Friday, November 30, 2012

The Season of Light

This year we're trying out a new family tradition. Tomorrow the kids will start opening daily Advent envelopes, which we filled with little treasures: a note, a sticker, candy or a piece of a puzzle. (They will be able to complete the puzzle by month's end.)  My kids will no doubt be dissappointed by the "treasure" (Why isn't it a bey blade?!! More candy!!!"), but my hope is that the daily ritual of counting down will help them measure the time til the Big Day.

Sunday we will have our first Advent Celebration. Traditionally, each Sunday in December is marked by special readings and prayers.  Each Sunday another of 4 candles is lit.  We will be doing this Unitarian style... (What's a Unitarian?! click here for info). Meaning, our readings and prayers come from the Bible as well as other sources.

This Sunday we will talk about Light. How in this season of growing darkness we like to create lights around us, and how one of the teachings of Jesus was to be a light in the world.  The kids will each get a little light for their rooms.

I especially like the reading by Maureen Killoran "Come Christmas!" I need her reminder not to strive for perfection.  My tendency to make lists gets a little out of control this time of year. :)

Below is the complete text of our first Advent celebration. I'll let you know how it goes! Fingers crossed the kids stay at the table willingly, no one burns their fingers in the candles, and we go to bed Sunday night with a little more grace than we had the day before.

Do you have an Advent celebration?

*       *       *       *         *       *

First Sunday

Ye are the light of the world... Let your light so shine

Candle Lighting

Our lighted candle is glowing, making the darkness bright; shining on our family gathered here tonight.


Come Christmas!
 by M. Maureen Killoran
No one is ever really ready for Christmas.
If we were really all prepared:
      If every gift we had contemplated had been obtained;
      If every present was beautifully beribboned;
      If all the goodies our friends deserve were baked and cooled, and stored just so;
      If each and every person we love was gathered for our celebration;
      If we never snapped at someone we care about, nor stopped short of being all that we could be;
      If our minds were 100 per cent loving and our hearts were 100 per cent generous;
They truly would be ready and truly we would not need Christmas quite so much.
So come, Christmas, most needed of seasons. 
Come with the reminder that love does not depend on Perfection but on willingness to risk connection. 
Come into the unready manger of our hearts
That we may feel the warmth of new life 
 And give flesh to the promise of hope 
 That cries to bring healing into our world.
 Come Christmas! 
Come, Love, 
Come, Hope. 
Be born in our unready hearts 
On this silent and holy night.


All around the world the days are growing shorter and the nights longer.  It is a dark and cold time of year. Sometimes the dark can be scary.  When the world is dark and cold we need lights to remind us to be brave and happy.  People all around the world gather together to light fires or candles or make pretty light decorations.  There are lots of holidays and lights in wintertime, all over the world.  We celebrate Christmas, honoring the birth of Jesus.  Jesus was a great teacher.  He taught that all people have a light inside of them.  He said that all of us can be lights in the world.  We can all help each other to be brave.  He taught that we can make others happy by sharing ourselves, our light,  with them.  He taught that loving each other is like lighting a beautiful candle. 


So tonight's gift is a candle.  A small candle to light the darkness for each of us and remind us to be a light in the world.


We give thanks for Being,

We give thanks for being here

We give thanks for being here together.


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

the season of waiting...

Driving to pick up Lily from daycare this afternoon Daniel piped up from the backseat, "Mom, it's beautiful!".  It was a rainy afternoon, and very dark by 4:00... even without too many holiday lights up our neighborhood was taking on a magical quality.

We are really starting to notice the season of darkness/the season of light. It's twilight when we head off to school/work, and it's dark out when we return home. Some of our neighbors have already put up their Christmas trees. In a couple of weeks our Jewish neighbors will be lighting menorahs in the windows. The kids, especially Daniel, are anticipating Christmas with an intense mixture of excitement and anxiety.

I love Christmas- it's my favorite holiday of the year. Which is slightly remarkable in that we are not, technically, Christians. We're Unitarian-Universalists (if you just went HUH?, please click over here for a brief explanation, or here for a longer one.)  Anyway, we love Christmas- for the lights, for the celebrations, for the presents, for the vacation, for the chance to be with family.  In dark days all that joy is infectious. But...

