Thursday, January 28, 2010

Little Brother and His Cows

Saffron and Willa have two brothers still in Ethiopia. Big Brother is a teenager who lives with their kind aunt and goes to school. Little Brother is between Saffron and Willa, probably about six years old, and still lives with their father and stepmother.  Now that they can express themselves better in English, the girls love to reminisce about Little Brother—understandably so!

For Willa, especially, Little Brother was the world. He was her constant playmate, and apparently a funny one. When Saffron was sitting down and leaning back on her arm, he liked to knock her arm out of its spot so she would fall down. Though Stepmother did like boys more than girls, she still did not allow Little Brother to go to school. As many little boys in the Ethiopian countryside, he was charged with caring for the family's cows.  

Willa likes to tell how he would sit on one of the cows as he kept watch over his tiny herd of 3 or 4.  Little Brother and Dad would walk to the store sometimes to sell some of their milk, and at Christmas they would slaughter one of Little Brother's cows. This, along, with a tremendous loaf of bread, was Christmas feast and Christmas present all wrapped in one.  

For Willa all cows are a reminder of Little Brother, and we name them to match.  When Grandma told her to choose a toy at the store, she chose a cow. Every time we eat beef we like to tease her that it's one of Little Brother's cows, all the way from Ethiopia.

When Saffron and Willa went to the orphanage, Little Brother was very sad. He wanted to go, too. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Good Karma

Right this minute I am sitting at Groove Dance Studio watching Saffron try out a ballet class.  (She tries, but can’t contain her smile.)  In front of me are 8 adorable girls, with approximately 8 years of life experience each, standing un-selfconsciously in leotards and tights with shoulders slouched and bellies poked out, as they practice their positions.  Eight different faces adorn 8 very different body types, and each is a beautiful combination.  Oh, enjoy it, lovely girls!  Before you get a few years older and a few miles more self-critical.

After this, Saffron will try a jazz class, and later in the week she will try tumbling.  Then she gets to choose one class to take.  Yesterday my dear cousin Roxey, who owns the studio, generously offered to allow each of my girls to take one dance class for free.  Thanks, Rox.  The girls have SO wanted to take all sorts of lessons, with dance being the first choice, and I’ve had to put them off for financial reasons.  So we are thrilled at Roxey’s gift.

Roxey’s sweet daughter, K, sits next to me as I type.  We have matching make up because I arrived barely showered and un-maked up and, having two hours to kill, thought I might try to beautify Mt. Rushmore.  K followed me into the bathroom, not remembering my name but having that kid-like confidence in my safeness and kindness because I am her mom’s relative.  So, I gave us matching faces. 

Roxey is the kind of sweet, thoughtful person who probably would have offered lessons anyway, but after I talked to her last night I thought back over our friendship—because we really are friends as well as cousins.  I’m glad I felt it was important a few years ago to start Ruby at Roxey’s studio, to support Roxey.  And I’m glad I always paid, and paid on time, and didn’t ask for family favors.  (You’d be surprised how many people send their kids to dance without paying.)  Because—though I know, as I said, that Roxey probably would have offered anyway—I feel I have treated her fairly and can in good conscience accept her gift. 

This reminds me of the situation with Saffron’s teacher.  Saffron’s has the same teacher for second grade that Jasper had.  Second grade was--how shall we put it--NOT a good school year for Jasper.  Gently speaking, Jasper's teacher did not find the joy in him that I find in him.  Jasper was frustrated, I was frustrated, and his teacher was obviously frustrated.  I considered complaining to the principal, or asking for a class change, but decided instead to try to communicate openly and continuously with Jasper’s teacher, and hope for improvement.  I tried to keep two things in mind:  one, Charles was born during this school year, so neither I nor Jasper was at our best, or most rational.  Two, one mother I knew had a daughter in the class who was having a wonderful experience.  I was tempted to blame this teacher entirely and assume she was no good, and bawl her out, but I didn’t.  Instead I tried to think she and Jasper were not a good match for teaching and learning style.  I managed to get through the year without saying anything I regretted.

I haven’t always been successful at thinking the best of a person or situation, or keeping my mouth shut.  I hate that there are people in my life I would not want to run into at the grocery store (Donna and Beth from 1999), and I didn’t want Jasper’s teacher to be another.  Good thing, because I did run into her at Costco last year, and I said hello, and she said she heard we were adopting children from Africa, etc.  I was friendly.  At this time I thought we were getting a kindergartener, and had already talked to Ruby’s kindergarten teacher, whom I loved, about having our new daughter in her class.

But we didn’t get a kindergartener, did we.  We got an eight-year-old, and decided she must go to second grade.  I asked that Saffron be in one of the other two second grade classes, because they both had children of color in them.  But the principal informed me that Jasper’s old teacher was the only ESL certified teacher, and therefore must have Saffron.  “Of course!”  I thought.  Because that would just be our luck.  I was very glad at that moment, though, that I had not said anything unforgiveable, and even gladder that I had fought in my own mind to give this teacher the benefit of the doubt. 

And guess what?  Saffron loves her. And she loves Saffron and is wonderful to her.    And guess what else?  She did deserve that benefit of the doubt, and I am a little saner now than I was then (I KNOW.  If I'm better now, just imagine what I was like that year!  Jasper told his counselor I slept a lot and didn't cook.).

