Winter’s been a little hard for D. In the beginning of
December it was warm enough some days that we could still go to the nearby
state park and to the wildlife refuge to ride bikes. But the last couple of
weeks have been cold, and of course the days have been very short. A goes off
to school in the morning and in the afternoon he has his homework, and that
keeps him in his routine, but D doesn’t have that. We have playdates and
library storytime and swimming, we take the dog on long walks, we snuggle together to read, we do literacy and math lessons, and we make holiday crafts, but it’s not quite enough. I hadn’t realized before just how
much bike riding calms D. On cold days, without his bike he is wired. Talking constantly, literally not stopping unless he
is asleep. He talks when he’s playing, eating, in the bathroom, everywhere. And
he’s always talking to me,
always. His favorite topic is When I’m big and he tells me over and over about the cargo truck and the fire
engine he will drive and how big they will be and what street they will be on
and how many things they will carry and what he’ll eat for breakfast before he
goes out to drive them and how the food will go down his esophagus and his
stomach will mush it and how strong he will be and how strong his trucks will
be and how many wheels they will have and how many people will be needed to drive them. Increasingly, it is less complete thoughts and more
single words shouted over and over: Ma, ma, ma, protein, ma, protein, protein,
protein - yes, sweetie, eggs have protein - ma, protein, protein, ma, protein –
yes, protein makes your muscles strong – ma, protein. protein! proooo-teeeeeen!
ma, protein, protein, protein, ma, protein, protein – OKAY!!! PROTEIN!!! - or sometimes it's just wordless yelling. The little guy
just needs Christmas to be over, for one, and then after Christmas we will
start looking at preschools for maybe two days a week. He’s not ready for
full-time, more than ever he either clings to me or orients too much to other
caregivers, but he needs the structure on the days that he doesn’t have a
planned activity, and frankly, I need a break.
When one is down, the other is up. At the beginning of the winter, while D was still fairly calm, A went through a rough patch, when he was yelling at me and ordering us around a lot. Now things are much better. A has really enjoyed the holiday preparations. He's excited for Christmas but not losing his mind like D is. Last night we went caroling with a big neighborhood group (I love this neighborhood!) and A had the best time, running to ring doorbells, excited to sing the songs I had taught him at home, and picking up the words to new songs on the fly. A has such drive to learn, to be part of the group, to fully live in this new world of his.
Finally, this past week the boys had an impressive achievement. I left them at their friends' house to run what I thought would be a quick errand and ended up being away for three hours. I was so late we completely missed A's swimming lesson. When I returned, they moaned for a bit, I validated their feelings, A and I came up with a plan to make up for the missed lesson, and then... that's it. They were fine. What a long way we have come.
We go to the Ethiopian church once every two or three weeks. The last few visits have been wonderful. Have I mentioned that religion is never, ever spoken of outside of the sermon? Here's what we've been getting out of it: Beautiful music, friendly people, delicious food, Ethiopian-American children modeling how to straddle two cultures, and a growing reconnection to Ethiopia. The boys barely complain anymore about going. Today I took A back to the "bible study" room for first time, and guess what?!?! There was no bible study!!! It was an Amharic lesson!!! This church is awesome!!! And while A was in the back having the importance of preserving his language skills totally validated, D was with T stuffing his face with vegan fasting food (in a memorial service and I'm sorry for someone's loss and thank you to that someone for the food). Then we met a woman who lives near our house, a new potential friend... and it was just fun. Feeling grateful for the Ethiopian church.
An aside: I've realized I have a double standard when it comes to Ethiopians and everyone else. Ethiopians can ask, "What happened to their family?" and I have no problem with it and answer honestly, but if anyone else asks it feels intrusive and creepy. It's all about what's appropriate in the speaker's culture.
Adults who meet our boys (even us, when we first met them) think that D is the outgoing, social one and A is the reserved one. But the truth is, D is the adult-oriented one and A is the peer-oriented one. When our boys meet adults, A has little to say but D is quick to grab hands, climb on laps and talk, talk, talk. When it comes to kids their own age, A quickly makes friends, while D clings to us, or engages in parallel play without really interacting.
Open House at A's school back in September was a proud evening for us. We walked through the halls of the school with A greeting and being greeted by dozens of kids by name.
I have been a little concerned about D because of the possibility of indiscriminate friendliness. He is incredibly charming with adults and older kids and almost too quick at making them fall in love with him, but often says, "I don't like kids my age." This has been a factor in our decision to keep him at home rather than enroll him in preschool. We wanted to be sure that he bonded to us more than to any other caretaker.
So I'm very happy to begin seeing D develop some peer relationships. Over Thanksgiving he had moments where he wasn't just playing next to his cousins, but actually playing with them. You know, where one kid starts a game, and the other kid introduces a new idea and the first kid builds on that, and there is that awareness that there is another person in the room who is fun and not just there to be an audience. Then yesterday he had the most awesome playdate with his friend M. They've played before, side by side, but each in their own game. Yesterday they were riding bikes in the basement of the Smith PlayHouse and they created a game for both of them. It was a super fun game that involved stacking tricycles and scooters into piles and then crashing into them full speed and yelling. Even the things they were yelling built on each other, with M starting with "yahoo!" and D picking it up and adding "whee!" and M picking it up and so on. And then they climbed on the roof of the toy train together, and built and knocked down block towers together. I think we are turning a corner and it makes me so glad and grateful.
. . .
I am grateful for (a mishmash):
Thanksgiving with my whole family, 15 of us gathered at my brother's house.
six cousins all within four years of each other.
good planning that allowed us to intersperse family time with the train museum, connecting with another adoptive family, and meeting a real, live fire fighter.
that A moved smoothly back into his school routine after the holiday.
that D had only three days of extreme neediness before adjusting back into his routine (that sounds passive-aggressive, but it could have been a lot longer than three days).
that we can live on savings while I stay home with D and build attachment.
Mr. C, D's swim teacher, and Ms. R, his story time librarian.
A's school success.
homework time, which tells our kids that education is important more than anything we actually say.
blue skies and red Japanese maples, which do wonders for everyone's mood
I have been meaning to write about how the battle against Penny has been going lately.
One of Penny's big criticisms has been that I'm not "feeling it" enough. Penny has read a lot of adoption blogs where people report falling head over heels in love with their children. Penny has been telling me that even if I'm taking good care of my children, if I'm not loving every minute of it, I'm coming up short.
Here's a story:
During Christmas of 2001, I was in South Africa. A friend and I decided to go rappelling (abseiling) down Table Mountain. It is the highest commercial rappel in the world, starting at 1000 meters up, then dropping 112 meters down a cliff overlooking Cape Town. I had never been rappelling before, so this was an ambitious way to start. I was pretty terrified. I vividly remember inching backwards over the edge of the cliff, hanging onto the rope for dear life.
At the top, the woman in charge of the rappel cheered me on. I have been thinking about this woman a lot, because she was the best cheerleader ever. Every inch my shaking foot moved, she whooped and hollered. Right foot one inch - "You are soooo good at this!!!" Left foot one inch - "I can't belieeeeve it!!!" Right foot one inch - "I'm going to lose my job! They're going to give you my job!!!" And so approximately five thousand hours later, I made it to the bottom of the cliff.
So I ask Penny, was this woman "feeling it"? Did she honestly think I was the best rappeller ever (unlike, say, my friend who descended the entire 112 meters in about 90 seconds)? Clearly, she did not. But she got me down the cliff, she did damn fine work, and I was very grateful for her. I would never in a million years argue that because she wasn't feeling it, she didn't do a good job. Nor would I have preferred that she shout more honest assessments of my progress.
So for the last couple of weeks, I've focused on becoming a better cheerleader. I've been using the words "best in the whole world" a lot. I have been over-the-top gushing over my boys. And it works really well. D "helps me" fix the porch screen by scattering nails all over the ground? "You are the best helper in the world!!!" I exclaim. His eyes get big. "The best in Greece? The best in Addis Ababa?" And then he tries harder to live up to the title, managing to actually bring me the tools I need, as I need them. My cheerleading makes him happy and proud of himself. A pretends to not like it, but the cheerleading makes him happy and proud of himself, too.
I'm making my children happy and proud of themselves. I feel that. Penny can't argue and she gets quieter.
