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Celebrate the Bubble


Photo Credit: Greg Wagoner

At our house, the level is a well-used tool.

Hanging a picture? Installing a curtain rod? Building a shelf? Get the level.

Keeping that bubble in the center becomes all-important. The bubble sliding too far to the left or right means we’re off-center. Skewed. Warped. Distorted.

Behavior isn’t much different from construction. Every little thing matters.

We’ve learned to save disciplinary discussions for the evening. To keep our voices calm even when the hyenas push every possible button. That sometimes, the best time to hug is when we want to throttle them.

Of course, we’re not perfect. “GET. YOUR. DIRTY. SOCKS. OFF. THE. BREAKFAST. TABLE. THIS. MINUTE.” is not something I say in a conversational tone. Late to school because she “forgot” to set her alarm after I reminded her and she asked me twice what time to set it? Not my best moment. And nothing makes me grit my teeth like intentional disobedience presented in a pretty package. “Ohhhh. I must have misunderstood.” Sure you did.

In general, though, both Hubby and I have come a long way in ensuring our reactions don’t trigger adverse effects on the kids’ behavior. We attempt to remain calm and consequence on. (Give consequences without over-long lecturing or freaking out.) And it’s working. At least for now.

Both kids had a rough Christmas experience. We saw immediate improvement. The change was almost scary in its suddenness.

He has trouble behaving at school, away from us. When he has us in sight—or at least earshot—his general comportment is age-appropriate. He does what we term “dumb stuff” (like tying a couple bricks at the top of the swingset as a “trap”…he’s unclear on what he hopes to catch) but puts obvious effort into following our directions.

She has no issues at school, in keeping with her desire for all strangers to view her as “sweet.” Home is a different story.

We explained to them, after Christmas, that changing their conduct will bring rewards. Birthdays arrive sooner than you think. In private discussion, Hubby and I agreed that if either child made major improvements, “Christmas” would come early.

About a week after Christmas, our girl relaxed back into her usual behavior. The boy continued to make obvious effort. In January, he managed mostly “Bs” for behavior each week. In February, 3 out of 4 weeks were “A.”

For comparison’s sake: in November, he averaged 40% (F) for behavior.

He came a LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOONG way. His teacher sent me a jubilant message about his improvement.

We ordered the Kindle. Don’t get me wrong; we don’t bribe, and anyone will tell you we don’t spoil our kids. We rarely play video games (like, the last one was 6 months ago) and watch very little TV. Friday night Movie Night is a big deal. But they’d outgrown their learning games, purchased four years ago. Their teachers recommended Kindles for learning games and reading. 

He thought we were kidding when we told him.

Each week he keeps his behavior at an “A,” he can download a non-learning game. After he completes homework and chores, he can read or play a learning game.

“I’m halfway through the first chapter of Moby Dick,” he announced last night.

Wait. What?

The device has a read-to-me feature that bolds the words as it reads, to help him track with the written words. This thing is fabulous.

In the past few months, his “level behavior” bubble has been far left, far right and we’re finally in the middle. I’m cautiously optimistic. I can’t expect him to keep this forever (because then when the expectations aren’t met…we’ve discussed that. Parent expectations are key). On the other hand, I’m not telling HIM that.

“So proud of your hard work. I know it’s not easy to make good choices sometimes.”

“Wow, you didn’t punch that kid when he pushed you. That makes me smile!”

“I know it’s frustrating, but you worked really hard to figure it out. Great job.”

Hopefully, as he tastes success, he’ll come to crave it. This is a new flavor for our guy. People are noticing—at school, at scouts, at church. Positive feedback isn’t a pipe dream. When his art teacher left me a message about one of his pictures, “I’m so excited about this concept he came up with!” you’d better believe I passed it on. His face glowed.

“She SAID that?” The wonder in his voice made me grin—and broke my heart. Maybe if more of these kids had positive voices backing them, things could be different. Statistics for foster kids’ success wouldn’t be so heartrending.

Super excited for him.

Our girl is starting to get motivated, as well. We decided to give her a goal.

“He worked very hard for a month—longer than that, actually, but he’s been successful for a month. We’re sure you can do it, too! He had to learn to get along with classmates, respect the teachers and helpers, control his impulses, follow directions and focus on learning. You don’t have trouble with those things. Here’s what you need to learn to do:

  1. Be kind to family members
  2. Do the things you know you should do
  3. Complete your chores without being reminded
  4. Have a cheerful attitude

And when you’ve made good progress for a month, you’ll have a great reward!”

