She squats

Once upon a time, a crazy American art teacher was super thirsty and downed a whole bottle of water before class began.  Half way through the class she had the desperate need to use the bathroom.  Usually she does not leave her dear art students in the middle of a messy paint project, but nature called.

At the orphanage the bathrooms are not private.  There are four squatty stalls with no doors.  On the first floor you can find an adult bathroom with more privacy, but the art teacher was on the 4th floor.  She wanted to be quick.  Other teachers have done it before.  So, she took her cue from those local teachers and slipped into the public bathroom, locking the outer door.

She heard the lock click.  All was good, until she heard a different class in the hallway.

She tried to hurry not wanting the kiddos to wait.  That should have been the least of her worries as the door began to rattle – then open.

“Someone is in here!”

The joy of teaching this group of special kids comes due to their innocence and curiosity.  That was not in Art Teacher’s favor when trying to keep the kids out of the bathroom.  Before she knew it, there was a mixed audience of 8 children as she struggled to finish with dignity.

They stood there and watched like good, curious, Chinese children.  One of the more observant fellows mentioned to the others, “Foreigners pee too!”  To which his friend replied, “Did you know Teacher could squat?” Thankfully none of the other teachers came in to witness the grand event of foreign teacher squatting.

Just a day in the life of an art teacher at an orphanage.  The children learned how to paint leaves on fall trees, and they learned that even their foreign teacher squats.

The end.

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that is a wrap.

The day that seemed so far away last August….it has arrived.  We have wrapped up our school year and celebrated with some of our favorite Chinese food, hot pot.  We survived.  Another year of homeschooling in the books and I do believe that we all are a bit smarter.  At least, I am smarter.  That is something to celebrate! (My 5th time through Kindergarten was the charm.  I think I might have passed this time!)

Here is a peek at what we accomplished and how much our kiddos have grown.

 

IMG_0272-2Little Man: Our Kindergarten graduate (kinda)

Age: 5

We started Kindergarten with this kiddo because he was dying to do school with the other kids and frankly we homeschool so we have the freedom to start when the kids want to learn.  Another layer of honesty, he is a busy kid.  Giving him things to learn keeps him busy with the rest of us.  Win.  Win.  Now – what to do next fall?  My grand plan had been two years of Kindergarten, then he informed me that he had passed kindergarten and sure hoped 1st grade would be more of a challenge.  HA!  Now, if he could just learn to sit still in a chair.  Hmmm.

Favorite subject: Geography.  This kid knows crazy facts about the States and can put together a State puzzle faster than I can.  Need to know a capital or in what order a State entered the union?  Ask Little Man.  I am not joking.

What he wants to be when he grows up: A baker or a dragon trainer.

Favorite food: Noodles

Biggest accomplishment: He is well on his way toward reading and knows his basic math facts.  He claims knowing how to add and subtract is not an accomplishment – “You just use your fingers.  Everyone knows that.”

 

 

IMG_0226Little Monkey: Our 3rd Grade Graduate

Age: 9

Favorite subject: Reading and art.  Little Monkey also added piano to her list of studies this year.  She is whizzing through the first book, but isn’t so sure about playing in front of people for the recital coming in a few weeks.

What she wants to be when she grows up: A baker or a teacher (Not sure what is up with my kids all wanting to bake.  I told them I would hire them now!)

Favorite food: Rice

Biggest accomplishment: Learning to read music and completing a special science course that she chose.  If I was giving out end of the year awards, “most diligent” would be hers.  She is so good about staying focused, going down her list of daily work.  She is becoming more and more independent in her work.  Maybe that is what I should have put for biggest accomplishment; she is growing in confidence and character.

 

 

IMG_0316Roo: Our 6th Grade Graduate

Age: 12

Of all of our children, Roo loves homeschooling the most.  I often find her sitting in a corner of her room working away on a school assignment with headphones tuning out the rest of the world.

Favorite subject: Art and piano

Biggest accomplishment: Roo has learned how to use iMovie and is using this new platform to extend her creativity.  Many afternoons, you will find her along with her two best friends dressing up for roles in the latest film they are producing.  She might be creative, but she also is rock’n sentence diagraming.  She can tell you the difference between an IO, DO, OPN and PN faster than any kid I know.  Helps to have a daddy who is a whiz at languages.  (Have I mentioned that my kids are smarter than I am?  Makes homeschooling more and more challenging!)

What she wants to be when she grows up: An artist, film maker, or a beautician.

Favorite food: Broccoli soup and French bread

 

 

IMG_0321Soccer Dude: Our 8th grade graduate

Age: 14

This kid will be in High School this fall.  What?!#  He started his school career going to a Chinese emersion preschool in Michigan.  It seems like yesterday…kinda.  We have all come a long way since then.

