this is how we do it

Yesterday was not my best day.

It started when Mark dropped Jafta off at school. He’s been complaining about one of his classmates being mean to him. He comes home talking about it quite a bit – saying that he’s getting hit and kicked and made fun of. Jafta can be dramatic and overly sensitive, and he can also be antagonistic, so we weren’t sure how much of this to believe. We talked to the teacher about it, and she basically indicated that this boy acts this way towards everyone, has discipline issues, etc. But when Mark dropped him off he stood and observed. He watched Jafta walk out to the playground, and then watched this little boy run up and slug Jafta in the stomach. And then he watched Jafta walk away dejected and play by himself. We have parent-teacher conferences coming up, and I know I need to address how they are handling this. We also need to have some big talks with Jafta about being more assertive without being aggressive. Not sure how to do that.

As we were discussing this at lunch, India chimed in with some news of her own. Some girls in her class have been saying that India isn’t really Kembe’s sister. So, in addition to the bullying, I get to bring up this issue in the parent teacher conference. I don’t want to be the problematic mom. But I also need to communicate that the kids in her class might need some sensitivity training. Not sure how to do that.

This afternoon we got a letter from Jafta’s birthmom. While I think open adoption is usually the best route, we don’t have a traditional open adoption arrangement.  Jafta's birthmom did not want him to be adopted. He was in the fostercare before he came to us. We write letters and send pictures, and we’ve asked her to do the same. Even that level of openness is more than what social services recommended, but I felt those ties were important. However, she doesn’t write often. She hasn’t written in over a year. When her letter arrived yesterday, I was hopeful that it would be something nice I could read to Jafta. It wasn’t. It was a letter in which she accused us of stealing her child, and denied her own wrongdoings in leading to his removal. We had nothing to do with Jafta’s removal or the court’s decision . . . but the details aren’t important. What is significant and discouraging about the correspondence is that she didn’t once ask about Jafta, or relay any message to him. A page full of bitterness, and not one kind word that I could read to him. What a sad legacy for him. I’m not even sure if I should keep the letter. Mark thinks we should – so he can read it when he is older and understand her character in the event that he decides to make contact with her as an adult. I’m not so sure. When it arrived, I impulsively told Jafta that it was a letter from his birthmom, and then I made up the words that I thought a child would want to hear from their first mom. I don’t know why I did that. I just want him to feel love from his birthmom. I need to figure out how to do it without lying for her. Not sure how to do that.

And Kembe. Dear Kembe. It really is two steps forward, one step back with him. Only some days, more like five steps back. His personality the polar opposite of Jafta – assertive and aggressive and parental, even with me. I am struggling with patience, especially with his attitude. Sometimes he is cute and darling, other times he just plain yells at me. He scolds me, rolls his eyes at me, bosses me around, and otherwise acts as if I am a child and he is the parent. It is a difficult dynamic. I need to figure out how to teach him to respect me, without having him be in trouble all the livelong day. Because today, based on his behavior, he could have been in one long time-out pretty much the entire day. Not sure how to do that.

It was a depressing day. But after dinner, we turned on some old hip-hop and had a little dance party in the kitchen. We know how to do that.


  1. Anonymous1:45 AM

    This is the first time one of your posts compelled me to comment. First I think you should take up both of these issues prior to the scheduled conferences. For one thing they are both critical enough, that they need immediate attention. Also, then the conference can be focused on "ordinary" school issues :)
    I think you acted right, reading a pretend sweet letter to Jafta. He doesn't yet have the tools to deal with the complexity of her situation. You are doing a great job, and part of that job is is protecting him physically and emotionally. He will grow up a loved attached young man. I would be careful not to paint the picture too rosy, but under the circumstances you thought quickly. I don't think the letter is yours to dispose of, he will need it later as he puts together the puzzle of his situation, as an adult.

    Kembe is a little complicated 'cause of the language...but you already knew that! I'm sure you already do this, but maybe a few days of constant attention (hard with 4 kids). Anytime he treats you disrespectfully, address it, and correct him, kneel down so you are on his level and he knows you are serious. I think the behavior may go by unaddressed if you have your hands full, so he may think it's acceptable. The relationship has to be mutually respectful. Sometimes time out works against us because it is perceived by a child as withholding attention.

