Monday, November 1, 2010

This One's For You, Michelle....

...because I know you are always faithfully checking for an update on how we are doing. Thanks for getting me motivated to give an update.

Let's start with school. I was SO utterly frustrated the first few weeks of school because Emma's new school is so different from the last. First off, she takes the bus, so there is no communication between us and the school on a daily basis. Before, we had the opportunity to speak to Emma's teachers before or after school when we were dropping her off or picking her up. Losing that alone makes me feel really out of the loop like I know nothing that's going on. On top of that, the communication seems to be lacking in terms of school letters, calendars, notes sent home in Emma's agenda. We got a note in Emma's agenda everyday last year, whether it be how she did that day or upcoming events that we shouldn't forget about. This year, it's the odd note here and there. The teachers explain that sometimes they get too busy to be able to put notes in all the kid's agendas. I've not known about important things like hot lunches and school acitivities. Oh! And picture day. Let's just say I was pretty shocked when Emma came home with her school pictues a couple weeks ago. I didn't even know they had been taken! Needless to say, there will be retakes.

I really felt the only time we heard anything from the school was when Emma was in trouble. She has had her fair share of trouble this year. We've seen some regression in her behaviours, which I guess is expected with the huge change of going to a new school. I won't get into details as to what kind of trouble...nothing earth shattering by any means. The teachers just like to touch base with us to see if some behaviours are typical for Emma or not. Lots of the issues are ones we dealt with a couple years ago. It's a little disappointing to be dealing with them again, however it seems like they are being dealt with a lot faster than the first time around.

So like I mentioned earlier, I was really ticked off that things at this school seemed to be worse than the other school. Finally we decided to go in and meet with Emma's main teacher to see how things were going. I must say that I really like Emma's teacher. She has been working with special needs kids for quite some time and has alot of experience in different areas. She (of course) has never dealt with a kid quite like Emma. We seem to get that from every teacher/psychologist/doctor that we meet. But she told us she really likes Emma and unlike her last school, agrees that Emma's learning delays are more than a language barrier. She agrees with us that Emma would not be able to funtion in a regular classroom, so it's nice to know someone is on our side should our failing school system decide to integrate all special needs students into regular classrooms next year.

The teacher also went over things she was working on with Emma. Again we were impressed as she is working on things totally relevant to where Emma is at, rather than trying to force "regular" schoolwork on her like the last school. I have a lot of respect for this teacher and those who work alongside with her. There are some major needs that need to be met in their classroom, and they are totally patient and caring with the kids. seems things are going well at this school, I just needed to take some initiative and find out for myself.

Emma celebrated her birthday on October 9th. She's nine years old now...can't believe it! We had a small party...seems as time goes on Emma's friends become more few and far between. Breaks my heart. Another thing the school has given Emma is an outreach worker once a week to help her develop social skills and learn to deal properly in certain situations. We're hoping this will help Emma to learn how not just to make friends, but to keep them.

We took a couple of Emma's friends and family to a 3D movie followed by supper at McDonald's. Everything went fairly well, aside from Terry dropping Emma's Hannah Montana cake on the floor before I even got to take a picture of it! Emma was disappointed because Hannah Montana was all that she asked for and she was practically doing back flips when we picked it up that day because she was so excited. Terry had to run out and get a new cake and we improvised on the Hannah Montana!

A stunned Terry after he dropped the cake:

The smear the cake left behind:

Everyone still seemed to enjoy it:

Our makeshift Hannah Montana cake:

Last but not least, I'll share some Halloween pictures. I was able to go watch Emma's costume parade at school on Friday. She was totally excited that I was there. She misses the days of my volunteering and coming to see her at school, so she was pretty stoked when I came to see her. I was so impressed that Emma picked a costume other than a princess this year. She actually asked if she could be Superman. I explained to her that Superman is a boy, but she could be Supergirl, and we were lucky enough to find a Supergirl costume at Walmart. She totally loved it, pretending to be able to fly everywhere she went.

