Thursday, December 31, 2009

The new year is just hours away. As I look back on 2009 I realize we all went through lots of changes and learned lots of lessons.

Our biggest challenge has been going from a family of six to a family of five. Saying goodbye to Matthew was hard but the benefit has been immeasurable. What could have torn our family apart has brought us closer. Our girls have learned some hard lessons about people, honesty, trust and faith.

Sarah's move from elementary school to middle school has been full of changes and challenges. Dave and I made another tough decision to move Sarah into a private Christian school. The anticipation through the summer was awful. Sarah was convinced she would never make another friend and we had ruined her life! The reality? The new school fits Sarah like a glove! She has proven to be not only a good time manager but quite adept at fitting in! The changes have been so positive and we are so pleased with the education, both academically and spiritually, that Sarah is getting!

Analiese's changes have been more of a challenge. As we continue her cleft treatment, that now has moved into orthodontics, we've confirmed what we suspected all along; Analiese is at least a year younger than the age given to us by the Chinese. Even though she has risen to the academic challenge, and even surpassed it, the emotional one has been more of an issue. We realize that even though her birth certificate indicates a seven year old, she really is more like a very early six year old! We work hard at keeping our expectations for her at an age appropriate level. On the other hand, she is so darn smart! Her mastery of vocabulary is incredible and she is reading so well!

The year for Grace has been nothing short of a whirlwind! Her gymnastic talent is undeniable and everyone is just in awe of natural ability! Her first year of competition has been just incredible ending with a first place, out of 270 athletes, in the GA state level 4 championship! Her training schedule has changed to include mornings at the gym and late arrivals at school. The changes continue as Grace will participate in an elite training clinic with the National Gymnastics Team this weekend! Her schedule will change and she will move from level four starting next week. Final decisions have not been made as her coaches are so concerned to not do too much, too soon! Grace has the potential to compete Nationally and one day be part of the US Olympic Team! Our job is to not only support her but to keep her grounded and to reinforce the importance of education!

Dave has finally been given the promotion he has so deserved! He is now the Assistant Vice-President of the Library! It's a well deserved promotion but one that has added a little stress to our family. Since we don't have family close by to help us with the kids we really have to balance our schedules. Dave must now attend more meetings, do more traveling, and has less flexibility in his schedule.

My change has been mixed. I was informed, at the end of the last school year, that I would be moving schools. I was devastated, for many reasons. The girls were attending a school that was not their home school because it was where I worked. We now had to decide if we wanted to move the girls. We could have moved them to our home school, to the school where I was going to be or just keep them in place. Not one of those choices appealed to me. I did not want things to change! In the end we kept the girls at the same school. I've had to adjust in so many ways. Even though the change has been positive in so many ways for me it has not been without challenges. I am so grateful that the principal I work for has been so flexible in allowing me to not miss some of the more important events; parties and celebrations!

So what do we look for in 2010? Hopefully as much happiness as we have had in 2009! Sarah continues to enjoy dance and we will support her in her upcoming competitions. Sarah is also talking about becoming a cheerleader for next year and we will be there for all of those games also! Grace will train for not only her next competitive season but also the chance at attending the National Training Camp in Texas with the Karolyi's! How exciting will that be! Analiese will get her braces, begin piano lessons and continue to touch so many lives! She is our brightest star and we thank god every day for having her in our lives!

We can't forget the boys; James will graduate high school and the twins move into their junior year at GA Tech with internships and decisions.

Dave and I will continue to work to be the best parents we can be. However, we hope to spend a little more on couple time.

On a more individual note...I remember, years ago, praying that each new year would grant me the wish I wanted most...a child. God granted me that times over! What I want in 2010 is the guidance to know how to be the best Mom to a middle schooler, to an elite athlete,and to a spirited-child!

We welcome the New Year and anticipate that it will be full of lessons, love, and challenges. We shout out to Matthew that we love him and are just waiting for the day that we can, once again, be an active part of his life.

Happy 2010 to all of you!!!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Christmas Tradition

Every Christmas, since Sarah has been a baby, we've opened one gift on Christmas Eve night. It started out as a special gift from me but has evolved into new christmas pajamas! The kids know what the gift will hold but still are so excited to open the box to find out what their 'jammies look like!

This year the elves gave the girls new pajamas on Tuesday night so the girls thought that "maybe" their Christmas eve gift was going to be something other than pj's. Surprise--two new pair of pajamas!

The excitement level has been so high all day today. We've called NORAD several times to find out where Santa is in his travels, we've checked the NORAD site and finally agreed that Santa won't come until everyone is in bed asleep!

I never grow tired of the excitement this holiday brings. Nothing is better (OK, meeting your child for the first time is better) than seeing the girls open their gifts Christmas morning! Only a few more hours and the house will be just full of surprise and more excitement. How blessed we all are to be able to celebrate together.

