Sunday, December 30, 2012

Top Ten Reasons I love Lily's Daycare

One day during our vacation Lily went to daycare.  Yes even though I was not working. Really it was for her own safety, because she had been so thoroughly TWO the day before that it was best for both of us to spend a day apart.  Her teacher, who is a saint on earth, asked me with a grin when I picked Lily up, "What did she do to you yesterday?"  She knew, she just knew.  And she loves Lily anyway.

So here, in honor of hard working moms everywhere, and to the wonderful day care providers who make this modern life possible are:

Lily in her school clothes. Hideous green uniform not on the top ten list, for sure. 

Top Ten Reasons I Love Lily's Day Care

10. She has learned her colors, shapes, to count to 10 and a smattering of the alphabet in just 6 months.

9. Everyone in the building knows Lily's name and says hello to her when they see her.

8. Each month they study a new letter, shape, color and number, as well as some other "theme" such as insects, community workers or food.

7. She has homework twice a week. (I don't really like that, but Lily does, so it's okay.)

6. Most of the staff and students are African-American. Which means Lily spends most of her day with folks who look like her.

5. Both her teachers wear beautiful,  healthy, natural hair.  (Again, giving Lily some beautiful, healthy role models who look like her!)

4. Every day Lily eats a hot breakfast and hot lunch as well as snacks, provided by the school.  I don't have to pack ANYTHING! (This almost made it to the #1 slot, for breakfast alone.)

3. Lily's teachers are consistent, loving and patient. Really, really patient.

2. They potty trained her! (Again, this was almost #1.)

1. Every morning Lily runs eagerly in the door. Every afternoon she comes back out happy, tired and clean.  (Happy means she had a productive, fun day. Tired means she was active and engaged. Clean means that they are paying attention and taking careful care of her.)

I'm so grateful to have such wonderful child care providers. One parent staying home is not an option for us, and it is with happy peace of mind that I drop Lily off every day to play and learn with her teachers. Not everyone is so lucky, I know. What didn't get on the top ten list are the fees we pay, but that is certainly part of our consideration.  Day care and nursery schools in our city can be outrageously expensive. We are blessed to not be paying more than we can afford, and still getting good care.  Some day maybe, universal affordable child care will be the norm, not the exception.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Single Child...

Andrew and I have never had just one child. We dove into this parenting thing IN THE DEEP END. Meaning, we adopted our two kids at the same time... a package deal... boy/girl, brother/sister, big kid/baby. We went from quiet, clean apartment and sleeping in to a loud, cluttered apartment and way too early mornings overnight.

So this weekend has been quite odd. Daniel is spending a couple of days with Grandma and Grandpa and his best bro... his 5 year old cousin. (Click here to read more about these soul mates.) With just one child around its been pretty quiet. At least, during the day time.  At night time, well, that's another story. Lily and our sleeping saga (or rather, NOT sleeping saga) has reached a new low.  I won't admit the details, but let's just say I was worried that our neighbors would call the police.  Our girl is LOUD.

We've been having a very sleepy quiet day with our little girl, trying to repair the damage caused by another stressful, sleepless night with baking, snuggles on the couch and a marathon hair session.  Wish us luck for this evening. Or, send me the Super Nanny's phone number, if you have it. :)

In the meantime, these boys are having the best time with their devoted Grandparents: spaghetti and meatballs, pancakes, model train adventures, a trip to the aquarium, probably some i-pad game playing... I have a feeling Grandma and Grandpa will need a few days rest after a weekend with these two.

Hope you all are enjoying some peaceful nights as the end of the year approaches!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas!

We hope you got everything you wished for this morning...

whether it was peace on earth,

or just a peaceful hour.

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Fourth and Final Advent 2012

Tonight we celebrated our last Advent for 2012. After 4 weeks, we kind of got the hang of it. Lily waited to blow out the candles til the end, Daniel listened without interrupting or getting up from the table (mostly).  Daniel and Lily both responded happily and intently to the gift giving.  In the end the best gift of all was indeed, celebrating our love for each other.
Come Christmas Come!

