Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

This year's Christmas has been wonderful in our family. We attended Christmas Eve services and everyone behaved very well (sometimes a challenge). The kids came home after dinner at my parents' and went straight to sleep. They needed to make sure they were sleeping well before Santa arrived.

Matthew was the first child awake this morning. He was up around 5:15 am. Normally, I would have sent him back to bed and told him it was too early but we had a special friend coming at 6 so I had to get up in 15 minutes anyway. I made him wait until 5:30 and then let him wake Jacob up so they could explore their Santa gifts together. Both boys have been good this year so their stockings were full. The only glitch is that the firetruck Matthew got was broken. Luckly, I know a store in the area that carries them and we will try to exchange it tomorrow. Other than that everyone got what they wanted. My brother even bought us an XBox 360 Kinnect so Jacob is no longer the only child in his day care class that doesn't have a video game system. Of course, I had more fun with it this afternoon than he did. Not to mention I got a good workout jumping while river rafting and playing a little football.

Our little friend, Aidan, spent the holiday with us as well since his mom had to work. It was nice having an extra kid around to enjoy. He kept sneaking under the tree and opening gifts when we weren't looking (he's only 2 1/2) which actually made it a little more fun. Of course, there were some presents for him as well so he had his own gifts to unwrap and enjoy.

We are now relaxing while the frozen pizza finishes cooking. Then we will probably watch the Packers beat the Bears and secure home field advantage for the playoffs (hopefully). I can't think of a better way to end Christmas (unless you are a Bears fan).

Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas Fun

I am trying to get the pictures and video to upload but am experiencing technical difficulties.

Christmas so far this year has been a lot of fun. One of the great things about being a parent is that you get to watch the fun of the holidays through children's eyes and enjoy new experiences every year as they grow. Even on the most difficult days at work, I can know that I will get to see my children in just a few hours.

Jacob and Matthew did a great job in their holiday performances. They both loved singing and Matthew's class had the most fun version of Go Tell It On The Mountain I have seen in a very long time. The song just fit the kids outgoing personalities and was a lot of fun to watch. I am really hoping I will find a way to get it to upload here soon.

Jacob is really loving all of the new activities he is old enough to participate in. I am having trouble keeping him to just one activity but so far I have held my ground. I am a strong believer that children really don't need to be overscheduled and I also am aware that I have a tendency to overschedule all of us. Right now Jacob has started karate lessons and really loves it. Karate is also great at teaching self-confidence and self-control. I like that it is an individual sport so he isn't competing against anyone but himself to get better.

This school year is really flying by. The kids have learned a lot and are doing great in all of their activities. We recently went to see the holiday trains. I was a little saddened to realize that Jacob is beginning to outgrow them but we still had fun. At the same time, I am excited to take him to the Milwaukee Public Museum over winter break. He will be old enough to really enjoy it and learn something.

So hopefully I can get some pictures uploaded soon.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Favorite Fall Pictures

Here are some of my favorite pictures from this fall.

Reason To Be Thankful

Here is this year's list of reasons Heather's Growing Family is thankful.

1) Everyone is a "forever" member of the family. We all have the same last name now and are all permanent members of the family. No one is a "foster", "pre-adoptive" of temporary family member. We are just a family.

2) Jacob and Matthew are getting excellent educations and doing well. This is a huge relief for me. There is nothing more important to a child's chances at success and realizing their dreams than a good education.

3) Everyone is healthy. Thankfully, we live in a country with great medical care and we are fortunate to be able to access it.

4) We have enough food to fill our stomachs every day. Not everyone in this country or other countries has that. We are fortunate to be able to eat as much as we want every day and we are thankful for it.

5) For friends and family. Being a parent is tough at times. Being a single parent is tough at times. Family and friends make the bad days possible and the good days more enjoyable.

6) A job I love. Even my children will tell you I am much happier and less stressed now. I spent almost 10 years at a job that I really disliked for 7 years. Thankfully, I now have a job I really enjoy with great co-workers and supervisors. I no longer dread going to work or count the hours until I go home. I enjoy my job and find it much easier to balance work and family needs with a job I enjoy going to.

7) Our pets. Yes, they are expensive and get in trouble but we love them any way. After all, who better to snuggle with on a cold or sad day than an animal. Who better to lift our spirits than watching dogs run and wrestle or our crazy cat climb the ladder on the bunk beds.

8) Clean drinking water. I don't think I ever really appreciated this until I saw people living in areas where clean water was not accessible. Not just for drinking but also for bathing.

9) Education. We live in a country where advanced degrees and college educations are open to almost every one. Sure, it may cost too much and require loans and working part or full-time, but it is possible.

10) The opportunity to show my children every day that democracy works. They protested with me last winter, see the people collecting recall signatures and go to the polls when I vote. We have had many conversations about why people are unhappy and what they are doing to try to force change. Whether the recall is effective or not, the politicians have started listening and some of the outrageous bills have now been defeated. My children have seen that peaceful protests do work and that every one of us can and should stand up and make a difference in our communities.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

End of Fall Update

The leaves have fallen off the trees and we are wearing winter coats. I have purchased new snow gear for the kids and we are just waiting for those first snow flakes to fall. We actually had a dusting about a week ago but it wasn't really enough to play in and only lasted a few hours. While I'm not in a hurry for winter, it will be fun to take the kids sledding and build some snowmen.

So it appears the end of fall is here. We had a great Fall. As my previous posts discusses, school is off to a great start. The kids are enjoying it and having lots of fun and success.

Jacob's school has an active PTO and the kids have a lot of opportunities. I went with his class on a field trip earlier this year to a playtime farm and pumpkin patch. I led a group of 3 kids through the farm and we all learned a lot about being a farmer. The next week Jacob's class went to a play downtown that was a lot of fun and a nice break. We actually saw it the day before as a family but it was entertaining enough to be fun twice.

Jacob attended his first dance last week. It was the fall family costume dance and he enjoyed wearing his costume for school. The kids all had a great time running around the gym and playing games of chase and tag. It's an elementary school so there was very little actual dancing going on and the kids had a great time. I even got on the dance floor and danced a little with Jacob at the end.

Matthew's school has not been as active and unfortunately he has missed the field trips with day care because he goes to 4K for 3 hours every morning. I have tried to make up for some of it by taking him myself for some one-on-one time but I know it's not the same. It's actually becoming a little bit of a problem because he is feeling left out and frustrated. I have been trying to spend extra time with just him and am going to a family dinner at his school Monday night. It's only the second fun activity the school has done and the first one we could join. I'm hoping he enjoys it and it helps him feel a little less liftout.

Jacob finished flag football and had a great time. He really enjoyed it. He has also gone to a couple of UW-Women's basketball games with my dad which he really enjoys. My dad and Jacob are both enjoying him being old enough to do a few more things togther that they both enjoy.

Both kids are loving swimming lessons. They are both making progress and having fun. It is one after school program that they have to participate in. I want them to both be strong swimmers so they can have fun with their friends when they get older and be safe.

Life with two boys is busy but also full of blessings and fun. The good times definitelly out number the challenging ones and everyone continues to do well. I can't ask for more during this month of thanksgiving.

1st Quarter Completed

Jacob and Matthew have completed their 1st quarter of their public school careers. I attended parent teacher conferences and was very impressed with their progress. They are both ahead of most of their peers academically. Jacob has already completed all of his end of the school year goals and Matthew has started the second quarter curriculum at the end of 1st quarter. I am hoping their academic success will continue.

Jacob has started having nightly homework. He brings a simple phonics level book home with beginning sight words that he is suppose to read three times. I know how important reading is to his future academic success so I actually make him read his assigned book and then also read a book of his choice from our home library. I am happy that he is in the top reading group for his class but that doesn't mean he gets to relax now. I want to make sure he is continuing to practice and progress and doesn't begin to slide.

Math is an area that I haven't really started to emphasize too much. As he gets older I may force him to practice it more but right now it doesn't seem to be necessary. His teacher stated math comes very easy to him and every time they introduce a new concept or ask him to do something a little harder, he easily accomplishes it. Last week he started bringing home basic addition worksheets. I will probably have him do extra math problems if he ever starts to have trouble but right now he is accomplishing math skills for the end of kindergarten or the beginning of first grade so I don't want to push him too hard at home.

