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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What I’ve Learned About Adoption (Part 4 – Adoptive Parents)

I didn’t quite finish my What I’ve Learned series before the end of National Adoption Month.  Life happens.  (Thanks to all of your support for Ayub and his surgery.  He is still recovering, but anxious to get back to eating pizza and bouncing off the walls.)

My final installment…Adoptive Parents.

There are a lot of us.  We all have one thing in common…we’ve adopted kids.  Some domestically, some internationally.  Some infants, some older children.  In the beginning, I searched hard for a link between us.  We must have something in common to have followed the same path, right?

Wrong.

I’ve learned that adoptive parents, the circumstances that led them to adoption, and the way they parent their adopted children are as varied as everyone else.  I’ve also learned that for a community who should be so supportive, we can be very opinionated.

Here are some of the things we disagree about:

  • Some adoptive parents came to adopt because of infertility treatments, some because they were called by God, and some because they just wanted kids (or more kids, as in my case).  Believe it or not, I’ve heard of infertile parents questioning others’ rights to adopt a child because we don’t “need” to.  Ummm…really?
  • Some parents adopt domestically, through open adoption, closed adoption, or foster adoption.  Some parents adopt internationally.  I recently read a blog on transracial parenting where she blasted those of us who adopt internationally because…wait for it…”there are plenty of children right here in the US who need a good home.”  Well, bravo to you for helping them out.
  • Among international adoptive parents, there is frequently a smack-down between those who think you should keep a child’s birth name (“It’s the only link the kid has to his previous life.”) and those who change it (either to fit in easily in American culture, or because they want a family name).  I love this argument.  Since we changed one and kept one, I win no matter what.
  • And, this is the big one of late.  Among Ethiopian adoptive parents, there is a raging war about whether people should adopt from Ethiopia at all.  Yes, you read that right.  People who adopted from Ethiopia now (that their children are safely home) feel that the ethical corruption is too much and that Americans can no longer adopt from Ethiopia without adding to the corruption.  They are very critical of those trying to complete adoptions now.  I totally get it.  I’ve got concerns about corruption in the system as well.  Lots of them.  But I think it sucks when they call out well-meaning families for wanting to grow their family in the same way they did.

The list goes on and on.  You can be judged for homeschooling, private schooling, or public schooling.  You’re graded on how diverse your community is.  People berate other parents for co-cleeping or not co-sleeping.  Feathers are ruffled at the mention of fundraising for adoptions.  Some believe “special needs” adoptions are somehow better than others, ranked by the level of need.  People are judged by how much they’ve done to “give back to” the country from which they adopted, whether their kids have learned Amharic or whether they celebrate Ethiopian holidays.

Don’t get me wrong.  I know that this happens with all parents.  It’s easy to look at other parents and judge them for not making the same choices you do.  I just think that the adoption world has an added layer of judgement.  Maybe it’s because of all we went through to get to this point.

I’ll lay it all out on the line.  I adopted two kids from a system which is probably much more corrupt than any of us would like to admit.  I brought them home and legally changed their names.  I made them sleep in their own rooms in their own beds from day 1.  I sent Ayub to preschool as soon as I could.  I stopped going to the Ethiopian church because it didn’t fit with MY value system.  I sometimes forget Ethiopian holidays until I see someone post on Facebook.  This is me.  These are MY choices.

But here’s the thing.  Even if these aren’t your choices, YOU ARE STILL A GOOD PARENT.  I think it’s time we stopped shouting our positions so loudly and really listened to each other.  Supported each other.  This is hard work.  When you are in it up to your elbows, you need to know that others respect your position.  Of course, I love to learn from the experiences of others, which I why I have stayed active on message boards and blogs.  But in the last month, I’ve reached my limit with the judgmental tone of the dialogue.

