Monday, March 29, 2010

Musical Chairs

Seriously. I mean it. This time my title is not a joke--I'm really talking about musical chairs. On St. Patrick's Day, Saffron was very excited when I picked her up from school. She was carefully guarding one green cupcake which she said she was saving to be the prize in a wonderful new game she'd learned. She wanted her siblings to compete for the prize in this special mystery game. She wouldn't let them see the cupcake.

When we finally got time to play right before bedtime, the great mystery game she loved so much turned out to be musical chairs. I couldn't smother my giggle. Jasper raised an eyebrow and said he was "too tired to play," so Ruby and Willa played a total of one round around one bar stool. Ruby won (of course, since Willa didn't know what she was doing), and they split the cupcake. Saffron was as delighted as a game show host.

I guess you never know where there are still new discoveries to be made--or which ones will be the most exciting.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Best Disneyworld Family Photo

Don't they all look happy?!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

A Diversion to Delphi

You've got to visit my sister's blog, msscreensiren, and check out my favorite singing dog, Delphi, in the top left corner.

The best thing about Delphi's singing is how it came about, and how it continues. When Delphi was purchased as a puppy, Rachel was a struggling actor in New York who often practiced her singing for auditions. Delphi, feeling neglected while Rachel practiced, I think, began singing along, and competing with Rachel for volume.

Now, over a decade later, poor old Delphi MUST sing at least once a day--it seems necessary to her happiness and mental health. So, when we tend Delphi, my kids' favorite pastime is to have Delphi sing--several times a day. Delphi puts her paws on your chest when she wants to sing and then, when she finishes, kisses you all over like, "Ahh, yes! Thank you for scratching that itch." Delphi, we love you, babe. Sing for your supper!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Saffron and School

In all the busyness of the past couple of weeks, I neglected to write about a two big events in Saffron's life.

Saffron had a somewhat disturbing experience at school.

She had walked down to the first grade hall one morning to deliver a letter to Ruby. On her way back, she noticed some candy on the floor below the backpacks outside another first grade class. That class was having an Eat-a-Read-a-thon, and lots of kids had treats in their backpacks. Used to cleaning up, Saffron bent over, picked up the candy on the floor, and stood up to head to the nearest garbage can down the hall. Just then the teacher came out of her class and accused Saffron of stealing. Saffron tried to explain in her broken English that it was on the floor, so she was cleaning it up. All the teacher heard was floor, and she responded that she didn't care if it was on the floor--it was still not Saffron's, and she was still stealing.

She then walked Saffron up to her own class, told her teacher what happened, said they better tell Saffron's mom, and that they should inform me Saffron needed to be taught not to steal--all in front of Saffron.

A while later I had a feeling I should go over to the school and get Saffron for a minute. I found her on the playground, terrified that she was in "trouble." It's the first time I've ever heard her use that word. She was afraid I would be mad, and begged me not to tell Steve or anyone else. She was afraid she would be kicked out of school. I walked into the faculty room where Saffron's teacher was eating lunch, and asked her what happened. (Saffron loves her teacher.) She told me the story, defending the other teacher and telling me she (the teacher) had said it very nicely. I must admit, I was surprised she hadn't defended Saffron.

I wanted to say "I don't care if she said it nicely!! She was out of line and couldn't have been more insensitive!" What I did say very frankly was, "Well, this is a girl who was beaten at just the accusation of stealing in Ethiopia, more than once, so I can promise you she would NEVER steal." I couldn't find the other teacher, but wrote her a note telling her the same thing, that Saffron would never steal and had been beaten for even the accusation of it before, but that she was used to cleaning and did this automatically, and that Saffron was very upset and sorry about the encounter.

