Thursday, March 28, 2013

before and after

another night, another blog post not written because *someone* refuses to go to bed! Sigh, I think we may be entering another bad sleep phase.

But look at my closets!

I wrote about how I'm trying to Zen-ish our home. I'm trying to get rid of all the stuff. The extra stuff: the stuff we don't need, we don't use, the "how did this even get in my house!" stuff.  This vacation both kids are in camp or daycare all day, so I have time to assuage my mommy guilt about that clean.

We live in a tiny home. Not tiny by rural Ethiopia standards, not tiny by New York City standards, but by American standards, very small.  Living space, corner kitchen, two small bedrooms, one office turned into very small bedroom. Three closets. One is full of our clothes. One is full of golf clubs and tools and vacuums and shopping bags and brooms, and the last is full of everything else. Tuesday I cleaned out the everything else closet.

This is what it looked like before (minus, to be honest, about 4 large shopping bags full of tissue paper and gift bags.  Teachers are never short on gift bags!)

I sorted and folded and threw out and re-organized and put away. I found a pair of shoes I'd bought in a too big size for Daniel a year ago and that almost didn't fit him because they were too small.  I found a ridiculous amount of tissue paper. I found a bag of CDs that we've been meaning to sort and get rid of since we moved in (4 years ago!) I found quite a collection of next size up shoes for Lily that I need to remember I have so I don't add more! I found and got rid of the 5 pillow inserts that I've had for 3 years thinking I'm going to make covers for them.

This is what it looks like now:

So much better! Of course, we still have to put the winter coats away in there...

How is your Spring Cleaning going?

Tuesday, March 26, 2013


My husband is a big George Carlin fan. He used to have a poster of all the dirty words you can't say on TV (or something).  He gave it away when he moved in with me. Ahem.

Anyway, one of Carlin's great bits was about stuff. And how Americans have lots and lots of it.

I thought of it because I just cleaned out a closet and filled over 5 large bags to throw out or give away of stuff, and yet the closet is still full. What is all this stuff?!

Christmas stuff.  Birthday party coming up stuff.  Kids' stuff: Shoes to grow in to. Snow boots they will probably grow out of before next winter. Out of season clothing. Clothing to grow in to. Clothing I can't bear to part with because the kids wore it when they first came home.

Stuff we don't know what to do with now that everything is digital: CDs, DVDs, old computer files. Boxes of college mementos. Boxes of high school mementos. Boxes of grade school mementos. Every time we move or have kids or I just can't stand the state of the closets I go through the boxes and throw out things. The mementos get more carefully curated and the boxes condensed. But still they fill up our (3, only 3) closets. And every week the kids come home with pictures and paintings and cards and notebooks... do I start boxes of mementos for them? Ohmygoodness!

Ever go on vacation for a while and live out of suitcase, then come home and wonder why you own all these things? Ever dig through a box of out of season clothes and wonder why you ever go shopping?  It is just me?

I think of how much stuff we own, and then I think of how much stuff our Ethiopian family owns.  Now, granted, they don't have much need for snow boots. But still. They own less objects and clothing than can be counted on two hands. We own more objects than we really have room for in our small apartment.

So I've been trying to get rid of things. In the past few weeks I've gone through our drawers and closets, our cabinets and cupboards and I've filled bags upon bags of stuff.  I've donated it, left it out on the curb for some enterprising person to make use of (I love the informal NYC recycling system!).  I've brought things to work. I've given things to Lily's day care. Every time I bring a bag out of my house I feel lighter.

I want to get to a Zen (or Zen-ish) place with this stuff. I want to have a Zen-ish home. I once read or heard a rule that everything in your home should be useful or beautiful or both. We're working towards that... but oh boy, do we have a long way to go...

This is the Before. The After is coming soon...

Monday, March 25, 2013

can't sleep...

Every few weeks Lily has a night when she just isn't sleepy.  Tonight is one of those nights, alas, which is why she is wide awake right now one hour past her bedtime, calling out randomly from her darkened room every few minutes.  "Mommy my nose is running!". "Mommy I need lotion!".  Sigh.  Thankfully this is only every few weeks.  Most nights (knocking on every piece of wood handy) she goes down quietly around 7PM. Tonight she might outlast me.

