Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Talk

We had THE TALK a few days ago. It was not the most comfortable talk in the world, but I thought it was important that the kids hear this from me rather than from their friends at school. If I had a choice, it would be a topic I wouldn't have to address at all, but the world being what it is, I did have to address it, and I'm sure I will again in age-appropriate ways as the children get older.

"There are people in the world who believe that gods exist," I told the boys.

"Nuh-uh," said A.

"No, really," I said. "In fact... there are MANY people who believe that."

"No, Mommy, no, you're TRICKING us!" D said.

Last year I had given the kids some parts of the story of Jesus, but I'd left out a key detail about the whole son-of-God thing. This year I laid it all out for them.

"I know who Jesus is!" D said. "Jesus Price!" Then he got distracted by the fact that I have fingers, and my fingers have bones. Apparently this is more interesting than discussing the nature of divinity.

"What do you think a church is?" I asked A.

"It's a place where people go... to sing... and, uh, take their shoes off." I think he realized for the first time that he actually had no idea.

"People go there to talk about God," I said.


We read the book What is God? by Etan Boritzer. There are many things I like about this book:

I like that it dismisses the "old man in the clouds" idea of God out of hand: Next time you fly in an airplane, look out the window at the clouds. But you won't see that God there, because no one has ever seen that God! 

It describes Jesus, Moses, Mohammed and Buddha as "teachers" without any hint of the supernatural.

It talks about how religion often causes fighting, which is a big issue I have with religion. It says that most religions are almost the same! and gives equal weight to many people who believe that there are many Gods, not just one God. It also says that although people of different religions pray in different places, you can really pray anywhere, again a knock on organized religion.

My favorite part is the end:

You can close your eyes now,
And listen to your breath go slowly in and out,
And think about how you are connected to everything,
Even if you are not touching everything.
Try to feel how you are connected
To your Dad, and how you are part of your Mom,
Try to feel how you are part of your whole family,
Like your brother or sister, your grandparents,
Your aunt or uncle, cousins, even your friends.
And try to feel how all of those people,
Are part of a whole bigger family,
And how all the families of the world,
(Even those we can't see or touch),
Are really a part of you and your family.

I talk about this connection with our kids a lot. I never use the word "God" to describe it, but the idea is the same.

The only thing I don't like about this book is that it makes no mention of people who do not believe in any gods. So it's not perfect. But only Allah is perfect, right?

Saturday, December 7, 2013


Well, it's happened again, a couple of months have gone by with no postings. We had a flurry of excitement back in October (we were able to successfully connect with M after a couple of weeks) and then went back to feeling like a pretty average family.

The kids are doing well. D has settled into kindergarten and A is excelling in 2nd grade. A LOVES math and both kids have been spending a lot of time playing math games online. We had a nice Halloween (D was a race car driver, A was a firefighter) and some good family outings at Valley Forge and in Lancaster County. D lost his first tooth. The kids played soccer and took kung fu classes. I upped my teaching load. T managed to work on some groundbreaking science while writing two grant proposals. We got together with everyone on my side of the family for a gratitude-filled Thanksgiving. We met a great adoptive family that we hope to connect with again soon.

But lately I've been struggling. It's the time of year. When the days are short, I have no energy. I'm not as creative, as patient, as friendly, as efficient as I'd like to be. I have to work hard to be kind to myself and to be kind to those around me. I know I should exercise more. Mostly I want to sleep. I would love to hibernate all winter and wake up refreshed in the spring. I am dreading the next few months and need to come up with a plan to get me through.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

A story (with update)

Last weekend we were in DC, staying with a friend in Silver Spring. The missed calls started at 5AM, when we were still sleeping. By the time we woke up, we each had a dozen of them on our phones. The number was too long to be domestic. I googled the country code. Someone was calling from Ethiopia!

The calls kept coming while we were having breakfast. We'd answer the phone and the call would disconnect. They continued while we were on the metro going into the city. Then when we were waiting to go into one of the few still-open museums in DC, the call finally connected.

"W___,  W___, W___," the voice said. And a string of Amharic.

But it wasn't W's voice and W doesn't speak Amharic.

"Man now?" (Who is it?)

"W___,  W___, W___." It disconnected.

W has our phone number. I sent it with the photo album. The power imbalance, of us having a way to reach them, and them not having a way to reach us, just wasn't right.

"The person is saying it's W, but it's not W," I said to T. "Do we tell the kids?"

We told them. They were briefly excited, then distracted by the museum doors opening. The friends we were meeting had also shown up, and we told them what was going on.

I was standing in line at the ticket counter when the phone rang again. This time the connection was clear. The caller again identified as W.

"Ye A inna D enat negn," I said. "Lijochu dehna nachow." (I am A and D's mother. The children are well.)

W who was not W wanted to talk to them. What to do? I ran over to where they were and held the phone up. Say, "Selam." Say, "Dehna negn." Say, "Dansa."

My kids are either super resilient or super good at suppressing things, because they took it in stride and then went back to the museum exhibits.

The caller continued to talk in Amharic. "Amarigna alchillim," I kept saying. "Algebagnim. Tinish ichillalo bicha." (I can't speak Amharic. I don't understand. I can only speak a little.)

"Nege," the caller said. (Tomorrow.) Not-W would call back tomorrow.

Tomorrow I wouldn't be able to speak Amharic either, but that gave me 24 hours to find someone who could. I tried to reach the person back home who has helped us with phone calls before and left a message.

"Goodness," said my friend, who hadn't seen us in two years. "Is it always so dramatic?"

After the museum we met another friend who is also an adoptive parent, and went to lunch at an Ethiopian restaurant. As soon as we ordered I asked the owner if I could speak to him. I explained the whole situation - sometimes we guard our secrets carefully, and sometimes we dump them at the feet of someone whose help we need - and asked if he could call the number for us. He very graciously agreed to do so, but by then it was evening in Ethiopia, and there was no answer. This at least was in line with what we'd expect if it was really W calling - there is no cell phone reception in the village. Meheteme, the owner of the restaurant, promised he would call the number tomorrow morning.

Not-W called back the next morning while we were watching the Ethiopia-Nigeria soccer game.  

"Ye man qutur now?" I asked. (Whose number is this?)

"M___. W Amarigna aychillim." (W can't speak Amharic.)

M is a relative. We met M on our visit to Burjii. I know M has a cell phone and can speak Amharic. I felt much better hearing the name.

"Beitesebu dehna now? Hulum dehna nachow?" (Is the family OK? Is everyone OK?) I asked.

"Dehna." (Fine.) Then a string of Amharic.

"Leyla sow yidewellehal. Amarigna yichillal." (Someone else will call you. He speaks Amharic.)

"Zare?" (Today?) 


I hung up and called Meheteme. His wife answered and told me she would call M for me. A few minutes later she phoned back to report.

Everything was fine. There was no emergency. M was calling to say that the photo album had arrived and to see how the kids were. Meheteme told M he had seen the boys the day before, and that they were healthy, happy, and well-behaved. M was happy to hear it and told him to "say thank you to the ferengi."