Saffron was afraid to go to school the next day. I let her stay home one day, but sent her back the second day. What was really upsetting to me about the whole thing was the shear insensitively and bias of it. This was the first experience we have ever had of the girls being treated "differently." I'm quite sure the teacher would not have handled the situation the same way if it had been another second grader. I felt she had jumped to a mental conclusion that Saffron would be more likely to eat off the floor than clean off the floor. Besides that, I'm surprised a teacher didn't take into account her knowledge of Saffron's recent adoption and poor English in making accusations. All of the teachers know Saffron's situation. It doesn't take much forethought to imagine how upsetting this might be to a child in a new school, and how gently it could have been handled by watching to make sure Saffron walked to the garbage, or taking the candy from her kindly to throw it away yourself. To assume she has no understanding of theft seems to me the least logical response. That's why it seems like a tainted response.

We got over the above experience just fine and it is not the reason for this second experience. But it did alert me to the fact that Saffron could benefit from more personal understanding at school.

Fast forward a week, and Willa's "energy" was driving me a bit crazy. I started to think I'd like to put her in more days of preschool. I toured one small Montessori private school that has pre-school to sixth grade. I was impressed with the small numbers, and the sort of non-grade-level approach that allowed each student to go at her own pace.

That night at homework I was trying to teach Saffron how to borrow a one in subtraction. Through our struggle I realized she didn't truly even understand the basic concept of subtraction. She can do it in life--give you three of her toys--but on paper she couldn't tell me whether or not you could take 9 away from 5. Between that and trying to teach her to read, and Jasper and Ruby feeling frustrated because they needed homework help, I was flooded with that familiar feeling of being overwhelmed. Suddenly, I thought of the new preschool. Rather than feeling like she wasted six hours at school to then come home and be taught by me, she could get one-on-one help and learn all day! I knew she loved her teacher and class, but could never get the kind of one-on-one time she needed in a public school. Our first goals had only been socialization and English. But now that those were well on their way, it seemed she was no longer benefitting from school.

This was a Wednesday. I talked to Steve that night, and we started Saffron in her new school the following Monday. She was scared, but so desperate to learn faster that she was willing to try it. So far the change seems to have been a great success. She is in a class of ten with only two teachers--she just walked in and I asked her how she's liking it. "It's good! I'm learning very a lot English, and reading, and minus, and take away," she says. She is one of the three oldest students in her (six- to nine-year-old) class, so she no longer has to feel behind all the time.

Because Steve just received a bonus we were going to use to pay off adoption debt, this is the only time we could have afforded this school (around $500/month:{). We were able to hold back some of the debt payment to set aside for school payments. (Needless to say, we are NOT enrollig Willa in the preschool right now.) I didn't realize how much stress I felt about Saffron's learning situation until we changed it. Hooray! I now have one extra place to drive every day, but one less major concern to carry. I'm SO SO grateful this all worked out.

Monday, March 22, 2010

ET(hiopia), Phone Home

I know, I know. I left you all hanging. It wasn't intentional. That phone call came in the middle of a very busy day, and when we finished I was both emotionally exhausted and overbooked. I had no time to write a real post, but wanted to document the event.

So here's the story. I apologize in advance that it will be long: I want the details recorded somewhere. This will be nice for Steve, too, who was at work through the whole event.

Saffron has always wanted to call her Ethiopian Dad, since her first or second week in America. When he took her and Willa to the orphanage, he had Saffron memorize his cell phone number, and also put it in her school work. He told her to call when they were with a family, and let him know they were OK. But Saffron couldn't remember all the digits, and the number in her school work was lost.

She didn't think about it much, until we had called Gaetcho, our driver and friend in Ethiopia, to say HI, in Ethiopia a couple of times. Once she realized it was really possible, she then wanted to call her dad again. We first tried calling her teacher at the orphanage, whose number we had. She kept saying call back and she would have the number, but she could never get it. Then we spent a few weeks trying different numbers Saffron thought she remembered off and on, and getting a few wrong numbers in Ethiopia.

A few more weeks went by, and then Saffron started asking to call her dad again. She mostly thought of it when she remembered Little Brother, and wanted to talk to him on the phone. So, about a month ago I called Gaetcho (in Addis Ababa) with a proposal.

