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The Tooth Fairy and a Trip to Washington, DC

Matan lost 5 teeth this week, three in one day. We’re travelling to the US in a few days, and his entire top gum is a gaping hole. A couple of days ago, when I picked him up at 4 pm, he proudly showed me one tooth that had fallen out during the day. About an hour later, we were in the shopping center and he brought me a second tooth in slightly bloody fingers. I knew I had to play tooth fairy and duck into one of the toy stores without him catching on.

Once we got home, he approached me with a third tooth, this one more than a little gross, but not quite as bad as his bloody grin. I felt a little ill, and not just because I had no way to supply the tooth fairy with THREE freaking gifts in one night. I told him I’d hold on to the third tooth so he could get another present later on. Both kids are already fully hyped for the trip, and talk of little else.  The next day, he lost a final tooth, but we stopped the tooth fairy after 3, telling him we’d put the rest of the teeth under his pillow once we get back. He already had 3 new gifts, so no loud complaints. Plus, did I mention, both kids are totally hyped for the trip.

Matan has been a little concerned, and has asked several times if planes can fall out of the sky. We told him it was like taking a train, which he’s done already. DH found some clips of the inside of planes on youtube, but strangely, it took some searching to find happy people inside a plane. We’ll be flying Turkish Air, mainly because they had the shortest total time from Tel Aviv to DC. Only an hour stopover in Istanbul vs. hours in any other airport. I’m just dreading the 10 hours from Istanbul to DC. Laptops and iPads won’t carry enough juice, even with a backup pack, so I tried to find a bunch of stuff for both of them. If all else fails, I have some sleeping pills…for me.

We’re renting a house with my sister and her family via airbnb.com and it should be a lot of fun. Her daughter and K are exactly the same age, and both our boys are also the same age. They’ll have live-in playmates for the entire first week we’ll be there. The second week the four of us are moving to a smaller apartment a little closer to my mom, and plan to spend more time with her and taking the kids to visit some of DC’s attractions. Top of our list is the Natural History Museum, Air & Space Museum and Zoo.

See y’all on the other side.

Thoughts of Ukraine

During this time of uncertainty and upheaval in Ukraine, I follow most of the news and think of how it could have affected my children had they remained in Ukraine, with birth families. I know, weird things to think about, but it does cross my mind. M is from Lugansk, a region which, along with Donetsk, is very pro Russian, and regions that may be up for grabs by Putin. Russian troops may already be nipping at the border regions. Apparently, they really hate Americans in these areas. I’m glad I didn’t know during the 1.5 months we spent in Lugansk for M’s adoption. I was always so worried we’d be tagged as Israelis, and therefor Jews. But apparently it’s much less healthy to be an American in Donetsk than a Jew. See what happened yesterday to an American film crew doing a documentary on orphanages, here and here.

We haven’t yet done a birth parent search for M’s biological family, and if the region is in upheaval, or changes countries, it can make it much harder to find records. That aside, we feel close to Ukraine and the stoic Ukrainian people we remember so well. They are the original Cossacks, and very tough. Everyone is asking why Ukrainian forces in Crimea didn’t fight the Russians. Well, in addition to it being a pretty good way to die really quickly, apparently they never received orders from the Ukrainian government in Kiev. They didn’t fight and they didn’t give up their arms. They just stood by and watched the Russians take over their bases, ships and sub. I’ve been following events there closely and The Interpreter  has a really good daily update I’ve been reading ever since events began on the Meidan.

Cha-Ching, another job offer via Facebook

Yep, while everyone is trawling LinkedIn for that new job opportunity, I posted exactly what I was looking for on Facebook, and for the third time in a row, received an offer, this time for a very exciting start-up.

Interestingly, all three positions have come from some of the great people I worked with at Zend, almost five years ago. We had a great team there, and everyone I worked with has gone on to various interesting companies. Each time I’ve wanted a new position, I’ve posted to Facebook that I’m looking for something that is part time, with flexible hours, and each time, I’ve been contacted for a position in sales, marketing and/or business development by former co-workers from our Zend sales and marketing team.