I’ve done a lot of really stupid things in my life, but I’m glad I haven’t screwed up every situation, because this year I need all the good vibes I can get.

P.S.  Tonight I must remember to educate Saffron about the straight legs and pointed toes that accompany ballet movement.  I am definitely all wrong for ballet, but did get in a few years of lessons before I figured that out.  (I remember the exact moment:  I was watching the video of our latest ballet recital, in which I portrayed a winter berry, and realized I looked like a football player among a class of winter berries.  I quit that year.)  Then I learned more from watching all of my sisters--everyone but me--excel at ballet.  Now there’s an issue I could definitely take to therapy—except I don’t remember feeling bad about it.  Gee, I guess we actually CAN have "different talents" without losing our self esteem.  I'll have to show Ruby the winter berry video.

Dance at Aki's.AVI

Here S is in her comfort zone: Dancing a traditional Ethiopian dance from the Guragi tribe, with Ruby and Willa following along.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

When I Lived in London with Robert Browning

When we were living in London five years ago, I was feeling a bit pathetic.  We were there for Steve’s second masters, and my sister and her husband, our dearest friends there, were also both in graduate school.  I was the only one not studying.  As I was the one who originally got my own graduate degree and then pushed Steve toward graduate school, having him pass me up was a blow to my pride, I admit. 

I reminded myself that I was lucky to have the time to see and learn everything I wanted to about London, and I did (everything you can see and learn with two little kids in tow).  I forced myself to write periodically about my experiences, to keep my skills up.  And I listened to lectures and read voraciously.  But I still felt dissatisfied.

One day in early December, as I pushed Ruby’s stroller down the wet sidewalk, I was hit with overwhelming power with the idea that I needed to take the LSAT.  The feeling was so strong and undeniable that within a day I registered for the test, and found a prep class right in London.  Steve and I sacrificed to get me to the class, and my dad helped by covering the cost.  I shut myself in the bedroom of our tiny flat night after night to study.  I felt really rusty and was sure I would have scored much better if I’d taken the LSAT seven years before, when I narrowly decided to go to writing school instead of law school.  Still, I pulled a pretty respectable score.  I wasn’t too concerned about the logistics of law school, because I knew the score was good for five years.  I had plenty of time to figure out how to fit it in to my life.

Fast forward five years:  as our plane took off from London Heathrow en route to Ethiopia this past October, my LSAT score officially expired.  By that point my mind was on other things, of course.  But in the months previous to our adoption, I spent a lot of anguish thinking about the LSAT issue.  I knew there was no way I could go to law school and do a good job integrating our new children into their new family.  I didn’t feel I could have gone before now, because we could never have afforded it.  Oh yes, and there was that time lost to a baby's death.

Yet why did I feel SO strongly—so inspired—five years ago, that I must prepare for law school?  If it was inspiration, then why did my score expire worthless?  Some have suggested that the importance of the test was just in taking it—in giving me something to do, a way to use my brain and “study,” so I wouldn’t feel so left out in London, or to prove to myself I could still do it.  I just don’t feel that’s really it.  I haven’t satisfied the question.

I may be a chronic malcontent.  I should be happy to be in the midst of fulfilling one life goal, and not expecting to pursue another.  I know, but then I hear Mr. Browning say

Robert BrowningAh, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp,
Or what's a heaven for? …
I know both what I want and what might gain,
And yet how profitless to know, to sigh
"Had I been two, another and myself,
"Our head would have o'erlooked the world!" No doubt."

No doubt.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Six Year Old Discovers Mr. King

I regret letting Martin Luther King, Jr. Day pass without a nod. 
So, let me just mention this:  when Ruby heard what day it was she said,
“Oh, I love him.  He’s my favorite one of our saviors.” 
“What do you mean?” I asked. 
“You know,” she said.  “The people who have saved our country.”
“Why is he your favorite?”  I asked. 
“Because he said it doesn’t matter what color your skin is, you can still play together.” 
I’m so glad Ruby’s teacher takes time to teach her students passionately about their collective history.  I remember when Jasper had her and she taught his class about the Twin Towers on September 11th.  He has never forgotten.  And now Ruby, who has two new sisters of a different color, has discovered a national ‘savior’—someone besides her mother telling her that skin color doesn’t matter.  She'll never forget MLK.

Thanks, Ms. S, for not underestimating your First Graders.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Miss Saffron Apron

Oh, Saffron, Saffron. What is thy life these days?

For starters, when you grow up I am confident you will be forever grateful to Grandma Swensen for giving you the perfect word to teach people how to pronounce your name. (My “Africans” v. “Afrikaans” was a bit obtuse, I admit.) Grandma’s simple, “Well, it’s just like apron” will get you much further in life.

