Family Update :: January 2015

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This blog has obviously ceased to be a regular place of reflection for me. Four months since the last post?! At least it’s apparent that I’m not trying to win anyone’s approval, which is a good thing when it comes to online living, I think. I started this blog as a place to focus on the beautiful things in life. In the midst of a life of toddler parenting I craved beauty and peace in the chaos, resulting in posts about photography and crafts and the golden moments plucked from a hectic life. Then it became a venting place about our fostering and a place to grasp the faith that upholds us. I wonder what the future is for this spot. For today, it’s a place to share my thoughts about what’s going on in our family these days.

Big thought #1: We’re probably going to move Anthony out of the Spanish Immersion program. I love the program overall and it’s been amazing seeing Tyler become bilingual before our eyes. But Anthony has so much stacked against him: serious speech problems, probable ADHD and Sensory Processing Disorder, a non-existent academic foundation to build on, and difficulty handling challenging situations without melting down. As I’ve been substituting in the Spanish Immersion program often this year, I’ve become progressively more worried about whether Anthony will be able to take it…and that’s in the second grade immersion class! I see what Tyler’s doing in third grade and get seriously concerned. Not to mention that if he stays in the immersion program, I’ll be driving kids to four different schools once he’s in 4th grade, which will be right about the time school will be getting really hard. Will we be kicking ourselves in a few years if we don’t move him? He’s such a sweet kid and so enthusiastic about learning when it interests him. We’re thinking the Spanish component just might push him over the edge in a few years. But in immersion you can’t move in the middle elementary grades because you’ve missed out on too much English learning. (It evens out around Jr. High, when the immersion kids score higher on both Language Arts and Math portions of standardized tests than even the straight English program kids do. Amazing!)  Anyway, I’ve been pondering it, Greg is really leaning towards pulling him out, and we have a meeting with the teacher and principal soon.

Big thought #2: We’ve offered to put Midge into our local elementary school starting next fall in kindergarten and keep her M-F at our house. Her dad was initially thrilled with the idea. We’d give her a high performing school to go to, do the homework routine, take care of discipline, school interactions, and structure while he’d be fun daddy on the weekends and whatever weeknights he felt like taking her out. I’m not counting my chickens before they hatch. Yes, he was excited about it the first time I brought it up, but I told him not to make any decisions right away but to think about it. The last time I talked to him (not about that), he purposely brought up that he’s cracking down on discipline with her and that she’s been much better. I got the vibe that means he’s hoping he can handle her on his own. He says he is worried about their local elementary school which is super low performing, and he’s worried about her behavior. She’s become completely spoiled and out of control, wreaking havoc at both home and school. It’s bad enough that her preschool teacher tells her dad that her behavior at this age is a huge red flag (I agree! If she’s out of control at preschool, how will she be at age 12?!) But I’m not revisiting the subject until he gets a job (supposed to happen in February) and thinks about putting her in full time preschool/daycare. In the meantime, we’ll pray and let him see how things go with his best efforts at discipline at home.

Big thought #3: Christmas vacation was really great. This is the first time I was not aching to send the kids back to school before it was time. That alone marks a huge victory in our “new” family! Behaviors still come in waves, but overall, things are worlds from where they were a year and a half ago. I am SO thankful.

Big thought #4: Parenting kids adopted from foster care is hard. The relationships are so fragile – not anchored in years of attachment forged through sweet infant years. It often feels like rock climbing… just when you feel like you’re getting somewhere, you fall off the rock and it seems like you’re at the bottom of the cliff face again. You’re not really at the bottom, and if you look back at where you came from you’ll see it, but it still feels like it. Every day is a new chance to try to parent these kids well. And every day I fail them in some way or another. Yes, I know it’s like that for all of our kids, bio, adopted, and foster, but it’s especially fragile for the fosters, who are still trying to figure out if you’re really going to love them through all the mistakes (theirs and mine). Each of my mistakes is tearing down a delicate relationship that’s been so tricky to build. At first I thought if I tried harder, I’d do better, and there is an element of teeth-grinding effort necessary. But I also latched on to this verse: If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. Old things have passed away. Behold, new things have come! If I want to show the kind of unconditional love and grace that Jesus offers, I need to be abiding in Jesus, not increasing my own efforts. I’m aware of two things: the way I love these kids will shape the way they think God loves them. That’s a huge burden. But secondly, God assures me that if they are meant to be His children, nobody can snatch them from His hand. I’m so thankful for that.

