Saturday, August 31, 2013

Renovations begin

Well, that was a week.

Started out crazy, got bad, and then gradually improved.

One thing I've realized since buying/moving/renovating this house is that it TAKES OVER YOUR WHOLE LIFE. It's all we think about, talk about, shop for, spend money on... I even dream about it. Last night I'm sure I solved our entire closet dilemma while sleeping. Too bad I can't remember.  I'm pretty sure there was a big Civil Rights anniversary this week, and that we are about to start another war in the Middle East, but honestly it's all kind of hazy because "oh my gosh what color will we paint the dining room?!"

My facebook feed is all "anyone know a demolition company?", and "look at our old wallpaper!" Forgive me. I own an old house. It's kind of like having a baby I guess, in the way it takes over your whole being. Only babies smell better.

My house smells like old cats.

So, anyway, if paint colors and renovations and "before!" , "after!" stuff interests you, stick around. It's all I can talk about. If not, come back in a few weeks. I may have found I can still talk about adoption and child rearing and racism and all the other stuff that I used to ponder.

Here is a glimpse into what we've been up to this week:

Taking out the trash

Ripping out old carpet

Painting (okay, paying someone else to paint)

Ripping off old ugly wallpaper to find very old, pretty wallpaper

Is there anything more satisfying than pulling off wallpaper? No? 

Daniel's forest room

no carpet! no wallpaper!

What all the floors will look like someday, we pray.

This kitchen gives me hives. And smells like cats. Mom's not cooking much these days. :(

Then we moved in. I almost had a panic attack, but didn't. Barely.

The best present Andrew ever got me. Hands down.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013


Years and years ago, at the mature young age of 19, I helped a good friend move to her first apartment. We loaded up her father's car with all her belongings: a couple of cardboard boxes, a mattress, a big suitcase, a dresser, a teddy bear.  She was renting a bedroom in an apartment in Queens. We were so grown up.

When we arrived her landlady was nowhere to be found and the kitchen looked like a scene from an insect post-apocalyptic horror movie, if cockroaches made films.  We set up her bed and her cardboard boxes and unpacked her suitcase into the dresser. We ate some take out sitting on her bed and watched TV and then lay down to sleep on her mattress on the floor.  It was summer. It was hot. It was a long night. Mostly because I spent the whole night making sure that not one inch of me was touching anything other than the mattress. Certainly not the floor. In the morning I left and she (my wonderful, amazing friend), started her independent life. Which, thankfully, no longer involves cockroach infested apartments in Queens.  :)

Fast forward 2 decades and a husband and two kids to last night.

We moved. We moved into our dream house. Or at least, the glimpse of our dream house. No dishwasher yet, no laundry room yet, no AC.  We dug our way out of the cities of boxes in our living room and lay down to sleep on a mattress on the floor. (Our box spring couldn't fit up the stairs.)  It's summer. It's hot. It was a long night.  All four of us trying to find some rest and comfort on a mattress on a floor.  As I did so many years ago, I desperately tried NOT to touch anything other than the mattress. Certainly not the filthy cat hair invested carpet.

Just when you think you are all grown up something propels you back in time. I'm 19 again, hoping to grow up and not quite sure if being an independent grown up is worth the sacrifices and hard work. I'm 37, not quite sure if having a "dream house" is worth all the sacrifices and hard work.

And then I found myself going shopping for an AC and some more paint and a thingy to hand our towels on...

So I guess here we are. Starting our independent life. Again.

What's your favorite (or terrible) moving memory?

Saturday, August 24, 2013

It's all happening so fast...

I'm heading, it seems clear, into my second night of moving-related insomnia.

It's just all happening so fast, all at once! Packing, shopping, list making, calls, painters, contractors, electricians. It's all good, but my God, it's so much.

Here was Daniel's room on Wednesday.

Here is Daniel's room Saturday. 

Wow, huh? I'm so happy with those greens. The floor needs a bit of TLC still. 

We move Tuesday. I have about a weeks worth of things to do in 3 days. 

Daniel said today, "please don't make us move again." 

