"For in you the orphan finds mercy." - Hosea 14:3

Friday, July 18, 2014

Learning From Legos

One of the major areas I have been working with Cava on is in the area of self-defeat. This is a struggle that comes from having spent eight years of his life never being told he was smart or talented or of value. He has spent eight years either hearing nothing positive about himself or being told he cannot do something. This self-defeating attitude pops up every time he tries something knew and finds the task difficult. Much of this difficulty comes from the fact that he wants whatever he's working on to look exactly like the example he sees whether it be in a book, online, on the packaging or in school. For me, I am trying to help him understand that his doesn't have to look like someone else's, that it doesn't have to be "perfect" because nothing we create ever will be, and that what is inside of him is special and unique.

Recently, Cava has shown an interest in Legos. He doesn't have very many so his options for building are limited, still he limits himself because he only wants to build what is shown in the instructions, very much like Emmet in one of Cava's favorite films The Lego Movie. Cava is very much an Emmet in that he had never heard that he is "the most talented, most interesting, and most extraordinary person in the universe" and that he is "capable of amazing things" because he, like Emmet, is "the Special." That can take its toll on anyone and make them very angry. It also means they have low self-esteem, poor self-image, and struggle with anyone telling them that they are special or loved.

When I asked Cava to build something with his Legos using only his imagination, he became frustrated and angry. "I can't do it!" he declared and stormed out of his room.

After calming him down, I looked him directly in the eyes. "Are those Lego bricks smarter than you?"

He just stared at me blankly.

"Are they? Did those Lego bricks read six Magic Tree House books already this summer? Did those bricks get a certificate for reading from the library and was one of the first to do it? Did those bricks create all the crafts that you have this summer? Or have any of those bricks put together even one of the puzzles you've put together since you got here?"

Sheepishly, he replied, "No."

"No, they didn't and they can't. And do you know why?"

He shrugged.

"Because they are not as smart as you. So, if they aren't as smart as you, how can they defeat you?  They can't. Cava, there is no right or wrong way to build something with Legos. You just put bricks together however you want. If you like it, great. If you don't, take them apart and start again. But only you can build what you build. Just as with crafts and with drawing, only you see the world the way you see it. You are smart, you are talented, you are special, and you are unique. No one in the whole history of the world is just like you and there will never be another Cava like you. God created you as a one-of-a-kind masterpiece. He made you special. He made you unique."

He nodded but I could tell he was hearing but not listening to me, so I stopped and asked, "Did someone back in Ukraine tell you that you weren't special? That you couldn't do it?"

Sadly, he nodded, "Yes."

"Well, then, are they here now?"


"No, they're not. You know why. We left them back in Ukraine just like you should. Who did we bring home with us?"


"Yes, you. And why did we bring you home with us?"

"Because I'm smart."

"Well, you are smart, but that's not why. We brought you home because we love you. And we love you for being you. Not for being someone else. And despite what anyone else has ever told you, you can do great things if you are willing to try and work hard at it. These things may not be easy at first, but, like the puzzles you love to do, it just means you have to keep working at it until you find where all the pieces fit. Do those pieces just go wherever or do you have to work at finding where they go?"

"Work at it."

"Same with Lego pieces. It's all trial and error. If a piece fits together with another piece and you like it, great. If not, try another. You will be amazed with what you can do. But first you have to get past anything inside you that tells you that you can't, because that is a lie because look at all that you've done already. Look at how much English you have learned in such a short period of time. Look at how well you are reading now. Look at how well you are doing in math. There are so many things you have done, but there are even more things that you are going to do. You will amaze us all."

Sitting him in my lap, I whispered in his ear, "So, what are you?"

Despite the traces of tears still in his eyes, he smiled.

"Well? What are you?"






"Exactly. Is there anyone else like my Cava?"


"Can anyone else build what my Cava can?"


"No, they can't. Not me. Not Mommy. Not Benjamin. Not Chloe . . ."

He laughed at the mention of our dog.

". . . because none of us are you."

