Hoping to someday find M's brother adopted in the U.S. -
Myckola Oleksandrovych Markov - 8/26/2003

Thursday, September 18, 2014

What not to say to a mom who has just been in 3 IEP meetings

So I was sitting at karate class with D and Wy just politely chatting with another mom.  She's seen me and all of my kids for months.  I've seen her and her son.  She knows we've adopted, mostly because my kids still have very pronounced accents.  

 I let my guard down today.  I felt normal.  Accepted even.  No awkward stares.  No "OMG you look too young to have a TWELVE YEAR OLD!"

We were just moms... just talking about our kids.
So it hit me out of the blue when I got the question...

"So which ones are yours?"

It just hurts.  It does.  I didn't sit in a meeting room at school from 12:30-3pm advocating for someone else's kids.  I didn't drive someone else's son to karate class.  I am not the baby sitter.  I am not a pretend mom.

They are mine.  They are all mine.

I didn't say what I was thinking because I didn't want to make this class awkward for me or her from now on, but my gosh... how can anyone see me with them and still assume that I feel some of them aren't mine.

I'm sure what she meant to ask was, "Which ones are adopted?" but honestly that question just makes me feel like a novelty item at a store being closely examined.  Adoptive moms have feelings.  We are the ones paying for the "real" mom's mistakes.  We are picking up the pieces, glueing them back together with blood, sweat, and tears, and we are the ones advocating our hearts out to schools that don't get it ;yet, we still aren't real.  Our families are still viewed in pieces of "yours" and "not really yours."

And you know what?  It breaks my heart.  I used to want to yell from the rooftops that kids needed to be adopted, and now its the last thing I want to mention.  I'd rather endure the rude comments about how "good" I look for "popping 6 kids out" than continue to explain why they are all mine.


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

We're FInally Moving

And while I've said its because we have squeezed 6 kids into a 3 bedroom house that we built for TWO kids for 10 months now, the real reason is this:

We had to get a new house so the IEP paperwork could have its own room and quit hogging mine.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

So do you...

Do you wait until Sunday night to check your kids' backpacks too?  Cause I do.  Its FINALLY FRIDAY and I let those babies sit in a pile on the floor cause Mama is tired of homework and notes home all week.

And it might not be such a big deal... but this week they sent home Interim Reports, and IEP progress reports that I needed to sign... and oh... a note that says 2nd grade was exposed to Hand Foot and Mouth Disease.

I was in the middle of counting out 2385021 pennies for Ice.Cream.Money because for GOD only knows what reason, we have to pay for it every week in exact change.  We cannot pay ahead of time.  We cannot write a check for 4 children.  We cannot take it from their lunch accounts.  We MUST send in EXACT change or they cannot order the ice cream.  We cannot even over pay and tell them to keep the change.  No, it MUST BE perfect (but once I skimped on a penny and no one called me, so I don't think they really count it).  So there I was counting pennies and quarters and dimes and nickels again... when I found the note.  I jumped away from my 2nd grader's backpack like it was on fire.  Then I realized I was next to his hoodie that he took to school and then wore all weekend.  Alas, I replay the potential damage done in my mind and its too late now.

At least I gave all of my kids homemade Elderberry syrup jello and put Thieves oil on them every single morning before school last week.  Sometimes I just have a sixth sense about these things, but I do wish I'd been wrong, and I do wish I'd found the note 48 hours sooner.

Oh and I just realized (while writing this actually) that its been 10 months since we did THIS!

and this.

and they did THIS to me in Germany.

and this happened (yes V is having a temper fit)

but we were all too tired to care.

None of these are great photos because the trip home wasn't fun (if you have ever made a multi-airport transatlantic flight with kids that don't speak your language then you know what I mean), but I'm ok with that because it was real life and they honestly are priceless to me now.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Finally - Birth Certificates!

We went through a lot of paperwork and social worker visits to get everything in order to file for state issued birth certificates for our Ukrainian born kids.  A lot of things require showing a child's birth certificate and its really not always pleasant to have to pull out the Ukrainian version and explain, "They're adopted.  Yes we are their REAL parents."

So, we sent in the many pages of paperwork at the beginning of July with an $80 check to register the kids as foreign born children, and then request the birth certificates.  I waited... and they didn't come.  I called.  I was told they were mailed, but obviously I didn't get them.  So they said they'd mail them again.

