Friday, January 30, 2009

Lesson Learned

About a week ago, I made the mistake of telling someone how this is the healthiest winter I have had in ages. Of course the next morning I woke up with a nasty head cold which I have been fighting for a week.

You would think I had learned my lesson, but no.  The other night I was bragging to some friends that we hadn't visited our pediatrician all winter. Of course, Margaret came home from school yesterday and fell sound asleep immediately, which told me something was up. I took her temp when she woke up and she was at 103.

I am not saying another word about any of us and our health. Ever.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Headlock with Dreadlocks

I didn't think there was anything as cool as Pipo's dreadlocks when he played soccer, but I must say, they are pretty cool when he is wrestling too!

A fellow blogger recently asked me to do a post on hair, so I will do my best here.

I have posted about hair in the past, but never in depth. I have been incredibly fortunate in that the summer camp we work at has several people who I have been able to go to for hair advice. I was SO happy this summer when one of our good friends from Jamaica told Pipo his hair looked great and that that was how he started his dreads when he was a boy.

When Pipo first started growing his hair out, I wasn't sure what to do with it. One of my camp friends sat with me one afternoon and talked me through these 'comb coils'. These are done by taking small chunks of hair, greasing them up good, and twisting them up with the end of a fine toothed comb. While it looked cute, I didn't love the style on Pipo. His face is just too pretty, and I felt it made him look a little girlish.

Eventually I started to do two strand twists on him as his hair got longer. This was a little easier for me... taking two bits of hair and twisting them around eachother, so that the final product looks almost like a bit of fat yarn (or at least mine did!) But again, it looked a little too feminine on him. I saw a photo online of a boy with all but the top of his head shaved. I asked Pipo if he wanted to try it. The big bonus was that it took much less time to do his hair with only the top of it to twist. I loved the look on him, and we went with this. As his hair got longer though, it got pretty time consuming to do a retwist. He would wash his hair, and I would have to pick it all out with a comb, and then redo all the twists. He didn't seem like he was going to want to cut his hair anytime soon, so I suggested going to dreadlocks. I told him it would be for good (until he wanted to cut his hair) but he liked the idea.

So now his hair has been "locked" for well over a year. It's getting pretty long, but I must say, it suits him.

When I first started his dreadlocks, I read anything I could find about them. One of the best resources was a post by another blogger, which you can find here. These two adorable boys have had their hair locked since they were very young toddlers. It's a great post with lot's of info.

Starting Pipo's locks was fairly simple. I just kept the two strand twists in, and every week in the beginning I would retwist. His hair wasn't that long yet, so it wasn't too bad. After about a month, it was 2-3 weeks between twisting, and now I can go up to 6 weeks without it looking too bad. The main issue is the new hair growth. The base of the locks get pretty fuzzy.

I take each lock, dab a bit of gel at the base, and twist up the new growth.

Then I glide a bit more gel up the length of the lock and palm roll it as you can see below. It is simply putting the lock between my hands and rolling it back and forth.

I add a clip to each finished lock, right at the base. You can see below how fuzzy the untwisted part of his head is.

When his whole head is done, it needs to dry. Pipo is not a fan of the hairdryer, so I usually do his locks early on a day when we have nothing going, and then he can just hang around the house for a couple hours with his head all clipped!

There are lot's of variations to this routine. I use "Let's Jam" for gel. I have tried many products, but this is the one which worked best for Pipo's hair. As far as parting the hair goes, I was pretty loose about it. Being a boy, I didn't care so much how 'uniform' his locks looked. So the parts are not even at all, and the locks themselves are varying sizes. I like this look for him, it seems more 'boyish' and natural.
The biggest benefit by far though, is how much bonding happens with hair time. I have posted about that before, but I will say it again... the physical one on one time we get with retwisting is SO good. Pipo actually will ask me to do his hair before it even really needs to be done. And I am sure it's because he needs that time. Time to just relax, and have mom to himself. And for that... I will keep twisting his hair as long as he wants me to!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Phone Rage

Anyone who has spent any time trying to finagle their way through an automated phone system has experienced phone rage, haven't they? Or maybe it's just me. Maybe I am just losing my mind, but give me a good old fashioned human being on the other end of the line anytime.