"Gaetcho," I said. "We can't find Ethiopia Dad" (of course I gave Gaetcho his real name). "Would you be willing to journey to Meki and try to track him down for us? If you're willing, I'd happily send you some money via Western Union to cover your expenses."

I knew Gaetcho would probably do it for free, but it's a two-hour car journey each way, and an odd request--I would never feel comfortable asking a friend on Ethiopian wages to put out that kind of gas money just to be nice.

Gaetcho, who became quite attached to the girls and our family during our long adoption process in Addis Ababa, was happy to help. He said to give him a couple weeks, and call back.

About three and a half weeks later, I was feeling really guilty that I hadn't sent Gaetcho any money. So I sat down and transferred $75 online, and called Gaetcho to let him know it was there. It was the middle of the night in Addis, so it was no surprise that Gaetcho never answered the phone.

I think first thing Saturday morning Gaetcho must have discovered all those missed calls in the middle of the night, because he seems to have gotten up and headed for Meki immediately.

Saturday afternoon, as we delivered Girl Scout cookies (feels like that's ALL I did this week!), I got a missed call from Gaetcho's number. I immediately called him back (we use, for those of you looking for a way to call Ethiopia or back), and through a very bad connection I understood that Gaetcho had been to Meki.

Meki is a very small town with one or two shops, and a few streets of run-down 'houses'. It is bigger than a village--a collection of a few huts--in that it has a sort of "main" street, and a Tuesday market day. Still it's small, and Saffron has always believed everyone in Meki knew her dad. Saffron has told us that her family lives in the cemetery, where her father guards the grounds in exchange for shelter. But Gaetcho visited five different houses and could find no one who knew where to find Ethiopia Dad. He left his mobile number with three different people, and headed back to Addis. (Though they may be desperately poor, a huge number of Ethiopians in the countryside have cell phones. They are their lifeline.)

Saturday evening Gaetcho got a call from one of the three people who put him in touch with someone (it was unclear) who knew Ethiopia Dad. Shortly after, Gaetcho either called or was called by Ethiopia Dad.

"He was very happy, and thanked me over and over for finding him, "Gaetcho said. "I think he is a good person, Emily. I think he has changed his life." Gaetcho is quite loyal to us and, I would say, a pretty shrewd judge of character. He was quite upset in Addis when Saffron told him the stories of her dad's treatment, so I was glad but surprised to hear him say this. At one point I may have thought it would be threatening to have contact with a birthparent, and especially one who really loves the girls. But now that they are here, I feel quite the opposite. I am happy for them to get to speak to their dad, and happy if he loves them and regrets the way he treated them.

So, I got out the video camera to record the event, and we called Ethiopia Dad at the number Gaetcho gave us. He answered, and we had a clearer connection than we've ever had with Ethiopia.

Saffron said (in English), "Hello? I am Tinsae!" And Ethiopia Dad began to sob. He kept repeating, over and over, "Betam! Betam! Betam! Betam!" 'Betam' means 'very,' and is even used by itself to a very emphatic 'thank you.' He thanked God for protecting them, and me for taking them, and Tinsae for calling him, and seemingly everyone he could think of. The best word I can think of to describe his reaction is overcome. He was overcome. His love for his girls was obvious, and it is easy to see why they have continued to love him, despite knowing it was wrong for him to hit them. I think I may be the only one who struggles with how to feel about all this. To Saffron and Willa, it's clear. Even when I've probed over the past several months, neither girl has every doubted his love for her. He loves them, and they love him, but they never want to live with him again. They are glad he gave them up. Saffron loves constant reassurance that she will always be in our family--that she will never go back, except for a visit. In a way, they seem to view his behavior as out of character for him--as motivated by desperation, fear, and the Wicked Stepmother.