This opportunity is by far the most compelling. The position may involve occasional travel to the US, which will be a challenge, mostly for DH who will need his mom come and help him out. But management said it would probably only be once or twice a year. I think we can handle that frequency. I hope to be able to post a few more details once I start, but the company is still in semi-stealth mode, so no details about the amazing management team and their very desirable technology quite yet…

Back on track

photo6It’s been a challenging month for us with K, as her behavior continued to deteriorate. After she was sent home for locking a classroom with kids and a teacher inside, we realized that in spite of everything we were doing, things weren’t getting better. While I assumed it was social, I never guessed it might be due to the social problems in her class, not directly her own.

After she was sent home, she didn’t want to return to school, and I let her stay home for two days. She felt really ashamed, since apparently she didn’t lock the door out of spite, but because she was planning a candy party during recess break and she didn’t want the kids to come out and discover what she was setting up in the next room. Poor short term planning on her part. As soon as the teacher realized they were locked in, she apparently got hysterical, and the kids joined in. While I wasn’t there, we later heard from one of the boys who knew what Karen was up to for the break. He told his mom that it was the teacher who got hysterical, leading to pandemonium in the class. This is all third hand reporting, so grain of salt.

We immediately requested a meeting with the school counselor, principal and homeroom teacher. While they said her behavior has been terrible lately, it turns out that there has been a much wider social problem in the class, and apparently several parents had complained about their children being excluded and about certain disturbing games the kids were playing. To talk to some of the parents, the overall social problems in the class were very bad, with many unhappy children who felt rejected by the “in” group. The game that was so upsetting to many parents was a master/servant game where one girl would use candy to “buy” the services of another girl who was then her slave for the day. I was incredibly relieved when the school staff told me Karen was absolutely not involved in the game or most of the social problems. The principal posited that my daughter is the “thermometer” of the class, and when the class is badly out of balance, it’s reflected in her behavior, even if she’s not directly involved. Funnily enough (bad English, I know, but in general use on Facebook, so I’m allowed) is that what kept K from even knowing anything about this game was that it was limited to the girls, and she had spent the last month socializing almost exclusively with the boys in her class. During break, she’d go play football with them, while the other girls apparently got into the whole master/slave game.

Both DH and I decided it was time to get her back into real therapy, not just the animal therapy covered by our insurance. Again, funnily enough, none of the public health insurers in Israel cover more than 20 visits to a psychologist…..in a LIFETIME! One of the downsides to public health.

Luckily I was able to schedule an immediate appointment with the therapist who helped us leave the last therapist, who became so difficult for us to deal with, we had to devise a strategy for leaving her. The woman who helped us leave her also had a chance to do a complete intake from the old therapist so that she was updated as to K’s general situation since the beginning of first grade. We’re now in third.

Our meeting went well, and even though more than a year had elapsed, she remembered everything about our situation and was eager to meet K. K was a bit more circumspect, but after their first meeting, K said she was ok seeing her on a regular basis. I also had a good one-on-one meeting with her and while she may not be an expert on adoption issues, she’s has good insight into K’s needs and specific sensitivities, and she specialized in child psychology, she even teaches occasional courses at University of Tel Aviv.

Long post, but in short, she’s back in therapy, and back on the proverbial horse. We’ve tweeked her meds and she’s rebuilding her friendships and participating in group activities like the tennis tournament she was in last weekend. She came in first of all the girls, and was able to beat all the boys except one. Pretty good showing and she’s very proud of herself. It was also a good opportunity to spend positive time with some of the kids in her class who are also in her tennis league.

I think (and hope) that she’s back on track now that social issues at school have calmed somewhat and she’s back in therapy. The school also agreed to put her in a social skills workshop with her former homeroom teacher from first and second grade, whom K adores. Check back here for more good news going forward, I hope….Gotta stay positive. She’s amazing when she’s balanced, a good friend, family member, student and athlete. Even with all the problems she’s caused at school, the principal and some of the teachers really adore her and go the extra mile for her on occasion.