This has been a much bigger issue than I ever dreamed it would. In fact, though I’m a devoted word person who would never have considered spelling Ruby’s name “Rubie,” I have recently considered changing the spelling of your name to “Saffren.” It felt like heresy, but I had to consider whether that spelling would bother me less throughout my life than the mispronunciation of your name would. The problem at school has become so bad that now you can no longer figure out how to pronounce your own name the way your family does—you keep saying “Saff-rawn” and don’t yet have enough command of English to understand the difference. Poor thing. I didn’t mean to saddle you will something so difficult. Perhaps we should have gone with our second choice—Pat. That’s why we’re so grateful to Grandma S. So, let’s remind everyone once again: It’s Saffron, like Apron. If you typically say Aprawn, then I must remind you that you are talking about seafood rather than women’s culinary wear, and there is no hope for you. You’ll just have to call her “S.”

And, so you’ll always know why we chose such a beautiful if troublesome name, let me remind you that Saffron is one of the most beautiful and exotic spices and colors in the world, and IS the most valuable spice in the world. Not to shabby, eh? Certainly stands up to ‘Ruby,’ a most valuable woman, and ‘Willa,’ one of America’s greatest female writers. (Eudora Welty, I also love your writing, but wasn’t so keen on ‘Eudora,’ or ‘Welty.’ Sorry.)
saf⋅fron  [saf-ruhn] –noun
“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

Yes, we could have given you a more typically American name. But saffron is a spice and a color that is valued the world over. The spice is ancient—transcends time. And the color is the choice for the robes of peace-loving Tibetan monks. It is as beautiful and transcendent and ancient as is your Ethiopia. We knew you would never be like Willa—you would always carry your memories, your culture, your Ethiopia with you. We wanted to honor that. Don’t let anyone underestimate your value, or you name. Ever.

And so, Saffron, what else can I tell you? You love watching TV. You want to all the time. You have no regard for content. You just want to watch. Always. Why? Is it an escape? And why do I often refuse? Why does it irritate me? I think it’s too early in your American life for me to worry about you becoming a couch potato.

I have figured out why you don’t play with friends or talk on the playground, and why you struggle to entertain anyone but Ruby at home. There are two reasons:

One, you are much more self-conscious about your English than I realized. You have finally told me you are afraid to speak without me or Ruby there. And now that I’ve learned to ask you about specific words and sentences, I realize you are understanding less than I thought (though still an amazing amount for 2 ½ months). It’s OK. People aren’t looking for you to fail! You must try.

Two, in Ethiopia you didn’t play. Now that Willa can express more and has become obsessed with repeating to me facts about life in Ethiopia, I know that 'Sam' and Willa played everyday, but Saffron never did. Saffron only ever watched. I can easily imagine you squatting, as you do, next to your shambles of a hut, and watching the other kids play. Willa often says “Saffron no play” when she talks about life there.

Somewhere in the last few weeks I lost my patience with you and began responding to your negative attitude, rather than transcending it. If I take the high road, you usually come along pretty quickly. But if I join you on the low road to nowhere, we both languish there. It’s good for me to be reminded what you came from only a few short months ago, and how far you’ve progressed. It’s my job to turn again with kindness, over and over and over. That is what is required for older child adoption. They tell you over and over how different it is from young child or infant adoption, and they’re right. Parenting you and Willa is night and day. Older child adoption is definitely more difficult, but the rewards are worth it. There is something amazing about a child old enough to recognize the mighty change in their life.

Finally, your hair. I have neglected to mention that we removed your extensions over Christmas break. They were coming out, and getting yucky. We knew they would only last about two months, but this was still very traumatic for you. You bawled for hours. You hated me for a bit, I think, and sulked for a few days. Now that I realize how much that hair meant to you, I think I may have made a mistake in letting you get them so early.

When you came, I was very eager to help you feel confident when you started school. I knew you wanted extensions in Ethiopia, so I hurried to get them for you here. We quickly got your teeth fixed so the brown spots didn’t show. I told you how beautiful you looked. So why should I be surprised now to realize you have wrapped your self worth in America up in that hair? Perhaps a better approach would have been for me to teach you about inner beauty, and let you feel good about yourself for a bit before I rushed to help you cover your short hair.

Well, now we have had that talk about inner beauty--about a kind heart, and a ready smile. You cried, and it occurred to me that you had probably never had anyone tell you that before. You wore a scarf over your head for a week, but we have since found some cute hairstyles for your short hair, and pointed out many beautiful women with short hair. To their credit, Ruby and Jasper have made a big deal about your lovely short hair. I keep telling you—honestly—that I prefer it. Your delicate neck and jaw, the graceful features which first made me see you as a Queen of Africa, are now visible, not hidden by fake braids.

You and Ruby are both suffering in the self-esteem department right now. But we’ll fix that. We’ll borrow some from Willa, who’s self-contentedness is ever effulgent, and before you know it you’ll be two supremely confident sistas.

Cook the Pianist and Leave the Sweet Potatoes Alone

Though we don’t have the major drama we did before, I’m guessing we still provide entertainment for our fellow churchgoers. Recall that I play the piano for the children as they sing in Primary, the children’s meeting. This lasts two hours, with some breaks, but I tend to be sitting at the piano the entire time. I can play, but I’m not the really talented type who can carry on a conversation while I play without missing a note. Someone should tell this to my children. Some Sundays I have a constant stream of children coming up asking profound questions like, “Why were you smiling at her and not at me?”
Then, “What was she saying to you up here?”
And, “Why did her teacher give her a treat when I didn’t get a treat? Her teacher ALWAYS gives treats and mine NEVER does.”
Followed by, “Mom, Look!” with great concern, as Saffron shows me a slight crack in her lip.
And finally, “___” This is Willa, with no words, just trying to climb into my lap while I play.

