Saturday, October 3, 2015

Half Dome 2015

I climbed Half Dome at Yosemite yesterday. It was my second time doing it. My best friend came, My Firefighter, his daughter, her husband and their friend and we all made it to the top!

We made it a two-day camping trip this year. The original plan was to hike to Little Yosemite Valley, set up camp and leave our heavy stuff there then continue on to the top of Half Dome, come down and camp, then hike down the rest of the way in the morning. It would be about 17 miles round trip.

What happened in actuality is that it rained when we reached the camp site, so we built a large campfire in the designated place the second the rain stopped and played host to everyone else that had been caught in the rain as they came along the trail. It looked like a human clothesline as everyone held their wet things by the fire to dry. We stayed there for the rest of the day and went to bed around 8pm. The temperature dropped to 36F during the night. I was fine, but others, including My Firefighter, got extremely cold due to having inadequate sleeping bags. We got up before dawn and started up to the top of Half Dome. It was extremely cold and windy on the cables so I ended up passing everyone and getting the top first just to get out of the wind and cold. I laid like a lizard in a crevice, protected from the wind, but absorbing the morning sunlight until everyone else was up. We took a quick round of photos (none of which I have as they are on everyone else's cameras still) then came down. The wind was a little less and the sun higher in the sky so it was a tab bit easier on the cables weather-wise, but I find going down the cables harder than going up so I was very glad to reach the bottom.

The morning warmed up beautifully. We reached camp quickly, ate, cleaned up, packed, then headed down. I set the pace and we made it down in record time according to all the times My Firefighter has done it. We even passed the younger ones, without even knowing it. They had a 10 or 15 minute lead on us, but stopped to chat along the way and we didn't see them and kept going. We spent another 10 or 15 minutes at the car wondering where they were and then moved the car closer, hoping to meet them, but, again, they slipped by and we got a text saying, "The van is gone but it's impossible that you beat us down."

Guess we showed them! It was quite satisfying to know that the oldies beat the younger folks.

Accept for the cold night on some of their parts, everyone had a pretty good time and it was quite an accomplishment to climb that huge granite monolith again. I don't have a hankering to ever do it again, though. I'm not saying I'll never do it again, but I don't see why I would when there are so many other places to hike and visit that I've not seen yet. Oh, and I'm quite sore, but nothing as bad as last year.

The girls stayed home with my best friend's daughter, who came to babysit. They had a great time, they assured me, even the littlest one.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Harvest Moon Festival

I didn't take any pictures, seeing as how is was very dark, but we celebrated the Harvest Moon Festival by walking around the neighborhood, watching the eclipse of the full moon, then eating moon cakes. We talked about what the holiday means and the girls remembered some Chinese poems and songs. Apple got her first real taste of moon cakes and didn't finish it. I don't find them very good myself, but my big girls really like them.

Friday, September 25, 2015


Finally wearing an outfit I made about 20 years ago. I took the picture and she promptly had an accident out on the grass. She's in the "holding it" phase.

Our Homeschool Week

We continued with maps and directions and made a compass. It all looks exciting and successful, but my girls actually absorb very little information. Sissy is good at finding things on a map and understanding what the symbols mean. Blossom isn't getting it much at all, and Jie Jie falls in between. I have Blossom and Jie Jie repeat the same mapping assignments two or three times to see how much they can improve and it's not by much, unfortunately. They get stuck for different reasons. Blossom can't seem to grasp what the map key symbols mean and they both can't grasp the language of the questions. For example, Mapleville lies between what two roads? They won't even write down a road, but another city name or population number. One of the free map worksheets we are using this week can be found on

We worked on reading and reading comprehension. Believe me, they are two very distinct entities in our home. Today, I finally got Blossom and Jie Jie back on their computers for math and I stayed in the room while they did it to make sure they didn't go off on any other websites since I've not gotten around to installing K9 yet. I'm also reigning them in as to the number of problems they can attempt. The program will let them keep working until their percent correct is high, but today for Jie Jie that meant doing over 378 problems - way too time-consuming! The topic was equivalent coins. Now, I've limited them to 100 problems. If their percentages are low, so be it. It's bound to come around again in the next level and they might be more ready for the information then. If not, we can always go back.

It's after lunch now and time for their weekly spelling test. Sissy's spelling is improving even though her composition is not. grammar is still a work in progress. They may get everything correct in their grammar workbooks, but they are unable to use the knowledge in their writing and speaking.

Next week, they begin human anatomy with My Firefighter. So, each week he'll teach them on two days. One day will be geography/civics, etc... and the next day will be science, starting with the human body.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Our Homeschooling Week

It's been successful! Blossom declared this week that she feels smarter.

We are getting through large amounts of work. I might even cut back just a little because it's a lot to go over at the end of the day and keep sorted, but the girls actually love it. They like having things to do since one of their difficulties is finding things to do when they have free time.

This week, My Firefighter started teaching them. He is doing a blend of everyday geography, civics, science and geology. Last week the girls learned the cardinal and intermediary directions, how to take notes so that they can remember their lessons, the parts of a map: key, compass, cities, streets and more. This week, they are going to learn more terms, such as border, and keep working on learning the continents and oceans.

