Then…

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Despite our difficulties with Liam and Kieran, they were well behaved. They didn’t hurt others, didn’t lie (on Kieran’s part, much), and didn’t do anything that would cause much alarm, in terms of how they acted.

So when Mea started to steal, we were caught completely off guard.

We recognized that, because she stole only food, it was connected to the adoption.

But we were perplexed because she had three full meals and three snacks a day.

When I was younger, I was literally sent to bed without dinner. We did not use this type of punishment with any of our kids, especially Mea. We knew that she would react poorly if food was ever a part of a punishment.

Nevertheless, she felt compelled to steal food, often right after a meal/snack.

She wasn’t very “good” at stealing. We would find wrappers or a ton of crumbs wherever she had been.

We did learn to stop asking, did you? Because when we asked “did you,” especially when she was older, she would flatly deny it, even if we had seen her. We were creating a situation that caused her to tell a lie on top of the stealing.

Because we didn’t know better, we took her actions personally. We struggled, until we sought help and learned to understand why.

That doesn’t mean she stopped. But we have learned to respond appropriately – to help her feel loved, unconditionally, regardless of her behavior.

The First Signs

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As early as Mea started school, her teachers shared that she had a strong personality.

We thought, sure! How else would she have survived what she had, if she was not tough – a fighter?

In pre-school, the teacher said that she wanted her to comply with class rules, without breaking her spirit. She was emphatic about the latter. Not having a rule follower was new to us.

In Pre-K, the same thoughts were shared: Mea was a good listener, unless she was more motivated to be silly or make her peers laugh. She almost always followed directions, unless she was not in the mood.

The boys were never as socially attuned as Mea is, and she’s a girl. We thought, this is just how it is.

I noticed during the five months I was not home during the work week that Mea struggled to “listen” to me during the weekends. It seemed that she was Queen during the week, and then I returned to usurp her throne. But wasn’t this “typical” too? I had subconscious feelings of resentment toward my Mom when I was older, when I was told what to do. But this was when I was a teenager. We started to think, we have a 5 year old going on 15 – haha!

We continued to have conversations with teachers every school year about Mea’s sassiness and silliness. Usually, it was seen as both an endearing and, at times, a difficult quality to control.

We started to ask her principal for a teacher who was caring, but firm – someone who knows what’s going on in the room and who Mea will respect.

During specials and when she has substitutes, she struggled. Even with her favorite teacher, the librarian, there were times when Mea would slam a computer, walk away while being given directions, or talk to a peer during the read aloud.

For a long time, we were clueless that these behaviors were indicators that she was still struggling with aspects of her life before us, and from her adoption.

We just thought we had a strong-willed child.

Summer Fun

At the end of 4th and 2nd grades, the boys were able to participate in some great summer camps.

Here are pictures of their adventures:

K’nex Camp ~

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Cartooning Camp ~

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Space Camp ~

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It was the summer we got our dog too. Kieran was having the summer of his life, being an animal enthusiast.

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It was a great summer to be a kid.

 

Music, Math, and Memory

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Fourth grade is the first year that students in our district can pick an instrument to play.

Because Liam did so well with recorder karate (two years in a row), I thought he would enjoy playing the clarinet.

We thought that being a male clarinet player might be different, but upon research, found that there were many male clarinet players.

Just not very many in elementary and middle school.

But that made Liam unique, again.

His love of math helped him understand music in a way that is way beyond any level of understanding I ever had. He appreciates notes, scales, and timing on a whole different level.

His memory also helps him learn music quickly and even be able to “hear” what note someone is playing.

This summer, we will be headed down to a warehouse outside of D.C. to get Liam a “real” clarinet. He loves playing and hopes to continue through college.

He also started playing the cello in fourth grade. We could tell from early on that this was not going to be his instrument. I think it was the physical aspect of holding the instrument, maintaining the posture/position he needed in order to play correctly, and the bowing. For all kids, this is a demand, physically. Liam’s low muscle tone made it even tougher.

It could have also been the experience with the other (competitive) student, or playing two instruments. The teacher thought it would be tough going from the clarinet’s to the cello’s key signature. Because of Liam’s memory and math brain, this was definitely not a concern.

