Category Archives: Uncategorized

Back on track

photo6It’s been a challenging month for us with K, as her behavior continued to deteriorate. After she was sent home for locking a classroom with kids and a teacher inside, we realized that in spite of everything we were doing, things weren’t getting better. While I assumed it was social, I never guessed it might be due to the social problems in her class, not directly her own.

After she was sent home, she didn’t want to return to school, and I let her stay home for two days. She felt really ashamed, since apparently she didn’t lock the door out of spite, but because she was planning a candy party during recess break and she didn’t want the kids to come out and discover what she was setting up in the next room. Poor short term planning on her part. As soon as the teacher realized they were locked in, she apparently got hysterical, and the kids joined in. While I wasn’t there, we later heard from one of the boys who knew what Karen was up to for the break. He told his mom that it was the teacher who got hysterical, leading to pandemonium in the class. This is all third hand reporting, so grain of salt.

We immediately requested a meeting with the school counselor, principal and homeroom teacher. While they said her behavior has been terrible lately, it turns out that there has been a much wider social problem in the class, and apparently several parents had complained about their children being excluded and about certain disturbing games the kids were playing. To talk to some of the parents, the overall social problems in the class were very bad, with many unhappy children who felt rejected by the “in” group. The game that was so upsetting to many parents was a master/servant game where one girl would use candy to “buy” the services of another girl who was then her slave for the day. I was incredibly relieved when the school staff told me Karen was absolutely not involved in the game or most of the social problems. The principal posited that my daughter is the “thermometer” of the class, and when the class is badly out of balance, it’s reflected in her behavior, even if she’s not directly involved. Funnily enough (bad English, I know, but in general use on Facebook, so I’m allowed) is that what kept K from even knowing anything about this game was that it was limited to the girls, and she had spent the last month socializing almost exclusively with the boys in her class. During break, she’d go play football with them, while the other girls apparently got into the whole master/slave game.

Both DH and I decided it was time to get her back into real therapy, not just the animal therapy covered by our insurance. Again, funnily enough, none of the public health insurers in Israel cover more than 20 visits to a psychologist…..in a LIFETIME! One of the downsides to public health.

Luckily I was able to schedule an immediate appointment with the therapist who helped us leave the last therapist, who became so difficult for us to deal with, we had to devise a strategy for leaving her. The woman who helped us leave her also had a chance to do a complete intake from the old therapist so that she was updated as to K’s general situation since the beginning of first grade. We’re now in third.

Our meeting went well, and even though more than a year had elapsed, she remembered everything about our situation and was eager to meet K. K was a bit more circumspect, but after their first meeting, K said she was ok seeing her on a regular basis. I also had a good one-on-one meeting with her and while she may not be an expert on adoption issues, she’s has good insight into K’s needs and specific sensitivities, and she specialized in child psychology, she even teaches occasional courses at University of Tel Aviv.

Long post, but in short, she’s back in therapy, and back on the proverbial horse. We’ve tweeked her meds and she’s rebuilding her friendships and participating in group activities like the tennis tournament she was in last weekend. She came in first of all the girls, and was able to beat all the boys except one. Pretty good showing and she’s very proud of herself. It was also a good opportunity to spend positive time with some of the kids in her class who are also in her tennis league.

I think (and hope) that she’s back on track now that social issues at school have calmed somewhat and she’s back in therapy. The school also agreed to put her in a social skills workshop with her former homeroom teacher from first and second grade, whom K adores. Check back here for more good news going forward, I hope….Gotta stay positive. She’s amazing when she’s balanced, a good friend, family member, student and athlete. Even with all the problems she’s caused at school, the principal and some of the teachers really adore her and go the extra mile for her on occasion.

Off topic – Freezing cold and Polio a lethal combination for Syria

Though this blog is mostly about my amazing children, it would be wrong to remain silent while other children are freezing to death in Syrian refugee camps.

I laughed off the cold this morning, it was nothing compared to Kiev in the winter. But by this afternoon the temps continued to drop and the cold began seeping into my tissue. By later afternoon, as the dull gray began to fade towards black, I finally knew it was COLD! And then I read how the US and EU have suspended non-lethal aid to rebels in Syria. What is non-lethal aid? Is it the tents, blankets, medicine and other necessities that refugees need in order to survive another winter?

