Send anyone this way to read along, but for permission to reprint, please contact Gail.
© Gail Underwood Parker

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Focus on Fostering: Kids Dealing with Trauma

Two book favorites today for children who are dealing with traumatic events or memories:

A Terrible Thing Happened
By Margaret M Holmes
Ill by: Cary Pillo
Pub: Magination Press [American Psychological Assoc]

This fanTAStic book tells the story of Sherman Smith who saw a terrible thing happen. Readers watch as Sherman tries to forget about it but can't. It follows as he starts showing the impact of the memory and eventually readers see him meet someone who helps him talk about the terrible thing and then sees Sherman start to do and feel better.  One of my favorite things about the book is that the terrible thing is never specified which lets the reader or listener fill in the blank with what fits their experience.  A wonderful addition is an afterword that gives both examples of the kind and range of events that can cause trauma for children who are witnesses AND fifteen clear specific suggestions on how to help such children. This is my absolute favorite to reread or talk about when my kiddos are clearly bothered by something... sometimes something I know has happened, sometimes something that we don't know yet.

My Mom Has a Bad Temper
By: Beverly H Hopkins
Ill by: Marsha Lederman
Pub: Child & Family Press [Child Welfare League of America]

This book is more specific. This deals with the conflicting emotions common to a child [in the illustrations an adolescent girl] whose mother loses control of her temper and is abusive to the child.  What I like about this book is that even the mother is treated with respect, not made out to be a completely "bad" person, the child experiences believable family reactions and social pressures, and although social welfare etc. becomes involved the door is left often for the possibility of change.
Image credits:,

Monday, May 30, 2011

School Bell: Memorial Day

When I was a child national holidays were scattered all through the week.  The fell on the date of the anniversary being commemorated.  Then the idea of standardizing holidays on the Monday closest to the anniversary become widespread.  Now holidays are convenient.  But, something has been lost.  For my father, and his generation of World War II veterans VE Day [Victory in Europe] and VJ Day [Victory in Japan] were vivid days. Memorial Day is a bit different because it began as a wide variety of individual days when individual communities and states marked their Civil War losses. They were days when the graves of veterans were marked with wreaths and flags and flowers.  It was even called Decoration Day. In Virginia it was tied to a June 9th battle, In Waterloo, New York, May 5, etc. etc. . But when the holiday began to consolidate on May 30, supposedly that date was chosen because it was NOT a battle anniversary making it more inclusive.

After World War I it began to recognize all war losses and the graves of all veterans began to be marked or "decorated" on Decoration Day.  As the beginnings faded farther into the past it became a generic day of memorial with cemetery visits of all kinds, but parades featuring veterans still the norm and associated enough with war to bother pacifists and war-protestors over the years. Lately it seems more noted as the start of tourist season, or big auto races [the Indianapolis 500 race [since 1911] and the Coca-Cola Classic 600 [since 1960]]. I still remember when the name changed officially to Memorial Day [in 1967!].

When I was a child the school always addressed Decoration Day/Memorial Day with history lessons, civic lessons, and writing assignments. Having been an impressionable teen and young adult during the Vietnam War era I am painfully familiar with the strong emotions connected to any conflict, but also painfully familiar with the strong emotions from the losses of conflicts.  Today my children's teachers seem to totally ignore the origins of Memorial Day, only commenting on it in terms of the day off from school. The rare teacher who addresses it is often criticized for being to "pro-war" or "anti-war."

So what are teachers to do?  What are parents to say when explaining why there is a "holiday" today?  I would hope that we can separate memorializing war from memorializing people who meant so much to those who loved them. When we see the aging and young veterans marching or see the flags on gravestones, we are not honoring war we are honoring people.  Besides... even if you take the view that the day is to remember war, maybe remembering war better will help us work to create peace. So, maybe this is a combo school bell history point and soapbox today, but such as it is, those are my thoughts today.

Image credits:,,

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Caring Heart: One Less Fear

Last week's meditation was about struggling with anxiety so I decided that this week should recognize the joy of success when anxiety eases. 

One less fear.

