Friday, September 7, 2012

Update and Pics

It's been so long since I've written I wouldn't be surprised if my readership has up and left. For anyone still around, thank you, and here's an update of the family.

Gosh how I wish summer wasn't over. Many joy-filled moments and time spent with family and special friends.

Love our time at the cabin...the kids could live here.

3 of my 4 kiddos got up on water skis.

Backyard zip line fun.

Pool time.

And what summer isn't complete without a few polly wogs that turn into frogs.

And two new additions to our family...

 We ended the summer with our Re-adoption hearing. Even though Meskie is already legally ours and came home as a citizen, we re-adopted in our state so that she could be issued a US birth certificate and have her name changed legally. Here are the kids outside the court house. 
And now we embark on a whole new chapter. I am constantly reminded of how fast time flies by and often find myself wishing it would slow down. My oldest started 2nd grade.

These two started 1/2 day kindergarten. It's hard to believe Meskie has just been home a year. She is ready and excited for school. They both are. So thankful they have each other...

And my sweet pea started preschool. Thank goodness it's only 3 afternoons a week.

I have found it more difficult to find the time to continue blogging. For anyone still reading, help me out with subjects you'd like to hear about or discuss. I don't want this simply to be a journal of our life...I want it to serve a purpose of sorts. So chime in. Anything you want to hear about?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

One Year Ago - "She is Yours"

A year ago we were sitting in a small waiting room full of people, awaiting our turn to enter the office of the Ethiopian Judge. My stomach was in knots. We knew that only about 50% of cases were approved at the first court hearing. The Ethiopian government agency responsible for writing letters of approval to the Judge had reduced their caseload to only a handful of letters per week (mainly as a result of taking more time to scrutinize/review each case). Would the approval letter be there for the Judge to approve our case? Would we be the lucky ones? I did my best to think positively but prepared for the worst. I knew we would eventually pass court. But if we didn't pass on the first court date, it would mean the difference between bringing our daughter home within 2 months, or bringing her home 4-6 months later.

We had just returned to Addis Ababa from our long trip from Southern Ethiopia to meet Meskie. She was our daughter, regardless of what a Judge had to say. Leaving her was the hardest thing we ever had to do. She remembered her younger sister and she didn't understand why she couldn't come home with us. She already called us mama and papa. She was already so loving. She was ours. My heart hurt to leave her. We had no choice.

And so there we were, waiting for our name to be called, wondering if we would be overjoyed or overcome with sadness.

Overjoyed we were.

Pictures of our first meeting with Meskie.

We only got to spend a few hours together.
In that short time we learned just how playful, loving, fun and sweet our little Meskie was.


"She is Yours"

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Finding Time

Some days I feel like I blink and the day is over. We are in full swing with kids' activities. Lots of juggling. And I don't think I even know the half of it yet with my kids still being fairly young. So thankful for grandparents who live close by and are willing to help. It's not uncommon to have 3 games/activities at the same time on the same day.

As much as I love watching their sports, dance, etc., I also love just having down time. Time to search for frogs and salamanders, climb trees, play a game of baseball in our cul-de-sac, draw roads with sidewalk chalk for the scooters, blow bubbles, paint rocks. My challenge as my kids gets older will be to create the down time for them.

Time to do nothing. Or do everything their heart desires. Time to sit still. Or run and jump and climb. Time to think. And time to look each other in the eye and talk about our day. Because on the days when I hardly have time to pee, my kids grow up too fast and I find myself wishing time would stand still.  

Friday, March 23, 2012

Two Years Ago...

Two years ago today we were matched with our daughter. Never could I have imagined the joy she’s brought to our lives. She shines a light on everything and everyone around her. There’s not a day that goes by we don’t thank our lucky stars we get to be her parents.  

Friday, March 16, 2012

At what age do we introduce the concept of racial injustices to our children?

Our children do not yet understand what it means to be black or white in the context of race or ethnicity let alone know about discrimination. And I’m good with that.  This does not mean we are teaching our kids to be color blind. On any given day you may hear these words from our kids: “I love my brown-skin,” “You are a peachy color mom,” “My sisters look a lot alike except they have a different skin color, Etta looks like chocolate and Meskie looks like caramel.” It’s about describing the color of skin. That’s it. Nothing more. No racial stereotypes. No identification to being black or white from an ethnicity standpoint. They are too young to get it.