Trick or treating was fun yesterday. It's Emma's third Halloween in Canada, and I think this year she finally gets it. She's not so scared of the freaky masks and scary house decorations as she used to be. She gets that it's just pretend. She trick or treated hardcore for about an hour, until someone put a full package of gum in her treat bag. One thing about Emma, she is TOTALLY obsessed with gum. We don't give it to her very often, but when she does get it, it's like her whole world becomes perfect! So, once that full pack of gum was in her bag, she was done. She didn't want to trick or treat anymore, she just wanted to go home so she could check out her gum. Weird kid! Even when it came time to dig into all the treats, all she wanted was a piece of gum. We actually had to convince her to eat some candy before she ate a piece of gum! LOL!

My Supergirl:

At grandpa's house:

Who's enjoying the treats more? LOL!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

First Day of School

Well, it's a new year in a new school...time to get back to our regular routine.

Emma was pretty pumped about starting a new school this year. It's what we've been fighting for and we're really hoping it was worth the fight. Emma will spend most of her school day in an AAP class (academic assistance program). It's a very small class of special needs kids (I think about twelve) with three teachers. Rather than have Emma sit in a regular classroom where she doesn't understand anything, this class will teach her according to her abilities and build on what she has learned so far. Then for the other part of her day, she will be integrated into a regular classroom for art, gym, music, etc.

Since this school is further away from home, Emma qualifies for free bussing. We were pretty happy about that. And since the route she is on has no bus stops near our house, she gets picked up right at the front door. On Friday I let her get on the bus and then I drove down to the school to make sure she got there ok because she seemed a little bit nervous about these changes. But when she got off the bus, she had already made friends with some kids and was ready to start her day.

I took her to her class and was quickly whisked off to meet the principal who had concerns over Emma's age. Apparently the school just discovered that Emma will be turning nine this year and is only going into grade two. They put the pressure on to have Emma put into grade three so she is with kids closer to her age. Also, there is a group of kids in her AAP class that are also in grade three, so they would be integrated into the same regular classroom, whereas there are no AAP kids in grade two.

This has been something knawing at the back of my mind for awhile. The reason Terry and I decided to keep Emma back a couple of years is that we were hoping this would give her an opportunity to catch up on things not learned when she was younger and then she could progress normally once she caught up. We have come to the realization though, that our theory is not working. Emma still is nowhere near a grade two level and we realize we can't just hold her back forever, or she will be so much bigger than all the other kids which will be especially awkward when she becomes a teenager. So we've decided to put her into grade three. She will receive the same teaching in her AAP class regardless of what grade she is in and that's all we really care about. And we're hoping having Emma in with kids a little bit older than she's used to will help her to mature a little and act a little more her age. Again, this may be wishful thinking, but we'll see how it goes. It's really hard some days to know what's best for her and I really hope that we are making the best decisions we can. All I know for sure is that physically she has really grown up over the last few months! She has grown a ton and looks way older than the grade two kids and will fit much better into grade three.

We met with one of Emma's teachers the day before she started school. It was an hour long meeting and the teacher asked some very good questions. We were able to tell her what we would like her to focus on in terms of Emma's teaching and she seemed quite supportive and understanding. The biggest disappointment, though, is that she told us the school board is re-evaluating special education this year and they are really focused on "inclusion" which means it's highly likely that Emma will end up back in a regular classroom next year. Only children with extreme disabilities will be in a separate class. It was really frustrating to hear that and Terry and I were ready to start up the fight once again, but I didn't want to start Emma's school year on the wrong foot with her teacher so we kept most of our opinions to ourselves. We'll cross that bridge when we get there.

I conclude with some pics taken on Emma's first day. She is growing up WAY too fast!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Road Trippin'

Since getting a truck a few months ago, we've discovered a new love for road trips. I don't know exactly why...I've never really liked them before. Maybe it's because it's a really good, versatile family truck and we're able to bring along our bikes wherever we go? Or maybe it's because every time we fly, I dislike it more and more each time? Who knows? At any rate, we're liking it right now and have been trying to squeeze some in over the summer when we have time.

