Switch it Up!

I am in love with Pinterest.

When it first entered the scene, I was somewhat curious but a little annoyed at the whole “pinning”, “sharing”, etc stuff going on.  Most of what I found there seemed to plunge me into a pit of envy and discontentment.  On Pinterest, everyone’s homes, children, birthday parties, dinners, photo shoots, clothes and entire lives seemed perfect!  I really didn’t find myself benefiting from most of what I found.  Not to mention all that DIY stuff.  That may work for some people, but for me?  Well, when I DIY it really looks like I did it myself!!  Enough said.

But in the last three months I have become a home school mom.

And now?

Well…

I am in love with Pinterest!

There are so many incredible ideas on Pinterest to help me teach my little A.  Right now I have no curriculum, only a Wal-Mart activity book, Pinterest and my Mommy instincts to teach my child…and it is great!  I understand that in some situations a curriculum is a huge blessing, but for our situation it would only add extra pressure and unrealistic expectations.  Why spend hundreds of dollars on a curriculum when you can use Pinterest!?  This way we can pick and choose our content and expand where needed with whatever grade level is required.

Anyway, I wanted to share some of the really great ideas we’ve used around here to make our learning fun.  I specifically picked out things that many of you moms can use for your children coming home from school every night with homework, as well, just to keep it relevant.  🙂

Word Work – We are combining spelling and reading by using a list of ten sight words every two weeks as our spelling list.  To practise these words and their spellings we use: finger paint, rainbow letters, scrabble tiles, white board or chalk board, say them aloud and clap for the auditory effect, type them on the computer, make flashcards, or make up little jingles and rhymes to help memorize spelling patterns.  For added fun, make videos of these to play back to use for practising as well!

Math facts -We haven’t gotten hugely creative with this yet, but there are tons of apps you can use on a tablet or smart phone to help your kids drill.  We play “War” with playing cards but require the child to figure out the sum, difference, product, etc of the two numbers flipped up.  Speed drills are easy to find on Pinterest and always fun to do.

Writing practise – Journal!  Let them pick their topic!  Don’t dictate what they are to write about and you might be surprised what they all write and find them looking forward to it!  Also, don’t fix their spelling mistakes in their journal and ‘pleasure writing’ activities unless they ask.  Just appreciate the quality they produce!  There’s lots of time to fix spelling and grammar later when you’re working on more dictated writing prompts.  At first glance, appreciate the content!  Other ways to practise writing are to make cards, write out grocery lists, label pictures and artwork, etc.  I bought a manuscript printing practise book that Little A does every day.  Even though she has almost all the letter formations accurate it’s good practise and keeps it fresh.  It also gives us an opportunity to practise writing in the lines, figuring out letter positioning and to practise neatness and accuracy.  Take every opportunity to write and make sure it’s not always difficult!

Grocery Shopping – There are so many ways to have fun at the store with your littles..and big kids, too!  Again, Pinterest has lots of fun activities and printables.  You can explore weights, check off lists, do a scavenger hunt for items or letters, practise money management, observe jobs and so much more!  Again, this may make your shopping trip take a bit longer, but you’re much more likely to have involved, occupied, well behaved children than if you’re just dragging them through the store as fast as possible!

Other things we’ve done include playing board games, card games and made up games of our own.  We’ve played store to practise counting money, and used fun YouTube videos to link to our learning for a fun spin.  For example Alexa loves Pete the Cat so we got Pete to help us with subtraction one week.  The video/book “Pete the Cat’s Groovy Buttons” is about subtraction so we watched that together and then made our own Pete the Cat word problems to practise subtraction.  She loved it and it added a fun element to a pretty standard activity.  There are all kinds of educational TV shows you can access as well to iad your child’s learning and spin lessons off of!  The Magic School Bus has been around for ages but is full of great ideas and learning as well as Sid the Science Kid.

There are so many ways you can spice up your child’s learning.  I am a firm believer that a child really willlove to learn if you give them the opportunity to learn in a way that’s fun and interesting to them!  Admittedly this takes work and effort, and you can’t do it all.  There are aspects I know I should be finding more creative ways to teach and I just don’t have the time, resources or energy to do it.  That’s ok.  Pick a few things that you can fit into your time and do those!  You and your child will both have more fun and I guarantee you it will be worth it to see the light in your child’s eyes!

AF

 

 

 

 

Anger & Grace

It was a classic moment.

I could feel my heart rate increase as I stared down at the defiant little eyes staring up at me; daring, taunting and luring me into the ring.  I felt my cheeks flush hot and my shoulders stiffen with anger.

A tiny voice in the back of my mind squeaked a warning, but my emotions screamed at me to just react!

I was the adult, after all!

How dare she talk to me this way?

Look at me this way?

Challenge me with a mere tilt of her head?

Out came the words, with the lash of sarcasm to make them powerful and biting.  I watched with satisfaction that quickly faded to shame as her spirit broke before me, in the worst of ways.  The angry, defiant eyes quickly covered in tears and her face crumpled at the tone in my voice.

