Thursday, September 20, 2012

1, 2,3....School. Getting Them the Help They Need

Fall has arrived and with it, the next school challenges. Many of our FRUA parents have already had your first back-to-school nights. Many of you may be hearing about new issues, or addressing learning or behavior challenges that came out last school year, only to subside over the summer and return with the advent of the new school-year routine. Which brings me to #3:

 #3 Get them the help they need....It doesn't take an expert to tell us that our kids can be complicated and they don't come with instruction manuals. Just when we've got one problem figured out, something else can pop up.  With each challenge we had, we tried to get the help needed at the time. That's what we parents do; get them the help they need  as we go, to help them reach their potential, whatever level that may be.

Many of you may be facing your first IEP meetings for your children.  For the first few years, we found it helpful, as FRUA-Wisconsin parents, to accompany each other to those meetings and continued that with FRUA-Colorado parent support. Not only did it give us a person on our side to take notes during those tense meetings, but it provided confirmation of our points. Often the other FRUA parent could second the things we had to say about the environments from which our children had come and the typical behaviors of post-institutionalized children. They could support our suggestions for classroom or instructional needs. (Note to parents: I learned NEVER to advocate as something only my child needed...a sure way to get shot down. Instead Ilearned the language of  "this could help the whole classroom learn better." Or..."this suggestion could help all the children understand the concept better."). I didn't shy away from saying I'd put in parent volunteer time, either.  My chosen location: the study library - an hour or two a week. As a working mom, I knew those hours were more beneficial to my kids than lunch out and it let my daughter see that I supported her perseverance.

Not all the issues we confronted were connected; sometimes we had three things going at once. We'd try to figure out what was going on and which issue to address first. Usually the safety things came first. Sometimes those we consulted didn't agree. Or because of the IEP, we found that the school could only provide support for a secondary issue because that's where the funding is these days. We kept plugging away. But here's the thing we can loose sight of while trying to get our kids the help they need. We're the experts – the ones who know our kids better than anyone else with initials behind their names. If you think something isn't right...change something, pursue answers, persist. Don't wait, because our kids surely don't.

So as we bring you the third of the three things that every adoptive parents needs to practice...for the days when it all just seems to be too much....just remember. Its' 1...2...3... love them, stop helicoptering and get them the help they need to reach their potential.

Here's to a successful school year for all our FRUA children,

Jan Wondra
Vice Chair
National Board of Directors
Families for Russian and Ukrainian Adoption

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

1,2, 3....School. Stop Helicoptering

By now the back packs have been adjusted, the new school bus pick-up spots begin to become routine, and pics of the first day of school have been posted to your Facebook  page. You may be anticipating the first school Parent Night of the year.

No matter the age of one's children, hope for a great school year is riding high. We're on the other end of the school years at our house; it happens so quickly. Our daughter, Katie (Russia, 1994) has begun her senior year at Colorado State University; doing well in her major, and deep into presidential leadership of her chapter of Chi Omega sorority. Our son is a married, second-year grad student at Johns Hopkins SAIS in Washington DC. He's not beyond asking the occasional piece of advice, but capable of authoring policy pieces that I often need a dictionary to understand.

It is at precisely this point in the school year when I used to write the following two words on a sticky note and slap it on my bathroom mirror:

#2. Stop helicoptering.  

Let your kids make some mistakes, the earlier the better. We can't save them from everything. No matter if your kids are eight or eighteen, challenged, or average or brilliant, adopted or biological, there comes a point when we have to back up and let them fall. Failure at a young age is OK.  Say this out loud, moms and dads. "Failure at a young age is OK." 

This is true, not just because we're here to help them through it, but because it can help make our kids more resilient. We get to say, “Well, pick up and try again.” We can say that because of #1 (below). As adoptive parents, we know our kids can come with more than their share of challenges. Showing them how to keep trying...and trying...and trying... is a gift. In a past blog post, I shared the story of how Katie's kindergarten teacher and I cooked up a spelling word challenge. She learned to spell the word 'perseverance' at age five as a sing-song; the word itself teaching her its meaning and how to put it in practice. It's still her word. 

