The end of another year

I have a little ritual – to write an end of our year review for homeschool. I started these posts for my mom, but they have morphed into a memento of sorts for me too. I love looking back and seeing how far the kids have come over the year….and even taking a peek at years past.

With a son who will be entering his 3rd year of high school, now more than ever, I feel the need to really slow down and recognize how far we have come. We started this homeschool journey when Soccer Dude was entering 1st grade. With a few years off while we lived in Kentucky, we have been at this for 8 years. Actually, I should write a post about how far I have come as a home educator. I knew nothing back then! Maybe I will add that for next year. For now, I am celebrating the end of another year.

Here is a peek at what the kids have learned this year, where they are headed, and some encouragement to myself that we have accomplished a lot during this crazy year. Wohoo for another year in the books!

Moe: Age 3 (our pre-school comic relief) This guy is everyone’s favorite. Each of the big kids take a turn playing with Moe as I homeschool. That really is one of the only ways I can keep sane while homeschooling 5 children with a pre-schooler under my feet. What started out as a chore (babysitting) turned into the privilege everyone fought over. Moe is just fun to be with. Play dough, reading picture books, forts, light saber fights…the kids all love finding ways to keep their three year old brother entertained during school time. You can bet that he also entertains us as he pretends to be a cat or a kangaroo.

Favorite subject: trucks and tractors

What he wants to be when he grows up: Grandpa

Favorite food: hot dogs

Biggest accomplishment: Moe has been in our family for just a bit over a year. Hard to believe when you hear him talk. He rocks English. He narrates EVERYTHING. “Look. There is a truck coming. That is a big truck. I like trucks. Mom, do you like trucks? Trucks can go over speed bumps.” On and on it goes, in perfect english. He is amazing.

Little Man: (Our 2nd grade graduate.) This guy is as smart as he is hilarious. He has taught me more about dinosaurs and the Jurassic period then I ever have cared to learn. He also can pronounce more dinosaurs names than I can.

Favorite subject: Math and geography (because he can do it fast.)

What he wants to be when he grows up: Archeologists

Favorite food: Chinese noodles

Biggest accomplishment: Little Man attended an art class that I taught for local kids. This year I have seen his Chinese language skills improve, his ability to make local friends has improved and our outgoing dude is blossoming. During one class I caught him challenging the boys to see if they could stomp on his foot hard enough to make him cry. I couldn’t help but laugh at all of the boys who were in awe over how strong Little Man is – none of them can stomp hard enough on his fake leg to make him flinch! I wonder when he might show them that he wears a prosthetic! That is our Little Man for ya.

Little Monkey: (completed 5th grade) It might be time for a new nickname for this sweet young lady. She is growing and maturing so quickly. It is fun to see the person she is becoming. We spent a chunk of time this year helping her determine her talents, gifts, and what she enjoys doing. She feels most comfortable following her big sister’s footsteps – but it has been fun to see her come into her own a bit this year.

Favorite subject: Geography and literature. It is even better if those two things are combined.

What she wants to be when she grows up: unsure

Favorite food: rice

Biggest accomplishment: urged on by one of her best friends, Little Monkey has determined to practice piano enough hours to make herself an expert. Based on the idea that 10,000 hours of practice can make you an expert in a field – she has upped her piano practice time in hopes that she can be an expert before she is mom’s age!

Roo: (will be starting High School in the fall!) This girl loves the arts. Painting, drawing, playing piano, knitting, crafting….you name it. Our home would not be the same without this creative spirit who is always pressing us to do school in a new way, bringing a creative twist to our lessons and thinking of some new fun way to entertain her brothers.

Favorite subject: She would say art and that she hates math – but really she is very good at math and language. This girl can diagram a sentence better than her momma.

As a family we based our homeschooling on My Father’s World’s curriculum “Exploring Countries and cultures.” Roo has loved our family read a-louds that are based on expats who have lived and worked around the world. We were all inspired by the series “Christian Hero’s: Then and Now.” We plan to read many more of them. This year, I have watched this tendered hearted girl fall in love with and have a heavy heart for a particular country and people group. Makes me wonder where she will end up one day.