Christmas is complicated... and not just for us Unitarians.  All those secular celebrations: Santa, the Elf on a Shelf (ohmygoodness why! why?) the stockings, the tree, the presents, the food!... none of those things are directly related to the magic of the birth of Jesus.  How do we help our children understand all these traditions? Daniel and Lily were born to Ethiopian Christians... and believe me, Christmas in Ethiopia did not involve trees, plastic Santas or magical reindeer.  A looooong church service followed by a feast, maybe a new set of clothes. Done.  For older children adopted from a different religion and culture, American Christmas can be very confusing and overwhelming. God? Santa? Jesus? huh?

Last year we tried to keep both our beloved family traditions (a fresh, pine-smelly tree, cookies! and stockings) while also keeping our kids' stress level low. We did pretty well... the kids had a beautiful Christmas.  I got to hang up four stockings, something I'd been longing to do for years.

This year we will continue to keep it simple, but I'm trying something new. We are going to be celebrating Advent. (Much, much more on that this weekend. The first Sunday of Advent is coming up! Dec 2) This year, in addition to giving my children the gift of a joyful, simple low-stress holiday, I want to give them the gift of understanding why we celebrate it.

Daniel is still very much working out his sense of time. "Is it my birthday next? Is it Christmas yet?! I hate "next Monday"!" I'm thinking that a visual and tangible counting down tradition will help him measure the days until this much anticipated present opening extravaganza religious holiday.

Here are the advent envelopes we prepared for them to begin opening December 1st.  Each one has a simple gift: a joke, a card, a candy or a puzzle piece.

Do you celebrate Advent? Have an advent calendar? Any beloved counting down traditions? Please share!

Happy Season of Light!

Friday, November 23, 2012

got culture?

A good friend (and fellow mommy) and I had an interesting discussion this week about how to get your kids involved in things you are interested in.  As opposed to only doing things they are interested in. Meaning, how do you avoid spending your weekends coloring, playing superheros, watching cartoons, listening to children's music and hanging out in the park? Not that those aren't cool things to do... but we do think that one of our roles as parents is to broaden our children's horizons and expose them to all the world has to offer in dance, music, sports and art.  Also hanging out in the park all day makes me nuts  long for some culture.

To that end, we took the kids to a museum today! Lily had a wonderful time. There is nothing she loves better than to be in a room full of valuable, breakable objects and be chased away from them over and over again.  Daniel kept asking when we were going to see "all the cool stuff".  I don't think I prepared him properly for this visit.  Also we have very different ideas about what "cool" means.

Andrew and I love to visit museums. We are perfectly happy to spend a day quietly wandering around in art, having a lovely lunch at the cafe, maybe sitting in a sunny window for a hour or so just soaking it in. I'm sure we will get to do that again, in about 16 more years. :)

For now we'll try today's strategy again, with maybe a few tweaks.  We'll plan a short visit (one gallery or show). We'll bribe them with sugar  enjoy a little treat together, and make sure there is some fun kid friendly running around time before and/or after.  Cause after they look at lots of statues of "pretty ladies" (Lily), they will want to pose as " big strong men" (Daniel).

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

Last week I found myself coloring in tiny paper turkeys while waiting for Daniel's track class to finish.  Squeezed into a small folding chair, holding my coat on my lap, surrounded by screaming children and their frantic Friday afternoon parents... and I've got markers and an envelope full of paper balanced on my lap. Because that is when I had time in a very busy week to color in turkeys. And having little paper turkeys to stick on top 24 cupcakes was very, very important, somehow.

How did this happen!? I'm no pinterest fan. I do have a subscription to Martha, but I've stopped cutting out the articles. No, really, I have.

Last week Lily came home with a note. "Dear families. We are having a Thanksgiving celebration on Monday, 11/19.  Please bring in or send to school a ____________". And my paper was filled in "cake".  I think I took this as a personal challenge. Somehow making a perfect cake for a party for toddlers was going to prove my mommy skills.  I knew it was ridiculous. I knew we had a busy week and this was pushing it. But, the idea was in my head and I could not bring myself to just go to a bakery.

