Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Shhh...A(nother) Surprise Coming Soon

It was just over a year ago that I was writing not-so-covert posts about a big surprise that was coming the way of the kids.  It turned out to be the entrance of Charlie into our lives - the lovely, spunky Havanese pup that I've become absolutely besotted with over the past year.  She's been one of the best things to happen to our little family...and certainly one of the best things to happen to me.

People regularly comment that I must be a little crazy to have a dog in our lives because I have high maintenance, high needs kids...they thoughtfully refer to dogs as being as much work as having another child in the house.  But to those people I always imagine saying have you met my children?  Charlie is nowhere near as much work as having one of my kids!

Quite to the contrary, Charlie is my go-to when I am in need of a moment of quiet, a snatch of joy, a minute's worth of cuddles.  We are very attached to each other, and I quite adore her.  Some days I don't know what I'd do without her.  She's just always there, always watching for me, following me from room to room, happy when I come back after even a few seconds' absence.  What's not to love about a dog that adores me??

I feel a little guilty sometimes that, although we bought the dog for the kids, she really is my baby.  I think it's because I took care of her when, just after her spay operation, she started manifesting signs of her hip disease; during the six weeks between her spay and her double hip surgery, I took such careful care of her.  That's when she started sleeping in our bed (although initially I was sleeping on the floor with her because she needed care); I fed her by hand before and after her hip surgery so that she'd actually get food into her when she was in constant pain and not very mobile; I carried her outside to the grass to do her business; and brought her water bowl to her mouth for that first week (or two) after her surgery when she really wasn't doing well.

You'd never guess these days that she'd ever had double hip surgery - she's a fire cracker of speed and agility and she's never more joyful than when she's running out in the field near our home, full of life and energy and vitality.  But the attachment-to-me piece has outlived her recovery period and we're pretty tight!

Anyway, it was just over a year ago (a year and almost two weeks, to be exact) when we completely shocked the kids by bringing a puppy into our home.  Matthew still makes comments, at least a few times a week, to the effect of "Mom, I still can't believe we have a dog," or "Mom, I still feel like it's a dream that we're a dog family now."  The kids love her to pieces, and we got very fortunate with a dog like our Charlie.  She's a gem.


We have another surprise lined up for the kids.  I'm not saying that it's in any way related to the surprise that Charlie was a year ago (or am I?), but there is another surprise in the works that just might lead to the peeing of pants and to shrieks of disbelief.  If all goes according to plan, the kids will learn of the surprise on Saturday...just three days from now.  And the trajectory of our family life will change again on Saturday, just a little.

Until then, shhhhhhhhhhhh....

Any guesses?

Sunday, April 24, 2016

How To Be and How NOT to Be in a Car Accident

Last weekend, on Saturday, I was involved in a car accident.  It could have been a bad one...but thankfully it wasn't.

I'd taken the dog with me that morning and she was sleeping on the passenger seat beside me.  We were driving back towards home from an out-of-town errand, and we were on the highway.  I'd barely seen any cars that morning, and I was enjoying the quiet drive home with my furry companion.  I'd been singing songs, we'd listened to the radio for a while, and both Charlie and I were pretty relaxed.  She'd eventually fallen asleep and I was enjoying a quiet peacefulness that doesn't happen too often in my day-to-day life.

Approaching an intersection of another highway, I noticed (likely because there'd been so few cars on the road), a white SUV slowing down for a stop sign.  I wasn't really paying attention, until it registered somewhere in my brain that he wasn't actually stopping.  It still didn't quite resonate though - after all, on these country highways, sometimes drivers inch their way forward from a stop sign set a little far back.  But no, he really wasn't stopping and it became pretty clear in one jolted instant that an impact was going to be looked like he was going to crash right into my side of the van, right into my door.  I still find it hard to comprehend how, in one split second, faster than one can snap one's fingers, things can change from quiet contentment to something that is sharp and completely aware and life threatening.  That alone is jarring.

Even as I knew that this was going to be bad, even as I was processing what to do, it flitted through my brain that as I'd been leaving the city a couple of hours earlier, it had occurred to me to pray for road safety.  I've made this particular errand many times, and I don't recall ever having had that thought previously, but on this occasion I did, and so I did pray.  As I drove out of the city, I spoke aloud a prayer for travel safety - for myself and for other drivers on the road with me that morning.

Back to that split second when the worst seemed suddenly inevitable.  In the moment that I slammed my foot down on the brake and my hand on the horn, somehow, and I'm inclined to think that God was answering my earlier prayer by giving me great clarity of thought, I knew what I needed to do.

First, without taking my eyes off the road or my foot off of the brake, I reached out with my right hand and, in one motion, scooped Charlie from her sleeping position onto the floor of the passenger seat - I hadn't bothered to harness her in that morning (silly me) and so I knew she was going to hit the windshield if I didn't get her onto the floor.

Second, I needed to reduce the severity of the impact by turning in the same direction that the other vehicle was attempt to come alongside him rather than have him land on top of me through the driver's side door.

And that's what I did.  While braking hard, while still moving Charlie to the floor, I wrenched the steering wheel to the right at that last moment, and came mostly alongside the other that he hit the front left of my vehicle...about two feet forward of my door.  The impact was so loud.  Even now, eight days later, that sound is pretty easy to remember.  I've been hearing it in my sleep a lot as well as remembering it during quiet moments during the day.  The van ended up on the same road, in the same direction, as the other vehicle, on the gravel shoulder, just tipping slightly forwards towards the ditch.

I must have been in shock because I don't remember the first few seconds after coming to a stop.  I remember noticing that I was shaking and I remember that I was crying and making strange noises, and I remember Charlie clambering back onto the seat and climbing on to me...she was whimpering, and trying desperately to lick my face.  I pulled her close and we cried together, as we watched the driver of the other vehicle walk towards us.  It was rather a stark contrast to our sense of quiet companionship just seconds earlier.

