What I Didn’t Know Before Adopting

There are a lot of things I didn’t know before adopting.

I love that God protects us from too much knowledge.

Out of His love, he gives us just what we need to take the next steps;

Too little and we’d be stumbling around in the dark in confusion.

Too much and we would be overwhelmed by the magnitude of it all.

Before I became an adoptive parent…

I didn’t know that sometimes I would wonder what my life would be like if we had not chosen adoption as a way to build our family.

I didn’t know that I would be jealous of the natural bond between my friends and their children.  Healthy, established, natural-as-breathing bonds.

I didn’t know that I would feel guilty sometimes.  Guilty for being the one these children call Mommy, the one they run to, cry to and love so unconditionally.

I didn’t know that my worldview would shift to encompass the pain, trauma and injustice of my children’s early life…and that sometimes this would leave me feeling a little numb.

I didn’t know that sometimes I would feel all alone in this…like when people talk about what their kids were like as babies, how they have friends over to play or how great they are doing in school.

I didn’t know that sometimes I would be angry with the world, the church, the school, the neighbours, my family…for not understanding my children…or me.

I didn’t know that sometimes I would be most angry at myself for not being able to parent these children the way I want to.

I didn’t know that at times I would forget all about adoption and foster care, until someone comments on how tall my daughter is, how young I look to have a preteen or how busy I must be with all those children!

I didn’t know how much my extended family would have to give up when we decided to grow our family through adoption, and how grateful I would feel towards them as they jumped in with two feet alongside us.

I didn’t know how personally I would take my children’s birth stories and how deeply I would love their biological families.

I didn’t know that our social worker would become one of my favourite people; someone I feel safe with.  I didn’t know I would consider her a friend and look forward to her phone calls and visits.

I didn’t know how grateful I would feel towards the people who invest in our children’s lives, whether for a week or a lifetime.  The people who throw their hearts into loving my children bless me in the deepest way possible.  I am so thankful to have family and friends who have literally dropped everything to be present in our lives and help us care for these children.

I didn’t know how proud I would be to be called Mommy by my daughter or how humbled I would be when she curls up by my side and says she missed me today.

I didn’t know that I would become a homeschooling mom for a while…and love it.

I didn’t know that I would be the one sitting in a counselling office and across the table from a therapist, instead of my child.

I didn’t know that even after three years of living in our home, my children would not always feel safe, and that I would not be able to fix that.

I didn’t know that choosing adoption in some ways meant choosing isolation.

I didn’t know that I would need a whole new toolbox for parenting and that I would learn to constantly read my children’s body language and behaviours to monitor for overstimulation, trauma triggers and attachment issues.

I didn’t know that I would sometimes wonder if my children were really with the right parents.

I didn’t realize how much time and energy I would spend advocating for my children and how often I would feel misunderstood as a parent.

I didn’t know that love alone is not enough.

I didn’t know how many things would become insignificant in life.

I didn’t know how much grace I would need on a daily basis to do this parenting thing.

I didn’t know how many new people I would meet because of adoption.

I didn’t know just how much I did not yet know!

And for that I am so grateful.

But despite all this…and knowing it now…still I will choose this again.

Because the joy far outweighs the pain.

The truth finds it’s way through the lies.

The grief dissipates into healing.

Beauty from ashes.

~AF

 

 

 

Our Hobby Farm Adventure

Some seasons of life just pile.

Do you know what I mean?

Like all in one week you stumble across a real estate listing for a hobby farm, you consider taking in a medically fragile infant, you go visit your daughters’ first mom with them and you watch your house go up for sale.

Honestly, I feel a little raw and exposed and vulnerable at the moment, but I’ve learned that’s often the way life goes and it is these seasons where growth happens.

We lean on Him more when we realize the lack of control we operated under all along.

My husband and I have dreamed for years of someday owning a hobby farm.  As our family grew, so did our desire for more space and more opportunities to explore and create.

Our daughters have taken up the cause of this dream passionately and have invested much time and energy advocating, dreaming and planning for this one-day-to-be farm of ours.

Recently my daughter decided she was going to take a look at local real estate listings as she wanted to see how much it really costs to be a grown up and own a home.  This is all part of her recently developing interest and determination to plan, save and understand what her future may look like. (*proud mom moments)

My husband was guiding her through this process and when the list of properties popped up, one of the first ones on the list was…a hobby farm.

Of course, she immediately clicked on the link and as my husband hovered over her shoulder he tried to keep the astonishment from his voice.

Less than 10 minutes from our current home, still technically inside our small town’s limits, almost 10 acres of rolling hills, bush and scrubby pastures…

What was there not to love?

When he showed me the listing later that evening after the children had been tucked into their beds,

I let him know that there was plenty not to love!

Scrolling through the pictures literally made me sick to my stomach.

The property was gorgeous, there was no doubt…

but the house was outdated and cluttered with the excess of a life well lived.

Curled up on my couch in our beautiful, spacious, clean and modern style home I wanted nothing to do with this dilapidated home boasting 70’s style wallpaper and floral linoleum.

