Where The Time Has Gone

School has been back in full swing for several weeks now, as has our spring semester schedule. Here’s a peek:

  • Monday evenings: Ken is at Upward, I have the kids
  • Tuesday evenings: Ken is at Upward with the kids
  • Wednesday evenings: Dinner with the college students, and the kids
  • Thursday evenings: everyone at home
  • Friday evenings: Family fun night out or church activities.
  • Saturday evenings: Ken and I go out for “sanity preservation”
  • Sunday evenings: Family at church

Yes, church activities are at least 4 nights a week. We’ve discovered that the kids function best with lots of sleep. After all, their brains are working HARD. Bedtime is 7:00 p.m., which is broken several nights a week because of church activities.

The kids are participating in Upward, not as much because we care about sports, but so they can see their dad. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t see Ken on Saturdays really at all, and would miss him on Monday, Tuesday, and still have to share him on Wednesday.

Palmer continues to do well at school, but it’s just a lot to learn a language and skip a grade. Imagine sending your kids to boarding school in Germany and asking them to skip a grade at the same time. Tough stuff. We’ve been afraid that we are setting him up for failure. Thursday is our only night at home, but he usually has 2 hours of homework on Thursday night. This week, after his book reading, his reading comprehension worksheet, his math worksheet, Ken said, “Okay, now it’s time to study for your spelling test,” Palmer burst into tears.

I wrote a note to Palmer’s teacher and she sent back a lovely email, and talked about adjusting his expectations. She confirmed what we know: that he is “super smart.” He WILL catch up, but perhaps we need to try to do it at a little slower pace. Since he skipped the second half of Kindergarten, he’s expected to be working with concepts that he was never introduced to. For instance, he is supposed to do double digit subtraction, but he never made it to subtraction in the first place. This is why homework takes forever, and requires our 100% participation.

So we are reworking Palmer’s academic expectations to cause less frustration. He does LOVE school, and it’s hard for him not to be the smartest in the class because he works way harder than other kids. He really is in an unfair situation, through no fault of his own, but he is trying SO hard!

Addie has reacted to the pressure differently. We had an S-team meeting this week with her teacher, the school psychologist, the speech pathologist, the guidance counselor, and the principal. Addie has started refusing to do work, taking her clothes off at school and pretending she doesn’t know how to put them on (even though she dresses herself every morning), doing very poor work, and not living up to behavioral expectations. The teacher let us know this week that the honeymoon period is over, and she is acting out in many ways. And true to form, she has started wetting her pants intentionally again. Not at school, just while she is with Ken and me. Lucky us.

Addie has been a mystery all of us because her behavior is contradictory and unpredictable. She behaves perfectly well for strangers, but once you are no longer a stranger, it changes. She does struggle with fine motor skills, so we know she has some physical deficiencies, but her intelligence has been difficult to assess. At home, she has no problem counting objects. At school, she not only doesn’t count, she doesn’t know her numbers. This makes the math that she is expected to do at school impossible.

All of this is common for kids from traumatic backgrounds, and comes as no huge surprise, but is nonetheless frustrating to everyone involved. Adding to the pressure is the policy of Metro Nashville Public Schools that she HAS to go to first grade next year, so the gap her in her performance will continue to grow.

She needs help. We need help. She works on homework for the same time period that Palmer does. Every evening, she is expected to correct assignments that she didn’t do correctly at school, review letters, numbers, and sounds, practice cutting and coloring, review sight words, read two books with a parent, and on and on. Again 100% participation from parents for up to 2 hours a day.

The school has been hesitant to have Addie undergo testing because she is a Kindergartener, she doesn’t speak English other than single words and a very occasional sentence, and she has a traumatic past. But they cannot give her any extra help without testing her. And if they are going to diagnose her as being delayed, it has to occur before she turns age 7, which is this spring. Still they don’t want to “label” her.

Finally, I blurted out, “Label her! At least that will give us some help. Labels can be undone.” The S-team agreed.

So testing of Addie is going to begin shortly. She is going to receive some unfortunate diagnoses, but it will give her increased access to services that will help her instead of leaving her floundering in a class, but forced to move forward. And her teacher will no longer have to handle Addie, plus 18 others.

Addie has been through unfathomable trauma, and she is still figuring out how to handle that grief. If she can be busy enough, naughty enough, or giggle enough, she doesn’t have to face it. For the first time ever, she is with a family who is in this with her for the long haul, and rather than this being comforting, it is frightening. When will we abandon her? When will we send her away? Will we still love her if she does nothing we tell her to do? These are all questions she has to answer in her own mind. To be expected to learn to read, do math, color in the lines, and sit still is difficult with all of that going on inside. To not have the language to process it with us makes it even harder, which is why we are insistent that she learn English so we can help her heal.

For me, this semester has added additional responsibility related to my former boss’s sudden retirement in the fall. I’ve always worked 40-50 hours per week in the spring and fall, and 60-80 in the summer. This semester, I have been given additional responsibilities in the University Clinic on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, seeing faculty, staff, students and their families. I’ve tried to compensate for this by going in an hour early and working through lunch. Still, I’m already falling behind, and still trying to figure out how to get home in time to manage dinner, homework, and bedtime routine by 7:00 p.m. especially given our already packed evening schedule and the profound emotional and academic needs of our children. Ken does the lion’s share of just about everything between the time he picks up the kids from school at 3:00 and when he has to leave most evenings at 5:00 p.m.

This weekend, Palmer has had the flu, and I’m afraid Addie probably isn’t far behind, so we have quarantined the kids. I have been sick since October with a nasty productive cough. Still. We have laid on the couch for two days, and as miserable as we all feel, it has been glorious. No pressure, no learning, just relaxing together. Indeed, we need more time just like this. Minus the flu, of course.