The first time she had a no-sleep evening was one of our first as a family. The very first night she fell asleep nearly instantly the moment I started rocking her.  There was no electricity in our guest house- Ethiopia, like many African nations, has spotty electricity service, especially during the messy rainy season. So it was quite dark.  The first night she passed out from exhaustion- it had been a momentous day, to say the least.  But a couple of nights later, she just couldn't fall asleep. Daniel was sound asleep (God bless that boy, he has been a good sleeper since day one!), and she was tossing and turning. So, we bundled her up and took her out onto the balcony of our room. It was cold; it had been raining all day.  We sat cuddled up in the cold dark, admiring our cheerful smart little baby who was so charming and bright, even though she was supposed to be sleeping. Eventually she started to get sleepy, and we all headed inside to bed.

Tonight I was about to get really angry at Lily for disrupting my evening and refusing to sleep, and then I remembered that first sleepless evening together.  We were so young as family, so new to being parents, that we didn't know to get upset about a not-sleepy baby. We hadn't gone through our rounds of sleep battles. We just wrapped ourselves up in blankets and sat together.  I remembered that night in Ethiopia, and I stopped being angry. I picked her up and wrapped her in her quilt, and we just sat together.

Shhhh.... she's finally asleep.

Good night.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Palm Sunday

Two years ago on a Palm Sunday we arrived in Addis Ababa to see these two gorgeous faces for the first time in person. And to say goodbye to them again, for an unknown length of time.  

We emerged from the airport on a beautiful Sunday- clear skies, sunshine everywhere. That smell- that Africa smell that is like nothing else in the world: people, earth, flowers, smoke, sun. I breathed deeply and felt instantly at home. Even before we left the airport we got the call from the social worker; are we ready to meet our children? YES. Yes we were.  And: sweaty, smelly, exhausted, jet lagged, absolutely terrified. I don't show many people the photos from that day (they will not be in this blog).  They are not framed, just as you would not frame or display the photos of yourself or your wife just after labor and birth. Sweaty, red faced, looking terrible, and also beside yourself with happiness.

It is a very odd thing, to meet your child and then leave them for months.
It is also a very odd thing to adopt a child.  I mean really- they don't look like you, they don't smell like you, they didn't emerge from your body after months and then hours of labor.  You emerged- from a car, from a plane. You entered their house.  We spent months, years waiting for them... they were just innocently living their lives until tragedy changed them.

When we met our children they were not our children. Not yet.  They didn't know that we were special to them-- except maybe they did. We wore nametags with their Ethiopian names on them. The older children read the names, and we think they told Daniel- hey, these white Americans have your name on them! Lily spent much of our visit chewing on my nametag. (It is now one of my prized possessions, a chewed-up baby-saliva stained nametag.)

We spent most of our visit pretending to be nice people who were visiting to give out presents and stickers. We played with and cuddled all the children. Indeed we could hardly keep them off us. I had at least 2 in my lap at all times. But, when the social worker came to take our photos for the Embassy, I pulled my son onto me and held him close. Then I let him go.

We saw our children for about an hour two years ago on a Palm Sunday.  Then we spent a few days in Ethiopia, sightseeing, shopping, going to court, breathing in African air. We left on another beautiful day, in the evening.  We arrived with full, nervous hearts and lots of hope. We left with nervous hope that our return trip would be soon, so soon. We left secure that they were legally ours. We left knowing that they were healthy and well cared for. We left lots of medicines and creams and donations. We left a box of crayons and a soccer ball and a slinky and some stickers and silly sunglasses and whatever else I could find in my suitcase that I thought the children could possibly enjoy.

We left our hearts there.

On Palm Sunday in Ethiopian Orthodox Christians make crosses or headbands out of their palms. They wear the palms on their heads and process as pilgrims to church.  Thousands of people walked through the city that day, visiting and worshipping and celebrating.  Getting ready to fast and pray during Holy Week. Honoring the renewal of Faith and Hope that marks this moment in the Christian calendar. 

That week in Addis Ababa I bought a tiny wooden cross on a thin brown string.  I put it on, and I didn't take it off again until we arrived back in Africa 10 weeks later to take Daniel and Lily home.  Like the palms the pilgrims wore on their foreheads, the necklace reminded me of my faith- in my children's continued health and well being, in this crazy process of creating a family called adoption, in the fact of a return trip, in their existence. 

For those of you in the process of creating your family or creating your life: have faith. Even if you need to wear it on your forehead or around your neck to remind you of it. 

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Happy Spring!

okay... it's freezing here, so it definitely doesn't FEEL like Spring, but the sun is shining, and the calendar says it's Spring.... This week in an effort to feel more Spring-like, Daniel and I started some seeds together.

First I washed out some eggshells I'd been saving for this purpose...

Daniel carefully filled each one with soil. He is a farmer at heart, my son.

We picked out some seeds I'd saved from last year... and prayed they were still good.

We planted and watered the seeds, covered them loosely with plastic wrap and put them on the windowsill.