So, to quote Mr. Moore...."the children were all nestled all snug in their beds...." "Good night to all and to all a Merry Christmas!"

Monday, December 21, 2009

Holiday Fun

The holiday fun started last week for all of us. Yes, the girls were still in school but there were LOTS of fun activities. First Grace and Analiese celebrated Holidays around the world (public school, very politically correct) then there were the parties on Thursday and on Friday they both wore their pajamas to school to enjoy the Polar Express. I was so lucky to be able to be at BOTH parties.

Sarah, on the other hand, as a middle schooler, doesn't get to enjoy those types of activities anymore. But, she did get to do some celebrating. In history her class was studying ancient China. Needless to say Sarah had lots to share. We were able to get one of our former teachers (from the Chinese school) to come and talk to Sarah's class on Tuesday. Dave was also able to attend. On Wednesday the class enjoyed some foods from China--we made some vegetable fried rice!

Since then we have been going, going, going. Tonight we slowed down a bit and made some goodies. We dipped strawberries, bananas and pretzels in some chocolate. Yummy--we can't wait to taste them!

Christmas shopping is done, wrapping is almost done and Grace only has 2 more days at the gym. Santa is just waiting to bring all of the gifts to the girls.

Speaking of Santa, he sent a video message to each of us. What fun it was hearing our names and seeing our photos. If only I had thought to video tape Analiese as she watched Santa open his book to check her "page"! It was priceless.

If you are interested in creating a special video message, go here and watch the wonder on your child's face.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

And the State Champion is

Grace Evans! Not only did Grace win first in her age division, she took first place out of 247 athletes!!!

Grace took fifth on vault (9.175), first in floor (9.70), bars (9.60), beam (9.50) and first all around (37.975). Her goal was a 38.00 all around! She had such a fantastic competition. It was obvious she was confident and having fun during the entire meet.

Grace's team also won first place--out of 34 teams. The girls had a great season and the state meet was just the venue to show how hard they've worked. It was so much for all of the girls!

Now that the level 4 season is over Grace will move from the team. We aren't sure where the coaches will place her but know that she will be working on new skills after the Christmas holidays!

This past weekend the team had their end of season celebration. We had a party and sleepover at the gym. The girls had the gym to themselves and loved just having fun. Even some of us Moms got into the activities. We did the vault--I was even able to flip onto the mats. I also tried the beam, I didn't do much because I hardly had any balance and felt like I was up so very high off of the ground!

The girls did not go to sleep until 3:30 (yes they played from 7:30-3:30) and then we had to be up by 6:30! Needless to say we had a bunch of very tired little girls on our hands. Grace I got home and went right to bed. I had to be up by 9:30 so I could go watch Sarah's dance performance but Grace slept in until 11:00 AM.

Grace then had to turn around and come BACK to the gym at noon so one of the coaches could video her doing the level 4 routines. This coach is doing a training clinic in Mexico over Christmas and needed a gymnast who could do the routines very cleanly. Even after very little sleep Grace knocked out the video piece in less than an hour!

We are so proud of Grace. Not only for how well she did but for how supportive she has been of her team and how humble she is about her talent.

I guess she doesn't need to brag....Dave and I do it enough for all of us! Wouldn't you????

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A Great Give away!

I have been reading the blog Kelly's Korner for almost a year now. I started when Harper was born and put in the ICU. I prayed for the family and have continued to follow Harper through her first year.

Today Kelly has a wonderful give away---a new HP computer!!! Go check out the site and see how awesome this computer is. I'd love to upgrade.

UPDATE: More HP give aways: Boomama also has a giveaway and Jen has one also, as does Stephanie


Thursday, December 3, 2009

need a blog update?

Jamie has done a great job updating some blogs. I'm hoping to get a free header from her. Maybe I'll learn a thing or two???

Go take a look here

The final meet of the year

We leave for Moultrie tomorrow for Gracie's state meet. She won't compete until Saturday evening but we are taking the weekend to celebrate her hard work. We booked a hotel MONTHS ago that wasn't even completely built because it was going to have an indoor pool (not to mention NEW--which I like). Thank goodness it was finished in time--not sure where we would have slept!

So, the girls will go to school 1/2 day tomorrow and then we'll make the 4 and 1/2 hour drive to Moultrie. I'll paint the windows with good luck slogans and we'll count yellow cars and volkswagen bugs all the way there (it's 2 points for a yellow car, one point for a bug, 30 points for a YELLOW bug!).

At the end of practice tonight the level 6-10 girls (and coaches) all stood in a line, holding hands (like a pyramid) so our level 4 girls could all run through it. The whole time they were hooping and hollering! Yes, I got chocked up to watch the comraderie.

Grace got some sweet gifts; her big sister gave her some balloons and flowers and her TOPs teammates gave her a necklace and stuffed teddy bear. Grace is SO excited.

