Saturday, April 10, 2010

The 'Normal' That Never Came

Hello to all my faithful readers, all 5 of you! I thought it might be time to post another update if anything else, to let folks know that we are still alive : )

We passed our one year mark in January and there's good and bad that comes with that. On one hand, I'm so thankful that I've become a turbo-mommy-machine in this past year. Life forces you to change sometimes, in some really good ways. I remember back in April of last year when my last meal was delivered to me and I remember thinking, 'how in the world am I going to do this on my own?' The madness of mountains of laundry, the volume of groceries etc. But now I do all of these things without really even thinking how much harder it is. As I told someone at the grocery store the other day (a notorious peanut gallery of commenting about my family always ensues there) that you really can get used to anything.

So on a practical level, I've go this down. The hard part.... the sad part.... is that we are so often discouraged and even depressed about the way attachment has progressed. You have to think that the way the adoption classes prepare you to attach to just ONE child means that trying to attach to four, all at once, is going to be tricky to say the least. I can say without a doubt that attaching to the twins (adopted at 9 months old) has been a completely different experience than with the older kids. I assumed it would be but didn't realize how profoundly distinct the experience would be. I love all four of them but it's not the same. I think we had thought that time, especially a whole year, would really bond us together with these kids. We know them-- their habits, their likes/dislikes, insecurities, sin issues etc. But I am astonished some days, and then depressed over it, when I recognize how easily I am annoyed or angered by them, in a way that is different than my biological children. I want it so badly to be the same and to treat them justly, but I don't and sometimes it scares me to see how I think I'm becoming numb to it- 'oh well, that's just who he is and that thing he does is always going to bug me.' I think my biggest fear is that I'll give up trying to make it better.

This post was not meant to be so introspective but after talking with other adoptive moms over the past year, I am amazed at the silence I see regarding these hard, overwhelming issues - no one is talking about them. Maybe they're afraid people will think they're awful parents, maybe I would have thought that too had I not adopted and walked this road myself. But I think it's helpful to say, 'you know, this really stinks. (!) This is really hard and some days I don't believe it will ever be what it should be.'

The good news is I have a few friends who are much further down the road than I and they testify that God DOES bring new life and growth in your relationship with your adopted kids. But that it takes more time than we might have expected or hoped for. So for today, I remember that 'He who began a good work in me, WILL carry it on to completion'. I'm counting on it : )

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Summer updates

Hard Decisions and Update

I'm not sure anyone will read this ; ), but for the two people out there who still occasionally check my blog, this is for you!

We have been home 7 months now and some things are routine and simple at this point, others are still very hard. Speaking English has come along really well and both G__ and L___ understand most daily conversations and are communicating pretty well on their own. They have become very close with their new siblings and although we have daily sibling conflicts, they have very healthy attachments to each other. (In fact, H__ was devastated when the school --see below-- would not allow G___ to be in his first grade class with him and sit next to him! It was a beautiful moment to see as a parent.)

This month presented a new dilemma, one I had not anticipated, really. As the twins have grown and developed all kinds of new skills (like walking and opening doors and exploring unauthorized places) I am overwhelmed all over again with daily life. I attempted to homeschool the older four kids a few weeks back, just to test-drive our new situation and see what kind of planning I would need to do. It was a good wake-up call as I quickly realized I was in WAY over my head. I guess a combination of the baby chaos, L___ and G___ needing high amounts of individual attention from me and Henry being first grade, also still needing one-on-one attention. And then having S___ starting 5th grade with so much more intensity applied to new subjects.... after one day, I was in a panic. I realized that if there is a mom out there that can homeschool these kids under these circumstances, it was not going to be me.

In January I had waitlisted H___ and L___ at a local classical charter school as a sort of back-up plan, should this situation come up. I called them the day before school started and asked if they could fit G___ into their first grade and much to my astonishment, a spot opened up. I felt like this was confirmation that all three should attend school for this year. So here is a picture of their first day of school. H___ and G___ attend first grade while L___ does morning kindergarten. I'm still homeschooling S___ with the babies underfoot but we have found so far that it is a good arrangement for now. I do hope to bring them all back home again next Fall to homeschool, after they have each grown and become a bit more independent. But for now, this is the 'new normal'.