I admit that I add to the distraction myself, as when I spot Jasper indulging in some nose picking and motion him up to the piano so I can tell him to go get a Kleenex.

Thankfully, they all have great teachers who try to keep them away from me. I know the Powers That Be were trying to help me out by putting me at the piano, so I could be near my kids in our newly changed family. I appreciate their concern, but I really don’t need any more time near my kids in our newly changed family. What I do need is some time with ADULTS, AWAY from said kids of newly changed family. Unfortunately, the babysitting offers have stopped coming. That’s OK, though. My bedroom door still locks. And the TV still works. Not that I ever lock my door, or use the television as a babysitter. Ever.

No. Right now I have instead shut myself delicately in my room without locking the door (I promise), and have given them another babysitter: boiling water and a hot stove in the kitchen. Yes, I told the girls to have at it—Make dinner themselves. I didn’t even add the usual “Don’t burn the house down.” Even as we speak Saffron is boiling sweet potatoes. She is holding the lid on the pot with all her might, and is very upset that every time I walk through I turn down the heat and vent the lid for a second. “No!” she says. What she wants to do is wrap the whole pot in tinfoil so not one breath of steam can escape. I nixed that idea. I assured her the potatoes will boil just fine, but I think she’s underestimating the temperature of that cute little round circle on that smooth surface of the stove top. Ruby, meanwhile, is in her usual competitive form. On the other side of the kitchen, she is busy with flour and yeast trying to make pizza dough. I don’t know if I’VE ever even made my own pizza dough. But she refused all cheats I offered, such as frozen bread dough. Nope. She’s doing it from scratch. Nevermind that she’s only 6. If her sister cooks from scratch (boiled sweet potatoes) so will she. I have a feeling it’s a matter of minutes before my blogging time is over.

Name That Blogging Insecurity:

1. I figured out another reason I was down--I was experiencing CW: Comment Withdrawal. I was wondering why no one ever commented on my blog anymore . . . it was my own darn fault. After I got my first spam comment, I changed my settings so I could moderate comments. But I didn't realize I would receive no email notifications, and no comments would be published until I OK'd them. They were just languishing in my queue, waiting for me to check my blog, which I was not checking, because no one was commenting, because I wasn't allowing them to, and I was considering offing my blogself. Ahh, stupidity. I'm with you now, I get it!

2. I'm not going to name any names (E-m-i-l-y, again), but some people remind me from time to time how LLLLLOOOOOOOONNNNNNNNGGGGGGGGGG my posts can get. It's true. I know! "Pithy" may not be the very first word one would choose to describe my blog. This is one of the main reasons I did not blog for years. My writing training consists mostly of the essay-style, analytical kind, which lent itself well to my masters thesis but does not lend itself to brevity. As brevity is the soul of wit, this is probably the reason I am not funny. So, I waffle between arguing to myself that not all blogs must fit the same mold, to thinking I should quit blogging all together, to arguing (to myself again) that if people don't have time they should just read in installments, or not read at all.

3. It's the photo thing again--need to post photos! Neeed tooo ppooosssttt ppphhhootttoosss! Emily, the same as above, still offers to post them for me, even though she still refuses my offer to install her ceiling fan. Can't imagine why.

Reasons to Feel Good About My Blog:

1. I have a follower in England! OK, so she may be related to me, but it still makes me feel quite the sophisticate. Thanks, S.
     *correction:  TWO followers in England!  Who are both related to me, and who are both named 'S.' I forgot to count my sister, as I require her to follow my blog or risk losing her American supplier of Hot Tamales.

2. Everyone keeps thanking me for my "honesty" and "frankness." This is a bit alarming when I think I'm just being myself, and that I'm actually censoring plenty, but I'll take it!

A Christmas Postscript

I know it's way past Christmas, but I just got around to trolling my favorite blogs. This post, found at my sister's blog, is by far my favorite Christmas image. I'm one of those people who can't get excited about anything Christmassy after Christmas--but this one got me.

If you've ever lived in a big city, then you should know that "The Big Issue" mentioned here in Sara's post is the small daily paper sold by homeless individuals to earn money. There is a paper like it in every big city. They must register, and wear ID, and receive about 1/2 of the cost of the paper (usually about $1, or £1). We used to buy at least one a day. So Sara is right: this is quite the Santa. He gave the wide-eyed Harriet a Christmas gift by being Santa when he didn't have to be. I imagine she gave him a gift by wanting her photo with him. And, as Sara says, I hope he found the gift of a place to sleep that night.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Growing Pains

I've figured out two more reasons I'm struggling a bit this week.

