Monday, December 31, 2012

Thoughts on the Russian Adoption Situation

If you happened to hear, Russia is planning to sign a ban that will end all international adoptions between the US and Russia, effective January 1, 2013.  Most feel this is a result of the US calling into question Russia's human rights record via a law which would not allow Russians suspected of human rights violations to enter the US.  This is probably most likely the case as only a month ago, Russia and the US re negotiated the legislation that governs adoption between the two countries, although this is probably also indicative of how fragile the US/Russia relations really are, after years of a poor diplomatic relationship.

What is most tragic is that in doing so, Russia, like many other countries, is refusing to address the issue of child welfare within her borders.  In this case, voiceless and sometimes nameless orphans are being use as pawns in a power struggle between two countires.  (Lest you think I am kidding, the voiceless and nameless parts are not merely metaphors.  Many orphanages are infamous for their silence because the children inside have learned that crying does not produce results.  And I have personally seen a blind baby who was somewhere between 6 months and 12 months old who was in an orphanage and had yet to be named because the orphanage staff didn't really think it mattered.)  In the last 20 years, 60, 000 children have been adopted out of Russia by American families.  That figure is really a small percentage of the total number of children living in orphanage systems there.  But for 60, 000 kids, the ability to be adopted mattered.  And Russia is unwilling to concede that for those kids who are able to be matched with adoptive families, that it is unfair to punatively restrict those adoptions.

Really it's symptomatic of a larger problem, one that many countries, former Soviet bloc, third world, and first world share.  The problem?  The inability of governments to care for kids in need.  For many kids in countries like Russia, it's about bleak orphanages where staff do not interact with kids on a regular basis, where the kids are in cribs for hours on end, where disease or even racial make up might cause a caregiver to say that a certain child should not be held or kissed because they are "dirty."  For kids in countries like Haiti, it's about a deep seeded poverty that envelopes everything and causes living parents to place their kids for adoption with the hope and prayer that adoption or at the very least, orphanage care, will be a way for their children to eat and maybe go to school, all while people in positions of authority are caught up in a survival mode type thinking that creates situations where much is done in the name of money and less is done in the best interest of the children.  And for those of us who live in the US, it's about a broken foster care system that cannot communicate well across state lines, where biological family ties are valued more than common sense, where social workers are underpaid and overworked.  There are of course, bright spots in all of these situations.  Nannies who do care, orphanage directors who work tirelessly to promote family preservation and adoption, dedicated social workers who work in the best interest of the children.  But by and large, governments are not good at serving kids. 

I don't know what the outcome will be for those in Russian orphanages.  I can only hope our state department will do its best to reach a solution that helps the families in process and the children who would benefit from adoption.  Most of us will probably hear this story and by next month, have already forgotten it even happened simply because we are not personally effected by the ban.  But I can also hope that this serves as a reminder of how easy it is for children to become afterthoughts, for people and governments everywhere to minimize the role they have in changing the lives of kids or, at worst, know the role they have and act in ways that cause more harm than good.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Act Your Age

I'm sure I'm not alone in reminding my children of their actual age versus the age they are acting.  I actually try not to do that because I think in some ways it minimizes the feelings a kid might have.  (For example, if you are 6 and pouting in disappointment because didn't get to play a game before bedtime, being told to act your age isn't very helpful because quite frankly, pouting is a 6 year old behavior.  It's better to give them some ideas of appropriate behavior for dealing with disappointment.)  That said, I do say it from time to time.

Apparently more than I think because last week at Grandma's, Zeke started throwing a fit and Kenson quickly piped up, "Zeke, how old are you?"  Conleigh, who was sitting on the couch next to the two of them, immediately jumped in.  "Yeah, Zeke you are acting like a one year old!"

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Gingerbread Aftermath

Still working on getting my Christmas photos up and organized.  But in the meantime, enjoy the aftermath of the kindergarten class project:  build a gingerbread house.  Yes, they are eating them approximately ten days after building them.  Yes, they both licked the houses and tried to gnaw the frosting off.  Yes, it took them a few minutes to admit defeat.  Conleigh was first.  Her words were "Mama, this don't taste so good."

Monday, December 24, 2012

Snow Day

First snow day of the season on Thursday...Zeke enjoyed all of it and didn't even cry about it being cold.  It was really cold so they didn't get to stay out too long but later they tried to sled down the small slope in the backyard.  It was pretty unsuccessful-a lot of scooting on bottoms on a sled but they all seemed to be happy.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Jingle Bells According to Conleigh

For full effect, don't just read it.  Sing and read.

"Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way!
Old McDonald hmm hmm hmm
in a one horse open sleigh!"

Of course, when I corrected her, she told me how wrong I was because that's how they sing it in music class.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Catching up with Elf on the Shelf

Here's what Pete and Oswald have been up to:

They were a little too fast for me and I missed getting a photo of them eating our peanut butter (head first in the jar of course).  I also missed snapping a picture of one of them in an antique Mason jar while the other one sat on the lid to keep him in.  (Don't know which one did what job.  We haven't written a letter to them to ask.)
Some hijinx involving our family portraits...Even Zeke thought this was funny.  He would point at it and laugh several times throughout the day.

It's Super Kenson!

An angel and the devil...