She’s been making mild effort, but it’s obvious she’s testing to see how much effort is truly necessary. We’ve been letting her float along the last few days, but yesterday…let’s just say she didn’t make much attempt. When I informed her the month would start over this morning, she was shocked.

But…maybe that’s what she needed. She’d already buttered her toast by the time I came to make sure they’d heeded their alarms. She was polite to me and even smiled.

Maybe her bubble is finally tipping toward the center.


Photo Credit: Piet Vermeulen

Thanks to Piet Vermeulen for the photo; it sparked the idea for this post.


You Make Me Sick

It’s better this way. I wasn’t getting anything done.

The kids are in Karate and I sit in the waiting room, trolling my friends’ Facebook pages because I’m nosy and neglecting to “like” or comment because…let’s face it, I’m lazy today. A little girl in the room, about 4, is talking in a decidedly “outside” voice. Her teen sister is determined to assist her in utilizing “inside” voice. Both of them have talked with me on other days, so I join the conversation.

“My son couldn’t figure out how to whisper either, but here’s how he got it. Put your hand on your throat like this.” I demonstrate. The tiny blonde copies. “Now say something. Anything.” She says a few nonsense words. “Did you feel the vibration?” Her eyes widen as she nods.

“When you whisper, you just use breath. There’s no vibration. Try that.” She has a sudden attack of shyness and turns away, but the next time she speaks, it’s in a whisper. I give her a thumbs up and a wink. “Nice,” I say. She gives me a thumb-n-wink back. Cutest thing I’ve seen all day.

Their mother sweeps into the room, coughing. “I’m freezing. All day, I’ve been shivering. I must be sick.” She sits down, twelve inches from me, snatching up her daughter’s blankie and wrapping it around her shoulders. This is not cute.

Catching the flu is not convenient right now. Or ever, for that matter. I wait until they are engrossed in conversation, then move my things to a nook around the corner. Swift and silent. Like Batman. Batgirl. Batwoman? They don’t notice.

I’ve never been on this side of the L-shaped room before. Once, I visited a former monastery. The room in which I stayed sported a plain wooden desk, small bed and blank cinder-block walls. This corner feels a bit like the monastery, sans bed. The office chair is a nice upgrade.

So here I sit, tucked under a little wooden desk with nothing but my laptop and a white block wall in front of me. I recently began reading Annie Dillard‘s The Writing Life, in which she describes (among other things) the places she likes to write. She once pulled the cover down on the lone window of her writing hideout, then drew a picture of what she knew to be outside and taped it to the blind.

I like Annie for several reasons.

1. She has never shared the flu with me.

2. Her descriptions make me smile.

3. She has unfailing, semi-snarky wit.

4. Her writing makes me want to write. (In fact, I really want to go sit next to her and wait for her to say something. Anything. But…it’s not going to happen. She’s not interested in meeting new people—being famous probably gets old after a while—so I’ll have to settle for listening to her book.)

After hearing the sketches of her writing spaces, I dream of building a little nook in our tiny side attic. Logic and rationale convince me this is not feasible, but it’s a fun dream. I once saw a picture of C. S. Lewis’ attic and thought, “no wonder he wrote such fabulous fantasy.”

Also, it appears that he really had a wardrobe. I have no wardrobe, but in place of a nightstand, I have an antique sewing table. The top opens like a trap door. The unfortunate truth is that I will never fit myself through the Singer-sized hole. Unless…was it the drink or the cake that Alice used to shrink?

I’ve quoted him before, but Stephen King has some great quotes about reading, like this one:

Being swept away by a combination of great story and great writing…is part of every writer’s necessary formation. You cannot hope to sweep someone else away by the force of your writing until it has been done to you. So we read to experience the mediocre and the outright rotten; such experience helps us to recognize those things when they begin to creep into our own work, and to steer clear of them. We also read in order to measure ourselves against the good and the great, to get a sense of all that can be done. And we read in order to experience different styles.

In recent weeks, I’ve been writing less but reading more. Sometimes we just need to take the time to be “swept away,” as he says.

Last night, I read one of my favorite childhood stories to our kids. Rikki Tikki Tavi, by Rudyard Kipling. Click that link (Carnegie Mellon University provides the original text) and read it to yourself or children of any age in your life. I’d forgotten how funny it is, how R. K. describes everything in detail through the jaunty mongoose.

As I read to my kiddos, listening to my son belly-laugh at the dotty bird, dopey muskrat and evil cobra (and yes, I do voices; not well, but I do them) and watching my daughter’s eyes widen at the bathroom fight scene, I realized something.

