Friday, December 23, 2011

prayer warrior

We say prayers with Z before bedtime and naps each day. Like good Presbyterians, we fold our hands and close our eyes and speak softly, thanking God for his blessings and praying for our friends, family, and others around the world. Lately, after I finish saying prayers, Z wants to say his own prayers: he scrunches up his face, hunches his shoulders, and mumbles unintelligibly. Sometimes he throws in some wild hand gestures or sways from side to side, and on rare occasion I can make out a word or two (usually a name of someone we have seen that day). It absolutely cracks me up because it is not like anything he has seen people here do when they pray... I guess they must have had some pretty rockin' prayer sessions at the Widow & Orphan homes! It is amazing to see the little treasures he has kept with him from that time.

In other news, he is thoroughly enjoying his first Christmas season in America! Ever since his 2nd birthday in April, he has been a huge fan of all things birthday related, so the fact that Christmas is Baby Jesus' birthday makes it extra special in his book. Merry Christmas everyone!

Monday, December 19, 2011


This smile says it all: my son is happy.

Last night we saw some friends who haven't seen Z since summertime and they kept telling us how different he seemed compared to a few months ago. "He just seems so much more open and relaxed now," was the comment we heard more than once.

Not that he was miserable before, but over the past few months we have noticed a subtle shift in Z's overall demeanor. He is comfortable. He feels safe. He not only trusts us as his parents, he also trusts his environment. These feelings of safety and trust have given him a freedom to play, and laugh, and open himself up in deeper ways than we have seen before. It is beautiful and miraculous and the best present this mama could ever ask for.

I'll wrap this up with two cute little stories from the past week:

I have sung the exact same 4 songs to Z every time I put him down for a nap or bedtime since the first month he came home. He seems to thrive on that predictability and has gotten mad any time I've tried to stray from the routine... until the other day when he asked me to sing the "star song", which I managed to figure out meant "Away in a Manger". (We have a kids nativity set that plays that song when you push a button and a star lights up while the song is playing.) Now he insists on us singing the 'star song' before naps and bed -- it's become his own little Advent tradition.

Last night when I tucked him in I asked him, "Who loves Z?" and he smiled up at me and said, "Jesus!" Melt my heart.

Monday, December 12, 2011

who is my neighbor

Karin Kraus: The Good Samaritan

It could have been me. I could have been born in a country where women are property. I could have become pregnant at an age when I should have been jumping rope. I could have contracted HIV from my unfaithful husband, had no access to medication, gotten sicker and sicker, and died before my baby's first steps. I could have suffered from mental illness in a place where you can't even find band-aids. I could have been forced to choose between losing my child forever or watching us both slowly starve. It could have been me.*

People often ask us why we adopted. It's not because we have so much to offer. It's not because we're nice. It's not because we wanted to be heroes. It's because it could just as easily have been our family torn apart by circumstances far beyond our control, the children born to us left to fend for themselves.

It is so easy to forget that. It is easy to think we are safe, we are different, or (forgive us, Lord) we are better. It is easy to pretend that we earned this life. It is easy to see ourselves as those who have climbed high enough to be able to condescend a few rungs on the ladder to help a poor soul. But we're not, and we didn't, and we haven't.

There are no strangers. We are brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers and sons and daughters. We are not made to be all things to all people, but we are still made for each other.

Who is my neighbor? The one I love, not out of pity, but out of recognition. He is my son.

*These examples are not specific to Z's birth family, but they are all commonplace circumstances in Ethiopia.

Sunday, December 4, 2011


We are making lots of fun new memories together this season, but it was an old memory that blew me away yesterday.

Z was playing with a little fleece scarf as I prepped dinner. This kid loves to accessorize, so he was having a good old time finding different ways to wear the scarf and I was not paying too much attention -- just thankful to have him occupied while I cooked. "Baby back-pack-pack?" (That's his word for backpack - he throws the extra syllable in there just for fun.) I looked over at him and was confused for a minute. He had wrapped the scarf around his belly and was smiling up at me like he'd done something clever. "Z baby back-pack-pack!" he announced. Oh! Finally silly mommy got it: he was pretending to have a baby wrapped on his back with the scarf. Which he has not seen since he left Ethiopia nine months ago. How crazy is that? Makes me wonder what else he remembers... My psychology background tells me that by the time he is old enough to answer the question "What do you remember from Ethiopia?" he will not have much, if anything, to say. I know that in my head, but my heart longs to hear so much more.

