Tuesday, July 30, 2013

22 Days--Maddison's Story

Today's post isn't about education, but it is about parents & kids.  I wrote this on Facebook 5 years ago to explain how my wife and I went from DINKS (Double Income, No Kids) to proud Parents within a brief period of time.  And today, I celebrate my daughter's FIFTH Birthday, and I am still amazed how we started out on the road with her.

Facebook has been a wonderful distraction from the busyness of life. It has helped me stay connected with friends and reconnect with others I thought I would never see again. In the past 8 weeks, many of you have seen that my wife Alisa and I have welcomed our first child into our family, Maddison Grace, born on July 30. I think Jeff Bruce said it well when I announced it on Facebook..."Congrats...I think I missed something." So here is the story for those who care...

Alisa and I have been married for 11 years. Our plan was to have Alisa finish her Master's degree as a Physician Assistant, work for a few years, and then begin our family. The past six years have brought disappointment and sadness. We tried naturally for about a year and a half, then the visits to fertility specialists began. Just those experiences are very humbling.

Over the next 4 years hopes of success were dashed with confirmation of failure. As time went on with that process, we began to look at adoption. We chose China and were willing to wait the 18 months we were told it would take. However, disappointment was found on that avenue also as bureaucratic changes in China has lengthened the wait to what can be 4 years.

I think that this past 12 months have been the lowest time in our marriage. Our love for each other never wavered, but I think emotionally, being childless was taking its toll. We watched as our friends' children were getting older. We listened as they told their family stories and looked at their family pictures. There was a fear when a friend called that they may announce they were pregnant. We often felt invisible to people our age in church because we didn't hold the golden ticket to fellowship...a child. This was the first year we did not attend church on either Mother's or Father's Day. It wasn't they we couldn't celebrate our friend's families with them, however, privately, it was reminders of our situation, and it was taking a toll. We trusted God, and prayed often, our friends prayed for us. I just wanted Alisa to be happy, I knew a child in her life would do that.

In the beginning of 2008, with the China adoption looking like a long way off, we made the decision to pursue domestic adoption. In June we completed a scrapbook of our lives which was needed by our adoption agency to show to perspective birthmothers (they get to choose who their child will be going to). June became July and we hadn't heard back from our adoption agency about the scrapbook (they needed to critique it and have us edit it before they began to show it to birthmothers) . I was getting frustrated. We were thinking we would have birthmothers looking at our scrapbook in the fall, and they said it could be a year and a half wait from there.

We left for vacation the second week of July in Williamsburg, VA. On the last day of our trip (7/10), we checked our email and found one from our adoption agency with the areas we needed to fix in our scrapbook. This is when God took some actions that would change our lives.

On Friday, 7/11, Alisa went back to work. She received a call from Heather, a friend of ours. She had received a call from a member of her church who himself received a call from a high school friend that he had not talked with in over 20 years. Her niece was pregnant with a little girl. The couple she had lined up to adopt the child had fallen through, now she was two weeks from delivering and was desperately looking for a good family. The man from Heather's church said, "I'm a praying man, and I know God will have your answer by the weekend."

We met with the aunt that Sunday 7/13. Her niece, from a southern state, was dating a guy she had two children by (one had died in his first year of life). They broke up, she had a one-night stand with a man and became pregnant. Her and the boyfriend not only got back together, but got married. But here she was, 8 months pregnant, with another man's baby. We got her connected with our adoption agency and we went from there.

We met the birthmom the next Saturday (7/19). What do you say? The aunt was great facilitating for all of us. The birthmom was very sweet, but quiet, only answering when the aunt asked her questions. However, at the end of the conversation she said, "I want you two to know, I know I need to wait three days after birth to give my baby up for adoption, but in my mind, its over. I wouldnt have come all this way to decide I want to take her back."

She was scheduled for a C-section on Wednesday, 7/30. The aunt and birthmom both wanted us there to begin bonding with her as soon as possible. When we got to Morristown Memorial Hospital, the social workers there tried on two occasions (once through deception) to make us leave even though it was her desire for us to be there. The aunt called Alisa in the waiting room and told us to meet her at the doors of the nursery. I remember Alisa's voice quiver as she repeated to me what the aunt told her, "She's healthy and she's beautiful." We took our first glances at our little girl within 30 minutes of her birth. Within the first hour, the nurses set up an area where we could hold her. The nurses were wonderful the three days we made the trip down to spend some time with her.

We were at first told we could take her home Friday, but they held off until Saturday. On Saturday morning, we met one last time with the birthmother. Feelings of guilt became intense as we walked the hallway to her room. Despite her situation, it was still her daughter. I felt like a beggar, "Please mam, I cant have a kid of my own, can I have yours?"

