Saturday, May 25, 2013

Why Adopting An Older Child Can Be Awesome!

Yesterday our older child had a very cranky day. A shoe throwing, sassing back, will not listen to reason, CRANKY day.  All Day.

It was the kind of day that needed to end early. And it did. After several attempts to avoid bedtime, he finally fell asleep.

It was the kind of day that made it hard to like him. So after he fell asleep, I tiptoed into his room to look at him sleeping, and remind myself, and him, how much I love him. He's still asleep, and I'm really hoping that when he wakes up, he will not remember all the yelling and crying and consequence giving, and instead remember that half asleep cuddle. I'm not optimistic, except that I am.

Adopting an older child poses huge challenges. It is not for the pessimistic. In the face of trauma, possibly years of foster care or orphanage life, the high likelihood of abuse, neglect or years of using poor coping strategies... older kids can have lots of barriers on their way to having a happy, stable family life.

BUT. There are upsides. And this morning I really want to focus on those. Because I'm an optimist.

1. Potty training. In most cases, you don't have to do it! Hooray! For example, our son, adopted at age 5, needed just a few reminders about aiming and flushing and hand washing to be completely bathroom independent from day one. For anyone who has potty trained, you know: this is HUGE.

2. You don't need to fill up your home with baby gear.  You'll skip needing diaper pails, rockers, bouncers, cribs, high chairs, potties, strollers, car seats, etc. etc. Some people love having loads of un-stylish, bulky, hard to clean plastic furniture in their home. (No, they don't.)

3. Sleeping through the night is a very real possibility. We are very lucky. One of our children has slept through the night, every night, all night since the first night. Most children adopted an older age will have some sleep challenges: nightmares, bedtime fears, bed wetting...  BUT, older children are far more likely to actually sleep all night after the initial adjustment to home.  And, after you figure out how and where they prefer sleeping. Our son loves to sleep on the floor, with the lights on if possible. He's sleeping right now, with his gorgeous head resting on his hard wood floors and his lamp blazing.  It reminds him of his first home, and he seems completely comfortable. (Crazy African!)

4. No need to budget for day care or nannies. Older children can attend public school from day one, if you need them to. Our son started kindergarten 5 weeks after he came home. It did feel like I was sending my 5 week old infant to school, but, he thrived.  School is a comfort zone to child who has spent time in an institution. They are used to spending lots of time with other kids, and having structure and rules and projects to complete. Family life is what is challenging; school is a break. Usually. Our son liked school, but he actually liked being home more. Probably because we had a TV.  He had loving, smart and patient teachers who understood the challenges he faced, and nurtured him along with us. And, they taught him English and how to read. (The only downside to school: homework.)

5. Jump right into the fun stuff.  For many parents, the fun part of being a parent, the things they fantasize about, the experiences they treasure from their own childhood and can't wait to recreate come after toddlerhood.  Babies are beautiful and delicious and can be carried around so easily, but Little League! Dance recitals! That is parenting GOLD.  I love to watch my husband watching my son play baseball. Every time Daniel is at bat he gets up and videos it, just in case he gets a base hit.  (He deletes all the strike outs.)  Daniel's one hour dance recital: I almost broke my face smiling. I think I did, in fact, shout out "That's MY boy!" at one point.

Have you adopted or fostered an older child? What's the upside for you?

Friday, May 24, 2013

In the Park

I'm the mom who brings a book to the playground.

The other day I brought the kids to the park afterschool. It had been a reeeeealllly long day at work for me, and I needed a break. I brought my book and my phone and a cooler of snacks for the kids and sent them off with the warning not to get too, too wet. (It's water balloon season again.) They played, I read and nursed my aching back and frayed patience.

Every few pages I would look up and scan the park for my children. Daniel is easy, he's bigger and he's more predictable. Water fountain, or ball playing, or at the top of the monkey bars. Lily is more unpredictable and shorter, so harder to find. Her favorite thing is to scam some poor kid off his scooter and then race around on it. Within minutes of entering the park, she's found the best scooter, convinced the owner to let her borrow it, and then taken off.

This day when I looked up, I noticed Lily was following her brother in the art of water balloon games. They'd found some mother with a bag full of water balloons, smiled sweetly for some, and then raced off to the water fountain to fill them up. Lily was walking around holding her treasure-  a small pink water balloon. Occasionally she squirted some water out of it, but mostly she was following some bigger kids around, learning. Her brother was already soaking wet.

So I sat on my bench and relaxed.  Then I noticed a couple of mothers interacting with Lily in what can only be described as the "Where is your mother!?" pose. They kept asking her questions, she kept giving them incoherent 3 year old answers. I saw them look up and scan the park for "mom"... no attractive black woman available. Their eyes glossed right over me.

Now, you're thinking this is the time I put my book down and go investigate the situation, right? Nope. First of all, my feet hurt. Secondly, nobody is fighting, screaming, crying or holding a boo-boo. Finally, I find these "Where is your mother!?" transracial adoptee confusions HILARIOUS.  I know, it's wrong.  But I'm sorry, transracial adoption is hard work a lot of the time, so I try to find the moments of levity. And some poor earnest stay-at-home mom with a big bag of water balloons trying to get my little brown daughter to identify her (surely) beautiful brown mommy is highly amusing to me, and my tired feet. So I watched with a smile on my face as my daughter rambled on to them, and the mothers looked at each other in confusion and gave each other the "do you know her mother?!" looks.  Finally one of them took her water balloon away, which made Lily cry, so I got up.

