Spring Festival

Yesterday (Saturday the 28th) was Spring Festival (Chinese New Year), J.’s first in America with an American family. We did our best to mark the occasion well, but we couldn’t quite meet our young man’s expectations of what the holiday should be. For example, we are unwilling to do firecrackers since they’re illegal here, and we made the amount that went into the traditional red money envelopes for children fit our budget rather than our young man’s desires. I imagine the hardest part, though, is being away from the friends he’s always known and the culture he’s been a part of on this most important Chinese holiday. Having spent Christmases in China, where nobody quite understood what the holiday was about, and even friends’ most well-intentioned efforts to make it special for me often served only to remind me how far I was from home, I have a sense for how hard this must be. Though J. got quite upset with us a couple of times during the day, he handled his anger more appropriately than he sometimes does. And I think he did manage to have a few fun moments in the day. He at least seemed to enjoy playing soccer with his cousins. (And B. and K. for a couple of minutes–though they didn’t enjoy it much. They’re not fond of soccer.)

So, all in all, we had a decent celebration. Not, perhaps, quite what J. hoped for, but at least not disastrous.

Six Months In

I have to keep reminding myself of how much better things are going than they had been because we’re still having frequent rough patches (cursing people, spitting at them; property destruction; occasional punches). The thing is, that difficult stuff used to be the norm, and spots where the family could sit and play or talk happened a few times a day if we were lucky. Now, J. goes to school, often does his chores, usually plays with the other kids, usually eats at least part of dinner with us, and frequently wants to hang out and talk with parents. The difficult stuff still happens, but now the cursing and spitting a few times a day (generally countable!) and the truly violent has lessened to once or twice a week or less. That’s still feels like way too much, but when I take a moment to reflect on where we’ve been, I realize that we’re in much, much better shape.

It’s so easy to think about the negative and not remember the positive, so I want to take a couple minutes to remember some of the good stuff about my kids. Things that make me proud of all of them.

J. is generous, creative and brave. He loves gardening and cooking and fixing things. He’s interested in animals, science and literature. Like all my children, he is a bright, bright child.

B. is brilliant, thoughtful, and willing to stand up for (and do) what he thinks is right, even when it costs him. He loves computers, science, and stories.

K. is smart, kind, and graceful. She cares a great deal about her schoolwork (especially history), her friendships, and performing (especially in dance).

I am very proud of them all.

Happy New Year

Okay, so it’s January 8, and I’m getting up the first post of the year. Aack.

Frankly, the break has had its issues. The lack of regular schedule is rough on some of us, and the constant presence of all of the children is difficult for others of us. The holiday itself, though full of love and fun and presents also has all kinds of old traditions (and at our house, religious celebrations) that make the newest member of our family feel like he doesn’t quite belong–and that may take years to fix, if it ever gets fixed. Hanging out with extended family is wonderful, but age, gender & language barriers combine with unfamiliarity to keep the kids from including their newest cousin as fully as they embrace B & K. J feels that keenly. He’s started to protest whenever we suggest hanging out with cousins.

On the other hand, after a particularly spectacular tantrum Christmas Eve, we’ve settled into some better patterns at our house. There’s a lot less violence and destruction and a lot more cooperation with household tasks. All three children have become more consistent about doing their jobs (so they can get screen time), and our house feels like less of a disaster area because of that. Plus, the kids are getting along a bit better. We may not be totally through the woods, but they at least seem to be thinning.

Monday the kids go back to school. B & K are quite excited about this, but J seems worried. His schedule changes this semester (he’s got four classes starting tomorrow), and I though he’s got several classes he is interested in, being in a totally foreign-language environment for that long will be exhausting. (This I know from experience.) Pray for peace and an extraordinary ability to concentrate, and that he’ll make some friends that will make the trouble worthwhile for him.

Searching for Normal

It’s hard to believe there’s only a week to go until Christmas. It has been a bit of a rough month, though not nearly so rough as, say, August.

J. has started up an English class at school in addition to his PE (and he’s scheduled to start two more classes in January). Though the extra time seems small to me (and to his siblings), I know from personal experience that even a couple of hours in a foreign language environment can be exhausting. Thus far he’s handling it very, very well.