The room looks so bright and cheerful.  It seems wonderful and yes, looks normal.  I can't remember the last time he was able to sleep without taking blankets over the windows to cover them completely.  It is so strange.  Here I am so very excited about something most parents don't even give a moment's thought.  And, they worry about things that are of almost no concern at all to me those concerns are so far down my priority list.  I see people driving around town with bumper stickers proclaiming "My 9th graders is an honor student at XYZ High School"  I have never once seen one that says "My 9th grader slept through the night last night." No one proclaims those accomplishments on bumper stickers. For him to sleep through the night is great by itself.  Do do so with the windows uncovered is an accomplishment that took far more effort than most of those 9th grade honor roll kids.  Thank you for giving him the courage to try.  To dare to un-tack that heavy blanket. To face the shadows and sounds beyond the window. Thank you for his success.  Girded with this success, let him tackle another fear, and then another.  Let this be the beginning of the end of all those fears, all those anxieties that have held him in knots for so many years. 

Excerpted from "The Caring Heart Speaks: Meditations for foster, kinship, and adoptive parents" by Gail Underwood Parker    Artwork by Anna Parker David from the book cover. 

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Quick Takes: Versatile Blogger Award

Yesterday a comment invited me to a blog to "collect" this surprise award.  What fun to be noticed from far away!
After reading the rules I happily accepted the award and this morning follow through with the rules the best that I can.

ver·sa·tile   adj.
1. Capable of doing many things competently.
2. Having varied uses or serving many functions:

The official "rules" of accepting this award are as follows:

1. Thank the person who gave you the award and link back to them.

Thank you Mary at Adoption & Foster Care . What a fun surprise!  I am truly delighted that my little daily blog is beginning to spread around.  I hope this surprise will bring a few new readers and visitors to explore.  Thank you again!!

2. Tell 7 things about yourself.

1. When I was younger [alright, much younger]  I worked part-time as a professional clown.

2. I live in Maine but am deathly allergic to lobster, clams, shrimp and all shellfish. [Dang!]

3. I am have 11 grandchildren already and I have two children who haven't started having kids yet.[Yikes!]

4. I once had a chance to leave college and work off-Broadway . I turned it down. [long story]

5. I have had to almost completely reinvent myself at least four specific times.

6. I was deeply involved in the POW-MIA bracelet movement during and after the Vietnam War.

7. I began and directed for over 25 years what many believe was the first sign language chorus of all hearing middle and high school students.

3. Pay it forward and award the Versatile Blogger to at least 5 recently discovered new bloggers.

These aren't all new bloggers, but they are the ones I return to time and time again for comfort and for inspiration.

So [ta da da Dat ta da] this round of awards  goes to  . . . 

Because she is always there with a photo to inspire, to calm, to focus, and thoughts to catch my breath......    Serendipitous     

Because I wish I lived close enough to see her work, to meet her in person, she always challenges me to be and do better........   kindness girl         

Because I love following one of the few people who makes my life look like a walk in the park, and who is also a single mom old enough to remember when the Beatles' hair cuts seemed too long......   Big Mama Hollers    

Because she makes me see things from a different perspective and even though she doesn't post as often, when she does it always challenges my thinking and informs me, plus I find hope for my kiddos in her success and optimism.....   Sunshine Girl on a Rainy Day

Because she has a mind-bogglingly endless assortment of fun things to make with and for kids, and even if some of them make me gain weight just reading them others are healthy and still enticing, this mom is the one my kids all wish they had!..... Making Memories    [Try her hot dog cookies!]

Because she is creative with fabric the way Making Memories is creative with food... I don't try all of her ideas, but I always can find an idea when I need one... and the patterns really work! She isn't actually a blog.... but I had to include her in case you haven't seen the site....   Tip Junkie


Friday, May 27, 2011

Anything Can Happen: Dancing Slugs??

Hey there... it's anything can happen day.  Today is a salute to my fond memories of the dancing hamsters that used to be the highlight of many a computer screen. [Common now... you remember laughing at them-- admit it! Everybody was singing along.] So when I happened upon these animated slugs, I thought back to all th fun my students had watching them.  Here is one to share with your kids....

And, if you long for a bit of nostalgia, it's not as good as the original because the screen doesn't really change like the original, but you can at least remember the music. I couldn't get it to download here but here is the link:  original hamster dance    Have a chuckle for the old days!

Happy Friday!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Parenting Tips: Learning to be a good sport

My brother is a phenomenal board game player.  As an older brother he was a cagey game player and driven to the point of almost ruthless [at least from my view as the younger sister]. To this day I have NEVER beaten him in a game of Monopoly®.  Not terribly surprisingly... I am not an eager Monopoly® player. I remember my father telling me as an adult that he had sometimes played games with my brother so that my brother would learn how to lose and still be a good sport.