I waited... I called again.  Yep, they were mailed again.  I called the Post Office again.  Did you know that the Post Office isn't actually responsible for anything to do with mail?  Ever.  Just forget it.  They haven't seen it. They can't help you.  Its the fault of the person who mailed it.  People who mail documents every day always address everything wrong.

I was very concerned.  I mean, how can 4 separate pieces of mail containing my children's birth certificates (my dob, Phillip's dob, my maiden name, and my children's dob were all on each of those) with all of our info just go missing...TWICE!?

I was wondering if they were never actually mailed.

So, I ended up calling Vital Records customer services about 6 times.  I left a message for a manager.  He didn't call me back.
I called again (6th time) and got a guy with a very pronounced foreign accent.  I was happy.  I figured, now here is a guy who will understand how hard it can be to get documents when a person is born outside the U.S.  He will understand how important this is and want to help me.

Nope.  He was SO RUDE.  I could hardly get the words out of my mouth as to why I was calling when he very loudly told me that I needed to be quiet and listen to him.  I cannot request birth certificates for children born in other countries.  No way.  I need to contact the State Department about that.  So, I told him that my children have State Dept. issued Certificates of Citizenship.  Oh, well then he decided to finally look them up in the computer and see that yes, their records are there and the certificates have been mailed twice.  He then told me that he didn't care how many times I'd called or what I had dealt with, he was only worried about what I wanted today.  And today, he said, that I just needed to wait for them to come in the mail.  He refused to let me talk to his supervisor because he said I'd already left a message and I should wait up to 4 days to hear back.  I told him that my check had cleared the bank and I had not received what I had paid for.  The post office didn't have them and my address was correct in the system.  He didn't care.  So I hung up.

Then I googled the email addresses for all, yes all, of the many people at the Dept. of Vital Records.  There are a lot.  Like 30.  I selected a few departments that I felt would appreciate hearing about my wonderful experience, expressing also that my congressman would be the next to get an email.
This was Monday.

Today I received my children's birth certificates, sent overnight via UPS.

I do not know why every single thing has to be so darn difficult, but my gosh, I will climb the ladder until I find the right rung.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Truth Is

I tend to tell it like it is.  I don't like sugar coating things or playing the politically correct game.  So, I've been open about our struggles with the school system over the past couple of years.

But today I want to say that I am so delighted with my children's teachers this year.  I get emails just to ask if I have any concerns, and letting me know that my child is doing well.  I get responses back to my emails in a timely manner.  My kids have gotten little post cards in the mail from one of the teachers, welcoming them to the school.  Its all the little things that matter.  I can tell when someone cares enough about my kids to take the time to try to get to know them.

So, the best thing that happened this week, comes from something that was requested last year.  M's teacher last year kept asking for an aide to help redirect her because she was "exhausted" from doing it at least 20 times a day.  Umm... it was K (and don't little kids NEED redirecting?) but whatever...

I was frustrated because M's teacher was expressing concerns about things M was doing, but then she wasn't following my suggestions to correct them.  I was at school for another one of my kids one day towards the end of the year, and I walked past her room and saw her sitting at her work table, with her FEET DANGLING.  My child has CP.  She has an IEP.  In the IEP it detailed that she was to have foot support.  I pointed this out at the beginning of the year.  Her teacher had her writing at the table, and her feet were dangling.  Um... maybe that's why her handwriting wasn't getting better or she had trouble completing the work?  M acts out when she is frustrated or feels that she needs attention (not being taken care of is a huge trigger and um..hello!)  I complained to the PT who immediately fixed it, but that had been the case all year.  M's teacher complained about her behavior, but wasn't following the IEP that had accommodations that M needed.  And that wasn't the first time.  M has a very traumatic past.  People that work with her need to understand that in order to understand her.  I explain it to her teachers every year.  Some "get" it.  Some don't.  But the fact is that those who don't take the time to understand her and "get it" are not successful in how to interact with her.  

So, the short version of the very long story is that after a LOT of meetings and a LOT of me disagreeing with the IEP team on how to best label/qualify M and help her, they offered a Functional Behavior Assessment.  From there they said they'd put together a Functional Behavior Plan.  All I wanted the teacher and staff to do was to listen to me on what made my kid tick, and how to best deal with my child, but I agreed to the FBA because they said I could provide lots of input and suggestions that they could follow.  That was at the end of last school year with about a month left in the year.