Oddly, the other driver had pulled way ahead of us before stopping...almost (though likely not) as if he hadn't actually planned to stop but decided to after all.  He stopped so far ahead that when I later tried to take a picture of his license plate, I zoomed my iphone camera all the way in on his plate and still couldn't read the numbers and letters later, even when I expanded the picture as far as it would go.

I watched him walk towards me.  He was wearing all black.  Older than me by, perhaps, a decade.  Gray hair and beard.

He came to the window and I opened it.  Somehow I had the presence of mind to attach the leash to Charlie's harness and wrap it around the steering wheel; the last thing I needed now was a dog that escaped from the car when I got out.

He said to me, "So you're all right then?"  I'm not sure that was a fair question, given that I was crying and shaking pretty obviously.

"I'm not sure...please just give me a moment.  I think I'm ok...I just can't stop shaking."

"So you're ok then," he continued.  A statement, not a question.  He backed away from the car door.  Almost as if he was on his way out of there.

"Wait!" I said.  "Just wait.  Give me a moment, please."

I got out of the car and closed the door so I could lean on it.  The shaking was pretty bad.  I was trying to collect my thoughts which, for some reason, were having a hard time being collected.  I knew I needed something from him but the specifics, and my words, were elusive.

Again, he backed away and repeated what seemed to be his mantra.  "You're ok then."

How could he not see.

"I need something from you," I said.  "Just give me a second...yes, I need your information, your paperwork."  Finally the thoughts came back.

"Really?  Ok," he said.  Again, as if he somehow expected he could just walk away and be done with it.

As he started walking quickly back towards his car, three other people got out of his vehicle and began walking in my direction.  All teens.  The girls were wearing head kerchiefs.  Hutterites.  That made sense now, given what the man was wearing.  The three teens came most of the way towards me and stopped, I guess waiting for their father to return.

He brought me his license and I took a picture of it.  Took several pictures, actually, because my shaking hand couldn't get clarity.  I eventually leaned my arm up against the car to steady it and got the shot I needed.  Then I sent him back for his insurance papers because he hadn't bothered to bring those.  I took a picture of those, too.

I told him my name and asked if he and his family were ok.  He did not offer me his name and he didn't answer my question about whether he/they were ok.

"I guess you didn't stop," he finally offered while I was taking the pictures.

"I didn't stop?" I asked, incredulous.  This was somehow going to be my fault??

"You had the stop sign," I said, my voice a little heated.  "A giant stop sign, in fact," I added.  It was one of those giant country stop signs.  "I didn't have to stop; I was driving with right of way on the highway," I blurted.  "You didn't stop.  If I hadn't seen you not stopping, we would likely all be in the hospital by now, or worse."

"I stopped," he said.  I almost marvelled at his self-possession.  He wasn't shaking at all.  He was accusatory.

"No, you didn't," I countered.  "I saw you slow down, but you did not stop."

"He just didn't see you," one of his daughters offered in a perky, sing-songy voice.  "None of us saw you, I guess."  She said it as it that made it ok, that he just hadn't seen me.  I looked at her.

"I hope you have a great day," the same daughter said, looking at me with a smile from about 20 feet away where she'd stopped walking.  She looked to be seventeen or eighteen.

I stared at her, still visibly shaking, still with tears on my cheeks, and didn't even know how to respond to that.

"The visibility wasn't great, I guess," the man said.

I gestured around at the gray, but perfectly visible day, and mumbled something about perfectly fine weather conditions.

"I will call in the accident and you need to as well," I said.  He was starting to walk away.  Quickly, back towards his car.  As if I was about to pursue him or something.

The same daughter turned halfway back to their car and waved and, again, called "Have a good day!"

They couldn't wait to get out of was as if they were running late for an appointment and I was a distraction from getting there on time.

I just stood there, shaking, leaning on the car, watching them go.  I had my phone in my hand still and zoomed in on the licence plate of their vehicle as far as my camera would let me.  The license plate would remain unreadable, though I could sort of make out the first letter, but it did let me see the Ford logo on the back.

"Have a good day," the daughter yelled, waving a third time as she climbed into their SUV.  The man climbed in and, in a flurry of dust and gravel, took off down the road.

They had no idea if I was able to idea if my car would work.  They just left in a flurry of denials and dust.  Left me in the middle of the quiet country roads pointed towards the ditch.

I climbed back into the car and just sat there with the dog.  Crying.  Trying to make sense of it.

At some point I got back out of the car to take a few pictures of the intersection, and I called Geoff to let him know the situation.  But mostly I just sat there, trying to clear my head until I felt I could safely drive.

In vast contrast to the indifference of the other driver, when another vehicle pulled alongside a while later, that driver was so kind - offering to make calls for me or to help me get back to the city.  When I said that I was all right, he asked if I could please start my car and make sure it ran.  I did that, and then thanked him and waved him along.  I drove the last half hour home.

I phoned the insurance company, made plans to have them assess my vehicle two days later, and learned during the week that the insurance company called the other driver (who tried to say it was my fault) to tell him that he was 100% responsible.

Our van has been deemed a complete write-off and the insurance company has made their offer of what our vehicle is worth for parts.  Although we can still drive it for now, the whole front end was shifted to one side by several inches as a result of the impact and it would cost so much for body repair that they didn't even bother to assess motor damage.  It's a 13-year-old van with decent mileage on it.  How much value could they possibly give it?

Of course, what they didn't factor in is how awesome that vehicle has been for our family over the past eleven little we've had to spend on repairs and wonderful the  memories are from many trips to the cottage we've loaded it up for...that we brought our two younger children home from the airport in it when we were a brand new family....that we've got a history of amazing road trips that it's safely taken us on...and how many endless conversations we've had within its walls.  It's silly, I know it as I write it - but I'm sad that our van is to be no more.  It holds a lot of awesome memories.