Polio, which has made a surprise visit to our region, is met by Israel with a mass vaccination campaign. No such campaign is possible in war-ridden Syria. Disease and cold will be the main killers, perhaps surpassing even Assad and the various paramilitary groups on both sides.

So how can I feel the cold, knowing I and my children can stay warm, fed and healthy while only a few hundred kilometers away, children are literally dying of cold.

I don’t have a solution, I’m not soliciting aid. I can’t even tell you which aid agencies can best help the millions of refugees. Just remember them, and if an opportunity comes up to help, to donate time, money, even a warm blanket, please do. There will be over 200,000 dead before summer and more Syrian refugees than Syrians left in their country. They are squatters in Jordanian, Turkish and Lebanese tent camps that have few if any facilities. Help the refugees outside, even if there’s no way to help people still stuck inside Syria.

School suspensions and girl fights; is there a correlation?

The plot thickens, apparently Karen isn’t the only girl feeling rejected by an “in” group. Several parents contacted us over the weekend after Karen had another incident at school. But this time, they called to support us, and to tell us that Karen’s behavior isn’t the main problem there. Several girls report being bullied, some in real time, and some over a chat network that the kids with access use to communicate. Karen has reported being bullied, but we always go back to the fact that she acts out, and it’s hard for us, from afar, to know who started what. But when I hear from other parents stories so similar to how Karen’s been ostracized, I realize that Karen has been very brave, and has worked tenaciously to control her desire to deck some of the girls who have been particularly cruel to her. I’m so proud of her for the self control she does manage to exhibit on an almost a daily basis.

But this news came to us only after I recieved another call from the school to pick Karen up because, “she can’t stay here due to behavior”. That’s it, no further info. When I arrived, there was still no one to tell me what she did. I took her home, and only later heard that she walked out of her classroom, and locked the door on a classful of kids and the teacher. From what other children said, the teacher freaked out and then some of the kids got hysterical. Considering that all teachers and half the kids have cell phones, I don’t understand the panic, especially by a teacher. I’m certainly not condoning what Karen did, and she’s been grounded for the last two days because what she did was wrong and dangerous, but did it really warrant pulling me out of work for a third time in one month? Not only that, but do I want my child in a classroom with an hysterical teacher next time we have a real air raid siren? I know Karen, and she’d help the teacher get the kids out, but I want a teacher who can be relied upon to keep calm in much more challenging situations than a locked door.

My first question to Karen was whether she understood why what she did was dangerous. I assumed that if the principal suspended her, someone would have explained to her why what she did was dangerous and wrong. So that’s the talk we had when she got home, mostly on the dangers, etc. No one at the school even told her why she was being sent home, let alone why what she did was wrong.

I wanted to schedule a meeting with the school immediately, but Hanukka starts in 5 days, reason enough for the school to put us off for another two weeks. By then, our world will have a different hue.

Gotta thank the great parents for their support during what has been a really hard week for all of us. It totally warms me to know that some of the parents I most admire have been so supportive.

Love hurts

This blog was all about honesty, and being honest about the challenges as well as the intense love involved in raising my children. While things have only been improving during the last 2 years for both of them, we’ve had a real roller coaster with Karen lately, and I’m not sure how to help her.

She has a huge chip on her shoulder and takes any kind of rejection very hard. She gets angry and lashes out at whomever she feels has let her down. But sometimes, especially with the girls she would most like as friends, the rejection is real. On the one hand, she wants lots of friends, on the other, she’s bossy and overbearing and gets pissy if a friend doesn’t want to do the same thing she had in mind. I’ve tried talking to her, but she gets defensive and always puts the blame on the situation, the friend, me…anyone except herself. She’s smart, and I think she recognizes that she’s to blame, but she keeps focusing on how she treated so many of the girls in her class when she was “younger”, and she feels that now that she’s learned to control her hitting, they should be welcoming her with open arms. After all, when she was hitting, I always told her that if only she stopped, she would have more friends. But the truth is, she still hurts some of the kids. Maybe she doesn’t punch or slap them, but she grabs, pushes, trips up and does all kinds of smaller things that involve her either touching them or their property in a way that hurts or damages.