They did very well on their spelling tests and Jie Jie and Blossom passed their test on ordered pairs in one quadrant with almost perfect scores. This week, we'll move on to two quadrants. We will also use the same skills to identify intersections on a very basic street map.

I am using the second grade 16 word spelling lists at and their accompanying worksheets and dictation. On Mondays, they get the new list and we go over it. They write each word twice and do some kind of puzzle with the spelling words. Last week it was a word scramble. I make the puzzles online and print them out. On Tuesdays, they do the accompanying worksheet and put the words in alphabetical order. Wednesdays, they write sentences using the spelling words. They can use more than one spelling word per sentence. Thursday is the pre-test. If they don't miss any, they don't have to take the test on Friday. If they misspell some words, they need to write each one 5 times and take the test on Friday. However, if they only miss one or two, I might still skip the test on Friday, depending on how much we need to finish up for the week.

The girls worked on their online reading program, Headsprout, even Apple, who I have do it for speech. Sissy did her math online. They did work in their workbooks in vocabulary, spelling, writing and had to learn a simple poem and do a worksheet on the poem. Apple loved the poem because it was about Apples and she almost memorized it herself, on her own. It was super cute. We also did our reading comprehension assignment from I'm loving this site!

This week, we'll be adding to Blossom and Jie Jie's day. They need to learn their basic math facts better so that we can move on to multiplication facts and understanding more about how to count money and figure out change. It's also time to begin learning cursive writing again; we never finished last year.

Last Labor Day at Morro Bay

This was one of those really nice, perfect days. We started at Morro Bay and played on the beach, saw otters and seals and sea lions, then when to Pismo Beach and walked out onto the pier and saw whales. The older girls loved having their picture taken with the Pelican since they like the movies A Dolphin's Tail 1 & 2 and in those movies is a pesky pelican.

Out to sea, almost at the horizon, was a huge pod of whales. We watched them spouting as they slowly swam toward shore. They got close enough that when they breached, it was easy to see their pectoral fins. It was my first time seeing large whales in the wild and even though they were very far out to sea, it was still amazing.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Blossom's Family Day Anniversary - 3 Years!

It's hard to believe it, but it's been 3 years since Blossom's been home. She was tiny when she came, nearly 12 and wearing size 8. She's still fitting into size 10 because she's small-boned, but height-wise, she needs a 12 or 14 which is tough because they are so wide, even the 12 slims.

Today was the end of a long, but good, week, as far as things go for us. Things got a little tense as I spent many, many hours trying to sort out the girls' laptops and they had some periods of waiting that led to boredom, but we got through it. They did some damage to them with their random, ignorant clicking around. They've been banned from them for over a month but we really need them for school.

Blossom's behavior has been very good since I pulled her out of public school, but she had a big meltdown today. I'm not surprised. It was her first one in over a month. I'm sure it isn't a coincidence that it's on her Family Day, happy when we look at it from where we are now, but very traumatic for her when she first came to me. Her voice is hoarse from the screaming she did, but I'm glad she was able to get it out. She was on the verge yesterday, but I was able to bring her out of it before it escalated. I'm getting really good at noticing when she's slipping into PTSD.

She's had a great week of homeschool. We did more academic work in the last 4 days than she did in 10.5 days of public school, plus we had P.E. in the form of a family bike ride, a trip to the coast, playing outside on our big trampoline and working out on the Rebounder. She's learned to find and plot x,y coordinates on a graph with 10 rows. She and Jie Jie have been working on this very hard all week.

We started our new reading program today, Headsprout. I gave the girls the recommended evaluation but as they began at the recommend levels, I realized the evaluation wasn't very accurate so I'm starting them at the VERY beginning so that they can go through the phonics and learning better to recognize letter groups (blends), and sound words out. This program is designed to teach, re-teach, and improve their reading skills. We are also continuing with our second grade level reading comprehension lessons. They get a worksheet to review with questions pertaining to a very short story. Then I read the story. They do as many questions as they can. Over the next three days, each girls takes a turn reading the same story out loud and then they work on the questions again. On day 5, we go over the questions together and they can read the story again by themselves if they need to find or correct any answers.

We are doing a TON of reading aloud this year!

To celebrate Blossom's Family Day, I picked up some authentic Chinese food from a local hole-in-the-wall and it was the best ever! We have enough for left-overs tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Fun Stuff & School Update

In August, my adoption agency had their yearly party for families. It was also their 20th Anniversary.

By the end of our two weeks of public school, we were all EXHAUSTED. This was on a Saturday morning. Apple went to bed the night before around 8:50pm and I woke her up in the morning after 10am. She had her morning milk while waiting for me to get her cereal and fell back to sleep for another hour sitting like this without moving. She usually closes her eyes to sleep, but when she's super tired, they stay open like this because of her special need.

Let's here it for HOMESCHOOLING!!! This was our P.E. today since it's 103 degrees outside right now. They are on Urban Rebounders following the Kid Bound video. This is also what I'm going to be doing for the next month as I prepare to climb Half Dome again in October.