I took him back to his room, snatched up the instructions, and told him, "Now let's see what you can build."

Then I left him alone. Sometimes he would come out and ask me to help him put a couple of pieces together that he had a hard time with, but I showed him and let him do even those.

It's a long hard process to get him past the, "I can't do it," stage. He has had years of reinforcement that he is not valuable. We are having to replace that message with one of grace, peace, love, and acceptance. We are having to mirror God to him. As his family, we have to love him and nurture him so that he will see that he is wanted and that he has infinite worth. Just this morning, we went to the store to buy groceries. As we were getting out of the car, Cava started to do a joyous little dance. When I asked him why he was dancing, he replied, "Because God is awesome and He loves me enough to save me." That made me do a joyous dance because I am seeing him, slowly begin to understand the truth after being fed so many lies.

Yes, it is a challenge to get him to see past his past so that he can understand who he really is and to see all the potential that is stored up inside of him, but when he does, even it's momentarily, it is so incredible and makes all of the work worth it. Cava is an incredible, resilient, and amazing kid. He is a gift to us from God because, as we are teaching him, we are teaching ourselves the same lesson.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Withhold Good Things?

Lately, I have been struggling with a verse of the Bible. Like Jacob wrestling the angel, I have prayed and studied and read and reread this verse, but to no avail. The verse is Psalm 84:11, "For the LORD God is a sun and shield; The LORD gives grace and glory; No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly." 

Yet, to my eyes, He does. 

When I look at the emotional, financial, and spiritual costs that adoption takes for those who undertake what they believe God has called them to do (after all, we are reminded time and time again to take care of the fatherless) and yet find themselves without that child or children, I want to point my finger at God and say, "But that's not fair! They followed Your call, why?" Why are there children who are adopted but are stuck in another country? Why does a child who's been adopted but is stuck in a foreign country die? Why do children who have legally been adopted get caught in a political struggle, such as in areas of Ukraine, and their new families cannot return to come and get them to bring them home? Why do some families go to adopt and come home empty handed? How is that not withholding a good thing? 

Being a word nerd, I looked up the word "withhold" and it's definitions are, as follows:
refuse to give (something that is due or is desired by another)
suppress or hold back

How does that definition of withhold fit into a couple or a family desiring to adopt a fatherless child or children? Is that not a "good thing"? Is that not following His word? Then why would God refuse to let so many adoptions from happening? 

As you can see, I am good at questioning. It's one of the reasons I love and identify with the book of Psalms so much because the psalmists lay it all out there, though their questioning always ends in the realization that they just have to trust God.

I struggle with trust. 

Luke 17:6 says, "If you have the faith as small as a mustard seed . . ."

Mustard seeds are typically 1 or 2 millimeters in diameter. To give you an idea of how small that is, here is a visual:

Sometimes I feel that my own faith doesn't even muster up to that. Certainly when I struggle with a verse like Psalm 84:11 because, in my limited perspective, I cannot see or understand why such adoptions don't happen. 

Romans 8:28 tells us, "And we know all things God works together for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose." How does it work together for their good when their hearts are breaking for the child they cannot bring home? 

The great theologian Charles Spurgeon wrote this about Psalm 84:11:
Pilgrims need both as the weather may be, for the cold would smite them were it not for the sun, and foes are apt to waylay the sacred caravan, and would haply destroy it if it were without a shield. Heavenly pilgrims are not left uncomforted or unprotected. The pilgrim nation found both sun and shield in that fiery cloudy pillar which was the symbol of Jehovah's presence, and the Christian still finds both light and shelter in the Lord his God. A sun for happy days and a shield for dangerous ones. A sun above, a shield around. A light to show the way and a shield to ward off its perils. Blessed are they who journey with such a convoy; the sunny and shady side of life are alike happy to them. The Lord will give grace and glory. Both in due time, both as needed, both to the full, both with absolute certainty. The Lord has both grace and glory in infinite abundance; Jesus is the fullness of both, and, as his chosen people, we shall receive both as a free gift from the God of our salvation. What more can the Lord give, or we receive, or desire. No good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly. Grace makes us walk uprightly and this secures every covenant blessing to us. What a wide promise! Some apparent good may be withheld, but no real good, no, not one. "All things are yours, and ye are Christ's, and Christ is God's." God has all good, there is no good apart from him, and there is no good which he either needs to keep back or will on any account refuse us, if we are but ready to receive it. We must be upright and neither lean to this or that form of evil: and this uprightness must be practical,—we must walk in truth and holiness, then shall we be heirs of all things, and as we come of age all things shall be in our actual possession; and meanwhile, according to our capacity for receiving shall be the measure of the divine bestowal. This is true, not of a favoured few, but of all the saints for evermore.

