family going forward. I’m hopeful that technology such as Facetime or Skype will be able to make this transition a little less painful.

Finally, I’m saddened by the underlying reason as to why my parents chose to give up their home. My parents are well aware that the next phase of their lives (they are in their 70’s) is going to involve them needing a lot more help from family which wasn’t going to happen in Pennsylvania since their three children are spread out all around the country. I am saddened that this move required them to give up their home and leave town in order to do this but I’m also so proud of them for being proactive in their lives and making this change while they are still healthy and able to create new lives for themselves in their new location. They have the foresight to plan ahead when so many others wait for tragedy to happen to dictate a move. This doesn’t make the reality of the situation any easier for me though which is basically this: my parents, like all of us, are getting older and one day in the not too distant future they aren’t going to be here. My heart aches when I think about that.

Top things I will miss about Erie, PA:

  • Going to Presque Isle (the beaches, bike paths and the hiking trails. I spent so much time there growing up.)
  • Seeing big snow (Nothing beats a snow day at Mom and Dad’s house!)
  • Canoeing in the lagoons near the boat rental on Presque Isle (I learned to canoe properly doing the J-stroke while working at the boat rental in my high school years. It is so peaceful in the lagoons. I love it there.)
  • Being able to windsurf and sail on Lake Erie and watching the sunsets over the lake
  • Flying in and out of the Erie airport on a propeller plane (I loved flying in and out of Erie because it was so convenient and personable. My sister and I were once paged by name to hurry up and get on the plane before it took off! Only in a small town – in a big city they just leave you. Will I ever fly in a propeller plane again?)
  • Eating Macintosh apples from a local cider mill (Dad, remember flying into California with a luggage full of apples from Erie and you somehow managed to bypass California’s agricultural inspection station?!)
  • Witnessing the leaves changing in the fall time – so beautiful! (Especially the sea of yellow leaves in the back of my parent’s house.)
  • Cruising the public dock and seeing the Flagship Niagara docked near by
  • Going to the Erie zoo (I have many fond memories of going there as a child and hearing the lion roar from our house, which wasn’t far away.)
  • Being able to drive to different states easily which isn’t possible from where we live in California (especially visiting the cities: Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Buffalo.)
  • And lastly, of course, running into the remaining friends and acquaintances I know there!

Goodbye Erie 🙁

Adoptive mother: Yes I Can?

My shin and foot are not very happy right now. I was attempting to break a board with a round kick in taekwondo yesterday (a board breaking kick I had done once successfully earlier in the week) but I wasn’t positioned correctly this time when I hit the board, as a result I banged my shin and foot resulting in some nice bruises. Needless to say, my confidence which was already somewhat uncertain taking on a new sport is now completely shaken.

Is it a coincidence that the life lesson for the months of March and April at Victory school happens to be ‘Belief?’ I don’t think so. I think life has a way of presenting things to you at times when you need them. And clearly I do need to believe in myself right now.

On thinking about my shaken confidence I realize that this feeling, the one opposite of belief, the one that says “Oh you can try and try and try but that’s not going to happen for you,” is one that I’m familiar with in my life. Many people are faced with their our own version(s) of this scenario in their lives. My biggest struggles over the last decade have been in dealing with infertility, and in more recent years, parenting a child who can be challenging at times. In dealing with these experiences, I know firsthand that sometimes you can try and try and believe that things will work out and despite your best efforts to make changes and succeed sometimes things don’t work out the way you expect. So I’m really struggling with the ‘Yes I can’ thing right now.

“Stinkin’ thinkin’!” I learned that phrase in taekwondo yesterday. Stinkin’ thinkin’ is when you have those thoughts that start making you believe you can’t do things. So what are you supposed to do when those thoughts come up? Respond with, “YES I CAN!” according to the Victory school instructor.

But what if you can’t? Let’s look again at those things that have shaken my confidence. Did I actually fail in either of the things I’ve been struggling with in regards to dealing with infertility and in trying to tame a challenging child?

I supposed I failed in having a baby the traditional way but did I fail in the final outcome, of having a child? No! Thanks to adoption and my son’s birthparents I have a beautiful, healthy and very strong willed/strong personality kid who has so many amazing and endearing qualities about him alongside his more challenging ones and I love him so much. But am I failing as a mother when my son is still sometimes quite defiant despite all efforts we’ve put into helping him manage his emotions? My logical side says “no,” since dealing with behavior issues is challenging and takes time and my son is still so young, but my emotional side at times feels like a failure.

I suppose this is where faith and/or belief MUST come into play. Can I choose to believe I can help my son deal with his emotions overtime? Can I choose to believe that I can break that board again in taekwondo without hurting my foot? I’d like to think yes on both accounts and that I’m a strong enough person to believe that things will work out in the end so long as I keep believing and trying, but I’d be lying if I said this isn’t a huge struggle for me.

Adoptive mother: Book review

As an adoptive parent I’m always keeping an eye out for children’s books that are out there which resonate with our own son’s adoption story. Because adoption stories can vary from each other tremendously there aren’t a lot out there that resonate with each family’s story. Until the other day I had only one children’s book on adoption on my bookshelf, which is a decent one, but again, because it gets specific in the details in the story of what happened on the night of that one particular adopted child’s birth, it doesn’t capture our story the way I would like. Keep in mind also that the type of adoption that took place (example: international vs. domestic vs. foster care) vary tremendously from each other. So finding a good children’s book for an adopted child is really no easy task.