I hobbled over, causing this (I'm sure, lovely person) even more confusion.

"Is she with you?" she asked.

"Yup. That's my daughter" I replied.

"Oh," she said, relieved (and probably annoyed that I hadn't gotten my lazy self off the bench 5 minutes ago) "It's just that she's playing with this water balloon and she keeps putting it in her mouth."

I surpressed my laughter, thanked her, and led Lily away. (Ha! A little piece of balloon? Dangerous!? You should see what this child had tried to put in her mouth in her short life! Knifes! Rocks! Staples!)

So here's what I discovered, besides the fact that I find other people's confusion about not matching my kids amusing: I aim to be the Most Boring Mom in the park.

I never bring any toys with us. You will never find me with water balloons, bubbles, batteries, balls or bubble gum. I have only boring, healthy snacks. I don't have money for ice cream. You might convince me to give you one of the three bandaids I might have in the bottom of my purse, but only if you're really bleeding. Otherwise, go play and leave me to my book.  Come back when you are thirsty or hungry or ready to go home. Thank you.

And to the other moms in the park: Thank you. Thanks for bringing water balloons, and sharing cookies, and watching out for my kids and their tendencies to try to bite dangerous objects.

 It does take a village, after all. :)

baby Lily, scanning the park floor for something delicious!
(I can't even with how cute those baby fat rolls are)

Sunday, May 12, 2013


Today I think of mothers. My own, my husband's- may she rest in peace.

I think of my children's First mother, of their first grandmothers and aunties.

I think of mothers-in-waiting, expectant mothers, hopeful mothers, women who long to be mothers...

Fathers who act as mothers, grandmothers, aunties, god-mothers...

Mothers by bedsides, mothers in waiting rooms, mothers who have only photographs and memories to hold...

Mothers remembered, mothers unknown, mothers forgotten...

to all, a beautiful and peaceful day.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Under the banana trees...

Sometimes when I'm feeling a bit too wild-eyed, I imagine our son as a the adorable toddler he must have been, playing under the banana trees outside his home in Ethiopia, and I start to feel calmer.  His life was so simple then: eat, play, hide in the shade under the banana trees, find mama when you are hungry or tired or thirsty, play some more.

We are not living in simple times now, not at all. We are walking through what us adoptive families call "traumaversary" season. This month marks 3 years since Daniel and Lily's simple life in Ethiopia was tragically ended. Soon it will be July, which will mark 2 years since their life in America began. Those two big events don't go un-noticed around here.  We've got lots more tantrums, lots more non-compliance, lots more grumpiness.  If only children grieved logically. If only he could say, "I'm sad because 3 years ago my mom died."  But it doesn't work that way.  Instead it's "You are so mean! You NEVER let me... (wear shoes 3 sizes too big, play on the i-pad for 2 hours, watch R-rated movies or other completely irrational things) It's been a bit of a challenge to keep my cool and remember that what he's really saying with this annoying, difficult behavior is "I'm sad."

This morning I found myself ranting out loud to nobody, "Don't these children know it's Mother's Day!?!"

Plus we are moving.

Plus the school year is ending. And because this school year has been so long and so challenging*, everyone is ready for the end. Which means we're all acting like it's June. Which is BAD.  I really dislike June. It is the hot, sticky, sweaty, exhausting, dirty, dusty, can't possibly-end-soon-enough month. It's the wine for dinner, ice cream for lunch, iced coffee 5 times a day month.

* I was wondering why!? this year has felt so long, and then I remembered: hurricane, school shooting, flu upon flu upon flu, bombings, building collapses (in many of) our students' home country. It's been a long year.

So last night, after a long tantrum involving shoes, I crawled into bed beside our son and we talked about the banana trees for a while. And we felt a bit better.

Seriously! Is it summer yet!?

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

used to...

My school has a new health initiative in which we learn and practice an "Exercise of the Week."  Last week was Warrior 1 Pose.  For non-yogis, that's this:

As I stretched my hands up over my head I thought, wow, this feels great! And that's when I decided to go back to yoga.

I used to do yoga a lot. "Used to" is a phrase I say often.  I hear lots of mothers of young children saying it. As in," I used to go to the bathroom by myself. I used to sleep past 6:00AM on Sunday morning. I used to not be quite so cranky and irritable all the time."

Or maybe that last one is just me.  Having toddler is stressful. They are adorable, but let's not kid ourselves, it's like living with a ____________ (use your own analogy. Mine are all very un-PC.)  Who else screams bloody murder because You picked out the wrong shoes!, or I don't want to take a bath! or Daniel took a bite of my sandwich! that she wasn't even eating!   (I use the phrase, "Use your big girl words" quite a lot these days.)

I love the feeling that I get from yoga. That inside-out clean feeling. That "I can do ANYTHING" feeling of physical accomplishment. That good exhausted feeling.  So, I went back to yoga last night and it was great! How ironic though, that I finally start going to yoga again at the very conveniently located neighborhood studio the week we decide to move. Ah, well.

I'm hoping that stretching my arms up over my head once a week will help me get through this final toddler year, the move, the end of the school year...

And, I don't have to say "used to" quite so much.