It was a really scary moment and I'm ever so thankful to be alive and almost unscathed.  It could have been so much worse.  I'm still a little sore in one leg where the impact pushed my leg hard up against the door, and I'm reliving the moment of impact pretty often throughout the day and in my dreams.

But what's the hardest for me to process, what has shaken me perhaps the most, is the cavalier, offhand, indifferent attitude of that man - and his children.  I've never been in an accident of that magnitude before, and I get that perhaps pride about being in the wrong may have impacted his attitude towards me...but really, I just cannot reconcile his attitude with what I believe about humanity....that deep down we live for, and within, relationship and community...that care for each other is foundational, even for the strangers amongst us.  He just left me there.  Granted I was going to be just fine and I didn't even have a broken limb to show for it.  And of course I know there are so many, far more evil things in the world, and that we are a fallen, sinful manner of people.

I just cannot quite shake myself of the notion that we should expect more of each other; that we should be able to count on a little care from each other, even from a stranger; that we can be better than that.  Also, though he didn't care for me, I prayed for him earlier that morning - I just couldn't put a name or a face to that prayer until a few hours later.  Despite his actions, despite the shock of it all, despite the fact that we will now have to go into debt to buy another vehicle, I am glad that he and his children are ok; that I answered that quiet little nudge to pray for road safety.   These are the things that I am choosing to take away from that moment.

Friday, April 22, 2016

A Day of Rest

It's been a little while.  I may have no readers left at this point, having been so wretchedly inconsistent in my writing over the past year.  😀

Life has been, is, full.  Except for today.  Today, Friday, is a blessed day of rest after a very, very busy last number of weeks.

Over the past three days, our homeschool Learning Centre (LC) has been busy putting on four performances of Shakespeare's Henry IV.   Twenty-five kids, 8 moms...all working unbelievably hard over the past number of weeks/months to get ready for this week.  And it was great!  We sold just enough tickets to pay for our theatre rental (no small feat there...sooo expensive...thousands of dollars for three days' rental), costumes, staging, etc etc etc etc.  Yesterday's final performance was a sold out crowd - in a theatre that holds 151 people, we sold 156 tickets for yesterday's show and used overflow chairs to accommodate the extra (and had to turn a few away at the door).

It was pretty impressive, to be honest.  The kids did amazingly well.  Truly.  There were no 'dud' performances, no performances with low energy, no performances with noticeable mistakes.  This is not Shakespeare dumbed down.  Shakespearean language was used, there were impressively-choreographed (by one of our own LC graduates) sword fights and battle scenes, the costumes were period pieces (created by two of our own LC moms), and it was well staged, well directed, well blocked, and well performed.  Real, well done, Shakespeare.

I'm so proud of all of our kids.  My own three had small roles (though all had lines this year), but were on stage often.  They were as engrossed as anyone else in the process; they learned incredible discipline and teamwork showing up for every single rehearsal and participating in every warm up and every activity; had to create back stories for their characters in order to help them enter into their roles, even when their characters were on stage without speaking; learned much about language and the evolution of it and how to understand it; were as much a part of the team as any other kid.

The kids (my own and all of the LC kids) are so fortunate, even though they don't know it, to be part of such a truly unique community of people.  At the cast-and-crew after-party last night, after stuffing ourselves with burritos and lemonade and ice cream, the whole group of us spent a lot of time thinking and talking about our highlights of the past several weeks/months and giving 'shout-outs' to various people; and I looked around that room of about 40 people (the dads joined us as well) and thought 'wow, what a blessing this community is to all of us.'  

While we were talking, I looked across the room at Lizzie.  She was sitting between two of the older boys (16 and 18)...lovely boys, both of them.  Both boys had an arm around her, one on either side, and she had an arm flung around the knee of each boy.  They were, all three, utterly natural and comfortable with each other and leaning on each other.  Every once in a while, Lizzie would look up and chat with one of them or one of the boys would initiate a conversation with her.  They looked each other in the eye and talked intently, and those boys completely engaged her as a person...not just a little kid.   Later in the evening, a couple of the younger kids (including Seth) and a few of the bigger kids went out to the park to play games and run, and burn off energy.  They were gone for over an hour and Seth came back 'filled up' and content and my boy of few words was going on and on about what a good time he'd had.  Seth learns from the older kids how to have fun and be competitive without making games about the winning and the losing of them; he watches the older boys treating their younger siblings well and caring for them and learns how to treat his own sister; and he gets to use all of that energy of his to chase and tackle and wrestle all of those careful, wise, older boys, and learns a little more how to use his own, sensory-challenged body.

These kids all truly love each other and respect each other and treat each other as equals, regardless of age or interest differences.  We are a unique community of people, doing parts of our lives together - working alongside one another, working through conflict, engrossing ourselves in common goals for our children and for families, and practically living together for a number of weeks as we annually gear up for Shakesepeare.  This dynamic is not something one sees every day out in our society, and it's frankly hard to's perhaps one of those things you have to see to believe.

But for now, the 'day after,' we are enjoying a well-deserved day of doing absolutely nothing.  Weeks ago, I even wrote "NOTHING" on my calendar for today so that I would absolutely not book us for anything.  It is past midday and we four are all still in our PJs.  The kids have free reign on the television today (which shocked and delighted them), and I am about to crawl back into bed with a cup of tea and a book.  Later we may go out for dinner with our parents, or we may stay in our PJs and make pizza together...don't know.  Yawn.  Heading back to bed.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Happy Birthday Matthew!

Twelve years ago today, at 2:11 pm, my life changed forever.  It was the moment Matthew was born and I became a mother.