We love that he can highlight his gifts and talents through music. It’s also where he has been able to make some wonderful friends.

First Try at Medicine

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The first try at medicine was in the late winter of Kieran’s second grade year.

The doctor agreed that he qualified and could use some support.

We started with a small dose of a medicine in the ritalin family.

We soon saw benefits: Kieran was able to focus on a task better. He got more done in a more timely manner. It no longer took him an hour to complete ten math problems (that were not hard for him in the first place). He was getting positive feedback and reported that he didn’t have all of the distractions to cloud his mind.

There were immediate drawbacks as well: He hardly ate. He would start with a huge breakfast, eat some lunch, and pick at his dinner. He didn’t fall to sleep easily. This was a problem before too. It gave us good time to snuggle, to “calm down,” but sometimes I would fall to sleep before he would.

Eventually, the anger came. He would become extremely agitated and frustrated by the littlest thing. He stayed that way for a while. He was usually quieter at school, so the agitation mostly came out at home.

He also said that he felt he could not be as creative when he was on his medicine.

We ended the year well, overall; we gave him a break for the summer. We could tell after just two weeks that the medicine had been helping him focus.

It was good to take a break from all of the other aspects of this new way of life.

Finally, an athlete!

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Having coached about five sports during my first eleven years as a teacher, it was sad to see how much Liam and Kieran hated playing. Liam never moved beyond that first year of t-ball, which he did not enjoy.

Kieran thought soccer was boring. By the time he tried baseball, the other boys had already been playing for two to three years. Understandably, he didn’t much enjoy his bench time.

Then came Mea. She loves to move and run. My hopes were high.

She started with soccer. She understood how to play and asked to play for a few seasons.

Now she plays softball, basketball, tennis, and she runs.

With each sport, she works hard and has inherent talent. It helps her get playing time and positive feedback from coaches and her teammates.

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I’ve coached most of her teams (at least assisted).

It’s the one thing that is consistently ours. No boys.

It’s something we enjoy together and can bond over.

Now if I can just get her to watch sports on TV, we’ll be set!

A True Friend for Some

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I have always been mindful of how much any one student has had to “help” or befriend Liam. I want to make sure that the other child has a choice and is enjoying Liam’s company in some way – so the relationship is not a job or chore that becomes burdensome.

In fourth grade, Liam developed his first “best” friend. They are still friends today, which is how I know that it was mutual and equally beneficial. This child’s heart is huge and generous. He is an extremely kind soul.

At first, I was worried that he was just being made to be Liam’s friend because he was such a nice kid. As time went on, his parents encouraged the friendship and the boys spent time together outside of school. While they are very different in some ways, they connect and have some activities in common.

At the same time, in fourth grade, another student, who was often paired with Liam, did not feel the same way. He and Liam started to feel competitive with each other as the only two students playing a certain instrument.

Eventually, the student’s mom asked the school to keep them apart. She felt that her child was doing all of the helping and was being “held back” by Liam.

When I found this out, it confirmed my worst fears. Kids saw being with Liam as a burden.

I had to remind myself that Liam had a great many things to offer a friendship. Maybe not rapt interest in what you have to say. Maybe a bit too much talk about video games.

However, he’s been a helpful math tutor.

He’s a devoted, responsible group-mate.

He’s kind and friendly.

He is genuinely happy in life.

Liam will not be able to be friends with everyone.

But, being friends with Liam has its rewards.

Christmas Break

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Despite the year going well, at the start of winter break, Kieran boldly announced that he was very glad the school year was over and that he thought he had done a great job.

I shared with him that he had only made it half way. It was winter, not summer break.

It broke his heart.

It told us just how hard he was working, and just how much effort he was putting in to “holding it all together” during school hours.

We started to think about getting him more help.

We contacted the doctor to talk about medicine for Kieran.

I felt like a failure as a parent – we did not want to put him on medicine.

But despite the best school, teacher, and environment, he was still miserable as a student.

We knew that he could only take so much more of the stress…