I had done it.

I had cut to the bone.

Intentionally, I had hurt her.

Far surpassing my authority as a parent I had stooped to the level of a child giving slap for slap in a schoolyard tussle.

As she bent to my anger and my bidding, I felt only guilt and shame.  I had done it again.  In the very moment where she needed me to be the parent, in control of my emotions despite her behavior, I had fallen quickly and securely into the trap.  While she tested and resisted, scanning the boundary line for strength and safety, I had lunged in for the kill.

I knew I needed to apologize, but I had no idea where to even start and all I wanted to do was wallow in my anger, humiliation and frustration.

I have struggled with anger for as long as I can remember.

I have a temper that flares quickly and burns hot.  I’ve had to learn the hard way time and time again that giving it even a tiny dose of oxygen explodes into wildfires I regret deeply.

I need Jesus to deal with this ‘thorn in my flesh’ every day of my life.  Just when I think maybe I’ve kicked it once and for all, it comes out of nowhere and knocks me off my feet, leaving me bruised, humbled and broken before my God.

I need grace.

Grace for my own sinful heart and grace for my children’s sinful hearts.

I have read every verse I can find in the Bible about anger, for obvious reasons!  There is so much in there about anger, and how destructive and dangerous it can be.

“Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.” Proverbs 16:32

“Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity for the devil.” Ephesians 4:26-27

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” James 1:19-20

“A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Proverbs 15:1

In the few years I’ve been parenting and caring for little people, I’ve found a few good strategies to help curb that anger when it rears its ugly head.  Today I am writing this post mostly to remind myself of what I know to be true!  I need this today.

1) Take a time out…for Mom!  Go lock yourself in your bedroom for a few minutes, go use the bathroom, do the laundry…anything that can get you a few quiet moments to recalibrate.

2) Be honest with your child about your feelings, but not in a reactive way.  “Mommy is feeling really frustrated right now and I just need a minute with Jesus to figure out what I need to do right now.”

3) Force your body to physically relax.  Loosen those shoulder muscles, stretch your neck and massage your cheeks.  Close your eyes, breathe and count to 10.  If you’ve chosen the bathroom or the bedroom as your escape room, force yourself to smile into the mirror before you head back down to face the music.  It really works!

4) Carve out time in your days for quiet time, prayer and simple things you enjoy.  This will help prevent the anger!  I know this is not easy for busy Mamas, and don’t kid yourself into thinking that through every season you’re going to find 30 minutes a day of God time or me time!  You might only get 15 minutes to talk to God in the shower, a few glances at a Bible open on your desk throughout the day or a verse taped to your mirror.  You probably won’t get a novel read but you might get in a walk to the park or a minute sitting in the sunshine while the kids bike outside.  When things are really crazy, take a look at your entertainment diet.  Make sure you’re spending your down time listening to worship music, inspirational podcasts, etc.  Take a few seconds to read that blog that pops up on facebook about an issue that you’re struggling with currently in your spiritual life.  Pop onto Youtube and find a women’s devotional for the day.  Be honest in your next conversation with your girlfriend when she asks how you’re doing.

5) Take a nap!  Again, I know this isn’t easy, but if it’s at all possible in your day, a quick nap or rest in the afternoon can prevent all kinds of explosions through the supper hour when everyone is low on energy, carbs and patience!

6) Look at your failures as opportunities from God.  Then embrace His forgiveness and forgive yourself too!  You very well may deal with this your whole life long, but each time you can reach out and grasp the power that God longs to place in your hands, you are gaining ground!  Don’t give up or let yourself wallow in defeat and humiliation.  Buck up and own it!

7) Say sorry.  Just do it.  No excuses!  Those sticky, small arms around your neck are worth it.  Your apology speaks a thousand words of wisdom and offers tangible grace to your littles.

Every now and then I experience it.

Victory!

I stop and take a moment to curb the anger before it takes over.  I whisper a prayer, get down on my knees and suddenly see the hurt lurking behind her angry eyes.  I offer the hug instead of the biting retort.  I grasp the power, and oh is it sweet!  It is there!  With His help, I can have the victory, but I can’t do it alone.

So keep trying!

Keep surrendering your spirit to His will and some sweet day He will give you the Victory!

AF

Foster Care

It’s official.

We are back on the “call” list for our local foster care agency.

Any day now we could have another little person walk through our doors and stay for a night, a week, a month, a year…or forever.

We did not predict that we would be ready this quickly.  Less than two years after our daughters’ placement in our home and just over 3 months after our son’s birth, we are jumping back in.

I can see the raised eye brows,

the widening eyes.

I can hear all the questions you are asking.  I’ve asked them too.

I can hear you saying that we have no idea what we’re getting into; that we are putting our children’s lives in jeopardy; that we should draw our limits.

But there’s something you need to know.

We don’t get to choose.

When we dedicated our lives, our home and our family to Jesus Christ, we surrendered the right to choose how, when and what we do as well as the right to follow whatever our feelings dictate.