Off topic – Freezing cold and Polio a lethal combination for Syria

Though this blog is mostly about my amazing children, it would be wrong to remain silent while other children are freezing to death in Syrian refugee camps.

I laughed off the cold this morning, it was nothing compared to Kiev in the winter. But by this afternoon the temps continued to drop and the cold began seeping into my tissue. By later afternoon, as the dull gray began to fade towards black, I finally knew it was COLD! And then I read how the US and EU have suspended non-lethal aid to rebels in Syria. What is non-lethal aid? Is it the tents, blankets, medicine and other necessities that refugees need in order to survive another winter?

Polio, which has made a surprise visit to our region, is met by Israel with a mass vaccination campaign. No such campaign is possible in war-ridden Syria. Disease and cold will be the main killers, perhaps surpassing even Assad and the various paramilitary groups on both sides.

So how can I feel the cold, knowing I and my children can stay warm, fed and healthy while only a few hundred kilometers away, children are literally dying of cold.

I don’t have a solution, I’m not soliciting aid. I can’t even tell you which aid agencies can best help the millions of refugees. Just remember them, and if an opportunity comes up to help, to donate time, money, even a warm blanket, please do. There will be over 200,000 dead before summer and more Syrian refugees than Syrians left in their country. They are squatters in Jordanian, Turkish and Lebanese tent camps that have few if any facilities. Help the refugees outside, even if there’s no way to help people still stuck inside Syria.

School suspensions and girl fights; is there a correlation?

The plot thickens, apparently Karen isn’t the only girl feeling rejected by an “in” group. Several parents contacted us over the weekend after Karen had another incident at school. But this time, they called to support us, and to tell us that Karen’s behavior isn’t the main problem there. Several girls report being bullied, some in real time, and some over a chat network that the kids with access use to communicate. Karen has reported being bullied, but we always go back to the fact that she acts out, and it’s hard for us, from afar, to know who started what. But when I hear from other parents stories so similar to how Karen’s been ostracized, I realize that Karen has been very brave, and has worked tenaciously to control her desire to deck some of the girls who have been particularly cruel to her. I’m so proud of her for the self control she does manage to exhibit on an almost a daily basis.

But this news came to us only after I recieved another call from the school to pick Karen up because, “she can’t stay here due to behavior”. That’s it, no further info. When I arrived, there was still no one to tell me what she did. I took her home, and only later heard that she walked out of her classroom, and locked the door on a classful of kids and the teacher. From what other children said, the teacher freaked out and then some of the kids got hysterical. Considering that all teachers and half the kids have cell phones, I don’t understand the panic, especially by a teacher. I’m certainly not condoning what Karen did, and she’s been grounded for the last two days because what she did was wrong and dangerous, but did it really warrant pulling me out of work for a third time in one month? Not only that, but do I want my child in a classroom with an hysterical teacher next time we have a real air raid siren? I know Karen, and she’d help the teacher get the kids out, but I want a teacher who can be relied upon to keep calm in much more challenging situations than a locked door.

My first question to Karen was whether she understood why what she did was dangerous. I assumed that if the principal suspended her, someone would have explained to her why what she did was dangerous and wrong. So that’s the talk we had when she got home, mostly on the dangers, etc. No one at the school even told her why she was being sent home, let alone why what she did was wrong.

I wanted to schedule a meeting with the school immediately, but Hanukka starts in 5 days, reason enough for the school to put us off for another two weeks. By then, our world will have a different hue.

Gotta thank the great parents for their support during what has been a really hard week for all of us. It totally warms me to know that some of the parents I most admire have been so supportive.

Love hurts

This blog was all about honesty, and being honest about the challenges as well as the intense love involved in raising my children. While things have only been improving during the last 2 years for both of them, we’ve had a real roller coaster with Karen lately, and I’m not sure how to help her.