Stay tuned and we'll post results on Saturday night.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving! Hope your day was as wonderful as mine. Here are just a few photos of what I'm so grateful for:

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A busy day

What a day! Even though the sun was shining and the temperatures near sixty, we paid a visit to Santa! Both Grace and Analiese were very excited to tell Santa what they wanted for Christmas. On the other hand, it was very obvious that Sarah was humoring us. Sigh, this is probably the LAST year I'll get a photo of all three girls with Santa!

After seeing Santa we came home and enjoyed the outside. Dave did some gardening, the girls played on the swings, Sarah griped about being outside and I just soaked in the wonderful weather!

I finally gave the camera to Sarah and told her to go take some photos. How interesting it has been to see things through her eyes!

Tonight Sarah made dinner for us from start to finish! We had sloppy joe's, tater tots, and broccoli. How fun it was to watch her get everything together. We might pick one night for her to make dinner each week. She really is growing up right before our eyes!

We watched Home Alone with the kids tonight. Analiese laughed and laughed! It doesn't surprise me that she got ALL of the humor! She thinks along the same lines. I sure hope we didn't give her any ideas. Grace, on the other hand, was very concerned about the mess the little boy was leaving around the house. We are really going to have to get her to lighten up a bit.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and we have so much to be thankful for. Some day, we hope, the children will look back on all of these traditions Dave and I have created with fondness. Hopefully they won't see them as corny but as something they want to recreate for their families. Life is good, really good this year!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Thanksgiving feast

Dave and I were both able to celebrate Thanksgiving with Analiese and her class. There was turkey, cheetos, veggies, brownies, cheetos, cheese and did I mention cheetos? Since I had already had lunch with Grace, I passed on the food but enjoyed being with Analiese and her friends.

This might be the last year Analiese has Thanksgiving feast in school. I think it ends at first grade. Wow, Dave and I have been going to some sort of Thanksgiving celebration at school with the girls since 2001--is this really the last one? I guess we are going to have lots of "lasts" with Analiese just as we had many "firsts" with Sarah.

Kinda sad when I think about it...

Saturday, November 21, 2009

A hard reality

We were "asked" this week not to have any further contact with Matthew. It seems that our constant contact was causing Matthew to tantrum. The new parents think that less contact with us will allow Matthew to heal.

I actually am quite confused ( just one of the emotions I'm feeling). I guess I would not term our contact with Matthew as "constant". I've seen Matthew once since he left our family in June. We've probably spoken 6 times on the phone. Dave, of course, has seen him a few more times but certainly nothing I would term constant.

We did try to call Matthew the other day to acknowledge the all important day he left the orphanage. We also sent a package of his belongings that we've collected over the weeks. Before that we saw Matthew in the middle of September.

But other than that, a "constant" I will admit to is my constant wondering of WHY God chose us to walk this path. Or maybe my constant thankfulness that our family weathered the journey with Matthew and emerged closer. Or maybe it is the constant affection I feel for a little boy that was once my son.

The explanation we received from the family left Dave and I feeling so many emotions. There is no doubt the the new parents are holding us responsible for Matthew's anger. We know Matthew's anger all too well and know that he came to us with that emotion. He was angry at us for taking him from the orphanage, he was angry at us for not buying him everything he wanted, he was angry at us for not allowing him to do what he wanted, when he wanted, he was angry at us for not being the "rich American parents that would give him everything". Matthew was just angry and we in no way caused it. Did we try to understand and deal with it? Absolutely! Were we successful? A little. But so little that we were fearful that one day we would have a much older, angry child on our hands that we were not prepared to deal with. An angry child who would cause so much more havoc in our family that we were not willing to put our girls through.

I'm sure many of you are wondering--- Then Why do you want to remain in contact with Matthew? There are many reasons. One is that Matthew was a part of our family; a son and a brother. We raised our hand and recited an oath that we would never abandon our son and we intend to keep that oath. We also know that we made a choice to re-home Matthew for the good of our ENTIRE family. But that doesn't mean we loved Matthew any less. We know that Matthew is way too young to understand that what we did was out of love. But when he is older he might understand and we want him to see that we DID NOT abandon him as his first parents did.

We wish the new family much luck with Matthew. Right now they have us to blame for the anger. Later, after we've not had any contact with him? Hopefully they will be able to get to the root of his anger. For now we will respect their wishes and have no contact with Matthew. Hopefully we will, one day, be able to see him again. Until then the constant that will remain is the devotion we feel for a little boy once known as Matthew Qingnan Evans.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

There's a preteen in the house!

How do I know this you ask? Well there have been a few hints:

Wild mood swings--within seconds.

Request for a cell phone,

an iPod touch (no not the OLD one the NEW one),

iTunes cards,

and a cell phone with a keyboard for texting (!!).

