While Izabela and Mommy were in Poland, Dante and Daddy had learned to fend for themselves. Dante began attending Bellevue Children’s Academy two weeks into the school year. His teachers, Ms. Miller and Ms. Sundberg, later recounted that they were anxious about how much he was missing during those two weeks and were worried that he would have a hard time catching up. But Dante “blew [them] away with what he already knew”. He quickly developed friendships with all of his classmates, especially with Evan, Anne, Emily and Ronald. These friendships seem to have lasted the entire year.
Mommy had heard about BCA from a Micronews encounter the previous year and had found herself impressed by the standards and requirements of the school. Dante was interviewed and “tested” in February, 2007 and had been accepted, and even though Mommy felt Monroe Montessori was an excellent school in general, Dante indicated he wasn’t feeling quite challenged enough. BCA seemed to strike the perfect match between fun and learning suited to Dante’s style. He even enjoyed doing the 20 pages of homework each week.
Izabela, as expected, had a hard time readjusting to Daddy and Dante. She had bonded so firmly with Mommy that when she found herself in yet another unfamiliar environment, she became completely unwilling to socialize with anyone. She frowned at strangers and reverted to being extremely timid and clingy. It took a good month before she finally started running to the door to greet Daddy when he came home from work.
When Mommy and Izabela came home, Dante and Daddy’s finely tuned routine was, of course, thrown off course. It took a couple of weeks before things settled to a pattern everyone could be happy with. Dante was also taking ballet with tap at Duvall Performing Arts, gymnastics at Northwest Aerials twice a week, and FasTracKids.
Our typical day looked like this:
Occasionally Mommy, Dante and Izabela visited Ciocia Tina, Agnieszka and Mikolaj after gymnastics. Ciocia Tina’s home is an ideal environment for the kids as they get fed home made Polish and Mexican delights and the kids’ ages are parallel to Dante and Izabela’s. It was amusing to see Agnieszka picking up and dragging Mikolaj around, followed by Dante doing the same thing to Izabela. Both toddlers weren’t altogether happy at their predicament, though it was clear that Mikolaj was far more used to this kind of treatment. We also visited numerous other people to properly introduce Izabela, including Ciocia Marzena and Misia, Ciocia Agnieszka and Veronika, Ciocia Magda, Marta and Marcin, Ms. Jean and Bobby, and of course, Grandma Sandy and Grandpa Chuck (who had only met her briefly in the airport). We were not able to spend any time with Baba Yaga, however, as she had to leave for Poland (until January) almost immediately after we arrived back in the US.
The biggest event in October was Halloween. The whole family went to the corn maze again and Dante picked out our pumpkin there. He designed this year’s jack o’ lantern face himself, though he employed Mommy’s carving skills. For his costume, Dante decided he simply must be a Mummy. Mommy mummified him appropriately for trick or treating at Microsoft. He looked very scary, especially with the facial make up, which was exactly how he wanted it. Mommy found an adorable Bee costume for Izabela, who enjoyed learning about gathering candy from Dante, but found herself most happy when munching on chicken nuggets provided by the Microsoft caterers.
At the beginning of November, Izabela was subjected to a great deal of medical testing. Mommy took her to Dante’s pediatrician, who ordered a whole barrage of urine, stool and blood tests, which in theory are required of children who have gone through international adoption. Unfortunately, due to some miscommunications on the part of the clinic where they were collecting the blood and the inexperience of a young nurse, the poor little one had an enormous amount of blood drawn for her age all in one go. Mommy was appalled. Thankfully all of the results were normal, though the doctor did want to increase her iron intake.
Dante, who started coughing in Poland and didn’t seem to stop after coming home, had also gone to see the pediatrician in October. Uncertain as to the cause of his cough and suspecting childhood asthma, the doctor put him on Singulair for 30 days. The idea behind this plan of action was that if the cough went away while he was on it, and then came back after he stopped taking it, we would know that he did indeed have asthma. If there was no change, or if the cough went away and then did not return, then he probably had a long lasting respiratory cold or was allergic to something in the Polish air. As it takes almost 2 weeks for the drugs to fully infiltrate the body, it took some time for us to make the connection between Dante’s shift in behavior and the chemicals. It turned out that the Singulair made him quite hyper, unable to focus, and very irritable. As Dante is naturally very active it is hard to imagine him “hyper”. Once we identified the problem (partly thanks to his teacher’s concern at BCA) and stopped giving Dante the Singulair, it took about another week or so for him to return to his normal level of activity. And thankfully the cough did not return.