I love to read. I’m a little obsessed, actually. Hubby and I have worked hard to foster their love of books. But in recent months, as they’ve finally become more independent, I’ve forgotten to read them stories. We all love stories. I listen to books on because having someone read a book to me (and read it well) is one of my life’s great joys. And in the busyness of life, I’ve been overlooking that gift to them.

So far, no signs of catching the flu from that crazy woman. If it does rear its ugly head, I will do my best to keep it away from the kids. I do, however, want to pass on a different kind of “germ.” To give them a fever for books. Infecting children with the love of story is so important.

What was your favorite childhood story? The one that brings a smile to your face, stirs old emotions, takes you back. Share with us, so we can all read them to our children. Let’s transfuse this virus!

And now, go read to someone special.

I’d Rather Eat Ice Cream: Choices, Choices


When the kids make good choices during the week at school (for him) and at home (for her), I bring a special treat to school and eat lunch with them on Friday. So far, my son has only missed one lunch celebration this school year. Woot!

Sometimes I have to rein in my Mama instinct; it rears up on seeing full trays of food dumped into trash bins. The tray above belonged to my daughter’s classmate (who finally ate some of her fruit when I prodded).

I’m glad the schools are providing healthier food, but there has to be a way to get the kids to eat it. Almost every child with ice cream ate the dessert first. Most of them ate no more than ten bites of the rest.

We’ve had our lunchtime arrangement for three years, but this is the first year it’s seemed to be truly motivating. I’ve noticed an overall shift in “care” about rewards, especially for our son.

I think the main problem was his belief he would not succeed; many times, he sabotaged himself before we (parents and teachers) could help him reach a goal.

It’s a typical response for many trauma kids: if I cause the problem by my behavior, then I am not the problem.  A distinction between “what I do” and “who I am.” For instance, for the first three years, our son was very “prickly;” he made it very difficult to get close. That way, he didn’t have to experience the pain of deciding to like someone and then finding they rejected him.

“Wait. The foster parents who kept me for 18 months don’t want me? I was just getting used to them. I thought they liked me at least a little. We’re leaving NOW? They didn’t even tell me.”  Inaccessibility = survival.

Our daughter, struggling with Reactive Attachment Disorder, is charming and overtly affectionate with strangers and other individuals with whom she has a surface connection. The problem begins when she starts to let her guard down. Once, when she was seven, she yelled, “You don’t know me! And you can’t know me, because I won’t let you!”

Although she never again verbalized the thought, she communicates it in other ways. It’s an ongoing heartbreak and frustration—for both of us.

I believe that at the heart of things, she desperately wants to have connections but is terrified of disaster if she lets her guard down. Occasional “breakthroughs” (e.g., a spontaneous snuggle while camping) are followed by days or weeks of defiance.

“I have let you in a little, by accident. I’ll make sure you forget about it soon.”

My husband and I worry about her ability to make lasting and deep relational ties. We’re on a timeline; only 7 more years to help her work through this. We’re not kicking her out at 18 or anything, but that’s when she’s of legal age to attempt tracking down biological family.

Our lives might go to Hades for a while, regardless of what she decides. If she determines she’s not ready to make contact, I’m sure there will be angst and questions of “was this the right decision?” and “what if they’re waiting for me?” If she connects with bio family, I have enough facts to know that it may not end well.

I just finished a book by Susan Crandall, Whistling Past the Graveyard. In the book, set in the 1960’s, nine-year-old Starla leaves her verbally abusive grandmother’s care to find her mother. She believes the woman loves her, based on birthday cards and other mailed gifts, and thinks she is a famous singer in Nashville.

Success is not sweet; she finds that the woman works in a less-than-reputable bar, is an abusive, narcissistic alcoholic and has remarried. She never even told the new husband that Starla exists.

Starla’s father, who works on an oil rig and visits her as often as possible, neglected to mention their divorce; he saw the delusion under which his daughter lived but didn’t want to make her unhappy. With the knowledge that his ex was not returning, he saw no reason to destroy his daughter’s image of a loving mother.

As I listened to the book, expertly narrated by Amy Rubinate, I thought of my children and wondered whether we’ll experience a similar disconnect between the image our daughter has built up and the reality she’ll confront. Our son rarely brings it up; although this may change as he ages, for now he’d rather pretend he’s always been with us.

The real question that has haunted the last four years of my existence is this: “How do I get them to make good decisions? To choose the path that will benefit them, not harm them?” Hubby and I understand that we can’t make them choose anything.