Fourth Sunday

Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go they way; 
first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift

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


The Moment of Magic
by Victoria E. Safford 
Now is the moment of magic,

when the whole, round earth turns again toward the sun,
      and here's a blessing:
the days will be longer and brighter now,
even before the winter settles in to chill us.
Now is the moment of magic,
when people beaten down and broken,
with nothing left but misery and candles and their own clear voices,
kindle tiny lights and whisper secret music,
      and here's a blessing:
the dark universe is suddenly illuminated by the lights of the menorah,
suddenly ablaze with the lights of the kinara,
and the whole world is glad and loud with winter singing.
Now is the moment of magic,
when an eastern star beckons the ignorant toward an unknown goal,
      and here's a blessing:
they find nothing in the end but an ordinary baby, 

born at midnight, 
born in poverty, 
and the baby's cry, 
like bells ringing,
makes people wonder as they wander through their lives,
what human love might really look like,
sound like,
feel like.
Now is the moment of magic,
      and here's a blessing:
we already possess all the gifts we need;
we've already received our presents:
ears to hear music,
eyes to behold lights, 

hands to build true peace on earth
and to hold each other tight in love.


We have learned all about Christmas the past 4 weeks. We have learned about the magical story of Jesus' birth.  We have learned that Jesus became a great teacher and leader.  He taught us to be Lights in the world, to Love one another. We learned that this is the season to make joyful noises and celebrate our love for each other. We were reminded of God's love for us, and of the miracle of each baby born in the world.   We have given you the gift of a candle, to remind you to share your light with the world.  We have given you bells, to remind you to make joyful noises. We gave you ornaments symbolizing something you love.  Tonight we gather for the last Advent Sunday this year, and we will give each other the best gift of all- our wishes for each other. 


Tonight we are giving a heart gift,  presents that cannot be bought or made, to each family member.  We will each take turns whispering a gift or a wish in each person's ear.  We will wish for them something that they love, or that will make them happy or that will help them do something they really want to do. We cannot see these gifts, but we can feel them in our hearts. Let's close our eyes for a moment to think of the heart gift we want to give to each person. 


Come Christmas!
Come, Love,
Come, Hope.
Be born in our unready hearts
On this silent and holy night.

We give thanks for Being,
We give thanks for being here
We give thanks for being here together.

on why we don't do Santa.

Santa does not come to our house. Take a deep breath, I know, I know.  It's going to be okay.

Andrew and I actually had decided not to "do Santa" before we had children. Before we went through our tortuous journey to become parents to Daniel and Lily. And then after they came home, in July 2011, it made perfect sense not to do Santa.  Here's why:

1. Our children celebrated Christmas in Ethiopia before they came to us. Santa, who supposedly flies around the world visiting all children, never stopped either at their family's little home, or at the orphanage. In fact, they may have never gotten a Christmas present before coming to America. So how to explain that without resorting to the "you haven't been good" thing. Santa forgot? A bunch of beautiful little children in an orphanage? I don't think so.

2. We want to keep the focus of our Christmas celebrations on the magic of the holiday, on the teachings of the baby who was born, on the joy we find being together.  NOT on presents.  I know that Santa is part of the magic for many, many families. For our family, we just couldn't reconcile one story with the other.  Beautiful baby Jesus would have a hard time competing with Jolly Saint Nick. Kids are pretty easy to bribe, and Santa's got a big ole bag of goodies. Baby Jesus has got Love Thy Neighbor and Turn the Other Cheek. Not going to convince a 6 year old boy.

For an inspiring take on taking Santa out of your holiday, read Jen Hatmaker.

3. Our kids, especially Daniel, are very sensitive to Truth. Our son has had plenty of nasty surprises in his life, and possibly some really terrible lies told to him.  We try to be vigilant in always telling him as much of the truth as we can. We almost never lie to him, even when we know the truth will be upsetting.  In fact, I'm having a hard time coming up with an example beyond trying to skirt around explaining some of the vocabulary in the hip hop songs he now loves.  So if we are vigilant all year, why then launch into a big story about a magic bearded man who flies around the world giving toys to good little children (but who somehow can't land in Ethiopia?)

4. The idea of being good is a tough one for us.  There are probably many of families who omit the harshness of the Santa story- who explain to their children that Santa gives presents to all children, no matter how many time outs they've had that year.  But, the idea that Santa judges kids and demands goodness is a pretty strong part of the narrative, and one that would really mess with our kids. First of all, if we go by Santa's rules, Lily would get a huge pile of coal. (Has any 2 year old ever not?) Secondly, our son already has a hard time distinguishing good behavior and rule following with being a "bad boy".  Even though he really is a great kid, in his mind he also would deserve a bag of coal.