Ethiopia Dad speaks very little English, so it was slow going. After a few minutes Saffron was able to understand all of his Amharic, but still struggled to speak back to him in Amharic. He asked things like how close is their school, do they have new brothers and sisters and what are their names, and will they come visit someday. He said he had trouble remembering Saffron's face, and wanted us to write a letter and send photos. He gave us his PO BOX (not sure if we got it right). He told us he teaches a Bible study class at the church, and says a prayer for all of us at the church every day. He said Little Brother cries for his sisters. Even Wicked Stepmother got on and said hi briefly. That was awkward. Saffron asked over and over about Little Brother because she wanted to speak to him, but he could not be roused from sleep (we called again yesterday and spoke to him).

Through pain-staking repetition and questioning, we were finally able to learn the girls' birth dates. Ethiopia Dad knew them right off, which makes it all the more frustrating to think of what we've been through over the past few months to adjust to girls much older than we were told (and that their Ethiopian records still show!), and to try and "choose" the right ages and birth dates. In fact, we had just chosen October 12, the day Saffron met us, as her third and final birthdate, and were all feeling great about it. It makes me mad now that I know for sure that these birth dates were never unknown--they were known, and they were NOT what the paperwork reported, and someone clearly lied along the way. I'm just grateful that we had not yet finished court proceedings to change their birth dates. We still have time to fix them before court.

Because Ethiopia has a very different calendar than the Gregorian one we use in the Western world, we had to translate their birth dates into our calendar. The years he gave us were unclear and varied each time Saffron translated, so I don't know that he really remembers them. We didn't get a conclusive answer on year, which reassured me once and for all that we are best to proceed according to what age fits their development best. We are using a pediatrician, dentist, and child psychologist to help us determine that. This whole frustrating and emotional age/birthday saga has taught me one thing: the biological age of your skeleton matters a lot less than your emotional age when it comes to fitting in in the world. I guess I've come to see it more as the country Ethiopians do--I'm not sure why we place such importance on tracking a person's age.

Anyday, Ethiopia Dad was very clear and undeviating when it came to the days and months of the girls' birth. After translating from the Ethiopian calendar,

Saffron's birthday is April 19.

Willa's birthday is June 15.

I asked for a few more details about Ethiopia Mom's death. Ethiopia Dad said she had no flesh, and had cancer. The paperwork says TB. I asked if she had AIDS, and he said no. After a while of talking and translating, Saffron was tired and wanted to go jump on the tramp. Willa had already talked to Ethiopia Dad, and couldn't say much (because she can speak no Amharic anymore), so mostly giggled, and had the phone impatiently grabbed away by Saffron. Neither girl ever got emotional about the phone call. I was a bit surprised. I did make Saffron translate one more question for me.

"Why?" I asked. "Why did you take the girls to the orphanage?"

In broken English, he answered, "No food, no house, no money, no thing." He added something in Amharic which Saffron translated as "He have no strong here, inside," as she pointed to her heart. Saffron added that they had "no this, only this" and grabbed the flesh on her arm, and then the bone of her wrist.

And then she said good-bye, and ran outside to jump.

Yesterday we called again, briefly, to talk to Little Brother. They were finally able to rouse him from his sleep, and like his father he cried when he heard, "I am Tinsae!" I'm sure he'll probably wonder if it was a dream. He asked if he could come to America.

Though I am very happy the girls got to talk to their Ethiopian dad and brother, I don't think we'll call again for a long time. It would be too hard on the girls, and on Little Brother. Can you imagine that little boy being dragged into his sisters world in America over and over by phone? Not fair to him. I don't think the girls will mind. I think they got what they wanted, and Saffron fulfilled the responsibility she felt to let her dad know they are OK.

And now I'm as emotionally exhausted from writing this as I was after the phone call.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Willa, Minature Rosetta Stone

You can't let yourself cry about the fact that Saffron and Willa are
losing their Amharic. It is sad, but seems to be necessary to the
evolution of their English. Even Rundassa, who is a native Amharic
speaker, says his adopted Ethiopian kids can't speak a word of Amharic

So, we continue to quiz the girls on Amharic words in the hope that
they'll retain some Amharic neural pathways, or other such deeply
hidden Amharic vocabulary that will come out someday when they visit
their hypno-therapist to complain about me.