Even in the beginning, when they were 5 and 7, if either of them determined to pursue a certain course we had very limited options. It’s frustrating. It’s the opposite of empowering. It’s deflating.

The trick is to get them to want it.

Our son has had recent success in school. Prior to this year, behavior and performance vacillated on wild scale. His wide grin on “good” days tells me we may be onto something. Until a few months ago, success appeared not to matter.

Now, his eyes sparkle and he comes up with creative rewards, like earning a few boards a week. Yes, boards. He’d like to build a “watch tower” in our back yard from which he can survey the property for intruders. Hubby has skills, so this is not out of the question.

Our daughter, for now, is doing her darndest (is that a word?) to stay aloof. I found an app in which you award stars; red for inappropriate behavior, gold stars for good. (I take issue with the color—they’re actually yellow. But, I suppose if it’s really a problem I should learn to code and make my own app…)

She earns stars in four clear categories (for instance, “in bed on time”). As of Tuesday, she had red stars only. I explained the app to her, explained that earning gold stars would translate to rewards. On Tuesday evening her scouting group headed out for an activity. We want her to learn social interaction, so group attendance is the last thing we’d remove for behavior modification. However, as we arrived at the meeting, I explained to her that the girls were going for ice cream after the gathering.

“You can go with them, but you may not have any ice cream.” I saw the sly look in her eyes and added, “I’ve already informed the group leader.” Her face fell, then she fixed her nonchalant mask. “Well, I already ate dinner so I probably won’t be hungry anyway.”

When they returned, two different children and an adult asked why she didn’t have dessert in hand. I pretended not to hear.

Since Tuesday, she’s earned three gold stars. We’re getting somewhere.

The schools can provide healthy food, educate children about eating well and encourage them to make good choices, but until they see the benefits for themselves, the tykes will keep choosing ice cream.

My goal for the next few years is to help our kiddos see the benefit of making good choices. It’s frustrating, watching them fall, but I’d rather let them make mistakes here, with us. I hope that by the time they’re out in the world, they will have experienced enough disappointments and joys to know that positive choices bring positive results.

Adopted or not, tell me about the choices you or your kids have made. What’s the best way to help them succeed? Did someone in your life help you make good decisions? Tell us about it.

When I’m Not With You…


Sometimes I wonder what you do when we’re not together. Not always, because my life is insane and I don’t have time to think about anything except my immediate situation. But sometimes.

You might wonder about me. On the other hand, perhaps you are also too caught up in craziness to consider anything other than your next meeting, or whether you have spinach between your teeth.

“How did she know that?” you muse. Mostly because I am, this moment, trying to determine whether have broccoli in my teeth. We’re all much too caught up in ourselves to wonder, to truly consider others.

I explain to our kids all the time: most people are so worried about what YOU will think of them, they don’t even think about you. Our daughter thinks everyone will assume she’s a boy, thanks to her pixie haircut. I disagree. “You’re really pretty. There’s no way they’ll think you’re a boy. Besides, you wear earrings.”

“But some boys wear earrings!” she wails.

“Yes,” I say, “but most boys are not getting boobs.” She is not amused.

Perhaps I’m wrong. You might spend hours wondering, “Does Casey actually have a life?”

If so, you’re either a stalker or wayyyy too obsessed with people you’ve never met. I’ve already had one stalker, thanks (remind me to tell you later; my story highlights all the reasons you should educate your children about life online).

Side note: If you find yourself obsessing over any blogger, it’s time for a hobby that includes people you can touch. And no, I don’t mean tracking one down.

Per the Writing 101 Day 11 assignment, I will now regale you with Tales from the Crypt. Wait, no, that’s something else. Tales of What I Do Without You.

Actual Post

Things I do for fun when I’m not with you: 