Now we are home and are making arrangements to call M on Saturday, with the help of the person who has helped us in the past. I'm hoping that now that we have the phone number of a relative, rather than that of the kebele chief whom we have always called before, we may be able to establish more regular communication. I want to normalize calling Ethiopia, to make it not a special occasion, but just something we do. How wonderful that would be.

I'm very grateful to Meheteme and his wife for their help, and if you're ever in DC, check out his restaurant. The food is delicious and you've already heard how nice the people are.

It took two weeks, but we had a successful phone call this morning. Huge thank you to Ato Y, who's been coming over early on weekend mornings to attempt calls for us. 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Always there

You are always there. Always, always. When A gets a note from his teacher praising his hard work, or scores a goal in soccer, or argues with me, you are there. When D makes up a song, or sounds out a word, or asks why? for the millionth time, you are there. I tell the kids how proud of them you would be. I do little things for you, like make sure they eat Ethiopian food with their right hand and never touch pork (I don't know if you would actually care). You are always with me.

Except you are not. You live only in my head, and the danger of living in my head is that you become an idea. You start to evolve into "noble" and "selfless" (Do you know how often the word selfless is used by adoptive parents to describe our children's first family? A LOT.) I more-than-half believe that you saw something in these children and wanted more for them than a life in rural Ethiopia could give them, and that's why you entrusted them to us.

Then I come back to reality. It hits me that I don't know if you are noble or selfless. Maybe you are. Maybe you're cheerful, or impatient, or loyal, or lazy; maybe you are, you know, an actual human being. I don't know who you are. But I know one important thing about you: you are desperately poor. You didn't take the children to an orphanage because you had a vision for their future. You might have sent an adolescent away to fulfill his potential elsewhere, but not a three-year-old and a five-year-old. You took them to an orphanage so they could eat three times a day. This is desperation, not nobility.

The you in my head is proud. The real you... I don't know. Probably very sad.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Photos at last!

We started trying to send photo albums to a family member in Ethiopia a little over a year ago. It's hard to do, when the person lives three hours from a paved road, has no post office nearby, doesn't have a means of transportation, can't read, doesn't have cell phone reception or a cell phone, and lives in an area where our agency no longer works. We tried a couple of different options, including going through our agency, but were not successful. We call a neighbor in Burjii every few months - we can reach him when he goes to market and is within range of a cell phone tower - and each time the answer has been no, no photo album. Finally a friend was able to work something out and very generously let us add a photo album to hers. Then someone I have only met online got on a motorcycle and drove through flooded roads to deliver the album. Tuesday when I got home from work I checked my email, and there they were, photos of our family member holding pictures of our boys. We are thrilled!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Back to school

The kids have been in school now for almost a month. A is in 2nd grade and D is a big kindergartner. A, as expected, has had a very smooth transition. School combines the two things he loves best - lots of kids his age and predictable rules to follow. If A could be in school seven days a week, I think he would be. He is doing great both academically and socially. He's really strong in math - he has great number sense - and he loves helping the teacher and other kids. His reading is on grade level, and he just got selected for the student council. The one small concern I have is that his speech often isn't clear. Mostly people can understand him, but he tends to shorten glides (certain long vowel sounds) and drop final consonants. I can see how that might affect his spelling down the road, but for now, it doesn't get in the way, and he can make those sounds, he just often doesn't.

D has had a harder time. He was in daycare every morning this summer, but it's still a big transition to full days of learning and socializing. He loves school, and wakes up super excited to go each morning, but he's exhausted by the end of the day. He's usually very grumpy in the evenings. I was proud of him the first week, when he was able to articulate through tears, "I don't like this new routine." He's usually not that self-aware - more often exhaustion is expressed as a nonsense word being yelled over and over. But he does love school. He doesn't want to leave when I come to pick him up at 3:15. I actually had to bribe him with McDonald's to smooth our going-home routine. (I've been a vegetarian for more than twenty years, but D wanted McDonald's, so I tossed my principles to the wind and bought him a hamburger. Or, as he called it when it was time to order, "mouse meat.") Academically D is doing great and has already hit most of the end-of-year benchmarks. He's starting to read, and he loves to work on the Reading A-Z books I used with A a year ago. It has always calmed him when I read to him, and I'm thrilled to notice that he is now calming himself by reading.

The boys also started soccer this month. A had played every day in July at his YMCA camp, so we already knew he would love it. For D it's his first attempt at a team sport, and it's great to see that he is ready for the experience. It's pretty cute when the boys already have their shin guards on at 6AM for a 10AM game.

I'm continuing to work a couple of hours a day, teaching adult ESL. The last session (during the summer) was rough, but the current group has been great. They are mostly quite young, mostly pretty motivated, and often funny.

Fall is not my favorite season - the days get too short too quickly - but this one is off to a good start.

Monday, September 9, 2013

I haven't been writing

I haven't been writing this summer. Partly it's because our summer was very busy. A did a great job describing it here. The one thing I would add is that this was the summer our boys started playing with each other. They rarely did that before, but now they're always giggling and wrestling and cracking each other up. I love it. I also partly haven't been writing because I wrote a post about the George Zimmerman verdict, and when I didn't publish it, it became a mental block against other posts. But mostly it's because lately I've been feeling less and less like an adoptive family, and more like just a family, who does ordinary family stuff and deals with ordinary family issues, which really aren't that interesting to read about.

I'm going to try to start writing again. I do occasionally have thoughts that I'd like to record for my memory-challenged self. One change I'm making is that I'm turning off the anonymous comments, because all I get are random Bible verses or nasty notes about my kids. Seriously, people, you have nothing better to do?

To kickstart the restart, I'll leave you with some of D's greatest hits of the summer, reposted from facebook:
  • Insults the kids traded today: "You like Abraham Lincoln." "You like Jomo Kenyatta. " "You're a butler." 
    • D: Do you get how flexible you are from your first parents? Me: Yes, it's genetic. D: Genetic? I thought it was gymnastics.
      • D has invented a country called D_land. It has a lot of billboards, and people there are greedy. Its current president is named San DeMoy. The country fought a civil war in 1961 over how to share the country's three mountains.
      • D, yelling out from the bathroom: "White men, you've had your turn!"
      • D is going to get a job that he describes as "I will look at people's belly buttons and screw them."

      Monday, September 2, 2013

      Our summer, by A.

      This summer I played lot of baseball and the team I was on was DH and in baseball I like batting, caching.

      Then grandma visetet I played with her zip zap.

      When my granmom left we went to Massachusetts to viset my yugs cusin.

      The next Monday I went to the ymca camp. In the camp I played lot of socrr it was fun. I played other gams and sports. They were fun.

      Then paw paw and GG viseted my family. Afster dinner we went to the park we brot the tens ball so we cuoled play cach.

      Then Y and J viseted my family. We went to Linvilla. We picked a lot of peachs and plums, apcats and bluebareas. We went on a hay ride it was fun.