She has a huge chip on her shoulder and takes any kind of rejection very hard. She gets angry and lashes out at whomever she feels has let her down. But sometimes, especially with the girls she would most like as friends, the rejection is real. On the one hand, she wants lots of friends, on the other, she’s bossy and overbearing and gets pissy if a friend doesn’t want to do the same thing she had in mind. I’ve tried talking to her, but she gets defensive and always puts the blame on the situation, the friend, me…anyone except herself. She’s smart, and I think she recognizes that she’s to blame, but she keeps focusing on how she treated so many of the girls in her class when she was “younger”, and she feels that now that she’s learned to control her hitting, they should be welcoming her with open arms. After all, when she was hitting, I always told her that if only she stopped, she would have more friends. But the truth is, she still hurts some of the kids. Maybe she doesn’t punch or slap them, but she grabs, pushes, trips up and does all kinds of smaller things that involve her either touching them or their property in a way that hurts or damages.

She knows, after testing us for years, that we’ll love her no matter what she does. But she can’t seem to understand that once you’ve gone too far with someone outside the immediate family, they won’t love her. They’ll hate her because she scares them.

She still sees friends and participates in lots of activities. Truth is, she doesn’t have much free time, and when she is free for any reasonable bloc of time, she often visits with friends. But she doesn’t have a best friend. She did, but she feels like another girl “stole” the best friend. But she does have a lot of casual friends, both older and younger, whom she knows mostly from school. I know I can’t create a best friend for her, and if I could, she’d find some fault that would make it a deal breaker for her. I think her hunt for a single best friend ends up hurting her even with more casual friends. Once she sets on wanting one girl as “her” friend, she gets jealous when other girls have her attention and may not be including her. Suddenly, she’s hurt and angry at both of them. She has articulated very clearly that she fears the original rejection of her birth mother will recurr if she were ever able to meet her and I think she’s replaying that in some way in each of her close relationships.

One therapist told me that she still may not be ripe for learning friendship. She still needs to overcome some basic trust issues and be emotionally available. She’s wonderful with Matan, and when we’re doing family stuff, so maybe she still needs to feel her family life is more solid before she can really be open to socializing properly. In one sense, I’m grateful because the lack of a best friend means she really gives herself much more freely to us and Matan. We’re her refuge. But the lack of a best friend, and her inability to socialize in a pleasant manner seem to be the biggest cause of her anti social behavior at this point. Then again, I could be completely wrong. Been known to happen.

Another great adoption blog

I just discovered a wonderful blog by another adoptive mom. I’ve only just begun reading, but any mom who can let go and let her son eat what he wants rather than maintain a battle of wills is someone who “gets it”.

Lots of great material for all parents, but this part is exactly how I feel, and what I pass on to my own children:

I have said that giving birth to a child is a truly miraculous experience, but that the way in which he came into my life is a miracle of a different order. The stars had to be aligned in such a way for our miracle to have taken place; yes, it is clear that he was meant to be my son and I, his mother. I’m glad that he believes this, too.

Visit: www.gailharriscreative.com

Washington, DC, here we come!

We’re finally planning a trip to visit my mom and home back in the US early next year! I haven’t been to visit since we began our adoption journey, in other words, since we first began planning for the first adoption, more than 8 years ago!

Checking out Airbnb and some other sites to find a comfy short term rental near my mom so the kids can get to know Grandma and Grandpa. DH finally gave me an ultimatum. He’d been promising Karen that she’d get to visit the US “soon”. She told her friends she was going, and now it just has to happen. He said if I didn’t want the stress of the trip, I could stay home with Matan. No, that’s NOT going to happen, so now I’m in charge of planning this thing.

Karen’s so excited and after catching me checking out apartments on Airbnb, all she wants to do is look at photos of houses in America, when she’s not online working on a new Power Point presentation. She’s becoming an expert.