1. I miss Ruby something awful.
I love watching Ruby and her new sisters bond, and have fun together, and be sisters. Ruby defends her new sisters to others and even pleads Saffron's case when she's in trouble with me. This is what I wanted for her--a life with sisters, like I have. I'm really happy for her. On the other hand, though, Ruby has been my little buddy for years. She was home while Jasper was at school, and with Charles' death there was no new baby to change the dynamic.  Ruby was always the kind of kid who loved to be with her mom. I could take her anywhere, and did. Our relationship was very one-on-one, and very close. Now we can't have the same thing. It's what I wanted for her and it's a wonderful thing--it's just a hard adjustment for me. With four Kids it's simply impossible for me to have the one-on-one relationship with any child that I had with both Jasper and Ruby before. I purposely had Jasper, Ruby and Charles further apart because I wanted time to be close to each one individually. Now I've undone that. As I said, it's good. It's just different. This loss of individual closeness is definitely, for me anyway, the hardest part of going from two kids to four. Besides the laundry. Why do girls have to change their clothes so often?

2. Jasper's new sisters don't get him yet.
I don't blame them--they've only known him for 2 1/2 months, and he's done his best to irritate them, as would any big brother worth his salt. But they leave him out a lot. And they complain to me about him--a lot. Ruby still knows that Jasper makes up more creative games than anybody, and that he'll go through Hell or high water for you, and she still shows it. But now she walks home with Saffron instead of Jasper. And she's no longer his old pal on slow afternoons, because she's with her sisters.  He's usually fine, but sometimes says he feels he lost out in this deal. And when Saffron comes running to me yelling about how mean he is, it's hard for me to be really sympathetic even though I know he's being a pain. Those of you who know Jasper know he has been through Hell and back with us--moves, job losses, a death, and now this big change--and he's the kind of kid who is too aware for his age. Jasper is my Reliance Wheeler. I hope the girls soon learn that they won't win points with me by making him the enemy.  If they give him a chance, he won't let them down. He just needs someone to move over and make room for him. He's picking at the girls because he's trying to find his place among them.

He's also no dummy, and is taking me for all he can while I'm feeling bad for him. I know. I'm no dummy, either.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Emily Post, Meet Monster Mama

The past couple of days I've been pretty mean.  I'm not sure why I've lost patience, and I realize it's pretty juvenile.  Perhaps Christmas break did me in.  Though I think we're in a very good place for just two months on, we are far from a completely comfortable family.

Because a parent must reason why, and not just do or die, here's my best shot at one possible reason for my recent venom:

Sometimes I don't want to blog about difficult aspects of this adoption, because I can't shake the feeling that there are those--albeit a small minority--who are somehow looking for us to struggle.  I think this is on a very subtle level and I hate to even say it out loud:  one of my dad's virtues has always been to see the best in people, assume the best of intentions despite flawed behavior, and take their apologies at face value.  Especially as an adult, I have tried really hard to do the same.

So, then, why might a few people be looking for the difficulties in our situation?  Rather, why might I feel that they are?  I don't believe any person actually wishes us ill.  Instead I've decided that, for some, our choice to adopt, and to adopt older children, and to adopt interracially, is absolutely unfathomable.  They can't imagine ever wanting to do it themselves, and therefore can't understand our wanting to do it.  Because it's not something they would ever naturally want or enjoy, they can't get their minds around how we could be enjoying life, or even coping, in such a situation.  They look for the difficulty in it, because that's the only angle from which they can approach it.

As I said, I think this is rare, and not even conscious, and certainly doesn't pertain to any of our family or close friends.  In fact, they have all wildly exceeded our expectations of support.  I think the only reason I am bothered by these interactions is because they are so rare.  The vast majority of people I meet, though they might not choose this themselves, are thrilled for us.  If I get too down, they are talking ME back up about it.

But once in a while I find myself in a conversation going all wrong.  Each time I pause, my counterpart fills in the blank with something much more negative than I was thinking.  My words, and my concerns, are clearly being read all wrong.  I find myself inadvertently assenting to false assertions.  I try to clarify, and things get worse.  I feel that, rather than defend my family, I have slipped in the mud and thrown them under the bus.  It makes me doubt myself.  It makes me feel utterly miserable.

This feeling of an awkward conversation gone wrong is not new to me.  When I was pregnant with Charles, and after he died, people said all sorts of odd things to me.  Again, the vast majority of people have the best of intentions despite their awkwardness, and you feel that from them.  You hear what they mean, and don't care at all what they actually say.  But every so often something really stings.  What's hardest is not the comment itself, but others' defense of it.  If you can't get over the hurt by yourself, and so mention that stinging comment to anyone, they always have the same response.  "Oh, but you know they meant well.  People just don't know what to say in these situations."  And there it is--you're shut down.  You're the devastated one, but you're told you are also the one who has to take the high road and let it go.  And of course people are right; you should.  Eventually.  And you will.

What people don't realize is those comments that sting sting for a reason.  They hit on some point of vulnerability that undoes a lot of hard work on your part.  It's some aspect of the story you've already struggled with, a hole which you've already dug till your fingernails bled just to get out of.  And their comment makes you doubt yourself again, doubt your emotional progress, and you feel yourself sliding back into that hole.  I wish people would realize that they really don't need to jump to the commenter's defense.  You're not really mad at that person, anyway.  You're afraid of the hole.  You just need someone to let you get it out:  let you say why that comment, in particular, hurt your ears.  You need someone to listen, and nod, and then remind you how you already felt your way out of that hole.  You need someone to throw you a rope.  You don't need them to point out that the person probably meant well.  If you're the one receiving sympathetic words all day, chances are pretty darn good you've had practice, and are already well aware of that fact.

