Monday, November 29, 2010

Thar they blow!

Wow.

After an entire holiday vacation of acting up and spiraling out, several family members finally released all their crazy in one large, loud volcanic eruption this very morning.

Proud to say that I was not one of them, lol. As such, I reward myself with 5 Gold Stars.

(One Gold Star entitles the bearer to One Hour of Peace and Quiet. Which, coincidentally, allots me the time to read the second book of The Hunger Games trilogy. Because I already finished the first book yesterday. Holy smoking page turning because OH MY GOD was it great. If you haven't read it, you should. Because it will be an awesome 6-hour break from whatever reality you may have.)

Additionally, not only did I not contribute to the blow-out, I cleaned up the mess. Another 5 Gold Stars for me.

(Which, coincidentally, allows me enough Peace and Quiet to finish the last book of the trilogy. Boo-ya!)

This time, the blow-up was a good thing because it allowed me to work with Miles on getting to the heart of the things which were bothering him while snuggled up on the couch.

Last Wednesday, the Kindergarten & First Grade at school had a Thanksgiving Feast. During which a big first grader started calling my son "stupid." ("Stupid" is the "S" word in our house, so it's a pretty big deal.) Miles became terribly upset and hurt. He told the teacher, the teacher told the kid to knock it off, but the kid gave him mean looks the rest of the meal.

Which, to Miles credit, he ignored. I asked him what he did, and he told me "I just ate turkey and gravy-tatoes." Good for Miles. That right there is HUGE progress.

I totally want to go to school and pound that first grader. It's one thing to pick on an emotionally healthy kid. But my little boy is not. So leave him alone.

That one little incident put him on the edge of a slippery slope. Which he slid down. And down. And down.

However, we're getting better at climbing back up. And that's a good thing.

To help keep the "Fun" in "Dysfunctional," the Mister and I rewarded ourselves the past two night with 4 mind-blowing hours of. . . .watching dead people stalk the living in the incredibly good tv show, The Walking Dead. Which helps fill the void from True Blood Season 3 ending ALL too soon.

And seriously, how can watching a small group of unusually attractive living humans with no hot water or food try and figure out how to survive among 20 million man-eating zombies not make you feel better about the little ol' challenges in your own life?

And even if it doesn't make me feel better, on the flip side I recognize that at the very least, having survived Attachment Disorder Challenges for a full-year makes me realize that 1) I am WAY tougher than those unusually attractive and slender living humans on tv and 2) I am dealing with RAD. Zombies do not scare me. Any RAD Mom can SO kick 20 million man-eating zombies a$$es any day of the week.

Either way, it's win/win.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Somewhere along the way. . .

After my boys came home and the honeymoon officially ended (which, in all truthfulness, only ended for one of them, because we never even honeymooned with the other), and we were thrown headfirst into a spiral of trauma-induced behavior, I became hyper-aware of the fact that if we had any hope of all at surviving this gig, we needed to have fun.

For quite a while, I made it my mission to keep things light and fun in the midst of our trials. It was easier then because at that time I craved it like I crave Ben & Jerry's Americone Dream.

To help the big kids cope with their adjustment, we extended the big kid's bedtime so they each had our time doing whatever fun things they wanted, from playing 30 million back-to-back games of Blokus (which was fun until my 8 year old routinely starting kicking my ass at it), to creeping ourselves out with Nancy Drew mystery computer games (I'm a weenie, you bet), to having sundae parties and watching scary movies.

I sought out fun for the Mister and I. We employed babysitters and had date nights once the little ones where in bed. We watched movies curled up on the couch, or when the weather was decent, we'd sit outside under the patio twinkle lights and share a beer. Sex and intimacy happily became a huge priority for both of us.

I sought out things for myself, too. Many times I couldn't leave the house due to the Mister's travels or needy children, but I sought out new series of books to read (Charlaine Harris, anyone?), continued with favorite series (Janet Evanovich.) We subscribed to cable and I learned that I LOVE TRASHY CABLE TV-SERIES. The trashier, the better. And I'm not afraid to admit it.

Somewhere along the way, however, I lost that focus on fun.

And life has suffered.

Now, I'm not saying that this recent accumulation of problems is all my fault, or all the fault of the lack of fun.

I am saying, though, that in living a life with traumatized children, it is really, REALLY, REALLY important to have some sort of fun in your life.

I was all set to blog about all my lofty fun goals for this holiday season. Pumped and ready for fun.

Then the dreaded "Blogger's Curse" stepped in.

I just finished up with a situation with Miles. The holidays are hard for him, and a day with everyone at Grandma's house has sent him spiraling out today, despite my best efforts to keep things calm and routine for him. Today, I sent him outside, all bundled up, to empty the compost containers into the large compost bins. Typical kid chore. One that all of my children have done about a billion times.

After a while, I realized Miles had not come inside. I peeked out the door, and there my boy was, choosing to stand outside hollering and wailing and screaming in the cold. Why? He wanted to use a different door that he could not access. Instead of asking Mom for help with the side door, he chose to stand outside in the freezing cold, crying and hollering.

I will completely admit: it is NOT easy having a kid who would rather freeze to death than do something as simple as saying, "Hey Mom, can you open this other door for me?" It hurts to see how trauma affects him. It hurts to have a kid who acts as though having to interact with their Mom is about as appealing to them as eating dog poop. It's hard to parent a kid like this. I totally wanted to just say, "Well, fine then, stand out there and freeze."

But with a trauma kid, you can't. One, he would stand out there until he passed out from hypothermia, no doubt (no, I'm not kidding. Or exaggerating.) But most importantly, doing so just reinforces the unhealthy mumbo-jumbo in his head.

