Refresh Chicago 2017

About 2 weeks ago, I embarked upon what I believe was my first weekend getaway without husband or children in my nearly 7.5 years of motherhood – and it was glorious.

Don’t get me wrong – I love my family deeply, and had I yearned for weekends away prior to this point, there would have been ways to make it work. Last spring, I heard about the Refresh Chicago conference, and it sounded like some of the other adoptive moms with whom I’ve connected on Facebook were going to make the trip, and I mentioned it to Matt, who announced that I should make it happen. I went ahead and registered, and I convinced one of my best friends, Marisa – who is now just weeks away from becoming an adoptive mom herself! – that she should come with me.

I wasn’t exactly sure until recently exactly how I’d handle the travel details, but I need to give a huge shout-out to Chosen and Dearly Loved for truly facilitating that part of my trip to the conference. They blessed us with a matching grant when we were in process to adopt FangFang, and they reached out to their families this summer to ask if people were interested in going to this conference and offer grants to help make that happen. They paid for a huge portion of my costs of attending the conference. To my knowledge, they are the only grant organization that offers post-placement support, in addition to support during the adoption process, and that is such a huge need, that I am really thrilled to see them stepping into.

Because of that, I was able to fly to the conference without worrying about the cost, and that made it so much easier than having to negotiate the logistics of train or megabus or rental car travel. Plus I arrived in time to have tea with one of my good friends from our Chicagoland days! It was so nice to get that little bit of time to connect with her again in person. Then the rest of the trip was pretty packed with conference activities and adoptive mom hangouts!

The conference itself was great. We began Friday morning with worship, and one moment struck me and has stayed with me. There’s a line in one of the songs we sang – “and darkness tries to hide, and trembles at His voice” that was so humbling to sing in a room filled with adoptive and foster parents – because we have seen the darkness. And I want to believe with my whole heart that the darkness out there in the world today that has come into play in separating our children from their first families and in so many of the realities of their lives is truly trembling at the voice of the living God.

There was also incredible teaching. Kristin Berry is a phenomenal story-teller and encourager. Cindy Lee of the Halo Project OKC is an amazing resource for casting vision for healing from trauma and for practical guidance in how to parent kids from hard places – I’ve appreciated what she has to say every time I’ve heard her speak. I loved getting to hear from Kia Barton, now an adult adoptee, about her experience growing up as a black child with white parents. This was the first time I’d heard Paris Goodyear-Brown speak, and I was highly impressed with her deep understanding of the adversity that children who have experienced trauma can face and how to walk with them through their challenges. I was so encouraged by these reminders of how I can walk alongside my children and love them well.

In addition to the actual content of the conference, it was so encouraging to be surrounded by a group of people who get it. Wanting to be intentional about facilitating those connections and that sense of connection, in our welcome packets, the conference organizers even handed out “me too” signs that we could raise when what other people were sharing resonated with our stories.

Within this context, there was so much background that didn’t need to be explained, so many premises that didn’t need to be established. These people understand the difference between chronological age, developmental age, and family age. They understand the desire to seek for our children racial mirrors and connections to their birth cultures. They understand the tension inherent in telling our own stories and advocating for adoption while keeping our children’s stories private. They have lived the long-term realities of the lasting effects of food insecurity. They grapple with the fight for ethics in adoption. They understand what dysregulation is. They understand sensory needs. They have fought for attachment, both for their children to feel bonded to them and for them to feel bonded to their children. They don’t blink at stories of 3 hour rages; or piles of junk food wrappers found under beds; or seemingly compulsive lying, cheating, and stealing; or alternative high school placements; or police involvement with families. They understand complex developmental trauma and how it can manifest and what it looks like to parent children who have lived through that.

There is such encouragement from being surrounded by people who are walking this journey of adoption and foster parenting, too. One of the biggest blessings of the conference, for me, was getting to spend the weekend with these ladies. Thank you, Kathy, Marisa, Diane, and Becky for hanging out with me!

I actually came home feeling a bit sick, but I enjoyed the opportunity to spend some time snuggling my babies.

We’ve had a lot of dysregulation since my return, and that has been challenging, but I find myself more patient and better equipped with strategies to walk through all of that with my kiddos. It was definitely a great conference and a great trip overall. Would you join me next year?!

