Thursday, January 31, 2013

First Lesson for D: Being Black in Brooklyn

This afternoon we needed to walk to Daniel's dance class because our new car is in the shop for a faulty door. It was a windy cold day but not an unpleasant walk.  Then we came across a scene I wish wasn't quite so common in our city: four police cars, a police van, and a group of young black teenagers being interviewed by police officers.  The youth were pretty young, maybe Freshman in High School, and this all was taking place outside our local park.  Likely there was a fight or an intent to fight or some scuffle over the rights to the basketball courts, and it got noisy and the neighbors called the cops.  As my little son and I passed by, we overheard one of the officers telling the group of teens that either they tell them what really happened, or they'll all be arrested. The large van stood at the ready.

I hustled Daniel by, but my head and my heart flashed forward 10 years. My son, now a tall strong black teenager, hanging out with friends afterschool.  My son, being questioned by police. My son, being pushed against a playground fence and searched.

Sigh. I knew they were coming, the lessons we need to teach our black son. So we started today. I took a deep breath and started his Education.

Lesson One: Do not get caught up in a group. When trouble starts, GET OUT OF THERE.  I lectured Daniel about how not to stick around if other kids are starting to do the wrong thing (fight, steal). Leave right away or get help. I told him how the police sometimes won't know who the bad guy is and will just arrest everyone. Yes, I told my 6 year old cops make mistakes. Yes, my 6 year old knows what "steal", "arrest" and "jail" mean. Most of the rest of it went over his head, or past his rolled up eyes. But this won't be the last time he hears this lesson.

The hard truth is that cops don't like big groups of black teens. And all it takes is one stupid teenager to cause a world of trouble for a bunch of kids who are just hanging out.

We pray that Daniel never gets caught up in a stop and frisk. We pray that a dumb teen prank doesn't land him in a world of trouble. We pray that we never get a phone call from him at the precinct. But we know it is rare, in our city in our time for a black teen, even a "good kid" to grow up without some negative interaction with police. And Daniel, my wonderful son, is tall and strong and loves sports and loves to hang out with older kids.  It won't be long. It won't be long til he's in a group playing and getting stupid in the park and scaring the neighbors.  So I better start these lessons now.

What will Lesson 2 be? What should it be?

in such a rush to grow up.... he's already asked when he can learn to drive...

Monday, January 28, 2013

That's MY mommy!

So as I've written before (here and here), Lily is going through an Attachment phase. You could call it the Velcro phase, or the Glue phase, or the name-any-sticky-adhesive substance phase.  She's ATTACHED to me.

And it's lovely, most of the time. She's growing in love, she's starting to understand that Mommy is special and sticks around, that I'm not just another long term caregiver, that I love her and I always will.

The parts that are not so lovely about her being attached to my hip are going to the bathroom with a 2 year old chaperone, and how she is treating her brother. Her new thing to do, any time Daniel is sitting with me, is to push him away and shout, "That's MY mommy!"

She knows that I'm Daniel's mommy too. She just doesn't like it.

And frankly, this doesn't bother Daniel all that much, because he is going through an opposite attachment phase... what I'll call the "nay, let's try another family", or the "can I be adopted again?" or the "this family @#$% isn't all it's cracked up to be!" phase.  He's not so sure he loves us, because in his view a perfect parent gives him whatever toy he wants and lets him play video games all day. His ideal mommy lets him eat and drink whenever and whatever he likes, and always has the best apps on her i-phone. (None of that education junk!).  He's finding out that life in a new family is hard, and he's kind of throwing up his hands a bit.

So I've got one kid who can't get enough kisses, and another who wipes them off.

But we keep on.  I keep giving Daniel kisses, trying not to blow my stack when he wipes them off. I keep giving Lily kisses, trying not to roll my eyes when she insists on just one more.

I do long for the day when both of them can say, peacefully and with conviction, "That's my mom."

"make a nice face, D"

Saturday, January 26, 2013

This is how children grieve...

Tonight as I was putting on my boots for a quick trip to the store for some after-dinner ice cream, this conversation happened:

Daniel: "Mom, A-------- (his late Ethiopian mother) didn't write back!"