    This maybe helpful

    Sorry for the long posts, your doing a great job! It takes a village, and we don't have one in our culture, so the internet it is!

  2. Rough stuff.

    I agree that you should address the school issues immediately. These are not insignificant concerns and you won't be viewed as "problem parents".

    School always opens up a whole new can of worms when it comes to parenting. And the challenges with the boys are serious business.

    Serious, heavy, rough stuff. Take a deep breath and I have the feeling you'll do just fine.

    Your dance party video is blocked for copyright blah blah. Bummer. I really would have liked to see that

  3. We have a similar birth mom situation. There's tons of literature out there on private adoption, tons on international adoption, and almost none on adoption from foster care. We kept everything for out daughters, from the practically empty (and altered full of lies) baby books she made for them to the nasty whiny letters to us. We try to present a balanced picture, because, if she was so loving, why couldn't they stay with her? And if she's nothing but unadulterated evil, than what are they? The truth of the matter is, she loves them, but probably not as much as she loves herself and her lifestyle. But it's heavy stuff. Full of landmines.

  4. My oldest daughter really never encountered "mean people" until she was in the 2nd grade. And it was rough. She did not know how to respond or react to people like that. Now that she is in the 4th grade, she is still learning. She loves people and wants to be friends with everyone and so it has been difficult for her to grasp that there are some kids that she should avoid. She is, of course (and obviously) older than Jafta in dealing with this stuff but I don't know that she is much better about it. She has two major bullies in her class this year and the teachers have implemented "the steps" with the kids: Ignore the bad behavior, Walk away if you can, ask the person to stop, and then ask for help from a grown up. This has helped some too.
    Perhaps in your discussion with India's teacher you could suggest some books showing how people don't have to "match" to be in a family. As I am sure you know, there are books with animals needing families and not matching and then just books on different family structures and how those families are made. It is all so difficult.
    I have no words of wisdom for you in helping with Kembe. I'm not there. My kids will sometimes do this, but I think the motive/reason behind doing it is much different than Kembe's. For him, I think, it was a mode of survival in his orphanage. I think even the best orphanages still have "pack mentality" and so it takes so much time and effort to teach that YOU are the alpha "dog" here, not them. You are the parent and you need for him to just be the kid. We are in the process of adopting an older child, also from Guatemala, that lived in an orphanage for the first 4 1/2 years of her life. This summer, we made a temporary move to Guatemala and had her living with us during that time. I explained to my girls (then ages 6 and 9 years) that we had to teach kiddo #3 how to be a "family girl" and not an "orphanage girl." After we had to leave Guatemala, we were able to have her live with friends instead of returning to the orphanage. While it's not her permanent family, she is at least learning the dynamics of a family somewhat which I think will be helpful she joins us--hopefully soon.
    Lastly, I do find it difficult at times to navigate an open adoption too. My daughters were born in Guatemala and so we do have the geography that separates us, but we have a person that helps us navigate our relationship that is on the ground in Guatemala. We receive requests for off the wall things (purchasing blood, someone in the family has cancer and the doctor has prescribed Vitamin C which they cannot afford, etc.) and yet when I ask for a receipt to show me the costs paid for these things so that I can help with a reimbursement, no receipt is given (yes, I do KNOW that a receipt would be given or an invoice could be created if it was legitimate--Guatemala LOVES receipts!). They are a very loving family, however, and so it is difficult for my daughter to not see things as just completely rosy. I don't share everything with her, but I have explained time and time again that sometimes people haven't learned how to make good choices and all choices have consequences, both good and bad.
    Now, if all of this was something we all already knew how to do--simple parenting--we could easily buy a manual to tell us. You learn from others, just as you are doing here, by putting your problem areas out there, seeking the input from others. Hang in there!

  5. Anonymous5:25 AM

    Wow...heavy day. We just discussed the bully thing over dinner a couple of days ago. It came up because a couple of kids in my son's preschool class got into fisticuffs right in front of me when I went to pick him up at the end of the morning.