Matthew also is finding school is very easy. I was told last week that he is getting to his day care in time for their 4K curriculum. That means he is getting the school district curriculum as well as the day care's which is a little more advanced. I am hopeful that it will give him a little bit of a head start for kindergarten next year. He is really excited about learning to read so I am hopeful he can continue to love reading and learning.

So far their school careers are off to a great start just as I am preparing to end mine. I have most of my work done for this semester which means I just have 2 classes, a research project and an internship to go before I graduate in August. It will feel so great to have this degree and work behind me. Now I just have to complete my licensure exams and I will be all set. I plan to send in the paperwork for those tests next week and hope to take the exam in December.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Special Weekend

This weekend is a weekend full of fun and excitement. Jacob started us off with getting his football pictures taken and then playing a fun game of flag football yesterday morning. After that we all went to Kids In The Rotunda for a fun concert. Kids In The Rotunda is a fun series of shows aimed at preschool and elementary school aged children. The kids really enjoy the shows and Matthew has really learned to love singing and dancing. He is going to be my little musician as he gets older.

As if that wasn't enough for one day, yesterday was the only day I had free this month to take Matthew to the pumpkin farm. I went with Jacob's kindergarten class last week but Matthew's class hasn't scheduled a trip so I wanted to make sure he got a chance to go. Jacob stayed with our friends for the afternoon and Matthew and I had some alone time at the farm. It was a great afternoon and a great chance to spend time without any distractions. Matthew picked out a very bumpy pumpkin for us and an almost perfectly round pumpkin for our friends.

Today we are running again. As I am sure you can imagine, the kids were pretty tired last night. They fell asleep within 5 minutes of hitting their pillows and slept in until almost 8 this morning.

This morning we are headed to church where it is new member Sunday. We are sponsering our friends, Cindy and Aidan, as new members. Jacob and Matthew can't wait to take Aidan's hand and stand in front of the church with him. I am looking forward to it also.

This afternoon my parents bought us tickets to see a play "ImaginOcean." I am hoping the kids really enjoy it. Then we are headed home to work on laundry and cleaning before Jacob has his interview with Big Brothers Big Sisters tomorrow.

It's another full and fun weekend. Sometimes I would like to have a weekend to just hang out and relax but then I thing about all the fun things we would miss. I guess I'll just pack up the car, take a deep breath and go have some more family fun. Life is good.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Jacob Is 6!

It is really hard to believe that next month will mark 5 years since I sat in my family doctor's office discussing Jacob's referral. The doctor gave me several reasons of why I should be cautious about accepting his referral. He spoke at length about Sturge Weber Disease and the small chance Jacob could have it. I knew in my heart he didn't and thankfully I was right. The doctor ended our meeting by handing me the information and stating, "I can tell that you already love this little boy and will be adopting him. I will be happy to help you care for him when he comes home." The doctor was right and over 4 and a half years ago I brought home an adorable and loving 17 month old boy.

That little boy just turned 6 on September 21. He has become a very funny little boy who loves life. He definetelly doesn't have Sturge Weber and none of the doctor's warnings have come true. I took him in to see that doctor last week for his 6 year old well-child check-up. The doctor examined him and talked to him for a few minutes. He then turned to me and stated Jacob has really settled down and is really mature for his age. I stated that I thought it was the age because Matthew is also beginning to settle down. He stated it isn't just the age. He stated it's not often he sees a child make the huge gains in maturity that Jacob has made over the past year. Way to go Jacob!

We celebrated Jacob's 6th birthday by going to a waterpark resort in the Dells last month. It was a lot of fun for the entire family. We met some friends up there and had a great weekend. It was fun watching how far all of the children have come in a very short period of time.

So stealing this idea from another blog I used to read. Here are 6 things I love about Jacob.

1) Jacob's smile. It's contagious and lights up his whole face.
2) His loving and caring personality. There isn't anything he won't do to please someone else (including his mommy).
3) How well he's doing in school this year. He's still ahead of many of his classmates and continues to learn new skills very quickly.
4) Watching him play sports. He is a good teammate and loves to interact with the guys.
5) The joy I see when I watch him work on a project with his Grandpa. There is no one he idolizes more. Whether it's cleaning out the truck, picking up sticks in the yard or walking through the store looking at tools, Jacob loves to spend time with his Grandpa.
6) Eating breakfast together. Matthew's school starts an hour before Jacob's and Matthew eats breakfast with his class so Jacob and I eat alone in the morning. It is a great time to talk about his school day and what he is looking forward to that day. We also spend that hour putting his lunch and backpack together.

Jacob is growing up quickly. Some days I worry he is growing up too quickly. He is becoming a big kid in front of my eyes. He will have his intake interview with Big Brothers Big Sisters next week. He wants a Big Brother or a Couple Match. He will make a great "little" for someone. His easygoing spirit and bright smile will be a great match for some prospective Big.

Fall Fun

I can't believe it's been over a month since I last posted. I got very angry with my cable company (even the person who works there agreed with me about how horrible they are) and cancelled my internet service. Now, there are other companies I could go to for internet but I decided it was thirty dollars a month I could save by cancelling it. In the meantime, I am using the free internet at McDonald's and at work. I can only post on here when I am at McDonald's which means I have to find time around my school assignments and other internet needs. It is working out so far although it is inconvient so I may have to eventually find a new internet provider or go back to the cable company and order it again (Yikes!).

So what has been going on in the past month? A lot and not so much. We have been busy but yet there hasn't been anything really major or exciting (except that Jacob turned 6 year old). Here is a run down of our family's achievements the past month.

- Jacob started kindergarten and continues to love it. He is very proud of himself for learning how to read. It was wonderful to see the excitement on his face when he proudly exclaimed that he was able to read an entire sentence without the teacher's help. Yesterday he was breezing through his Kumon worksheets on writing and reading letters and stated it was too easy. It wasn't too easy when I bought it for him last Spring.

- Matthew has been enjoying 4K. He says his favorite activity is coloring which his teacher confirmed at a conference last week. He is very creative. For example, he took a piece of paper, colored a box and circles and said it was a boat. He then scooted it around the classroom for awhile before suddenly grabbing the glue stick and more paper. He made several more papers with boxes and circles, glued them together and proudly announced he had made a train. He has been working on the train for a couple of days now.

-Matthew and Jacob have both found a real interest in Legos. They are having fun creating their own boats, helicopters and other vehicles. Matthew can spend an hour playing with Legos if we don't have anything else going on.

-Jacob started his first year of flag football. He loves it. It's really the perfect game for him. He loves to chase other kids and be chased so football turned out to be the perfect sport for that. It's his first year and you can tell but he is getting better at it every weekend. Mostly, he is just having fun.

- Swimming lessons are back in full swing. The kids are both doing really well this session. Matthew is listening better and not splashing the other kids unless they want to be splashed. Jacob is able to swim the length of the pool with rotary breathing and can tread water for about 10 minutes. It helps to learn to tread when you can't touch the bottom of the pool and don't want to hang on to your mom all the time.

- I have started my last year of grad school. It was a really rough start with emergencies at work and with babysitter's but it has been better the past few weeks. I am almost halfway through the semester which is a great feeling. Now, I'm just worried about finding an internship for this spring. I have 2 places that I am sure I can do it at but I'm waiting to hear if the university will approve either of them. I have to be much pickier about where I work this time since I have to work full-time and can't take a lot of vacation each week like I did last time. I am sure I will be able to work something out though.

So that is a quick update. I'll post about Jacob's birthday next.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

How Much Is Too Much

So I have been mentally preparing myself for the start of public school for a couple of years. Okay. The truth is I have been looking forward to this for a long time. I love watching my children learn and try new activities. I love that our elementary school is much more diverse than our middle class expensive day care center. Jacob is now making friends with children from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds, cultural backgrounds and family types. He isn't the only kid in his school who has a single mom, he isn't the only child adopted from Ethiopia and he is one of many children who have siblings who have different skin colors. I loved watching the families walk into school yesterday and seeing how many really looked a lot like ours. I knew there would be a few but there were so many ours didn't even stand out. No one batted an eye when my dark blond son and Ethiopian son both called me mom. It was normal there.