My children liked to win.  Since most games only have one winner per game and most games favor the older child, this led to predictable outbursts, funks, and sulks. So with great intentions I decided to try to teach my children the skill of sportsmanship in family/friends games.  The method I used seemed cumbersome and contrived. It was contrived. It was less cumbersome than it seems. But more important to me... it helped.  I can't say it succeeded completely or instantly. But it definitely helped.  Here are the three key things I found:

1- Pick short games.  This way the chances of being willing to play again after losing are better.  The chances of winning at least once go up because of the stats and playing more often.

2. Pick games that rely on luck. Any game that relies on strategy, accumulated knowledge, or planning ahead gives the advantage to an older, or wiser child. Luck based games add the frustration of bad luck vs good luck, but at least it is luck rather than skill or knowledge.

3. Teach the language of good sportsmanship.  Before my kids could read I use only one or two phrases over and over each time I played with them, modeling acceptable language to respond to game emotions. Silly frustration words: [Slibbit!..... Balderdash! ....Dang!... make one up] When its not going well:  Maybe next turn my luck will be better.  When it is going very well: Boy, am I lucky right now. When they got old enough to read if they still struggled I made little index cards with comments they could choose from during the game.

That's the gist of it.  If you need more ideas or specifics let me know. And for those of you who like knowledge based games I recommend you consider playing board review games with your kids periodically. The cool part isi that since you are using their school content for the basis, they may actually have an advantage over you... a powerful, exciting moment for any child!  [See blog entry Feb 21, 2011: School Bell: Board Game Review]

Image credits:,

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Soapbox: Botox Mom Hoax and Foster Care Month

OK... so the world didn't end last Saturday.  On the other hand, all those who cry in outrage over the depravity in the world aren't completely crazy. I have been half-following the story of Sheena Upton, the so-called "Botox Mom" who became an overnight name for claiming to have given her 8-year old daughter Botox injections and even hair-waxings to keep her young and pre-pubescent. Needless to say, many people were outraged and soon afterward custody of her daughter was taken away and the child placed in protective custody by the local child protection department. Happy Foster Care Month. The next thing I heard, Upton had a new claim and was back in the news.  She then claimed that the whole Botox and waxing thing was just a fake... She claims she did it for money [supposedly $6000 from the reporter who broke the story initially]. Mom of the Year award is definitely out for this lady!

I couldn't stop thinking of the daughter as all this unfolded. Each time this woman [or the reporter] was back in the news. Each time I heard people talking about the case.  Each photo, each video, each interview.  And somewhere there is an eight year old girl who has lost all that is familiar to her.  She is probably in a different school system, different neighborhood, with a new family that is still a set of strangers to her.  How much anger for what has been done to her, for what has happened since, for all that she has lost, is churning inside her?  Is she acting out in her new home?  Is she trying to be the perfect child?  What kind of help is she getting?  What kind of support are her new foster parents getting?  Once again the true victim is out of sight, and sadly for most, out of mind.

This is Foster Care Month.  Why can't just one journalist take this sad instance as an opportunity to do a story about the crucial safety net that foster families provide in a time of such crisis for children?  Why can't they do a story about the impact of relocating on foster children so that classmates and friends are more sympathetic and less bullying to a foster child in their schoolroom?  Why can't they talk about the support systems needed that are being cut right and left in the city and state budget crises that are happening all across the country?

Just one journalist to tell the story of so many children, so many losses, so many parents willing to open their hearts and homes, so many people working to heal damaged hearts and souls. It is National Foster Care Month.  The story is sooo important and so desperately needs to be told. They are quick enough to tell the story when it is a negative story about foster care. There are over half a million children in foster care... each one with a story, each one traumatized by loss and often much more.  Tens of thousands of foster families trying to create security, healing, and love.  So many possible stories.  Just one reporter.  Where is he? Where is she?  Just one?

Image credits:,,,

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Focus on Fostering: Leaving Your Children

Next month I will be leaving to go to the National Foster Parent Conference in Mobile AL.  One of the challenges of going out of town [esepcially as a single parent] is the challenge of keeping little [and not so little] ones from feeling abandoned. Even now that my kiddos are older,  their past makes them especially quick to feel abandoned even if they are old enough to know intellectually that it isn't true. They are proud that I am going, the teen in some of them is excited that I will be gone, but that small child abandoned too young, still feels adrift when I leave.  And... there still seems to be emotional payback when I return.  

I try to start way ahead to let them know it is coming.  The dates are on the family calendar and I let it drop into conversations. But it always includes that I will miss them while I am gone and that I am not gone for very long. We plan together for the time I am gone. 