    It's not much, but at this point, if a kid gets aggressive toward him first, we told him to put his hands on his hips and look the kid straight in the eye and say loudly, "Stop it!". Then do it again if it doesn't work. Then go tell the teacher if that doesn't work. I have no idea if this will work, but maybe some of it at this age is letting a kid think you are going to take it. But, then again, I am certainly no expert here.

    My son was so like Kembe initially. In time it seems to work itself out as long as you consistently let him know what is appropriate and what is not. The most frustrating thing for me during that first year was thinking the first or first 50 times I told him, he'd get it. More like the 5000th time I went over it, he seemed to start cluing in a bit.

    By the way...have you read Sacred Parenting by Gary Thomas? It has been a rough morning already I happened to open it up and read something that reminded me what the point of this whole exercise is. Anyway...there is some stuff in there that is really perspective shifting especially when your kid is suffering. I smiled when I read your post as it could have been slipped in as an example in this particular chapter.

    Hope today is better. God gives wisdom and comfort.


  6. Melissa5:29 AM

    Yep - Kristen - I haven't had the birthmom situation, but we've been thru the rest. I remember feeling like I was not confident about anything. Take them one bite at a time. Do not wait til the conference. Go in (and it might work better to have Mark do it) and say VERY directly this is what he has been telling us, this is what I observed on this specific day and time. I expect when I bring my child here he will be safe - period. At some level, even if they are not paying attention from a compassionate level, they would from a liability level.

  7. Stephanie Scigliano5:46 AM

    Wow. So much of all that strikes a cord with me.

    I have also found that addressing issues that have nothing to do with the academic work needs to be done as soon as possible, even if it is mainly e-mails. Our conferences are 20 minutes, so that isn't even an option for "other" things.

    Not "real" brother or sister- been there. I find that I have to really be on top of that and involve the teacher ASAP. I like to think that the child who makes the initial comment just doesn't get it, has no context for it, and means no harm. If a parent has to be involved, we all know that that is a completely different can of worms!

    Bullying- sounds like Jafta is a lot like my son. How to to teach kids to stick-up for themselves to a kid who is only interested in striking-out?! That is a big challenge for us, too.

    Birthmother issues- We are all there with you. We have a very dicey issue with 1 child that breaks my heart to think of explaining. I just have to honor that it is part of that child's history, good or bad, and when the time is right that child will be given all of the info. I can't imagine how much that letter must have affected you. So very sad- makes my stomach hurt just hearing about it.

    I really treasure your thoughts and sharing- definately helps to remember that lots of us share the same challenges. Thank you.

  8. Have you read "A Mother for Choco"? It's very short, sweet and totally preschool-appropriate. It would be a great resource for the teacher in explaining adoption to the class.

    I wish I had some other bit of insight to offer, but I think I would fall squarely into your "not sure how to do that" camp on most of these issues. We've dealt with some of these in our house as well. Namely the bullying and the overly-assertive behavior. I'll chime in, though, and third and fourth the sentiments about not waiting for conferences before asking the teachers to address these issues with both of your preschool kids. You will need your conference time to talk about academic progress, kindergarten preparedness, etc., etc.

    I'm so sorry that you are dealing with all of these issues all at once. This is most definitely not the fun stuff of parenting. Praying you have an extra measure of grace and wisdom as you sort through it all.

  9. Oh my word girl, your hands are full right now! And you are a fantastic mom . . . I struggle enough with just having one little to deal with, heaven knows what I'm going to do when we adopt and add to our family after this summer!! crazy . . .

  10. I wouldn't wait to discuss these issues with the teachers. My neighbors daughter has Alopecia (she had no hair anywhere) and some girls were giving her trouble. Eventually the girls spent a week's worth of free play digging a hole and tried to burry her alive. I know it is an extreme case, but this is why these things need to be taken seriously. If the teachers refuse to proctect your child, he needs to protect himself. I bet if one of the kids that got hit, hit this kid back, he would stop.

    I would save the letters the birth mom sends, whether they are good or bad. If he asks about what they say (and they are bad) I would just say some generic nice things. Maybe when he is older he will be able to understand the "bad stuff." I don't know if you send her picutres and letters, but I would stop sending them. This is obviously not a "healthy" relationship, so maybe if you stop sending her things, she will stop writing you nasty letters.

