Saturday, October 03, 2015


It's appropriate that high school homecoming is just a few days after the anniversary of her homecoming to America.  We celebrated her one year anniversary at her favorite restaurant: Cheesecake Factory.  There was laughter and teasing and complete silliness.  And to her total surprise, awaiting her at home was a much desired giant teddy bear.

Because our home, this house, and America have become simply home. And there's love and laughter and joy here every day.

It's shocking how much has changed in the last month.  School kicked off and language took off with it.  Social interaction came along for the ride and suddenly there are friends and texting and a cell phone and plans to attend the homecoming dance with friends.

We spent literally every night of this week at the mall trying to find a dress, shoes, and jewelry.  Nerves were high and styles are all terrible right now (everything is black or dark blue or red or white; nearly everything is strapless and most is barely 12 inches long) but we finally found something we both liked (note: we found almost nothing she liked and a few I thought would maybe be ok but she dismissed.)  It is pink and pretty and there were gold glittery shoes and gold jewelry and funky pink nails. There was singing along to the radio as she got ready; and excitedly welcoming her friend over hours early so they could get ready together.

This is her life. It's her song.  After a year of muting it, it's suddenly playing at full volume and I'm in tears because it's so beautiful and so welcome.

We took photos and I mama-beared her into eating a little something. She drove us to the school and then parked in the drop-off so I could hop to the driver's seat and she and her friend could dart through the cool October night into the gym. They had their phones and tickets and the pure hope and joy of two teenage girls about to go do something fun that they'd spent all day looking forward to doing. I watched her turn and smile at her friend, laugh, and shoot a final smile at me before they stepped out of the light from the lamp post and turned into silhouettes from the school doors.

Eleven months of waiting has finally blossomed into this girl I'm so happy to meet.  She's funny and smart and saucy and opinionated and kind and clever and all the good things.  I'm so glad the world gets to know her, too.

dress link

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Deeeeeeep thoughts

I have to get this out of my head and into words.

Today I had to attend one of those mandatory things that happens at work sometimes where every person on the payroll has to go sit for two hours learning life lessons such as the value of diversity or the importance of respectful disagreement or why not to put too much paper in the printer at once. Today's lesson was Emotional Intelligence.  It had a long title but it came down to "how not to be an ignorant jackass."  So I sat down with two snarky colleagues and prepared to learn nothing, because I'm a delightful snowflake and clearly the seminar was directed at the four or five total sociopaths in this building but they couldn't very well say "you four or five people need to learn to work better with humans" and so--much like my "everyone needs a shower" declarations when really it's just one smelly child--we were all forced to sacrifice two hours of our time to the Emotional Intelligence seminar speaker.

Note: I've been reading The Bloggess's new book and may have assumed her voice for a few days.

So we start talking about emotional intelligence and it really becomes quite clear that this is just an infomercial for the collected works of Daniel Goleman.  We talked about developing self-awareness ("how am I feeling right now?  Why?") and self-management ("I need to not flip out at this waste of time.") and then I had an epiphany.

We were asked to think about and possibly share our triggers that really make us flip the flip right out.  Many of us talked about dealing with students that assume we have nothing better to do than to answer questions that are clearly in the syllabus, that email us daily to ask about when we're going to have something graded, who email us every day to remind us that they need a letter of recommendation before the end of the semester, who send their parents after us when we make them commit to the rules they agreed to on the first day of class, etc.  I had noted that I lose my ever-lovin'-mind when I hear my kids or students whining about how something isn't quite "fair" by which they mean it's not quite as awesomely generous as something someone else may have had once. Ungrateful.  I hate hate hate ingratitude.  It sends me right up over the edge of insanity.

As everyone else was talking and I was seeing this theme.  This lack of appreciation for how busy we are, how hard we're trying, how much we've already done.   So I suggested that maybe many of us could agree that a lack of appreciation for our efforts is a really big trigger. There was a lot of agreement (until the one guy said he couldn't care less about appreciation, he just lost his mind at rude drivers and so there you go.)