Me: "A-----? Don't you mean G------" (his living Ethiopian father)?

Daniel: "No, A----------! She didn't write back!"

Me: Extremely puzzled look. Then: "She can't write back. She's dead, sweetie."

Daniel: Extremely puzzled look.  "I know that!"


And this is how it happens... the sudden shift from the ordinary to the sublime, from prose to poetry. One minute you are putting your boots on and the next you are explaining to your child about heaven and memory and the finality of death.

Children don't mourn the way that adults do. They don't grieve, for example, at church on Sunday morning, or during other times that we adults schedule for our spiritual and emotional connection to the unknown.  They mourn in unpredictable, erratic, cyclical ways.  Little spurts of memory or understanding can propel them to grief at odd times.

Daniel and I have talked about his Ethiopian mother while walking to school, in the car heading to the dentist, while avoiding doing homework, in the middle of hectic dinner preparations, etc.  He's shared the story of her death with his grandmother over ice cream cones, and with his dad during breaks from Superhero play. We purposefully bring her name and her memory up often, but we have learned that we cannot predict nor direct Daniel's grief.  Talking about her over dinner will not trigger tears. But a homework assignment to think of problems to solve will lead him to talk about not everyone having shoes. Which will lead to talking about how his Ethiopian family does not have shoes. Which will remind him that if his mother had had a pair of shoes, she might not have contracted the illness which killed her.

Our son knows, of course, what happened to his first mother.  He was there, watching everything unfold with 4 year old eyes.

Our daughter was a tiny infant when their mother died. Lily's understanding of her story is limited, right now, to "Ethiopia" and "crying all the time".  Recently she cried while seeing some photos of herself from the care center. Today she cried over them a little bit more, saying "I miss my baby toys."

She is very much invested in me as her Mommy. I cannot leave the room for a moment without her following me. When I give her a kiss she says, "Why you kissing me mama?"
I say, "because I love you."
"You love me?" she replies. "All the time?"
"Yes, baby, all the time."

Recently Lily and I started having conversations about our skin color. How she is brown like Daniel and Daddy and I are pink. I can see her 2 1/2 year old brain struggling to put the pieces together:

Brown skin + pink mommy + Ethiopia + missing baby toys = ????

It used to stun me, these abrupt departures into the shaky, murky land of childhood grief. I would struggle to hold back my own tears as I gave space for my son to talk the way that he wanted.  I've grown more accustomed now... but he can still surprise me.

It turns out that tonight for some reason, Daniel remembered how last Mother's Day we wrote a letter to A------ together and then burned it on the roof to send our letter up to heaven.

She didn't write back.  

You might think that this revelation brought our six year old to be stricken with grief again, to cry and to scream. But that is an adult idea of grief.  For Daniel, it is just one more piece to fit into the puzzle of his life.  Dead people don't write back.  Check.

We talked for a minute about A------, and then I finished putting my boots on and went for the ice cream. Vanilla, which my son ate 3 large scoops of.  Then he went to bed and I went to the computer to write.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

a little light reading/screaming...

one year old... and one of those nannies sure knows how to make her smile.

The most interesting thing happened this evening. It was Daniel's turn to pick out a book, and he headed over to our photo album shelf and grabbed the binder full of photos from their time in the Ethiopian care center. We hadn't looked at those for a long, long time. We looked through Daniel's photos ("Do you remember those friends Daniel?" "No, no, nope.") Then we turned to Lily's section and oh boy! She started hysterically crying.  Pointed to the baby toys that are surrounding her in the picture and crying that she wants to have them. She misses her baby toys. Within seconds she went from sleepy happy Lily to screaming, snot and tears running down her face crying, tired Lily.


Life with two adopted kids can sure be unpredictable. It's hard to know what will trigger them... especially Lily, who was just 15 months when she came home, really a baby.  But, she did live most of her life in that care center. She sat up there, crawled there, learned to walk there. Maybe she does remember those favorite toys, none of which came home with us.  Maybe she does remember those first playmates and caregivers.