I realized just how attached I had become to this beautiful home God had gifted to us just two years prior.

I felt so safe here.

So loved and protected.

It had been our safe haven through a rocky two years, and I was not ready for that to end.

When it was given to us I had felt like it was an affirmation from God that we were seen and that He would provide for all our needs.

This farm felt like a kick in the gut.

Sure, I had dreamed of this kind of opportunity…but as we all know dreams are very different than real life.

I felt like I had just finally caught my breath.

Thankfully, my husband’s vision is much clearer than my own and over the next few days and weeks he nudged and cajoled me towards the dream.

Through his eyes I started to see it…that this really might be the opportunity of a lifetime.

My heart recoiled from the idea of more change and discomfort, but also strained toward the adventure I knew could be ours.

I could stay in my safe little bubble, or I could say yes to adventure and endless opportunities to create and explore.

At only 28 years old, was I really going to hunker down and say this is it?

I agreed to go check it out and we made it a date night, leaving the kids with a babysitter.

The house still gave me the same sinking feeling…but it also erased the doubts I had about there being enough space for us all.

When we got outside and began walking the property, the shades on my limited vision dropped away.

In the magical evening hours, sun sinking low in the sky, the farm lay around us in gentle hills, tall birches and sprawling grasses.  I imagined my children running the lengths of the farmyard and chickens pecking at the dirt outside the small shed.

We ducked through the doors of the old barn and gazed around at broken down horse stalls in the dim light.  The air was thick and musty, carrying me back to my own childhood days on a farm in Wellington County.

We hiked up the barn hill and turned in circles in the empty hayloft, a barn swing soaring in my mind’s eye.

There were falling down little sheds all over the place, hidden piles of wood and tin and opportunity waiting for eager small hands.

By the time we left…I think I knew.

It kept me awake for hours each night for the next week.

I’d wake up in the stillness and lay wide eyed, anxiety laying heavy on my chest as I tried to imagine leaving our home.

This wasn’t the plan!

I imagine He smiled, reaching down to stroke my brow tenderly as He gently, slowly eased the fears away.

Trust me; my plans are always good.

I grasped for something solid in it all.

If you believe what you say you do, you do not need to believe the lie that without this safe, beautiful, comfortable home you will not be happy.

What if the greatest adventure of your lives is staring you in the face and you are too afraid to seize the day?

A few weeks later, after hours and hours of agonizing, dreaming, praying, youtubing and researching…it is officially ours!

To give wings to my faltering faith, our home sold in less than a week with multiple offers coming in.

While at a conference during the week of our home going up for sale, a speaker introduced this acrostic for the word FAITH.

Fantastic

Adventures

In

Trusting

Him.

I smiled as my husband squeezed my hand.

It is sort of cheesy, but it keeps playing around the corners of my mind as we sign papers, take our kids to see their new home and dream up future plans.

Fantastic adventures in trusting Him.

I think God loves to show us pieces of Himself.

I think He must delight in our confusion and amazement at each new revelation of just how omniscient and good He is.

I think He must patiently wait for us as we stand quaking in terror at the tip of each new ledge, awaiting the moment when we finally take the leap and realize He has caught us!

And there, in those moments, when we have been filled with fear, overwhelmed with grief, crushed by anger and sadness or paralyzed with confusion…when those big arms catch us and shore us up…it is then that we learn to trust Him.

It is then that we see just how big he is and how His largeness fills all the voids and covers the distance between our dreams and reality.

It is then that we embrace our not enough for His more than enough.

It is then that we can start to believe that these stories we live are not ours, but His.  One grand, sweeping tale where He plays the main role while our parts come into perspective as merely sidelines to the main plot.

I can’t wait to see what the next chapter holds.

~AF

 

 

 

 

What I’ve Learned About Halloween

October.

The air grows crisp and all around us the earth shows signs of death as it crawls into hibernation.

Thanksgiving comes and we roast turkeys and eat pumpkin pie, surrounded by family and friends.

The yard disappears beneath heaps of brown, orange, red and yellow leaves; vibrant even in their death.

Pumpkins, spiders, ghosts and witches appear everywhere.

Storefront windows, flyers in the mail, calendar pages and even the search bar on Google.

Before we know it another month has gone and Halloween night creeps up on us.

Many Christians will stop and think twice as this holiday approaches each year.

Most of us know people who refuse to have anything to do with the holiday, wanting no association with the darkness, evil and greed that tends to accompany it.  They will turn off their lights tonight and maybe pull their kids out of school for the day, wanting to avoid witch colouring pages, classroom haunted house projects and ghoulish themed dances.

Most of us also have Christian friends who will choose to celebrate it with no thought, allowing their littles to troop through the streets dressed in costumes ranging from princesses and robots to mummy brides and blood smeared skeletons.

How should Christians approach this holiday?

Is there room for compromise?

Does it matter?

I’m not going to answer those questions for you, but what I do want to do is share with you what our family will be doing tonight and why.

