Friday, August 31, 2012

On Matching.

Here's Lily and I in our matching blue and white
This morning I heard Daniel shout to his dad, "I wanna wear our matching outfits today!"  (I didn't hear Andrew groan, but I'm sure he did.)

Daniel is going through a phase right now. He wants to "match us" and, of course, is frustrated that he can't. He'll never have the straight hair of his dad, or our pale skin.  Part of this, I'm sure, is that he has already absorbed the "black/brown is worse, pale/white is better" that's in the air we breathe here in America. A bigger part is that, just like all young children, he wants to look like mommy and daddy. Lily is in this stage too- but as a 2 year old. She likes to clomp around in my shoes and put on my necklaces.

We've had many conversations about matching, Daniel and I. We've talked about how he looks like his beautiful family in Ethiopia, and how even though our skin and hair are different, we are alike in other ways. We all like pizza, we like to do things together, we speak the same language (now).  One of the ways that he's latched on to is that we can dress alike.  Yup, my 6 year old wants us all to wear matching outfits. In public. Sigh.

Which is why I found myself in the GAP the other night, purchasing matching sweatshirts for all 4 of us. I also got some similar plaid shirts for the guys.  Lily already has so many clothes that I'm sure I can put together coordinating outfits easily, as I did accidentally before we took the photo above.

So if you see my family walking about in matching outfits, please try not to point and laugh. We're working on attachment and family identity!


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

"You're Not My Mom!"

and other hilarious things my son says...

When I was little, I used to threaten to run away. One afternoon, I did. Well, sort of.  I hid in the hallway of our building.  But my poor parents thought I'd really run away, because I'd opened one of the doors and left it ajar, making it seem as if I'd headed down the city streets.  I sat on the steps outside our doorway, listening to the increasingly frantic, angry calls of my parents.  (Sorry Mom and Dad!)  Eventually, I relented and came inside, still clutching my hastily packed blankie and doll.  I have no memory of why I "ran away".  Probably I was forced to eat broccoli or some other horrible thing.

"I'm going to run away! You'll never see me again, and then you'll be sorry!" was what I screamed in my family's face when I was really, really fed up with their parenting.

My son yells, "You're not my parents!" or "I want to go to Ethiopia!"

You are probably thinking, wow, that must make you feel so hurt and rejected!  Actually, the first time he said it, Andrew and I were proud. Aw, we thought, he's reached an adoption milestone! It was just a few weeks after we'd been home.  And to us, it signaled that Daniel was secure enough in his new family that he could challenge us.  Just as I didn't really want to run away, Daniel doesn't really think we are not his parents.  He does want to go to Ethiopia, but just to visit. (So we do we, but that's another post.)

All children try to manipulate their parents. Adopted kids just have a slightly different store of verbal weapons to work with.   "You're not my real mom," is a classic one.  Aim straight for the heart; right into the guilty, self-conscious anxiety hiding inside us adoptive mommies.  But we were fore-armed! We'd read all the literature, the blogs, the memoirs.  We expected that volly, and we countered with "We've got a whole file of papers that say we are. Now finish that brocolli."

Sometimes, we say "Are you missing Ethiopia right now?"

Sometimes, we say "Are you angry about something?"

Sometimes, we say "Do you need a hug?"

But usually, we say "Yes I am. Now let's finish that homework."

I don't remember if I was punished for "running away." I'm certain that just hearing the frantic calls of my parents and seeing their relieved faces when I emerged from my hiding spot was enough to make me re-think my strategy. Whatever grievance or complaint I had went away once I'd realized that they'd missed me, that they loved me beyond measure.  When Daniel yells, "I want to go back to Ethiopia!" he is testing us.  Do we love him beyond measure? Will we flinch at all? Do we have the same doubts that creep into his mind?

No flinching.  No doubting.  And yes, we love you beyond measure.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Post Placement Reports: An Honor or a Headache?

"Let's keep in touch, ok?"

One of the quirky things about being an adoptive parent in the Ethiopian program are the Yearly Post Placement Reports. (Capitalized because that is how many of us think of them... as a Big Thing We Need to Do Every Year.)  The Ethiopian government requests and files these, and makes them available for birth families (or so we are told by our agency). They are essentially a progress report on the children; and they should be done every year until the child is 18.

I just finished our first one. One down. 16 more to go. Sigh.  It was supposed to be mailed out in July, on our year anniversary.  I started it in July, well, I started thinking about in July, but it took me the whole summer to complete.  One down, 16 more to go.

