What I Love About Homeschooling

It’s been a year since we pulled our daughter out of school and decided to homeschool.

She needed to be at home with me; to find a safe haven in the storm of a life that had been constantly changing for the past six years.

I needed her here, too.

I needed to see her.

To know her in the way that mothers know their children from the constancy of life.

To watch her grow and discover and pour out oil on her broken places.

To search out what it feels like to walk in her tender footsteps and breathe in the world around us through her little heart.

The past year has had it’s ups and downs, but there are many things I have learned to love about homeschooling.

It is a year I will never regret.

Now, on the brink of reintegrating her back to school…every day feels a bit bittersweet.

I love these days I have with her, even while I feel tied down, exhausted and claustrophobic!

Here are some reasons why I have loved homeschooling:

1.Flexibility –  It has been so nice coming home from a busy weekend and knowing that I can let my daughter sleep as long as she likes on Monday morning and let her ease back into the routine slowly.  There are days we accomplish tons of work…and there are days we accomplish very little.  The beauty of this, especially with a special needs child, is that when one of those days come along where you just know that learning is going to be a constant challenge…you can just NOT.  Some days we go for a walk instead, or spend our morning running errands.  Some days we visit friends, snuggle on the couch or take a nap.  I will miss this when I have to make sure she’s ready to go out the door every morning promptly, ready or not.

2. Integrated Learning –  I love that because I know exactly what my daughter is learning at all times, I can incorporate it into anything we may be doing.  If we are learning about money, for instance, we notice prices at the grocery store and talk about coin values when we count out allowance money.  She notices anything from spelling patterns to colours to story themes that we’ve been learning about all around her and I love that I know exactly what she is talking about when she mentions them.  I believe this is the most powerful way for a child to learn, when all of life becomes integrated.

3. Growth –  So, so much growth!  There is a huge, indescribable feeling that wells up in my soul when I hear her voice lacing out words and stories and poems as her eyes scan a page.  That was us!  Not me, not her, but us!  Together we have learned that she can read.  Together we have explored the sea and memorized the 7 continents of the world.  We have counted to 100 and explored the relativity of one number to the next.  Building blocks of tens and hundreds.  We can add them together or take them away.  We can write them and say them and see them and feel them.  Together we have bent our heads over books and papers and tiny little bugs.  We have run through the breeze and lifted our eyes to the sky, taking in the big wide world above us.  I have listened and listened and listened to her chatter.  Day after day after day until I thought my ears could take no more!  But in all the words and chatter and stories, she has given me her heart, offering it up to me in each little refrain.  Each and every small moment; put them in a box and you would see that we have learned!  We have grown.  I missed the first five tender years of my little A’s life…so when I look in this box I see a little bit of redemption.  A little bit of grace poured out that we could spend these moments together.

4. Play – Childhood is so short, and in an age where we are constantly measuring our children by charts and graphs and statistics from the minute their eyes first open, I want my children to have the chance to enjoy being a child.  I want to make sure that even while they are learning and growing, they are being given space to be children.  To laugh, to be silly, to explore, to create and to pretend.  Play in a child’s life is an essential part of their development as person.  Children use play to learn, comprehend life’s experiences and to communicate.   It took a long time for my daughter to be able to relax enough to really play, so when I see her carting her babies around, creating sculptures in the snow, setting up a house or building a fort…I cherish it.  It is a sign of the healing of her heart.

5. Sibling Bonds – When we chose to teach our daughter at home, we did not realize we were offering her an opportunity  to build a bond with her little brother that she wouldn’t have had the opportunity for otherwise.  With her older, more capable sister gone, she got a chance to form her own unique relationship with him.  Now, at age 14 months and 8 years, they spend every day together.  She is his favourite person to follow around and the games and stories she makes up for him keep him delightfully entertained.  Together they play cars, dolls, read stories and colour pictures.  Whatever she is doing, that’s what he wants to do, too.  Having the chance to be so adored, despite the many squabbles and struggles of siblings, has given her such a boost in confidence and self esteem.  Every day he proves to her by his little pattering feet following her around the house that she is worthy, she is loved, she is wanted.