Matthew is the most incredible boy and I am so blessed to know him the way I do.  He changed me permanently and shifted the trajectory of my life.  He brings so much joy and purpose into my's inexpressible how much I love him.

Happy 12th Birthday, Matthew.  I love you with all of my you like to say, I love you so, so, so, so, so, much!

Monday, February 29, 2016

More Audio Books Dowloaded

A month ago I posted (A Nice Problem to Have) that I had downloaded a bunch of audio books onto my kids' ipods.  Well, for the past ten days already, the kids have been bugging me to download more audiobooks because they'd finished the pile that I'd given them at the end of fact, Lizzie had listened over and over again to two of her favourites from that list.  I was delighted...but didn't have time until this morning to choose more books, download them and get them loaded onto the kids' ipods!

In order to keep up with Matthew's listening, I downloaded onto his iPod Touch the app, and granted him full access to my audible account.  Because I don't listen to audio books myself (I still prefer actual books, or my kindle), everything I download onto my audible library is appropriate listening material for Matthew...and this way, he can listen to anything in my audible library (100+ audio books).  Right now he's listening to the first of the Redwall books, by Brian Jacques - which is a little sad for me because I really wanted to read this one out loud to him (because I really want to read it!).  Next up he wants to listen to the Lord of the Rings series, but I may jealously hang on to that one and read it to all of the kids myself! :)

I got a number of emails from readers after my last post about audio books from people who were glad that I'd posted the kids' book lists, so I thought I'd do the same this time!

For Seth and Lizzie, this is what I just downloaded this morning:

Seth (about 38 hours of listening time):
* Because of Winn-Dixie, by Kate DiCamillo
* Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jaacqueline Woodson
* Ella Enchanted, by Gail Carson Levine
* Encyclopedia Brown Mysteries, Volume 1, by Donald J. Sobol
* Moon over Manifest, by Clare Vanderpool
* Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, by Kate Douglas Wiggin
* The Trumpet of the Swan, by E.B. White

Lizzie (about 50 hours of listening time!):
* Because of Winn-Dixie, by Kate DiCamillo
* Black Beauty, by Anna Sewell
* Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson
* Call of the Wild, by Jack London
* Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, by Kate Douglas Wiggin
* The Penderwicks, by Jeanne Birdsall
* The Penderwicks on Gardam Street, by Jeanne Birdsall
* The Penderwicks at Pointe Mouette, by Jeanne Birdsall
* The Trumpet of the Swan, by E.B. White

Friday, February 19, 2016

Article: What Changed This Teacher's Mind about Home Schooling

I thought this was an interesting article, written by a college teacher about his experience with homeschooled students, and his shift in perspective.

Here's the link, and below is the article in full, as published in the Chicago Tribune on February 18, 2016:  What Changed This Teacher's Mind About Homeschooling

What changed this teacher's mind about home schooling
February 18, 2016

by David McGrath
A 10-year-old girl lies in bed with a fever of 104 and a flaming rash on her head and neck. But instead of driving her to the emergency room or even calling a physician, her parents pray at her bedside for a cure.
Most states still consider such "treatment" by the parents as a religious right protected by the First Amendment, even though it is perceived by most physicians and lawyers, as well as the American Medical Association, as parental neglect or even abuse.
When I was a high school English teacher in Chicago, I viewed home schooling the same way, as a kind of educational abuse, or, at best, neglect.
That is because keeping a child out of school deprives him of his essential right to a quality education, including access to tax-funded resources, highly trained teachers and specialists in each discipline, as well as intramural and extracurricular enrichment activities.
There is little oversight of home-schooled students in half of all states, including Illinois, where they never even have to take a standardized test.
I felt that the most important benefits missed by stay-at-home kids are socialization from peer group interaction, and the critical thinking and communication skills learned from small- and large-group dynamics in the classroom.
I recall arguing these points with a parent of a home-schooled child, who countered that her son was safer and more closely monitored, had access to social activities with cousins and peers on a weekly basis, and availed himself of books and materials pooled by a club composed of local parents who home-schooled their kids.
"Do you know what a quadratic equation is?" I asked her, referring to a key algebraic principle introduced in regular schools as early as seventh grade.
No, she admitted. But she offered that someone in her club probably knows.

That, I felt, was my gotcha moment, because it exposed the main problem of a parent playing teacher at the kitchen table.
All that changed when I started teaching at the college level, on an evening when I came home from work, slipped off my shoes, collapsed into the recliner and announced to my wife that the best student in my college composition class had been home-schooled.
An 18-year-old only child, who had been educated by her parents for all 12 grades, chose a seat in the front row on the first day of class.
The following 16 weeks, she maintained eye contact throughout lectures and discussions, listened intently to me and her classmates, raised her hand to offer an observation, an answer or to ask a question when no one else would, followed instructions to the letter, communicated verbally and in writing more clearly than everyone else and received the highest grade on every assignment.
She was the first student to arrive, had perfect attendance the entire semester and was a catalyst for every lesson I ventured.
Other teachers know the experience, of feeling the entire weight of the class' resistance to an activity or a concept, and often trying to stand and lift that weight and steer it in a positive direction. It can wear down a teacher's sensibilities. But my home-schooler's ebullience and sincerity erased the group's negativity.
When I tried to will the class to be excited about author Raymond Carver, for whose story we were doing a critical analysis, she inferred my intent and mirrored it for the class first with body language and then a verbal barrage.
She was an ideal learner for, I assumed, the following reasons:
First, she had escaped the collateral damage from 12 years of conventional schooling. I'm thinking of my own lost years in elementary school, as a bored-out-of-my-gourd pupil in a classroom of 48 or more students doing busywork most of the day.
So the schoolroom was still a novelty for her.
Secondly, she applied her experience of one-on-one learning to the classroom format, as though she were the only one sitting in front of me. This led to plentiful and uninhibited conversation, and other students followed suit.
Third, having been the only person to be called on for 12 years, she did not use the group's mass as camouflage, or a barrier, but accepted every question, suggestion, lesson and instruction as her own responsibility.
Fourth, in home school she had daily conversations with one parent or the other about a myriad of subjects, whereas her texting, video-gaming, ear-bud-wearing classmates too often skated, side-stepped or escaped adult interaction much of their short lives.
If every student in my classroom were a radio, my home-schooled student was the one whose switch was turned on.
In the past 15 years, I've known of over a dozen home-schooled students in my college freshman and sophomore classes. All were competent in social interaction, and all had already developed their own methods of inquiry for independent learning.
While my experiences are anecdotal, clinical studies have arrived at similar conclusions, such as the one conducted by Dr. Brian Ray of the National Home Education Research Institute. His study of 11,000 home-schooled students found they scored higher, on average, than public school students on national standardized tests by a whopping 37 percentile points.
An estimated 1.8 million students are home-schooled in the United States, often for religious reasons, or for insulation from schoolyard problems such as bullying. But the best reason may be that they get a better education.
David McGrath, emeritus English professor at the College of DuPage, lives and teaches in Florida. He is author of "The Territory."
Copyright © 2016, Chicago Tribune