So Jacob is off and running. He starts flag football next weekend. He is in youth swim lessons instead of preschool swimming. He has already completed and brought home his first assignment. (He drew a picture of himself and wrote his name. The original is hanging in the classroom but the teacher photcopied them so the parents could see what the kids did their first week). I am now finding that all of those years of preparation are paying off.

So now the question is what type of a mom will I be. The media loves to give moms names such as helicopter moms and tiger moms. So what kind of mom will I be? I'm not sure the name I would give myself. Maybe some of my readers can help me with it. Here is a brief description.

-School is important. My children will be expected to complete all of their work, correct any mistakes and learn as much as they possibly can. Bs will be acceptable but will require addtional work to try to improve them. A's are the goal and A- the lowest possible without extra work with Mom. Extra work may just be having Mom check work over before turning it in or it may be extra math problems and reading time at night.

-Extra work will be completed after home work or on weekends on any subject area with a B- or lower. In elementary school with the number ratings it will be anything below 3 on a scale of 1-4. 3s or 4s just mean a pat on the back and no extra work beyond teacher assigned work. 4s will be rewarded with praise and if there are mostly 4s with a special reward at the end of the semester such as choosing any place to eat dinner or getting to choose a fun activity for the family.

-Missed school days because of illness or emergencies will result in Mom picking up work from the teacher and bringing it home to complete. The work can wait until the child is healthy enough to get out of bed and begin playing but it will be completed before returning to school. Every parent knows when there child begins to act "normal" and show signs of being well again. That is the point where the homework will come out if it wasn't done earlier.

- Frequent communication with teachers. No, I'm not the mom who emails the teacher several times a week to make sure everything is going well. It's not that I don't want to but I realize I need to let my child learn to swim or sink for himself. If the child is bringing home good grades and the work is completed, there may be very little to talk about and it can wait until conferences. If the child is struggling, then frequent emails will be exchanged until the child is no longer struggling. It doesn't have to be daily but it will be as often as necessary to make sure everyone is succeeding. As well as offering to come in and help out when the class has field trips or for special occassions such as Ethiopian holidays.

- I believe teachers should be able to teach the way they want to at the rate they want. As a parent, it is my job to provide extra support if I feel my child isn't learning as much as they should or is struggling in any area. Especially if he has a teacher that may not be pushing as much as other teachers in the area. The teacher won't be hearing me complain that the kids aren't reading enough or learning enough, I will just quietly supplement it at home.

- I won't be hiring tutors to make sure my child is valedictorian. I won't be scheduling "cultural" lessons three or four nights a week to try to make him more well-rounded. He will be allowed to just be a kid, relax and play every day. They are only allowed to be in one sport other than swimming lessons during the week.

So that is current philosophy on parenting. Now I am sure the more experienced parents out there are laughing at me. Who wouldn't? I laugh at new moms too. My expectations and philosophy will change as I learn, my kids learn and life goes on. After all, isn't it just plain life that often gets in the way of our ideals and plans? Hey, life happens. My kids and I will continue to roll with the punches and adjust as needed to meet our lifestyles and needs.

So what kind of label would you give this mom?

Kindergarten Success!

Jacob is a kindergarten success story. He loves it there. I was a few minutes early picking him up yesterday and saw him go to his locker to get his backpack. He was full of smiles and excitement. He has even figured out the trick to getting his locker to open when it sticks!

I decided to walk Jacob home from school yesterday. I remember hating walking home from school but I also realize how much I learned on those walks. It was a chance to just relax and have fun while looking at the sky, grass, insects and world around me. I wanted Jacob to have that same experience. He normally rides the bus to day care but I took yesterday off work so he came home instead.

The walk home as well as much of the past 2 days has been full of stories about the wonderful things he has done and kids he has met. He states they are all his best friends and there aren't any he plays with more than others. I am sure that will change as the year goes on but for now it's great that he likes everyone.

I have spent a lot of time thinking about what our evening routine will look like. Jacob's not thrilled that I am instituting a new "routine" at home but I have noticed that those kids who do best in school are often the ones with a pretty structured home life. So here is a look at what I hope our new routine will be.

5:30 Arrive home. Mom cooks dinner while the kids play or watch TV.

6:30 (or whenever dinner is finished and the table cleared off). Look through Jacob's backpack with him. Discuss homework assignments. Find something positive about each piece of work before discussing what he could have done differently.

6:35 Work on any homework or assignments that weren't completed at school or day care. Check over assignments for the next day.

After homework is completed or additional work completed the following list is completed in order:

- Get backpack ready for the next day. Pack lunch box and place in fridge if not eating hot lunch.

- Play or watch TV. Must be inside the house by 7:30 if playing outside with neighbor's kid.

- 7:45 pm Bath time while I get Matthew ready for bed, read books to him and have -one-on-one time.

- 8:15 pm Read stories and have a few minutes of one-on-one time.

- 8:30 Tucked into bed. Light on with a few books to look at

- 8:45 Lights out and books put away.

That is Jacob's new routine. I am sure it will be adjusted slightly as the year goes on. The bedtime seems a little late but really it's earlier than he went to bed last year (by about half an hour). Since he rarely takes naps at home or day care anymore, I don't think he will require extra sleep. He gets up about 6:45 so he gets a full night's sleep. Matthew goes to bed a little earlier because he seems to need the extra sleep. He also gets up closer to 6:15 or 6:30.

I hope this routine works and the kids both strive from it. Matthew will have a similar routine when 4K starts next week except he doesn't really have any homework or even academic work to look over. He will do a little more structured learning later in the year and I will spend time looking at his work from school also but he won't have the same academic expectations until next year. For him, we will look over his papers together, discuss what he did really well, review anything he might have been working on and then just go play until 7:15 when his bath and bedtime routine begin.

There are also some nights where our routine just won't work. Tuesday nights Matthew has swimming lessons from 6:30 until 7:00 and Jacob has lessons from 7 until 7:45. We will get home around 8:15 and both kids will have to get ready for bed, read stories as a family and then go to bed at the same time. Thursday nights I have class so I will have to pull out any homework for Jacob before he goes to his babysitter's house, read any notes or newsletters on my break at school and then go over his worksheets Friday night. The babysitter will get him ready for bed and he will have to sleep in the car on the way home. I am hoping he won't be too tired on Friday mornings but it is the best I can do for this year. At least I only have class one day a week so it is only one late night a week.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Start of Something Big

Today was the start of something big. Big kid school has begun. My little baby I first met 4 years ago in Ethiopia is now in kindergarten.

It was a little bit of shock to see how small he looked next to all the 3rd, 4th and 5th graders. He has been one of the big kids in his preschool program for the past year. Now he is one of the little kids again. And he did look little. It was a little hard for me to walk away with him surrounded by so many big kids outside a very big school. Even if the teachers were right there.

I worried about him all day. I knew in my mind he would be fine but my heart ached. Was he having fun? Was he making friends? Was his teacher as nice as she seemed? Would he be okay on the bus? Would they remember to help him get on the right bus?

In the end he did great. He loves that they have recess 3 times (including lunch). His teacher made him eat his vegetables at lunch which he didn't like but I love. He played games and made a lot of new friends. He saw some old friends who are in different classes when he was at recess and lunch. He loved riding the bus and proudly told me he is the 3rd stop. He complained when I picked him up from the school age day care classroom because he wanted more time to play with his friends. Many of them were the same kids he was in 4K with last year. They all went to different elementary schools but get to see each other after school.

Jacob had a great first day. I missed him and will continue to miss the baby he used to be. Yet I continue to be amazed at the young man he is becoming. He was exhausted after not sleeping well last night (he kept waking up asking if it was time to eat breakfast yet) and a full day of fun. I caved in and let him watch a movie on my computer tonight. Matthew was feeling left out of all the kindergarten excitement so he got to watch too. His new school year starts next week. He will be part of the 1st 4K class in our district.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Registration, conference and school supplies done!

