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.