Saturday, June 01, 2013

7 Months

Monday marks 7 months since our family of six first came together... at Logan Airport in Boston.

In 7 months we’ve all had our shining moments.  We’ve all had our dark moments.  We’ve  had lots of moments that just feel normal.  Those are the moments I live for. I long for.  The older kids not trying too hard.  Not pushing too hard.  The little one not resisting.

Sitota on the floor playing with her letter cards.  The boys playing the circle game.  Lucy singing/drawing/reading.  

Or all 4 out in the yard, neighbor kids joining in the fray.  Little sister yelling “STOP!”  Or just the sounds of summer as they play and play, coming in time and again for water and snacks and mom watching out the window.

Or all 4 sprawled on the furniture each with their head buried in one screen or another.  

But all 4.  Together.  Squeeee.  Even when I’ve lost my patience again.  Even when they are all over each other.  Even when.

I put her to bed tonight, taking all of the time she needed.  Not feeling rushed or tired.  Loving when she grabbed my face, “I love yoooou 5 times.”  

Have I told you how smart she is?  I like to brag like that.  She knows a lot.  Letters, numbers, and she expresses herself clearly.  She finds ways to tell us even when she doesn’t know the words.  Like in Florida when she gestured to her eyes and said “Mom,  can I have...  can I have my...  Can I have my pool face?”  When she wanted her goggles.

She loves to dance and sing.  Sometimes she says, “Don’t look at me!”  And when we go to one of Lucy’s performances she asks, “Mom,  can I sing up there?  When I am bigger?”

She’s finally trying new food,  and often insists that we close our eyes and cheer for her when she does.

Today was her first trip to Mama’s happy place.  (Ok,   I have several happy places,  but this is a big one.)  We all went to Sebago lake.  She wanted nothing to do with the water at first,  but soon let Aidan slowly bring her into the lake.  It does something to me when I see her lanky little arms wrapped around his neck.  

We’ve come so far,  and with our court date anniversary coming up in August,  I can’t help but replay where we were 7 months ago,  but also where we were a year ago.

This time last year I wrote:

No update.  Just waiting.  "We're working on it."  And the days pass and we get closer and closer to the day the courts close.

Feeling melancholy and frustrated and tired.

Tired body tired spirit.

I don’t remember that day,  but I remember how it felt.  It wasn’t long after we’d gotten word that the orphanage Sitota was at was in dire straits.  No money. No food. No director.  

That was fun.

A year ago I leaned so heavily on my friends to hold me up.  Lucky to have had so many hands and hearts reaching out to me.  To us.  Thank you.

A year ago my adoption network was largely comprised of people I did not know.   Many we met in August,  and cried each other out of Ethiopia after passing court, but long before being submitted for Embassy.  These women knew in a way others couldn’t.  We held each other up.

A year ago we still called her Sadie.  We hadn’t yet seen how every single stranger we met in Ethiopia would light up when we told them her name.  “Do you know what that means?” they all asked.  “She is a gift.”  Yes,  yes,  we know.  

So we decided she’d spend the rest of her life spelling her name.  Just like her mom does.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

17 weeks Home

Gosh,  my goal in writing here was two (or more) fold.  First,  to write in an open way about this adoption ride and second,  to journal the experience for Sitota when she's older.  Because we forget.  We do.  So, lets see how this goes.

6 weeks.  It's been 6 weeks since I last wrote here.  We came home with Sitota 17 weeks ago today.  Is that IT? I remember when I wrote about how she didn't like me very much and I was jealous of the Punks.  I remember when we used to have to make up games that encouraged contact, closeness and affection.

I remember when it felt so hard. Moments still are hard. 

Have you had a toddler who was strong willed and sassy and yelled?  A lot.  A 3 year old who needed naps most days,  but only ever took them when you drove her around?  Or how about one who wakes up most nights,  wakes her sister up,  comes to you and a game of musical beds commences? Have you had a punk who required bribery to try new foods and refused most veggies? 

Yeah, me, too.