There is nothing more to do but wait now. Jacob is registered for school, his supplies are packed and we have been practicing getting to school early for the past week. Matthew will be registered this week and we meet with his teacher Wednesday night.

Registration: Jacob will be in kindergarten and Matthew will be in 4K this year. The way the district set up the 4K system this year (it will probably change again next year) is that 4K students from our attendance area are bussed to an elementary school about 1 mile from our home. Not too bad but it means the kids will be attending different schools with different start times. Matthew starts class at 7:40 and Jacob begins at 8:30 so we have 50 minutes to drive 1 mile. Enough time to come back home for a quick breakfast or cartoon (or maybe some extra reading if this mom has her way).

Ready Set Go conferences: I absolutely love these. All elementary students and their parents have an individual conference at the beginning of the year to discuss the students. It is a chance to talk about our family and how we handle issues such as making gifts for father's day. It is also a chance to talk about how we celebrate adoption and Ethiopian culture and find ways to bring some of that culture into Jacob's classroom.

The teachers also write short individual learning plans for the children. The learning plans address academic goals and social/emotional goals. Jacob's teacher was really impressed with how much he already can do. There was another teacher who works with children in small groups who need extra help. She stated it was clear Jacob would definitely not be one of those kids. His goals for the year are to be reading words by the end of 1st semester (he can already read and spell some) and reading books by the end of the year. My guess is he will be reading books long before the end of the year. He's already getting really close. His social goal is just to work on building his confidence which he lacks when it comes to learning new skills. Something he is getting better at but still could use some improvement.

Matthew has his ready set go conference next week. I already spoke to his teacher on the phone about some more sensitive issues but am looking forward to talking to her face to face this week with Matthew. I think it's important Matthew see that I am working with his teacher and we will have the same expectations. My goals for him is to be able to recognize all of his letters by the end of the 1st semester and be able to write them and know their sounds by the end of the year. For social/emotional it will just be that he contiune to work on social skills and following directions. Standard 4 year old preschool goals. I would also like to get rid of some of these tantrums he has had in recent days. I'm not sure where they are coming from but this is definitely a phase that I hope is short lived.

Last night Jacob and I packed up his backpack and school supplies. He needs 1 more notebook because I accidentally got one college lined. I can use that one (my school supplies are also here and ready to go) and I will one more for him this week. Matthew's supplies are also ready to go but he was really tired last night and fell asleep before we could pack them up. Jacob and I will drop off his supplies Thursday morning and Matthew will take his with him on Wednesday when we have his conference.

Then all we have to do is wait. And continue to practice getting up early and reading together. Jacob starts school Sept. 1 and Matthew begins Sept. 6. I start my last year of graduate school (woo hoo!!!) Sept 8. I really like Jacob and Matthew's teachers and believe this will be a great year for both of them. No more bad day cares (they will stay at the center they are at now for after school care) and no more worrying about if their daycares are giving them what they need to be successful. There school careers are starting and mine will be ending in just 12 months.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Culture Camp 2011

Jacob, Matthew and I attended culture camp for the first time this year. The camp, Ethiopian American Culture camp, was held in Williams Bay, Wisconsin. There were about 300 attendees and everyone had a great time.

We were originally going to camp but after arriving decided it wasn't the best set up for our family. The area the families were setting up tents were right on the edge of the area where the kids were playing and the music and dancing would be until 10:30 at night. I felt our family needed more privacy and a place to go if anyone got overwhelmed. Matthew had a little trouble Saturday so it was actually a good move.

We were lucky to be able to move into 1 of 2 cabins where people had cancelled their reservations. The cabins had 4 bunk beds (8 beds), a table with chairs, a ceiling fan, lights and electricity. Much nicer than the tent near the campfire.

The camp was a lot of fun. Jacob and Matthew learned how to write their names in Amharic as well as some new facts about Ethiopia and Africa. They met people who grew up in Ethiopia and even a couple that stil live there now and were just here visiting. There were Ethiopian American families and teenagers and there were many families that looked similar to ours. Matthew's favorite part of the camp was learning how to do traditional Ethiopian dancing. It was fun watching him dancing and even more fun watching him really enjoy spending time with an Ethiopian grandmother.

Jacob and Matthew both came home with lots of fun stories and even more importantly a new sense of pride. Jacob was proud of his Ethiopian heritage and culture and Matthew was proud to have an Ethiopian born brother. They are already looking foward to next year's camp and I am hopeful we will be able to attend again.

Sunday, July 24, 2011


I have not been camping in about 4 years. I thought about going last year but couldn't find a weekend to go. I was also very nervous about taking the children by myself. Jacob went camping with me and some of my friends when he was 1 but Matthew has never gone. This year I have weekends off work so I really didn't have an excuse not to go.

The kids and I had a great time. Matthew was a little overexcited the first night which led to only about 6 hours of sleep and a very overly tired kid today. The good news is that tired and bad days for Matthew are nothing like they were even just 6 months ago so things went pretty well.

Matthew and Jacob slept really well in the tent last night and even Friday night after they calmed down enough to go to sleep. They even slept until almost 8 this morning which is really unheard of in our house. There were two pretty big storms that rolled through last night and Matthew slept through both of them. Jacob woke up a little but quickly went back to sleep after being reassured that everything was okay. I got a little nervous at one point and considered moving us to the shelter but I checked the radar on my blackberry and saw the storm was almost past.

The best part of the weekend was really just having fun with some amazing people from church. There were 8 kids there ranging from 6 months to almost 6 years old. The kids played together very well and Jacob was a great help with the younger children. Matthew is really good with babies and prides himself in always being gentle with them. He was gentle with the younger kids this weekend as well. All of the kids (except the baby) enjoyed swimming in the lake and jumping off the pier.

I enjoyed a weekend outside without TV. We don't watch much TV but we also don't just stop and enjoy nature very often either. It was amazing watching the kids explore nature. Matthew wouldn't go to sleep last night until he got a chance to say good night to the daddy longlegs spiders by the bathroom. He said they were his new friends. Jacob loved the huge and beautiful spider webs that can only be found in the woods. The kids also found a very large and wooly caterpillar which Matthew really wanted to keep. With a very sad face, he returned the caterpillar to a nearby tree after we talked about how the caterpillar would die if he kept it and it probably really missed it's family.

Now that the fun part of camping is done the not so fun part begins. The very tired kids are in bed early tonight. The van is mostly unpacked except a few odds and ends. The clothes are being washed and the tarp is drying. The tent finished drying out this afternoon and is now resting in the garage. I will set it up and clean it out later this week so it is ready to go next weekend.

Yes, I said next weekend. This weekend was camping with friends from church. Next weekend is Ethiopian American culture camp where I hope we meet new friends and have a great time. This weekend we cooked over an open campfire. Next weekend the food will be prepared for us, our days very busy and the tent really only used for sleeping. It will be a great time even if it isn't very relaxing. Hopefully, we will be able to go camping one or two more times this year. I would love to take the kids some weekend this fall when it is a little cooler but still a lot of fun.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Fall Plans In Place

Everyone in my home will be attending public school this fall. This was a decision that I have had a lot of trouble making.

I'll start with me. I will be completing my last year (3 semesters) of grad school. It will feel so great to finally be finished. I really questioned whether I wanted to return after the Spring semester. It was a really difficult semester. I had a new job, was pregnant for part of it before losing the baby in a miscarriage and completed Matt's adoption. It was really just too much. I think I would have struggled without school but the demands of school were just too much. Then things settled down the last few weeks and I was able to pass all of my classes and actually did better than I thought I would.

Next year will still be difficult. I am worried about completing my internship in the spring and summer. I will have to work 16 hours a week at my internship as well as my normal 40 hours a week at my job. My employer has said they will help me as much as they can. I can do some work at home for both the internship and regular job which will help. I can also work the internship through spring break and break between semesters which will also help decrease the hours a little. A lot of how easy it will be to get all of the work done will depend on my caseload at work. Since I can't control my caseload, I'll just know that I have to work hard and it is only for a few months.