Instead, I ushered him inside, warmed him up, and talked him through the situation calmly. Do you know that it is dangerous standing outside in the cold? (yes.) And that's it's not being a very good boss of your body to do that? (yes.) And did you see how Mommy is a very good boss and loves you so much that she will make those choices to keep you healthy for you, when you are not able to make them for yourself? (loooonnnggg pause, lots of screaming, crying, carrying on. Then a quiet, 'yes.') And why does Mommy do all that (because you love me.)

Is there beauty in the above scenario? Sure, at the end. Is a lesson learned? Maybe. Is a bond being built? Slowly, but surely, I think it is.

But to paraphrase my dear Corey, Oh. My. Head. I repeat that scenario and dialogue about a trillion times a week. And it is not fun. Even when it works out and I'm able to keep my cool and keep a situation moving and healthy, it is hard and it hurts and it is exhausting.

But those hurts and exhaustions are all the more reason why I have to get back at trying to enjoy life with my family. Both in gentle ways with my hurting children (the holidays, all the excitement, lack of routine, and relative spoiling, for some of my children it's just too much,) and in ways which my other children and husband find fun and joyful.

And I need to work on finding ways for our new family unit to have fun that is joyous to all of them. Because we have different "family fun" parameters now which need to be taken into account.

At times, when I'm sick and exhausted or just fed up, this task seems nearly insurmountable. Yet, if I could do it before, I can do it again. And I must. Because life is just too short and difficult not to put a focus on fun.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Like Mother, Like Daughter

The first snow of the season is falling tonight.

As such, the children raced to the garage to get their snow boots on.

My worst fear happened (okay, not my worst fear in life, but most certainly my worst fear when it comes to putting on snow boots for the first time this season), and a DEAD MOUSE WAS IN ATTICUS' SNOW BOOT.

So I stood on a chair in the dining room (the room furthest from the garage) and screamed (continuously.)

Paloma climbed on my chair and screamed (continuously.)

The Mister knows there is NO hope for me ever resolving my fear of rodents. Particularly dead rodents.

So, having put on his shoes to go outside and dispose of said dead mouse, he walked over to us.

"Paloma," he said, "are you screaming over a little dead mouse?"

"No I'm not!" Paloma replied indignantly. "I'm keeping Mom company."

Sorry to all my brave kids, but she's now my favorite child, and therefore shall receive the most in my estate.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Shining Star

Greetings! This is the Mr., hijacking Sarah's blog, in honor of our 10th Anniversary today.
'
We've been together
a long time now.
We've laughed and cried
and seen each other through
our best and worst
and everything in between.
And today, when I look at you,
I feel even more love
thank I've ever felt before.
We have a history together,
full of shared memories
that keep us close.
You are so much a part of me
and a part of my happiness
that ti's impossible to imagine
what life would have been like without you.
You are my partner,
and my love,
and I ask nothing more
than to spend all the rest
of my life with you.
- Linda Lee Elrod

My Dearest Sarah,
When I saw this card, I thought immediately that it pretty much says what I would want to say. In the past, humor-based cards were often chosen in hopes of getting you to laugh.

I still want you to laugh. I want you to find joy in each day with our family, with each child, and with me. I feel good when you are enjoying yourself and I feel that way because I love you.

On this day, however, and with a benchmark (10 years!), our anniversary has arrived in the midst of challenges. We've had stress in our relationship, stress with some of the kids, and stress from my career and dip in income. At a time when we should be having bigger and larger celebrations (and gifts, but really. . what could I get you made of tin?) we are on a budget, a strict one, and time are tight.

The mood, the challenges, the importance of the benchmark, these all make a funny card inadequate.

So, despite the fact that you may find most straight-laced anniversary cards to be hokey or uninspired, please know this:

These words from Linda Lee Elrod, who I learned was a poet, say what I think and feel.

We've been together 10 years. They have been the best 10 years of my life and I would not take a moment away if I had a chance. My life is better, more full and has satisfaction and peace and real happiness because you are in it.

Your ardent admirer,
Cliff

* * * * * *
After we eloped, I drove my lovely Bride and darling Princess (for Hatfield was with us) across Seattle proper to dinner in my 1969 Mercedes (no matter what Sarah tells you, it's not a clunker. It's a irreplaceable piece of German art!) At that time, my sister and I had cell phones complete with walkie-talkie radio properties (now nearly as much of a relic as the Mercedes.) Despite the fact that our ride was constructed of highly superior German engineering, our ride was sans working stereo, my brother-in-law, riding behind us in his fully functioning piece of Japanese engineering, piped this tune for us over the phone, which instantly became our song.

Every time I hear this song, I'm immediately taken back to that clear night, driving through the city with my girls. We were young, poor, hopeful and optimistic about the wonders our future would hold.

The past 10 years did not disappoint. And I am looking forward to the next 10. And the 10 after that. And the 10 after that. And the 10 after. . .

Friday, November 19, 2010

Ordinary is good

A long, bumpy week full of ups and downs is finally coming to an end. I'm happy to say that things are moving back to a sense of normal.

Or at least as normal as it gets around here, right? ;)

The Mister's home, as it should be, and we've worked hard at working through this, as it should be.

In one of our smarter moves, we took the issue straight to our counselor instead of trying to work this out for ourselves. I have to say that our counselor is worth his weight in gold. Honestly, going to see him and talking this situation through was invaluable. Both in terms of the quality of our results, and in terms of time.

The counselor has a gift for honing in on issues and asking exactly the right questions to get to the heart of the matter. Had we tried to muddle through this on our own, it would have been messy and timely. Instead, we worked it through, feel good about it, and got back to focusing on the important things in life.

I cannot thank everyone enough for checking in on me, providing me with words or encouragement and prayers. Amy D., I got your message and seriously, you are like the sweetest person I know. Thank you, Amy and everyone.