So I thought all day about why appreciation is such a big deal to me.  Why do I get so mad when I think someone doesn't appreciate what I've done and seems ungrateful for it? It's not that I expect endless praise or songs of gratitude.  Even just a neutral acceptance without a word is fine, or a little "thanks!" every now and then.  No, it's when my efforts are met with wailing and gnashing of teeth that I want to burn the whole house down and stomp away.  Why?



I interpret those moments as distrust.  When a student nags me to write something that isn't due for a month I think I'm annoyed that they don't appreciate how busy I am, but it's really I'm mad that they don't trust me to take care of it.  When the kids are wailing that they haven't had dessert in three days or that fruit salad isn't a real dessert I think I'm mad that they are just spoiled obnoxious and ungrateful (and I am) but way way down I feel it as distrust in my ability to know and meet their needs. Those are the times that really send me through the roof with annoyance.  When they break something I bought them or leave the house a mess it's not about trust--I'm straight-up annoyed that they are ungrateful and unappreciative of what they have. And in those cases, I don't lose my mind.  I just get annoyed.

And this is a totally reasonable feeling because the child that does this every minute of every day (Jorge) is the one that trusts me the least.  He assumes I have it in for him and want to make him miserable.  And so of course he whines that it's not enough, that it's not as good, that it's less.  But now I see.  Now we aren't really arguing about if he has enough dessert or socks or minutes of stories or time with the laptop to be fair. We're arguing about this deep deep fear: do you really love me?  Can I trust you to be loving me as much as I need?  Do I need to fight for it for myself if I can't trust you to just give it to me?

And I'm not saying the right response is then to just give him everything, or even to buy into his warped view of equal and fair as the same thing or to always give him an advantage--but maybe, just maybe, I can address it deeper down.  Trust me.  I do want the best for you.  I do want you to be healthy and happy and whole.  I do not want to burn the house down, darn it.


And then, woah...  I realize that this is such a giant trigger for me because this is my most vulnerable fear.  I'm the primary wage earner in this family and my job is probationary and I stress constantly that it won't last.  I worry I'm failing the kids by being gone too much, distracted by work, grumpy and worried about work....  I worry I'm failing my husband by being too busy and distracted to listen to him.  I worry I am letting everyone down all the time.  I'm a fraud waiting to be discovered as merely mediocre at my life.   And so those little pokes and prods of "you aren't enough; you fail; you can't be trusted to do your job, to parent, to function" get RIGHT THERE at my very worst suspicions.

Thanks for the free (in fact paid to attend) therapy today, job.

(We also talked about being aware of other people's emotions and helping manage those within a group.  I recognized a lot of what the counselor is doing with M within the contexts of this emotional awareness and management material, too, which was interesting and validating.  But, y'know, busy chewing on TRUST here.)

Monday, September 21, 2015


Katie was out Wednesday.

Friday found August home for his unrelated MD appointment and Julie sick in bed Friday and Saturday.  Sunday knocked Maryna down and she was home all day Monday.

Wegmans got about $100 of our money in exchange for bags of coughdrops, vitamins, Alka-Seltzer, tea, lemons, and some pretty flowers.  The first shots of the winter 2015-16 cold season have been fired.

Friday, September 18, 2015

The complicated academic world of August

August, age freshly 5, is home from a day of not-quite-pre-k, not quite Kindergarten.  I'm sick in bed and he's buzzing around.

 "Mama, can you teach me 'times'?"

"You mean, like, multiply?"

"No. Like 3 times 2. What does the 'times' mean?"

"Well, it's kind of like adding the same number a bunch of times.  Like 3 times 2 means 'do 3 two times'".

"Oh. 6. easy."

"Right.  And it also means 'three times of 2'"

"2,2,2,?  Easy. 6."

"Right.  Ok.  So...hang on."

I grab about 10 pair of earrings out of my jewelry box and clear a space on the bed.  "Let's do 4 times 3."  I lay out 1, 2, 3, 4.  "How many fours do we have?"


