The Hair

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As a white woman with super-stright, incredibly fine hair, I was worried.  I mean, really worried.  Before our referral, I secretly hoped for two boys, so I could just keep both their heads shaved and not have to worry about learning to braid.  Then we found out we were getting a girl.  And the panic set in.  I started following chocolate hair vanilla care, watched youtube videos on braiding and rented Chris Rock’s Good Hair.  I learned about natural vs. processed.  I went to Sally Beauty Supply and consulted with a (not-so) helpful salesperson who told me what I needed.  I bought it all.  And then Lucy came home.

Now that I had this precious head of hair in my control, I faithfully applied creams, conditioners, shea butter, coconut oil, smoothies, and curl enhancers.  I tried braiding, with little success.  I painstakingly put in beads that fell out the next day.  I only washed once a week.  And, if I do say so myself, she rocked it.

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Then, I took her for her first hair cut.  I’d been nervous about this because it’s one thing for a woman at the grocery store to compliment you, but it’s another to have a professional evaluate your work.  I felt like I was showing my stick figure drawing to Claude Monet.  And you know what he told me?  She doesn’t have African American hair.  Ummm…what?  Yea, she has middle eastern hair.  Huh?  It’s curly, but with loose curls, and is finer and more elastic than African American hair.  Wow.

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So I know that I have it pretty easy when it comes to Lucy.  We comb out her hair every night after bath and every  morning before school.  Yep, it’s that easy.  And we don’t use as many products any more.  I gave up on braiding after a woman at the salon told me they wouldn’t even be able to do a style that would last more than a day or two.  The exception is when I do this, which may be my favorite style:

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Then a few weeks ago, I read an article.  And I realized that I do deeply care what black women think about Lucy’s hair.  I am mortified when Andrew takes her out of the house for a weekend breakfast without doing her hair first.  I hate it when Eleanor tries to be helpful and puts Lucy’s hair in a ponytail because she doesn’t get it all to lay flat.  I hate going anywhere after nap time because I don’t want people to think her hair started out that way this morning.  I’m not normally a vain person and don’t really care how I, myself, look, so it was puzzling why I would care so much about Lucy’s hair.  But that article made me realize what it is.  It’s because I feel like an ambassador.  I am on a goodwill mission between races.  I feel like one way I can show transracial adoption as a positive is simply by being aware of what’s important to another culture.  And to black women, hair is important.  I respect that.  And I want them to see that I respect that.

A while back, I had braided Lucy’s hair in two french braids down the sides, like I used to do for Eleanor.  It was a very simple style, but looked pretty cute.  An African-American woman was behind me in line at Target and asked me if I did it myself.  I hesitantly answered yes, not knowing what was coming next.  And then she began to gush about how great it looked and that she couldn’t braid at all and so her daughter’s hair was always a mess.  I felt a wave of relief and then a jolt of pride.  She may not have African-American hair, but I’m doing something right anyway.  Who cares if she sometimes looks like this after nap time?

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Another Birthday

And then he was seven.

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It’s hard to remember back to when Ayub was just a little four year old wearing mis-matched pajamas and pink Crocs and staring at us from a faraway referral picture.  I remember searching that photo looking for clues about who he was.  That look on his face…was it fear?  Or was he just a serious kid?  Was he waiting for someone to come and get him?  Did he know someone would?

Now, I look at him with just as many questions.  Does he know what it means to be loved unconditionally?  Does he know that he is permanently a part of our family?  His birthdays mean more to me because they are not only a marker of his age, but they are a marker that we are a little closer to him being with us longer than he was without us, although we are still only halfway there.

But today, we celebrate.