Heading into November, we are pretty settled into our routine on weekdays. In the mornings it is a mad rush of breakfast, making lunch, dressing, getting to the school bus stop, though we always have time to read a couple of stories before breakfast, which is a nice way to start the day. After A gets on the bus, T goes to work and D and I take the dog for a walk. Then D and I do his timhirt (lesson). I got him a big kindergarten workbook and each day we do a letter and a number, or a letter and a "pre-reading skill." It's nice to do lessons where I don't have the pressure of needing to master an objective by a pre-determined deadline (unlike teaching in a strictly regimented public school). I feel these lessons are really benefiting D. He can name most letters and reliably count up to twelve. His fine motor skills are getting A LOT better. His focus is getting a little better too.
After our lesson we usually go somewhere. We either have a playdate or go to a park or the library or run an errand. I've found the day goes better if a) we are out of the house and b) we're doing an activity focused on D. That means I save cleaning the kitchen, preparing dinner, laundry etc for after lunch, when he doesn't need 100% of my attention.
A little before 3:30 we walk down to the bus stop to meet A. When we get home we have a snack, then the boys ride their bikes for a while, then we do homework. A's homework takes about 45 minutes and he's usually motivated to do it. He is LOVING school and it's very important to him that he does well. After homework there is usually time to go to the park, though now that it's getting dark earlier we've been reading more books instead. Once the time changes next week, it's going to be even more important that the kids get out of the house and get some exercise before homework, because they really, really need that.
T gets home around 6, then it's dinner, video, reading and bed. T does the bedtime routine. I'd like to say I use that time to do something productive for myself, but mostly I'm wiped out and vegging on the couch.
At the beginning of this week, Hurricane Sandy closed the schools and disrupted our routine, and we had challenging behavior on par with June's initial settling-in. Just goes to show how important the routine is.
The battle with Penny continues. Some days are better than others. I may write more about it in another post.
We went to Wissahickon for the first time on Sunday, topping a weekend that included a long, childfree bike ride and dinner at the home of new friends. D and I went back again today. He rode his longest bike ride to date. A friendly fisherperson invited him to reel in a fish. Loving this city.
For our children's first family. They so clearly cared for our boys and taught them what it means to be in a family. We never had to teach that. They knew how to be part of a family from Day 1.
For our boys, who are resilient, strong, brave, smart, loving and kind.
For the area we live in. There is so much diversity here that I don't feel that we stick out at all. A's school bus route picks up a little United Nations. We've met plenty of other mixed race families. We did our research to find this area, but we also got lucky in how everything came together.
A short but wonderful visit with a friend from Burji.
A great trip to upstate New York where the boys had lots of fun with their cousins.
Eating pretty healthy. Finally getting around to ordering from the farm store.
Getting into a homework routine with A.
A couple of playdates a week for D.
Going to the Ethiopian church every 2-3 weeks while avoiding any mention of religion.
For our next-door neighbors. They are ALWAYS happy to see the kids and ALWAYS ready to offer help, recommendations, support.
For Mekbib. For taking us under his wing at the Ethiopian church and bringing his kids to swim with our kids every Saturday.
For the online support of other adoptive families.
For T. Right now more than anything he is my partner in parenting. Some days he comes home and I foist the kids on him before I've even said hello. But we have scheduled our first date since last spring, and our marriage is about to regain some of its balance.
We've never run out of food.
We've never run out of clean clothes.
We've never missed a swimming class.
The boys get exercise, books, and some form of art pretty much every day.
Penny points out that most of the relationships I'm talking about are not true friendships and I've set the bar pretty low in what constitutes a success. I decided today not to argue with her; she always wants the last word, so I'll let her have it.
Lately D has been talking a lot about Burji. Mostly it's minor
variations on the basic story of his life: "When I was little I lived there. Now I
live here." We also talk a lot about how "I have two families." He's
pretty proud of how much family he has. He often asks me what time it is in Burji and what his family is doing, and I tell him they're making lunch, or bringing the cows in, or getting ready for bed.
A couple of months ago we
started looking at more pictures from Burji and last week we watched
part of the video of us meeting his family. I was thrilled that when he
asked me, "Was I born when the sun was up or when the sun was down?" we
could go back to the video and find the answer.
Any time D and I look at new pictures or discuss anything new,
I make sure to catch A up when he comes home from school. A doesn't
talk about Burji as much, but he's more likely to offer new thoughts. He
sometimes tells me when things here remind him of Burji or how things here are
different from Burji.
I always try to stress how much both their families love them and how proud of them we both are.
We made another phone call to the neighbor in Burji to
report that A started school. This time we told the boys ahead of time
that we would call, with great excitement and talk of how excited their
family would be to hear the news. They did not want to participate, but
were definitely interested.
We sent a photo album to a
family who will travel to Ethiopia soon, to deliver to our agency who
will eventually deliver it to Awassa, six hours away from Burji, where
it will await someone from the village to come and get it.
all feels very positive, though I think the reason behind that is not
great: they're forgetting. When they first came, most things related to
Ethiopia really stressed them out. Now Ethiopia is getting more
abstract. They've lost their Amharic and I think their Burjinya too. At
the same time, they're starting to enjoy the Ethiopian church more.
They're fine looking at pictures of their family. They like reading
books about Ethiopia and Africa. Because it's becoming distant and
disconnected. I don't know how to change that, or if it's inevitable.
Should we be trying to call more often? Should I give them stronger
encouragement to talk on the phone? How do we do that if they no longer
share a language with their family? I'm interested to hear what other
families are doing to have a more "open" adoption.
A just finished his second full week of first grade. Around here it's the norm to have some freakout when things are new, before settling into a routine. That's how school has been. Really it's been a surprisingly smooth transition. The first few days were hard, on A and on D and on me, but by the end of the first week we were beginning to settle. We all had our reactions and reacted to each other and experimented with each other's reactions and now, by the end of the second week, it feels like school is something we know how to do.
A is doing very well. He's listening to his teacher and mostly understanding her, and he's able to do the work. The lessons I did with him in August really helped. He started riding the school bus on Day 3 and he LOVES it. He is exhausted by the end of the day, but ready and excited to go back the next morning. Every day when he gets home he needs some down time. We figured out that the best thing for me to do is to not talk to him
(he's been listening to English all day, he needs a break) and just be
available with food. When he's ready, I help him with his homework, and then we all go to the park. I've switched to making dinner right after lunch so that in the afternoon I can just focus on A.
D is also doing great. It only took about a week for him to adjust to the new routine of being home without his brother. The surprise delivery of a ginormous box of Legos on the first full day definitely helped. He asks a lot about what A is doing, and he's formulated a plan for his own future: next year kindergarten, then first grade, then high school, university and ultimately a job designing cruise ships. His ship will have 15 restaurants, 3 of which will only sell tacos, an 18-foot slide that you ride down on your bicycle, and a zoo. Also you can push a button and the ship turns into a motorcycle. The people who were on the cruise end up in the ocean, which he admits is a design flaw. We've talked about this A LOT.
I know I've said this before, but I'm so impressed with our kids. They make it seem easy. Like D says, their hearts are strong.
A is anxious about being in a car and not knowing where we are going (or thinking he doesn't know). If I'm not being proactive, the conversation in the car may go like this:
A: Where are we going?
Me: We're going home.
A (at light): Go straight here?
Me: No, we turn left here.
A: Is not right. Go straight here?
Me: We turn left here. See over there? That's the fire station we passed on the way here.
A (at next light): Turn around here?
Me: See the light up there? We'll turn at that light and get on the big road.
A: Is right, Mommy? Is not right!
Me: This is right. This is the road we came on.
A: Is not right, Mommy? Which way, Mommy? This way? That way? Where are we going? WHERE ARE WE GOING????
Me: Take a deep breath. Tell me. Where are we going?
A (sheepish grin): We going home.
Me: Yes. We are going home. We'll go on this road for five minutes and then we'll be home.
A (at next light): Is right? Is not right. Where are we going?
I think the anxiety comes from being put in a car to be taken from one orphanage to another, without knowing where he was going. He's told us they were taken between Burji and Awassa more than once. I've found if I pre-emptively narrate our drive, I can get in front of his anxiety before it blows up.
Both boys are anxious about food. They have gotten over the eating
habits of the first month, when they would each eat two adult-size plates of
food at each meal. They still squeeze between me and the kitchen counter
when I'm making dinner. I trip over them moving around the kitchen.