There must be an easier way.

Since I'm sure the Ethiopian embassy has more important things to do, it is unlikely that a government representative will be knocking on our door next summer or any summer after that, demanding to know why our post placement report isn't done. The onus is completely on us. And if there is even the slimmest of chances that their Ethiopian father or their older siblings will read the reports and see the photos attached, we'll keep sending them.  But I've got to make it less of a summer long project, or we'll never make it through 16 more.

Here's a couple of ideas I thought of to make next year's Post Placement Report less onerous. If you have any suggestions, please comment and share!

1. I made a template of the report outline on our computer. That way, I don't have to go digging around for our agency's file every year.  I can also review what I wrote in previous reports. The report outline is pretty simple: height, weight, health issues, attachment, relationships, development, and cultural connection. The cultural connection is the tough one. I can't write "We eat injera once a week!" for the next 16 years. So this will push me to find ever more creative ways to teach them about their Ethiopian heritage.

2. Photo Organization! (This is project for my life in general- we have 10,000 photos on our computer right now, pretty loosely organized. I am overwhelmed.) We need to send 4 photos of each child with the reports.  The photos need to be good ones, of course and also: kids have to be fully dressed, no costumes, no silly faces, no animals or weird props, and no identifying markers (like a school t-shirt or a street sign in the background).  I set up a folder in our i-photo library for each child, and when we take a photo that fulfills the requirements, I'll just drop it in.  Hopefully by the end of the year, we've got at least 4 good ones ready to be printed.

3. Timing. Summer is a good time for me to have an extra project to complete, since I'm not working full time. But, April is when they have their annual birthday check-ups, so I'll have their latest measurements.  Next year I may complete their post placement reports around their birthdays.  Then I can get the photos developed (including some nice ones of them in their birthday finest) and there is a chance that the whole thing will actually be in the mail by July.

We'll see what next year brings.

Looking towards the future...

Monday, August 27, 2012

Debates. Death. Diversity.

Over at Rage Against the Minivan, Kristen Howerton wrote a strong essay called "Parents Please Teach Your Children About Adoption So My Kids Don't Have To", which was picked up by the Huffington Post and caused a tiny little firestorm there.  Some non-adoptive parents wrote angrily about how teaching their children about adoption was not their responsibility.  We adoptive families "choose that lifestyle." Others complained that children asking personal questions of adopted peers was just par for the course.  A few adoptees and adoptive families chimed in about how inappropriate they thought it was that Howerton shared personal details about her sons' stories online.

Many adoptive parents, myself included, reacted in angry disgust at the ignorance, the blame and the lack of empathy that was so freely expressed by some commentors.  I don't know why I was surprised at this. Humans have been voicing un-informed, un-sympathetic opinions since we first learned to speak, or type.

But this mini- controversy has gotten me thinking. Why do some non-adoptive parents shy away from talking with their children about family diversity, specifically gay, divorced or adoptive families?

Several commentor wrote something along the lines of, "there are so many different kinds of families these days, I couldn't possibly teach my child about all of them!".  To which I respond, you teach your children all the different colors, right? You don't leave out turquoise or navy blue because they are too difficult to explain and we don't see those colors too much anyway? I mean, that would be ridiculous, right?!

So the reason can't just be laziness.  Any parent who has potty trained or taught a kid to tie a shoe cannot be accused of laziness. There must be something bigger holding their tongues.

I think it's fear of death.  No, really. I think we, all of us, hate the idea of letting kids in on the secret that the world is, in fact, a big scary place. That good people, people we love and cherish, die. That bad things happen, that people make poor choices or have bad luck.  We want to keep our children in their innocent childhood bubble for as long as we can. (Sometimes we like to keep ourselves there too.)

I'm guilty of this too.  I haven't let my son in on the secret that sometimes adoption doesn't work. Sometimes adoptive placements are disrupted, and children have to be transitioned to a new family again (and again).  I also haven't talked to him about how some of his friends at the orphanage may never be adopted.  They may grow up without a family.  Those are terrible, terrible truths that I loathe to share with him. But I will when and if he asks, and certainly by the time he is a teen and has read my blog and all his adoption paperwork and our library of adoption books, he will know them.

However, my 6 year old is unlikely to ask me about adoption disruption at the playground.  He is more likely to get asked, as he has many times, "Is that your mom?", "Where's your real mom?", or "How come your mom is white?!" Which are all very good questions.