To most people we meet, he just an all-American, seven-year-old kid.  He eats hot dogs and pizza, but hates vegetables.  He loves Ironman and Captain America, hates “bad guys” and bullies.  He loves recess and tolerates the rest of school.  He plays hard, but also enjoys long showers (with lots of singing).  His favorite animals (Woosha, Timmy, and Buzz Lightyear) all sleep with him, tucked under his covers.  He asks “why” more times in a day than any kid I’ve ever met.  He still gets confused by the concept of “tomorrow.”  As in “how many sleeps till tomorrow?”  He loves his ice skating lessons and dreams of being a hockey player.  Or at least of owning a really cool helmet.  His world is expanding.  He was sad a few weeks ago when his teacher told him that Pluto used to be a planet, but isn’t any more.  He thinks that’s mean.  He has a fierce temper, but is also just as quick to laugh.  He loves tickle fights more than anything.  He lines up his favorite, special toys in neat rows beside his bed and gets totally bent out of shape if they get messed up.  He loves TV, movies and playing Lego Star Wars on the Wii.   He prefers jeans to sweatpants.  He is the only kid in the family who takes his boots off outside, hangs up his coat, and puts away his backpack.  He wiggles incessantly, but will cuddle up to read a book in a heartbeat.

This week, he told me that, if I want, I can kiss him every morning when I wake him up.  [Melt.]  I think I will.

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Guest Post

[I asked Eleanor if she would like to write a guest post to celebrate our two year family day.  This is what she wrote.]

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Sisters and brothers are great.  Every kid is different.  Mine are beyond compare.

I love every thing about them.  I remember Lucy when she was little.  It was great to be there while she grew up.  It was amazing to watch her grow up. She was tiny and energetic. Now she talks a lot and is really fast.  Ayub was great to watch grow up.  He cares about a lot of people.  They are great.  And I think we are the luckiest family.

There are  things I don’t like about them.  For example Lucy wakes me up early, Ayub has a bad attitude, and I can never find them.  Also they take my stuff.

Overall they are the best siblings in the world.  And I’m glad I’m their sister.

A Day in the Life

I’ve seen many great photographers do a “Day in the Life” project and I knew I wanted to do one.  Someday.  But I was always waiting for the right time. I wanted the house to be cleaned up, for us to have some fun outings planned, or at least a day where there were sports practices or games. And I wanted the weather to cooperate so I could take pictures outdoors.  Without snow.  Oh, yeah, and I wanted it to be Daylight Savings Time, so I’d have natural light longer into the evening. Then last week, I realized that Friday would be my last day as a stay at home mom, since Lucy was starting school.  So, it was now or never.  I grabbed my camera, tried to shove all the clutter into unseen corners of the house, and started my project.  It was also our Family Day (two years home from Ethiopia), so it seemed like a good time to document life. For my photographer friends who are reading this, since I knew that I wouldn’t have a lot of light, I wanted to force myself to “embrace the grain.” It it not typically my style, but I didn’t have many choices since we were stuck mostly inside and not on the brightest day ever.  And for the record, this is a really hard project.  Lots of switching of locations means changing settings all day long.  I also had to have my tripod and remote ready.  No time for reflectors, so light is not great in some of these.  And as for the processing…I didn’t do much since there were so many photos.  Preset city. So, here’s my day. I wake up with a cat cuddled on my legs, enjoying the electric blanket.  At 5:38, Lucy comes into my room.  She is crying because her boppy feel out of bed (although she is now holding it).  Since Andrew is out of town, I let her crawl in bed with me.  She snuggles while I go take a shower. 1Sam watches CNN until I go to wake up the other kids.  Ayub is the best morning stretcher I have ever seen. 2Breakfast.  Legendary Waffle Sam Sandwich. First argument of the day. I make lunches instead of mediating. 3   Help Ayub with his OT exercises.  These are supposed to help center him, but right now they just get him all revved up.  5Help Lucy get dressed and do her hair. _DSC5860   Take the middles to school. 7Stop by the store to pick up milk.  Leave the store with $58 in groceries. 8 Get home, let Lucy watch Sesame Street while I put away groceries, feed the dogs, and clean up the kitchen from breakfast. 9Lucy makes a Family Day heart to celebrate. 10Head down to the playroom.  This is what it looks like when we arrive. _DSC6011Practice cutting, take some pictures, have a dance party, and do some coloring. 11 12Meanwhile, I have been cleaning up, so when we leave, the room looks like this. _DSC6065Lunchtime.  This is what I’m going to miss most about my time with Lucy.  She is always full of animated conversation over lunch. 13And since the weather was so beautiful on this particular day (it got up to 40 degrees!), we decided to take the puppy for a walk. 14Reading, and finally nap time. 15While Lucy sleeps, I feed my children’s book addiction by completing my Scholastic order form, open the new Tom’s that came in the mail, enjoy a drink, train the dog, and publish a blog post. 16Lucy wakes up and wants to play with stickers. 18 _DSC6304   We pick up the middles, Sam calls and says he’s bringing two friends home with him to spend the night.  Snack time. This time Ayub makes the Legendary Waffle Sam Sandwich using mini waffles. I realize I can’t remember the last time Sam brushed his hair.19Andrew has now arrived home and took a cab straight from airport to a meeting, so we go pick him up and drive him to his car. _DSC6332I arrive home to find that this heat wave has melted some snow. This is the first time I’ve seen the top of this table in two months. _DSC6341Next I wish I could show you step-by-step how I made a delicious home-cooked meal, but since I had three 12-year-old boys to feed, we ordered pizza. 20And the boys were happy. 21