Jacob will be starting kindergarten in the fall. Another decision that was a little difficult but probably the easiest one of all. Jacob will be attending public school for several reasons. I like our school system and know he will get a good education there. I have spent quite a bit of time in the schools and know the teachers really care and Jacob will do well there. He will also have more diversity than he would get in public school or the neighboring school districts. His elementary school has a mission statement that includes celebrating the cultural history of all of it's students.

Matthew will be attending 4K in the public schools this fall. This was a little more difficult decision. I knew I wanted him to attend 4K but it was hard to decide where he should attend. The district has several sites parents can choose from. Originally he was going to attend at the Y so he would have cheaper wrap around care but I was concerned about him changing day cares. He has been at our current center for just over a year. It's the longest he has ever attended one daycare and he has been thriving there. He has some trouble with transitions so I was concerned about how changing daycares again would affect him.

I considered leaving Matthew at the daycare he is at now for 4K but it is very expensive. It would have cost about $240 a week to attend there. I could save a lot of money if I had him go to the Y and had Jacob attend daycare either at the school or at the Y. This would have meant having kids at 2 different centers that needed to be picked up every night which is not something I was looking forward to but I wasn't sure I wanted to spend the extra money.

I mentioned to the daycare that we were leaving in the fall because it was too expensive to stay there. I needed to save the extra money especially since I no longer receive a subsidy for Matthew (it ended after his adoption). The director spoke to me and we began discussing discounts if both children attend and if Matthew attends 4K off site in the morning. I called the school district last week and they stated they would provide transportation for him to and from 4K at a nearby elementary school for free. The director stated this would be fine and he will be charging me a lot less every week.

It is now affordable to have the kids attend public school for 4K and 5K and daycare at the same place they have been going. I will be saving about $800 a month in daycare costs. The kids will have the security of attending the same daycare when they aren't in school. Matthew will be able to attend "big kid" school 3 hours a day and will be a nice way to transition to full-day school next year.

So after months of struggling with trying to decide where everyone should go to school, the decisions are finally made. Everyone has spots reserved in the desired programs and registration has begun. Now, I just need to swallow hard and begin looking for sales on school supplies.

Another Weekend of Swimming

This weekend is another weekend of swimming. We have gone swimming almost every weekend so far this summer. Last weekend was Devil's Lake and this weekend was Gov. Nelson State Park. Gov. Nelson isn't nearly as nice as Devil's Lake but it's still a beautiful park where the kids can swim and get full of sand. I love it because they are cheap day trips that are still a lot of fun.

Along with the state parks, we have also been taking advantage of our Y membership. We are in the swimming pool there almost every weekend. Again another free activity since we have a Y membership.

I am very excited this year that I am going to finally be able to do almost everything on my summer wish list. Sure there are a lot of things I should do and haven't like cleaning out my house and the kids toys but I am slowly working on those things. Mostly I am just enjoying having a summer with every weekend off work.

This is the first year I have had a job that was strictly Monday through Friday. For the past ten years I worked 3 out of 4 weekends a month. Now, I get to enjoy all of those weekend activities I have wanted to do for a long time. Our summer has been full of fun activities like a Clinic At A Time fundraiser, swimming and short hikes, walks around the block, swimming outside, t-ball, soccer, birthday parties and inside and visiting sprinkler parks. There are still more things I am looking forward to such as our first family church camp and our first Ethiopian American culture camp.

I am also really enjoying having a set schedule with days off that I can plan on every week. No more telling my children we can't go to a birthday party or other event because I am working. No more telling Jacob he can't play a sport because Mom has to work. We now have a set routine and busy and full weekends.

Changing careers was a great move that has been wonderful for my family. While I lost some flexibility in my evenings, I gained flexiblity during the weekends and even during the week. I can now flex my hours to be able to go to appointments instead of using time from my leave balances. I can enjoy my children every weekend instead of paying someone else to spend that time with them. It has been a great summer in part because I have a new job.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Blessed To Be American

People have been lining up to try to come to America since 1776. During the past 235 years America has changed and I believe mostly for the best. Change is a slow process and America continues to evolve and work to find ways to make life better for all of us. People continue to line up at our embassies around the world hoping and praying for a chance to "win the lottery" and be able to come here. Refugees come here somewhat unwillingly to begin to make a new life for their families. We are becoming more diverse every year and there are some experts who believe people of white European decent will no longer be in the majority in the future. Some people have concerns about our increasing diversity but I see it as an asset. By learning about all of the different culutures in this country, we are able to become a better and more diverse America. We are able to learn from each other, enjoy new and different foods, music and lifestyles and learn how to be more accepting and tolerant as a result.

Here are some of the other wonderful blessings we have and should be thankful for.

1) Plenty of food. Yes there are people who are hungry in this country. I have worked with many food insecure families in the past few months but the truth is food is available for most of us. Those who are food insecure are able to visit food pantries and free community meals as well as receive food from the governmen. We have private and government programs to help people who don't have a way to find food. Not all countries have these programs.

2) Free education. My children will go to school for free. I don't have to worry about finding a school uniform so my children can attend. I don't have to worry about paying high private school tuitions if I don't want to. I get the luxury of spending way too much time worrying about which public or private school to send my children to not if they will be able to attend.

3) A great higher education system. I realize some people have trouble paying for college and it's very important that higher education remain affordable for Americans. Yet we also have a college system that allows most people to attend even if it means borrowing money. I recently spoke to a young woman who had the grades but not the test scores to attend college. She was able to enroll in a public university where she is taking college courses this summer as a "bridge program" to help her prepare for college in the fall. As long as she passes the classes they have asked her to take this summer she will be able to attend college in the fall. There are grant and loan programs to help people pay for college. There are many different colleges to choose from and people can pursue any degree their talent and interst is in.

4) Health care. No matter where you stand on the public health care issue, we are all blessed to live in a country where health care is easy to obtain. Anyone can show up in an emergency room and receive care. For those of us lucky enough to have health insurance or wealthy enough to pay for it, we have great health care availble. Vaccines are routinely given out and it is rare to find a child who has not been immunized. We have enough doctors and clinics to care for all of our sick and injured.

5) Clean water.

6) Paved highways and roads.

7) Electricity

8) The ability to pursue our dreams, decide we no longer have the same dreams, return to school or move and pursue new dreams.

9) Travel freely throughout the country to visit family and friends without stopping at government check points or having to explain where we are going and why.

10) State and national parks that we can enjoy for cheap or free.

There are many more blessings than just the ones I have listed here. Everyone has there favorite activities. Just remember none of these things came to us for free. Our soldiers lost their lives. Our citizens worked hard in the private and public sector. Our children have studied hard. Yes, we have a ways to go. We have a lot to work on. But we have a good start. Together we will contine to evolve and grow as individual communities and a country.

Politics in Wisconsin has shown us all how far we have to go. My hope is that the ugly policies of the recent months will soon be a thing of the past but until then it's important to remember that even with our current administration we are very blessed to live here. We need to continue to stand united and all work together to continue to make this country great for all of her people.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

1/3 finished

Can you believe summer is almost 1/3 over? I can't. Once again summer is going way too fast but it has been one of our best summers so far. I love hot weather and we have had some hot days and some not so great days but even with that this past month has been great. Yes I know I did some whining on my last post but life always has ups and downs and right now I'm focusing on the ups.

A big part of why this summer has been so much fun is that the boys have really grown up a lot since last year. Matthew has really grown and matured including in his social skills. Remember he is only 4 so social skills are something all children his age are still trying to master. Last night at softball I was playing catcher and taking occassional peaks at my kids between plays. I realized how nice it was that I didn't have to hire a babysitter this year. I could trust the kids to play nicely with the other children from our church and not worry that they would be hurting them or running off. Of course, I still kept a close eye on them but I knew the other adults could handle anything big and I didn't need someone assigned just to them.