Playing a little catch

Hanging out with baby Jesus.  And no, the elves did not put the pretend fast food menu there.  That's just how we roll around here.

The aftermath from when the elves toliet papered the Christmas tree


Wednesday, December 12, 2012


Raising kids whose lives criss cross international borders has a way of humbling me.  It's not something I anticipated.  And maybe the feeling really isn't accurately described as being humbled.  I just know that there are times where I find myself amazed at the gifts I have been given and that somehow that makes me feel little and special all at the same time.

When the big kids started kindergarten this fall-that was one of those times.  They went knowing about half of their sounds and Kenson was already starting to put words together when given sounds orally.  I knew that they would soon be reading.  That knowledge put a lump in my throat.  In Haiti, the literacy rate is around 50%.  That means that just from a pure statistical point of view, if my kids had stayed in Haiti, the odds were that one of them would never learn to read.  To imagine that one of my kids would be illiterate, that grounds my feet in gratitude.

Then yesterday, I took Conleigh to the doctor.  She has had a stomach bug since early Monday morning, complete with vomiting and a really bad stomach ache.  I was pretty sure it was just a stomach bug but after an afternoon of no vomiting and her crying and moaning and writhing around, I decided to take her in just in case it was something else.  After the nurse took her vitals and asked about why we were there, we were left alone in the small hospital waiting room.  Conleigh was straddling my lap, her head buried in my chest.  I couldn't help but think of the countless Haitian mamas who were probably in my very situation, who had a baby whose tummy was hurting tonight, whose baby might have been vomiting or had diarrhea.  How many of those mamas really just wanted some reassurance from a doctor or a nurse that their baby was going to be okay, that it wasn't cholera or some other deadly illness?  How many of those mamas were uncertain about their babies' well being but had no where to turn and instead kept their babies home in a small tin roof shack or tarp tent?  (Just as an aside, there are approximately 2.5 doctors per 10, 000 people in Haiti and 1.1 nurses per 10, 000 people.  In my town of 5, 000 people we have 3 doctors plus several physicians' assistants and one nurse practicioner.  That doesn't count the various specialist doctors who make weekly trips to our town and certainly doesn't take into account the US average which is 53 doctors per 10, 000 people.)

Yes, those are the moments that leave me feeling small and special and sad and grateful and overwhelmed all at the same time, humbled by my position as an American mom.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

These Kids!

Despite the army men in the sink, the toothpaste that is always on the bathroom counter, and the mountain of laundry, can't help but love these kids!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Advent: Music to My Soul

If you are looking for a different take on an advent devotional, I'd encourage you to check out this daily email devotional that our former pastor has created.  It's focused on the classic songs of Christmas and includes a devotional thought plus a link to hear the song.  I think it's been a great way to incorporate a little Christmas worship into my day.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Elf on a Shelf: The Cheapskate, Grace Based Version

Last year, everyone one and their dog was posting pictures on Pinterest of this cute little project called Elf on a Shelf.  The idea comes from a book of the same title, with a storyline that goes something like this:  Santa has sent an elf to your house to see if you have been naughty or nice.  The elf himself is a bit naughty and likes to cause trouble at night while everyone is asleep.  The last part I loved; the first part about the elf watching your child's behavior, not so much.  Plus the book with an elf was like $30. 

So I opted to do my own version.  I bought an elf set off of Ebay (Hallmark ornaments actually) for less than $10.  Then I wrote my own letter from Santa, explaining why the elves had arrived at our house.  In our letter, Santa explains how he doesn't really have a naughty and nice list but that he wants to be like Jesus and give gifts to people who don't deserve them.  He asks my kids to do their best to love others and to love Jesus but to remember that they are going to make mistakes and that they can ask Jesus to forgive them.  The letter goes on to say that the elves, Pete and Oswald, have trouble understanding about grace and making good choices so Santa would like my kids to teach the elves about those two things.  Santa says he will pick them up on the 24th, when he brings the kids their presents.  The catch is that the elves' magic only works at night and that touching the elves can make them lose their magic.  (We shored that one up when the elves had to take not one but two sick days due to little hands touching them.  The elves camped out on one of my primtive pillows with Kleenex blankets, cough drops, thermometers, and bandaids and wrote the kids a note saying how they were sick from people touching them and that Santa wanted to come get them but that they talked him out of it.)

For us, I was really unsure for the longest time how I wanted to approach the whole Santa thing as I don't want my kids to lose sight of the purpose of Christmas nor do I want to lie to my kids.  But then I saw an amazing letter a mom wrote to her kids who had outgrown Santa that explained how Santa was a way for her to teach her kids that believing in something, having faith in something is important.  The letter did a great job of explaining how God is not like Santa Claus but how believing in something we can't see is a good thing.  That letter was the encouragement I needed to step up my Santa efforts with my kids.

D and I have had a great time coming up with ideas for the elves.  So far they have left the kids a note written in dry erase marker on the bathroom mirror, had two sick days, brought powdered sugar doughnuts and made snow angels in the powdered sugar, hung off of the dining room chandelier, and tried to fight off the tooth fairy who came to claim Kenson's lost tooth (with the story of their valiant attempt to save Kenson's tooth told via a letter). 

Gotta love these little guys...

The elves' arrival-they broke out of the package before the kids could open it

Snow angels in the powdered sugar