Mostly we've stopped playing the "is this adoption related behavior or toddler related behavior" game.  It doesn't matter too much at this stage of the game.  She requires the same tender lovin' limits to get through.  There are moments though, when we make note.  Rob was putting her to bed last week and they were saying prayers together,  and Sitota suddenly and quietly filled up with tears.  Stoic,  and making great effort to hold herself together.  Her little nose red,  her eyes filled, her lips pressed together in determination.... it tears me apart.  "It felt different." Rob said.  Who knows if she was grieving a loss or just wishing she was playing with the other Punks? 

We've been swimming, and she is making great strides.  She looks forward to it, for sure.  We stay in the pool for an hour or more most times.  She stayed in the childcare at the Y for about 10 minutes without tears,  and we talk about going back for longer.

She's clingy. A Mama's girl.  But she's accepted the alternating nights of Rob and I coordinating her bedtime rituals.  She is a creature of habit and cycles through books.  Right now it's Olivia and Llama Llama Home with Mama.  She wants to go to the Degas painting in the Olivia book.  I think she wants to actually go into the painting,  but it would be interesting to see how she'd do at an art museum.  She also asks to go to the Cosby Show with great regularity,  and once she pointed to a photo of her and her friend at the care center and asked if we could go there "later?"

She's tired of the Punks getting in her face and asking for hugs and kisses.  They love their sister and are slowly driving her crazy.  She loves to be with them when she gets her was,  but she's bossy and yelly when they aren't bending to her will.  Still a couple steps away from normal, but it's getting there.  They are getting there.

She's also tolerating dogs more now.  Mostly.  Rob and Sitota went to bring Clay to a friends house where they have an English bulldog.  She was scared, but warmed to the point where she came home telling me about how the dog was kissing her leg.  That weekend,  we went to have dinner with some good friends who have a sweet border collie mix.  Nervous, sure,  but she did great.  Huge strides.

We still look at pictures a lot.  We snuggle a lot. Potty training is going pretty well.  We get exasperated and we get tired and we laugh.  We do all of those things. Often.

The other kids are doing well,  and we have stopped asking,  "is this an adoption issue or a Punk issue."  Doesn't matter,  we are wading through the tender lovin' limits and we feel like our heads are popping off on a regular basis.  Life.  Teenagers and tweens and toddlers.  New reality show?

And Rob and I are having a night out next weekend,  and that will be good too.

And now my meter has run out, and I have to go get Aidan from his 1st art class at Maine College of Art.  I hope it went great and this will be a positive experience for him.

Thanks for hanging out for a few minutes.  It feels good to get this stuff out.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

This is Grace

I was sitting on the floor next to Sitota's bed.  We'd just read books and said prayers and she was so close to drifting off to sleep.

I know,  it's been awhile since I've written anything...  that's partly because toddlers are supremely exhausting.  It's also because of Christmas concerts, preparations and celebrations.  It's somehow because of Newtown, the grief and the hurt.  It's also because even when everything is going well...  adding a new family member is deeply deeply draining.

I'm not going to be able to say this well.  This I already know.

When I sat beside her tonight, I knew I had to try.

There's a sweetness in a sleepy baby,  a sweetness in the look from the warm round face,  and the big bright eyes.  It's too much for me to resist.  It must be Grace in action, because it washes away all of the messy moments.  If you're a parent,  you know that sweetness.  It's our fuel.

Before I knew what was going on, tears were flowing down my cheeks.  I just wanted to ask her, "How are you doing?  How is this Maine thing working out for you?  What do miss most about Ethiopia?" And oh! my! God!  I wanted to plead.  I wanted her to answer me.  While she still remembered Ethiopia.  I wanted her to put words to what she's been feeling.  I needed it.

Which isn't at all what it's about.

I am so sorry,  sweet girl.  I am so sorry that you had to leave your complicated first home.  I'm sorry that your early life wasn't what it could have been.  I hope that we'll not forget or belittle your losses.  I wish... oh, the things I wish.

Yes, the bedtime routine gets tired.  I wish often that she wanted her Daddy to put her to sleep on occasion...

But I am done complaining.  God knows I need the Grace that comes with sweet sleepy babies.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Injera and Bananas and Pizza

I hope this won't come out wrong.

I would say without hesitation that the adoption ride is amazing.  Wonderful, even.  (It's other things, too.)