Now, on the positive side, I have met some wonderful people and some of my greatest supporters through the adoption process.  Other adoptive parents who have faced similar challenges are some of my greatest parenting allies.  On those days that are darkest, I am constantly uplifted by people who I have met through this journey.  I’ve had Skype sessions, late night phone calls, strings of text messages, and kind comments that have helped me keep it together.  When I look at my Facebook friends, I am amazed at how many people in my list have an adoption connection.  When I have a question, I still turn to the message boards looking for information.  This community is absolutely vital to my mental health.  I continue to marvel at the fact that people were actually able to parent adopted children before the internet.  It is these friends who have gotten me through the last four years.  And when I weigh the good and the bad…there is definitely more good.  I am a better person for knowing these people and having them in our lives.   If I had gotten around to posting this before Thanksgiving, I would have ended with “I am thankful for you.”  And even though Thanksgiving has passed, I think I still will.

I am thankful for you.

[Please forgive me for not having a photo in this post.  It occurs to me only now that every time I’ve been in person with other adoptive parents, we’ve always taken pictures of the kids, but not of us parents together.  That will change in the future.  Note to self: put down the wine glass and take a few photos.]

 

 

 

Those Curls! (And Free Giveaway)

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There is not a day that goes by that someone does not comment on how beautiful Lucy’s curls are.  I agree.  In adopting a daughter from Ethiopia, I was terrified about the hair.  And I feel like I won the lottery with this one!  (In many ways…not JUST the hair.)  I have gotten a few requests to share how we get her corkscrew curls, so here’s my best effort to explain it.

Disclaimer #1: I am not a hair professional.  I do not know anything about hair.  I didn’t know much about my own hair, and knew absolutely nothing about African-American hair until about a year ago.  What you will see here is the result of lots of trial and error.  If you want some helpful advice, tips, or styles, I strongly encourage you to visit Chocolate Hair Vanilla Care.  She knows a lot more than me and is WAAAAAY better at braiding.

Disclaimer #2: I don’t think this hairstyle will work on most African babies.  Lucy’s hair, while curly, is very fine (not course) and absorbs water very well.  Although her hair is drier than mine, it is not brittle and doesn’t break (much).  Sorry, but I can’t guarantee results on any other hair type.

Here is what we use:

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Here’s what we do:

  • Wash with Shea Moisture shampoo on Saturdays.
  • Co-wash (wash only using conditioner) with Shea Moisture conditioner every night.
  • Apply Shea Moisture Smoothie after conditioning every night and comb through the tangles.  (Yes, we comb out every night.  Only takes a few minutes.  See disclaimer #2.)
  • Sleep with a sleep cap.  (Visit Africa Sleeps – you’ll see Lucy modeling her cap on the home page!)

And here’s how we get those gorgeous curls:

Those Curls! from Kristin W on Vimeo.  Videography by Sam (who apologizes for the momentary thumb over the lens).

This process takes about 5-10 minutes in the morning, depending on how squirmy she is.  I consider that within the acceptable time frame of what I’m willing to spend on her hair.  As her hair gets longer, it may take longer, which may be a deal breaker for me.

Like I said, this routine is currently working for us, but it took a lot of trail and error to get to this point.  That’s where the giveaway comes in.  I have the following items in my “tried it and didn’t work for us” cabinet, which I will give away to one lucky 2 plus 2 reader.

DSC_4422All of these are at least half full, some were only used a few times.  To win, leave a comment about why you’d love to have all these products to try.  Leave your comment by Wednesday, April 10 at midnight.  Winner will be randomly selected on April 11.  This is a great way to get some really expensive products and not have to worry about whether you are wasting your money.

Thirsty?

Today is World Water Day.  It’s not a day I celebrated or even knew about before I started learning more about Ethiopia.  And I don’t think it really even hit home until I saw this:

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These jerry cans were sitting outside the door of the hut where Ayub and Lucy were born.  They drank water from these.  They bathed with water from these.  I’ve asked Ayub about them, and he says that the water came from the river.  I’m not sure if that’s true, but if so, this is the river that he’s talking about:

DSC_0884Yes, those are crocodiles.  And they aren’t the only animals who live in this water.  Here’s a little more about the water crisis and how it affects families in developing countries:

Please help.