Favorite food: ice cream

Biggest accomplishment: I will let this photo of one of her art projects speak for itself. I love seeing her art skills develop. This is was an assignment she did after studying famous artists including Van Gough.

B: (Surprise addition to our homeschool crew.) This guy is so very smart. I can’t even begin to put it into words. Our original goal was to slowly introduce him to our educational ways – let him hang with Little Man with 2nd grade work as he learns english. No pressure for him or for me. HA! I saw in the first week that wouldn’t work. We did placement after placement test for math. When he aced the 5th grade placement test even though he has had little formal education, I knew it was going to be hard to keep a head of this kid. He is learning words in math like parallelogram, is racing through Rosetta Stone English and is being diligent in his Explode the Code series.

Favorite subject: Math

Favorite food: gan ban (A Chinese noodle dish)

Biggest accomplishment: acclimating to our family. He has rocked this life change. I can’t say enough about how strong, flexible, kind, and tender-hearted this kiddo is. So thankful that he has joined our homeschooling crew this year.

Soccer Dude: (10th grade graduate – he is half way through High School!) We made a lot of changes in homeschooling this guy. Last year he was enrolled in an online High School. It was a good solid program and he did well, but it was hard on all of us to have him at the computer all day long. So this year, he took two classes online and we went back to traditional homeschooling the other courses. I was nervous at the beginning of the year, but it has been so much better for all of us. I am thankful to be more involved in his schoolwork again, he has taken more initiative in his learning, and we are having some big and good conversations. Who says parenting and homeschooling the teen years are hard? I am learning with them and enjoying this journey….even with the bumps along the way.

Favorite subject: Science (that is a new things this year!)

Favorite food: grilled bratwurst (can you tell he spent more time in the states this year?!)

Biggest accomplishment: Grieving well. This might sound like a weird thing to put here, but seriously this guy has been an example to me. He is leaning into Jesus as he has walked through the grief of saying goodbye to a foster brother he adored and loosing both of his grandmothers. When we transitioned to the States for the spring semester he did it with strength that rarely is seen in a teenager. He has handled it all well and is finishing his 10th grade year with all A’s. I am proud of him – not just for his high grades, but for setting aside his life and friends to help his Papa. It gives me a glimpse into the great man he is becoming.

I have never been so ready for our summer break. It has seemed like a long year and I have often felt that I could not meet all of the educational needs of these 6 souls – not to mention keeping our home going! I appreciate looking back over the year and seeing how God has met all of our needs – the needs of the kids and mine!

I am taking a deep breath and enjoying the beach before it is time to start another round of the Williams academy.

Unexpected diagnosis

It just “happens” that we were asked to adopt the now 14 year old who has been on our hearts for years. We said yes. As a family, this is who God has called us to be. We didn’t go looking to adopt again. We thought we were done. God had a different idea. When you commit to following Jesus and loving the people He puts in your life, the journey can be very different than what you expect.

We are experiencing this truth in full force with our new son, B. It was a miracle that God brought him to us and provided for his adoption in four short months. We continue to see that miracle unfold as we watch him grow and blossom in our family. We tried to prepare ourselves for what adding a teenager to our family would be like. I had prepped myself for teenage attitude, bonding difficulties, anger and meltdowns. That has not been our reality. He has blown every one of our expectations out of the water. He is sweet and kind with his new siblings. He willingly is learning our family ways and takes joy in being with us. He is learning English at an alarming rate (he learned the English for isosceles acute triangle in Math. How does he know a word that I just had to look up how to spell inorder put it in this blog post?!) He also is becoming stronger with physical therapy, and he loves s’mores, 4-wheeler rides and a good game of “Quick Cups” or “Exploding Kittens.” In general he is a happy and kind kiddo – a wheelchair rolling miracle, and I am so blessed to be a part of his amazing life.

Our expectations for our new son also did not include a diagnosis of Spinal Muscular Atrophy. The test results are in, and we are so very thankful to know the root cause of his muscle weakness. At this time, we aren’t sure what this diagnosis means for him or for our family. We are consulting with multiple doctors, looking into treatment plans and trusting that God is in control.

