Snow is an overused metaphor, but as I watch the flakes dance to the ground on the first morning of 2008, I see a clean white palette. A year of possibilities, opportunities—life, just waiting to be written.
As you can imagine, busyness got the better of us this fall. After meeting with the guidance counselor, Masha entered 6th grade on 16 August. Although she is slightly old for 6th grade, we hoped that easier, repeat content might give her the opportunity to focus on developing her English skills and acclimating to the American culture. Looking back, we definitely made the right choice!
At the six-month mark, her conversational English is great. She has opened up, and shares her thoughts with us…in fact, she had trouble sleeping a few nights ago, and woke Dad up for a 2-hour chat, covering every topic imaginable. She can follow most of the dialogue in movies and she’s even noticing different regional accents.
As expected, cognitive language and reading skills are lagging, but she’s learning quickly. She says she still thinks in Russian, but more and more, we are hearing instant reactions in English. She is staying in touch with several Russian speakers, and is maintaining her Russian, but she’s starting to struggle to remember some less-used Russian words. Her grades are right in line with class averages, and her teachers are working very hard to balance challenges with likelihood of success. They started out the year making significant accommodations for her, but she’s now taking many of the same tests and quizzes as her peers!
Social planning is a challenge; in typical 13-year-old fashion, she is loathe to plan ahead, instead opting for last minute sleepover requests. She has a couple of close friends, and is starting to get involved in activities with the church youth group. We’re trying to tread carefully, but so far, she’s falling in with great kids, choosing decent music (for the most part), and making good choices.
It’s interesting to see the difference between her relationship with both of us. She’s still pretty reluctant to share personal thoughts and feelings with Dad; she’s a perfectionist with him, and won’t share any work-in-progress… With Mom, she’s more open to talk about “girl-stuff.” But she also is a ferocious wrestler, and loves to roughhouse with Dad. Christmas break has seen the emergence of amateur martial arts, combining a couple of moves taught by Uncle Rob, more learned from watching movie fight scenes, and a few crazy, made-up actions successful only by brute force. The kid has no idea how strong or tough she is!
Overall, Masha is settling in better than we ever could have hoped. Of course, there are challenging moments for all of us. Unrealistic expectations, disappointments, homesickness, memories….but they are balanced with joy, accomplishments, surprises, and belonging. She is truly our daughter in every sense, and none of us can imagine life any other way.
So today, I reflect on the year that’s passed and the year to come, and I watch just enough snow to hide the sleeping grass and spilled birdseed, not enough to shut the city down. God knows how to kick off a year!!