Favorite subject: History

Biggest accomplishment: Surviving online classes with North Star Academy.  He took two online classes this year – Math and Language Arts.  It was a huge learning curve, but by the end of the year we were getting in the swing of things.  We are leaning towards him taking a full course load at NSA next year.  It has its pros and cons, for sure, but they offer classes he wants like Latin and advanced science classes.

What I love about homeschooling at this age…the great conversations.  There is nothing like sitting down with your teen and hearing their perspective on what went wrong during the Civil War.  I love hearing his passion for equality, human rights and what he would do differently if he were in leadership.  Add that to his volunteer work with the disabled children at the orphanage….he is going to be a world changer.  Okay, I am a proud mom.  A proud mom who is struggling thru the teen years, but seeing the beauty of them too.

Favorite food: Coke and candy (Keep’n it real, folks!)

What he wants to be when he grows up: He isn’t sure. Actually, that helps this momma’s heart.  He might be entering High School in the fall, but he isn’t ready to launch into the world yet.  We still have some time!

 

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Homeschooling four kids at once.  Check.  Makes me think I can handle five.  Just say’n.

 

 

 

 

 

My Crazy Life – December edition

December is just one of those months.  Every year I get so homesick for my extended family and Christmas traditions that I could burst into tears at any given moment.  But, every year we have the privilege of celebrating Christmas cross-culturally, I am filled with joy at the opportunities to experience the true meaning of Advent.  I could explode over the wonder of it all.  My crazy life.

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This year was like the others, busy with open houses for students, story telling, cookie baking, Christmas art projects, frosting and sprinkles.  It has been breath taking…and so very fun.  I really think that this month will go down in the books as one of the best Christmas seasons ever.  It wasn’t perfect.  I burnt cookies, got overwhelmed by the number of guests that came through our home, and Little Man picked his nose through his debut in the Christmas play.  (Friend, that could be a post on its own.  My son dressed as a wiseman digging for treasure up his nose.  Yes, he saw me give him the “momma stink eye.”  Then says to me FROM STAGE,  “Just a second, I almost have it!” He then pulled it out and flung it.  True story.  Sigh.)

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So it wasn’t perfect, but there were moments that I will treasure for years to come.  I was able to be the first one to share the Christmas story with a student.  How perfect is that?  Decorating sugar cookies with all of my art students who called the frosting paint and couldn’t keep themselves from licking everything…Okay, a little gross, but oh so priceless.  My children hosting and helping.  I think that treasure is the one I will ponder the most.  Soccer Dude pushing a wheel chair and breaking off bits of cookies to put in the lips of children who are paralyzed.  That is a gift.

 

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There are many days that I long for Christmas of the past when I was at home with my parents and eating western food and attending a Christmas eve service.  But honestly, if next Christmas would find us back in the States, I would miss what I have here.  My crazy life.  True story.

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They are not faceless.

IMG_0587So many sweet moments at the orphanage these past weeks.

I love seeing a child sprawled out on the floor coloring on newsprint.  It might seem small, but when the child struggles with autism, pushed through her anxiety to lay on the floor to be traced, and then stayed on task to color — It is miraculous.

I love hearing the responses of my students when I pull something unexpected out of “the big art bag.”  I carry all of my supplies back and forth from our apartment to the orphanage.  I must admit, the anticipation of seeing what will come out of the bag can cause some of my dear friends to come unglued!  This week, when I pulled out modeling foam, several children gasped out loud.  Pure joy.  I want to be more like my students.

I love seeing that children in the orphanage are normal kiddos.  We used a spray bottle to blend washable markers on a coffee filter.  Sounds random, but actually the process is simple for everyone and the results are amazing.  One of the kids turned that spray bottle on me and gave it a big squirt.  At my surprise the whole class roared in laughter.  Yes, a little water fight broke out.  We were damp by the end but feeling good after some belly laughs.  All kids are tempted by water mischief.

Many moments are filled with laughter, joy and victory, but there are moments of tears and deep grief as well.

I love talking with my students.  One class found out that a 13 year old boy has been chosen for adoption by an expat family who lives in our city.  They were full of questions for me about this whole adoption thing.  “Teacher, will he go to America?”  “Does the family speak Chinese?”  “Do you know them?  Are they your friends?  Do you have more friends who might adopt us?”  The conversation kept getting harder and harder.  Just when I thought my heart might break the conversation turned and they almost forgot about me.  “Why do you think they chose him?” One teen asked another.  “Oh, he is smart, short and can run fast.  That must be why.”   Tears came to my eyes as I saw the wheels turning in their minds.  They didn’t say the words but the silence in the air was thick.  They all wished they were smart and could run fast.