But then again, tonight she was also just an overtired toddler. Once we put the book away and I took her into her room and sat in the rocking chair she calmed down. I reassured her that we could play with her cousin's baby toys, and that was good enough for her.

For now. I am very grateful to my 18 months ago self for writing the kids' nannies and playmates names on the side of the photos. I'm so glad I held onto the clothes they came home in and all the little momentos of our trip. (Well, not Lily's little feeding cup, which we lost in the Frankfurt airport, but that is another story.)

Those baby toys are being shaken and rattled, no doubt, by other children. The nannies are cuddling and praying for a new batch of babies whose lives have taken a very unfortunate turn. Someday Lily will understand why we had to leave the baby toys behind. Then we'll probably cry together again.

I'm going to take out that book again, in daylight when she is not overtired and see what happens...

On the Sleep front:

We seem to have lessoned the night terrors by dressing her in summer pajamas. Now that she isn't overheating she seems to have them much less often and they are less severe. We also make sure she's had her allergy medicine so that sleep apnea isn't a factor, and tried to reduce the TV and stimulation of our evenings. So far it's better, but not good. She's waking frequently and taking a while to settle down. But she is staying in her bed. We'll count that as a victory, for now.

Here is a link to a wonderful reflection for Martin Luther King Jr. Day: click here

Here is a link to see photos of some beautiful babies waiting for forever families in China: click here

Monday, January 21, 2013

and a Happy MLK day!

Today we went and romped around the American Museum of Natural History (along with about 1/2 of New York, by the crowds.) Lily had never been, and was suitably awed and terrified by the giant dinosaur fossils. She was also suitably exhausted by the endless walking past dioramas. We are in that awkward too-big-for-a-stroller/too-little-to-walk-far phase. My arms got a workout today, is what I'm saying.

Yesterday I had the privilege to share my own version of the Rosa Parks story during our congregation's Martin Luther King Jr. legacy worship service. This is the story I shared...

Inauguration Day/Martin Luther King Day... Good things are heading our way. They must be.

Rosa Wasn't Tired

In 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama and in most places in the South of our country, black people and white people could not share.  They were not allowed to share restaurants, or water fountains, or cars or trains or schools or church.  Or buses.  And not only couldn't they share, the water fountains and schools and trains for black people were not as nice as the ones for white people, not nice at all.  Worse than that, if a white person and a black person tried to share, or be friends, or get married, they would get in big trouble.

 There were all kinds of rules about not sharing: like that black people had to sit on the back of the bus, and how only white people got to sit down if the bus was crowded.  All of these rules seem so ridiculous to us now... can't sit down on a bus!?  But in 1955, if black people broke those rules they could be hurt, or arrested and put in jail. It was a sad and scary time for black Americans.  Black Americans knew these rules weren't fair, and many people were trying to figure out ways to get the rules changed. But it was hard, it was very hard to change the way things were.

On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks got on a bus. She was heading home from work. Rosa was a black woman. She knew all about the rules, and how dangerous it was to break them. She also knew that lots of people were trying to figure out how to get the rules to change. She and many of her friends and family were working to help make life fairer and easier for Black people.

That night Rosa was sitting on the back of the bus and the bus got crowded.  What was the rule about who gets to sit down when the bus is crowded? Yup, only white people. The bus driver asked Rosa to get up so a white person could sit down.

Rosa knew she could get in trouble. Rosa knew that she could get hurt, or put in jail, or made to pay money in fines. Rosa knew that saying no was dangerous.

Rosa said no. She would not get up.

Sometimes books say that Rosa Parks didn't get up because her feet were tired.  Rosa wasn't tired; she was fed up with unfair rules.

Rosa said no. She would not get up.

She was arrested. She was put in jail. She was made to pay money in fines.

The night Rosa was arrested for refusing to follow the unfair rules, her friends got together and figured out a way to maybe, just maybe, get the rules changed. They asked all the black people in Montgomery Alabama to NOT ride the bus.  If Rosa couldn't have a seat, if the rules weren't fair, then nobody should ride the bus until the rules were changed.

