Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Feeling of Christmas

City sidewalks, busy sidewalks, dressed in holiday style.  In the air there's a feeling of Christmas.

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire? No--children climbing on the mother, tired.
In the air there's that feeling of Christmas.

Will you have a merry little Christmas? Let your heart be light? Though this day your troubles aren't out of sight, still--
In the air’s a feeling of Christmas.

You heard the bells, pre-Christmas day, their old familiar carols play.  
In the air twas a feeling of Christmas.

Hark! How the bells, sweet silver bells, all seem to say, “throw cares away.”  
In the air there’s a feeling of Christmas.

And though yesterday you bowed your head, "there is no peace for me," you said, still
In the air there's a feeling of Christmas.

"Joy to the world!" the bells peel deep.  "God is not dead nor doth he sleep.' 
For in you there's a courage at Christmas.

O come, O come, Emmanuel, and rescue me--He did.  He will. 
In Him there's a feeling of Christmas.

“Let there be peace on earth,” you say, “at least inside of me, today.  
In me there's a feeling of Christmas.”

“Yes, angels I HAVE heard on high, and Bethlehem so still DID lie, and 
in the air was a feeling of Christmas.”

Have your merry little Christmas now. Decide to muddle through somehow.  
In the air there’s a feeling of Christmas.

And Christmas Eve will find you where the love lights glow, you will be home for Christmas, if only you and He know.  
In you there's a feeling of Christmas.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Much A-blog About Nothing

 You know your version of Word is old if it highlights the word “blog” as misspelled every time you write it.  That’s SO last version.

Last night I was chatting away with friends at a party (actually it was Mii #3, the one in charge of social obligations) when one of my many friends names Emily (I haven’t actually counted them, but let’s just say there are enough Emily’s in my life to leave Saffron totally confused every time I introduce another of my friends as “Emily”) interrupted me and said, (I feel I should add another parenthetical reference here to keep up the rhythm even though I have nothing parenthetical to say) “This is so funny!  I feel like I’m talking to your blog come to life!”  What??  Weird.  I thought my blog was supposed to remind people of me—but now I remind people of my blog??  As Saffron would say, “Whaddizzat?!”  It’s like a B movie where I create my own clone, and then my clone destroys me.  (Just a sec . . . I have to go write that down on my list of screenplay ideas). 

Anywhichemily, this got me thinking:  since one of my Emilys has now forgotten who is real, me or my blog, this begs a couple of questions: 

1) when I get a wee bit more whelmed than is comfortable, bordering on over, and don’t blog for two weeks, what happens to the real me?  Do I start to fade away, sort of like when Marty McFly fades out of his family photo in Back to the Future?

2)  Since Steve, my husband, hasn’t read my blog FOR WEEKS (even though I purposely gave him the silent treatment over it in bed, until I realized he was giving me the snoring treatment back), who IS he married to?  From whom is he getting his news about the family?  He still doesn’t even know about Mission:  Impossible “Ample Sample.”  He just overhears bits and pieces, like ‘Wendys’ and ‘Poop.’*

*Steve’s name is not changed to protect the innocent, because he has given full license to be blogged about, and admits full responsibility for not reading.  He has now pledged to be an actual “follower” of my blog—AWESOME.  I’ve been languishing at nine followers forever and that will take me into double digits.

You know, maybe the reason Steve isn’t reading my blog, and is giving me the snoring treatment, is because I’ve been making him man bedtime so much lately.  About three weeks ago, it was as if I suddenly stuck my head out of the window of an old VW bus on a month-long road trip with four brand new kids.  We’d finally stopped fighting and I'd gotten them settled down to play the license plate game, and I remembered there was life outside my window.  Well, it’s a good thing I did!  We started December with a vengeance.  I had, in this order, and I’m not kidding: 

Sat:  Steve and I were in charge of a Christmas party at our church
Mon:  Family outing with my parents to see A Christmas Carol (you know, the movie with all the “moot” (dead) people where Willa learned the word “squirry.”  (“scary”))
Tues:  Annual Neighborhood Ladies Christmas Cookie exchange, byo homemade cookies
Wed:  Christmas party for Saffron which required Moms to stay and chat
Thurs:  Church Ladies' Christmas dinner
Fri:  Annual amazing Tabernacle Choir Christmas concert
Sun:  Family dinner
Tues:  Tend neighbor’s kids for their Christmas work party
Wed:  Ladies Watch party
Sat:  Ladies Annual Christmas Appetizer Party

As you can see, we ladies in my neighborhood keep an active social calendar—in December, at least.  And though I’ve vowed to give some things up, how can you give up outings that only come up once a year?  Plus, Steve has been working a MULTITUDE of hours, including Saturdays, and so is rather eager to push me out the door and assuage his guilt.  

Some days I’ve had to leave before he even drove up, and at least once we passed in the driveway, where I barked marching orders for the evening.  I always say I’ll be home early, but then my blog gets chatting with people and keeps me out late.  Actually, I think it’s turned out to be a really good thing.  If Steve hadn’t had enough time to bond fully before, now he has.  All four kids have put him through his paces with bedtime, and baths, and hair, and food, and squabbles, and he hasn’t complained once.  I can tell he feels more comfortable than ever—he now feels ‘at home’ at home again.  And that’s a wonderful thing. 

In fact, today we shut the door for a nice Sunday nap and we were both saying (you know how you ‘both say’ in a marriage--I did a lot of saying, and Steve’s ‘Um hum’s’ were really sincere) that things are starting to feel really good.  This is feeling like a comfortable and happy new normal.  All in all, that seems pretty good for less than two months home as a family. 

We still have our hard moments, and hard days where one of us or one of the kids is grieving the life we once knew.  But it’s OK to grieve what you leave behind for such a major change.  That doesn’t mean it’s not a good change.  The kids seem genuinely happier, and more comfortable.  They are no longer just abiding each other—they are beginning to love each other.  And though I’m not too serious too often when I blog, I hope it comes through that I really love my children.  We really love our children.  Desperately.  And we have no regrets.  On the contrary—we feel extremely lucky.  Right, Steve?  
“Um hum.” 

This blog is brought to you by the number 12, and the letters B and H. 

12, as in how old I feel every time my dad surprises me by telling me he’s been reading my blog.

B, as in spelling bee, which Steve should enter.  He flawlessly spells words for me as I blog, and the only disagreement we’ve had is when he switched my ‘onry’ to ‘ornery’ without asking me.  I’m on a mission to erase that ‘ornery’ from common usage because I HATE it when people actually pronounce the first ‘r’. See, if you would spend time with the real me and not just my blog, you would know that.

H as in hip, which my mom is having replaced tomorrow.  Everything will go smoothly, Mom.  It has to, because I’m actually really terrified at the thought of taking down all your Christmas decorations by myself.  J  I love you.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

You Might Be a Redneck If . . .

Your Christmas tree is stored in your neighbor’s garage, fully decorated and wrapped in Saran Wrap.

I’m not necessarily a Jeff Foxworthy fan, but as we carried our Christmas tree out of our neighbor’s garage, down the rickety wooden stairs, fully assembled and decorated and wrapped in plastic, all I could think of was his famous line.

I’ve always been a “real” tree snob. My mom has always gone way out on Christmas, with trees in more than one room. And until the last year or two, they were usually real trees. I loved Christmas as a kid. In fact, even now I still like Christmas at her house better than at mine.

I’ve tried to carry on the tradition, by having a real tree no matter how poor we were or how small our apartment. We’ve had a few of the countertop-height trees, and lots of trees that would make Charlie Brown proud. But it’s gotten harder the past few years, as my husband has worked later and I couldn’t wait, and have had to get it home and in the house alone with only Jasper to help.

So, last year when Steve and I had to go to a festival of trees to support his client, we eyed a really great, sort of Whoville looking tree going for very cheap. We figured we couldn’t normally buy an undecorated fake tree for that price, and this one came with fun decorations, and the money went to a good cause. (Even though we’ve always been the eclectic-homemade and souvenir ornament type, I thought this might add a bit of class to our Christmas.) Also, this tree was decorated by the kids from a special needs school. Ever since Charles was born, we’ve been softies for any of the services that we know would have been critical to us had he lived. So, we bought it. It was a breeze! It was delivered right to our living room, and we had instant Christmas.

Problem was, when I went to clean up after Christmas, I discovered that all the ornaments were meticulously wired to the tree. Well. I was way too tired from Christmas to un-wire all those ornaments. Seemed like a cinch to me to ask the neighbors to store the tree as-is in their oversized barn garage. It wasn’t until we went to retrieve it this year that I felt pretty ridiculous.

So, a couple weeks ago I decided we better go buy a real tree, at least a small one, to go with it. It was under 20 degrees that night, but Saffron wouldn’t put on her coat. “Me no cold,” she insisted. Whatever, I thought. I don’t feel like arguing. When we got to the tree lot and hopped out of the car, it was frigid. Saffron was horrified by the cold—in tears. I kept telling her to wait in the car, but she was determined not to miss her first Christmas-tree shopping—whatever that was. Needless to say, we VERY QUICKLY picked out the most bent, Charlie Brown-looking, waist-high tree we could find. Perfect for us! We then ran across the street to the local greasy spoon for some good ol’ footlong hot dogs. As soon as the food was ordered, I left Steve with the kids and hid in the bathroom to read BigBahamaMama—my favorite wacky friend’s blog.