  11. If you could figure all this out and be the master of parenting with answers for everything, that would really help me out. Mkay? Thanks.

    In the meantime, I'll pray that you have a good day today. :)

  12. man sounds like all things that I was going to say have been covered... good people out there in cyberspace on thinkign the smae way I am. Some days I wish they had instructions, the children I mean, then I might a have a better idea.

  13. Kristen - hugs to you!

  14. Caitlin9:22 AM

    Hey - even though you don't know how to do all of those monumental tasks just yet, I can tell you're doing an AWESOME job as a parent and raising kids who will be wonderful individuals. The answers will come and you'll make some mistakes and it will all turn out okay.

    Pulling for you in Eugene, Oregon!

  15. Anonymous9:58 AM


    I have no advice for you except take care of and Mark are incredible parents, glad Mark saw what was going on first hand when he dropped the boy at school...You know what to do! Your an amazing women and mother...just keep walking forward, it will come to you! Remember your are Highly Favored by our Lord and He will walk with you and give you the words that need to be spoken to the teachers and even the parents of these kids who are causing such hate and discontent! Love you, stay strong!

  16. My oldest son was bullied at one school & would come home daily with mud all over him or just really sad. I would call the principle every time it happened. My boy was not a fighter he would keep his hands in his pockets & just take the abuse. After all my years of harping about not hitting etc, I finally had to tell him it was ok to defend himself. I remember that conversation & it still breaks my heart to go against everything I had ever said to him. He still didn't fight back but his older sister stood up for him & eventually the bullying stopped. We moved & sent him to a new school for the next year. Bullies can really damage a childs self esteem & must be stopped now. I thought schools now were supposed to have a zero tolerance for bullying?

  17. anne sharman12:49 PM

    Sorry to hear that you had such a rough day, Kristen. If you makes you feel better, I sat in a chair with both of my crying children and cried a little myself yesterday. I just keep chanting, "Tomorrow is another day."

  18. Thanks for admitting that there are things you aren't sure how to do. And for reminding us there are things we all know how to do, and dancing is one of them. Although the latter doesn't solve the former, it makes it a bit easier to deal with.

    love you guys

  19. Love ya. That's it. Oh, and YOU ARE A GREAT MOM.

  20. Thank you for being so open and honest. Hang in there. Hugs.

  21. I would talk to the school right away about the kid who is physically aggressive towards Jafta. I hate to call it 'bullying' because they are so little, and really, he just isn't being supervised enough. They should designate a parent volunteer to shadow him, and correct his behavior every single time he acts inappropriately. The teacher needs to have a big talk with the class about how they're (India will appreciate this) "all in this together" and they are all here at school to be friends and have fun together. The little boy who is 'bullying' is obviously out of sorts himself, and needs something that he's not getting. Has anyone talked to his parents? Try to stay calm and rational, cooperative, etc, and remember that this is just as hard for them, if not harder. It's hard for Jafta and the other kids to be picked on, but it's also hard for the kid who feels he has to lash out at everyone for whatever reason, and he and his parents deserve just as much empathy as everyone else. He really needs someone to monitor his behavior closely, not in a punitive way, but in a gentle, understanding, re-directive way.

    good luck!!!!

    as for India and Kembe, I second the talk with the teacher, and you could just give her a few books to read to the kids. I'd suggest some, but I'm sure you have them all already. :)

  22. it's not easy for AA children to find compassion, hope, and security in OC schools. as a mom and a teacher, i'm dually torn.

    on the one hand, i'm tired of telling my daughter to walk away whenever someone picks on her, when what i really want to say is: knock the taste outa the kid's mouth.

    on the other hand, as a teacher i know that regardless of policy, it's impossible to totally control bullying (about as impossible as changing society itself).

    i just continue to pray for my children, and i work on making home a soft place for my them to land.

  23. i love your blog. and i so appreciate that you share your experience here! clearly, life is hard and you have to make decisions even when you don't know the right thing to do. but dance parties? they're always good for everyone. and no matter what happens at school, these kids clearly know that home is a good place. THAT is so good!