6. Individualized Learning – While teaching a child with learning disabilities at home is not for the faint of heart, it is also incredibly relieving to  be able to step outside of the box and teach your child on his/her level with no pressure of ‘grade’ performance.  Most homeschooling families follow their child’s lead as to what they are interested in and then use that as a platform to build upon their learning.  It’s ok to be working at multiple grade levels.  Every child has strengths and weaknesses.  If math is going great and reading is a struggle, it’s ok to be working at a substantially more difficult level for math than for reading.  If your child conquers long division in just a few short lessons, it’s ok to move on to something new without doing the whole unit.  If your child has a short attention span, or learns more kinesthetically you can build breaks into their day that will help them thrive.  Math facts can be memorized while jumping rope.  Stories can be read at the park.  Spelling words can be created with paint and glue and soap bubbles.  If your child can spell orally but not with paper and pencil, it’s ok to test them that way.  If tests make your child anxious and he or she performs less than their best, it’s ok to toss tests out the window.  As his or her teacher, you will have a very good idea of what they are comprehending, so choosing to do tests will only be a formality of what you already both know.  If your child needs a  nap or some quiet time, it’s easily accessible.  If you decide to go on vacation in the middle of October that is perfectly ok!  I have loved being so involved in my child’s learning and being able to make decisions based on her best interests academically.  It has also given us more freedom as a family.

7. Life Skills – By choosing homeschooling you give yourself and your child a great opportunity to get involved in everyday activities that will teach them valuable life skills.  By bringing their learning home, you will be able to involve them in all your daily tasks.  Cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, making a budget, the arts and music all become intertwined into their daily lives.  A child who has spent 8 hours a day at school will most likely not have the energy to enjoy baking cookies or doing the grocery shopping with you after school, but a child who has more space and free time will be more apt to learn these skills well as they have time to enjoy it.

Homeschooling has many challenges, and like most thing there are pros and cons no matter how you choose to educate your children.

 The past year has opened my eyes to the reality that homeschooling is not only possible but a really good option for many families.

 It is a great way for children to grow and learn and it is ideal for families who are craving connection and freedom from schedules and regulations.  It is ideal for adoptive families who are struggling with attachment issues, learning disabilities and trauma.  We were able to connect with a great homeschooling group locally that offered us support, diversity and fun, which was an added bonus.

We may or may not return to homeschooling in the future but either way I have enjoyed this year in ways I never imagined and I will never regret it!  If you have thought about homeschooling but feel it is too challenging, too complicated or too boring, hear this:

It was easier, more fun and more rewarding than I ever expected!

AF

Claiming Your Adopted Child

For weeks, months or possibly even years you’ve been praying, decorating bedrooms, buying clothes and stuffies, asking questions, researching and observing.

Then suddenly, the time is here.

One of the toughest transitions in your adoption process may be when your child finally comes home.

Now it’s time to parent, and suddenly you realize that the child before you is a stranger.

On top of that, they may be dealing with the trauma of yet another move and disruption in their attachment.

How do you claim this child as YOURS even when you don’t feel that reality?

What if you don’t feel love toward this new person that is now in your home?

First of all, don’t panic!  It is perfectly normal to feel awkward, uncomfortable and even a bit resentful toward a new child in your home.  Your normal has been upset, and it’s going to take time to feel the comfortable familiarity we usually associate with “family” and “home”.  The good news is you have lots of time!  It will come, so just relax and admit that it may be harder than you envisioned.  If you have other children in the home, make sure you acknowledge this to them as well and give them space and assurance that the emotions they are feeling are perfectly normal and acceptable.

It’s ok for things to not feel ok for a while.

In these early days, try to find ways to imitate the natural bonding that would typically occur between a mother and newborn.  If the children are young, make sure you take full advantage of physical closeness (as long as they are comfortable.)  Help them bathe, rub lotion on their body, snuggle while reading a story or wrestle with them on the floor.  For older children you can brush their hair, give a back rub at bedtime, hold hands, do foot massages, have a spa day involving foot baths and face creams.