Still struggling and trying to comprehend this verse, I turned to Sir Richard Baker's commentary on this verse:

But how is this true, when God oftentimes withholds riches and honours, and health of body from men, though they walk ever so uprightly; we may therefore know that honours and riches and bodily strength, are none of God's good things; they are of the number of things indifferent which God bestows promiscuously upon the just and unjust, as the rain to fall and the sun to shine. The good things of God are chiefly peace of conscience and the joy in the Holy Spirit in this life; fruition of God's presence, and vision of his blessed face in the next, and these good things God never bestows upon the wicked, never withholds from the godly . . . 


What I'm coming to slowly (picture a snail and a sloth in a race - that's me in this spiritual race) understand is that I may not understand, but God does. He has His purpose and His reasons. It's not easy when we are in the midst of tearful prayers and heart-rending pleading to accept that such things are part of a holy and loving God's plan. The Bible clearly tells us in Romans 8:31 that God is for us. It also tells us that we will experience sorrow and pain and tribulation, but that, in the middle of that, He is still with us. 

So, I will struggle and I will struggle to trust, but I don't stop coming to God. And I will come alongside those who are hurting and struggling and I will be there for them: to listen, the comfort, and to pray with them. And we, together, will learn to trust that a God who loved us so much that He did not spare His own son, truly loves us more than we love Him, and He will always understand us more than we can understand Him, but that we just have to trust that, in the end, all things will work to His glory.

And I'll continue to turn to His word, especially the Psalms. As Psalm 39:7 reminds me, "And now, Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in You."

A song that I have been listening to repeatedly as I have been studying this Psalm was Sara Groves' "Open Hands" 

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Our Day Trip To The Greensboro Science Center

If there's one thing we love it's science centers. One we have been wanting to visit was the Greensboro Science Center with it's aquarium, zoo, museum, and OminSphere theater. Along with our friends the Helms, we made the trek today and, boy, were we glad we did. That place was awesome!

Our first stop was to the Sciquarium as they call it where we went and saw the feeding of the penguins. It was interesting to find out that all of the penguins had on different colored bands but the ones whose bands matched were mated together. Penguins mate for life.

Cava made friends with one.

As did Benjamin and J.D.

Everyone enjoyed touching the stingrays and, even more, watching the sharks, fish, and stingrays in the large tank.

Every time this stingray swam past, I kept expecting him to start singing, "Let's name the zones," like the one in Finding Nemo did.

From there we went to the zoo, though Benjamin had to stop and take a photo with this dilophosaurus to go along with his t-shirt.

But Cava and I were most excited to see the meerkats. Cava kept saying, "Hello, Timon," in reference to the one in The Lion King.

We also enjoyed the lemures . . .

And I even got an alpaca to smile for the camera . . . 

Cava stared down what he called a "tricky goat."

Once we'd been to the petting zoo and we'd seen all the animals (not to mention got tired of the heat), we went back inside to explore the rest of the museum. Benjamin got to be a mad scientist with electricity.

Then it was a trip back in time to the Jurassic period, including seeing a T-Rex . . .

We're too cool to run!

And a Stegosaurus . . . 

There was a room full of rocks, minerals, and geodes. A room for herpatology. And, finally, one called Health Quest where we not only learned all about the human body, but also saw some formerly living ones.