Here are two great organizations that are helping communities build wells and provide safe drinking water.

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profile-photo.jpg.112x112_q85_crop-smartPlease, please, please click on the links above, learn more about this issue, and take a minute and donate $5, $10, or whatever you can to make an impact.  If you can walk to the sink and fill up your cup, consider yourself lucky.  Not everyone has that luxury.

Never Before Seen Footage

We’re coming up on the one-year anniversary of our arrival home with Ayub and Lucy, so I thought it was about time I finished up this video.  I posted a lot of photos during and after our trips, but I have never gotten around to posting any videos.  I’m really more of a still photo kind of gal and owe big thanks to Uncle Davey, who shot most of the video clips.

I made this video for my us, and I thought hard about whether to post it at all.  But then I remembered how when we were in the waiting stages, I would often scour the internet looking for videos of others’ Ethiopian adoptions.  I would watch their videos and dream about what our own video would look like.  Well, here it is.  But first, a disclaimer.  If you are a potential adoptive parent, this will all look like sunshine and roses to you.  It was not that way.  There were some very hard times mixed in here.  I don’t have video of the 1 hour and 20 minute tantrum at the top of the Horizon House steps.  I don’t have photos of the bite marks and bruises that we were given.  I don’t have the grief-filled sobs that echoed through our house early on.  Those are not the memories I want my family to keep.  I want to remember the things in this video: the early days, the smiles, the firsts, the hope.  But I want others to be aware that those things existed and they are a part of our journey as much as anything else.

Another disclaimer.  I really tried to cut this down to a manageable length.  But I couldn’t do it.  So, I don’t really expect anyone to watch this whole thing, other than maybe my mom.  If you have 25 minutes, go pop some popcorn and settle in for a viewing.  For those of you who would just like to see certain parts of the journey, here’s a guide to where you will find them.

  • Referral – :21
  • Meeting the Kids – 1:51
  • Addis Ababa – 6:30
  • Trip #2 & All 4 Together – 8:18
  • Horizon House – 13:59
  • Trip to Afar – 16:39
  • Trip Home & First Few Months – 22:49

Without further ado…Our Adoption Story

Our Adoption Story from Kristin W on Vimeo.

I’m Selfish. And I’m Not.

When we first started the adoption process, I had no thoughts about the “orphan crisis.” I just wanted some more kids. (Actually, at the time, I just want ANOTHER kid, but that’s another story.) I wanted a larger family. I liked being a mom, and I wanted the chance to do it some more. It was all about me and what I wanted. I wasn’t aware that there are 147 million orphans around the world or that 5 million of them are in Ethiopia. I just wanted more kids. So there you have it…I’m selfish.

Since then, though, I’ve learned a lot. I’ve opened my eyes to the world outside of the sheltered view of life that is presented to us by the media. I’ve learned that around the world there are children living in poverty. There are parents who desperately love their children, but are forced to give them up because they can’t feed them. There are children who die every day because they didn’t get a vaccination or medication that we buy on a drug-store shelf.
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So what am I going to do about it?

I don’t know.

Since we came back from Ethiopia, I have known that I need to do something. (No, this is not the part where I announce we’re adopting more kids. Adoption is not the solution to this problem.) I want to make a difference. I want to help those kids, those families. But I’m stuck. I don’t know how. The need is overwhelming, and frankly, there are too many choices. I have considered them all. Yes, we could sponsor a child. That would help one family. Yes, we could raise money to build a well. That would help one village. We could donate to a school, to a group supporting girls, to a hospital, to a medical mission, to a library, to an orphanage, to a group that rescues unwanted children. We could sell necklaces or buy a pair of TOMS. Those things would all help. But it doesn’t feel like enough. It doesn’t feel like I’m doing my part as a world citizen.