God has made it very clear to us in the past month that it is time.

It’s time to jump back in.

It’s time to serve.

It’s time to love.

It’s time to once again offer our home and our family as His hands and feet.

And even though it doesn’t make sense; even though we have every reason to say no, I trust Him.

My girls are ecstatic.  Naive, but ecstatic all the same.

They know what it is like to be in foster care.

To feel alone, unwanted, unloved and frightened by life itself.  So their hearts are jumping at the chance to show another child what family can be.

In our home we don’t just play “house” or “dolls”, we play “foster care”, “adoption” and a pretend life that is shadowed with the tragedies most children aren’t yet aware of.  Our dolls have been hurt and abandoned.  Our play phones ring with calls at 2 am from social workers.  Our precious little babies leave us at a moment’s notice and return to biological parents.  They’ve suffered head injuries, malnutrition, long hospitalizations, broken limbs and bruises.  They cry and throw tantrums.

This is our reality.  We’ve been there.  As the kids in care and as the foster parents loving them.

This time around I have battled a lot of intense emotions and fears that I didn’t experience the first time we entered foster care.  Three and a half years ago when we started fostering I was so excited, so confidant and so ready.  This time?  Well, I’m still filled with all those feelings, because God’s been nudging my heart for a while now and preparing me for this.  But I’m also incredibly overwhelmed, exhausted and fearful heading into this new season of our lives, because this time there is so much more at stake.  It feels like there is so much more to lose.

I am keenly and painfully aware that I am throwing my three children into chaos.  Painful, challenging, heartbreaking chaos.

Foster care is no walk in the park.

It’s hard.

It hurts.

It’s intense.

It’s unpredictable.

It takes a lot of time and effort.

The truth is, I don’t want them to have to give up the secure, predictable environment we’ve worked so hard to create in our home for them.  I don’t want them to have to share their clothes, their games, their stuffies, their rooms, their parents and their home.  I hate that this might mean I have less time, less energy and less patience for them.  I don’t like the idea of putting extra strain on our marriage.

I’m afraid I will crash and burn physically, emotionally and spiritually.

I’m afraid I will not be able to be the Mommy, the wife, the home schooling mom or the foster mom that I want to be.

I’m afraid my daughter’s education will suffer.

I’m afraid we will fall back into old patterns and habits that go along with insecurity and change in this home.

I’m afraid I will not get to enjoy my beautiful baby boy the way I want to.

 I’m afraid I will not possibly be able to love another as much as I love these three.

 I’m afraid I will fail.

Miserably.

I am so aware of my own short comings and my own limitations.  In the eyes of the world and all it’s logic we are not prepared!

Yet God says,

“Go.”

While I stumble through the questions and fears in my heart and mind I hear Him say:

“Have you forgotten so quickly who sustains you?

Have you forgotten how small you are?

Are these three precious little people I’ve placed in your home and your life more important than all the rest I have made?

Have you forgotten they all belong to me?

In your weakness, I can best show My strength and glory.

It is not out of confidence, ability, power or strength that you serve.

It is out of gratitude.

Humble gratitude for all I have done for you.”

So what can I say?

To the One who intricately formed each of my children, as well as the child who will walk through our doors next.  To the One who loves them each the same with His everlasting, unbreakable love.

To the One who can give me strength and energy for each long day and night.

To the One who is waiting to pour His love into the gaps my own heart cannot fill.

To the One who has given us everything we have and blessed us with abundantly more than we could ever need or want.

All I can possibly say is YES.

I will go.

I will serve.

I will love.

I have no promises that this will be easy or that we will not have to sacrifice anything dear to us.  In fact, I am quite confidant that it will most definitely be very challenging and that we will have to sacrifice some things that are very dear to us.  But I also know that if He is calling me, He will provide enough for each day and that I would rather live in the center of His will than in my own carefully crafted security bubble.

So are we ready?

No.

We are not ready…and yet…we are more ready than we’ve ever been.

We understand things we never did before.

We have more love to offer in the shape of two young hearts who have gone through their own journeys.  They are so eager to love, and I am humbled by that and reminded what exactly my job as their Mom is.

My job is not to shield them from all hurt…though I wish so much I could.

It is not to give them everything they want, but to have the wisdom to see what they really need and realize that sometimes this includes hardship; hardship that produces character and spiritual maturity.

It is not to make them the center of our home and world, but to point them to Jesus, the One who needs to be the final Voice in all our decisions as a family and the center of our home and our lives.

It is not to teach them to weigh pros and cons, as if life is all just a big game where we are all looking out for ourselves alone…but to teach them that we are here to serve those around us.

“But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant.” Matthew 23:11

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”                Matthew 25:34-36

“And whatsoever you have done to least of these my brethren you have done unto me.”  Matthew 25:40

“”And whoever in the name of a disciple gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water to drink, truly I say to you, he shall not lose his reward.”  Matthew 10:42

“In humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Phillipians 2:3-4

 

 

 

 

We Are Home Schooling!