From having gone to many different science museums, we have learned one thing: all roads lead to the gift shop, and this one was no different. The boys picked up lots of things they "needed" and Benjamin even posed for a photo as a T-Rex with his friend the otter.

I got the boys t-shirts that were on sale. Cava's is appropriate: it's a T-Rex running towards you with the words Here Comes Trouble!

We all had a blast and will most definitely have to come back again. As Cava said, "Good times!"

For anyone interested in visiting the Greensboro Science Center, here's a link to their site:

Monday, June 30, 2014

Adoption & The Perfect Child

Adoption is not about getting the perfect child but getting the child God has for you.

This is not an easy fact for some to come to grips with. So often when we go into the process of adoption we have a mental picture of what we want, perhaps even an internal list of what we want in a child. I know I had one. As we did our home study, my wife and I answered what we were and weren't willing to adopt in a child, in regards to their mental, physical, and health attributes. Certainly, foremost in my mind, was the question:

And my answer was a resounding: GIRL!!!

Needless to say, when we met with the SDA and our options were very limited and none of the viable options were a girl, I was disappointed and dejected when I left their office. I was not one of those people who knew instantly when I saw a photo that a specific child was my child. When we drove from Kyiv to the small town where Cava's boarding school was, I wrestled with the image of the child I had in my mind to the reality of the one I would be meeting. The two were not at all the same and, internally, I kept asking God, "Why?" 

Even as we met Cava for the first time, I remember how I felt no connection to this child who so desperately needed love and a family. I sat on the floor and played with him with the toys we'd brought him. I felt sorry for him, but my sympathy did not extend to wanting to adopt him. When we were asked, "Do you wish to adopt him?" I was startled and frightened. How could I answer that question so quickly when we'd just met him? I didn't say that, but, instead asked if our family could go outside the director's office and talk about it. God moved through my son Benjamin and my wife who were both sure that this was our son. If they had not said "YES" I know that I wouldn't have. 

As we spent time with Cava, I still didn't bond with him. 


Because I was still clinging to that child I had in my head, that imaginary, nonexistent child that I wanted to adopt and not this real child who needed us. For me it was a real struggle, of not only letting go of what I wanted but trusting God for what he had for us. Trust is not easy for me and never has been. 

For anyone who's read this blog before might know, it was one day at the boarding school and Cava had climbed up onto one of the bunk-beds in our room and wanted me to catch him. I did, swung him around like a plane, and then held him in my arms like baby. He looked so happy and it was obvious that he deeply needed to be held and loved that at that moment I knew he was my son. 

But he was not and is not the "perfect" child. No child is, but adopted children bring with them their own set of struggles and wounds that will begin to manifest themselves in ways that will challenge the adoptive parents to their limits. I once saw the question, "When your adopted child doesn't fit seamlessly into your life, what do you do?" This is not an easy question to answer. These children are in pain, struggling with being unwanted and unloved. Their stories are painful and full of loss. They may come from neglect or abuse. They may or may not know their parents but they do know they were given up for whatever reason and for any child this is a hard reality to comprehend. 

We adopt these children and bring them home. It takes more than prayers and love to heal them. Sometimes it's not a day by day thing, but a moment by moment one. And there can be moments when it feels like everything is falling apart. What can often make it harder are people outside our families who seem to think that this child should just get over it and be like every other child (this can be especially true of schools). There are days filled with setbacks, frustrations, and sometimes defeat. They can bring chaos that feels more destructive than a tornado or hurricane, leaving behind more than just broken household items. But all of this stems from their hurts and fears and their struggling to feel at peace. When one is in the middle of just such a moment, it can often be hard to see this behavior as a child's acting out because they are hurting. Outbursts, anger, tantrums, and complete breakdowns are often part of this process.

One thing we as adoptive parents have to do is to get past the action to the reason behind the action. This is far from easy and it has tested my patience and my sanity some days. Yet, during those moments that I do, and I allowed Cava to express the anguish and hurt that was in his heart, that was when small steps towards healing really began. 

