“Ayub is in the top of one of the pine trees in our backyard I’m racing home.”
It’s been a while since I’ve blogged about life. And I realized recently that I really miss it. I write a post in my head every day, it just doesn’t always make it to the web. But, I wanted to catch everyone up since school has started and we’re back in the real world for a while.
There’s so much to tell, it’s hard to know where to start. I guess by telling you that Ayub has the most awesome teacher (for him) ever. I went in to meet with her the Friday before school started. I had printed out about six articles about adoption trauma and its effects on brain development and behavior. I had a handout on avoiding “family tree” type assignments. And I launched right into it. After about five minutes, I took a breath and she said, “My two younger sisters were adopted from the Philippines and my mom fostered emergency placements when I was growing up.” BING!! She gets it. She totally gets it. She also said that she doesn’t do any family history projects because she prefers to get the kids looking forward at what they can be when they grow up. Oh, and did I mention that she’s African American? It’s like we won the lottery. Seriously, if you asked me to write a description of the perfect teacher for Ayub, I think it would be her. Only maybe a male.
So, you would think that all is well. But, like is usual for us, when one thing is great, something else falls apart. For the past few years, we have had a college student pick the kids up after school and take them home for snack and homework help. This year, since all four kids are at different schools, and really only Ayub needed after school care, we decided to give the after school program a try. The first few weeks of school seemed to go ok…not great, but decent. Ayub was always STARVING when he got home at 5:30. He was a little grumpier than usual, but I attributed that to the start of school and change of routine. Then, one Monday evening, I walked in to get him from the after school program. He was laying down next to some large trash cans, with the hoodie pulled over his face, in the fetal position, crying. Seriously, his photo could have been on an anti-child-abuse poster. I scooped him up and tried to get him to tell me what was going on, but he was in that catatonic state caused by flight or fright. You adoptive parents know what I mean, right? That stare that looks through you instead of at you? Well, anyway, I hightailed it out of there and put him in the car, played some music and went to get Eleanor from violin. (Yea, that’s another post for another time…) By the time we got home, he had calmed down and told me what happened. A bigger kid had kicked the trash can and blamed Ayub, who got in trouble from the college students that oversee the program. They sent him to time out until I got there. Who knows if that’s what they really said, but that’s what he heard. I. WAS. LIVID. Needless to say, he has not been back to after school since. We are currently interviewing for after school nannies. I have talked to his teacher and the principal and written a letter to the superintendent and the president of the school board. I’m not sure where this will go, but the fact that they left an obviously distraught kid lying on the floor and didn’t really seem to care at all that he was there is a HUGE problem. The program isn’t overseen by the school; the city actually runs it, which is a weird situation.
On the bright side, though, he is doing great. He has spelling tests for the first time this year, and he seems to get it. He’s doing pretty good at math. His best friend is in his class again this year, and they’ve had some play dates. He is excited about school and maintains his “let’s get crackin’” attitude every morning. Our summer babysitter did a great job of preparing him for 1st grade, and I think it’s going to pay off.
As for Eleanor, we haven’t been so lucky on the teacher front. She doesn’t have one. They found out right before school that one of the teachers wasn’t returning, and haven’t yet hired a replacement. Yes, for the first three weeks of school, they have had a substitute. The walls are bare. There is no routine, no homework folder, no organization and no stability. But Eleanor says that on Monday they are going to announce who the teacher will be. It’s a possibility that it will be the substitute that’s been with them, but it might be someone else. Welcome to 5th grade.
Sam is in middle school. He doesn’t say much, so I guess it’s going well. Except for Spanish, which is freaking him out. Lucy is in the same class she was in last spring, so not much has changed for her. Me? I’m back to juggling work with pick-ups, homework, making lunches and trying to get everyone to bed at a reasonable time.
Wow…I feel better already. I really have to force myself to sit down and write at least one post a week. It clears my head. Thanks for listening.
Last week, Sam’s baseball team travelled to Cooperstown to play in the biggest baseball tournament of the year. It’s not normally the kind of thing that I would recap on my blog, but I just can’t stop thinking about it. I think it is a perfect example of why I love what team sports can do for kids.
First, a little background. We live in a cold-weather climate. We don’t play baseball year-round. We started practice in February. Indoors. That’s right, some good batting practice, but hard to work on realistic fielding on a gym floor. The history of our team at this tournament was a horrible 1-12 record. The boys were told that we’d go to Cooperstown, but that we couldn’t really compete with teams who have been together for years, practice year-round and have corporate sponsorships. Yet they were excited and worked to raise money to pay for the trip.
Now, you are probably thinking that despite the odds, we prevailed and did great. But, this is not a made-for-TV movie. We sucked. We lost every game, most cut short by the mercy rule. That’s not the cool thing.
What happened was a display of pure sportsmanship, which was totally driven by a group of 12-year-old boys, and not a coach or parent. We were a few innings in to a game and once again found ourselves down. If we made it to the fourth inning, we were once again in mercy rule territory. But then, another team (one who had beaten us earlier in the tournament), showed up onto the hill in the outfield.
And they started cheering for us. It seems that after the morning games, they had checked the standings and seen that we were ranked 31 of 32. So they found our field and came to cheer us on. And you know what? It made a difference. The inning that they showed up, we had a six-run inning. It didn’t get us out of the hole, but it certainly turned around some momentum. After the game, they came down and stood outside the dugout waiting for our guys. When the team came out, they did so to a round of applause and encouragement to keep our heads up. And for the first time, our ragged team didn’t look like they were miserable. They looked like a team that was having fun, despite losing a game. But it doesn’t stop there.
