Getting There

On our most recent trip Hubs and I made a deliberate 12-hour layover in Frankfurt, Germany before heading to Addis.

Little known fact, I used to be very proficient in German. I spoke it well enough in high school and college to carry on conversation, accidentally respond in German sometimes, and read books auf Deutsch. Much of that proficiency is gone, but anytime I get a chance to test if I have any functioning brain cells remaining I cannot resist. We thought We might not ever get to "do" Europe. This layover might be our only shot for the next ten years. 

We were so happy to have this time together to relax, stretch legs, nap like hobos in public parks, explore and put my German to practice. All the fun stuff to see and do in Frankfurt is only a fifteen minute train ride from the airport, and as it turns out, no one bothers to check if you've bought your tickets or not. (Don't worry, we paid our fare.) And sometimes you can pretend to be messing with camera settings but really you are checking out your hunk of a husband.

Right outside the train station was this restaurant. We both burst out loud laughing when we saw it. Marche used to be in the Prudential Center in Boston but has been gone for years. This was the destination of our first date, back in 2001.
Seeing it brought back fun memories of us being embarrassingly into each other on that first date.

In Frankfurt we read, practiced Amharic and napped on our Lufthansa airplane blankets. I pretended like magical Health Fairies who respect my mild but pervasive germaphobia wash those blankets in between flights. They are cool like that.

I don't know what kind of crazy geese these are but we don't see these suckers in New England.

We  did touristy things like eat excellent but unidentifiable deli meat sandwiches and strudels and people watched. Why, why, are bread and meat, okay, all food, better outside the US? Why do we eat so poorly here? Why do we accept fake food as standard and acceptable? I felt the need to document my lunch because it was from a crummy little cafe that honestly kinda belonged in a mall food court, and it was the best sandwich I've ever had. It wasn't just the hunger or hours on an airplane talking. This sandwich was legit. Germans don't get enough credit for the food situation going on over there.

Speaking of people watching.

I was fortunate to have snapped Hubs' smirk with this store in the background.

I think by far my favorite place to visit was the very old St. Batholomew's Cathedral. It was stunningly beautiful and peaceful. And we caught the tail end of a wedding (oh how I'd kill to shoot a wedding in a space like this. The natural light was amazing)

I was struck by this stained glass because in the first part it says almost verbatim "articles of faith" we learn to recite as children in my own faith. This reads, I believe in God the eternal Father of Heaven and earth, and in his only begotten son Jesus Christ...I love connecting with other religions and ways of believing.

I was feeling a little bit overcome when I got to this piece. The expression on Mary's face, the position of their bodies...

Then, when we got to the place where we could light a candle and pray for someone, well, it kinda did me in.

We talked in whispers about our daughters' first family. How anxious we were for the girlies, how much we wanted to be with them, and how intensely terrible it is that our longing to be with them is a feeling that will end for us soon, but that longing for the family they leave behind and their longing for these special girls will last for years, or forever. Not for the first time I wept for another mother, with grief in her heart. And we lit a candle for her. It simultaneously felt like the right thing to do and yet so trivial. A band aid on a slashed artery. Not to say that God hasn't used less to heal worse, but there is no doubt about it, adoption is built on the worst of all losses: the loss of one's family. Maybe in my heart this candle was lit not as a "Goodbye, good luck, God, please look after their mother." But more as a promise to God and my daughters, that this is not goodbye. This is not a cut tie. This adoption will not mean losing family forever. Will there still be separation and loss, grief, and trauma? Yes. But if we work hard, keep our hearts and minds open, the channels of communication and love will stay open indefinitely.

Too soon, and not soon enough, we were rested, fed, and just worn out enough to hop back on a red eye to Ethiopia.

By chance we met a friend in the airport. This connection proved to be the saving grace of our trip. I cannot resist a new baby and helping a mom traveling alone get through customs.

I have an illness: I am away from my kids for just a few measly hours and I latch onto someone with a kid so I can be a Mommy's helper. Her arms were aching from holding her tiny one for the last nine hours, and she was happy to oblige my going gaga while finding her bags.

That is the story of us getting there. To Ethiopia.  It would be a mere few hours until we were able to meet our new daughters for the first time...

to be continued...  

*PS. A little birdie told me if we are lucky we will be submitted to Embassy this week. Continued ridiculous nesting and general internal Freaking Out is underway. C'mon paperwork.


What I said after what she said

I try to be a good blog commenter, because as a writer I love feedback and love to see that we, you and I, connected in some way. I love to know what you thought, what part resonated with you or made you snarf your drink or vow to never add six kids in six years.  It gives me a lift, so I try to reciprocate that kind of connection the blogosphere.

Here are some recent comments I made on posts I liked. Take a blog hop and don't forget to comment if it moves you.

Over at Agnostic Adoption's bit of advice

I wrote: My overwhelming numbers have made me say yes WAY more to WAY more things than I ever thought I would. Standing on the table is where I draw the line. Standing the grocery cart, I don't give a crap. Really, I don't. They are likely not going to fall, but if they do, it teaches them more than me nagging ever would. I think society doesn't handle this kind of parenting well, though. People cannot handle what they perceive as permissiveness, when really, I am just letting go of stuff that won't hurt them (badly anyway) and letting them learn and frankly, giving them the gift of not hearing me say "no no no no no stop stop stop" all the live long day. School, church, museums, they know what behavior is expected. I am a drill Sargent. But some things aren't worth a battle.