I had a question with USCIS today, and called their handy customer service line. I then spent over a half an hour listening to various options which had nothing to do with my question. None of the options was to speak to an actual human. Eventually, after listening to the 4,783 options, you are given one final option... to press this number to return to the main menu, which of course will send you through the 4,783 options all over again.

As I sat there with my blood pressure rising higher and higher, I started to get a little delusional, and heard some new options...

Press 1 to scream into the phone

Press 2 to throw the phone against the wall

Press 3 to break something

Press 4 to hurt someone physically

Press 5 for anger management classes

Or something like that... tell me, am I alone in these feelings? Am I really losing it?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A day for History

A self portrait by Pipo...

No matter how you felt about this election, there is no denying we all witnessed a spectacular piece of history today.  And today, of all days, I was incredibly grateful to my son, for giving me such a very, very different take on the significance of this moment.

I drove Pipo to wrestling practice tonight, and we talked a bit about the inauguration, which he watched at school today. He really doesn't see it as a big deal. I talked to him about the fact that in Haiti, it was mostly people with brown skin, but that it is different here in the US... and it was very, very different years ago. He understands this somewhat, but the reality is, he arrived here at a time when we were heading towards change. What a time to become an American for a brown skinned little boy.

I have heard stories from many adoptive parents that their children went through a phase of wanting to be white like their new parents. They try to 'wash the brown off', or ask for a special lotion to make them white. We have had such a different experience in this area, and I am thankful for that. The only mention of it at all, is the one time Pipo told Fitz  that if he wanted to be "dark like me... you should spend more time in the sun."  He doesn't see the white skin as better... he is proud of his skin, proud of his heritage, proud of himself. I wouldn't want it any other way. I loved this self portrait that he brought home from school... with his dark skin, and outlining his dreadlocks. This boy is comfortable with himself, and I want to keep it that way.

And now he has even more reason to be comfortable in his skin. A new bar has been set... or better yet, the bar has been broken. My boy can be anything when he grows up, even the president. He can be anything.

My own favorite portrait of Pipo

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Happy Birthday

It's hard to believe he is 12 years old today. After a long day spent waiting around while Fitz finished his meetings, because Mom had to work, he wolfed down a couple of chicken legs so we could hurry through his cake before he ran off to wrestling practice. After practice, I ran the sweaty, tired boy over to K-Mart, because it was the only time we had to go get his birthday present. I was feeling a little beyond stressed at the whirlwind of our day, and a little mommy-guilt at the hurried pace of his birthday. But as he walked out of K-Mart with me, even knowing it was too late at night for him to even open his new Bionicles... he said "this could be my best birthday ever!"  How can I not love this kid?

As a birthday tradition here in Fitzville, the birthday kid gets measured on the wall of fame in the kitchen. As I wrote his name up there next to the number 12, It was hard not to notice that he was still behind even Margaret at 10... and with all the Fitz kids being somewhat vertically challenged, this really emphasizes how far behind Pipo is in that department.  But then I stepped back and really looked at that wall. I saw his very first mark up there... "Philippe - 9". I looked at that mark, and looked at todays, and saw a full foots difference. He may be behind, but he is trying like heck to catch up... and he's doing it! 

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Life's lessons

Pipo started wrestling this past month... fulfilling a long time dream of his wrestling coach dad... to have one of his boys finally out there on the mat. When Pipo first came here, one of our biggest battles with him was teaching him sportsmanship. With both Fitz and I having coached varsity sports, it is pretty high on our list. Unsportsmanlike behavior is simply not tolerated.

In those first seasons of Little League and soccer, we had many battles.  I actually pulled Pipo off the soccer field in the middle of a game once, telling him "if you aren't going to play like a team player then you don't belong on the team."  Several times we made him write apology notes to coaches about his behavior before letting him go back to the team. He's come a long way in three years, and we have been so proud of him. But there are still those moments, and he still hates to lose.

Wrestling seemed to me the perfect venue to work on this. There is nothing to teach you losing  better than losing individually, under a spotlight, in front of a crowd, while wearing spandex.  Talk about throwing a kid to the lions. We talked to Pipo about how this is his first year... it's a tough league, and he will probably lose a lot... maybe always this season. Last week the team had it's first match, competing against two very tough towns. Pipo lost both matches, but made us incredibly proud, by holding his head high, and continuing to cheer on his team for the rest of the long match.