Winning the War on Lingala

In October, we sat down with the kids and told them it was their job to learn to speak English. In America, in order to get a job, you have to go to school and learn English. When they spoke only English, we would give them a bicycle, and they would begin to get an allowance.

Palmer immediately looked excited and started speaking in English phrases. Addie looked very disappointed.

Over the last few months, Palmer has been speaking increasing amounts of English, but on a daily basis, his sister, who didn’t care to speak English regardless of bribery, would engage him in a conversation and he would reply in Lingala.

Finally, the night we returned from the beach, we told them that their days of speaking Lingala were over. We had been patient, but if they wanted to be a part of our family, English is the language our family speaks.They had been a family unto themselves, and the core of that was language. I lived with Addie for almost 5 months without ever having a conversation with her. She only needed Palmer because he spoke Lingala. Lingala was tearing our family apart.

After several days of time-outs and reprimands, the shackles of Lingala were broken and our kids started to speak in English, even to each other.

The first day they went an entire day without Lingala was yesterday. So this morning, there was $8 for Palmer waiting at his breakfast plate, and $6 for Addie.  And in the 15 short minutes it wasn’t raining after church today, we let them have their bicycles. Here are a few snapshots of the event.

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We’re so thankful to have our kids now fervently working to communicate with us!

A Year in a Week

As expected, as soon as we got home from the beach, Ken repacked to take 37 college students to the annual college conference in Atlanta. Addie and Palmer didn’t return to school until today, so I officially had a week with the kids without Ken.

Looking ahead at the next year, I know that times that Ken and I get to spend together are rare, I realized that it will be difficult for us to do a lot of the family-friendly adventures around Nashville. By the time the kids are out of school for the summer, I will be mired in my busiest time of year.

I decided that now was the time to make some memories with the kids. Fortunately, my parents flew in for the week and joined our adventures and helped me man-handle the kids. So, last week we:

  • Made their first fort in the living room and shared a snack inside.
  • Learned how to play hide and seek, and also learned that Addie has to be the worst hider EVER. This surprised no one.
  • Went to Chick Fil A in Hermitage. And Mt. Juliet. Because if you go to the same one too many times, they begin to think you have a chicken addiction. (We do.)
  • Went shopping to buy a chair for grandpa and helped him put it together.
  • Learned to hula hoop with Grandma, who still has great moves!
  • Watched the movie Annie and sang all of the songs.
  • Went to Fired Up and painted plates that we will be able to eat off of! We can’t wait to see them finished!
  • Went to Rainforest Cafe and marvelled at the animatronics, ate way too much food, and were amazed by the hand dryers in the bathroom. Sometimes it’s the simplest things.
  • Went to the Lego store and let the kids pick out new Lego kits.
  • Watched grandpa put together a majority of the Lego while Palmer watched.
  • Painted a snowman, and a few other things accidentally, with Addie.
  • Went clothes shopping with the kids, and survived.
  • Went to the downtown library’s story hour and puppet show. I took Palmer out early to look at books, while Addie made friends with a complete stranger by going up to her afterwards and giving her a big hug.
  • Bought Palmer and Addie some fabulous hats.
  • Ate cookies and milk (some with coffee in it) in a bakery downtown.
  • Went to the new McDonald’s Play Place on Lebanon Pike and made some new friends.
  • Looked at a picture slide show every night from the beach, Christmas morning, playing with friends in the park, etc.

The kids were exceptionally good. We laughed a lot. At one point, when we were watching Annie, Addie turned to me, and said, “I love you mommy.” I actually had to ask her three times what she said, because she had never told me that spontaneously before. The next night, Palmer gave me a kiss on the cheek for the first time.

We had a great time, even though we were missing Ken terribly. I was thankful that the kids were willing to have a year’s worth of fun with me last week. The memories will last a lifetime!

A Week of Beachful Bliss

With Ken and I both working with college students, but in different capacities, we’ve found that there is only one week out of the year that works for vacation for BOTH of us at the same time: the week around Christmas and New Years. Both of our offices are closed, and although Ken follows that week with a huge college conference, he has made it a priority that we take some time off together.

Not only did we need a break from an exhausting year, the kids needed a break from their exhausting year as well. We tried to carefully explain that we were going away for a week to have fun together. We told them about the beach, building sand castles, and the fact that we would be spending Christmas at the beach. And that Santa would find us there.

Not knowing how a road trip with two kids who were having pretty serious behavioral issues would go, we loaded up the luggage, the dogs, and the kids, and headed off for Cape San Blas, Florida.

Ken and I have been vacationing at Cape San Blas since 2000. Our favorite part about it is that there is space to run and play, for kids, dogs, and adults alike. It’s rare to see anyone else even on the beach. And though the weather isn’t as warm as southern Florida, it suits our purposes just fine.

We arrived at the Cape after sunset, the Saturday before Christmas, and when the kids woke up the next morning, they were really excited to get down to the beach. While we were there, we frequently saw a pair of bald eagles, who lived somewhere near our rental house, and a pod of dolphins, who swam just 20 feet from the shoreline, and were very interested in the kids.

The kids were perfect. No tantrums. No pants-wetting. No entitlement or disobedience. They were so perfect, we’ve considered just moving there to escape the reality that faces them in Nashville.

Here’s a glimpse into the rest of our Christmas break.

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We arrived back home in Nashville the following Saturday, and Ken is already off to Atlanta for a conference. We’re back to learning to read, learning letters, and learning English. Tantrums have returned. Entitlement has reared it’s ugly head again.

But for a week at the beach, we took a break from all the progress that has to be made, and we had bliss.