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.

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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I’m Back – Summer Recap with LOTS of Photos

Well, I didn’t mean to take a hiatus from the blog for the summer, but it turned out that when pinched for time, the blog was the first to go.  So, in an effort to prove why I neglected the blog over the summer, here’s a little recap of what our family has been up to.

We started the summer with me being a homeschooling mom.  (Those are words that I never thought I’d say, by the way.)  We had some testing done for Ayub at the end of the academic year and one of the recommendations was that he be in an academic program over the summer so that he didn’t lose any gains made during Kindergarten.  Yes, we could have put him in a program, but it made more sense to do it at home.  Since the other kids were there, too, I decided that they too should suffer be exposed to some school-type work so I developed lessons for them, too.  Yes, that means three separate “curriculums” each week.  It was a little much for me, but I think it was great for the kids.  They did more math and writing this summer than ever.  And, most importantly, I think some things really started to click for Ayub with the one-on-one attention.  We also had morning and afternoon activities or outings to keep us all from going insane.  I had this great plan that I would do a post each week to links of what we did, but instead, here is a dump of photos.  If you really want to do one of these things…search Pinterest.

Sidewalk Paint:

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Water Day:DSC_6856 DSC_6907 DSC_6949 DSC_6975 DSC_6992

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Zip Line:DSC_7214 DSC_7219 DSC_7225 DSC_7280 DSC_7368 DSC_7425 DSC_7435

Homework:

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Stray dog rescue (we only had him a few hours before we tracked down his owner):

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Shaving Cream painting/letters:DSC_7610 DSC_7615

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So that was June.

Starting July 1, Andrew had to be at his new job, so he left me home with the kids.  The first week, we had an extra kid, as Eleanor’s friend Alexandra stayed with us for circus camp.  Then, in the middle of July, Andrew met the rest of us at the beach for a family vacation.

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After vacation, Eleanor went back to the new place with Andrew, while I took the other three home for the final week at our old house.  We came home on Saturday, packed on Sunday, the movers came and did packing on Monday and Tuesday, then we loaded up and headed for our new home on Wednesday.  Because it was just me with three kids, a dog and two cats, we stopped to pick up Uncle Davey, who rented another car and caravanned with us.  (This man deserves a medal…first a trip to Ethiopia to bring home the kids, then this cross-country trek.  Since I am all out of medals, a stiff drink will have to do.)

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We broke the trip up into three days and took lots of breaks to eat and play.  Our favorite stop was at the Louisville Slugger factory, where Sam got his birthday present.
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DSC_9834 DSC_9837 DSC_9840We all arrived safely in our new city.  However, because of some problems with the sellers of our new house, we couldn’t move in, so spent four more days at a hotel.  During this time, Sam turned 12, we ate too much junk food, we made a trip to the mall to buy warmer clothes for the kids, and the hotel was evacuated because of an incident with a bank robber, leaving us at yet another hotel for a night.  (Yes, you read that right.  File that under “things that would only happen to us.”)  Finally, we were able to move into our new house.

As you can imagine, the combination of all these trips, Dad being away for a while, and an uncertain future took its toll on the kids.  They were all exhausted, grumpy, and breaking down.  After several days of multiple rages from Ayub, we almost decided to cancel our last trip of the summer.  But, instead, after only four days in our new house, we loaded up the kids AGAIN, and headed off for a reunion with some of the families we met while in Ethiopia.  It could have been a recipe for disaster, but as it turns out, it was exactly what we all needed.  It was fabulous to spend the week with another family who has two biological kids and adopted two kids from Afar.  We also got to see two other families who we LOVE.  All the kids played together, even though they ranged in age from 1 month to 16 years.  And Ayub did great, with only one breakdown all week.  The only downside was that I forgot my camera, so the only pics I have of our glorious reunion are from my iPhone.

4 families, 14 kids, 7 from Ethiopia:

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Yes, Eleanor is in a wheelchair.  While at the beach, she got a HUGE splinter in the bottom of her foot.  Trip to ER, surgical removal and five stitches later, she’s good as new, but on this day, she wasn’t up to the walking.  And, Lucy got her first kiss.  (As an aside, if arranged marriages were popular, I would totally set this one up, just so Anne and Pete would be our inlaws.)

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I really cannot say enough good things about this reunion week.  If you have adopted kids and you haven’t had a chance to get together with other families, please find a way to do it.  It was great to be in the company of people who truly understand what your life is like.

So, if you had trouble keeping up, here’s a breakdown of minivan miles for the summer:

Home to beach rountrip- 634 miles

Old home to new home – 1034 miles

New home to reunion to lake house to home – 2242 miles

Total miles travelled – 3910

Next up:  New home decorating, potty training and back to school.  Stay tuned…I promise it won’t take as long.