I wondered how he would be going into the match this week. I worried that he would be discouraged, not be excited to get out there. But he surprised me by his good mood on the way to the match. He lost his first match, and again made me proud by coming off the mat with his head held high.

But the second match... I'm not sure I could ever describe my emotions accurately here. He battled through the first period, and quickly into the second period had his opponent on his back. When the referee slapped the mat, I just sat staring, not quite sure what had actually happened. Then I heard our team's bench go wild... all these young boys screaming for Pipo who had gotten his first pin.

I know I went into this whole experience wanting Pipo to learn how to be a good loser, but I am not sure who was happier about this win today, him or his mom.

I think back three years ago to this sickly, spindly legged kid with the bloated belly. The boy his dad had to carry up the stairs at night, because he was too weak to climb them. The boy who couldn't even climb up into our van. The boy who received a bicycle for his first ever birthday party at 9 years old, but needed to be pushed, because he didn't have the strength to pedal. 

That boy pinned his opponent today. And it was all I could do not to scream "That's my son!!!" and embarrass him beyond belief. But I didn't. I just sat there quietly, trying not to cry and embarrass myself beyond belief. That's my son.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Special Ed.

I have mentioned that I was a Special Ed. teacher in a former life. I've been out of the field for over 10 years now, but in it from the other side (the parenting side) for a few years now.  The other day we had an evaluation meeting for Tommy, and I was struck once again at the huge advantage I have with my background.

We received his reports over vacation, and even with my background knowledge, I had to read through all the testing and summaries several times to make sense of it. Fitz, who is a teacher, but not a sped teacher, looked through the thick stack of papers, and quickly passed them back to me, asking for a summary.  I read through all the test scores, the complicated terminology, and wondered how the average parent does this. But having been on the other side of the IEP table, I know... they sometimes don't or can't do it. It was my biggest gripe when I worked in public schools.

I understand that behind all of it, we all have one goal in common... to help each child learn and progress to the best of their ability. But I also know how that goal can be complicated when you get into all the laws and stipulations of special education. And really, in this day and age, the biggest complication is money. There is only so much money in the budget, only so many services that can be provided. Schools are constantly struggling with this battle... how do we provide all the services that kids need, while dealing with an ever shrinking budget.

As a parent, those money issues are not on our shoulders. It's our job to fight for what our kids need. But unfortunately, many parents go into this battle unarmed.  3 years ago, I went into this battle for Charlie. I knew how the laws worked, I knew what he needed, and I went into our meeting determined to get just that. Now that Tommy is in kindergarten, I found myself fighting the same battle. I wasn't sure how it would go, but at the end of the meeting, it was agreed that he would get the help we were looking for.

I know without a doubt though, that had I not understood those reports, had I not been able to question the results of his testing and read the fine print of those summaries, he would still be floundering as just one student in a class of 17. I am happy we won the battle, but it makes the reality so clear to me. How many kids are floundering? How many parents walk away from those meeting defeated, knowing their child needs help, but not knowing how to negotiate the system and get that help?

The "no child left behind" act is good in theory, but theory is as far as it goes. I could rant and rave in a whole 'nother post about standardized testing, but that's for another day. The reality is that kids are all individuals, with individual needs. And no matter how much we try to create a 'universal system' to help each child achieve their best... there are those kids who will fall through the cracks. And who will reach out to them? Who will be their voice? More importantly, who will help their parents be their voice?

I should be happy that Tommy is getting help, and I am. But I am also feeling guilty, knowing how many other kids need that same help and won't be getting it.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year

It's very cool when New Years Eve falls on a Wednesday night.  We really hadn't made any plans... but thought it would be fun to have a pretty relaxed night with the kids, totally forgetting it was Wednesday until just the day before.  It turned out that a good number of our Wednesday night friends didn't really have plans either, and were hoping we were doing our traditional Wednesday.  It was so great to bring in the New Year with an old tradition. We fed people in shifts, and the photo above is just some of the crew of kids eating meatballs.

I look forward to a New Year, but I am so happy that some things don't change. I love our Wednesdays.