First Week of School

The children officially started back to public school this week, allegedly, some of them.

Anber has been very brave, going to Kindergarten all by herself.  Barrett spent the entire weekend screaming and throwing toddler tantrums, and so we knew he was not ready for school yet.  It is really sad that he struggles with these issues, because he loves learning and is very advanced in math especially.  He can add and subtract in his head, and is so good at it!  But he still struggles with emotional regulation, even though he has come so far and we have tried for so long.  His tantrums are not as bad or as often, but they are really bad – as in “I’m-going-to-kill-you!” and describing how he will do it, that bad, quoting things from his childhood from before he was even verbal – so at the very exact last minute, he stayed home instead of starting kindergarten.  He has come so far, and is doing so much better, but we don’t feel like he is safe for school yet and don’t want to set him up to fail.  Maybe in Spring, maybe next year.  We will see.

Not only did Anber – our queen of anxiety and shyness and selective mutism –  go into the school, and stay in her class, but she did it without her very best friend Barrett.  We were so proud of her!  And she is loving it!

Kirk is loving his class, too, which is such a relief to us.  He even has new friends and knows their names and tell us all about them!  I am so glad for him, and it is good modeling for Barrett, who so badly wants to have friends but is going to have to stop screaming to do so.  He will also have to stop cutting his own bangs at some point, if he wants to make a good impression!

In the middle of all our IEP drama, though, we struggled with an incident with Kirk.   We took him, as usual, to the therapy center we love where all of our children receive services for speech, occupational, and physical therapies (plus feeding therapy for Kyrie and sensory and social skills therapy for Alex).  Except the speech teacher had changed, and when she came out to get Kirk from the waiting room, this conversation happened:

“What happened to your hand?”

Kirk, unfazed, explained he has CP.

She followed up with, “You’re not left handed, are you?

What kind of question is that, from someone who works at a therapy center?

Of course he’s not left handed, if that is his weak side from Cerebral palsy.  That hand can barely even move.  If you touch his left hand, it feels like there are no bones in there.   Why would he be left handed?   We were shocked.

Not wanting to be ugly, but needing to advocate for Kirk, we did go ahead and report that to the owner.   While Kirk was not offended and didn’t miss a beat, some other family could have.  It was an easy opportunity for education with someone who will be working with a lot of other children like Kirk.

It’s been a weird week, Owasso.

When we knew we were cleared to go back to public school, we were a little worried about Alex and how he would adjust.  But he is doing very well thus far… at least according to him!  Allegedly, he is staying in his classroom, and staying in his seat, and staying “very quiet so all the other students can learn.”  We will see, buddy, how true that is!  He is such a character, and I am glad he is having fun at school.

Sweet Mary did not get to go to school.  She wants to mainstream with an ASL interpreter at the same school as her siblings this year, and her counselor agrees this is best and fits her “unique needs” and is part of what least restrictive environment means to Mary.  It’s not just about her ears, but her psychological needs as well, with attachment issues and trauma issues and all we are going through as a family.  Between not even coming to us until age six, and then all the hospitalizations since Kyrie was born, and watching her baby sister nearly die, bounce back, nearly die, bounce back, and then be placed on palliative care… Mary doesn’t need or want to be away from us, and is very anxious about it, and wants to be close.  These children have been through so much, and right now don’t need to be “sent away” – whether that is physically, or perceived and experienced emotionally.

So Mary stayed home with us – me and Nathan, Barrett unexpectedly, and Kyrie – who was delighted she had not been abandoned after all.   We would much rather Mary be able to go to school if that’s what she wants to do, but the school system where we live said absolutely not.  They said she has to be bused all the way to Tulsa to her old school where we used to live down the street, because they have a sign language program in a special education classroom for her.

Mary said that’s segregation.

Now – don’t get me wrong.  We love those teachers.  And we love that program.  We would have stayed there, in fact, if we had not been told the children weren’t safe in that school, and if the boys had been in class instead of Alex wandering the halls and Kirk “helping” in first grade all year after his class was deleted due to not enough students and not actually being in a second grade class with his own peers.  That was our terrible experience.  It wasn’t about the deaf program, other than Mary not feeling challenged enough.  But she was there to meet other Deaf students, and to continue signing, and that was good for her.