Yes, you read that right.

Me and my littlest A are homeschooling!  It’s been 2 weeks and maybe we are just honeymooning but it has been AWESOME!   I love it!

Now I can just about see some of you rolling your eyes, making that skeptical face and going…yeah whatever.

I get it.

I never wanted to home school, either.

In fact, until I read through my daughters’ adoption files I always said that I would never do it because I would have hated it as a child, myself!  I thought that home schooling was for really large families who like to hide away from the world or display their family on TV shows!  I thought children who were home schooled were all really smart, a little socially impaired and just not normal!  As you can see, I really hadn’t spent much time thinking about it or taking a look at people who actually did home school!  These were just my misguided perceptions, which I am thoroughly embarrassed of now.

But when special needs walks into the picture, everything changes.  Suddenly I could see that even though I loved school and it would have made me miserable to be at home, for some children it may be the exact opposite!

For some kids, school causes so much stress that they spend all their time just trying to cope!  This may be a result of trauma, attachment issues, learning disabilities or any number of other special needs.

There are tons of supports available, but you have to fight for them and it’ll take time.  I certainly don’t recommend that every parent experiencing difficulties with their child at school should just pull them out without exploring their options, but sometimes all the support and time in the world won’t meet the real needs of your child.   This is especially true in adoption.

For months, I had been saying…we’ll just give it some more time.  Or, I’m not ready yet so that’s just where she needs to be.

In truth I wasn’t confidant enough that I was ready to commit to this journey or that it was the right path for my daughter.  For some reason I was really afraid that I would pull her out of school and then fall flat on my face!  I was afraid she wouldn’t learn, that it would all be a mess and that we would all hate it!

But somehow God has a way of making things clear and as things got worse at school my mind lingered more and more on the idea of home schooling.  Part of me fought it…simply because I love school!  I love the specific school my daughters were attending, and where my oldest daughter still is.  I love the community.  I love the staff.  I love the atmosphere and all the kids.  I love the special projects and events that are connected to school.  I love the opportunities school brings to experience life alongside others and to have a broader view of the world.  I just love it.  I am a teacher, after all.

However, God began to speak to my heart and show me that my daughter needed something different.  My husband and I had always promised that we would make decisions about our children’s education according to what was best for each child, one year at a time.  We could no longer claim that we were doing that, and that bothered me!  Even worse, I was scared and discouraged as I watched my daughter start to fall back into behaviors and patterns that we hadn’t seen in a long time!  I felt like we were losing ground instead of gaining, and I missed my happy little girl.  Though we had a great team at school and communicated regularly, I realized that my daughter didn’t need a teacher.  She needed her Mommy.  She needed me.

So in some ways I chose to home school out of desperation and because school was not working…but even more I chose to home school because I realized that I wanted to!

I missed the first four and a half years of my daughter’s life.  I want to spend more time with her!  I want to be there all day, every day, even though it truly does drive me crazy sometimes!  I want to know every little thing that happened in her day, and to be the constant that she comes back to.   I want to be the one who laughs with her, gets frustrated with her, explores the world with her and watches her learn and grow.  Because even after 18 months together, I’m still getting to know her.  I’m still trying to figure out who she is and how she thinks.  I’m still learning her challenges, her strengths and her learning styles.  I am still figuring out her love language and her sense of humor.  I am still proving to her little heart that I am her Mommy and I will always love her; that even though others have come and gone I am here to stay.  There is nothing that can replace TIME.

So, here goes nothing!

The next half year is a bit of an experiment, but I am so excited.  I am excited to be able to focus on the things my little girl is good at, and remove some of the things she is not yet ready to handle.  I am excited to use the teaching skills I have to figure out how she learns and to make learning fun for her.  Choosing to home school a special needs child is completely different than choosing to home school a child who is gifted or even just average.  For the special needs child, you need to lay aside curriculum expectations, most typical teaching styles and any methods that conflict with your child’s exceptionalities.  I have to fight against the temptation to follow a book, accomplish too much in one day or copy other’s home school structures.  Home schooling is all about finding what works for your child and your family.  Once you embrace that, there is immense freedom!  It is wide open from there!  You get to decide what you study, how much, how long, where and when.  You get to decide everything.  This can feel scary, but chances are if you set out on this venture your gut will let you know the answers to these questions.

 So far, it has been the best decision I’ve ever made.

I have my little girl back.

I’m seeing peace where I saw frustration and agitation.  I’m seeing happiness where I saw a constant edginess.  I’m seeing success where I saw failure academically.  I’m seeing gentleness where I saw anger.  I’m seeing a glowing pride in her bright blue eyes where I saw confusion.

It’s not all perfect, and I’m still figuring out how we’re going to handle all this.  I don’t know how long we’ll be doing this, but for right now it’s the right thing.  I am sure of that.

I was given some great advice from another home schooling mom.

Pray.