Homeschooling is going pretty well. I've joined and have been using them every day. I also signed up for Raz Kids and a vocabulary and help-with-reading program through the same website. We still have CTCmath and IXLmath. A couple of good free sites are, and We use a lot of workbooks. This year will be heavy on grammar and reading comprehension.

Sissy's (nearly 17) reading and writing are very poor. She is failing at a beginning 2nd grade level. It's not the language, it's her inability to process and think. She doesn't draw from any experiences she's had at all in any of her writing. Math, she's 6-7 grade and doing very well. We had a great surprise. If I give her a blank piece of paper and tell her to draw a picture, it's about like a 5-6 yr. old would draw, subject as well as ability. Last week, though, I gave her bottle of salad dressing to draw and it was very well done. She didn't even know herself that she could draw like she did. I, of course, had no idea either.

Blossom (nearly 15) is having a hard time with 2nd grade math. She can figure out the answers quite well if I help her understand the questions. She just can't understand the questions, again not a language thing, but a processing thing. Her reading level is hard to gauge, but it's much higher, and always has been, than Sissy's. She is a prolific writer, but it appears to be mostly gibberish unless you understand how she "thinks" and put aside grammar and spelling altogether. She's been much happier and content lately and she's been behaving well.

Jie Jie (11.5) is behind Blossom in math, but would move along faster if she'd obey me and stay on her math programs and not go to random websites involving princesses and movies the minute I leave the room. Her reading and writing are about a solid beginner 2nd grade, perhaps her reading a bit higher than that, but it's hard to tell since she can't explain verbally or write well due to the auditory processing and some other things yet to be diagnosed. She's still in speech therapy and making steady progress.

Apple is coming along in her speech. She's up to 3-6 word sentences, missing articles and often prepositions. "Uh, oh, I need towel please, mama." I am doing Razkids reading with her, too, and she really likes it, though it's more for speech therapy than reading readiness.

All three older girls are currently banned from all computers. They have repeatedly violated our rules and Sissy crashed another computer sneaking onto QQ on her sister's laptop. I will be getting a baby video monitor or some other type of camera to train on their screens when I cannot be in the same room with them, since, even though the computers are in the main family room, they switch websites the minute I leave the room.

All three older girls have a lot of trouble with honor, trust and obedience. The simplest rules are broken the minute I leave the room and the more serious rules are broken the minute my back is turned. They are good girls. They don't want to disobey. They just don't have self-control or the ability to reason with themselves. According to the book Hold On to Your Kids, they are stuck in immaturity and I can't budge them to reach the next level of maturity. Not surprising is that making this shift is all about attachment. Everything seems to come back to that and when you've lived nearly 14 years of your life unloved, never held, never nurtured beyond the basic necessities to sustain life, you just don't know how to attach, don't want it, don't miss it, don't know you need it.

As we delve deeper into the specifics of the girls' current levels of development and get hooked up with more and more specialists, I'm sure we'll get more answers, and certainly more questions. I'm glad that I tried public school. It really gave me the confidence I needed to understand that I am doing a great job and that I'm on the right path in the areas I'm working to improve upon.

Last Monday we went to the coast for the day with My Firefighter (pictures coming soon!). In the car we were teaching the girls about the rock formation on the beach and asked them if they knew why the rock was white. It's from the seagulls and other birds that live on it, but the girls couldn't come up with that, despite many, many clues and hints and just using their eyes to see all the birds. We asked, "What animal has wings?" with birds flying all around that we were pointing out. All three girls were unable to figure it out and Sissy said, "Deer!" One might again think this was a language thing, but she knows English well and knows what a bird is and that it has wings, but she can't THINK. She can only memorize, so she drew deer out of her brain (not the first time) because it's an animal I frequently tell them to look for when we are driving through the hills in the car. See, we were in the car, so the mystery animal must be a deer. Doesn't make sense to anyone but me, but I see why she said it. My Firefighter was stunned beyond anything. I was, too, but I'm used to it and could logic my way to seeing why she said it.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

In the Words of My Firefighter...

"Their failure is complete."

After cancelling bus service yesterday and un-enrolling my child from public school, the school bus showed up this morning at my front door. I never even received a call letting me know what time it was supposed to have come (had we still needed it).

Monday, August 31, 2015

Back to Homeschooling

Blossom is no longer a public school student.

This morning at 6:18am I received a call from the bus people saying that the bus, which was supposed to have begun service for us TOMORROW, was running ONE HOUR LATE this morning.

My Firefighter took Blossom to school this morning in plenty of time, but no one was there to meet her at the drop-off point and take her to class.

We went to the counselor's office and printed out Blossom's current schedule. The counselor confirmed that Blossom should be in those classes. I went to the first period class. She was not there. She was in another building with another special ed teacher just as she's been since starting school.

At least today she was playing an educational board game with two other students and not Curious George cartoons.

Then, she was put on the computer. I could see it was the math program that I pay for. Here it is, the third week of school, and they still don't have any curriculum materials for her.

I knew that the bell for 2nd period was about to ring, so My Fire Fighter and i walked to the next class and waited in the hallway. We greeted the teacher on her way in and watched all the students file in. After five minutes, I went in to inquire as the to whereabouts of my daughter. "Yes, she's supposed to be in this class," the teacher said.