We can't do much to help Z keep his old memories, but we are having lots of fun making new ones together. This season has been particularly sweet, as we watch Z take in all the new experiences of his first Christmas season in America. Surprises so far: he was not scared to meet Santa and he is totally unfazed by the huge fir tree in our house. Not-so-surprising: he made loud silly noises through our whole Advent candle lighting and family devotional time, he's loving the Fisher Price nativity set, and he thinks candy canes are the best thing ever. Can't argue with that!

Monday, November 28, 2011

9 months

Today Z has been home for 9 months! I'm going to save my next 'epic' post-placement installment for the 1 year mark, but I didn't want to let this milestone slip by unnoticed.

Z continues to live up to his names: he is strengthened by God - a strong, resilient, and loving boy, and he is an immeasurable blessing to our whole family.

We're all yours, buddy!

first thanksgiving!

my nana spoils me.

ready for my close-up.

dancing with mama.

Friday, November 25, 2011

7 quick takes: thanksgiving photo essay version

[I promise to post something other than '7 quick takes' sometime soon. In the meantime I've thrown together some photo collages featuring moments from the last week when I was not breaking up fights, wiping bums, or stepping on cheerios with bare feet. Enjoy!]

1. Early Thanksgiving dinner with my fam.

2. Prepping for dinner at our place.

N made placemats and I practiced making apple candles.

[2.5 -- The real deal.]

As I was taking the cute apple picture featured in the previous photo collage, I found it ironic that I was holding the apple up over a sink full of dirty dishes. We can make ourselves look pretty darn awesome as long as we point the camera the right direction, amen?

3. Big Wednesday

Out of the house by 8:15, to Staples to drop off the placemats for laminating, QFC for preschool party items (OK, and S.tarbucks), drop kids at school, teach Mommy & Me class, leave class early to go to Thanksgiving celebrations in 2 different classrooms, quick stop at a friend's house to drop off a Thanksgiving meal voucher on the way to the dentist for teeth cleanings for D & Z, back to Staples to pick up the placemats (they turned out cute!), home for lunch & naps, off to a pre-Thanksgiving take-out dinner party, and finally to church for a beautiful Thanksgiving Eve service... with 3 squirmy tired boys, no childcare, and J playing drums most of the service. Thankful, exhausted, and ready for a frosty beverage.

5. Sunrise on the stemware.

I woke up Thursday morning to a very grumpy toddler, and an absolutely amazing sunrise.

4. Tables.

We had 9 adults and 6 kids - the perfect size for my first time hosting a Thanksgiving dinner.

6. Thankful feasting.

It was a lovely evening. I was way less stressed than I thought I'd be. I love the people around my table. I am so, so thankful.

7. Cabin day trip.

This morning we found ourselves looking at an empty calendar and a promising weather forecast, so we headed to my parent's cabin on Vashon Island. It was gorgeous, chilly, quiet, and just what we all needed. Still so very thankful.

7 quick takes sm1 Your 7 Quick Takes Toolkit!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

7 slow takes

[I'm a day late for the link-up but I thought I'd post anyway]

1. If I could only listen to one band for the rest of my life, I think it might be The Civil Wars. Their style, their song writing, their insane talent, their chemistry - I love it all, and we got to see it live in concert at the Neptune Theatre on Monday. I am so glad we got to go, not only because it was amazing beyond words, but also -

2. because our tickets spent 4 days in the recycling bin and would have been gone forever if it hadn't happened to be an 'off' week for recycle pick-up! I ordered them a few months ago and they came in the mail in a plain white envelope. We opened them and set them aside, but they somehow drifted into a pile of junk mail and my husband someone threw them out. A few days later I went to put them in a safe place, but couldn't find them anywhere, so (after I did some deep breathing and relaxation techniques to prevent a panic attack) we started looking through the kitchen recycling. We didn't find them. (More panic attacks.) Then J realized the recycling hadn't gone out this week and there were a few bags in the bin outside.We must have looked like lunatics out in our driveway frantically tearing open our own recycling... but we found them! Crisis averted.

3. In "This Never Ever Happens" news, I actually went to two concerts this week. Audrey Assad played a surprise impromptu show at the Fremont Abbey on Thursday night for a handful of her Twitter followers (see? Twitter is good for something!). She played a bunch of songs that will be coming out on her new record in February and they were so good I'm not sure how I'll wait that long to hear them again.

bad cell phone picture of me & Audrey Assad

4. While we're on the topic of music, my kids are obsessed with the new album from Slugs & Bugs, Under Where? I want to to do a full review of the album on this blog soon, especially because one of the songs is about adoption, so I won't go into too much detail now. I will say it is one of only a very few kids' albums that I can not only tolerate but actually enjoy. More on that soon...