Eleanor has no desire to be around the boys, so she packs up and heads over to the next-door-neighbor’s house to spend the night.

_DSC6396Dad handles the bath- and bed-time routines. 22And finally we kick back and relax. _DSC6405So for those of you working moms who wonder what a SAHM does all day (and I know you wonder because I used to wonder, too), this is pretty much it.  On a slow day, meaning no therapy appointments, basketball practices, or school events. Today I was driving the middles to school and they asked what I was going to do all day.  Ayub answered for me. “You’re gonna watch the Weather Channel. And you can play whatever you want to play, not what Lucy wants to play. It’s like your dream come true.” I’m not sure about that, but I certainly won’t be watching Sesame Street today.

On Two Years Home

Yep, that’s right.  Today marks the two-year anniversary of stepping off the plane onto American soil with two tiny, scared Ethiopians.  I have to admit, March 7, 2012 was one of the hardest, longest, most draining days of my life.   (Every day since is a close second.)  But it is the day our family became a family.

So usually on these milestones (six months home, one year home, 18 months home), I reflect on the kids and where they are.  But this time, I am more focused on myself.  So, I’m going to give you a list (in no particular order) of what I’ve learned over the past two years.

  • You can love an adopted kid just as much as you love biological kids.  I know, everyone has heard this before.  I believed it, right up until I adopted kids.  Then it immediately felt different and strange. I was suddenly parenting someone else’s 5-year-old. And he didn’t behave like a 5-year-old I would have raised.  I admit, I wondered if it had all been hype. But it’s not. I now honestly love my adopted kiddos just as much as their older siblings. They are now mine.
  • You have to fight for your kids. Again, I had heard people say this and nodded politely.  But, having two kids who didn’t need additional services, support, or therapies, I didn’t know the extent.  I still think some days I haven’t fought hard enough (still waffling on whether to wage a war with insurance over neurofeedback therapy), but I know that I’ve done more than many parents will ever have to do. It’s exhausting. It’s confusing. It’s like learning a foreign language without a dictionary. But I feel like we are in a good place now.  Of course, now Lucy is getting older and showing similar behaviors as her brother, so it maybe time to start round two.
  • Watching my child learn something new is still the most wonderful feeling in the world, but it’s even better now.  My first two kids are pretty smart. They have had only minor struggles in school. They were both early readers. They both soaked up information like a sponge. And I loved to see them learn new things. But Ayub has made this process even more wonderful. When he has grasped new things, it has never been without struggle, which makes it all the more valuable in the end.  I love watching all my kids light up, but with Ayub, it is so much more meaningful, because we’ve had to fight for every scrap of it.
  • Adoption is loss.  Yes, this was in every adoption training I attended.  Every book I read.  Every blog I followed.  And I knew this in my head.  Only recently have I felt it in my heart.  Our kids have lost so much.  Sure, they have a great life here, but it’s not with their first family, it’s not with their culture, it’s not with their language, it’s not with people who look like them, it’s not with their foods, songs or festivals. That’s a lot.  Especially for a kid who remembers some of those things.  Dinner at a nearby Ethiopian restaurant isn’t enough to replace what’s lost.  There is a sadness that runs under our kids, no matter how happy they look or how much they laugh. And I’m suddenly starting to deal with it myself. This week, Ayub told me he was sad he couldn’t speak “Africanharic” any more. And there are so many other things to be sad about, too.
  • My kids are lucky. Huh? Wait a minute.  Adoptive parents NEVER say that.  Any time someone tells us our kids are so lucky to have been adopted, we respond with “we’re the lucky ones,” because we know about that adoption loss thing. (See previous bullet point.) But lately I’ve been thinking a lot more about this. Our kids are DAMN lucky. Out of all the adoptive parents in the world, they ended up with us. I have to tell you, I truly believe that if Ayub had been adopted by a different family, his adoption could have been disrupted by now, or even worse, he could have ended up like Hana Williams. But he got us. The family who is willing to advocate for him. The one that has insurance that covers therapy (even if not as much as we’d like). The family where mom decided to stay home to help him catch up to grade level. The family that is willing to read everything possible if it might make a difference in his life. I’m not saying that we’re the best parents ever (although I’m sure we’re close). What I am saying is that he ended up with us instead of a family who was led to believe that “love heals all” or “prayer is the answer.” Because it doesn’t and it isn’t. So there, I said it. Our kids are lucky.