Ok.  I lay out 1, 2, 3, 4 near them.  "now how many 4's?"


"Right.  And how many total?"  8.  "And how many sets of 2's do we have?"

He looks carefully. "4.".

"Right.  So two 4's is the same as four 2's, see?"

"right.  But we're doing 4 times 3.  Do one more row."

And thus begins my math geek.  We notice squares.  We talk about re-arranging 4x3 into 2x6.  I lead him downstairs and pour a bowl of honey nut cheerios.  It's time.  I tell him to explore his numbers and that, if he wants, I will give him a question like "find five times six."  He's content just exploring patterns on his own for nearly an hour.  Explore, discover, snack.

He comes to find me when he's feeling lonely.  "Mom?  Three times six is eighteen.  And so is nine times two.  And then I ate one of the sixes.  Three times six minus a six is only twelve."

So, you know, he's brilliant.

But.  But!  He's a mess at school.  He can't focus, he abandons work half way through, starts doodling and throwing pieces at the wall, distracts others, and spins long half-fantasy tales of confusion and amusement.  He's in the Montessori school so he's got a little more freedom to set his own pace, but they do try to get kids to commit to and finish whatever work they've chosen and be respectful of the space.  Last spring there was a hard meeting where the teachers expressed that he shows early warning signs of ADD: inattentive, low impulse control, constant movement and talking, long dreamy fantasy ramblings that change course mid story, and so much more.  But ADD--as many scientists and we as parents believe--is less of a diagnosis of a single problem as it is a symptom of a problem. It's the rattle that gets you to look for the problem deeper in.  We looked at a lot of stuff, and landed on "let's just hope he gets a maturity boost in a few months".  They generally won't even try to label it until an older age, but they were concerned about his ability and confidence if he went into Kindergarten the way he was acting late last spring, because he'd likely feel discouraged or overly structured.    But, at age 4 and now freshly five, he reads and does math at a comfortably first grade level and understands science at a 2nd or 3rd grade level.  So another year of pre-k seemed wasteful.

Which brings us to today.  This silly curious sweet boy was home from school today because we finally had an appointment at the pediatrician.  After realizing he had symptoms of sleep apnea this summer and that this could explain his ADD symptoms (and to stop me freaking out when I find a not-breathing-child everytime I check on him).  The doctor checked his tonsils and referred us to an ENT for analysis of the adenoids.  Most of the time, sleep apnea in kids is due to those being too big for the kid's body, so a simple removal may mean all the difference.  We'll follow up with the ENT in a week or two and go from there.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

What the...?

Are you wondering: What's up with the old posts showing up in my email feed...?

I'm annoyed that only half my life is searchable in our family blog while the rest is buried in Facebook posts.  I'm going through my FB archives and creating some back-dated posts with those details so they are all here together.  I did most of December 2014 this week in little snippets.  If you want to fill in your gap, they're all here

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Oops we did it again..

Last fall when Maryna started highschool, she came home with a packet of English words with instructions to translate each word into her native language so she could begin learning all of them.  We sat for hours and hours and did 14 notebook pages of words. The next day she found out that it wasn't actually an assignment, just a resource.  Oops.

This week Maryna started another year of high school classes. She came home from her first day of Algebra with an 8 page packet of examples and problems.  I love love love algebra and do it for fun and have taught it to high schoolers in both advanced and remedial classes and to our 3 little kids and tutored it throughout undergraduate so I sat down with a fair bit of excitement to work through it with her.

She didnt' get it at first.  I thought she'd had more math background but her reactions to some ideas was not "I don't really remember this very well" or "I never quite understood this" but "what the heck are you doing?"  So we backed up, came at some ideas more slowly, until she was confident in them. We got the entire packet done in about four hours.

Four hours!

I don't mind doing homework help, but honestly: if this trend holds for algebra and biology and health we can't budget 12 hours per night.