Over at the heart wrenching post about mental illness resulting from childhood abuse and torture I Was a Foster Kid  

I wrote: LT, I am so sorry. My heart hurts wishing your pain could be taken away. One thing to like about yourself, is that you are a teacher. A really really good one. And the way you put words to your pain and experiences is a gift. Not everyone can do it. You teach us. You help many of us deal with our struggles by validating them. You help some of us be better, more sympathetic parents to kids who’ve experienced trauma. You’ve made me a better person by deciding to continue to live and write. I pray for you often. I figure God knows just fine who “LT” is. I talk to him sometimes about how some good things and good feelings need to be sent your way soon.

Over at God Will Add about artificial twinning in adoption

I wrote: So many thoughts. We too have out of birth order and two sets of artificial twins. Your first paragraph about the two babies crying and not being able to give everyone what they need? YES. YES YES YES YES. Our parallel lives are kinda freaking me out right now. 

*It's true that in real life, I've never meet another family that looks like mine. Online, I got friends in spades with the same level of crazy.

On The Adopted One's piece called Reality TV and Adoption Don't Mix
(if you only read one of these, go read an adoptee's perspective on this hot mess)

I wrote: Exactly. I don’t understand what kind of prospective adoptive parents agree to be apart of this show, and why any social worker would agree to let them be apart of it. It seems unethical and coercive just by participating. Talk about exploiting emotions and tragedy.

On One Thankful Mom's post about how "sad" sometimes looks like "mad"

I wrote: Oh man, do we have sad look like mad around her, and scared look like mad. And we do not have verbal skills enough to be able to talk about it yet. But I will keep trying. Thanks for sharing. And MAN do I need to do better at seeing it in myself. 

And while not a blog post, I wanted to share part of a faceschmook conversation from the past few days (not on the Scooping it Up page). One mom shared a personal story about how Vitamin C has been transforming her family.  Specifically, there is some evidence (read here   and here ) that correlates ingesting large amounts of Vitamin C with the reduction of cortisol (the stress hormone) in the brain.
Kids and adults who have undergone trauma can have very elevated levels of cortisol in their brains, so that basically, they feel stressed out, on high alert much or all the time. Like you or I might feel after a near collision in the car, or when your kid runs into the street and you run after them, or you're late for a really important meeting or how Jason Bourne feels entering an abandoned warehouse in Chechnya... You know that feeling? That panic or super alert super aroused state is how some kids feel all the time. Imagine trying to learn, or build relationships, trust people, make good decisions, weigh options, feel safe if you are in that hyper aware, scared feeling all the time? Can you imagine your grades? Your behavior? Your coping skills?
After a few weeks of dolling out vitamin C to one of her traumatized children, (in careful, measured amounts) the facebook poster saw more calm, less raging, and much better sleeping in her child. She has been seeing positive effects.  Scoff all you want, but the results she shared were enough for me to order some Vitamin C powder to give it a go.

I wrote: I just came on here to update you-- I bought the powder and today made an 8 oz smoothie with OJ, a few strawberries, a few ice cubes, the powder (a little less than 1/2 tsp because he's only 2 and I didn't want to go 5000mg which is 1 tsp) and some vanilla yogurt. it took a few sessions to get it most of it down over the course of fifteen minutes.  But he did it and he liked it. I am going to try my best to get these little vitamin c smoothies in him every day for the next week and I will report back.
Like the woman who shared her path, I am not dispensing medical advice. I am not saying you should do this. I am not promsing anything. But I was intrigued by the studies to which I linked, and the fact is, more Vitamin C won't hurt him, so why not see if it helps?

And that is what I said after what she and she and she and she said. What did you say?

typographical snapshots

I am still sans camera. Insurance company is going to make it a beast to cover my stolen photography equipment. More than $5000 of gear is gone, and I feel helplessly adrift without the camera and totally helpless to do the hours upon hours of research to prove I owned what I say I owned. But I cannot let a week go by without some documentation.

I came downstairs this morning still rubbing sleep and bad dreams from my eyes to six-year-old Samantha, glowing in the morning sun, expertly swaddling her baby doll Hannah, with another soft bodied doll stuffed up her shirt.

Mom, you will not believe this. 

I am pregnant. It is so hard to take care of a baby when you are pregnant. This baby was adopted, had to get a g-tube, and keeps having diarrhea. I just can't believe how hard this is.

Don't I know it, Sis. No one knows better than I how hard it is to be pregnant and have babies to take care of. And this better be the last time I hear those words "You will not believe this but I am pregnant" until you are a respectable age like, 26. The age I had you  will suffice.


News of note: We have not yet been submitted to Embassy. This is the same as saying, as far as we know, our daughters are not any closer to coming home than they were last week.  I am guessing Powers That Be are working on getting the girls' Ethiopian passports which are necessary before applying for Visas. The wait still sucks very much. Every day there is a heaviness. There are people missing from our family and not a moment goes by when we all aren't aware of it. We no longer feel complete just the six of us.  The kids all are feeling it. And like a ray of sunshine in the middle of rainy month, this morning a very kind, humane, fellow-adoptive mom visiting the care center where her son is, and our girls are, sent a picture and a note from our twelve-year-old. My dear girl wrote

We are happy when we did something in Ethiopia with you. We will be happy when you come again to Ethiopia. I am very happy to waiting for you.