But when Kyrie was released by the hospital for palliative care, and the boys needed to be in real classrooms, too, and I finished my residency, it was time to move home.

And so here we are, in what we know to be a very good school district.   We believe in the schools here, truly.   We know so many of the teachers, and so many in the community, and we were relieved to land back in our yellow house after these hard years.

But Mary?  Here has been her education experience thus far: no sound in Kindergarten.  I made her repeat Kindergarten because she had no language before we got her, and couldn’t do anything.  That’s what was best for her then, but it had nothing to do with her actual cognitive capacity.

We got her hearing aids, and requested an interpreter when we put her through Kindergarten again.  We were (allegedly) denied because she did not know sign language, so we had to begin documenting that she was learning sign language.  The very first thing we did the very night she was adopted was send all the paperwork in to the state Deaf school to get her admitted there.

She loved the Deaf school.  We love the Deaf school.  That’s where our culture and language community are.  It’s a big deal for the Deaf community, and I was so proud of her going there!

She was excited to go, loved going, and enjoyed every minute.

But in what other context would you adopt a child and then immediately send them off to boarding school?

There were attachment wounds there, even though she had fun, and even though we knew that was the only way for her to be immersed in a sign language environment.

Besides attachment concerns, they wouldn’t let her read her scriptures in the morning, or do her journaling at night.  These are big pieces of our faith tradition practice, and it was frustrating that we couldn’t be there to help her develop those habits if they weren’t even going to let her.  Then, people on the bus were trying to convert her to their church because we weren’t “real Christians”, they told her.  That was not okay for a number of reasons, but primarily because it was a state school bus – and very confusing for Mary.

But the biggest reason she couldn’t just stay there was the same thing I was just talking about: attachment.  Mary came to us just after her sixth birthday, and lived with us for almost two years before we ever got to confirm she was being adopted.  She is a sweet girl and full of life, but we still had to work on attachment building after adopting her from foster care – and we couldn’t do that while she was a residential student gone for most of the week.   It was such a hard decision to pull her out of the Deaf school!  But we couldn’t move there because there is no specialty hospital close enough for Kyrie, so for the context in which we live, there was no other choice really for the time.

That’s why we were so excited about trying the program at Wright for second grade.

And it was so good for her!  The teachers are amazing, and the friends she made will be forever friends.  We love seeing them at camp and silent dinner and other events!  It’s really special!

But it wasn’t good for us as a family, and we finished our reasons for living in Tulsa, and moved back to Owasso.

And it’s really, really important to her to be close to us and to attend school with her siblings.  That emotional safety of being together, even when in separate classes, works together with those small moments like seeing each other in the hallway or across the lunch room or playing together on the playground… these are huge attachment pieces for her, and she needs them.

There are other layers, too, private to Mary that she can share on her own later if she wants to, so it’s hard to explain it fully when we can’t disclose all the pieces.  But it comes down to her needing to be in her local school, and in a mainstreamed class, and this being the least restrictive environment for her.

She will have less of a choice later, if she does not do well and cannot really succeed with just an interpreter.

As she grows and continues to heal, I think some of her needs and choices will change as she focuses more on her own identity – including connecting with her Deaf peers at a new level.

But we can’t get there if she has no attachment.

Attachment is everything.

Even so much that when you spend the entire first week of school in fancy meetings with state level people and attorneys and trying to decipher emails, you still stop everything to Facetime the moment those children get out of school and find out how their days went.  They loved it!  The boys had a hundred stories to tell me, and naturally, Alex could quote every conversation he had all day.  Anber was too busy ready all her papers to talk very long, and they all were excited to show me everything when I finally got home from work.

We were waiting on meetings, and listening to our advocates and attorneys, when we got more emails from special services saying that if we did not get the paperwork turned in for Mary to be bused to Tulsa, that they would come to our house to get it.   That was scary!  Mary got scared, and I don’t know what confusion there, but it seemed like we had to withdraw her all together just to keep them from sending her on the bus to a program we had declined.   The advocates and attorneys were not happy about that, but their next plan of action is really big.   We just want Mary to be able to go to her local school, in a regular classroom, and thrive with her siblings.