While this is not right for every family it works for us at this age and stage.  I have been the parent searching for the ‘right fit’ for this holiday in years past so I wanted to share in case it might be helpful to others trying to make these decisions.

In years past we have held in-home costume parties, trick or treated through our neighbourhood, collected food for the local food bank and handed out candy to neighbourhood friends.

What we’ve settled on the past couple years is a family movie night with a bowl full of candy.

When trick or treaters come to the door we answer cheerfully with a smile and something like,

“Sorry, we actually don’t celebrate Halloween but I hope you have a fun night!”

In coming to this decision for our family, these are some of the things I have learned.

  1. There are many reasons Christians site not to celebrate Halloween, but not all of them are biblically accurate reasons. 

    For example, many people choose not to celebrate because they are afraid of the darkness associated with Halloween or they believe in common superstitions about this night and it’s origins.  As people who have been redeemed and saved from Satan’s power, we no longer need to fear him.  He has already been defeated and there is no power on earth, even on Halloween night, that can undo Jesus work on the cross to save us from this bondage.  (1 John 4:4, Colossians 2:15) I am certain he is busy on Halloween night, but only because he is busy every single night of the year.  We are taught as Believers to be on guard, watching for him and being prepared for his attacks any time, any where.  (1 Peter 5:8)

  2. Halloween presents many opportunities for teachable moments with your children.

    You’ll miss these if you choose to avoid the topic altogether.  If by chance you live in the type of neighbourhood I did as a child, on a farm in a Mennonite community, you might be able to watch this holiday go by with very little notice.  For most of us, however, the approach of Halloween in the local Dollarama alone will provide plenty of discussion material.  If blood covered mummy masks make you uncomfortable, figure out why that is and tell your children about it.  Whether you are choosing to participate or not, you probably have some opinion on whether or not your seven year old daughter will go out dressed as a “mummy-bride” for instance.  Try to figure out how to explain to your children, even your very small ones, what you are uncomfortable with and why.  Make it as clear and simple as possible without teaching them to be judgy about their friends and neighbours who may choose differently.

  3. Don’t over dramatize the little things. 

    If your Kindergartener comes home with a picture of a witch they coloured at school today, please don’t tear it up and throw it in the garbage.  Take the time to compliment them on the wonderful job of colouring they did and leave it at that.  If in following days they decide to start dressing up in witch costumes or including zombies in their imaginary play time those might be opportunities to sit down and discuss darkness and evil and set some boundaries, but the colouring page is just that.  A colouring page.  A four year old is probably not ready to hear about the origins of Halloween, modern day witchcraft and Satanic symbols.  You telling them will only scare them or unintentionally fascinate them with the subject.  Similarly if you are going to quote scripture, make sure it is simple and truly significant to the topic at hand.

  4. Don’t take a firm stance too quickly one way or another.  

    I’m grateful for the years we had with our daughters to grow into this decision we’ve come to.  Not only does it make me more confident in the decision we’ve come to, it also allowed time for them to grow into it as well and align their values with ours gradually.  It was a wonderful opportunity to model prayer, seeking scripture and listening to the Holy Spirit in our personal lives.  It’s also been a wonderful opportunity to model respect and grace to Christians who may choose something entirely different than us.  Knowing how to navigate differences of opinion inside our faith community is a skill I am passionate about teaching my children.  We also try to take this year by year, leaving room for some changes to our tradition if needed.  For example, one friend shared with me how they had not previously celebrated Halloween but she felt that this year they had a unique opportunity to reach out to many of their neighbours by taking their children trick or treating door to door in their new neighbourhood.  We’ve also had years where, as a foster family, we have other people’s children in our home for Halloween.  As temporary guardians, we don’t have the right nor would it be helpful to cause unnecessary offense or animosity inside already complicated relationships.  Sometimes there may be church activities or neighbourhood parties you feel comfortable joining while other years there may not be.  Be willing to model wisdom to your children by making thoughtful, well informed decisions on a case by case basis.

  5. Be confident in your decision and share it freely.  

    If you’ve decided not to trick or treat with your family, like we have, don’t be afraid to say that.  Be prepared to share in clear and simple language, with a smile on your face, what you’ve decided and why.  It doesn’t have to be judgy.  It doesn’t have to be bashful.  It doesn’t have to be complicated.  If you know why you’re doing what you’re doing, you don’t need to feel intimidated.  If they want to know more, they will ask.  Otherwise, keep it light and don’t share more information than they want to hear.  Encourage your children to do the same.  Give them simple, clear language they can use with curious friends, neighbours, teachers, store clerks, etc.  They will pick up on your attitudes quickly.  If you are hesitant to talk about it or fumble over answers, they will do the same.