So how do our kids learn to make either positive or negative associations to being “black” or “white”? How are they introduced to the concept of discrimination? They learn from parents, teachers, neighbors, friends, the media.   Here’s an example for you. My kindergartener comes home from school in tears. When I ask him what’s wrong he breaks down. They had taught about Martin Luther King in school. He asks me if I knew that MLK died because he was black. That he got shot and killed because he was black. He asked if Etta could get hurt one day because of the color of her skin. My heart was heavy. How do I explain this to my 5 year old son? We knew we needed to one day have the conversation about prejudice, injustices but so soon? This was too soon. Spencer was not mature enough to understand. I don’t believe a 5 year old is mature enough to have that conversation.
I share this because I believe as parents we play a huge role in ensuring our kids are taught the right messages about race and discrimination, at the right time. Taking the MLK example, there are so many positive messages to share with young kids about him as an incredible human being and what his life stood for. He was this amazing leader who brought people of all colors, ages, abilities together to make the world a better place. Instead of only teaching our kindergarteners from a biographical perspective (where our kids will only cling to the fact he was discriminated against and that he got shot), why don’t we focus on what he stood for and what we can learn from him?

I thought about next year with Blake and Meskie entering kindergarten. I think about what messages she may internalize if her teacher is teaching about MLK being discriminated against because he was black. She is proud of her brown skin. At age 5 do we really need to tell her that some people might treat her differently because of her brown skin? She is too young to understand discrimination.
So I decided it was an opportunity to open dialogue with the school’s Principal. We shared perspectives and had a great conversation. We came up with ideas on what guidance to give teachers, including taking the age of the student into consideration when deciding how to teach about MLK. One idea is to build context around time when describing events. When you say it happened a long time ago, that could be yesterday or last week to a 5 year old. But if you say it happened before your parents were even born, it helps to provide some context.
I’ve also decided I need to play a more active role in connecting with the teachers and having open dialogue about what is going to be taught so I can ensure I’m influencing what my kids take away from the learnings. All teachers and educators have the best of intentions. It’s really just about being thoughtful in how we teach about race or discrimination based on the age of the child.

Marguerite Wright, in” I’m Chocolate, You’re Vanilla” writes that children ages 5-7 can begin to make distinctions based on skin color, but that most are not able to identify their race/ethnicity. She says it isn’t until age 8-10 that children can accurately identify their ethnicity using terms like African American or Caucasian. So if our children are too young to even understand the concept of black and white in the context of race, then aren’t they too young to learn about racial discrimination?
Some of you reading this may think I’m in some way advocating raising kids to not notice color differences or ethnic differences. That’s not what I’m saying. I believe we are obligated to teach about our differences, to celebrate diversity. We do in our family. But we need to be mindful of what we’re teaching at what age. Children begin to notice skin color differences starting at age 2. So we should be talking about it then. But introducing the concept of a race and that people may judge you based on the color of your skin takes a more mature audience. We will be having those conversations with our children. I know it's just a matter of time before we need to explain to our girls they will be judged by the color of their skin. I just want to give our girls a little more time before they believe someone may consider them anything less than lovable because of the color of their skin.

Under the topic of celebrating our differences, here are some great books our family loves to read:

Lastly, my two cents on the term “race”: Race (how we classify humans) is about biology. But biologically, humans are 99% alike. Color doesn’t define someone’s biological identity or race. So there really isn’t a black race or a white race. We are essentially one human race. Ethnicity is the more accurate term to use since it reflects one’s ancestral background, culture, traditions, traits.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Sharing More About Adopting An Older Child

I’m often asked what it’s like to adopt an older child. There can be wide variances in family’s experiences. Each adoption is so different and based on many factors including your child’s background, what loss they’ve experienced, the amount of time spent in the orphanage, what your family dynamic is (e.g. siblings, birth order, etc.), how you attach/bond to your child, and the list goes on. In some cases, a child who has lived with their birth family for a while, has formed secure and loving attachments and then is adopted may have an easier time adjusting than a toddler or preschooler age because they understand what is happening. The best advice I can give if you’re considering older child adoption is to read books and talk to fellow adoptive parents about their experiences.

That is just what we did when we found out that Etta’s older sister had been relinquished. We had not planned to adopt again. One of those bigger than life things that comes your way. But despite the fact it was so unexpected, we couldn’t imagine not bringing her home. And while we were so excited for her join our family, we also set out to prepare ourselves to help make the transition as smooth as possible (I will say that no matter how well prepared you are, there will still be times when you just have to live in the moment, follow your gut, because nothing can really prepare you for everything). 

Overall, our adjustment with Meskie has gone incredibly well. I attribute a great deal of this to her personality (she’s a happy, loving, confident girl), her birth sister already being home (whom she remembered and was close to), as well as our family dynamic in general (brothers/family who also adored her). We love her and can’t imagine our lives without her.