I have two guidelines:
1- Because when I go I am usually very busy [at a conference or doing research] I do not promise to call at a certain time each day or to send them an email everyday.  I sometimes do call or email, but I am very careful not to promise something that might not be possible or realistic. 
2- I plan small things that will come at unexpected times and that are not expensive.

Here are three of the tricks we've use to make the preparation and transition in and out of the time away a bit smoother:

--Photos: I put a framed pictures of me by their beds, sometimes next to a book they have chosen for the sitter to read.

--Notes: I tuck little pictures or notes or both in "hiding" places for them to find while I am gone. [Under their pillow, in a sneaker, inside the freezer on the ice cream container!, in their jacket pocket, etc.]

--Surprises: I make an envelope-a-day for them to open from me. Inside is some small trinket [stickers, pack of gum, wrapped life saver,etc.] Also inside may be a privilege or a task or just a note. 

I don't do all three, but I do something. Something they can look forward to and enjoy while I am away.

What are your favorite tricks?  Share!

Image Credits:,

Monday, May 23, 2011

School Bell: Extended School Year?

For those of you whose children struggle mightily in school... a thought.  Are you aware that unlike the graphic, many school systems are open for at least part of the summer for some select children?  Often called an 'extended year program' or something similar, it is designed to keep at-risk children from losing ground over the summer.  If your child seems to take over a month to get back in gear after summer vacation, or a week plus after a winter or spring break, this may be just what he or she needs.  It won't be like summer school. It is likely to be somewhere between 15-30 hours total.  Some schools spread it through the whole vacation. Some schools choose 4-5 weeks somewhere in the middle of the vacation and provide it then.  It varies from school to school and region to region.  All kids take a while to catch up.  But some take too long. For those the school system provides programming to bridge that long summer break.

The purpose of these programs is NOT to help your child catch up.  Sad. Also true. I wish there were programs available to help children catch up, but schools generally don't offer them, leaving parents to try to manage the cost of tutoring or coaching.  BUT most special education departments recognize that there are some children who take an unusually long time to recoup what is lost over a break.

IF you think this fits your child, how do you qualify?

1. Start NOW for next summer!

2. You have to establish the length of time it takes your child to regroup after a break.  This means they need to have some specific skill testing just before school ends.  Then they must be tested in the fall to see how much ground they lost over the summer.  Finally they have to be watched to see when they are back to their June skill level.

3. Contact your special education department [IN WRITING] to let them know your concerns.  Tell them you would like a snapshot test before school ends to use as a measuring tool in the fall. Explain your concern and that you know they cannot offer extended year programming unless the need is documented.  The purpose of your contacting them is to get the documentation started by establishing the June benchmark of their achievement.  [Note: Your child's teacher can be an ally if they noticed the struggles.]

4. Follow up. Follow Up. Be polite, but follow up in the fall.

Extended year programming is not for everyone, but if your child qualifies and it is available, go for it! It will leave plenty of time for summer fun, but may help the next school begin far more smoothly and successfully. Check it out. 

Image credits:,

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Caring Heart: Surrounded by Anxiety

A bit ago I shared a book recommendation about worries.  Here is a meditation for parents whose children live with constant anxiety. This one was written thinking of foster and adoptive children, but I know that it is not just children who have been traumatized who live with anxiety. 

A life surround by anxiety.

Oh God, she is afraid of everything.  When was the last week that went by that we didn't bump into some new or undiscovered fear of hers?  I can't even keep them straight.  Afraid of the dark. Afraid of too bright a light.  Afraid of unexpected noises.  Afraid of silence. How hard it must be to be so afraid of all the world around you.  To worry that something, anything about that world will hurt you.  What happened to her to make her so anxious?  Most children get tossed in the air and giggle with delight, never fearing for safety, totally secure.  They are so blessed.  Most children delight in the "boo" moment of peek a boo.  Do their parents even realize what a gift that is to have given their children?  That total sense of security where hide and seek is a game, not a protection strategy? What happened to this child that she feels she is the only one she can count on to keep herself safe.  Be with her, Lord.  Teach her that she can count on you.  Then perhaps slowly open her eyes to see that she now has people who will keep her safe.  Help her to let go and dare to trust.  Step by step to turn her anxieties and fears over to someone else.  Help her.  

Excerpted from "The Caring Heart Speaks: Meditations for foster, kinship, and adoptive parents" by Gail Underwood Parker    Artwork by Anna Parker David from the book cover. 

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Quick Takes: FanTAStic Feelings Book!