For the Heritage Day long weekend, we had no plans. However, when we woke up to a beautiful Saturday morning, Terry and I both had the itch for a road trip. I quickly jumped online to try and find us a place to stay in one of Alberta's hot spots. I came to the realization that long weekend road trips should be planned in advance. Every hotel, motel, cabin and any other accomadation you could think of was booked up in Banff, Lake Louise, Canmore and Jasper. I particularly wanted to go to Jasper, since Terry and I hadn't been there since we were married (12 years ago). So after seeing everything was booked up online, I started phoning each place one by one, hoping there would be a cancellation. I was turned down time after time until I hit one of the last listings. They had a cancellation! Without hesitation I booked it.

We quickly packed our gear and threw our bikes in the truck, stopped for slurpees (required for every road trip) and we were on our way. It was a lovely four hour drive and it was only till we were almost there that Emma started to ask, "Are we there yet?"

We were a little apprehensive about the cabin we had booked as we have done this before and ended up in places that are very similar to Ukrainian accomadations...not our idea of a good time. However, I think we ended up with much more than we even expected. The cabins were very rustic, but extremely clean. We also had separate rooms which we weren't expecting. Privacy is always nice when you have kids in tow. Emma was extremely excited about our "sleepover" accomadations and could barely sit through supper because she was eager to get back to her room and go to bed!

We had an awesome time in Jasper, shopping in the town, going up the tramway to the top of Whistler Mountain, and riding the bike trails around some beautiful lakes.

Last weekend we took a shorter road trip to the Wetaskiwin Air show, only a half hour away. Again the truck came in handy as we parked in a field, rather than paying admission to get into the show. We brought along some lawn chairs to set up in the box of the truck and enjoyed a picnic lunch.

I'm really hoping we can squeeze in one more road trip before Emma heads back to school in a few weeks. We'll have to see what happens!

Recently we celebrated "gotcha day" which is the anniversary of the three of us officially becoming a family, July 28. We didn't really go gung ho, just went our for ice cream. It's more a celebration for Terry and I, because in Emma's mind, she's been a part of our family forever. She doesn't seem to have any memories of the adoption or her life in Ukraine, probably due to her mental delays. We explained to her why we're celebrating and will continue to do so every year. Maybe one day she'll understand just how special the day is. Yesterday marked the anniversary of Emma coming into Canada. I can't believe it's been two years already!

A few weeks ago Emma was seen by the local pediatric developmental specialists. It was a LONG two hour meeting going over Emma's delays and history. Again, we've run into frustrations not knowing the answers to so many of the questions we're asked because we know so little about Emma's past, and she's not able to shed any light on the subject either. I'm not sure exactly what I was expecting out of this meeting, but not much happened. They just confirmed that, yes, Emma has severe mental delays and that we've done a great job advocating for her to get her into a new school with extra help. They don't want to do much now until the fall and see how Emma adjusts to her new school situation.

Well, my fingers are getting tired...that's all for now. :)

Sunday, July 11, 2010

First Night Apart

This past week, we experienced something that we haven't experienced in the last two years...being kidless overnight. And not just one night, but TWO. For our 12th anniversary, Terry and I arranged a night out and a hotel stay at the River Cree Resort in Edmonton. Our reservation was for Monday, so we dropped Emma off at Uncle Chris and Auntie Jo's on Sunday night, with a plan to pick her up on Tuesday after we checked out of the hotel.

I made sure to phone Emma before bedtimes to say good night and each morning to say good morning to see how things were going. For each phone call I got a very excited, "HI MOMMY!" after which Emma would talk for about two minutes and then rush off the phone with a "See you later!" I figured she was having so much fun away from her boring parents that she didn't care to spend time on the phone.

After speaking with Auntie Jo on Tuesday, we all decided that Emma could spend the whole day Wednesday there as well, giving Terry and I more time to wind down after we get home. Emma was cool with that, looking forward to swimming the next day with her cousin.

However, we got a phone call early Wednesday morning from Aunty Jo. Apparently Emma missed her mommy and was ready to come home. She asked Aunty Jo to phone us and ask us to come get her. A quiet day with Terry would have been nice, but actually, mommy was really missing Emma too, so I was pretty excited to go get her. It's amazing how time away from your kids really gives you much more appreciation of them!