  6. To follow that up, make it easy for your kids. 

    Yes, I said easy.  One of the reasons we’ve chosen to celebrate in this particular way is to give our kids the opportunity to practise standing for something they believe in that goes against the cultural norm.  However, I’ve learned that it’s important to choose these opportunities wisely with age appropriate expectations in mind and to offer plenty of grace for your children.  They are only kids and Halloween is a hot topic among children.  If you are going to make rules about what they can and can’t do make sure you are accommodating them as much as possible.  For example, I wrote a brief note to my child’s teacher this year briefly explaining that we don’t celebrate Halloween and asking if my daughter could be accommodated in the classroom with fall/non-spooky activities this week.  When my kids described an optional second grade class haunted house activity happening at nutrition break I encouraged them to make their own decision about what they felt was appropriate.  I chose not to take my boys to the library story hour this week since it was going to be Halloween themed and they didn’t have costumes.  When my daughter hid behind me, embarrassed, when the cashier asked about her Halloween costume, I cheerfully explained that we don’t celebrate so she wouldn’t have to.  We don’t trick or treat but I still buy a wack of candy and we have a fun family night instead.  I’m not trying to make it hard, and I’m happy to take the blame if they are not ready to try to stand up for my decisions to their friends, teachers, etc.  I’m the parent, not them.  Make it as easy as possible for them to do what you’ve required without more humiliation or struggle than necessary.  This will set them up to be more likely to make their own hard decisions in the future.

While I’m writing this my daughters have come home from school.  One of my daughters has told me about the second grade haunted house she decided to attend.

“It wasn’t actually scary, it was just little kids, ” she says to me.  I nod and smile, accepting her choice with no judgment.  She carries on, talking about the pumpkin she carved and the conversation she had on the bus with her friend.

“We don’t celebrate Halloween.  We just stay home and eat candy,” she told him.

She tells me she was surprised when he said, “I wish I could do that tonight because it’s going to be wet!”

We laugh together and she explains that he is dressing up as one of the Star Wars characters.  I let her chatter about what she would dress up as if she were going trick or treating tonight.

Then we talk about what movie we will watch.

My other daughter comes home and tells me about what her art teacher told them.  She’s wondering if I have a picture of her deceased grandfather.

“I know it’s not really true,” she says, a little embarrassed as she explains how you can tie a string to a rock or jewel and hold it above the picture.

“If it swings this way then it means the person is alive or something and if it swings this way it doesn’t…she said there was a person in her family who died in a war…”  I wait patiently, letting her finish the story.  She is curious and I can tell she thinks it would be fun to try.

I remind myself she is a kid and not an emerging Wiccan.

I explain briefly in simple language what the ritual is about and why it’s not a good idea for her to try, despite it sounding like a fun little activity.  Then we talk about the truth of the gospel.

How her grandfather loved Jesus and was saved.

How we can know exactly where he is and that he’s safe.

How the Bible tells us the truth about life and death.

Yes, Halloween is complicated and as Christian parents sometimes it would feel easier to disengage from the conversations that it inevitably initiates.

But I truly believe we miss out.

We miss out on opportunities to breathe life, truth and grace into the lives of those around us, including our children.

We don’t need to be afraid.

We don’t need to be embarrassed.

So tonight, whether you are out in the cold engaging with other trick or treaters in your neighbourhood, handing out candy to costumed children, helping out with a church party or sacked out on the couch watching a movie and eating Snickers,

I hope you experience freedom, truth and the transforming power of the gospel.

Because that is for every day of your life.

Including October 31.

~AF

 

 

 

 

 

 

10 Books of the Summer

I made a goal this summer for my children and I to read more and watch less.  Surprisingly, it worked!  I thoroughly enjoyed having the screen on less and spending more quality time with my children reading together.  It was also amazing how often I watched them pick up books when they realized the screen was not an option.  Even my toddlers pored over story books this summer after I starting setting them out in appealing, accessible ways.  I constantly had books all over the couch and floor, but that is a problem I can deal with 🙂  Here is the list of books that blessed me this summer, just in case you might want to take a peak at a few of them!

1. The Read-Aloud Family by Sarah Mackenzie

I read this book at the beginning of the summer, soon after making the goal to read more, and it both inspired and empowered me to strive to become a reading family.  Sarah Mackenzie is passionate about literature, family and Jesus and she takes those three things and binds them into one in this practical, thought provoking book.  This summer we became a “read aloud family,” and it changed our home atmosphere in subtle but beautiful ways.  For anyone who, like me, spent their adolescent years buried in books, this book will reawaken the magic of stories and encourage you to give your kids the world through books.  If you want some extra food for thought and an introduction to reading aloud, listen to Sarah’s podcast called The Read Aloud Revival.

2. Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World by Kristen Welch

This summer was a challenging one for me, with five children of varying ages and stages at home kept me busier and more overwhelmed than I’ve ever been.  However, this book shifted my perspective from one of stress and fear to one of gratitude and renewed peace in the middle of my busy days.  Practical, authentic, encouraging and full of grace, this book taught me as much about my own issues with entitlement as about raising grateful kids.  Kristen Welch speaks from real life experience and tells her own stories to help teach with humor, humility and kindness.  This gratitude in a world of more, this contentment in a sea of excess…I want this for my kids.  Especially geared toward middle school to teenagers, this book is full of tips with the heart of the gospel at its core.