5. Last night and this morning we have been watching a video of Z from May 2010 - the first video we ever saw of him, taken the same week we signed his referral. It is fascinating to watch Z watch himself - he is mesmerized by it. I also can't believe how much of his personality was captured by these 90 seconds of video: it is so him.

this photo was taken the same day as the video we've been watching

6. Yesterday we went to the doctor because D had been sick for a few days (he seems much better today, thank goodness), and on the way home I treated the boys to a little S.tarbucks date. I think Z liked his "buna" (Amharic for 'coffee', one of the only Amharic words he still says)...

7. We're off to my parents house now for Thanksgiving Dinner, Part One -- two of my siblings can't do dinner on Thursday, so we're starting the holiday early and eating our big turkey dinner together today. On that note, I better go change out of my jammies and make some green bean casserole. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

feelings and grace

Remember those cute leaf-raking pictures from my last post? Yeah, this one didn't make it in. ;)

I don't envy adoption agency staff members -- preparing people to become adoptive parents must be crazy hard. I happen to think our agency did a fantastic job preparing us, and I'm impressed with how they've continued to refine and improve the education component of their program. Despite the great pre-adoption preparation we received, there was an undetected disconnect lurking in me -- something I didn't know that I didn't know until circumstances brought it to the surface.

I knew plenty about how Z might behave when he came home, and why, and what to do about it. I knew about how challenging it would be for him to leave everything familiar and come to a strange place with strange people, all at a critical point in his development. I knew it would challenge me too as I implemented strategies for bonding, building trust, and correcting inappropriate behavior. I'm not trying to toot my own horn here, I'm just saying that my preparation was robust and I felt ready ready ready. I like a challenge, I thought. Especially a challenge that I have been anticipating and waiting to start for a million years months and months.

The disconnect came in the form of feelings. Some of the feelings I have listed below were short-lived and faded within days of getting home. Others are still part of my daily emotional life. All of them came as a surprise.

After the wait was over:

I felt numbness and ambivalence about bringing Z home

I felt uncomfortable and unnatural caring for him

I felt anger and frustration toward him when he acted out or threw a fit

I felt hurt and rejected when he didn't return my affection

I felt grief over the loss of my 'easy' family

I felt unhappy at a time when everyone expected me to be thrilled

I felt fearful about my ability to give Z the consistent, unconditional love-in-action that I knew he needed

I felt like I was in an abusive relationship, in the sense that a person was hurting me over and over and I had to keep coming back for more

I felt isolated because I was afraid to share my feelings with others

I felt horribly, horribly guilty and ashamed about all of the above.

Let me reiterate, I fully understood Z's behavior and was not surprised by it. To some degree, I even understood my emotional reaction to it... but only in a book-knowledge, "this can happen to some people and it is normal, but it won't happen to me" kind of way. For the sake of balance, I have to say that I also felt a lot of other, much more positive things: wonder, gratitude, and hope, to name a few. And over the course of the past several months, the trend has been overwhelming toward more and more positive emotions and fewer negative ones. But the beginning? Well, you read the list.

[Side note: Can you even imagine was Z's list would look like? He's still too young to put his feelings into words but I am pretty sure mine would pale in comparison to his. And honestly, he handled it all better than I did. Downright amazing, that kid.]

I am not sharing this to scare anyone, and I'm certainly not sharing it to garner sympathy. I'm sharing it because it's a real part of my story. I don't know what would have helped me to be more emotionally prepared beforehand. In the months before Z came home I had some major 'preparation fatigue' so I'm not sure any additional training would have registered with me. But sometimes just knowing that someone else has felt what you are feeling goes a long way. We all like to know we're not alone.

There are many things that have helped me to regain emotional health in the past several months, but they can all be distilled down to one thing: grace. Grace from others, in particular my amazing husband who told me beautiful lies every day (You're doing great, honey! It's OK to feel how you feel. OK, so they might have been truths, but they felt like lies at the time). Grace from myself, releasing myself from the chains of perfectionism and the self-condemnation that always follows. And behind, between, above it all, the grace of God -- the eternal 'yes' to my personhood, the gift of being forever good enough even if I do it all wrong, the orientation of God toward me, for me, with me, in me. Grace, grace to you friends.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

7 quick takes

[My first time participating in any kind of 'link up'... yeah, big time stuff.]