Drama over what can and cannot be worn on a cold day (yes you need stockings!).

Friend issues.

Loud music.

Bedroom door closed.

The green-eyed monster.

Boy talk, mostly about one in particular.

Lack of tolerance for little sisters.

Impatience with parents.

Wanting more freedom,

Missing the little girl things.

Asking LOTS of questions.

Wondering about relationships,

ALL kinds.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

It's been FOUR years!

Min Qiu Xia in the orphanage

The first layer on Gotcha Day.

The top layer

Four years ago (November 7th, 2005 to be exact) our lives were changed forever. In the lobby of a hotel in China, a tiny little girl, sick with fever, walked over to us and uttered the words, "momma, babba". From that moment we have been on a wonderful journey. One that is filled with laughter, singing, dancing and happiness. Our sweet Analiese Qiuxia has the magical capacity to become a friend within minutes of meeting, to charm a crowd with her antics and to be the brightest spot in the day. On the other hand she can drive us all crazy with her nonstop talking, send our blood pressure through the roof when she uses permanent marker to draw on the walls and have us all wondering WHY DOES SHE DO THAT???

But, when the dust settles and the day ends we are filled with enormous love for this gentle, sweet spirit. At one time we actually thought WE chose Analiese. I mean, we were the ones who saw her photo and declared that she was the one we wanted to bring home. However, now we know better. Analiese CHOSE us becÄuse she knew we needed her laughter, her spunk and her goodness. For all that we have given to her we will never be able to come close to what she has given to us.

We love you Analiese and thank you for being our daughter. XX))

Friday, October 23, 2009


I think of Grace, Analiese and Matthew's birth parents often. I wish I had SOME information to share with my children about the people who gave them life and why they decided to leave them when they did. The following is a post I read on abandonment written by Amy Eldridge, the founder of Love without Boundaries (one of my favorite charities). Because two of our children, Matthew and Analiese, were considered "special needs", this really hit home.

"I think it is a fair statement to say that most of us who have adopted internationally think that our child's birthparents made the decision to abandon their child. I have read many essays and poems where adoptive parents imagine the birthmother hiding in the bushes or watching until the tiny bundle is found. Perhaps that is how you imagine it to be as well. I know I certainly did, until I helped run a cleft mission where many of our patients were rural children with families.
On that trip, parents told me one story after another that quite simply turned everything I thought I knew about abandonment on its head.

I want to share one of those stories today, as I have been thinking so much about my son's birthparents lately.On this particular cleft mission, we had far more babies needing surgery than space available, so very sadly we were having to turn families away. We had set a weight requirement for the kids' safety, and we soon learned that parents were sewing rocks into their babies' clothing in the hopes that their kids would meet our 10 pound requirement. We also had begun turning away babies who were obviously younger than 5-6 months because we wanted to make sure the kids would do well under anesthesia.

I was sitting in the intake room one morning when an anxious young woman came running in holding a tiny bundle. I could immediately tell that the baby was a newborn, and I asked our Chinese director to break the bad news to the woman that the baby was far too young for surgery. As she was given the news, the young lady burst into tears and began pleading and begging to have her child be seen. My friend came over to me and told me that I needed to go and speak with the woman in private, and so I did.

She pulled back the blanket to reveal a tiny baby girl with severe cleft lip. The mother told me that her daughter was 28 days old, and that their period of confinement was over in just 2 more days. As she was crying and talking, the mom kept kissing her baby's forehead, and she kept telling me again and again, "I love her....I love her so much." But then she went on to tell me that her extended family would not accept her daughter since she had been born with a cleft lip. They felt this tiny baby would bring shame to them all. With tears streaming down her face, she told me that her mother-in-law was coming to take the baby away from her in two days' time. The mom was begging me to heal her daughter, to make her daughter beautiful, so that she could keep the baby that she had carried inside of her for 9 months….the daughter she loved completely.

When I explained that the baby could not safely be put under anesthesia at four weeks of age, she fell on her knees and was sobbing at my feet, pleading and crying and begging me to help her. Right now...even typing this brings a pain to my chest that I cannot describe.Over and over on that trip, I heard stories from birthparents who adored their children with cleft, but who were told the children could not stay in the extended family.

I met a woman whose daughter with cleft had been taken from her by her in-laws while she slept. She never saw her daughter again. She had come to our mission after reading about it in the paper, to thank us for giving parents a chance to keep their children.....a chance she herself did not have.

That trip changed everything for me about how I view birthparents in China. Many people give pat explanations about infant abandonment that cover the issue in blanket terms: “Babies are abandoned because rural families want sons.” “Babies are abandoned because the medical needs were too great.” Simple, one line sentences, to explain a personal life event that is often very complex.