But when people say that we are those things-  wonderful or amazing-  it makes me a little squiggly on the inside.  We aren't.  We're a mess.  Just like you,  you know,  if you happen to be.

A long time ago a dad was telling us about how he hated when people remarked about how lucky his children were.  He resented that people said or implied that he saved them.  He and his wife chose adoption to build their family,  and he didn't like the feeling that came with that descriptor.

Yes,  but...

Yes,  Sitota's life is different than it would have been if she'd remained in an orphanage in Ethiopia.  If I hadn't seen the tweet that led me to the blog that opened my eyes to loving orphans...  I don't know what I would be writing about tonight.  I don't know what our family focus would have been for the past 2 years.  That trip has definitely defined this stage of our lives.

I went and I saw and I ached and I loved and I hurt and I met Sitota.  And when I came home I shared a picture and somethings that I wrote.  I have shared this before,  and I will likely share it again:

This was the moment for me.  
I stood by the window knowing that in just a few short minutes I would be leaving the orphanage.  Knowing that in a few hours I would be leaving Africa.  I didn't know if I would be back.
I knew that this sweet girl, this helpless child, this embodiment of pure perfection was my entire purpose for being in Africa.  I stood there with her warm weight in my arms and remembered every moment that I had held my children.  I kissed her head, her cheeks, her neck with every ounce of love that I had for my children.
My sole purpose on this planet, was to pour all of the love that I had into this baby girl.
Tears poured down my face, onto her cheeks as she looked at me with those uncertain wide eyes.  I ached with the thought that no Mama would be tucking her in at night.  There would be no Mama thanking God for her as she drifted off to sleep.  No Mama to chase away her nightmares.  No Mama to celebrate her first step.  Her first word.

The thing is...  I didn't think that I was talking about my daughter.  Honest to God, I didn't.  I left Africa wanting to make a difference at that little orphanage for those sweet babies.  I wanted them to have enough.  I wanted someday to return and love them.  All of them.

A few months later we started asking... could we?  Should we?  She stayed with me, you see.  In that moment when I was saying goodbye,  she was every motherless baby.  But somehow she crawled inside and rooted there.  I fell in love.  And then Rob did, too.  And she became our daughter.

It was almost a year later that we got The Green Light.  Yes,  she is "available."  Yes, we were all in.

Oh, it was messy.  Uncertainty, worry, fear, hope, fear, worry, uncertainty.  The Wait.  It's a relief to be on this side of that.

We tried to shield the older punks from the waves of worry,  but we weren't always successful.  We couldn't be.  We did our best.  And somewhere along the line,  they fell in love, too.  I know it happened before she came to Maine.  I know it did.

And now,  only a month in, I know this is still a honeymoon period-   where they are smitten and overwhelmed by the cute.  We all are.  But I heard some frustration from one of them the other day and I thought "YES!"  A glimpse of normal.  It's coming.

There are 10 years between Aidan and Sitota.  8 between Clay and Sitota, and 5 between the girls.  I'll get all choked up writing about how they are with her.  The understanding that they show,  the compassion, the empathy.  It is inspiring.  For real.   Each one of them has proved themselves to be...  Gah.  Bigger.  Better.  More.  I don't know how to write about this yet,  but I am so thankful for them and who they are becoming.

Am I really off topic?  Maybe I should've just written about the progress she's making-  how her language is exploding and she demonstrates her comprehension constantly.  I could write about how she's back into her baths and asks every day to take one.  I could have told you about how today she! played! alone!  I was in the room folding laundry and she set up her little kitchen with her giraffe and her little brown baby and her little white baby and her woof-woof.  She made them injera and bananas and pizza.  I could've shared her favorite books or told you about how she loves to sing,  and how she loves my phone.  You might have liked to read about how she asks 89,956 times a day "what's dis?"  Or about chicken!  Tonight at dinner she had 4 bites of chicken before she started throwing her utensils.  And speaking of chicken,  sometimes that's what she calls the kitchen.  I could've written a long list of people and things that she thanks God for when she lays in bed at night.  It's pretty much adorable.  She is pretty much the smartest 3 year old I know.  No offense to your 3 year old.