In the meantime, while we wait to see all that, Mary is continuing homeschool because special services told us that was the only option.  We know it is not the only option, but it is sweet to have her home while we figure it out.  She is on fourth grade work in her homeschool curriculum, and we have added Spanish for her this fall while we wait for her to be able to go to school, as well as cooking and sewing classes.  She is progressing well, but really wants to be at school with the others.  We are trying to keep her strong emotionally while she waits, and enjoyed using a gift card yesterday to take the little ones out for lunch after the other three came home from school yesterday bragging about snack time.   We had fun with these sillies!

Then last night was our bake sale hosted by friends at a church down the street, and so many people brought us baked good to sell!  We were so grateful!  People came to support us, and the leftovers are being sold to our friends at the hospital today.   So much support has really made possible what we do, and we see that even as we prepare to open the group homes.  Thank you!

Anber was especially excited about the bake sale, as she has developed her own brand (“Cranky Berry”) of organic Popsicles.  She has now sold enough to have made a profit above her costs, and was so proud of herself last night!  She put some money in tithing envelope already, and some in savings, and some left for re-investing into more Popsicles, and some in her jar for spending later.  She did great!

We have a lot going on as we prepare for the hospital in Cincinnati, and I don’t know what’s happening with Mary.  I know what the advocates and attorneys say is next, but we would rather just be able to work things out easily and quickly with the school.  We wouldn’t be trying if we didn’t believe in the schools here, and have hope that it is the very best for our children and all their special needs.

Meet the Teacher Night

Tonight was our local elementary Meet the Teacher night.

Even though we met last Thursday with special services, we didn’t hear back from them until tonight when we were emailed a half hour before it started, with special services telling us Mary would not be enrolled or assigned to a class.

She was heartbroken.

We clarified with her that the confusion is not about her, but about them learning how to help Deaf children, and not to worry because it will all get figured out just fine.

(Note: these issues are not about the state Deaf school or Wright, but we cannot clarify what is going on or comment publicly until the issue is settled.)

To encourage her, we surprised the children with t-shirts as a show of support, and a way to include her as part of the team.

She went with us, as did Kyrie, to see inside the school and learn her way around.

We had to check in at the office first, and cautioned the children that it was not the time or place to discuss Mary’s story, and that no matter what, we are kind and good and polite and respectful.

Even when a child is still waiting to tell her story.

The children had a blast meeting their teachers and settling in!  It was so exciting!

Alex’s teacher was super soft and sweet, and patient with all his questions and seeking her out but also able to set limits to help him chillax.  I was relieved.

Kirk’s teacher was cherry and bright, and seemed a perfect match for him!

Barrett has met his match, too, with a good teacher who listened attentively to his story  but also redirected him back on task already.  Go teacher!

And Anber nearly met her teacher, but wasn’t having any of that – kudos to her teacher for not pushing it, but good luck to them both on Thursday.

She was excited about having a locker, though!

They were super excited to see the library, where Kyrie was busy yelling back at all the animals:

And they were even more excited about the gym!

We found what maybe is the Speech room, which was lovely but so ironic and made me cry:

Mary said:

But Mama! This means they want to be kind, they really do.  They just don’t know how, and we will help teach them.  

But it also means that intended or not, the experience is teaching Mary hard things about life and systems and the way the world works.
And how much it hurts when it doesn’t work well, or as promised.

She said:

There is only one other brown kid here, besides me and Anber, and they already don’t want me because I am Deaf.

They say I am welcome.  

But it doesn’t feel like welcome.  

We will teach them, Mama.

We will teach them like Ruby Bridges did.

I love this girl, and I am really proud of her.

I am also proud of all six children, who were so good and patient while we were at the school for hours.  Meeting so many teachers takes ages!  But everyone was patient and waited their turn.  We were there for several hours, and the children were so amazing sitting in the hall and reading and waiting so long just so that I could have the individual experience with each child.   

Nathan did a great job keeping them together in the hallways, and carrying our Keeping Kyrie book to give to the teachers.  

Kyrie played all over each classroom, and was the only almost-naughty one, so we will see how long it takes her to get sick or if she can maintain all the way until Cincinnati, even with school starting.

I love our family, and we are doing our best, and I am so glad we were able to experience this evening together – and so touched by how the other children supported and encouraged Mary.  It was really lovely.  The plan of happiness, I say, even when life feels hard.