They cry if the time between "get ready for dinner" and actually eating
dinner is longer than 30 seconds. They ask for a second helping and ask
for it again and again and again while I'm getting it and walking toward
the table with it.
They were never malnourished, as far as I know. A says they
always had food to eat and that if they didn't have food at home, the
neighbors always shared with them.
If A gets hungry, he becomes a different person. I tell him he is
Incredible Hulk: "Don't make me hungry. You wouldn't like me when I'm
hungry." I try to make sure he never gets hungry. I offer them snacks a
lot. They can snack up to ten minutes before dinner if they want. A is becoming aware of what hunger does to him. Twice now, he has started down the road to a meltdown, and then
stopped and said, "I think I need a snack." So proud of him for that.
But I try to stay ahead of it by checking his mood and giving him food
before he gets hungry.
D is anxious about his brother leaving him. If they are playing in their room together and A leaves to go to the bathroom, D starts to howl. A while ago the three of us sat down and talked about this. I asked D if he was scared that A was going to leave the house without him, and he burst into tears. I turned to A and asked him if he would leave the house without D. He shouted "NEVER!!!!" so vehemently that D and I both jumped. I think D felt better after that.
The boys come into our room around 6:30 every morning. A gets in our bed to sleep a little more and D brings me to his bed to sleep so he can play without being alone.
D's anxiety about his brother leaving him is my top concern right now. A started school today, just a half day for the first day. D screamed some in the morning and whimpered all through the morning meet-the-teacher, but then he was OK and a couple of hours later it was already time to go pick A up. A's school starts full-time on Monday.
A few days ago I wrote a post about all the cute things that D does. I am having the hardest time writing a similar post about A. There is an edge to him that makes cute the wrong word. When I think about what I want to remember about him from this summer, I think of all the things that he has worked really hard on. It has been a summer of challenges and achievement for him.
Some of the things he's worked on are skills:
Swimming: He can take several nice long strokes before stopping to breathe, and he can sit on the bottom of the pool.
Legos: He can follow visual directions for building with some help, and he can make creations of his own.
Bike riding: He is up to 4.5 miles.
Reading and spelling: He can sound out most three-letter words and can read about 30 sight words.
Others are more social-emotional development like:
Understanding that every family in this country does things a little differently, and he follows the rules of this family.
Meeting new kids at the park and playing with them in age-appropriate and culturally-appropriate ways.
Being a good big brother without trying to be the boss.
Managing his emotions. This has been a big one, and it is pretty astounding how far he has come. He's developed a lot of self-awareness about his own anxiety and triggers, like hunger or not knowing where he is.
I guess it's not cute because it's been hard work, and hard work is not cute. But it's brave and purposeful, and pretty awesome.
The boys and I just got back from a six-day road trip to Virginia and North Carolina. Highlights from the trip (I only have time for bullet points these days):
Friday night dinner with a group of parent friends, who reassured me that I'm normal. Thank you!
Seeing Buki again. It tears me up that she's not with us, but she's very happy and well taken care of where she is.
Seeing the old house, the old park and the old neighbors again, all these images and experiences from our boys' first ten days in the U.S. now put into a proper mental space, aligned, connected. Closing that circle was good for all of us.
The remarkable changes from then to now.
Playing with our old across-the-street neighbors' kids. They would have been best buds if we'd stayed.
Playing with a friend from Gondar, Ethiopia.
Fish and frog and snake and turtle and deer with grandparents. Sigh... wish we could live in the country.
Riding the bus and the elevators with Keith ("Keith silly! Keith scared!").
Playing with friends from our old street in Virginia. They would have been best buds too, if we'd stayed.
Things I never want to forget about you at this age:
The way you say, "Daaaaaangerous."
The way, instead of asking, "What are you making?" you say, "Make a _______" and we're supposed to fill in the blank.
Your acting ability, including your "shocked and indignant" look and your "authoritative and suspicious" look.
The way you constantly palpate my arm. There really is no other verb for it. It's like a poorly-aimed breast exam.
The way you turn over the first card on the first turn of the memory game and give a little jump and say, "Before?" No, sweetie, it's the first turn, we haven't seen it before.
The collection of sentences that you say over and over, like, "Urchin, step on, ouch!" or "Michael Phelps, long arms, lotta spinach!"
The way you string those sentences together to create a train of thought: "Today, Diego, what animal? Maybe penguin. Penguin not just Antarctica. Penguin South America. Indian Ocean far away? I can't reach. Michael Phelps can reach. Michael Phelps has long arms!"
The way your voice gets soft and babyish when you're sleepy and you say, "Mommy... my mommy."
At the end of July we spent a week at the beach with my family, to celebrate my mom's birthday. We had a great time and A and D did very well. They loved the beach, seeing dolphins, riding bikes, their first boat ride, ice cream on the boardwalk and especially the rides at Fun Land. They got along well with their cousins. They did fine when the week ended and it was time to go home. It was a wonderful week.
When we got back from the beach, camp had ended and I started daily literacy lessons with A. We practice phonics, spelling and sight words, read many little books and do lots of drawing and writing. I'm using a lot of materials from ReadingA-Z, a site I used as an ESL teacher. I've said before that it's very important to lay a foundation of oral language before attempting literacy. I think 3 months in the USA was a good time to start literacy lessons.
Let me take a shower
Scream, bang on door, cry, bang on door.
At 3 months:
"I'm going to take a shower now."
"Mom, can we play cards?"
I set up the cards for them. I go upstairs and take a shower. When I come down, they are still playing. I go outside to get the trash cans from the sidewalk. A. comes out to report that they've counted up their cards and how many points each one got. This actually happened.
Negotiate sharing with each other
"Yinei! (Mine!) Yinei! Yinei!" Grab. Hit. Waaaaahhhh!
At 3 months:
"I want toy pleeeeeease."
"Wait a minute... OK, here you go."
This actually happened more than once.
Let me go to the bathroom
Scream, bang on door, cry, bang on door.
At 3 months:
I'm in the bathroom. D. stands outside the door, sweetly reporting, "I'm waaiiiiting. I'm still waaiiiiting."
Let me make a phone call
Hang on mommy. Scream,"MAN NOW? (Who is it?) MAN NOW? MAN NOW?"
At 3 months:
Exaggerated quiet signs. Loud whispers of "Quiiiiiiiiet! Shhhhhhh!"
Independent play at the park
MUST. HAVE. YOUR. ATTENTION. AT. ALL. TIMES.
At 3 months:
"A, you rode your bicycle a little too far. Please stay where I can see you."
"Why you no see me? You have glasses."
What they cannot do at 3 months
Changes of plans:
We plan to take the dog for a walk in the morning, but it starts raining. We take the dog for a walk in the afternoon. The whine-o-meter goes to eleven.
Here's what A and D sound like at 3 months in the United States. They are playing a game that has pictures of different animals. They're talking about the animals' habitats, what they eat and how they protect themselves.
D: Alligator! Alligator min din now? (what is it?) Alligator like crocodile. Big lizard. Alligator
dangerous. Alligator sharp teeth. Alligator eat iguana.
A: Mom, how about crocodile. Crocodile can eat a lion. I see
lion video, crocodile.
D: I want upstairs, I want, in the morning, buffalo lion video.
A: Cheetah now ready run. Now running. I think maybe cheetah
big flat place. No trees. Cheetah I think animal catching. Silezee (so), flat bota (place). Tiliq bota (big place) is for
D: Mom, grasshopper! Mom, lion eat grasshopper.
D: Lion. Lion dangerous. Gazelle eat. Gazelle, dangerous, gazelle? Gazelle have flat teeth. A duck!
D: D has monkey. Chimpanzee. Mom, chimpanzee dangerous? Very strong.
A: I think chimpanzee hit you. Angry, hit. Touch baby. No,
no, my baby! Hit. My baby!
A: Zebra big, like this, grass, maybe.
D: Cheetah this grass.
A: Same color, no. It’s not same. White one.
D: Antarctica, Antarctica!
A: I know. Zebra mix grass,
all the way in the hair.
A: Armadillo. Make a rock. Circle rock. Animal can eat it?
D: Armadillo circle! Like a ball.
A: Armadillo circle make, jump in a ball.