Never sweetie. NEVER again.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Our Old House

We just came back from seeing our new (old) house.  I'm now in need of some hand holding and some forehead stroking and some general "shhh, honey, it's going to be okay baby, don't worry honey."


they have no idea how much work is involved in moving

scary basement kitchen

scary basement hallway

scary basement bathroom

actual kitchen, not as scary

This built in cabinet is the entire reason we are buying this  house. That, and the driveway.

Lily checks the plumbing

Should we keep it?

1940's era lovely main stair

umbrella stand not included

Lily checks the view from the front steps

giant garage that will be torn down and replaced with a garden

a few random things about money.

This afternoon we closed the sale of our apartment. After what seemed like hours upon hours of signing and passing along reams of paper*, we gave the new owners the keys and cracked open some bubbly. (We're not moving til next week, but we trust the owners not to prank us in the middle of the night.)

Which means that we have a little bit more cash on hand that we usually do. The bank teller started in on a speech detailing the options of "premium checking". I interrupted her and said, "we're renovating", and she stopped. That cash is going to be flowing out of our pockets quite quickly, and soon.

The other day, driving the kids to camp, an older man approached me while we were stopped at a red light and asked me through the window for some money. I shook my head and drove on.  Daniel questioned me for days about this. Why didn't you give the man money? Doesn't he need it? Shouldn't we give money to people who need it? 

And I was completely stumped. I tried the "Let me think about it. Ask me again tonight." Which translates to: "I hope you forget to ask me about this again."

I should know my son better.  He will forget to put his pajamas in the hamper every. single. day but he'll never forget to ask me a question related to money. **

Shouldn't we give money to people who need it? 

I tried explaining to Daniel that mommy and daddy give to lots of charities and organizations that help others (which we do). I tried to say something like, "he might use the money for drugs." I tried, "I can't just give money to everyone that asks for it."  None of that makes sense to my Ethiopian 7 year old. He saw me refuse to help an old man.  And he knows that is wrong.

And he's right.

I've been a New Yorker all my life. I've been asked for change/quarters/spare snacks/help thousands of times. I almost always say no. But why? Because that is what everyone else does? Because that is safer? Because the person asking might be a drug addict? Because a quarter won't really help them?

There are 20,000 homeless children in our city. 20,000. That is a mind boggling number for a city so wealthy.

It's hard when our kids ask us tough questions. I've been wrestling with this one for a couple of weeks now and I don't have a good answer yet. For him or for myself.

I could tell him stories. I could tell him about the man who begged for change on our street corner growing up. Day in and day out. We never gave him a dime until one day my dad gave him $20 bucks.

About the tiny child in South Africa who raised her arms up to me (a 19 year old college student). About the time I went into a store in South Africa and bought a bag of apples and a bag of bread and handed it to the woman sitting outside the store with her 5 children.  Because I still felt guilty about not picking up that baby.
About the children who beg in Addis Ababa, in his home country. Who have scars and oozing sores and broken, useless limbs and who know three English words: Help. Mommy. Money. 

Daniel found some Ethiopian money (birr) while we were packing. He excitedly said he's going to keep it and when we go to Addis Ababa next year he's going to give it away.

He doesn't know that if you start giving away money on a street corner in Addis Ababa you will soon be mobbed by beggars. You would drown in the people trying to get help from you.
I once gave a beggar a 1/2 a piece of granola bar and within moments 10 more children appeared, hands outstretched. And I was out of granola bars.

I really don't have any good answers yet.  I just know that I either need to start carrying around a lot more change or a lot more granola bars.

Do you give to beggars? Where? When? Why? Why not?

* You would think that in this day and age we could all just pass an i-pad around for a retinal scan or something, but, reams of paper it was.

** I should start charging him a quarter every time he leaves his dirty clothes on the floor. That should get him motivated!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013


Today is our fourth day of screen free living. For real. We unplugged (literally) the TV/cable box/Roku box on Friday night.

And we love it.

No, really.

(I can still watch Colbert on my phone, so it's okay. Just don't tell Daniel.)

This has been a long time coming. Before we had children we discussed how we'd like to limit TV in our family life.  Andrew researched it. We knew the negative impact of too much TV on young kids. As a teacher, I'd had plenty of first hand experience of the limitations of most children's programming.