At first Dante frequently woke up on the weekends asking if he could go to school that day. But eventually he discovered that on weekends he could wake up early and go play with Izabela in her room. Mommy would leave out bananas for them and Dante would feed Izabela and then put (too many) toys into her crib to entertain her. This activity was very useful in providing Mommy and Daddy with a couple additional hours of much needed sleep.
Dante continues to love school. He seems to be thriving in the highly academic environment. He especially enjoys math, as it presents more of a challenge to him. As he is so far ahead in reading, the curriculum is somewhat dull to him still. Every day the children spend two minutes in the morning taking an English and Math test referred to as a “timing”. During English timings they must read a certain set of items in one minute. The year begins with letter identification, goes on to consonant and vowel blends and 45 timings later ends with some fairly long and complicated word sets. Every time they “pass” a timing, they get to go on to the next one in the series the next day. If they don’t succeed, they get to try again the next day and the teacher keeps track of their progress. In math, the timings consist of verbally answering math problems starting with number identification and progress on to basic one digit addition, in which the concentration is on “combinations” such that children internalize that numbers can be made via the addition of pairs of numbers (for example, the combinations of 6 are 6+0, 5+1, 4+2, 3+3, 2+4, 1+5, 0+6). The combinations timings are subtly presented as algebra problems (4 + ? = 6). Each timing initially has 24 such problems that must be answered in one minute. After they complete combinations up to 10, the math timings continue with progressively more difficult addition and subtraction problems and eventually go up to even more advanced problems in later grades including multiplication, division, and basic algebra.
At first, Mommy and Daddy were both a trifle worried about how Dante would react to timings. He had a tendency to despise computer games in which he was timed and being given a time limit to finish an activity (like clean up) was extremely painful to him. So we were surprised when he seemed to find the timings extremely rewarding. He was proud of his achievement and loved to get into the car with a big grin on his face every time he passed a new timing sheet. The English timing sheets came home almost every day and in general the only thing standing in his way was his general inability to stand still! He would lose time unnecessarily by fidgeting, scratching, giggling, thumping his fingers on the teacher’s desk, etc. He would then be “surprised” that he didn’t have enough time when clearly he knew the material, would be furious at himself, and would pass the next day with the help of his homeroom teacher (and also the math and science teacher), Ms. Miller, who developed a mantra for him to “stand up straight, hands at your sides, and no fidgeting”. The Math timings were a bit further apart as we had certainly never considered presenting Dante with the “combinations” approach to math. But strangely enough, he found them more fulfilling.
Homework is also an interesting phenomenon. Dante has long been familiar with the concept of doing workbook pages at home. Homework consists of 10 pages of math and 10 pages of English each week. He tends to do them 5 pages at a time over the course of 4 days. He always starts with the math packet, and he usually does the hard “interesting pages” first within a few minutes. He leaves the “boring” coloring pages for last, which can take an hour to finish. You may remember Dante’s earlier minimalist tendencies in the field of fine art; Dante continues to have no interest in “coloring”. Using the required coloring pencils instead of crayons or markers means coloring takes even longer than usual and he has little patience for it. He frequently scribbles a color in approximately the right location on the page and then moves on to the next scribble. No amount of cajoling, threatening, praising or bribing results in better results. Surprisingly enough, however, while coloring is anathema, drawing is not, and Dante has begun to draw people, flowers, and houses. This seems to be the result of observing Izabela, who adores “drawing”. At one point in FasTracKids, Izabela scribbled all over a piece of paper while we were waiting for class to begin, and Dante proudly brought her work to Ms. Uzma saying “look, my sister is an artist!”
Unsurprisingly, at the first parent-teacher conference, Mommy was not shocked to hear that “while [Dante] finishes his work quickly and accurately in most cases, anything that involves coloring takes forever to get done." She was, however, completely astounded to learn that “Dante has the best handwriting of any left handed child we have ever seen at this age." And predictably, Dante “likes to test the limits of acceptable behavior, which is normal for this age. He adapts well to who he is working with as all the kids have different temperaments. Unfortunately, Evan is also very naturally active and they feed off each other; we have to keep them separated in class and in line but are trying to give them opportunities to interact at times and places (such as recess) where they can work off their energy constructively."