She knows, after testing us for years, that we’ll love her no matter what she does. But she can’t seem to understand that once you’ve gone too far with someone outside the immediate family, they won’t love her. They’ll hate her because she scares them.

She still sees friends and participates in lots of activities. Truth is, she doesn’t have much free time, and when she is free for any reasonable bloc of time, she often visits with friends. But she doesn’t have a best friend. She did, but she feels like another girl “stole” the best friend. But she does have a lot of casual friends, both older and younger, whom she knows mostly from school. I know I can’t create a best friend for her, and if I could, she’d find some fault that would make it a deal breaker for her. I think her hunt for a single best friend ends up hurting her even with more casual friends. Once she sets on wanting one girl as “her” friend, she gets jealous when other girls have her attention and may not be including her. Suddenly, she’s hurt and angry at both of them. She has articulated very clearly that she fears the original rejection of her birth mother will recurr if she were ever able to meet her and I think she’s replaying that in some way in each of her close relationships.

One therapist told me that she still may not be ripe for learning friendship. She still needs to overcome some basic trust issues and be emotionally available. She’s wonderful with Matan, and when we’re doing family stuff, so maybe she still needs to feel her family life is more solid before she can really be open to socializing properly. In one sense, I’m grateful because the lack of a best friend means she really gives herself much more freely to us and Matan. We’re her refuge. But the lack of a best friend, and her inability to socialize in a pleasant manner seem to be the biggest cause of her anti social behavior at this point. Then again, I could be completely wrong. Been known to happen.

Another great adoption blog

I just discovered a wonderful blog by another adoptive mom. I’ve only just begun reading, but any mom who can let go and let her son eat what he wants rather than maintain a battle of wills is someone who “gets it”.

Lots of great material for all parents, but this part is exactly how I feel, and what I pass on to my own children:

I have said that giving birth to a child is a truly miraculous experience, but that the way in which he came into my life is a miracle of a different order. The stars had to be aligned in such a way for our miracle to have taken place; yes, it is clear that he was meant to be my son and I, his mother. I’m glad that he believes this, too.

Visit: www.gailharriscreative.com

Washington, DC, here we come!

We’re finally planning a trip to visit my mom and home back in the US early next year! I haven’t been to visit since we began our adoption journey, in other words, since we first began planning for the first adoption, more than 8 years ago!

Checking out Airbnb and some other sites to find a comfy short term rental near my mom so the kids can get to know Grandma and Grandpa. DH finally gave me an ultimatum. He’d been promising Karen that she’d get to visit the US “soon”. She told her friends she was going, and now it just has to happen. He said if I didn’t want the stress of the trip, I could stay home with Matan. No, that’s NOT going to happen, so now I’m in charge of planning this thing.

Karen’s so excited and after catching me checking out apartments on Airbnb, all she wants to do is look at photos of houses in America, when she’s not online working on a new Power Point presentation. She’s becoming an expert.

She really enjoys creating and delivering presentationes to her class. She usually does her own research online, but then puts it together with some of the other girls in the class, and they all take turns presenting the slides they contributed. It’s a great learning tool and something she enjoys doing. It’s similar to the reports we were doing in third grade, except our resource was the Encyplopedia and a trip to the DC Zoo. Today all you need is Google. The presentations are sort of an extra activity that the students are encouraged to do, but which aren’t mandatory. She’s still struggling socially, but is working at repairing relations with the girls who matter to her. She’s had some incidents at school, but nothing violent and overall her teacher says she shows a lot of control. The teacher told us that she’s become aware that sometimes girls accuse Karen of hitting or pushing them when it just didn’t happen. Even the vice principal of the school told me she spoke to Karen and another girl after one incident, and felt strongly that Karen was being truthful. Overall, she’s very motivated to excel, and usually does when it’s something that interests her.