Then I made little 'pinterest' worthy labels for each one, to be used when we eventually (hopefully), transfer our little plantings up to the roof garden.

I hope things are warming up wherever you are... Come on Spring!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Quick Updates...

mom we are not amused at this photo session.  

There are a bunch of long, complicated posts rattling around in my head these days, but these days have been FULL, and I haven't sat down to write at length, yet. So instead, here are some quick updates on things we've been working on and celebrating lately...

1. SLEEP. Lily is sleeping! through the night! and going to bed peacefully! (I'll now go knock on every piece of wood in my house.)  Our co-sleeping practice seems to be giving her a measure of peace and ease that she didn't have sleeping on her own. So now that she knows we are going to end up together every night, she goes to sleep at her bedtime, in her own bed, and the night terrors are much, much fewer. She seems to instinctively know the grown-ups' bedtime, because if Andrew and I stay up late she wakes up and cries for us. But, things are so, so much better.

2. My campaign against candy for healthy eating continues... although Lily continues to try and thwart me. Last Sunday at a church breakfast I fished out a jolly rancher from her mouth. Now, where she found a jolly rancher at a pancake breakfast?... That is a question a mother should not ask.  Happily, Lily has decided that her favorite snack is carrot sticks. Hooray!

3. Daniel still has a mouthful of gums after losing his two front teeth. He is eagerly wiggling another loose one, but I keep telling him, please! Leave some teeth in your mouth! After all, he loves carrot sticks too.

4. We are in SUPER pre-birthday preparations. We visited the party store. We are collecting things for goodie bags (superheros for D, carousel theme for L). I have a crazy idea plan to bake all the cupcakes myself over our spring break.  (That is: 30 for D's class, 25 for L's daycare, another 30 for our family party.) As it turns out, I am the other kind of that mom: the kind that creates elaborately decorated, sweetly themed, all-homemade birthday parties.  My years of subscribing to Martha Stewart are paying off...

5. Spring Break is coming up! And do you know what present I gave to myself? CAMP. Yes, my children will be attending camp/daycare during most of their vacation. Which means, I get a vacation! (And plenty of time to bake 85 cupcakes.) God Bless the YMCA.  D will have so much more fun playing there than tagging along on my errands or visiting the Children's Museum for the 10th time this Winter.  (Daniel, by the way, now has a full compliment of after school activities. He is an all-American boy: piano lessons, hip hop class, baseball practice, track class. I guess that makes me an all-American mom.)

We are off for another busy fun weekend... during which I'm hoping to take a quick peak at our sadly neglected roof garden. Is is Spring yet?

Saturday, March 9, 2013

that mom.

Tonight my sister offered to buy my son candy.

 I said no.

 In front of him.

Miraculously, we avoided a tantrum on a busy city street. Possibly because we were about to eat pizza and he'd just seen a movie. So really, he wasn't having a bad day. But, I realized: I'm THAT mom.

Today I bought the stuff for Daniel's birthday party goodie bags: pencils, erasers and little fake medals. No candy.  They are lucky I'm not planning on putting carrot sticks in there because I'm totally THAT MOM.

Today Lily got a "kid's meal" at a chain restaurant. She picked out chicken tenders, and got to choose applesauce or broccoli.  No fries, no chips, no free dessert.  She happily ate it all up and didn't complain.  A big win for That Mom.

My own mother was that kind of mom too. She made cookies with whole wheat flour and never, ever bought us candy except for 3 times a year (Easter- a chocolate bunny, Halloween -a plastic pumpkin full of junk, and a 1/2 a chocolate bar when we went to see the Nutcracker at Christmastime). It was the 80's after all... and she was a reformed hippie.  There was no Baby Gap. There was no Shake Shack. We wore hand-me-down Osh Kosh corduroy overalls and ate fig newtons and milk after school. There were no goodie bags; there were no "peanut free zones".  Now there is a designer candy shop across the street from our old house. A dark smelly old man penny candy shop it is not. They take credit cards.

Now it's my turn to be the mom who has strict limits on sugar and junk.  I never, ever buy my kids candy. (See here to read about what I have to say about non fair-trade chocolate.) We do have a stash of organic lollipops for "emergencies".  I'm not sure what kind of emergency we might need them for.... we've clearly never had one since the box has been in the cabinet for a year.  (Don't tell Lily!)

One of the reasons we don't buy candy or too many sweets is our own lack of will power. The kids go to bed early, and then it's just me, Andrew and that box of cookies.  Ever had those Trader Joes' cookies? (any of them?).  Yeah... we can't have those in the house.

