Saturday, October 11, 2014

Creepy Crawly Party

Well, we've not only had BGC with us for more than a year, we've had her with us for two birthdays now! Last year, she had only been with us about six weeks when she turned one, so we did a little Sesame Street mini-party at church after our casual evening service.

This year, we gave her the full Kelley-family birthday treatment with a "Creepy Crawly" themed party in honor of her (pre-spica-cast) creeping and crawling and all her other progress in the last year. I can't show you how big and robust she's getting these days, how much more interactive and verbal (her few babbly sounds are big steps, with hearing loss as profound as hers!), but I can show you her sweet 2nd birthday party, at which friends and family celebrated her growth.

I found the invite on Etsy, and personalized the text.

For the centerpiece, I just used flowers, flanked by a light-up ladybug toy we have and a caterpillar I made from styrofoam balls that will do double-duty in a game at Claire's Halloween birthday party in two weeks.

Since it was a morning party, a "buggy brunch," the cake was a tower of doughnuts, being climbed by an orange doughnut-hole caterpillar (stuck in with toothpicks). I love the little name banner I made to hang over the doughnut "cake" (letters obscured for blog-sharing, of course).
Bloody Marys and mimosas for the grownups, plus juice boxes for the kids (BGC learned how to drink through a straw via said juice boxes today, actually!)

 Kate and Claire helped me with much of the food, like putting grapes on skewers for our "grape-a-pillars."

Cinnamon rolls became "cinnamon roll-y polys."

I used crescent roll dough with bacon and American cheese to make these little pastry "snails." I read online that broccoli slaw makes good antennae (and felt gratified that I was not the only person out there looking to create edible bug anatomy).

 I also made a bunch of quiche muffins, no cutesy name required.

For an activity to keep kiddos occupied, I put out supplies for crafting little bugs out of mini styrofoam balls, pipe cleaners, toothpicks, and pony beads.

These were the products left at the end of the party!

Happy birthday, BGC. This is going to be a big year for you!

Monday, October 06, 2014

Taking My Kids Off the Pedestal

I'm honored to be a contributor this year to Vanderbilt Children's Hospital's Children's Wishing Well blog. We've spent a lot of time at VCH this year with "Baby Girl Chandler" (AKA "BGC" on this blog), and though that isn't a prerequisite for contributing to Wishing Well, it has increased my knowledge of and appreciation for children's health care.

My first post is up on Wishing Well today, and in it, I share some thoughts about foster care that have been swimming around my heart and mind for quite a while. It felt really good to let it out. Though I didn't emphasize the religious basis of these thoughts in the published post, I'll say here that it all began with a book that I actually didn't even read.

I used to get a lot of review copies in my old job as editor of Circuit Rider and Ministry Matters, and (shocker) I didn’t have time to read them all, but I tried to give the appealing ones at least a little peek. That’s where I saw the line in Jennie Allen’s Anything that advocated praying a crazy prayer, that of offering God “anything.” Anything God wanted or needed from you, you offer that up. That is definitely a frightening thought, especially since my first thought was “my kids.” If I offer God anything, God might take my kids. That’s not a theologically sound thought, and I definitely don’t think God kills kids, takes anybody because he “needs another angel” or whatnot. That’s crazy. But as I weighed that crazy thought with the calling to foster care that I was already pondering—had been pondering for a while—I realized that, yes, in a way, answering God’s call would mean offering something of my kids.

The idea that opening our home to other children might mean my own children having less—less space, less attention, less of our disposable income, anything less than our undivided focus—I would be sacrificing something that my own privileged kids may take for granted. Not so much space and time and stuff, but their place on the pedestal of our family’s life.

This pedestal, all shiny white with Corinthian detail, has a plaque on it that says:

These children are special.

These children deserve the best of everything.

These children, by virtue of being born into a comparatively well-off family in a safe suburb, should be shielded from people not like us.

These children should not have to share the good things they have with those who have not.

To read the rest, go visit Children's Wishing Well.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

DIY Gift Idea: Family Memory Game

I managed to knock a couple big crafty to-dos off my list this past weekend, one of which was a gift for Claire's upcoming third birthday. I made the same thing for our nephew, who turned three a few months ago, and wanted to share a little tutorial for this super-cute, personal gift that will be treasured for years to come.

Family Memory Game
This is a basic matching game, like the versions you can buy in stores with animals or cartoon characters or whatever on it. Kids from age 2 or 2 1/2 can learn to pick up two face-down cards, see if it's a match, and if not, remember where they are to try to get a match on subsequent turns. This DIY game uses photos of family members, keeping the faces of far-flung relatives fresh for kids and helping them learn to read the names of loved ones.