So maybe I’m not so selfish anymore. I’m looking for suggestions. What have you done since coming home with your kids to help support their birth country? What would you do if you could do anything? What organizations are REALLY making a difference? And, if you know of anyone who works for an NGO active in Ethiopia who needs a part-time, telecommuting worker, I’m open to going back to work.

National Adoption Month

November is National Adoption Month.

I’ve been wanting to write a post all month.  I wanted to encourage people to consider older child adoption.  I wanted to tell you that this is the greatest need, whether you are considering domestic or international adoption.  I wanted to tell you about the fabulous kids I met in Ethiopia who need someone to call mom and dad.  I wanted to tell you that even if you don’t get to be there for the first steps or the first tooth, you’ll still have so many firsts that you can’t count them.  I wanted to tell you that it’s fascinating to watch a child learn a new language and culture, while sharing with you his past.  I wanted to do all of that.  But the month has slipped away, and in the end I’m not sure I want to encourage older child adoption.  It would be irresponsible of me to encourage everyone to consider it, when I know that not everyone can handle it.

So, in case you are considering older child adoption, let me attempt to give you a balanced view.

There are some fabulous things about adopting an older child.  Seeing them learn a new language is fascinating.  You don’t have to deal with diapers and strollers and sippy cups.  You get the joy of discovering someone that already has likes, dislikes and interests.  You get someone that has some degree of independence (or at least who can get himself a glass of water).  You can go places and do things that are designed for slightly older kids.  You can show them Shrek and Star Wars right away.

But there is a price.  I knew going into adoption that there would be a lot of things that I would never know about my kids’ past.  And I thought I would be okay with that.  But the reality is that every time I see Ayub go into a tantrum, I wonder what happened in his past that relates to the current situation.  It is so hard to identify the triggers when you weren’t there for the initial events.  And when I say tantrum, I mean it.  Not a whiny, I’m kinda mad, American kid tantrum, but an all-out, heaving, sobbing, yelling, pinching, kicking, spitting, biting, foaming at the mouth kind of tantrum.  (In all fairness, we haven’t seen this in a long time, but they will never be erased from my memory.)  And there are still tantrums today, although less severe.  And there is unexplained sadness.

Parenting a child like this is both rewarding and exhausting.   There are some days where I see such amazing growth, both physical and emotional.  And then other days I wonder if we will ever be able to let our guard down.  I long to relax and enjoy our time together instead of constantly being in survival mode.  There are glimpses of it.  I see it every now and then and so I think it will happen some day.  But for now, be warned, parenting an older adoptee is not for everyone.  Some days, I’m not even sure it’s right for me.

 

Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus

When Ayub came home from Ethiopia, he was missing three teeth on the bottom.  He can only tell us what happened to one of them.  He says that he fell down, got hurt, and his birth father pulled out his tooth and threw it on the roof (an Ethiopian custom).  Well, yesterday, he lost his first tooth in America, leaving a HUGE gap.

Of course, our customs here are a little different, so instead of throwing it on the roof, the tooth fairy came to visit.  She left two dollars.  He was very excited and proud of his money and wanted to look at it and hold it.  I pointed to the picture of George Washington and asked if he knew who that was.  His response?  “Yea, that my first dad in Afar.”   That kid cracks me up.

This leads me to my next question, though.  We have been struggling for some time about what to say about Santa.  First, let me preface this by saying that Santa is one of my favorite things about being a parent.  I LOVE Santa.  That being said, I don’t want to permanently scar my kids, so we’ve been debating what we’ll tell Ayub about Santa and why he never visited Afar.  He’s seen the jolly, red-suited man in stores and books, and we’ve mentioned that Santa brings presents.  No matter what, we will obviously not dwell on the “Santa brings presents to GOOD little girls and boys” since I don’t want him to think that he was bad, or that all his friends were bad, or that Ethiopia was bad.  I’m thinking there is some way to work in the fact that Christmas is celebrated on a different day in Ethiopia, but haven’t quite nailed that one down yet.   I would love some advice from those of you who have adopted older kids about what you told them.