Otherwise, there's nothing to do but enjoy the miracle that is
children learning and adopting a new 'first' language, and laugh about
it along the way. With Willa around, this isn't hard to do.

Willa thinks she should quiz me about language the way I quiz her--the
only problem is, she no longer knows which way is up, down, Amharic or
English in her whirlwind new life.
So, she constantly says hilarious things. When she still used mostly
Amharic words, I would challenge her to use the English words by
saying, "in Englizania?" (The Amharic word for English.)

Therefore, Willa thinks the word for translating something is
"Banglizanya." So, she says things like:

"Mom, 'wait' Banglizanya?"

"'Wait' is 'koy' in Amharic," I answer.

"No!" she says. "'Wait' Banglizanya 'Just a minute.'"

And then,

"Mom, 'book' Banglizanya 'paper.'"

In other words, she thinks she's telling me the Amharic word for
'wait' is 'just a minute,' and the Amharic word for 'book' is
'paper.' Hearing such confused statments is hilarious, charming, and
insightful all at once. Certainly, these moments are telling about how
quickly Willa's grasp on her former life grows tenuous. As we knew, of
course, this happens much more quickly for her than Saffron. Saffron
can't remember much Amharic, but she is aware she's forgetting. That's
the difference.

Maybe it's just that I'm a word person by nature, but I find these
little languagisms some of the most intriguing developments of this
whole experience.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Lest I Let My Emotional Guard Down . . .

Today was a doozy. I haven't had a day this hard--this emotionally taxing--in weeks. Actually, I can't even say it was a day: it was only in the evening that things began to unravel. Just when I had begun to feel the routine fall into place, to watch everyone begin to feel at home with their new life, and my own anxieties subside, I was yanked back into the reality that four months is only the beginning of this journey. All four kids reminded me of that tonight.

At dinner, Jasper, out of the blue, popped the comment that maybe Saffron should go back to Ethiopia--in front of her. When I scolded him, he began to cry, which led us to send all the kids out of the room and have a half-hour talk with Jasper about his feelings, about why he still feels so negative about the situation. We made good headway, but it was important--and sobering--to be reminded that even if he doesn't act out anymore, he still needs a lot of time to feel good about his new life.

After Jasper, I started to comb Willa's hair before bed. Willa had, again today, begged all day to have her hair cut. Then tonight, even though it's shorter and was just washed yesterday and her scalp is getting much healthier (thanks to Dr. Ross's medicine), she still began sobbing immediately and continued to cry through every gentle tug, despite my frequent pauses for her respite. I reminded her, again, that if this crying at every combing, washing, braiding, etc., (we are supposed to comb it at least once a day) continued, we would need to cut her hair and wait until she's a little older and it's a little healthier to wear it long. She insisted she wanted to go ahead and do it, and I thought to myself, "I've discussed this with her every day for four months. She's only four, and doesn't have to have long hair if she just can't deal with it. Frankly, I can't handle this stress in our life anymore. Seems like a small thing for how much stress it creates for both of us in an already difficult situation." So, I cut it all off. I was then able to get to her scalp and clear the dead scabs. It's now about as short as Saffron's looks in the photo at the top of the blog. Actually, we all agree she looks adorable. But as soon as she saw the first big clumps, Willa began to sob uncontrollably, until she almost passed out. There was no consoling her. You may think any child would cry about a haircut, but I guarantee you you haven't seen the likes of this. It is clear, through endless comments about it made by the girls, that in Ethiopia they were taught to believe short hair is worthy of shame. That's why I didn't cut Willa's hair sooner. But we've got to recover her scalp's health, and my sanity. We've spent months trying to rebuild from the ground up the girls' understanding of beauty, and I think Willa will feel better about it in the morning.