She really enjoys creating and delivering presentationes to her class. She usually does her own research online, but then puts it together with some of the other girls in the class, and they all take turns presenting the slides they contributed. It’s a great learning tool and something she enjoys doing. It’s similar to the reports we were doing in third grade, except our resource was the Encyplopedia and a trip to the DC Zoo. Today all you need is Google. The presentations are sort of an extra activity that the students are encouraged to do, but which aren’t mandatory. She’s still struggling socially, but is working at repairing relations with the girls who matter to her. She’s had some incidents at school, but nothing violent and overall her teacher says she shows a lot of control. The teacher told us that she’s become aware that sometimes girls accuse Karen of hitting or pushing them when it just didn’t happen. Even the vice principal of the school told me she spoke to Karen and another girl after one incident, and felt strongly that Karen was being truthful. Overall, she’s very motivated to excel, and usually does when it’s something that interests her.

Matan is enjoying his after care program. He enjoys most things that keep him busy and out of the house. He loves being with a larger group of children than he sees during his special education mornings where there are only 6 boys. No girls. In aftercare, he’s made friends among both boys and girls, and he participates in the drama and yoga classes they have once a week. He’s also started Judo along with Karen. His class comes just before hers, so we get to spend a whole 3 hours there! He’s really into it. Once he gets his Judo outfit in a week or two, he’ll be hooked.

Ok, back to airbnb.com and vrbo.com. After my eBay binges, this should be tame.

Adoption stories – to tell or not to tell

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe’re finally getting into the school year. Holidays were great, spent lots of time with DH’s family. Kids loved it since they enjoy being with their cousins. Matan went to his regular daycare (not special ed) for a full day while pre-school was out. He seems to be doing well there. A few glitches in the beginning, but he already has friends there who want to meet him for playdates, if only I can find the time. I found a lovely fifth grader who takes him from taxi into daycare on the two days I’m in the office. She’s super-excited to have her first job, and her mother is usually around for backup if necessary.

Karen is adapting to increased homework demands and the added responsibility of being in 3rd grade. She still refuses to read a book, but occasionally watches movies in English and reads the Hebrew subtitles. Tennis 2x a week started a few weeks ago, but Judo 2x a week will only begin next week. Then we’ll see if her afterschool activities are too much to manage along with her homework and trying to fit in playdates whenever possible. She’s incredibly independant, and loves going to the grocery store for me whenever possible…unless she’s got the iPad.

Both children see our adoption social worker who has known us since we first came home with Karen. Karen’s working on an adoption story book, using photos and text. I gave her piles of photos to work with, but otherwise, she won’t tell me a thing about the project. Ruti, the social worker, is also trying to help Matan understand his adoption story. I get a lot of pushback when people discover that we tell our children their adoption story at a young age. But the overwhelming evidence indicates that children who understand at least the basics of their adoption story tend to have an easier time with the reality of adoption as they get older. The worst time for a child to discover he/she is adopted is during their teen years. They often feel they’ve been lied to their whole life if they find out once they are older.

While Karen has always been interested in her adoption story, and often asks me to tell her the story at bedtime, Matan avoids any reference to adoption. This means he gets some of it, which makes me happy since we are always interested in his cognitive abilities and whether his difficulty speaking also affects his ability to understand. When Ruti began talking to him about being adopted, he denied and avoided. She then asked me to attend the next session with some photos from his adoption to make it more real for him. He’s seen all the photos, and I’ve tried talking to him about it in a positive way, but he’s always avoided it. With Ruti, she was able to redirect him back to the story I was telling him. She also guided me in telling the story in a way that made it easier for him to grasp.

Next week we start one-on-one meetings with the staff at Matan’s special education class. I’ve already received positive feedback from Ruti and some of his clinicians at pre-school that he seems to have made some pretty big steps forward over the summer break. Ruti feels he may be on the cusp of a breakout in terms of maturity/development. I’m not sure how much of it is the Ritalin, which I only give him on school days, and at half the lowest dosage available.

While Karen seems to be doing well in school, she has increased anxiety and panic attacks. She always had anxiety around dogs and other animals, but this week we had our first full blown panic attack when she thought she saw a huge spider. Her fear of dogs is improving with the work she’s been doing in animal therapy, but now she’s expanded her fears to include bugs of all types. She takes the stairs rather than get in an elevator where she saw a spider earlier that day.