OK, I've recommended a few books already, but if you have a child in your home who struggles to control their feelings you MUST get this book!! Even parents of everyday young kids would find this book useful as they teach their children how to manage feelings.  The book covers six basic emotions:
For each the book helps the child identify things that make them feel that feeling in three sizes [little, medium, and big].  Then the book leads the child to make a plan for how they will react to/manage each feeling at each size.  I  LOVE  THIS  BOOK ! ! !

Oh yes, and the main pages are dry erase so you can adjust it and change it. Then there are paper pages to follow up.  The book was designed for teachers and parents of kids with social disabilities such as Asperger's Syndrom and autism spectrum disorders who struggle to understand other people's feelings  [and their own].  BUT this book is wonderful for EVERYone!

Did I mention???..... I  LOVE  THIS  BOOK ! ! 

[available online or thru your local independent bookstore:

My Book Full of Feelings: How to Control and React to the Size of your Emotions
by  Amy V. Jaffe, MSW and Luci Gardner
pub: Autism Asperger Publishing Company
P.O. Box 23173
Shawnee Mission, KS 66283

Friday, May 20, 2011

Anything Can Happen: Mom's Rules!

This week has been a tough week at my house.  Next week I am planning to start a Thursday series on house rules.  Between the two, this seems the perfect Friday to share an old favorite of mine.  Some of you may have seen this video when it first came out, and if so revisit it just for a laugh... we all need them!  If you've never seen it... brace yourself, you made want to watch it a couple of times to get it all. [You can even google and get the actual lyrics!].  Enjoy!!

Music: Gioachino Rossini
Lyrics:  Anita Renfroe

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Update: Boy Identified.. Camden Hughes

Camden Pierce Hughes was identified as the small boy whose body was found in South Berwick, Maine last Saturday. He was from Irving, Texas. Reports this morning indicate his mother, Juli McCrery [who is in custody in Massachusetts] may have confessed to giving him an overdose of cough medicine [the autopsy determined he died of asphixiation]. God bless Camden and all the other children whose lives are cut short by people who should be protecting them. 

Parenting Tips: Who is this boy???

Most of you know that I live in Maine.  Since last Saturday Maine has been transfixed by an unfolding tragedy... a mystery that we follow day after day, praying for a tv-sitcom solution, but knowing that no surprise ending can erase the pain of reality.

On a remote road near the New Hampshire border the body of a small boy was found under a blanket by the road.  For days no one has been able to identify this poor child.  Maine authorities searched databases of missing children all over the country and are chasing down even the smallest lead to who murdered this small child.

How can a child be missing and no one notice except perhaps the killer?  The very thought broke our hearts.   Night after night Mainers gathered with candles to hold vigil for this unknown child. Vigils were held at the local town hall, and at the site where he was found. Up to 200 people at a time gathered to mourn this small child abandoned and deserted. People left flowers mementos, messages, and stuffed animals.

For days this little boy has been an assembly of statistics [3 ft 8 inches, 45 pounds, blond hair, blue eyes, probably 4-6 years old], a haunting computer-generated photo our only image. The biggest clue to the personality this mystery child once had is the design of the shoes he was wearing when found.... Lightning McQueen [from "Cars"] black sneakers. Was it his favorite character?  How many times did he beg for these? Was it hard to get him to take them off at night? Was it his favorite movie?

Last night there seemed to be some possible leads that might solve this mystery.  But nothing will solve the pain of imagining what this boy endured, the frustration of seeing news coverage galore about Swartzenegger's illegitimate child and yet so little coverage to identify this lost soul, the anguish that children are so vulnerable to unreasonable emotions.  So, my hint today could be to hug your children tight and to cherish every moment.  But, unless you see online that his identity has been confirmed.... I don't have a hint... I have a PLEA!  Look at his face, his shoes, and ask yourself if you know this child.  He deserves a name.  He deserves to be mourned by people who loved him, not just strangers who wish they had the chance to love him. Help us find his name, his life, and someone who loves him. Thank you!

Image credits: Maine State Police

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Soapbox: Hard-Wired for Compassion 2

Last week I talked about the idea that we are hard-wired to feel compassion and promised info on the science that supports this.  Neuroscientist Stephen Porges [University of Illinois at Chicago]  believes that the powerful, multi-faceted vagus nerve is the root of our body's instinctive compassionate reactions, going so far as to say it should be nicknamed the "compassion nerve."

