Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Surviving Kindergarten

Kibrom (center, first row) and his classmates discussing seat belt safety with Officer Friendly.

I am happy to report that Kibrom has almost completed his first month in kindergarten. The first two weeks were a tad challenging, in part because I was with him all day at school and quite honestly, I wasn't sure kindergarten was the right place for him. Really, I had no idea how the transition to kindergarten mid-year would go. I tried to keep my expectations low for it is always better to be pleasantly surprised than highly disappointed. Well a month later, after some painful days for both of us, I am grateful that things are going better than expected.

Attending kindergarten as an adult is a downright painful experience! After the first few days, I had strong urges to rip my hair out and start poking my eyes with pointy objects. I didn't want to sit criss cross applesauce, put my hands in my pocket, walk in a straight line, catch a bubble in my mouth, or eat that snack the teacher put on my desk! I have to say teachers have the patience of saints. They deserve more gold stars than they get. I just don't know how they do what they do all day long. Enough about me and my whining; let's talk about Kibrom.

Kibrom has taken to the routines rather quickly. It's a good thing because the school my kids attend has a lot of them! The predictability is actually good for him. In just a few short weeks, he has figured out the ebb and flow to the day. He knows how to take out his red folder, how to walk properly in line, how to ask permission to use the bathroom, and where to put his backpack, lunch, water bottle, etc. He also loves wearing his uniform and has become obsessed with looking sharp. He's always saying, "Mommy, tuck!" when his shirt is hanging out.

His English is also coming along. He says a few words like "please," "thank you," "you're welcome," "excuse you/me," "no," "yes," and "go." He also understands way more than he can say. Of course, at school, he relies on watching the other kids to figure things out. He is a pretty smart boy so he has developed his own way of copying and mimicking his classmates and teachers. He is a good listener and wants to please. He also loves his one-on-one ELL (English language learning) instruction, which thankfully he gets three days a week.

The difficult part of kindergarten is that his academic skills are really that of a preschooler. Unlike most kindergarteners in the U.S., he hasn't spent the last two years learning school skills. He knows some English letters, but not all of them. He can count, but he doesn't yet recognize and write numbers. He can write, but not very well. So the first two weeks at school included discoveries such as learning to use a pair of scissors and figuring out that his glue stick was not a chapstick!

You can imagine that between the language barrier and the lack of certain skills, he is lost during parts of the day. This is a particular problem in the mornings when most of the "academic" work takes place. So what does a bored, active little boy do? Fidget at his desk, sigh a lot, and put his head down in a dramatic fashion. (He has a flare for the dramatic!)

So, we tried an experiment that we hoped would work. After the first week in kindergarten, I called Semira's old preschool to see if they would take Kibrom. We wondered if this would be a better option for him for the remainder of the academic year. It would certainly take the pressure off everyone. Kibrom could play more and sit less.  His kindergarten teachers wouldn't have to work so hard. I wouldn't worry so much.

This is actually kind of a funny story looking back on it. Steve explained to Kibrom that mommy and he would try a new school the next day. He seemed ok with the idea. Unfortunately, it didn't go so well. I thought that as soon as Kibrom saw all the toys and fun things, he would like it. I was convinced that when the kids came in from outside to take off their boots and put on their slippers, he would be game. Instead of joining the other kids, he put on his coat and shoes and stood in the back of the room. As I moved closer to him, he moved further away from me. Then he started to cry and kept crying for the entire hour and a half we were there. He was mad; no, he was pissed off. He told me in Amharic over and over that he wanted to go home. I said no. Finally, I asked if he wanted to go back to his other school. He said yes. He wiped away his tears, zipped his coat, and headed for the door lickety-split.

Kibrom reported to Steve that night that "the new school was not good," but wouldn't tell him why. Later that weekend, the truth came out. He proclaimed it to be a "baby" school. Socially, he acts older than five and views himself as a BIG BOY. That much we knew. Now he was telling us in no uncertain terms, he wants to go the the big kid school with Lily and Semira. So the next day at school, I decided to leave at lunch time. He didn't want me to go, so I told him he was a big boy in front of the other kids. The day after that, I just left. The truth is, he acts better when I am not there. With me, he pretends to be helpless. With others, he acts mature. Go figure!