Then we had children, and we learned very quickly (like, the first day we were in America with our newly adopted 5 year old and toddler) how EASY TV makes family life. It's an electronic babysitter: cheap, always available and very, very popular. Before our son was fluent in English he know all the names of the Cars characters.


But. At some point you have the turn the TV off.  For dinner, for bedtime, for an appointment, or because you fear that your children's eyes really will roll out of their heads if they watch one more minute.  And then: the tears, the tantrums, the screaming, the gnashing of teeth, the renting of garments.  The most epic terrible meltdowns we've experienced were because of TV. (Or the I-pad, or the i-phone, or the Leap-pad, or whatever screen we are looking at in the moment.)

It's been two years of this cycle. We tried time limits. We tried point systems. We tried reasoning, we tried reverse psychology. We gave in, then we got strict again.  Nothing worked. They were happy while they watched TV, and desperate and angry when not watching. It was ridiculous.

So we've gone cold turkey.  Friday was the last day of a week of no camp, lots of time with cranky always packing and cleaning mommy and LOTS of screen time. Friday night ended, predictably, with TV, tears and drama.

Saturday morning the kids woke up and were told the TV was unplugged, the i-pad was hidden and there would be no more screens for a while. I braced myself for a revolution.  The children shrugged sceptically.  Then they played with play dough til we left for the park.  The next day they inquired again about the TV.  Were told no, and then shrugged and went off to play with cars and dinosaurs.

This morning they didn't even ask for the TV.

They didn't even ask!

It's like the lack of screen options has unlocked all the other play doors for them. Instead of waiting for their next TV session they pick up a toy (or a book!).  They are free.

Now, just so you don't think I'm campaigning for Mother of the Year award, let me confess: They are both in camp all day.  I'm watching The Daily Show and a few other things on my phone or the supposedly off limits i-pad. (Don't tell Daniel!)  In my defense, I have nothing else to do but PACK. And ohmygod, is that boring!

I love TV. I just wish we could have TV time in our family without all the drama. (ha, ha).  After we move and renovate our home, we'll have a family room in the basement.  It might have a TV in it.

Or, it might not. This TV-free living might be a whole new thing around here.

Just so long as I can keep watching Colbert.

Friday, August 9, 2013

moving news...

or lack of them...

my new best friend
So, we bought a house. Or, rather, we are in the process of buying a house. It's a small house about 20 minutes away from our current apartment, in a neighborhood we didn't know existed until we started looking to buy a house.  We were completely priced out of our current neighborhood. In fact, the price we are getting for our apartment is pretty hysterical. (In the crazy sense of hysterical, not the ha-ha sense.) There's a really good, deep blog post waiting to be written about race and segregation in New York City and how certain neighborhoods are "affordable" still because of who lives there and what color they are, and well, I'm just not up for that right now.  Let's just say that we can afford this house, that our kids will "fit in" in this neighborhood while Andrew and I will not (yet).  It's going to be lovely and wonderful. Well, it will be lovely once we've done all the things than need to be done that I'm too terrified and exhausted to list here. Suffice to say, it's an old house and it needs a complete renovation oh my god how am I going to live through that! some work.

But once we're done creating my fantasy house  renovating, we'll have lots more space and light and S-P-A-C-E.  Including a driveway and a backyard.  Two things beyond price.  If you live in NYC you know what I'm talking about.  If you live in a suburb you can just shrug your shoulders at me and I'll mutter something like, "well... museums!" and we'll just agree to disagree.

The countdown to our big move is less than two weeks. We think. We still don't have a closing date for either the sale of our apartment or the purchase of the house. When I mention that to people I often get shocked, worried or indignant responses. As in, "How can they NOT have set a date yet!?" or "Oh my goodness that's TERRIBLE!"  And I shrug my shoulders. After the long, un-pre-determined wait for our international adoption this is NOTHING. Wait a few weeks for an important event? Fill out some paperwork? Piece of cake! (Read about our Adoption Wait here, or here, or here.)