Steve then left to go back to work, and the kids and I went home to decorate. The tree was so light I carried it in and set it up all by myself, in front of Whoville. Let Christmas begin!

Slick. Now that’s my kind of tree shopping. Merry Christmas from Cindy Lou Who.

You Might Be a Real Parent If . . .

The day after Mission: Impossible “Ample Sample,” you watch TV and nap most of the day.

Friday, December 18, 2009

You Might Be a Nut If . . .

You drive around with a stool sample in the front seat with you, and end up taking it to Wendy’s.

A few nights ago, Steve was out of town, and Jasper, our in-house social coordinator, decided he couldn’t live without organizing an impromptu sledding excursion after school.  Truthfully, I groaned a bit inside, but said Yes, I would take the boys and sleds to the park. 

I love Jasper, and his extraverted personality, and decided long ago that I wanted to be the kind of mom who supported that—who would drop things when possible to support the kids’ ideas.  That’s why I have spent more than a one afternoon manning the hot cocoa for an impromptu “hot cocoa stand” in the driveway.  (I say impromptu again, because Jasper is a true believer in the JIT/Just In Time approach to life.)  I regret that though I often say Yes, it’s commonly with a tone of annoyance.  Does saying yes with a guilt trip about respecting Mom’s time cancel out the saying yes all together?  Probably.  Anyway, this tone doesn’t phase Jasper at all—as my mom always says, his life philosophy seems to be “it never hurts to ask!”  Since he was little I’ve been sending him to ask by himself for things he wanted that I didn’t want to ask for, thinking it would discourage him.  It doesn’t.  “Can I trade this Happy Meal toy for that one?”  Was only the beginning.  When he was about 4, Steve’s parents took him to get ice cream.  They ran into friends and began to chat right inside the doorway of the creamery.  They didn’t notice Jasper for a minute, and when they did, he was standing next to them licking his ice cream.  No biggy—he’d just gone up and ordered for himself.

So what does all this have to do with stools?  Well, Jasper spent quite a while calling boys, and only found one (thanks for being a willing participant, J.G.!).  He and this friend sledded in the yard for about an hour waiting for other boys to be available.  I checked on them and figured they’d forgotten about the park and I was safe to jump in the shower.  Not.  Pretty soon I hear Jasper, “Mom!  We’ve got to hurry to the park.  It’s getting dark!”  I really wanted to say no at this point, but when you have a video-game-loving child, you never want to discourage any physical activity.  So, I jumped out of the shower, grabbed a comb, and took them to the park.  One thing Jasper and I have not adjusted to is the fact that you can’t be as spontaneous with four kids as you can with two.  You can’t drag three girls on a quick trip with you.  So, I left the girls home with the usual admonishment not to answer the door or phone.  By the time we got to the park at 5:00 it was dark (I hate these short, winter days, but they’re not as bad as London, where it was dark when we walked home from school in the winter.), and I felt I needed to stay and watch the boys.  I stood out in the cold combing my wet hair until my ears were freezing and I couldn’t resist the car.  I sat thinking to myself, “What good can I really do from this distance if one of the boys gets snatched into the woods, or cracks his head open?”  (I’m a chronic worst-case-scenario imaginer.  That TV habit, again.)

After only about 10 minutes my phone rang.  It was Ruby.  “Mom!  Mom!  Saffron pooped!  Come home quick!”  Then Saffron got on the phone, beaming with pride.  “Mama, bathroom!  Poop!”  She was thrilled because she’d “given a sample” big enough this time, after too many pea-sized offerings.  Oh no.  It was almost 6:00.  I doubted the lab would be open, but didn’t want to disappoint Saffron by not even trying.  I told the boys I was leaving, then called J.G.’s parents to come pick them up.  I hated to leave them in the dark, but checked my mother’s intuition, which seemed to indicate no feelings of disaster.  I knew I had little time to get the sample in in time.  Boy!  This is just like Mission: Impossible, isn’t it?  Except Saffron’s sample would be in danger of destroying any governments if it didn’t make it on time.  Ha!  Try telling that to the girls!  When I got to the house, they were racing around in a panic, ready to jump in the car and get this top-secret sample where it needed to go!

Saffron told Willa not to speak to me while I was driving, because I had to race like a mad woman to the lab and could abide no distraction.  First lab:  left the girls in the car and ran in the building and to the office—no luck.  Closed at 5:30.  Second lab:  raced around to the other side of same building and up a flight of stairs:  closed at 4:00 (who gets to close at 4 PM these days?!)—no luck.  Ah ha.  Wait—the hospital.  They’ll be open!  Drove to the hospital and raced in with the girls.  A kind doctor in full surgery scrubs saw the apparent importance of our mission and escorted us to the lab through a back door.  STOP.  Sit.  Wait.  “We don’t take your insurance,” they tell me.  Well, maybe I’ll just pay, after all this effort! How much?  Sit.  Wait.  After 10 minutes, they came back with a price list well over $500.  To test poop?  Nevermind.  “Wait,” the tech reminded me—there’s one more play you could try.  So, with three hyper girls I trudged back out through the parking lot to the car, and drove to one last lab.  By this point it was about 10 after 6:00.  As I screeched around a corner and pulled into the last lab, I saw it:  they closed at 6:00.  Oh!  We could have made it if we’d gone there first!  But by this point it was about 10 after 6:00.  Saffron’s disappointment was palpable.  “Poop again?  Oh no.”  “Yes,” I said.  “And now what do I do with the sample?” I thought.  The girls were starving, but I didn’t want to be a bad citizen and drop it in the clinic’s little garbage, as it was labeled with that ‘bio waste’ symbol.  So, I tucked it in next to me on the seat, and drove to Wendy’s to get the girls a nice, home-cooked meal.  “I did wash my hands when I got this sample, right?” I wondered.

Update:  Now that I knew what time all the local labs closed, I was happy when Saffron “sampled” again two days ago.  It was not large, but apparently was an ample sample, as we did get our diagnosis:  Giardia.  Of course—we knew she must, right?  Willa has it, and they lived right next to a river where they washed and drank and watered the cows.  They’ve probably had giardia since birth!  Well, now it’s official and we get our meds.

Update Again:  We got a call for a dermatology cancellation, too.  So I took both girls in yesterday, and we’re getting both Willa’s scalp and Saffron’s warts treated.  HURRAY!  All is now well and their third-world health will soon be first-world health.  All that’s left is for them to adopt junk food and childhood obesity, and they’ll be true American kids.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Blogging: It's Not Taxes

That's what I realized tonight--I get all stressed out when I don't blog for a while because I think I have to catch everything up.  But I don't owe any "back blogging," right?!  So I'm just going to start from here.  

(At least that's what I tell myself, to get at it again.  It's hard to live life all day, and then lie awake at night feeling guilty that you're not recording it well enough--not taking enough video, or writing a detailed enough record.  Whew!  If ONE MORE person says, "I hope you're taking a lot of video," or "writing this all down," or scrapbooking . . . would you like to volunteer??  I need two full-time me's to do this right, I guess.  One to live it, and one to record the Director's Commentary for the DVD.  Oh, and a third part-time me to keep up my social life, of course.  The girl at the Lab and I have struck up a nice friendship over stool samples since I've been there so many times discussing them.)

Willa has three parasites.  The nurse delivered the results to me over the phone with sympathy, but I was thrilled to hear the news. After living for two months with the most disgusting poop
smell I've ever experienced, and then having to work up the courage to harvest samples of said smelly poop and get it to the lab within an hour, I'm so glad to have a diagnosis!  You know, no biggy--she just has giardiasis, Entamoeba Coli, and Iodamoeba Butschlii. The doctor's ordered some stiff antibiotics to kill it all off. Yippee!

Saffron's actually the one who complains constantly about stomach aches, and I'm sure she probably has the same thing, but we can't get a diagnosis because she only poops on nights and weekends--I can't get a fresh sample in during business hours!  But I guess it's only fair, because she's the only one who's getting the hair treatment.  Both girls have always had something major on their scalps, and the cure has been elusive. In Ethiopia the women told me it was a fungus, and took me out to a pharmacy to buy a tiny, eight-dollar bottle of  what turned out to be dandruff shampoo.  We used it, but it did no good.  Schquetta, the African American hairstylist who did their braids, said these were just really bad cases of dry scalp and if I conditioned their scalps and oiled them three times a week,
everything would clear up. I have, but it hasn't. In fact, Willa's symptoms have gotten worse. (Symptoms being, btw, white scaley covering all over S's scalp, and big, errupting pustules of yellow puss all over W's head.)

I took them to a dermatologist the first week they were here and he took samples, but said to wait three weeks to call for results. After that wait, it was a couple weeks of trading messages with the secretary before the doctor finally called me. He said Saffron has a particular fungus that can be cleared up after a month of twice-daily oral medication. He said W's head turned up nothing, though--disconcerting, since her pustules just keep getting worse, and now appear to be causing hairloss right around them!  I called three other dermatologists yesterday, but can't get in anywhere until mid-January. Ugh. 