Pray over everything you do.  Pray over the math, the spelling, the reading books and the colouring.  Pray for wisdom, pray for patience, pray for grace and perseverence.  Pray for courage and a sense of humor.  Pray for yourself, your child, your husband and your other children.  Pray blessings over your child and their school work.  Pray blessings over your home and family.

Know that this work you have chosen to do…been called to do…is valuable and important in the eyes of God.  At the end of the day, you are Kingdom building, not just teaching ABC’s.

This is the perspective I want to embrace as we dive into this new venture.  I want to teach my daughter out of a sense of gratitude, and hand all the work of our hands over to the One who can make it beautiful and valuable.

 

 

10 Things You Should Know About FASD

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS).

Alcohol Related Neurological Disorders (ARND).

Alcohol Related Birth Defects (ARBD).

It’s growing,

spreading,

taking over our society.

An invisible epidemic;

Incurable.

Brain damage.

100 % preventable.

The emotions I feel as I write those words are deep.

Anger.

Pain.

Vulnerability.

Exhaustion.

As the parent of children with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder this is an issue that has affected me very personally and to be perfectly honest I am just in the very beginning stages of understanding and accepting the realities.

For those of you who may have never heard of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) or are unfamiliar with the definition, here’s a brief explanation:

When a woman drinks alcohol while carrying an unborn child inside her womb, that child’s body and brain are exposed to a very damaging substance.

Alcohol is one of the most dangerous teratogens (substances that can be harmful to a developing fetus.)

Alcohol, unlike other food or drink consumed by a pregnant woman, passes directly from the mother’s blood stream through the placenta to the baby.

Alcohol in the bloodstream constricts the ability of the growing fetus to access oxygen and nutrients.  Therefore a baby exposed to alcohol prenatally will not be getting the oxygen and nutrients needed to continue developing at a healthy rate. 

This is made even worse if coupled with the carbon monoxide a fetus receives from cigarette smoke.  The baby does not have the ability to break down alcohol the way an adult can, so the blood alcohol levels will stay higher for a longer period of time than that of the mother’s.

This means the baby is being exposed to even greater amounts of alcohol for an even longer period of time than the mother. 

Alcohol causes cell death and sets in motion a wide variety of disruptions all over the body.  The most common affects are seen in the brain and nervous system.  Alcohol exposure can also leave behind toxic byproducts on the brain which linger and continue to cause damage.

A child who has been exposed to alcohol prenatally and demonstrates a significant number of effects physically or neurologically is diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.  This is an umbrella term that includes Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Alcohol Related Neurological Disorders.  For the sake of clarity in this post I’ll just be using the term FASD when talking about any alcohol related disorder.

That, in a nutshell, is a description of the invisible epidemic that so many families and individuals are struggling with in our society.  Many of these families and individuals are found within adoption and foster care as alcohol use during pregnancy is so often coupled with alcoholism and drug use postpartum which leads to abuse and neglect.  Unfortunately trauma affects the brain in many of the same ways as alcohol and compounds the effects, giving the child a “double whammy.”

This is a huge topic and one I can’t even begin to cover in one post, but I’ve made a list of 10 things you should know about Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.  Please take the time to read this.  So many families are trudging through the trenches of raising a child with FASD and feeling so desperately alone.  It’s hard, it’s exhausting and it’s constant.  You can help by being aware of the realities and facts so you can be there to support them.

1) FASD is an invisible disability.  By this I mean much of the time you will not be able to see any distinguishing physical signs.  Some children will display a slight indication in facial features that most people would not be able to recognize but many have no physical indications at all.  Most of these kids look like regular kids with a little extra energy and discipline needed.  This, by far, is the most difficult part of having FASD or parenting a child with FASD.  Everyone around you will struggle to believe that your child truly has a neurological disorder that limits their abilities…and so will you!  A person with an FASD will most likely be incorrectly labelled and judged almost every day of their lives by those around them.  A parent will experience much frustration due to others not understanding their child’s very real disability simply because until you are intricately a part of that child’s world he or she will just appear to be a regular kid.  This is devastating to the person with FASD, however, because as much as we’d like to ignore their limitations, they are very real!  You can only function so long in an environment that does not meet your basic needs.  School, home and the workplace will all become places of failure if your disability is not understood and accommodated for.  Unfortunately most families living with the reality of FASD will still have some people in their lives who take the stance, “I can’t see it, so I won’t believe it exists.”

2) NO Amount of Alcohol is safe during pregnancy!  I cannot even begin to emphasize this enough!  Unfortunately there are still doctors who are uneducated regarding FASD and will tell you that small amounts of alcohol are not harmful to your baby.  They are wrong!  There is no proven ‘safe’ amount of alcohol.  This does not mean that every child exposed to a drop of alcohol will be affected by FASD, but it does mean that every child exposed to even a drop of alcohol is at risk for FASD.  The effect the alcohol has on the developing fetus depends on many things including timing of consumption, amount of alcohol consumed, development of the fetus and the genetics of both mother and baby.  Fraternal twins can be exposed to the exact same amount of alcohol at exactly the same time and still be affected differently because of their genetic makeup.  This makes it impossible for anyone to tell you a safe amount of alcohol for you and your unborn child.  No amount is safe!  This disability is 100% preventable!   