I could clearly see it on her schedule.

I went back to the first period classroom and met the teacher, coming to find me, in the hallway. I didn't say a word, thinking that surely when she saw me, it'd trigger her memory and she'd send my child to English class. Nope. Didn't happen. We sat down, discussed how things were going, she said the same empty stuff about needing to evaluate Blossom before giving her math, etc... She went on and on about how she's still in the Recreation and Leisure Class, something NOT on her schedule, and that they are still playing bowling in the hallway (instead of going to math class). I let her run on and run then asked why Blossom wasn't in her English class. Oops! Everyone forgot. The teacher and all the aides forgot. Off runs the teacher to tell them to get my child to English class.

This confirmed what had been brewing in me since late last night.

The reason I turned to public school is because I felt like I couldn't teach my child any more. She didn't seem to be learning. She was being disruptive. I thought, surely a special education teacher, who is trained to teach kids like this, could do better than I can. I FELT LIKE I COUDLN'T DO IT, that I was failing.

Well, the public school can't do it either! And they are failing. I sure did it better! The fault isn't with my ability to teach. It's with Blossom's inability to UNDERSTAND! Therefore, she has trouble learning and sometimes just CAN'T learn the material.

So, what's better?

A public school with a program designed with good intentions, but in reality has a gross lack of resources to carry them out? So many kids at so many levels of ability and disability that they experience even more interruptions throughout their day than a daycare mom? Then add all the bad influences like bullying? Time wasted watching ridiculous TV instead of something educational and/or uplifting? Time wasted coloring pictures of girls in skimpy clothing? Playing games all day? Sitting in classes without a chance of comprehending?

Or a single mom, loving, smart, though imperfect, teaching her children in a safe environment, at the child's level, where God's laws are taught which means there is an established code of conduct and morality, where family is paramount, despite many interruptions but with real life experiences and opportunities to learn.

I now know what's best and what will work with a little tweaking. Our focus has shifted, that's for sure. It's all about life skills now and which academic skills are needed for daily living. That will be our focus. With a few more things in place, I can run my daycare smoothly and teach my girls, just like I did before we moved. The next couple of weeks will be about getting all those things in place and making the necessary adjustments to make homeschool work and be enjoyable for all.

One of the changes is that our delightful sister missionaries are eager to serve by listening to the girls read aloud each week and they'll teach the girls Bible stories.

Things are definitely getting on the right track now. Many people have been praying for us and I've felt their support. People at church who were once judgmental, have softened as they have finally been around the girls enough to see how their special needs affect their lives, and especially seen how the public school wasn't able to meet Blossom's needs.

Out in the school parking lot after all was said and done, Blossom hugged me like she's never hugged me before - tight, close, sincere. I could feel that she loves me. I could feel that she knew I love her.

We're resting this week, keeping things basic, catching up. Next week, we'll ease into our new school year.

Oh, in case you're wondering, the one hour late school bus had still not arrived at school when we left at 10am. School started at 8am.

And, how did Blossom take the news? Much to my surprise she looked quite upset. I wondered for a brief second if I'd made a mistake, then I asked her why she was so upset. Her answer, "If I don't go to outside school any more, can I still keep my backpack?" Yes, this girl LOVES her purple backpack! Once she knew she could keep it, she was just fine.

On our way out, the sweet old (79 yrs. old) lady who runs the front office whispered to me, "She'll be so much better off homechooled. Bless you."

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Any Regrets?

Yes. I regret that the orphanage reports on my children were not accurate and that people felt like they had to lie to get these kids adopted.

Knowledge is power. I'd have been able to be a much better mom to my girls from the start if only I'd known then what I know now and wish I know now what I'm going to know a year from now.

I can't change these things. These things were not and are not my fault.

I am so glad that my children are here, safe with me, because I know where one would be by now and it's horrible beyond comprehension. I'm pretty sure another one would be dying a slow death due to lack of medical care (not for lack of the orphanage trying, but because her condition is so complicated that it's hard to get proper care even here).

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Little Did I Know

Two weeks of public school special education for Blossom has been 50x harder than homeschooling her. We are all so exhausted! Physically, emotionally, everything! The amount of time it's taking me on the phone, emailing and in meetings for Blossom has been so great, that my other two girls have had no lessons this week or only one per day. Apple went to bed last night at 9pm and I let her sleep until 10:30am this morning. It's 12:30pm and she's sitting in her highchair fast asleep right now.

The special ed. teachers changed Blossom's schedule without notifying the counselor. I think they mentioned it to me, but put it this way, "We share the students, so she'll begin in so-and-so's class in the mornings." What they meant was, "We are changing her schedule completely. She will no longer be in Transitional Math, but in Life Skills, where she'll spend more time playing. Today, we bowled in the hallway because in Oct. we have a field trip to a bowling alley. And she has homework for math. Yes, it's counting to 5 and writing the number. I know that YOU know she can subtract two-digit numbers and borrow, but I don't know that so until I can evaluate her, this is what I'm giving her."