Here's the funny part: I explained to Daniel that Santa is a wonderful fun story that lots of people believe in. I talked about how that story is based on a real person, Saint Nicholas.  I reminded him not to be rude and shout out "Santa's not real!" to his friends. Then he went to school.  And came home telling me that no Santa is real, mom, EVERYONE says so. (Side note: War on Christmas? I don't think so.)  So, you know... best laid plans and everything.

There won't be any presents under the tree marked in poorly disguised handwriting "From Santa", like there was in my childhood.  I think we'll have enough magic in our holiday though. To me, just having our two children from across the world is plenty magical.

Happy Christmas Everyone!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Accidental Co-Sleeper

Lily has been sleeping in our bed for the past couple of weeks. I haven't even wanted to blog about our latest round of sleep issues because one, I'm embarrassed, and two, I'm in that stage now when I know I'm supposed to be cherishing my alive, healthy children, but the truth is they are driving me crazy. Daniel because after a period of truce, we are again struggling with peaceful mornings. Lily because she will not sleep in her bed.

How did we arrive here!?? Ahhhhh!!

There is no use crying about it, because here is where we are. I blame what I call a series of unfortunate events:

1. I was sick
2. Lily was sick
3. (WORST PARENTING DECISION, so far) We let Lily watch the Thriller video
4. We spent two nights at a retreat with one two few beds, so Lily ended up snuggled with me in a twin.
5. Lily locked herself in her room one night and we had to break the door down. The door has not yet been replaced completely. A new one is hung, but it doesn't close right and has no handles. Our home repairs are a bit lax.

So now we've got a two year old who is scared of the dark (Thank you Michael Jackson!), and has no door to her room.

Having her sleep with us wouldn't be that bad except that she is a kicker. So instead of three sleeping people in one bed we have one sleeping toddler and two adults who take turns getting kicked in the back all night.

The night after the door incident we decided that the solution was to have Lily sleep in Daniel's room, on the lower bunk.  Daniel was very enthusiastic. He'd been begging us for weeks for them to co-sleep. He has fond memories of sleeping with all his brothers and sisters in their home in Ethiopia. In Africa, co-sleeping is the rule, not the exception. Daniel waxes nostalgic about how they all lined up together on one little bed. Unfortunately after being an American for over a year he's gotten used to having his own bed to stretch out in. He soon discovered that Lily is a kicker and refused to snuggle with her. Much to her distress. Our "African Sleep Solution" lasted only a week.

And this is how we got to last nights epic, three hour bedtime battle. Which I lost. And it was my turn to get kicked in the back all night. Which is why I'm finally writing about it, because someday in the midst of another battle I'll want to be reminded of the ones I've already been through.

And also so I can make a teen-age Lily read it and say, "See!? You See!?"

By the way, before you offer advice:  Yes, she has dolls and snuggle toys. Yes we have a white noise machine and soothing night lights, and she's not sick. And yes, we know we will have to let her scream it out, and yes, it is going to totally suck. I'm still hoping this is a phase. :)

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Wordless Wednesday, one day early

because I'm just a rebel like that...

We got a very small tree and only decorated it with soft, unbreakable ornaments.

 I wonder why?

Monday, December 17, 2012

Third Advent

We didn't do Advent on Sunday; our Sunday was just too busy. But certainly this week, of all weeks, we needed to gather together to reflect and pray.  So we celebrated tonight. Our children are blissfully ignorant of the tragedies that struck so nearby. We are holding them extra close, and using Christmas as our excuse.

Here is what I've learned from doing this Advent series for the first time... Dessert and little presents are great incentives for my kids to sit still and listen for a few minutes.  Lily cannot resist blowing out the candles. (We had to relight them 3 times tonight!) Daniel will listen and slowly digest this new information. His questions don't come that night but in the days following.  My personal theology has gotten real workout this way.  Nothing like having to answer, "Mommy, why did they kill Jesus?" during the morning commute!

This week's advent was blessed by our favorite Auntie's apple pie. We also unwrapped our beautiful Ethiopian nativity set, which was purchased after an epic, multi-party bargaining session in Addis Ababa. 