This was the Montgomery bus boycott. Thousands of black people (and some white friends) stopped riding the bus. They walked, they rode in cars, they paid for taxis. They got fired from their jobs, they got very sore feet, and they got hurt.  But they didn't ride the bus. Not for 381 days. The bus company lost a lot of money.  The mayor and governor and all the people who made the rules got really, really mad. They fought. They fought all the way to the Supreme Court, which decided that the rules weren't fair.

And the rules got changed.

And in 1956, the black people of Montgomery Alabama got back on the bus.

And they sat in the front.

“People always say that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn’t true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was 42. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.” - Rosa Parks

Monday, January 14, 2013


My mom has this annoying time consuming method of making coffee. (Actually, it is the "proper" way to make coffee- the method used by the high end artisan coffe shops, but really at 7AM fast, hot, strong coffee is what I need, not artisanal coffee.)  First she puts a pot on to boil. Then she grinds some coffee beans. She prepares the coffee thermos and the drip cone and filter paper. When the water is hot, she first pours some over the paper, then adds the grinds and pours the water over them. Slowly the hot coffee drips into the thermos.

In the summer, if the whole family is in the house on the beach, then we need to pour hot water through the grinds 3 times to have enough. Just enough. The rule is, the first person up starts making the coffee.  Some summers it was a contest to see who would sleep in longest, just so they wouldn't have to make coffee. Usually I was the last up, which saved me the chore of grinding and pouring and waiting, but also meant there sometimes wasn't any coffee left.  And then I would just hop in my car and go to town for a cup of hot coffee from the bakery.

Last summer I was usually the first person up. (The person with the youngest child always wins that contest!)  So I made a lot of coffee. Grinding, boiling, pouring, waiting. Sometimes I made it too strong and everyone would complain. Sometimes I made it too weak and I had to start all over again. Sometimes I made it just right, earning a toast at breakfast.  Many mornings I wished for my automatic coffee machine at home, the kind we set up at night and just stumble up to and push a button in the morning.  Some mornings I wished for the freedom to just get in my car and drive into town for a cup of hot coffee from the bakery, for the chance to blast a song on the radio and maybe pick up the newspaper and a muffin and enjoy a summer morning in quiet. Usually I made coffee while listening to my daughter jumping on her grandparents' bed. (That was her job last summer- alarm clock.)

One morning I realized, I like making coffee. I like holding the whole beans in my hands and smelling that amazing fresh ground smell. I imagine that the beans were grown by our children's Ethiopian father. (We only drink Ethiopian coffee in my family, of course.) I picture his strong brown hands harvesting the beans.  I imagine the small bag he would save for himself, how his daughter would roast the beans herself, then grind them by hand in a small mortar, and boil water over a fire.  How he would take sips of strong, hot black coffee from a tiny cup, perhaps looking over his small field.

If I'm lucky, and the children are still happily sleeping or occupied by their grandparents, I take my hot artisanally made coffee out to the porch and look over the water. I think about coffee, and about Ethiopia, and about how we are all connected.

We are starting to plan a trip back to Addis Ababa. We are starting to think about how we will arrange to meet with our Ethiopian family. We are starting to save for the airfare (gasp! how expensive it is to fly!) We are hoping to strengthen the connections we feel for people who live so far away. We are hoping to share a cup of coffee with them.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Night Terrors

don't I look so cute in my pajamas!?

Whenever I am trying to solve my latest parenting dilemma, I go through a little series of questions:

Is this adoption related? Trauma related? Attachment issue? Developmental? 

Not that knowing the answer to those questions is possible or even helpful. It's just that the fact that my kids were born on another continent to other parents in a different culture and language, then lost those parents/culture/language and came home to us adds another layer of complication to every parenting dilemma.  Because parenting is complicated, and adoptive parenting is a complicated +.