I just wish I had the nesting energy I had in the last few weeks before the kids came home. Ohmygoodness! What I accomplished! Painting, quilting, canning, freezing, organizing, washing, folding, repairing, decorating.  I was Martha Stewart on speed!

Now just looking at the packing tape and boxes makes me want to lie down. I've packed about 30 boxes and barely made a dent in our belongings. (Even after the big purge, we have waaaaay too much stuff, in my opinion.) I'm getting close to just throwing it all into plastic bags and calling it done.


So in a couple of weeks I post some photos of our new house! And you can all scratch your heads at our stupidity  inspiration in buying this house and offer words of renovation wisdom.

 OK? Okay!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013


Lily's curls were harnessed into tiny braids for the past 3 weeks, and haven't been "freed" until today... 


Her hair is soooo long now, especially considering she came home almost bald just 2 years ago. 

The braids did a great job keeping the salt, sun and sand of our beach vacation from damaging her scalp or hair. Her curls are healthy and shiny. Today I rinsed her hair with diluted apple cider vinegar, applied lots of conditioner, and then styled it a simple "updo".  All while she played "Doctor Lily" and clowned around with her brother.  (Which may explain why some parts of the braids are a little bit crooked.)

 The "updo", or as Lily calls it, "Princess Hair" is just two cornrows going in opposite directions across the top of her head, and the rest pulled back with a ponytail and braided in two sections.  My cornrows are definitely improving, but not up to code just yet.
from the back...
Now if only Lily would wear her sleep cap all night (instead of yanking it off by mid-night), this style might last a few days!

I've been asked by a couple of people why I don't let Lily wear "free" hair or sport her Afro more often. The simple truth is that Lily's hair is so thick and so curly, and she is such a, ahem, "free spirit", that when her hair is left down it gets painfully tangled.  Her hair has proven very difficult to detangle and style after even a day of "freedom." So, until she's older and knows better how to protect her curls, and I get the combo of Afro products right, we'll stick with our "Princess Hair". 

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Bye bye Summer!

Or, at least, the relaxing vacation part of our summer. We are on our way home, and will soon be up to our ears in boxes and mortgage paperwork. Hooray!
I hope all of you have some lovely summery things to look forward to. I'll be looking back on a delicious past few weeks... 

Friday, August 2, 2013

Older Child Adoption: Getting Comfortable with the Unknowns...

On one of our first days as mother and son, Daniel asked me to make him some tea. (We were already speaking a homemade language of Amharic + English + Gesturing + Guessing) I made him some tea, but he grimaced and pushed the cup away. One of the lovely young women who worked in the guest house we were still staying in stepped in, quietly talked with Daniel in Amharic, and then made him some tea the way he wanted. She poured in hot water, adding 4-5 spoonfuls of sugar, and then poured the tea from one cup to another until it was cool enough to drink. He tasted it and smiled wide. I held back tears and made a mental note. Tea: lots of sugar, not too hot.

When you adopt an older child, you have to get used to not being the one who knows your child best. This is really hard for mommies especially, I think. We are conditioned to think that Mom= Expert. And for most mothers, that is true. When you've held your child in your womb for 10 months and when you are the one with the milk and the good smell and the voice your child is used to hearing, you are the expert.

It is so different when your "new baby" is 5 years old and everyone else, it seems, knows him better. The nannies at the care center know his favorite foods and songs. His friends know his favorite games and his secret fears. His social worker knows his history. Even the housekeeper at the guest house is able to figure out how he likes his tea.  Then then there are all the unknowns that will never be known. Both my children have marks and scars on their bodies that no-one was able to tell us the origin of.  Only their mother in heaven knows what they were like as babies, what songs they were soothed with and what little games they liked to play.

The trouble is, you have to let all this go. You have to acknowledge the unknowns and the fact that you are the Second Mother, and then move on. You can't let your crappy, clumsy position in your child's universe get in the way of being the best mother you can be in that moment. You've got to claw your way up into the Mommy position. And it takes a long time. 

I took lots of (quiet, secret) mental notes in those first few weeks. This is how he likes his tea, this is what he likes to eat for breakfast, this is scary, this is soothing, this is funny.  I studied how to be HIS mother; I learned to be a Daniel expert.