Here is to celebrating love in the midst of fear. Here is to welcoming light in a time of darkness. I hope all of you enjoy a beautiful final Advent week. 

Third Sunday

for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also

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


Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul; he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and they staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies; thou annointest my head with oil. my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.


This week we are talking about Love (yes, yucky, icky, LOOOOVE).  The reading is a reminder of the strength of God's love for us.  Jesus teaches us that everyone in the world deserves to be loved. He teaches that even when we are feeling lonely and sad, God loves us.  Jesus wanted everyone to love each other, even when we were feeling angry, sad, upset or alone. He wanted us to make sure that Love was the strongest feeling in our hearts.  At Christmas time we give each other presents to remind each other that we love each other.  We send out pretty cards to everyone we know, so share our love with our friends and family. Christmas is a time when we try to remind everyone that we care about them.  Sometimes it can be hard to remember love. It can be hard to feel Mommy's love when she is yelling. It can be hard to feel Daddy's love when he is upset with us. It can be hard to feel each other's love when we are fighting. That is why we are stopping here to remember our love for each other, and God's love for each of us.


Here is your ornament for 2012! Every year we find a special ornament that represents something you love. We will save these ornaments for you until you are grown up, so you will be able to decorate your own Christmas trees. You will be able to cover them with beautiful things that you love, and be reminded of happy times. We love you both, very much.


Come Christmas! 
Come, Love, 
Come, Hope. 
Be born in our unready hearts 
On this silent and holy night.

We give thanks for Being,

We give thanks for being here

We give thanks for being here together.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Not the post I intended to write today...

I had a joyous post all composed, describing the amazing day two years ago when we learned that Daniel and Lily would be our children.  However, today's violence has pushed those thoughts out of my mind. Close family members live just miles from Newtown; it could have easily been my precious nephew killed today. May those families be honored by our action. May not one more child be killed by  such shameless gun violence. 
Below is the letter I wrote today to President Obama and our Congressional Representatives.

December 14, 2012

Dear _____________________________________

            I'm writing to you as a mother, as a teacher and as a citizen.   As a mother I am frightened for my children's safety, now that it has been proven that even their kindergarten classroom is not safe.   As a teacher I am concerned for my co-workers and for my own safety and integrity, as now new security measures and new fears will make our profession even more challenging.  As a citizen I am outraged that once again a troubled person with easy access to a deadly weapon has killed dozens of innocent people.

             I believe that government's role is to ensure a safe, healthy and productive environment for all citizens.   I believe that our leader's primary concern should be the safety of our families.  My faith in my government's ability to keep my children safe has been deeply shaken today.

            Please restore my faith in America's government.  Please act quickly to prevent guns from killing any more of our children.  Please prove to your citizens that our lives are more precious than any amount of money donated by the gun lobby.
            Let us agree that the Founding Fathers intended for the right to bear arms be to allow us to protect ourselves from invading nations.  Let us agree that they did not intend for Americans to wage war against each other.   Let us agree that those wise men certainly would not agree that it is a right to have a weapon whose sole purpose is to kill another person.  

            Please put aside the rhetoric and the misconceptions.  Please use truth, statistics and logic to make decisions about gun control.   The children and the teachers who died today deserve to be honored with a bill in their name outlawing, or at least making it very difficult to obtain, assault weapons, hand guns and automatic pistols.

            Thank you for your leadership and action on behalf of our children and families.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

the very best phone call

I hate going to the dentist. I mean really- does anyone LIKE going? On the afternoon of December 13, 2010 I was at the dentist for a regular cleaning. I turned my phone off, because after the embarrassment of needing the flossing speech, AGAIN, I didn't need to irritate my hygienist with a poorly timed phone call.  So I did what I usually do at the dentist: I closed my eyes, tried to pretend I was somewhere else, and replayed Bill Cosby's "The Dentist" routine in my head.

"Dentists tell you not to pick your teeth with any sharp, metal objects. Then you sit in their chair, and the first thing they pick up is an iron hook."

I walked home through the dark cold December evening, teeth shiny and slightly irritated from all the cleaning and scraping. I totally forgot to turn my phone on. I remember looking at the Christmas lights hanging up all over and thinking, I'm okay.  Even if we don't get our referral before next year, I'll be okay. I can handle this (interminable, confusing, numbing, frustrating) wait.  We'll have a nice quiet Christmas. Life is good. Sigh.