With that said I’d like to give a shout out to a new children’s book sent to me by Blue Slip Media (to be released on April 25) called Wonderful You by Lauren McLaughlin. This story resonated with me because the focus of the book centers around the concept of an open adoption where a birthmother searches for and selects the parents for her unborn child.

The moment I opened up the cover of the book I was intrigued by the bright and vibrant colors. As an artist I appreciate good artwork and the illustrations by Meilo So are truly beautifully done. Each page is its own masterpiece.

The story begins with the introduction of the birthmother, ‘a lady in blue,’ who is looking all over the world for the parents for her unborn girl. A couple of pages in she spots the parents-to-be in which they exclaim, “Can it be? Is she looking for us? Is it finally time?” (At this point in the story I had tears welling up in my eyes remembering this defining moment for us and the intense longing that many adoptive parents feel in desperately wanting to love a child and start their own family but having to wait to be picked.) A page or two later the book touches on how carefully the birthmother was about being sure the home she was picking for her child was a good fit. “‘Will you love her,’ she asked, ‘every morning and night?’” (OK now I was a crying blubbering mess! What a beautiful way to exemplify the love a birthmother feels for her child.)

The story goes on for several pages with the girl growing into a toddler then a young child and the adoptive family is shown having lots of fun together doing various activities and living life together as a true family. Near the back of the book ‘a woman in blue’ shows up again on a faraway perch up in the sky watching over her child and her parents as they get ready for bed. The book ends with the adoptive family of three playing lovingly together.

I have read this book a half a dozen times now and I love it despite the fact that I can’t seem to get through it without shedding at least one tear. I’ve shared it just once so far with my son who seemed to enjoy it. His only comment throughout the book said in his sweet little voice was, “Don’t cry Mommy,” which he is used to saying whenever I tell him about the days surrounding his birth.

If your family was formed through an open adoption or if you are thinking of giving a gift to another adoptive family who went through an open adoption this book really is an absolute must. It may even be appropriate for families of international adoptions as well although birthmothers would likely be more mystical characters to the children vs. reality since the process is done so differently. Either way, this book is a nice addition for both children and adults in the adoption community.

Note: Although Blue Slip Media contacted me to consider reviewing this new book for them it was not at all an obligation and reviewing the book was purely voluntary on my part with no money exchanged. I am happy passing along adoption resources that help other adoptive families or bring them joy.

Adoptive mother: The ‘Adoption’ card

My husband and I have always been aware that sooner or later along our journey of raising an adopted child, statements and questions would arise from our son or from others that would sometimes be painful, hurtful or throw us for a loop. Like ‘Wild’ cards in the game of UNO, these statements usually tend to occur at moments when we least expect them. The first one I remember being on the receiving end of was an offhand comment from my sweet niece who asked an innocent question about “who my son’s ‘real Mom’ was.” Being a relatively new Mom at the time, I remember her comment really stung, but at the same time I knew to keep things in perspective and that there was no hurt intended from the comment but it was simply a 8-year-old trying to understand adoption and wanting to know more about her cousin’s birthmother.

Tonight, another one of these zingers got thrown at both my husband and I unexpectedly by our 5-year-old son just after we told him that he wasn’t going to get a snack after dinner. (In the game of delaying going to bed, the ‘Wanting a Snack’ card has been his most recent one that he has been playing nightly.) We are used to the typical counters coming from our son like: “You’re terrible parents,” and “I hate you both,” and even (Scott’s favorite) “You’re the cry makers!” But tonight his response to our denial was a new one, spewed out in a moment of rage… “You’re not the adoptive parents I was supposed to have!”

Now this is never a statement adoptive parents want to hear and in the past something like this would have surely cut deep and brought on an avalanche of tears. However, tonight I must have had my protective coat of armour on or perhaps I’m just secure enough in motherhood now to know that he really didn’t mean what he said because to my surprise, my reaction after hearing this statement for the first time didn’t involve pain or tears, but rather it was one of amusement and admiration. I actually smiled to myself when he said it and thought, “Wow! The angles our son is now taking to try to gain the upper hand in our game is actually quite astonishing. He actually played the ‘Adoption’ card for the first time!”

We know it’s normal for other kids to say all kind of mean things to their parents when they don’t get what they want and our kid is no exception. Except for the fact that he really, REALLY wants control, so much so that we needed to get help from a therapist to help us outsmart him since traditional methods of gaining the upper hand were not working for us. So, thanks to our training on dealing with our son’s outbursts, neither my husband nor I had a reaction to his comment other than the standard, calmly delivered response of, “Well I’m sorry you feel that way buddy but you’re still not getting a snack after dinner,” that my husband expertly delivered. Our son may have played a powerful card but we have the advantage of experience under our belts so we have learned to handle some blows.

In talking with my husband later, we wondered whether our son really knew the powerful card he was playing or if he just threw it out there to see what would happen. We both believe he was just trying to use anything he could to rile us up as many kids do, and that being the newest card in his hand he was likely just testing it out on us. But the thing that neither one of us could deny, and it amazed us both, was that somehow at just 5-years-old our son instinctively knew that the ‘Adoption’ card was a valid one and that it was a powerful one to play.