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Video: Don't Stay in School

Perhaps an inadvertent supporter of homeschooling?  Or a young man disillusioned with what he spent his youth learning?  Either way, it's an interesting music video, at the very least, by Boyinaband's "Don't Stay in School!"

Enjoy...I listened a few times to get all of the words.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Blessed by Friends...and a Busy Week

The past week has been a very busy, very social one.  In addition to the usual doses of swimming, riding lessons (Seth), church activities, math tutoring, piano, Learning Centre, and reading lessons, we've had five groups of people over to our house (though one 'group' was actually an individual).  That's meant lots of tidying to keep the house relatively presentable (yay...sort of clean house!), lots of food prep, and a few late evenings getting things done that our social calendar has not allowed for during the day.  I didn't initially plan that this week would be so intensely social, but one thing led to another and suddenly we had plans, and lots of them!

And I wouldn't change a thing.  It's been a lot of fun, and great to connect with people who are important in my life/our lives.  Yesterday was an unusual sort of social time here.  We had the moms and kids of two families over and we hadn't seen these folks for a while - we three moms with our kids used to get together rather regularly, but we've drifted apart a little over the past year and, despite having much in common, it's been hard finding the time to is pretty busy for everyone.  We finally got together here yesterday - they came for lunch, stayed for the afternoon and, when we three women discovered that all of our husbands were occupied during the evening evening (at work or otherwise), we decided to bring in some pizza for dinner and spend the evening together, too...our planned afternoon visit turned into an almost-eight-hour marathon of playing (the kids), visiting, eating, and tea lovely.  Charlie has a blast, too, alternating between playing with the kids and sleeping in my arms or beside me.

The kids and I have broad, eclectic friendship circles, filled with many truly lovely, unique people who are community to us.  I am so thankful for each and every one of them.  I used to wonder, when we were in our early days of h/schooling, what this aspect of our lives would look like and it's during weeks like these that I realize a pretty high level of contentment about our daytime lives.  Life is really full, to be sure, and often crazy-making with the high level of sheer noise and activity that vibrates throughout the house...but it's pretty great, too.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

An Update: Lizzie and the Dog

How long has it been now since my lightbulb burst of insight concerning Lizzie and Charlie.  A week or two?  Not much more, to be sure.

There's been a shift.  For the very first time in our ten months of dog ownership, there's been a small shift in the relationship between Lizzie and Charlie.  Not an observably huge one, undoubtedly, if one were to peer in the window of our lives on a day-to-day basis, but one that feels ground shifting from the inside of those windows.

Nothing over the past week or two, as I have pondered my revelations about Lizzie, has changed my course of thinking - in fact, everything seems to confirm it.  I do need to think a little about a comment that was made in response to my post - that perhaps Lizzie is suffering a fear of abandonment, rather than rejection.  Not sure...will be looking into that further.

I think I posted last that Lizzie had collapsed into tears when I gently voiced my thought that, counter to what she'd said, she actually cared so much about her relationhip witsh the dog that she was very sad that it might never materialize the way she wanted it to.

Since that time, I have absolutely maintained tight control over her relationship with the pup...not much has changed there.  Many times throughout the day, I ask Lizzie to please not touch or pick up the dog, and I regularly provide the puppy with 1+ hours of consecutive Lizzie-free time, just to give her a break.  I am undaunted in setting limitations.


...I have changed my outlook and manner about things considerably.  Now, when the dog growls at Lizzie, which inevitably happens a few times/day, I immediately try to get to Lizzie and, rather than say anything that she might hear as a rebuke, I might say something like one of the following:

" (sigh) Oh dear, Lizzie, I know you want so much for Charlie not to growl at you - it's must be so dang hard when you hear that noise...I know it would just about do me in if she were to growl at me..."

" (sigh) Oh shoot, Lizzie, I know how much you want for Charlie to love you and to welcome your touch...I feel so sad for you when I hear her growl...and I'm betting your heart feels just a little achy, too, when you hear that. arms have a hug in them for you."

I have been blown away (again) by how much at the surface Lizzie's emotions about this really are.  Contrary to her resolve that she doesn't care about her relationship with the dog, she is ready to be sad and even to cry about that sadness.  There have been at least six incidences of tears and/or deep sadness about this in the past week+.  And this has been happening because of one thing:  I'm ignoring her (annoying, inappropriate) behaviours and focusing on what must be going on in her heart; I'm focusing on helping her to feel her fear of pain/abandonment/rejection (whichever it is) and trying to stop her brain from jumping in to work at building up her defences.