Fast forward to the beginning of this year.  My kids are at another elementary school.  The people there reviewing M's records found that no one ever did the FBA.  There is no FBA.  I was never asked anything about M.  Nothing was observed or collected.

I can't say I'm surprised; that school did one thing well.  They screwed my kids over.

BUT the good news is that M's current teacher isn't have any of the issues that her teacher last year was having.  I've asked multiple times because I just cannot believe my ears.  My child is behaving at school like she does at home.  (for right now) She isn't having a problem.  The consensus from everyone is that the FBA is not needed.

The issues are far from all resolved, but I feel so much more positive about this year.

And I will say one more time that I LOVE LOVE LOVE my kids teachers.  

I have a problem

I am a very organized person.  I'm a rule follower.  A list checker.  An overachiever.  I don't want to just do something, I want to do it well.

I have ridiculous attention to detail, almost to the point of making myself a little crazy.  It must be spelled correctly.   It has to match.  It has to be geometrically symmetrical.  It has to be clean.  It has to be organized.  Everything has a place and it needs to be in it.
There must be order.  I even color coded the boys' shirt closet, but they didn't appreciate it and ruined the rainbow.  Now they hang up their own shirts.

I don't give my word easily.  If I will not or cannot do something, I will not ever say I will do it.  If I say I will do something, I will.  I will do it when I said that I would do it, and I will do it even if its extremely inconvenient to me.  The reason I do this is that I feel its a lie to give your word casually and then never follow through and I absolutely abhor lies.  (Just ask my kids)

All of these are good traits that have served me very well.

But... I don't play well with others who I feel aren't as motivated or as organized or as trustworthy as I am.  I expect people to think the same way I do and put the same amount of effort into things that I do, and I can't wrap my mind around those who don't.  And... ahem, well, I keep running into a massive amount of unmotivated, non-caring people.  Like do you realize how many people just do.not.care. about anything other than clocking out?  

I am not entirely certain what to do about this problem.
I think I will keep raising awareness.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

More paperwork than an international adoption dossier?

M is having an independent educational evaluation done next month.  This is the paperwork that both the school and I had to complete and I mailed it today, prior to her appointment. 
Its quite a bit more than our dossier. 
I so naively thought that the paperwork was done when the adoption was complete. Hahahahahahahaha

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

For the First Time in Forever

I had an IEP meeting at school today and...

So now I'm all like, yay!

But I can go back to this.

because my kids have something...
what is it?  


because if something gets screwed up this time I am gonna be all

In case you didn't get the point of my post, I am really cautiously happy with my kids' new school, but will never ever again be so naive as to not question and follow up on every.single.thing. like its my job.
Because it is. 
And I will.


Sunday, September 7, 2014

Looking for a reason in the middle of a mess

I saw a friend of mine post an update on Face.book the other day.  They just got home a few weeks ago with their newly adopted son from Ukraine.  She said, "I got a call from the ELL teacher and my son has been completely assessed in the first week of school.  They are placing him in Algebra II!"

I'm happy for her, but my heart sinks when I read posts like that because it should have been us.  It could have been that easy.  My kids should have been assessed when I enrolled them to see what their level of instruction needed to be too.  I asked for it, and I was denied.  I asked for a lot of things, trying to get my kids the help they needed...  The ESL teacher here never contacted me.  Evaluations weren't done despite my repeated requests.  There was no misunderstanding.  I have 100s of pages of emails in which I expressed my concerns repeatedly, asking over and over when something could be done to address the problems my children were having.

So, here we are.  In November my boys will have been home for a year.  I had to file a formal complaint with the DOJ and the Dept. of Education regarding my children's civil rights being violated.  I've met with our social workers from both adoptions.  I spent hours and hours and hours in meetings last year with the school administration that resulted in a whole lot of nothing for my children.  I've talked to advocates, lawyers, and the State Board of Education.  I had to keep D home when school started this year because I was told "We shouldn't expect much out of him due to his low cognitive ability."  Yet, no help was offered to my 12 year old who can barely read basic English words.  He was stuck sitting in a 4th grade room last year, kept at a massively frustrating level of instruction that he couldn't gain anything from.

