Until The Scars Fade

This post has been brewing in my heart, and soul, for a long time. I knew, however, that writing it was something  I could not do until the scars began to fade.

My daughter was bullied.  All three of my kids have been bullied at some point, just like many children have been, including myself. The difference with her, was that she was bullied to the brink, and it wasn’t at your average public school. It was at a very expensive Catholic school, with small class sizes, and a strict behavior policy. It consisted of children of wealthy families, mixed with a few from the middle class. We were part of the latter.

Affording this school was a huge stretch for us, but it reminded me of her school in Shanghai. A school that still included a second language, as well as art, gym, and music classes, that were scheduled more often and delved a little deeper than public school. It was also conveniently located very close to my boys’ school. We decided that the financial sacrifice was worth it. We would, however,  still need to apply for scholarships and financial aid.

In third grade, her first year at the school, our daughter had a small group of friends, and was relatively happy.  Most of her classmates were well-behaved and kind. By all appearances, we seemed to have her in the environment we were looking for. A safe place for her to thrive.

As her fourth grade year began, she seemed more irritated, and reserved. She was easily aggravated by questions about her day, or just general conversation. I assumed it was pre-teen hormones, and began preparing myself for the moodiness of the next few years. Unfortunately, we were still months away from learning  what was actually happening.

One afternoon right before Christmas, I  pushed her to tell me why she was upset.  She admitted that she had been slipped a threatening note by another student.  Instead of bringing it to someone’s attention, she had thrown it away. I called the school, and a very considerate receptionist dug it out of the garbage for us. The next day, we were told the incident was addressed and taken care of. This would be the first, and last, we heard of any bullying for quite some time.

Several months later, while we sat at the kitchen table arguing about whether she had to go to swim practice or not,  the flood gates broke open. She told me that the same child had struck her several times, and continued giving her threatening or demeaning notes, as well as verbally telling her.  “No one likes you.” “You don’t have any friends.” “You should just kill yourself.” It didn’t matter that she did have friends, and that they liked her very much. The more she was told these things, the more she believed them. She told no one, and if anyone observed it, they did not take action.

Our baby, our confident little spark plug, our kind, funny, smart, beautiful, daughter, was crumpling into a little ball. Her self-confidence shattered. She could not see her own self-worth. She thought that she was not deserving of love, or attention. One wintery afternoon, in February 2014, the stories started spilling out of her, and our world as we knew it fell apart.

There was no quick fix for this situation. We had to pull her out of school. She finished the year in a small tutoring center, while undergoing counseling several days a week. We intended to send her back to the same school for fifth grade, as we were assured that the bullying was being addressed. I didn’t want to teach my daughter to cut and run when things got difficult, and she really liked her group of friends there. I still had faith that they would take care of the situation. It was a Catholic school, so how could they not?!  It was run by women who had sworn their life to God. How could we not trust them to do the right thing?!

For the next six months, we had countless meetings with the head of the school (although she had a habit of cancelling and rescheduling them, often for weeks later), as well as the tutoring center, and therapist. There were dozens of phone calls and texts.  We were constantly reassured that our child had a spot at the school and would be welcomed back the next year, but it was a never-ending process, with many delays. We were 10 days from the school year starting, and she still wasn’t officially enrolled again. They still wanted more meetings. I have no idea about what. She had been cleared by her therapist to return. Worried about the quickly approaching school year, and in our daughter’s best interests, we decided we should leave the school. It was “our choice” to change, but it was obvious we were being pushed out.

I  forgave that little girl long ago. She knew what she had done, and I believe she learned a valuable lesson. However, I never would have imagined that a Christian school would bury this incident, even amongst the staff. During our meeting with the middle school, we found out that they had not been advised of the bullying; where class assignments and schedules would have had to be considered for both girls. The head of the school had lead everyone to believe that my daughter had  broken down for no reason at all. The one who was bullied, was struggling to get back into school, while the the bullier continued as if nothing had happened.

In the end, we learn. This is not my first scar in life, but it is my baby’s. At least the first she vividly remembers. I can only imagine how being adopted effects her psyche. These lessons in life shape us. They make us stronger and more resilient. They remind us of the feelings of others, and how to treat people properly. They teach us of the importance of honesty and integrity, and what happens when they are lacking. They remind us to be the best we can be, because that is the right thing to do.

Our  daughter is in her second year at her new school. It is also Catholic, but possesses the Christian values that you would expect. Fifth grade was tough for her, she was in protective mode at all times. She made friends, but had trouble trusting people. We have had many discussions, and she continues to see her therapist for “maintainence” visits every now and then, but she is a new girl. Or maybe her “old-self” with improvements.