Another essential way infants bond with their caregiver is through food.  The act of meeting basic needs in a child’s life is extremely powerful to the brain.  One of the best ways you can connect with a new child in your home is to make sure you take charge of their food.  By this I mean that you offer them food regularly, take time to prepare it for them and constantly ask if they need anything to eat or drink.  Peel an apple or fix breakfast for a teenager who could do it themselves.  Pack their lunch, including their favourite foods and some treats.  Get them a glass of water instead of showing them where they can get it themselves.  Feed toddlers and preschoolers from sippy cups or bottles so you can hold it for them while they drink.

 Your approach in this situation is to do the opposite of what typical parents do.  Instead of encouraging independence you want to encourage their dependence on you.  It is in this way that trust is built and emotional connectivity happens.

Another way to connect with your new child and claim them as ‘yours’ is to make sure to give yourself space to be you.  It is amazing how the little things help it to feel more real for you!  Let yourself be a new parent.  Brag, spoil, buy and take lots of photos.  Your family has just gained a new member and you have every right to all the emotions a mother has in the first weeks after giving birth.

Other things you can do:

  • Start new routines…or revamp old ones they are familiar with
  • Listen closely to the ways they are trying to communicate with you
  • Spend TIME together – there is no substitute for this!  It is the ONLY way to get to know your newest son or daughter and for them to get to know you.
  • Hang their photos on the wall, their artwork on the fridge and leave their sticky fingerprints on the window.  They are all physical evidences of the reality that your family has expanded.
  • Host an adoption celebration when you think you and your child are ready.  Make it official and memorable.
  • Pray for your child and for the Holy Spirit to guide you as you try to reach his or her heart.  Much wisdom and grace is needed…especially when your attempts are spurned.

I hope that by reading this post the overwhelming message you are hearing is that

YOU HAVE A CHOICE!

We all love the idea of love at first sight and happily ever after…but if we’re honest we also know that is usually not reality.

Love is not a feeling or emotion that is left to fate to decide.

Love is a choice.

Adoption is a choice.

When you choose adoption, you are choosing love.

Unconditional love.

That sounds big…and it is…but really it is just a life full of little choices.

Day after day,

moment after moment,

I will choose love.

Some days it will feel hard and the sacrifice will be great.  There will be tears, and yes, even regret.

But other days will be so full of genuine, authentic, life giving joy that you will catch your breath and think, “How did I ever live without you?”

And suddenly, you will know it.

I love this child.

He is mine.

AF

FB Questions Answered!

A few weeks ago I wrote a short request on facebook asking people to share their questions regarding adoption.  Here are the questions and the best answers I could come up with 🙂

“In places like China, for example, I’ve heard that it is customary to offer expensive gifts, etc., not to mention the plane fare. Where might a middle class family who don’t have plane fare, etc. be able to inquire?”

So unfortunately I have no firsthand experience with this one, but I will share the best I’ve been able to acquire from my research!

So from what I’ve been able to understand, in many cases these “gifts” are items being requested by orphanage directors/workers when a child is being adopted.  Though this may seem incredibly manipulative, from what I’ve read in many cases it is actually the agency you are working with here in North America that is requesting you to bring these gifts because it is culturally appropriate to offer gifts in situations such as these.  I also found that in many cases these gifts are really not expensive ($10-25 each) and are actually donations for the children left behind in the orphanage when you return home with your child.  The $30-50 thousand dollars you spend on an international adoption is largely spent on lawyer fees both in your country and the child’s, travel costs, adoption agency fees, and government documents you need to acquire for your child.  The orphanage itself from which your child is coming will receive very little, if any, of this money.  These “gifts” are their way of trying to improve the conditions of the orphanage.  Again, this is not first hand experience and my information may not be reliable but that’s what I found.  To avoid being taken advantage of financially in an international adoption the overwhelming advice I read was to work with a reputable agency, to be organized and to choose a country that has signed the Hague Convention.