When it comes to human life, and heartbreaking decisions…..abandonment and loss.....I have learned that there are rarely simple explanations. Every single one of our children faced a great loss in their lives, but the reality is…..we have no idea about the deep, personal stories of the people involved. We have no idea who made the decision that a child couldn’t stay in the family. We have no idea of the anguish, or sacrifice, or resignation experienced. It is easy to think it was a birthparent who lovingly placed the child by the orphanage front gate, but it could have just as easily been an in-law or an uncle who was given instructions by the head of the family to remove the baby from the home.

Every child has their own unique story. It certainly hurts more, however, to think that any of our kids have birthparents like the woman I met on that very somber day. There is still such a stigma surrounding children born with special needs, especially in the rural areas of China. For those of us parenting these amazing kids, the unknowns of their beginnings are very sad to think about, aren't they? Have you thought much about this issue? Do you normally think of a birthparent making the decision to leave a child? Or were you already aware that especially for children with special needs, many become orphaned to not bring shame to the family at large?"


Saturday, October 17, 2009

Catching up

Here we are in the middle of October and I've not updated the blog in weeks! We've been busy--as usual. There has been lots going on so sit back and enjoy the post....

The girls received their report cards and all 3 are on the honor roll! We are so proud of what good students they are. Sarah, with the exception of Art (89), received all A's! She has proven to be a very responsible middle school student! She's had a few issues with time management but always gets her work and studying done. I've had to take a few steps back and allow her to figure out how to juggle school, homework and dance but she has come through with flying colors! The input I've received from her teachers has been very positive; Sarah is a delight, a good student, respectful to both adults and peers and she has transitioned very well!

Grace, even with her new schedule (more on that later), made all A honor roll! The teacher, no surprise, told me how sweet and wonderful Grace is. The only area we need to work on is reading comprehension. Grace loves school and is well loved in return.

Analiese also made all A honor roll! She is a wonderful student, she is actually ahead of her peers in many areas. This is amazing because Analiese is probably a year younger than what the Chinese told us. Behaviorally, we see the immaturity. Cognitively, she is very, very bright! According to Analiese's teacher, Analiese is compliant and is very eager to learn. This doesn't surprise us at all. Analiese loves to learn and puts all of her effort into everything she tries. We chose the best teacher who is doing a wonderful job of channeling Analiese's energy and challenging her to do her best. Thanks Aunt Kelly!

Sarah had another performance today. Her dance company volunteered at the Annual Walk for diabetes and then performed at the culmination of the walk. Unfortunately the weather was awful (no rain but cold and overcast) and they had to dance in the grass--not the desired venue for jazz!

Dave took Sarah, a couple of her friends, and Analiese downtown for the walk. I was out of town and could not be there. Sarah was sad because this was the first time I was not there to help her get dressed, do her hair and make-up. She cried and I really worked hard at assuring her that SHE was old enough to take care of those things her self. We practiced with her makeup and talked about how to dress warmly. Unfortunately, I did NOT talk to Dave about dressing Analiese warmly, I really thought he would just know what to do. WRONG! The poor, sweet little girl went to the walk in capris, crocks, no socks and a thin jacket! I sure don't understand how Dave didn't know to put warmer clothes on her (in his defense the weather forcast was for a much warmer day--the reality was so different).

Grace's gymnastics schedule has changed -- AGAIN! Surprised?? No neither were we! I had a conversation with the head coach and he indicated that Grace was ready to move to a more advanced TOPs team. That meant workouts in the mornings! All of the girls on the team she was to move to are home schooled. The school district would not work with them to allow for late arrivals or early check-outs. Dave and I had already discussed this issue and did not want to pull Grace out of school. So, I went to the principal (whom I love dearly) and discussed the situation. She had to discuss it with the "higher ups" but came back with great news! The school system is willing to work with us. They won't excuse the tardies but will not press the issue with social services. So, for the last two weeks Grace has been going to the gym in the mornings and after school!

Grace's new schedule is tough. She goes to the gym: Mondays 7-10/3-6, Tuesday 3-6, Wed Off, Thursday 8-10/3-6, Friday 7-10. The first week was difficult. Grace was tired and her body hurt. Last week was the first time I ever heard Grace express happiness at having time off from the gym. Last Thursday, when I put Grace to bed, she cried. She lay in bed and had tears streaming down her cheeks. We had a talk about what a great gymnast she was and how important it was for her to continually increase the amount of training she needed to do if she wanted to reach her goal of being in the Olympics. It was so hard for me. I just wanted to tell her that we could quit and she could just continue with her current program. But, that really wasn't the truth.

We were told, by Grace's coach, to expect tears, pain and more tears from Grace. She said that she works the girls hard but she does it so the girls can reach their potential. She works them hard so they can qualify to go to the Karoyli's camp (3 of the girls are going in December), compete Nationally and eventually be part of the National Team! She thinks Grace has the skills and potential to be one of those girls! Dave and I are committed to doing everything we can to allow Grace the opportunity to find out if she can reach that level!