D: Kangaroo! Australia.
D: Urchin. Mom, step on urchin, ouch! Urchin min (what) eat? I dunno.
A: Hippopotamus close to water. Out and in. Out and in. Lion
look, lion come on, under! Every hippo under the water.
D: Two animal, dangerous animal. Jaguar, South America.
A: All the jaguar, South America, no.
D: This North America?
A: Jaguar in the zoo.
During our family meeting in Burji in May we asked, silk alle? - is there a phone? We got the cell phone number of a man in the boys' village who speaks both Amharic and Burjinya.
On Saturday morning I woke up early and met a new Ethiopian friend to call him. The connection was amazingly clear. We told him that the boys were well and asked how everyone in the village was. He said he would pass on news of our phone call to the boys' relatives. It makes me smile to think of the scene in the village later that evening.
From my fabulous husband -
What does it matter? What if our house is dirty? What if in six months we still haven't
finished unpacking? What if we don't get around to
replacing the windows for two years? What difference will it actually
make? Crunchy floors, the
inability to find some things we need, a higher electric bill, none of it actually matters very much.
From Louis CK -
... I go, "Here, honey, have a fig newton."
She goes, "They're not called fig newtons. They're called pig newtons."
And I go, "No they're not. They're called fig newtons." And right away in my head I'm like, "What are you doing? Why? What is to be gained? What do you care? Just, yeah, pig newtons..."
From - I wish I could remember whose blog I read this on.
Say yes. Social norms, inconvenience, laziness, our first instinct is often to say, "No, don't do that." Our children have had their needs and wants ignored so many times. As long as it's not dangerous, try to say yes to them more. Which is why yesterday found my sons gleefully wheeling a garbage can full of dog poop around the front yard.
In the last three weeks we've gotten into a nice little routine. The boys have started going to camp at the neighborhood park on Monday and Wednesday mornings. It's a good chance for them to play with other kids and do little craft projects. D has been a little resistant about going, especially on Mondays, but when I pick him up at noon, he always has a big smile and says, "Fuuuun!" His high schooler "teacher" apparently spends hours with him on the monkey bars. A doesn't tell me what he does, but his counselor told me he's made some friends. So camp has been good.
On Tuesday and Thursday mornings we usually bike ride or take the dog in the car and go explore some of the area walking trails. Then the boys have swimming at 11:00, which they LOVE, and on Thursdays they have soccer after swimming. Friday mornings are free so we can do a more involved outing like to the Please Touch Museum, or we can play at home.
Afternoons we usually have some quiet reading time after lunch and then run various errands. I try to get some phonics work in with A. We also go to the library a couple of times a week.
On weekends Daddy is home! The boys love their Daddy time. We've taken them into Center City, to the beach, and to Maryland to visit family and friends and go to an Ethiopian festival. Weekends are also time for yard work and swimming at the Y.
I am really liking our new town. One of the reasons we picked this area was that there is a large Ethiopian community nearby. On Saturdays there is always a group of Oromo people at the pool. There's an Ethiopian boy in our boys' swimming class. We've run into Ethiopians at the supermarket. I commented to A that there are a lot of Ethiopians in the area and he looked puzzled and said, no, there are only a few Ethiopians. I guess it's a matter of perspective. He did agree that there are a lot of Ethiopians at the Ethiopian church.
I've been taking the boys to the Ethiopian church every couple of weeks. They hate it. HATE IT. While it warms my heart to see them rejecting organized religion, I do think it's important to maintain that link to their culture, and if we time it right, we just show up for the singing, which is very pretty. Anyway, it's not the religious aspect of it that they hate so much as the being around so many Ethiopians. I think it's confusing to them, and they might think that West Philly is actually Ethiopia and that we're returning them to Ethiopia. I'm not sure. Last time was a little better in that they actually interacted with a few people. I think it's been helpful to meet the little boy in their swimming class and the families at the pool and to see that they can speak Amharic to Ethiopian people while still doing something fun with us.
In terms of grief and adjustment, I feel that D's behavior has moved into the realm of a normal 4-year-old. A has generally been pretty happy, but his meltdowns have changed. Before he would just go limp and drop to the floor wherever he happened to be standing. Now it's more anger - kicking, pinching, spitting, trying to bite. I don't know if this is progress, but it seems he's taking more control of his feelings, showing that he's mad as hell instead of just taking it lying down (literally). We haven't yet learned to predict these meltdowns, but I'm hoping we'll figure out how to channel the anger in a healthy way. Suggestions from adoptive parents are welcome.
Language is developing very quickly. True, 90% of what D says is, "How many wheels (vehicle name)?" and "(Animal name) dangerous? (Animal name) sharp teeth?" but that's because he never stops talking and he only has so many things he knows how to say. A talks less but has more original sentences. Both have developed their listening comprehension so much that I can speak to them pretty normally in English. Both seem to acquire new grammar structures as they sleep. Early on A woke up suddenly knowing possessive 's, a few weeks ago D woke up knowing the auxiliary verb "do" and today D suddenly figured out Subject-Verb-Object word order.
Overall, I am so, so impressed with our children. I am impressed
with how they can take so many new things in stride. In the
last week they saw a clothes dryer and a houseboat for the first time,
and they were surprised and pleased and then immediately accepted them
as part of their world. I could tell them that I have a machine that
will change our dog into a cat, and they would believe me. It's pretty
incredible how open-minded they are.
We don't know how old our kids are. A supposedly just turned 6 a few days ago, but it's possible he's already 7. D supposedly is about to turn 5, but more likely he just turned 4. Both kids at times act much younger.
Louis CK has some funny things to say about their possible ages (NSFW):
Nine weeks in, my biggest challenge has been my own mind. That voice in my head that says, "Not enough! No good!" Fortunately (I guess) it's not been about the kind of parent I am - even my mind concedes that I'm doing a pretty good job - but about being a competent adult in this new life of mine. "You still have boxes that need unpacking!" screams my mind. "Your bathrooms are so dirty! Why haven't you gotten those new windows in the attic yet? You need to find a dentist!" For a while my mind was so insistent I found myself sending the kids off to play on their own so I could focus on getting stuff organized and shop online for storage solutions. Luckily I seem to have broken through to the other side and this week I feel like myself again and am back to focusing on the boys. But, that's no guarantee that my mind won't come back with a vengeance, berating me for not being able to function like I did before I had two kids. So, here's what I'm looking for - assurance, from other new adoptive parents, that I'm not failing. That you went through this, too. That you also were late paying your bills and took three days to complete a load of laundry and if you moved to a new house right after adopting two children, that you sat with unpacked boxes, windows that needed replacing and a yard that needed fencing for much, much longer than you would have in your previous life. Please convince my overly critical mind that this is normal.
The 4th of July was a really nice day. In the morning we went to see the local parade. It was the second parade the boys have seen, and they always like things much better the second time. After the parade T went to work, and I put together the boys' new bunk bed. A was a huge help. He participated in everything except using the drill. D was a big help too, by playing on his own and moving out of the way when we needed him to. A put the ladder to the top bunk together almost entirely by himself.
In the afternoon T came home and we went to our friend B's house for a cookout. It was wonderful to see our boys comfortable enough with B and her kids that they could relax even with lots of people around. In the evening the boys saw their first fireworks, which were very exciting. Just being out after dark was exciting.
Sleeping issues are a huge topic in adoption blogs. Last night was the first night the boys slept in the new bed. Up until now they have slept in a double bed right next to ours. Until a few nights ago, one of us would always lie down with them until they were asleep. A few nights ago we transitioned to them going to sleep by themselves in our room. The first night they cried for a few minutes. The next day A said, "Yesterday I sad." I asked him why he was sad and he found the question very amusing. There was almost no crying the second night. Then we put the bunk bed together in the room down the hall. I think having the boys help build the bed and making a big deal out of shopping for sheets made the transition a very positive one.
This morning the boys came bursting into our room, jumping out of their skin with excitement and pride: "We sleep new bed! No mommy and daddy! Just A and D!" Today was their two-month anniversary in the United States, and they were in a ridiculously good mood all day. We went to the helicopter museum to celebrate. Tonight they watched a helicopter-themed video, then went to sleep in their new beds by themselves.