As far as being able to afford an international adoption, there are many things a middle class family can do:

  1. Apply for adoption grants
  2. Fundraise for your adoption
  3. Live on less
  4. Sell stuff
  5. Get a loan

I believe that where there is a will there is a way 🙂

Read my blog post on affording adoption here.

How does a family go about discretely investigating about whether or not the child has physical/neurological difficulties? There have been many reports of adoptive parents finding that the babies have difficulties that they weren’t aware of. While a couple would need to accept these things in their own birth child, there are many who adopt, not wanting to sign up for that.

To be honest, I think this was probably more common longer ago.  Here in Canada, I do not think you need to be concerned at all about this as any public or private agency will share as much information as possible with you if you are serious about adopting a specific child.  They are not trying to con you into adopting a child.  On the contrary, they are working for the best interests of the child, not you!  Once you express serious interest in a child, you will be given the opportunity to view their entire file including any medical history, diagnoses, etc.  It will be your job to do the research on whatever you find and be sure you are equipped and informed.

However, you must remember that there are many unknowns related to children who have suffered trauma, abuse and/or neglect.  Short of a magic genie there is no way for you to predict the full capabilities of a child upon adoption any more than a biological child’s future needs at birth.

I would say:

Ask as many questions as you can.

Consult with professionals regarding the information you do receive.

Do your research, but at the same time be prepared that life has a way of throwing curve balls at you and it doesn’t mean someone deliberately mislead you.

If you’re referring to international adoption I would certainly think there are many more risks of this occurring.  I know most adoption agencies encourage you to arrange for a medical examination to take place in the child’s current country and then again immediately upon arrival to Canada.  Many children available for adoption internationally have been abandoned at an orphanage with very little information, so there is not necessarily any way you can know what the true extent of their limitations are.  It’s important to be prepared for things to be much worse than you expect…but it’s also important to keep in mind that a secure and loving environment, with great access to medical care and services is the ideal place for a child to reach his or her fullest potential!

As far as not wanting to ‘sign up for this’…it’s a phrase that would be worth considering deeply.  If you are not prepared to face some unknowns adoption may not be for you.  These kids need people who are willing to stick with them no matter what.

 

“I know a couple who adopted a young girl after fostering for a long time. Later, there was such conflict with their biological children, that they arrived at the difficult decision of letting the girl go again. How does the couple with the heartache in that decision reconcile that issue within themselves. I’m sure they still ache.”

This is a tough one for me.  Everybody has a story about an adoption that went wrong in some way or other.  I feel for this family deeply and I’m sure that they must have walked through some very dark and desperate times to reach this decision.  I have never had this experience, and to be honest it goes against everything I believe.

At the same time, I am not so naive as to think that the intense struggles involved in foster care and adoption could not lead to this.  As much as I don’t like it, there are children who have been wounded to the point where they cannot function well in a family environment.  Love does not fix everything.  There are times when a child needs supports that a home environment will not be able to provide.  Many adoptive parents have lived through the agony of having to choose to send their child to residential treatment centres, etc.  This is hard stuff.

I would say, however…that I feel like there should always be an option that still includes the preservation of the vows you made to your child upon their adoption into your family.  I cannot ever in my mind conceive a time when it would be ok to abdicate my biological child’s place as my son or daughter.  Any parent who abandons their biological child or rejects their place in the family is labelled as a monster.  I struggle to understand why a child you’ve chosen to adopt would be any different.  The day you adopt a child you legally become their parent.  They receive a new birth certificate, with your name on it.  They take on your last name.  You vow before a judge to care for them and love them forever.  The minute you sign those documents in the court room, the time to back out of an adoption is past.  While it may be necessary to relinquish a child to live outside of your home for a while…or even permanently…I would be lying if I said I thought there was ever an ok time to nullify an adoption.  Especially due to sibling rivalry.  I’m guessing the thought of “letting go” of the biological children never crossed their minds.  Two wrongs will not make a right.  They may reject you, they may push you away, they may leave your life in a pile of rubble and desolation…but they desperately need you to follow through on the promise that nobody else did; that they belong to you and nothing can ever change that.  Whether they are under your roof, behind bars, in a respite home or enrolled in a treatment centre…they are yours and you are theirs.  That’s what family means.