One Year Home

We made it.  We survived the first year as a family of six.  One year ago today we crossed the threshold into our house with two exhausted and wary kids.  Since that day, the firsts and new adventures are too numerous to mention.  So here it is, the mega-update of where we are now (and how far we have come).

Ayub

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I think that someone forgot to tell Ayub about the stages of adoption.  We never got a honeymoon phase, where he was on his best behavior so we wouldn’t send him back.  We went straight to the screaming tantrum phase, acting out, defiance.  Then things seemed to calm down a little.  Only recently have we had some questions of “you send me back?”  Although we have always used words like forever and always, those things are too abstract.  Now we’ve started saying “we will not send you back to Africa,” and “you will stay with us until you are all grown up.”  I don’t know when he will believe us, though.  He is now acting out in different ways than before.  More overt and looking straight at us when he does the mischief.  My guess is that he’s now testing us…seeing if we are serious about keeping him no matter what.  I have to admit, this is totally trying my patience.  I know the correct thing to do is to slow down, get on his eye level, hold his hands and say, “honey, I love you and you are always going to stay with us.”  In reality though, I am more likely to scream, “Put your damn shoes on and get in the car – we’re late for school!”

Ayub has still not shared anything with us about his life in Ethiopia.  This is harder than I thought it would be.  I knew going into adoption that there would be a lot of unanswered questions.  But I thought that by adopting an almost-5-year-old, we’d at least get a little bit more info because he’d be able to tell us.  But he’s not ready yet, and I’m afraid that what memories he does have are probably already very faded.  So we are left with a lot of not knowing.  I’m working on growing more comfortable with that, but it’s hard.  Not only for me, but because I’d also like to be able to share it with Lucy someday.

You will remember that back in August, we sent Ayub off to Kindergarten, knowing that he wasn’t quite ready.  As it turns out, that may have been a mistake.  Don’t get me wrong, he has learned a lot and come a long way, but it has been a long and painful process.  He is not catching on as quickly as we had hoped.  He is still struggling with his letters, and has no concept that each letter has a sound.  He can count, but can’t make his numbers correctly.  He doesn’t have the academic vocabulary (greater than, for example) to follow along.  So while the other kids in his Kindergarten class are doing writing assignments, he lays with his head on his desk.  We have been working with the school on what kind of services he is eligible for, but it’s a lengthy process.  Right now, we’re in a holding pattern and our goal is to complete the things on the Kindergarten readiness assessment so that he’ll be ready to do Kindergarten over next year with a better foundation.  His teacher is great.  His school is less-than-enthusiastic about providing any additional services.  I’m overwhelmed with a new world of IEPs, RTIs and evaluations.  We did finally get a diagnosis of a speech delay, so he is receiving speech therapy.  Of course, the school district won’t do it, so we are using a private speech clinic and paying a co-pay every week.  In the meantime, I work with him every night, we pick a letter of the week, we do math and use various iPad apps to teach concepts.  But let’s keep in mind that I’m not a teacher, so I don’t really know what I’m doing.

But on the bright side, we have really gotten to see Ayub’s personality.  Similar to the Tasmanian Devil, he is “on” all the time.  He’s a bit of a daredevil, and I definitely see extreme sports in his future.  He’ll try anything, including jumping off the arm of the couch onto a waiting exercise ball because his brother thinks the ensuing accident will win us $5000 on America’s Funniest Home Videos.  (For the record, he bounced right off, landed on his head and got up to try it again.)  He was the only one of our four kids that would ride a roller coaster simulator with Dad, even when he saw that it went upside down.  He laughed the whole way through.  He’s a total clown and his favorite activity is making other people laugh.  His humor isn’t very sophisticated yet, but you can see him working hard to get a laugh.  His favorite line is “I jokin’ ya.”  I would say his possible future career choices include circus performer, stunt man, or stand-up comedian (although not sure he could stand still long enough for that last one).

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Lucy

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As for Lucy, she continues to be our little, happy-go-lucky girl.  Although she’s changed from a baby to a toddler over the past year, she is still the flirty, sweet baby we came home with.  She has developed a love for books, and can most often be found emptying the bookshelves into her reading chair and hanging out.  Her language development is amazing.  She now has over 100 words in her vocabulary and loves to talk.  She also loves to sing, and picks up lyrics after only hearing a song once or twice.  Therefore, “Britney, Bitch” is a part of her vocabulary, thanks to our local radio station not playing the edited version of that song.  She can sing her ABCs and count to 10.  She loves baby dolls and bath time.  We go to Mommy and Me Art Class, Story Time at the library, and have play dates with her friend Tucker.  At this point in time, I would say that she’s a very normal (or above average) almost-2-year-old.

And what about the hair?  Well, it does take some work.  Andrew is slightly overwhelmed by the number of products we use.  But those curls are so dang gorgeous.  I know I should probably be putting them in a more protective style to keep breakage to a minimum, but frankly, her hair texture just doesn’t last more than a day in braids.  Several well-meaning African American women have asked me if I know how to braid.  I get it…that’s what you do with little black girls’ hair.  But for now, we’re going to let those gorgeous locks fly free.