Last weekend we drove down to Washington DC to visit with a family who adopted two brothers from our A and D's village in Burji. The boys were brought to the same orphanage in Soyema within a few months of each other. They traveled together to Addis Ababa and were in the same agency care center. A often shared a bed with the older brother, and D sometimes with the younger brother. They came to the U.S. less than two weeks apart.
Our boys were so happy to see their friends again. Even when they weren't directly interacting - D had a hurt leg, so he was kind of withdrawn all weekend - it was clear that they felt very comfortable, that some pieces of the puzzle that had been askew suddenly clicked into place. Here was evidence that all the crazy, unexplainable things that had happened to them in the last two months had been happening to their friends, too! I think it gave our kids a sense of normalcy that had been missing.
We rode bikes and swam in the pool and went to the zoo and the White House. It was a wonderful visit for mommy and daddy too, as we got to compare notes about the boys and their transitions. It gave us a sense of normalcy, too.
The day after our return A had a very hard, cryingscreamingkickingpinching morning. After he had calmed down, we talked about why he was so sad and I asked if he missed his friends. He said Magano (the dog) was sad, that before she had Buki and Beatrice (the neighbor's dog) and now she doesn't have any friends. I held it together while I was with A, but when I went to meet my new Amharic tutor, I boohooed all through the lesson.
The boys have this thing they say a lot - "hulu gize this?" Hulu gize means "always" or "all the time" and "this" could refer to anyplace that we are or anything that we are doing. They say it when we are someplace or doing something they don't like. They're asking if the place or activity will be a permanent part of their lives; they're worried that things will always be like "this."
I've been kind of flippant about it: No, boys, someone else getting a turn does not mean it will always be their turn, no, we will not listen exclusively to traffic updates in the car, no, we may occasionally do something else besides clean your ears, no, we will not spend the remainder of our lives standing in the weed killer aisle at Home Depot.
But I do it, too. I've always been an overgeneralizer (I just did it there). Lately I've been thinking that I will NEVER get the top floor of our new house organized, I will NEVER get those new windows put in, without the new windows I will NEVER have an air conditioning unit on the top floor so it will ALWAYS be too hot to go up there (which means I will NEVER get it organized), I will NEVER do anything that is not addressing an immediate need which means I'll NEVER be able to set or meet any long term goals, I will NEVER make friends in this new city, I will ALWAYS be too tired to have a decent conversation with my husband after the kids are in bed, I will feel new and unorganized and uncommunicative ALWAYS.
When I write my thoughts down it makes me relate much better to what the kids are thinking. No matter how silly it may seem, the thought that "this" is how it will always be is real and scary and paralyzing.
Around town: In the last two weeks we've done a lot of exploring around the Philly area. Part of it is for the boys, to provide them with new experiences, and part of it is for me, to get to know our new home. We have gone to the John Heinz wildlife refuge, the Philadelphia zoo, Ridley Creek state park, the Schuylkill environmental center and the car museum. We've also explored lots of the playgrounds and libraries nearby. I love that the boys like getting in the car and going places. I love that they like ponds with frogs and turtles and birds. I really enjoy being outdoors and I'm trying to nurture that in them, too. They still get tired quickly - you don't get much chance to build endurance in the tiny walled courtyard of an orphanage - but they're getting stronger every day. They walked half a mile investigating frog ponds in NW Philly and rode their bikes for a mile with their Maryland cousins at Ridley Creek.
New skills: D has learned to get himself on his bike, get himself moving, pedal, brake and turn. A seems ready to take the training wheels off, but when he tried it he didn't like it at all, so they're back on. Both boys LOVE their swimming lessons. On the first day A swam the width of the pool wearing a floatie, with no help from the teacher. A has also learned to pump on the swing. We are so proud of both of them, and they are proud of themselves.
Language: Six weeks in, we have switched to using mostly English with a small collection of Amharic phrases thrown in. We're very conscious of how tenuous the connection to Ethiopia already is, so we're making sure to take the boys to Ethiopian restaurants and to the Ethiopian church, and to read books set in Ethiopia. I've found a new Amharic tutor. So far I met with him once and it went well. He and I read a children's book in Amharic at the library while the kids were occupied with story time, then they wandered in and out of the lesson, interested, but not ready to commit themselves.
Grief: I realize now that on some level I expected grief over the loss of everything familiar to look more like, well, grief over the loss of everything familiar. But mostly it has looked like whining (one of the boys has days where he whines from morning until night). And a child crawling on his hands and knees on the sidewalk wailing for his family would be heartbreaking. But change the scenario so he is wailing for TACOS (loudly and with a two-block walk still ahead of us) and it becomes - I feel so bad for saying this - kind of amusing.
Cuteness: When A likes something, instead of "I like..." he says, "My name is..." as in "My name is taco!" D, almost every night as he is going to sleep says, Ke mommy gar. Hulu gize ke mommy gar. - "With mommy. Always with mommy." (Melt). Both boys love acting out feeling words. We'll say, "happy," "sad," "confused," "angry," "scared" and they will give us the cutest faces (though after a while A just ends up looking constipated).
Burji qonjo now?: We have some large framed photos of Burji on the wall and from the start the kids have asked us Burji qonjo now? - "Is Burji pretty?" At first we always answered by describing how beautiful Burji is, with its mountains and farmland, but the boys would vehemently disagree and say it was ugly and dirty. We asked our social worker and she suggested that maybe the boys were afraid that if we liked Burji so much we would send them back there. We followed her advice and now we say that Burji is very beautiful, and it used to be their home, but now their home is with us here in America. That seems to have worked and now the boys are agreeing that Burji is indeed qonjo.
I am so, so glad that we were able to learn some Amharic before the
boys came to us. Many adopted older children experience months of frustration when they are unable to communicate with
their new families. Having been in situations myself where I couldn't
communicate with the people around me, I know how disheartening it is. I
am so thankful that our boys haven't had that frustration. Not that we
are having deep conversations in Amharic or anything, but we can cover
what the boys want and don't want, what the many strange and new things
around them are, and what's coming up next in the day. I find myself
circumlocuting a lot and oversimplifying a lot, and I am doing
unspeakable things to the grammar, but I can get basic messages across.
Many people have the misconception that mixing languages will hinder a
child's second or third language development. It's not hard to see why that isn't
true. If you are relying on the new language only, the child is
figuring out meaning based on context, maybe what you're pointing at, or
the way you're gesturing. But if you can offer the word in both
languages, it's easy to make the meaning clear, and for more abstract concepts, too.
Dinosaurs were scary for the kids until I
could say in Amharic, "They lived many years before. They all died. Now
there aren't any."
"No dinosaurs in this country?" the kids wanted to know.
"No dinosaurs in this country. No dinosaurs in other countries. They all died."
Now the boys like dinosaurs.
little things like that. They can tell us that they want the shirt they
wore yesterday, or ask why there are so many cars parked somewhere, or
tell us that the white van reminds them of someone in Ethiopia except
his van had more windows, without having to struggle to get their
meaning across. I can explain used car lots, disabilities,
nontraditional families and Barack Obama in simple terms that satisfy
their curiosity. The only thing that has stumped us so far is space and
photos of the Earth.
Of course all this communication
means that we know when our kids are saying unflattering things in
Amharic too, such as their backseat commentary, "You're going the wrong
way. You don't know the way. This isn't right," or A to T, "You're
hairy and fat," or A to me, "Your underwear is big like a grandma's."
Overall, deciding the learn Amharic was one of the best decisions we made during the adoption process.
Our boys are scientists doing the experiment of a lifetime. They are figuring out if we are really mommy and daddy, for realz. And like any good scientist, they need multiple data points before they can draw a valid conclusion.
The daily data point comes between 8 and 10 AM. They will do something to provoke a reaction. Saturday, for example, A sat down on the sidewalk in the middle of a walk and refused to move. Sunday they got in a big fight over the CD player. Today D poked and poked at things he wasn't supposed to touch, watching me the whole time, until finally I asked, "D, do you want a time out?" Yes, that's exactly what he wanted, so I sat with him and held him tight, and he screamed and screamed and thrashed, and after five minutes I said, "OK, time out is over," and he skipped upstairs to get some books to read.
I am glad the boys are doing the daily time points because each time we get a chance to add to their set of data. Every day we add more evidence that yes, we are mommy and daddy and we're still in charge. I'm proud of the boys for being such good scientists and carrying out such a methodical and clean experiment. The National Academy will be calling any day now.