3) FASD is an incurable disability.  There is no “fix” for FASD.  Alcohol is physical damage done to the brain and nervous systems.  While the brain can learn new ways to compensate, the actual damage done will remain the same.  There will be connections missing for the entirety of the individual’s life.  There are medications that may help some children and adults dealing with FASD, mostly to manage the ADHD-like symptoms.  There is not, however, a magic pill for FASD.  There is no one medication that is going to target all the areas of weakness in a person with FASD.

4) FASD causes impairments in children.  Some of those impairments include mental retardation, learning disabilities, attention deficits, hyperactivity, problems with impulse control, language, memory and social skills.  These impairments make it very difficult for children to thrive in environments such as school.  A typical FASD child will probably: have trouble focusing on tasks, require sensory aids, need constant supervision, have trouble making and keeping friends, have a poor concept of time, find it hard to transition between activities, struggle with anxiety, have poor coordination and balance, find it difficult to work toward a goal, will not learn from their mistakes, have poor judgment, be jittery and hyperactive and display extreme mood swings.  Typical behavior also includes habitual lying, stealing and aggressive behavior towards others.  All these behaviors are rooted in neurological damage and need to be handled as such.      

5) FASD affects the way a child learns; it does not mean they cannot learn!  As soon as people realize that alcohol exposure does, in fact, result in physical, irreversible damage to the brain…their first thoughts are that therefore that child cannot learn.  This leaves a pretty bleak picture!  Children born with FASD’s can go on to be happy, healthy, successful adults…sometimes.  The goal is to reach their potential by discovering new ways for them to learn.  This takes a lot of hard work on the part of parents, teachers and the children themselves!  The world is not geared for FASD, and therefore they are at an acute disadvantage.  But don’t give up!  These children are smart, talented, funny, and social individuals!  Many of them will go on to do very well when given the right tools to accommodate their learning style.  They can become responsible, independent adults…but this isn’t always possible.  Every child is a unique case when it comes to FASD and so there is really no way to predict what the outcome will be.  Depending on the areas of the brain damaged by the alcohol exposure or to what degree, FASD individuals may need structure and supports to navigate their days for their entire lives.  Thankfully FASD is starting to become more recognized and therefore more and more resources and supports are available for families, children and adults affected by this disability.

6) FASD is a spectrum disorder.  This means that, just like Autism, children affected by alcohol exposure in the womb will present with symptoms all over the spectrum.  Every child is a unique case.  FASD has a wide variety of faces, making it even more difficult to assess.  A child may be very severely affected and present with many symptoms or a child may be only slightly affected and therefore portray only a few of the symptoms.  However, this does not mean the symptom displayed is any less severe or that somehow it can be “fixed” since the child does not seem to be severely affected!  Remember, this is physical damage done to the child’s brain!  Most children with FASD will display a similar set of symptoms varying in severity.

7) Children with FASD find it very hard to control their emotions and behaviour.  I know I mentioned this earlier, but I feel these two symptoms are worth going over again since they are so disruptive to daily living.  Many individuals with FASD would be able to do quite well in life if it weren’t for their lack of ability to control their emotions and behaviour.  Coupled with difficulty understanding consequences and poor judgment, this is a major obstacle!  Most children with FASD need constant supervision to ensure the physical safety of themselves and those around them.  They are often described as unpredictable, reactive or as one of my daughter’s teachers said, “She’s an opportunist!” 🙂  Unlike most children, these are not traits they will grow out of as they get older, though they may be less noticeable.  Structured environments, repetition and self regulation tools can help them learn to moderate their behaviors and set them up to succeed, but on their own they do not have the cognitive ability to accomplish this.

8) Children with FASD have strengths too!  Despite the challenges of FASD, many of these children are incredibly lovable, gifted and resilient.  They tend to be very social little people.  Though they may struggle with social boundaries they can often win over strangers with their affectionate, chatty nature.  Even though they can have quite drastic mood swings, they can quickly get over being hurt or angry.  One minute they will hate you, but the next they will love you.  My favourite is, “Mommy, I love you more than the sun!”  Besides being very social these children often have strong visual memories, rich fantasy lives, are very creative and have a strong sense of fairness.  They’re energetic and can handle lots of physical activity, making them active, fun kids to interact with!

9) Children and youth struggling with the realities of FASD are vulnerable.  Many, many of these children and youths will end up in trouble and charged with criminal offenses due to their lack of self-regulation skills and their tendency toward aggression and violence.  Without the ability to control their emotions and responses, they are extremely vulnerable in a society that doesn’t understand or accommodate their needs.  A high number of youths in our criminal justice system have FASD.  Unless they are backed up by professionals or advocating parents to explain their behaviors and beg allowances and accommodations they will be treated as any other person in our justice system.  Even though developmentally they are still a child, they will be treated as adults.  Even as children, FASD individuals are vulnerable.  Children with FASD often have poor social skills and need the protection of adults around them to keep them safe.  They have a very poor sense of judgment when it comes to other people and easily trust anyone who is nice towards them.  They will appear comfortable around even a total stranger if given positive attention.  They also love physical interaction and will seek it out of anyone who is willing to give it.  This makes it hard as a parent to keep children with FASD safe.  An important part of parenting a child with FASD is putting into place appropriate social boundaries.  This can be hard when the child continually receives positive attention from other well meaning adults when he or she crosses those social boundaries.  When children deal with attachment difficulties on top of FASD it emphasizes this and makes it even more complicated.           