I cried. Squealed and cried. Called the kids over to read them the note while they in turn shrieked with surprise and joy in hearing from our beloveds. Then it hit me that it all wasn't a dream. They are there, we were there. We were together, they are real. They like us, they are waiting for us and ohmygosh is her English improving?

My sweet girl said she is happy waiting for me. If she can be happy waiting, then I must try harder, too. I can't let myself get sucked down into the Pity Pit.


Tonight prints came and I immediately abandoned my dinner attempts to put a few into frames and hammered them into their spots on the wall. Pictures of the girlies with Hubs and me in Ethiopia. As I brought Tsega downstairs after his nap he noticed the new photos.

What dat Mama?
You tell me, what is that?
Konjo (pointing to his sister)
Did you just say konjo? (konjo is beautiful or handsome in Amharic)
What's her name?
___________ (Perfect, all four syllables, half the people we know couldn't dream of saying it right. And he did. We had no idea he knew the sisters' names. This was the first time he's referenced them by name. Until now he's called them 'Opia.)

And then when we passed the mirror he pointed to his hair and said tsehgoor which of course is the word for hair.

My genius little man has a knack for Amharic. Go figure. The language that should be his first, if we work really hard, may just be his second.


Today was possibly the most exquisitely beautiful day I can remember, maybe ever. The sky has literally never been this blue. The fluffy clouds so perfect. The breeze so slight. The sun so kind. It was painfully wonderful. Painful because growing up in Los Angeles I didn't notice days like this, because many many days a year are like this. But here in Boston, days like this demand notice, respect, reverence and call upon the deepest reservoir of gratitude within me. I took the children blueberry picking.

The four of us managed to stay close with very minor supervision and I kept alternating this prayer

Thank you God for this day
Thank you God we are at a point where I can take my eyes off the babies and they don't run away
Thank you God for this day
Thank you God we are at a point where I can take my eyes off the babies and they don't run away

It was a miracle. The whole flipping thing.
We were dusty and warm and busy and happy and it was so wonderful to be outside together.

It all ended when we had to come inside and tantrums erupted and so did my patience.
But I am humming about my feelings and that blue sky and my industrious children
Oh no they can't take that away from me...


A little advice from the pros

A handful of the children are fighting a lot. Not with each other, no, that's normal. They are fighting epic battles with me. And the worst part is, some of these fights are over things they want to do.
Sure, they start digging in heels over things like putting a puzzle away, or picking up the jammies tossed to the ground. I get that. It stinks to be a kid to have to clean up one's messes. I am talking about fighting me and totally wrecking their own days because they are stuck in a power struggle and don't know how to stop. 3/4 of the kids will be strapped in the car, engine on, and someone is having a tantrum over getting on a swim suit to go to the pool, a place this child actually wants to go and will love the moment we are there.

 The belligerence is making me a little cra-cray.And I needed a wake up call on how to stop the cycle.

And I need to remember this. Watch to the very end. It made me cry a little it's so right. Does this ring true for you, too?

And FYI, Christine, writes a sweet, funny blog about her adventures in parenting kiddos with trauma and has gotten so good at it she offers therapeutic parenting coaching for folks stuck in ruts with their children. She has a lot of love to share and is really good at this stuff. Find her here. (No, she doesn't know I exist. But I kinda wish we were buddies. I love learning from people like her who are willing to share.)


A confession, a discussion, all clear as mud

So, there was a really good discussion on the Scooping it Up Facebook page the other day. And it's been lingering in my brain. My initial post was typed out in a fit of frustration. But a few days later, I admit, I still own the feeling. I wrote:

"Forgive my rant. Please. I am begging you. Do not hate me forever: I do not understand how people can still, after everything we know, feel OK about receiving a referral for a healthy infant from Ethiopia after a one or two month wait and not realize that there is something wrong with this. Are we not all aware that this is nigh *impossible* if your agency is working ethically? I DON'T CARE WHAT THEY SAY or how nice they are. The wait for a healthy infant from Ethiopia is up to three years right now, 12 months would be considered short and raise eyebrows, I think. A promise of a healthy infant girl referral in one to six months should garner this response:

Ya know, because you just promised us this and are likely promising other families this time frame for a referral for a healthy infant girl, we know that there are people somewhere in your organization or in the orphanages you work through who are manufacturing babies quickly. This is very concerning. We wish you would cut ties with those people. They should be fired. We will not be apart of this corruption. You should be ashamed.

And walk away from that agency. THAT is the response. Not Yay I get a baby so fast everyone else has to wait we are so lucky!

If everyone stopped handing their trust and money to agencies who work with orphanages who are passing out quick referrals, things might be different in Ethiopia. We all have to get to this point eventually where we know this is true. I had to get there. I used to not know." 

Let me repeat: I used to not know.