This latest round of sleep struggles with Lily has really been putting us through the ringer. It's so, so complicated.  She's going through an attachment phase. She's going through a developmental change (potty training). She's experiencing trauma fears related to locked doors (in November we had to bash her door in after she accidentally locked herself in).  She's had an upper respiratory thing happening.  Everything is related and everything is keeping her from being able to sleep all night in her own bed.  And the fact that weeks have gone by without one good nights sleep means that she's seriously tired and that makes sleeping even more difficult.


And, let's face it, I'm not a good parent at 1AM.  In fact, I'm a really terrible, angry, crazed, irrational parent.  An irrational toddler with sleep issues + an irrational parent who is really, really tired = CRAZY NIGHTS.

So here's the thing... everybody's got advice and opinions about sleep. I do, I have lots. None of them matter. We can't go back and undo the mistakes and mis-steps that led us to the situation we have now. We can only go forward and try to get to the promised land... that holy grail of sleeping all night without waking up.

The interesting thing is, Lily is now old enough to understand what is going on. She gets that she needs to sleep in her own bed. She is able to talk about what she wants; she's got lots of little manipulative tricks for NOT sleeping. "I have to go potty." "My boo-boo hurts." "My head is itchy." "I'm scared/cold/hot."  BUT, she's developed so much anxiety around sleeping independently that she is able to keep herself awake for HOURS.

And she's got night terrors. It took us a while to figure that out, with everything else going on.  They are fairly common and fairly un-treatable. She wakes up, in an icy sweat, about 45 minutes after first falling asleep.  She's terrified, screaming and confused.  Last night she was pounding on the wall of her bedroom, trying to open what she thought was a locked door.  We're trying keeping her colder at night, and reducing the stimulation she gets just before bed.  That's a tricky one, because around bedtime is usually when my kids decide it's time for a Justin Beiber dance party.

Anyway, if you are praying kind, please pray for peaceful sleep for Lily. If you are the wishing kind, please wish for peaceful sleep. If you are an expert on night terrors, please leave a comment!

Wishing you a good night. ;)  

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Winter Hair Care

We just started a new hair care routine last night that I'm really excited about. (Yes, I get excited about hair routines. Sometimes a mom's life is simple.)

With gratitude to the wonderful blog/internet instruction manual Chocolate Hair/Vanilla Care, Lily's hair is now in much better shape.

Winter is tough on African hair. First of all, there isn't really Winter in Africa. So this cold dry weather we have in North America makes the curls even more delicate and the scalp impossibly itchy. Lily's hair had been loose for Christmas, and after just a few days of wear and tear it was in bad shape.  After a couple hours research and a chunk of change spent on new products, we now do the following:

Treat her scalp with jojoba oil. I paint the oil onto the part lines of her hair every few days to help with dryness and irritation. Jojobo oil mimics the natural oils of the skin, and a little goes a long way.

bubbles only for the body now!

 No more shampoo! No matter what type I tried to use Lily's hair was always super brittle and damaged after washing. So we now rinse her scalp with diluted apple cider vinegar.  First I coat her hair (still in pigtails or braids or twists, but without any clips or bands) with our favorite conditioner, Aubrey Organics Honeysuckle Rose. Then I rinse her head with diluted apple cider vinegar (1 tablespoon to cup of warm water), trying to pour right over the part lines so it gets to the scalp. Then I rinse with water and reapply the conditioner, combing it through her hair with my fingers or a wide toothed comb. Finally I apply a leave-in conditioner to seal moisture into the hair.

A cute head full of two strand twists
Protective styling! A protective style is simply a style that keeps the hair unstressed, close to the head and protected from damage. Winter hair gets a beating- hats, cold, dry conditions. So Lily has been wearing her hair in bantu knots, braids or twists a lot the past few weeks. I've also noticed her scalp is getting a bit stressed. The jojoba oil should help, but I'm also trying to change the part lines often, and use less pull on the hair.
two little braids and a big puff

I can already see a difference in the health and strength of her hair. We still only "wash" her hair about once a week, usually the night before I'm going to change the style.

Oh, what a delightful learning curve this has been! I just hope she doesn't turn around and shave all those luscious curls once she hits her teens....

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

sometimes he's smarter than I am...