Second and third playdates. With two supernice Ethiopian adoptive families.
First train ride into the city. Kicking myself for leaving the camera battery at home. Both boys were so excited to get on the train!
First merry-go-round ride.
First big ouchie. D was staring at a school bus and walked right into a stone pillar. He hit so hard I'm surprised his tooth didn't fall out. He didn't want to eat for two meals, but recovered by the end of the next day.
Lots of bike riding. A barely needs me anymore and is working on speed. D is learning to steer while I push; looking where he's going much improved after school bus incident.
First visit to the local Ethiopian church. Talked to many friendly people. A enjoyed the music. D was a little overwhelmed, but quickly recovered when given a plateful of 'tibs (the boys are vegetarian at home, but we're fine with them eating meat as part of an Ethiopian meal).
It's pretty incredible how much our kids have been learning in the last two-and-a-half weeks. They've been learning about:
They're picking up lots of new words every day. The top category for
new words is car-related: van, flatbed truck, SUV, station wagon, fire
truck etc. They are also pretty comfortable with colors, farm animal
names, counting (A to around thirteen, D to around six), basic verbs,
and simple commands: wash your hands, close your window (in the car)
Survival skills. Running out in the road is adegena (thank you, dead squirrel, for illustrating my point), the hot stove is adegena etc.
I've noticed their attention span has gotten longer and they don't just
flit from one thing to the next anymore. Yesterday they played BY
THEMSELVES for half an hour. It was the first time they were not in
immediate contact with an adult since arriving in the U.S.
various machines and electronics work. They can open their car windows,
talk on the phone, A can more or less use a mouse etc.
charge. Most mornings, they need to check this. They will do something
that is blatantly not allowed (hit someone, run outside in the rain in
their pajamas) and I think they're just doing a little
experiment - are daddy and mommy still the boss? When it turns out we
are, they cry just a bit, then relax and settle down.
Initially, if I took something from one of them, even for a second, like
if a book was being held upside down and I took it to turn it right
side up, there would be screaming. Now the kids have learned I don't
randomly grab things from them, and they let me take things to fix them
or help with something. Same with Daddy going back to work. On Monday we
needed to call him a couple of times, and we talked about him a lot and
there was some "Daddy ayme'tam" (Daddy isn't coming), but by today (Friday) they knew Daddy would come back.
Tonight is two weeks since our boys arrived in the United States.
Monday morning we went to the doctor for blood draws. It took three nurses for each kid and us literally lying on top of them (on the kids, not the nurses). After the doctor, to get their mind off things, we took the kids to the children's museum. That was a huge hit. Their favorite part was a big sand box with lots of construction equipment.
The post-doctor-and-overstimulation meltdowns began Monday night and continued through Tuesday night. A was super cranky and D had wild mood swings. We had our first social worker visit Tuesday evening and that went well. By Wednesday the kids had recovered. They spent most of Wednesday running errands and having fun with T while I packed up the rest of the house. Then Thursday morning while waiting for the moving truck the tantrums started again, so I took the kids and hit the road while T stayed behind to wait for the movers and clean the house. The kids loved the drive. The whole three-and-a-half-hour trip to T's parents' house, they looked out the windows, looked at books, sang along with the Amharic CD and were as happy as can be. Every ten minutes or so D would let out a strangled croak of "Truck! Mommy! Truuuuuuuccckkkk!" School bus sightings elicited shrieks of joy. (D was very, very sad on Tuesday when we visited my school and he couldn't ride home on the school bus with the other kids. He felt better when I told him the bus was for students only and he wasn't a student yet, and he came up with a brilliant solution - he would be the driver.)
The kids had a great time with T's parents. They fed the fish, rode in the wheelbarrow, walked in the woods, blew bubbles, went to the park and saw a river for the first time ever. We left the grandparents after lunch on Thursday. It was a six-hour drive to Philadelphia and the kids were AWESOME! We talked a lot along the way about the new house and Daddy and Buki and about trucks. They stayed cheerful and calm during the whole trip. I was so grateful. We got to our new house and reunited with T and Magano on Friday night.
On Saturday all hell broke loose. Not surprising. There were tantrums all day, interspersed with sweet moments of talking with A or reading with D. A is very, very patient when we sit and talk - he understands that my
Amharic is weak and he asks a lot of questions and rephrases things in a
way that strikes me as very mature. D loves Sandra Boynton books and has a few of them almost memorized. But mostly it was tantrums on Saturday.
Today was much better. Our new house has a playground two doors down and we spent a lot of time there today, including with our wonderful new neighbors. A kicked the ball around with some other kids from our street. One of these days we'll be able to finish unpacking. Right now I'm glad the kids went to bed tired and happy.
Change is hard for our sweet dog. There have been a lot of changes, and she's been very anxious about them. Thursday night she lashed out at Magano and sent her to the vet with a bad bite. We can't keep doing this. Keeping the dogs separate at all times is not a realistic solution. And Buki deserves to be in a place where she is happy. So with heavy hearts, we have taken up our friends' offer to give Buki a home. Luckily for her, it will be the home she is used to - they are going to move into our house when we leave. She will get to stay here, with the yard she loves running around in, and with the people who have taken care of her every time we've gone to Ethiopia. Given the circumstances, it's the best possible solution. We will miss her so much, her funny little tooth snap to show that she's had the last word, her Dick Cheney lip curl, her oversized snuggles on the couch. She is a good, good dog. She had many fun years racing through the woods chasing deer and plunging into lakes chasing sticks. Now that she is older and often overwhelmed by life, she needs to be an only dog in a quiet house. It's for the best for everyone... but tonight I am so sad to say goodbye to sweet, sweet Buki.
Some old photos of Buki having a blast with her sister:
T: We'll be going from 0 kids to 2 kids... that's amazing!
Me: Yes, it is... but it's not a big enough change for me.
T: How about I get my Ph.D. and a new job right before the kids come to the United States?
Me: OK, that's better, but still not a big enough change. What else you got?
T: How about the new job is in Philadelphia? And we move 10 days after the kids get to the U.S.?
Me: Now you're talking!
My older son walking across the lawn carrying a bouquet a flowers for me... yup, I cried. Thanks, T!
This morning after our daily shirshir with the dog, we went to the Ethiopian church. The boys were saying they didn't want to go, and I found myself saying in Amharic, "Today is Sunday. On Sundays, we go to church," while in my mind I'm thinking, What I am talking about?!?!
Church was a mix of overwhelming and familiar for the kids. Lots of new faces and activities, but at the same time people speaking Amharic and talking about egziabher. They got to see Agot Asres - Uncle Asres, our Amharic teacher - the first person from their photo album whom they got to meet in real life. It was very sweet to see them together.
After church we went to a new park by our house. There was a Spanish-speaking family there, and I was talking to them in Spanish. As we were leaving our boys yelled ¡Adios! out the car window.
After lunch the boys napped. Our friends came over in the afternoon, and we all went to the playground together. Then in the early evening a neighbor came over with her son. A had a great time playing with him. It was the most interactive he's been with another kid, and I think it's because it was in the safe space of his own home. D, who's younger, was content to sit to the side and point out all the trucks and school buses in his book.
Dinner, bath and getting ready for bed all went smoothly. Emotionally, today was the boys' best day so far. Happy Mother's Day!
Thursday was rough. We had a doctor's appointment for the boys in the morning, and even though it was a completely non-invasive checkup, it triggered a strong reaction. I can only guess what the boys' experiences with assembly-line doctor's visits were in the past. Let's just say that during this visit a lot of time was spent on the floor.
Thursday after lunch, T was in charge of "quiet time" while I ran some errands. Quiet time involved a lot of jumping on the bed and screaming.
Thursday afternoon we went to the park. It was the first afternoon park visit and there were more kids than in the morning. We were lucky that there was a kid there who really had no sense of boundaries. Even though our kids were reluctant to engage with anyone, this kid was determined to play with us, and eventually they did all play together. It was very cute to see our boys trying out their English phrases as they ran around - "Come on! Let's go! You funny!" Then a bicycle was spotted and the concept of "belonging to someone else" appeared and we got out of there quick before a full-blown meltdown.
Thursday night there was more screaming. It was pretty clear that D needed to go to bed before A. When I finally got D horizontal, I got three notes into the goodnight song and he was out cold.