Then, another movement.  Two days ago, after a growling/comforting incident when Lizzie and I were sitting on the kitchen floor talking about her sadness over Charlie's growling, she said to me, with a huge sigh and a tone of great longing, "Mommy, I wish I knew how to stop Charlie growling at me.  It just makes me so sad."

This said after at least a thousand lectures on my part, over the past ten months, about how to stop the dog from growling at her.  But finally, as if a little light bulb were going off in her brain, Lizzie is interested to know what she can do to change things up a little.

Her statement of longing was the very first time I've heard her want to do something different in order to affect change in her relationship with the dog.

My response?  I tried to keep it as basic and non-lecturey as possible...the fewer the words the better, I figured, and maybe an expression of encouragement would help.

"Well, darlin'," I responded, "I can hear in your voice how badly you must want that.  I know it makes you sad when Charlie makes my heart hurt, too.  I have a feeling you could figure out one or two little things that might help you in your wish that she stop growling at you.  And if you need any help, I'm happy to talk about it."

We just sat there on the kitchen floor.  Silent.


"Well, Mom, I notice that when Charlie's lying down and trying to sleep, she maybe doesn't really like it when I come up to her and try to hug her or pet her, or pick her up."

(Something I've been saying for 10 months, but said by Lizzie with wonder in an exploratory tone)

"Wow, Lizzie, what a great observation," I said, and I squeezed her just a little.  "So you're saying that you are noticing that she doesn't like it when you might try to approach her when she's lying down?"

"Yeah," was the response.  "And I can sometimes tell now by her eyes that she doesn't want to be touched right then."

"Huh.  That's pretty amazing, Lizzie, that you are observing so much about Charlie.  I bet you're wondering what you could do about that."

"Well, Mom, I'm wondering if she'd stop growling at me so much if I stopped bugging her when she's lying down."

(well, Lord have mercy...that's what I've been trying to get at for 10 months with ZERO impact.  Zero.)

"Huh.  Well, I wonder, too.  Sounds like you might want to experiment a little with this, Lizzie."

"I think I'm starting to get this stuff Mom," she said.  I was trying to keep my jaw from hitting my chest.  "I'm going to try to watch out for those things."

"What if we experimented a little together, Lizzie," I offered.  I'd love to hear your observations when you have them.  So what if you were to try telling me when you notice these things about Charlie and what you might like to do about them?"

"That's a GREAT idea, Mom.  I'll tell you when I observe Charlie lying down or when she's got the look in her eye that's telling me to leave her alone."

Well, didn't she just do that...multiple times yesterday and today.  She suddenly comes running up to me, all excited, and whispers something like, "Mom, mom, look at Charlie.  She's lying down and when I ran past her she gave me the look.  Just look at her eyes.  I'm going to decide not to touch her now because she's not in the mood and she might growl at me if I touch her now."

"Lizzie," I whisper back in a conspiratorial voice.  "You're brilliant to notice that about her.  That must make you feel so happy.  I would have totally missed that and then I'd have been sad if I'd touched her and she growled at me.  Wow.  Should we see what happens if we sit down on the floor together, a ways away from Charlie, and see if we notice anything else or see what she does then?"

Well, bless Charlie, on three occasions, when Lizzie and I have sat down nearby, she has gotten up and come wagging over to see us.  Lizzie gasped the first two times, so shocked that Charlie would actually approach her. (Really, she was coming to see me, but there's no reason to say that.)

I would say that the number of times, in the past two days, that I have had to pull Lizzie away from the dog or give her instructions to leave the dog alone, have reduced by at least half!

And this morning, to my shock, when Lizzie was downstairs before the other kids, we saw another small miracle.  Rather than grabbing the dog, Lizzie reached down to where Charlie was sitting with me in the kitchen and gave her a few scratches and kisses on her head.  She talked her baby talk to Charlie and Charlie ate it all up.  Then Charlie got up, pranced over to the sunroom where she saw one of her squeaky toys, and she picked up the toy in her mouth; she stood there, wagging her tail and looking at Lizzie, and then suddenly bent her upper body towards the ground in that age-old, downward dog invitation to play, and kept looking right at Lizzie.  Lizzie squealed, yelled that Charlie wanted to play, and I shouted back, "go for it."  Lizzie proceeded to chase the dog around the main floor, over and over, while the dog ran/stopped/waited for her/grabbed the toy/ran/stopped/waited for Lizzie/grabbed the toy, etc etc etc.  They played hard for about ten minutes.  No problems.  Lots of laughter.  Lots of spunkiness from the dog and cheerful eyes.  It was a blessed moment and Lizzie and I celebrated later for how good that laughter felt.  We did a happy dance.  She had a moment...a taste.  And it was awesome.  Later, Lizzie said again, "I think I'm starting to get this stuff, Mom."

I feel like I'm in a state of shock and awe about how profound a difference it makes to just shift my attitude towards seeing Lizzie as having a heart issue rather than exclusively behavioural issues.  I'm shaking my head as I write this, and it feels sooo good to be making a contribution towards Lizzie's emotional health by just understanding a few things differently and making a simple change or two in my approach.  She is feeling things in her relationship with the dog, both sorrow and joy, and this is so crucial to changing her brain's reaction to a scary situation where she fears that her relationship with the dog (or person) is at risk.  It's cray cray.  And cray cray awesome!

I'm under no illusions - this is going to take time.  Despite crazy short term successes, these are, after all, heart issues, and heart issues take time and care and patience.