3. Triggers by Amber Lia and Wendy Speake

This is my humble confession that I am an angry mom.  I am strong willed, passionate and impulsive, and too often that spills out onto my children in negative ways.  I read Triggers because I desperately needed my heart to realign with the grace-filled, gentle and calm way that God fathers me.   Triggers is both practical and spiritually grounded, giving helpful tips for reactive moms that will help you tonight at five o’clock and will bring your heart into line with God’s desires.  I found it challenging, encouraging and refreshingly easy to read.  Divided into short, engaging chapters titled specifically, you can use this as a devotional, quick look up reference or pleasure read.  If you have ever felt angry at your children, this book will help you work through the guilt and pain of those feelings and your circumstances towards peace, forgiveness and unity in your home.

4. Raising World Changers in a Changing World by Kristen Welch

After reading Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World, I leapt on the chance to read this similarly themed book by Kristen Welch.  When I watch my daughters grow and interact with their friends, I dream of the world changers they can be for Christ’s Kingdom.  Whether it’s in their homes around a weathered kitchen table, across the ocean or down the street at a friend’s, I want my kids to become a part of changing the world for Christ.  The subtitle of this book is: How one family discovered the beauty of sacrifice and the joy of giving.  That sums up the essence of this hope filled book compiled of stories of Kristen’s family and acquaintances who are truly changing the world.  I loved the interview style conversations with her children Kristen included at the end of each chapter and the personal stories she shared.  You can become a world changer, and this book will inspire you to see the place and space you are in right now as one where God can use you for His glory.

5. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

As I dove into reading aloud this summer with my girls, especially, this book kept niggling away at the back of my mind.  My grade four teacher read aloud a multitude of exceptional books to her pupils, many of which are still favourites of mine today.  This was my first introduction to C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia.  I have been waiting for just the right moment to introduce this series to my girls, and finally a few weeks ago at the tail end of the summer I couldn’t resist any longer.  I wasn’t sure if they were quite prepared or not, but I decided to give it a try and I’m so glad I did.  My very energetic, impulsive and concrete minded nine year old sat curled up beside me, wide eyes glued to my face through each rollicking, vivid chapter of adventure and drama.  Many of the breath-taking metaphors to our spiritual reality brought tears to my own eyes as we pored over each page together.  My soul ached with pain and understanding for Edmund’s self absorbed choices, leapt with joy for each victory over the White Witch and grieved at the cost of betrayal.  It was awe inspiring to be introduced to the mighty Aslan and charming to enter the magical world of Narnia through the wardrobe where good and evil are painted in stunning clarity.  When we turned the last page and found the children back in the real world, I marvelled all over again that this fantasy tale had brought to my children’s hearts the gospel, and lead my own heart to worship.  I enjoyed this book just as much today as I did as an enchanted ten year old and all the times in between.

6. Kisses from Katie by Katie Davis

I had heard so much about this young woman’s memoir, but hadn’t gotten around to reading it until this summer.  From the very first chapter I was hooked.  God brought this book into my hands at the perfect time and lent me refreshing perspective to my days.  Katie Davis’ story is one of an ordinary girl who chose to say yes to an extraordinary God, and the product is overflowing with love, beauty and the glory of our Abba Father.  Through Katie’s eyes, her remarkable journey of surrender is not radical, but expected, in light of the gospel.  I could not put this book down til the very last page, and a few weeks later it’s story is still churning through my mind challenging my motives, my actions and my status quo.  We need more Katies in the world and I am so thankful she chose to share her story.

7. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

While this was not the first time we read aloud this delightful classic, it’s a tale that never disappoints.  Light, inquisitive, thoughtful and humorous, I am quite convinced that Charlotte’s Web will continue to capture the hearts of readers for years to come.  I love the way the story unfolds in gentle detail, taking the time to help even young readers or listeners to develop affection for each character.  The story celebrates friendship, kindness, loyalty and compassion while letting children immerse themselves in the perspective of ordinary farm animals.  If you have never taken the time to digest this gem, know that it is never too late to fall in love with a pig, a spider and a miracle.  Equally delightful is the 2006 movie version starring Dakota Fanning and Julia Roberts.

8. Give Them Grace by Elyse M. Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson

This book was a paradigm shift for me, helping me peel back the layers of my own motivations for teaching good things to my kids and helping me understand my own tendencies toward law-based behaviour modification.  I didn’t expect this book to make this list of my ‘favourite books’ as it is a bit of a heavy read and was a bit of work to slog through but it challenged me to rethink some of my habitual responses in parenting so I decided it had earned its place.  I feel like I’ve been on a journey of rediscovering what grace means in my own spiritual life, and putting grace into practise in my parenting has helped me to identify the areas I struggle to fully embrace and believe these things personally.

9. Bridge To Terabithia by Katherine Patterson

This was another elementary school favourite of mine and this summer I finally got around to reading it to my girls.  This children’s book weaves childhood themes such as friendship, fantasy and innocence with deeper undercurrents of grief, shame and poverty.  For young Jess Aarons, life is predictably gloomy, disappointing and demanding until a new family moves in next door.  Leslie Burke will change his world forever, and the tale will nestle its way into your own heart as well.  This story enchanted me as a fourth grader 18 years ago and I enjoyed it just as much this time around with my girls.