We are also enjoying swimming more this year. Matthew started swimming lessons last fall and has progressed to a point that he is okay in water up to his chest without me worrying that he will fall and not be able to stand up. He can swim 3 to 4 feet without stopping which is far enough if he accidentally goes out to far. Jacob can now swim the length of the pool so I really only have to keep a super close eye on Matthew if he doesn't have a life jacket on. We checked out the city outdoor pool on Sunday and loved it.

This is also the first year that I have a set schedule with every weekend off. I can't even begin to describe how nice that is. To be able to choose which free or cheap weekend events we want to attend and not have to worry about trying to get time off work to do things with my kids is nice. My job has kept me very busy this month but that is fine. It makes my wonderful weekends come that much faster.

I also have holidays off now and that is putting a lot less stress on me. I always hated asking my family to watch my kids on holidays. I also hated missing the holidays with my kids. Now I get holidays off and can do fun things with the kids. Like watch the Memorial Day parade and watch the fireworks next Monday. Even when I do want an extra day off work for something it is much easier to get it off now. I flexed my hours last week so I could take yesterday morning off to take the kids to the dairy farm on their day care field trip. I plan on taking half a day off when we go to church family camp and Ethiopian American Culture Camp later in July.

There is still 2 months of summer left before Jacob starts kindergarten and the weather begins to cool down. 2 months of summer fun. I plan to enjoy as much of it as I can.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

More Ups and Downs

Life around here has been full of ups and downs the past few weeks. It's also kept me way to busy to blog on here even though I really wanted to.

So here's a quick wrap up of some of the more major events.

Matthew changed class rooms at day care. He is now back with the kids he was getting in trouble with last fall. As I suspected, he has had a few moments where he has been in trouble for being too silly and loud. He really feeds off the other boys in the room who are also always in trouble for being too silly and loud.

Matthew had a little regression in behavior at home as well as he transitioned away from his favorite teacher. He had Ms. Callie longer than any other teacher by about 9 months. He really loved her and it was hard for him to only see her a few times a day and not all day. He has come out of it pretty well though and the transition was much smoother and faster than previous transitions. It is great to see him maturing and feeling safer faster in new settings.

Jacob graduated 4K and is ready for kindergarten. His teacher told me he is ahead of the other children in his room and she has caught him reading a few times. The assistant director also stated she has noticed he is ahead of his peers. I only hope it continues this fall when he starts "real school."

Jacob has enjoyed playing t-ball but after 2 months he is starting to burn out. The season is just a little too long for these young kids. It's 2 games a week for about 10 weeks. I gave in today and told him he could skip it today. He agreed he wants to play in his last 2 games of the season.

I am playing softball and coaching this year. I enjoy it although it is a lot more work coaching than I thought it would be. I am having fun though and might volunteer to coach again next year depending on what is going on in our busy lives.

Work has been going well. I really do like my job. The past 3 weeks have been very busy and I am really hoping it slows down a little so I can get caught up. I like that it's normally busy though and I don't have a lot of down time. I also love working with all of the families and children and helping them to find resources to meet their needs. Of course, the current political climate in Wisconsin makes it very difficult to help people in need but I won't go there today. Just know I am fully on board to try to recall the current governor in about 7 months.

Besides just being way too busy my car needs about $200 in maintenance and my washing machine isn't working. I lost day care funding when I adopted Matthew so money has been tight without these new expenses. Hopefully I can get the washing machine repaired for fairly cheap and as soon as I have some extra time. There is no way around the car issue. I just have to take it in and pay the money. Jacob goes to kindergarten in the fall so his day care bill will be cut in half and money will be easier to find then.

Today we are planning to go pick strawberries at a local farm and then have a picnic lunch at a park. It should be a lot of fun. And of course we will enjoy eating some of the strawberries for lunch.

We have been swimming almost every weekend and will probably go swimming again tomorrow. Our neighbors are having a gathering in the morning that we will probably attend and then hit the pool in the afternoon. The kids are very excited to see the new Cars 2 movie but it will probably have to wait a week. I am trying hard not to be quite as rushed or overscheduled as I was during the school year. It's nice to just have time to sit at home and relax.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

A Month Post Adoption

The first 6 months after a new child moves into a home can be very rough. My experience is the first 6 weeks are often the toughest and can make or break a placement. At least it seems that way in my home. Every parent is different and every placement is different but for me the first few weeks have seemed almost impossible. Then it slowly gets better.

Matt's adoption was no different at placement. He spent the first 3 days at my door crying "bye bye." He was 15 months old. As time passed, his case went through the courts and I worked with the social worker to try to reunite him with his birth mother. Matthew began to settle in and within 6 months he felt more like a forever member of the family. I still worked hard and the social worker worked even harder to reunite him but I began to believe he was here to stay. Matthew began to forget his previous home and would become confused if someone mentioned he had another mother out there. To the world I was his foster mother, to Matthew I was his mommy. There was nothing "foster" or temporary about it. Matthew was beginning to heal from the past trauma he had experienced. He still had some behavioral problems but they were far less severe than the first six months home and the emotional effects were beginning to fade.

When Matthew was almost 3 he told me to stop calling his birth mother "Mommy" because I was Mommy. End of story. Of course there was a lot going on behind the scenes that I will keep confidential out of respect to everyone involved but for Matthew he knew the truth. No matter what the courts or social workers or even I said, he only had one mommy. Yes there was another woman out there who is very special and deserves to be recognized as his birth mother but she was no longer "Mommy." It made me sad for her to hear Matthew say it but I also knew that I needed to recognize where Matthew was at. So I began to refer to her by her first name rather than Mommy so and so. And Matthew continued to heal.

Matthew has continued to grow and heal as he has gone through the foster care journey but he still wanted to have my family's last name and to be adopted. The past six months were really hard for him. He began to understand adoption and ask more questions about why he wasn't adopted. Then the big day came. I got the email that he was free for adoption and I could request a court date. I told Matthew that evening and his whole face lit up. He began telling people he was having "an adoption party."

Just over 4 weeks ago, Matthew and I went to court. In front of our family and previous social workers, the judge asked Matthew if he knew why he was there. Matt smiled and said, "For my adoption party!" The judge laughed and said that he was there for that. He said he had never heard it described that way but yes, it was a party. Matthew sat quietly through court. He seemed a little intimidated but he was taking it all in. When the judge told everyone Matthew's new legal name, Matthew smiled. Jacob and Matthew got new stuffed animals from the judge and the hearing ended. Matthew was now a legal member of the family he had been telling people he belonged to for a long time.

The past 4 weeks have been nothing short of inspirational and inspiring. Matthew had been doing really well. I had no concerns. I wasn't getting phone calls or complaints from day care or sitters. He was just as happy as ever. So I was really surprised by his behaviors after court. The first few days after court he wasn't feeling well and was stil trying to figure everything out. Then it suddenly clicked. His behaviors mellowed out even more and he just seems more content. He just appears to feel like he belongs. Sure he still acts out occassionally or gets jealous of Jacob but it's different. He just seems more secure.

Matthew loves to tell people his new name. His full name. He tells people where his middle name came from (it's my dad's). When people ask if he had a birthday recently (he turned 4 May 17) he says, "Yes and I had an adoption party!" The adoption was a much bigger deal to him than his birthday was.

The first 6 months of a placement are rough. I expected that. I didn't expect how much change the first month post adoption would bring for a child placed here for 2 years. It's been good change. Adoption was in his best interest. He is now a child here forever and yes, he now has only 1 mommy. He still has a birth mom who loves him a lot. We will continue to talk about her and recognize her but his dream is now true. He has an adoption day (we call family day) and he now has my last name.

Welcome to the family Matthew. It's been almost 3 years since I first met you and took you to my home. It's been over a year since you stated I was your only mommy. It's been 1 month since the judge made you a legal forever member of the family. It's been a long journey and one I would do all over again just to call you my son.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Soccer Surprise

I always knew I would be a sports mom but I never dreamed I would be a soccer mom. I love watching my children play sports but I always thought I would leave the coaching to the "other parent" preferably someone who could be a good male role model. That has all changed now.

The soccer season began in April. At the first game, the parents on Jacob's team quickly realized no one there was the coach. That means in the rec league world a parent would need to step up. I decided to give it a try for a game and see how it went. I loved it. 6 games later I have now volunteered to coach again next season. I really hope I am allowed to coach.