Part of his basis is the research that indicates the vagus nerve reduces heart rate, creating a sense of calm, "produces a feeling of expanding warmth in the chest, such as when we are moved by someone's goodness or a beautiful artistic experience." Even newer research suggests that the vagus nerve may also be closely tied to the receptor networks for oxytocin... the neurotransmitter drug that is key to trust and maternal bonding... often called the drug that connects us.

Arizona State University psychologist Nancy Eisenberg has researched children with high vagus nerve activity and found them to be more cooperative and altruistic, making her another recent scientist who believes that we may be genetically, evolutionarily designed to be compassionate and connected.  What a wonderful idea that would be to confirm one day.  And if we find that to be true, perhaps it would not be too long before we could increase that natural sense of connection and empathy to be able to heal those struggling and lost?

Hard-wired for compassion.... what a wonderful idea! Imagine a world where that compassion could be nurtured and expanded, creating caring hearts and connected people.   -sigh-

Image credits:,

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Focus on Fostering: Child File

Do you have a child file for each of your foster children?  An inexpensive portable file for each child helps organize key information you may need to locate or update quickly & simply.

What goes in them? I use the following color system for 5 folders.  [Mine actually aren't colored folders, I use colored sticky dots and a marker to color code old recycled folders, but you can be fancy if you'd like!]

1. Red Folder  [Medical]
---whatever medical history and records you have for the child.
--copy of immunization records
--copy of health insurance information
--runnning copy of medications lists [dated]
--running list of appointments [medical, dental, etc.]

2. Green folder [Go file]
--copy of child's birth certificate
--copy of child's key numbers [social security number, ID, insurance]
--list of providers [medical, dental, counseling, support etc ] where there are records on the child

3. Yellow folder [Caution]
--dated notes on any incidents in the home, school, or community
--photos [dated] of any damage caused by child clipped to the incident report
--warnings or complaints from community or school

4. Blue Folder [Legal]
--copy of any court orders related to visitation, etc.
--copy of annual photo from school or wherever
--running list [dated] of case workers, GAL, etc.

5. Manilla Folder [School]
--copy of report cards
--copy of any special education reports, plans
--results of any testing done on the child
--list of schools attended[with dates & addresses]
--dated list of teachers/advisors [if you have extras, add a pic of child each year to help teachers remember if needed]

Image credits:,,

Monday, May 16, 2011

School Bell: Senior Year - Senioritis

For any of you with a high school senior in the house you no-doubt have discovered that senior year is an infection that causes your child to mutate in strange, mysterious ways.  The child that in September you could not possibly think you could let go of, you are now likely ready to help him or her pack their bags on a regular basis.

In medical terms when you see the suffix -itis  at the end of the word it usually means "an irritation, swelling, or inflammation of...."  [Examples: Larynigitis... the irritation, swelling, or inflammation of the larynx, appendicitis... the irritation, swelling, or inflammation of the appendix]. So it follows that senioritis is the irritation, swelling, or inflammation of the senior!  Now I don't know about you.. but my seniors often are increasingly irritated as the year progresses [usually by anyone in the family, but especially by me].  Their egos were also increasingly swollen! And, they are almost constantly inflamed [usually in response to the word "no"]!

I try to remind myself that they are practicing all the skills they will need once they have left.  They are practicing independent decision making [dang it]. They are trying to create their own work/play/eat/sleep patterns [yikes].  They are making their own fashion/clothing choices. And, they are exploring moral choices. Like when a child first starts to try to walk, they don't always do a very good job.  Unlike when a child first starts to try to walk... they do NOT want our hands, advice, or corrections.   ...Sigh....

All we can do is try to make sure they are experimenting in a safe, hopefully somewhat protected environment, and then-- be ready to help if they hurt themselves in a fall. Oh yes, and we need to know and remember that the falling is a necessary part of the learning process.

After all the senior years I have survived with my kiddos I have come to this conclusion.
1--Senioritis is as wonderful a sign [albeit painful] of development as crawling or walking.
2--Senior year's struggle is God's way of helping us let go.

Image credits:,,

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Caring Heart: Homework Warden

As the school year heads into the last final push, the frantic crush to finish, the burden often seems heavy, not only for the child but for the parent. For foster parents, this has an added challenge. So today I share this meditation, born out of that frustration. 

I am not a homework warden!