We would appreciate your prayers in the coming weeks as we continue to seek how to best care for B. We specifically need prayers for wisdom and guidance. This journey God is taking us on….it isn’t what we expected, but we are thankful for the unexpected joy of a teen who so easily has loved us and is a blessing to love in return and we are also thankful that we serve a God who is never surprised by the unexpected. Trusting Him.

Dinosour moments

Sitting in church on Sunday morning so thankful to be with friends, singing, praying, and thankful to have the opportunity to take communion. I looked down our row with tears in my eyes as Hubby was explaining what was about to happen in communion to our newest son. That is when I happened to glance at Little Man who was happily serving part of his communion bread to his plastic dinosaur.

There are moments. Moments when I shake my head and wonder if all that we are teaching our kids is sinking in.

With my sternest mommy look and my “I mean business even though I am whispering” voice I said. “Little Man, Dinosours do not get communion!”

There are moments. Moments when things come out of my mouth that I can not even believe that I am saying. Really? Do we need to explain this? I looked nervously around to see who was catching my son in the act. While traditions surrounding kids and communion differ, our heritage has allowed children to particiate when ready. We have always been firm believers in explaining sacraments to our kids, and when they believe, we have them participate alongside us. In that moment I could see the other side – why our practice could be questioned!

Little Man’s response to my stern whisper in not such a whisper voice. (He really is our loudest child and is not capable of whispering.) “Mom, EVERYONE needs to be reminded of what Jesus did for us.”

Schooled.

So I let my seven year old finish his communion and share the juice with his favorite T-Rex. There is room in our traditions and rituals for children to show us the way.

There are moments when I realize that this parenting thing is hard, but these kids might turn out okay after all. But then again, as I am typing this my three year old has a plastic triceratops stuck up his nose digging out snot. No spiritual justification for that one. My work is not done.

Sweating it out with my teen

My goal – is to thrive as a momma of six babies, not just survive. At times that feels like a lofty goal. I mean, come on, there are a lot of lessons to teach, mouths to feed and oh the mounds of laundry.

One of my tricks for thriving (besides praying, daily devotions and talking with my hot husband) is exercise. I learned about three years ago that 25 minutes a day of aerobic exercise really is a game changer for me. I sluffed off through our crazy season and just decided that it was time to become religious about my daily workout…again.

The struggle is real – when I am homeschooling 5 children with a pre-schooler on my hip, trying to keep everyone fed, trying to keep the peace and my sanity to boot….well, finding 25 minutes in my day can seem like an insurmountable task. The other day, I pulled out my weights and my workout video and set myself up right next to B in the living room. I usually like to hide in my room and tell the kids that I can’t talk and do knee lifts. But, I was running late – again. B needed to do his physical therapy excercises and he does better if I am right with him – but I saw my morning slipping away and I really wanted to get my workout done too.

We have started physical therapy with B. It has been a long on-ramp with some bumps along the way as we have begun to figure out what he needs and how to help him to reach his healthiest. There have been days when I have wondered if I am the best for this job, and if I am being honest, it has caused me some stress.

I handed B the bar that he uses for his arm lifts and started my workout. He laughed as he watched me huff and puff. “What are you doing?”

“Exercising just like you.” I told him. “Today we are doing it together.”

For several moments, He watched me as if I was a crazy creature, but then he started on his reps too. I would pause my workout to switch him to his next excersice and he would exclaim – “Keep going, mom!”

There was one point when he was laying on the floor while I was also laying down….”I can do that one too,” he told me watching me lift my arm weights. It was his best at home physical therapy yet. He mimicked my exercises and laughed at my air punches and kicks. There is something about doing things together.

Modeling life for my kids. If I want them to exercise – then I better be at it myself. Reading their Bibles, then I need to let them see me doing it.