Alex’s Talk

Yesterday Mary was sick, so Alex gave a substitute talk for her in primary:

 

When I feel the Holy Ghost I feel warm inside.

It makes me feel happy, and glad.

Sometimes he also wants me to feel sad, like if I made a bad choice.

I feel the Spirit when I help someone carry heavy boxes, or when I comfort someone who fell down or who got a blister.

I read my scriptures and say my prayers every day, and come to church on Sundays, and that helps me to feel the Spirit.

Yesterday our family went to the temple. It’s the house of God.

I’ve been inside the temple to be sealed, but now I can’t go inside again until I’m twelve.

But I still feel the Spirit when I walk around outside.

It makes me feel reverent.

When I make a bad choice, like when I’m not kind to Grandma and Granddad, or when I’m not following directions, I don’t feel as close to the Spirit.

When I make good choices, there are some consequences that are easy to see. Yesterday I made good choices and got my own bottle of pop.

It can be harder than that to notice the Spirit sometimes. When I’m acting silly, I may not be thinking about whether I am feeling the Spirit.

But I have been given the Gift of the Holy Ghost, so when I’m making good choices, the Spirit can always be with me.

Yesterday at the playground, my little sister Kyrie fell off a ladder and the Holy Ghost told me to go help her.

I am grateful for the church and the temple. I am grateful for how Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. I love him.

I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Clothesing

This was my weekend off, and I needed it!  Excepting there was no resting, not when school starts this week and it’s time to check for school clothes.  

But that’s a lot, the bi-annual changeout of clothes for six children!

My plan was simple.  We spent last week just bringing the boxes in from the garage.  Then we spent the week washing everything again, and just making a giant pile in the living room.  Then we sorted it into girls and boys and sizes.   That way, we were ready this weekend, to go through everything.


I spread out the legos to keep them all occupied.  Then two at a time brought me all their hanging up clothes from the closet and tried on everything in their pile.  We passed on what was too little, got rid of anything worn out, and celebrated anything too small for Barrett or Kyrie because it meant we could get rid of it all together.


Anber was the most excited, because she finally reached size 6.  She had been dying for this because she knows when Mary was 6 was when we also had little Rose the same size, so Anber inherited whatever they grew out of – and has been waiting for it for three years.  They remember this kind of thing!


Alex, on the other hand, who struggles with clothing comfort because of autism, tries really hard to make his favorite clothes last as long as possible.


Mary tries every year to fit into my old junior high sweatshirts from the oversized 80’s.


Barrett had plenty because he gets double hand me downs from Alex and Kirk, and Kirk has whatever fits him plus what Alex has grown out of, so he is set.

And everyone has enough for school to start while it is still hot.

But Mary and Alex have no winter clothes at all (size 10/12), so tell us if you see any good deals or have anything you are passing on!  I think we are set otherwise, for the most part, even with shoes.

It’s a relief to have that done, even if we know their closets won’t always look this nice:


School supplies, check!

Backpacks, check!

School clothes, check!

Now, we just need haircuts for the boys and braids and beads for the girls.

And an interpreter for Mary.

(And holding our breath for Kirk’s new glasses to get here.)

We are almost ready!

Temple Adventures

We drive to Oklahoma City today, so that we could go to the temple one more time before it closes for remodeling (next month we will go to Kirtland and Nauvoo).


Temple worship is part of our faith tradition as Latter-day Saints, and in addition to our regular Sunday meetings locally.

It is because of temple ordinances, and the priesthood power by which they are done, that we are able to continue as a family even after death – instead of just “until death do us part” as civil ceremonies say.

We love each other, and don’t want death to be the end of us.

The temple is also a place for prayer, and pondering, and progressing in holiness through the covenants we make there and then practice keeping when we leave and go back home.

When I found a quiet place to sit by myself today, I opened the scriptures to find something – but accidentally Rilke-dipped myself right into this scripture as the pages fell open:


I love these verses!  This was in Doctrine and Covenants, a book of revelations from this restoration period in our history, but it is quoting Matthew 6 and Luke 12.  These are some of my favorites, and how I needed reminding of this today!