But it's a baby step.  A real genuine baby step in a lifelong journey.  And thank God for that dog of mine...for that precious, feisty, good-natured, ever-so-soft and raggedy looking little mop who is one of the best things ever to happen in this household.  No wonder I adore her:  She's going to help me help our Lizzie.  :)

Thursday, February 4, 2016

How Adoption Affects Even a Daughter-Puppy Relationship

I have mentioned before, likely on several occasions, that I have been so surprised, over the years, by how adoption (perhaps particularly of older children) affects every facet of our lives:  The conversations we have (daily, sometimes hourly); how we discipline; how we feed our children; what we save our money for; how we interact with strangers; sibling relationships; what we pray about; how we 'do' school (and, in fact, our decisions around homeschooling); relationships with parents and friends; how we go on vacation; whether or not we hire babysitters; and so on and so  on.

Pre-adoption, I always assumed that these things would exist for a time and that, after life settled down again, we'd be pretty much done with these kinds of issues.  Life would normalize, I completely assumed.

And life has normalized so much...the kids are doing well and and are well attached.  But adoption, and the trauma that accompanies it for our children, is a live and active entity in our it is, I'm sure, in many other adoptive homes.  It really is like a whole other being that exists in the household...the sixth person in our family.  And how it manifests continues to surprise me.

The most recent example has to do with Lizzie and her relationship with our beloved puppy, Charlie.  Lizzie loves Charlie.  Adores her.  Wishes she could inhale Charlie because getting close to Charlie can just never be close enough.

There is fervent love there...on Lizzie's part.

Not quite so much on Charlie's part.

Charlie is attached to Lizzie, to be sure, but she's also wary of Lizzie, and willing to growl (and twice air-snap) at Lizzie in order to make her doggie voice heard.  She doesn't like it when Lizzie wants to (constantly constantly constantly) pick her up, kiss her face, invade her territory, cuddle with her, talk to her, play with her...pick her up, kiss her face, invade her territory, cuddle with her, talk to her, play with her...pick her up, kiss her face, invade her territory, cuddle with her, talk to her, play with her...well, you get the's an ongoing, persistent, frequently-overwhelming issue in our household.

It is like a magnet exists from Lizzie towards Charlie.  In fact, if I happen (as I did yesterday afternoon) to tell one of the kids that Charlie has had enough play time and needs a rest, Lizzie will instantly and reflexively and without any reflection or consideration, drop to the floor to pull Charlie over to herself and want to pick her up and/or squeeze her...which, of course, leads Charlie to growl at her, and me (with a testy edge to my voice) to tell Lizzie that I have just asked her to leave Charlie to rest for a while and that she must put Charlie down.  I have been utterly baffled at this many-times-daily just makes no sense.  Remember my most recent blog post when I asked the kids various questions about myself and, in response to my first question about what I say most often to the kids, Lizzie said something like 'don't pick up the dog?'  Well, that stems from real life examples where I say that kind of thing to her many, many (many) times every day in response to just such a situation.

I have had, I'm sure, well over a thousand of the same conversation with Lizzie over the ten months that we have been dog owners.  I have failed to understand why all of my (frankly extensive) efforts to manage this girl-puppy relationship have failed.  I assumed that the Lizzie/Charlie dynamic would improve over time, after enough conversations had been had, after Lizzie would (finally) understand what was going on and make some accommodation for it, and so on.  But it has not all...since the beginning, and I have been so utterly puzzled.  Lizzie is a bright girl and she loves the dog - why can't she remember how to treat the dog or at least remember the rules that we have set out to help her?  Over and over again, I have asked myself these questions.

Incidentally, in case you're wondering, I refuse to discipline Charlie for growling at Lizzie, for two reasons.  First, this is one of the few ways that Charlie can express her displeasure about anything, and I am totally ok with her having a voice - a growl is a warning sign, a cautionary sign and we all need to respect, even appreciate, when a dog is giving us a warning.  A warning means that Charlie doesn't want to act on her displeasure.  Second, if I train Charlie to stop growling at Lizzie, she will stop growling at Lizzie; and then we will receive no warning whatsoever the day that Charlie decides she is going to bite Lizzie (a day which I hope never occurs, obviously).  Those two air snaps that Charlie has given Lizzie were not accidental oversights on Charlie's behalf - they weren't misses...dogs, including Charlie, have lightning speed and if she wanted to bite Lizzie she would have...her air snaps were further warnings that Lizzie needed to back off.  Charlie does not want to bite Lizzie.  (Hopefully she never will.)  It is we who need to manage this situation.

I have been thinking lately of the classic definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and yet somehow expecting a different result.  I have been the model of insanity over the past ten months, doing and saying the same things over and over and over and over and over again, and somehow miraculously expecting that Lizzie would change something and be different with the dog.

No longer.  I am now in investigative mode, taking stock of where things are at and figuring out why nothing is working to help Lizzie.

It was a conversation I had with Lizzie about ten days ago that stopped me in my tracks and helped me begin to understand what I should have understood months ago.  All of the Gordon Neufeld teaching that I should have been thinking about in the past number of months suddenly came to the forefront of my thinking. I felt like clapping a hand to my was suddenly that obvious.

I was talking to Lizzie (again) about leaving the dog alone when Charlie is resting and not grabbing at her to pick her up because it shocks Charlie and she doesn't like it...and I said that I knew how badly Lizzie wanted a good relationship with Charlie and that we needed to work further on ways of respecting Charlie's boundaries so that this could happen.

"Well, I don't even care about that," Lizzie said to me flippantly, rolling her eyes at my tirade.

"You don't care about what, specifically?" I asked in return.  I'd never heard Lizzie say anything like that about Charlie.

"I don't care if I have a good relationship with her," she countered.

Well, didn't that just stop me in my tracks and make me start to think differently.  (This was the head-clapping instant.  I was just about bowled over by the sudden clicking of my brain.)  Because the fact is that I know Lizzie cares very much about her relationship with Charlie.  She adores her.

This is about adoption and trauma; it's about attachment and defendedness.  That is exactly what it's about!