As an adoptive parent I've had to become very comfortable talking about death.  My son's first mother died, and he remembers it.  We live with her presence daily, and we wouldn't want it any other way.  It was hard to get used to being asked about death unexpectedly. Children don't choose their moments well.  Rushing out the door to get to school/work on time is hardly the moment I want to have a philosophical discussion with my Kindergartener about death.  But I do.

The truth is that my son knows that the world is a big scary place. He knows that people we love die or get hurt or hurt us.  And he is having a happy childhood anyway.  

When we answer curious questions at the playground, we don't tell other children about death, or about relinquishment, or about poverty and third world diseases and the great injustices in our world. We just say, "Yes, we're a family. I'm his real mom. We live together and we love each other. " When I talk to my son about families with 2 dads or 2 moms, I don't give him details about gay sex. When I talk to him about blended families and divorce I don't share details about infidelity or extra-marital affairs.  I just say, "Yes, they are a family. They live together and they love each other, just like we do."

The only thing non-adoptive families need to teach their children about families like mine is this: "Sometimes children are born into a family that can't take care of them. Then they are adopted into a new family.  They are a real family, just like ours. "

Here is everything young children need to know about ALL families:

  • Families love each other and take care of each other. 
  • Sometimes they live together. Sometimes they live far apart.
  • Some families are big, some families are small. 
  • Some families are a mom and dad with kids, some are 2 moms, or 2 dads, some are 1 dad or 1 mom, with kids. Some are grandparents with kids. Some are just 2 people, no kids.  Some are just one person and a dog or cat. 
  • Families change. They grow bigger, they get smaller. People get married, people get divorced. People have babies, people adopt kids. Kids grow up. People die. 
  • Families love each other.

Why do we adults think that children are too delicate to learn these truths? Why don't we trust their resilience and their strength? They see the world the way it is.  Perhaps, better than we do.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

African skin care

This photo has nothing to do with this post, but it's too cute not to share. This was L's favorite "hiding spot". 

Ethiopian skin evolved, from Lucy on down, in a low humidity, sunny, mild climate.  Ethiopia's tourist bureau is filled with posters advertising their "13 Months of Sunshine!", and it's pretty much true. The temperature ranges from 50 to 80 degrees all year.

So, my children's African skin finds our North American climate, with its wild swings in temperature and humidity (not to mention air conditioning and central heating) very very harsh! They are both prone to heat rash, dry skin, and sunburn. (Yes, sunburn. Brown skin gets darker in the sun, just like white skin.)  Lily has had some terrible episodes of diaper rash.

Here a few things I've learned about keeping their skin healthy:

1. They need moisturizers every time they have a bath or shower.  We always bathe after swimming, as salt and chlorine are very harsh and drying. Cerave is the best moisturizer we've found. It's not greasy, but it coats and protects their skin beautifully.

2. We cover up in the sun. Rash guards for beach days or sprinkler time were a must. Daniel is actually allergic to sunscreen, so we simply stay covered up or in the shade on sunny days.  (Thanks to the wonderful "Orphan Doctor", Dr. Jane Aronson, for diagnosing this.  Sunscreen, even "sensitive skin" types give him a red, itchy rash.)

3. We use a thick paste-like diaper cream for Lily, every time. Diaper rash can be a huge issue for children in orphanages or care centers.  Ointments and creams that we take for granted will be in every corner store here can be hard to optain in Africa. When we went to Addis Ababa the first time, we took an entire suitcase full of creams and ointments for the care center! We are very lucky that Lily was rash free when she came home, but it can flair up overnight.

 4. Aquaphor or some other thick moisture cream goes on their hands, knees and elbows, and a little on their faces, especially in winter.

5. Finally, we rub coconut oil into their hair and scalp about once a week.  This oil is wonderful in that it keeps their hair and skin healthy (and smells delicious!).

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

How come your mom is white? A handy guide for parents

Yesterday while I was picking up Daniel from camp I overheard one of his friends (also African- American) ask him, "How come you are brown and your mom is white?" Daniel didn't answer, and his face got very stiff and angry.  So on the way home I counseled him on how to answer his friends questions about our family.  We've had this conversation several times before, but he's just not comfortable enough with his adoption story to confidently share it with other kids. (I'll be speaking to his counselor this morning about helping him during their "share time".)*

Most young children don't have the language to educate their friends about different kinds of families. I feel strongly that is OUR job as parents to help our children understand that there are lots of different kinds of families, and lots of different kinds of people, in our beautiful world. Seems simple right? Sometimes not. So here is a handy guide for the next time you are in the playground with a family that looks like ours (and different from yours).