To aid in behavioral discipline, BCA has a method by which every child starts out the day “green”. One behavioral infraction shifts an individual to “yellow”, and two to “red”. They must personally move their name card from the green to the yellow to the red designated pockets, so anyone walking past the room knows if you have been “bad or good”. At the beginning of the year, the policy used to be that if the entire class “stayed green”, they would receive 2 stickers on a special chart, and if anyone went yellow or red, there would be no stickers. The completion of the 100 sticker chart would earn them a special class reward in the form of an educational movie or puppet show of some kind. Dante soon explained to me that "so, if Evan goes yellow, I don't have to be careful and can go yellow anyway, because it is not my fault the whole class doesn't get a sticker and it makes no difference". I reported this to Ms. Miller. She laughed and they changed the rules. Now the class receives two stickers for every day everyone stays green, one sticker if one person goes yellow, and no stickers if someone goes red or if two people go yellow. The new rules appear to work a bit better though it still does seem that most days if Evan hasn’t gone yellow, then Dante has!
On November 14th, Mommy spent half the day in the Social Security Office trying to get Izabela a Social Security Number. When they arrived in the US, an immigration officer informed Mommy that the Visa in her EU-Polish passport was Izabela’s “Proof of Citizenship” until her Naturalization Certificate would magically show up in the mail. In theory the certificate would show up “within a year, but usually much sooner”. Unfortunately, the Social Security Office was not willing to accept the Visa as proof of citizenship, but only as permanent resident status. So we had to restart (on the agent’s computer) the process for getting the social security number as a permanent resident. Once we were fully immersed in that process, the agent discovered that according to Immigration’s computer database, Izabela’s status was actually “citizen”, not “permanent resident”. But we didn’t have the naturalization certificate to prove it, and apparently the Immigration database information was not “proof”. The agent laughed at the absurdity of the situation, but said that the good news was that most likely Izabela’s naturalization certificate was in the mail and would arrive imminently. But she continued the process for a permanent resident, saying that if the naturalization certificate showed up we should come in at once, as that would mean we could get the SSN without continuing to wait for the 4 weeks for permanent resident status verification.
Convinced Mommy’s Jeep was soon going to turn into a pumpkin and to get away from the chaos of the kids, Mommy decided to bond with Grandpa Chuck at the Seattle Car Show. After playing with all the various large family vehicles, they narrowed the search down to a handful of SUVs, some of which Mommy and Daddy test drove on weekends (with the munchkins in tow) over the following weeks. They finally settled on an Acura MDX and began the search for one with the trim and all of the options they were interested in.
While Baba Yaga was in Poland, work began on her bookshelves, which she had been waiting for what seemed like forever. We employed Kenis Loven Construction to do the job, and although they were certainly not the cheapest solution, we were very happy with the job they did. Her living room was slowly being transformed into quite an elegant space.
Meanwhile, Baba Yaga finished editing her father’s book, Mommy finished editing the pictures for it and creating the cover and it was finally published. You may purchase a copy of “Wspomnienia i refleksje 90(prawie) latka” (Memories and reflections of a 90 (almost) year old) at http://www.mybook.pl/6/0/bid/113. Proceeds from the sales go to the Muszyna Almanac Scholarship Fund.
Mommy and Daddy spent their remaining waking hours doing “fall cleaning”, mostly so that Daddy could reacquaint himself with the contents of the house, but also so that we could purge a great deal of the unnecessary mess in each room. Life was very hectic in preparation for the holidays.
Simultaneously, Izabela began taking Kindermusik (with Ms. Allison!) and Gymboree classes this month. She seems to truly enjoy the classes, though she is still very wary of the teachers and other kids. It is clear that her physical prowess is not up to par in comparison to other children her age, but she seems to be making good use of the opportunity to exercise her gross motor skills. She is unsure of whether to like bubbles or not. She perks up every time we head towards Redmond Town Center (“Imbo?”, she always asks as she still can’t say “Gymboree”), where the classes are located, and seems to look forward to them. As she learns the patterns of the classes, she participates more and more. Her English is expanding in both understanding and verbal communication. She can now say “up”, “down”, “please”, “more”, “car” and a variety of other single words. She has become comfortable with Chris and Dante again, whom she adores “on her own terms”. In true female fickle fashion she teases Dante mercilessly and the poor boy doesn’t know when she really does want him to tickle/chase/hug her and when not. Similarly, Dante has little understanding when it comes to his own boyish wrestling so the house alternates between being filled with squeals of happy laughter to screams of terror or frustration.