Friday morning started with a meltdown from A because D got new underwear that was still in the package and we took A's new underwear out of the package. A's meltdowns are completely different and more heartbreaking than D's. D screams and thrashes, but A lies limp and sobs, looking so alone. He does let us comfort him though. Both kids only need about 30 minutes and then they are ready to transition to something else. After reading about other people's six-hour meltdowns, I know we are lucky.
Friday we went to a new park, which the kids really liked. At lunch D was hitting, and when I took him away to the other room he had a big meltdown. But, even in the throes of it, he was yelling almetam! - I won't hit! - so at least he knew why I had removed him. Again, after about 20 minutes he was ready to transition to snuggling and eventually falling asleep with Daddy. A was kind of subdued after that, and he and I snuggled on the couch until he fell asleep too.
Then we all had to get up to go back to the doctor, and this time there were needles involved. But the kids did much better because it was their second visit. Generally they are much more at ease the second time they visit a place.
Still, the stress level was high, so much that Friday afternoon the suggestion that we leave our deck and venture into the backyard was met with utter panic. I am so glad, at least, that the house is our boys' safe place. I can feel their stress level go down as soon as we are safely inside.
Friday night the kids stayed up later, since they had napped, and they finally went to sleep after much jumping on the bed.
Today we really challenged the kids with lots of new experiences, and they did great. First we went to the farmers' market. I asked A if there was a market like that in Burji, and if they had gone there, and he said yes. The farmers' market was pretty crowded though, and A especially started feeling stressed out. Then we went to the park, which was good. After that we took Magano to the vet (more on that later). Then we went to a neighborhood potluck. In the afternoon we went to the library, then to a different park. It was a tiring day for the boys, but they did great. This evening we watched a couple of episodes of Yo, Gaba Gaba before bed, and then they konked out.
The little guys were such troopers on the flight home. They slept, listened to music, watched TV, colored, looked at books and only whined/cried a little. When we got to DC, immigration took forever and we missed our connecting flight. The boys continued to do great as we got burritos and explored the trains, escalators and elevators that the airport had to offer. I think they got a wrong first impression of America because there are so many Ethiopians working at IAD that they heard Amharic everywhere they went. We really appreciated all the people who talked with them and made them feel welcome in a language they could understand.
Today is the end of Day 3 in America. We're settling into a routine. As much as we can, we are trying to mimic familiar activities and routines from the care center. Our days right now are breakfast, bath (we will eventually switch to the evening), walk the dog, go do an errand in the car, go to the park, snack, play at home, lunch, quiet time/reading, play at home, skype, dinner, bed. For breakfast the boys prefer plain bread and tea. Bath time that is not done in assembly line fashion is a HUGE hit. Walking the dog allows A to show off his cow-herding skills. Going to do errands in the car has been the most exciting and the most stressful part of the day for the kids. Exciting because they get to go in the car (also disappointing to D, because no matter how many times he asks, he doesn't get to drive. His insistence that tiliq neñ - I'm big - is super cute, but not convincing enough). Stressful because it's the one part of the day that opens their world up bigger than the house. We've gone to see the downtown area, to the bakery, the shoe store and the library, and they generally didn't like any of them (though they liked getting new shoes). But I think it's good to spend a little time each day doing these small errands, to build up their tolerance. They like the park, which is large and green and quiet. Playing at home time has been good. They relax then. I think it's good we have one room where we all sleep and one room for playing, because it is the same setup as the care center. At the care center there was nap time, though that has translated to quiet time here. The first day was definitely not quiet - why nap when you can jump off the bed, put lip balm all over your face, try on all the shoes in the closet, put lip balm all over mommy's face, flush the toilet repeatedly, put lip balm all over the faces of people in books. Quiet time on days 2 and 3 was mostly spent looking at books. I love that both boys are very interested in books. Skyping has been another HUGE hit. The boys have been skyping with their cousins and if they could, they would pretty much do that all day. If you can make a funny face, put silly things on your head and wear cool glasses, you are the ideal skype partner for our kids.
Our communication with the boys has been pretty good. T and I are nowhere near being able to speak Amharic, but we know enough that we can ask the boys basic questions and understand their answers, and we can explain what will happen next. For example before the shoe store, we could say, "We will go to the shoe store. We will buy two shoes for A and two shoes for D. How many shoes will we buy? Two. All the shoes are not yours. Only two." (The boys were very good about each getting one pair of shoes and didn't ask for any more shoes but then they saw the umbrellas for sale and it was yinei, yinei, yinei - mine, mine, mine -all over again.) Today T was gone all day and last night we were able to tell them that he had some work and would go in the morning and come back at night. So the little Amharic we have has gone a long way toward giving them some security in knowing what will happen next. Also I think today A and I had a conversation in Amharic about early planes and cars and the Wright brothers and Henry Ford - at least that's how I understood the conversation.
There have been three amazing things that have stood out to me the last three days. One, we have these children in our home. We're going to raise them. They're ours. That is unbelievable. Two, they seem to like us. I have no idea why they would, not that we're not likeable, but who are we to them? And yet all day, it's Mommy this and Daddy that and hugs and kisses. And there is testing of limits, but again, for some unknowable reason, after the tantrum is done, they actually listen to us. And three, they are FUNNY. Sometime unintentionally funny - T and I can't bring ourselves to teach the boys to say "brush teeth" quite yet, not when the Amharic word for toothbrushing is fak and the boys like to loudly announce that they're doing it and they like to do it - and sometimes deliberately, great-sense-of-humor funny, like when D switches between tiliq neñ and tinish neñ depending on if he wants to be big and drive the car or be small and be carried everywhere.
One of the main reasons we picked Ethiopia for our adoption
was the opportunity to meet our children’s family. Last Wednesday we finally
had the chance to do that. The visit went really well. First we sat on the
ground outside and shared our photo album and letter. Our meeting was between
us and one main person, but there were about fifty or sixty other people
gathered around watching. When it was time for us to ask our questions, we
moved inside the hut for slightly more privacy, though by the end there were
about thirty people squeezed inside watching. Each question was translated from
English to Amharic to Burji back to Amharic back to English. In the English to
Amharic part at least, we could tell the translation was accurate. We felt the
conversation was handled very professionally and sensitively. The person we
were talking to was very open to all our questions. We were able to learn more
about our boys’ lives before and after the major events that led to their
adoption and about the reasons for their adoption. We got a sense of some of
the important people in their lives. There are definitely huge cultural
differences between the two families, and it is going to be our task to bridge
these as much as we possibly can.
One thing that I’ve heard about repeatedly from other adopting
families is the difference in how most Americans and most Ethiopians view
adoption. The idea that the first family has given up rights and is no longer a
part of the children’s lives just doesn’t translate. I think it’s better to
think of adoption from Ethiopia as a kind of extended study abroad program. We
will care for the children, send them to school, love them, raise them to be
Americans, but they will ALWAYS be a part of their family in Ethiopia. I would
say to anyone starting out with an Ethiopian adoption that if you can’t do
this, then you shouldn’t adopt from Ethiopia. The children will never be 100%
yours. If you can’t share, go to another country. Adopting from Ethiopia is a
commitment not only to the children, but to their family and to their culture.
As for us, we will be staying in contact with the family in Burji and we’ll be
bringing the kids back to visit within the next couple of years.
We went to our interview appointment at the U.S. Embassy on
Monday. The boys went with us, their first outing outside the care center with
us. There was so much for them to look at and they were enthralled by the
people and cars and buildings. There was a bit of a wait to get into the
embassy, but the actual interview was very quick. It was just a few questions
to confirm that we had followed the steps we were supposed to follow for our
adoption. We should be getting our boys’ completed paperwork, including their
passports and visas, today, or by Friday the latest.