      When Y and J left my family went to Ocean City. We went on rides like the fares wheel. It was lot of fun.

      Then I went on a 20 mile bike ride. It was hard and fun. I did well.

      Then my mom me and my brother went to Morris arboretum. I went on a big tree huose and I saw big bugs. They were big as cars.

      Afster Morris my family went to Maryland to my cusins. We rode our bikes. We played a lot of games. And we went to Adventure Park USA and we went on lot of RIDES. It was lots of fun.

      Then we went to DC to the Smithsonian. We saw a lot of dinsoris and other animals and we saw so meny other things. It was fun and exciting.

      Another thing we did was go to a beach. Me and my mom steped on a fish. I dove in to the waves. I had lots of fun.

      Then we went to West Virginia to visit my dad's brother in the mowtins. We went to a pool. Me and my mom chased ech other. The next day we went to a lake and we swam in the lake.

      After West Virginia we went north to the cave, camping and Knoebles. We camped with my cusins. Camping is lots of fun.

      The last day we went to Knoebels and my favrit ride was Sklooosh and Italian Trapeze. 

      This summer I also did writing, reading and math and every ten books I picked a free books.

      Tuesday, July 9, 2013

      early July

      • Yiayia visited. The boys love yiayia. So much concentrated attention!
      • It's rained a lot. Whenever the rain stops, we run out quick and play a baseball game.
      • I went back to work after a two-week break, and D transitioned wonderfully.
      • We added two new states to the boys' list: Connecticut and Massachusetts, where we spent the 4th of July. Cousins! Parade! Lake house! Kayaking!
      • A started YMCA camp.
      • I wonder if it's going to be all bullet points from here on out...?

      Thursday, June 27, 2013

      end of June

      • Last week I finished the first summer session at the university where I am now an adjunct. It's not my dream job - I don't know what my dream job is - but there are a lot of things I like about it. I like the people I work with. I learned quite a bit about a new aspect of linguistics. I remembered I love to teach.
      • I have a week off now. A finished first grade (!). T has a break from work while waiting for some grant money to come in. So that makes our 5-year-old the only one who has somewhere to be in the morning.  :)
      • My transition to working was hard for D. It wasn't just me going to work; it was also him going to preK five mornings a week. We had several weeks of screaming and crying and labeling things as "NOT FUN" (Among the things that were NOT FUN: nice days, fun. Logic does not enter into this). Now that we're all home, he's the happiest little boy in the world. I start back up again next week. I hope it's easier for him the second time around.
      • A was one of three kids on his baseball team to be invited to try out for the summer tournament team. He made it on to the "B" team and the game has stepped up a notch. Practices involve actual strategy now. He's loving it.
      • I have mixed feelings about this team. Part of it is that A is the only black kid. Part of it is that about half his team came from the same spring season team, so they all knew each other and he didn't know any of them (Can seven-year-olds have an old boys' club?). Part of it is that the coaches don't seem to give him the attention they give some of the other kids. I've scouted out another nearby team, where he'd be among mostly black kids; maybe we'll put him on that team next year.
      • Prompted in part by my feelings about this baseball team, I've been reading the boys a lot of books about African American people and history and have taken A to a couple of museums to learn more about our country's racial history. I want to be sure I get out ahead of the racial prejudice they may encounter down the road; I keep in mind that the best defense against racism is strong racial pride.

      Monday, June 17, 2013

      start of summer

      Two weekends ago, we began what I hope will be a weekly tradition, a long family bike ride. D is our limiting factor, of course, but he has done amazingly well. Our first time out, at the state park, he rode 4.5 miles, including a long uphill, and our second time out, on the river trail, he rode 7 miles. This coming Thursday is A's first day of summer vacation, and since D will still be in preK all morning, we're planning a long ride at his pace. His goal is 15 miles. I'm excited!

      We've also done some other fun weekend stuff, like the Odunde African American festival and boating at Lums Pond State Park. This is just the start - I'm really looking forward to the summer!

      June 20 Biking Update:
      A did 15 miles like it was nothing. One minute after finishing, he set 
      a new goal of 20 miles.  

      June 24 Biking Update:
      6 miles yesterday at the wildlife refuge, and 18 miles today on the river trail.  

      Tuesday, June 11, 2013

      D's challenges at one year

      People say, It'll be easier on him, he's still young,  he doesn't remember, he doesn't understand. It is so much harder on you. None of it makes sense. You do have memories, but they are flashes. You do understand, but you understand now, not how now fits in with before and after. You have no cohesive narrative. Everyone needs a narrative to tell themselves of their lives. You have these puzzle pieces, and you has no idea how they fit together and what picture they're making. How can that be easier?

      Friday, June 7, 2013

      Finally! From the U.S. State Department

      Click the link for this long-awaited announcement:

      Implementation of Pre-Adoption Immigration Review (PAIR) Program in Ethiopia

      Why this is a good thing:

      Before -  American adoptive parents receive a final adoption decree from the Ethiopian government. Then the case goes to the U.S. embassy, which does an orphan status investigation to determine whether the child meets the legal definition of "orphan." If the embassy decides it cannot issue a visa, the child is stuck - legally the child of American parents, but can't come to the U.S. Obviously there is a lot of pressure on the embassy to approve shaky cases, which may lead to children who are not orphans being adopted to the United States.

      After - The U.S. embassy does its orphan status investigation before the Ethiopian court issues its final adoption decree. If there is a problem with the case, it is found before the child has been adopted, and the adoption can be halted. One downside is that there is a longer wait between referral and court date, but I think it's very worth it.

      Sunday, June 2, 2013

      The language of adoption

      I've seen many lists of things you're not supposed to say to adoptive families. Don't say "is adopted" because it implies that adoption defines our relationship; say "was adopted" instead. Don't ask if our boys are brothers, because even if they weren't biologically related, the adoption would have made them legally related. Don't ask me if I have or want "my own kids" because these are my kids even if I didn't birth them. Don't ask about their "real family" because it implies that our family is not real.

      Honestly, none of these phrases and questions bother me. I don't expect the general public to have given that much consideration to the language of adoption. And I understand the thought behind the words. When you ask about our children's "real family," you are not passing judgment on the realness of our family, you're just asking about the family they came from and you lack the approved vocabulary. More importantly, these words don't do any harm to our boys. Their "real family" i.e. their family in Ethiopia is after all a real family, too. So you're not insulting them by calling them "real" and that's really what matters to me - that our boys' history and family is respected.

      I also feel that if you're going to adopt transracially, you need to expect these phrases and questions. You can't let yourself get upset every time a little kid asks, "Why are you different colors?" Why not just have an answer ready, use it, and move on. When very young children ask me why I'm "pink," I tell them that mommies come in all different colors. Some mommies have brown skin and are called "black," some mommies have skin like mine and are called "white," and some mommies have blue fur and eyes on the top of their heads and like to eat cookies - wait, that's Cookie Monster! See what I did there, I gave them the basic message that families come in different colors and then I changed the topic to a silly, preschool level and from there we can talk about Sesame Street characters. And really, this is not about the child who is asking; this is about the child who is listening, my child. He heard me affirm our family, heard me take the question in stride, and heard me start a much more interesting (in his opinion) topic. I'm modeling for him what he can do - answer the question in a way that shows pride in our family and then move on.  I've practiced this with him, too.