  1. Read. Or rather, listen. Since the kids came to our house, I can count on one hand the number of books I’ve actually read with my own eyes, touching paper, smelling that…bookish…scent all paperbacks and most hardbacks carry. gave me my life back. Well, my fantasy. Thanks to that fabulous website, I’ve read over 300 books in the last four years. Mythology, biograpy, dystopia, utopia, fantasy, reality, fiction and non. I’m currently listening to The Martian. Again. Andy Wier writes with the humor of John Scalzi and the believability (which is, per spell check, not a word) of a space mission technical handbook. LOVE.
  2. Cook. For the first three years transitioning the kids to our home, “Survive” would have been number two on the list, but thankfully we’ve morphed to a new phase. I hope it sticks, because I can finally do some of the things I love. Like read and cook. I’m not a fabulous gourmet chef, but I swipe recipes from my incredible aunt, who is. She’s also great at giving directions in writing, so my attempts at cooking her recipes almost always come out right. Visiting her is like having a front row seat at a cooking show. One of these days I will convince her to start a blog and share her talent with the world, but for now, she’s all mine.
  3. Write. (You’re shocked, right?) Interesting—well, interesting to me—thoughts pop into my brain all the time. If only science would catch up with my needs; a download port in the side of my head would be awesome. Even a mini-SD slot might work. Half the time I can’t find a pen in time to capture these world-changing ideas (hence, I’ve not yet changed the world). The other half, I’m desperate to remember the amazing thought that just flitted through…and escaped in entirety. I’m not much for blogvertisement, but there is FINALLY a partial solution. Cheri mentioned Simplenote in one of her posts, and I’ve since been using it to jot down, well, pretty much everything. The feature I love is search. I have this stack of papers in my room, filled with random thoughts. I considered typing them out but had no way to categorize them (as I said, random thoughts). With Simplenote, you can search any word once you’ve written a piece. Perfect.
  4. Train a German Shepherd. I also attempt to train the children. The pup is amazing. He’s quick to learn and loves to obey. The children, not so much. Maybe I need to try the click-and-kibble strategy on the kids.
  5. Restoration. Recent projects include hand-sanding and staining a large piece of furniture, a rocking chair and wooden pieces for the interior of a vehicle Hubby is painting and fixing. Oh, and I worked on the latches to the vehicle doors. I think Hubby lets me help to give me a feeling of purpose, a creative outlet and a sense of fulfillment. Also, I have smaller hands which fit inside the door access holes.
  6. Construction. Our home has had several leaks thanks to shoddy work on the part of the previous owner, and we fix most of the problems ourselves. Unlike the PO, Hubby and I have a bit of talent. (I’m not bitter or anything.) Taping and plastering sheet rock is the perfect match for my OCD. Most of the time—especially if you look at the state of the kitchen—my OCD is not evident. At all. This is because I’ve given up perfection in any area of the home the kids touch. Plastering a wall or ceiling, though, my obsession is clear. I’ve realized I enjoy it because it’s the one place in life in which I can truly control the outcome. I also enjoyed demolishing a wall in our home. Great stress relief. Not for Hubby, who wasn’t aware I was demolishing it that particular day.
  7. Sleep. I should probably do this more.

So, there it is, folks. My life in a nutshell. Thrilling, I know.

I dished. Your turn. What do you do when you’re not reading my blog?

And why are you doing that instead of reading my blog? Seriously.

I’ll be back in a minute to read your comments. I have to get the broccoli out of my teeth.






I’m Reading YOUR Blog, Writing 101!


My goal: to read at least one post from every blogger participating in Writing 101.

Help me out—comment below with a link to your favorite piece. Feel free to come back more than once. You leave it, I’ll read it.

If you want a specific type of feedback beyond “like,” just let me know you’re looking for something a little more in-depth. (Be specific; “how’s the grammar?” or “English isn’t my first language; anything I should change?” will help me focus.) I enjoy proofreading almost more than I love ice cream (yes, I’m aware I should go to rehab).

Looking forward to YOUR story!



P.S. Scroll through the comments and click on a blog you’ve never read! 


Picture: Casey Alexander (

Adoption = Taking Care (and I Need YOUR Help)

Recently, I’ve been a bit overwhelmed (the kids have ups and downs…we’ve been in sort of a “down” rut these last few months).

Generally, I take care of everyone. I absolutely and truly love to take care of Hubby any way I can, because he does such a great job doing the same for me (and for the kids—he’s the best dad I know). The kids require a lot of care. In addition to the typical Care and Feeding of Young Hyenas, we have a number of appointments.

Occupational therapy, speech therapy, counseling and play therapy weekly. Extra help for school twice a week. Psychiatric and medical appointments monthly. And, in the next month, we have appointments for EEG, MRI and neuropsych evaluation for our daughter, with follow-up appointments to be scheduled.

We also have several friends in tough situations, so I provide a listening ear and any help possible. As you might imagine, sometimes I exhaust my energy.

Recently, Hubby pointed out there’s one person I’m not taking good care of: myself.