 

Do you feel differently about your biological child than your adopted ones?

Yes, I do.  I ADORE all 3 of my children but I absolutely feel differently about them in some ways.  I worry less about my biological son’s future, and my relationship with him is so easy.  Our attachment is secure and unexplainable, with no interruptions or unknowns.  My daughters and I have walked some hard and dark places together, and I have fought harder for them than I knew was possible.  There are days my heart wants to explode with pride as I watch them conquer their world.  There are other days I feel a lot of fear and pain as I watch them.  I have had to earn their trust, and we still walk on eggshells around some issues.  It is a more intentional love, and there are days the foundation appears to be crumbling in places I didn’t know exist.  I am constantly on alert with them.  We take nothing for granted.  But we are a family.  Forever.  And I would choose this again and again and again.  My 3 children came to me in very different ways, but the 3 of them make up my heart and together they are siblings with a bond that is unmistakably family!

 

How long does the adoption process take? 

Unfortunately the adoption process is unpredictable as there are many variables.  There are 3 different types of adoption, first of all.  International, domestic and foster care.  For all three you will need to start with a homestudy assessment.  This process usually takes approximately 6  months to complete.  After your homestudy is complete it depends largely on how motivated you are to adopt and what type of child you plan to adopt.  If you are adopting internationally or through foster care and are interested in adopting children with special needs, older children or a sibling group your adoption will usually go fairly quickly from this point…especially if you are being proactive in searching for your children.  If, however, you are waiting for a baby or child with very limited special needs you will wait longer as children rarely make it through being abandoned, abused, neglected or orphaned without some major trauma.  If you are adopting domestically and being matched with a birth mother there is no guarantee when or if you will be matched but most families statistically are matched within a year.  You can speed up the adoption process by being prompt in completing your paperwork, being open to special needs children and being proactive alongside your adoption worker.  However…God has a way of making things happen in His timing and in His ways, and sometime that means waiting.  At the end of the day it is all up to Him and trusting His timing will help bring peace in the waiting periods and hope in what seems to be endless holdups.  He is bigger than any obstacle that may stand in the way.

 

What are some things your home requires to pass the home inspection?

Some things you will need to complete a homestudy in Ontario are:

  • Criminal Record Checks
  • Fire Inspection
  • Medical Certificate completed by family physician
  • References
  • Financial Statement form
  • Proof of Home and Auto Insurance
  • MTO Driver’s Abstract
  • Car Seat Inspections
  • Notice of Assessment
  • Complete PRIDE training
  • Meet with your social worker at least 3-5 times

Many people find the homestudy process to be quite invasive and intimidating, which it certainly can be.  Having someone come in and inspect every aspect of your life, home and family is a little disconcerting.  However, this is an essential part of being sure you are a safe, consistent and loving home for a child to grow up in.  Try to remember that everything you are being asked to do is for the sake of the many children out there waiting for a family.  Raising children with trauma backgrounds is not always easy and it’s important to be sure you are prepared for this challenge.  The homestudy is designed to help both you and the adoption agency you are working with to determine whether your family is prepared for adoption.

AF

 

A New Home

“I don’t want to live in this house!”

Her brown eyes filled with tears and sobs shook her body as she let the words she’d been holding in all day tumble out into the space between us.

I smiled and tugged her toward me with a sigh.

I knew just how she felt because I was just like her.

No matter how wonderful, change is change.

And it’s hard.

We had been in our new home for almost a week now and it was just starting to sink in that she was never going back to the little nest we were all familiar with.

The chipped paint, the crude treehouse, the scribbles on the wall…all blemishes yet somehow so familiar and comforting at the same time.