      If an older child asks me why we're different colors, I may give a variation of "mommies come in all different colors," or I may say that I adopted my children and that I'm white because I came from Europe and they're black because they came from Africa. Then I'll ask the child a question, again to move on to another topic. I have witnessed A giving much more information about his personal history, and I've told him it's fine if he wants to do that, and it's also fine if he wants to answer like I do. My point is that we don't need to let these questions bother us.

      But. There are some words that do bother me. One is when adoptive families say "coming home." First of all, it doesn't make any sense. If you ask me when we moved to Pennsylvania, you say, "When did you move to Pennsylvania?" not "When did you come home to Pennsylvania?" I didn't live here before, so how could it have been my home? Same with our boys coming to the U.S. Secondly, there is the implication that they should have been with our family all along. They belonged with us, and finally, after some unfortunate delay, they made their way "home." That is backwards. They belonged with their first family - you know, their real family - and then because of almost unimaginable loss, they came to us. Don't dismiss their history by saying they came home. (I also have a little bit of an issue with "birthparents," "birthmother," and "birthfather." If a child's first parents truly ended their involvement with the child's birth, then the phrase makes sense. Our children's family had, and continues to have, a much bigger role than just birthing them. Just say "father," "dad," "mother," "mom," "grandma" etc. I can figure out who you're talking about.)

      The other thing that bothers me is when people ask what happened to the boys' family. I don't mind if the person asking is a close friend, or someone offering a resource, or an Ethiopian showing concern for their fellow Ethiopians. It's when people ask out of morbid curiosity. I had a woman at one of A's baseball practices ask me if my kids had experienced any trauma, "because my friend adopted two children from Chad and their mother was raped and murdered in front of them... Did anything like that happen to your kids?" Seriously? In what possible scenario would that question be OK? Do you approach people and ask them if their loved ones are being abused or dying of cancer just to, you know, make conversation and get a juicy bit of gossip for the next game? (And why did this friend share this information about her children? And does she know that it's being casually passed on?) This question bothers me because the thought behind the words is unkind. The thought is that our children deserve less respect and less privacy because they came from somewhere else. That their lives are weird and sensational. That you and I are on the same team so we can share this gossip, but my children are the other, so they can be gossiped about.

      This post has turned out much longer than planned. What I meant to say was that the words people use don't really matter. If you ask me how long ago our kids left their "birthparent" to "come home" I might tell you the words I prefer, but I won't be offended. But if you treat my kids as something other than two real children with complicated lives that include families and history in two countries, then I'm going to walk away from you, and I'm not going to bother explaining why. Because while I am willing to teach you the words, it is not my job to teach you to be kind.

      Monday, May 27, 2013

      A's challenges at one year

      At one year, A can read a beginning chapter book with little help, swim the length of a pool, dive, ride a bike with one hand, play baseball, use a computer, explain adoption, offer opinions on a wide variety of topics, and make friends with anything that moves. What can he not do?

      Two things:

      1. Admit a mistake. I'd read in all the adoption books how hard it is for many adopted children to admit to mistakes; to do so would be to give up control, and control is everything. Here's an idea of how that looks in real life:

      Parent: The charger only holds four batteries, so you have to wait to charge the fifth one.
      A: No, it holds five.
      Parent: It only holds four batteries.
      A: It holds five.
      Parent: Look, here's the charger. Count how many batteries it holds.
      A (counts 1, 2, 3, 4): Five.
      Parent: OK, try putting five batteries in.
      A (puts four batteries in, is left holding one): Five.
      Parent: How many batteries are in the charger?
      A: (counts 1, 2, 3, 4): Five.
      Parent: It's OK to say you made a mistake.
      A: But there's five.

      2. Entertain himself. He has always been around other children. First in Burjii, where first he played all day and later helped herd cows with the kids in the village. Then in the orphanages where he wasn't ever alone for a second. Here in the U.S. he loves school, organized activities, and playing at the park with the neighborhood kids. But sometimes those things aren't available, and a kid has to play alone. Most children can create an imaginary world, sitting in a corner with a stick or a plastic dinosaur or a toy car talking to themselves and having a grand old time. A can not do this. He can do imaginative play, but he needs other kids around to do it. Alone he clings and hangs on us and sticks his hands in whatever task we might be trying to complete. Forget checking an email or emptying the dishwasher when A has no one to play with.

      (And it almost goes without saying that to have been through everything A has experienced and have these be your biggest challenges is truly amazing.)

      Saturday, May 18, 2013

      bullet points

      • On Mother's Day we took the boys to New York City for the first time: Staten Island ferry, lower Manhattan, Rockefeller Center, Times Square, Central Park. There was some initial anxiety, but after lunch and a visit to the Lego store, they did great. They loved Times Square and all the people there dressed as cartoon characters. They loved riding the subway and climbing rocks in Central Park.
      • A brought home a flyer from school and said, "I want to join Cub Scouts." I told him he couldn't because the scouts don't allow gay people to be scout leaders. He said, "That's not fair. I can just go to the YMCA, they do the same kind of stuff anyway." That's mah boy.
      • We had a parent-teacher conference with D's preK teacher. He's made HUGE strides in his social development. She said that he now not only engages with other kids his age, he solves disputes and even suggests and leads activities. I think we put him in preK at exactly the right time for him.

      Tuesday, May 7, 2013

      One year

      Monday was our one-year anniversary of arriving in the U.S. as a family of four. A was excited about the day. He wore to school the same shirt he'd worn on the plane a year earlier. D was grumpier. He had a big meltdown in the morning because his bunk bed is "too bunky." I think it was more about me going to work than about the anniversary. In the afternoon, everyone was in a good mood. We did homework, went to the park, and talked more extensively than we ever have before about the details and dates of our adoption process, including the delays that pushed our arrival in the U.S. to more than nine months after our referral. We had pizza on the new patio in the backyard and the neighbors came over for cake.

      Melkam and amet, lijoch!

      Saturday, May 4, 2013

      Two big things

      1. Last week we drove to Maryland on Friday and slept at my brother's house. Saturday morning T and I went to West Virginia. Alone. We stayed in West Virginia on Saturday night. The boys stayed in Maryland with my sister-in-law and their cousins. We went on two longish, steep hikes, enjoyed leisurely cups of coffee on the balcony, and wandered through a cute town. They went to a block party, played in a bounce house, and built train tracks. We reunited on Sunday afternoon. T and I were refreshed and the boys had a blast.  I'm thrilled to have reached this milestone.
      2. I've started working. It's very part-time right now, just teaching one class at a local university. It's been a lot of prep work for the first week, and a little overwhelming, but I think it will settle down. I start another class in a week, at another university. The biggest effect that my working will have on the boys is that D will be going to preK five mornings a week instead of three. He seems ready for that, and I'm excited about all the new things I'm going to learn by teaching at the college level. Working mom - another milestone I'm thrilled to reach.