Yesterday, I took her to the classroom that was on her schedule. School begins at 8am. In the classroom, by now 8:15am, the students were eating breakfast and watching a Curious George cartoon on PBS TV. They turned it off at 8:45am and started playing street sign Bingo. When I pointed out to the teacher that this looked like babysitting instead of school, she said, "Well, these students can't read and write like your daughter can."

The problem is that Blossom is at a level by herself. The other high-functioning special ed. kids are academically several grades ahead of her and not new to the English language. The lower functioning kids are very, very low functioning and can't read or write and many are severely handicapped, in wheelchairs, non-verbal, and this is where Blossom has been placed except for one class, English, but I can already tell it's way too hard. So is her one mainstream class, chorus. They were in class for 105 minutes and didn't sing at all, just did a theory workbook. It's way too hard for Blossom. I didn't tell her that, I helped her to do the work, but even My Firefighter couldn't understand the instructions. I could because I know music already and have a point of reference.

Legally, the school has to provide work and support at the level that Blossom functions and works at. The reality, though, is that there isn't enough staff to spare for one student who is somewhat well-behaved, but can't function in the higher level special ed. academic classes. There are just as many, if not many more, interruptions than we experience at home caring for the daycare kids, because the students with profound special needs in the classroom are always needed assistance, whether it's diaper changes or help in the restroom, to needing their hands washed and being moved away from the other students after masturbating (yes, a male student did play with himself, blatantly, but inside his clothing, right beside Blossom), drool that needs wiping up, attention when they get too loud with the spontaneous repetitive noises many of the students make. Blossoms verbal expression has already started taking on the characteristics of the children more affected by CP. I knew this was a possibility because in an orphanage, the key to survival is fitting in, blend in, don't be different. I didn't think it would happen so fast, though. When I picked her up on Thursday, I couldn't understand a word she was saying.

She's beginning to have behavioral problems at school, too. Boredom is one reason, but the other is that she's feeling that everyone thinks she's stupid and damaged because she's being given "baby work" and put in the "damaged area." (She's always called the area of her orphanage where the children with profound special needs lived, the "damaged area," even though I've taught her the correct terms.) I dropped her off on Thursday, got to the car and cried. I cried on and off all day and couldn't wait to pick her up, and when I did, that's when she was speaking unintelligibly. Thinking she had English class on Friday, her one class with a teacher who really sees her potential realistically, I took her to school, and that's when I found out her schedule had been changed without proper authorization. I've been sending emails and making calls every single day, giving the teacher samples of all of Blossom's school work and even gave them the names of the math computer programs we've been using here at home. So, yesterday, Blossom announced that she did CTCmath during class. I was glad she did some actual work. It galls the heck out of me, though, that it's work I bought and paid for and had to provide to a public school for my child.

There has been one good side-effect. It's made me think outside the box and come up with an entirely new plan. I don't know if it's feasible, but with a little research, I can find out. It's also showed me some things about Sissy that I really needed to understand and accept. Next to Blossom, Sissy seemed higher functioning enough that I've always believed she'd learn enough to be an independent adult. Seeing her without Blossom, it became startling clear that she has very similar deficits, but without the layer of trauma that Blossom has. I was, for the first time, able to see very clearly, the difference between memorized behavior and skills and cognitive ability (self-awareness and knowledge integration is extremely low). After doing some basic first grade level reading comprehension exercises, I took the results and my concerns on several other matters to my pediatrician and in a heartbeat, she gave us a referral to a developmental pediatrician. Bottom line for Sissy is that she doesn't have the intellectual ability to be an independent adult either. Looking back and remembering as I type all this out, EVERY SINGLE PERSON WE MET IN CHINA, except my guide, EVEN THE PERSONNEL AT THE U.S. CONSULATE, said upon seeing her, "Oh, I see you've adopted a child with a mental disability." I kept saying, "No, she just looks that way, but everyone says she's fine."

I wish I'd stopped listening long ago to all those out there around me who kept saying things like, "all teens are like that," and "just throw them out there, they'll either sink or swim," and "it's just a language and culture thing."

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

...and Even Worse!

What is considered a decent and fair try? I'm told by "everyone" that it takes time to get things just right the first week or so of school, especially in special education.

Today, they did get the schedule right. And some girl got jealous of sharing her aid and bullied my daughter. Other kids witnessed it and tried to stop it. Teachers did seem to do the right thing, but my child ended up being found crying in the bathroom. It was bad enough that the other girl "got written up."

How much is enough? My daughter was bullied in China mercilessly for the first 11.75 years of her life - the worst of it in school there.

I did meet someone today who may be the answer to a prayer. He is truly an advocate for the child and seems to work the system like I've never known someone on the inside would do.

This whole public school business has been MUCH harder than having my daughter at home. But, and it's a big one, she does disrupt my work and without that we can't put food on the table. I need more kids in my daycare to make ends meet, too, so it's only going to get harder and more demanding.

On the other hand, she's MY child. My first loyalty needs to be to her. This was the biggest issue I wrestled with when thinking about adopting. A single mom NEEDS to work. There isn't a choice. But what is the cost now to my daughter?

Still no bus. Apple started her school season speech therapy today.

I really need to figure this out by the end of this week or I'm going to crash and burn.

Monday, August 24, 2015

It Gets Worse...