Tonight, we are going out on a Date Night. A Double Date Night, actually, with one of the Mister's friends and his significant other. A rarity, because usually, we double date with my friends and their spouses. Which isn't to say that I don't like the Mister's friends, but it is because it's usually myself and my friend setting up the Date Night. Because my husband and his friends just don't set those types of things up usually. In fact, even though we're going out with the Mister's friends, it was the girlfriend and I who arranged it :)

After a long month of feeling like crap and being housebound, getting out tonight feels great. I can't wait for that glass of red wine and Penne alla Vodka. Yummy-yum-yum.

Funny how sometimes, life can be so boring (like the misery of being sick for a month), that I find myself wishing for some excitement. Silly me.

I'm going to take the opportunity to let Paloma remind me--and everyone else--that truly, it's okay to have an ordinary life and be an Ordinary Girl.



Have a great weekend.
Love,
Sarah

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Fractured

I read a lot of adoption/attachment blogs. And what I'm about to share is a topic that I haven't encountered too often out there in the blogosphere.

I know I haven't written much on it myself.

We all know how much this parenting journey can wear a person down.

It's important to remember that marriages are susceptible to the stress as well.

Tonight, I am writing all this down because I am scared and pretty much a wreck. We're falling victim to the stress here. My marriage is fractured, and tonight, I can see the situation we're in. I understand the enormous pressure of the parameters that we have parent to within; yet, I don't know how to fix anything.

The past year has been my most challenging parenting year ever. It's also been the most humbling.

Throughout this attachment-disorder parenting experience, I have realized that I know nothing. And that what I thought I knew--the parenting patterns and behaviors I initially employed-- were not helping.

We have spent countless hours and (nearly) countless dollars at therapy. I take the boys, sometimes the Mister tags along, sometimes the Mister goes alone, sometimes the Mister and I go just the two of us.

I have learned a lot, and, like I said in my last post, feel hopeful for our son's future.

But for our marriage, I am afraid that these fractures are becoming deeper.

As a married couple, when we go to therapy and learn, we usually walk away with our thoughts and parenting strategies in sync.

Yet when challenges arise in daily living, and those "heat of the moment" moments crop up, it's very easy to revert back into old patterns. I myself have been guilty of this many times. I acknowledge my mistakes and try to be a better parent each time. I see how it's working, which builds momentum, which makes me even more gung-ho about the methods of attachment parenting that we are using (our primary focus is to create the bond.)

The Mister also reverts back to old parenting patterns. But how he feels about this when he does this, and how I feel about it when I do it, are opposite reactions.


Lately, I find myself stuck between a rock and a hard place.

The Rock: My husband wants to handle situations as he deems appropriate, which is not in agreement with the therapeutic plans we create. Doing it "his" way makes him feel like he is a parent who is proactively parenting and as he puts it, this way if the child ends up in jail at the age of 18, he knows that he did everything he could, because he is doing it the way his parents did it (and he turned out okay), and he's doing it the way he's done it with our older bio kids (and they are great.)

The Hard Place: The Mister's parenting fractures my attachment with Miles. Because even though that form of parenting worked out great for the Mister and our bio kids, the key is that
Miles is not an attached, emotionally healthy kid. While Miles may cognitively know right from wrong, and while he may emotionally be able to act appropriately much of the time, there are times (lots of times) when he just does not have it emotionally together.

At those moments, Miles needs my help to regulate, not consequences or punishments. Every time something goes wrong for Miles-- whether his teacher didn't give him enough attention, or the other kid got the red vitamins, or his Dad is really angry at him-- in his mind, it is Mom's fault and he ends up angry at Mom because his inner person tells him Mom cannot be trusted. So I have to work REALLY hard at building that trust, at changing his inner dialogue. This isn't to say that the kid can do whatever he wants without consequence; but it is saying that we work on emotional attachment/regulation first and foremost. For a variety of reasons (namely, trauma) and none of which are logical (because trauma isn't), this is just how it is, like it or not.

My husband feels that this is not parenting for him. That it's b.s. If he moves forward and continues with his "set expectation with the understanding that if child does not meet expectation, they will be punished / the child then subsequently does not meet expectation/ parent must follow through and punish child," then he is parenting, albeit at the cost of my attachment with Miles.

If I stop this old pattern, my husband says, "I give up. I'm done parenting. You win, Sarah." If I stop the pattern, it's the same as declaring myself Sole Parent.

This is not a contest. I have never meant for it to be one. The only "way" of doing things that I care about is the way that creates healing for this little boy. I don't care whose way it is, and I will be first to say that it certainly isn't my old patterns. My old ways certainly didn't work, and now I'm doing it this counseling way. And thank God, it's working.

When I reinforce this new way, my husband feels like I am emasculating him and taking away his parenthood. That I am undermining him and taking away his rights as a parent. That I am bent on fighting and winning and having it "my" way.

Right now, the Mister has completely withdrawn from our home life. I guess that's one of the perks you have when you work outside the house. You can get angry and escape and not have the added stress of keeping your kids' lives as steady and stable as you can; of managing the trying behaviors; of minimizing the worries of your anxiety-inclined child.

He is angry and stressed and exhausted and has had it.

I feel scared and sick about this entire thing.

* * * * *

When I am very quiet, and very still, I know what I have to do. I'm trying to focus on help find some strength.

My job is to be emotionally strong and healthy for all of my children. My job with Miles, because he is a very little boy of just 6 (albeit a little boy with some very BIG behaviors, but he isn't his behaviors), I hold myself to a very high level of responsibility in the attachment arena. He is not responsible for his attachment at this time. I am. I hold myself accountable, and I take that responsibility very seriously. I have the responsibility to find the way to parent Miles that will create the healthiest attachment and greatest emotional development. I have the responsibility even if it is hard, or against what I have known all along.