Cultivating a Love of Reading

One reason we chose to homeschool, and one reason we ultimately chose to purchase most of our curriculum through Sonlight, is that one of my hopes for my children is that they learn to love reading. Part of that is because I recognize its benefits – reading fiction can help develop empathy. It can help you cultivate a deeper spiritual life. But another huge part of it is that I love to read, and I love to connect with and share passions with my kiddos, and I’ve always hoped we’d be able to read and talk about books together.

Within the last year, I’ve been overjoyed to see my big girls developing an increasing love of reading. Madeleine CaiQun can often be found curled up on the couch with her nose in a book, and especially within the last week or so, I’ve started to see Miranda reading more and more on her own, too.

I actually feel myself rebelling and turning into more of an “unschooler” than I ever thought I would be as I realize how ridiculous it would be to pull my child away from reading a book she’s loving in order to insist that she read the exact chapter from the exact book our curriculum has assigned for the day. I’m definitely not actually turning into an unschooler (a perfectionist and a rule follower and a checklist-lover to my core, there’s no way I could actually “unschool”) – but if Miranda wants to spend 3 hours reading The Wizard of Oz, I’m certainly not going to pull her away from that! In fact, I may need to start stocking up more on these early chapter books that my girls can tackle on their own and really enjoy! Readers, what are your favorite third and fourth grade reading level books?

One of my goals for my littles for this school year has been to read more to them, and though they sometimes insist that they’re going to read their books “by myself!” they come running (or scooting) over any time I sit down on the couch and start reading one of their books out loud 🙂

And I absolutely treasure my moments of quiet with the big girls at bedtime – this is one of my favorite times of the day. We save our read-alouds to do together then, and we snuggle together in my bed, and I read to them.

I definitely have moments in parenting of feeling like nothing is going right, and I can do none of the things well, but days when I see my kiddos reading and when I get to read with them are an encouragement to my soul.

The Enneagram and Self-Knowledge

Being a mom, it’s easy sometimes to lose track of yourself as a person, too. Of course you exist in relationship to other people – in particular your children – but there can be times in which you aren’t sure who you are or what you’re doing, except in relation to said children.

It was fun to dig into a book this summer called The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery. A friend asked if I wanted to read it with her, and we ended up having a small group of women from church get together and discuss it. We had people of most different personality types represented there, and one of the most interesting parts of our conversation was hearing about how everyone felt their very different personalities affected their lives and relationships.

Wikipedia describes the Enneagram as “a model of the human psyche which is principally understood and taught as a typology of nine interconnected personality types.” There are a few things I really appreciated about this understanding of personality types. For one thing, it incorporates tendencies toward optimism or pessimism, which I think is an important dimension of personality that isn’t always captured. But I actually don’t love the system as a whole. It seems to me to be 9 semi-random groupings of personality traits, as opposed to a systematic evaluation of where different people fall along various dimensions (like the Myers-Briggs personality type system) – and as someone who prefers logical thought and analysis, I really dislike that. I also think it’s a lot easier to type some people (me) than others (Matt). He and I read much of the book together and had interesting discussions about who we thought might fit which personality type and what that meant for how they interacted with the world, and we got our families in on it, asking my brothers and sister-in-law and then his mom and sister (who were visiting while we were reading it) what types they thought they were.

Even not loving the classification system as a whole, reading the book was still beneficial and fun. I suspect it comes as a surprise to no one who has spent more than 5 minutes with me that I am a One, otherwise known as “the perfectionist.” I’ve been aware of my tendencies toward perfectionism for quite some time, but it was still helpful to read and be reminded of the strengths and weaknesses associated with those tendencies. The summary description of this personality type in the book includes statements like:

  • People have told me I can be overly critical and judgmental.
  • I don’t feel comfortable when I try to relax. There is too much to be done.
  • It seems to me that things are either right or wrong.
  • I notice immediately when things are wrong or out of place.
  • I like routine and don’t readily embrace change.

True, true, true.

And it’s so important to be aware of all of those tendencies in myself! Being aware that I prefer to operate in black and white in the midst of a world of grays helps me not to get so frustrated by the intricacies of different situations and to be willing to look at both sides. Knowing that my tendency is to focus on things that are incorrect is a reminder to me to look at all that is correct, too. Realizing that there are reasons for my love of routine helps me to give myself space to deal with change when it has to happen.