The comments followed were great. Insightful, and encouraging. Because a few years ago, one could not bring up ethics in adoption without being instantly shot down.. The feeling for years has been shhhh! Don't throw accusations around about corruption, it might make it so the good, legitimate adoptions don't happen! Don't ruin this for everyone else!

The funny thing is, is that I feel the exact same way about corruption cases. I think Why on earth would we as an adoption community let corruption continue and ruin it for the children who legitimately need families?

One person said in response to my yelly status update, with bold added by me:

Education, education and more educating ourselves and those around us about how corruption works, what it looks like and how it feels (plays on our emotions). Having courage to walk away, to remove the corruption and not be willing participants (ignorance is willingness in my book).


There's so much to say here. Adoption should always be about families for children, not children for families. We all should start or keep reading the blogs of internationally adopted adults, and talking with them, and learning from them. Their stories--especially about learning the truth of their origins and birth family, about deceptions, about information--are vital. As adoptive parents, we need to keep opening our eyes and ears and hearts. 


Even *if* your child's parent confirms intention to relinquish and you feel you can claim an ethical adoption, it does NOT make this system ethical or the building of an "adoption solution" ethical either. One person's story of 'our facts are verified' (or even 1.000 stories) DOES NOT turn Scooping it Up's comment on its head. The fact is that no agency in this current state of adoption in Ethiopia should be filling waiting lists as Scooping it Up just described. Her outcry is totally justified.


I thought healthy child adoptions in Ethiopia by most agencies are stopped for now. holt/whfc... last check are not accepting applications. Interesting that wouldn't raise a flag. Increased time frames don't suggest or increase ethics themselves.


Working at an adoption agency for a number of years, I can tell you that corruption big (out right child buying) and little (fumbling a child's documents) happens in EVERY country that adoption exists. Also, the age of the child at referral along with wait time is a BIG red flag b/c 98% of families adopting are seeking "healthy babies as young as possible or under 6 months at time of referral" so when an agency has 100+ families all waiting for babies 6 mo. and under whom are getting referrals quickly begs for questioning. Only approx. 2% of families are seeking to adopt older children or children with disabilities; which means that those families should have a shorter wait time b/c there are thousands of older children and children with disabilities.

Many times agencies supplement the fees so that these children can have a greater chance at adoption but you don't see that with babies. Agencies are charging the top fees they can get away with for babies. That in itself is disturbing to me. Why should families pay more for one child versus others If seeking to place children who need families with families is their true mission? Corruption and ethics go hand-in-hand. A slight slip of ethical regard can lead to corruption. The adoption community should be pushing for the hard answers, not just the rehearsed junk. 

One follower expressed concern with my sweeping statement

...my concern with your statement is that it's painting with too broad a brush to assume that any 1-3 month old referral is de facto evidence of corruption. If someone brings in an abandoned 1-month old baby that matches what someone is waiting for, what is the agency supposed to do? Keep baby around for a year or two before referring it? That's obviously absurd. 

I had left to take the kids to the park but another reader stepped up to answer that specific and valid question:

It's not the age of the child that is the concern, but the wait for a young healthy infant. Certainly, there will be a few young healthy babies that are legitimately available for adoption and should be placed with a family as soon as possible. [Edit by me: we are one of those families. With an ethically referred infant who needed a family stat. He was healthy. I know these babies are out there. More on that later.] 

But it is very suspect, given the relatively FEW young healthy babes that enter the system, if an individual receives or is promised a very short wait for such a referral. Anything less than 24 mo. wait to receive a young healthy baby referral (either gender) is very suspect in my mind. There are hundreds and hundreds of families waiting for the few healthy young wee ones that legitimately enter the system each month. Therefore, the family's wait should be long while the baby's wait should be short.  


I appreciated all the comments and discussion around this topic and now I must get to my confession. I don't know why all of this is happening beyond the blanket statement of: money. But there is another problem all mixed up in this I want you to see.

While in Ethiopia this past trip I visited an orphanage where my son lived for awhile. This was one of the worst moments of my life. It was not what I'd consider a "baby factory." We African adoption folks hear tales of China, VietNam and Eastern European orphanages that have rooms and rooms, whole buildings of cribs lined up full of ignored babies and children. Those tales are true.  But this wasn't like that. It was a tiny place. At the time of our visit, the workers had only four children to look after.

But I want to say without faltering that I hated it there. The women were kind. Seriously. They did nothing wrong. But that placed sucked. I had an emotional, panicked response to this place that I still don't understand and it resulted in my ugly crying and losing control and almost berating the staff for the conditions, which are largely out of their control. These people were nice enough to let me in and in a matter of minutes I became a monster. A weeping, angry, judgmental mess.

There was a nine or ten day old infant, lying in a poopy t-shirt wrapped loosely around his bum who had the worst case of yeast (or thrush) infection in his mouth I have ever seen. His lips, tongue were coated with a thick infection. He could barely move his mouth. The bottle they offered him dripped down the sides of his face because he couldn't form a proper seal to suck with all the gunk. I've had four babies. I have never seen a yeast infection like this. I demanded medicine for him.

The doctor came yesterday and said to wait three days, then if it isn't gone, he will get medicine.

Unacceptable. That doctor is an idiot. This baby needs medicine today. I will go buy it. Tell me where to go.