So, I made vanilla cupcakes and frosted them with 4 Thanksgiving-ish shades.

Then I google imaged, printed and colored in tiny turkeys.  Thank goodness by this point of the project it had become a family affair! Andrew cut the turkeys out and Daniel glued them onto short sticks of spaghetti (Pieces of spaghetti, I found, are a perfect substitute when you realize you don't have any toothpicks and it's too late to go to the store. FYI.)


Vanilla cupcakes with vanilla frosting and teeny-tiny turkey decorations.  Which I'm sure the room full of hungry, just-woke-up-from-nap 2 year olds in Lily's class REALLY admired before they licked all the frosting off.

Mommy skills proven.  Unfortunately Lily's teacher has already suggested I make the dessert for the Christmas party.

(And no, no child accidentally swallowed the spaghetti sticks or ate the paper.)


Monday, November 19, 2012

hair therapy

Today we went to our favorite barber shop. Daniel got a haircut. I got some always welcome adoption/trans-racial parenting positivity.  As in, "Who does Lily's hair? You! Wow!"  I can't get enough, I really can't. And I'm only a little ashamed to admit that. :)

Before: My slightly fuzzy headed little boy.

During: "Mom, I can get a gingerale? Right! Right?"
(His usual haircut bribe/reward for not crying or acting up.)

After: rock star! (Why does he look older with every haircut?!!!)

Sunday, November 18, 2012


 A great blessing in my life is that one of my very best friends has been my best friend since we were 2 years old. Nursery school, elementary school, junior high, camp, college vacations, slumber parties, traveling, young adult angst, adult angst, parenting angst... we've been together so long that she is part of the family.  Now she is one of Lily's godmothers, and officially part of our family.

My bestie and I at a dance recital. Think we were nervous?

This weekend we attended a family retreat with some folks from our church.  We spent a day and a night playing and eating together.  And Lily made a best friend.  She and "her girl", as she called her, were inseparable. Meaning, when we separated them (for potty trips, for meals, for bedtime), they cried and screamed.  In the morning, when they were re-united after the long night apart, they ran into each other's arms laughing with joy.  They spent the day running around holding hands.  Lily, the older and more mischievous of the two, thought of great ways to be silly, make messes and escape from the adults.  She pulled her poor friend through doors and yanked on her hair.  Whatever scrapes they got into, how ever many tears were shed, it didn't seem to matter. They were just happy to be together. They created their own little bubble of joy- a pretend playhouse they carried with them where ever they went.

Lily and her bestie playing house in the sunshine. 

Will this be a friendship that will last through decades? Through heartbreaks and separations, through misunderstandings and identity crisis?  Will this be a sisterhood forged in shared secrets, in-jokes, late night confessions, and long phone calls? How much trouble will Lily pull her friend into as they get older? (oh boy!)

However this partnership lasts, I hope my daughter is blessed with many long lasting friendships in her life.  Friends who will always be re-united with great joy, and who will create little pretend playhouses for themselves. Friends who will turn into sisters. 

Because we all need sisters, don't we?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Welcome News from Far Away... sort of.

This week we got some good news; our letter to the children's Ethiopian family was delivered.

We mailed in last May.

This is the way it goes- we send an envelope full of news and photos of our children out into the world, hoping that it will find its way, and months and months later it is delivered.  Perhaps the letter is sitting proudly on a little shelf in their house. Perhaps it is folded, worn and faded, in his pocket. Perhaps the photos are tucked in the frames we gave to him when we met last summer. Perhaps they were shown all around the village. Perhaps they too, are folded and held in a pocket.  We are unlikely to get a response. We are hoping to send another letter next year.

As Andrew and I contemplate opening up our adoption, and having an ongoing relationship with our children's Ethiopian father and siblings, we are confronted with a list of logistical, physical and emotional challenges. I feel in my heart that being able to communicate, visit and stay connected to our Ethiopian family would be wonderful for our children.  But oh, boy, when I think about it...