It's amazing how long it can take to get something treated, even in a FIRST-world country. You might wonder why I haven't pushed steps through more quickly, but when each doctor's visit or bloodtest results in an hour of screaming from both girls, as if I've utterly betrayed them, I tend to wait a bit between visits.

Friday, December 04, 2009

The Family Bounce-Back Pass

When I knew our baby boy, Charles, was going to be born to die, there was one song I knew for sure must be sung at his funeral.  “Love Abides,” by Cori Connors, had comforted me through my pregnancy, and expressed how I felt: 

Mother Earth may quack, but cannot shake where love abides.  In spite of all the world, the spirit will survive.  Through it all, I know that love abides.

Tonight as I took a minute to wipe the counters, I popped in one of Cori’s CDs.  (It’s not the shower, but kitchen cleaning is a good second-best venue for thinking.  Especially if you’re careful not to do it too often—the cleaning, I mean.)  I thought it was her Christmas album, but then I heard “Love Abides” begin to play.  This song will always be a bit mournful for me to listen to, as will “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” from Charles’ funeral.  But mournful is not a bad thing. 

As I listened to the song, I found myself remembering a thought I had while driving through my neighborhood one day when I was pregnant with Charles.  I remember exactly where I was on the road.  It’s funny how you can remember one of your own thoughts, one never spoken aloud, and even remember where you thunk it.  I remember thinking about what I was going to name this unlucky baby, and whether I wanted to give him a ‘virtue’ middle name (as Ruby and I have, and Jasper sort of has).  My middle name, Faith, has been important to me and has given me courage throughout my life.  Ruby’s middle name, Thankful, illuminates how I felt when she was born, and has definitely been a point of strength for her.  Jasper’s middle name is Maxwell, but his nickname is “Reliance Wheeler,” after a favorite book character of mine who was a mother’s first born son, and upon whom she relied heavily.  Jasper has earned this name. 

That day I remember thinking, “If I were to assign this boy a virtue, it would have to be ‘Resilience.’”  This baby was beset with a rare developmental defect, Campomelic Dysplasia.  Virtually every part of his body had formed incorrectly.  Yet his heart was sound.  It beat strongly, and he swam around vigorously at every ultrasound.  (I say swam, because he was extra small and I had extra fluid.)  “He’s resilient,” I thought.  At the time we didn’t know if he would live or die, but we knew that if he lived his life would be extremely difficult.  I figured if he did live, he would need a whole lot more of that resilience to bounce back from each difficulty and keep on living. 

We didn’t end up naming him “Charles Resilient,” (you all breathe a sigh of relief) but I thought a lot during those months about what it meant to be resilient—to bounce back after life beats you down.  I decided that resilience was probably the single most important trait I wanted to try to instill in my living children.  I figured that if I could somehow teach them to bounce back from anything life threw their way, they would always be OK. 

I haven’t thought about this much for a long time, until tonight.  I was mulling over talents.  Because we have two new children in our family, from a whole new gene pool, we are discovering lots of new talents.  I know this is hard for Ruby.  She sometimes feels that her new sisters can do everything she can’t.  Saffron is a flexible, budding gymnast and dancer, and she learned to ride a bike in a day.  She can knit, and braid, and even little Willa can braid.  Ruby is brimming with her own talents, in my opinion, but she’s feeling inferior.  Jasper has gone through the same fears with friends over the past couple of years, as he starts different sports thinking he’s really good, and then discovers that other kids are better.  In the past few days I’ve started to worry:  what if we have some kids with all the visible talents, and others who are perpetual spectators?  That sounds like a minefield for a parent, especially when two of the kids were adopted.

This all reminded me of The Middle, a new TV show with Patricia Heaton that has Steve and me really chuckling.  The “Heck” family has three odd children, including a middle daughter named Sue.  Poor Sue is a perpetual tryer-outer.  Every episode she is trying out for something new, from the showy stuff like cheerleader to the low hanging fruit like stage crew.  This poor, awkward girl never makes anything.  As her mother says, she may be the only child ever born without a talent.  As her parents supportively cringe at her every attempt, I find myself thinking “Go, Sue!”  Persevere!  Between chuckles, I want to remind Sue’s parents that their daughter has the most important talent in the entire world—she is resilient!!

So then it hit me—Sure Ruby is feeling beaten down a bit, but she is also learning to bounce back.  She is learning to persevere.  She is learning resilience!  (These life lessons are how I justify all my TV watching.  I sometimes want to quote an episode in church, but I stop short of that.)  In fact, so is Jasper.  This whole experience has been an exercise in resilience.  So was Charles’ death.  You’d be surprised how much a sister and brother can be disappointed by the loss of a baby brother, and the re-adjustment it takes to decide to want kid-sized sisters instead.  The last six weeks have been all about getting beaten down and then deciding to bounce back for another blow—for all of us.  And Saffron and Willa?  Well, let’s just say that if their middle names weren’t “perseverant” and “resilient” they wouldn’t even be here.  (Figuratively speaking guys—no, those aren’t their real middle names.  Do I have to spell e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g out?)  They survived everything from birth in a shack to life without a mother and they’re not just still alive, they’re still smiling.

So, the counters are clean for one second, and I discovered all four of my kids have the SAME talent--resilience!  OK, so it’s due to the school of hard knocks and not to my award-winning parenting.  But at least I can try not to screw them all up—too badly.  

Thursday, December 03, 2009

When Two Vowels Go Walking The First One Does The Talking

I've been feeling rather guilty that I didn't have the heart to post for the last two weeks. But, in retrospect, it's probably better that I didn't. I had some ugly feelings. There are things better left unsaid, and even more better left unblogged. Suffice it to say, especially for those of you going through a difficult change in your life, that time really does improve every situation, even when you think there’s no way you could see things differently. A week ago I was really discouraged and I feared my very best hope was to “get used to” a difficult new status quo. I was progressively feeling worse about things, rather than better. But something changed around Thanksgiving and, rather abruptly, I actually began to enjoy the new status quo.

Our visit with Rundassa definitely made a difference, but we continued to struggle for the next 10 days. I don't know that Saffron's behavior got any worse. Rather, the drop was in the rest of our ability to cope--especially mine and Ruby's.

I don't want to bore you with two weeks of chronological details (nor can I remember most of them), but here's what stuck with me:

--Ruby:  Ruby was getting more and more whiny about her sisters and was constantly singing the "it's not fair" tune. I was indulging it more than I would with anyone else, partly because I was worn down and needed the familiar cuddle as much as she did. I had to buck up and quit it because I was underestimating her, and wasn't doing either of us a favor. One good tip I received from a children’s counselor was to tell a child that fair is not about equal, but about whether each person is getting what they need. And they all need something different. Fast forward a week, and I am really proud of Ruby.  She is a sweetie and a trooper.  (Though she's crying as I write this.)  She’s enjoying her sisters—really playing with them, and learning to let things slide. The other day she was having anxiety about school, so I said I would come and take her to lunch. I got a babysitter for Willa and when I picked Ruby up, she asked where Willa was. “It would be OK for you to bring her next time,” she said. I couldn’t believe it. A week earlier she’d been telling me how she felt like a bee in a rainstorm. (Ruby is pretty skilled at expressing her feelings these days.) She said she was the bee, and everywhere she turned there were raindrops coming at her, and she couldn’t get away from them. The raindrops were her sisters, she said. Now, here she was actually missing one!

--Apologies:  I'm sure all you parents already know this, but I have learned quickly that with four kids it's twice as hard to tell who did what to whom, whose fault it was, and whether they did it on purpose. I've stuck to my policy of making everyone apologize for everything, just in case, and they're finally getting it. After many attempts, I figured out how to explain it so they get the idea: I tell them it's not about whether YOU think you owe an apology, but whether the OTHER PERSON thinks you do. If THEY do, YOU do. Period. Full Stop. I've finally learned that lesson as an adult, and it takes a lot less energy to apologize and let it go than to justify yourself to others. Whether I meant it at the moment or not, I can't think of a single apology I've regretted giving. (And especially in my marriage I always apologize and admit all my mistakes and never hold grudges, right Steve? I’m pretty much a piece of cake to be married to, as far as I can tell.)

--English:  Understanding is coming along fast, and it’s really fun and enlightening to hear the efforts at speaking English. For instance, I never realized how similar the words “hair,” “ear,” and “where” are (and “are,” for that matter). Saffron has a dickens of a time trying to pronounce them differently. She’s a smart girl, and she’s trying new words all the time. It’s also fun to listen to Willa experiment in the backseat. She doesn’t try as many English words, though she understands a lot. I think she doesn’t bother because she thinks I understand her in Amharic, and I do now understand most of the basics. But she likes to practice some in the backseat of the car. One day it was “Excoos Me! I’m sorry.” With that lovely rolled R, of course. Another day it was “How You? Ahm fine.” My favorite is “wa-ga-gyo-en?” (Where are we going?) Clearly, we’ve been on too many errands.