Then I got home.  And there on our answering machine was a message from our adoption social worker (incredulous that I didn't answer my cell phone).  "I have good news," she said "Call us back!"

I called back, shaking from head to foot.  I think I still had my coat on.  The head of the Ethiopian program was the only one left in the office.  She asked us to come in to see our referral at 4:00PM the next day. She wouldn't tell me anything else.

Except that there were two children.

thanks to Jared Slater for this gorgeous photo of the kiddos, 9/2011

I texted Andrew (who was on the subway heading home, blissfully unaware that our lives had just changed.) "Bring home champagne." He did.  ;)  We drank it, maybe along with some kind of dinner.  Then we called every person in our family. Then we sat and stared at each other.  I think I might have researched bunk beds.  We may have slept. We might have just stared at the ceiling all night.

Sometimes good things do happen when you aren't paying attention.

Sometimes the best phone call of your life happens when your phone is off.

(I still hate going to the dentist though.)

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Make a Joyful Noise!

Tomorrow is the 2nd Sunday of Advent, and we plan to celebrate it at home after a very busy day... which will include Lily's school Winter! Explosion! Concert. I'm sure the day will be full of joyful noises, and we will look forward to the quieter noises of our little bells and our little flickering candles. Happy Advent! 

if this photo had a sound effect, it would be laughter...

Second Sunday of Advent
Peace & Joy
Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, 
in all ye lands.

Candle Lighting Prayer

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


The First Christmas  board book by Robbie Trent

St Luke Chapter 2, verse 1: 14
And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar that all the world should be taxed. And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem to be taxed with Mary his wife, being great with child. And so it was, that while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of God came upon them, and the glory of God shone round about them; and they were sore afraid. And the angle said unto them, Fear not: for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ. And this shall be a sign unto you; ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will to all.


Many people believe that the birth of Jesus was magical.  There are many stories in the Bible about the magical things that happened the night he was born.  There was a special star, and special presents from the people who visited him, and angels singing with joy.  The birth of Jesus, who became a great teacher and leader, is a story that has changed the world.   Imagine that, a little baby being born changed everything!  To moms and dads, though, (and Grandpas and Grandmas and Aunties and Uncles), every baby that is born is a miracle.  Each baby's birth makes that day magical.  The day that you were born was magical to your family in Ethiopia. The day that you came home with us was magical too.   
At Christmas time we tell the story of the birth of the baby Jesus.  We make joyful noises in celebration- we sing special songs, play special music, ring special bells.  The challenge is to remember that every day is special, that we should make joyful noise every day, to celebrate every person.


Tonight's gift is a bell, which makes a joyful, beautiful noise. This bell is to remind you to make joyful noises in the world, on Christmas, and every day.


Come Christmas! 
Come, Love, 
Come, Hope. 
Be born in our unready hearts 
On this silent and holy night.

Candle Extinguishment Prayer

We give thanks for Being,

We give thanks for being here

We give thanks for being here together.


Welcome to More Injera Please! 
This post was excerpted in the Spence Chapin Fall 2012 Newsletter (yeah!) Thanks for reading...

Oh, irony of ironies... while I'm trying to get his piece written my 6 year old son, home one year, is asking me to play cars with him.  And I'm asking him to please, please play by yourself for just a little bit longer. Naptime only lasts so long. Sigh.  I'm clearly no expert on attachment. Karin Purvis would shudder. But, I'm pretty sure my son still loves me. So we'll carry on...

Here's my top 5 Strategies for Growing Attachment with Older Adopted Children.

FYI Older child = 4 years - 12 years old (I will claim no expertise adopting teens). Most children currently waiting to be adopted, both internationally and domestically, are in this category. So many, in fact, that they are considered "special needs", even if completely healthy. 

1. Food

If you make a parallel between fostering attachment with an older child to growing attachment with a newborn, food is first.  Newborns are fed, on demand, very often, and in very close proximity to a parent (nursing or bottle).  They are not left hungry, or told to wait for mealtime, or only given a little bit. They are fed til full, by a parent, all day and all night.