She is wiser than most her age. She has learned lessons that many do not. Sixth grade has started out wonderfully. She is beginning to trust again. She has loosened the protecctive shell. She has put herself out there, to try new things, without fear, or at least facing her fears. I am one proud mama. Those scars have started to fade.

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If Only You’d Known…….

If I could go back to age thirteen, I would tell myself to enjoy the last few years of childhood. Don’t wish for time to speed up. Before you know it, you will have more responsibility than you ever imagined. The only thing left of those younger years will be the memories. Experiences that you will pass down to your children, as lessons in life.  The adventures you had, and those that you wish you had been brave enough for. If only you’d known….

I would tell myself not to worry if you’re in the “popular” kids group. This means nothing after the school years, or during, really. When they hardly notice you, ignore you, or scoff and turn away, let it go. They are not important in your life.  You will never forget the good times you’ve had with your group of friends, and that’s all that matters.  Be kind to the quiet kids, or the ones who seem to disappear into the background. Say “hello” and give them a smile, many of them have very little self-confidence. They need reassurances just like you. Everyone needs a friend. Later, you will think of these kids, and wish you had noticed them more. You might feel like you treated them almost as badly as that other group treated you.  If only you’d known…..

Don’t worry about whether you have designer clothes, or the latest electronics. There is plenty of time for new toys in your future. Later on you will learn that those things don’t bring happiness anyway. At least not long-term. When those things are gone, they are gone for good. Spend your money on experiences. Memories last forever. Even when they are over and done with, they are never forgotten. They will always bring a smile. If only you’d known………

Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. Be brave. You will never regret trying. Don’t worry about what others think. The only ones who will remember later, are you, and those you inspired to do the same. Later,  you will reflect on the times that you did, like when you joined track in tenth grade. You were terrible. You lost every race, even to an injured runner, but you have never once said, “I shouldn’t have done that.” It will be a lesson for your future children. It will be a story told many, many times. You will wish you had stepped out of that box more frequently. If only you’d known…….

There will be times in life that will be really difficult. You will question why God is doing this to you? Why He is letting it happen. This is normal, and understandable, but then remember that there is a reason, even if you don’t know it yet. There are many tests in life. Learning from them, and growing from the experience, is how you know you passed. You will rely on God far more than you realize. He will bring you comfort that you never thought He could. If only you’d known……

The greatest moments in your life will include kindness, compassion, confidence, trust, love, belief, growth, learning, honesty, and a bit of risk. Are you being KIND and COMPASSIONATE?  Do you have CONFIDENCE? Are you TRUSTWORTHY? Do you TRUST the people around you?  Do you LOVE? Do you FEEL LOVED? Do you BELIEVE in yourself? In a higher-being? In the life you are leading? Do you continue to GROW as a person? Do you continue to LEARN from your experiences? Your mistakes? Are you being HONEST with yourself? With others? Do you take a RISK now and then? A leap of faith? Something that scares you just a little. Or a lot.  I think being able to answer “yes” to these questions,  means you are working hard to be the best person you can be. Experiencing life to the fullest. A sure path to inner peace, and I hope, happiness. I wish I had asked myself these questions when I was younger. I wish I had realized that these few questions would help me get through the more difficult years. If only I’d known……

 

Xin Nian Kuai Le! It’s the Year of the Sheep/Goat

Last night, our family got together with another family we knew from Shanghai, to celebrate the New Year with a fabulous Chinese meal. They moved back to Michigan around the same time that we did, and have children of similar age. In another one of those small world incidents, when we moved into our first house in China, the kids and I met the neighbor’s wife and children almost right away, as they were pulling in with their car when we got there. They were very friendly, and we discovered we were there with the same company. I knew we would get along wonderfully. The husband came over to meet us and my husband later in the evening. When Billy came down the stairs, both men started laughing and smiling. They had worked together in Michigan years earlier and neither had any idea that they were in China, nor that of the thousands of houses available to expats, we would choose one right next to them! Needless to say, we have remained friends, and although we don’t get together as often as we’d like, we love seeing them when we do!

Xin Nian Kuai Le…….Happy Chinese New Year!

A blog entry from January 26, 2009

Happy Chinese New Year, or as the Chinese call it, Spring Festival! This year, 2009, is The Year of the Ox. The Chinese spent their New Year’s Eve “scaring away evil spirits” with fireworks (“Nian” is a mythical beast who is afraid of the loud noises)), sending Chinese lanterns into the sky in honor of deceased relatives, and “sweeping” away the “old year,” while welcoming the “new.”