 First of all, we should encourage our children's questions about diversity.  When we bring our children to another part of the city and they ask, "Why are the buildings so tall!?" we don't say, "Shh.... it's not polite to ask questions!" or whisper ,"I'll explain when we get home."  So if your child asks you to explain the presence of a family/person who looks different to them, answer them!

Just a few weeks ago Daniel asked some questions about a family made up of two dads and a little boy (adopted).  We used it as a great opportunity to educate him on the variety of families that are possible. At first he was incredulous, but then he got it.  Kids usually do. They know better than adults do that Love and Trust are what make a family.

Of course, we can teach our children to ask questions politely.  There is a big difference between "What's wrong with him!?!" and "Why is that man sitting in a wheelchair?"

Here are some common questions we get in the playground, and the answers I give.
 You may notice that I answer without telling strangers my children's personal stories.

How come you don't look alike?

Daniel and Lily were adopted. They were born in Ethiopia so they look like their Ethiopian family.

What does 'adopted' mean?

Adopted is how some children become part of a family.  Most kids are born into their families. But sometimes the mom and dad who have a baby can't take care of him or her, so the baby/child is adopted by another family.

Are they going to go back?

No, adoption is forever. Once a family adopts a child/baby, they are a family forever. (No need to start talking about adoption disruption or people putting their kids on one-way international flights.)

Is that your real mom?/dad?

Yes, we are a real family.  There are no fake mommies around here!

Are they adopted?!

Yes. :)

Some Lingo

"She was adopted," not "she is adopted."  Same as: "she was born" not "she is born."

First mother/father or birthmother/father, not "natural" or "real" mother/father.

"His first family made an adoption plan." not "He was put up or given up for adoption."

And also... there's no need to whisper.  Adopted is not a "dirty" word. :)

And Thank You!

* Update: not only was the counselor very helpful, it turns out there is a girl in his group who was also adopted from Ethiopia! Small, wonderful world!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

dare devils!

Although we thought we were done with The Year of Firsts, we took the kids to their First Amusement Park this weekend!  If you haven't been, I highly recommend Quassy Amusement Park in Middlebury, Connecticut for families with little ones (or a mix of littles and bigs).

Daniel spotted the roller coaster from the parking lot, and immediately this became his favorite place ever.  He went on every ride (we'd let him on), and some twice.  Then we went to the water slide area, and he was in 6 year old boy heaven.  Standing under a giant bucket that randomly pours a ton of water on your head, the force of which knocks you to the ground? GREATEST THING EVER!!!! He would have stayed there for the rest of his life.

It turns out that we have two little daredevils on our hands.  Two-year-old girl looooovves the kiddie roller coaster and the "frog jumper" and the train going through the dark tunnel and the helicopter that flies up, up, up... she was squealing and clapping her hands all day.  More! Faster! Higher! More! More!  Daniel went on the roller coaster with the only adult who could stomach it (thank you Uncle Lee!), and I've never seen him grin wider.

There is a funny internal debate that most adoptive parents do constantly. It is kind of like the nurture/nature debate, and similar to the "She's more like you! no! She's more like YOU!" thing that all parents do.  We adoptive moms and dads are always asking ourselves, is this behavior or personality trait just them, or is it inherited from their first family, or is it because they were adopted?

Is Lily an outgoing, curious, sensory seeking child because of her early deprivation and adoption as a toddler? Or not? Is Daniel a brooding, curious, non-stop question-asking kid because of his early trauma and then adoption as a young boy? Or not? Are the like their first parents in these ways? Would they be daredevils if they still lived on a farm in Africa? Or is that kind of risk taking behavior normal there? After all, they have to learn to be independent much earlier than most American kids.

Once during our weekly dinner at Ghenet an older Ethiopian man who was eating with the family of the owner started to play and talk with Lily.  When I came by and started swinging her up to the ceiling (to her squeals of delight), he shook his head and said, "oh no, no, no, we don't play with girls like that."

So would Lily be brought up to be a quieter, more inhibited version of herself if she was still with her Ethiopian family? (Would her first mother be aghast at her antics here!?)

Silly, un-answerable questions. Even Daniel can provide little insight. Although he did once tell me that in Ethiopia, no one was "the boss of him."  The grass is always greener, kid. The grass is always greener.

