Tuesday, December 27, 2011

1st Christmas Through the Eyes of a 5 Year Old

One year ago today, we saw Meskie's face for the first time. We had known about her being in an orphanage for a couple months but had anxiously awaited the news that her paperwork was complete so we could officially begin the process to adopt her. It's hard to believe it's been a year. She's been home 5 months now and we really are in awe at how well she's adjusted. She is happy, loving, kind, smart, spirited. She takes life by the horns...seemingly not intimidated by anything. So it was no surprise she loved every second when it came to the holidays.

It's been pretty awesome to experience so many firsts with a child who is older. Christmas was pretty magical this year. Did Meskie celebrate Christmas in Ethiopia? She very likely celebrated Genna, Ethiopian Christmas which is celebrated in early January. Genna does not have Santa, nor Christmas trees, nor Christmas stories, nor gifts. So there were a lot of firsts this Christmas. And she loved every last one of them. Including Santa.

The other kids helped her understand what to expect. They filled in the gaps by telling her what's coming. And the build up was crazy this year. For some reason we got everything kicked off early, including the tree, seeing Santa, Christmas movies/shows, making cookies, and various festivities. She was excited about it all. So when we were finally down to single digits for our count down to Christmas, she could hardly contain herself...literally, she would jump into our arms and squeal saying Santa, Santa, Santa!

So what was it really like Christmas morning? Pure joy. By all.

The cool thing is that the kids were genuinely appreciative of what they got. Much to be thankful for this Christmas. 

Monday, December 5, 2011

A Special Bond

A sister is a little bit of childhood that can never be lost. ~Marion C. Garretty

I am so thankful for the bond these two share. It's that type of bond difficult to put into words...they are happy to just be together. It is such a rarity to hear any dissension between them. They laugh. They share. They hold each other up. They dance. They smile. They hug. They understand each other...even when they didn't speak the same language. They are playmates. They never tire of each other. 

They love their brothers dearly and they are all close with each other. But there is a special bond between these two which I believe is a result of their shared background, culture, experiences, trauma, looks, memories. I know there may be times when they don't always get along this well, but I believe they will always share a special bond. And I will never underestimate the power of that bond as they grow through life together.

I can't tell you how lucky I feel as Meskie has begun to share her childhood stories with us. To see Etta's face light up to hear of how Meskie would carry her on her back (at the ripe old age of 3). It was clear she looked after her little sister until she last saw her and has now resumed that role. She's helping complete Etta's story. I am so grateful.

I sometimes find myself in disbelief at what has transpired this past year. It was only one year ago that we thought our family of five was complete. But little did we know, there was a little girl just waiting for us to come bring her home too. Waiting to see her sister again. They have found each other and through that, have reclaimed some of their childhood....building more memories each day. Happiness.


Monday, November 28, 2011

Our Experience in Bringing Home an Older Child

When it comes to other adoptive families, I am most often asked about Meskie’s adjustment and what challenges we have faced since she was older when coming home to us. I believe every single situation is unique. Each child comes home with different experiences, different levels of trauma, and for older children, different expectations of what life is like in America. Each family is different too. Some parents have prepared themselves for challenges and expect the transition to be more challenging for an older child. Some families have children already in the home to help ease, or in some cases make more difficult, the transition. I say this because there are so many dynamics and variables that impact how the adjustment home will go. And I think much of it is outside our control as parents. We’re all just doing the best we can to support our kids.

In our case, Meskie has adjusted amazingly well.  That's not to say there haven't been challenges.....but Meskie’s personality has helped tremendously in her transition, as well as our bonding with her. She is a very happy child. She is also very loving and affectionate. She is outgoing and strong-willed. At times this has made the transition more challenging, but oh am I so glad for it. It’s her confidence and that strong-willed personality which has gotten her so far and will serve her well throughout her life. Overall, I really do marvel at how well she has adjusted…..we have bonded with each other, we love her, and our life together feels blessed. But it’s been a journey. When I reflect back on even that first month home as compared to now (4 months home), the change is significant.