10. Carly’s Voice by Arthur Fleischmann and Carly Fleischmann

Another foster mom lent me this book to read when she heard we were caring for a child on the autism spectrum.  It took me awhile to pick up and dive into but about halfway through it grabbed my attention and I couldn’t put it down.  Written cooperatively by father and daughter, Carly’s Voice is the true story of an autistic young woman who inspired and challenged the world around her to think more deeply and creatively about individuals on the spectrum.  Their capabilities, their intelligence and the ways that we view them.  I guarantee once you have met Carly you will not forget her!  Sassy, smart and sensitive, she set out to change the way the world saw her and others like her…and succeeded.  Carly will challenge the way you define normal, the systems we live by and the ways we define success.  Her story makes it clear that lack of verbal skills in a person on the spectrum should not be equated with limited mental, social or emotional intelligence.  Through typing, Carly takes the opportunity to free herself from her own space of isolation and help those closest to her understand her inner world.

Reading Aloud with Your Family

Every now and then in the sea of parenting books I am constantly reading, there is one that connects with my soul and makes me say, Yes!  That’s it!

Recently I stumbled across one of these books.

The Read Aloud Family by Sarah Mackenzie inspired me, challenged me and helped me dream again as a Mom.

As a young girl I fell head over heels in love with books.  I learned to read at ease at a very young age and spent hours poring over books.  Stories enchanted me, carrying me to new places and introducing new ideas.

I used to spend hours wandering the isles of the public library, pulling out one book after another to scan the back cover or flip through the pages to get an idea of the content.  When it was time to go I would painfully sort through my huge stack and try to decide which ones were my favourites and which ones I would leave behind until next time.

As a mother, I would love to see my children discover stories the way I did.  To be delighted for hours on end, swept away to other worlds and times in a story is a beautiful way to spend a childhood.

A reader is never bored.

Five years into my mothering journey, however, I have come to realize that some of my children are not wired to dive into literature the way I am.  Learning disabilities and high energy levels can throw some major barriers on the roadway to reading, and for some of my children reading will always feel more like a decoding exercise than a fascinating way to spend a couple hours.

Imagine trying to read a book upside down while looking in a mirror with itchy mosquito bites all over you begging to be scratched.  That is approximately what it feels like for one of my children in particular to sit down with a book.

What The Read Aloud Family introduced to me was the idea that even if my children are never able to launch into the world of literacy independently, they can still enjoy stories and let their imagination take them to these far away places through me reading aloud to them.  Not only that, but the benefits of reading are not only limited to enjoyment…though that should still be our number one goal when we read aloud!

When you read aloud to your children, these 5 things will happen:

1. With the chore of decoding words out of the way, your children will be able to settle in and enjoy the story, setting them up to experience the joy and magic of stories.

Though it is certainly true that life requires a lot of mandatory reading that is not fun, I want my children to pick up books because they want to.  Reading aloud to your children and introducing audio books to them gives them the opportunity to experience what it is like when the chore of learning to read is put behind them and they can effortlessly experience the content of the writing.  Though it is still going to take work to learn how to read, we all know the more that you read the better of a reader you will become!  If we can motivate our children toward reading with pleasure instead of a feeling of obligation, they are much more likely to succeed in becoming strong readers.  Nothing will make them want to pick up books more than falling in love with stories.  You can help them do this by reading interesting books to them, including books that would be too difficult for them to read on their own.

2. When you read aloud you will be exposing your children to phonetically correct language which will help them develop their own ability to read, write and speak correctly. 

Constantly taking in new vocabulary and proper sentence structure through the ear will inevitably result in the same coming out through their own mouths and writing.  It is exciting and funny to watch your children try out new vocabulary and ways of speaking.  I love seeing littles trying to include big words they have picked up while writing their personal stories.  It’s also fun to explore vocabulary with your children as you read, giving them definitions for those interesting words you stumble across.

3. When you read aloud with your children you can help them learn how to make connections in the content.

This is a skill that is so important for children to develop as it is linked to their comprehension of what they are reading.  It is not enough just to be able to decode words; they need to be able to comprehend the ideas being portrayed behind the words.  Understanding similes, metaphors, foreshadowing and motives behind the content they are reading is imperative.  When reading aloud, taking the time to ask simple questions or explore opinions can encourage your children to be thinking while they are taking in content and analyzing it’s motives and meaning.  In a culture where our children are being bombarded with messages, I want my children to know how to use critical thinking to develop their own convictions and ideas confidently.  You can encourage three kinds of connections: text to text (connecting to another book or earlier chapter), text to self (connecting to his or her own life) and text to world (connecting to something in the broader world or culture.)           