As you read this, I am spending my last day at home with Lucy. Next week, she will start school and the following week I am starting a new job. I have never cried when one of my kids started school. Not preschool, not Kindergarten, not ever. I have always been excited for them. But I’ve never spent two solid years with any of my kids. Until Lucy. And because of that, I think Monday morning will be a little rough. I know she’s ready to move on without me, and I know she will flourish spending time with her peers. But I’m really gonna miss my shadow. The last two years were totally unexpected to me, but I’m so grateful that I got to see my littlest become a big girl. Except for that potty training part…that sucked.  It’s kind of ironic that the timing of this all worked out. Exactly two years (to the day) after becoming a family, we’re finally returning to the family structure I always thought we would have.  It’s been a wild two years, one that’s been immeasurably harder than I expected, but one that has rewarded us beyond belief.

And, because I know that this is what you really wanted to see, here are some then and now pics:

THEN:

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NOW:

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THEN:

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NOW:

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Day Brightener

_DSC5253-3Today I had an appointment, and I knew that Lucy would fall asleep on the way home, so I stopped for lunch at KFC.  There were mainly African-Americans there, on their lunch break from work (I know this because Lucy asked them).  As usual, she was talking.  A lot.  To me.  To people in line.

“Why do you have paint on your clothes?”

“Why you eating that?”

“Is that your coat?”

“Can we sit here?”

While I ordered our food, she amused the customers, introducing herself to several people and asking their names.  And how old they are.  They all wanted to talk to her.  They all engaged her and asked her questions.

We sat down to wait for our number to be called and Lucy stood up in the booth and turned around to have a conversation with the woman behind us.  The woman didn’t seem too excited to chat.  Still, Lucy insisted on knowing more about her crocheted hat and why it had a flower on it.  I kept trying to interest Lucy in things at our table and to have her sit back down and leave the nice woman alone.  But she wouldn’t have it.  She just kept pestering her with questions.  She wanted to know where her coat was.  She wanted to know where she lived.  She asked about her food.  Lucy didn’t ask how old she was, but I’d guess she was about 70.  Finally, our food came and that was enough to get Lucy to sit back down and focus on our table instead of our nice neighbor.  After a few minutes, the woman got up to leave.  She threw away her trash and then walked back over to our table.

“Lucy, I want to thank you.  I was having a pretty bad day when I came in here.  I was feeling kind of depressed and down in the dumps.  But then I met you and now I feel a lot better.  You changed my day.  You be a good girl for your mama, okay?”  Lucy blew her a kiss, flashed her gorgeous smile and she was off.  