      Sunday, April 21, 2013

      Proud, proud mama

      We have so many reasons to be proud of our boys:

      A moved up from "guppy" to "minnow" in his swim lessons at the Y. He'd been stuck for months because of the @#$% backstroke. Luckily, being the most stubborn kid in the world also makes him very persistent, and he prevailed.

      D learned to pump himself on the swing. No more yelling Giffee! Giffee! (push) at me when we go to the park (that makes me a little sad too).

      A started baseball. The coach pitches and the kids can take as many swings as they need to get on base. He's learning a lot of baseball basics and he LOVES it. Not surprisingly, I've heard a lot of "holy sh*t's" as people witness his throwing arm for the first time.

      D is learning sight words and is super excited about them. He asks me to quiz him on the spelling of words like "one," "the" and "you." He's also working on the Reading A-Z books that I used with A last summer.

      And the reason I am most proud of our sons... They talked to their family in Burjii this weekend. Our calls to Ethiopia are incredibly confusing and difficult for them. But we gave them the words for "How are you?" and "fine" in Burjinya, and they said them, loudly and clearly. And they had to say them many times, as there was much simultaneous shouting from five people in three languages. We had a lot of information we'd hoped to pass on and some questions to ask, and none of that happened, but A and D heard W's voice and W heard A and D's voices. I am so, so proud of them and of their bravery and resilience.

      Thursday, April 4, 2013


      During spring break T's uncle called him to say he was coming to Philadelphia and wanted to meet our boys. He was coming in his company's new private jet and he wondered if the boys might like a ride.

      Um, that'd be a yes.

      We didn't tell the boys because we didn't know if the weather would allow for a flight and the disappointment would have been crushing. In fact, we didn't tell them until we were on our way to the airport. When we finally revealed the surprise, D threw up. Luckily he recovered quickly and was soon doing the preflight check with the pilot.

      A had no hesitation and was very excited to check the plane and get ready for the flight.

      There was one more surprise for them when we got on the plane. The boys could take turns sitting in the copilot's seat and helping to fly the plane. Yup, this happened.

      D did the takeoff. He got to put on the headset and put his hands on the controls, under the pilot's guidance.

      We flew to New York City and turned over Manhattan.

      Then it was A's turn.  He took over the copilot's seat and the yoke for the return flight and the landing.

      I have a policy of not showing our boys' faces on this blog, so you'll just have to imagine how enormous their smiles were. If they had grinned any bigger, I'm pretty sure their ears would have popped off.

      Today when I ran errands with D he told everyone he met, "I flew a plane!" Everyone responded exactly the same way: smile because he's so damn cute, pause as they processed what he said, smile more uncertainly as they tried to decide what he meant, and then look at me for an explanation, at which point I confirmed, "Yes. He flew a plane."

      We have a couple of really happy kids in our house right now.

      Monday, April 1, 2013

      Spring break

      We had a great spring break. The boys and I went down to Maryland to visit my brother's family. There are two boy cousins, five and eight years old (our boys are five and seven). D and C disappeared into C's bedroom and played police something-or-other for hours. A and S disappeared on their bicycles. And the four of them spent hours playing the Wii together, cooperating the whole time, while this mama relaxed upstairs. Best of all, D was fully present for the entire visit. No "blocking" whatsoever. It made my heart all fuzzy.

      Tuesday, March 26, 2013

      March this-and-that

      Just truckin' along here in March, hoping that winter will soon be over. A continues loving school, especially math, and swimming, and pretty much every new thing he tries. He's been in a consistently good mood for the last couple of weeks, which has been really nice. D just increased to preschool three consecutive days a week, and I think that's a better routine than the one-on, one-off schedule. He's still highly anxious and that's our biggest concern right now. I love weekends, because he does so much better when the four of us are all together.
         *      *      *

      We had a great visit with our friends from Burjii who live in DC, and a Skype session with our friend from Burjii in California. Been thinking a lot about Burjii lately. A has shared a few more vignettes with us. He told us about the two-handled water pump in the village and how he or D would hold the water pail while the adults pumped, about how if they stepped on a thorn an adult would use another thorn to pry it out, and about how they once got shoes made from recycled tires. I can't begin to express how important it is for me - and for them, I think, in the future - to have these little pictures of their early life.
         *      *      * 

      I am so sick and tired of the sexism in children's books and TV shows. Books are so overwhelmingly male - it's not just that the main characters are usually boys, it's also that when they're animals they're male animals, and when they're vehicles, they're male vehicles and when they're freakin' weather elements, they're still male. Aaarrrrggghhhh. I'm so tired of he, he, he, he, he. I work really hard for equal representation in the books we bring home. A current favorite is "Violet the Pilot." TV shows are even harder - so far the only female-centered shows we've found that the boys like are Dora the Explorer and Doc McStuffins. I would love to hear more suggestions, especially if they're available on Netflix. And the almost complete absence of gay characters is even worse. We've read "Uncle Bobby's Wedding" and "And Tango Makes Three," and I'd love more suggestions.
         *      *      *

      Six months ago, A spent a lot of time whining, screeching, barking, and meowing. Today he and I went to the zoo and talked to the keepers of the tigers, aardvarks and meerkats. We spent half an hour giggling over the gibbons. We discussed the strange habit some people have of referring to all animals as "he." On the way home we talked about the marriage equality case going before the Supreme Court. It's pretty amazing how much has changed in six months.

      Saturday, March 16, 2013

      Some things to remember

      • A saying for the first time ever, "I made a mistake," and the nervousness and pride at his own bravery so clear in his voice.
      • D shouting out random phrases that he picked up from books and songs, like "SAW-EDGED TEETH FOR CUTTING THROUGH FLESH!!" to the shoppers at the grocery store (from his dinosaur book) and "JUDGE NOT!!" to the swimmers at the YMCA (from Bob Marley).
      • Both boys sounding like middle-age women, like A saying, "easy peasy" and D commenting primly on a new friend, "He seems like a very nice boy." 
      • D using "How 'bout...?" instead of "What would happen if...?" so, "What would happen if we drove too fast?" becomes the casual suggestion, "How 'bout we drive too fast?"
      • A's utter reasonableness, like when my sleepy, "Don't play with jacks in my bed" is met with a sweet, "Mommy, I counted them, there are ten, and when I'm finished I'll count them again so I don't leave any here because they are sharp." Um, okay then.

      Sunday, March 10, 2013

      Mercy Mercy: video, links, thoughts

      A lot of people are talking about the documentary Mercy, Mercy, so I thought I'd post it here, along with some relevant links and a few thoughts.