So…in that first wonderful, yet awkward and challenging first weeks of living in our new home, here are some things I’ve discovered can help you settle in.

  1. Go places.  Walking back through your front door and knowing you’re “home” helps it feel real.
  2. Bake cookies.  It’ll fill your house with delicious smells and help ease the strangeness of it all.
  3. Burn candles.
  4. Relax and indulge in a bubble bath…even though there are still boxes to unpack.
  5. Have friends over.
  6. Do laundry.  Nothing like piles of laundry sitting all over the house to make it feel like home!
  7. Take time to dream and organize while you unpack.
  8. Get things on the walls.
  9. Relax on the couch.
  10. Read a book.
  11. Put on some music.
  12. Let it get a bit dirty.

So there you have it 🙂

In case you’re wondering we all quickly got past the new and awkward feelings and are enjoying our new home SO much!

The whole experience did remind me, however, of the first weeks our girls were home to us.

The first weeks with our newborn son.

The first weeks when a new child has come to stay in our home.

It reminded me to be compassionate of the tears and tantrums and grief that generally accompany those first months with a new foster or adoptive placement.

They’ve left everything familiar…

and even if what they left was not very nice and maybe not even safe…

it was still home.

It was that  broken light fixture hanging on by a thread.

The sound of the air conditioner starting up.

The dim blue night light in the hall.

The familiar sweet scent of marijuana covering the clothes and blankets pressed close.

The way she always sang in the shower or the clattering of his hands doing dishes in the evening.

The smudged, stained marks on the bath tub and the thickest red towel that was your favourite.

The stuffy you always slept with that somehow got left behind.

Your favourite pants.

The wallpaper coming off around the edge of your bed where you would pick at it as you were going to sleep.

The sound of the TV blaring in the next room when you woke up in the middle of the night.

To some it would look, feel and smell strange and frightening.

But if it’s all you’ve ever known…it feels like home.

It feels like expectations and predictable.

It feels like comfortable.

Think about what it feels like to stay or sleep in a hotel for the night.

No matter how luxurious it may be…there’s usually still a little part of you that wishes for home when you sink onto that mattress.

The bed doesn’t feel right.

The blankets are a different texture.

The bathroom light is too bright and the street lights cast flickering shadows on the wall.

The sound of the furnace is heavy and stifling…you can’t hear the clock ticking like at home.

Now imagine if you hadn’t chosen to be there at all…

or in fact if you didn’t even know WHERE you were!

Terrifying is hardly adequate to describe it.

We expect so much from these little people sometimes.

AF

Daddy’s Day

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Just when I thought I couldn’t love you any more than I already did…

You became a father.

Watching you love our children makes me

so proud

and so grateful.

I know it’s not a glamorous job, this fatherhood thing…

and I know you get tired.

Tired of little hands reaching up to you,

tired of little bodies…and bigger bodies

crawling all over you

begging to be tossed and turned;

snuggled and tickled and

loved.

Tired of my weary arms handing over babies

and diapers

and squirming toddlers

and dishes.

Tired of fixing the broken doors

and handles

and toys.

Tired of reading stories

and tucking in little girls

and rocking babies in the middle of the night.

Tired of holding us all together after a bad day,

of sorting through the squabbles

and tears

and dirty laundry.

You work so hard all day,

then come home to us and still..

still you love us

with your strong, weary arms.

You love us with your kisses and your smiles

and the words you say.

I say it over and over again:

how grateful I am for you,

how I couldn’t do this without you,

how I need you.

We need you.

You hold us all together with your strength,

your confidence,

your faithfulness.

You will never know what it means to us that you come home every night.

That the first thing you do is reach out to hold us.

You will never understand the great mountain you are in our eyes.

How we lean on your greatness;

so steady and sure.

You will never see the light and joy

that I see in our children’s eyes when they look at you.

Daddy.

How the belly laughs and joyous shrieks

and outstretched arms are

special for you.

You’ve captured their hearts.

You will never know how much we all adore you

and  how safe you make us feel.

 You are a really great Dad.

Thank you.