After we got Willa cleaned up and in fresh pajamas, I could see that Saffron was not in a good place. I hugged her and asked how she felt about the haircut, or to tell me what was wrong. She then began to cry, and proceeded to tell me that she has confusing dreams where I am with her Ethiopia Mom in Ethiopia, and that she is afraid of me and Steve. She knows it isn't rational (not her exact word), that we love her, that we would never hurt her, etc., but she has fear in her tummy and in her hands every time something goes wrong and she thinks she'll get in trouble. She knows better, she says, but she just can't seem to get rid of the feeling. It's like she can't get Negat (the Wicked Stepmother), out of her mind, and it affects her reactions. This is all understandable to adoptive parents, of course, but it's still extremely discouraging to hear. So, I then had a half-hour conversation with her about memories, change, trauma, and the major difference between women in American culture vs. women in Ethiopian culture. Phew.

When I finally walked Willa and Saffron into their room at 10:00 PM to put them to bed, I discovered a very sad and dejected Ruby in her bed. She was hurt that I had called Saffron in to help with Willa's hair, not her. She was feeling good for and good at nothing, all over again. I did my best to kiss and comfort and reassure, but my heart sank to hear this final news, this issue that I naively thought was subsiding recur again. I can't put into words my love for little Ruby, and my heartbreak to think that she is again doubting her worth. Fortunately, she was too tired for a half-hour talk, and so accepted my kisses and settled in for sleep.

Ay Yi Yi. I feel that yucky, scared, overwhelmed feeling I haven't felt for many weeks. Why can't I seem to make each child feel loved enough? This is hard. At least, this time around, I know the feeling does go away, and things do get better. At least I've seen a glimpse of how good, how right this new family can feel.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Willa, Interrupted

Well, I promised to write the good AND the bad, and as I've been faithful about the bad, I'm compelled to record some good, too. The last little bit Saffron has been absolutely delightful. What an amazing girl! Last night she asked me if she could take me up on an old offer to make a video history. I turned on the camera and she proceeded to talk for half an hour about her life in Ethiopia. This will be GOLD to her some day. Right now she's telling me how her brother Wassie could run to the store faster than she could.

The funny thing is, we are all enjoying Saffron's cheerfulness except one: Willa. Today Willa said with a frown, "Mom, you said me everyday nice. Saffron everyday sad. Now, ahune, Saffron nice."

"Aren't you happy Saffron is happy? Don't you want her to be?" I asked.

"No!" she said.

And it's true. She isn't. The more even-keel Saffron gets the more uneven Willa gets. It's rather hilarious. I think Willa was thriving in her identity as the easy one, and now she's going to have to reinvent herself. Ahh . . . It never gets boring around here.

Jasper and Ruby: since you are reading this I must
be dead, and you must be reviewing my collected works for posthumous publication. For the record, I love you both desperately and am still caring for you and cherishing you everyday--even if you're not making the Blog News. Take it as a compliment. I'll make it up to you in the will.

Thursday, March 04, 2010


Yesterday Saffron was excited to be trusted with tending Willa alone
for the first time (in America, since those three years in Ethiopia,
of course). I had a lunch appointment, and Saffron had stayed home
from school.

She called me several times to give me an excited play-by-play, but
the best was when I came home to find they had barricaded the front
door with a cooler. Apparently, they found this more protective than
the boring deadbolt I had suggested.

This morning I finally succumbed to that nap I've needed for a week. I
turned a movie on for Willa in the room next to me. When I woke up her
movie had ended and she was hiding behind the couch in the other room.

"Boo!" she said as she jumped out. She was giggling, but she explained
that she had been hiding since her movie ended both because she wanted
to jump out at me, and because she was scared.
"Next time if you're scares just come in my room," I said.

You can take the girls out of the place where they had to preserve
themselves, but you can't take the preservation out of the girls.

Willa is just now eating lunch (well, a few bites when she can fit
them in to her busy schedule) while she plays an African drum, and
gives me a play-by-play of her thoughts. This includes:

-"This kitchen?" said while pointing at her meet. Chicken and Kitchen
are forever confused.

-A recount over and over of how she jumped out at me.