He said he will come back in three days. And they shook their heads in defeat and discomfort while their random visitor's shoulders shook with spasms, crying, feeling helpless.

Hubs tried to hush me, bring me down from Crazy White Lady Ledge, but I couldn't be consoled. I sobbed as I held this infant's teeny hands and inspected his face, racking my brain for things I could do to ease his discomfort and condition. I came up with nothing. The other babies' eyes glowed with hope. They wiggled and tried to find me, reach for me. They wanted to be picked up so badly. I forced the staff to let me hold them, coo at them, promise them things I couldn't promise:

You're gonna get out of here. Someone is going to snuggle you and change your pants and kiss your owies and cry your first day of kindergarten and feed you all the time...

I wept for each of them. I wondered, why are there here?

It was an area that is very poor, lots of poverty. Not hard at all to believe a family can't afford one more mouth to feed. Not hard to believe a mom didn't survive child birth. Not hard to conjure up a dozen ways those babies ended up needing a family. 

But there is also no know way to know if a grandfather, uncle, brother, husband, sister, mother, neighbor  pressured a parent to give up a wanted child. There is no way to know if money or assistance exchanged hands for this baby. To a family barely getting by in a third world country, is it so hard to imagine someone with power, money, or even a tiny particle of authority saying

This baby is better off without you. She will go to America, go to school, have a better life than you could give her. Don't be so selfish. This will help all of us

Furthermore it is not hard to imagine that sentiment being ingrained in a local community where there exists an orphanage that directly funnels children to western adoption. 

Those babies might have be in there because they needed to be, or they might be there because of something unethical and wrong. But now, for better or worse, there they are, in a place that simply thinking about feeds my compassion and Patience-O-Meter for my son who had to be there. And they need to get out.

Reunification seems almost impossible for most children that go into the orphanage system. Ethiopia's state run care centers do not seem to work for that (though I would LOVE to stand corrected on this).  Most NGOs organizations that run orphanages, and certainly adoption agencies do not work for family preservation. Why? Money, I think. It costs money to support families who need a bootstrap to pull up. It costs money for infrastructure to build more hospitals, pay doctors, build bigger, better farms, send children to school.

And no one gains money when families are reunited. No one earns a cent. I don't know much. But I do know this: it's heartbreaking. I don't want adoption to stop in Ethiopia. I don't want kids kept in orphanages longer than they need to be. Because I am a mother to three kids who needed me to be their second mom. I know adoption can be good, beautiful thing. I am passionate about it.

But cruddy agencies and people who participate in corruption, I want them stopped. I want them stopped about five years ago.

This next story is hope. A baby who may have been adopted by a very loving, happy blessed family in the US or Europe. But he wasn't. He was saved from the trauma of losing his first family. Please see how he was mistakenly kept in an orphanage and how he was reunited with his family. Grab a tissue.

Today, I am mindful of children who need their moms and dads. Their first ones, or second ones. Or both. Because, really, it's about them. Not me.


Revelations in Bale, Ethiopia

We had the honor and happiness of visiting some special friends of ours who live in a very rural area, the mountainous and fertile region of Bale, Ethiopia.

Some of the switchbacks on the newly paved highway pushed my Dramamine to its limits.

The views were breathtaking.

Let me introduce you to the gorgeous road we traversed and possibly the worst, most inexperienced, drugged up driver on the road that day: ours. There were two or three occasions where we considered pushing him out of the car and driving off without him. He was that bad. Seriously.

Luckily, we had this friend, and translator and angel with us. He quite possibly saved our lives and our sanity. The three of us will never stop laughing about how very bad the driver was and how badly we wanted to strand him in the middle of the road.

These little yellow flowers are prolific along the highways.

We fretted over what gifts to bring, a common concern I think for foreigners visiting their connections in remote locations in Ethiopia, and we settled on this soap, which is great because it rinses well without much  water (soaps made in the US require a lot of water to rinse clean) and is usable for laundry and personal hygiene. The brand is B-29, imprinted thusly on the bars themselves.

We found B-29 in a small convenience store in the city of Nazret on the way down south, but this could be found in the Mercato in Addis, and many places. Our friends were very excited to receive it and I know they shared some with neighbors. The other gifts that were a huge hit were a large bottle of yummy smelling cocoa butter lotion and some candy to share.

I loved the au natural safety fencing in the village we visited.

I loved how our friend practically dragged Hubs from the car to get at him for hugs and a hailstorm of kisses when he saw him. (We'd been able to send word that we were coming and our arrival was joyous to say the least.)

It is so humbling and beautiful and admittedly took some nerve to exit the world of white, privileged westerner and enter a community where Hubs and I were the only people like us that have ever been there and may ever go there. This was one of the hardest and best days of my life. Maybe sometime I will write about the hard part, but for now, I will focus on the best parts.

We were guests in a home of a family who lives so differently than we do. It was quite literally another world. And yet it felt so good. So comfortable. So easy. We tread the waters carefully at first, but then felt immersed into another culture and language and felt that awesome Otherness when one is the outsider who waits for the translator to work. Conversations with translators are so delicious to me. I love the patience, the waiting, the searching faces and hands for expression and meaning. I love picking out words and phrases and forming responses in anticipation. I love how time slows down when one communicates in different languages. I love how hard everyone works to listen. I love how the air is electric with the desire to connect and understand. I love how our friend Abel was the best translator we could have ever hoped for.

