Monday, March 31, 2008

The Seven of Us

Redeeming the Time

We are welcoming Spring Break with open arms. Its a much needed step back from teaching and studying. The kids ended their semester with improved grades and we're thankful for the breather. Of course, this much down time can present its own problems. Kristina does well with structure and so this week promises to bring its own challenges.

I remember reading an article in middle school about Americans' preoccupation with entertainment and the "vast American wasteland" it made of our time. We've made more conscientious choices about how we spend our time in the last six months. We don't have cable, but we still found it tempting to sit and veg in front of the television when there's only 6 channels to choose from. So we pulled the plug. Just pulled it. Unless there's something we definitively want to watch, it stays off. Initially this was met with some resistance. But when we provided the kids with alternatives, they quickly moved on.

We push them outside to play as much as possible. The neighborhood kids inevitable gather outside our house for a four square match or to ride bikes and skateboard. I'm typing away in the Adirondack chairs right now as eight children zip across the yard in a high drama game of hide and seek. The weather has been great and we've even been able to venture out to the pool. Kristina is re-learning how to swim, but she's determined!

We also limited the kids' access to the computer and video game system. For the last few years we only allowed them to play games on the weekends, but we found that when we wanted to go somewhere the kids would start whining about their "play time". So we changed their tech time to Friday afternoons after school. That leaves Saturday and Sunday open for family outings with no complaints.

Our kids are growing up fast and we want to teach them to be good stewards of their time. I'm sure part of this stems from my background as an English teacher, but we are encouraging our kids to be voracious readers. We have a wonderful local library and take full advantage its services. Robert makes a habit of taking one kid at a time with him to Starbucks on the weekend. They arrive at 6am, grab a hot chocolate, settle into the comfy chairs in the lobby, and read for an hour until they can watch the sun come up.

Books in Kristina's native language have been hard to come by. She has a New Testament in Russian that she reads diligently with a highlighter in hand. I'm thinking of purchasing her a parallel version with English in one column and Russian in the other. Before I left Ukraine, I managed to get a copy of Eragon in Russian for Kristina.She took one look at the size of the book (768 pages)and declared she couldn't read it, it was too big. With a little encouragement she made it through and was asking for the next book in the series. In hindsight, I wish I had purchased a few more books for her in Russian. Its been incredibly difficult to find anything online. I took her to the library in search of something in English she could understand and found a series of Hannah Montana books that she was interested in. Before I knew it she was reading two books a day and had exhausted the series. The search was on for something else that she would enjoy and comprehend. She recently found Tales of the Frog Princess, a series by E.D. Baker, and has been reading nonstop. These are age level books and we're amazed at her ability to understand and enjoy the literature. She carries her library card like it worth gold. Rarely does she goes out without a book tucked in her purse. We went for a picnic at the state park down the road yesterday. As we walked the boardwalk through the nature trail, we discovered they had built an enclosed glass gazebo that stretches out over the water on the lake. In the center of the structure are benches that provide scenic panoramic views of the waters. Guess where we're heading with our books tomorrow . . .

Friday, March 21, 2008

Well Oiled Machine

Kristina tends to be resourceful and has a strong work ethic. Its something that was instilled into her at the internot. Several mornings while we were in Ukraine, we arrived to find kids weaving brooms together from sticks they gathered in the yard to sweep the drive leading around the internot. Once we found Kristina mopping the floor of the orphanage playroom with an old shirt and a stick, though she claims to love American mops! I was impressed watching her darn a pair of socks that I would have thrown out. By the time she was done with them they looked quite good. We saw this side of her when she came for the summer in 2006. The dust buster was her best friend and I caught her vacuuming crumbs from the floorboard of the car several times. When she came home for good in December, she jumped right into cleaning and pitching in around the house. So much so, that often very few chores were left for the other children. Of course, the kids weren't complaining! But Robert and I knew we needed to find a balance for the burden of chores in the household. I came up with a list of household duties in Microsoft Excel that the kids could sign off on as they completed them (U, aren't you proud of me?). This gave us a good idea of who was (and was not) doing what in the house. The kids have really enjoyed choosing how they want to contribute. They know we expect them to choose at least four chores daily and they don't have privileges until these are done. Often they will complete their chores before school to free up playtime in the afternoon, learning time management in the process. As I was typing this, Robert started shouting at me to bring the camera. This, friends, is not on the chore chart!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Half Full Family

I took the day off work to catch up on some assignments from an online class I'm taking, to try and recoup from this cold, and to run some errands. One of my stops included Target where I picked up a set of headbands for the girls. Hannah has an old headband with nail polish stains that she uses to pull her hair back with when she washes her face. Last night Kristina asked to wear it to school and Hannah explained to her that it really isn't in good enough condition to wear as an accessory. When they brought the dilemma to me, I offered to get new headbands. I left the new headbands in the girls' room and figured that was that. Shortly after they returned from school, raised voices wafted down the hallway and prompted my attention.