I have seen a variety of coaches on the field. Most of them great with the same attitude I have. Others have left me to raise my eyebrows. Sure I believe the children should be encouraged to play but I also remember that they are 5 and 6 years old. None of these children will most likely grow up to be the next professional soccer star. Some might decide to play high school or even college soccer and the rest will move on to other things as they grow older. At this time, the children are too young to predict which children will fall into what category.

My philosophy coaching is to allow all children equal playing time. If I see that my team is overpowering the other team, I will try to have some of my less skilled (usually younger) players play together to give a few more opportunities for the other team to catch up. If I see that my players are being overpowered, I try to make sure I always have one of my older players on the field with the younger ones and then cheer them on no matter how close they get to scoring the goal.

I also try to treat each child as an individual. There are some children who struggle just kicking the ball where they want to kick it or running and kicking at the same time. I cheer for those children anytime they kick the ball whether they kick where they intended to or not. Then there are the more skilled players who hear me most when they do score a goal or make a great play. I also try to make sure each child kicks the ball even if that means he or she kicks off or completes more corner and goal kicks than another player. My goal is for the kids to have fun and learn not to become pros.

Today I watched a coach scold a child for not running fast enough. He told another child if he didn't start kicking the ball harder he would have to sit out. My thought was that these are young children. If they need an extra break, give it to them. If they run a little slower because they are hot and tired, so be it. As long as they are having fun and learning the game, I don't care if they score a goal. This coach was frustrated that his kids weren't scoring against ours and stated "they don't have a chance." That annoyed me as well. Yes my kids were dominating but his kids were playing hard and having fun. There is a reason we don't keep score at this age. Because the score doesn't matter. What matters is that the children have fun, learn sportsmanship, get exercise and possibly learn some good life lessons (like how to be a good friend to everyone on and off the field) not that they score the winning goal.

Enough said. We now have 2 months until the next season. I am hoping to get to coach again. I officially volunteered and will attend the coach training sessions if I am invited and able to make them. Until then, it is time to enjoy the last few weeks of swimming lessons and concentrate on being a t-ball mom. From the sidelines this time.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Why 4 Is Important

In our family, turning 4 is a very big deal. You get a new bike, a new car seat (if you weigh enough) and can chew gum. Matthew turns 4 in a little over a week. I gave him is new bike yesterday because I had time to get it and we won't be around much next weekend. He loves it. He rode it to the elementary school today for his soccer game and did a good job on it. He really likes having a "big bike" like his brother and be able to keep up with him a little bit better.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Introducing My Son!

Matthew Stertz (M) was adopted today. He is now my son. I am no longer his foster parent. I am now his mom. I am happy to see this journey come to an end and will cherish this day forever.

Becoming A Family

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Sick Kids

There is nothing worse than having a sick kid. M has been sick for 3 days. I am pretty sure it is the flu and I really hope he feels better tomorrow for Easter. It has been 7 hours since I gave him ibuprofen and so far the fever has stayed away. He came in my room a few minutes ago and announced, "Mom, I feel better now." I hope that's true. Poor kid. The doctor ran out of the flu vaccine last fall and I never followed up. I have never had the flu before and didn't realize how miserable it really is. I can guarantee everyone he will be getting the flu shot from now on. Thankfully, Jacob had an appointment for his well child check up last September during the last flu clinic and he was able to get vaccinated so maybe he won't get sick. Fingers crossed.

Having sick kids is always a good reminder of how blessed I am. My parents were able to step in the past 2 days and watch M will I worked. I have a job that is much more flexible than my last job and was able to leave work long enough to take M to the doctor without having to plan ahead and wait for someone to replace me. I could also flex my time and stop home in the middle of the day Thursday and Friday to check on M and make sure he was doing okay.

I am also very aware of how blessed I am to live in this country when my children are sick. I could run to the grocery store and have several medications to choose from, a variety of sports drinks and juices to pick out and lots of food choices that might be easier to eat.

In the past hour M has started eating, is fighting with Jacob and is back to his old energetic self. Now I just need to see if it lasts but either way it is a good sign. Maybe he will feel okay for Easter tomorrow.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Thinking About Spring

It's hard to believe spring is here and has been for awhile. The weather outside is a very cold rain and there is even some talk of snow showers later today. Yuck! Not the 50s and 60s it is suppose to be this time of year. Tomorrow is suppose to be back in the 50s so I am focusing on the positive. Spring is here and last couple of weeks prove it. It just took a two day vacation.

Two weeks ago Jacob had his first t-ball practice. He was suppose to get his uniform today but it's really not baseball weather today. Soccer started last week for Jacob and M. I ended up coaching Jacob's team which I really enjoyed. I would prefer he had a coach who knows more about soccer but I really did have a lot of fun.

Last Saturday Jacob, M, P and I went to the zoo. It was a nice day with a high in the upper 50s and the animals were really enjoying it. The bears were more active than I have seen them in a long time. The baby lion hasn't made his debut yet so we will have to return soon for that.

The weather is suppose to be nice again tomorrow (or at least nicer) so I will be heading to the soccer field again. I love this part of parenting. When I dreamed of being a mom it was always watching my kids play sports and reading to them at night. I love that I get to do both now.

11 Days!

11 days until a huge family announcement! That's right. Our family is growing and the announcement is coming in 11 days!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Disappearing Act

It amazes me to think that my readers out there must think I have fallen off the face of the earth at a time when I feel like I have to be everywhere at once. That was especially true Thursday evening. I had three meetings at work at the same time in three different cities while I was receiving text messages from my dad about evening plans and how early could I get home while a group of my fellow students was patiently waiting for me in a city almost two hours away and the doctor's office was calling wanting me to go in and see them as soon as possible. To say I was feeling overwhelmed and frustrated is an understatement. Yet somehow I managed to juggle everything with minimal effects on othe people. I know some of them were a little annoyed (okay one was actually angry) that I couldn't be in 5 different places at the same moment in time, it all worked out okay in the end.

It can be hard to meet all of my responsiblities at the same time. It is during these very busy times that I seem to drop off the face of the earth to many people, not just my readers.I begin getting emails and phone calls from friends wondering why I have been so quiet and wouldn't I like to spend some time with them? Of course I do and I will. Just maybe not this week.

So how do I juggle the responsiblities of a demanding job, children (who are sometimes demanding and should be), school and family obligations? I prioritize. I can say I have gotten pretty good at prioritizing and time management in the past two years. People often ask how I get everything done and the answer is time management, prioritizing responsiblities and remembering to take care of myself and my own needs.

Here are the ground rules I have made for myself:

1) My children come first. No, they don't get to have everything they want and they do sacrifice some time away from me but I work hard to make those sacrifices as few as possible.

2) Work is a priority right after my children's well-being. My former employer has often stated that work comes before children and family but I have always refused to go along with that. It created tension at times but that is just the way it is. Thankfully, my new employer is much better about this juggling act and agrees children come first.

3) My children's social activities are probably my next priority. The reason is that their activities relate back to rule #1. I am a strong believer in having children in sports or other age appropriate activities. It helps build self-confidence, teaches social skills and is known to help prevent more serious problems such as drug abuse and school problems as the children get older.

4) School is my next priority. I only have a limited amount of free time so I have to spend it on school work. Especially as the school semester enters the final six weeks. It is this time of year that I feel like I need to clone myself to get all of the papers and projects done. It is also this time of year when I begin questioning whether or not I am really capable of meeting all of my responsibilities.

5) Sleep. I will get at least 7 hours of sleep most nights preferably 8. I will also allow myself a nap on weekends if I am feeling tired and overwhelmed. I don't see this as a waste of time. It is needed for mental and physicla health.

6) My own health and needs. I had some medical problems the past few weeks that have resulted in several doctor appointments and some extra time in bed. I will have several more appointments in the next few weeks but things should hopefully be improving now. It has been a good reminder that I won't be able to meet all of my responsibilities if I don't take care of myself and my own needs.