And I couldn’t even respond because of the big lump in my throat.

This kid has such a gift.

For Those Who Have Asked

Sorry I’ve been a little behind.  It’s been a while since I updated you all on Ayub.  The last you heard, we had scheduled surgery and were planning to start ADHD meds.  So, here’s what’s happened:

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The week of Thanksgiving, Ayub had his tonsils and adenoids out.  I have to say, this was a much tougher process than I expected.  It took a good eight days before he was feeling well again.  Poor thing was pitiful.  For a kid who never complains about pain, he had a tough time.  Once healed, we did begin to see a minor difference in his behavior, mainly that he could sit through dinner more calmly.  However, it wasn’t a big enough difference to stop there.

Despite the massive ice storm that left us without power the week of Christmas, we headed off to the pediatrician to get some ADHD medication.  We started it over Christmas break and saw an immediate difference.  Although he was still hyped up about the holidays and Santa and new toys, he was manageable.  We sent him back to school expecting rave reviews from his teacher.  Results were not as great as we had hoped.  She saw a slight difference, but not enough to help him academically.  He still struggled with behavior and was still disrupting the classroom.  So, after a month, we raised the dosage of medication.  TA-DA!! Suddenly the fidgeting lessoned, he was able to concentrate and he started bringing home completed work from school.  His teacher was thrilled.  One day he brought home a very complicated drawing of a dragon for Chinese New Year.  He spent a total of four hours over the weekend coloring it in.  Every.  Single.  Detail.  It was amazing.  He has never liked to draw or color, yet the time he devoted to this was massive.  I was floored.

I will say that as much as we are enjoying the calm, there are some down sides to the medication.  He really isn’t the same kid he was before.  He’s still funny and a bit of a clown, but lately he has seemed more sad.  There are days when he just looks unhappy.  We’ve also seen a huge shift in his emotions.  Prior to his tonsillectomy, we had seen him cry four times.  That’s right, in almost two years, he had cried only four times.  Now there are some days when he cries four times in one day.  That may be an exaggeration, but he is definitely much more emotional.  I’m not writing this off as a bad thing.  It is tiring and can really slow things down when you have to stop and deal with the waterworks, but it is showing us some of the things that upset him.  Before, he must have been just closing off those emotions.  Now we get to see them, which is interesting.

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Somewhere in the middle of all this, his teacher asked whether we’d ever ruled out Sensory Processing Disorder.  I have to be honest, I had heard about this from a lot of other adoptive parents, and I thought it was just kids who don’t like tags in their clothes to rub or have to have a certain kind of bath towel.  I had no idea how encompassing it could be.  I went online and found the Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation, which had some online checklists.  My jaw hit the floor when I realized that we were dealing with a sensory seeking kid.  We made an appointment with an Occupational Therapist who specialized in SPD (whew…lucky to have that handy) and she confirmed my online diagnosis.  He does have sensory seeking SPD, but she says it is secondary to ADHD in his case.  So, we will continue with the ADHD meds and have an OT visit every week.  I will say that just receiving this diagnosis makes it much easier for me to deal with his behaviors.  Now when he climbs all over me, I understand why and try to find appropriate ways to give him touch.  When he hums or makes nonsense noises, I try to find music or something else to give him an audio input.  It suddenly makes so much more sense.

Bottom line – he is doing much better at school and we are all doing much better at home.

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Birthday Reflections

I’m a little behind, but someone around here had a birthday.  A big one.  Ending in the digit “0.”  That’s right, Eleanor has joined the ranks of the double digits.

For some reason, Eleanor’s birthday always sends me into flashback mode.   I remember my pregnancy and her birth much more than  Sam’s.  Maybe it’s the eight weeks I spent on bed rest thinking she wasn’t going to make it.  Whatever the reason, I always seem more nostalgic.