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The Other Kids

One of the things that has been amazing about this whole journey is the opportunity to see how our older kids have reacted to sibling-hood.  It has been a rocky road, but one that I think has led them to be better people.  I know they get frustrated, but I also think they are both loving their new roles.  As it has played out, Eleanor tends to play more with Ayub.  Although she would tell you that she hates Ayub, I think she secretly loves that she has someone younger than her that she can tell what to do.  And Sam and Lucy are tight.  After I take the elementary kids to school, the two of them have about an hour before we have to leave to take Sam to school.  During that time, Sam plays with Lucy.  He chases her, they tickle each other, he lets her give him raspberries on his stomach.  Total cuteness.  It’s not all sunshine and roses, and almost every day there is a knock-down drag out fight between someone.  But, every night at dinner, the three oldest kids race to finish eating because after dinner is their only time to play all together.  It is loud and noisy and probably violates all sorts of safety rules, but they love it.

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Mom and Dad

How are we?  Well, it’s hard.  Every day is a new challenge.  Ayub’s behavior is very trying.  I want to be the good mom and do therapeutic parenting.  Then I snap and just want some results.  Andrew is cranky and barks at the kids a lot.  We are tired.  All.  The.  Time.  This has been a mentally and emotionally challenging process.  I guess that I really thought by the one-year mark it would be as if they’d always been our kids and they would have integrated seamlessly into our family.  I have to admit, there are days when I still look at my life and wonder if it will ever feel like Ayub is truly MINE.  But when I look at where we were a year ago, it is truly an amazing transformation.  I have to keep reminding myself of that.  When I look back on pictures from those early days, it’s hard to believe that these are the same kids.  Ayub wasn’t even on the BMI chart for his age, now he’s at the 50th percentile.  Lucy wasn’t walking, now she’s running and dancing.  Neither of them spoke English, now we can’t get them to stop talking.

Last week we had our final meeting with our social worker.  Before the meeting Andrew asked Eleanor what she would say about the last year.  She said, “It was the best worst year ever.”  I agree.

Me and My Shadow

I face the same dilemma that many photographers do.  My photo albums are filled with pictures of my family, but it looks as if I never existed.  Always being behind the camera means that there are no pictures of me.  Part of my photography goals for the year was to include myself in more pictures and to make sure that I had pictures with all four of the kids.  Today, I started with Lucy.  I am still working on learning my new flash, so these were a bit of a stretch.  I used a remote, which I plainly forgot to hide in some of these.  However, since Lucy and I spend our days together every day, I am still glad to have these to prove that for at a least a year, we hung out every day.

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DSC_0085 velvet peachSo what did I learn from this?  Self-portraits are hard.  Self-portraits with a toddler are even harder.

 

I did a DYI…no kidding!

I’m not the handiest person around.  Andrew is less handy than me.  So when either of us accomplishes anything DIY, it’s a major event.

This weekend, I decided I wanted a photography backdrop.  They cost $150-200.  But every time I look at one, I think, “I could make that.”  So, this weekend I found some online instructions here and built one myself.

I spent $30 on supplies at Home Depot, including a hack saw, which I bought even though I think we already had one, but I was too lazy to clean out the garage looking for it.

I cut the pieces to size in our living room, since it was cold outside.

I had a little help with assembly, which can be done while watching TV.

And after hanging a sheet with the clamps, here is what you get.  (Yea, maybe should have ironed…will do that in future.)

Although it was difficult to explain to Lucy that the sheet was not for laying on.

I can’t wait to use it for a newborn shoot I have coming up this week.  Stay tuned to see the results.

 

One Last Photo

So here’s the final photo from my Lifestyle Photography with Kids class:

I have loved being forced to get my camera out several times a week, with the intent of capturing our everyday lives.  I had gotten in a rut where I would dress everyone up and go somewhere pretty for formal photo shoots, but not take any pictures at home.  Or if I did, they were taken with my iPhone.  Since our really life is messy, not color coordinated, and with no flowers in the background, it has been good to focus on these kinds of pictures for a while.

For those who missed it, I took the course through Clickin Moms.  It is an awesome resource and I highly recommend it, even if you don’t take a class.  There is a mountain of information on the forums and blogs that will help you take better pictures of your kids.  If you have a fancy camera, but you’ve never taken it off the “Auto” setting, then you don’t know what you’re missing.  Click below for more info and if you join, look me up.

ClickinMoms.com

More photos

In case you’re addicted to seeing photos of my kids…here are some more.  I promise, only one more week of class, then I’ll slow down on the photo posts a little.

Here’s what I turned in this week:

And here’s one of Lucy while on Field Trip #2 of the week with Eleanor.  Too cute not to share.