When Meskie first came home, language was the biggest challenge. We had learned some of her language, but it was not one we could easily learn. She knew just a little Amharic so we were limited in what we or our Ethiopian friends could communicate with her. She knew only a handful of English words. When Ryan spent a couple weeks with her in Addis waiting for the Embassy appointment, they each learned some words to communicate basic needs.  But it was very limited. I truly can’t imagine coming to a new life, where your whole world has been turned upside in every aspect, and you can’t communicate well with those around you. I know some of the meltdowns we experienced during the first month home was directly related to her feeling frustrated with not being able to communicate her feelings, wants, needs, etc. Overall though, she was really great at finding a way to communicate with us. She mimicked and acted like crazy (and still does). 
I believe the other main reason she would have multiple meltdowns that first month or so home was due to us setting some boundaries.  I had heard this from others, as well as my Ethiopian friends, and it was true…most young Ethiopian children have not been faced with boundaries in their life. They are free to go off and play and essentially do their own thing, what they want, when, etc.  This was apparent to us very quickly. So things like not wanting to come in from playing outside all day (she would run away laughing). Or not wanting to go to bed at night. She basically wanted the freedom to do what she wanted. And of course everything was so new and exciting so it was hard for her to transition to anything else. We were mindful of what boundaries we chose. So we had to explain to the other kids that during this transition, there may be things Meskie was allowed to do that they were not. And this was only because she was learning how to live with us, etc.  Thankfully they seemed to get it.

As time went on, things would gradually get easier and easier. She seemed to accept and trust what it was like to be a part of the family…that if she was asked to come inside, she’d get to go out again later. Or if I didn’t let her take her 5h bath of the day, she’d get another one tomorrow. Or if we made her go to bed at night, she’d wake up and get to do all the fun stuff she wanted to again. It was important for us to maintain some structure, be clear on expectations, and be consistent. And most of all, we tried to always come from a place of love with her so she learned to feel secure.

I also think our other kids were huge in helping her adjust to her new life. They adored her from the beginning and were really caretakers of her. Etta in particular has had an enormously positive influence in terms of how well Meskie has adjusted. Meskie had been waiting for so long to be reunited with her. And to come home to her sister, who she always loved so much, a sister who was settled in her life here, and was happy… who adored her too and was so happy to have her older sister home with her. They are so good together. That's a whole other post for a later time....
One thing I had tried to prepare for, but it's still difficult, is the grieving your child will no doubt experience. And babies grieve to. But it is very different to support a child through their grief when they are conscious of their feelings and can communcate with you. And we have been lucky because she feels secure enough to share openly about her feelings.

So here we are just 4 months home and I count my lucky stars every day. Meskie is happy and seems to love us as her family. Her English language is really amazing….she is speaking in full sentences and it’s rare that we don’ t understand what she says. And she understands the vast majority of what we say. I never imagined we could communicate so well with each other in such a short timeframe.
Her behavioral meltdowns are now far and few between and usually short-lived. In fact, I don’t think they are really any different than what we might see from our other 5 year old. She is awesome at communicating her wants and needs. She seems to just fit right into our family dynamic. She is not the least bit timid…tries everything. Has very, very few inhibitions and just seems to take life by the horns. She is one special girl.

So for those of you waiting to bring home your older child, or thinking about adopting an older child, look at the adjustment as a journey. A journey that may be easier and shorter for some or a longer journey that may test you to the core. But you are on the journey together and you will get through it together.
A little over a year ago I thought our family was complete. And then we learned of Meskie. And now we can’t imagine our lives without her.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

How Can He Be 5?

I'm am so conscious these days about how fast time seems to fly by. How is Blake already five? Amidst the chaos, I find myself willing time to slow down.

Our Blake is full of passion.
Loving. Nurturing. Smart. Funny. Handsome. Kind-hearted. Intense. Determined.

Anyone who knows him understands why a visit from the Reptile Man was the perfect Birthday for him. Happy Birthday sweet boy. We love you beyond words.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Your Questions

Thanks to everyone who posted on my blog or Facebook about continuing my blog. I will definitely keep it going but struggle sometimes with finding topics to post. So I'm asking you...what do you want to know? Any specific questions about transition or adjustment? The Wait? The current challengs facing adoptions in Ethiopia? Only a few things are off-limits so tell me what you want to know and I'll give you straight answers. Promise.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Happy 3rd Birthday Sweet Girl!

I can't believe Etta is 3. She's growing up too fast for me. I reflect back on when we brought her home and can't believe how much she's changed. She's been home almost 18 months and it feels like she's always been a part of our family. I struggle to find the words to describe my love for her. I count my blessings every day that I get to be her mom. She is a shining star to everyone who meets her.

Beautiful. Smart. Loving. Caring. Funny. Fun. This girl truly sparkles.