--Go!  They like to go, go, go! If I don’t have somewhere for us to go in the car every morning and every afternoon, to the store or some other errand, the disappointment from the girls is palpable. “Let’s go somewhere!” Seems to be their motto in America. The other love of their lives is the trampoline. Rain or shine, cold, snow and leaves on the tramp—no matter. They beg me to “jump, jump!” all the time.

--The Cold: Their reaction to this cracks me up a bit. Clearly they don’t see the beauty in big, puffy coats. But it’s only 17 degrees here today! Saffron and I have had many a battle over wearing a coat and gloves. She’s even tried to wear two jackets—a hoodie over a jean jacket—in an effort to appease me. It’s very clear that their Ethiopian exposure to style draws them to form-fitting things. I think their pink coats are adorable, but they don’t. Some days I do let it go, and then they come home literally crying because they’re so cold. The first snowfall, when they went outside in bathrobes and umbrellas, they came home bawling and holding their hands like they were on fire. It had never occurred to me that they may never have felt that my-hands-are-so-cold they’re burning feeling. They looked absolutely shocked.

--Clothes:  And speaking of style, about a week ago I decided to let the clothes thing go. Boy—what a relief. I’m holding firm about choosing what they wear to church and special events, but I’m letting them have the rest. I admit it was pride that made me want to control this issue—people are looking at us everywhere we go, and I figured we might as well look cute. After all, they were given lots of cute clothes at the shower! Also, when Ruby was wearing something matching and they were wearing odds and ends, I feared people would think I wasn’t treating them equally. But who cares what people think! I have enough other battles to fight. So, I took all the kids to the DI (Deseret Industries, a great second-hand store), and let them each pick out some new things. I figured this would solve the clothes-sharing problem. Well, after Saffron’s 1.5 hour tantrum in the boys’ dressing room, it did. (As I was carrying her out to the parking lot screaming, some kind woman stopped me to make sure I was Saffron’s mother. Ha! I’m sure she was worried she was witnessing either a kidnapping or abuse in action, but I assure you I was calm, cool, and collected. I didn’t REALLY throw her shows in the garbage can after she sat on the cold concrete outside the store and threw them. I only ALMOST did.) Anyway, what I hadn’t bargained for was what the girls would choose. Saffron was drawn to the flowy, polyester floral sheath dresses that were in in the late ‘90’s. Yesterday she wore one to school with a long-sleeved shirt and sweats under it. But I can understand—women in Ethiopia who can afford a dress often wear long, floral ones.

--Jasper Scores: Jasper has played his cards right. Most of the time he is calm, patient and helpful. He know s I notice and am grateful, and he fully expects me to be. The money spent on clothing was not lost on him. I could only get him to pick out one shirt (orange Hawaiian-style shirt with surfboards?! Really?), so he casually pointed out that I probably owed him about a $30 toy to make up for what I spent on the girls. If you know Jasper, you know he’s definitely going to take note of the advantages to his new situation.

--Saffron’s Personality: Now that Saffron is getting bored of pouting and has decided it’s a lot more fun to—well—have fun, she doesn’t seem shy at all. In fact, she seems almost giddy. She’s giggly and hyper much of the time. I doubt this is her completely real personality either, as she’s probably so thrilled to be relieved of her limit-testing duties that she’s bouncing high and really enjoying America for the first time.

--Photos:  Been thinking a blog about children should be packed with them?  You're right.  I spent several hours uploading two albums totaling 500 photos for this blog.  The upload failed at the very end.  I was so mad I deleted them all.  YOU DID NOT!  You're right--I didn't.  But I am holding a grudge and haven't tried again.  

--Food: Who knew this would be the bloodiest battle ground? We’ve continued to have some epic standoffs over food. The Sunday morning before last, I told Saffron she couldn’t go to church unless she ate breakfast (I chose this battle instead of objecting to the floral sheath dress with the long-sleeved pink and white t-shirt under it). The last Sunday had been miserable largely because she was hungry. She refused breakfast, and we again had to leave her home while we got everyone else to church. When Steve went back for her, she still refused to eat. He relented and brought her to church anyway, where she promptly began sulking. Mightily. By the third hour when we went to our last, big meeting in the chapel, she was weeping on the bench next to me. I realized she wanted me to take her out just like I did the week before, so I did the opposite. I sat there and let her cry, quietly but publicly. Though I tried to look non-plussed, I was secretly rather concerned about my strategy. Then, when she stopped weeping on cue for the prayer and started up again right after, I knew she really was just pouting. I put my arm around her but still didn’t leave, and pretty soon she stopped abruptly. She then stood up in the isle in protest to me. I tried to keep a hand on her dress, but it was hard, what with Willa crawling all over me. Much to my chagrin, another family invited Saffron to sit with them, and proceeded to dote on her. (I know they were just trying to help.) This sent Ruby into tears for the rest of the meeting, saying “You don’t allow us to sit with friends at church! Why are you letting her break the rule?! It’s not fair!” I had been looking for a re-charge at church that week, and instead it had been miserable. That Sunday is when I started my emotional downward spiral. It was probably mostly exhaustion, and I’m really grateful that level of discouragement only lasted a few days. Right around then I also talked to another family in our city who just adopted 12- and 10-year-old girls from Ethiopia. Much of the conversation was comforting, like hearing they were also really struggling with the food issue. But other parts of it really discouraged me because they appeared to be doing so well in ways that we were not. That probably added to my gloom-and-doom attitude.

Oops—this was supposed to be the ‘Food’ paragraph and I’ve digressed. We did have another major battle about food one morning when I decided not to let Saffron go to school if she refused to eat breakfast. She stormed around and bawled for an hour and a half. At one point she was repeating something in Amharic I couldn’t understand. I asked Willa what she was saying, and she very guiltily informed me it was “you’re not my mom.” Actually, that didn’t bother me a bit. I’m sure all this change and will-battling with me makes her miss her “Meki Mom,” as we call her (her mother in the town of Meki, where she’s from). I said, “I know, you’re right. I’m not your first mom. I’m sure you miss her.” Then I said something about Ethiopia, which she must have interpreted to be going back there. She suddenly stopped crying and said, “No Ethiopia! No Ethiopia! America!” I promised her we were never going to send her back. It’s sad to me that she even still fears that, but I know it’s not unusual. At this point she realized she was about to miss first recess, so promptly ate the offending oatmeal. I took her to school.

--Giving Myself A Big Timeout: On the day before Thanksgiving, Saffron was really upset. For the life of me, I can’t remember why. It had been a really hard day, and was at the end of my three most discouraging days. I took Ruby to the grocery store to have a break, but when I got back I still felt upset. I knew I was getting irrationally bothered. I tried to call Rundassa’s wife, but couldn’t reach her. I couldn’t calm myself down enough to be nice, and Saffron continued to scream. I realized what I really needed was a nap. But I couldn’t take one, because Saffron kept going out the front door. She didn’t go far, but I obviously couldn’t go to sleep and let her wander around outside. Jasper was fed up trying to keep her inside, and they were about to come to blows. So I called my dear friend Emily, and asked her the Biggest Favor Ever. “If I don’t get a nap I will do something I regret,” I said. “Would you mind if I bring you a screaming 8-year-old? All you have to do is keep her in your house while I try to sleep.” Emily agreed right away, and was immediately granted sainthood. I drove Saffron up to her house, and had to peel her screaming from the car. I kept telling her I would be back soon. She bawled at Emily’s house for almost an hour before Steve picked her up. We both had our worst day, and ever since then it’s been better. Saffron has been the gem we always knew she was inside. I’ve been the non-descript-element-of-some-sort we always knew I was.

Life hasn’t and won’t be totally smooth from here on out, but we are really getting the hang of it—all six of us. I think we’re starting to be a family. And a happy one.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Rundassa's Rules

Yes, it’s true.  I believe I can say a bridge has officially been crossed.  Well, at least a footbridge.  OK, so some crude stones have been hucked out in the stream and we’re clumsily hopping from one to the next.  But it’s progress and I’ll take it!  So there. 

Monday turned out to be quite a day.  (Do I say that about every day?)  The incident on the way home from school, with which I ended my last post, became a big deal.  It turned out that everyone was right, and everyone was wrong.  Saffron had run off and home from school alone and left Jasper carrying her coat and backpack.  But he had offended her by grabbing her by the neck of her coat after school in front of other children, when she wasn’t cooperating.  She had knocked Ruby into the wall on her way into the house, but not intentionally.  I think.  I don’t know which of my kids is telling the right story half the time, even when there isn’t a language barrier!

Saffron came in the door upset, and got moreso as she saw Jasper and Ruby telling me what happened and thought they were accusing her of things she hadn’t done.  She was sort of storming around the house, and Jasper and Ruby made it worse by trying to get involved instead of staying out of things.  (There is always some tension between them wanting Saffron to keep the house rules, and me asking them to let me be her mother.) 