      Background on the movie: 

      The movie:
      www.youtube.com/watch?v=bTirNtngWTE or watch below:

       Some thoughts:

      The adoptive parents come across as batsh*t crazy in some scenes, especially the dinner scene, but the less than one hour they are on the screen cannot possibly tell us what happened over the course of four years. I'm sure the real situation is much more complicated. The movie didn't show us any particularly challenging behaviors from Masho, but I assume there were some. This is in no way to blame a child for an adoption gone wrong; I'm just saying the family probably had a much harder time than we saw on camera.

      The adoption professionals in Ethiopia were deceitful. They allowed the family of origin to believe one thing and the adoptive family to believe the opposite. They made the biological family think the two families would be connected. They didn't educate the adoptive parents about the biological family's expectations. They sat and talked with the adoptive parents about not letting the biological parents come to the airport, while the biological parents were sitting right there. Later they acted like it was the biological parents' fault for not receiving any reports of their children for four years.

      The adoption professionals in Denmark were clueless. The first one completely disregarded Masho's biological family and said that she had probably never experienced a close relationship. The second one advised her adoptive parents to act indifferent toward a suffering child. I can give Henriette and Gert the benefit of the doubt, but I have a harder time with people whose job it is to know better.

      The adoptive parents never had any intention of maintaining contact (see interview below). Based on what Sinkanesh and Hussein said at the beginning of the movie, this information would have been a deal breaker for them (and everyone lied about this, the adoption agency and Henriette and Gert, who said, "we have to keep in touch"). Why the hell did they not want to maintain contact? Did they think they would just erase Masho's memories? Did they think Sinkanesh and Hussein did not love their children as parents do? I know staying connected can't be required, there's no way to enforce it, but hours and hours of education on why you should stay connected can be required. Even if adoptive parents are as thoughtless as these two appear to be, adoption professionals should drill into them to the non-optionality of maintaining contact.

      Interview with the filmmaker:
      www.youtube.com/watch?v=a0212tRZ-pg or watch here:
      I appreciate what a delicate position she was in between the two families. Still, the "I couldn't intervene because I had no one to go to" argument is weak. She had information that Sinkanesh and Hussein desperately wanted and information that Henriette and Gert desperately needed to hear, and she didn't share it.

      Follow up video:
      Video is in Danish but there is some English toward the end. The attorney says, "The child has a right to maintain her relationship with the family of origin." She is correct, this is stated in Article 183 of the Ethiopian Family Code. But again, how to enforce internationally?

      Danish adoptions stopped from Enat Alem: 

      Tuesday, March 5, 2013

      Good test to fail

      A little while ago, A brought home the results of a standardized reading assessment. He was on or close to proficient in most areas, except for the nonsense word assessment, in which he got a zero.

      This made me very happy. A nonsense word assessment is when the child is given a list of non-words to read aloud, to see if s/he can apply phonics rules. The "words" would look something like this: gat, mog, fim, stot, bruck, etc.

      Reading is about meaning. A's zero in the nonsense word assessment shows me that he gets this. He knows that people put words on a page because they want to say something. In his effors to make meaming out of the above list, he reads it something like this: get, mug, fin, stop, brick.

      That's what good readers do. You just did it - you may have noticed my misspellings in the sentence above, but you knew it was meant to be "efforts" and "meaning," not "effors" and "meaming." You changed the words in your mind, whether consciously or unconsciously, so that they would make sense. Because you know what it means to read.

      OK, so A gets that words on a page are supposed to mean something. Why is that a big deal? It's a big deal because so many English language learners don't get that.  They don't get it because they aren't taught that. Instead these terribly misguided programs like Reading First - no, I should say these terribly misapplied programs - teach them that reading is about making sounds in response to letters on a page. It doesn't matter if the sounds have meaning. English language learners are being taught to read h-a-t before they have the first clue that the word "hat" means something. They learn this lesson over and over again, and in a couple of years, although they might be speaking English pretty well, their reading comprehension is abysmal. They sound beautiful when they read. But ask them to retell a story, or draw a comparison, or offer an opinion, and they can't do it. At all. And then the teachers start talking about disabilities and learning difficulties. When in fact, they've learned very well, but what they've learned is that reading is all about making the right sounds.

      I have seen this and fought against this over and over again. Possibly the most frustrating thing is that there is a very simple solution: Teach oral language first. Read to children. Model for them, by talking about what you read, that reading is about meaning. Read funny books and laugh. Read science books and be amazed. Read biographies and be inspired. Show them, over and over, why you read. And guess what? Eventually they will want to do it, too. Then you can start teaching them phonics.

      And if they fail their nonsense word assessment, rejoice, because you know they've learned that reading is supposed to make sense.

      So go, A! Keep up the terrible work.

      Saturday, March 2, 2013

      Something I don't miss

      I just realized that Penny hasn't been around in a while. I'm very glad to find her gone.

      Today I am grateful for:
      • our house, which has big windows and a lot of light
      • the neighborhood grocery store we can walk to, and especially Ms. Cathy and Mr. Mike.
      • the 28 African Americans we read about in the month of February 
      • Wissahickon
      • D getting the final points on his "Letting Grown-ups Do What They Need to Do" chart in spectacular fashion - by letting me hold a baby!
      • a connection that will allow us to learn more about Burji
      • my husband, who can whip up the best shiro ever

      Tuesday, February 26, 2013

      Post-adoption paperwork

      This will be different from state to state, but in case anyone is looking for how to do it in Pennsylvania:

      Step 1 - Registration of foreign adoption (equivalent to readoption in some other states)
      You do not need an attorney to do this. Take all your paperwork (Ethiopian court order with official translation, embassy-issued "birth" certificate, Ethiopian passports showing IR3 visa, Certificate of Citizenship, any paperwork that has children's pre-adoption full names etc.) and hand over the ORIGINALS - gulp! - to the Orphans' Court. This is also the time to request a legal name change. In a couple of weeks you will get a call to go pick up the official registration of foreign adoption and get your paperwork back (you can use the mail, but remember, these are your original documents). At the same time the Orphans' Court will forward the information to the Division of Vital Records.

      Step 2 - U.S. birth certificate
      This time you can use copies, so it's easy to do it by mail. Follow the steps here and send your request to the Division of Vital Records (Ignore the broken link at the top because you've already completed the registration of foreign adoption). For "child's name at birth" put the name listed on the U.S. embassy-issued birth certificate. You will receive a U.S. birth certificates in the mail a few weeks later. Be aware that special characters like apostrophes do not show up on the birth certificate.

      Step 3 - Social security card
      Go to your local Social Security office. You'll be using your originals again, so better not to mail them. In addition to all the documents listed here, I was asked to provide either an immunization record or a record of a well-child visit. Once I had all the necessary paperwork, I could wait in the office for the request to be put in and take my originals home. The cards came in the mail just a couple of days later.

      Sunday, February 24, 2013

      Whose culture is it anyway?