While we have seen this true in a hundred ways, the most obvious example is Kyrie.  When we adopted her, we promised we were capable of providing for her.  We didn’t know that day that she would rack up almost two million dollars of medical expenses in less than two years!  We have fought and appealed the limits of insurance, and witnessed the miracles as our community made up the rest – I don’t know how families without any insurance at all do it.

Well, sometimes those babies don’t make it.

Sometimes those families pay medical bills long after their little one has passed.

Even little things, like all the glasses Kirk goes through, or new braces on all of their feet, or another round of haircuts after Barrett chopped his bangs off with his new school scissors… it’s going to be okay.


Through all of that, we have had sufficient for our needs.

We were warned in a blessing, and when I was called to Chaplaincy, that it would be a hard year or so, and it has been.  Almost impossible.  Except the experience has strengthened our faith, drawn us closer together, and proven His promises to be true.

And we have been happy, in spite of it all.


Even when we experience normal first world problems, like knowing braces on teeth are about to be added to all the braces on legs around here.


Isn’t she beautiful?

Clothing six little ones, or feeding all eight of us, much less coming up with medical expenses or making up the money from time off work for all the hospitalizations – it is scary, sometimes, because we are weak and can’t see the answers – but we know they will come.

I read that today, too, the next verses that quote my patriarchal blessing:


Angels are sometimes those who have gone before us, and sometimes those who haven’t yet been born.

But most often, they are you and me, for each other.

Know what angels give my children?

Hugs. 

And lessons in grace, and mercy, and love.

Safe environments in which to play freely.

Social skills, lessons in conquering challenges, and natural consequences.

Like lessons in why we don’t kiss the skunks that live at the temple.


Angels are helping to raise my girls into strong women with fierce spirits and good boundaries, but hearts full of compassion and gratitude.

Angels are helping to raise my boys into wise and thoughtful young men, who are both strong and gentle, who are kind to others, and who serve others before themselves.


Angels surround us, temporally and spiritually, cheering us on as we experience the atonement increase our capacity to do good and grow closer to our Heavenly Father and each other.


 And the temple reminds us we are not alone.

We have each other.

And that’s the whole point.

Happiness.

Delightsome Days

I loved today.  And yesterday, for that matter.

Kirk got new braces this morning:

I got to cook for them all day,  and had plenty of helpers:


We got to sort and pack school supplies while Kyrie had her nap:

They are so excited!  I can’t believe how fast they are growing.  We have three third graders:

And two kindergarteners:

And one Cat in the Hat:

It is a relief to have all their school supplies, and have them all enrolled and ready to go.

Alex even got to see his PreK teacher!

We’ve had other surprises, like getting to use a gift card for pizza yesterday:

There’s a lot we don’t know, that would be easy to be anxious about.

We don’t know if the children will really all get to go to school together, because of special services programming.

We don’t know how we will come up with travel money for another surgery week all the way in Cincinnati, or pay bills for being off work again, or cover all the extra expenses while not being able to work.

We don’t know if I will get to keep my job for being off work again for Kyrie, and then also having to be in Utah to speak at the end of next month.

We don’t know where we will host the “bake sale” fundraiser a friend wants to throw us the evening of the 18th, or if anyone will come, or if anyone will participate.

We don’t know how Kyrie will do in surgery.

We don’t know what Kirk did with four pairs of new glasses.

We don’t know how to write eighty thousand books while running nonprofit group homes while having day jobs while caring for the children.

We do know, though, that we love each other.  We know our family is a source of happiness, even on days full of chaos and excitement.  We know we will miss the children when they go to school, but that it will be a glorious send off into the practice of mortality – even a necessary step of development.

We know who our Father is, and that He is our God, and that He will help us accomplish what He has asked us to do.

We know our power comes from the atonement, and from keeping temple covenants, and that our little efforts will be blessed beyond measure.

We know that this season of challenges has been used as seeds for a myriad of purposes, all of which are part of His design and so consecrated even though brought to pass through our small and simple efforts.

We know that the priesthood is real, and we know the words of our blessings are continuing to unfold, and we know we have been promised angels who will help and provide and protect and comfort us – and we know you are those angels.

I loved this day, and yesterday, my time with my family and time to rest and time to love.

I know every moment counts, and I am glad I haven’t missed a second of it.

Of that, I can be sure.

Today was delightful, and I was happy.