Lily at 18 months helping me "organize" the tupperware. Check out the expression of pure glee on her face.

Lily has been going through a phase. A Phase. Not wanting to sleep in her own bed is part of it, but also there is a general clingy-ness and an inability to allow me to go into another room or part of a room without her.  She wants to sit on my lap for all meals, and I better not try to go to the bathroom without her!

This is (I hope understandably) annoying.  Sometimes I'd rather have my lap and my toilet to myself, thank you very much.

Tonight at dinner after trying to convince a hysterical Lily to sit in her own chair with was thisclose to my own I threw up my hands and said to Daniel, "Ach! Why is she doing this?!"

To which he answered, calmly. "I guess she's fallen in love with you."


My son, the attachment expert, puts me to shame.

Of course. Lily has been home about 18 months.  18 month old babies follow their mommies around like little ducklings. My 18 month baby didn't, because she still hadn't learned that I was her mama.  But now Lily, just a few months shy of 3, is acting her age. Her family age. Of course. Well, come along little duckling, here we go!

* Family age= length of time the child has been in the family, irregardless of how old they are. Both my children are 18 months old in family time. 

2 1/2 year old Lily, pondering the awesomeness of froggies.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

A New Year

Happy New Year!

I hope that however you celebrated, you rang in the end of 2012 and the beginning of 2013 happily.  Andrew and I learned years ago that really what we want to do on New Year's Eve is, just like most evenings, to spend time together as a family and get a good night's sleep.  The last time we went "out" for New Years we looked at each other at about 10:30 PM and said, "What are we doing here!?" Then went home and got into our pajamas.

So last night was a low-key affair. I bought us all some silly hats and noisemakers, made a family friendly dinner (macaroni and cheese with peas and chicken). We had a "fancy" dessert- chocolate fondue!, and toasted with bubbly (champagne for grownups, ginger ale for kids).  It was lovely, and everyone was in bed not much later than usual.  As a special gift for New Year's, Lily went to sleep without hysterics and stayed asleep (although she did transfer to our bed) all night.

Now it is early afternoon, and I'm enjoying a quiet day, courtesy of nap time and some enforced "quiet time" for our big boy. Everybody has got a cold and is a little extra grumpy and in need of rest. It's already getting dark out, which always surprises me. Somehow by New Year I forget that winter is really just getting started and summer is a long, long way off. In my head I'm already planning the kids' birthday party in April and arranging our summer vacation. Sigh, I'm getting ahead of myself.

As a teacher, my real "new year" is September. This is when our routines, our daily lives and our calendars really change.  Even our clothes transform: we put on school uniforms, real shoes and carry backpacks.  We banish the flip flops and the beach stained t-shirts.  We might have a new teacher, a new classroom, new students, new friends, new co-workers, a new boss.  Life gets a bit more serious and a lot more busy.  January is just another flip of the calendar page.  Our daily routines don't change, just the date.  So I always find it a bit hard to get excited for another New Year.

But, 2013 is going to bring some changes for our family.  We will be approaching our 2nd year as a family of 4.  Lily has passed the milestone of being in a family longer than she was in an orphanage.  Daniel will pass the milestone of speaking English longer than he spoke either of his African languages.   Andrew and I will approach the milestone of being parents longer than we were striving to be parents.

I'm hoping for a few things this coming year. I'm hoping for more harmony and peace in our home. (This will mostly hinge on my ability to keep cool when challenged with messes or defiant behavior.) I'm hoping to finally completely banish diapers from our home, as well as the final pieces of baby gear we are holding onto but using much less frequently: the high chair, the stroller.  I'm looking forward to having two big kids. (As much as I mourn no longer having a baby, it is amazing to see the person our baby girl is growing into being. And oh, so much easier to have a more independent child!)

My one New Year resolution I've already started acting upon. We are breaking up with processed food. Kicking the goldfish habit. This morning I threw out all the leftover Christmas chocolate and processed goodies that were cluttering up our freezer and cabinets.  This gave me a momentary pang, but only momentary.

How are you welcoming 2013?