But I guess I just want to say that my house is completely a mess and my basement flooded and my laundry is way out of control and we have ordered out as often as we've cooked a meal.  We are neither amazing nor wonderful.  We are messy.  She sometimes cries and I don't know why and I end up crying and moody, too.  And if I get serious with her about something she yells at me loudly, persistently, and with great emotion.  Sometimes I think it's kind of cute.  Sometimes I am exhausted by it and impatient with this phase.  Sometimes the older punks are all up in her face wanting her to perform,  and steam pours out of my ears.  The highs are so very high.  The lows are awfully low.

So far,  only 4.5 weeks in, underlining it all,  I go back to what that dad said about not saving his kids.  I get it.  I mean,  I guess she is one of the lucky kids who now has a home and a family... so many babies are still going to sleep as orphans.  But honestly...

Oh, what if we hadn't jumped in?  Not for her... but for us?  What if we didn't get to love her?  Who would we be?

I have no idea.

Tank you, Gah.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thankful for Toddler Prayers

When we were drowning in the wait to bring Sitota home (which does seem like eons ago),  and I started blogging,  I did it because connecting with other adoptive families was the lifeboat that helped me to realize that she would eventually be here with us. And I know other people feel that way, too.  And when everyone (me, too) facebooks their new families,  it's to share the highest of the highs.  Nothing more.   

The firsts are so fun,  and the connections with the other Punks are sweet.  And the photo-ops are plentiful.

But that's not so much about what I have to say today.  This is a peek into the other stuff.  Because reading the real stuff-  even when it is utterly mundane,  shares more than the highlights.  And that's good for the world of adoption.  I think.

The good-  We have been home for a little over 2 weeks and the mollescum on Sitota's neck is so much better.  I would say it's reduced by half. 

The bad- She developed an abscess beneath the mollescum that started to look almost like a boil.  Yesterday, we took her to the doctor in hope that he would just prescribe an antibiotic,  but he decided it had to be drained, too.  It. Was. Awful.  From the moment we walked into the outer office she wanted to leave.  I know she remembered the TB test from last week and wanted exactly nothing to do with that.  Little did she know how much worse it would be.  We probably should have had the nurses help instead of us,  but we wanted to try to comfort her.  I held her head and went nose to nose with her trying to comfort her.  Rob held her body. Singing the ABCs, striving for a look of ease,  I just kept eye contact.  It stunk.

What could she have possibly been thinking?

Then the doctor said we had to go back the following day.  That's today.  Gah.  I'm dreading it something awful.  It looks better today,  so I am hopeful that they will just let the antibiotics run their course. (Because this post has been written in 5 minute blocks over 2 days I can tell you that they didn't drain it again.  Thanks, God.)

The attachment- Having 3 punks around to help occupy, entertain, and teach the littlest punk has been fun and helpful.  But there are challenges.  She chooses them.  They aren't pushing the hard stuff on her.  They get all of the fun stuff.  I'm so happy that they are bonding.  This is a true statement.

It is also a true statement that it's hard and I am a bit jealous.  Yup,  mother of the year.

Sitota is careful with her affection.  And by careful,  I mean stingy.  She hugs and kisses her punks pretty freely.  But us?  she's stingy for sure.  She looks at me with the sweet little shoulder shrug.  "No."  That's ok,  I smile.  I think it's a test.  I hope I'll pass.

Don't get me wrong-  we know.  We know it will come.  We know it's only been a little while.  We know we don't have anything to worry about.  But it still bums me out.  For now.  That's ok.

Also, she's still "off" baths.  I tried the sink today, and the result was 45 minutes of crying and yelling...  and that was after she got out of her 5 minute bath.  Poor Aidan who always wants to rescue her, was completely unsuccessful in helping her to reset.  She wanted him,  but he could do nothing to please her.  He was so patient.  But this was between me and Sitota.  So, I did what any insane parent would do.  I scooped her up despite her protest and plopped her in the car for a change of scenery.  Just the 2 of us with the music blasting.  Then when we got home, I sat right next to her in the car and had a little talk.

"Sitota, sometimes we are going to have to take a bath.  Mommy takes care of you,  and sometimes that means a bath."