"Mom, she says the headbands are hers. Aren't they for us to share?" Hannah asked. I explained they were indeed to share, at which point Kristina declared that she didn't want them. I shrugged and said, "Okay. Looks like you have some new headbands, Hannah." Of course, that's not the response she was hoping to get. She started to cry and go on and on about how in Russia she never had to share (malarkey). What if she gets lice? (right) Nataliya (her caregiver) didn't allow them to share hairbands in the internot. I responded, "You're not in Russia anymore, you're in America. In this family we share. Period. The children have never had lice, however if you get lice, I will buy shampoo that gets rid of them. Nataliya isn't in charge anymore, I am. I'm your mother and I say we share."

"I don't care; I don't want them," she insisted. I left the room and eventually had to return because I could hear her berating Hannah still. At that point I told her that until she had something nice to say, she couldn't say anything at all. (Sound familiar, Mom and Dad?) Hannah went outside to read her book in the chairs and give Kristina some space. Staying quiet is almost as difficult as staying still for Kristina! After a few minutes, Kristina made her way to my room red faced, hoping to rehash the conversation again. After attempting the same rationale she used before, I stopped her and reminded her she wasn't in Russia anymore, she wasn't in the internot anymore, and that as a family we share. Robert pointed out that even if we were wealthy and could buy lots of things, we would still share. God has called us to be good stewards of the things we have.

She stared at the floor for a long time, folding and refolding a pair of socks on the corner of my bed. She asked if I was mad at her. I said I was disappointed in her behavior, but not mad. She asked if she could go outside and apologize to Hannah. I told her I thought that would be a good idea. "Mom, you say we not rich, but we are rich because we have God," she tossed over her shoulder as she went to seek out her sister. Her insight continually catches me off guard. When she makes these observations, it makes all of the struggle worth while. Helping her learn to see things vertically, rather than horizontally, that's our desire as parents.

We've had a series of challenges lately that we've felt led to share. Its not all rough going though. Kristina is making great strides and brings us so much joy. As I type this, I can hear Robert, Kristina, and Hannah cackling with laughter at the kitchen table. Undoubtedly, someone has belched. Some things never change.

I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day.
-II Timothy 1:12

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Isn't there a saying out there that goes, "when it rains, it pours" or "bad things happen in threes"? Really, I'm not superstitious, but we've had our hands full lately. Kristina's mainstream teacher called to tell me about an incident at school. Don't worry, she didn't go Rocky Balboa on anyone, it was an obedience issue. I hate that things seem to be happening back to back for her, but nevertheless we found ourselves once again confronting her about her choices.

She wasn't exactly open to the conversation. She had a meltdown and went into a weeping, flinging herself on the bed, "everyone hates me, I can't be good, I hate school" rant. I know you gentle parents out there will cringe, but I don't put up with that sort of response. I put her in her room until she calmed down. When I let her know dinner was ready, she declared she wasn't eating and rolled over to face the wall. After dinner I went in to see if she had any homework she needed help with. She reluctantly pulled out her social studies book and a worksheet.

As we were working through the paper, I observed her stiffen slightly before she posed the question, "How old I am before I can go back to Ukraine?" I didn't react, but calmly responded that she would need to be eighteen to travel by herself. At that point she put her book down and regaled me with information about her uncle. Supposedly this uncle lived close to her maternal grandmother and told her he was coming to adopt her . . .but . . . we got there first. Now, mind you, we've never heard about this uncle and none of her paperwork shows that she has a living uncle. I think the uncle story is a defense mechanism for her. She is doubting her worth and coming to grips with the fact that her biological family could not and did not claim her. I explained this as tenderly as I could. I also reminded her that no matter where she traveled in the world, she would always be part of our family. No distance could change that fact. I told her I hoped we could take a trip back to Ukraine together one day.

Perhaps her nerves are raw from the number of discipline issues that have cropped up in the last week. I don't know what God is trying to teach her, or us for that matter, but I do know He is dealing with her on a number of levels. I am sympathetic to her transition, however, I simply won't allow her to wallow in who she has been. Kristina was an orphan. She is no longer an abandoned child. She has been redeemed by a family who loves her beyond measure. It is so easy for us to revert back to our past identities when things get hard. We are encouraging her to persevere, lay aside the old life, and remember that she is a child of promise. It will take time for her to be sanctified to that conclusion. We plan to hold her to the standards of her new calling with plenty of grace and love.

So there ends our terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. To top it all off, I missed spending the day with Sasha and dinner with my girlfriends because of this nasty cold. And you thought that picture at the beginning of the post was of Kristina . .

For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
-Romans 8:38-39

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Martian Child

Good movies seem to be few and far between. Last weekend we stumbled across Martian Child with John Cusack at the video store. Those of you who already adopted will have so many "oh, yeah" moments. Its worth a rent.