Let me tell you, I don't think I've ever seen Emma so excited as when she saw us show up at Auntie Jo's house. She jumped right into my arms and squeezed me so tight all the while squealing with delight. Then it was daddy's turn. And then it was my turn, then daddy's turn....then my turn again. :) I hate to say that I was really quite surprised to get this reaction! Nothing ever really seems to phase Emma, but it appears as though she REALLY missed us!

Tomorrow, unfortunately, is back to work for us. :( I told Emma of this, and she asked me if she was going back to school. I explained to her that she still has six weeks until school and that she'll be hanging out at Auntie Jo's to do LOTs of schoolwork. Emma is quite puzzled by this. She has no concept of time, so telling her she has no school for six weeks means nothing to her. She has just gotten so used to the routine of going to school when we go to work. Hopefully she'll enjoy her time with family and learn lots from her cousin, who apparently has far more patience to teach Emma than we do...thank goodness. :)

On Thursday, we wound down our vacation with a trip to Sylvan Lake, about an hour and a half away. We hadn't been there in years and I forgot what a cool place it is! We had loads of fun at the outdoor waterslides. Emma and I slid all day, while daddy spent the majority of his time sleeping in the sun. Afterwords, we enjoyed the benefits of our new truck...we were able to bring all of our bikes with us to enjoy a bike ride along the lake. It was so much fun!

Waiting to Leave:


Emma Having fun:

Ice Cream....Round 1:

Bike Riding:


Ice Cream...Round 2

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Happy Birthday Canada!!!

Two years ago today, we were killing time in Donetsk wishing we were in Canada. We are SO incredibly blessed to live in such a wonderful country. Canada Day has so much more meaning to us now for many reasons! :):) And today we CELEBRATE!!!

Emma was really excited to go to the parade today. This was her third one, so she knows what we're talking about now when we tell her we're going to a parade. She's still a little freaked out by all the big fire engines, but all the pretty floats and free candy help her overcome that fear a little bit!

After the parade, it was off to the Leduc grain elevator. Can you believe I've lived here almost my entire life and have never been in the grain elevator? It was actually kind of neat to see. Of course, it was of no interest to Emma who doesn't even know what grain is! But the free bouncy house and horse and wagon rides were right up her alley! While the horse and wagon rounded the block, Emma excitedly waved her flag and shouted "Happy Canada Day" to all who passed by.

Tonight we'll keep Emma up way past her bedtime to check out the fireworks show. Not that it really matters. Bedtime has not been adhered to much in the last week since school is over and Terry and I are off work for a couple weeks!

On Monday we went and checked out Emma's new school. We met a few teachers and checked out her classroom, the gym and the library. Emma is VERY excited and kept saying how "awesome" everything was. (That's her new word lately!) She had lots of questions too, like Will there be a bell? Will there be recess? Where are the lockers? This school isn't quite as fancy as her last one, so she's a little bummed that she only gets a cubby hole instead of a locker. But the new playground is "awesome" so that's all that really matters, right?

Until the end of next week, we will enjoy some time off together. This last week has been awesome (ok, I guess I know where Emma picked up that word!) We've spent a lot of time just hangin' out together and playing. Once we go back to work, Terry will be driving Emma to Devon daily to hang out with her Uncle Chris, Auntie Jo and Jade. Emma will get to do lots of playing and swimming with her cousin, but also LOTS of schoolwork so she doesn't lose what she's learned over the past year! (we hope)

Emma's referral to the pediatric developmental specialist was supposed to come to fruition this month, but since we haven't heard from them yet, it looks like she won't get in now till September. Kind of a bummer, as we were hoping to have some sort of suggestions before the new school year started, but at least we know it's still coming early in the school year.

Well, that's all for now folks. To all of our Canadian followers, have a great Canada Day!!!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

MRI and New School

You know, I just don't know where the time goes in between these posts. There are so many days where I have good intentions to sit down in front of the computer to blog, but somehow I get distracted or more important things come along. In fact, the only reason I have found time to post today is because I just got a phone call at work from the school to come pick Emma up due to a collision she had at recess with another kid. She's a little worse for wear and is resting on the couch as I update all of you on our lives.