I loved sharing pictures, stories, praising, thanking, loving.

I know they love us because they brought us Mirinda, the most welcome sight I've ever seen after nine hours in a car. Does anyone know if this can be found in the States?

It is was a life and humanity affirming revelation to see that our life, our country, our world, though more comfortable with the electricity and running water and h-vac systems and lawnmowers and Trader Joe's, is not better. This is not obvious to us most of the time I think. Many folks, if they had to choose right now, whether they want to raise their family in a rural third world country or the US, will pick the US every time without pausing.

But the children in our country are not happier than those in Ethiopia. Children are not necessarily better off here. Were it not for access to health care and education, Hubs and I would have a tough decision about where we'd rather raise our children. Even just now, he paused walking by and asked what I was writing about, and agreed: it is not clear. The radiating kindness, sincerity, desire to engage and learn and connect is often missing in the faces we see here in America. Why? Have you met anyone this week, or month, who smiled like this kid when you said hello?

Oh yes, the other gift that was quite beloved was a soccer ball. We struck gold with this one.

I learned a powerful lesson this day. I was reminded that education, opportunities, worldliness, literacy and money do not necessarily equal happiness or goodness or intelligence or wisdom.

They are good things. Wonderful things. I wish more Ethiopians had those things because they certainly deserve better.  But we spent time with friends who do not have those blessings in spades the way we do, yet they are kind, wise, understanding and happy.  They have good hearts, strong hands.

They love deeply, think deeply and they care deeply. They are bearers of truth, answers. They are part of our family now.

Before we went, I will admit, I wasn't sure how it would feel to be there, with them. They were a fantasy. Names on paper. I was nervous thinking of how awkward or difficult it could be. That I wouldn't know what to do or say. But now, I know better. And I can't wait until the next time I enter this door for more hugs and kisses.


Snippets of thoughts

Amharic lesson this morning with the kiddos, we learned the Ethiopian version of hide-n-seek.
Kukulu! yells the seeker while covering his eyes as though asleep. (Which is like the rooster crowing and the seeker is saying It's morning!  
Alnegem! Call the children back as they run to hide which is saying, Not yet, stay asleep!
The seeker eventually pulls off his hands, yells Nege! (awake!) and goes to search.
As the seeker finds each child he yells andtenya! huletenya! (first! second!, etc.) The older three had a blast. Brady napped.

You should be jealous and or proud: we have a highly successful fruit fly in captivity breeding program over here. They are flourishing. They are being nurtured lovingly by the children leaving all manner of squished grapes, half eaten pears and watermelon rinds all over the pigsty house. I am planning on calling the zoo and telling them to send us their pandas and tigers. I am pretty sure we have a gift.

Sometimes, when Tsega is rejecting food and no one is around to witness the inanity of mealtimes, I have to suppress this desire to shout out in a semi-southern accent like a pig farmers wife, Homer, Wilbur's off his feed again! Because it's funnier to pretend I have a sick hog than admit our kiddo has a rotten emotional relationship with food stemming perhaps in equal parts from a very sad first few months where he did not have enough food at all, AND from the fact that he is 2.6 years old, which is a terrible age to be sometimes.
Speaking of my voices. Our read-out-loud novel this week is Roald Dahl's The BFG. There is a sweet giant who has the most outrageously hilarious vocabulary, and I don't know why, but as I started to read his lines, his voice came out sounding exactly like Michael Caine's cockney accent. You know who he is, Albert from the Christian Bale's Batman movies and the voice of Finn McMissle from the Cars movie. Anyway, apparently this accent just seemed right for the BFG. In other news, I am so so happy Hubs is almost never around for story time because I don't know if I could bear the embarrassment of other people hearing the voices I do for my kids when we read stories. (PS. The Big Bad Wolf from Red Riding Hood is Irish.)

I am feeling squeamish about posting pictures of our girls until the Embassy grants them visas to come here and join our family, though I cannot push the blame solely onto fears of governments halting our process. Part of it is that I feel protective of them. They have no idea that four, sometimes seven hundred people come to this blog every day. And while that is laughably insignificant in the internet world, it's a lot more exposure than they get, say, now. And I don't know how to have that conversation because my Amharic isn't that great yet. How does one explain the reach of the internet? And what is with my double standard? I clearly have not given Brady and Tsega, and the other kids the same consideration. I might change my mind on this. At any minute. For now, I balk about posting.

But if by chance you are walking through our neighborhood and come near our house, I will likely take you by the hand, lead you to the computer by force if necessary, and make you behold the loveliness and perfection that are our new daughters. Because I love them and want to share them, but somehow that feels safer. Small doses. People who know us. And will know them.

It's a confusing concept dealing with public exposure, but not compared to the enormity of the fact that it has been only fifteen days since I last hugged them and already the feelings and memories for me are fading. I question my impressions. Fears have started to knock at the window and doors of my mind, pestering me. If this is true for me, I yet again cannot help but think of how they are doing and feeling. Hubs and I find this separation from them almost unbearable. The children here, the current crew, once loathe to lose a parent for a few days say Mom, can they come today? You need to go to Ethiopia now. Just get on a plane and go. I wish, babies. I wish.