Happy Birthday to a daughter who makes life sweeter. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Wanting to Hear From You

Sorry it's been so long since I posted. Life certainly has become more busy since bringing Meskie home, now that we have 4 kids between ages 3 and 6. I started this blog as a journaling of our adoption journey. It was a way to keep others informed, and I love the thought  of our kids having it as a resource to reflect on this time in our lives. But I struggle with finding the time to blog. I feel like the only way I'll feel motivated to regularly blog is if it might serve a larger purpose. And that's where I want to hear from you. If I stopped blogging tomorrow, would you miss it? I ask this not looking for support because you think that's what I want to hear. I'm honestly looking to find out whether this blog has inspired you, touched you, connected with you, or caused you to look deeper into adoption (good or bad).

I don't plan to stop blogging altogether. But if I continue to dedicate time to this blog, I want it to be meaningful to you. What are you interested in hearing about? Are there things that I can share about our journey that will help in yours? I also struggle with having such personal information so public so have considered whether to make it private.

As for a quick update on life as a family of 6, I really do thank my lucky stars every day. I look at these two girls who have been through more than we could ever imagine and feel so lucky we get to raise them. The joyfulness shines through them. Meskie has been home almost 3 months now and has adjusted beautifully. And believe me, that's not to say there haven't been any challenges, but there is love, affection, happiness, and a peacefulness that we're all together.

We can't imagine our lives without her. And yet there have been so many what-if's, the last being if we hadn't passed court when we did, realizing the possibility that we may have never been able to re-unite these two sisters (due to the instability of the Ethiopia program right now). I think of my friends who are still in limbo on whether the children they love and hold in their hearts will ever come home to them (I believe they will).

And so we are thankful. We are thankful for our 4 kids who totally dig each other. Yeah...definitely counting our blessings.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

2 months home - 5 years old!

It's pretty awesome to reflect on Meskie's adjustment in the last two months. We are lucky. It's not been without challenges (to be expected), but she's happy and incredibly loving and seems to feel much more secure about everything. We are all settling in to life as a family of six.

Happy Birthday to our sweet M. You are loving, smart, determined, playful and oh so loved.

Our family is finally complete.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Guest Blogger - Ask5for5

Guest Blogger: Sarah Lenssen from #Ask5for5
Family photos by Mike Fiechtner Photography

Thank you Cami and nearly 150 other bloggers from around the world for allowing me to share a story with you today, during Social Media Week.

A hungry child in East Africa can't wait. Her hunger consumes her while we decide if we'll respond and save her life. In Somalia, children are stumbling along for days, even weeks, on dangerous roads and with empty stomachs in search of food and water. Their crops failed for the third year in a row. All their animals died. They lost everything. Thousands are dying along the road before they find help in refugee camps. 

At my house, when my three children are hungry, they wait minutes for food, maybe an hour if dinner is approaching. Children affected by the food crisis in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia aren't so lucky. Did you know that the worst drought in 60 years is ravaging whole countries right now, as you read this? Famine, a term not used lightly, has been declared in Somalia. This is the world's first famine in 20 years.12.4 million people are in need of emergency assistance and over 29,000 children have died in the last three months alone. A child is dying every 5 minutes. It it estimated that 750,000 people could die before this famine is over. Take a moment and let that settle in.

The media plays a major role in disasters. They have the power to draw the attention of society to respond--or not. Unfortunately, this horrific disaster has become merely a footnote in most national media outlets. News of the U.S. national debt squabble and the latest celebrity's baby bump dominate headlines. That is why I am thrilled that nearly 150 bloggers from all over the world are joining together today to use the power of social media to make their own headlines; to share the urgent need of the almost forgotten with their blog readers. Humans have the capacity to care deeply for those who are suffering, but in a situation like this when the numbers are too huge to grasp and the people so far away, we often feel like the little we can do will be a drop in the ocean, and don't do anything at all.

When news of the famine first hit the news in late July, I selfishly avoided it. I didn't want to read about it or hear about it because I knew I would feel overwhelmed and uncomfortable. I wanted to protect myself. I knew I would need to do something if I knew what was really happening. You see, this food crisis is personal. I have a 4-year-old son and a 1 yr-old daughter who were adopted from Ethiopia and born in regions now affected by the drought. If my children still lived in their home villages, they would be two of the 12.4 million. My children: extremely hungry and malnourished? Gulp. I think any one of us would do anything we could for our hungry child. But would you do something for another mother's hungry child?