Meeting with her was the best thing that could have happened. She was even more resolute. She told us she was so happy for us, and she knew we would provide a wonderful home for her daughter. God really used that meeting to rid us of the guilts.

We waited in the cafeteria for about an hour until the final paperwork was signed. Our adoption agency social worker carried her out of the hospital (legal issue) and as we exited, handed over Maddison to Alisa. And she has been with us ever since.

We thank God daily for this tremendous blessing. We don't think of her as our adoptive daughter, but our daughter. And as a husband, I am enjoying seeing the delight my wife has in holding our daughter,

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Classroom DIY (Dear Katie V2 #5)

Dear Katie,

As summer comes to a close, teachers around America begin to make their way back to their classrooms, well before they are required.  The reason for this is that the one or two days that is typically given to teachers in their contracts for classroom prep is not enough time to get your classroom "just right".  I typically play music or videos while I work.

I love movies as "background noise".  The ones I have played the most over the year while preparing have been The Sandlot for the laughs and getting me in the middle school mindset and Dead Poets Society for the inspiration.

Here a few tips when it is time to set up your classroom...

1) If you were the age of your students, would YOU want to be in your classroom?
Most of my posters ARE NOT educational themed.  They are there to make it a comfortable learning environment (For example, I have a Beatles Yellow Submarine poster on my wall, the kids like it. I will NEVER tack a Justin Bieber poster to my wall no matter how many students beg me, I have to be comfortable too)

2) Does your room look appropriate for the corporate world or a kid's world?

3) Can your students freely flow or are there too many barriers discouraging wanted movement?

4) Can you move around freely? (remember you may be bigger than your kids, rows might be wide enough for a 10 year old, but too narrow for a person in their 20's)

5) Are desks (tables, bean bags, etc) arranged in a way that encourages or discourages interaction? Think about it, in the traditional row set up, most kids will see the back of their classmates heads, how does that encourage discussion?

6) Is there a small corner set up for YOU?
Yes, I know it is about the kids, but remember, you are going to spend a lot of your waking hours for the next 10 months in that room, you need a space in it FOR YOU.  I always tell me kids, my desk area is MY HOUSE.  They cannot come in (behind the desk) without permission.  They often want to "come in" to see the pictures I have posted on my back wall.  I have a line marked with duck tape that they cannot go past.  If they do, I yell "GET OUT OF MY HOUSE" continuously until they step out. (It's good for a few laughs)

But hey, what do I know...I'm just an old man working in a child's world.

Uncle Kevin

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Ratty Scraps & Game Tables (Dear Katie V2 #4)

Dear Katie,

As I said earlier, in order to make logical, orderly arguments, you need to have facts to back them up.  If you have an extended period to respond, one could use the internet or other resources to discover the best arguments.  Often, you are put on the spot to defend your point of view and will not have time to even access Siri (and if you did, what would the person listening think about your intelligence).  For this reason, there will ALWAYS be a point to memorize facts to have at your disposal when discussing events of the day.

As I said in a previous post, I often use games to help with memorizing facts (it's the whole "spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down" philosophy of Mary Poppins).  In my classes this year, each student was placed on a team.  Each week, they competed for points that would help them earn weekly points (or in our case, "Wins and Losses", the team with the most points finished the week with 14 wins and 6 losses, the last place team with 6 wins and 14 losses, the other teams received wins and losses in between those two, based on their points for the week).  At the end of the marking period (or "Season") we would have a champion.

One way students earned weekly points for their team was through our "Dice Game" played a few times each week.  Here is how it worked.

1) Kids would sit with their teams to start class.

2) I would then have them go to "Game Tables" where they would sit with one member from each of the other teams.  On their way to the game table, they would pick up a "Ratty Scrap" (thanks to my AP English teach, Miss Logan, for that.)  A Ratty Scrap is a small piece of scrap paper, each team had their own color).

3) I would ask 5 questions, and then they would drop the ratty scrap into a baseball helmet.  They would return to their game tables.

4) I would review the answers and then pick out one ratty scrap per team (based on color of the scrap) and determine how many questions that teammate had correct.

5) For each correct answer, the team member would go to the Smartboard and role a dice for each question they had correct.  This would be added to their weekly point total.

The odds increase for you to roll more die, and thus get a higher total the more questions that team members have correct.  I have had teams with 2 die rolls do better than a team with 5, but over time, the teams that prepare better will have the higher totals for the "season".

Another positive of this system is that team members encourage and help each other study in order to increase their chances to roll more die.  And I have seen students who do not care about studying before "crack the books" in order not to let their team down.

Anyway, just another scheme in my bag of tips for you to think about using and/or modifying when get your own classroom.

Uncle Kevin