As the afternoon progressed Saffron’s silent pouting turned into a full-blown tantrum.  It was the worst I’ve ever seen from her.  She was actually throwing things, and slamming doors, and yelling at people.  I couldn’t deal with it with the other kids being around and nosy, so I called a friend who had offered some babysitting for a date.  “Is your offer good for tonight?”  I asked.  Steve was working late and I had no date in mind, but knew I needed to do something serious.  I was afraid to drive the kids because Saffron was already sort of “fake” running away—walking down the block and back—so I had Jen come to my house and pick up the other three kids.  Watching them leave for a fun outing just made Saffron more upset, and things got worse.  I must say that she was still her conscientious self, being careful not to throw anything that would break—mostly just Barbies and paper—and being sure not to make too big of a mess for me.  I asked her over and over, in words she could understand, to tell me what was wrong.  I tried to get her to use the English/Amharic language book we rely on.  She wouldn’t communicate at all.  I knew I needed to do something serious.  I called my dad, who stopped by for some comfort and eventually loaded Saffron into the car for me.  I had called Simon, the translator, but been unable to reach him.  Feeling strongly that Saffron needed to talk to someone in her own language, I called the Ethiopian restaurant where Willa and I had gone to buy whadt for Steve’s work presentation, and explained my predicament.  They said to bring Saffron in any time.  So, once Dad got her in the car I headed downtown. 

In the restaurant were two parties eating dinner, one with two adopted children from Ethiopia, but the cook and host welcomed us right away.  I ordered injera and chicken whadt for Saffron, and we each had an orange crush—a pretty good substitute for Fanta or Mirinda.  Pretty soon we met Rundassa, the host, who is also the owner of the restaurant.  His sister was the one cooking.  Rundassa turned out to be an absolute gift.  I couldn’t have dreamed up a better medicine man for Saffron.  Rundassa is from Ethiopia, but came to the US via Russia for graduate school.  He is married to a white woman and has three biological kids and three kids adopted as older children from Ethiopia.  So he not only had language and culture expertise, but adoption expertise.  

As I noticed that adults did in Ethiopia, Rundassa got right down to business with Tinsae.  He talked to her about everything from school to race to how to be a better sister.  We sat there for about two hours and he came over to chat whenever he had a break from customers.  We learned that Saffron did not understand that Ethiopia was part of Africa, and thought people were demeaning her whenever they called her African.  He told her how many wonderful things it means to be African, how many Africans there are in the world, that President Obama is half African, etc.  I had him ask her if she would rather I tell people to refer to her as Ethiopian, but she said no—American.  In other words, she wants to fit in.  She doesn’t want to be called out in any way right now.  Rundassa talked to me about how he felt as the only African student in graduate school, and how sometimes you isolate yourself even if others don’t push you away. 

I told Rundassa all about the dynamics we’ve been experiencing between Ruby and Saffron.  This is very similar to what he experienced in his family, and he gave Saffron advice I wouldn’t even have thought of—or probably dared to give at this point.  He told her she is Ruby’s older sister, and must act like it.  She must be an example, and teach Ruby things, and let Ruby have her mom’s lap when she needs it because Ruby is only six and still needs her mom more.  He told her she must eat what she’s offered, and not make faces, and adamantly backed up my idea that I not give her Ethiopian food for a while, until she shows respect for the food I offer her.  He also asked how much her hair extensions had cost, and told her in Birr, Ethiopian money.  She was shocked.  I have not felt it right to make an issue of those types of things, but he pointed out that I tell my biological kids when something is too expensive to buy, and she needs to be aware of the value of things.  I had noticed that in Ethiopia when adults talked to Tinsae they usually gave her a very buck-up sort of speech, and this was similar in tone.  But it was tinged with the very American understanding we needed. 

Rundassa’s main message to Tinsae (that’s the name she always gives in Amharic, of course, though when I asked her if she’d rather just go by that and forget Saffron she said clearly that in America she wants everyone, even Mom, to call her Saffron) was “eyes-oshe” or the very common Amharic phrase for “be strong.” His main message to me was stop worrying.  When he heard the girls had only been in the country for 2 ½ weeks, he almost laughed.  He said all of this is normal and will work itself out before we know it.  I think I knew this, but it was great to hear it from another adoptive parent.  He was clear in saying that I should not be a softie, but should enforce the house rules and have high expectations from the beginning.  He even called his American wife to have her give me encouragement over the phone.  He gave us both his numbers, told Tinsae to call anytime, and invited her over to play with his kids.  He also said Tinsae was much more stubborn than the average Ethiopian child, probably due to a difficult life, and shy even in her own language.  This was comforting to me because if it’s personality too, and not just language and adoption adjustments, all of these battles of will seem even more understandable to me.

What more could I ask for?  Rundassa upheld and surpassed my impression of the Ethiopians I have met as some of the kindest and most open and loving people in the world.  I left with a whole new lease on life.  I think Saffron did, too.  On the way home I could tell she was making a great effort to show her gratitude for my effort to find someone for her to talk to—and for acting out of love instead of anger.  I sense it surprises her each time I do this.  She offered some new information in the car, like that she had made two friends at school.  This is also when she told me to call her Saffron.

Yesterday the difference was obvious.  Saffron avoided chances to fight with Ruby, instead of looking for them.  It was bad at first after school, which is when I locked myself in my room and told them they could continue bugging each other without my help (I had had a crappy night’s sleep Monday night, and Tuesday was probably my most discouraged day yet until I saw the change in Saffron that evening).  By the time I came out an hour later, the girls were playing happily together.  Saffron had taken Rundassa’s advice and decided to teach Ruby something:  how to climb down a wall backwards with your hands into a back bend.  Apparently, this is something they practiced at mealtime at the orphanage.  Ruby responded by being kinder and sharing her things without complaint, and they had a great night.  If anything, it was little Willa who felt left out (the poor baby sister).

And speaking of that baby sister, we’ve decided to give her a birthday in honor of my oldest sister, Kathryn, who died as a baby:  Willa Birhane’s birthday will be January 31.  Saffron knows she was an Easter baby, so we’ve given her an April birthday in honor of my aunt, Jane, who died with no children:  Saffron Tinsae’s birthday will be April 1.


Tonight Saffron had another garage sobbing session again, but for the first time ever she came in and stopped crying on her own.  She also didn’t ask for other food when she missed my dinner.  She wouldn’t speak to me or smile or eat before school, but I’m pretty sure that was just shear fear of returning to school (I let her take one rest day on Tuesday) and only directed at me as a practitioner of this confounded language.  Ruby was chipper through Saffron’s crying session tonight, but then took her own turn after.  Jasper cried tonight, too, and Willa for about an hour, so only Steve and I are left to take our turns.  Steve couldn’t believe how calm I was through it all.  But it’s because I have seen the beginning of a mighty transformation.  I saw Rundassa’s magic, and I know it’s now just a matter of working out the kinks.

Tonight when Willa cried for an hour (over refusing to apologize to Ruby for biting her—you may think I’m forcing apologies too much but they seem to be a symbolic act of accepting my authority for these girls), Saffron was visibly upset.  I haven’t seen her that way for a while, probably because she’s been too focused on herself.  She was so distracted by Willa’s tears and her refusal to apologize that she didn’t even want to read.  Once she finally got up and got Willa to apologize, she then tucked her lovingly, gently, into bed, speaking to her in the voice I heard the women in Ethiopia use.  I still don’t know what the words mean.   It was something.  I was watching a little mother put her child to bed.  That moment tonight, more than any other since I met these girls, brought home to me the role this little girl has played in her sister’s life.  I’ve known about it, but this time I saw it first hand.  I saw an old soul.  She’s been a good mother.  Willa is happy and carefree partly by disposition, but partly because she has been raised with love—by her sister.  How can I fault that sister a few tantrums now?  She has an entire childhood to make up for. 

This post is brought to you by the letter S, for Saffron:  “Coming from the dried stigmas of the saffron crocus, it takes 75,000 blossoms or 225,000 hand-picked stigmas to make a single pound, which explains why it is the world’s most expensive spice.”  (the epicentre, “encyclopedia of spices”) 

P.S.  Happy Birthday, Lizzie, fellow student of the Sisters’ school.
P.P.S. Welcome to the world, my two new nephews: Guy Michael Bowman, 11/11/09, and Sawyer James Swensen, 11/16/09.  

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

To Blog or Not to Blog

(Written with intention to post on Monday 11/16.  Make sure you check out the pics below too.)

To Blog or Not to Blog
That is the question. Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to tackle the papers and dishes that invade the kitchen, or to take arms against a sea of troubles—and by blogging, rest them.

(I realize it’s cliché, but the “To Be or Not To Be” speech remains my all-time favorite piece of Shakespearean insight. It echoes in my mind at least a couple of times every month. For me it’s the ultimate expression of that question we all must ask ourselves many times each day—whether to face life’s struggles head on, or try to escape them.)

Yesterday was quite a day.

In the morning we had church at 9:00 AM, and I needed to be there early to play the piano. Ruby was supposed to be on time to give the scripture at the beginning of primary. Unfortunately, we did not get off to a good start.

Tinsae did not wake up happy. She refused breakfast, and convinced little B/W to do the same. They did get ready for church, but in an unlucky turn of events, Tinsae put on a favorite dress of Ruby's--her fancy Easter dress. This is understandable--it was hanging in Tinsae and Birhane's closet, where all the girls' dresses hang because that's the only place they fit, and I had indicated that all the dresses were for all the girls to share. Though Ruby knew about this, she apparently never foresaw the possibility of someone else actually choosing her favorite dress. (The "favorite" status of this dress was previously unknown to me.)