The next morning, we played an 8:00 am game. It was single elimination at this point, so a loss would send us home. And guess who showed up? Yep, they were there again. This time, they had skipped their own camp breakfast so they could come and cheer. And they had made signs out of a cardboard box they had in the bunkhouse.
The story would be a lot better if I could now say that their encouragement led us to a victory, but let’s be real. We lost again. But our guys then turned around and cheered for their new friends later that day.
So my point? We do a lot of complaining about kids’ sports today. Too much pressure. Parents are too involved. Kids specialize in a sport too early. The cost keeps the haves and have-nots separated. But this week I was reminded of the power of team sports. Our kids learned a lesson that we, as parents and coaches never could have taught them. They learned how it feels to have someone on your side. They learned what it means to play with heart. They learned how to reciprocate a good deed. And they learned how to take a loss and look at the good that came out of it. Later in the week, after both teams had been eliminated, they played wiffle ball on the lawn. Two teams from across the country, just hanging out, brought together by America’s pastime. Cooperstown is a magical place.
To the parents of those 12 boys who came and cheered for us, I hope you’ll give yourself a pat on the back. You’ve done a great job raising boys who understand the real meaning of sport isn’t winning or losing. If there was a sportsmanship trophy for this tournament, I’m sure it would have gone to your team. Your kids have heart. And they taught our kids to have the same.
When we were waiting for a referral, I didn’t really expect that we’d get a baby under a year old. In fact, the week before our referral, we had a conversation with our case manager about whether we should raise the bottom of our age range. I was getting older, our kids were getting older, and starting over with a baby just seemed daunting. Then, I saw her 4-month-old referral picture and it didn’t seem so overwhelming. We brought her home when she was 10 months old. And today, she turned THREE.
So what that means is that I had two babies, then they grew up. They learned to get up and entertain themselves on weekends. They took their own showers and got dressed on their own. They didn’t wear diapers. Life was relatively easy. Then, I was suddenly plunged back into the world of sippy cups, rocking to sleep, and footie pajamas. And you know what? I liked it. And now it’s over. Earlier this week, Lucy was outside my bathroom door and I said, “Is that my baby out there?” Her reply? “I not a baby!!” And she’s right.
Our three year old has tackled school with her usually unflappable nature. She now knows all the kids names, knows the routine, and doesn’t want to come home at the end of the day. She is super-smart. Sometimes, I’ll ask her to remember something for me, like we have to get cat food. Later, she’ll actually remember to remind me. She loves people. She talks to people everywhere we go. She may be the only one of our kids to follow in her dad’s fundraiser footsteps. She would definitely be good at it. Not only does she talk to people, she makes them feel good about themselves. She has gotten more picky about her food lately, becoming kind of a bland eater. Right now, I’d guess her favorite food is salami. We ate Ethiopian food for her birthday, not because that is necessarily her favorite food, but because she loves the restaurant owner.
She loves animals. Of all our kids, she is the only one who truly seeks out an animal to play with. The cats are so tolerant of her need to drag them around, sometimes by their neck. She is fascinated by people who are hurt. Whether it’s a splinter or a missing leg, she is sure to ask them about it. Just last week she saw a woman with a walking cast on her foot. She asked at least 10 questions before I could drag her away. She loves band-aids and frequently tells me “I have blood” just so she can get one. She is starting to exhibit her sense of style, and I’m sad to say that it’s girly-girl and pinky-pink. She asks to wear dresses almost every day. And she loves to get her fingernails or toenails painted.
And now she’s three. Three has never been my favorite age. Although the terrible twos have a bad rap, I’ve always found that age three presented more whining, more testing of limits, and more general crankiness. I am already seeing the beginning of this. But for the most part, Lucy is a happy, bold, compassionate kid. Kid, not a baby. And while I miss that baby, I am kind of liking the kid she is turning into.
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.
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.
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:
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?
And then he was seven.
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.
[I asked Eleanor if she would like to write a guest post to celebrate our two year family day. This is what she wrote.]
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.
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. Sam watches CNN until I go to wake up the other kids. Ayub is the best morning stretcher I have ever seen. Breakfast. Legendary Waffle Sam Sandwich. First argument of the day. I make lunches instead of mediating. Help Ayub with his OT exercises. These are supposed to help center him, but right now they just get him all revved up. Help Lucy get dressed and do her hair. Take the middles to school. Stop by the store to pick up milk. Leave the store with $58 in groceries. Get home, let Lucy watch Sesame Street while I put away groceries, feed the dogs, and clean up the kitchen from breakfast. Lucy makes a Family Day heart to celebrate. Head down to the playroom. This is what it looks like when we arrive. Practice cutting, take some pictures, have a dance party, and do some coloring. Meanwhile, I have been cleaning up, so when we leave, the room looks like this. Lunchtime. This is what I’m going to miss most about my time with Lucy. She is always full of animated conversation over lunch. And 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. Reading, and finally nap time. While 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. Lucy wakes up and wants to play with stickers. 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.Andrew 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. I 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. Next 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. And the boys were happy.
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.
Dad handles the bath- and bed-time routines. And finally we kick back and relax. So 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.
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:
Today 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.