D has had many caretakers in his short little life. He has
had to learn how to get the changing stream of people around him to give him
what he needs and wants. He’s gotten very good at it. I’m definitely impressed
by how effective he is in the care center, but it’s clear he has built up some
habits that won’t work in a family. After our embassy trip, when he was already
tired, he didn’t want to hear that he would have to wait his turn to play with
the guitar. We got our first taste of what in another setting may have worked
to get him what he wanted. It was only about twenty minutes of screaming and
thrashing, but wow, the little guy has some powerful lungs. Luckily he is small
enough that first I and then T could hold him and eventually he tired
out. I am sure it will take many more repetitions before he learns that
tantrums are counterproductive – in this case all that happened was that the
guitar disappeared. He’s got to learn to trust us, he’s got to learn a more
family-appropriate way to express what he wants and he’s got to learn to delay
gratifications. All huge lessons. I am confident that with patience and
consistency, he can do it. And we’ll also be working with A to be just a little
more selfish, just a little less great of a big brother, so that he’s not
always giving in to D. They’re both wonderful
kids and I’m so excited to be working on these things as a family.
Today, after a barrage of yinei tara, yinei tara- my turn, my turn - D said yanchi tara - your turn - to a little girl. Then he looked at us for approval, which of course we gave him loads and loads of.
The other thing I did this weekend was write a letter to the boys' family in Burji. "Humbling" is not a word I use a lot, but sitting down to write that letter was definitely humbling. After deleting the boys' names, I made a word cloud out of the letter. I like that "family" and "always" are the most used words.
This weekend I made a variation on what Patty Cogen (Parenting Your Internationally Adopted Child) calls "the three-photo story." The point of this book is to show your children's life before adoption, during their transition, and with their adoptive family. You use the book to answer the question, "What happened to me?"
I called the book "A and D's Story; YeA inna yeD Tarikachew." It starts out with pictures of Burji and says that A and D lived in this beautiful place with their family who loved them very much. Then it has pictures that were taken soon after they entered the orphanage and says that something very bad happened and they were very sad. The next page has photos of us meeting them in November and it says that they had a new family who loved them very much. Then there's a picture of an airplane. There are a few pages of pictures of where they are going in the U.S. The book ends by saying that the boys now have two families who love them very much. I wrote a very simple text in English and this week our tutors will help me translate it into Amharic so we can start reading the book with the boys as soon as we arrive in Ethiopia. I hope it is helpful for them.
Tickets are confirmed. Our embassy appointment is on April 30. We fly to Ethiopia a week before that, to complete the family visit to Burji before going to the embassy.
As before, we are hugely grateful to our generous family member who provided our tickets through frequent flyer miles.
Yesterday we received this email from the U.S. embassy in Addis: "This office is ready to schedule an interview for the I-600 petition filed on behalf of [..]." Which means our case cleared the embassy. Which means the rest is a formality, a chance for us to appear at the embassy and express any concerns about our adoption process. Which means we can go pick up lijochachin, our children. We don't have an embassy appointment yet. We have reserved plane tickets based on our best guess for when the appointment will be, and we are waiting for the go-ahead from WHFC to confirm them. I have a million things to do. I am able to do some of them. I finished clearing the weeds out of the garden today, because I don't want our kids to think we're bad farmers. I did some of the enormous amount of work left to do in the house. I did a lot of sitting and staring into space. Because that needed to be done, too. Lijochachin. Innime'tallen!
We just passed the eight-months-since-referral point. I'm hoping we'll hear about an embassy appointment in the next month. One thing is for sure, at the nine-month point, if I'm not already in Ethiopia, I will at the very least have a plane ticket in my hand!
We met them in Awassa where they were staying temporarily. We knew them the second we saw them - they looked just like their pictures. We hugged them and asked each one, Dehna neh? and they each responded Dehna. Those were the first words we spoke with our sons.
A was quieter. The orphanage manager kept telling him Yinnante innat, ishi? Yinnante innat, ishi? (That's your mom, OK? That's your mom, OK?) and he stared at the ground every time she said it. Of course he did. How do you process that? He perked up when I showed him how the video camera worked, and when he discovered the magnets on the toy trains we gave him. He went around seeing what else would stick to the magnets. My oldest has a sensitive soul and a scientific mind.
D was happier. He LOVED the toy car we gave him. He kept saying yinei, yinei (mine, mine). He was fascinated by T. He examined T's fingers and arms and called him Daddy ferenj. He pushed all the buttons on the camera. When a visiting official tried to see his toy car, he held it tight and pointed at the gate - you have your motorcycle, this is MY car. My youngest is playful and curious and daring.
We spent one hour with them. We left them with a talking photo album, with our voices in Amharic telling them who we were, about their grandparents and aunts and uncles and their cousins who wanted to play with them, and about our house where they would live with us. We haven't seen them since. I wonder if they still have the album. I wonder what they think of these ferenj who showed up once and haven't appeared again. I think about them every day. Sometimes I hold on to them as I walk, D on my hip, A holding my hand. I miss them.
I think this should be required reading for all white parents of black boys, and for their extended family, and for anyone who cares about them:
How to Talk to Young Black Boys About Trayvon Martin Eight talking points about the potentially fatal condition of being Black
1. It’s unlikely but possible that you could get killed today. Or any day. I’m sorry but that’s the truth. Blackmaleness is a potentially fatal condition. I tell you that not to scare you but because knowing that could possibly save your life. There are people who will look at you and see a villain or a criminal or something... Continue reading
I skipped the 10% Challenge the last two months. I didn't mean to, but in January we were on our way back to Ethiopia, and in February we were in the middle of will-our-children-ever-leave-the-orphanage, and I just forgot to make the donations. But it's March, and the challenge is back on. I decided it's easier to just look at my credit card bill and round up for tutoring costs (which is the only thing we pay cash for) and use 10% of that, instead of keeping receipts all month.
This month's donation is to Doctors Without Borders.
Lately the topic of older adopted children learning English has come up in several discussions. Since I've taught English as a Second Language for the past ten years, I thought I'd put in my two cents. Here are my top recommendations for people adopting older children:
Talking before literacy. Initially your goal should be to build oral vocabulary. Your kid should know what a cat is before learning that c-a-t spells cat. Starting literacy too soon, especially for kids who are not literate in their first language, sends the dangerous message that reading is making noises in response to symbols on a page. Reading is about communicating thoughts - let your kids learn to communicate their thoughts in oral English first, and then apply the skill to reading.
Watch what you say. Literally. Videotape yourself talking and watch how many false starts, sentence fragments and idiomatic expressions you use. We all do it. You can train yourself to speak in simple, complete sentences. Initially you will be your child's primary source of English input - your goal is to make that input as understandable as possible.
You probably do this naturally, but use gestures and visual aids to show what you are talking about, and repeat yourself a lot. Narrate what you and your child are doing: "I am getting the juice from the refrigerator, we are going to have juice, here is your juice, here is my juice, enjoy your juice!"
"Build schema" i.e. go do stuff before you read about it. Go to the park before you read a book about parks. Go to a museum before reading about dinosaurs. Give your kid an experience to which s/he can connect the book.
Use what your child already knows to make connections to new learning. Books about Ethiopia/rural Africa/farms/cars etc will make it easier for your child to learn English. Not to mention it shows respect for her/his previous experiences before coming to you.
When you begin teaching your child to read, start with phonetically regular words that name concrete objects and verbs. Start with dog and run, not the and of.
Know your BICS (Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills) and CALP (Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency). BICS are what your child need to talk to family and friends and to get needs met. CALP is what your child needs to succeed in school. CALP requires more specialized vocabulary, more complex sentence structure and higher-order thinking skills. English language learners exposed to English only at school need 6 months to two years to acquire BICS and 5-7 years to acquire CALP. I haven't seen studies of adopted children, but I assume the process is faster.
Teach function words as well as content words. Content words are nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs. Any language has an ever-growing number of them. The easiest to learn will be nouns and verbs because they refer to more obvious objects and actions. Watch out for the huge number of homonyms in English. Function words are a closed class, meaning no new ones ever get added to the language. Interesting, huh? There are and will continue to be only a couple of hundred function words in English. They include prepositions and conjunctions and can be very difficult to learn. The best way to teach them is to point them out as they come up and discuss how they affect the meaning of the sentence. Don't bother drilling them - almost no one can learn them this way.
Don't assume younger children always learn the language faster. The rate at which your child will acquire English depends on many factors, including their feelings about being in the U.S. The single most reliable predictor of success in learning a second language is success in the first language. If your child did well in school in their native language, they will probably do well in English. The only area where younger (pre-adolescent) children are much more successful is in their accent, and that can be a double-edged sword because people often mistake an American accent for English fluency.
Advocate for your child at school. Many teachers do not know much about second language learning. Your child should not be getting work designed for younger native English speakers.