My job is to love my husband. I adore my husband. I love him. I truly do. I don't want my husband to feel emasculated or like he isn't a parent. And I don't think of it as a my way or the highway thing. But I also don't want to keep up with these negative old cycles that we know simply do not work and are not healthy.

I want to be married to him and I will fight for my marriage. But right now, he does not feel that, and he is very angry and very disconnected.

I hope it won't stay this way forever. My own abandonment and rejection issues wreak havoc on my mind at times like these. I hope and pray that somehow, these two jobs can become healthy complements of one another.

The husband and I have been through far worse than this, and we have made it through. I'd like to think for the better. I'd like to think that we can do the same again.

Right now, we're exhausted. I've been sick for a freakin' month and the Mister has had to pick up a lot of slack around here and that is not an easy thing. He has the burden of supporting all of us solo, and that is not an easy thing. We've been busy and exhausted. I'm hoping that this is just the 'release valve' on the accumulation of the past two months.

But the thing is, I'm exhausted and worn down. I feel upset and abandoned. I vascillate between feeling fearful and panicky (and boy, talk about increasing my empathy and understanding of how my little guys must feel), and calm and trusting.

My husband is a type of person who can get angry and stay angry and he has no problem with that. Some people are just like that.

I, however, am the type where it makes me literally sick to be have to go to bed alone, with one of us angry. I like to try and come to some resolution, even if it's just a, let's agree to disagree because at the end of the day, each other are what matters. I'm not good at staying angry, or finding peace when someone I love is angry with me.

This journey is not easy. And right now, I'm on a really scary part. I'm not sharing this so that others know they are not alone (although it's great if it does help someone.) This is probably the most personal and touchiest post I've ever written, and if I'm completely honest, I'm sharing it so that I don't feel so alone. Because it's bedtime and I'm alone and feeling absolutely miserable. Hugs and prayers are greatly appreciated and needed.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Bottomless Bucket

Of course, the week I got sick, 3 therapy appointments were on the calendar.

The dear Mister took over for me. As difficult as playing puppets for back-to-back 60 minute appointments each is for me (Don't judge me. Very few things are more mind-numbing than playing puppets--and I mean not just playing, but truly actively engaging and attempting to move the story forward with a kid who is more interested in making airplane noises while flying his owl around the room than listen to the storyline), I know the Mister is in even greater agony than me, because half the time the poor guy can't figure out just what the therapist needs the Mister's puppet to say to keep the story line moving forward.

I wouldn't have blamed him one bit if he were to cancel them. But he didn't.

God Bless the Mister.

The last appointment of the week was just a parent meeting, to discuss the evaluations and testing we had done regarding Keenan.

The Mister listened, and took notes.

His notebook contained the following notes:

* "Bottomless Bucket" type of attachment.
Attachment exists, but it's not secure.
Child is like a bucket that cannot fill up.
Demands, time, etc. is not enough.
The more given, the deeper the bucket.

* Healthy, secure attachment creates the bucket bottom.

* Mom needs identity beyond that of mom.
Imperative she gets a break. Maintain own identity.

I cried after reading that list. A big, ugly cry for a good, long time.

Part of that cry was relief. Because "Bottomless Bucket" describes EXACTLY what I am experiencing, yet I couldn't put my finger on it.

Keenan has always been my little buddy. Always by my side, and if not right there by my side, I knew that he'd be popping up every few minutes, checking in, seeing what I was up to.

Already living the polar opposite with his brother, who often goes to great lengths to avoid me and gets angry when he has to check in, I naturally felt and assumed that Keenan's behavior was awesome! Here's a little boy who loves me and always wants to be with me. For whom I'm the central role of his universe.

Slowly though, over time, his neediness has increased instead of subsided. Having just started kindergarten, and truly struggling with learning problems, I just assumed he needed that extra TLC.

And he does need that extra TLC. Because what he is going through is tough. But we need to change how we give him TLC, and how he feels about it. Because we've reached a point where our current system is no longer healthy.

Reading the phrase "bottomless bucket" was a HUGE light bulb moment for me. Suddenly, I discovered many behaviors now fit into this category:

* The child cannot complete a meal unless I'm there to cheer him on. If I won't cheer him on, he'll refuse to eat, or choke, or eat sooooooo sllllloooowwwwwwlllllyyyy that I'm sure to take notice.

* Even if he is doing a simple chore he has done many times, he has to check in with me every 2 minutes. If he and his brother are putting their clean clothing away, he will carry each and every piece to me downstairs to confirm where it should go. If Miles is folding a dish towel that got mixed up in there, Keenan will rip it out of his hands so that he can bring it to me.

* If he has a chore that does not require my supervision, he won't do it until I go in to check on him. Because he wants me watching him.

* If one of his siblings gets attention for a negative behavior, and I sit them down for a time out and then discuss with them the consequences of their behavior, he'll interrupt me multiple times. And within 5 minutes of the end of their time out, 9 times out of 10 he'll commit the behavior, right in front of me, to be sure that I notice.

All of these behaviors, and more, are designed to get more and more and more of my time and energy. Because the love and attention I give him is not enough to fill up the void in him left by abandonment, years of institutionalized living, and trauma.

I cried because this is exhausting. Even though his behaviors are infinitely more pleasant and easier to deal with than Miles, it is exhausting nonetheless.

I cried because, while I do get out of the house, I don't feel like I have an identity beyond being a wife and mother. The confusing thing is, I don't feel like it bothers me. Or that I need one because this is who I am.