It’s not always been smooth sailing, however. And I think it’s important fellow adoptive parents be transparent with their experience since adoption can sometimes be overly romanticized. So I will speak to some of the challenges we faced with her transitioning into our family. The issues were really more behavioral than anything else. We feel so fortunate she was so loving from the beginning....we weren't dealing with a child who wouldn’t look us in the eye, or didn’t want to hug us. My heart goes out to families dealing with a child who is struggling with attachment.

So here are some of the things we dealt with the first bit of time home:

·         Defiance. Clearly she experienced very few boundaries in Ethiopia. A few months ago, once she knew enough English (she came home not knowing any), she actually told me "Mama, in Ethiopia, no brushing hair, no shower, no brush teeth, no do this or that....just run and play." I get it. Of course she was going to balk at any boundaries. We made a point to really pick our battles, but we needed to establish some core boundaries and stay consistent with them

·         Tantrums. Especially when it came to transitions. We're talking major meltdowns because we finally made her come inside to eat after spending 6 hours outside. Or because she couldn't take her 5th bath of the day. Or at bedtime because she didn't want to stop playing. I believe language played a huge part as to why she would throw a fit. We couldn’t communicate well with each other and she would get frustrated. We had a difficult time explaining the why or preparing her for transitions. Her tantrums gradually went away as she understood the boundaries and the language barriers was gone

·         Eating. She would need to eat frequently and know she had food and water accessible to her at all times. So I would have healthy snacks she could eat any time. And whenever we went anywhere she had a little purse in which she carried snacks. This has pretty much gone away. She is the best eater ever (in terms of what she eats and the quantity) and she is secure in knowing there will always be enough food

·         “Shopping” for her needs. This is extremely common. She is a very social and friendly child and she would go around and want to be hugged or picked up by others she didn’t know. We had to limit this since it interfered with her bonding to us. She needed to know that we were her parents and we were going to meet her needs. This also gradually went away as she learned that we were her forever parents and would meet her needs

·         Grief. It’s difficult to prepare yourself for the level of grief your child will likely experience (and continue to experience at different times in their life). Most of these kids have gone through so much and as a parent, it hurts to see them hurting. But they are resilient. Meskie has grieved. We were so lucky that when she was sad, she would share openly with us. One of the benefits of adopting an older child is they are able to share about their experiences…the good the bad and the ugly. And you get to hold them, love them through it all. For Meskie, the moments of grief were often brief, intense, but then she was back to her happy self shortly after. It’s been a while since we’ve seen her grieving so she has worked through a lot already.

So what is life like now? Meskie is super happy, well-adjusted, well-behaved and rarely has a meltdown. It just took her some time to feel secure in the love we have for her; to learn this was her new home for good, and what the new norm looks like. She gets along so well with her brothers and sister and just fits right in personality wise. All of them are awesome playmates. And she and Etta have a special bond. To see the two of them together makes your heart happy. No jealousy, no bickering. And she is re-creating Etta’s memory by sharing all the stories of their life in Ethiopia.

We feel so fortunate we were given the opportunity to raise such a bright, caring, loving soul. We are all settled in as a family of six and this is how it was supposed to be. One of my favorite quotes that sums up this past year: “We must be willing to let go of the life we had planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” (Joseph Campbell)

Friday, January 27, 2012

Brothers and Sisters

Meskie has been home 6 months now. To sum up how our family has adjusted? We feel so lucky. Lucky that Meskie has attached to us, is loving, kind-hearted, and has a personality that fits right in with her siblings. She has gone through so much in her short little life...and is one strong cookie. I find myself reflecting on the role her brothers and sister have played in how well she's adjusted. It's a huge part of why she's doing so well.

I wasn't concerned about Etta's adjustment to/with Meskie....she has the most easy-going personality of any child I know. Not to mention the connection the two of them had as sisters in Ethiopia. Clearly that bond never went away despite the 1 1/2 years they were separated.

But I wasn't entirely sure how the boys would adjust to their sister, an almost 5 year old who came home needing the majority of mom and dad's attention. If Etta was going to be any indicator, they would love with an open heart. And they did. They love their newest sister to pieces. I could not have asked for more when it comes to my boys opening their arms to Meskie. They are such awesome brothers to her. And I believe the love Meskie feels from Etta, Spencer and Blake is a huge part of the reason why her transition to this family has gone so amazingly well. I could not feel more grateful.

Lucky we are.
(this photo gives you a glimpse into Meskie's spirit :-)