Daniel using the phrases "My First Family would never make me do this!" or  "I want to go back to Ethiopia!" to try and distract from a consequence or chore is a whole other blog post! 

"You are the best Dad ever!" " I feel a little sick, son"

We're already looking forward to next year's trip to Quassy (aka, Paradise).  Next weekend, we'll be hitting Coney Island.  I'd better buy some Dramamine.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Summer Reading

gratuitous photo of the kids "reading".

As a teacher, I always look forward to summer... to sleeping in, to days at the beach, and mostly to being able to read as much as I want. I'm the type of reader who gets consumed by books. I'll read until my head is aching and my stomach grumbling. I think I lost a few pounds reading the Harry Potter series; I was so engrossed in the books I forgot to eat!

As a mom, I don't get to sleep in anymore, in any season, and a day at the beach requires waaaay too much equipment (plus I'm terrified of one of them drowning in a rip tide.) But reading, yes, I did get to read a lot this summer.  I even overcame my hatred of "e-books" and read a few on an old Kindle.

I started with The Hunger Games trilogy- I may have been the last human to read that series, or maybe it just seemed that way.  Although diverting, I found that the violence level was too high for my taste.  Avoxx's?... shudder.  So Katniss did not end up being my new Harry Potter.

Next on the Kindle was Nurture Shock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman. Wonderful, eye opening book about our misconceptions about children, childhood and teaching/parenting.  I need to re-read it and take notes, that's how much it opened my eyes to some of my habits as a teacher and parent.  As a person with a degree in Child Development, it brought me back to my studies as an undergraduate.  Humans are just amazing creatures, and children the most fascinating (to me).  I was reminded of why I found studying them so incredible. And in the (many) years since I graduated developmental researchers have learned so much more about how humans acquire language, morality and racial identity.  If you are a parent, teacher or coach, this is a must read!

The funny thing about a Kindle is that it enables dabbling.  So I read pieces of some Ethiopian history books and bits of a couple of forgettable novels. Kind of like browsing the books stacked on my bedside table, without having to carry 10 books around with me.

Right now I'm reading a book I should have read 15 years ago, and still can't believe I didn't. Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong by James Loewen is a remarkable book with a terrible title. It has prompted me to compose a thousand (thankfully unpublished) Facebook posts beginning with "Can you believe...!" or "Did you know that...?!"  I think I would have lost more than a few friends for my overly enthusiastic history lessons.

But seriously, did you know that Woodrow Wilson was openly racist and segregated the Federal Government? (which had been de-segregated by Lincoln!?) Did you know that some of the first "discoverers" of the Americas were African sailors?

This book is blowing my mind, over and over again.

I was motivated to start writing this blog to research, preserve and compose history for my son.  I wanted to create a resource for my children, and for other adoptive or trans-racial families, to give the gift of Ethiopian/African history.  "Lies" has convinced me even more of the importance of this.  Daniel  is certainly not going to learn Ethiopian history in school, and he is more likely to be given the same watered down (and sometimes just wrong!), "preserve the status quo", devoid of ideas and passion version of American History that most of us learned.

As we were going through the security check at the Addis Ababa airport, one of the guards, a young man, questioned Daniel somewhat sharply in Amharic and then spoke to me.  He said, "Take care of him! He is one of the Lions of Africa you know!"  I assured him and pulled Daniel closer to me.  I wish I could go back to that man. I wish I could sit with him for a few hours. I would question him about his country's history and culture. I would ask him to write down for Daniel the key things he needs to know about his heritage, his language, his history.  I wish I could reassure him that I would do everything in my power to raise my children as Lions of Africa.

James Loewen- if you are reading this, please do me a favor... can you write a "Lies my Social Studies Teacher told me about Africa" book. Thanks. :)

Here are a couple of wonderful children's books we picked up this summer:

There are just two more weeks before school begins! Any books to recommend?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

a year in review

remember when you took photos and then waited a few days (weeks?) to find out what they looked like? And most of them came out like crap? Yes, me too...

I've been working on making a photo album of the past year, and I've been finding it a very overwhelming task. Maybe because someone in our family (Andrew) takes sooooo many photos. Maybe because it was a Year of Firsts. Maybe because I get sidetracked by admiring just! how! cute! my babies were when they were "babies".

Anyone else make photo albums/scrapbooks online? Any tips or tricks to share?  I need help!

Here is my attempt at a "Year in Review"...