My students….they are normal kids who love to color while laying on the floor, enjoy a good water fight and get excited by something new to play with.  The difference between them and most children – People don’t see them.  So they are left to ask questions like….why do I get left behind.  Why doesn’t anyone choose me?  What is wrong with me?

Yup, I know this has gone from a sweet blog post to a downer.  Welcome to my life – joy and sorrow mingle in my heart as I look into the faces of each of these children.  Thousands of Chinese children are waiting, hoping and wishing for a family of their own.  They are not a statistic.  They are not faceless.  They are my students.  Let’s make sure they are not voiceless.

 

 

 

Virtual Gallery

IMG_0988-1When you pour your heart and creativity into a group of precious children it is so hard to see a semester come to an end.  I dearly love each of my students and I seriously hate to say goodbye to them, even for a summer break.

This is my last week of art class for the semester, so we are ending on a high note of puffy glitter paint.  I forget how much they love this stuff.  The autistic kids love squeezing the tubes of paint, the sensory challenged crew love smearing the paint around the foam canvas, my special down syndrome friends express utter joy at the gift of a paint set to themselves, the CP kiddos are proud to manage the project all on their own…you get the point.  Fun for all!

 

My sweet students were happy to end the semester with puffy paints, but for me…well,I am seeking a bit more closure.  I am proud of my students and their art work.  We have done some super fun projects, the kids have pumped out some amazing art, and I am thrilled that they have learned a few new skills along the way.  I want to share the joy of all of that with you.  Wish I had a gallery where I could proudly usher you around and tell you about each masterpiece and the amazing child behind it.  Since I lack that – how about you pretend and indulge me by peeking through this virtual gallery.


 

 

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Project: Oil pastel on black paper

Artist: a CP superstar who has mastered holding crayons and paint brushes this year!

Love doing this project with our kiddos who thrive in the abstract!  It might look like scribbles, but this really is a masterpiece of a child who struggles to use his arms due to CP.  There is victory in this finished product!  He was so proud of his color choices and doing this all by himself.


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Project: coffee filter butterflies

Artist: a creative thinking teen

Washable markers, coffee filters and a spritz bottle helped us to create butterflies after reading the “Very Hungry Caterpillar” by Eric Carle.  I am thankful that I found a bookstore that offers some of the classic children’s books I am familiar with in Chinese!  We have been reading the books together and using them to inspire our art.  During this project the kids felt like they were making magic as they watched the colors of the markers blend together as we sprayed the creations.  The teachers loved the cute finished projects which they used to hang from the ceilings to decorate the classrooms.


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Sometimes a blank page and a tray of paint can seem overwhelming, but with a stencil and a fun painting tool my special students feel free to dig in.  I love watching them choose colors and ask for more and more and more paper!

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Project: Stencil sponge painting

Artist: autistic sweetie who loves texture


The kids have been loving the Crayola watercolor trays that were donated for our classes.  Usually, I print off some “coloring sheets” for the kids to paint.  Then once they are “warmed up” I give them white paper and see what happens.  This student came up with the idea for this painting on his own.  He called it “Birds Flying on a Summer Day”  It is such a happy painting.  It makes my heart soar!

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Project: Watercolor

Artist: A 13 year old creative thinker


You can tell watercolor is one of my favorites too.  Here is another watercolor project – Crayon resist paintings.  This project was so super fun!  We drew on white paper with white crayons then painted over the drawings with watercolor paint.  The paint makes the crayons creations pop!  This was like magic for some of the kids!  I can still hear the oohs and ahhs!  I also was excited to see how clever some of my kiddos are as they tilted their papers to better see where the crayon marks were!

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Project: Crayon resist painting

Artist: A special DS sweetie who LOVES color!


If painting is a favorite why not take it outside?  We enjoyed a warm sunny day outside with our paint brushes and some cups of water.  The teachers enjoyed the simple no mess nature of this project.  The kids were thrilled with the endless canvas of the pavement.  I LOVE, LOVE these Melissa and Doug paintbrushes with super sized handles – all kinds of fingers can get a grip on them!

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Project: Outdoor water painting

Artist: A joy filled superstar with CP


We do scratch art about once a semester, but we could do it even more.  The kids love tracing hands, coming up with their own designs, or just spending a whole class period removing the black and making a clean colorful paper!  Each creation ends up so unique.

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Project: Scratch Art

Artist: 10 year old buddy with a muscular disorder.  He might walk slow, but his art work sure soars!


These are just a few of my favorites!  Thanks for taking a peek at our gallery.  I hope you see the heart of some special children in each of these creations.  Pretty amazing to be doing art with these little people.  I am truly blessed.

