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. ;)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

things i am loving right now

Sequence For Kids -- My awesome in-laws bought this for D's birthday and I am pretty sure we have averaged about 10 games per day since then. It is simple enough for D to play without help, but requires enough strategy that N also enjoys it. (OK, OK, I like it too and may or may not get super competitive while playing against my 4 year old and 6 year old.)

Sistema Lunch Cube -- I picked up this lunch box organizer over the summer in anticipation of N's first year of eating lunch at school, and it rocks. It has space for a sandwich and two snack-size compartments big enough to fit fruit, string cheese, crackers, etc. Packing a whole lunch without a single plastic baggie makes me happy!

Heated Mattress Pad -- There is nothing better on a chilly fall night than crawling into toasty warm flannel sheets! This was a Christmas present from Jon last year and it is probably my favorite gift ever.

This Picture --

This Video -- Z counts to ten! (With a little help encouragement)

Thrifting -- A few other blog friends have inspired me to hit up the thrift store scene and I'm hooked. Today I got N a pair of Keen sandals for $6 and a super cute dress for me for $5, plus a book D loves for $0.65. Can't beat that. Besides the cheapness (which I'm all about), I love not worrying about whether I might be supporting child labor / sweatshops with my purchase.

New-to-me dress

No Diapers --
Completely of his own volition, Z is officially 'tells-me-when-he-needs-to-go-and-doesn't-need-reminders' potty trained! Not having to change dirty diapers more than makes up for the slight inconvenience of having to dash to the potty with Z when we're out and about. (P.S. If I believed in karma this would totally fit, because let me tell you I have put enough blood, sweat, and tears into potty training one of my other kiddos to last a lifetime!)


Leslie Patricelli Books --
I started checking out Patricelli's board books at the library a few months ago and they have quickly become some of my very favorite toddler books. They have simple pictures and few words per page but they almost always make me laugh out loud on first reading. The one we picked up today, called "Happy Baby Sad Baby", had a subtle reference to the snowsuit scene in the classic film "A Christmas Story" that cracked me up. If your life includes humans from the under 5 crowd, these books are a guaranteed hit.

Dukem Market --
I was regularly driving about 30 minutes each way to buy injera and Ethiopian spices until a few weeks ago when a preschool dad (who happens to be Ethiopian) chuckled at me and asked why I don't go to Dukem Market. Huh? Turns out there's an Ethiopian market just a few miles from my house right by just about every other store I ever go to! Perfect for a day like today, when I was out running errands and wondering what to make for dinner -- stopped in for injera, already had ingredients for misr wat at home, super easy and yummy dinner.

Fast Drugs --
Z started tugging on his ear Monday night and woke up Tuesday with a fever. By mid-morning we were seeing the doctor and he got his first dose of antibiotics to treat a mild ear infection a few hours later, all covered by our insurance. If this does not seem amazing to you, count yourself very blessed to be in the vast, vast minority world-wide.

-- My parents are treating their kids, kids' spouses, and grandboys to a week in Maui starting in less than 24 hours! Have I mentioned how much I love them? I mean, like, really, really love them? Can't wait.

I'm loving way more things, but I need to go pack now -- Aloha!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

faking it till i make it

Equal parts cute and fierce.

The only downside to having a series of good days is that it really makes the bad days sting. We've had a long string of good days, weeks even, but yesterday was one of those stingers. From the moment he woke up to the time he went to bed (30 minutes earlier than usual, for the good of the household) Z was testing boundaries, pushing buttons, pulling out all his old behaviors, and just generally acting disagreeable.

So how did I handle it (besides sitting on the kitchen floor crying for half of nap time, obviously)? I faked it. I have learned the hard way that showing Z how much his behavior upsets me is playing right into his hand. Reacting to his attempts to manipulate and control situations only fuels the fire. The only effective technique I've found for neutralizing these situations is to plaster a smile on my face, pretend I don't notice he's playing a game, and go on with the task at hand. It makes him furious at first of course, but eventually he gives up because its no fun to play manipulation games by yourself.

When Z behaves this way my visceral gut reaction is anger. I get mad. I don't want to smile, I don't want to keep my voice light and sweet, I don't want to be patient and calm. A child older than Z would probably pick up the falsely saccharine tone to my voice and know I was faking, but its the best I can do and thank God it works for now.

Faking my way through the day yesterday may have been necessary, but it still felt awful. I hate feeling anger toward my child. I hate keeping my feelings bottled up. It is exhausting to keep it together when someone is testing your limits all day long. But a good cry, a hot bath and a margarita (OK fine, two margaritas) later, I felt much better and I was able to step back from the trials of the day and be thankful. Thankful for the many good days that came before this ugly one. Thankful for a growing confidence in God's provision as we parent our kids. Thankful for a God who is never faking it, but somehow always genuinely loving and gentle toward us no matter what we throw at him. I'm praying for that kind of love to work its way so deeply into my being that I can't help but give it to others, especially my children. Until then I'll keep faking it till I make it.


Z's grandmother gave him his Ethiopian name, which is the Oromifa word for blessing.

We gave him his middle name, chosen for a biblical prophet whose name means God will strengthen.

At Z's baptism on Sunday we read Psalm 29:11, which beautifully captures the meanings of both names:

The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace.

It was a beautiful day!

Saturday, October 1, 2011


Yesterday we completed the readoption process, which means that Z's adoption is now fully recognized by the US government, his name has been legally changed, and he can receive a US birth certificate. We chose to do the readoption mostly to make life easier later when we register Z for school, go to get him a driver's license, or do anything else that requires a birth certificate. From what I understand, it is possible to use a foreign birth certificate for these things, but having a US one makes the process smoother.

As you can probably tell from the tone of the above paragraph, I am not particularly sentimental about the whole thing! But just for posterity, here are a few pictures:

Z wanted to be sworn in too and solemnly raised his right hand

Being a goofball for the commissioner

We used a trusted lawyer and found the whole process to be short, sweet, and easy. We provided the lawyer with a few requested documents, waited a couple of weeks, and then showed up in court for a nice 5 minute conversation with the commissioner... and that was it! If only the whole adoption process was that easy, right?? Our social worker came with some gifts for the kids (she also took pictures for us - thanks Liane!), and the commissioner gave us a treat for each of our boys. As I said, I viewed this as sort of a non-event formality, but even so it was not a bad way to spend a Friday morning!