My friend and World Vision staffer, Jon Warren, was recently in Dadaab Refugee Camp in Kenya--the largest refugee camp in the world with over 400,000 people. He told me the story of Isnino Siyat, 22, a mother who walked for 10 days and nights with her husband, 1 yr-old-baby, Suleiman, and 4 yr.-old son Adan Hussein, fleeing the drought in Somalia. When she arrived at Dadaab, she built the family a shelter with borrowed materials while carrying her baby on her back. Even her dress is borrowed. As she sat in the shelter on her second night in camp she told Jon, "I left because of hunger. It is a very horrible drought which finished both our livestock and our farm." The family lost their 5 cows and 10 goats one by one over 3 months, as grazing lands dried up. "We don't have enough food now...our food is finished. I am really worried about the future of my children and myself if the situation continues."

Will you help a child like Baby Suleiman? Ask5for5 is a dream built upon the belief that you will.

That something I knew I would need to do became a campaign called #Ask5for5 to raise awareness and funds for famine and drought victims. The concept is simple, give $5 and ask five of your friends to give $5, and then they each ask five of their friends to give $5 and so on--in nine generations of 5x5x5...we could raise $2.4 Million! In one month, over 750 people have donated over $25,000! I set up a fundraiser at See Your Impact and 100% of the funds will go to World Vision, an organization that has been fighting hunger in the Horn of Africa for decades and will continue long after this famine has ended. Donations can multiply up to 5 times in impact by government grants to help provide emergency food, clean water, agricultural support, healthcare, and other vital assistance to children and families suffering in the Horn.

I need you to help me save lives. It's so so simple; here's what you need to do:

  1. Donate $5 or more on this page (http://seeyourimpact.org/members/ask5for5)
  2. Send an email to your friends and ask them to join us.
  3. Share #Ask5for5 on Facebook and Twitter!
I'm looking for another 100 bloggers to share this post on their blogs throughout Social Media Week. Email me at ask5for5@gmail.com if you're interested in participating this week.

A hungry child doesn't wait. She doesn't wait for us to finish the other things on our to-do list, or get to it next month when we might have a little more money to give. She doesn't wait for us to decide if she's important enough to deserve a response. She will only wait as long as her weakened little body will hold on...please respond now and help save her life. Ask 5 for 5.

Thank you on behalf of all of those who will be helped--you are saving lives and changing history.

p.s. Please don't move on to the next website before you donate and email your friends right now. It only takes 5 minutes and just $5, and if you're life is busy like mine, you probably won't get back to it later. Let's not be a generation that ignores hundreds of thousands of starving people, instead let's leave a legacy of compassion. You have the opportunity to save a life today!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Off to School We Go!

Thank you faithful readers for staying tuned even though I haven't blogged in a while. Just getting settled into life as a family of six. Can't believe summer vacation is over. Spencer is in 1st grade now and while I'm excited for him in so many ways, I find myself missing him when he's gone all day.
The "twins" are in preschool 3 days/week for a few hours. Meskerem is enjoying school and it certainly has helped that her brother is right there with her. Preschool is on a farm so what's not to love?

And just so Etta wouldn't miss her posse too much on their first day back to school, mama took her to get her nails done (I know...starting way too soon but she was on cloud nine!).

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Together...We Can Save Lives

At least 300,000 children are at risk of dying in the Horn of Africa. Our girls were born in the area affected by the extreme drought. If you've not yet become involved, I have the perfect thing. Ask5for5. Donate $5 and ask 5 of your friends to do the same. My dear friend, Sarah, started it and it's already raised over $20,000 with 100% of the proceeds going directly to World Vision's efforts in the impacted areas. Read more about this cause here.

Please consider making a donation and then spreading the word. Together, we really can save lives.

Monday, August 29, 2011

One month home!

It's crazy to think Meskie has been home a month already. It's amazing how much has happened in that time. She continues to be really happy, loving, affectionate. Feeling lucky with how well bonding and attachment is going. The melt downs are far and few between now. I think she just feels much more secure. And then the verbal communication has gotten so much better. We had learned some key words in her native language but it still was difficult explaining situations to her. And she didn't know any english. She is understanding (and speaking) more and more english each day.

She's already experienced so much since coming home. And she seems to love every minute of adventure. She's a go-getter and fits right in with her brothers and sister. This is the most cliche-sounding thing, but it really was all meant to be. I know that without a doubt.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Ask 5 for 5 - You Can Make A Difference

guest blogger: Sarah Lenssen from Ask5for5
photos courtesy of Cate Turton / Dept. for International Development

First, thanks to Cami for allowing me to post on her blog today! Today, more than 25 bloggers, including this one, are standing with me to Ask 5 for 5 for Africa. Here's why....

I began pursuing a BIG dream two weeks ago. After deciding I could no longer avoid the news about the famine in the horn of Africa, I had that gut feeling that I couldn't sit this one out. I HAD to do something because I could. Something bigger than I could do alone. That's when #Ask5for5 was born.