Today Grace had a meet and, once again, won first place on all four events and first place all around! She got her best all around score--37.875! She only has one more meet before the state meet! Grace is nervous but we have assured her that all she has to do is what she has been doing and she'll do great! No matter what happens! I think Grace is finally realizing how much she wants to win and the competitive bug has gotten her! Go, Gracie, go!!!

Grace and I, with one of Gracie's friends, drove up to the meet on Friday. Grace had to be there by 8 AM and the drive was long enough that I just wanted to be closer and avoid the early wake-up, long drive and stress of making sure we got there on time. She had a great time. There was an indoor pool and along with her friend that came with us, another teammate came up early! The girls just swam, giggled and yelled the night away. I guess this was just a small preview of how the state meet is going to be. There are a bunch of us staying at one hotel with an indoor pool. Boy do I feel sorry for the non-gymnastic traveler at that hotel!

The rain continues here. We are so tired of all of the wetness! Of course there are the benefits but we so are ready for some dry weather!

At the end of the month Dave's boss retires. Dave will then assume the position of Assistant Vice-president of the library! Congratulations Dave, you deserve the position!

Even though we are so busy, we feel blessed that we are able to do all that we do! Life is good, god is good, we are sso blessed!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Happy Birthday to Me!

I had a truly wonderful birthday today! It is so much fun how the girls acknowledge my special day. They mimic what we do for them so I got lots of hugs, kisses, and special treatment today.

Analiese told me that it was my day so I should just relax and do whatever I wanted. She gave me some choices: sleep, watch TV or play on the computer! When I started to cook dinner she told me to "STOP"! She just had no idea what would really happen if Mom actually "STOPPED!"

When Grace asked me how old I was, I told her the year I was born and challenged her to figure out my age. Well, she did a great job of writing up the subtraction problem. When she came up with my age (no, I will NOT tell you how old I am) I took her word for it--even though I thought I was a year younger. However, as the day wore on today, I kept wondering where that "lost year" went to...I was a little freaked out thinking that I had some how lost a year. Turns out that Grace used 2010 instead of 2009 when she did her subtraction!

Did Grace listen to me? wasn't until my Dad, Granddad Matt, called and told Grace how old I was that she finally believed me!

It wasn't the year older that bothered me so much, it was the belief that I seriously could NOT remember being the "lost" age.

Getting older is really not much fun--but enjoying my kids growing up is just priceless!

Happy Birthday to Me!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

An insider's view

Clarkdale Elementary School

The flooding last week has touched us in so many ways. I experienced not only the fear of possibly not being able to get to Sarah but the necessity of staying calm in a terrifying situation. Dave and I were out of work, the girls out of school and we lived with having to boil our water for a week. But we were lucky, luckier than so many others who lost a lot more.

Some lost so much more; their homes and others their lives. But, what has really made an impact on me has been the elementary school that was demolished in the storm. For whatever reasons, Cobb county did NOT close their schools on Monday.

As Monday wore on, the rain continued to fall and the water had no where to go. Many of the Cobb schools became unreachable, but none as bad as Clarkdale elementary school. As you can see in the above photo the school was just consumed by water. The children were able to be evacuated but they had to wade through high water to get to safety.

Being an educator is like being a part of a large family. One of our teachers received the following email from Ellen Auchenpaugh a teacher at Clarkdale Elementary School. I received permission to post it here and hope that all of you feel the power of her words.

I've been wanting to write some of this down while it is fresh on my mind. After so many years of teaching young children, my writing has become very straightforward and somewhat simplistic, but at least I will have a written record for myself and maybe others of what has happened this week.

I went to work Monday morning, Sept. 21, 2009, knowing that the trailers would be in some kind of jeopardy that day. Several years ago, they completely flooded during the summer of Hurricane Dennis, so we already knew that the water would be rising out there. Students never went out there that day - each trailer class has a "buddy class" in the building for days such as this. Non-homeroom people started right away to move items in the trailers up off the floors, just in case. There was little or no accumulating water at that point, other than the usual puddles. By the time we got to the last trailer, water was on the steps of the first ones we had done, the ones closest to the creek. So we then began to move as much inside the building as we could, including the new LCD projectors that we had only received less than a week earlier. When we ran out of space, we began to put things in people's cars, just to get it out of trailers. That turned out to be one of the smartest things we did that day. But it then began to rain, so we had to stop (and we were exhausted by then as well). The water during that time began to encroach upon the side parking lot, and was beginning to cover the back field as well. So then the trailers on the other side of the building were also in jeopardy, so we began to do the same thing over there. The whole time, the weather and the state of things were being monitored.