1. I can't stop thinking about the last book I finished, Conceiving Parenthood by Amy Laura Hall. It took me almost 9 months to read, mostly because it was pretty heavy and academic, which makes it hard to read for a person who gets interrupted approximately every 10 seconds. But I made it through and I'm glad I did. The book is basically an overview of the changing conceptions of family life / reproduction / parenting throughout the 20th century in mainstream American culture. Fascinating. And also, yikes.

2. I was late to the Pinterest party but now that I've arrived I am finding it to be every bit as delightful and time-sucking as promised. However I'm excited to report that I have actually done one of the projects I pinned! And it was sort of crafty! And I didn't completely screw it up! I'm as shocked as you are.

jersey knit headband

headbands & belts I'm hoping to sell at our preschool holiday fair

3. Do you ever think about people's blogging selves as being separate from their actual selves? Lately I've been more and more aware of the separation between who we are online and who we really are. I try to be honest and real here, but this blog does not authentically capture the full extent of who I am or what my family is like. And I am very OK with that because for one thing, it's public, and for another, if human beings and their relationships could be fully captured by a website... well that would just be sad.

4. The other day I was having leftover spaghetti for lunch and Z asked for a bite. Spaghetti is one of the only things he has loved to eat since we first met him and I got all nostalgic as I spoon-fed him a few bites. He was looking up at me with the sweetest expression and marinara sauce on his nose and I don't think I've ever loved him more.

5. None of the kids have school today so we're going swimming at the Y with friends. I'm hoping to keep the kids in the water a lot this winter so we don't lose all the progress we made over the summer and in Hawaii. D in particular made huge strides in Hawaii and can now swim at least 15 yards independently. Maybe I'll have 2 on the swim team next summer??

6. This weekend we are stopping by our agency's international adoption training for a bit to share some of our experiences with prospective adoptive parents. I'm excited! And kinda nervous.

7. Last Saturday was the annual fall leaf rake in the backyard. This was the first year when the boys were old enough to actually be reasonably helpful (well, 2 out of 3 anyway). We raked, piled, ran, jumped, and took the obligatory photos, followed by hot chocolate and hot tubbing at Nana & Papa's.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

worth celebrating

This week Z had an appointment with his doctor, a pediatrician who specializes in international adoption medicine. We haven't seen her for 6 months so it was time to check in, get some shots, and run some routine follow-up lab tests. If you asked Z how it went, you'd probably get mixed reviews: Well, they did have chalk and a chalkboard in the room and I got cookies afterward, but I also got something sprayed up my nose and lots of needles stuck in me. Fair point. Z may not have loved it, but from a mama perspective it turned out to be a huge blessing.

In the somewhat-controlled chaos that is life with 3 little boys, most days it is hard to see beyond the dirty socks and sibling squabbles to notice the miracles God is doing in our family. Like standing too close to a Monet, it's basically just a big mess until you step back and look at the whole thing. That's what this doctor visit gave me -- a chance to back up and look again. I looked down at the Patient Information form we fill out at each visit and realized I could circle "no" under every single thing in the "Do You Have Concerns About Your Child's..." column. I could place a check mark under all the developmental milestones for his age. I could fill out the whole form without hesitating or thinking, "Well, maybe this is an issue but I don't know him well enough yet to be sure." I gotta say, that felt awesome.

Maybe it's because Z is two and a half, maybe it's because I tend toward perfectionism, maybe it's because three children are constantly asking me for three different things and thus monopolizing the bulk of my mental space, but I don't often sit back and simply celebrate how amazingly well Z is doing. It is worth celebrating! I think sometimes my hyper-analytical self thinks that if I dwell on how great he is doing it will undermine the real difficulties he has faced and may continue to face as he integrates his past and present stories and situations. Plus I'm kind of allergic to sugarcoating stuff, which is fine I suppose, but that doesn't mean I can't celebrate the very real victories God has given us. And so...

We celebrate health: Z is growing well and has not struggled with any persistent health problems since coming home.

We celebrate healing: Z's club foot is, in my not-so-professional opinion, completely healed. He is a speedy little runner and kicks a mean soccer ball. Nothing's gonna hold him back!

We celebrate development: Z's language, gross motor, fine motor, cognitive, and social skills are all within the normal range for his age.

We celebrate progress: Z still likes to throw a good fit and pick fights over control issues, but he is able to recover from these things much more quickly than he did at first. I know what works to calm him down, what tone of voice will comfort him, and what phrases will resonate with him in a given situation. And he knows family skills like saying sorry, asking nicely, and using words before hands (well, we're working on it anyway).

We celebrate love: It would be impossible to count the number of kisses Z gives me in the course of one day. He is so sweet and affectionate it can actually be overwhelming at times! He loves us. We love him. It took time and patience and tears, but God gave us love for one another and it grows every day.