I have always been told that you have to hold on to convictions like homeschooling with a gentle grip. I think until now, I had always had the opinion that no matter what our life situation, I would find a way to make homeschooling happen for our kids. But this adoption has forged a lot of new frontiers for me, in some really good ways, and my horizons are broadening. I am seeing now that God can lead you down unfamiliar paths sometimes but as long as you continue to listen to and respond to His leading, He will bless you and be in the midst of what you're doing at that moment. That is my prayer for this year, that He would go before these 3 little ones at school and use this time to bond us into closer attachments with our adopted kids and mature and grow S___ and H___ through these new experiences.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Tigist and Mebratu's 'Abetee'

While we were in Ethiopia to pick up our children, we stayed in a guest house with a few other adoptive American families. One of those families was also with our agency and was adopting a son who was from the same village as our children. When we picked up our kids from the foster care center and brought them back to the guest house, it was immediately apparent that these three were buddies, or, 'abetees'.

For the next few days, they played non-stop and constantly chattered in their native Wolaitian language. This was actually one of several graces that God planted in our life during that nightmarish week. Tigist and Mebratu were very good anyway, but to have a close friend to pal around with initially was quite a treat for them and quite a relief for us so we could focus on one sick baby.

We also flew on the same flight home to the U.S. together and then parted ways at Dulles (D.C.) airport when they went on to the Northwest and we flew home. It was a tearful moment to see these sweet children part, one more time, from their last link to 'home' and their former life, which they had almost completely left behind, save for the memories in their little heads. Strangely, the kids did not cry, just their new families. My hunch is that this one last breaking from their past was small compared to the other losses they had already grieved (and still are grieving). I don't know - emotionally, I still haven't figured my kids out and probably never will, but that's another post.

I recently contacted their 'Abetee's' mom and we arranged a phone call for the kids to chat and catch up. Tigist and Mebratu were quite delighted at the thought of getting to talk with him over the phone. They spent all of last night's dinner practicing and thinking about what they were going to say. (which my other kids turned into a silly session of thinking of all the wacky things they could tell Abetee about their new life with us... and the conversation went south from there).

Today the phone call came and I ran outside to pull the kids in to talk to Abettee. It was a little different than we expected. In the first 30 seconds, I think we heard some Wolaitian phrases tossed back and forth ( it was hard to tell because Mebratu kept screaming in his high-pitched little voice 'ABETEE!!!') He was in shock, I think that you could hear a familiar voice come out of that black thing that hangs on the wall (I don't think he's ever used a phone before) Then, I got down close to Tigist and listened, urging her to use 'words', and talk to Abettee with their 'Wolaitia words'. What happened next was so fascinating and at the same time, it made me sad. She looked at me and seemed confused at first. Then, I think she got what I was saying, that she could have a conversation with Abetee in her native tongue. She looked up at the ceiling like she was thinking very hard and then she looked a bit uncomfortable and confused at the same time. Her mind was grasping for Wolaitian words.... but they were gone. After only 9 weeks in the U.S., her native language has almost disappeared. I had assumed she would/could speak it now, if just given an opportunity.

But this experience today confirms what other adoptive families have told us. They lose their native language quickly. Not to say that they are talking up a storm in English. Quite the opposite. I have actually been frustrated with the 'wall' we've hit lately in her English. (Not so much with Mebratu who speaks much more English than she does.) I think that with Tigist being older (almost 8), she has entered the silent phase. She has no language right now. She is continuing to absorb English but does not speak it.

I know this is true because she and Sophie and I were listening to 'Adventures in Odyssey' tonight and she busted out laughing at the kid who wrote the poem about 'loving pants'. She got it! So, I think she does hear so much more than she speaks.