Another good reason is that my kids' background means that their teeth are pretty weak. The human body has it's own little Darwinian system; during pre-natal and early childhood development if there is a shortage of resources the body will prioritize. Teeth are way down on the bottom the list of importance to the body.  Pre-natal nutrition and health is generally very poor in Ethiopia, and most young children do not get an adequate or consistent supply of calories or nutrients.  So both our children's teeth are already prone to infection, breakage and cavities. So far they've avoided major problems, but we have to be extra careful.

People just love to give kids candy. Or rather, people just love to give other people's children candy.  After all, they don't have to ride in the car all the way home with a toddler coming off a sugar high. They don't have to visit the dentist with them.  Lily comes home from school with birthday party goodie bags filled with sticky, chewy, crunchy sugary things.  It all goes in the garbage (while she's not looking). Then I give her the bag and say, "Look sweetie, your friend gave you a pencil!"  Soon I'll sneak some apple slices in it too.

Because I'm totally That Mom.

Photo taken at a party in which Lily kept getting candy and I kept throwing it out when she wasn't looking.
Sigh... Being That Mom is such hard work!

Monday, March 4, 2013

Sam I am?

L enjoyed a celebration of another favorite author.  How appropriate that Max crown is!

Lily and I have been living out our own little version of Dr. Suess' Green Eggs and Ham lately...

It goes like this:

Mama, why you kissing me?

Because I love you baby.

You love me?

Yes, I love you!

You love me all the time?

Yes, I love you all the time.

You love me whole world?

Yes, I love you whole world.

You love me in the night?

Yes, I love you in the night.

You love me in the house?

Yes, I love you in the house, and with a mouse.

I will love you in a train, and the rain, and in a box with a fox too!

In other news... this finally happened!

Daniel is so excited... can't tell what side effect he likes more, the random uncontrolled spitting or the weird whistling noises he makes when he talks.

Happy Monday everybody!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

On Naming...

One night just after we'd gotten engaged (ooohhh so many decades ago 7 years ago) Andrew and I hashed out all the names we liked and didn't like and what we would choose for our planned-for two children.  I have such a vivid memory of that night- eating sushi and being so happy and talking about what we would name our children.

We picked out Daniel for our (imagined) son, and Lily for our (imagined) daughter.

Flash forward through all the years we spent trying and trying and adopting...

When we decided, finally, to adopt internationally we knew that picking out names for our children had grown enormously complicated. They would have names already- possibly names their First families had chosen for them, possibly names given to them by the orphanage staff.  They could have biblical names, "English" names,  traditional Ethiopian names, names that were easy for us to pronounce or names that we would have trouble with.  Like many things about adopting, we just wouldn't know until we found out who are children were.  So we added "names" to the list of things to do AFTER referral (which, unfortunately, is a much shorter list than the list of things to do while you WAIT).

There are lots of strong opinions in the adoption community about naming.  Many families feel very strongly that the child's first name be kept, no matter what. Others feel just as strongly that the child needs a new name to go with their new identity and family. We felt strongly that we wanted to honor our child's First family, but that we also wanted to help our kids to have happy lives and avoid the embarrassment and anxiety of having a name that their teachers, friends and colleagues wouldn't be able to pronounce.

While we waited I researched Ethiopian names that were also found in America: Hannah, Maya, David, Joseph.  It wasn't too fruitful, but I needed something to do. (see The Wait. Parts One, Two, Three)

Then we got our referral.  A five year old boy and his 8 month old sister. Two names we could not pronounce. That night we celebrated at our favorite Ethiopian restaurant.  I asked the waitress (Hannah) for help.  It took even her a moment.... Damtew (Damn-toe) and Tagessech  (Tag- eh- sech) Their names. The names their First family picked for them. Damtew means "to be victorious" and Tagessech means "She waited" (or, Patience).  Beautiful names, but oh, they don't roll off the tongue for most Americans. And oh, "damn-toe." Oh dear.

Then we found out that during the adoption process our children's names would be changed... the Ethiopian court would give them Andrew's name as their middle and last names.  (In Ethiopia your father's first name becomes your last name.) So, we would have to change their names when we got home anyway. No way was my daughter going to have Andrew as her middle name!

So, we came back to the names we picked out oh so many years ago. Daniel. Daniel Damtew. Lily. Lily Tagessech. Perfect.

Now the story of how Damtew changed into Daniel (because we didn't immediately switch his name)... now that is a whole other post.

the day we became a family... the kids are wearing traditional clothes.

* By the way, any time we tell an Ethiopian who's met Lily what her Ethiopian name is, they burst out laughing. Patience, she is not. Yet, anyway.