We spent the night in downtown Shanghai, on the Pudong side of the river, in the Shangri-La. We were joined by another family from the children’s school, and had a great time enjoying the holiday together. The kids swam in the hotel pool, we enjoyed dinner together, and then settled into one of the rooms with snacks and movies to wait for and watch the fireworks display.

At midnight, much like in the States, the fireworks peaked. However, in Shanghai it sounded like a war had begun in the city. No celebration in the U.S. has ever reached this level. In every direction, we could see fireworks rising above the buildings. Although we had heard fireworks at a decent rate since about 7 PM, at midnight the sound of the explosives could be heard continuously from all directions, for what I’m guessing was about an hour or more. In our awe of the show, we lost track of time.

Before we left the hotel today, we watched a Lion Dance performance in the lobby. Lions are a symbol of protection, and the dance is to summon “luck” and “fortune, ” and scare away evil spirits. The God of Fortune was there as well, giving out “golden nuggets” in the form of foil-wrapped chocolates.

During Chinese New Year, oranges are considered very symbolic. The Chinese word for “orange” is similar to the Chinese word for “luck.” Giving oranges to friends or relatives is sending “good wishes” for the new year. Fish is also a huge part of this holiday. The Chinese word for “fish” sounds like the word for “wealth.” The fish that is served whole, including head and tail, during the new year’s dinner must be tasted, but not finished. If the fish is gone, so is everyone’s “prosperity” for the coming year.

On New Year’s Eve, red is worn, as Nian (which is also the Chinese word for “year” ) is afraid of the color red, and therefore, will not come down to eat the villagers or the children. Everyone sweeps out the house and cleans, to get rid of the “old year” and prepare for the “new year.” At midnight, all the windows and doors are open to let the “old year” out. For the next 15 days houses are not cleaned, as this would be cleaning away the “good luck” for the new year. Finally, one of the well-known parts of the holiday, “Hong Bao” (red envelopes) filled with money, are given out, generally to children and newlyweds, as gifts. This 15 day period, known as Spring Festival, ends with the Lantern Festival, when thousands of Chinese lanterns fill the night sky.

I love the tradition and folklore that the Chinese New Year is filled with. I miss celebrating it in Shanghai. It is such a joyous and beautiful holiday. It will always be close to my heart, and bright in my memories.

For The Love of Two Worlds

Remembering China fondly today, it will always be close to my heart. This Valentine’s Day, I am posting a blog entry of mine from September, 29, 2008. For love of my second home.

Similaries and Differences

If I am sitting in my room with the windows open on a cool fall day,  I could be in China, or Michigan,  they both feel the same.  If the kids are playing in the park and I am sitting on the bench watching, it is the also the same. Sitting in Starbucks reading a book is no different. There are times in China that feel just like Michigan. When it’s hard to notice the differences,  but here we have luxuries that we would not have at home. Yuan-Yuan comes for the day to clean and cook,  and Mr. Tao pulls up in a silver Buick minivan to cart us all over the city. These things are very different. It  feels strange to have someone else taking care of my home.  I miss driving.  I miss having a car to jump into whenever I want to go somewhere.

There are many wonderful things about this experience,  many adventures to be had, but there are also wonderful things that we have left behind. We are seeing parts of the world which many will never see, we are learning a new language, and culture, but instead of learning it in a class, we are living it. We are strengthening  our minds and our spirits. It is a growing experience which I believe is very important for our children, especially in today’s world. Stepping out of one’s comfort zone is a hard,  but rewarding thing to do. I am proud of us for taking such a bold step. I am proud of my children, for  even though they may not have had much of a choice, they have handled it well.

We have left our home, friends, and family to move to the other side of the Earth. That was very hard. As we all know,  our home is a soft place to fall,  and when things get tough that is where you want to be. I look forward to the first time I sleep in my bed at home again, lying my head down on that soft pillow,  and being a car ride away from those I love.  We are doing great here, but we look forward to our upcoming visit.

There are so many differences in our surroundings here compared to home.  When a guest arrives, you bring them a cup of warm water. This is better for the body.  They will take off their shoes at your door even if you tell them they don’t need to. You must offer them a pair of slippers.  If you ask your Ayi or driver if they’re able to do something,  the answer will be “yes.”  They will not tell you that they do not want to do something,  or know where something is. That would be “losing face.”

There is not a fourth floor in most buildings,  as the word for the number “four” sounds too much like the word for “death.”  I’m sure Yuan-Yuan is not happy that Carleigh  has drawn a three foot tall “44” on the wall by the study. She has had to pass that forbidden Chinese number 20 times a day, and I think she’s afraid to touch it to wash it off. You can’t drink out of the tap, and must order water for the water cooler. Most bathrooms  STINK.  Here  you learn the places that have Western-style bathrooms and avoid the ones that do not. Tissue is always carried with you, as bathrooms do not always have toilet paper,  or soap, making  hand sanitizer a must as well. Surprisingly after the last statement,  there are always workers cleaning on the street,  and in the buildings.  You  will not have trouble finding someone to clean something up. Service in  restaurants is better than in the US, and no tip is required.  You must ask for your bill or it will never come.