Matan is enjoying his after care program. He enjoys most things that keep him busy and out of the house. He loves being with a larger group of children than he sees during his special education mornings where there are only 6 boys. No girls. In aftercare, he’s made friends among both boys and girls, and he participates in the drama and yoga classes they have once a week. He’s also started Judo along with Karen. His class comes just before hers, so we get to spend a whole 3 hours there! He’s really into it. Once he gets his Judo outfit in a week or two, he’ll be hooked.

Ok, back to airbnb.com and vrbo.com. After my eBay binges, this should be tame.

Adoption stories – to tell or not to tell

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe’re finally getting into the school year. Holidays were great, spent lots of time with DH’s family. Kids loved it since they enjoy being with their cousins. Matan went to his regular daycare (not special ed) for a full day while pre-school was out. He seems to be doing well there. A few glitches in the beginning, but he already has friends there who want to meet him for playdates, if only I can find the time. I found a lovely fifth grader who takes him from taxi into daycare on the two days I’m in the office. She’s super-excited to have her first job, and her mother is usually around for backup if necessary.

Karen is adapting to increased homework demands and the added responsibility of being in 3rd grade. She still refuses to read a book, but occasionally watches movies in English and reads the Hebrew subtitles. Tennis 2x a week started a few weeks ago, but Judo 2x a week will only begin next week. Then we’ll see if her afterschool activities are too much to manage along with her homework and trying to fit in playdates whenever possible. She’s incredibly independant, and loves going to the grocery store for me whenever possible…unless she’s got the iPad.

Both children see our adoption social worker who has known us since we first came home with Karen. Karen’s working on an adoption story book, using photos and text. I gave her piles of photos to work with, but otherwise, she won’t tell me a thing about the project. Ruti, the social worker, is also trying to help Matan understand his adoption story. I get a lot of pushback when people discover that we tell our children their adoption story at a young age. But the overwhelming evidence indicates that children who understand at least the basics of their adoption story tend to have an easier time with the reality of adoption as they get older. The worst time for a child to discover he/she is adopted is during their teen years. They often feel they’ve been lied to their whole life if they find out once they are older.

While Karen has always been interested in her adoption story, and often asks me to tell her the story at bedtime, Matan avoids any reference to adoption. This means he gets some of it, which makes me happy since we are always interested in his cognitive abilities and whether his difficulty speaking also affects his ability to understand. When Ruti began talking to him about being adopted, he denied and avoided. She then asked me to attend the next session with some photos from his adoption to make it more real for him. He’s seen all the photos, and I’ve tried talking to him about it in a positive way, but he’s always avoided it. With Ruti, she was able to redirect him back to the story I was telling him. She also guided me in telling the story in a way that made it easier for him to grasp.

Next week we start one-on-one meetings with the staff at Matan’s special education class. I’ve already received positive feedback from Ruti and some of his clinicians at pre-school that he seems to have made some pretty big steps forward over the summer break. Ruti feels he may be on the cusp of a breakout in terms of maturity/development. I’m not sure how much of it is the Ritalin, which I only give him on school days, and at half the lowest dosage available.

While Karen seems to be doing well in school, she has increased anxiety and panic attacks. She always had anxiety around dogs and other animals, but this week we had our first full blown panic attack when she thought she saw a huge spider. Her fear of dogs is improving with the work she’s been doing in animal therapy, but now she’s expanded her fears to include bugs of all types. She takes the stairs rather than get in an elevator where she saw a spider earlier that day.

Syria needs massive humanitarian assistance, not a pat on the back for destroying their chemical weapons

I am ashamed. Ashamed that we, the “West” have let down the people of Syria, leaving them to be slaughtered or scattered with no hope of assistance. While we tend to remember our own losses of almost 3,000 lives on September 11, I can’t help but think of the humanitarian disaster facing Syrians for the past 2+ years. The term Holocaust is jealously guarded by us Jews, but don’t think it would be going too far to call 1 million displaced persons/refugees, and over 100,000 dead, a Syrian Holocaust.