I sent Blossom to school today, prepared for a new schedule of real academic work. I picked her up this afternoon only to find out that the teacher, who had attended the meeting last Friday with us, never received the new schedule and didn't even care enough to find out why. So, Blossom spent another day dancing and playing games, though she said she did one page of math, too.

I also didn't hear from the bus scheduling department. I just called them and they have her in the system - TWICE. Once with her name together and once with it separated, and each has the right birthday, but two different student I.D. numbers! And... and this is the real kicker.... they don't have her listed as a special ed student. Then they said it takes 30 days to do an IEP. I told them it was done and signed last Friday. She said, Ms. V had to sign it, I said she was there and did. Then she said she had no idea why things weren't being taken care of and for me to "stay on it."

Excuse me, but I already have a job, thank you. Will you please do yours?

That's what I'm thinking. I wish I'd said it.

I don't think I'm going to last a month like this. I told My Firefighter, who has been away on a wildland fire for 11 days now, that I'd give it a month, but there is no way I'm going to drive my daughter back and forth and back and forth, lugging my daycare babies and kids with me. I have to WORK, too, and the parents are NOT paying to drive their kids around the neighborhood!

Friday, August 21, 2015

Recreation and Leisure Class?

The meeting I was supposed to have with the special ed. department this afternoon has been rescheduled for tomorrow morning. Just in time since today I found out she watched Night at the Museum 2 DURING SCHOOL HOURS in a class called Recreation and Leisure. Come on, it's the 4th day of class and their watching recreational movies? Whoever conceived of such a class? What in the world is happening to public education in America?

Honestly! I work myself nearly to death every single day to educate my girls and I send them to school and the teachers put on non-educational movies? Couldn't it at least have been The Miracle Worker or something similar? Something real, inspiring or education?

I don't want free babysitting. I want my child to learn and develop to her potential.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

School Days

Well, tomorrow is Day 4 of public school special education. Blossom seems to like it, but so far, she's done nothing but play and "baby work." Apparently, her IEP from last year was VERY incomplete, so we have a meeting tomorrow to see just what should be done with her. Honestly, the two papers she's brought home so far are so babyish that I can't believe that's all they had for her.
At home, she's been subtracting two digit numbers with borrowing (regrouping) and today's paper from the school had three problems. The first problem had two pictures, one of two blocks and one of one block. There was a blank square after each picture. The instructions were to count the blocks, circle the picture that had more blocks and write how many blocks there were in the blank squares. The other two problems were the same, but different pictures.

Today, I sent her with some of her homeschooling workbooks and instructions for the teachers. She only did one page when I sent three workbooks.

So, the goal for tomorrow's meeting is to arrange a schedule for Blossom that will keep moving her along academically, teach her the life-skills she'll need, and get the door-to-door bus arranged.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

We had a great morning. We were close and their hearts opened to me and each other.

We had a good experience doing some charity work at church making blankets for Project Linus.

We had a great lunch at church.

Everyone behaved very well.

We had a good afternoon.

The open hearts from this morning lingered. They felt my love. They felt secure. They wanted to share...

..and memories of life in China seeped into the discussion.

Anxiety levels rose. Slowly. Steadily. I knew it was coming.

Blossom sabotaged herself in a minor way at bedtime but it led to a crying fit. I handled it well. She handled it well. It didn't develop into a full-blown tantrum.

I saw the look on Jie Jie's face before she got ready for bed, verge of tears but distancing herself from it. She squeezed me so tight giving me a bedtime hug, it actually hurt. Now she is up and it's nearly midnight. She can't sleep, haunted by the mystery of her life in China. She calls it "China stuff." She's got memories of feelings, very, very, very early ones. It's astonishing what she can remember from so early in her life. It bothers her that she can't remember it enough to put it into words.

Sissy is up, too, still in her bed but restless, sometimes dozing off and talking loudly in her sleep.

It's so hard for them to accept love and feel safe and secure in it. They want it. They crave it. They can't seem to stand it.

Mama Read Book

Tonight, Apple brought me a book and said, "Read book."

I said to her, "Okay, read your book."

She said, "No. Mama."

I asked her, "What do you want me to do?"

She answered, "Mama read book, please."

It was adorable! It's super adorable when her sisters read to her, too.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Fair Assessments

One of my commenters brought up an excellent point: It's extremely difficult to get a fair assessment on the intellectual/cognitive level of a child who spent years in an orphanage then is adopted and moved to a foreign country, or any child, perhaps even an adult, for that matter. What I'm about the write is my own experience, views, thoughts, observations and opinions though a lot of it is well-known and well-documented but not followed in American school systems.

What are some of the reasons it's hard to accurately assess our kids who spent time in orphanages before their adoptions?

1. Typical to extreme levels of neglect, especially during infancy and all the results of this.

2. Poor nutrition.

3. Poor education, beginning with a lack of the normal back and forth interactions and infant would experience with a loving parent to the poor education many orphans experience in schools before their adoption.

4. Lack of life experience and lack of experience with reasoning, logic, decision making (orphans usually aren't given choices about anything), problem solving and general exposure to philosophical ideas and diversity.