We are revamping a large portion of the first floor layout to prep for the girlies and a new school year. Hubs went on a spree to trip to your (and my) favorite get-lost-forever warehouse and right now our entire downstairs looks like Ikea's baby. The boxes and sheer amounts of veneered surfaces are overwhelming. We now have a dining room table that seats up to fourteen people. Take that suckas.

We have a desk for home school that seats three kids at once. We have bookshelf cubby thingies to organize school materials, books, my violin and voice music and atomic particles if need be. Right now a team of Hubs and our three "little brothers" from Haiti are pounding away with mallets and reading wordless instruction manuals assembling these things. Remind me to tell you about these awesome Haitian teenage loverdolls that my children worship sometime. They are living with Hubs' parents right now. Infatuation. We all love them. And I love that our family is growing more diverse by the month.

I finally bought a card reader and am uploading pictures right now from the trip and Hallelujah Hooray we have hit the freaking JACKPOT. The thief who stole the camera did not get our memories. I am weepy and high fiving God right now. What a blessing.

We have videos of the girls singing with their friends, pictures of the girls with their mother. Us with their mother, the house where they grew up,etc etc etc. To say I am thrilled is a criminally pathetic use of the English language so I will stop now with a big fat grin and continue writing.

This baby, a mesob, made it home with us from Ethiopia. It is a low, woven table that allows for only one large plate. Family gathers around eating from the same dish with their fingers, sometimes feeding each other. I love the togetherness, the sharing that eating from a mesob promotes. I love the lack of space. I love that we got it home in once piece.

And the rest of the pictures, will have to wait until tomorrow because our fire alarms are going off again. It wouldn't be our house if there wasn't always something ridiculous going on... to be continued...


Letter of Intent to Pursue Home School: First Grade

Saddle up pardners, this is quite the treatise on home school, including an actual letter of intent. I wish A big item on my "To Do" list was crossed off tonight. I had the opportunity -- look at me being positive!-- to write a letter to our school district outlining our intent to home school Samantha this year. Before doing so I had a brief chat with the district superintendenty person who is the contact for folks such as I. It's easy to get chippy in the shoulder region when the superintendent says over the phone ...and now are you a teacher?

And then my brain rolls its eyes and thinks Oh jeez lady, are we gonna play that game? Like I am only qualified to facilitate a fabulous education for my child if I've taught in public school?

Guess what a degree in primary education does? It prepares one to teach in a classroom.  I have exactly four sisters and sisters-in-law who have degrees in education and have taught in the classroom. They are all stellar teachers. I mean, if my kids went to school, I'd want them in their aunt's classes. But I don't believe for one second they are more qualified than I am to make sure my kids turn out to be brilliant, sucessful members of society.

Maybe I am cocky overconfident? But I have to steel myself to working with this woman. I may have to bend my knees a little so I can properly kiss her, well, booty parts (as Cookie sometimes says) a bit. Because I need her to be my friend. I need her to stop saying things like You know, people move here to go to our schools. You will be the only family in our town who is home schooling. The only one. What qualifies you to undertake this?.. I need her to stop feeling like our opting out of her magnificent schools is a personal attack on her career choice. This person seems to feel that by home schooling I am saying What you do and care about is good enough for other people, but not me. I am too good for you.

I don't blame her, I suppose. Because school is good enough and even great for some people, but it isn't what is right for our family right now. That could change in three months. Or three years. I don't know. And in the meantime, I don't need fights with this woman. I need her to look at our curriculum and not go searching for faults. Because really, it isn't about her. It's about us. And I am nervous to turn in the letter.

I don't want her breathing down our necks all year. Asking for proof I am not failing our children. Not only because it's kinda illegal to do that, but I don't want to go up against her. I don't need Scooping it Up vs. the Town Board of Education.

No no, I want her to look at the proposal, be impressed and feel good about my preparation and my detail, and leave me the crap alone to let the education we share as a family take its own shape over the course of the year. I have no idea what to expect though and neither does she because apparently, I am like a magical unicorn in this town. A myth. People just do not do home based education here. So this relationship I forge with her is new ground. And I don't like that she holds the cards. She has to give her nod of approval. I am not a fan of authority. I rage against machines.

But for those of you looking to build a 1st Grade curriculum, I thought I'd share what we have on paper. My rough draft that I will keep tweaking before handing it over for scrutiny in a few weeks. I will wait until we are closer to the school year to turn it in because in my wimpy mind, as the school year gets closer, she will be busier and less likely to pick my curriculum to shreds. I realize I am coming across as less than mature at this moment. I am not proud, I am honest.

Letter of Intent to Home School for my 1st Grader 

We are using an eclectic curriculum for first grade, which we have already begun, as we plan on schooling year round.  I have broken our curriculum into subjects to explain what we use and a little of how we implement. I have included some links so those who wish may obtain more details online.