 

No one Reads Them Books

They thought I had lost my marbles.  I guess that isn’t anything new.  Many of the things I ask of my sweet students and the now trusting Chinese teachers make them shake their heads.  Did she really say…..?  They wonder if it is my bad Chinese or one of my crazy ideas.

“Yes, yes I did just tell the children they could use car wash mitts and loofahs to paint…but first let’s have a bit of sensory fun!”

Once little hands were coxed inside the wash mitts that seemed to dwarf their tiny arms the giggles did not stop.  Who knew a wash mitt could tickle so much.  Some were thrilled to then thrust their new toys into the paint, others were’t as sure.  The teachers themselves had their doubts and reminded me there would be a huge mess to clean up.  I had prepared for their doubts over our unconventional paint brushes.

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What I hadn’t prepared for…the blank stares when I pulled out a children’s book that had inspired our art lesson for the day.  I forget.  It isn’t as common for a Chinese parent to sit and read books to their children and for sure the children living at the Children’s Home were unaware there might be the luxury of a care-giver having the time and space to draw them into a lap for a story.

“They won’t listen.” one of the teacher’s told me.

“Then let them look” I defended.

“They can’t understand.”

“Then let us teach them”, I whined back.

I had similar conversations all week as I pulled out my book for each group of children.

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There are moments that I forget the children in my classes are orphans.  Seriously.  I know that sounds almost as crazy as using a car mitt for a paint brush, but it is true.  They are kids.  They are like normal kids that you might have in any classroom.

Then it will hit me.

I will pull out a book and their stark reality will hit me in the face again.

No one reads them books.

 

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Little Man’s favorite book at the moment is one of those “find the plane hidden in the picture” type books.  I have read it so many times since my mom bought it for him in September (Yes, that would have been 5 months ago.  Uhh, Thanks mom!  Thanks a whole bunch.) I read it on auto pilot.  I have gotten so sick of it.  “Honey,” I try to reason with him, “you already know where all the planes are on the page!! It’s not even a great story and you know the ending!”  See I am kinda crazy.  I try to reason with a four year old.  He will have nothing to do with it.  His fat little finger flies over the page pointing out each hidden image (in order I might add) as I read the words…again.

His big sister offered to read the book to him this afternoon letting me off the hook, but somehow the book isn’t so bad anymore. I get to be the one who reads him a book.  How cool is that?

 

 No one reads them books.  How sad is that?

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What are we going to do about that?

 

 

With us

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The fall art projects have transitioned into a month worth of Christmas.  Not really sure where the weeks have gone, but I must say I am proud of my little artists who have turned out some fun projects and learned about Christmas as we went.  Evergreen trees, ornaments, Santa and stockings then by the end of the month we got to the heart of Christmas. They took it all in asking great questions.

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I was so blessed by our Christmas classes I didn’t think it could get any better. But it did.

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After talking about our Christmas tree and making cookies I had the idea of bringing a class to our home to experience Christmas at another level. So on a whim, I asked permission to bring my class home with me. I wasn’t really expecting to be allowed so when the permission was granted I was surprised and thrilled.

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My Thursday class got to know me on a whole new level and I them. There is something about a home visit that brings you closer. Each of the kids took photos in front of our Christmas tree, they frosted sugar cookies and exclaimed over their sweetness. I made pizza for them and we played games. But my favorite part was having them sitting around the living room watching Tom and Jerry with my four kids. For a few hours we were one big happy family.

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It was the first time Little Monkey and Little Man had met my students. I wasn’t expecting their surprise over the wheel chairs filling our living room. Little Man asked, “Why do they have legs that don’t work?” His question shouldn’t have caught me off guard. Makes sense in his four year old brain. He is missing a leg so of course he needs help to walk, but all legs should work!

I explained people are all different and some people are born with working legs, some with legs that don’t work and some are born without legs.

I expected a follow-up conversation about special needs, but as always he was many steps ahead of me.

“Mom,” he said, “those boys need to be adopted. You know. You and Dad adopted me and then got me a leg so I could walk. A mom and dad is what they need.”

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The idea of taking my students back to the Children’s home was hard at first. We handed them a small gift at the end of our time. They were thrilled but I felt that it was a cruel consolation prize. The words of my sweet four year old were resounding in my heart.

I love my son for having such confidence in his parents, but as I processed the afternoon I was drawn to the fact that parents wouldn’t meet all the needs of these kiddos just as I can’t meet all of Little Man’s needs.  Although all children need and deserve parents, the answer is in the heart of Christmas.  Immanuel.  G- with us.  He heals.  He provides.  He is.

Once again my sweet kiddos and students teach me, taking me deeper into the heart of Christmas.  As I took the kids back to the Children’s Home I did it with peace knowing Immanuel is with them.

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