5. Exposure to a new language, culture and way of life (family living vs. orphanage life).

6. Special needs.

In one evaluation, I had to fill out a behavioral assessment. One of the questions was something like this: Does your child use how, what, when and where correctly in a sentence? Never/Sometimes/Always.

This question can be answered Sometimes for each of my older girls, especially at first, but even now, especially for Blossom, which is indicative of her special need because she learned English the fastest and the best, had the highest reading level in Chinese, but very low writing ability, and has acquired the largest English vocabulary as well as use of colloquialisms. More on this later.

Another question was: Does your child bathe, brush their teeth, comb their hair appropriately by themselves? Never/Sometimes/Always.

Again, none of my girls did at first. This is because no one took the time in their orphanages to show them how to do it thoroughly. Now, Sissy does great. Blossom, not so great and sometimes not at all. But now, she can get herself ready in the morning without me being there. Every couple days, I check her teeth to make sure the brushing well (or at all) and I frequently have to send her back to her room to change clothes because they are either dirty, too small, too big, not appropriate or VERY mismatched. And no, I'm not going to let my child out in public looking like a clown at her age wearing primary colored stripes, plaids and polka dots all at the same time. If she was 4, yes, it's cute when their 4. It's not cute at 14.5.

Today, I received a call from the school district. They wanted to assess Blossom's English language ability because on one of the enrollment forms it asks what her first language was. There were fields to choose from and only one said Chinese. I explained that she spoke two Chinese dialects and usually there is a place to select Mandarin or Cantonese or Other, but not on this form. (She is actually their FIRST Chinese-speaking student! Shocking to me, who lived in the Bay Area and was surrounded by Cantonese and Mandarin speakers for the last 27 years). I explained that she does have a special need but that I'd help them test her. This test was completely invalid BEFORE they even began. Here's why:

1. It was for 9th-12th graders. Blossom is only at 1st-2nd grade level.

2. The man giving the test had a Chinese last name and a Hispanic first name and a very thick Panamanian accent. The test was orally given. I could understand him but it wasn't easy and he made errors as he read from getting entire words completely wrong to leaving off a plural s sound at the end of a plural word.

3. Blossom couldn't even understand the instructions the way he read them, but I was allowed to clarify them for her.

The first question had three pictures. There were one or two rulers, arranged differently, in each picture. The question was: Which two rulers are perpendicular to each other? Blossom, of course, hasn't learned what perpendicular means so she couldn't answer that question. If her math was at a 9th grade level, she'd have come across that word by now. Did this question accurately assess her ability to understand English? No. Because it was above her cognitive level.

The second question showed three pictures again. There were three shapes in each picture and in two pictures there was a fourth shape inside one of the three shapes. The question was: Which picture shows a circle inside a rectangle? But the first time the man read it, he said triangle instead of rectangle and instead of saying, oops, I made a mistake, he read the problem again as though repeating it exactly, but he said rectangle. It was hard to pick up on the difference because of his accent. Blossom knows her shapes but has to think a little bit about their names - due to English, not cognitive level. However, her cognitive level interfered with her understanding of the pictures. She knew there were three possible answers. In the first picture, she saw three shapes and in one of those shapes there was another shape, a circle in a square. She didn't realize that each picture had three main shapes and that she needed to look at each of the SETS of shapes, not just the first set. I pointed out to her where A,B and C pictures were, but she had fixated on the first picture and the three shapes there and couldn't let go of her idea and belief that those three shapes in picture one were the three options. She got it wrong. Later, I asked her if she knew the difference between a square and a rectangle and she did and described it well. Then, I showed her the pictures again and explained how each choice was a set of shapes and that she needed to look at all the sets and ignore shapes that were alone and look at the shapes that had another shape inside them. Then she got it. This is why teaching her takes so long. More on this later, too.

The third question showed three pictures of framed art and asked: Which picture shows a portrait? She'd only heard of the word portrait in her 5th month home when I had the girls draw their self portraits. That's a long time for anyone new to a language to remember a word that early on, heard only once or twice. She couldn't answer. I looked at the man and said watch this: I said, "A portrait is a picture of a person's head and shoulders. Which picture shows a portrait?" She picked the correct one.

We stopped the test. They filled out paperwork to leave the evaluation of English ability up to the testing done for the IEP.

Unless a test is at the level of the child's cognitive ability and within their knowledge of experience, the test will be grossly inaccurate!

The assessments given by school districts compare kids like mine to average American kids of the same age. But let's look at America now. What is average? How many kids are immigrants or born to immigrants? What are their home cultures like? What does a 14 yr. old Amish child know when compared to a child raised in New York City? An Amish child may be very knowledgeable and experienced about growing crops and farming but a child raised in New York City probably hasn't even seen a tomato growing, so if a child in New York City was shown three plants without their fruit, such as a tomato plant, corn and an artichoke, they'd probably fail the test. Is one child smarter than another? We sure can't tell by this kind of test.