How so, you might ask, puzzled?  Maybe the brain clicking isn't happening for you yet either. :)

How?  Because Lizzie has attachment issues (though most don't see this in her because she seems so 'normal'), and because Lizzie has alpha issues that make her need to control everything around her  (usually in a very, very loving way, which makes it deceptive) in order for her to feel safe.  Although she is not conscious of this, what she fears the most is being left again.  She talks readily about her sadness and horror at having been left by the most important people in her life (first her mother, through death, and then her father, through relinquishment) and how this has hurt her.  But what she is not able to connect yet is how this impacts her current (and future?) relationships...including, oddly, now with the dog.  She has a defended heart, despite her seeming emotional availability and warmth and charm.  She is so scared of losing relationship with the dog, so terrified that she will be rejected by the dog, that she acts in a way to make sure that this very thing, her worst nightmare, happens...but on her own terms, so that she can be braced/prepared for it and know that she can survive what she most fears.

Does that make sense?

She's tried desperately to do this with Geoff and me, she unconsciously tries to do this with her brothers, and she's trying to do it with the dog now.

For example, she adores Matthew...thinks the sun rises and sets on him and thinks he's awesome.  But she is relentless in annoying him and making him crazy and her actions have a major impact on Matthew's attitude towards her - so although he is maturing and learning how to deal with her antics, he doesn't really think that well of Lizzie over the past year or two - she really does make him crazy and invade every bit of his space and make him want to have nothing to do with her.

She is so terrified (and convinced, based on her life experience) that Matthew will reject her that she is doing everything in her power to make that very thing happen so that she will be able to tell herself that she is in control of it and that she will be able to survive another rejection.

And that's exactly what I now see her doing with Charlie, except I wasn't cognizant of it with the dog until she said that words that she didn't care about her relationship with Charlie and I knew that not to be true. Suddenly everything clicked into place in my ever-so-slow brain.  She needed to not care about her relationship with Charlie, just like she's gone through in every other relationship in our family, because eventually Charlie was just going to reject her anyway so she may as well gird herself to not care (because otherwise it would hurt too much for her to handle it) and to bring that outcome about on her own terms because then she knows she could handle and survive it.

Make sense now?

Totally, completely, absolutely makes sense to me now.  I just wish I'd seen it months ago.  Because now I can handle it differently.  Now, when Charlie growls at her, when Charlie wants to be with someone else, I can work with Lizzie on her heart issues (and not behaviour issues), to help her start to grieve what may in fact be lost (eg. the love of her puppy); I can do so many things to encourage her to feel her pain and her fear (rather than going into automatic mode where her brain, based on past trauma, pushes her to shut down her feelings and to do things unconsciously so that she can cope with certain pain of rejection later) and then help her to understand that she will survive because she has fully grieved her losses (and not because she has orchestrated the destruction of her relationships in a twisted, self-fulfilling prophecy kind of way).  This will be a long process, but if we can help her with it, it will be sooooo helpful for her in future relationships.

I experimented just a little with Lizzie yesterday after a growling incident when Lizzie was just way too much in Charlie's space and clearly over-stepping her boundaries.  Rather than rebuking Lizzie...

"That must be so hard when Charlie growls at you, Lizzie," I said, and I went over to give her a hug.  "I feel so sad when that happens to you, Lizzie, and I think if Charlie growled at me I'd be super sad."

Lizzie just nodded and looked at me.  Her eyes were instantly tearful...although no tears actually fell, I was stunned by how close to the surface her sadness actually is.

"Lizzie, I've been thinking about something you said recently," I said, ready to touch just a little more on a difficult area.  "Remember when you told me last week that you didn't even care about your relationship with Charlie?"

She nodded.  Just stared at me, unusually silent.

"I've been thinking, darlin'.  I have this feeling inside of me that I actually think you care a lot about your relationship with Charlie."

Another nod.  Tears ready to brim over.

"Lizzie, I'm actually thinking that you care with your whole heart about your relationship with Charlie and that you might actually care so much that you can hardly stand the thought that she might not love you as much as you love her."

Total gushing of tears.  She launched herself at me and absolutely flowed tears.

I just kept saying things over and over like, "oh, that must feel soo sad, Lizzie," and "your heart is so full of love for Charlie and it must be so scary to think you might lose that..."  Even though I don't think that Charlie will ever really 'reject' Lizzie, this is an inevitability in Lizzie's eyes and so I need to help her feel in her heart the pain of that rather than try to convince her cognitively that this will never happen.  I offered her no hope...just let her feel the pain and sat in it with her.

She cried and cried.  And when she was finally done, she said that she loves Charlie so much but she's never going to have a good relationship with her so she didn't want to care any more.

How profound is that??!  She could even articulate some of the essence of the issue, with just a little help from me.  How could I have missed this for so long???!

Anyway, there have been no miracles yet, and there is much work to be done, because this is just the tip of a much larger, hidden iceberg.  But I couldn't help but notice that, yesterday afternoon after our conversation was over and the tears had dried, she actually completely left the dog alone for about an hour.  She was more relaxed; less frenetic.

I'm not sure where all I need to go with this, but I can say one thing:  I'm changing my approach towards Lizzie when it comes to the dog and I am going to treat it as a heart issue, rather than a behaviour issue, which is (duh) what I should have been doing all along.

I guess when it comes right down to the root of it all, despite all of the ways in which adoption trauma infiltrates our every day, day-to-day lives, I never imagined that it would be important when it comes to the puppy that Lizzie loves with her whole heart.  I never for a second contemplated that bringing a dog into our house would be one of the many ways in which we would be able to help our daughter navigate the complicated world of adoption and relationships.  I'm a slow learner, to be sure.  But the good news in all of this is that the penny has dropped now...I'm on this.  We'll see this through to the end.  And I don't think it's going to be 'just' the Lizzie-Charlie relationship that will benefit.