"The bath is all-done!" 
(Big nod.)

"But,  you know,  someday you will have to have another bath.  Like tomorrow.  Or the next day.  And when that day comes,  if you could not completely flip out and freak out,  well,  that would be awesome."

"All done bath!"

Yes.  All done bath.  And then I got a kiss.

And I know it seems completely stupid to write about this stupid little incident.  But it is surprising to me how something so small can take my mind down a path so quickly. How easy it is to make a list of things you might be doing wrong.  Of times when patience runs dry.  The questions I ask,  the thoughts I think...  and the guilt.

It's "supposed" to be all perfect now.  She's home!  Finally!  Prayers answered!  Waits survived!  It's over!

I mean,  now we get to start.

And so today when I was completely jealous of how she loves Aidan,  I was pitiful and jealous and even resentful.  It was wonderful.  I'm so proud.

I reached out to some other adoption friends.  I said,  "It's ok to just cry sometimes and say, 'this is hard,' right?"

One replied, "I cry every day."  Another said, "Absolutely. You can even do it more than once a day. Sometimes I would pretend to use the bathroom to squeak out a quick cry. It is hard. For awhile, but not forever. I think sometimes in the beginning, they want to sort of push us away...test the waters...will you still love me when I do this? What about this? I just try to focus on the child being a vessel that I have to fill with love, and completely take myself out of it."

Then I cried because I was thankful for the light and the hope and the feeling that other people were with me.

Tonight, on the eve of thanksgiving, I don't have to remind myself of the things I'm thankful for or second guess choices I've made.  I just have to think about laying in bed next to the Littlest Punk.  Starting prayers,  her little voice echoing my words:

Thank you God for Aidan
Thank you God for Clay
Thank you God for Lucy
Thank you God for Sitota
Thank you God for Mommy and Daddy
Thank you for our home
and our food
and our love...

And then she shushed me,  "Mommy, Mommy,  ene, ene (me) do it, Sitota do it"

Tank you Gah babies
Tank you Gah woof-woofs (this one is a LIE,  she hates dogs)
Tank you Gah applesauce
Tank you Gah Mihretu (her friend)
Tank you Gah Moooooooo
Tank you Gah Mommy's hat
Tank you Gah seven, eight, nine...

And I wish you could have seen her little clasped hands,  and closed eyes... absolutely a moment to remember.


Also,  it was night 2 of going to sleep without tears.  Of sleeping with babies and the pillow pet night light.  Pre-sleep conversations and quiet connections,  and a big fat kiss.

Tank you, Gah.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Just a few anecdotes...

I'm too tired to write,  but...

Yesterday I took Sitota on a few errands.  In the store I picked up some of the tiny bands for braids.  She looked at them, looked at me, shook her finger and said "Nooo," and she put them back on the shelf.  Too soon... :-)

She sat in the cart and talked to everyone we saw...  at times yelling to people across the store, "Hello...  how are youuuu?"  When they responded and asked how she was,  she just parroted them back.  She has no idea what she is saying...

Today we went to meet Memere.  When Sitota saw the singing turkey she slipped into panic mode.  "No, no, NO!"  Poor Memere.  It was something to watch them play ball together.  At one point I think she wanted Memere to crawl under the kitchen table to get her "kwass."  So funny.

She got pretty bored on the drive home (about 1 1/4 hours).  She was talkative and silly.  At one point she was calling me.  (At the care center,  the Nannies would say, "Xabier Abakesh" God Bless, or something similar, and Sitota would answer, "Amen.")

S: "Mom, Mommy, Mommy..." 
Me: "Yes, Sitota?" 
S:  "Xabier......" pause...
Me: Abakesh
S: Amen...  (hysterical laughter...)

Then she proceeded to close her eyes and fold her hands in prayer and speak in Amharic.  She just laughs when we say grace at dinner and say bedtime prayers, so this was a first.

I stopped to get gas on the way home...  and before I got out of the car she sees the other people at the pump and starts yelling to them,  "Hello!  I love you!" 


She loves the piano,  thanks Pitman family.  She hates cats, thanks Pitman family.  She is now totally off bathtime,  but tonight she went to sleep with hardly any sadness.  She loves squash and will not even consider peas.  She says a dog says woof woof,  a cat meows and a baby "waaaahhhs."