Finally, after almost a year of research, phone calls, tears, and late nights, I am starting to see the light at the end of a very long and exhausting tunnel.  My kids started this year at a different (read better) school in our county.  We are in the process of moving into that district.  The school district is agreeing to a settlement with the Dept. of Education regarding ESL and SPED services.  My children will be receiving services as deemed adequate by the Federal Government.  They will receive compensatory services to make up for the lack of services last year.  The teachers my kids have this year were handpicked for their qualifications and are all FABULOUS.

Three of my children will be having Independent Educational Evaluations done by Dr. Federici because I did not at all agree with the results of the school's evaluations and I said so.  Its important for parents to know that they can say so, and more importantly to check the "dissenting opinion box" and say so in writing at the meeting.  Then parents can request an IEE which the school is obligated to pay for.  Parents should know this.  I didn't know this three years ago, and its why we ended up paying for private school for 1 1/2 years.

I am sharing all of this because its not at all how I envisioned our first year home.  After a year of fundraising and completing adoption paperwork, topped off by a 6 1/2 week long trip to Ukraine all I wanted to do was come home and be able to breathe a little!  Instead I found myself in the middle of the biggest mess I've ever had to deal with.

Yesterday when I was talking to our adoption agency director, she asked how things were going with our school situation.  I told her.  She said, "WOW!!  You go girl!  I am sending people to you from now on who have these problems!"  Apparently it happens a lot, but usually to parents who have one child and don't know where to turn for help.  Most adoptive parents are like us.  They come home flat broke or in debt from spending all they have to bring their kids home.  The last thing they want to do is drop $200/hour on an advocate or lawyer.  I realize that I DO know how to advocate now.  I can tell people how to get their children what they are entitled to from their school.

If I had to live this nightmare situation at least maybe the good that comes out of it is that I can help others avoid the extent of negligence that my children experienced.  I hope I can help others avoid the nights of shaking in anger at the injustice of it all.  I know the law now.  I know what to say in IEP meetings.  I know how Special Education law works now.  I know ESL law.  I know lawyers.  I know advocates and social workers.  I know how to fix it.

All parents want is the best for their kids.  When our children come from backgrounds of gross neglect and abuse, all we want to do is fix it.  We want to make up for it.

I'd fight it all over again for my kids because they deserve a mom who would do that for them.

But what an exhausting battle it was.    

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Still don't have them

We applied to get our four Ukrainian born kids state issued birth certificates so we don't always have to whip out the Ukrainian birth certificates when things like that are required.

It was a pretty complicated process.  We had to have our social worker visit us for a post placement report, and then write a letter for us.  I filled out multiple forms (times 4!) and mailed them with an $80 check at the beginning of July. The $80 check cleared the Dept. of Vital Records on July 11th.

In August, I called to ask where the birth certificates were.  I was told they were mailed out...
But I never got them.
Four birth certificates, all mailed in a separate envelope, missing.

They told me that they were mailing four replacements.

Well, here we are THREE weeks later, and I still don't have them.

I am at a loss.

We called the post office and they insist they never saw them and have no way to track first class mail.  They suggested we ask the Dept. of Vital Records to mail them signature required.
Hahahaha.... telling a government agency to do something.

We called the police department and they said the Post Office is Federal territory and we should file a complaint with a postal inspector.  So we did...
and no one EVER called us.

At this point, I am thinking they never left the Dept. of Vital Records building.  Four birth certificates disappearing is super sketchy and highly unlikely.
Having it happen TWICE is really blowing my mind.

I plan to call again on Monday and I WILL drive the hour to their building and show up to request the certificates in person if I don't get a satisfactory response.

After our issues with getting the boys' Certificates of Citizenship (the government "overlooked" them) and then the crazy law preventing us from applying for SSNs for the boys you'd think we'd be due a break.  

I think I need to create a label called "paperwork hades" because as we're approaching one year home, I am remembering those annual reports required for the Ukrainian Consulate, and realizing we should probably just plant some trees to make up for the ones we're killing because it is never.going.to.end.  

And that's a wrap!

We had the most beautiful weather at the beach this week!  Not a rainy day until we pulled out to drive home this morning!

Here's a few of my favorites from our last few days.

This storm cloud got closer and closer and closer...

 These two are buddies.

 W showing off the storm cloud as it moved ever closer...