-Accusations of me "copping" (copying) Saffron because I dared to make
stew, which is very much like the Ethiopian wadt Saffron makes, minus
her three-alarm spices. "Mom you watch Toukoul cook and then you make.
Why you copy?" (Willa refers to Ethiopia as 'Toukoul,' the name of the

"Actually, this is America wadt and my mom made it when I was a
little girl."

"Oh! So you go Toukoul even you face no brown and then you grow big
and mama."

So apparently, if my mom ever cooked this then we must both have lived
in Ethiopia--even though our faces are not brown.

And . . . Back to the drum. You gotta love this stuff.

Emily Mabey Swensen

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Willa: A Day in the Life

"Mom, K'non door open mine window?"
(Can I roll down my window?)
-Willa, just now.

Have I mentioned that Willa is pretty much delighted all the time? All the time. As my mom says, thank goodness Saffron has given me a run for my money or this would all be too easy! Of course, Willa brought her surrogate mom/comfort zone with her, and she's too little to understand the magnitude of what she's been through, so it's easy to see why her transition is easier. But that's not all: the other half of it is that this girl naturally has the sunniest disposition I have ever seen. I'm not saying she doesn't also have a black belt in pouting-- she does. She just doesn't choose to pull it out very often.

Here are some typical daily Willa-isms:

1. Mom, look (she says 'look' constantly). Jasper ticklish me everyday!
(she looks at me like, 'what are we gonna do with that silly boy?')

2. Yes, today.
This is Willa's interpretation of 'yesterday' which can be used to refer to many various time periods.

3. Mom, look. My room clean big. Me small.
In other words, the mess of my clothes on my floor is just too big for me to clean. Oh well.

4. Mom, me everyday nice. Me everyday funny.
A self-rxplanitory example of Willa's confidence.

5. My dad hit. Look, my dad hit Willa. My dad nice, then wait, then no nice.
This to the neighbor, who--luckily--was smart enough to realize she was talking about Ethiopia Dad, not Steve. Willa's life is an open book, and we just go with it.

6. Dad, you said me pizza bread. Pizza finished!
No, Willa, I said have a piece of bread.
Ok. (She then rips a bite-size piece off a slice of bread and looks at Steve like 'This is a pretty lame snack, but whatever you say.'

7. Me ja-lock-it yes!!
Willa says this all the time, about everything she likes. This comes from my saying a sloppy, 'Willa, d'you like it?'
She especially likes to say this to try to win points when one of her siblings refuses to eat something. Willa eats everything.

8. Me I see no!
Don't look at me! Especially when she's waiting to jump out at me.

9. Ok. (zonk)
If Willa wakes up in the car and I tell her to go back to sleep, she's like a robot--she zonks obediently out right away.

10. Mom buckled yes?

Mom, is your seatbelt buckled?

Willa remembers a surprising amount, for her age, about when she first met us, and the first days in Addis. Especially since she didn't say a word or smile and seemed to be in shock, you would think it all might be a blur. She remembers that the necklaces we brought them with their
English initial were a gift from Dad, specifically (I thought this was just a casual touch I added as I handed them to them, so that the man behind the camera would get a little credit). She rememebers what she wore, and what clothes we gave them.

One thing she doesn't remember but I do distinctly, and we always laugh about it. When we sat at lunch at our guest home on that first day, Birhane (Willa) sat next to me. Because neither of the girls had uttered a word or showed any signs of trusting us with even a smile, I was shocked when Birhane suddenly tapped my leg and whispered a nearly inaudible word sounding something like "ka-ka.". "Umm," I said to our translator. "I think she needs something. It sounded like...kaka?" Oh yes, they told me. That means poop! So, Willa trusted me enough to tell me she needed to
poop. And this was her first word, we like to say.

This post is brought to you by the letter I, as in 'I,' an extremely useful word to master in English, but inconvenient for kids to learn because it sounds like 'eye.' Just yesterday Willa finally made the big stride of progressing from 'me hungry' to 'I am hungry.'