I felt overwhelmed, so signed up to chat with a counselor recommended by one of the kids’ therapists. It was the best thing I could have done. After one hour, I recognized some things that need to change. Amid all the other scheduling, I’m now blocking out some time to be alone. A few more naps sprinkled through the week when I need them (I also have Lupus, so that makes fatigue more of a problem). Less catering to the kids and more teaching them self-reliance.

It’s not easy.

Because of their past neglect, I feel guilty leaving them when they want me (and they want me anytime they’re awake). I’ve realized, though, in order to give them my true focus and best attention, I need some “me” time. And honestly, they don’t need me every moment. They CAN do most things for themselves…they just enjoy having me do it for them. They also crave attention of any kind, so they work hard to keep me zeroed in on them (either by behaving well OR by doing something they know will garner some negative attention).

So, all this to say…I’ve set aside some time next week to JUST READ. Like last time, I’m asking for your help in keeping my sanity. Reading YOUR blog is like therapy. (Really.)

Please reply in the comments with link(s) to your favorite posts. Posts you’ve written. Posts of people you follow. Posts from some random blogger you happen to run across. Doesn’t matter–I’ll read it! 🙂  I’m planning to read Thursday and Friday, but if you catch this post later, feel free to keep adding links. I love recommended reading. (As you know, I’m addicted.)

Thanks for your help!

I look forward to snuggling up with my laptop. IT’S…SO…FLUFFY!

Yeah…actually it’s not fluffy. Sorry. Just watched Despicable Me with the kids for the bajillionth time. Perhaps I’ll also take time to watch a movie for adults…




image from

Adoption = Irony

We’ve had such a long road to literacy.

The odds were stacked against my son. He knew less than half the alphabet when he arrived at our house. He was 5.3 years old. Most of my friends’ kids knew the whole song before they were three. For someone with a life-long reading love affair, watching him struggle to find the word “the” on a page was soul-crushing.

I’m obsessed with reading. Words demand my attention; if something is written or printed, I have no choice. Must. Read. Sometimes it’s annoying, especially when a sign catches my eye and I end up with whiplash or smash my nose on the headrest, trying to decipher it as we drive by. This addiction paid off big-time, however, when the medical records arrived the year we adopted. I sat on a hard wooden chair, elbows on the kitchen table, and read every page. One was missing. Our son was born with a heart defect. Multiple notes made clear the danger, but none showed a resolution. If not for my enslavement, we might have never known.

I was an early reader, happily consuming Seuss on my own before I was five. On my seventh birthday, I received The Chronicles of Narnia. I finished all seven books in the series within six months. Granted, I didn’t expect our kiddos to read on the same time table, but nevertheless, I was distressed. Books bring joy, open doors, transport to new worlds.

Entering 2nd grade, our son read on a pre-K level, thwarting my desperate wish to introduce him to the incredible experiences available in books, especially, as he calls them, “chapter books.” I wanted to take him to Terabithia. Show him the wardrobe, the Shire, the cupboard under the stairs. I dreamed that together we could Number the Stars, meet the Giver, sit in the Secret Garden, listen to the Trumpet of the Swan.

Audiobooks (if you’re not familiar with, I highly recommend the site) have been an incredible boon. We’ve listened to treasures like The Secret Garden, Bunnicula and The Tale of Despereaux on road trips. And in the meantime, it’s happening. He’s caught the bug (thankfully, not the flu bug) and made a sudden shift from reluctance to fluent reader.

He’s a bit obsessed with a graphic novel he won at the library this summer, The Family Secret. It’s a WWII story written at the late elementary to early middle school level, but he loves it. The WWII era has always been one of my favorites, so it’s become a shared passion. He reads as much as he can on his own, stopping periodically to sound out a word or ask me for help.

What used to be the bane of his existence is now his lifeblood.  A year ago, I despaired of ever seeing him love to read. Now, he can’t get enough.

But we have a problem.

Here’s the irony. He’s getting in trouble for reading.

He reads when he’s supposed to be getting ready for school, or eating, or doing homework. He sneaks books under his desk in the classroom. He reads the street signs and advertisements. If I drive slowly enough, he’s going to finally figure out that the building on the corner is not, as I’ve claimed, a “ladies’ swimsuit store.”

Two days ago, I did the unthinkable: threatened to take his books away. He went ballistic. Begged me to take his prized submarine instead. The enormous one, with flashing lights and “dive, dive!” alarms. He promised to get ready on time.

Yesterday, I apologized to the reading teacher, who was handling school check-in for tardy students. “I’m so sorry we’re late. I left him alone for half an hour. I thought he was getting dressed, but he spent the entire time reading.”

She grinned and high-fived me.