7) Relationships. This goes back to meeting my own needs. While I can't spend as much time as I would like with friends, I make sure I see them occassionally and talk to them regularly. I don't want to suddenly come to summer and fewer school responsibilities and find I don't have anyone to relax with. Plus those friends are supports during the crazy times (like right now).

So for those of you who keep asking, how does she do it? There is a short answer. That and with help from friends and family (including wonderful babysitters and day care). Now, back to the four major assignments due this week and kids who are asking for breakfast.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Spring Is Near!

There are a few signs of Spring that I watch for every year. MLB opening day (Go Cubs and Brewers!), tulips growing, snow melting and warmer temperatures. I also look forward to the start of spring t-ball and soccer. Soccer starts next week and Jacob has a t-ball picnic today to get the season started. His first practice is in 2 weeks and his first game is in May.

I am really looking forward to spring. The past two weeks have been full of ups and downs. I have been preparing an adoption party and looking for the perfect adoption announcement (more to come soon on this). I thought I was going to be able to announce a new baby later this year but that didn't turn out as I had hoped. Maybe next time will have better results.

Work is going really well. My supervisor says she is pleased with the work I have been doing and is shortening my training schedule. She's been very supportive as I have dealt with some minor health issues and even reminded me it's okay to call in sick to work if I need to. Yesterday she and two other supervisors threw a pizza party and make cake and pie for all of the workers to enjoy. It was a great treat and so nice to work for a supportive supervisor.

Jacob and M have started at a new babysitter that seems to be going well so far. M has grown up so much this year. He turns 4 in May and I can really see him beginning to mature and leave the toddler years behind him. Two months ago I wasn't really sure he was ready socially or emotionally to start 4K in the fall but that has since changed. I am now sure that not only is he ready but he will do great.

Jacob had his first sleepover last night. We have had some of his friends spend the night here before but this is the first time he has spent the night away from me since he came home from Ethiopia. He spent the night at his friend, Grace's, house. Jacob was a little nervous going over there and I promised him he could come home at anytime if he wanted. I got an email this morning that not only did he not want to come home but he stayed up until 11! I am still waiting for him to come home so he must still be having fun. I miss him but am very proud of him. He is growing up and becoming much more independant.

For the most part the past two weeks have been full of medical appointments, training at work and just trying to keep up with lives that seem a little too busy right now. This weekend will be much more relaxing with not nearly as many scheduled activities. I plan to spend it on laundry, homework and just hanging around the house and neighborhood.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Ethiopia 2007 at

Here is a look back at that wonderful journey four years ago. I am so blessed to have this little boy as my son.

Another Look Back

Here is a link to the video I made of my week in Ethiopia and meeting Jacob. Feel free to look at the other videos on the page.

4 Years Ago

Parents often warn me to appreciate every moment with my children because they grow up way too fast. I can say that after 4 very short years home with Jacob, they are absolutely right. As I look back at that wonderful and life changing week four years ago, I have many wonderful memories.

Mar. 9, 2007- After more hours than I care to remember, our flight on Ethiopian Airlines landed in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. I was tired and overcome with emotions. I began to fight back the urge to cry and began to look around me. The Ethiopians on the plane were applauding. Something they did every time the plane landed at it's destination. The American women there to meet their new children were crying.

I got off the plane, got my visa, exchanged some money, got my luggage and found the rest of the people in my travel group as well as my parents. We got onto the van that would take us to the guest house and began to drive through the city. I fought even harder not to cry as I realized I was in the same city as my son. In a few short hours, I would meet him for the first time. I would no longer be a single woman wishing for a child. I would be a mom. My identity would change and I would change. But at that moment, I was just trying to maintain my composure in front of all these people I had just met while I took in the sights.

March 10, 2007: We got up early drove to the office before heading to the care center (orphanage) where my son had lived for the past 11 hours. When we talked to the social worker, got our name tags and learned more about what our week would be like. I listened but kept thinking that all I wanted was to go meet my son. Finally they took us to the care center where I got off the van. They took the families one at a time to meet our children. I don't remember where I was in the line to get my child. I just remember them saying my son's name and then following the social worker out to the patio.

The children were sunbathing when we arrived. They were suppose to be sitting on chairs but many of the young toddlers were wandering around. I remembering seeing a little boy that I thought was Jacob in a nanny's arms but the social worker walked by him and to the larger group. She asked the nanny there where my son was and the nanny pointed back to the baby we had just passed. I was nervous, exicited and again had the urge to cry. Not because I was happy or sad. Just because I was overwhelmed and wasn't sure what I was feeling. I couldn't believe this beautiful child was mine. There must be some mistake yet they told him I was his mommy. They told me to pick him up and he just sat in my arms and stared at me. Everyone took pictures and I just took in the moment and all the emotions. I was finally a mom and my dream had come true. I had met my son.

March 11, 2007: I travelled to a smaller city, Hosannah, Ethiopia, to meet my son's birthmother. Wow. I have never had an experience like that in my life. I smiled and she cried. She told me how much she loved Jacob and the reasons behind her decision to make an adoption plan. I won't share that story here and will never share it with anyone besides Jacob but I will say his birthmom is the strongest woman I have ever met. Jacob inherited her smile and her strength. Along with many facial fatures. She taught me the true meaning behind a mother's love. She left that meeting smiling and I left crying. Something I did for a long time after meeting her.

March 12, 2007, I arrived at the care center in the morning and got off the van with the other people in our travel group. I began walking up the sidewalk to the building my son was in. As I approached the building I saw Jacob standing on the othe side of the patio door. We made eye contact and he began screaming, giggling and banging on the door. He ran to the hallway door and met me there. I picked him up and went into the room. I sat down and some of the children began playing with my hair and coming up to me. A little boy came up and gave me a hug. Jacob quickly pushed him away and began blocking all of the other children from getting near me. He was claiming me as his own. He didn't need to. He had already claimed my heart.

March 13, 2007, Jacob and I went to the American embassy to get his visa. As we walked up to the building, I watched an Ethiopian family dressed in very nice clothes come out smiling. They got to the sidewalk, began yelling, smiling and hugging. They crossed themselves, fell to their knees and were obviously thanking God. They had gotten that magical American visa so many others were hoping for and that my son would easily get through the miracle of adoption and an immigration law for family members of American citizens. I will never forget that feeling that I wasn't any better than these people standing in line for hours praying for the chance to come to America yet I got to walk by them and avoid the long lines because I was born here. I still struggle with the unjustice I felt at that moment.

I returned Jacob to the care center that evening. He was a very sad little boy who cried and couldn't be consoled by his nannies. I was so glad I would never have to leave him again. I returned to the guest house and went to my room where I cried. I cried hard. I remember my dad coming into the room and telling me it would be okay. I would be able to take custody the next day and everything would be okay again. I swore I would never leave that little boy like that again. And I never have.

March 14, 2007, I attended the going away ceremoy and took custody of my beautiful one year old boy. We were finally a family. I was so grateful. I remember barely sleeping that night and waking up everytime he went to the bathroom in his diaper (it was pretty loud and disgusting). The next morning I heard him begin to stir and looked over at him. He sat up in the crib, looked at my parents and then looked at me. He began smiling from ear to ear and our lives together had officially begun. We were a family.

A lot has changed in the past 4 years. I have gone from wishing I had children to having two beautiful children (and probably a 3rd later this year. More to come on that later). I no longer think about what I want as I consider my future but I consider what is best for my children.

Jacob has gone from a baby trying to figure out what it meant to have a mom to a five year old boy getting ready for kindergarten and his first season of flag football. He's gone from not having a mom to having a mom, grandparents, an uncle and a brother. He's gone from being a baby who smiled and loved to get into trouble to being a happy child who still smiles often and loves to get his brother in trouble.

Our lives changed forever four years ago. I will never forget those days in Ethiopia or those first few days at home. There were challenges and many joys. I remember the days before I left for Ethiopia and worrying that I was making a huge mistake. Now, I can't imagine not having my children. Adopting Jacob was the best decision I ever made. I am so grateful to be his mom. A gift from God and his birthmom. I will never take either for granted.