  24. Anonymous6:28 AM

    jafta, kembe and india are good dancers, but i think karis is a natural!! so cute!
    dance parties in my house always seem to make everything better, too. :-)

  25. Anonymous10:10 AM

    Hi Kristen,
    I love your blog. The dance party was adorable. Karis is a natural : )
    I have a few ideas that I hope will help with Kembe. I work in a school where 95% of the kids live at or below the poverty line. When I first started, I tried to be very loving to the kids because of what they had to go through. They thought I was a joke and walked all over me. The other teachers thought that I couldn't control the kids (I'm still a work in progress). Then I went the other way and was too stern and harsh. The kids just rebelled against me and a few staff members started to really dislike me and still do. It was a traumatizing learning curve that I hope never to repeat. I did learn something though-that I had to establish myself as an authority figure before showing love and praise. You kind of have to find your style. I'm not overly cutesy and precious or overly strict and stern. What has worked for me is to calmly explain the rules, the rewards and the consequences. If a chlid breaks the rules, I try to stay calm and give a warning, then administer the consequences. Once I established more control, I could start working on the relationships with the kids.
    Maybe something like that would work for Kembe. I read that he likes to help around the house and with Karis. Maybe you could give him little tasks and reward him for it at the end of the week. With a sticker chart system or something. You might try limiting the affection that you give him until the end of the day. I know it's hard, but as you establish yourself as the mom/boss, you can show more affection. I'm not a parent yet, but this is what I've learned by working at this school. Also remember to take care of yourself. Go to the spa and spend time with your friends when you can. I've been reminded that you're not helping anyone when you don't put your oxygen mask on first. I've always been in good health, but due to stress and lack of sleep, I've had several colds, h1n1, and a bad upper respiratory infection this year.
    This has turned into a book.
    Take care and good luck.

  26. whoa! sounds like a very rough day indeed. I agree with everyone else. The bullying issue needs to be addressed immediately. PTC isn't really the time to do so as there may not be enough time. I'd request a meeting with the boy's parents and have both the teacher and the principle in the room. That way everyone is on the same page and the parents can address the issue with their kid.

    Just a suggestion. Hugs to you an Mark. You are doing an awesome job! But you already knew that!

    Oh and LOVE the dance party!

  27. All children have a right to feel accepted and safe in school. If your child does not feel this way then you should address the issue with the teacher and the principal if necessary. I am a retired teacher and parent of adopted children and our family is biracial. You need to insist that your children are in a supportive learning and social environment. Sometimes it is a matter of educating other children about race and adoption and this must be done by teachers as well as parents.

  28. my kids and I just had a moment kickin' it together with your kids. (we're in the middle of a tornado warning... so we're snuggled up in our bed together). thanks for sharing the crazy stuff too. it does help to keep it real for the rest of us mamas. we're praying for you guys over here on the east coast.

  29. I am having birth mother issues today. Unfortunately, my son's birth mother is also my sister. Talk about complicated. We've battened the hatches against her, but I have no idea how to explain the why of it to him. How do you tell a child that the woman who gave birth to him is so selfish that she continues to use and hurt others ... including him? Ugh. Please figure out the "right" thing to do and fill us all in!

  30. Hey there,
    I think I found my way here from LIE...

    I just had a few thoughts:
    First, I wanted to recommend "Playful Parenting," which I think is really a book about attachment, although it's never discussed that way. Lots of helpful ideas about how to help children play with ideas of power and control so that they don't have to act it out...

    Second, I wanted to say that I think it would be a fair translation of the birthmother letter as "she is really sad that she can't be with you all the time. she wishes she could be your mommy all the time." That's honest--I think, emotionally, the letter does say that, along with a bunch of other things--but doesn't reveal too much or sugarcoat. Also, I'd definitely keep the letter. When he's old enough, you can talk to him and prepare him for what's in it, and leave the decision about opening or not to him. I do think it's his history, and he has a right to it if he decides he wants it.

    Some parenting days, it's best to have a dance party (or, at our house, jump on the bed--amazing what that does for the crankies). Hang in there.

  31. I know everyone's comments are serious and everything so I am sorry to be so shallow...BUT who sings the song in your video?! I LOVE IT! Any other good "old hip hop" songs you like? Send them my way...and you are doing a great job. Love reading about some of the "issues" we may deal with soon. Preparing!! :D


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