Please be praying for our family. That we’d have the wisdom to make the hard decisions and the love and grace to wrap around every child every day.

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School Choice: second & fourth grades!

Wow. Do we really have a kid who’s going to be in fourth grade next year? That’s one of the grades I taught…I have never pictured myself having a child the age of my former students. Crazy.

We are in the school choice window for our district, which means that if you want your kids to go to a different school from the assigned elementary school for your neighborhood, you have to decide now. Our lives are so up in the air right now that I have no idea where we will all be for the next school year.

Tyler is currently attending a Title I (at-risk, low income) school which has a Spanish Immersion Charter School program. I LOVE it. So much. The kids are diverse in every way. The families value different cultures and languages. I love hearing music and conversation in different languages at school events and in the hallways. Right now the whole day is in Spanish, with the kids changing teachers (so their own students don’t ever hear them speak English!) and teaching English for 30 minutes a day. Next year, it will increase to 60 minutes of English with the rest being Spanish. We are lucky that the program can even extend into Jr. High and High School if we’re interested. At that level, the kids take Science in Spanish instead of English, and they take a Spanish elective class for immersion kids. I have several really good mom friends now at Tyler’s school and I love the teachers, staff, and program.

Tyler, on the other hand, has complained to me about once a week that he wants to go to an “English” school. He’s not that convincing, really. He only says it before school when I think he’d just rather stay home and continue playing legos. After school, it’s all smiles and chatter about his great day. Still, I wonder if the idea of an “English” school will always interest him. At his teacher conference, his wonderful teacher told me he is soaking up the program so well. I wasn’t sure what he was really capable of producing in Spanish until she showed me a recent writing assignment he did. Oh my. His Spanish vocabulary is WAY beyond what he admits to at home! His sentences were perfectly composed with reflexive verbs and proper tenses and even correct adjective endings. Seriously? I don’t know that I could have done that in High School Spanish class. I was so thrilled and relieved to see that, and to know that his teacher feels he is thriving in the immersion program. When I told Tyler that his teacher hopes he’ll continue on in the program next year, he said, “Okay. I’ll do it,” and ran off to play. See, I told you his complaints about “Spanish school” weren’t all that serious!

So we’re all set for Tyler for next year. But Jake is totally up in the air. Luckily, we don’t have to decide for him until the last minute because of the program he is in. We decided last year to move him from our wonderful assigned school to a nearby school with a special challenge program for 3rd-6th grades. The idea of the program is that they group the kids who need extra challenges into one class for each grade, so that the whole class is aimed at a higher level. Greg was in this type of program as an elementary schooler, and I taught this type of program and LOVED the cool stuff I could do with those kids that I couldn’t do in my regular classes.

The problem is, there just aren’t enough kids who have tested into this program at his grade level. Jake’s teacher thinks that the decline in the number of kids who test into this program is related to the rising class sizes in the lower grades over the past few years. So for third grade, his class has been a regular class with just a cluster of kids from the program, like any school would have. We knew this ahead of time and moved him anyway so that it would be an easier transition than moving him after third or fourth grade. I’m glad we did…he’s had a great teacher and made the school move so easily without any complaints about missing his friends or his old school. But NOW they’re telling us there might not be enough kids to have a full class again next year for fourth grade!

I’m frustrated because I’m not sure I would have moved him if we had known this last year. But what’s done is done. I can’t complain about this year’s experience and am happy with our choice with the information we had. But I AM wondering about next year. If they don’t have a full class for the program, I’m not really interested in messing with carpools and the longer drive and all that taking him to that school entails.

So then I’m left with three options. I could homeschool him for fourth grade and see if they get enough kids to have the full class challenge program in fifth grade and send him back that year. I could send him back to his previous school, although in my mind, I would probably want him to stay there for 4th-6th rather than moving him back to the new school YET AGAIN even if they have a full class program in 5th and 6th grades. Or I could send him back to the tiny little canyon school where he started in kindergarten before I pulled him out to homeschool him. I loved that little school and he has only positive memories about it.