You’ll never see more bikes than you see in Shanghai.  You will probably never see as many cars either. You would  be amazed at what can be fit on a bicycle. Don’t ever think you can’t move a refrigerator just because you don’t have a car. Nothing is too dressy to wear while riding a bike.  Heels are almost a must,  good for any occasion. Ankle-length nylons are fine with capris, or anything else for that matter.  Getting  there first does not mean it’s your turn,  getting noticed first does. If this means pushing to the front of the line,  so be it. Sleeping can be done anywhere, and is.

We enjoyed living in China. Its differences are intriguing and its similarities, when found, are little gifts.

You Are Mine

It’s time to talk about my oldest son, Ethan. He will be 19 years old in less than a week. Where does the time go?!

Ethan was a fairly quiet and content baby. He would sit and play without getting into trouble for hours. As a toddler, he loved trains, books, and his blanket buddy, Lamby. He would play with his Thomas the Tank Engine trains, watch train shows, read books, or read books TO his Thomas trains. He was an early talker, and we could tell from a young age that he was very bright.

He has always been a very observant child. He soaks everything in, even when you think he’s not paying attention. As a child, teenager, and now an adult. He is aware of his eccentricities. Even as a young child he knew he was smart, and would test us. One of his favorite things to do would be to ask us a question. After we answered, he would respond with “well, actually……,” He will tell you himself, that he is socially awkward. He met his best friend in kindergarten, and they have been buddies ever since. That, along with his family, is enough for him.

He went to daycare for the first three years of his life, as I was still in the working world. He played with other kids, but was not extremely social. He had one boy in particular that he loved to play with. He preferred not to be in the spotlight. If there was circle time and he was called on to say something or do something at some point, he would disappear into his shell.

In grade school, we realized that he really was advanced, especially in math and science. He had more difficulty with creative writing activities, art and gym. You see, Ethan always saw things in black and white. Either it was right, or not. He was a perfectionist. He worried that his teacher wouldn’t be interested in what he wrote, drew, painted, etc. I could never convince him that it didn’t matter. It was about understanding the concept or lesson, not whether they found it interesting. In gym, he didn’t want attention directed at him, and like me, he was not athletically inclined.

In second grade, Ethan’s teacher expressed concern about his refusal to write in his journal. She suggested that we take him for counseling, to see if there was a reason behind it. My husband had said for some time that we should have him tested. He had some quirky behaviors, and Bill was worried that he was autistic. I always said that if he was, he was high functioning, and I didn’t want him labeled, but now it seemed like it was time to have him checked. He met with a therapist several times, and she felt he was fine, so we moved on, and continued to try to ease his fears of what others thought. He went to another before we moved abroad, and again, they said he was doing fine. No diagnosis.

From third grade on, Ethan had trouble getting homework done. Not because he didn’t understand it, but because he didn’t want to do it. It was a never-ending battle. He needed to be constantly reminded. He did wonderfully on tests, but if he had a homework assignment he didn’t agree with, or feel comfortable with, he wouldn’t do it. It was so hard to deal with, knowing the level of intelligence he possessed.

When we lived in Shanghai, a counselor noticed some of his quirky behaviors, knew of his homework difficulties, and asked to have him tested. The school psychologist conducted the testing, and again, it was determined that he was not autistic. Again, we moved on in life, and soon, back to the U.S. He finished high school, at the top IB school in the nation, and finished with a good GPA, considering all of his earlier difficulties.

In his junior year of high school, he started seeing a therapist again. We were hoping to help him deal with approaching adulthood. When he opened up to me, he was very aware of his issues, and exactly when they started to effect his schooling…way back in third grade. He wanted help too. After a year of counseling, his therapist told him she thought he had ADHD. Specifically ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder.) We had never thought this was possible, as he certainly could concentrate on something when he wanted to. And no one else had suggested this. His therapist told him that it was not an average case, and therefore, harder to identify. Shortly afterwards, he started medication. We would notice an immediate change.

Ethan will always be quirky. It’s how God made him. He would not be who he is without it. He has started his college career and is doing great. He is working toward medical school, or sometimes a career as a history professor, but most days, medical school. He has a job at a car dealership as a porter. He is doing what he needs to do, when he needs to do it….mostly. After all, he’s still my Ethan.