4. When you read aloud to your children you will be building memories that cannot be replaced. 

This is my favourite motivation to read aloud.  There are few things I would rather give to my children than to remember me being truly present with them, hearing my voice reading to them and experiencing the intimacy of a shared story.  I can still hear my mother’s voice, see myself and my four siblings sprawled around the living room and remember affectionately the tears in her eyes the first time she read Wilson Rawls’ Where the Red Fern Grows.  That moment in time will be lodged in my soul forever.  I can see my fourth grade teacher’s classic high heels and feel the hard, scratchy carpet beneath me when I pick up the book Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Patterson  and The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis.  My husband inherited the well beloved Thornton T. Burgess collection of bedtime stories from his grandparents and we are currently reading through his well loved copy of The Adventures of Chatterer the Squirrel.  My daughters were delighted to learn this was one of their Dad’s favourite childhood stories.  Gordon Korman’s humorous stories bring back memories to me of laughter and camaraderie with my siblings and cousins as we would retell the stories and pass on the latest sequels.  Stories that are shared provide material for conversations and opportunities to explore difficult topics.  Love, honour, courage, grief…these are topics often explored, even in very young children’s literature.

5. Last of all, when you read to your children you will also be reading to yourself! 

I have been reminded this summer that there are few things I enjoy more than a good story.  I love when the kids are begging for just one more chapter at bedtime and I cave, despite the time, because I just can’t wait to see what happens next!  I love reading, and with five children in the house, there aren’t a lot of quiet moments where I can pick up my own books so if I can experience reading and spend time with my children simultaneously…that’s a win for me!  I also love having an excuse to pick up those elementary age books again.  Many of the best books I have ever read are written for ages 8-12 year olds.  Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White, Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maude Montgomery and Ramona Quimby Age 8 by Beverly Cleary; what a humorous, enchanting and enjoyable repertoire!  And those few books are just barely scratching the surface of a gold mine filled with hours of adventure and entertainment.  Even picture books for little kids can be interesting and fun to read as an adult.  I have loved my boys’ recent favourites; The Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle and Jill McElmurry, Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker and Big Bad Bruce by Bill Peet and Mighty Dads by Joan Holub and James Dean.

If any of this sounds exciting or intriguing to you I encourage you to pick up a copy of Sarah Mackenzie’s book, The Read Aloud Family.  This manual to reading aloud with your family will give you inspiration, practical tips, book lists for every age group and tips for choosing good books.  I promise you will not regret it!

~AF

Working With Educators to Support Your Child

School has just begun, and for many of you this means a return to familiar routines and schedules.

For some of you, this means overwhelmed, overstimulated kids who come home exhausted with piles of homework or daily notes scrawled by a frustrated teacher at the end of the day.

Educating our kids is both our responsibility and a gift we’ve been given.  Many children all over the world are unable to attend school due to extreme poverty.  If your children are able to attend school regularly or receive formal instruction, take a minute to contemplate that they are blessed!  While education may be a “right” in our Western culture, make no mistake.  Your children are privileged to have access to education and to learn important skills that will give them opportunities to sustain and provide for themselves as adults.

For a long time, parents were fed the lie that they were not equipped to be their children’s educators.  They were not expected to be the ones to know their child best, have the skills needed to guide their future and certainly not to teach them.

However, a movement of ordinary moms and dads are rising up to show themselves as not only worthy but exceptionally equipped to be the best teachers for their children.

Not only do you, as a parent, know your child better than any teacher…you have skills, intuition, knowledge and invaluable life experience to share with your child.

Many parents do not want to take on the demands and responsibility of providing their children’s education, and this I understand very well.  However, do not assume this means you have withdrawn the right to speak into your child’s educational experience.

While teachers have long been viewed as the experts and authority on children’s education, I believe many children suffer academically because parents have been detached from their children’s educational experience.

Parents and teachers both have expertise, knowledge and insight that are important to a child’s education.

The beauty of a school environment is that it gives opportunity for both the specialized training of a professional educator and the intuition and practical insight of parents to combine for the benefit of the child.

So how do you work alongside professional educators to combine their expertise with your intuition?

1. The first rule is to give respect and then expect it in return.

Your child’s teachers spends hours pouring over lesson plans, academic research, curriculum expectations and learning strategies.  By placing your child under their supervision you are giving them the responsibility to educate your child in the best way they know how.  They have specific training and knowledge that will be very valuable to both you and your child, but you need to take the time to listen respectfully to their professional opinions and follow the procedures put in place.  Nothing positive will be accomplished by bullying or criticizing.

However, I would also say that it’s important to require that respect in return.  If there is something you know about your child that is not being taken into consideration, you need to make that clear.  Don’t ever underestimate your insight as a parent.  You know your child best and what may sound great in theory may not work practically for your child.  Don’t allow a professional educator to intimidate you.  A good educator will know this and ask for your input.  Every relationship needs boundary lines, and this one is no exception.

