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.