I hardly ever express this to people, because their inevitable response is, "that's why I usually just don't say anything at all.  I don't want to risk saying the wrong thing."  Please, risk it.  I beg you.  I ask every person I can who has been through something publicly difficult, and I've never met one who said they would rather people say nothing than say the wrong thing.  Say something.  Ask something.

. . . . Well.  Alright.  Pardon Me.  Apparently I have confused my journal with my blog.  I guess that's been waiting in the margins for a couple of years.  But how does Emily Post's Guide to Comforting the Stricken pertain to adoption?  It's a stretch.  It was a few of those awkward interactions that got me down recently, made me doubt myself, and contributed to my becoming Monster Mama.  We always take it out on the wrong people.

Ala Commode, Ala Faux Pas

Remember how I read my friend bigbahamamama's blog while sequestered in the bathroom at the diner? And then remember how I blogged about it? In cyber public?

Well I just happened to click on one of her  old posts in which she details her utter distaste for toilet reading. Forgive me, Big Mama. I had no idea. If you nearly left your husband for taking your copy of Dorian Gray into the bathroom, then what will you do to me, a mere old friend, for taking your actual BLOG into that most private and distasteful of rooms? And telling about it?

Mea Culpa.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Ah Ha! Photos.

The Photo-less Snapshot

In the days when I only squatted on this blog but hadn’t actually improved it with any posts, I was once party to a conversation about blogging. 

(Just a quick note here:  you may have noticed I did not say ‘on’ blogging, but ‘about’ blogging.  Though you can never tell by this blog, I did once study writing in graduate school and it irritates me that people always say they are talking ‘on’ something.  Please, people:  talk ‘about’ it.  Just for me.  And while we’re at it, do you know how grateful I am for ‘each’ of you who read my blog?  Wait—did I sound less grateful because I didn’t say ‘each and every?’  No!  So why do so many people insist on saying ‘each-and-every?’  I ‘hate-loath-despise-and-abominate’ this expression.  Btw, you should also always avoid long parentheticals.  As I say, not as I do.)

blah blah blah squatted, and blah blah blah blogging . . . participants in this conversation agreed that they much prefer viewing photos on peoples’ blogs to reading posts.  Ugh.  I was secretly chagrinned and took a vow against blogging for almost a year.  I am a terrible picture-poster.  Can you tell?  I am good at taking them, plenty of them, but just not good at putting them anywhere.  I was recently in another conversation where someone mentioned the appalling truth they had just heard that some people PAY OTHERS to put together their photo albums!!  “Gee,” I thought.  “Here I misfit again—especially in my local culture.  I’d be first in line for that service if I had the money.”  I’m still recovering from the time I recently spent several hours uploading a couple hundred photos to Picasa, only to have the upload fail at the last minute.  My friend Emily, the Emily that is better friends with my blog than with me, has kindly offered to upload photos for me.  That’s cool, because I have many talents I could use to trade her for this service.  Like . . . installing ceiling fans.  Yes—Emily, I’ll trade you one ceiling fan furniture tower for 500 photos.

So, for those of you who hate reading posts, you’re not reading anyway so never mind.  I may not be good at photo albums, but I am a word person and I am pretty good at word albums.  I’ve been keeping written journals for my kids since they were born.  I’ve written down many things Saffron and Willa say, and thought it might be nice to paint a word picture for those of you who have never met them in person.  I love their language these days.  In just two months they have come to speak almost exclusively in English.  This is truly amazing if you think about it.  It’s also sad because, though we encourage Amharic, they have forgotten many Amharic words.  We recently quizzed them and Saffron remembered about 80 percent of the words we asked her, but Willa only about 30 percent.  Though their English is still far from complete, it seems to come more naturally for them now to speak incomplete English than complete Amharic, even to each other.  We better call friends in Ethiopia again soon.

Here is a word snapshot of Saffron and Willa over the past couple of weeks:


“Mom, help me you yes?”  For, ‘Will you please help me pin on my scout pin?’

“Mrs. _____ I love it!”  For, ‘I love my teacher.’

“And then Mom, and then phone, and then talk, and then Ruby Stop!, and then No!, and then me Yes!, and then Ruby bedroom, and then me—and then, I don’t know, Mom!” 
-Trying to give an explanation as emphatic as her sister’s as to why they were fighting and not doing what I asked.  She’s been determined to give her side from the very beginning, even if she didn’t have the words.

“Go, Daddy.  Scoot Over.”  For the backseat-driver version of ‘You can go now, Dad.’
-One of the most difficult things for Steve on the flight home from Ethiopia was that Saffron and Willa had no concept of waiting in line.  They thought every line was a chance to cut through the crowd and fend for yourself, and Steve had to constantly run after them and pull them back.  This translated into driving once they got here, and they were always looking at any open lane on the road, like the one for opposing traffic, and telling us to “Go!”  Now that they understand the concept of red and green lights, they are keen to watch them for us.  Their language has really opened my eyes to the many different ways we say the same thing, and how confusing that must be.  Ie., If Ruby tells Saffron to ‘scoot over’ on the couch, then Saffron sees no reason why it wouldn’t sound right to tell Dad to ‘scoot over’ the car on the road.  Boy, English is tough. 