10) Education is the key!  The answer to helping the many children and young adults with FASD is found in being aware of the realities and then advocating toward better environments for these individuals to not only cope but to thrive!  By building on strengths and creating a safety net around them, children and adults with FASD can lead happy and successful lives surrounded by people that love and care for them.  They are valuable, beautiful people who deserve the best we can offer them.  As one person put it, FASD is not one of the “designer labels” like autism that people have accepted and provided support for.  With such a direct, negative source it is not a fun disability to talk about, much less explain to children or adults.  It does, however, have just as severe ramifications and being quiet about it never helps.  FASD individuals deserve the dignity and respect we give any other person with a disability and they desperately need those around them to be understanding and supportive even when it gets ugly.  They are not, after all, at fault for their disability.

My prayer as a mother of children struggling with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder is that they will not only survive but that I will create an environment where they can thrive!

Every single day I want to make the choice to see the beauty of who they are despite their difficulties.  I am humbled to serve a God who can work with even the most broken of vessels and turn it into something intricate, unique and glorious!  Nothing can surprise Him, or travel beyond His ability to transform and remold.  After all, when it all fell apart He was already there.

“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.  My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.  Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them.  How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!  How vast is the sum of them!  If I would count them they are more than the sand.  I awake, and I am still with you.”

Psalm 139:13-18 

I pray that God will give me the grace and courage to advocate for, offer grace toward and protect these beautiful souls he’s created in His image.

There is so much more good than bad…if only I choose to see.

“I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always.”

AF

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summer Days

It’s July 16th.

The summer is already a quarter spent!

Here today, gone tomorrow.

By this week I feel like we’re finally hitting the summer groove around here.  It always takes much longer than expected to adjust to a whole new schedule and routine.  We’ve had some busy weekends with late nights that kept us struggling to play catch up on sleep, laundry and other necessities, but this week…ah…we are finally feeling it 🙂

I have been looking forward to this summer so much.  It is wonderful to have hit the official one year mark with our girls.  We are into our second year, creating traditions, reliving memories and basking in the comfortable feeling those things bring.

It was time for a break from school and I am delighted to once again be the centre of my daughters’ world.  Since I’m at stay at home mom and the girls aren’t in any type of extracurricular programs, the three of us spend every day all day together.  Granted, that gets a bit stifling at times, but I truly do love us seeing the world together and knowing the seconds and minutes of their days, something I never got to experience with them as infants and toddlers.  I love knowing every little thing about them and why exactly they are tired, grumpy, happy, sad, overwhelmed or silly at the end of the day.  There is so much intimacy in that knowing.

I also spent some time thinking about the summer before it actually came, so I was prepared for the longer days and lack of routine and personal space.  I decided I would build those elements into our days and so far it has worked really well!  I knew I wanted to enjoy the freedom of summer with them, but I also knew that my pregnant body would need rest each day and my daughters and I would all benefit from some personal space!  So every afternoon we spend at least 30-60 minutes having Quiet Time.  It’s not always at the same time, as our days vary in schedule and activities, but we try to make it happen every day, even if it has to be right before dinner.  To prepare for this, I created our ‘Quiet Time Box’ which is filled with activities that only get used at Quiet Time; puzzles, games, notebooks, magnetic dolls, simple and no-mess crafts.  Nothing messy, nothing complicated and nothing electronic is the rule.  They each pick one thing from the Quiet Time Box each day, as well as some books to read.  Then we each disappear to our own little corner of the house for that time.  There are only 2 rules for Quiet Time.

1) Be quiet.

2) Stay in your spot.

Usually my littlest A, who loves to talk and hates to be alone, falls asleep because she is bored and gets in a nap, which is a bonus and extends my quiet time quite substantially!  I sometimes take a nap or just sit down and read a book, spend time with Jesus or do nothing at all.  Today I’m blogging 🙂  Occasionally I’m busy preparing dinner or doing laundry in that time but it’s still great to have some time where nobody is calling for Mommy or squabbling or just making noise!  Thinking space, I call it.

Another way we’ve built in routine is that we’ve continued with our morning jobs routine that helped us during the school year.  Once we’re all up and we’ve eaten breakfast, the next step is to get ready for the day.

Wash your face.

Brush your teeth.

Get dressed.

Make your bed (This one’s only for the kids…I know, I know I should really do this too! 🙂

Pick up your dirty laundry.

Brush your hair.