Attending freshman parent orientation at CSU four years ago, I actually heard a mother express concern to the head of student services that her son would not wake up for classes and what would the university do to assure that he made it to class. The Dean stared at her for a moment and said "Madam, if you have not taught your son that it is his own responsibility to show up for class by this time, perhaps he needs to understand the consequences."

Parent nights are coming, folks....slap that sticky note on your mirror. Then pick a word for the school year and create a partnership with your kids' teachers...its time for some lessons! This weekend...#3.

Jan Wondra
Vice Chair
National Board of Directors
Families for Russian and Ukrainian Adoption 

Friday, August 31, 2012

1, 2, 3, its school...again.

The long, hot summer is over.

The months have sped by, though the thermometer is still registering record-setting temps. Many of the western and mid-west states headed back to classes a few weeks ago and the eastern seaboard will follow within a week or two. If you're like our family, we're officially transitioning from summer pool time, holiday celebrations and road trips, back into the routines of the next season. Parent after parent with whom I speak expresses some version of ... “I really don't know where the weeks went.” Whether your children are just entering school, are in high school, or heading out the door to college, I believe there are three things that we parents must do each year to help them reach their potential. These are true no matter what combination of adopted and/or biological kids for which we care, no matter their ages, their development stage, or their perceived abilities. Today.....

 #1. Love them and believe in them. I know this seems obvious, but there are days and seasons when our kids go through stages where they aren't the most lovable. There are dark times when we can't see the way forward. Times when we want to walk into a closet and close the door and let someone else handle the tantrums and reading comprehension challenges and medical issues. It doesn't hurt to remind ourselves that love is for the long term. Love....endures....As their parents, if we don't believe in our kids, no one else is likely to.

A sense of humor was invaluable. I found that quoting from joke books and favorite sayings could diffuse some ridiculous situations. (A favorite was “Really important stuff my kids have taught me,” Copeland Lewis.) The day I read "Some weeks you really need Saturday on a Wednesday" I knew I"d found a soul mate. I turned the page and read " As long as you don't look ahead in the workbook you can make it through today's lesson." For the days when it all just seems to be too much, remember 1,2,3. Tomorrow....#2.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mothering a Motherless Child.

As the mother of an adopted child, it took years for me to understand what it is like to be a motherless child. When I did, I understood a lot more about my daughter and even more about the role we adoptive mothers fill in helping our children get on in this world. So this Mother's Day, a moment to consider our own mothers. It's been four years since the last Mother's Day I spent with my Mother.

There was that small matter of living 1,500 miles apart and the fact that the special day falls during what must surely be one of the busiest month of the year for mothers. What with school projects and field trips and final concerts, busy soccer seasons, exams, Memorial Day and graduations all crammed into a few weeks, we mothers can get that crazed look in our eyes trying to juggle everything. That year I managed to board a plane with my leg practically in traction, three broken bones between my knee and my ankle; netting me a first class seat because I couldn't bend my leg.

While my son had already moved on to college and international adventures, I hated being away from my then, 16-year-old daughter; the first Mother's Day that we hadn't shared since we brought her home from Russia. But I longed to sit at my Mother's table and talk with her over cups of coffee and fresh-baked cookies. I longed to be mothered. Our regular phone calls and rare (at least on my part) letters just did not fill the void. Only time with her would do it.

As it turns out, it was her last Mother's Day. She died quite suddenly the following August. Having lost my father four years earlier, I expected to grieve, recover and move on. I did not expect the waves of grief, the unrelenting emptiness, the heavy spot in my chest,which felt as though someone had ripped out my heart. I certainly did not expect, at my age, to feel so lonely, so defenseless, so abandoned. Then one day came the shock of truth: “So this is what a motherless child feels like.”

With that simple truth, I understood in the most profound way the depth of hurt, the primal loss, that our adoptive children can experience, even as we give them love and everything else we believe they need. I can only speak for me, but my connection to my mother was the basis for understanding who I am. If a grown woman can experience such grief, how much more overwhelming is it for a child who cannot even articulate the intense emotions of loss engendered by her background. No wonder her grief came out in so many other ways. Beginning with the hilarity generated at her first sleep-over, when at age six, our daughter announced to her little friends that “I wasn't born, I was adopted,” our daughter progressed through the typical stages of questions about her heritage and her birth mother.