I don't remember it raining all that incredibly much that morning. That and the fact that water had been on the fields and parking lot before but never in the building must have made us feel somewhat safe inside the building, though the encroaching water was beginning to be a little disconcerting. By around noon, I think, you could step outside about every 5 minutes and tell a difference. Announcements began to be made for certain people to move their cars. Then an announcement was made to quickly get things up off the floor as much as possible. While I was doing that, I looked out the front window and realized that I needed to move my car, too. I waded through ankle-deep water to get to my car, and moved it up the road a little. By the time I was walking back to the front door, maybe 5 minutes later at most, buses had arrived and children were exiting out the front. I didn't even know where we were going, but it was all orderly and calm. I knew I had to quickly go back in after my purse, and when I got back to my office, the carpet was wet about halfway into the room (I'm on the end right by the side door - creekside). (Later I found out that what began as calling students out a grade level at a time ended with just line up and move out.) I grabbed my purse, grabbed a plastic trash can, retrieved my family photos, a few papers from my desk, and my album with 30 years worth of class photos and other school pictures, put my computer and the Tier 2 files on the top shelf of the highest bookcase (almost at ceiling level) and evacuated. Water was almost knee-depth by that time (in the front lot), and students were safely on the buses. I got in my car and we all headed to Garrett Middle School.

The students were amazing. Some were in the theater for hours before going home on the bus or being picked up. A teacher from Garrett is a storyteller, and she stepped up to the plate and entertained the kids. Some people with cars took the teachers who had ridden the buses back to the school to retrieve their cars, in the nick of time. We watched The Bee Movie and the students were absolutely fabulous. So were our hosts.

Most of what happened after that has been recorded on the news and in newspapers. Even at the worst of the time while we were there, no one ever suspected that it would ultimately be this bad. We were shocked at the photos on the news.

I can't even describe the feelings. I think I've experienced almost every emotion there is this week. I've had spontaneous tears numerous times, both from sadness and despair as well as gratitude and overwhelming appreciation. I've felt guilty about receiving so much stuff. I've felt guilty when things get a little frustrating, when I know that so many people have it so much worse. I feel guilty that students in other schools have also lost their homes, yet are not getting the same attention just because their school is intact. I feel bad for the host schools. They had no choice in this, either.

I want to mend things one at a time - let's get all of the living situations and basic needs met, and then let's go on with school. But it can't happen that way. We must do it all simultaneously. It's hard to be the receiver rather than the giver. One has to learn to do that with grace - it's very humbling. It's hard to accept so many wonderful gifts, but you must because you really do need it. I feel bad that we can't possibly keep up with where all of this stuff and help and support is coming from, and that there may not be a formal thank you note written. So many feelings. Just overwhelming.

At the parent meeting Wednesday night to explain the new plan, the crowd was tremendous. The support for the school by the parents was so touching. The main thing that the parents wanted to make sure of was that their children would have the same teacher. Some burst into tears when they found out that the teacher would be the constant. Maybe that should drive the budget processes. It's not the stuff or even the building, but the teacher and staff who make the difference. It's not WHAT is delivered but WHO delivers it and HOW. Hmmm..... there are some lessons here for all of us.

There have been so many stories this week that would break your heart and warm your heart. The loss for so many families is devastating. One child couldn't stay at school Thursday because she had lost her home and the picture of her daddy who had been killed a few years earlier. She went back home with her mother, who is also a Clarkdale staff member. An aunt has a small photo of her dad, and one of the other Clarkdale staff members is buying a locket so that this little girl can keep her photo with her all the time. One child came to school today with dress shoes on, and was embarrassed. Though his dad wouldn't admit that his tennis shoes had been lost in the flood and all he had left were dress shoes, we suspected differently. When we asked the child later if he had tennis shoes, he didn't. When we asked if he had food to eat, he said that the people he now lived with were sharing their food. We traced his foot on a piece of paper and the county computer guy who was installing the secretary's new computer volunteered to go shoe shopping. We gave him a Walmart gift card we had received. He came back with, in the words of the child, "way cool shoes" and returned the gift card to us. Teachers who were already exhausted from working long hours still found time and energy to go shopping after work for clothes for some of their students. Those are just a few of the stories that I can remember in my exhausted state of mind.

A not-so-small miracle: we taught on Monday at Clarkdale. By Tuesday, the building was destroyed. On Wednesday afternoon, we began to set up classrooms from absolute scratch, had another "first day of school" at two locations on Thursday, and by Friday there were reading and writing and math lessons occurring, almost as if nothing had happened. The students have textbooks and some supplies, and are all getting new bookbags with more supplies on Monday.