Yes, he has broken things and he has raged against us. 

There has been aggression both physically and verbally from him. But it is sometimes only through those actions that he could communicate because he had not been taught otherwise. He acted non-verbally because he couldn't say what he wanted to say verbally. I had to get past "me" and see that all of this was not about me but about him. He was telling me that he was scared and he only knew how to respond through chaos. He was his own Thing One and Thing Two running chaotically through our house, upsetting our day, and our "perfect" family. Once more I had to let go of perfection and focus on the child God had given us. 

God gave us Cava not only because Cava needed us but because we needed him. He is part of our family. 

There have been no quick fixes or instant answers. It is a slow and often painful process but through all of pain we have become a stronger and closer family. Through heartbreaks we have often found the greatest break-throughs. 

We have slowly been replacing the poor self-images Cava has had of himself with one of being loved, wanted, and needed. This requires constant reinforcement and the realization that there will always be setbacks but those are not defeats but another moment to grow and to show not only our love to this child, but, more importantly the unconditional love of God. 

For those considering adoption, let go of the idea of adopting the "perfect" child and allow yourself to love the child God has for you. It won't always be easy, but it will always be rewarding. 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

An Artist's Point Of View

"All children all are artists. The problem is how to remain an
artist once he grows up."
- Pablo Picasso

It's interesting that I had to have the exact same conversation with Cava today that I had with Benjamin when he was in elementary school.

Earlier in the day yesterday, we went to the library and Cava checked out a book on how to draw birds and butterflies. He started off very excited about drawing birds.

As he made each attempt, he became frustrated and then angry that his bird didn't look exactly like the one in the book.

When I went to calm him down, I was impressed with how good his was and I encouraged him to keep trying.

In the end, no matter how much encouragement I gave him, he crumpled his paper with, "I can't do it!" So I did what I had done with Benjamin, I took three of my art books off the shelf.

One was of the work of Picasso, one was of Matisse's, and one was of Chagall's.

I told him how all three artists lived at the same time, knew each other, and were friends. Then we looked at each artist's work and I asked him, "Does his work look like his friends'?"

"No way!" Cava exclaimed.

"No they don't. And do you now why?"

He shook his head.

"Because each one of them saw the world differently. Each one drew and painted differently. But none of them are wrong because only they could have created what they did. I couldn't have and you couldn't have. And we shouldn't. Do you know why?"

He shook his head again.

"Because God created each of us differently and because of that, we see the world differently. I can't draw the same bird that you draw. And you can't draw the same bird that I draw. But that's great, because then we have two new and unique and different pictures of the same bird. And none of them are wrong."

Out of the three, Cava's favorite was Matisse with his bold use of colors and shapes. He was especially fond of his cut-outs.

Since he loved the cut-outs so much, I asked him, "Would you like to make one of your own?"

Cava was thrilled at the idea. 

We got out our construction paper, scissors, and glue sticks and set to creating our own masterpieces. There was only one guideline: you could only use your own imagination to create from. Everything was possible. Nothing was wrong. Be free to create whatever you wanted with whatever shapes and colors you chose. 

As soon as all the materials were on the table, Cava set to work. He was drawing and cutting and gluing feverishly. When he was done, he proudly showed me his work, "Look Papa." 

"I love it," I told him. "What do you call your picture?"

"Horse Flying In The Sky," he replied and immediately he hung it on the Blackwell Gallery Refrigerator along with his fish and his lady bug.

As I was cutting out my shapes, he would look over at mine and ask, "What's that?" 

"Just wait," I told him, "and when I'm done you can tell me what it is."  

When I finished my cut-out artwork, I held it up for Cava to look at it and I asked, "Well? What do you think it is?"

"A mommy or papa loving their child," he answered.

"Exactly right."

"Do you know who inspired my work?"


"Yes, you and Benjamin.  Do you know why?"

"Because you love us?"