 E and I at our favorite little pier-side restaurant.

 V riding a dinosaur at Broadway on the Beach

And W

There was a display of hats with hair on them...
I turned around and saw this.

W loves ducks.  He is obsessed.  
So when this one walked up to him as he was getting fish food, waiting while he put the quarter in, and then gobbled the food down like a pet, well he was thrilled.

 We didn't go to the aquarium this time.  
We can't afford the ridiculous prices, but it made for a nice photo op!

The best burgers!
It cracks me up how quickly my little Amerikrainians have come to count a cheeseburger as a food group.  Every time we have been in Ukraine adopting, by week two or three the cheeseburger cravings set in because in all of Ukraine one cannot find a flipping cheeseburger!

(flashback photo time)
Even that one time that we found a "Burger joint" in Ukraine that saaaaaid "BURGER" in English.
I was SO excited, and (thought) I told D to order me a hamburger with all the toppings. (YAY!)
I ended up with what looked like a slab of ...pork? topped with kapootsa.
The most.disappointing.day. of my time in Ukraine.
But the kids were cute and now we eat REAL burgers.

 Scary pirate statue

Very scary

 Ukraine has a full on pigeon epidemic in the cities.  
V was thrilled to see a pigeon in SC.  
I personally worry what happens when people feed them because I have SEEN their reproduction capacity and it.is.massive.  I even made a satire flyer about the pigeons during our last weeks in Ukraine as the crazy set in from being away from home too long.

(ok another flashback photo because at the time it was so funny)
Of course I had to go find it so I could show you.
It says, "Have you seen this bird??  (top)
"Because they are everywhere!" (bottom)

Fountains at Broadway at the Beach were not meant to just be looked at while sitting down.

And that's a wrap!  
We had a great vacation together and will return next year so long as we are not adopting again!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Happy Birthday M

Eight years ago, this little girl was born.
I wasn't there.
I don't know what her first cry sounded like.
I didn't get to hold her.
I'll never know for sure what medical events took place during her birth that affect her now.

This is the first photo we saw of M at the SDA in Ukraine.
I remember thinking this is the best photo you have? 
when its the one thing potential parents see as they look among a stack of files, and choose a child.  
She wasn't even looking at the camera.
We almost passed her file over.

Every year on her birthday as I look back at another year gone by, I think about the child she was.
She is not that child anymore.
We have had enormous struggles to be sure, but each year I look back and they are fewer.

The child in these photos has come such a long way.
Four birthdays she passed without us.
Now she's had four with us.

Getting a makeover at Sparkle!

New sunglasses from her makeover.

She walked about 2 miles today around Broadway at the Beach.
No falling.
No complaining.
She was thrilled to walk around, mostly because this time she was able to walk around.

Her birthday dress.
She's a Mermaid Princess in case you were wondering.

Chocolate Cake for dinner because you only turn 8 once!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Surgery: No Regrets!

M had SPML surgery in NJ with Dr. Nuzzo in April.
We flew to NJ and spent 3 days there while she had the procedure and recovered.
She spent 3 weeks in casts.
As with any surgery involving cerebral palsy, there is always the fear that correcting one thing will make another underlying problem a bigger issue.

We have been working hard with M in PT on bending her knees because she's wanting to stiff leg walk from the hip while locking her knees to stabilize since she lost the spasticity in her feet and ankles that she was used to.

Its hard to see the progress sometimes when you are with a child every day.  In PT we focus on what the problems are, not what she's able to do.  Sometimes that leaves me feeling perpetually frustrated with there always being something wrong.

This week here at the beach I have realized that SPML surgery gave her what we had hoped.

It didn't "fix" her CP, but it allowed her to do so much more.

The last time we went to the beach, she couldn't even walk on the sand without her crutches  and she doesn't like using them for more than 5.3 seconds at a time, so basically she crawled most of the time.
She wanted to go walk in the water, but she just couldn't stand up in even a few inches (because she can't wear her AFOs in salt water). The sensation of movement knocked her over.

A picture is worth a thousands words, so I'll leave you with what she was doing yesterday.

We witness a miracle every time a child enters into life; but those who make their journey home across time and miles, growing within the hearts of those who wait to love them,are carried on the wings of destiny; and placed among us by God's very own hands. --Kristi Larson