When our son first came home, he ate up to 3 bananas, 2 granola bars and 8 rolls every day, in addition to meals.  He ate about every hour, sometimes more often. We never went anywhere without enough food for the entire day. After all, we had a newborn on our hands. A five year old, 45 pound newborn.

Internationally adopted children are often underweight, and often have suffered from hunger, deprivation or malnutrition.  These are children from poor families in poor countries.  It is very common for newly adopted children to do a lot of catching up... and they eat that way. Our son has grown about 7 inches in the past year, and gained 15 pounds.  He went from the 50% to the 95% on the growth chart.  Allowing him to eat like a newborn was a key part of his growth, and our attachment process. We made sure he always ate with a parent (when not in school). We prepared favorite foods. ( I made meatloaf in August, as only a new mother could.) We shared, we cooked together, we said grace; we did everything we could to make his daily nourishment more than for his body.

2. Sleep

Being adopted is exhausting! Especially when you are learning a new language, and how to read and count and how to write your name. So newly adopted older children need lots of sleep. They may have difficulty falling asleep, or staying asleep. They may have nightmares they cannot explain. They may be afraid of the dark. They may be afraid to sleep alone, because they probably never have.  Whatever sleep solutions work for your family, do it! I'll never forget spending a whole day at an African wedding.  I struggled all day to make sense of the language and the customs and the food. That evening I could hardly keep my eyes open, and I was tired for days.  This is an adopted child's experience every day.  Our son hasn't made it past 8:00pm, ever.

 I wrote about cuddle time in Toddler Attachment. All of that is also true for older children. It can be trickier to find ways to have one:one snuggle time with an older child.  A quick nap on the couch, some wrestling on the rug, a back massage, stretching out together, sitting together with a book, rocking in an oversize rocking chair... even a high five or a pat on the back is a good place to start. Who doesn't need a great big hug more than a newly adopted kid? Sometimes, they don't know it and don't want to admit it.  Sometimes we don't realize how much we need it too.

3. Play and Exercise

The first morning we were home in America, we took the kids to the park. We put them in the swings, side by side, and pushed them high. They've never smiled so wide.
Playing, kicking, bouncing, jumping, running, climbing, swinging, sliding, scooting, riding...  there is no language required to have fun. In fact, older children who have spent time in an orphanage or other institution have probably had loads of experience with outdoor play. (Daniel can jump rope like a boxer.) Our first summer home we spent every day at the park, hours and hours and hours. Lily toddled around trying to put sharp or disgusting objects in her mouth, as toddlers are want to do. Daniel learned about water balloons, sprinklers, and scooters. (One of his first sentences: "Want that, wheels.") Independent, unstructured creative play will probably be out of reach of an older adopted child.  It requires too much language, too much patience and ease. Our son still cannot sustain his own imaginative play for more than a few minutes. We've got building blocks getting dusty and playdough getting crusty. But chasing his sister around the apartment? That he can do for an hour. So, plan to have lots of space for an older adopted child to run, and run and run and run.

4. Connections to Home Culture

Being adopted can feel like alien abduction to older children. They get in an airplane with people who don't look, sound or smell like them, and suddenly they are eating and sleeping and living in a place that looks absolutely different from everything they've ever known. So trying to bring some part of their first home into their new home is crucial. It will never be enough, but it will be something. One of the first things we did after arriving home was let Daniel pick out photos to print and hang up in his room. He picked photos of his cousin, his new family, and the few photos we have of his Ethiopian family. We now have framed photos of their first family in both their rooms. We also have some Ethiopian books, artwork, and music.  Both kids love to look at Ethiopian cartoons on Youtube. We eat Ethiopian food at least once a week.  We're trying to make it seem like America is really on the same planet as Africa, as different as it is here.

5. Honesty

Here's the thing: being adopted sucks. Losing your first family, your first home, your language, your friends, siblings, everything: It's a really raw deal. And older children know it. They were there. They saw everything.  They are keenly aware of the losses they've suffered.  They will be super sensitive to any attempts to gloss over, put silver linings on or in any way diminish their past.  The best way to begin to develop trust is to be honest. Acknowledge their loss and let them know that you will not discount it. You do not think they are "lucky". (Maybe they are, depending on their history, but they probably don't see it that way.) Like we say here in our home, it is a sad story.  Which is not to say, it can't have a happy ending.