I was showering, so Steve handled it. He backed Tinsae up, reminding Ruby of the dress deal. Ruby cried and Tinsae pouted. Soon Tinsae took the Easter dress off and threw it on Ruby’s bed. She then changed into a shirt not long enough to be a dress. We offered her many other options, including said Easter dress, but she wouldn't speak or move. Ruby wouldn't get dressed at all, despite our warnings she would miss her chance to give the scripture. Ahh, mornings. I had to Go!

Steve took me and Willa and Jasper to church, leaving both girls crying and finally thinking maybe we were serious. When Steve got back home a few minutes later, Ruby was struggling into the forbidden dress and Tinsae was still in the shirt. He helped them both into acceptable clothing and dragged them to church. Saffron was screaming but Ruby went willingly, now very worried about her scripture.

Meantime, the opening scripture had come and gone and I had grabbed Willa to fill in for Ruby. She repeated into the mic what I whispered in her ear, having no idea what it meant but relishing the spotlight. Then, during the announcements, Ruby walked in, confidently went up front, and sat in the scripture chair. Her teacher tried to motion her back but she was oblivious. I shimmied out from behind the piano, up to the podium, and whispered a plea to the primary president (in the middle of her announcements) that we should do the scripture again.

She did not miss a beat but said, “and we’re now going to have our scripture again, because it was such a great scripture it’s worth hearing twice.” Ruby came up to the podium, read her scripture perfectly, and happily sat down. Crisis averted—for now.

I then went to get Saffron, who was out in the hall. I coaxed her in with the proposal that she sit by me on the piano bench, rather than with her primary class (the other kids her age). She indicated that she had a stomachache and headache, which is not surprising considering that she hadn’t eaten since the afternoon before. She was pouting and acting miserable (as she probably felt), so I tried sitting with her in the audience so she could watch the action up in front. She began to panic, shaking her legs and fidgeting. I figured she was about to breakdown. I was really losing my patience with the pouting, but didn’t want her to be further embarrassed so I took her to the nursing room off the bathroom, which is comfy and quiet, and shut the curtain. Once again, she sat on my lap and cried. I just stoked her back and let her get it out.

I think it’s important to interject here that I am no superwoman. It is still hard for me to be loving and comforting during these moments sometimes. As I said when I first met the girls, I really look forward to knowing them better and loving them completely, but I think it’s unrealistic and a disservice to adoptive families if we don’t admit that that level of connection takes time. Ruby and Jasper I’ve had for years—cared for for years. If caring for someone is what bonds us to them, then it stands to reason that with less time invested in these girls so far, I’m less bonded to them. I remember a teenage girl named Charity once admitting, “Some people know, some people only believe but want to know, and some people only want to believe. But at least they have begun the desire to believe. I can say that I want to believe.” I have never forgotten that. She may have been referring to religious beliefs, but I think her insight applies to many things. With a new child, even sometimes a biological baby, you pass from a desire to a belief to a knowledge of love. I began with an eager desire to know and love these girls, but with a certain fear and uncertainty. I have passed from desire to confident belief—I really want to feel like their mother and I believe I will eventually. But at the same time, I’m very grateful to the adoptive mother who confided in me that she felt like a babysitter to her adopted Ethiopian baby for the first six months. Now that baby is the light of her life. I have thought of that comment often—depended on it—and wish adoptive families would share these thoughts more often. I believe they help, rather than hurt, the cause of adoption. It is through the struggle that we achieve the fullest measure of happiness, right?

And I should add that I did break my “not-lose-my-temper” streak Saturday night with the grocery store episode. The reason Saffron was pouting in the garage is because I had left her there. She and Ruby were fighting, and Ruby had gotten hurt. I had just invited Saffron to come to the grocery store with me, but then she refused to apologize to Ruby. I said she couldn’t come unless she apologized. She sat there in the car in silence, so I hopped out, slammed my door, walked around the car, flung her door open, picked her up and stood her on the ground. I then jumped back in and pulled out of the garage. This was a bit like my lunchbox throwing episode of a couple days before, when she refused to hold the lunch I had packed for her. I didn’t yell either time, but I did lose my cool and show my exasperation physically.

And when I say I’ve had a goal not to lose my temper, it’s not because I’m Supermom. It’s because I’ve done it plenty in the past with Jasper and Ruby. Especially after our baby boy Charles died, in October of 2007, I found myself with a shorter fuse than I’d ever imagined, and yelling at Jasper and Ruby more than I’d ever believed I would. I’ve learned over the past two years how ineffective it is. Your kids may respond and do what you want in that moment, but it doesn’t change their behavior positively for the future. It’s also a real handicap when you turn around later and try to teach them not to yell at each other. This time around, with the girls, I have to teach them from scratch how we act in our family (or try to!), and without using a common language to explain. They are learning solely from our actions. So if I lose my temper and overreact, the consequences are even more dire than they were before. The fact that I have felt relatively calm over the past few weeks is not due to my own special resolve. It’s due to the fact that, one, I want this to work: part of me is treating it in a detached way, like a behavioral study for which I’ve prepared for a long time; my rational brain says that the more I stay calm, choose my actions and reactions, and teach the lessons I want taught, the sooner we will have the well-adjusted family we seek. Second, I have no doubt I have angels on my right side and on my left, to bear me up. There are many moments throughout each day when I think to myself, “I am definitely not alone. I have with me an extra comfort, an extra measure of the spirit all the time, to help me through this. Because I, alone, would not be handling it.” I’ve never thought of it until this moment as I write, but perhaps Charles is finding his own way to help—to act as peacemaker in our home.

Alright. Enough of the sappy stuff! Just trying to show the full picture. Anywho, I barged into the toddlers’ room at church and asked for some snacks for Saffron—I knew she was starving. I told her to come join me at the piano when she finished eating. I went back into primary to discover they’d already started singing time, and I’d failed them on my first day: they’d had to commandeer a pianist from the audience to play for me during my disappearance. I resumed my post, and was soon joined by Saffron. She cuddled up next to me at the piano. But then Ruby returned from her class for singing time . . . DUN, DUN, DUNNNN,
No sooner did she see Saffron up there with me than she marched up to the bench, crying and reminding me that I had said none of the kids could sit by me while I played the piano at church. Argh. Well, true, I said. So why don’t you sit on my other side. She did, and I put my arm around her and gave her a hug. Well. Not OK. As soon as Saffron saw this, she pulled away from me and turned her back. Then she got up and left the room. Keep in mind that I’m trying to accompany songs this whole time, and am up in front of the room where everyone can watch my parenting peril!

As soon as there was a break I went outside and retrieved Saffron from the snowy sidewalk (she had taken her shoes off). I sat her down authoritatively next to a girl she’s met before. Luckily, she didn’t move again.

After primary it was time to head to our last meeting, and Saffron refused to leave her seat. I handed all my books to the other kids, and picked her up, crying. She is the size of an eight-year-old, so this was awkward and her dress came up over her bum. This made her more upset, so I set her down to walk. She collapsed stubbornly to the floor again, so I picked her up again. We all marched into the meeting, which had already started, assuming Steve would have a seat for us. But at my behest, he had gone home to get food for Saffron! So we made quite an entrance before we quickly found a bench. When I sat Saffron down she began muffled cries again. After a few minutes it was clear this would embarrass her, so I took her out of the chapel. She cried and I cuddled some more, then she ran outside again. I grabbed her, saying, “It you want to pout let’s at least do it inside. It’s freezing out here.” Again, not a moment of great sympathy on my part. We eventually went back in, but she would only sit on the armrest of the bench, drawing more attention to us, of course. What good entertainment for everybody on a typical Sunday at church!

But this is where it gets good. This is what does your heart good. About half way through the meeting, Saffron cuddled up to me. She and Ruby were sad about who got to put their head on my lap, so we set ten-minute turns according to the clock. After a while, Saffron whispered to me, “Mom, sorry Ruby.” She wanted to apologize to Ruby! I didn’t realize she was still thinking of her battle with Ruby as the cause of any of this, but I was so impressed she wanted to apologize. Apologies have been a struggle for her. I was really proud of her for this step, after such a difficult day. They apologized to each other (well, OK, with me saying all the words), and made up.

From there, our Sunday went really well. I felt like laughing as we left church. I thought, “All’s well that ends well.” (I know, gospel of Shakespeare again.) I wasn’t embarrassed, having learned long ago that allowing yourself to get embarrassed in public parenting moments only triples your stress, and you usually take it out on your kids. Plus, I have to assume all of our friends at church are pulling for us. I know they are. The kids played great the rest of Sunday and it was a really nice day. Each potential problem was solved pretty easily because the kids were all willing to sort it out and try not to pout. It was really encouraging.

As I write, the kids just came in from school, with Ruby bawling that Saffron had pushed her into the wall. Jasper and Ruby say that she left them and ran home alone, a big no-no, and ended up at the neighbor’s house around the block. Jasper says her teacher told him she was difficult at school, being ornery and refusing to share, and running out as soon as the bell rang. I don’t know what to do this time. I have great sympathy for Saffron’s point of view and all she’s going through. None of her behavior seems so surprising to me, considering where she’s coming from. But I don’t know how to handle it when it happens outside of my house, and in more complex situations. I thought she’d come home from school happy today. These are the times the language barrier really gets in the way—we need to have a good talk and we can’t. Sunday we invited the translator I’ve found and his family over for dinner, for the express purpose of having a good long talk with her, through him, and giving her a chance to air her grievances. But they never showed up. I think that really would have been helpful. She won’t talk to me now, so how will I figure out what to do?