      We so want to keep our boys connected to their culture of origin, but are finding it hard to do so. Almost all the Ethiopians we have met are from around Addis Ababa and most have never heard of Burjii. The Ethiopia described in children's books is Lalibela, Gondar and Axum, the Amharic language and fidel, the shamma, the iskista. None of that has anything to do with our boys. Yes, I want them to be proud of being Ethiopian, but I also want to them to be proud of being Burjii and to feel that the Burjii are as important to Ethiopia as the Amhara and Tigrinya are.

      The boys continue to be very resistant to going to the Ethiopian church and I now think it's partly because the church has nothing to do with their experience of Ethiopia (and partly because church is boring). At the church everyone wears a white ne'tela, so visually it's pretty striking. The only person we ever saw in Burjii wearing white was me. And everyone at church speaks Amharic, which for our boys was never more than the language of the orphanage, not the most positive of associations. It would be as if someone took me to an NRA convention and said, "You're American, they're American, so this is your culture." I would definitely resist.

      I have been looking online for more information about Burjii culture. There is not a lot out there. Anyone have any resources to point me toward?

      Tuesday, February 19, 2013

      Helping D (part 2)

      Me: A, do you wan- 
      JUST A???JUST A???NOT ME???
      T: K, how was-
      Radio: In today's new- 
      Dog: Woo-
      BOOM !!!BOOM!!!BOOM!!!

      We call it "blocking." He tries to intercept any attention that may go to someone else or something else. He's VERY loud.

      Talking about it and consequences haven't worked because even negative attention is attention. So now we are trying ignoring.

      I have two main issues with ignoring. One, he has already experienced the ultimate "ignoring" in his life. Ignoring him, especially when he's clearly feeling anxious, seems like the opposite of what we should be doing. Two, if you're going to ignore, you have to be prepared for the inevitable escalation. You're going to have to ignore ear-splitting, house-shaking tantrums.

      But... it's working. We've created a point system. He gets points for "Letting grown-ups do what they need to do." We catch him allowing us to attend to other people and things and reward that behavior, and we give no attention to his attempts to block us. It's only been a few days, but I already see a huge difference. I can tell he's working it out in his head. He says to me, calmly, "You're listening to the radio. You're paying attention to the dog." "That's right," I say. "But I'm still thinking about you."

      It makes my life easier. I hope that his newfound calm is helping him, too.  

      Thursday, February 14, 2013

      Helping D (part 1)

      January was a busy, social month for us.  My mom was here. We had a big birthday party for A. D started preschool. My best friend from high school flew in for a visit (we drove into the city to see Independence Hall just the two of us, bliss!). My sister was here with her kids. It was fun, for all of us, but for D it also was stressful. He has been getting more and more anxious, and I've been looking for ways to help him.

      Below are some of the things, old and new, that I've been using to calm him and make him feel safer.
      • Lying down with him again at bedtime and staying until he falls asleep
      • Face-to-face breathing exercises - I've always done these with him and they usually help.
      • Setting the timer for transitions or for a calm period is a huge help.
      • Classical music - it seems to calm him down and puts me in a better mood, too.
      • The "Magic Circle" (Parenting Your Internationally Adopted Child, p.103) - I got a big piece of twine, tied it in a circle, and showed D how we could stand in the circle and and use it to pull each other. His face lit up as if I'd finally delivered that skid-steer loader he's been asking for. "You mean we're connected??!?" I carry the twine in my pocket everywhere we go. 
      What calms your child when s/he feels anxious?

      Saturday, February 9, 2013

      Christian World Adoption

      "Christian" World Adoption has been among the worst of the worst in Ethiopia. I am very happy they are finally closing.

      Ethiotube: Fly Away Children - Commercialization of Children

      Thursday, February 7, 2013

      Nine-month snapshot

      At 6:30 D is already downstairs playing with Legos and talking to himself. A comes into our bedroom and announces the time like a town crier.

      I'm glad A is feeling better. He missed two days of school with a fever. I think D really liked those days because he got to stay close to his brother, read books and watch videos all day. Today they are both going off, A back to school, D on an exciting preschool field trip to the science museum.

      At breakfast we read our African American biography for the day: Wilma Rudolph. A is interested, D continues to play with Legos.

      A is excited about having been in the U.S. for nine months. I ask him if he's missing anyone from Ethiopia. He nods, and D says his grandfather's name. I ask them what their grandfather is like. A says he is nice. It's very rare for him to share any kind of memories, but today he tells me that their grandfather used to bring them cow meat. They put pieces of the meat on sticks and roasted it over the cooking fire in their house. I savor this mental image.

      A asks if he can get a ride from me to school instead of riding the bus. I say yes, but soon he's freaking out that we'll be late. I have him look at me and take some deep breaths. Usually this is something I do with D, but today it works with A. We get to his school in plenty of time, then I take D to preschool.

      He gets clingy when we go in and I stay with him as the teachers get the children ready for the field trip. When it's time to go on the bus his love of vehicles wins over and he gets on with a big smile on his face.

      I now have the morning to do some things I can't do with a kid around. I edit a piece of writing for T; have an actual adult conversation with a friend; take the dog for a long walk; do an online job search; spend forever on the phone with my health insurance company, who can go die in the fiery pits of hell.

      A gets out of school early today, so I go pick him up. He tells me about taking the ACCESS test. We have lunch, then do some make-up work for the days he missed. He does his math first; he loves math. We work on reading until he slides face down to the floor. The floor is his go-to place when he is feeling stressed. I talk him up to the chair, then to a sitting position, then to stating what he needs. He's tired and wants to stop. I agree that it's a reasonable request, and we stop. I'm proud that he was able to manage this stressful moment.

      Soon it's time to go get D. He usually gets out of preschool at 12:30, but because of the field trip, today he's not done until after 2:30. He's excited to see us, and excited to tell us all about the bus and the museum: a T-Rex! and a Triceratops! and butterflies! and it was so hot in the butterfly house I said, 'wheewwww!' and the bus was SOOOO high! and I bounced in my seat! and I touched a turtle! and a rabbit! and I saw a moose standing very still behind a glass!

      I had planned for them to have some rest time now, but we see some neighborhood friends and invite them over. Then it's time for swimming for A and basketball for D at the YMCA. A has mastered kicking and is quite the little speedboat in the water. D looks like most of the other boys in his 3-5-year-old class, alternating cute, clumsy attempts at dribbling with spinning in circles in his own little world.

      We come home and I get dinner ready while the boys play with/argue over Legos and draw. We have dinner as soon as T gets home, then I go back to the Y for a summer camp information session. T gets the boys ready for bed and they are watching videos when I get back. D has had a long day and I take him to bed early. We read a book, and I stay with him until A comes to bed and they both fall asleep. I sit with T for a while, but in nine months I still haven't figured out how to reliably fit in quality time with my husband. I'm too sleepy now and soon I'm in bed.