I made mine with 12 family members, for a 24-piece game. You could do more or less, depending on the number of relatives (and pets, close friends, etc.) you want to include.

Photos of family members (cropped to 3x4, two on a 4x6 photo)
3 1/2 x 4 1/2 cards (wood or chipboard)
scrapbook paper with a small, regular pattern
acrylic paint and brush
Mod Podge and sponge brush
corner rounder (optional)

Step 1: Editing the Photos
Find a good picture of each family member that can be cropped fairly close around his or her face and not have other people in the frame. Crop each to 3 x 4, two on a 4 x 6 photo for easy and cheap printing. Including the person's name is nice, I think, since the names of family members are often among the first words kids learn to spell, read, and write. Once you have the template set up, editing each person's photo goes pretty quickly.

Step 2: Prepping the Cards
I had planned on using cardstock and laminating them, but decided such a thin card would be hard for tiny hands to pick up. Chipboard would have worked well, but I ended up finding these 3 1/2 x 4 1/2 wood cards at Michael's that are the perfect size, with nicely rounded corners. They come in packs of four for $3.99 each, making the project a little more expensive than I intended (around $30 total) but they are nice and substantial.

I painted the sides that would form the background for the photos white, for a nice consistent background.

While that side is drying, cut the scrapbook paper to 3 1/2 x 4 1/2 pieces. I used a corner rounder on them at this point, since the wood cards were rounded.  When the painted side is dry, Mod Podge the scrapbook paper to the other side.
Step 3: Prepping the Photos
While the Mod Podge is drying, separate the two matches of each person. Round the corners, if that suits the shape of your cards.

Adhere photos to the painted side. You could use glue/Mod Podge, but I ran them through the Xyron sticker-maker to add permanent adhesive, then Mod Podged over it for a nice sheen. (I skipped that last bit with Claire's, and they still look lovely :)

Step 4: The Packaging
Find a nice box that will hold all the cards. Scan a couple of the cards so the "cover" of the box can show some real game pieces. Type up the title and directions, and use some of the leftover scrapbook paper from the opposite side of the cards for a coordinating box.  

I know our nephew and his parents are enjoying their game, and I can't wait for Claire to open hers in a month or so, so we can play our own game of "Family Memory" too.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Ten on Tuesday

Blogging has not been a priority lately (clearly), but I think I can handle ten quick items to share what's up with Team Kelley these days.

1. Kate transitioned to school wonderfully. She likes her teacher, her class, the library, going to P.E., art, and music class. She slept like crazy one afternoon during the first week, but other than that, hasn't seemed abnormally tired or anything. She and Claire are still live wires at bedtime, though Kate does conk out before Claire, these days.

2. Kate especially loves riding the bus. I had planned to take her in the morning (to allow us 20-30 extra minutes at home) and let her ride home, but she was totally eager to ride the bus both ways. The bus stop is around the corner from us (or just across a couple yards, if the grass isn't too wet) and Claire insists on coming too in the mornings. Kate feels independent, and has made some of her best school friends so far on the bus—another kindergartener (different class) and her first or second grade sister—who live across a couple yards in a different direction. They draw and do hair on the bus rides and have a great time.

3. Claire and Kate are super-into My Little Pony these days. It's so funny how kid-obsessions emerge so quickly and then disappear as quickly as they came. But they love to watch the cartoon on netflix, play with the couple of pony toys they have (my mom is wishing she had kept mine from the '80s!), and call themselves the different ponies, depending on what color they are wearing that day. My favorite is Twilight Sparkle, and I have the Pony theme song in my head all the time. That and the theme from Orange is the New Black.

4. Claire is pretty well potty trained these days, partially thanks to some My Little Pony panties I bribed her with to go #2 on the potty. (I have an aversion to clothing with branded characters on it, but sometimes a mom's gotta do what a mom's gotta do.)

5. BGC is doing better than we expected with her spica cast. Not near so whiny about it as we thought. She likes to be held a lot, since the cast gets hot and uncomfortable, but she's a trooper. And besides the bean bag chair, we've found ways to get her strapped in to her high chair, stroller, and the grocery cart, which I really didn't think would be possible! She gets this one off next week and another one put on for another six weeks. Hopefully that will be it, but there might be another cast or brace after that. Ugh.

6. Summer is essentially (if not officially) over. The pool is closed, we did one last item on our summer to-do list (a movie at the zoo last Friday night, or a "zoovie"), and I broke out the boxes of fall/winter clothing. Claire was excited to see all the "new" clothes appear in her drawers, and the fact that they were Kate's just makes it better! Poor thing—she'll get tired of hand-me-downs eventually, I'm sure.

7. It's consignment sale season! Of course, I don't really need much this year, since Kate wears uniform clothes to school and the littles get all the hand-me-downs. But Kate will need some cool-weather stuff for weekends and breaks, and BGC needs more long-sleeved dresses, since tops and pants don't work with her cast!