My Room

I have now officially locked myself in it.

Some Photos

Exhausted airport arrival--sorry so blurry.

Saffron Showing Us She Can Knit:  Has the new hair, but not the new teeth yet.

Saffron knitting again, and showing off her new teeth.

Willa's Braids Upon Arrival

Willa's new braids, right after the two-hour crying ordeal.

Poor Ruby's injuries after the bike crash.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Chapter 3: What Goes Around Comes Around

There are a couple of reasons I haven’t posted for almost a week, though I’ve wanted to every day. 

One is that I’m exhausted, physically and emotionally, and can’t seem to find one spare minute in the day when some person or basic chore isn’t clamoring for my attention, or it isn’t 1:00 AM.

The other is that I every time I think of writing I feel overwhelmed by my inability to convey the spirit of daily events properly, and the fear that, out of the 1,000 little interactions that make up every day, the ones I choose to mention will skew the tone of the story one way or the other.  Several times I have worried so much about properly describing the day that I’ve failed to describe it at all.

But I can’t let this life-changing story go unrecorded.  So, I think maybe the best solution is to set down how I feel right up front, and then get into details.  That way I don’t have to worry so much about the details being misunderstood.

It may surprise people to hear that I’m feeling pretty good these days.  It surprises me.  This is definitely one of the most difficult patches I have ever been through emotionally.  Each day, as I am in the thick of it, I am thinking to myself, “Wow, this is heavy.  This is enough to drive a person to the edge.  Why aren’t I losing it?”  I’m not saying I’m enjoying every moment—believe me, I’ve locked myself in my room more than once.  I’m just surprised that under my surface layer stress I feel an abiding peace and patience.  I feel the stress of the moments and days, but I don’t have anxiety about the future.  In Ethiopia I awakened and then again put to rest all the Big, capital-B fears about this major life change.  I feel confident it will all iron out if I can just be patient from day to day.

I learned  a lesson from a friend last year about Lot’s wife.  I had never liked the story of Lot’s wife from the Bible, thinking it rather unfair that one be turned to salt just for taking a last farewell glance back home.  But Carol explained to me that she saw Lot’s wife as a symbol of our own stubborn insistence on looking back and questioning ourselves over and over, even when we’ve made valid decisions and need to trust them and move forward.

Of course, it also helps to take your medication (check), vent to good friends and family (check), stash Halloween candy in your bathroom (check), tune out children and listen to books on your iPod while you do dishes (check), and get enough sleep (hope to check some day).


I just pulled dramatically into the grocery store parking lot, having left bawling Ruby and Saffron at home. After refusing a nap with my mom this afternoon, Willa has just fallen asleep in the back seat. So, it appears I've finally found a moment to blog--on my phone.

This is really hard. I knew it would be, I expected it, but sometimes it still feels good to state the obvious. I know what some people reading this will wonder, so let me just answer you right up front:  No, struggling in the thick of it doesn't make me have second thoughts. When you struggled and cried with that colicky new baby did you have second thoughts about having him? I'm guessing not. Well I often wish people would realize adding to your family through adoption is very similar to adding through childbirth.

A wise person said it is important not to get caught up in the thick of thin things. Well, that's why I have no second thoughts, and have underneath an abiding confidence that all will eventually work itself out.   Because I am not caught in the thick of something thin.  Rather, if we continue the sauce metaphor I must say I am at that endless simmering and stirring phase where you're waiting for your white sauce to thicken and you think it never will. But it will. And when it does, it will be the very foundation of everything you “cook up” in life.  I am in the thick of something thick--or at least thickening--that will be worth every stroke of this endless stirring.

(You know I'm full of it right? Metaphors are the reason I never excelled in poetry.)

So what is the thick of it? It's R and S fighting over everything to find their places in the family. One is used to being Head Girl at home, and is still getting used to the idea of having a big sister. She wants to teach, and lead, and be best buddies. The other is used to being Head Girl in life, and wants to prove how competent she is, all she can do, how quickly she can fit in with new friends, and how she doesn't need to be taught.

Ruby must learn to be little sister to a big sister. This is quite different from being little sister to a big brother.  She must learn, as her mother had to, not to take everything so personally.  Saffron must learn to be a kind and encouraging big sister, rather than a competitive one.  She must learn to honor her sister's desire for friendship. She must learn you can't boss a sister close in age the way you can boss one much younger, like Willa.  (Willa was willing to be mothered by her sister when there was no other option. Now that there is a mother, she is less willing. She is transferring her loyalty to me. This must happen, though it is obviously a painful development for Saffron). Ruby doesn't want to be mothered by a sister—she wants to be sistered. They both do, but neither knows quite how.

Both of them must learn there is enough love to go around. Both must learn there will be plenty of precious moments alone with Mom for everyone, and we need not crowd in and ruin the other's moment. Both must come to believe confidently that their talents are known, their individual strengths are noted, and that Mom and Dad will see their good behavior as well as their bad. “Their days are known, and their years shall not be numbered less.”

How do I know all this? I graduated with honors from the Mabey Family Sisters College. I was forced to repeat more than once the course titled "Elizabeth and Emily:  How A Second and Third Daughter with Very Different Personalities Can Learn to Appreciate Each Other.” In the last two weeks I have poured over my (mental) notes from that course, and realized there may be reason for my having girls instead of the family of boys in which I always saw myself excelling as a mother.

Though Elizabeth and I were biological sisters and almost three years apart, for a while we seemed born to clash. Though she was older and wanted to teach and lead me, I was confident and independent and usually not willing to follow. 

I remember once driving alone in the car with my mom after a particularly nasty patch of “E and E” fighting.  I was feeling quite superior, thinking everyone knew Lizzie was the one who lashed out, and I the one who merely reacted. I thought I deserved sympathy for all I put up with.  Suddenly, my mom said, "You know, Emily, you have not been very nice to your sister this year."  She asked if I had thought how it might feel to be Lizzie and have an outgoing little sister who is as big as you are, and who is constantly jockeying for your territory.

I don't remember if she said it or not, but I felt her disappointment in me.  My stomach dropped. I was hurt, and horrified. For years I had seen myself as the straight man to Elizabeth's drama. I had not realized my own hurtful part. Lizzie looked up to Rachel as her older sister, and expected I would do the same to her.  But I refused to give her any respect.  Rachel soared above us all as the oldest.  Sara, the youngest, was along happily for the ride, much like little W.  Elizabeth and I  languished in the middle, fighting over Sara’s allegiance as if she had the power to crown one of us queen.  I wasn’t acting the way Lizzie thought a little sister should—the way she had.  Elizabeth worked at carving her niche, and I tended to come crashing through and ruin it.

The older I get the more I learn from my experience with Lizzie. I realize that what we both really wanted was the other's respect. Middle sisters need a place to call their own. I love and respect Elizabeth more than ever now. She is good at so many things I am not.  In fact, all my sisters are! Without them I fear I would be a selfish know-it-all.  I so wish I could go back and tell little Emily to let little Elizabeth '"big sister" her now and then.  Quit trying to prove so much!

What does all this matter now?  It means I understand a bit about the power struggle Saffron and Ruby are fighting right now. I think it's part of what gives me patience. I have no doubt that some day they will thank the Lord above that they have each other--especially when I've lost all my faculties and am driving them both nuts.

Take the decade-long battle Lizzie and I had, and add to that an international adoption later in childhood, a language barrier, and the enormous and impossible-to-fill expectations of one dreaming of a family in America, and the other dreaming of her very own little sister.  Then it’s clear why all of this behavior is no surprise, though unpleasant.  Just remind yourself of that every ten minutes, especially when they are having a who-can-cry-loudest competition. And smile for a moment, as I did last night, each time they forget to compete, and accidentally have a ball together.  Lizzie and I had those moments, too.

Before I get into the details, I should mention Jasper. He is not only out of the danger zone, but has sped through the challenge course and won immunity for the week.  I had a firm talk with him (at him) on Saturday about bucking up, accepting the new reality, and finding a way to make it work for him. I doubt it was the talk, but something in his whole attitude has changed. He has been an easygoing prince this week. He's even found ways to tease and bond with his new sisters. I don't expect him to sail smoothly forever, but I'm very grateful for this week. You da man, Buddy.

The week:  As my cousins said, we have packed the kind of stressful experiences you usually have once a week three to a day.

On Saturday, Saffron got the much-hoped-for extensions.  I had initially said no to these because Ruby was begging for them too, but thought better of it when I realized how self-conscious Saffron felt about her short hair.  I offered Ruby the compromise of getting her ears pierced instead, since Saffron already has hers pierced and Ruby already has long hair.  I also told Ruby horror stories given me by Shequtta about how bad it hurts, which stories turned out to be true.  For 3 ½ hours Saffron Tinsae sat in the chair wincing and crying silent tears while she had her hair done.  But now she’s as proud as a peacock of her long crochet braids.  Ruby cried getting her ears pierced, too, so at least they had that in common.  I had to get them both through it, and help them both feel that they had done the bravest and coolest thing and were “kon-jo,” so that I wanted to cry myself by the time we got home.