Adoption = Flashback

Pre-Note: Something I learned from a counselor this week: if a child experiences trauma, it typically takes twice as long for the child to recover. If a child was abused for three years, expect six years of recovery; five years of abuse equals ten years necessary to heal. As she explained this, she said, “so, you can expect improvement, but total recovery is unlikely until your daughter is about age…huh. Well, right when she hits adolescence. Good luck with that.”


Our little guy gets sick with a horrible, croupy-barky, goose-honky cough every fall and spring.

This year, I thought we’d escaped the scourge, but it turns out things just happened later. Last year, he started with a minor cough in the morning, and by the time I managed to get a work-in appointment with his pediatrician in the afternoon, he could barely breathe. After oral steroids and starting a third nebulizer treatment to open airways, the doctor said, “if this doesn’t work, we’re sending you to the ER.” Not the words I wanted to hear. Thankfully, he was able to breathe by the end of the treatment and they sent us home to several weeks of breathing treatments and a follow-up to check on asthma.

This year, I didn’t wait; he started sounding like a waterfowl around 8 am. The pediatrician didn’t have a work-in until late afternoon, so we went to an urgent-care facility. The doctor was matter-of-fact. “Son, you are much too old to have croup. How did you manage this?” My boy just shook his head, coughing.

She gave him an oral steroid and a saline-only nebulizer treatment, explaining that he’s not asthmatic; the noise isn’t bronchial–it’s from a swollen trachea. I was happy he wouldn’t have the albuterol jitters. He was happy to have a doctor’s note to stay home. Two days into the steroids, his cough simmered down. He was sad to go back to school; I was actually a little sad to send him.

I picked up the kids from school and noticed that he seemed a bit listless. He rested his head on the table during homework and dinner, then asked if he could go to bed around 7:30. I noticed his light was on and assumed he was reading a scientific journal (okay, actually thought it would be “Captain Underpants”). Walking into his room, I focused on stepping over Lego pieces and Kinex shrapnel strewn across his floor (“at least make a path from the bed to the door, dude,”). I didn’t look at him right away, as I scraped a walkway in the toys with the side of my foot. “You reading?” No answer. I glanced up to see tears streaming down his face. “What’s wrong, buddy? Are you feeling sick again?” I reached for his forehead. Clammy and cool. He looked pitiful, terrified and desperate.

“I just remembered it all, Mama. I remember the day they separated me from my other family.”

I barely made it to the bed in time; he dove into my lap, wailing. His sister came flying down the hall. “Is he okay? Is he hurt? Is he sick again?” Hubby was working late, and I knew I couldn’t handle both of them melting down at the same time, so I fibbed a little. Well, fibbed a lot. “He’s fine. Fine. He just needs a minute. Go ahead back to your room and play; I’ll be there in a bit.” I heard her slowly move back down the hall, then begin talking to her stuffed animals. Thank goodness.

He sobbed for almost an hour, angry and devastated. This was the first time he’d ever mentioned memories of the day they were removed; he was not even three. “Why did they take us? What made social services do it? How could they do this to me? I want to go baaaaaaaaaaaaaaack!” I had no answers, so I just held him and tried to think of all the answers I learned in class. Suddenly, the “unused” counseling degree became abundantly more relevant.  “It must really hurt your feelings. I know this is hard for you. Can you tell me more about what you’re feeling?”

Spent, exhausted, he finally calmed down. He lay back on his pillows, almost lethargic, face turned toward the wall.

“Is there anything I can do to help make this better?” I asked. He closed his eyes and shook his head, the movement almost imperceptible. I held his little hand, hoping he’d squeeze it the way he usually does, but…nothing. He was so deflated, it scared me. I looked around the room, hoping for something to distract him, break him out of his malaise. “Hey, look. Pumpkin is checking on you.” His funny little hamster was indeed plastered against the side of the cage, eyeing him. My boy rolled over, away from the hamster and me.

I was getting desperate. “Would you like me to read you a book?”

He rolled back toward me. “About adoption?” I couldn’t read his tone. Did he want a book about adoption, or was he just expecting me to try to use it as a bandage? I stalled, flipping through his bookshelf. I found one we hadn’t read yet. “How about this one, about a mama and her son? It’s not about adoption, though.” He rolled closer. “Okay.”

The book begins as a mother holds her newborn son. “I wish I could have been there the day you were born,” I said, trying to forestall another hurricane of bio-mom memories. “Me too,” he answered, sitting up. Each page showed the son growing up and the mother growing older, “but as long as I’m living, my baby you’ll be,” the mother tells the son.