And all of that awareness helps me to be a better wife, a better mom, and a better friend. Just because I am a perfectionist and want everything to be done just so does not mean that my children will appreciate my attention to detail. Because it is so easy for me to notice the negatives, I need to make a special effort to look for the things Matt is doing that are helpful and express my appreciation.

I also appreciated that this book was written from a Christian perspective and included information about spiritual strengths and weaknesses of each personality type. I don’t think I’d thought of my personality influencing my relationship with God in quite that way, and it was a good exercise. Some words that stood out to me were, “If you’re a One, you believe the only way you’ll know peace on the inside is if you perfect everything on the outside. It’s not true.” It really is a temptation for me to pursue peace by getting my external world in order – devising systems for regular toy pick-up, planning our meals and our school days, etc. But true peace comes from Jesus, from being real with Him, working through our thoughts and feelings with Him (the book highlights the importance of Ones being honest about their anger!), trusting in Him, and relying on His Spirit.

Since reading it, I’ve been more cognizant of the ways my personality may be affecting me throughout my days and in my relationships. I still don’t love the Enneagram system as a whole, but I have found that taking the time to look at who I am and what that means for how I live my life was illuminating and helpful!

Madeleine CaiQun’s Birthday Celebration

Last month we celebrated Madeleine CaiQun’s 7th birthday! One thing that was super special about this year was that Matt’s mom and sister Stacey came to visit us the weekend of her birthday, so we had family here to help us celebrate, and that made the whole weekend seem like a fun treat. We don’t get to see them often, so it’s very special when we do.

Stacey had ordered a giant cardboard house for the kids to color, which the kids thought was amazing.

We talked to Mei Mei about how she’d like to celebrate her birthday, whether she wanted a party with friends or to go somewhere special, or what sounded best to her. I wondered what she’d choose – I thought she might say she wanted a party like Miranda did, not because that would necessarily be most enjoyable for her but because that’s what her sister had done. I was glad, though, that she thought about what she’d really like and chose accordingly. She said wanted to celebrate with just our family, to have a fun day at home, to get Chinese food for dinner, and have a pinata. We told her we could certainly make that happen!

She got some fun gifts, and we all enjoyed diving into them. The game Blokus will, I think, be a good one for our family, and Madeleine CaiQun is a very spatial thinker, so I think she’ll be good at it.

And she was happy to share her jewelry making kit with Miranda (she’s super generous), and of course both girls still love all things Star Wars!

I was exhausted – Madeleine CaiQun’s birthday fell at the end of the week during which FangFang’s tooth started hurting tremendously, and neither she nor Matt or I was getting much sleep – and by that afternoon I felt like I couldn’t put together a coherent sentence and went upstairs to get just a bit of sleep. Grandma Nancy and Aunt Stacey stepped in to help the girls make the birthday cupcakes, and then we all enjoyed Chinese food and cupcakes for dinner!

I love it when Madeleine CaiQun smiles – when she does, she radiates joy 🙂 She is such an incredibly sweet child and brings so much joy to our lives. That sweetness was evidenced by the fact that she was totally fine with sharing a bit of the spotlight on her birthday with little brother, who was incredibly jealous that she got to blow out a candle!

And, I blame it on my sleep deprivation, but I completely forgot about her pinata until the morning after her birthday! No worries – we had just as much fun with it then as we would have the day before 🙂 She had chosen a gigantic dinosaur pinata – the largest one at the store – to our amusement! We’d filled it with candy…

And then we let the kids take turns whacking it with a stick 🙂 Matt had to help a bit to get it to break open, but everyone was quite entertained by the whole experience!

Madeleine CaiQun is such a beautiful soul. She’s sweet and kind and has a strong sense of justice. She’s self-aware and thoughtful, and she loves to snuggle. I am so thankful to have her in our family <3

Year In Review: Homeschooling 2016-2017

Most places wrap up their school years in May, perhaps June. Here at our house, we finished our home-schooling year in mid-August! It was an odd year for us – we’d finished our previous year later than I’d originally thought we would, mostly due to Matt’s heart attack. That meant we started this year’s curriculum later than I’d thought we would. And on top of that, we were finishing up our adoption process last fall, necessitating hours of paperwork for me, trips to our Secretary of State’s office to certify documents, travel coordination, and so much other logistical work that we didn’t get through as much of our curriculum as I’d originally hoped in the fall – and then, of course I went to China. And I returned from China with a 3-year-old, and we all had bonding and attachment needs, and she had major medical needs. But God 🙂 Honestly, it stressed me out, not being ahead of the game in terms of our school schedule. I am a perfectionist, and I like to be well ahead of the pack. Except there is no pack. There’s learning and growing together – or not. And we’re learning and growing together. And truth be told? My kids (and I) do better with year-round structure. They (and I) do not do well with weeks of totally unstructured time. It was a good thing for us to do school over the summer. We still have a ton of fun – pool time and parks and playing – but we also do some work. It’s a good balance for us.