Unfortunately, Grandma Sandy’s father was recently diagnosed with liver cancer and he had an operation right before Thanksgiving. She thus spent the holiday in Spokane, while Grandpa Chuck came over for turkey at our home. He brought his famous and highly fattening yams as well as some pie to add to our spread. Izabela loved the turkey and the yams the most. Dante was thrilled to see Grandpa and showed off new gymnastics moves, his school work, his homework and his report card. Izabela began getting accustomed to Grandpa and even let him pick her up a few times. We missed Grandma Sandy, but all in all it was a joyous end to the month and we had a lot for which to be thankful.
December continued the holiday chaos begun in November and was supplemented by what is now turning into “the usual freakish weather”.
Izabela caught something right after Thanksgiving. Her only real symptom was a high fever (103.5) and lethargy. She tired very easily and very quickly after getting up and basically self medicated with sleep. So we let her sleep 17 hours a day, tried to keep her well hydrated, which, for once, she was amenable to, and kept her fever down with Tylenol. To our surprise she returned to normal on the third day!
That is when it started snowing. It didn’t snow too much, but enough to let the kids sled down our gravel driveway a bit. Izabela wasn’t so sure about the whole snow experience.
As soon as the snow melted, Izabela’s Naturalization Certificate arrived. So off Mommy and Izabela went to the Social Security Office in Bellevue. Unfortunately the computer wouldn’t allow us to amend the status from permanent resident to citizen for some odd reason, so we had to start the whole process ALL OVER AGAIN. But in theory, her SSN card would arrive in about 2 weeks (which it did). We wanted to have this bit of paperwork completed so that we could set up a 529 GET account for her (Dante’s is already maxed out).
We managed to get this out of the way before the flood waters arrived. It took Dante over an hour and a half to get to school one day, and in general we did far too much driving in order to bypass flooded bridges and such.
But thankfully the waters receded quickly, just in time for Izabela’s appointment with a cardiologist at Children’s Hospital in Bellevue to finally determine the status of her heart condition. Amazingly enough, the VSD had closed up and was no longer even visible! The 15 mm ASD defect itself was technically still present, but her heart had grown an aneurismal flap which covered the hole, normalizing the size of the chambers, equalizing the pressure between them, slowing down the blood flow between the two sides, and returning her heart to completely normal function! Thus, no surgery would be necessary and the doctor gave her the ok to participate in “whatever extreme sports she may desire”. He indicated that, if anything, exercise would be good for her heart. He wants to see her again in two years to check on the flap, but mostly because he is curious. So a big weight was lifted from our minds and hearts.
The whole family went for its ritual annual eye doctor appointment. Izabela’s eyes appeared to be fine, though apparently they get red because she is still dehydrated and doesn’t blink enough. The doctor saw Izabela cry (she didn’t want to put her forehead against the machine) and was amazed at how little she teared. So we need to keep getting more liquids into her. At least now she drinks water (no juice!) and has started to drink some milk.
And finally, everyone also went to the dentist. He examined Izabela’s short upper frenulum, which causes a gap between her two top front teeth and which very cutely matches Dante’s similarly sized gap, and informed us that we should not attempt to surgically correct this until Izabela is at least 8, at which point it may actually be quite unnecessary. Izabela still only has 12 teeth (she is still missing her canines!) and the teeth she has are quite small. The dentist assured us that for the time being we should not be alarmed. Her toothless condition seems to at least partly explain her dislike of many new foods which require proficiency in chewing. She will, like her house-mate Veronika in Poland, keep food at the roof of her mouth endlessly if she dislikes it or is unable to chew it.
