Things have calmed down here a bit. There’s still a fair amount of tension–anger simmering under the surface, but we’ve headed off any major explosions.
I think part of the problem is that J. feels like the rules are always changing and he can’t figure out what’s expected of him. He’s not precisely wrong. When new stuff comes up, we tend to adapt the house rules to deal with the previously unanticipated crisis. It just never occurred to us that, say, we’d need to specify that it’s not OK to make death threats against other people. We have, however, been saying all along that we need to speak respectfully to other people. Now we just have to help J. see that the latter precludes the former (as well as cursing, yelling, calling people animals . . .)
This week, B. and K. have both gotten out a couple of times to be with friends. (I’ve been told I’m not allowed to call them play dates anymore. We’re too big for that now, apparently. Not too big for having “stuffties” or using baby talk more ridiculous than they ever used as actual babies, but too big for play dates.)
K. and one of her friends tried out for the school talent show. Now they’re having to wait to see if they made it. K. says they have to wait until next Friday. I’m not sure what will take so long for the music teacher to decide who’s in and who’s out, but I know the wait is making K. very anxious.
K., J. and Craig are going tubing with the church today. I hope they have a good time. B. and I will probably have a good time on our own as well.
It has been another rough week, though that probably has more to do with my cold than with the children.
We did have an unusual schedule–both the elementary school and the middle school had parent-teacher conferences in the evenings this week. It turns out that all three of our children are brilliant, being respectful, and working hard in school.
This may not come as naturally for J. as for the other two–at any rate the unusual schedule combined with less than normal time with me and extra time on best behavior led to some issues late in the week. We seem to be back on a more even keel at the moment.
B. and K. have started work on a computer game together–B. programming and K. providing the artwork. Perhaps we’ll be able to put a link in here some day soon.
B. has been stressing all week about choosing electives for next year when he moves up to the middle school. He complains that there are only a couple of electives he wants to take, but when we started going through it together, we may have found a few online options he likes–and a couple that are necessary (Chinese).
K. is very interested in the process–the more so since a proposal before the school board right now might have her at the middle school in the fall as well. (Though even if that does become the case, it’s unclear whether the sixth graders would have the same choices that seventh and eight graders do.)
J. probably needs to pick his electives, too, but we’ll need a translator’s help for that, so we’ll probably be a touch late with it. But in other middle school news, he got a couple of awards at the first-semester awards ceremony this week. We’re quite proud of him.
Although yesterday and the day of the awards ceremony went pretty well, we’ve had several days this week when J. was very worked up and violent. We’re not sure what all is upsetting him, but it could partly be the strain of living out his first Spring Festival holiday season in a country where most people don’t even know the holiday is happening (let alone celebrate it).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.