_DSC4608Eleanor is an amazing kid.  She is super-smart.  And for those of you who have smart kids, you know what I mean when I say that it’s hard to parent a super-smart kid.  She remembers everything.  And argues about everything.  Even when she’s wrong.  She can drive me absolutely bonkers, but at the same time, it makes me proud to see her intelligence shine through.  (Which in turn makes me even more bonkers…)

_DSC4650Eleanor is tall.  She has always been tall.  I think that has worked against her in some ways. People have always expected her to be more mature than her age, just because she looks older.  I’m guilty of it, even though I try very hard to keep her real age in mind.  But sometimes she acts even younger than her real age, which is even harder.

DSC_3939-2This year, Eleanor finally got a chance to play basketball.  Because she was in gymnastics, tennis, and then swimming, we’d never been able to put her on a team before.  This year was her first chance.  I was a little leery about the whole thing, as she doesn’t really enjoy physical activity, and definitely likes lots of breaks, which isn’t consistent with basketball.  But she has LOVED it.  She was a little behind, since most of her teammates had played before, but she has learned a lot and come a long way.  I have to say…I’m impressed.

Eleanor has probably done the best of any of us since moving at making new friends.  Our next door neighbor has become a constant fixture in her life, with one of them spending the night at the others’ house at least once a weekend.  And, she has more friends at school who have welcomed her to a new place.  She’s a lot like her (fundraiser) dad…she can talk to anyone and as soon as she’s met them, she considers them a life-long friend.

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So now she’s ten.  Which is exciting and scary at the same time.  She’s at the age where she is starting to be critical of the way she looks, which breaks my heart because I think she’s so beautiful.  She isn’t happy about her weight, doesn’t like the space between her teeth, and doesn’t want to be the tallest kid in the 4th grade.  So I’m savoring these last moment of childhood while fully aware that we are entering into adolescence.  Happy birthday, Eleanor.

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Oh Yes I Did…

A few months ago, our house was burglarized in the middle of the night.  We were all home sleeping.  A strange man walked into my bedroom.  That’s right…the boldest (or drunkest) ever thief.  Needless to say, I’ve been having a bit of trouble sleeping since then.  We installed a landline (he stole all of our cell phones, making it difficult to contact the police) and activated the security system.  I still didn’t feel safe.  I still woke at every sound.  I still couldn’t fall asleep.

So, I did what any mother of four who is looking for a job, going back to school and has too much on her plate already would do.  I got a dog.

DSC_4098Meet Albus DumbleTHOR.  He’s a 107-pound, 1-year-old great dane.  Andrew and I had two great danes when we were first married, and they are the funniest, goofiest dogs around.  But I realized that I always felt safe when they were around. Better than ADT.  And, to add to his goofy personality, he is slightly cross-eyed.

DSC_4052We had our first obedience class last night.  Let’s just say I doubt he’ll be valedictorian.  And in true dane fashion, he spent his first week with us nursing an injury after he cut the pad on his right leg.

DSC_4095I told the kids that his first owner couldn’t keep him because she couldn’t take care of him.  A parallel that did not escape our adopted kiddos.

Sweetness

Sometimes, in all the madness that surrounds life with Ayub, I forget what a sweet, compassionate kid he is.

Today is hat day at school.  Kids are allowed to wear a hat if they bring $1 for cancer research.  So, this morning, I emptied out our change jar into a Ziploc bag and handed it to Ayub.  I told him to give it to his teacher so that he could wear a hat.  He wanted to know why, so I told him it was for cancer research.  This led to a lengthy explanation on my part of what cancer is, that it is a disease that many makes many people sick, and that some people even die from it.  I was rushing around getting the kids ready for school, so didn’t really stop to have the conversation, even though I could see he was very serious about it.  He walked away, I assumed to put the money in his backpack.  But he stopped at the fridge and pulled out an apple.  Used to living with an ADHD kid, I just assumed he’d gotten distracted (again) and forgot what he was doing, so I asked him if he was taking that apple to eat at snack time.  His response?  “No, I’m gonna give it to the sick people.”  Huh?  “I learned that if you eat an apple every day, you won’t need a doctor.”  Oh, my sweet, innocent, little boy.  He frustrates me to no end, but inside he has such a big heart.  And to him, the apple was a much more real way to help a sick person than a bag full of money.

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