Unfortunately, Izabela has basically had a clear runny nose since August that comes and goes without warning. We think we are dealing with allergies but aren’t sure exactly to what, but her runny nose frequently seems to be correlated with foods she doesn’t like. She prefers meat of any kind and bananas to pretty much any other foods. She still eats formula with Gerber cereal in the morning (but so much of it that one box lasts about a week, not like when infants eat it!) She seems almost definitely allergic to tomatoes and berries. Tomatoes give her intestinal difficulties and berries make her nose run like a faucet. Other things also make it run, but we haven’t been able to figure out what, exactly. Walking into Gymboree makes it run as well. Sometimes it runs when we visit in other people’s houses. It seems to be reasonably dry at home, though. We are planning on seeing an allergist if the symptoms continue. In the meantime, as she doesn’t seem to be bothered by it, we are not letting her runny nose hamper her activities.
Izabela’s language skills are still sorely lacking, but almost all the words she has chosen to say are actually in English. Her vocabulary is slowly expanding and she has started calling herself “Beya” since she can’t say Ls yet and she is still pretty limited to 2 syllables at a time. She is intrigued with trying to put on her shoes (“booti” - in Polish “buty”). She doesn’t wear socks much because it is cold enough that she really needs warm tights but she calls socks and tights “carpetki” (should be “skarpetki”) which is “socks” in Polish and is her only 3 syllable word. Mommy had to work very hard to get her to learn to say “Daddy” (instead of “Dada”) and “Mommy” (instead of “Mama”). For the longest time she was simply unable/unwilling to combine two syllables with different vowels.
At this point Izabela can almost run reasonably well, and is getting quite good at stairs while holding the handrail. Her gross motor skills are visibly improving with each Gymboree class.
Some of you may remember the immense difficulties we were having with Earthlink as our Satellite Internet provider since right before leaving for Poland. Daddy finally gave up and decided we needed a change, so on December 20th the Hays family became customers of HughesNet. So far there haven’t been any problems and we are actually impressed with the reliability of the service in comparison.
It was a good Christmas present for us. This was our first Christmas as a family of 4 and it was a very special one. We had purchased our tree pretty early in December, but on the last day of a U-cut sale, so we managed to get a beautiful and tall noble for half price. Dante dressed it with Mommy way past his bedtime and it glowed with hope and happiness throughout the rest of the month. On Christmas morning Dante woke up early to check if Santa had come and filled the stockings. Sure enough, the new Hays Family Stockings were full of interesting goodies, including a toy cell phone and chocolates for Izabela and growing animal capsules, Chapstick, silly blinking glasses and gum for Dante. The cell phone and the Chapstick were the biggest hits. We spent the rest of Christmas morning opening family presents at home. Izabela had a great time learning how to rip paper off of her gifts. It was wonderful to see her smiling as she played with her new toys. Even Dante had gotten her some special gifts. Amidst his plethora of presents, Dante received a Leapster along with several games, which made him immensely happy. Mommy received a Nikon SB 800 AF Speedlight for her camera, which made her quite ecstatic.
Yet Christmas is not the end of the holiday chaos, because it is immediately followed by Dante’s Birthday. Dante, quite excited to be as big as a “whole hand”, once again requested a birthday party at Jump Planet. This time he wanted a dinosaur theme and Mommy and Daddy were hard pressed to make up a dinosaur-related treasure hunt game on top of putting together dinosaur-filled goody bags and ordering a dinosaur cake. The game ended up quite fun, as Daddy pretended to be a “safari hunter from the Outback” and MC’ed a dinosaur hunt in which the kids had to search the premises for a dinosaur footprint with their name on it. When they recovered their footprint, they were then able to pick out a dinosaur that they had “hunted down” which was in the form of either a rather large blow up dinosaur or a smaller plastic one. There were very many different kinds of dinosaurs to choose from, so the kids all went home with reasonably unique souvenirs. The dinosaurs were originally supposed to all be of the blow up kind, but somehow in the midst of the holiday chaos only 12 blow up dinosaurs showed up, rather than 24. In any event the variety worked out reasonably well. The biggest hit of the party was, without a doubt, the totally amazing stegosaurus cake made by Cathy Porter.
On New Year’s Eve, the Hays family celebrated with small fireworks in front of their home. Izabela was both terrified and entranced. She couldn’t decide between “All Done” and “More” (“Moot”, the way she pronounces it), but we stuck to fountains, which are our favorites anyhow, and did quite a few of them. Dante, a seasoned veteran, made up for her hesitancy with his own enthusiasm.