I’m actually quite proud of the ways in which we’ve grown as a home-schooling family this year. It feels like we’ve settled into more of a groove. We’ve figured out more of what works well for us, and we’ve stuck with that, whether it matches up with what anyone else does or not. I used to think that we had to start our day with Bible reading, because obviously your day should start with Bible reading! It turns out that doesn’t work so well for us. Starting our day with math works well for us. It’s the most intense of our “seat work” subjects, and if we don’t get it out of the way early, it’s a real battle to try to tackle it later. If we do math and handwriting right off the bat, they’re done well and they’re done quickly – at least more often than when we do them later in the day 🙂

And then we do something that gets us moving. I love checking off boxes. If it were up to me, we’d do all of school right away, and then we’d be done and have the rest of the day to play. It turns out that this is another area in which my initial expectations just don’t match up with the reality of what works well for our family right now. My kids do so much better if we take a break after their seat work is done. Cosmic Kids Yoga is a favorite. 

If I were less of a check-list mom, we’d probably go out to the park more often (also if it were easier to take 4 small children, one of whom uses a wheelchair and one of whom is an untrustworthy runner, to the park). Or even for walks. But I am a check-list mom, so we do yoga 🙂 And I work on growing toward being more laid back.

One thing I’ve loved about this year has been the continued cultivation of a love of reading. We love the majority of Sonlight‘s book choices. After we take our mid-morning break, we dive into reading – often for hours a day – and we enjoy it. These were some of our favorite books from our core curriculum this year.

Reading quality books has also been a huge part of cultivating a love of reading in our kids beyond school. One morning I looked around me, and this was what I saw – all 4 kids looking at books.

That warmed my heart. More than I want to impart any particular pieces of knowledge, I want to instill a love of reading and of learning, and my hope is that we are doing that through the choices we’re making.

Part of that has been making some curriculum adjustments. I mentioned in some of the posts linked above that I was exploring different math curriculum options for Madeleine CaiQun, and I’m glad I did that this year. Singapore Math is an excellent curriculum for Miranda – she loves mental math and just gets math in general. It didn’t click as much for Madeleine CaiQun. After doing more research, I bit the bullet and ordered an entirely separate curriculum package – Math-U-See – for her, and it’s a great fit. The use of manipulatives helps her to understand each lesson so well, and I’m seeing her manifest true mastery of concepts. It’s certainly not financially optimal to have two kids using two different curricula, but one of the beautiful parts about homeschooling is that when you have two very different children who learn and think in very different ways, you have the freedom to teach them and help them learn in very different ways, and I’m thankful for that.

We also have the freedom not to have to work through all things on exactly the same timetable, and I’m thankful for that, too. Miranda is still finishing up Singapore’s Year 2 math, even though we’ve technically finished the school year, and that’s fine. Not having started her new math curriculum until mid-year, Madeleine CaiQun is also obviously not finished with it, but again, that’s fine – we’ll work through it and move on to the next level once we’re ready for it. We also needed to take a bit of time after the end of this school year to finish up our Language Arts program from this school year, and we’re only about halfway through the first book from our Spelling curriculum. I’m always reminding myself – this was their kindergarten and first grade year of school. They are doing great, whether we make it through an arbitrary number of lessons in a given year or not. Obviously if they were showing significant deficits, we’d be concerned and would take whatever measures were necessary to address that – but that’s not the case. They are learning and growing and doing beautifully. 

I think we had a successful year. We learned, and we grew. We made it through (approximately) one year’s worth of curriculum in approximately a year for most subjects. We’ve found some routines that are working for us. We’re getting a lot of quality time together. We talk about anything and everything. This was a good year, and I’m so looking forward to our next one!