If I leave my cup laying around, you bet your bottom dollar they will do the same. That is the easiest one for me to tackle. Harsh words, impatience, judgmental comments. Let’s just say I struggle with more than keeping a daily exercise routine. I don’t want my kids to struggle with the same weaknesses.

Chores with joy, serving willingly, loving our neighbor, forgiving, passionate worship, sharing, standing with the oppressed…These are what I hope for my children’s lives. The question is, am I living it out in front of them?

Recently while riding in the car with my dad, I heard a random quote on the Southern Gospel station of the radio. “Teens have a hard time listening to their parents, but they are good at imitating them.” My dad laughed out loud. I am sure he was picturing some of the rowdy kids from his days of being an elementary principal. I didn’t laugh. With three teenagers in the house, I for sure hear the truth of this statement ringing loud and clear. Sobering and a bit scary, if I am being honest.

The success of physical therapy this week has me thinking. What am I modeling for my kids? What do I want them to see? Are their some of my habits and behaviors that I should change that would result in a positive change in their immitating behaviors?

This week, I am going to let my kids see me exercise. Humbling. A bit embarrassing. But frankly, I want my kids to see that it is important to work at being healthy and to take care of ourselves.

Sweating it out with my teen today, but I don’t want to stop there. Praying God gives me the wisdom and grace to keep modeling how to live life as a Jesus follower to the most important people in my life. That will help us all to thrive.

No pity hugs, please.

I am new at this – but I am not. Maybe, I just feel new to being a mom to special ability kids because I still fumble to find the right words. I don’t think quick enough on my feet to diffuse a surprising situation, and I am still shocked over how folks will treat someone they see as disabled.

I want to start by saying that I don’t intend to rant or rave. I am not complaining, and I am not sure a blog post is the place to really help anyone understand kiddos with special needs. Inspired by this post, I realize that we have to tell the stories of our amazing kids. I really think that many people have not spent time with kiddos who might be labeled in society as disabled. So, I hope this post can serve as a peek at some of the things we face, comments that are made, and what we experience.

Little Man has spent times in and out of a wheelchair leading up to and after re-amputation surgeries. We always have to find a new rhythm. During these times, I realize anew how inaccessible the world can be to those who are immobile, as well as how unaware folks can be.

For example, there is one handicapped stall in the bathroom. Four other stalls are unoccupied, but for some reason the handicapped stall is being used. The desire for extra leg room means that Little Man has to wait unnecessarily to go to the bathroom. What stall your choose in the bathroom…it matters.

At the grocery story, children point, stare and ask rude questions like, “What is wrong with you?” – and all the while the parent stands by gawking. Saying nothing. Word choice matters. Body language matters. I so wish in these situations (Yes, I did mean to make that plural. You could change the location from grocery store to park, church, beach….it happens everywhere.) I wish I could pull the child and parent aside – smile and say- “Let’s not use those words. How about you ask us about the bandage or about the wheelchair?

At times even when comments aren’t made, folks will turn away (or even run from us) hoping to avoid uncomfortable situations or words. Like one day at the park when Little Man’s leg falls off coming down a slide. A child sees his leg flying down the slide first. She screams. Cries. Instead of helping his daughter engage and understand, her dad grabs her by the arm and literally runs. Their park visit cut short because they just weren’t sure what to say or do when my son’s leg came off at a bad time.

I am not new at this. We have been learning the language to use. Preparing our children how to be kind even when those around us don’t exactly know how to handle us. I step in to explain and hopefully help those we encounter to see the world through the eyes of our kiddos….just a little bit. Our goal is for our kids to understand that they are special, loved, unique. There is nothing wrong with them.

So, I thought I was ready. A teen in a wheelchair kinda fits with my experience.

But, not really.

I wasn’t prepared for everyone who really is trying. They want to connect – to include our son in conversation and to help him experience things around him. I think folks just don’t know how to do that. They look at him and wish his life was different – that he didn’t have to be in a wheelchair – and wonder why life handed him this difficult hand. (In other words – pity.)

I truly want to believe that this all comes from a very good place in the hearts of people – but there are just a few things I wish I knew how to change…..

