Thursday, May 31, 2012

New things

New experience and knowledge from the last few days:
  • cousins visiting from New York
  • Smith Playground in Philadelphia
  • new bicycles
  • sprinkler in the backyard
  • first official play date with B and her kids
  • "We'll come another time" proved true - second visit to the farm
  • deer
  • dinosaurs
  • astronauts and rockets
  • people in wheelchairs
  • tacos

Friday, May 25, 2012


It's pretty incredible how much our kids have been learning in the last two-and-a-half weeks. They've been learning about:
  • English. 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) etc.
  • Survival skills. Running out in the road is adegena (thank you, dead squirrel, for illustrating my point), the hot stove is adegena etc.
  • Playing. 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.
  • How various machines and electronics work. They can open their car windows, talk on the phone, A can more or less use a mouse etc.
  • Who's in 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.
  • Trust. 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.
  • Ice cream. It is yucky.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Week 2 ups and downs and ups

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.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Saying goodbye to Buki

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:

Monday, May 14, 2012

A conversation that didn't happen

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!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mother's Day

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!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Days 4-6 in the U.S.

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.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

First days

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.

So, three days in, things are going well.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Family visit, embassy appointment, first meltdown

Family visit

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.

First meltdown

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.