Thursday, June 28, 2012

Hulu gize this?

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.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Random updates

  • 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.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012


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.

Just 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.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Data points

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.

Monday, June 4, 2012

More new things

  • 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).