A huge turning point in my life--for the far better-- was the day that Hatfield was born. She arrived and I felt like a new person and I never looked back.

Namely, because I really didn't like that person I was before she was here.

So, really, I don't know if the entire identity thing is a problem, especially if I don't feel like it's a problem. But that's an entirely different post for another day, isn't it?

In the end, I feel a lot of hope in this situation. I look at how far Miles has come and it is nothing short of amazing. AMAZING. He is able to control his emotions, talk about his feelings, not act out. There is still a LOT of work to be done. I think we have years of work ahead of us, but the sense of urgency is no longer present. We have a grip on things, attachment is growing in a healthy manner, and we're moving forward.

Keenan will be able to do the same. We have an attachment; now we just need to create a healthier one. We have a great therapist; a great network of friends and people who understand.

Now all I have to do is muster up the energy to get it all done...but first, a nap. This sinus infection has kicked my patootie down the block, and it hasn't come back yet.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Oops, I did it again

Yet another washing machine bites the dust.

Frick.
Frack.
Fug.

On the plus side, I have 5 kids to help me at the laundromat while I hunt for the most indestructible washing machine known to man. (Any input? Because so far I've killed off Kenmores, Maytags and Whirlpools.)

On the negative side, I have 5 kids' worth of dirty laundry.

So far, November is absolutely sucky. For the past month, I have fluctuated between fighting flu bugs and just feeling like crap in general. Now, I have been sick, really sick, in bed or on the couch since Wednesday. Went to the doctor on Friday to learn that, on the plus side, I do not have mono. Hooray. On the negative side, I have tonsillitis, sinusitis, and a left ear infection.

As of this morning, I have two children (Hatfield and Miles), sick in bed with the stomach flu.

Atticus is wrapped in the blanket on our other couch, complaining of a headache and looking paler by the second.

And Paloma and Keenan are filming the latest segment of our 5FC telenova, The Dueling Divas.

Sigh.

Seriously, I know that life could hand us far worse, and by comparison, this is just a season and we'll get through it. I just wish we could get through it faster. And healthier.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Making life easier (and keeping your house cleaner)

If you have been reading my blog for long, you have probably caught on to the fact that I am Pro-Chore.

Big time.

Why? Why do you need to give your children chores?

Well, because chores:
*teach them responsibility
*teach them life-skills
*teach them self-discipline
*teach them "team-work" (we all pitch in)
*reinforce the notion that Mom is-- gasp!-- NOT a domestic slave or servant!
*keep the house cleaner, less-cluttered and in working order. And a cleaner, less-cluttered and in working order home = a Happier Mama. And if Mama's happy, well, that's a good thing.

Are you overwhelmed with household work? I'm not talking your own personal motherly tasks. I'm talking about housework.

If you are overwhelmed, I'm gonna say it: You are probably not assigning enough chores.

Assigning chores, following through with them, making sure they are done (and done correctly), etc. is a LOT of work. Like almost a full-time job work. And if you, as the parent, has to do those steps again and again, day after day, chances are you will Crash and Burn, figuring that that having to do it all yourself is way easier than keeping track of everything.

But it doesn't HAVE to be.

ChorePacks are something that I simply must SHARE about. Because as a stay-at-home, home school mom of 5, my life is SOOOOOOOOO much simpler and better because of this.

ChorePacks
work in coordination with the FABULOUS book, Managers of Their Chores.

Managers of Their Chores are brought to us by the lovely folks, Steve and Teri Maxwell, homeschool parents extraordinaires over at Titus 2 Ministries.

Common questions: Is this book a "Christian" book?

Yes. Much of their reasoning for Chores and inspiration is Biblical-based. However, most of the reasoning is also practical and applicable to every family (meaning that you personally do not have to be Biblically motivated. You can just as easily ignore all the Biblical stuff while still reaping the Chore Pack benefits.)

That being said, I find the entire Chore Pack system so invaluable that it could be run by blood-drinking, pentagram-hauling Satanists, and I would still be first in line to plunk my money down.

A quick summary: A chore pack is a series of cards, smaller than index cards, which are numbered, and show the children what chore they need to do. Kind like a mobile To-Do list. The cards are kept in a see-through (rather indestructible, as ours are still holding up well nearly 1.5 years later) plastic pouch that they clip to their clothing. As they go through their chores, they move their completed card to the back of the pack.

The book is full of exhaustive lists of chores, schedules, and worksheets/planning space for yourself. There is a corresponding website where we parents go in and "create" Chore Packs for each child (create, print, and clip to the kid!)

Here is Miles with his Chore Pack. Even when he first came home from Haiti and had no English skills, the Chore cards had photos, which let him know what to do next. And for a child with control issues who needs a 'quiet' environment, knowing what was coming next was a great relief for him.

Other Chore Pack details:

The good:

* You can accommodate changes in schedule, child by child, day by day.
* You can put in those once a week/month/quarter jobs.
* You can use photos on each card for non-reading children (a bed for "Make bed", etc.)
* You can use colors to differentiate chore packs for each child.
* The Chore Pack clips onto the child, making it easy for any reading adult/older child to help out a non-reader.

The bad:
* It does take time and effort to set assign your children chores for the entire work. However, with the Chore Packs, you assign it and then no longer have to always try and remember who is doing what and when.
* It does take time and effort to log those chores into the computer program to print out those nifty little Chore Pack cards. (but it is returned a trillion-fold when you see how easy your life becomes.)
* You will need to monitor your children until they are responsible enough to follow through on their own. (Hey, no one ever said that this whole Mom-needing-to-teach-kids-responsibility thing would be easy. Sometimes we just have to suck it up. But the Chore Pack monitoring is a short period of time, especially when compared with other methods. Or not method at all.)