They just don't get it.  I know that teachers expect parents to be able to motivate their kids to do schoolwork.  But I can't do that for him.  Other kids can be motivated by their parent because since early childhood they have worked to please their parents and to earn their praise.  Sure, adolescents rebel, but the emotional ties are still there, built on years of loving care.  I don't have that luxury.  I don't have that bond to use as a carrot or as a stick. No one seems to understand that he doesn't yet care enough about me to be motivated by me.  Not yet.  I can't be the warden that cajoles and coerces him to finish that science project, memorize those math facts, study for that history test, or even just read five pages each night.  Some days it is all I can do to get him to accept that I am the grownup in charge.  Help me become a parent figure to him.  Help him begin to care.  Help me to survive until he cares, or until teachers understand.  I cannot be a homework warden.  I am still struggling to be the parent for him. He needs to let me be a parent to him far more than he needs me to be a homework warden. 

Excerpted from "The Caring Heart Speaks: Meditations for foster, kinship, and adoptive parents" by Gail Underwood Parker    Artwork by Anna Parker David from the book cover. 

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Quick Takes: Kids List #71-80

Before I start I apologize that my Thursday post somehow got lost in cyberspace somehow. I wrote it, hit "publish"and headed out the door.  It wasn't until last night that I realized it never showed up for some reason.  Sorry 'bout that! Anyway....moving on....

This is the eighth installment of "Kids List." My "Kids List" is things I wish all kids could get to experience before they are grown up and independent.   This month has a mix of small folk and bigger folk experiences. Use your grownup judgment to see what fits your child. 

Kids List #71-80

71. Jump on a trampoline 
72. Attend a Sabbath worship at a synagogue 
73. Spend an afternoon with someone over 80 years old 
74. Sleep over at a friend’s house 
75. Learn to use chopsticks and use them for a whole meal  
76. Hold a newborn baby
77. Learn a new dance  
78. Make homemade paper  
79. Plant a small garden and care for it through the summer
80. Learn to skip [297]

I try to do one Quick Takes entry each month from my Kids List. Hope you try some of these with your kiddos.  Search for "Kids List" to find #1-70 in earlier posts.

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Friday, May 13, 2011

Anything Can Happen...Book Dominoes

Speaking of libraries earlier this week..... Here is something fun for you and the kids to watch.... but I don't recommend you try it in your local library!

I especially love the way they duplicated it on the computer screens the book dominoes passed!

Video credit: LibraryIrelandWeek2011-Book Dominoes on Youtube.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Soapbox: Hard-wired for Compassion?

I heard a phrase recently that really struck a chord with me and got me thinking.  Movie Director Tom Shadyak was being interviewed about his recent life-revisions. [He went from Hollywood mansion living, directing hit comedies with Robin Williams, Jim Carrey, and more to giving away most of his money and living in a comfortable but small trailer. ]  Shadyak's latest movie [a documentary title "I Am"] interviews all sorts of people about the nature of mankind etc.  The statement he made was that we [humans] are "hard-wired for compassion."

Hard-Wired for Compassion

Think about that for a moment.  What an amazing concept to contemplate.  We as humans hard-wired, built,  to be compassionate. My thesaurus says compassion is like empathy, but a dictionary shows a shading that to me is a crucial difference.  Empathy is the "ability to recognize and understand someone else's feelings and emotions, even their experiences." Compassion is more often defined as "sympathy for another's pain, often including a desire to help."  Sympathy is not neutral. Sympathy is more than recognition. To me, empathy does not require more than dispassionately recognizing and understanding someone else's pain.  Compassion is far more. Compassion means feeling, regretting that pain, and wishing to ease that pain.  Empathy does not seem to require action, but compassion calls for, cries out for action.

Empathy makes you wonder how tornado or tsunami victims can pick up the pieces of their lives and move forward.  Compassion leads you to send money, support... in some way to try to make things better. After Sept 11, 2001 there was an explosion of empathy and sympathy, but compassionate action was seen immediately too... in everyone from New Yorkers handing out water bottles on the street to the Nova Scotians who were so amazing to the passengers of planes diverted to and stranded at their airports.

I like the concept of being hard-wired for compassion....

More about the hard science behind this next week!

Image credit:,,

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Focus on Fostering: Connecticut Conference

Last  weekend I presented two workshops at the annual CAFAP conference. [Connecticut Association of Foster and Adoptive Parents] in Mystic Ct.  The people were wonderful, the weather was beautiful but I was sicker than a dog! As a presenter you always want to do your best and be at your best. Instead I had coughing spasms over and over during for the fist half hour of the Friday workshop.  Then, with a fever raging I took some medicine that knocked me out... I slept through the dinner banquet, the evening and woke up 10 minutes AFTER my morning presentation was to begin.  Every presenters worst nightmare! I was down to the session in less than 15 minutes, but between arriving late, the fever and nausea I felt awful!  I have heard from several people that they loved the workshops and I hope so, but I feel so frustrated about it.  I drove home to Maine and spent Mother's Day and Monday trying to recover from whatever flu it was.