"Exactly, and because you are two masterpieces in your own right."
Something I have tried to foster in both my kids is their creativity. Benjamin grew up in a home that encouraged him to use his imagination whether through crafts, going to museums, exposing him to different types of art, music, and film, or by taking him to the theater. Now I am doing the same thing with Cava. 

To help him, I am trying to provide the tools for him to create with: construction paper, glue, scissors, crayons, markers, paint, and the space to use these in and not worry about the mess he's making. When we studied good insects, I let him borrow my camera so he could go outside and take pictures of the ones he found. 

I encourage him to not be bound to other people's examples but to create what he sees and how he sees it. I encourage his curiosity because that will help inspire his creativity (something that was never encouraged or nurtured in him back in Ukraine). The more I allow him to create and encourage his creations, the more his confidence will build. This means I have to keep repeating that only he can draw or paint or create the works that he does. No one else in the world or in the history of the world can create what he creates. His works are totally unique and special.

We also talk about art, whether it's the ones we're working on or the ones we see in books or at museums. I ask him what he thinks, about what he likes or doesn't like about a piece, and to tell me how he would have done a work differently. 

All of these will help him not only creatively, but emotionally and psychologically because, by doing so, I'm telling him, "You're important. Your ideas matter. You matter. You are special." Whether or not he turns out to be an artist doesn't matter, what does matter is that he realizes his life is extraordinary.  And that is one important lesson to learn!

Monday, June 16, 2014

On Being A Father

Yesterday was Father's Day and it's a day I enjoy far more than my birthday and not just because it doesn't mean I've added another year to my age. I love being a father. I remember the first time I held each of my sons: one when he was born and the other when he was eight. In both cases, a strong bond of connection was made and I had the very same thought, "This child is mine."

Being a father means more than being a provider. To be a father means to be a teacher and a role model, which is not an easy task. Their eyes are always watching you and they pay far more attention to your actions than they do your words. In my head, I am Atticus Finch and Bill Cosby all rolled into one full of humor and deep insights, but, most likely, I'm neither but find myself faking it as I go along, hoping less to share my mind as I am to not losing it. Sometimes I think the boys are playing tag team to see who can push me over the crazy cliff. There are times I am not the calm voice of wisdom, but the one who yells, often in frustration or I am the one who threatens punishment like some Old Testament prophet warning that the end is near.

So, when I find myself on the ragged-end of irritation and quickly approaching bursting into bombastic threats of punishment and doom, I have to do what I often tell the boys to do, walk away, take deep breaths and count. If that doesn't work, pray. Parenting requires a lot of prayer. And it requires them seeing me pray. Often I feel like my prayer life swings between either "help me, help me, help me" or "thank you, thank you, thank you," but it needs to be so much fuller and richer than that. Prayers need to focus on more than my immediate needs and the kids need to see that. They need to see me praying for the needs of others, including their needs. And I do pray for them and I pray with them every day.

Fatherhood means you'll blow it sometimes. And you will have to go to your children and say, "I'm sorry."

Not easy words, but necessary ones. This requires being honest with them.

Just like there are times they have questions, not easy questions but often questions that cannot be answered by popping off whatever happens to pass through my head, but taking the time to reflect on what they're asking, considering and really thinking out my answer before replying in a way that they can understand, depending on their level of maturity (though I never talk down to either of them) or, sometimes, admitting quite frankly, "I don't know the answer to that question." This can often lead to open discussions with my kids where we both learn something about each other.

I love talking and listening to both of my sons. We laugh together and, there are times, we cry together. Both are equally important. I love being with them and spending time with them. They can be a delight and a joy. There are times when all I do is thank God for them. And, on the flip side, there are other times I just pray that a band of gypsies will pass by.

Sometimes being a father is overwhelming and I feel unqualified for the task, but it's in this sense of inner helplessness that I pray and I strive to become qualified to be the man these boys see as "Papa."

Being a father is not a job, but a privilege.

Not that being a father to two boys isn't work, but it's work with a purpose.  One of the greatest investments in my life has nothing to do with stocks and bonds, but in a much greater future: Benjamin and Cava's.