We have daily Chore Packs, with chores divided into Morning, Afternoon and Evening Chores. Everyone also has a "Saturday Morning" Chore Pack, which is done every Saturday morning after our usual Morning Chore Pack chores.

Saturday morning is when we do the "big" weekly chores. I'm talking floor mopping, dusting, glass cleaning, appliance wiping, lightswitch/doorknob decontaminating, sheet changing, backyard clean-upping, walkway sweeping, etc.

With the Chore Packs, on every Saturday morning, all 7 of us can get the ENTIRE house clean, shiny and tidy in under 45 minutes. Without the Mister and I having to constantly tell the kids what to do next.

As a SAHM, Homeschool mom whose time is very valuable, that is huge. HUGE.



I keep our Chore Packs on a ribbon attached to the Bulletin Board (located directly underneath the Motherboard.) I also have pinned up the vinyl page with 6 pouches, each pouch assigned to hold a specific child's cards, plus a Saturday morning pouch to hold all of those cards.


I also keep a Chore Pack tally on the Motherboard. If a child finishes the week with enough tallies, they earn allowances.

If you have any questions on our Chore Packs or our Chore Pack system, please feel free to leave a question in the comments section, and I will get back to you.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Do you SHARE?


Last month, the Mister and I learned about something seriously cool, located right here in our great state of Wisconsin, servicing our own community, that we had never heard about before.

We had NO idea this even existed in our area.

Which made me really sad. And ticked. So now, I'm doing my "Share" to spread the word (you'll see why that's a brilliant play on words in a moment. Eyes rolling. Hey, it's Monday. Humor me!)

Feeding a family of 7 isn't cheap. Heck, feeding any family of any size isn't cheap. Even if you try to eat healthy, whole foods and skip over processed food altogether, it still takes a sizable chunk out of your monthly budget.

For a long time now, I've wished Green Bay had a Food Co-Op. Over the years, I have seen a few fledgling ones. Two months back, I read about a new one. Awesome, right? Well, not when I saw the buy-in fee. It was over half a month's grocery budget for us.

But do you know what exists in our area (and by area, I mean all of Wisconsin, Northeastern MN, and the U.P. of MI)? A FREE Food Co-Op.

That's right. FREE.

Let me introduce you to SHARE Wisconsin.

SHARE is a nonprofit, volunteer-run food buying club helps families save 30-50% on supermarket quality food. Everyone is welcome to save on food and help their community. For nearly 25 years we have served the Upper Midwest with savings on a wide selection of foods. Volunteers at nearly 200 locations throughout WI, northern IL, northeastern MN and the Upper Peninsula of MI make the savings possible. Shop online, surf our website or call toll-free 800-548-2124 for details!

While the selection isn't grocery store huge, where else can you get 10+ pounds of Organic Fruits/Veggies for $15?!? Or the Deluxe Produce Assortment (at least 9 pounds total of at least 7 kinds of fruits and veggies) for only $7?!? And for meat-eating families, there is a great selection of quality meats at very low prices.

While the November ordering is over, check out their Thanksgiving Package. $25 bought our family: 12-14 lb. Whole Turkey, Stuffing Mix, Cranbbrry Sauce, 8" Pre-Baked Pumpkin Pie, PLUS a Deluxe Produce Assortment with at least 7 kinds of fresh fruits and vegetables. Serves 6!

My mom is hosting Thanksgiving, but for $25, I'll gladly freeze the turkey and we can add the rest to our weekly menu.

The Mister's District Sales Team volunteered for a day at SHARE last month for Volunteer Day. They processed orders and loaded it onto pallets. He said that the produce is Gorgeous and Fresh. Volunteers process the orders, put it on trucks, and the trucks deliver it to a pick-up site in your community (our GB site is the Ashwaubenon Community Center--where many moons ago, I went to Nursery School.)



So check it out. Give SHARING a shot. The more families buy from SHARE, the lower the prices and greater the selection. This is a fabulous opportunity to work with your community AND help reduce your grocery budget.

And if that isn't Win-Win, I don't know what is.

* * * * * *
I love nothing more than going to a blog, reading about a link, clicking on it and finding great information. So, in the Spirit of Sharing, I will be Sharing a link each day on my blog. Each link will be something that I find helpful, inspiring or just plain kick-ass. Who knows? Maybe you'll find it worthwhile, too.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Friday's Feature Film: Adventures in Racial Profiling and Fire Alarm Activation Laws

Our Cast of Characters:

The Teacher: A short, sweet little woman who reminds us of a younger version of Mrs. Piggle Wiggle.

The ESL (English as a Second Language) Teacher: Single woman in mid-40's with four degrees, two of them advanced, who is adopting a boy from Bulgaria between the ages of 3.5 and 5, who should be home next year, who professionally dances competitively, who has four degrees, two of them advanced, and who is currently using crutches because she broke her foot while practicing her competitive professional dance, which fortunately did not harm her brain, because as a single woman who holds for four degrees, two of them advanced, her brain is a more important asset than her professional, competitively dancing feet.

The School Psych: 60-year old hippie. Long hair. Wears a dream catcher earring. Cowboy boots. The audience is pretty certain that both Bill and Ted are his love children.

The Mom: Over-protective, neurotic and slightly clueless. Homeschools the majority of her children. Mortal enemy #1 to the school district and local public school, all of whom want their damn share of the tax dollars allocated to her childrens' education because what business does she have anyway in having a say about her childrens' academic development?

The setting:
A school office.

The time:
Shortly before lunch.

The Mission Impossible:
To get the ball rolling on Keenan's Neuro-Psych/Cognitive testing.

Enter: Mom, Teacher, ESL, Psych. All adults present are sitting at a large table, each adult safely ensconced in their own protective bubble of one open chair on each side of their personage.