She's home.  Sigh.

It's funny how aware I am of every touch.  I don't remember noticing with the other 3 Punks when they rested their hand on my leg when we sat together.  Or when they rested their head against my shoulder.  With Sitota,  she's still reserved with her affection, especially with Rob and I.  So every casual touch is a little victory.  A little indicator of trust and comfort.  It's strange to be so aware of everything. 

I'm also floored by the notes.  I get notes almost every day from friends who tell me how much they look forward to reading about our progress.  People I talk to fairly often,  and others I haven't talked to in decades.  It amazes me.

Thank you.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

It's been 1 week...

Today marks one week that the 6 of us have woken up under the same roof. Yes,  it's surreal.  Yes, we are ecstatic.  Yes, we are smitten.  Yes, we are working through struggles figuring out the new rhythm of our family.

Yes,  the roller coaster ride of the last 2 years is fading.  Yes,  the flight home, like childbirth, is fading.  No,  we can't believe she is finally home.  Except that we get to stare at her 24/7.

This honeymoon thing is pretty delightful.  I mean,  yes, we have had our sad moments.  Moments when we don't know exactly what she wants and her frustration escalates.  Times when we look into her sad eyes and can't seem to do much but be with her...  but those are the rare moments. 

There are the moments when she sees a dog,  even from afar, and she is overcome with panic. Overcome.

But most of the time she is playful and silly.  She likes books and blocks and she loves to play with the toy food.  She likes being outside (except when there is snow), and usually does not want to come inside when it is time.  She loves Lucy, Clay and Aidan.  They are certainly her 3 favorite toys.

She's parroting a lot of English,  but also showing some signs of comprehension. 

She loves loves loves her baths.  She always has,  but now she lays down in the water and "swims."

When we were in Ethiopia, Sitota insisted that we feed her every bite of every meal. She's feeding herself 90% of the time, now.  She still makes the kids feed her from time to time.  I am pretty sure she does it just because she can.  I got a text from Aidan when I was at the post office the other day.  It said, "I figured out how to get Sitota to eat grapes.  I'm peeling them."  Yes...  he was peeling her grapes.  I'm happy to report that at dinner tonight she was eating grapes, skin and all.  Maybe she would have if Aidan hadn't peeled any.  Maybe not.  She's a tester.  She might refuse the first time it's offered,  but then the next time, she'll ll try.

She loves eggs and pasta and pizza (thank you) and potatoes, and boy oh boy does she love squash.  She does not love chick peas or meat of any kind.  She was a big fan of the buffalo chicken tenders we got from Corsettis.  Which makes me crave buffalo chicken dip.

She does not love when I mess with her hair.  For now,  we'll be sticking with the free 'fro with an occasional headband.  I hope as trust grows she'll become more comfortable.

Same goes for sleep. She's still quite sad at bedtime and avoids the bedroom at all costs,  but we think as she continues to grow in trust,  she'll relax more into it.

How are the rest of us? 

When the tree fell on the roof it caused some damage in the girls' room,  so until the repairs are done, Lucy is sleeping on the floor in our room.  It's convenient timing,  because she would be there anyway :-)  She's doing great,  but loves to be close to us.  She loves helping her little sister

Aidan loves that he's the first one home from school.  He and Sitota have some quiet time,  and they both really look forward to it.

Clay is more affectionate with Sitota than he has been with anyone.  I love to look over and see them reading or snuggling together.  Clay also has more Ethiopian pride than anyone I have ever seen.  He loves to wear his shirt and hat and necklace to school :-)

Rob and I are good but still oh, so, tired.  On more than one occasion last week I slept from 7:30 pm-6:30 am.  Rob is working,  but takes time to be with us every day, too.  It's hard to get anything done around the house,  but we are ok with that.  The jetlag is a little easier this time with such a delightful little distraction.

We had some testing done this week,  and are relieved that Sitota is in good overall health.  Her mollescum on her neck is annoying, but nothing more.

I can't believe we are only a week in.  When I put that frame around it,  it looks pretty great. 

Thanks, God.