Last year, when all three of my girls were evaluated, Blossom's was the absolute most fair and accurate of the three AND as fair and accurate as I think one can get for HER. There was a Chinese translator who spoke both Mandarin and Cantonese. As much of the test that could be done non-verbally or using pictures instead of words, pointing instead of writing, was done. I made sure to note on all the questions I answered, which was a second language issue and what was a cognitive issue. I know what I've tried to teach her. For example, I've taught her basic hygiene. It's still a struggle for her, but she's reached an acceptable level. By this, I mean that I don't have to be in the bathroom with her when she's getting ready every day, but every couple of days, I check her teeth to make sure she's brushing well (or at all) and I do frequently send her back to change clothes because she's either put on something dirty, too small, too big, or not appropriate.

Back to Blossom's acquisition of English. She was taught some English in China. She could clearly say, "Hello, nice to meet you." She knew yes and no and a couple other things, like the alphabet. Even though she was nearly 12 years old when I got her, she learned English like a younger child, by babbling and imitating the sounds, not by translating. Sissy would look up each word carefully in her dictionary or use the translator, then think in Chinese, translate in her head, then say it in English, stiffly, unnaturally, trying to get it perfect. Blossom was like a baby constantly babbling, singing, trying out her words without any embarrassment at all. She learned English fast! She acquired a huge vocabulary in a short amount of time. She picked up colloquialisms, slang, idioms - she picked it ALL up - things only adults would usually say, bad words if she passed by someone using them. Looking back, I can see why she picked up language so fast... She's at that cognitive level. Her brain didn't mature and develop to the point where that skill is changed to the learning-by-translating method of language learning. But now, she's still stuck at that level. She's got all this vocabulary and speaking ability but can't wield it appropriately. This is an excellent example of how her special need served her well and then how it's preventing her from further development.

Back to learning taking a long time. Part of the language assessment today showed Blossom three pictures. They wanted her to write in her native or first language what was happening in each picture. The pictures were stick figures. The first was a waiter taking a person's order. The person ordering was sitting at a table in what looked like a restaurant. The second picture showed the waiter bringing the food on a tray. The third picture showed that the waiter tripped and the contents of the tray were falling onto the person at the table.

My question to the man giving the test, "Do you really think that a child raised in an orphanage would have been taught the Chinese characters for restaurant ordering?" He was chagrined and said, "No."

I then asked Blossom to tell me what was happening in the first picture. She said, "He, no she... Mommy, does it show he and she?"

The pictures did not show gender so I said it didn't matter. She was then able to say that the waiter, and she used the word waiter, was writing down the man's order (she didn't use the word order, but said something like - the food he wants). Then - special need kicked in here - no filter for sorting information and sticking to what is relevant and knowing what is easily implied.... Remember, the next picture is the waiter bring the food order to the table, but Blossom started talking and talking... "The the cook cooked the food in the kitchen and put it on the plate and the waiter......"

I stopped her and said that we are looking at the pictures we can see, not what we know happened next after the order was taken.

I can't help but wonder if her special need is caused by something that would otherwise be considered genius: an ability to see the ENTIRE picture and right now, she just isn't able to filter and prioritize the information. A lot like auditory processing disorder where the person hears every single thing from the cars driving by to the people talking in the next room, to the person talking beside them to the shuffling of papers at a desk, etc... and every sound is of equal importance in the brain, it's not filtered and sorted and given priorities or ignored.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Sad and Hopeful

Perfect words to describe my current state. Yesterday was a day of grieving that's left me raw this morning. I did already know about Blossom's condition which is why I had her tested to make it formal and to be able to get more help, especially once she's an adult, but I admit that a secret part of me was hoping I was wrong. I was also hoping it wasn't quite so bad.

In all my reading about adoption and the various issues children may have, none mentioned the grieving a parent experiences with each new diagnosis. I didn't even recognize what it was the first couple times, but I know it well now. I grieve for the struggles that lay ahead for my child, for the things she won't experience or accomplish (whatever they may be), for the perceptions others will have of her and the limitations they may try to place on her, and for so much more.

What comes later is the celebration of each achievement she will have, big and small, but today, I am still grieving for her.

What makes this even more sad is that she's very aware of what others can do and she doesn't yet understand why she isn't allowed to do those things. In her mind, she feels capable, but when she tries, she is not, and it makes situations dangerous for her.

Last night as I dropped her off for her weekly church activity, I saw the leader placing a big cup of scissors on the table. My reaction was physical. My heart rate increased, my breath caught in my chest and I felt something close to panic rising in me. My mind was screaming, Please don't give her scissors! I managed to keep myself under control and speak reasonably with the leader, one of the few I feel compassion and understand from, not judgement. She assured me that Blossom will have plenty to do that doesn't involve scissors.

I can't remember in this moment if I mentioned what Blossom did with scissors the last time she had them, but the path of destruction she wrought is still being discovered. Mostly, she didn't mean to destroy things, though a few items she did, like cutting the sleeve of one of her sister's Sunday dresses, but she honestly believed that if the things were her own, it was okay to cut them up. She cut the yarn tufts off her quilt to use as fake noodles in our little play kitchen (still her favorite toy). This was creative, but terribly inappropriate and destructive. She also cut the leather flowers off her leather sandals to give as a gift, cutting the sandal straps, too. Again, kindness was the goal, but destruction the result. She only meant to cut the tag off of her pillow, but she ended up cutting the pillow as well. And so on and so on and so on...