Home is another story, though. At home we’ve continued to have flare-ups with some regularity. It’s not clear why that’s happening–perhaps because of the increased pressure in school, perhaps because of new things we’re trying (a movie night; going to a Chinese church in Boulder), perhaps because we’ve reintroduced limited screen time; perhaps because of holiday traditions J’s not used to; perhaps because we had out of town family visiting last week (It was sure nice to see Mary Kay and Gary); perhaps because Craig and I have been doing better about setting limits, and J is pushing back. Whatever the reason, home life has frequently been difficult, and all three kids (and both adults) are finding that hard.

Frequently B and K say that they want their “normal” life back–and I totally sympathize with that. Change is hard, and not all change is for the better. Hopefully, though, we’ll at some point get to a normal that we all (Craig, me, J, B and K) at least find tolerable.

Taking changes hard

We’ve entered the Advent season–that time of year when in our family, we try to do a family devotion to help us filter out the noise of the world and remember the real reasons we celebrate Christmas.  We light some candles, sing some songs, do a bit of reading, and, this year, let the kids open a window on their Advent calendars.

J. hates this–all except the calendar bit. Perhaps he dislikes the change.  He certainly takes issue with the singing.  At the beginning of the week, he took to throwing and breaking the candles and such, and responding even more violently when we’ve refused to stop.  To keep things safe, we’ve had to move our little celebration to the parent’s bedroom a couple of times, but we’ve also had a few days when we’ve been able to do it all together, and that makes us hopeful.  Still, the week has felt long and stressful.  We hope that next week will be better, but we know it could be equally bad or even worse–J. is adding a new class at school (learning English will probably eventually help him feel like life is better, but at this point, an extra class is nothing but an unwelcome change.)

 

Thanksgiving

It has been a bit tough to be thankful this year because we’re all so stressed out and tense, but when we stop and think about it, there’s lots to be thankful for.  We’re all healthy, at least in body.  We have a warm house in cold weather and good food to eat.  Craig has a steady job doing work he finds meaningful (most of the time).  K. is thankful for ballet, and her performances this weekend have gone quite well.  B. is thankful for the stuffed harp seals that have been a comfort to him in a time of great stress.  J. says he’s thankful for money.  And I–I’m thankful that all of them are part of my life (even J. most days), and that we’ve learned to help J. calm his tempers some, and that God has given us strength and extra love, and that so many of my friends and family have stepped in to help us weather this time of difficulty in our lives.

It’s still hard, and we still need you all–but it’s good to take a minute and remember how very much we have to be thankful for.

 

Birthday, Big Bumps & Ballet

J. turned fourteen about a week ago.  His anticipation prior to the event was intense.  Together we planned out a big dinner to celebrate him–good friends, good food, fun games, and, of course, presents.  But the unusual attention seemed to also stress him out, and anytime presents or other things weren’t exactly what he had hoped for, his disappointment was intense.  This led to a tense, angry weekend with increasing violence that ended with a call to police Tuesday morning after J. punched me in the lip.

Since then, we’ve been working more intensively with our therapist and counselors to make sure that we are providing J. the love and direction he needs, but also the limits necessary to help him achieve safer, more appropriate behavior.  We think we’re making some progress.  At least I feel like I’m more in control of myself, and more able to be the parent.

The other major thing going on with kids right now is ballet–K. is gearing up for a Nutcracker performance next weekend.  She’s very excited about her three dancing parts (possibly four–she may have to step in for another little girl).  If you’re local and interested in seeing the show, get in touch with me before Tuesday (the 22nd), and I can probably get you set up with tickets.

Halloween

J. has been looking forward to Halloween for weeks now, and I’m afraid that the reality didn’t quite live up to his expectations, but he did get out and collect about 250 pieces of candy.  He counted.  B. also counted up his stash and made a detailed log of exactly what kinds of candy he’d received.  Not sure why, but he feels it’s important to keep this record.  K. seems content to just eat her candy.

J. got lots of compliments on his police officer outfit, and a few people thought B. and K. also looked pretty good (Sherlock Holmes and an Autumn Pixie).  I’ll get pictures up when I can.

It took a long time to settle from all the excitement, but B. & K. eventually went to bed Monday night.  Despite not getting to bed until very late, J. managed to get to school on time on Tuesday, and the remaining days this week.  I think it was a bit uncomfortable for him at first to go without the translator, but he seems to have settled to it somewhat.