I am walking through the store with two teenage sons. If you wouldn’t dream of patting my other teenage son standing beside me on the head, then please do not consider doing that to my teen in a wheelchair. No head pats. It also is not appropriate to push his chair for him, to offer to help with wheelchair transfers, to ask about his medical condition, to lean down into his personal space or to hug him.

(Frankly, hugging is a big deal. No pity hugs. No. No. No. And actually while we are on the subject – not pity waves, no pity hellos, and hold all pity comments to yourself.)

Why? Why do I become tongue twisted when a woman at church leans down to my teenage son kisses him on top of the head and hugs him? My son who she had never met before. My son who is in a wheelchair and can not lean away. That, my friends, was a pity hug. A hug that says I wish life wasn’t like this for you.

I appreciate the sentiment and the effort, but I really wish I had the chance to have a redo with this woman. I would explain to her that my son has strength, perseverance, and a good attitude thru tremendously difficult situations. I’d invite her to sit with us and get to know how amazing he is…just the way God made him. I have learned so many things from him. I know this woman could too – then she would be in a place to give him a real hug.

At an airport playground a boy came up to Little Man who was wearing shorts and pointed to his leg. “That is weird.” He said. My son replied….”It isn’t weird. Let me show you.” He takes off his leg and starts to hop. “My super power is that I can hop longer than anyone else.” The little boy and his brother stood and stared. I was biting my nails wondering when I should jump in myself. Then I heard the words….”Wow! That is so cool!” Before this lion momma did anything in defense of her cub, Little Man had half of the kids in the play place hopping on one leg. He did out last them all. The next hour was filled with good play. That is how change happens. Weird turns to cool. Pity never takes root. Abilities are seen and applauded.

B won’t be having hopping contests at a play place, but you can get to know him too. He enjoys conversation. You can do this by taking a step back so you can look him in the eyes, pull up a chair next to him or even squatting down next to his chair. (Not sure if I can explain, but that is all very different than leaning down into his space.) Listen to his newest tongue twister – he loves finding new ones in Chinese and now in English too. He loves playing board games and going for walks. You could hold the door for us. Let B carry your bag. He loves helping and is awesome at teaching folks new words in Chinese if you are interested in learning.

Hopping along side my one legged wonder or sitting next to my strong teen – that is where you will find hope alive. Those are the positions that make change happen. Help us write a different story – a story of open communication and seeing things from a different perspective.

A birthday to remember

I am one of those moms. You know the type. The sappy (let a few tears drip into the frosting as I make cupcakes for my babies who seem to grow a year older behind my back) momma. But this birthday celebration – a few tears did not do it justice. Every time I looked at our new son on his birthday, tears sprang to my eyes.

We have missed 13 birthdays with this boy. 13. Adding emotion to that fact, we have been counting down the days to this 14th birthday. It was the deadline. If we did not have all of his adoption paperwork completed by his birthday, it was a no go. By Chinese law children are unadoptable at their 14th birthday.

We adopted him 10 days before his birthday.

Can I just type that sentence one more time so that you can feel the force of its drama? 10 days before his birthday he got a family. His miracle (and ours) happened 10 days before it was too late. That is worthy of many grateful tears from this momma. Amen?! Call me sappy if you want.

We enjoyed celebrating our new son on his 14th birthday which happened to fall on Chinese New Year’s Eve due to the lunar calendar. We made cupcakes and had gifts, but added making dumplings (traditional Chinese New Year food), staying up till midnight and setting off fireworks. It is a birthday, for many reasons, that we won’t forget.

A few more photos of our dumplings and Chinese New Year celebration….

and a few more words about how our transition is going.

We were preparing for a rough road with a teenager who hasn’t lived with a family. Instead, we are experiencing grace filled days with a delightful young man who is embracing his new life….and our family. We feel incredibly blessed. Maybe it is the honeymoon phase – but we are taking every moment and storing up these sweet memories that will be treasured and will help if harder days come. We would appreciate your continued prayers as we get to know each other and find a new normal for our family. We are starting the Chinese New Year with thankful hearts for all that God has done to make our family and with great hope of all that will come to pass in this year of the dog!