Monday, August 13, 2012

brother cousin

One of the things we brought to Ethiopia with us was a family album.  It was one of the most useful things we stuffed into those gigantic suitcases. That, and the millions of diapers.

During the few days we had custody of the kids, but were stuck waiting at the guest house for our Embassy documents and flight back home, Daniel and I poured over that album.  He memorized all his new family members' names, and tried to figure out how everyone was connected. The photo he was most interested in, immediately, was of his cousin M-------.

In most of Africa, there are no "cousins", "uncles" or "aunts".  All your male relatives are fathers or brothers, and all your female relatives are your mothers or sisters.  This has translated to some parts of the U.S. like the South, where it is common to have non-related "aunties", or to called older woman by the title, "Mama" or "Nana".  So it was hard to translate the word "cousin" for Daniel.  But words didn't seem to matter to him.  He felt an immediate kinship with my sister's son and since the moment they met they have been, brothers.

My nephew, M------, is brown, or "mocha" as he likes to describe himself- the son of my (white) sister and his father, who is from Ghana and "dark chocolate" as M----- likes to say.  His beautiful brown skin is unusual in our family, and one of the multiple reasons we choose to adopt from Ethiopia. (I mean, if we were going to have kids who didn't look like us, they may as well look like someone!)

These boys, these brothers, are a year and a 1/2 apart, but were exactly the same size when Daniel first came home. (He has now outstripped his littler cousin by several inches.)  They first met at the airport.  M------ had brought several coins to give to Daniel. They sized each other up. Daniel exclaimed, "Same!" when they measured their heights.  They played with the coins on the floor of the JFK international terminal, and within minutes were lifelong friends.

This summer the boys got to spend a week together in heaven: Grandpa's house at the beach. They were true brothers... eating, sleeping, playing, wrestling, reading, talking, walking, riding bikes- they behaved so much like twins I bought them matching outfits.

Recently there has been a debate/conversation in the Adoption Blogsphere about ethics in International Adoption, particularly in Africa.  International Adoption occupies a very uncomfortable spot at the crossroads of poverty, religion, international politics, race, history and cultural differences between the "First World" and the "Third World".  It is a spot only few visit: those few thousand adoptive families, the adoption agencies, and of course, the first families.  And the spot keeps shifting about due to new regulations, wars, disease and politics.  Safe to say about international adoption: it's complicated.

Although it is true that, as in our case, sometimes children need parents and parents want/need to adopt the children, the equation isn't so simple.  The children might need a parent, but in getting one, they lose all their other fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters.  No wonder my heart broke a little when we left Ethiopia. I knew, although the children didn't at the time, how many people we were leaving behind.

I tried to get a quote from Daniel for this piece. I asked him why he loved his cousin M------ so much. He just looked at me like I was crazy.  What a silly question, mom! He loves his cousin M----- because he is his brother: one to fill the void left when he lost his Ethiopian brothers. And because, he's M-----!

 (He didn't say that, of course, but hey, it's my blog. He can correct me when he's learned to read well enough to edit me.)

This morning a woman working at Daniel's camp exclaimed to him, over and over, "How lucky you are to have such a wonderful mother!"  He rolled his eyes, which I thought an appropriate response to basically being told he's so lucky to have lost his first family/country/be forced to live in America! been adopted. When he's older, maybe he'll learn to say, "Mama, it's complicated!"

Saturday, August 11, 2012

her story

The kids are wearing traditional clothes given to them by the care center staff.

Some nights when I'm putting Lily down to sleep she asks to see a family photo we keep near her crib. It is of the four of us on the day they said farewell to the orphanage and we became a family.  Andrew and I are sporting wide grins, Daniel has a quiet smile on his face and baby Lily is chewing a finger.

Helping our two children understand, grieve and process their adoption story is very different for each of them. Daniel was old enough to be very aware of the events happening around and to him. He remembers his first family and the death of his mother.  He understood, as well as a 5 year old could have, what happened.  Why? is his big question.  And as he grows older, he will keep asking it, and keep adding to the layers of his understanding of his story. The essential What Happened, he lived and remembers.

Lily, on the other hand, was an infant (and a very sick one at that) during all of those drastic changes.  She has no memories of it and little understanding.  She doesn't know what happened, and she is too young and has too little language to ask us.  But sometimes... sometimes she looks like she is trying to figure something out, something big.  Sometimes she wakes up from a nap and is inconsolable.  Sometimes she seems like she is looking for someone that she only instinctively knows should be here.