So you can imagine our collective household glee when she came home from her next algebra class and announced that the teacher picked up the lecture mid-packet and only got part way through again.  She's still at least one full lecture ahead of the class and, with my lessons, she understood everything the teacher said without feeling the least bit overwhelmed. I'm thinking we'll continue this--I'll boot-camp style homeschool every week or two when she gets a new packet and then she'll coast and review during class lectures.  Whew!

Wednesday, September 09, 2015


Monday we tie-dyed 2 shirts each.  Tuesday we washed and dried.  Wednesday the whole crew wore coordinating tie-dyed t-shirts for their first days of school.

Huge. Giant. FINALLY.

This was a long summer, and yet we didn't do much of anything.  We'd hoped for a family vacation to a beach or Chicago or several other ideas, but nothing managed to work.  We did a trip to Ohio where the 3 younger kids stayed for a week but the rest of us came back for laying around the house and work.  Katie and Jorge did a week of sleep-away camp.  The three younger kids did VBS. The whole crew went to Toronto.  Maryna got her driver's permit and drove nearly every day for two solid months. We had attempts at mini-golf and an evening at a beach and bike rides and skate boarding and bowling and the state fair and fishing...just not much of a single big "that was the summer we...." memory.  Maybe we'll smoosh something  into the next few weeks before the temperatures drop and school work completely takes over.

School kicked off today.  Maryna was listed as 12th grade, arrived at an orientation event Tuesday night to see she was listed as 11th grade, and went to school today to see she was enrolled as 10th grade.  Disappointment for her, but she needs to earn 22 full year credits (44 semester's worth of credits) and it will likely take her 2.5-3 years to fill out her full transcript; graduating at nearly 20.  She has an aggressive schedule this semester and we're already logging full shifts of homework, but if we stay on top of it (ha ha ha ha ha) it should be fine. (ha!)

On the other end, August thought he was going into K and was disappointed when we said he's officially a pre-school2 kid.  Academically he's ready for K, but his attention and self-control are a mess.  He ignores instruction, flops around, distracts others, uses materials incorrectly (e.g. throws the beads that are for doing math work across the room), and whines when he's the least bit frustrated, bored, or otherwise disinterested in finishing something. Last spring the school arranged a meeting for us to discuss his behavior and that while he was too young to diagnose ADHD and he may outgrow it, he was on the immature side and showed a lot of warning signs.  We took it in stride.

Then this summer we realized he doesn't seem to be very good at the whole "breathing and keep breathing" thing that humans should do. He seems to have sleep apnea...while sleeping, about every 5 minutes he holds his breath and stops breathing for 1-2 minutes.  In the night with the air conditioner on his body gets cool.  Nothing destroys a mama like reaching over to her sweet sleeping baby and finding him ice cold and not breathing.  YIKES!  I wiggle his arm, he gasps a big intake, and we repeat in a few minutes.  So, other than pre-maturely aging me every night and potential health issues for him, a common symptom for kids that get crappy oxygen-deprived sleep every single night is a lack of self-control and low ability to pay attention.  Hm....  We have a consult to get into a sleep center and treat the apnea (probably tonsils out) and are hopeful that it might result in better rest and a little jump in his behavioral maturity.

But for now, he's pre-k.  Thankfully at the Montessori he's in the 3,4,5 year old room so if he does have a maturity leap, they can just change his title to K and he stays in the same room with the same teacher and kids but starts hanging out with the other "K" kids and doing their activities more than the pre-k kids.

The other two are fine.  Katie was terrified of her first day and freaked out a lot but ended up loving it of course.  Jorge is a senior student in his classroom and a mentor to the entering first graders so he's loving the responsibility and attention that comes with that.  His teacher called as we were driving home to report on what a good day he had.  His two best friends left for different schools this year.  We'll miss their families and Jorge will miss his buddies, but the lack of distraction in the classroom will hopefully be a big help this year. all four are tucked in and prepared for tomorrow...and it's time for mama to get her own work done.