ESL: Mom, I have to tell you, I just LOVE your boys. I know I shouldn't love my students or feel emotionally invested in them, but I am a single woman who has been working with school districts for the past 15 years. I have four degrees, two of which are advanced. I am adopting a little boy from Bulgaria, so I feel vested in your boys.

Mom: That's wonderful that you are adopting. My boys really like working with you. Thank you for your help.

Continued idle chit chat while Psych figures out how to call the school social worker on his office phone.

Psych, clearing throat, interrupts: Soooooo, Mom, do you speak English fluently?

Mom, looking around the room to see if there is a joke she is missing: Yes, yes I do.

Psych: Sooooo, do you speak English in your home?

Mom: Yes. I do, as do the rest of my family.

Psych: And what is the main language spoke in your home?

Mom: English. English is the only language spoken in our home.

Psych, shuffling papers, presumably to determine concerned child's identity: And let's see, Keenan, he only speaks Spanish?

Mom: No, Keenan does not speak any Spanish.

Psych, looking confused: But he's receiving ESL services?

Loud "Hmmmppphh" sound emitted from the ESL.

ESL: Excuse me but for a moment. I have to let you know that what you are doing is called "RACIAL PROFILING." You are presuming that just because this woman and this child have a Hispanic last name, that they are Hispanic. Those are unacceptable assumptions. I know ALL about this because I have four degrees, two of which are advanced, and I worked in the Milwaukee school district with children of all ethnic backgrounds.

Teacher, bends over, intently reading a blank piece of paper to avoid all eye contact.

Psych, blinking rapidly: Ahhhhhh, okay. Um, what language does the child speak?

Mom: English. But his native language is French Kreyol.

Psych: Kreeee---ole?

Mom: Yes, French Kreyol. Keenan is our adopted son. He is Haitian.

Psych: Asian?

Mom: Not Asian. HAY-shon. From Haiti.

Psych: Huuuuhhhhh. So, does your husband speak Spanish?

Mom, blinking: No. My husband is not Spanish. He is Asian Pacific Islander, from Guam. Spain once conquered Guam, hence the Spanish name. But neither my husband nor myself nor any of our children speak Spanish.

Psych: Huuuuuuhhhhhhh.

Awkward silence.

ESL: Many ethnic backgrounds overlap over many different parts of the world. Just like this family here. I know these things because I have four degrees, two of which are advanced. And as a professional, competitive dancer, I have traveled the world and experienced many cultures.

Psych, staring open-mouthed. Shuffles more papers: Ahhhhh, ooookkkkaaaayyy, so since the child speaks Kreyol, I'm assuming that you (to ESL) are also his interpreter?

ESL: No, I am not.

Psych, to the teacher: Has the school district employed an interpreter for the child?

Teacher: No, they have not.

Psych: By state law, our school district must employ a Kreyol interpreter to administer these tests! I will begin that paperwork immediately after I smoke a doobie in the parking lot.

(Kidding. He really said: immediately after this meeting.)

Mom, raising hand: That's very nice of the district and all, but it would be pointless as Keenan does not speak Kreyol.

Psych: Who?

Mom: The child. My child. Keenan.

Psych: Ooooohhhh yeeeaaaahhhhh. Keenan. So, like, he doesn't speak Kreyol any more?

Mom: Keenan was adopted at age 4. He has been home 14 months. In that time, he lost his understanding of Kreyol.

Psych: Huuuuhhhhhhh.

More paper shuffling.

ESL: I'm assuming since I am Keenan's ESL teacher and I have 14 years of experience in testing and I have four degrees, two of which are advanced, that I will be part of this testing that is taking place.

Psych: Totally. Cool. So, since Keenan is ESL and doesn't really speak anything, then we'll just do all non-verbal testing.

Mom and teacher make eye contact. Teacher looks alarmed and worried. Perhaps that Mom is going to blow.

Teach: Psych, I think one of our main concerns is that the child has no ability to retain any information, in both written and verbal languages. Here (hoists large file folder out of her bag) are the daily write-ups on the daily lessons and testings that I worked on with solely Keenan. I think there are some real problems here, and I'd like to see them addressed before he moves on in school and has negative academic experiences.

Psych, receiving the 10 pound file: Whooaaa. Most awesome.

His eyes light up as he reaches for the file. Mom visually covers her mouth with her hand, to stop herself from jumping up and yelling: Put down the doobie and step away from my child's file!

Psych: So, Mom, do you have any concerns that you would like us to note?

Mom: Just that my son had lived in institutionalized care in a third world country for over 4 years. We are working with trauma issues, some residual malnutrition issues, and we're hoping to get Keenan the help he needs so that he can begin learning in the manner best for his particular set of challenges.

Psych: Wow, man. I'm seeing a plan, now.

At this point, audience senses that Mom refrains from screaming: Wow, man, I highly doubt that you do!

ESL: I just have to say, I think that you are a Saint. How good of you to adopt those boys and bring them into our country. And to be so dedicated to their schooling. What a great thing that you did. In addition to my many international travels as a professional, competitive dance, and in addition to the vast amount of research I conducted in earning my four degrees, two of which are advanced, I have acted in the capacity as Missionary to our Lord within my Church, traveling to orphanages around the world, to play with the children and teach them proper word enunciation.

Mom visually scans the room for a Fire Alarm. Wonders if she pulls it, would she be arrested?

* * * * * * * *

I will spare you the details on the rest of the meeting.

Needless to say, I left the meeting feeling very confident that my children is in good hands.

Not.

But what's a mom to do? For now, I think that I have to ride this out, stay on top of things, and research the law regarding Intentional Fire Alarm Activation before our next meeting.