Both Ruby and Jasper had a fun night alone with Dad at the Jazz game. And Saffron and Willa watched SYTYCD episodes with me.  Saffron LOVED it.  She is a true dancer.  It's in her blood. She was shocked at the skimpy outfits, and men with "shruba" (braids) but loved it. It was hilarious to hear her constant gasps.

While Willa sat on my lap in church she decided to braid several neat little braids on each side of my head.  Teenage girls sitting nearby were amazed.  She’s only 3.

Saffron started second grade.  She was extremely excited to begin school, and so with the principal’s encouragement we stuck her right in her second week in America.  She was desperate to start and so was very willing to try a lot of English on Saturday and Sunday. Saffron and Ruby found each other at lunch, but couldn't seem to figure out Sister vs. Friend relationships at recess. Girls crowd around S at recess, getting excited if she says a word.  She seemed happy when I met her at lunch, and after school, but was exhausted by the evening.  This has been the case most of the week.  Her teacher says she’s doing very well in school, and I think she’s trying so hard—concentrating so hard on English—that when she comes home she needs to shut down out of exhaustion.  I understand.  But it has made for some difficult evenings.  Saffron is right now finding her place in our family, testing my authority, re-learning how to be mothered rather than mother.   And she can’t communicate.  That’s a lot to deal with.  She tries to do her homework as diligently at night as J and R, but obviously can't do it without help. Everyone fights over reading with Mom.

Monday night we went to dinner with Steve's family. Before we left I had had to put Saffron in time out for the first time. She had hit Ruby, and wouldn't apologize. I gave her three warnings, then sent her to her room. (Apologizing has been a big obstacle for her.) She was very upset the rest of the evening. At dinner she wouldn't look at or talk to anyone. She was starving but wouldn't eat.  I was quite frustrated.  After about 45 minutes at the table I took her hand and walked her out of the restaurant.  I said a prayer on the way out that I would handle the situation right though I was upset, and keep my streak of never losing my temper with the girls. I sat on a bench with Saffron and cuddled her and told her she was a good girl and I loved her.  She cried.  After a while of this, I asked if she wanted to go back in and get something to eat.  She nodded. We went back in and she proceeded to eat her spaghetti, half of mine, Steve’s chicken, and almost a loaf of bread. She was happy. She had fun. I'm not saying all was perfect--Ruby was then jealous of my cuddle with Saffron and started to cry—but it was a good moment.  Those moments make you happy and give you a glimpse of a great future once we've all adjusted.

I visited S and R at recess, and witnessed for myself the difficult dynamic of choosing to play with friends at recess and inadvertently making your little sister feel bad. It was a little heart-wrenching.

Willa and I bought injera and waedt at the Ethiopian restaurant for Steve’s lunch presentation about our trip to his coworkers. At the restaurant, they told Willa, "Don’t ever forget your Amharic." 

Then Willa got six cavities filled.  She was very good for one side of her mouth, but then they gave her another shot and started on the other side.  At this point, she started saying ‘bekkah’ over and over, talking with the dentist’s hands in her mouth.  After a minute, when it was clear the dentist wasn’t stopping, she must have figured it was because we couldn’t understand her in Amharic:  she started saying “finished, finished!” over and over around the dentist’s fingers.  It was very funny.

This was Steve’s birthday, and not a great one for him I admit. Jasper and Ruby made great homemade presents.  Saffron made disgusted faces at the cake.

Saffron had had to miss school that day, as she and Willa had a doctor's appt. They had to start their immunizations over and both screamed mightily for an hour, from before the shots began to well after they finished. I don't think it was the shots--it was shear anger at mom and frustration with life. I carried them screaming out of the room at the end. I could only laugh.  But later when Saffron and Ruby fought and Willa wouldn't nap, I almost cried. My friend Emily called at just the right moment and absolutely insisted I bring the girls to her and go to the store by myself. Thanks, Em. Another friend, Teresa, let Ruby stay and play all day. Thanks, Teresa. Teresa's daughter had had a Birthday party that day and invited all three girls. S was very excited to go to her first American birthday party, and happily picked out a gift. I made it clear the gift was from all three girls.  But when we got to the party and Ruby wanted to carry the present, Saffron got upset and refused to go. She sat on the sidewalk and sulked through the whole party, despite several invitations to come in.  She must have been freezing, and emotionally drained from all of it.

I made it to Jasper's Parent-Teacher Conference and actually bought a cake mix for Steve. I had it almost made by the time he got home from work at 7:30. By this time, miraculously, S and R were playing in my high heels and having a giggling blast together.  That’s why I have to live by the minute and not get stuck in a mood—because I never know when the storm clouds will clear and all will love each other again.

Willa got her hair braided in Ogden. She screamed the entire two hours (literally) and I had to hold her head still. While we were there we got a call from Jasper that Ruby had taken a terrible spill on her bike. I felt awful not being there, but a kind neighbor and my mom saved the day. Ruby’s face was scraped up badly and she got a fat lip.  Poor thing didn't need this right now.

When I got home Saffron happened to discover my knitting bag. Much to our surprise, she got out needles and yarn and began knitting! This made Ruby jealous until we got out her latch hook project.  Then they happily crafted next to each other.  It’s amazing when we get these glimpses into Saffron Tinsae’s past, her true self, and her true capabilities.  It makes me realize what a barrier the language still is—that there’s so much we don’t know about her and that she must be frustrated that she can’t tell us.  These are the really cool moments that you can only have with the adoption of an older child.  I feel very lucky to have an older child, even if it happened accidentally.  She truly brings her culture and past with her, whereas a little one like Willa is more of a sponge, soaking up all things new.  Having an older child is sort of like having a wise old soul inhabit the body of one of your children.  That’s how I feel sometimes.  It’s as if we’re uncovering her, one layer at a time.  For example, tonight she was upset and was trying to ignore me as I labored over changing her sheets.  After a few minutes she was clearly uncomfortable watching me and couldn’t resist the temptation to jump in and help me. 

Saffron got her teeth fixed--eight went from brown to white, and one cavity was filled.  I knew she was self-conscious and wanted this, because she would always be sure to close her mouth when we took pictures of her. After the procedure she wouldn't look in the mirror or speak to me, but by the end of school she had forgotten to be mad and I could see she was thrilled.  Her smile is now even more beautiful.  Most importantly, she seems more confident in it.

By Friday evening I was so beat and sick of the drama that I called my mom and we took everybody to McDonalds as punishment. Ruby threw a tantrum on the floor there, I can't remember why, but all ended up having a blast together in the playplace. It was clearly something new and exciting.

All in All
The vacuum was also new and exciting this week, as was the carwash. We also discovered Saffron and Willa like Cafe Rio. We got our first "Yummy". Today they delighted in their first snowfall, going sledding and building a snowman with my dad. 

Saffron is trying valiantly to read, and it's a true pleasure to sit next to her and hear her read each letter. I'll be very sad when these accents disappear. Her English sounds much prettier than mine. Willa is crying less to get her way.

In the second half of the week Saffron learned to apologize and even did it voluntarily to Ruby. She and Jasper learned to tease each other and laugh together. Willa is learning to let Ruby be her big sister. 

Jasper is finding his place and thriving as the family leader.  He is no longer bemoaning his lack of a brother.  Rather, he seems to enjoy the freedom to stay above the fray.  I am really proud of him.  And I’m proud of Ruby’s determined affection—no matter what clashes they have, she is always looking for ways to have fun with her new sisters, for new ways they can bond.  Actually, I’m extremely proud of the efforts made by all.  For Saffron it probably takes extraordinary effort just to get up and try again each day.  Willa is trying excitedly to see tortillas as a viable alternative to injera.  And our family and friends are making great efforts to support us, love all our children, and back up our parenting.

English understanding grows all the time.  I think food is an even bigger issue than language right now. It is a battleground everyday, meaning Saffron often chooses to go hungry. That would make any one of us a bit out of sorts. I think once she eats regularly she will also find happiness quite regularly.

Today my parents tended so Steve and I could see the Michael Jackson movie as a belated Bday present. I loved it. I almost cried through much of it, which reminded me how emotional I am these days. But though it's stressful, I find that emotion is still more excitement than anything else. There are a hundred subtle sweet moments every day that make me very excited to see this new family develop. I can't believe it's really happened--I can't believe we really have two beautiful new daughters from Ethiopia. I can't believe we are so lucky to have this beautiful family. I can't wait to see it all come together.

 This post is brought to you by the number 1 and the upside down letter e.  I can't make that letter here, but you know the one I mean, the one in the dictionary used to signify the sound euh.  That's the way you pronounce "Saffron," folks.  Look it up.  It's not "saff-rahn."  It's "saff-reuhn."  Like "African."  Not "Afrikaan."  Oh, and the 1 is as in 1:38 AM.  Argh!  Must sleep.  Must sleeeeppp!!