Cusack play an adoptive father who does his best as a new parent to a child who has been hurt and abandoned. I love that he realizes that even though he himself is a mess, he can love this child that is just as much of a mess. Favorite line from the movie: "I'm waiting for the man with the UV protection." The truth is, there are over a million children in the world waiting too.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Grace Abounding

Kristina's week hasn't much improved. I got a call from her ESOL teacher yesterday. It seems mommy's little angel clocked a boy in her class. (I'll pause for everyone to gasp.) The teacher had vague details, but a boy was bothering her and somehow it ended with him on the ground with a big bump and bruise on his forehead.

I had a parent teacher conference after school that day, so she beat me home. I found her kneeling on my bed, pillow clutched to her chest, pleading her case to Robert who already knew about the situation. While we don't excuse her behavior, I do understand why she hit the kid after hearing the details. She has had a survivor mentality for so long. In her mind if she didn't protect herself, no one would. We had to reaffirm the fact that her teachers can and will protect her while she is at school. I think she'll turn to one of them if this should happen again.

So next week she will pay for her transgression with a day of in school suspension. (Gasp again) She DID make the wrong decision. The other kid got punished too (and a souvenir from the fight). Robert looked at her as we were walking out the door this afternoon and jokingly said, "You're just a trouble maker, aren't you?" "What's that?" she asked. "You make trouble," he said. She thought for a minute, smiled, shrugged and said, "I guess so!" And the grace continues to flow . . .

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Blessed Assurance

I hate confronting sin. Its an ugly, unpleasant task. Dealing with my own shortcomings has always keep me busy enough, but as a mom I have to deal with the sin nature of five other little people. Its my job to call them on the carpet when they make wrong choices. In that role, I try to emulate the Father as much as possible: confronting sin plainly, offering forgiveness freely, and reassuring love unconditionally.

A situation arose with Kristina this week in which God called me to do all of these things. I learned she had done something and I was beyond disappointed. I dreaded the coming conversation in which I would have to confront her and hope that she would confess what I already knew.

This afternoon I took up my usual position in the Adirondack chairs under the tree in the front yard. I attempted to focus on the book on my lap, but found myself straining to listen for the school bus. Eventually the sound of their chatter drifted towards me as they made their way down the street. Skipping up the drive in her customized sneakers, she plopped her book bag at my feet and fell into the empty chair next to me. I waited until the other children wandered off to begin their homework before I broached the dreaded conversation.

I wish I could lead into a sweet anecdote about how she readily confessed the transgression, but that just isn't what happened. I asked. She denied. I asked again. She lied. I revealed the proof and she became speechless. Her eyes grew round and large and she seemed to shrink within the space of her chair. Once it was out in the open I explained that her choice was not one that we approved of and we were disappointed with her actions. It was clear she knew how serious the situation was as she glanced over her shoulder to the closed front door of the house and then back to me. I had never seen her look that way before. There was something about her face that made my heart sink before she even spoke the words. "Are you sending me back to Ukraine?" She sat motionless waiting for my answer as tears slipped silently down her cheeks.

It was an unfathomable question. "There is nothing you could ever do that would separate you from this family. There is no lie you could ever tell that would make us love you any less. You are one of us and you will always be one of us." Her chest heaved a sigh as if she had been holding her breath. Her face softened as the terrified look melted away. She believed me.

As she hugged me, I contemplated what would cause her to think such a thing. Obviously, her past. She had been forsaken for a lot less. Those she has counted on to love and protect her have abused and abandoned her. We discussed the consequences for her decision and she gathered her things from the lawn. She has spent the remainder of the afternoon grounded in her room. I swear I've never seen a happier punished kid in my life!

The LORD is compassionate and gracious,
Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness.
He will not always strive with us,
Nor will He keep His anger forever.
He has not dealt with us according to our sins,
Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him.
As far as the east is from the west,
So far has He removed our transgressions from us.
Just as a father has compassion on his children,
So the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him
-Psalm 103:8-13

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Substance of Things Hoped For

So today makes three months that we've been home; three months that we've been a family. Its amazing how far we've come. Much of the progress and change we don't realize until we can look back on it. Its like looking at pictures from years ago and seeing the differences. Funny how time lends clarity to things.

Speaking of time, Kristina completed an autobiography assignment for ESOL class this week. The project required her to write down significant dates and events from her life, plot them on a timeline, and put them in a paragraph. All of it was completed at school, so I didn't see it until she brought it home. This is her final product.

One thing in particular stood out to me: the fact that she had written that our family had adopted her in the summer of 2006. As most of you know we hosted Kristina through Frontier Horizon during the summer, but we adopted Kristina at the end of 2007. I figured it was a "typo". When I asked her about this she said, "Yes, you adopted me the summer I come to America." I questioned her further and she went on to explain. "I am family that summer. You just came for me a little while later." She stood with one hand on her hip, curling a strand of hair wrapped around her finger, waiting for me to make sense of it. Strange how she considers the legalities of the adoption process as a simple transaction that had taken place after the fact. In her mind and heart, she became one of us during that warm and lazy summer that seems so long ago.

Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. - Hebrews 11:1