Monday, November 01, 2010

45 Minutes

Hatfield, who is my "efficient" and "down-to-business" child, spent 45 minutes this morning making her bed.

This is why:
Her stuffed animal friends made a trip to the top bunk.

Here is Hatfield (far left) and her group of friends at the Haunted House:
Given that THIS is how grown up she and all those girls look,
I am in Absolute Love with the fact that her bed looks
EXACTLY like it did when she was 4-years old.
I used to be a paralegal. Which, really, means that I did all the work an attorney does, but for 10% of the pay, none of the credit and ALL of the blame. It's a miserable career.

Tres miserable.

But miserable or not, I know how to read a darn contract. I used to write them, for God's sake. And I have read our Dish Network contract forwards and backwards, with a find-a-mining glass (Paloma lingo for "Magnifying"--how adorable is that?!?), under a spotlight. So I knew---*knew*--that we could downgrade our cable package to the Family Plan. Which would save us nearly $26 a month.

Cool, right?

Well, every time I called, I got a series of fast-talkers on the phone, all men and all Hispanic. All who try to talk to me in Espanol first.

I am convinced that when you call many a large company and punch in your account numbers--and your surname is a uber-common Hispanic last name--the majority of the time-- that company will automatically push you through to a Spanish-speaking rep.

And most of the time (in my 10 years of experience), those reps are not helpful. They will lie to you. They will pretend things are not on their computer screens when the info actually is there. They will tell you that you HAVE to buy into this service or this protection plan, or no service (even when you don't have to.) The credit card companies I have dealt with are the worst with that last one.

I know that many phone reps do this sort of thing. But this takes it above and beyond.

My only "proof" of this phenomenon is that I used to have a SUPER Anglo last name. And I was NEVER experienced any of those things to the degree that I do now.

My only thought is that for many immigrants to our country, they already feel behind the 8-ball. Their language might be lacking; their experience with these situations minimal, if any. I can't help but feel that large corporations are trying to take advantage of them and their "ignorance" of these systems.

It is a damn, horrible, inexcusable shame.

When the Mister and I were first married, Hatfield still had my former Anglo last name. And my maiden (Anglo) last name was on her medical files and accounts.

Then I gave birth to Atticus. Who has a Hispanic last name, and a Hispanic last name (my married name) on his account.

Now, we go to the Aurora Baycare medical system here in our region of the state. They are a For-Profit hospital.

Meaning, if you have a bill that they sent you 5 days ago, and they have not yet received it, they will start calling you day and night, hunting you down, at 5 days and 1 minute past the day you received the bill.

Anyways, we just a had a baby, who was being added to our insurance plan, and everything had not yet been processed.

Nevertheless, everyday, I had a complete prick named Victor call me, hounding me about this bill. He would always address me in Spanish first. I would ALWAYS have to ask him to speak in English. Everyday, he would try to get me to pay my bill, in full, on a credit card. Even though he knew that our insurance was processing everything. Even though he knew that the bill due date was still 20 days away. He never offered a payment plan, and when I did asked, he said, "No. Not if you have a credit card. We can offer no payment plan. But when we find out that the insurance company paid us, you can WRITE TO US, sending it certified, and ask us to reimburse you the rest."

Lies. Lies. Lies.

Now, on the other hand, I had phone calls everyday about my little Hatfield Anglo-Last Name. While it was still nuts that they were calling a mere 6-days after her 4-year old checkup, the calls were always from a somewhat nice woman who spoke English. I asked about payment plans. We only owed $35 dollars, but Aurora Baycare was offering us plans letting us pay $5 a week, or every other week.

So one day, I pointed this out to both Victor and the ladies.

And you know what happened? They all STOPPED calling me.

* * * * * * * * *

Anyways, that was a long time ago. Here's my most recent story, I was telling you about my experience with Dish Network.

So all of these reps on the phone--all male, all Spanish-speaking--all INSISTED--swore upon their mother's graves--that I could not lower my satellite service to any package smaller than the one we had.

I got nowhere.

Now, before I felt the need to go all Chuck Norris on them, I told the Mister to call. He kind of balked, because he feels that if a company tells you they can't do something, they can't.

Clearly, he forgot two things:

1) I was a paralegal and while I may have blond highlights in my hair (sadly, about 3 inches below my roots), I do understand what a contract states (see above);

and

2) I kicked Dyson's ass. And I was betting we could kick some Dish ass too (oooooo, big talker, I know, lol! But the Dyson story is pretty crazy :)

So, the Mister calls Dish. He hits "0" for "Customer Service" right away, so that he has to tell his info so Dish can manually look up the account.

And get this:

1) He gets an English-only rep.
2) That rep tells him, "Of course, sir. Let me transfer you to the Account Manager."
3) He is transferred immediately. The nice lady downgrades our package quickly and without hassle.
4) The phone call takes 5 minutes, tops.

ARRRGGGHHHH.

Needless to say, I did an Internet search to find out a VP at the Dish company (public tax records and Linkedin rock) and I wrote an email.

Now, do I truly expect any of this to change anything?

No, not really.

But, I do believe that we have to slowly chip away at this. Not let companies get away with this type of total garbage.

I have 5 kids, all of whom carry non-Anglo last names. 4 of whom are not in the racial majority. I want things to be better for them when they are grown.

Do I think it will be?
I have some hope.
I have some doubts.

But either way, I feel that as a parent, the Mister and I have a responsibility to pick up my ax and slowly chip at to this huge mountain of inequality.

I would say that Mister would go all Kung Fu on them, but sadly, he won't be learning any more new and fresh MMA moves each and everyday. Because, believe it or not, Spike tv is NOT part of the Family Package.

Sorry, Mister. But you're welcome to use my ax anytime you'd like. You all are.