June 16, 2010

Education and Older Adopted Children Continued, by Kami

So one day when my oldest child was seven months old, my husband and I were asked to take in his young cousin. She was seven at the time and had been floated around to different relatives’ homes her entire life. After much consideration and prayer we agreed, BUT only if it was permanent. No more floating. So we adopted Ana.

Ana was a strange bunch of contradictions. She had been getting herself ready for school, making her own breakfast, etc. since kindergarten, and was fairly independent. Yet I had to teach her how to brush her teeth (and yes it was expected to be done twice a day), use soap, shampoo, conditioner, and actually BRUSH her hair. (That became so much of a fight that finally I let her do her own hair—meaning it wasn’t done—every day but Friday and Sunday for the first year.)

She had been raised watching TV every day, all day. I expected homework done and then I made her correct whatever problems she missed. I expected her to read. She had no interest in reading whatsoever. She had spoken Spanish till age four, but then learned English in school. By the time she came to live with us, she was terrible at Spanish and not much better in English. She was used to eating rice and junk food almost every day. She spent the first six months throwing up about three times a week or more because we made her eat everything I cooked. And I’m not talking liver or stuff like that. Cucumbers, pears, watermelon, and any meat with bones are just a few of the things that set her off. She still hates eating any meat with bones. It was hard. Not to mention my husband was working as a pilot and was only home eleven days out of the month on average.

Our counselor believes Ana is “delayed” especially when it comes to emotional IQ. I’m still having problems bonding with her. Things have definitely improved though. Most of my issues arise now from my husband’s extended family who act as if we’re simply babysitting and not her parents. That's cultural--I try not to be bitter.

So what about my big plans for homeschooling? Personally, I think if I homeschooled her, we’d kill each other. Literally, homework was a fight almost every night the first year. Yet, I worried about her and her slow start to an education. So that the first summer she lived with us I made her read every day, practice her multiplication tables, and complete one section out of a reading comprehension book my dad had given me (that turned into practice on following directions more than anything else—something she needed desperately), and finally, practicing some Spanish. It was supposed to take her about two hours in total time and days that she wanted to, she finished in that amount of time. Most days though, it took her up to six hours to finish. (We have a lot of time management issues to work through still.)

Once she was finished her schoolwork, she complained she was bored because she has no real hobbies or interests to keep herself busy. Mostly she wanted to watch TV, only we didn’t get any television channels and never will, which she thinks is rotten. Also, we lived in an apartment complex that was not the nicest, (police were there four or five times a month on average) and it bothered me when she played with the other girls there because in Hispanic culture (my mom once asked me if I was the only white person living there) girls watch and talk, while the boys play. Lame. It was a long, long summer.

So the next summer I rethought things a bit. My sister said I was practically homeschooling. That wasn’t my intention, I just wanted to keep her busy and help her catch up in school to her level. That summer she did her math worksheet, ones that I printed off from a website called MathStories. I liked it because I could tailor it to what she was having trouble with, like story problems and telling time. I had actually started her doing one every day that winter in addition to her homework. Then she did her reading time and a Spanish worksheet. Lastly, I had her make a notebook about countries. Depending on the day of the week, she had to write about a current event there, make a timeline about it’s history, color a picture of it’s flag, write down ten facts about it (we checked out books from the library), and on the last day she made a collage of pictures from my old National Geographics. She chose which countries she studied.

While she improved on using her time wisely, she took most of the day to finish, which was my intention. I gave her time to play outside while my other daughter was napping, since she didn’t want Elena tagging along. I would like to say it went more smoothly, but that wasn’t necessarily the case. She was doing more work and harder work and she knew it. And if you haven’t guessed I’m a bit of a perfectionist and I don’t let sloppy work slide. She did enjoy studying the countries though. I also read more about adoption and common tendencies among adopted and foster children. That helped me recognize that a lot of her behaviors were simply survival mechanisms and not necessarily “her.”

So, where are we now? This past year she was “stuck” in her native country for three months after a family vacation there—missing school the entire time, because our adoption wasn’t recognized. When she came home, things improved immensely. Partly because my husband is home every day now, partly because Ana herself is happier to be with us after her experience, and partly because of me and adjustments I’ve made. I believe that our family has been blessed since Ana was sealed in the temple to us as well. Things aren’t perfect, but then I know they won’t be perfect with my other children either.

Ana’s doing fabulous in school, despite missing so many months, and while reading comprehension and writing is still a problem (she’s not meeting year-end standards), she’s at the top of her class in math. This summer I want her outside playing. (We’ve moved to a much nicer area now—hurray!!) I know play is important and Ana has a pretty non-existent imagination that could use some exercise. I know I’ve been a bit draconian about her schoolwork, chores and piano practicing, and I really think I need to lay off a bit and let her enjoy her childhood more. I still make her read—she doesn’t read on her own, even though I pay her money as an incentive if she chooses books off a list I made. (That’s something I’ve done since she first came to us.) She does one worksheet from the “Spectrum 4th Grade Test Prep” book to review the things she’s learned this past year and again, practice reading comprehension, following directions and test taking strategies. She also does one lesson from “Language Lessons for the Elementary Child” which is a Charlotte Mason style homeschool workbook.

Her new school is bilingual and while her Spanish is much better after her three months in South America, her writing is understandably not good, so to practice I have her write one half-page in Spanish on anything she wants and one half-page in English. My aim was that she could finish it all in two hours (her forty minutes of reading included), but for instance, yesterday she spent an hour and forty-five minutes on the writing part alone. I honestly don’t think it’s because it’s a long assignment, (both the workbooks she can finish in 15 mins when she wants to), it’s more a matter of motivation and time management. Any ideas on this are welcome! I’m really excited that she’s in a bilingual school and hope my other children will have that same opportunity. (It's so sad, my three year old is already requesting, "No! In English-not Spanish!!")

However, I still have reservations about public school. Ana has always and remains very influenced by her peers, to the point where much of the time it’s seems as if she has no real sense of her own self and her own likes and dislikes. (That's part of the low emotional IQ.) That scares me. Really, truly scares me. I still don’t want to homeschool her in earnest because I think our relationship is simply too fragile to take that kind of stress. And with so many little kids at home, I doubt I could give her the one-on-one attention that she requires. Luckily, where we live there’s a very nice charter school that’s available through the middle school years. That’s what I intend to try to get her into once she’s done elementary. School uniforms alone sold me on it. But then, who knows what life will throw at us next and where we’ll end up by then.

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