What I choose to do with Jake next year fully depends on the new little people who will be joining our family hopefully before the next school year starts. If they are school aged and native Spanish speakers, I can send them to Tyler’s program so I’ll be able to make Jake’s school decisions based only on what’s best for him. If they are school aged and English speakers, I will want to factor in what might be best for the new kids as well as Jake (I have already vowed not to have kids in THREE different elementary schools!) If they aren’t school aged, I will have only Jake’s school needs to think about, but I have to admit I’m intimidated about trying to homeschool a fourth grader with needy little ones underfoot!

We won’t find out until April or May about next year’s program for Jake’s school, and even then, if we don’t have our new kids yet, I don’t plan on making a decision about Jake until we know who’s in our family, or until August when I’d have to start homeschooling if that’s my choice!

Phew. I’m thankful for so many options, and intimidated by them all at the same time. Once again, I’m grateful that we have the LORD guiding us through these decisions each year. Even when we don’t feel sure about the future, He knows what the future holds!

Good Day! (and ramblings about school choice)

Jake on his first day of first grade in 2010.

I’m just popping in to tell you that I’m having a great day! Isn’t it nice when you don’t know quite what to expect and you are pleasantly surprised?

I’m spending the evening with my parents, which I do off and on when my in-laws watch the kids on Wednesday nights. Tonight we’re going to be hanging out in their quiet house and sewing something I’ll show you later. But what I’m really excited about is this morning. I’ve been in the throes of school-choice decision making for our boys for next year. I am thrilled with Tyler’s dual language immersion school. I like the people and the school and the program fits his personality and will be such an asset to him in life. So he will stay there until I feel differently. But I’ve been agonizing about Jake.

Choosing schools is such a hard thing for me. There are just so many wonderful ways to educate a child and I want to do all of them. In fact, if you ever hear of a school that is an immersion Spanish school that meets three days a week and homeschools the other two days and is on a year-round schedule and teaches using the theories of multiple intelligences and has a gifted magnet class and encorages interaction with nature and self-guided learning and is free and is not just for Christians and is near my house would you please let me know? In the meantime, I’ll keep working on making a real life decision.

Don’t we as parents have so many things to worry about? It seems like every choice we make for our kids can have lifelong effects! I know it’s not always true, but it seems like it. I’ve been pondering three options for Jake.

  • Our Neighborhood School where Jake currently attends. We are lucky to have what I describe as a private-like school as our neighborhood school. You know, the ones where the PTA is so involved and the community so into fundraising that you still have music and art and dance and olympic day and field trips and assemblies and all that? In a public school. With nice people. Close by.
  • A New Charter School Nearby which emphasizes teaching with the Multiple Intelligences. Which means nothing unless you’re a geeky ex-teacher like me who gets thrills from things like this. Innovative, different, successful, and perfect for kids who want to explore information more than just learning it. They employ different teaching techniques to bring the curriculum to life in artistic, physical, musical, and other ways in addition to the standard teaching ways. So cool. And it also has a part time homeschooling program. Intriguing.
  • The GATE Magnet School for our district, where kids identified as gifted can go to a class of just GATE kids and high achievers for accelerated learning with more depth. This one is close to my heart, as I’m a former GATE magnet class teacher and (in spite of the crazy parents) count those years as some of my favorites as a teacher. So much learning can happen in that format. So much fun can be had with those kids! So much deeper can you teach, with a whole class of GATE kids.
I was leaning towards the charter school until our neighbor went to their information meeting (I’m planning to go to one in a week or two) and I wasn’t thrilled with her report about what happened and what was said there. Not that it’s not great for a lot of kids, but maybe not a good fit for our family and our goals? Not sure. Still pondering and I’ll probably still go to their meeting just to hear for myself.
But this morning I had a chance to tour the GATE magnet school, and oh, my, was I in heaven. I was worried that I’d be disappointed and overly critical of any other GATE program because I’d be comparing them to the one I taught. But I was so impressed! Actually, the third grade teacher I heard from made me feel like I was a slouch when I was teaching GATE. The level and kind of work they are doing in there is amazing, and I left the morning walking on air. They have an impressive set of teachers and a lot of special curriculum aimed at helping gifted kids go wider and deeper into any topic. They also have most of the great programs I’ve come to enjoy at his current school! The best of both worlds, it seems. Biggest downfall: it’s farther away. Sigh. 12 minutes as opposed to 3 minutes. But in the grand scheme of things, what’s an extra 9 minutes, when it looks like the kind of program that would suit Jake perfectly, and the kind of school I would love to get involved in. Although there’s still time to change my mind, I’m so excited to have a choice that I’m so excited about! (Yes, I know I’m being repetitive…that’s what happens when I’m happy!)