We finally went in for Emma's MRI a couple weeks ago. It was only a six month wait, which I hear is actually pretty good for an MRI. The whole thing was quite a bit more traumatic than I thought it would be. Beforehand I explained to Emma how she would get a small needle put in her hand where the doctor would give her some medicine to make her sleep. Then they would take a picture of her brain and then she would wake up and we would go to McDonald's. Even though she didn't fully comprehend what was going to happen or why, she had a good idea of what was going to happen and was actually excited about it. She's come to enjoy going to the doctor and even shows us how tough she is for needles and blood tests. She's quite proud that she doesn't cry anymore. The last time I went in for a blood test, she was actually disappointed she wasn't getting one (weird kid!)

So, as I mentioned, she was very excited....until we got there. It was all good when we were changing her into her hospital clothes and the doctor came and explained the procedure for us. However, once it was time for Emma to jump up on a stretcher and was suddenly surrounded by three health care workers, she started to panic. They all made such a big fuss, trying to distract Emma with conversation as they tried to put in the IV. They swarmed around her, ready to pounce at the first sign of her trying to take off. It was quite frustrating to watch as Emma started crying. I knew if there was just one person there to put in the IV and they would just shut up instead of asking her a hundred questions she would have been fine. Finally they let me come in for a hug, but she couldn't be consoled. She was far too scared.

It didn't take long for the drugs to take effect. I don't know if anyone else out there has seen their kids be put out, but it's a little scary! From sitting up, crying uncontrollably to a deadening of the eyes and falling over in a matter of seconds. When she fell over, even though they were empty, her eyes were still open and she was still kicking and fighting uncontrollably. I so wanted to stay with her and make sure everything would go ok, but the nurses insisted I leave and assured me that all of Emma's flailing about was actually a sign that she was sleeping very well. Not at all comforting! I made a mad dash for the washroom so the others in the waiting room wouldn't see my tears spilling over.

The actual MRI didn't take long. It was about fifteen minutes later when they came to get me to tell me Emma was awake. I went in fully expecting to see what I see when Emma wakes up every morning...her happy smiling face. I thought she would be happy that she was all done and excited to leave. I should have known better. Like, duh, she's all drugged up! I came in to find her in a drunken stupor. She was still flailing about uncontrollably and crying non-stop. Still not able to console her, the nurses had me carry her to a private recovery area for the drugs to wear off a little. The next half hour was filled with drama and tears. But soon the drugs were wearing off and Emma asked about McDonald's....that's my girl!

Two days later we got the results. Everything was normal. Figures. Not that I was hoping we would find something wrong. Just wish we could have some clue as to why Emma is the way she is. Now we wait for our referral to a specialized developmental clinic. We're told possibly July for those tests to start. We're hoping to get something on the go before next school year so we might have some insight as to help Emma more. Or possibly qualify for even more help at school.

As far as school is concerned, we have registered Emma in a new school for next year. At this point, she qualifies for division programming. This means she will be pulled out of regular class for reading and math, which will be taught in a smaller classroom with more teachers. Last year the division class had ten kids with three teachers. They will make up a specialized program for Emma, rather than teaching her regular cirriculum. We've heard fantastic things about this program from others. Our only concern is the kids in the class who are a little more behaviourally challenged. We're hoping Emma doesn't pick up any negative behaviours.

We're also in the process of getting Emma registered in an emotional and behavioural outreach program that the school offers. Basically it's for kids who are having social issues. They meet as a group at the school with an outreach worker who teaches them about how to be a good friend and how to treat others. We're hoping this will help Emma with some of the social struggles she's been facing at school this year.

I can't believe another school year is coming to an end! Tomorrow, June 17, will be exactly two years since the day we left Canada for Ukraine. How things have changed since then...especially Emma! Here's a pic taken a couple weeks ago:

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Five Senses

Everyday Emma comes home with a little note in her agenda to let us know what she's learned or special events that are coming up. Today the kids were learning about the five senses, so her agenda had a note for us to ask her about them. It went a little something like this....

"Emma, can you tell me what your five senses are?"

"Yes mommy! Touchin, hearin, seein, smellin and"......(big long pause as she's touching her tongue and thinking really hard)..........."lickin?" :-)