First of all, it takes 6 months to send a letter. It's like living in another century. Our Ethiopian family does not have a mail box, nor do they speak or read English.  They don't speak or read the main language of Ethiopia (Amharic) either.  Anything we send has to be translated into a local dialect and hand delivered. We are lucky in that our adoption agency, Children's Home Society and Family Services (CHSFS), offers this service.  But it takes time. Sending letters from healthy, already adopted children in America is not a high priority.  There are too many families to help in Ethiopia, too many unhealthy orphans to care for, school and find families for.  We understand that; that's why I didn't email our social worker to ask about the status of our letter until 5 months after we'd sent it.

So we can send letters and photos, and eventually they might reach our family across the sea.  But what if they move? What if there is another tragedy and the family is displaced?

We can send letters, but we are unlikely to receive any news. Our Ethiopian family does not read or write English, and anyway they are working hard all day staying alive.  I do not say that lightly. They eat what they can grow on a small patch of land. If the rain doesn't fall, they are hungry. If it is too hot, if a pest comes and eats all the crop, if someone is ill and they have to sell the crop to buy medicine, they are hungry. We are desperate to hear news of our Ethiopian family; we are fearful that any news of them will be bad news.

We cannot send our family in Ethiopia money.  For very, very good reasons the Ethiopian government restricts the gifts that adoptive families can send.  There is already too much corruption in international adoption. We know this. But still, we wish we could help our family.

I imagine going there. I imagine what we might bring, how we might dress. Will I do Lily's hair in an elaborate style? Or will that make her older sister, who likely has very short hair and no pretty ribbons to put in it, feel diminished? Will we bring presents- books? pencils? a ball? a doll?  Some new clothes?  Will they despair that our children cannot speak to them in their language?

What will our children's reaction be?

There are very few road maps for this journey we are on.  All I have to go on is my mothering instinct and my memory of our one, brief meeting with their father.  I know that my son, in particular, needs to feel connected to his first family.  I know that his first father will look at the photos that we send and rejoice.

So we'll keep sending envelopes into the future. I'll keep checking the airfares to Addis Ababa (yikes!). We'll keep supporting CHSFS and Heifer International and Ethiopia Reads and The Fistula Foundation, in the hopes that some of that help will reach their village. We'll keep buying Ethiopian coffee, in the hopes that his hands might have picked some of those coffee beans, and that his crop will receive a fair price at the market.

What else can we do? The world is so small. The world is so big. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Quick Hair Update

This morning when I went to pick up Lily in the church nursery I had a happy surprise- the teacher had transformed her afro puffs into cute spiral twists. And Lily was letting her! Sitting still in a chair! Amazing.  A similar phenomenon to how peacefully Lily goes down for naptime at daycare. Sigh.

Anyway... both the kids' hair is getting very long.  This Fall Daniel decided he wanted to have longer hair. So his hair routine has changed from simply rubbing coconut oil into his scalp a few times a week to daily moisturizing and combing/brushing. This week I used a deep conditioning shea butter mix in his hair before washing. It is amazing how dry his hair gets as it grows longer. (It is about 1cm. now)  I think he will soon choose to go back to the barber shop. :)

Lily has gotten over her hatred of having her hair washed.  In winter I wash it even more infrequently- I use shampoo in her hair about once a month. Once a week I rinse it and give it lots of conditioner.  We have still not found a style that we can leave in for more than a week. By Friday she is usually looking pretty fuzzy.  Even though she has now, at last, agreed to wear her sleep cap.

I've been watching online videos on Ghana plaits/hair threading at "Girls Love Your Girls", and "Chocolate Hair/Vanilla Care"... so we may try that soon. Until then we've had

some simple box braids...

and ponytails...

and those delicious twists!

Sunday, November 4, 2012


Boo! Yeah, we didn't really do Halloween this year.

Perhaps it's the Hurricane aftermath, perhaps the new chill in the air (How did it get to be November/winter so fast!?), perhaps it's the week I spent trapped in a small apartment with two energetically bored children... right now I'm experiencing a bit of low in my parenting self-esteem.