What a day…schools, sewing, family, and leftover roasted vegetables for lunch. Score.

Mexican Independence? Why not? Let’s Celebrate!

When enrolling Tyler in the dual language immersion program to learn English and Spanish, we (especially Greg) were a little apprehensive about there being a disproportionate amount of celebrating Latin American heritage, to the detriment of celebrating American heritage. That remains to be seen. I admit to some confusion today when Tyler told me, “Mommy! We learned to say the Pledge of Allegiance today!” In Spanish, he tells me. What? Why in the world would they teach you the Pledge in Spanish? There are 5-10 minutes a day in English…couldn’t the pledge be 30 seconds of it? It just seemed so strange to pledge a country’s flag in a different language. The red flag in my mind was waving, especially considering our apprehension.

However, I must keep in mind that the information about school is coming from a not always reliable source. A five year old who sometimes blurs the line between reality and “what I wish happened” at school. As it turns out, there was no Spanish language pledge, rather a cute little song about the flag in Spanish. Phew.

But I did not complain last week when our language learning parent group threw a big fiesta/fundraiser to celebrate el 16 de Septiembre. Which, as I have learned, is Mexican Independence Day. (I always thought that was Cinco de Mayo? I have a lot to learn!) Whatever we were celebrating, it was a good excuse to get the school together for a wonderful evening in the courtyard. I am not going to complain when delicious carnitas tacos are served at ridiculously low prices. Sure beats the usual school picnic/barbecue fare, in my book. And these things…what are they? I need to eat a thousand more. And I think I ate at least five that night.

An evening outdoors with family…

and new friends…

What could be better? Oh yes, mariachi music. I LOVE mariachis! I guess it comes from being raised in Southern California and having a family who values other cultures. This evening was right up my alley.

This is a school where the conversation before kindergarten drop-off turns to which used clothing store has better prices on kids’ stuff. It’s a bit different from our other school situation. And I feel right at home…even if they do sing to the American flag in Spanish.

Notes from Today:

  • First Day of School 2011. Note to self. Remember that Tyler gets out at 1:00, not 1:20. I almost made the unforgivable error of showing up 20 minutes late to pick up my child from his first day of kindergarten. I think God intervened, and I had a sudden epiphany about the 1:00 pick up time.
  • I went to Target twice today. The first time, at 12:15 p.m. to pick up an epi-pen with a pharmacist label on it for Tyler’s school. It was interesting to note how many moms were gliding through Target, child-free, stopping to chat with other child-free moms and glowing in their aloneness and the air conditioning. The second time, on my own while in-laws babysat, to look for new thermos’s and sippy cups. This time the store was full of junior high and high schoolers and their parents, scouring the place to fill their teacher’s supply lists. The guy  behind me in line told his son, “I think this is the last package of graph paper in the whole city.” Whoa. That’s rough.
  • There’s got to be something wrong with someone who spends forty minutes scouring Verizon’s website to find the perfect ringtone for her new phone. I think I have commitment issues. That, and I really don’t want something jarring, but I really do want something in the praise and worship genre. I really don’t want someone calling to the crowd, “Let me hear you!” in the middle of my ringtone, either. That’s a bit strange when it’s coming from your purse.
  • Interesting to note the differences between my two sons’ schools, even on the first day. Jake’s PTA membership costs $10, Tyler’s $7. Hmmm. I thought this was a national organization? I think there might be some price-gouging going on here. To buy a t-shirt from Jake’s school at Olympic Day: $30 “donation”, to buy a t-shirt from Tyler’s school on the first day: $5. School supply list for Jake included about 20 items. School supply list for Tyler “bring $7 if you can donate, and the checked item below.” My checked item was three apples: one red, one green, one yellow. ??????  Not sure what that’s about. But can you guess which school is in an upper income bracket and which is in a lower income bracket? Introducing Tyler to the non upper income world is one of the many reasons I’m excited about his new school.
  • Speaking of Tyler: first day of school and he didn’t even mention anything about not understanding what was going on. He loved it. Had a great day. Got to lead Simon Says. Smiles and waves seven fingers over his head singing, “Siete! Siete! Siete!” because Seven is the number today. And best of all, “I want to say goodbye to that kid over there, Mommy. I made him my new friend today.” Only downfall: they didn’t play on the playground yet. He’s drooling over those shiny silver trikes. Could be that the triple digit heat kept them from getting a full recess. Maybe next week.
  • Two hours to myself. Our school timing works out just right so that when I get home from dropping Tyler off, Midge naps for two hours and I am alone. The house is quiet. I was able to clean the downstairs of all the post vacation/pre school clutter, fold and put away a load of laundry, do a load of dishes, make some phone calls and write an email, all while still having time to read my bible and write out this week’s to do list. Let me just say that it was weird. I felt a kind of guilty pleasure in it all. Will this be my life for the next few months? I think I could get used to it. Or I’ll adopt a few more kids. Either/Or.