Family Day

This is the story of a 13 year old boy who joined our crazy crew.

If I am completely honest, the story of this child being added to our family is one that I can only fully tell sitting at my kitchen table over a cup of coffee with extra sugar and cream. Even then, I am sure I would struggle with the words to describe…..the surprise factor. Miraculous provision. Hurdles that God overcame. Agencies willing to work over time on our behalf. Generous friends and family. Anxiety over the unknown – sweet confirmation in the face of the fear and grief. Obstacles. Tears. Victory.

Oh, the stories I have to share.

Friend, until we meet for coffee, these photos and few words will have to do. They will give you a peek at the miraculous adoption that took place.

I have never been so relieved to be in a government office signing papers and pressing our fingers into red ink. We promised to care for and not abandon the teen, who sat next to us taking it in silently with wide eyes. As the translator explained to “B” what we were signing, my hands shook as so many thoughts came to my mind. “Can he understand that we truly mean the promises we are making? How long will it take for him to trust that we are the forever deal?”

I thought that signing the papers felt big to me, but as I watched this brave, strong boy sign his own name as he agreed to enter a new strange life, I cried. I cried because of the hurdles had been crossed to make this possible. God had brought us together. I sniffled because a child should never have to sign this type of paper. My heart screamed at the idea of all that had happened before this day.

A child being without family is an injustice – everything that leads up to it should not be. But there is redemption. When I look at the smile on B’s face in this next photo….when we were holding the book that gives him our last name…it reminds me that there are second chances at love that only come about through grace.

A new beginning with three brothers and two sisters and some crazy white parents – that might just take any strong person down. But this guy entered our family and home with a quiet smile and a determination that puts me to shame.

We spent our first afternoon playing games and getting to know each other on these new terms we have agreed to. I am not sure what I expected, but for sure I didn’t think he would be laughing over Uno and Quick Cups. I never dreamed he would be calling us mom and dad. I never would have pictured him leaning in to tell his new sister a joke with a gleam in his eye.

We celebrated this new chapter in our lives at our favorite Chinese restaurant- Hot Pot. As a party of 8, we now fill a whole table by ourselves. I took it all in wanting to treasure the moment in my heart – all of us together.

As joyful as a new beginning can be, it also means an end. Our brave new son needed to say goodbye to the home he has known for the past nine years. The next day we walked the halls of the orphanage handing out small gifts trying to help B find a bit of closure.

The story I wish you all could hear and understand – it would be a story of the generosity and love that I witnessed as the children and nannies said goodbye. I wish I had a photo of the teen (who will never be adopted because he was not chosen before his 14 birthday) who pressed a few small bills of Chinese currency into the palm of B’s hand stating “Good luck in your new life.” I wish you could see the hat that another teen gave – a teen who B calls “big brother.” I can’t describe the tender moments of his teacher who cried as she hugged his neck. And for sure, I can’t even describe how wrecked my heart was by his nanny. She pulled me aside sobbing – “I will miss him. He has been like a friend. But I can’t tell you how happy I am that he is saved from a lifetime in the institution. Do you know how bad the place is where the 17 year old kids go?” She cried as she shook my hand saying, “Thank you for taking him.”

Over the past month, I have had a heightened awareness of joy and grief and how they go hand in hand. My heart has struggled to comprehend my deep grief as I said goodbye to my mom, but the sweet relief and joy I felt at knowing her struggle was over. I am over 40 and I can hardly handle the depths of those two emotions that stand side by side in my life.

As I look at my new son, I see the joy and the grief that co-exist. I understand it in a way I never did before. How hard it must be at 13 years old to say goodbye to all you have known, even when you understand something as good as a forever family is waiting for you.

Our first days together have been great. He is accepting us, trying all the crazy American food that I serve him, and learning all the rules to the games the kids pull out to teach him – but please do pray for him. Pray that he feels comfort and peace that go beyond his understanding. Pray he is able to experience new joy every morning. Also please pray for us – that God will guide us in knowing how to love and care for him well.