Yes, there are messes and mess-ups and mishaps, but I hope those things never keep me from seeing the bigger things that God is doing. He is working, both in the daily challenges and the greater context, and that is always worth celebrating.

Celebrating cousins / best-buddies.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

the day we met

One year ago we were sitting at a picnic table in Adama, Ethiopia making silly faces and sharing lollipops with a scared little boy who was about to become our son. I can see so much when I look back on those two or three hours we had together with eyes that are one year older: so much change, so many blessings, so much left to learn together.

I see his wide-eyed look with the right side of his bottom lip tucked under -- a look he wore in almost every picture we had of him before he came home, a look I haven't seen him make in months.

I thank God today for his healing.

I see the smiling, loving, patient nannies who laughed at his toddler rages, scooped him up, offered him a bottle, and kissed his cheeks.

I thank God today for the love and compassion shown to him before we ever met.

I see us, aware of his fear and guardedness, thrilled with every scream-free moment, every half-smile, every tiny sign of interest and interaction he gave us.

I thank God today for his easy laugh, his willing hugs, his playful spirit.

The last twelve months have been difficult for each of us in different ways, but blessings have woven their way through even the hardest days and longest nights; God has been at work. Love, trust, security, hope, and joy are slowly growing to replace fear, pain, anxiety, and reluctance. Yes, we still have hard days (in fact yesterday was fairly brutal). But looking back I see that the things which helped us make that first meeting with Z go well might be the very same things to help get me through the daily struggles with him today: be positive, gentle, and observant, keep the expectations low, rejoice in the small victories... and have plenty of lollipops on hand.

One year ago:

I swear we are not oblivious to his crying, we were just laughing because even his fits were cute to us... then. :)

his signature look, check out the lower lip bite

Last week:

(on vacation in Maui with my family)

I know I just used this picture in my last post, but I just had to add it in again. He was happy as a little clam on the beach all week!

Monday, October 24, 2011

story-telling, story-keeping: vacation version

We just returned from an amazing week in Maui (thanks Mom & Dad!) and we're all tan, tired, and thankful. I rarely feel this way toward the end of a vacation, but I honestly could have happily stayed another week or two. The kids were in heaven, the condo was great, the weather was perfect... couldn't have asked for more.

One interesting thing about this trip was the attention Z attracted wherever we went. I don't feel like we get much notice at home - maybe an occasional second glance, but rarely any comments or extra attention from strangers. In fact, that has been one of the biggest surprises about adding Z to the family - after our adoption training I was all prepared to deal with "conspicuousness" but it just hasn't been an issue thus far. However, on this trip it was almost constant. People stared. People walked by, then turned around and stared. People touched his hair without asking (doesn't bug me that much, but still a little strange). People made comments. People asked questions. Most, if not all, were very kind and polite. One older gentleman even told me he was impressed by how I handled a discipline situation at the pool, and that he was going to call his daughter and tell her about it (I feel a bit sorry for her). I don't know if it is the demographic of a tourist-filled island, or if people act differently when they're on vacation, or if vacation activities like lounging around the beach and pool just invite more conversation, but it was a marked difference from what we experience at home (thank goodness).

Even though I am a naturally nosy person (eavesdropping is one of my favorite pastimes vices), I still don't quite understand how people can be so comfortable and nonchalant when asking such personal questions about a child's history. As I have shared before, we have chosen to keep the details of Z's story for him. As he grows, we will do our best to help him understand his story and we'll try to teach him how to share it wisely at his own discretion. Therefore, when a total stranger on the beach asks me, "So, what's his story? What happened to him?", I give them my standard line: There are many unfortunate circumstances that can lead to a child needing to be adopted, but we have chosen to keep Z's specific story just for him.

This works for now, but I do wonder how things will change when he is old enough to be an active part of the conversation. Will people be more reticent to ask such personal questions in front of an older child? I'm not counting on it. Part of me would love to say at that point, "Well, he's standing right here, so why don't you ask him if he'd like to talk to you about it?" Then again, I'm not sure I want to sic people on him like that. Thankfully, we haven't dealt with this much in our day-to-day life, but the vacation experience reminded me that it is something that will continue to resurface as different circumstances arise.

To those who are further down the road, I'd love to hear how you have dealt with this. Did the questions change as your child got older? Did you handle questions differently at different stages of your child's development? How have you taught your child to answer (or not answer) questions about their past?

*If you are reading this and you have been on the receiving end of my 'standard line'... it's OK! You are absolved. Now go, and sin no more. ;)