Or perhaps it was this: the other day Lily was playing with her dolls. She put her babies to sleep in her bed.  Then stood outside her bedroom door and yelled loudly "Now Go To Sleep!" "Don't Get Up!" over and over again.

Or this: A few days after the hurricane Daniel insisted on carrying his ipod around in his pocket.  "I want to look at it all the time, just like Mommy and Daddy."

My children are being mirrors for me, and I'm not really happy with what I look like (or sound like).  Right now I'm looking like an impatient, irritable, yelling i-phone addict. Yup.  Their mirrors are pretty accurate. They aren't unhappy with me- Lily wakes up each morning still smiling, still wanting to snuggle in our warm bed even if bedtime was less than peaceful.  Daniel would LOVE to spend all day playing with his ipod (or watching TV, or youtube or playing computer games).

The saving grace is that apparently my mumble cursing is still inaudible to my children.  There are only a few phrases that I wish my new-to-English son hadn't picked up. Namely, "Jesus!" and "Seriously?!" and "Are you kidding me!?" His first grade teacher hasn't complained about these to me. Yet.

Tomorrow we all go back to our normal routines. Everyone is healthy, everyone's school/office is open.  I've got dinner prepped in the fridge and clean clothes laid out.  Lily even has a new school uniform dress! (Oh yes, she wears a uniform to day care. And has homework. I love her daycare.)

The holiday season is roaring down upon us. Winter, and its blizzards and storms, is coming.  The season of drawing closer, of reconnecting with our family and our faith, is near.  I'm looking forward to it. Here is hoping that in the next mirror the children hold up for me I like what I see.

Thursday, November 1, 2012


Hello from Post-Hurricane Sandy NYC! I was going to begin November (National Adoption Month), with a post launching a month-long discussion about giving back, but given the crazy situation in my hometown right now... it can wait a bit.

We are all well. We live on "high ground" for NYC standards, and miraculously our car escaped being crushed by a tree and our roof didn't blow off.  The biggest loss we suffered was a loss of patience.  Grading on a curve I will still only give myself a "C" for weathering this storm with two small children in a small apartment.  C standing for cranky, crazy and craving normalcy.

 We were lucky- we know many folks who lost power, had damage to their homes or cars, and who will be digging their way back to "normal" for many months.  However, feeling grateful for my own luck somehow did not help me to become a patient, tireless mother with endless interesting craft and game ideas.  Lily and Daniel are not really crafty kids anyway, but still, I didn't really try.  I also realized that we don't have a lot of toys.  By design, I mean, our apartment is small. But after one day confined at home we'd already dug out the never used train set and half heartedly tried out some dusty board games.  But then the pleas began for yet another viewing of Madagascar.  Still recovering from the flu, I relented.  And got out the lollipops and cookies too. Because why not? This is an emergency.

climbing in one of our public parks in happier, drier times...

Yesterday we finally got out of the house.  Andrew spent most of the day trying to get to work and then trying to get back home again. Today he's down with the flu.  Hardly suprising, given that he walked the length of Manhattan in the cold yesterday.  The kids and I bought muffins and cocoa and walked past the locked gates of the local park. We spent some time with some other half-crazed kids and their exhausted mothers before going home for "naptime".  Naptime being "time to scream, soil our pants, throw our toys around and generally give mommy a hard time until she gives up on nap time", naptime.

This morning Lily's daycare reopened.  Did she go? Yes, yes she did. She was one of the first kids there.

Public schools are still closed. So I have one child still home. Any takers?

This weekend has clarified some things for me:

1. We really do rely on public parks and playgrounds.  I think I was more distressed by the parks being closed than anything else.  We spend a great deal of our free time in the park, all year long.  Hooray for public works!

2. I like having a limited selection of toys in our house.  But I need a back up. Time to restock the "ohmygoodness look what mommy found in the closet!" emergency toy box.  I've heard it's going to be a snowy winter.

3. I need to find some crafts that both kids will enjoy doing and whose mess factor won't cause my eye to twitch. Right now I'm thinking face paint or goo...

How have you weathered the storm?

Here is a link to a beautiful time lapse photo project the New York Times did. You can see the moment that the lights went out in lower Manhattan.