“Wooby! Swim after sook going pants! Mom said.” 
 For, ‘Ruby, Mom says we’re going to the store after we go swimming, so you need to bring a pair of pants.’ (Amharic is for "shop" is “sook”)  The exclamation points are not unintentional.  They yell almost everything these days.  They’ve gone from quiet as mice to the opposite.  I guess it takes time to learn the right volume, as well as the right words.  Swimming is probably their all-time favorite activity.  Saffron insists she knows how and doesn't need lessons even though swimming with her is like trying to rescue a drowning person.  She's wants to brave, but flails around rather terrified.  I had to teach her simple things like grabbing my shoulders in desperation, instead of my head or neck.  It's actually good that she hasn't quite mastered this yet, because Ruby is a good swimmer and needs a few places to shine.  She is constantly comparing herself to Saffron, who is built like a rubberband, in gymnastics.

“Mommy, no sleep finished today.  Me.”  For, ‘Mom, I don’t want to go to sleep because I don’t want today to be over.’  This was said on Christmas night.  Speaking of Christmas, they loved it.  The excitement was almost too much.  After they opened pajamas with everyone at the Christmas Eve party, they thought Christmas was over.  Then when they had to hurry to bed because Santa was coming, they were very scared.  They wanted to know if he would come in their room.  I told them to listen for his boots on the roof and the reindeers' bells.  I then snuck out on the deck and stomped around and jingled sleigh bells.  In the morning it was as if only a moment had passed--they jumped out of bed excited to tell me they heard the boots and were "squired."  Of course, after the initial excitement of presents, they quickly adapted to American Christmas.  Saffron whined that her beautiful new doll did not come with any clothes.  After opening presents at our house, they whined that they only got two presents at Grandma's.  I guess they thought every house would be like Santa all over again.  Today Willa asked if he's coming again today.


“Whatcho Name?”  For, ‘What is that?  Who is that?’ or anything close.

“Mommy, me school yes?” Every morning, for, ‘When do I get to go to school?’

“Willa, Wah-gah-gwo-en?”  For, ‘Where are we going?’ ‘Where did it go?’ Playing hide and seek or peekaboo, or anything related.

“No moot movie, Mom.  Squiry!”  For, ‘I don’t want to watch a movie with dead people in it, Mom.  Too scary!’  This after going to see A Christmas Carol.  (‘Moot’ is ‘dead’ in Amharic)

“No!”  For, ‘no,’ ‘shouldn’t,’ ‘wouldn’t,’ ‘couldn’t,’ ‘won’t,’ ‘can’t,’ and just about every other negative.  And be careful about asking her “Why?”  If she’s just said No and you ask Why, you are then in trouble for something unknown, and caught in a never-ending loop of no’s and why’s. 

“Shut da door.”  For, ‘Button my pants,’ and everything else that relates to opening or closing, having or not having.

“Dad!  Shut da door Christmas.   Five!”  For, ‘Dad look!  There are five houses without Christmas lights.'  The ‘what a cryin’ shame’ was clearly heard in her tone.

“Daddy, sleep is coming Wheela.”  For, ‘Daddy, I’m tired.’

"Ay-a-lew!  Aya!"  For, 'Ayalew.'  Their Ethiopian father.  This is something they repeat a lot when they cry.  This gives me pretty mixed feelings, knowing how he treated them, and everything I'm trying to be for them here.  It makes me a little upset to hear them cry for him.  But it's only when they're really mad at me because they're in trouble, or I'm doing their hair.  And it's natural, of course.  But I'm human, and I don't love hearing it.

"Mommy, Meki Toukoul one play? Today? Please?"  For, 'Can we go and visit Ethiopia today, Mom?  Just to play once?  Please?'  Willa just asked me this right now.

There.  It may not be a photo, but it’s pretty cute nonetheless.

My Patience is Pickled

If Steve were to extol my many virtues, patience would not be one of them.  Let’s just say that when I get a bee in my bonnet I tend to run flailing off the path until I get it out.  The upside of this flaw is that I tend to get a lot done in life (in spurts), and devise new strategies to do so, as necessity (desperation) becomes the mother of my invention (work-around).  But then the downside of that upside is that I tend to measure my days too much by productivity and sometimes forget to enjoy more important things.  Another downside (picture a 3-dimensional ski slope where you ride the lift up one side, but can ski down all the others.  My impatience ratio is about 1:4 in upsides to downsides) is that I sometimes jump into the pot without careful planning and end up getting myself pickled.  Steve then is surprised to come home from work to a wife in a pickle, and has to drop everything and get me out.  Sometimes he’s saved by friends who find me first.