It can be so challenging to be honest with our children. They have such hard questions. And the answers are sad or incomplete or just simply unfair.  When our son asks us, "But why?" we are hard pressed to give him the truth.  But we cannot build a family on lies.  We must tell him, and we do. And it is sad, and it is unfair. The world is sad. The world is unfair.  But in our honesty, we are teaching our son: Here in our home, we can be sad, but we can help each other feel better. Here in our home, we will be honest and fair. Here in our home, nothing is too difficult to talk about or feel.

And then we go out to play, and run, and run, and run.

To Read More:

1. Attaching with a Toddler

2. Attachment Challenges

3. Attachment, Progress

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

on why I showed my son his Christmas present on Dec 3...

and other dilemmas of adoptive parenting at holiday time...

Never throw a surprise party for an adoptee. 

I'm not sure if that is a saying, but even so, it's very true.  Adopted children, especially children adopted older than toddlerhood,  have had plenty of surprises, most of them nasty ones. Our son, who lost his mother at 4 and was adopted across an ocean at age five, HATES surprises. Even "mystery dinners" make him crazy.  He's had enough surprises, thank you very much. He would not like any more, ever.

This afternoon we got a bunch of holiday catalogs in the mail. As I was sorting through them all, Daniel picked one up and found a photo of a race track with remote! control! cars!  "I want this one," he said, "Can I have this for Christmas?" Followed quickly by, "Am I getting cool toys for Christmas? Did you buy me something for Christmas?..."

We've had this conversation before, since the first day it was even slightly chilly. We've also been getting lots of boxes in the mail (mommy and daddy love!)  So the anxiety about the when/what/ifs surrounding his holiday gifts has been mounting inside of him.

This afternoon I thought, what is the purpose of this secrecy and surprise? We don't do Santa. (gasp! shock! more on that in another post. Breathe.)  There really is no benefit to anyone to keep his Christmas morning present, which has been sitting in a box under my bed for two weeks now, a surprise.  So I followed the wise advice of one thankful mom, and showed him his Christmas present, 4 weeks early.

He was impressed. The brand new Hot Wheels super deluxe racetrack with fire pit of doom (or whatever it is), looks way cooler than the lame round racetrack in the catalog.  We examined the package, we looked at the cool! pictures!, and then we slid the box back under the bed until Christmas morning.  He solemnly promised he would not ask me about it until then. Then he gave me a hug. Spontaneously.

I think it was a good decision.  Holiday time is laden with emotional traps for our little ones. Special, different foods that we don't eat at any other time. Expectations to be cheerful and thankful, even when surrounded by different smells and people and lights. The feeling that this holiday is all about being with family, but that significant people in our family are very far away, and possibly hungry while we gorge on more cookies.  The presents, the music, the visitors... it can all be just too much. We strive towards harmony; we strive for simplicity and honesty.  It is enough.  Now he knows that there is a big box with a cool toy that he likes waiting for him. Phew. One less thing to worry about.

How do you do holidays?

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Happy Advent!

Our "advent wreath".  Yes, it is a pie pan with a (fake) sprig of evergreen in it.
The fancy one I ordered from Etsy didn't arrive in time.
Come Christmas! Come!

Happy First Sunday of Advent!

Our very first family Advent celebration was a huge success! Two things made it work: the promise of cookies right afterwards, and it being very, very short.  Lily enthusiastically blew out the candle mid-way through, and we had to re-light it. She thinks any and all candles mean Happy Birthday! (This morning in church it was our turn to light the candles and she tried to blow those out too. ) Since Christmas is a giant birthday party for Jesus (with presents for us?), it all works. (Even though he was probably born in July, but anyway...)

Hopefully with a bit of reinforcement during the week the idea of being a light in the world, and of not striving for perfection, but rather, connection, will start to sink in around here. We could certainly use those lessons. It had been a pretty rough day, right up until the promise of cookies.  Daniel was pushing ALL my buttons (and Lily's too), and I was letting them get sore. There was a lot of eye rolling (always a bad sign).  A bit of grace was needed, so as nervous as I was to procede with a brand new, not-involving-toys-or-TV ritual after dinner, I'm glad we did.



 Happy Birthday!

*    *     *     *      *      *      *

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.