So some nights I tell her a little story: her story.  And this child, my wild, impulsive, active, busy toddler, stills and listens.

I say,

 "Lily Tagessech, you were born in Ethiopia. Your father's name is G-----, your mother's name was A------.  When you were just a tiny baby, your mother died.  Your father decided you needed a new mommy and daddy, so he brought you and Daniel to an orphanage.  Then mommy and daddy flew on an airplane all the way to Ethiopia to get you, and we all came home to America together.

And here you will stay, forever and ever, and always and always.

The Beginning."

And then she falls alseep. What does she dream of? I wish I knew.  I hope. I hope, she dreams of home, all the versions she's known.

Friday, August 10, 2012


I've always been very grateful to have a sister.  When we were young, we always had a playmate. When we were teens, we always had someone to complain to about our parents. When we were in our twenties, we always had someone to complain to about our parents, and our boyfriends/husbands/in-laws.  Now we are both mothers, and we have someone to gripe to about our children.  Who else will allow me to say, "I'm going to kill them!" and not remind me of my years of longing to be a parent, but instead recommend I refill my wine glass.

Only a sibling has that special connection and family memory- only a sibling knows the wealth of data behind the simple moan, "Mom, ugh.!"

There is plenty of research, literature and theory on sibling relationships.  I'm sure there are whole books about how to foster sibling relationships.  My completely unproven theory is the "Shared Enemy" one: siblings are close when they have a common cause, usually "mom is so crazy/dad is so annoying!" That worked in my case, anyway. (For the record, my mom is not crazy and dad is not annoying. Hi Mom! Hey Dad!)

When we received our referral for siblings, we did lots of preparation.  We put together lots of IKEA furniture and read lots of blogs and books. We planned: sleep strategies, holidays, transitions, media, race/heritage, hair, and on and on. But we didn't plan how we would raise siblings.

However unplanned, I seem to be doing really well fostering a close sibling relationship between Lily and Daniel.  I'm fulfilling the "mom is soooo crazy, right!?" role very well, thank you very much.  I've already caught the across the dining table sympathetic eyeroll, the conspiratory whispers, the "come on, let's go to our room" escape from mom strategy and the sibling translation of parent-speak.  And one of my children is still in diapers.  I can only imagine that sibling created shenanigans that will happen here when someone learns to talk properly and no longer needs help climbing stairs.

How are you raising your siblings, if you have them?
Are you close with your own siblings? Why? Why not?

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Injera time!

Every Sunday at 5:00PM you will find our family at Ghenet, eating our favorite: veggie combo for three, sometimes with a salad, sometimes with doro wat.  Sometimes we have the most amazing cafe latte in the world afterwards, and if we haven't stuffed ourselves to the gills (which is rare), we order a tiramisu to share. Yum, um, um.

We've been eating at Ghenet every since we started down this Ethiopian adoption road, I even had a baby shower there. The first week we were home with the children we went, stumbling in with our sweaty, jet lagged, overwhelmed selves. I said, almost embarrassed, "Do you have any injera for two hungry Ethiopians?".  And thus the folks at Ghenet became our Ethiopian family, here at home.  They welcomed Daniel and Lily with open arms, offering to help find babysitters, translate, offering advice on hair and discipline.  Since that first week we have come (almost) every Sunday.

At first Daniel would shyly answer the waitresses and cook in Ahmaric. After a few weeks, we all noticed that he didn't seem to understand.  Now they are trying to teach him his country's language (with very limited success, sadly. He's more interested in learning the games on their i-phones.)   Lily walks around the restaurant like she owns it. She asks for and receives private tours of the kitchen, has long "conversations" with the dishwasher.  I'm sure the other patrons are extremely amused by her dance moves and gymnastics in the dining room.

Every week we fill ourselves up with injera, wat, Ethiopian beer, coffee and a little taste of home. Then they pack up a big bag of leftovers that sustain us for the coming week.

Traditional food: everythingis served on one big platter

Here are a couple things I've learned about Ethiopian leftovers (should you be so lucky to have some in your house.)

1. Native Ethiopians (like my son) will eat leftovers the traditional way- all mixed up into a mash and heated (one serving is piping hot in about a minute in the microwave).  He gobbles up a big bowl every day after school.

2. Injera can be dried into chips.  Just leave it out in the sun (as they do in Africa), or dry it till crispy in a warm oven.