2. Never undermine your child’s teacher in front of them.

Every parent knows the feeling of their child coming home with a story about their teacher that makes you wonder what they were thinking…but I cannot stress enough…be the adult and don’t say it out loud!  There is a very high chance your child’s version of the story is not accurate or is missing some pertinent information.  If you have concerns, by all means contact the teacher, but don’t allow your child to hear you speaking disrespectfully about the adult they are supposed to respect.  They will carry that comment to school with them in their mind every day and it will lead to them finding it very difficult to respect that teacher.  Always try to help your child see what the teacher’s perspective might be and remind them that their job is to be respectful and polite, even when differences arise.  Teaching our kids the skill of disagreeing respectfully with someone is a valuable life skill, so if there is an issue that needs addressing, walk through the steps of resolving that issue with both dignity and respect.

3. Communicate.

If you begin to see problems arising with your child academically, socially or behaviourally or you are concerned about some aspect of the curriculum or classroom procedures…speak up.

Contact your child’s teacher and request a meeting where you can express your concerns and ask questions.

Use the teacher, not your child, as your first source of information.

Listen respectfully and make sure you’ve taken the time to get accurate information and can express your concerns clearly.

Make sure you know how your child’s teacher prefers to communicate, whether it be through text, email, a daily agenda or in person.

Most problems at school between parents and teachers arise from miscommunication or lack of communication.

Let your child’s teacher know that you want to be involved and ask questions regularly, as they will likely forget at the end of their busy days to fill you in on things you might want to know.

4. Give grace.

Your child’s teachers are not perfect.  They are flawed humans, similar to your child’s parents 😉

They will make mistakes.

Give them some grace and remind yourself, and your kids, that you will probably need it in return at some point!

You will never regret establishing healthy, respectful relationships with your child’s educators.

5. Do not assume your child’s teacher knows your child as well as you do.

I am speaking particularly to parents of children with learning disabilities, behavioural challenges and social struggles on this one.

While your child’s exceptionalities may seem obvious to you, don’t expect your child’s teacher to understand why your child may behave or react the way they do.  You have a context for this child’s experiences that is helpful in decoding their struggles or successes.  Don’t be afraid to share this information with your child’s teacher as needed.  If your child has a formal diagnoses of some kind, make sure your child’s teacher knows this and is given a brief but clear summary of the best ways to navigate those extra layers successfully.

I have found it helpful to create a personal learning profile for one of my children in particular outlining her ideal learning environment and style, what her needs are and what aspects are challenging for her.  I give this to my child’s teacher as early in the year as possible and let them know to contact me if they have any questions or concerns.

Don’t forget to include any information that may seem “obvious” or has been discussed multiple times with other teachers or professionals within the school.  It is very easy for information to get misplaced or lost in the transition from year to year.  Assume your child’s teacher knows nothing about your child and go from there.

6. Lastly but most importantly pray for your child’s teacher.

Teachers are important and play a large role in our children’s lives.  Their jobs are not easy and the system they are working within places high demands on their time and energy.  Many teachers feel overwhelmed and unappreciated by their students, fellow staff and parents.  Make sure your child’s teacher this year knows that you see what they are doing and that you are grateful for the time they spend helping your child learn and grow!  Pray for wisdom, patience, energy and creativity.  Pray for their hearts to be drawn toward Christ.  Pray for opportunities to serve them and let them know you are grateful for them.

It is beautiful to be able to partner with others to educate your children.  You will be amazed watching your child learn and grow, and having others to celebrate those milestones with makes it even sweeter.

I hope this school year is the best yet for you and your children!

~AF

 

 

 

Summer Bucket List

  1. Make play dough
  2. Water balloons
  3. Set up a “car wash” for bikes and trikes with buckets of water, a garden hose, brushes and soap.  OR for toddlers set up a bucket of water, a bucket of dirt, some brushes and some toy cars.
  4. Beach Day
  5. Eat lunch at a local food kart
  6. Build a lego town
  7. Go for a bike ride.  Pack some snacks, water bottles and a book for breaks along the way.
  8. Sidewalk chalk or paint
  9. Visit the zoo
  10. Go for a hike
  11. Backyard camping – set up a tent in the backyard and make lunch over a campfire.
  12. Visit your local library once a week for story time, crafts or any other special events they may have going on.
  13. Read aloud together every day
  14. Have a garage sale or bake sale
  15. Wash all your stuffed animals or doll clothes and hang them out to dry in the sun.
  16. Set up a store or hospital in your playroom
  17. Games Day – this could be active outdoor games or board or card games inside.
  18. Track and Field – organize events and hand out ribbons.
  19. Puzzles – set up a separate table so your puzzles can remain easily accessible for a few days as you work on them
  20. Plan a scavenger hunt
  21. Have a pool party with a couple friends.
  22. Spread out a blanket in the front yard and eat lunch there.
  23. Do something touristy in your town
  24. Dairy Queen
  25. Visit a splash pad and take a picnic
  26. Introduce your child to audio books.
  27. Find a summer market or fresh produce stand to frequent.
  28. Go strawberry picking.
  29. Plan your back-to-school shopping trip.  Set a budget and give each child the allotted amount to spend.
  30. Build a blanket fort together and have a snack inside it.