Monday, April 11, 2011

Overdue for an update

Let's see, Claire has been home now for almost 15 months. What is it like around our house?

First, let's start with all the good stuff.
Claire has amazed us all academically.  She is completely caught up in all areas and has been reading at grade level for a couple of months now.  She still gets small group reading intervention but her reading teacher has told us that if other students are recognized as needing the intervention, Claire might be dropped because she is now at the top of the small group.    Wow, in just 7 short months she went from not reading at all to reading most words on her own.  Her grasp of phonics is incredible, much better than our other children at her age.  I worked with her on phonics a lot the first 6 weeks while we homeschooled.  And, the Leap Frog DVDs are fantastic.  I would recommend those to everyone!

She struggled a bit with math at first and I think that was mainly because she hadn't had any schooling in her first 7 years of life.  Children are absorbing numbers at a very young age here in the US.  Claire had to learn the numbers in English and then learn all the processing of addition, time, money, subtraction, pie charts (fractions) in such a short time.  I had to help her understand concepts a lot at home the first semester of first grade but now I can let her finish a worksheet on her own and then check it over with her and explain only those things that she missed.  Time and money have been exceptionally hard, but I think many children struggle with those concepts.  I try to incorporate time and money into our daily lives to help reinforce what she's learned.  Small things like "You usually go to bed at 8:00 but tonight I want you to go to bed one hour earlier, so what time would that be?"  Telling the time isn't hard for her but the earlier and later part really mess her up.  She had to learn what earlier and later meant just to understand the problem.  As her vocabulary grows she should grasp these concepts easier.

Claire has always been a popular student at school, a mini rock star if you will, but she has really come out of her shell in the last few months.  She makes friends very easily and even performed with Emily in the school talent show.  I was so proud of her courage to be on stage in front of an entire gym full of people.

She is completely fluent in English and can sound out and read a lot of things around her.  Once in awhile I will still get the blank stare which means she is trying to figure out what a word means so when I see that look, I stop and ask her if she knows what it means.

Now the not so good.  I don't want to say these are bad things because they're not really bad, but just issues I see with Claire that I think are mostly rooted in being adopted at an older age.

This is hard for me because I am not a hoarder.  I realize the issue is with me and my sliver of type-A personality of wanting everything organized so I really try to stop and understand that this is a direct effect of her time before us.  She wants to keep everything; every coloring page, every valentine, every kids meal toy, every sticker, every half-eaten lollipop, you name it.  We find cubbies in the van full of miscellaneous items that are many times trash.  I find many things stashed in small purse type bags in the closet, or drawers, or under the bed.  How do I tell her that you don't need to keep every kids meal toy when she's never had them before?  I am certain this issue would be even bigger if she had been in the orphanage for those 7 years instead of with a foster family.  She had toys, candy and other things with her foster family so I know our small issue with hoarding is nothing compared to what some adoptive families face.  Claire does not hoard food; a sign that tells me she didn't regularly go without food while in China.

Split personality-
Claire is one way with adults and another way with children.  Now, I know most children do this and our other children do as well but it is a bigger swing with Claire.  She does not want to upset authority figures, a carryover of culture from China, so she is usually a model child around us, teachers, grandparents, etc.  But, when around her siblings she has hit, bit, pinched, called names, etc.  I have walked in on one of these episodes and she immediately froze and started crying.  Sometimes I don't intervene and sometimes I do.  I think she is still learning how to deal with 3 older siblings and some of those behaviors is her sticking up for herself, so I let it go.  Other times it is not warranted and the behaviors are simply a result of her being stubborn (oh my, she's stubborn!) so I step in and tell her that her sister/brother aren't being mean, they are actually trying to help her.
In the same regard, she has thrown a few temper tantrums.  Think two year old, screaming, flailing, temper tantrum because she didn't get what she wanted.  Again, these don't happen if we are around, only when she is with her siblings.  I knew of a couple of these tantrums but didn't address it but I walked into the room once when she was doing it.  She immediately stopped and I had a discussion with her.  I told her that temper tantrums are not allowed; they've never been allowed by any children of ours.  We won't address them, we simply ignore it and you will never get what you want by throwing a tantrum.  I had never approached the idea of time out with her before this day but I explained what time out is and told her she would go to time out if she threw another tantrum.  Now she doesn't do the standard two year old tantrum but she will usually look for something of importance to Emily or something Emily has made and destroy it.  She sat in time out for that; her first time out ever.  She sat there very quietly for about 5 minutes and then broke down crying.  We talked about destroying other people's things, controlling anger and I let her know that I didn't love her any less.  She emerged from that time out and chat as a completely new child; she was happy, agreeable and sincerely apologized to Emily.