I had a great meeting with his two kindergarten teachers, the principal, and his ELL teacher a few weeks ago. We have a plan for Kibrom for the rest of the year. We established a set of academic goals for him to work toward. We came up with alternative activities for the morning lessons that were over his head. We discussed his ELL lesson plans. We also discussed how independent he is and how he acts totally different when I am not there.

My kids go to a great charter school. I am so thankful for the full support of his teachers and the principal. They are going above and beyond to make this work for all of us. They assured me that everything would be just fine and it is! Even though the preschool option didn't work out, the experience turned out to be highly beneficial. Kibrom is now very aware that there is an alternative option for school and that he doesn't like that option one bit! Believe it when I say that this brings a huge sense of relief for me!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

What It's Like at Home

Kibrom and Semira hanging out last weekend
Inquiring people want to know what it's like to have Kibrom home. Well, three weeks is not enough to tell you much. Just that the initial transition is hard. Unfortunately, it probably won't get much easier for a while (based on our experiences with Semira). Kibrom's world has been turned upside down. Everything is new...the language, the food, the smells, the people, the weather, the dogs, the routines, etc. It's as if aliens abducted him and took him to their planet! It has to be overwhelming to anyone, never mind a scared, little five year old boy.

So, let's start with the challenges:
  • The most difficult thing to deal with is his sadness. Kibrom can be a very happy little boy. But then a switch flips. He gets this vacant look on his face then starts crying for at least an hour to two hours at a time. It's difficult to watch. It's more difficult to sit there trying to comfort him. And, in truth, it takes the patience of a saint not to lose it yourself. The meltdowns can be triggered by anything, but they usually correspond to when he is tired or overwhelmed. So evenings and late afternoons are tougher to deal with. We are all tired at that point.
  • We have also discovered how difficult it is to figure out if Kibrom is really sad or just not getting what he wants. There is a fine line between providing him comfort and allowing him to run amuck. Sometimes I don't know which side of the fence we should be sitting. His emotional fragility makes it difficult to predict how many normal parent/child interactions will unfold. But we have figured out that he is a bit of a whiner and is used to either people doing things for him or not having to do anything at all. Perhaps that is how it went at his care center. I don't know. But at Chez Prager, the kids need to actually do a little work. Like I tell Lily and Semira all the time, Mom is not your maid. I just don't know how to say that in Amharic:)
  • Ok, so now onto my confession. Going from two kids to three has meant a lot more work. I won't use any of those stupid sports analogies because I don't give a crap about sports. Let's just call it like it is. The dishwasher and washing machine seem to run daily. The food consumed is astonishing! Both Steve and I feel like we are always in the kitchen. There are many more combinations of kid interactions to mediate on a daily basis. Instead of two little birdies chirping "mama" or "papa" at any one time, we now have three in unison all wanting or needing something at that very moment. Unfortunately for me, our house is not big enough to escape any of this. Alone time no longer exists, if it ever did before.

    Mail order injera is a life savor. This stash lasted only about 10 days.
Now onto the good things because you should always end on a positive note.
  • Kibrom is a very loving boy. He likes to play with his sisters and they like him. Overall, he is pretty well-behaved and is a good listener. He is curious and smart. He is open to receiving affection from Steve and me. Overall, I think he is starting to bond with us. I definitely see potential in the long run for him to be a happy, well adjusted little boy.
  • Things are pretty positive regarding communications. Kibrom has already learned some English. He is now asking Steve in Amharic to tell him the English word for something. My Amharic is limited to a handful of key words and phrases while Steve can explain things in more detail. I think this makes Kibrom feel a little more secure about going into new situations. He at least knows what to expect. And he doesn't feel as lonely not speaking English. He is quite chatty with Steve when he needs a real conversation fix. I am sure that Steve's Amharic skills have saved us from having more meltdowns than we have had.
  • Kibrom loves the dogs! This was actually a big surprise. Semira was terrified of them for over a month and that got old fast. It's cold in Wyoming so keeping the dogs separate from the kids is no easy task this time of year.  For that, I am thankful. This could have been another seriously stressful issue to navigate.

Well, so far our transition seems "normal"...

-A lot of work
-Pretty darn tiring 
-A constant ride on the emotional roller coaster

While there are a lot of "firsts" to be thankful for, I can't wait until we are done living in survival mode.

Next up, school time. Kibrom (and I) started kindergarten this week. Now that is another story!

Kibrom and Semira being silly
Kibrom after his first day at school - Eating popcorn and watching "film" as he says.
The little chef