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.