Some results of this tendency of mine:

1.  Downside:  When I was pregnant with Ruby, who was born at the end of August, we had just bought a house in Colorado.  It was one of the hottest Denver summers in recent memory, and we had no air conditioning.  Our bedroom, the only comfortable place to rest, was especially sweltering.  Steve and I had bought a ceiling fan but had not yet installed it.  One afternoon, in desperation and seven months pregnant, I decided to stand on the bed and install it myself.  It was heavy.  It was hard.  I was not in a position to climb up into the ceiling and anchor it, yet I had it partially installed and so could not leave it hanging.  I was dripping with sweat and exhausted by the time I was ready to give up.  Only problem was, I couldn’t get it down and couldn’t stand and hold it in place all day.  So, I lifted a small dresser and other various pieces of furniture onto the bed until I had a tower tall enough to reach the fan and support its weight.  When Steve got home, he discovered a Dr Suess-esque tower of furniture with a fan on top that had to be installed before he could sleep in his bed that night.  (You are probably reading this and wondering, ‘how does he put up with her?’  The answer?  I don’t know, but I think it’s that I let him buy that old convertible.)

2.  Upside:  I have learned that if you buy houses with wood floors and suddenly want to move very heavy furniture while you’re home alone, all you have to do is lift each corner and put a soft towel under it.  Then you can slide anything anywhere!  (If you do accidentally scratch the floor, then you know right where to put that new rug.)

3.  Downside:  Just over a year ago, a few days before Halloween, I decided I could no longer stand my mustard-yellow kitchen.  We were hosting a huge Halloween party, so I decided that would be my motivation to paint.  I spent the next few days trying every different color and finding nothing that worked.  I’ve painted every place we’ve ever lived in and never had a problem with color, but this one wasn't working.  Orange seemed to be the only good option because of a pre-existing backsplash, but I wasn’t sure if even I was brave enough for an orange kitchen.  By the day before Halloween, there were different colors of paint all over the wall.  In desperation, I called a designer friend of my mom’s for help.  She came down that evening and verified that, yes, orange was the only option besides white (boring), and chose the right shade of orange for us.  Steve and I then painted into the night, and I did a second coat Halloween morning.  My friend came over to help me take the tape off, and voila—we were ready for 100 people that night.  I was sorry I let my lack of patience become a crisis which Steve, my friend, and the designer had to bail me out of.  (But I really like my kitchen now.)

4.  Definite Downside:  In my impatience to leave for a party on Christmas Eve night, I was trying to hurry and catch up on stuff on my phone while I took a quick potty-break (you know, reading ‘ala commode’—thanks, bigbahamamama).  But the kids yelled at me and surprised me and I dropped the iphone in the toilet.  Can you believe it doesn’t work anymore??  Don’t they design it for such contingencies?  I mean, my sister dropped hers in the toilet at the U2 concert.  It seems to me this is a common problem for which Apple should have been prepared.  Sure, there’s a moisture button inside, but what good does it do?  The geniuses at the Genius Bar could only say, “Yep.  Moisture button is red.  It’s ruined.”  Good thing I still had my old iphone to fall back on.  It’s screen may be cracked from all those times I dropped it in my impatience, but at least it still works.  By the way, I have told Steve and the kids that the blame for the murder of my new (4-month-old) iphone falls squarely on their shoulders.  First, the Kids at the Bathroom Door with the Screaming.  Don’t yell at people during their potty break!  Second, the Husband in the Bathroom without the Magazine Rack.  I asked him to install it weeks ago, so I could set my phone (and magazines) on it during said potty breaks!  My dad, who is a lawyer (not a loiyer), says these arguments will likely not hold up in court.

5.  TBD:  In the past two months I have re-arranged the kids’ bedrooms three times—twice in the last 10 days, including just now.  Jasper had been complaining about having girls in his room all the time and we’d decided to move him into his own room after Christmas.  But then his bed broke.  I couldn’t stand it!  So, amidst a million other things I should have been doing on the day before Christmas Eve, I decided to move the bedrooms around.  I took apart all the beds, and moved Jasper into Saffron and Willa’s room, and moved their beds into the other room with Ruby.  Luckily, I got this one all done before Steve got home without getting into any pickles.  But a week later, Patient Steve was able to work his way through the furniture store’s hoops so we could return Jasper’s new-but-broken bed, and instead buy a bed with a trundle for the girls’ room so we don’t have to have three beds in there.  The bed is coming Saturday, so that would be the logical day to prepare the room.  I KNOW.  BUT, I didn’t like the idea that I was cleaning it up today only to have to move everything Saturday.  So, I just took apart the third bed and re-arranged the room again.  Steve, good thing you’re not reading this.

Hmm. . . . When I began this post, I had a point in mind to which these thoughts on impatience and its perils were only the preamble.  Alas, it’s gone from my mind.  Maybe it was just that Willa says her new bed on the floor that I just created after dismantling her old bed is “yucky.”  A year ago she’d never slept on anything but the floor.  But now, so American, she looks at me with disdain each time I re-arrange her “algabet” (bedroom).  But hey, she fell asleep anyway so I could write this profound preamble to a post.

This post is dedicated to my good neighbor, J, who died suddenly yesterday.  She had a great sense of humor and, though in her 70's, enough 'impatience' and pizzazz to call us right at midnight on New Year's Eve.  J, we'll miss you, your Christmas village, and your tomatoes.