He’s also (usually) expressing his anger in more appropriate (less violent & disrespectful) ways, and he’s continuing to spend time hanging out with the rest of us playing games and fishing.

We’ve had some bad moments.  J. took off from a grocery store last Sunday, scaring us all quite a bit.  And then on Thursday, B. got quite sick, and at one point J. got in his face, and I made J. leave the house with Craig–and J. thought I was kicking him out permanently.  It took quite a while to straighten out that misunderstanding.  But once we apologized for making him think we were getting rid of him, and reassured him that we want him in our house, he seemed to settle down a lot.  And he’s still harassing Ben, but not quite as much.  It may help that they’ve each come up with role-playing games that they’ve convinced the other to try out.  Turns out they have more in common than either of them was willing to admit before.

K. is gearing up for performing in the Nutcracker with her ballet studio over the Thanksgiving weekend, so she’s had lots of rehearsals, and that has added a bit to the overall stress, but I think she’s excited about performing and glad to have something about her life that hasn’t totally changed.

When I look back to where we were a few months ago, I realize that we’ve come a long way, even though many days are still very hard.  I’m hopeful that at some point we’ll reach a new normal that will be less miserable for everybody.

Hugs

So, with school starting for J, we had a bit of a rough week.  School itself seems to be going well, with J. liking the sports they’re playing, even though football is new to him.  However, at home, the first several days of the week, J. was acting out.  It came to a bit of a crisis on Wednesday with a lot of throwing stuff around, and some attempts to kick down doors to areas J. wasn’t supposed to go in.  However, J. refrained from hitting anybody, and though he made a big mess, most of it was readily fixable.

On Thursday, we got some help from a translator to talk some about expectations, and some of what life in a family looks like, and explain some of the things J. doesn’t understand.   We also started a small reward system for when J. meets these expectations, and we’ve seen him working very hard to do that.  He’s asking for permission before tearing up the yard and talking to us about what’s upsetting him instead of cursing us out.  And that’s all to the good.

Plus,J. has started wanting to be hugged like the other kids.  He jumps up in my arms and wants to be carried around (You can pray my back is up to the task–he’s a pretty big kid.)  Yesterday he wanted to be rocked for a bit.  Occasionally he’s started listening instead of making fun of me when I’m praying for him before bed.  And this morning, before school, he gave me a hug and said goodbye.   Almost like he’ll be glad to see me when I come pick him up from school this morning.  Or maybe not.  We’ll see.

I got lots of hugs from B & K this weekend too, on account of it’s being my birthday.  B. even gave me a new, improved hug pass–good for unlimited hugs and a couple of kisses a day!

We suspect there are still lots of hard times ahead, maybe even this coming week, but it feels a bit like we may have turned a corner.  I have a little hope that’s true anyway.

School Etc.

Pictureimg_20161016_094251 at left by K.  When she first told me this was social studies, I didn’t quite understand it, but then she explained that they were talking about the time in Europe when monarchs were discouraging their subjects from roaming, and one of the methods was the “That way be monsters” signs and pictures on maps.  So this sea monster comes from social studies, folks.

B. had a better than expected time at Outdoor Lab, so that’s good.  He came home very excited to try elk battles at home.  Most of us were very glad to see him.

In other school news, J. went with me to a meeting with a bunch of district folks, and we’ve agreed (J. somewhat reluctantly) to have him start at the local middle school tomorrow bright and early–with one gym class a day.  After a couple of weeks, we’ll reevaluate where we are and see if we can/should add anything.

The gym class is doing flag football this week, and we got a young man from our church who is on the nearest high school’s JV football team to come help us learn some rules and do a little practice.  After only one afternoon, J. is better than the rest of us.  I dare say he’ll do OK tomorrow.  We certainly hope so.

Besides school, this week has been up and down.  We had some more trouble with violence this week, including some that scared B. and K. quite a bit–and has us considering whether we need a better smaller kid safety plan.  But we’ve also had some good times playing board games as a family, and the decent meeting with the school.  Plus, J. put on a button-down shirt, black slacks, and a tie and behaved himself fairly well at a friend’s wedding (even though it started about an hour later than it was scheduled to.)  So, once again, a mixed bag.  Certainly, we’re doing much better than we were a couple of months ago.