As we were walking through Target, Cava grabbed me in a hug and said, "I love you, Papa."

"I love you, too, Cava," I smiled and paused before asking, "Why do you love me?"

"Because you're my teacher," he replied.

This answer not only melted my heart, but it got to the heart of what my role as a father is. And the funny thing is, while I'm teaching them, I'm teaching myself, and they are teaching me, and, ultimately, God is teaching me. I am learning patience, humility, humor, to not always plan but to allow life to happen because it can be so much more amazing that way, that I cannot solve every problem they have and to let them make mistakes on their own because that helps to shape who they will become, to stop and enjoy the moment because those moments will be gone in all but memory and I want to have those memories, to be playful, to shower them with affection, and to encourage them in their endeavors as they strive to decide who they want to become. As I'm teaching them, I am becoming a better parent and a better person.

Every night, I go into each of their rooms while they are sleeping, kiss them on the head, and silently thank God that I am a father.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Our Own Summer School

It's amazing the differences between my two boys. One of the greatest is their attitude towards school. Cava cries when school ends for the summer and Benjamin cries when it begins in fall. To make the transition into summer easier this year, I have decided to make it more structured for Cava. We will plan our activities (I am going through the lists of summer movies at our local theater, events at the Schiele, events at our local library, etcetera) and making a calendar so that we know what we will be doing and it gives them incentive to do things like clean their rooms and read as well as get them excited about any upcoming activities.

Paula Jeanne was kind enough to recommend a series that teachers had recommended to her called Summer Bridge Activities.

What I like about this book is that it covers not only reading, spelling, math, but also works on physical fitness and learning how to be flexible both physically, mentally, and in dealing with problems in life. One of the first lessons we had we shared about a situation where something didn't go our way and how we dealt with that and what would be the best way to deal with that situation. At the end of each lesson, he earns a star sticker, which is big for him because he used to get stickers or stamps each day in school if he had a good day.

He also started off by having to write three goals that he wants to reach by the end of the summer and, if he reaches those goals, he gets stickers for those as well as a certificate of achievement. When he saw this, Cava got very excited.

There are opportunities for us to incorporate outdoor learning, science experiments, and social studies lessons, as well as flash cards. 

To go along with this workbook, his teacher suggested that I work with Cava on doing crafts because that was where he often got most frustrated in school. "I can't do it," he would often say in defeat because he's a perfectionist and gives up if what he's doing isn't up to what he thinks it should be. For our first craft, we decided to have him make a fish out of construction paper because I thought it would be a good simple place to start and, over the summer, we could work up to more elaborate crafts depending on how he progressed.

I found instructions online for creating a construction paper fish just to give me a guideline, but Cava kept wanting to run to the computer to look at it so he could make his just like the one online. Part of the lesson was for him to not rely on other people's work but to create his own. I turned the computer off and said, "Cava, there is no right or wrong way to do this craft. I want you to create your own fish, not recreate somebody else's. Today, we will make our fish our own way." At first he was very reluctant but I kept encouraging him to just do it his way. "Cava, your fish will be unique from any others because you made it. And it doesn't have to be perfect because nothing is. In fact, we will celebrate the imperfections of our craft because it's those imperfections that make it like no other." 

After awhile, Cava got into it. He stopped worrying about cutting his scales to look like mine and he even stopped looking at what I was doing when I created my fish. This was a big step for him. 

I gotta' admit, I loved hearing him say the words, "I did it!"  He was so proud of his fish. We even displayed ours on the Blackwell Refrigerator Gallery:

That is the whole point of our summer school: to build Cava's confidence. I want him to be able to say, "I did it" to so many things that challenge him so that come next school year, he will be ready with the skills to help him succeed even more than he did last year. I know he can do it, but I want to instill in him the knowledge that he can do it.  This is not just knowledge of the brain, but also of the heart. Cava is gifted, he just needs to be shown how to unwrap that gift and use it to his full potential. He is an amazing kid and I cannot wait to see him continue to blossom over the summer.