Two years later, I'm still learning. Just this week I finally put some things together and realized that small scrapes and 'boo-boos' are huge trauma triggers for him. He can climb trees and jump and bang and collide and be completely fearless, but as soon as a tiny scratch appears he is a helpless, inconsolable toddler.  Sometime in his past he got a boo-boo and cried, and no-one came to kiss it. An unknown that is still haunting him.  I wish I could call upon all the women in the world who are Daniel experts and have a conference.  We would all sit together over coffee and they would help me learn how to heal this wound.  Instead, I will have to use my imagination, and my "mommy instincts", and just wing it.

The good news is, you don't have to get the tea just right the first time. You can kiss a lot of boo-boos before the healing starts to work.  And that is okay.  It's just fine.  It's worth the wait.

on White Privilege

First of all, I want to thank Dana from "Death by Great Wall" (which wins the prize for coolest adoption blog name, hands down), for linking my piece about Trayvon Martin last week: Two Worlds

I deeply honored.  Dana did great series this summer all about Older Child Adoption- if you know someone in the adoption process (or thinking about diving into adoption), please encourage them to check it out!

Secondly, if you are new to reading this blog and experiencing a bit of topic- whip lash, I'm sorry, and you'll get used to it. I'm predictably unpredictable. Yes, it's normal to write about hair care one day and racism the next. It's all related, right?

When I was in college, a very popular, successful senior was terribly injured in a skiing accident. (confession: yes, I went to the type of college where many students went skiing for winter break.)  This student survived, but lost the use of her legs and came back to school using a wheelchair.  The college built her a special accessible dorm room and created ramps to academic buildings for the first time. I secretly thought- "Wow, they are going to great lengths to accommodate this student! And she's about to graduate anyway!" I don't think I was the only one who was thinking this...

A few weeks into the semester hundreds of signs appeared.  They were taped to the top of steps, on doors, outside buildings, on ramps and sidewalks and on phone booths.  They said things like "I guess I can't go into this building." Or, "Too high to reach for me." Or, "wooooo, this ramp is dangerously steep!"

They had been handwritten and hung up by this student and her friends. And they blew my blindfolds off. I had been walking around, enjoying my privileged position as a person who can use my legs, and I had never looked at the world through the eyes of someone who couldn't.  Meanwhile, this student could no longer access about 95% of the campus that she'd once called home.  No more visits to friends who lived upstairs. No more hanging out in the loft of the student center.  I started noticing that every building, every one, had at least one step or stair to get inside.  There were barriers everywhere, but only if you couldn't walk.

According to a recent survey, most White Americans aren't concerned about the Zimmerman verdict, and think we are all talking about race and racism too much.  The same survey states that most Black Americans are very upset by the verdict and don't think we are talking about the impact of racism on the justice system enough.

Just like I used to walk around without any concern that differently-abled people would have difficulty living on my college campus (or the rest of the world) I think most White Americans are walking around thinking... "jeez, why is everyone so worked up about race again?!" I would guess that most able bodied people are unaware of their physical privilege, and most white folks are ignorant about their white privilege. The media doesn't really help them, either. They love to say things like, "Talking about race is difficult."

Difficult for whom? 

It doesn't have to be that difficult. We don't have to feel guilty about having privileges. (Do we feel guilty for being able to walk?) We just need to have our eyes open. We need to listen to people who are not in the same position as us. Our normal isn't everyone's normal. The experiences of the privileged can blind us to the challenges that others experience. We need to stop equating black=bad (or Latino=illegal, or women=stupid, poor=lazy, or any of the other ridiculous stereotypes that just won't go away.)

We need to put some ramps up so that everyone can get into the building.

Not sure social privileges are real? Here are some questions to start you (or your friends) thinking:

Racial privileges: What color are bandaids? What kind of shampoo is sold in the shampoo aisle? What kind is sold in the "ethnic products" aisle? What percentage of children's books have white characters?

Christian privilege: What day of the week is the Post Office closed? What holidays are Federal buildings, schools and offices closed?

Urban privilege: How many slurs are there for rural people? How many for suburbanites?