Claire has a fear of anything unknown.  'We're going to the bowling alley' invokes a look of "what is that, what does that mean, is it scary? etc."  An amusement park is a terrifying experience for her because she is constantly wondering what is going to happen and genuinely afraid of what each ride will do.  And, I'm not talking roller coasters, I'm talking Dumbo, spinning tea cups, etc.
We recently took the kids to Disney World and she cried on several rides that were nothing more than a boat ride.  Before each ride we would hear, "is it scary? is it dark? does it go upside down? is it fast? is there a hill?"  But, once she lived through it and realized it wasn't scary she emerges with "wow, that was fun!".  I think this is partly due to her personality but also because she was picked up from her foster family and driven away with an unknown destination.   She didn't know where she was going, what was going to happen, who we were, etc.  What a terrifying experience for a 7 year old child.  So, even though we are sitting right with her on any ride, the unknown produces fear in her.  I told her many times at Disney World that nothing would hurt her there and that we love her and would never put her in a situation that we knew would hurt her.
Of course, the one ride we were able to get her one stopped at the top of the hill and sat there for a few minutes.  "Is this the ride?", she said.  J replied with "Oh yea, this is the ride!" while we exchanged glances of "they better get this thing going again because walking down this hill with her won't be any fun."  Thankfully it did start back up and we plunged down the waterfall in our log plume with Claire's head buried firmly in my side.  Once off the ride she said with teary eyes, "well, that wasn't bad!"  *sigh*  At least it made for a great Disney World story.

The "no mom" thought process-
I don't really know what this is technically called but Claire has asked me several times, "does he/she have a mom?"  We sponsor a boy in Kenya and his picture is on the bulletin board by my computer.  We were talking about him this weekend and Claire asked me if he had a mom.  I explained to her that he lives with his grandmother and the area where he lives has many people with HIV so I would guess his mom and dad were victims of HIV and that is why he lives with his grandmother.  She casually said "oh" and I could tell she was thinking really hard.  She lived with a foster grandmother so I'm sure she was equating his grandmother with the same thing.  I really expected a question of him being adopted but she never said it.
Later we were watching an episode of Minute to Win It and there was an Asian father/daughter team competeing.  After watching it for awhile she asked us "does that girl have a mom?"  I saw her mom in the audience so I told Claire that yes, she had a mom and then pointed out the lady in the audience.  She responded with "oh".  So, while we don't often wonder if someone has a mom or not,  it is definitely on Claire's mind more than we realize.

There are way more positives than negatives in our life with an adopted child.  I can't imagine her not being here and I feel bad sometimes pointing out the negative things.  It's not that they're bad things but just different and obvious impacts of her life before us and her adoption transition.  Some times I scratch my head and wonder "where did this come from?" when she says something and then I remember some blog I've read from another parent who adopted an older child and it helps to know this is "normal" and I'm not messing it up...yet.  So, I hope this helps even just one person who might be experiencing the same things.

I am still posting pictures to my 365 Project blog; the button is on the sidebar.  Sometimes I get one on there each day and sometimes I slack off and don't upload for a week or more.  But, there are pictures of Claire on there occasionally so you can follow that blog and see her grow and progress through the year.