3. Injera pizza! I take a triangle of injera, sprinkle it with berbere (Ethiopian spice mix- hot!), and some cheese and fry it in a pan with butter. YUM!

4. If you are just re-heating injera on its own, wrap it in a damp paper towel and microwave for just 10-15 seconds. It will get rubbery very quickly, so be careful.

5. Ethiopian leftovers freeze pretty well.

Baby Lily shows off her Ethiopian finest at Ghenet for New Year

Saturday, August 4, 2012


Well. That didn't work.

How many times as a parent (or as a person? co-worker? partner? teacher?) do we have to admit to ourselves that our attempts have just... well, they've outright failed?

So it was with our "big girl bed".  Two nights, and the crib is back together.

inside an urban child's bedroom

Lily was so excited to see her new room, her new "big girl bed", but she's just not ready. She needs the crib confinement for a while longer.  We learned this the hard way, over two sleepless nights.  A lot about adoption and parenting is learned the hard way, I find. Or maybe it's just my preferred learning style.  I don't know, but it was very bittersweet having to put the crib "prison" back together. Good thing I'm handy with my IKEA allen wrench.

We'll see what her reaction is when she comes home today and sees her "baby bed".  Are toddlers old enough to have regret? Will she think, oh wow, I really should have tried harder to stay/sleep in my new bed? Probably not.

So much about parenting these kids is just a big mystery. How was Daniel as a baby? How did he sleep? What was his relationship like with his first parents? What was that last day like? How much of Lily's behavior is her expressing grief and confusion about her past and how much is just her (crazy toddler) personality?  I often wonder, "What would (birthparents names) do?"  Since their daily lives are so, so different from ours, it's often hard to even translate the question. There are no IKEAs in Ethiopia.  Their family slept all together on a mattress. Allen wrenches, bedtime routines, white noise machines, nightlights, toys, good night books, stuffed animals, alarm clocks, cribs, toddler beds, bunk beds.... None of these exist in rural Africa.

What would they do? Shake their heads at me and my crazy questions, probably.

inside a rural Ethiopian home

Thursday, August 2, 2012


I just got Lily to sleep, finally.  This is her first night in her very own room, in her very own "big girl bed". (Well, her crib with the rails taken off.)  She may not be quite ready for so many big changes. She had a hard time falling asleep. A hard time knowing that it was time to stop opening drawers and playing with her dolls. But, it's summer and I have the time it takes to paint, put furniture together and relocate toys and dolls and clothes, so it had to be done.  Sometimes we are just not quite ready for the big changes in our lives, but those changes happen anyway.

As I watched her fall asleep, looking so "grown up",  I found myself imagining glimpses of her at older ages... her as a taller, thinner 4 year old, her as a pouty teen, her as an exhausted young mother, falling asleep face down on her pillow.  Sometimes it's as if all the ages of herself are already there, locked inside her. Perhaps because she has already seen so much of the world, perhaps because she looks so much like her older siblings and birth family, perhaps because she has such a Personality.

But I think we can see glimpses in all children.  Sometimes I look at my students and for a moment I see them as adults... the cop, the doctor, the business woman, the professor. (I love to dream that my working class/immigrant students will attain those positions.)  Sometimes I can see glimpses of a darker nature... who might be the one arguing with the cop, or needing treatment from a doctor.

In my son's face, I can see two glimpses. In his smiling, running face I can see a young man, powerful, joyful to be learning to drive, handsome and proud to show off his muscles to girlfriends.  My son so longs to be grown up. He constantly asks at what age he can drive, at what age he can buy a motorcycle (never!)... I plead with him not to rush his already (in my experience) shortened childhood, but he would jump through time.

The other glimpse I see is when he is angry or frustrated and his face sets into a stubborn scowl, and I see him as many others would, and perhaps will; an angry black man, a menace. Will he learn to soothe that scowl, to show that he is not dangerous or threatening, even when angry and frustrated?  Will the scowl remain on his heart, shortening his temper and his vision?

When my children first came home, their very different personalities quickly emerged.  I used to explain to friends just meeting them that Daniel looks tough on the outside, but is in fact very sweet.  Lily looks very sweet, but is tough as nails.  Slowly their inner selves are being to match their outer ones.  Lily has some tough looks, and Daniel's young sweetness is growing up... into what, I'm not sure yet.

Tonight my children are sleeping in their very own rooms. The crib is dismantled, the high chair is on its way out the door.  This weekend we'll be buying big boy bunk beds.

I am totally not ready for this change.