After all that is done, you’re ready to go play! 🙂

If you’re thinking…”Wow, my kids would never remember all that or stay on task!”…know that this has been a work in progress for the past year.  My girls each have visual charts to help them remember to do each job, and my younger daughter who can focus for about 3 seconds max on her own has hers divided into 3 categories and has to report to me with her chart after she’s finished each category.  Now that we’ve been doing the exact same thing the exact same way for over 6 months (it took awhile to find a method that worked) they are finally moving through the routine pretty smoothly and with very minimal assistance.  It’s awesome!  I really love having the same start to our day, weekend or weekday, and knowing they can do it without me nagging them.  It also pushes me to get out of my bathrobe just a little sooner and we all feel better by 9:00 am than we would without the schedule!

Another thing we do every day is some work in our Gr. 1 and 2 Curriculum Workbooks.  They each do three pages a day, one from each category; Reading, Writing, Math.  If you’ve never seen these books at Wal-Mart and you have kids that need some extra academic practise through the summer, check these out!  They are designed based on the Canadian curriculum.  Everything should be review if you use the book for the grade your child has just completed.  It’s a great way to review concepts, identify strengths and weaknesses, fill in gaps and keep your child’s brain in tune academically.  Just a note, I understand some kids do not need this kind of maintenance over the summer and that is super!  Others, however, really benefit from this kind of review so that when September comes they do not have to spend the first two months trying to retrain their brain.  I also find it helpful to stay familiar with my children’s academic ability and behaviours related to school work.  The first rule of being an advocate for your child with a learning disability or behaviour problem is to know what their capabilities are so you can give insight and advocate for your child’s potential.  Be the expert on your child!

Besides the Quiet Time, workbooks and morning jobs we try to get out and do something active together at least once a day.  A bike ride, a walk or a swim.  They love it and it’s very healthy for me and baby who, by the way, we are all getting pretty anxious to meet!  Three more months to go! 🙂

We frequent the library down the street about twice a week, go grocery shopping and go do our ‘dog job.’  I found a family needing some extra exercise for their 3 ginormous Great Danes!  We go over twice a week and let them out to play in the yard for about an hour while all their family members are away.  It’s been a fun way for the girls to earn a bit of their own money, feel like they have a summer job and get some healthy exposure to some big dogs!  A great opportunity to practise responsibility and perseverence!

All the little pieces add up to days that fill amazingly quickly!

Overall, I feel blessed.

I love my girls so much and I feel so blessed to be able to stay at home with them full time.

I adore my husband, who works so hard to provide for us and truly is the best Dad I can imagine for our daughters.

My life feels full and rich and vibrant.  We have many friends and aquaintances we bump into around our small town each day which keeps life interesting.

We love camping in the summer and hope to get out quite a few times to do that.

As for the girls’ adoption, we are still waiting for the final documents needed to officially become a family.  We’ve run into delay after delay and I’m anxious to have our day in court, sign the papers and celebrate!  But in the meantime it really doesn’t change our lives all that much 🙂

So that’s our little world which continues to spin 🙂  Hope you are enjoying the summer as much as we are!

Cheers!

AF

Adoption and Foster Care Resources

Recently I stumbled across some new adoption and foster care resources that I thought would be good to share with you, and there are also some older ones I’ve had around for ages that I love, so here’s my list 🙂  Some of these are true stories of families involved in adoption or foster care, some are practical guides to navigating tough waters, some are books that played a huge role in molding my view of adoption and foster care through God’s eyes and some are books meant to prepare your heart for the realities and help you discern God’s will for you in this area.

If you are considering adoption or foster care, supporting a friend or family member with adoption or foster care or are simply curious…dive in!  You will be blessed, inspired and better equipped on the other side…guaranteed!

1. Choosing to See – Mary Beth Chapman

2. The Connected Child – Karyn Purvis

3. The Promise: The Story of an Adoptive Mother and a Support Worker – Christen Shepherd and Lisa Highfield

4. Overextended – Lisa Harper

5. Attaching in Adoption – Deborah D. Gray

6. Parenting the Hurt Child – Gregory C. Keck and Regina M. Kupecky

7. Adopting the Hurt Child – Gregory C. Keck and Regina M. Kupecky

8. Another Place at the Table – Kathy Harrison

9. One Small Boat – Kathy Harrison

10. Successful Adoption: A Christian Family’s Guide to Adoption – Natalie Nichols Gillespie

11. Wait No More – John & Kelly Rosati

12. Thriving as an Adoptive Family – Focus on the Family

13. Radical – David Platt

14. Crazy Love – Francis Chan

15. Ready or Not – Pam Parish

Last, but the most powerful of all…your Bible.

If you have questions about adoption or foster care, are confused about God’s leading in this area of your life or are trying to better support others…the answers are all here.  Ask Him to reveal His heart and His perspective to you.  Ask Him for wisdom.  Ask Him for clear direction.  This is God’s work and no one is better equipped to teach you than Him.  All you need to do is be brave enough to ask.

AF