8. We're also quickly coming on birthday season in the Kelley house. My kids, husband, parents, and Jesus all have birthdays between October and January, so it's one family holiday after another scattered throughout all the secular holidays. BGC and Claire's parties are just two weeks apart in October, so I am planning, planning, planning! I even bought a little notebook to sketch my party ideas in . . . and of course had to retroactively chronicle the kids' parties from the last five years before digging in to this year's shindigs! (of course)

9. Totally random one before closing this list. Kate's P.E. teacher is named Ms. Aydelott. It's pronounced "ate-a-lot," and when Kate came home telling me this her first week, I didn't believe her. Then I concluded it must have been a mnemonic device for some similar-sounding name and Kate just got confused. Then I saw it in print and thought, wow. Of course the woman had to become a health and fitness fanatic, with a name like that! 

10. The BGC update: her parents have disappeared. So while we were so hopeful for their reunification with her (more hopeful and supportive than the social workers ever were!) that is now a presumed impossibility, and adoption is on the table. Matt and I did not go into foster care looking to adopt, but told ourselves we'd be open to it if the situation presented itself. So, we're in a time of major discernment on that. Lots of factors to consider, factors too personal to blog about. But that's what's up.

What's up with you?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A Whole Year

It's hard to believe, but today marks one year since BGC came into foster care. I remember in those early days, shopping at a consignment sale and saying to my mother-in-law, "I'll go ahead and get this sweet pea costume, 'cause I'm betting she'll still be with us at Halloween."

I said it with a tone of voice implying it might be kind of a stretch, gee-I-can't-believe-she-could-be-with-us-ten-weeks. Little did I know. She was only our third placement, and we didn't really know much of her situation yet. I also bought a Christmas dress at that sale, saying "If she's not with us at Christmas, she can still wear it, wherever she is!"

This spring, I started saying "I wouldn't be surprised if she's still with us at the one-year mark." And now I'm just planning on her birthday, Halloween, Christmas . . . who knows.

I've started using Instagram in the past few weeks, so if you "follow" me on there, you may know BGC had her big hip surgery last week.

An x-ray months ago showed that her hip was dislocated and probably had been since birth. The ball of the joint was basically not visible at all, but they didn't know how much they would have to do to it until they were in there messing around with it. So, after a delay and then a rescheduled surgery date, she finally had that surgery last Thursday. Once they put her under and started messing with the joint, they found they could maneuver it into place without a cut! They did a small incision to lengthen a tendon, and put her in the spica cast to immobilize the joint for a few months, and supposedly things will grow in that time to keep the joint how it's supposed to be!

So, now we're learning to diaper and carry and do everything else with her in a spica cast. Add that to the list of new experiences we've gained through foster care!

We're not as hopeful about her case as we had been. Her parents, who had been so attentive and so determined to do whatever needed to be done to get her back, have kind of fallen off the map. No contact with anyone in the system for five weeks, and their phone is disconnected, so we can't reach them either.

BGC has come such a long way in one year—from a ten-month-old who couldn't even roll over to a 22-month old who is (was) crawling and moving toward pulling up/climbing. I hate that the surgery and cast will set her back in mobility, but we'll work on her communication (try to keep those $^%&*# hearing aids in!) and fine motor skills while she's laid up, and maybe she'll be walking by 2 1/2!

Thursday, August 07, 2014

First Day of Kindergarten

Yesterday was Kate's first day of kindergarten! It was only a half day (and then they're off today and have another half day tomorrow before starting full days on Monday!) so we've had a lot of juggling these past couple weeks since day care/pre-K ended, and Matt and I are both struggling to get work done in the margins of all the other stuff this week. All that to say that this post is going to be quick!

Here are the highlights of Kate's first day:
  • She was nervous in the days leading up to it, but yesterday was nothing but excited. She woke up long before her alarm and got dressed and ready to go!
  • Public schools here wear "standard school attire," which is basically a very loose uniform code: any color collared shirt and navy, khaki, or black bottoms. Kate looked super cute in her light blue shirt and navy jumper. (She did her own hair, and I let the funky part and bumps be, as I promised I would.)
  • She was bummed she didn't get to take her lunchbox yet, but the half days end before lunch. We'll be ready to go on Monday!
  • There is another Katherine in her class ("er," not "ar" like Kate) so it's good Kate goes by Kate. They seem to be buddies already. (Bonus for Mommy: she's Russian. I love it!) Actually, I'm most excited that there is a little girl from our neighborhood in her class, who also has a little sister Claire's age. Our families had met once or twice, and hopefully we'll get to know each other even better. 
  • I signed up to volunteer for tons of stuff. No surprise there. I've been embarrassingly eager for these "room mom" type experiences, and I really hope to make some new friends among the other moms! I feel like the luckiest mom in the world to have the career I do with the flexibility to run over to the school for lunchroom monitoring or the class Halloween party—not to mention being home to meet the bus every day. So, so lucky. 
  • I didn't get too much detail about what they did the first day, but when I dropped her off, Kate was so busy playing with play-doh with her new friend Katherine, I don't think she even acknowledged my hug and kiss goodbye! The teacher took the kids on a walk around the school building to see everything, and they ate a snack of cheese crackers. And everybody "stayed on green" (the color-coded discipline system where kids move their clothespin up or down for exceptionally good or bad behavior).
I'm looking forward to her next day of school, next week's full-day schedule, and the whole fun year of kindergarten ahead!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Two and Three-Quarters