A malnourished child in an MSF treatment tent in Dolo Ado

Two of my children, Ashen and Bereket, were adopted and are from the region affected by the drought in Ethiopia. They would be two of the statistics if they still lived there. I see my son’s and daughter’s faces in the photos of those suffering in the refugee camps. It could have been him. It could have been her. The thought haunts me.

And moms just like us are watching their children go hungry day after day. I can't imagine what it's like, but I have to –I have to be there to help them, because it could have been my children. These families have lost their livestock, their crops, food prices are inflated at the market if there any food there, and don’t have any more lifelines to tap into. Many are traveling hundreds of miles through parched land in hope of finding help. Many are dying along the way. It is estimated that 29,000 children have died in the last 90 days in the famine in Somalia alone.

Malnourished children, weakened by hunger

But I KNOW we can do something about it. Instead of feeling overwhelmed and paralyzed, we can rally ourselves and our friends to respond! I set up a fundraiser through See Your Impact. 100% of your gift will go to the relief and development organization World Vision, where it will be combined with government grants to multiply up to 5 times in impact!

You’ll receive updates on just how your funding is being used to help save lives affected by famine in East Africa. I'm amazed at how much we've raised already -- over $7,000 in just four days! We blew through our first 3 goals in just 3 days and are well on our way to $10,000 and beyond!

I need you to help me save lives. It's so so simple; here's what you need to do:
  1. Donate $5 or more on this page (http://seeyourimpact.org/members/ask5for5)
  2. Send an email to your friends and ask them to join us.
  3. Share Ask5for5 on Facebook and Twitter, and join our page to stay updated too!
I'm also looking for 100 bloggers to stand with Ask5for5 to spread the word during Social Media week, September 19th - 23rd. If you're interested, email me, ask5for5@gmail.com.

Extra food for every child under five

Monday, August 15, 2011

A Bright Soul

I can't believe Meskie has already been home a couple weeks. We are settling into life as a family of six. Meskerem is happy. affectionate. loving. She shines just like her sister. Bonding and attachment is going great. We all love her so much. People often ask how the adjustment is going with bringing home an older child. We feel really lucky with how well it's been going. That's not to say there haven't been any behavioral challenges. She's 4 1/2, been through more than we can imagine in her short life, not to mention the language barrier. It's also clear she hadn't experienced many boundaries. I tell people it has been a bit like having a strong-willed toddler in the house. Testing to see how we'll respond. All to be expected.

And it's amazing the difference even two weeks makes. Far fewer tantrums and testing (she's able to communicate and we're able to understand basic needs) and we're falling into a routine. She seems to feel secure. My Ethiopian friends are able to communicate well with her and she understands this is her home, that she will not change homes again, and that we love her very much. She says she is happy here.

As for the kids...so far everyone seems to still be in the honeymoon phase. Adoring her. I know it's only a matter of time before sibling rivalry will kick in but for now I'll soak this in.

And as for Etta and Meskie, they are two peas in a pod. Loving life together.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Reunion

As Etta says, "My Meskerem's home." Yes she is babe. It's difficult to put into words the last few days since Meskerem arrived home. We waited so long for this day. There were times when I wondered if it would really happen. Would we be able to reunite Meskerem with her younger sister. Would we really bring home the daughter we've been longing for since the day we saw her sweet face. Would we be able to show her that she has two brothers who adore her already even though they've not yet met her. Would we be able to show her that despite her heartache, she has a whole family waiting to love all over her.

We made it. Our wait is over. We are happy. She is happy. That's not to say there won't be challenges. But we are a family. Meskerem is home forever.


First time riding a tricycle..didn't take her long!
(*update...a couple hours after posting this she rode a bike!)

Driving the jeep.

Hanging with her siblings.

Eating ice cream for the first time...not a fan.

Brothers capitalizing that she's not a fan.

She decided to follow Dad's suggestion and smash it in their face! :-)
Loves the slip 'n slide. Loves water period.

These two have a bond that won't be broken.
We could not feel more blessed to be able to raise them together.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Coming Home! Introducing...

Meet our daughter, Meskerem.

Her daddy is bringing her home as I type this. We are so happy. Those of you who know me know I'm not one to gush, but I'll say it - I love my husband so much. He's an amazing dad and amazing husband (how cool is it that your daughter is coming home on your wedding anniversary?).

It should be one great reunion with her sister. Our family is complete.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Chatting with Sister

A lot of "I love you's" and "See you soon's" by all. Counting down the days...