Like so many of our preteens and teens, she stewed for months before she got up the courage to ask; when she turned 18, would we help her try to find her birth mother? In a single moment I knew she was owed reassurance; “Yes, of course, we can try when you want to.” But the other part of me had been crushed. I was her mother! Me! And I had waited so long for her. Now, years later, the topic has not yet concerned her again. No search has begun. Since providing her with the assurance she needed, she has lived into the love offered and for now, has moved past the motherless child stage. So have I. Happy Mothers' Day!

Jan Wondra,
Vice chair, FRUA National Board of Directors

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

An Overview of FRUA Scholarship Applicants.

Spring is in the air in most parts of the country, and that means that the annual Scholarship Program of Families for Russian and Ukrainian Adoption (FRUA) is well underway. Most of you know that to apply, applicants must come from current, paid FRUA member families. The FRUA National Board is excited about our applicant pool in this, the fourth year of our scholarship program.

With the application deadline now closed, FRUA has received 27 applications for scholarships in three categories: high school seniors, current post-secondary students, and children of chapter leaders. This year award amounts are $1,500 and $1,000 for two high school seniors, $1,000 for a post-secondary student, and $500 for a child of a chapter leader.

The applicant population is broader this year than in previous years. While the vast majority of applicants were adopted from Russia, several were adopted from Ukraine and, in a first for our scholarship program, we received applications from children adopted from Moldova. All totaled, 22 applicants were adopted from Russia, three were adopted from Ukraine, and two applicants were adopted from Moldova.

Another notable difference this year is the ratio of male to female applicants. In previous years, most applicants were male. This year, we received 16 applications from young women and 11 from young men. Student applicants hailed from 16 different states coast-to-coast. Four applications came in from Pennsylvania, three from Michigan and Virginia, two from California, Colorado, South Carolina, and Wisconsin, and single applications came in from Illinois, Maine, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, New Mexico, Ohio, and Tennessee. The number of applications submitted in 2012 (double the 2011 total) and the variety of states from which applications were submitted suggest that word about our scholarship program is spreading! To help spread the word even more, please consider telling your high school guidance counselor about this scholarship opportunity.

FRUA’s National Board of Directors Scholarship Committee looks forward to reviewing the applications in the coming weeks and selecting recipients in mid-May. As in previous years, the applicants are incredibly impressive young adults!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The FRUA Scholarship Program for our Adopted Children -- Application Deadline is March 17th

As the mother of a tenth grader, I am keenly aware that soon I will be knee-deep preparing my son for educational opportunities beyond high school. Like many typical 15-year olds, my son’s interests and life-goals are constantly in flux. One week, he wants to be an engineer. The next week, he wants to be an architect. At other times, the discipline and rigor of the military appeal to him. Thus, we are still discussing whether he will attend a four-year college, start his post-secondary education at community college, or perhaps join the military before entering college. Regardless of the path he chooses, financing his education will be a major challenge for my family.

That why I am so excited about the Famililes for Russian and Ukrainian Adoption (FRUA) Scholarship Program! This program was specifically designed to address the needs of our member families, many of whose internationally adopted children will continue their education after finishing high school. Like many available scholarships from other organizations, our program asks applicants to provide information about their academic, community, volunteer, and extra-curricular activities. Unlike those other scholarships, however, our program is neither needs-based nor solely academic performance-based. Instead, we seek to consider the whole child and his or her adoption experience. We ask students to provide an essay describing how their adoption and their involvement in FRUA have helped shape their lives.

Over the past three years, applicants have submitted incredibly touching, poignant essays describing how they overcame obstacles in their young lives and how their adoption experience influenced their lives in so many ways. Each year, the members of the FRUA scholarship committee are deeply touched by the thoughts, emotions, and experiences these talented and thoughtful young adults have shared. And each year, we look forward to reviewing applications, learning about your children and their struggles and accomplishments,and awarding scholarships to selected recipients.

If your child is interested in pursuing post-secondary education at college/university, community college, or a trade/technical school, please consider the FRUA scholarship as a tool for helping fund his or her educational dreams. Encourage your children to finalize their applications, collect their letters of recommendations, and write their essays.

Go to for forms and scholarship requirements. But DON’T DELAY - applications must be postmarked to FRUA by March 17, 2012!!

Sue Gainor
National Board of directors
Families for Russian and Ukrainian Adoption