It's funny, when the moons of young childhood align . . . history catches up to itself . . . some other profound way to describe that time when one child hits the same age another one was at some significant point. (That's a thing, right? Anyone know what I'm talking about?) It's been like that for the last six months with Claire.

We moved back to Nashville, into our current house, when Kate was 2 1/4. Six months later, when Kate was 2 3/4, Claire was born. So that period of time when Kate was 2 1/4 to 2 3/4 is easily bookended in my mind. I remember setting up the playroom, playing on the old swingset in the backyard, and pulling the baby clothes out of the attic, all with my firstborn by my side. My firstborn who felt SO BIG!

Compared to her own baby self, two-year-old Kate seemed totally articulate! She can answer questions and string four or five words together to make a coherent thought! Then Claire comes along and I think, "What? At two, most strangers can't understand what my kid is saying. Heck, I can't understand every word she says!" At two, Kate seemed like a "big kid" to me. Not a squishy little baby like my Clairy still is, right?

Nope. Exhibit A. Squishy two-year-old Kate.

It's all a matter of perspective. Of course Kate seemed big, compared to only herself at a younger age! Of course Claire seems baby-like in the shadow of a big sister who seems SO BIG now, until I see her walking down that kindergarten hallway past a line of fourth-graders! Thinking of this in light of that birth order book I wrote about the other day, it's no wonder kids grow up differently. I expect Kate to be more mature and more responsible because she's the oldest. When Claire is five, eight-year-old Kate will still be more mature and responsible, so I'll expect more from her than I do Claire, who will seem so little at only 5 1/2! (What pressure for a firstborn kid! I better watch that!)

So Claire is now the age Kate was when she became a big sister. Claire became a big sister to BGC almost a year ago, so while we hope BGC can return to her parents one day, Claire already fills what (we hope) will be her ultimate middle-child position. And it suits her. She's not the baby of the house, and she's not the biggest, but she's cool with that and pretty much goes with the flow.

I love seeing how different Kate and Claire are—not just because of their ages and the perception warp that inevitably happens—but simply their natures (and maybe some of that birth order stuff as well). Here's my Clairy at two and three quarters:
  • So good-natured. She has typical two-year-old tantrums, of course, when she doesn't get what she wants or we don't understand what she's saying, but her default mood is pretty even-keeled, cheerful, and agreeable. "O-tay!" is a pretty typical response when we ask her to do something.
  • Only wants to wear dresses, wants her hair in "Elsa braid, "Anna braids," or "ponytail like Mommy."
  • Loves to play Memory and do jigsaw puzzles, and she's really good at both! I say she's my "little scientist," being very precise and perceptive. She either doesn't grasp the idea of competition, or doesn't care, because she will happily point out to other players where the matching Memory cards are on their turn. (Kate encourages this when it's her turn, and scolds Claire when it's mine!)
  • Still Kate's little shadow. Those girls are inseparable, and Claire follows Kate's lead to a T. She often repeats Kate's words and actions with barely one second's delay. Can be persuaded to do almost anything if it's "like Kate."
  • That said, she is starting to assert herself a little more against Kate's assumption that she can walk all over her doting sister! She'll tell Kate "Stop that right now!" and is quick to play the innocent-baby-sister card, screaming if Kate offends her in some way that may or may not be justified.
  • Loves peanut butter, baked beans, and (her latest obsession) buttered bread. "I do it!" she says (compare that to Kate and the rice cake), and we just have to make her promise not to eat the margarine right out of the tub as she's spreading it on her bread. "O-tay..." she replies dejectedly.
  • Making good progress on potty training. Won't do #2 on the potty, though. One day I asked her to please put a pull-up on before pooping, if she really couldn't bear to do it on a potty, and she did! 
  • One might use the term "hot mess" for Claire. She's prone to looking a bit disheveled or not-perfectly-polished, but it's part of her charm. 

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