So... if any of you Connecticut folks are reading... Thank you, Thank you, Thank you....  for your understanding,  and your cough lozenges, and the iced-water glasses! Vanessa- you stayed calm and supportive, Jean- you were wonderful.  I have great respect for all the foster parents, adoptive parents, and agency staff that I met there.  I hope we get together again under healthier circumstances!  

So with two conferences to go this season, I am hoping I have used up all the disasters and bad luck and that all will be smooth.  Conferences are the lifeline that connects foster parents, giving them an energy boost of ideas, the chance to commiserate and connect, and a group of peers that understand their lives.  Like an oil change keeps a car motor running smoothly and more efficiently, the info and connections from conferences, workshops and seminars keep foster parents and adoptive parents working with their children more smoothly and more efficiently.  Happy engines, happy hearts, happy homes.

Monday, May 9, 2011

School Bell: Library Time

Spring weather and approaching summer vacation combine to make this a great time to get your kids visiting your local town library.  Libraries have changed a lot over the last few decades.  Books on cassette tape and videos were the beginning.  Students, seniors, and those on tight budgets often rely on libraries for access to computers, the internet and expensive magazines.

If you haven't been there for a while you may be very surprised to see a more vibrant, active, bustling place than you remember. Many libraries have added lots of new exciting things:
-- downloadable audio books
-- computer games
-- extensive DVD collections
-- day long admission passes to local children's museums, aquariums, and more
--even electronic book readers to sign out!

There are often read aloud mornings, and lots of summer programs to bring kids in and get them excited.

  So....get your kiddos over to the area libraries and see what they have to offer.  Sign up for a family library card. See what will be available for special summer reading programs.  And remember that the librarians are in a great position to recommend books for almost any age, any interest.  Get your kids interested and involved and eager now and your summer will be much easier!

Image credits:,,

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Caring Heart: A Mother's Heart

Despite all my warnings on Tuesday, there is something very magical about being a foster, kinship, or adoptive, or birth mother on Mother's Day. The typical heart decorating cards and flowers and candy boxes is a deep red, solid heart like a child's simply drawn heart. But that is not the kind of loving heart I want to celebrate today.  I want to celebrate a much deeper, more confusing, more complicated, but wonderful loving heart. The heart represented by this illustration:

When I was writing my book of meditations I knew right away that I wanted a heart on the cover... a caring heart.  But, how does one show a caring heart?  I considered filling it with examples of caring... hugs, holding hands, helping with homework, reading a story, putting a bandaid on a knee... an assortment of those images.  Instead, I decided to be more abstract.  In talking with the artist who designed my "caring heart" illustration I said I wanted the heart to be complex, to have confusion, twists, turns, rough edges and smooth, prickly parts, corners, and overlapping sensations all encased in loved.  I was delighted with her final design, shown here [and on all of my Sunday Caring Heart posts].

For me it captures wonderfully the turbulence, complexity, bubbling nature of the complicated love of a foster, kinship, and adoptive parent.... not to mention the complicated love of birth parents too!  It also shows the way that parents can love each child not less or more than another, but each for his or herself, individually, differently, deeply.  I am very proud of this Caring Heart illustration... [the creation of one of my daughters, Anna].  And, on this Mother's Day and every day I take a moment to say how much I love each of my children..... birth,  foster,   kinship,   and adoptive.  Each of you... individually, differently,  complexly, and oh so very deeply.    

Artwork by Anna Parker David from the book cover for "The Caring Heart Speaks: Meditations for foster, kinship, and adoptive parents" by Gail Underwood Parker     

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Quick Takes: Creative Rewards #36-40

Today's quick take is five more creative rewards for your kids.  Examples are for a mix of ages and genders. [Creative Rewards #1-35 can be found if you search "Rewards."]

36. Get a manicure or special haircut. 

37. Have a family pillow fight. [Hint: Set a timer and use old, soft pillows!]

38. Visit a children's museum.

39. Help them pick out and subscribe to a magazine that will come addressed to them.

40. It's May... give them a hint of the summer they are so eager to enjoy. 

Set up a "picnic" in the living room.  Spread a plastic table cloth on the floor, splurge on some picnic ware or recycled paper plates and have some fun.... bonus.... no ants, mosquitos or flies!!

Watch for the next installment of creative reward ideas a month from now.

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