      Friday, February 1, 2013

      MLK Day and Black History Month

      • Talking to kids about racism is not fun, but it is necessary.
      •  We may think of our kids as Ethiopian American, but to most people they are simply African American. The history of Black America may not be their personal history, but they need to know it.
      • I am grateful that since the boys joined our family we have not experienced any overt instances of racism. 
      • We started reading simple books about the Civil Rights movement at around 3 months in the U.S., but they freaked D out too much, and we put them on hold. We started again leading up to MLK Day. A was able to read a simple biography of Martin Luther King almost all by himself. I chose a book that did not say how Dr. King died - our boys aren't ready for that level of hatred yet. I also chose it for the sentence, "Some white people did not want blacks to have the same rights as whites." An actual active voice sentence that names the architects of segregation: "some white people." Most children's books couch this truth in passive voice, so that segregation laws just appear from the clear blue sky.
      • I knew I had to tell them about slavery. They're going to learn about it in school, and I would rather it came from me. A hard thing to do though, to say, "Guess what kids, the world is THIS awful." Turning to a book again, I used "In the Time of the Drums," by Kim Siegleson. It provides limited information, protecting them for now from the hugeness of the horror, but it gives a glimpse. The main characters are a young slave and his grandmother, and it's about resistance and being "strong-strong." I recommend this book.
      • For MLK Day we went to the African American Museum in Philadelphia. The main exhibit involved audio and it was so crowded we couldn't hear anything, but it felt good to be part of a large crowd of black museum-goers.
      • I had an interesting conversation with the children's librarian at our local library. I confessed my reluctance to burst my kids' happy bubble by telling them about racism. She said she worried about making her child feeling like a victim (they are black). Her advice was to teach our children about racism against African Americans but also about other groups facing injustice - women, Latinos, Native Americans, people with disabilities, gays. So our kids won't think the world sucks if you're black; they'll think the world just sucks. Hmmm. I've been keeping her advice in mind as I select books.
      •  For Black History Month, I've gotten books about black inventors, scientists, explorers, athletes and musicians. I don't want the kids to think that being African American is only about overcoming racism.
      •  We also read books about bulldogs baking cookies and chickens riding tractors. It's not all heavy.

      Thursday, January 24, 2013

      On Boys and Vehicles

      D is crying because airplanes go faster than buses. He stomps upstairs to find something that goes faster than a plane. He comes back with a race car. A laughs at him, causing more sobbing. I look up passenger jet plane speeds: 500-700 mph. I look up Bonneville Salt Flats racing, which eventually leads to a video of this car. 763 mph. Crisis averted.

      Saturday, January 19, 2013


      When our boys had been with us for ten weeks, it was already clear that A was ready to go to school. It was also clear that D was not.

      D and I spent almost every waking moment together for eight months. And then he was ready for school. Not full time, but a gradual easing in.

      This month I began to investigate nearby preschools and I found one that we both really liked. Me because the teachers seemed happy to be there and engaged with the kids, the kids were a diverse mix of ethnicities, and the space was big and bright, and D because there is a bus-shaped play structure out back with REAL TIRES.

      He started preschool this week. Just two mornings a week, from 9:00 to 12:30. He LOVES it. He is SO excited to be going to school. The first day there were two special guests - a science teacher and a nurse talking about toothbrushing - and he learned about volcanoes and proper brushing technique as well as the letter Q and pandas. On Thursday he learned about dinosaurs and made fossils out of clay and drew lots of vehicles. I am so proud of him. That first day he was so brave when I dropped him off and so happy about his day when I picked him up. Best of all, he is proud of himself, that he has entered the realm of school-goers. He is officially a BIG BOY.

      The first day of preschool for me, on the other hand, was pretty hard. It was way too quiet at home. I have gotten so used to hearing about imaginary vehicles all day long that it has become part of my normal background noise. I made the mistake of using those first few hours to myself to begin investigating job options and completely stressed myself out. The second day of preschool I did much better because I got out of the house and ran needed errands to stores I know D doesn't like.

      Now on the weekend D is sort of flipping out, with lots of yelling and continuous jumping up and down. And I'm thinking about how to best make use of my time to myself. I'm sure in the next few weeks we will both settle into our new routines.

      Wednesday, January 16, 2013


      Like many families adopting from Ethiopia, we don't know when our sons' birthdays are. On paper A turned six this summer, but he is likely older. On paper D turned five this summer, but he is likely younger. The pediatrician and the dentist both thought their legal birthdays were off by a bit, but by less than one year. So we decided to celebrate A's birthday six months early, and D's birthday six months late. This will make them be two years apart instead of one (anyone who has seen them can tell you that they are at least two years apart). We are keeping their legal birth dates, at least for now, because changing them by less than a year would be hard, and would require letters that their health care providers would be reluctant to write. But we are now referring to A as seven years old, and to D as almost-five years old. The boys know that their "important papers" list their birthdays in the summer but they know that their papers are not accurate.

      We celebrated A's birthday this month. What was going to be a small celebration ended up growing to 19 kids and their accompanying adults in our little house, and this was with no school friends here. We invited the kids from our street and from the park, our usual playdate friends E, J, and M, and friends from the Ethiopian church. It was a lot of fun. The kids played, we had pizza, there was a treasure hunt, and there was cake. Simple and happy. A loved it.

      D had a hard time both with the attention A was getting and with all the noise and people. His birthday celebration will be much smaller.

      Tuesday, January 8, 2013

      God and Jesus

      We are not remotely religious but Christianity is all around us and I decided it would be good for my boys to have at least a nodding acquaintance with God and Jesus. This was one of my projects for December.

      The Christian god was hard to introduce. I couldn't find any children's books that presented God in an age-appropriate story kind of way. The books that had stories were super violent - rivers of blood, dead children. The books that weren't violent assumed the reader thought God was real and didn't give any information - "God made me, God loves me" doesn't explain who God is to someone who doesn't know.

      So I decided to introduce some friendlier gods, and we got books of African and Greek mythology and read those instead. We talked about how people long ago didn't know much science and told stories of gods to explain the things they didn't know. After a few of these books A concluded that a god was somewhere between a superhero and a magician. I couldn't think of any reason this definition was wrong, so we went with it.

      For Jesus, I found a book that focused on his birth. D got a little fixated on King Herod and it became more a story about a king who didn't want anyone else to be king. I told him King Herod was real but he didn't really have all those babies killed (I researched this to be sure). He eventually asked what Jesus did when he grew up and I told him he was a carpenter and a teacher who told everyone to be nice to each other.

      I told the boys about the original December celebration of the solstice and the origin of the Christmas tree. I told them how later people chose December as the time to celebrate the birth of Jesus and that for some of our friends and neighbors, Christmas is about Jesus.

      Now D likes spotting manger decorations when we're out walking the dog and yelling, "Jesus!" at the top of his lungs.

      Interestingly, none of our conversations about God or Jesus triggered any kind of memory of church or teachings from their early life.

      Saturday, January 5, 2013

      Post-Christmas gratitude

      • visiting with family and friends in Virginia
      • first snowball fight
      • my mom coming and staying for five days to entertain the boys and give me a break
      • a smooth transition for A back to school
      • D regaining his sanity, stopping the repeating loop, and going back to just talking all the time