Of course, none of this could have happened without the help of so many people. The staffs at both Compton and Austell Intermediate have been amazing. We know that it must be like relatives moving in with you for an extended period of time that you didn't invite. We know that many people were displaced from classrooms and offices into smaller spaces because of us. We know that precious commodities like copy paper have had to be shared, and there must be numerous headaches with all of this. We know that we are an interruption in a school routine that has just finally gotten established. Yet all we feel is welcomed. People have donated things, bought things, made things, moved boxes and tables and chairs, given lesson plans, fed us, hugged us, smiled at us, given the kids a pep rally to stress that we are all a family, complete with gifts at one school and a drumline, cheerleaders and giant cardinal mascot at another (one child exclaimed, "Look at that big ROOSTER!") (The cardinal, by the way, is our mascot).

I have to commend Cobb County Schools as well. Who would have thought that we could go back to school with everyone else on Thursday? That certainly wasn't the easiest thing for us, but it happened. So much work has gone into all of this, and the planning and support and just "being there" has been great.

The outpouring of prayers, notes, love, support and stuff has been totally and completely overwhelming. We are stunned, and don't even know how to begin to thank everyone. Heroes and angels abound, my friends. I guess part of the reason that there is tragedy on this imperfect earth is so that God can reveal all of those people. My life is forever touched and changed because of them.

Because of all of the love and support, we will get through this disaster. School will go on. Lives will be rebuilt. I am praying about the future. We are so small. It was too easy in some ways to find another place for us. Economic times are tight, to say the least. Even though it would hurt greatly to demolish the old building and build a new one, it would absolutely break my heart to see Clarkdale nonexistent. We can be in a new building, even in another location. But we cannot let Clarkdale Elementary School go by the wayside because of a flood or any other reason.

I wish I could describe what it is about Clarkdale that makes it so special. People who enter the building comment on it, but no one can put their finger on exactly what it is. Even though I've seen many people come and go over my 30 years there, the spirit remains the same. There are good teachers everywhere, and good schools - I'm not at all implying that there are not. I've been around many this week. Maybe I'm a little prejudiced, I guess. Maybe it has something to do with our size - less than 450 students. I don't really know what it is. But it is something. It is definitely something. And it cannot be lost.

Please pray for our students and their families, families from other schools who have been affected, our staff, the people in our new "homes," and those who make decisions about our future.

Praise God from Whom ALL blessings flow! He will be with us into the future, whatever it holds. And that is sufficient.

More to come next week, I'm sure. There will be more stories of tragedy and hope, but I know that things will get better overall, little by little. With all the help and support and prayers, it's inevitable!

What it's all about!

David found a wonderful program for all of us to watch as a family. It was a National Geographic show about odd animal relationships (you know the orangutan and the dog???). I was on the couch with the 3 girls but had Analiese in my arms. She looked up at me with those big black eyes and said, "I'm so glad I have a Mom."

My heart just melted. That child is darn amazing! She can frustrate the heck out of me but then turn around and in one short sentence make me realize what being a Mom is all about!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Day 3 and counting....

The fort

sleeping peacefully

Today is day THREE of no school because of the rain, floods and resulting damages.

The rain had been coming down for days but on Saturday and Sunday it just seemed as if it was never going to end. So, on Monday morning, when the 5 AM call came in that our schools were closed it came as no surprise. What was a shock was that Sarah, who is now at the private school, had to go to school--as did Dave to work!

As the rains fell Monday morning, I began to get very nervous. And then the phone call came from the university, at noon, with a recorded message indicating that due to the roads being very hazardous, everyone was being asked to NOT come to the school. WHAT???? My husband is at work and my daughter is at school!

I quickly ran to the phone to call Sarah's school. No sooner had I dialed then an email came in, from the school, indicating that we could come and get the kids early. Well, off I went with Analiese and Gracie in the car.

What normally takes 18 minutes, took us over an hour to get to the school. As the rain fell in buckets we were met by closed road after closed road. I honestly have to say I felt the stirrings of panic as I contemplated the possibility that I would NOT be able to get to Sarah.

I called Dave, in hopes that he could leave school and get her. Unfortunately he was in the middle of the campus closing and could not close. So, we pushed on. We finally got to some open roads but passed playgrounds, homes and businesses under water. We knew it was just a matter of time that the road was going to be closed.

When I pulled up to the school it was not only full of parents but the school itself was flooding! I walked through deep puddles just to get to the front door. After waiting about 20 minutes Sarah finally arrived. We then left for our trek home!

The amazing thing was by the time I got back onto the road, the rain had stopped. We then were able to see more of the dangerous waters. We even saw rescuers bringing boats to evacuate people out of their homes--this was about 2 miles from our house!!

Fortunately, the rain continued to slow on Monday and we've not had another drop. We actually had sunny skies yesterday and today. However, the damage is so great that many cannot get out of their subdivisions or the roads to some of our schools are unsafe.

It has been a challenge keeping the girls occupied. Yesterday they built a fort. I let Grace and Analiese sleep in it because we, again, had no school today. Sarah is back to school, as is Dave to work.

I sure hope we return tomorrow. The teachers have to make up all of these missed days.....