And so it was a bitter sweet kind of day. I see the Ethiopian identity of my children fading fast. I'm happy and excited for them to come into their own here, as Americans-- because that is what they are now. And I know that the new identity as Americans and as our children is ultimately going to bring them happiness. But at the same time, I am grieving for them. That so much has been lost and that the old Tigist and Mebratu that spoke a remote tribal dialect of southern Ethiopian, are leaving us for good.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Six Weeks Home

It is hard to believe it has been 6 weeks today that we arrived home from Ethiopia. In some ways it feels like a few years (!) but in other ways, it could have been last week.

The kids are adjusting well, I think. My expectations, I'm sure, were much too high for these little people. The language is slowly coming, sinking in - I think - but somedays I wonder if we have made any progress at all. Luke (Mebratu) is embracing his American life much more than his sister. He corrects people who still try to call him Mebratu. While Tigist ignores the name 'Grace' when we call it. In time, I think she will accept it. I don't think she dislikes the actual name, I think it is more of what it represents, perhaps, a loss of who she was.

Tigist is such a complex little person. She rarely speaks, smiles and nods when appropriate but is very reserved. When Sophie used Tigist's former (Ethiopian) last name this week, Tigist firmly- with an edge of anger- corrected her saying, 'No! Tigist BROWN'. She was visibly upset and did not want to be called her former full name again.

I know that some day we will be able to discuss all of these things with her and begin to relate to her feelings more. But for now, there continues to be a very high wall between us that I can barely see over. So many days I wish I could say, 'We're so happy you're here! Are you sad? Do you miss Ethiopia? Do you feel like you fit in here? Do you miss your home?" Oh, there is so much we could talk about if we could just talk! Until then, we will wait for the words to come.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Let's Pretend We're Homeless

For many years, even when they were really small, our kids have loved to pretend they're homeless. It always involves being in the backyard and pretending to scavenge around for food and then making a 'home' somewhere while wearing odd items of clothes they found in the dress-up box. For some reason, this is a LOT of fun, according to Sophie and Henry.

Now that they have two new playmates from Ethiopia in the backyard, I was curious whether they would find this activity any fun. My thought was that this might be a little too close to a recent reality for them. Well, whether it resembles a former life or not, I am happy to report that they are just as fascinated with making a home out of old towels and sticks in the back corner of our yard as my other kids are. I guess kids are really the same, no matter where they come from.

And, I am thankful all four of them enjoy it as much as they do since it seems to wear them out and releases a lot of energy, one of my biggest goals right now : )

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Mebratu's Empty Plate

I remember seeing those World Vision specials on t.v. when I was a kid. They would show sad pictures of children starving in Ethiopia and I would always end up cleaning my plate off a little better that night at the dinner table. The guilt of wasting my 'plenty' made me try a little harder to eat those green beans.

Well, bringing Ethiopia into my own kitchen has had a similar effect on me. Each night at the dinner table, Mebratu (Luke) performs an amazing feat. First off, I've never seen a child this age eat such a variety of food (spicy things, bland things, gross things.... anything) and then not just eat the token 3 bites of a given food, but clean the plate off.

We were eating leftover Ethiopian chicken the other night (thank you, Heidi!) and I had finished my plate and was walking over to the trash to dump what I had left on my plate. I glanced over at Mebratu as he was walking his plate over and my heart sank. There was literally nothing left on his plate but the bare bones of two pieces of chicken. I don't think my dog could have left those bones more clean. Then I looked down at my chicken bones and this sense of guilt washed over me. There are parts of a piece of chicken that I guess I would say aren't considered 'edible' to me. But not to Mebratu. If I had let him, he would have taken my pieces and finished off the 'food' that was still there.

It made me stop and think about what his life must have been like over there. I imagine that meat or poultry was almost non-existent. (which is why he looks delighted at almost any meal when we set some kind of meat in front of him!) I think if I really knew what he lived through, given his very small size and possible rickets diagnosis (he is not even on the chart at the pediatrician's office for a 5 or 6 year old, according to American standards) and the evidence of his clean chicken bones, I would never want to throw food away again.