Math Curriculum: We use Right Start Math Level B. We started this in Kindergarten, but have much more to do. It will likely take us almost to the end of 1st grade to complete but we might finish and move into Level C.  It is a full, comprehensive curriculum. The best recommendation I can give it is that it has fantastic lesson plans, lots of detail on how to use the the manipulatives and, and I wish I’d been taught math this way. More on what exactly we are using can be seen here: http://store.rightstartmath.com/starterkitlevelbwithalabacusstandard.aspx

Science Curriculum:
2) Science: A Closer Look for grade 1 Macmillian/McGraw Hill text book

Social Studies Curriculum:

1) All Together Scott Foresmen Social Studies 2005, Grade 1 Foresman and Company Scott
2) Children Just Like Me: A Unique Celebration of Children Around the World
 Anabel Kindersley  (this book covers the lives of children in 140 countries. We then check out additional books from the library about those countries, learn bits of their languages, try recipes from those countries, learn about important holidays, etc.)

We meet every other week with other families using this curriculum and do projects out of the activity book like making paper like the ancient Chinese did, building pyramids, etc. With these families we also do projects like family tree building, personal history writing, memorizing all 50 states and their capitals, learning about geography, etc.  We met with this group regularly for kindergarten and plan to continue this year.

Reading and language arts curriculum:
Our reading curriculum in Kindergarten was Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons which we finished in May 2012. Samantha reads at what I would consider a 2nd grade level. She can read books akin to the Magic Tree House series with a little help. She has fantastic comprehension and so we plan building on this love of reading by creating language arts lessons based on the books we are reading together. I have not developed all the lesson plans yet but have drawn from this link for ideas and the things she will do. It outlines how to corporate grammar, spelling, etc. We will model this very closely. http://www.design-your-homeschool.com/language-arts-lesson-plans-literature.html

On the list of books for the year are
The Chocolate Touch  by Patrick Skene Catling
Gooseberry Park  by Cynthia Rylant
The Indian in the Cupboard - Lynne Reid Banks
The Storyteller's Beads  – Jane Kurtz
The BFG – Roald Dahl
Catwings by Ursula Le Guin
James and the Giant Peach – Roald Dahl
Nim's Island  – Wendy Orr
The Hundred Dresses by Elenaor Estes
Little House in the Big Woods – Laura Ingalls Wilder
At several more Magic Tree House books

Some of these novels are easier than others, some she will do a lot of the reading, some she will listen more and follow along as I read, with her reading paragraphs here and there.
We also grow comprehension, vocabulary and literacy with memorizing weekly (or bi weekly if a longer one) poems. We are working through Jack Prelutsky’s anthology Be Glad Your Nose Is on Your Face: And Other Poems: Some of the Best of Jack Prelutsky. Some of the poems are difficult and introduce a high number of new words. Samantha is required to call a relative or friend and recite the poem several times unaided to “pass it off.” Mr Prelutzky also has a poetry writing website to help get students writing their own poems and we will use his teaching tools this year to encourage her own poetry. His site is here:  http://teacher.scholastic.com/writewit/poetry/jack_home.htm

Hand writing curriculum:
2) Weekly journal writing prompts or an option to write a cousin a letter/ or copy work as per her language arts lessons

Supplemental: this year she will be participating in     
       Weekly piano lessons
       Weekly music/movement class  a local musical theater group
       Weekly participation with _________, a home school cooperative near us, which has the largest  participation of any co-op in the greater Boston area.
       Rhythmic gymnastics
       Every-other-week trips to the Museum of Fine Arts for their home school art classes (which are phenomenal)
       Weekly lessons in Amharic

        *Then here was the hard part. I was to include my qualifications for educating Samantha. I fear what flew off my finger tips comes across a tad snippy, which is how I was feeling at the time. This may want tweaking. Or not.

"      My qualifications to teach these subjects are evidenced by my education, the scope and depth of the education my child has already received from her parents, the time I have spent researching and building the tools to teach, and the comprehension I have of the materials we will use. We look forward to another successful year of schooling with home based education, as it makes sense and feels right for our large family.

        On another note, because I do not know when the sisters, as they are lovingly referred to in these parts, are coming home, I am not telling the school district we have more kiddos on the way. I will not be submitting education plans for them right now.  We want to see how the girls are, and where they are at emotionally/academically. We will likely get on a good schooling schedule soon after they come, because structure is goooood, but we will have a huge learning curve trying to adjust as a family, getting a feel for what they know, how they learn, and frankly, just working on English. 

        I don't really feel like trying to get the school district to sign off on our family time. It's complicated. But strangely, I am excited. Crap, when it comes down to it, I think my best qualification for teaching my children is this excitement. I love teaching them. I love learning with them. I love being with them, and I love sharing my love of learning. I think this year, like last, one of our biggest hurdles will be how to keep Tsega and Brady from destroying everything and happy while the big kids learn. Toddlerland is not proving to be any easier than Babyland.

        Do any of you home school? How do you attack the whole letter/proposal writing each year to your school district? Are you stressed or is it just me?  How many times have you gotten crud about you depriving your children of happiness/experiences/socialization by choosing to educate differently than others? When I look at that curriculum I typed up, and all the extracurriculars Samantha and her siblings will do this year; when I think of all the children and other teachers (I count six other adults who will teach her each week) she will spend time with, I can't help but shake my head and sigh at how the stereotypes of undisciplined and unsocialized children still persist about home schooled kids. It's going to be a busy, nutty, wonderful school year!