Tyler Got In!

I’m on a bit of an adrenaline high right now…just got the mail and Tyler got in to our district’s free public school Spanish/English Dual Language Immersion Program! We’ve been waiting for months (thinking about it for years, actually) and now we know. But I’m suddenly getting cold feet…it’s such a huge decision to make a schooling choice for a child.

I found out about this amazing program before I was even pregnant with Jake. The kids are taught primarily in Spanish in the elementary grades, working their way up and getting more English instruction each year. They graduate from 6th grade being totally bilingual and biliterate (not just your casual “I can talk to you in Spanish,” but “I can read and write and understand and speak Spanish like a native speaker.”) What a gift to give a child. There is a 7th-8th grade program at our assigned junior high school, too, and then a 9th-12th grade program at a high school further away. But for now I only have to worry about this seven year commitment in the elementary grades.

I love speaking other languages, and although I was quite fluent in Spanish several years ago when I was speaking it more often and teaching kids whose native language was Spanish, I have forgotten quite a lot. Not to mention my eight month stint in Germany, where I became proficient in that language, and my brain now thinks I should throw out any word in any foreign language and others should understand. I am amazed by those who speak five, six, seven languages. I have trouble compartmentalizing it all. But one other language (especially one so widely spoken in California) is so valuable, and not too difficult if you’re speaking it daily.

I knew that Jake’s “need-to-know-what’s-going-on and don’t-like-feeling-out-of-control” personality would not be a good fit for this program, so we didn’t pursue it for him. Tyler, on the other hand, is a go-with-the-flow kind of guy. Sociable, talkative, friendly, easy-going. However, he’s also stubborn and even at his fabulous preschool he has days where he tries to refuse to go and says he hates school. (Then he comes home and has totally forgotten all about it and tells me what a great day he had.) I’m worried that it will be a hard transition for him. I’m worried that I won’t be able to hack it if he starts complaining and says he hates it. Then again, if he says he hates a wonderful program that he actually loves this year, maybe I’ll be able to have a little perspective when he says it next year. The fact that he says he doesn’t want to learn Spanish makes no difference to me. I’ve learned that kids never want to do something that seems strange and intimidating. But who knows? Don’t you wish you could predict the future?

The biggest problem…the program is at a different school from where Jake will be next year. Most of the time I’m pretty okay with that idea. Actually, no matter what, he’ll be going to a different school from Jake’s, but the other kindergarten choice is much closer and isn’t a seven year commitment. Yikes. Feeling so uncertain right now. And if we get a new foster child in the fall, I could be driving to three different schools when you count preschool. Yikes again.

On the other hand, I think about any kids we might adopt in the future. Once you have one kid in the school, their siblings are automatically accepted. There are so many obstacles that kids have when they’re coming out of the foster system…wouldn’t it be great to be able to give them the big advantage of bilingualism?

Okay, I’m just typing out loud here and I know my thoughts are all over the place. Such is life. Every decision we make seems to be life-altering. I know that I could pull Tyler from the program at any time if I want to, although they do request you stay. I know that being bilingual would be a great gift for Tyler. He could make twice as many friends in the world! He could have an advantage over English only job applicants! He could be used mightily by God!

I have been thinking about this program for years and have been excited about it for months, yet the time comes to pull the trigger and I’m nervous. Now I have no more time to obsess about such things. I hear Midge waking up from her nap and there’s dinner to cook.