The book actually gets a little weird, showing the mother crawling across the bedroom floor to hold her teenage son in his sleep. The book mentions that her son bought a house nearby. Later, she drives across town with a ladder, climbing through her grown son’s window to rock him in her lap while he slumbers, unaware. Yep, creepy.

Finally, the mother is old, and asks her son to visit. She is too old and frail to hold him, so he rocks her. By this time, my little guy was almost in my lap again. He looked up at me, interested. “When you’re old, will you look like that?” Laughing, I said, “I sure hope I’m prettier, because that lady, well…” “She’s kinda ugly,” he finished my thought, smiling at me. The next page showed the young man walking up the stairs of his own home, then singing to his own baby. I looked down at him. “Someday you’ll probably have a baby, and I’ll be very proud of you. No matter how old you get, you’ll always be my baby boy.”

He threw his arms around my neck and then we both had tears running down our cheeks.

“I love you so much.” “Me, too.”

“I know you are sad about the people you lost, but I’m so glad you’re part of my family.” “Me, too.”

After a few minutes, he sat back. “Mama?” He looked at my face and wiped my cheeks with his little hands. “Yes?” He thought for a moment. “Let’s never read that book again, okay?” I laughed. “No problem. Anyway, the mama crawling across the room sort of creeped me out.” He started laughing. “Yeah, me too.” I started to stand up, but he grabbed my hand, squeezing tight. “Mama, when I grow up, I’m going to buy a house next door to you, okay?”

Sounds perfect to me.

Adoption = Reading

This is a reply I posted to an adoptive parent on Reddit whose child is having reading struggles. I realized it might be helpful to some of my WP readers. I apologize…I didn’t make it pretty (spare time is all going to NaNoWriMo this month). 

Our guy was reading at a pre-k level going into 2nd and at a K level at end of 2nd. Our girl was reading around 1st grade level in 2nd.

Here’s the nutshell of what worked for us: Everyone says to let your kids see you read, but I just don’t have time to sit down. Instead, I talk all the time about reading. “Books are awesome; you can find anything you want to know…” “Do you know what I read the other day?” They don’t see me reading, generally, but they know I do it. They also know that when I have my earbuds in, I’m listening to ‘one of Mama’s stories.'” Sometimes I download books (Bunnicula is a favorite, even for the adults) and we listen in the car.

Over the summer, we checked out books at the library. I let them pick whatever they wanted, five books each per week. She mostly got pink story books; he chose information (SHARKS!) books. They read out loud to me in the car anytime we went anywhere, at least one book per day–in the case of the info books, he had to read for 15 minutes, since some of those are loooooooong. They didn’t like it at first and said they were carsick, etc. (to which I said, “prove it and barf” and they said never mind…thank goodness…). After a while, they got used to it.

Our rules: When they come to a word they don’t know, they need to try it first, then they can spell it to me (since I’m driving). I then help them break up the word by 2-3-or 4-letter chunks. They still have to figure it out, but I help with weird words (“that ‘c’ says ‘ess'” or “that ‘K’ is silent”).

They gave me a LOT of pushback, crying, complaining, etc. for the first month. Finally it subsided, and now they (mostly) just do it. It took 8 months, I won’t lie…it’s not a quick process.

I was concerned that he would have trouble with the info books because the words were bigger (true) but because he picked topics HE cared about, there was motivation.

Getting them to read is all about letting them read what interests them, and reading out loud (in my opinion) is key. Otherwise, you don’t really know that a) they’re actually reading and b) they’re reading correctly. Captain Underpants is not my idea of a great role model, but our guy loves the books, so I allow them. (Of course, there’s a common sense piece, here…I probably should not have been allowed to read Flowers in the Attic when I was ten, but no one really regulated my reading.)

Consider getting audiobooks (along with the written books) and having him listen/read. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t perk up at hearing, “let me tell you a story. Long ago and far away…” Read to the whole family at dinner. I understand that mine are younger, but they still rolled their eyes when I pulled out my ancient copy of Little House on the Prairie. Three months in (I read maybe three pages on sporadic days), they say, “can you read tonight?”

After much struggle and continued practice, our guy returned to school this fall reading AT THIRD GRADE LEVEL. I have never been prouder, truly. (I’m not sure about our girl’s level because they didn’t give her the same test, but she definitely improved also).

I hope some of this works for you. I imagine it’s even harder when they’re older. I can tell you though, the “find their interest” thing works. Good luck!!!

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