The world hailed Syrians more than two years ago when they rose up in non-violent demonstrations demanding more freedom from their dictator, Bashar Assad. But Bashar’s regime responded with violence that only increased as the non-violent movement grew throughout Syria. No doubt, the situation in Syria is beyond complex, not dissimilar from the demographic challenges faced by its neighbor Lebanon, and which caused decades of civil war and occupation, first by Israel, and later by Syrian forces sent to “help” Lebanon. With their mix of Sunni, Shia, Christians, Druze and other minorities, both countries need to balance the needs of the various communities, while making sure that all are secure and treated equally by their governments. In practice, this is hard to impossible to implement. Syria resolved their sectarian issues for many years by relying on an all-powerful dictator to ensure the rights of minorities. The system seemed to work well, if one ignores the ~20,000 dead in Hama, accused by Hafez Assad of being Muslim Brotherhood insurgents. Since that massacre in 1982, few have dared raised a voice against either Assad, father or son.

So here’s were we stand, with more than 100,000 dead from “traditional” weapons, not WMD, not chemical weapons. Another 250,000 injured and more than a million refugees and displaced persons. And yet, it still doesn’t have the shock value of losing 3,000 humans in a single terrorist attack. The two can never be compared.

So far, so good

FirstDayofSchoolThe school year’s just begun, but it looks like it’s going to be better than the last. While I haven’t yet met Karen’s teacher, the reports are all good, and Karen comes home in a good mood. The biggest difference between her new teacher and her last, the new one doesn’t yell. That itself will reduce her stress levels significantly.

We started Matan on Ritalin two days before the school year started. It’s a very low dose, mostly aimed at determining whether it will make a difference for him. It’s hard to get approval for Ritalin for children under the age of 6, but he’s 5.5, and we got approval from 3 doctors and our health insurance. He surprised everyone when we arrived at pre-school on the first day, and he began telling his teacher about his recent dreams of sleeping in the large air pipes he sees along the ceiling. He also told her that he lost his first tooth, but that he was afraid of the tooth fairy, in spite of the cool Lego she left him in exchange for the tooth. I could see his teacher was impressed. I think this was way beyond what she had heard from him even a month ago, before going on summer vacation.

We go back on vacation on Wednesday for Rosh HaShana, and then another 3 days of school, and then vacation again for Yom Kippur and Sukkot. Very confusing for adults No idea how kids can be expected to keep up with it.

My biggest challenge at this point is finding a method for getting Matan from his taxi that brings him home at 2 pm, to his aftercare program. The taxi will bring him, but a person needs to take him from the taxi into the pre-school, and the teacher can’t leave the class, nor can the driver leave the taxi with another 2 children still in it. For the first weeks, I will be there to transfer him, but since I do need to be in the office those days, I’ll need to find someone, maybe a student, who can walk him those few steps… We were finally able to register him to a regular, mainstream day care. We worked backwards and first approached a pre-school teacher whom we know, and who agreed to accept him. The company that runs the day care didn’t want to commit unless a specific teacher first agreed to take him. Main reason given: no one to transfer him from taxi to inside day care. #FRUSTRATION

Tel Aviv school system #FAIL

School begins next week and I’d like to be able to prepare both children for the beginning of the year, and the changes they can expect. We’ve been told time and again how important it is, especially for our baby home children, to be prepared emotionally for all major changes. A new school year, new class, new teacher and new building all mean major transitions for both children. It’s hard to adequately prepare them when we have yet to receive any notice confirming Karen’s registration for third grade. We don’t know if she’ll be with friends, who her teacher will be, and whether she will be in a class of 30 or closer to 40.

We also wanted to prepare Matan by taking him to see where his new building will be located, but until this week, his teacher gave us one address, and the school system had him registered to another address. Each told us the other was mistaken. Now that we finally have agreement as to the address, the building doesn’t appear it will be have renovations completed by the time school starts, which again brings into question whether the location will change.

But for Matan, the changes aren’t as drastic. He’s staying with the same pre-school teacher and many of the same children. Karen has a harder time handling change and not knowing what to expect. For her, the not knowing is more of a challenge, although she’s holding up well in terms of behavior. At this point, it wouldn’t surprise me if we have to take her to school next week without knowing what classroom to go to, or who her teacher will be.

40 kids to a class, and the Tel Aviv school system doesn’t even have their act together a week before the school year begins.