It's the little things

One of my favorite things about home schooling is hearing all the ridiculous wonderful tidbits that come out of the little folks' mouths. And being there for the connections made and the joy they have learning. I get to see it, verify it, share in it. There is no lag time between something they observed at 10am to when I see them at 4pm and ask how their day went and they say fine. Obviously, it complicates my personal hygiene and house organization having them here so much, but right now, where we are as a family being together so much is priceless. (How is that for obnoxious home school mom speak? So sorry.)

Today's revelations are brought to you first by Cookie Monster, age four. We were reading one of our favorite poetry anthologies Be Glad Your Nose Is on Your Face: And Other Poems: Some of the Best of Jack Prelutsky, and fell on this poem, about a "Spatuloon"

Cookie was pointing out his hilarious tail, how it can flip pancakes. Then he pointed
And look, there there are the bird's boobs.

Honey, those are not boobs, they are the birds wings!

Oh, they kinda look like boobs.

Then three-year-old Tsega chimes in amid wild roars of laughter from the girls (we were all rolling with giggles)  Mom, your boobs look like mine. Not dat! 

Let the record state that I do not have plump bird wing breasts. And that children's poetry books can serve as Rorschach tests for little boys. 


Twenty or Thirty Times a Day

Up to my eyebrows in schooling. Blogging is taking a hit. We finally, after holy cow, five months home, have hit what I would consider a legitimate stride with home school. We've got math, grammar, English, writing, penmanship, cursive, poetry, history, reading and comprehension, geography. Science is still pretty low on our priority list but in warm months we will be doing earth and messy science outside, so I don't mind waiting until English is even stronger and waiting another few months to build more in.

So, it turns out schooling four kids is a full time job. But I have hope for sanity: they are starting to direct their own studies a little bit. Which is awesome to see some independent work happening. Today they worked for an hour and fifteen minutes with zero intervention. As in, I was taking their brothers to therapy and gymnastics down the street and hitting up the grocery store. I came home and their work was done and the girls had practiced piano. WIN. WIN WIN WIN. (Can you see me fist pumping in the air?)

In the meantime, some version of this nonsense below goes on at least twenty times a day. There was only blood twice today so, hey, success, right?

Carry on friends. It's a little busy over here. But hopefully good things keep on keeping on. And hopefully in the coming weeks I have awesome stories to tell about Tsega finally starting EMDR therapy and maybe even that hippo therapy I've been blabbing about like a love-sick groupie for months. Baby steps to insurance coverage...

PS. A little ditty of mine was published in other realms of the internet, so if you missed it the first time, throw on a swim suit and jump in. Communicating Under Water


We shall overcome

I mentioned a few days ago on the Scooping it Up FB page, inspired by the faces on US money, the kids and I recently talked about slavery, about Abraham Lincoln, the Emancipation Proclamation, the Civil War. Not comfortable topics. Sure, there was no slave trade from Ethiopia, it isn't apart of that country's history at all, and thus this whole slavery business was horrifying news to them, but it does open up a can of worms. It wasn't their people who were taken. It wasn't their forefathers who had their families destroyed. But it still strikes a fearful chord.

This is something we white people have a hard time comprehending I think: when the people who were kidnapped, killed and kept captive until they were dead never to return to their homes, losing culture, language, family, dignity, community and humanity, were done so because they were of darker skin color and seen as "less than human" this makes slavery personal. It hits a little close to home. It doesn't matter that it didn't happen to my brown kids, or their grandparents. The fact is, it could have.

The girls didn't like what they heard but accepted. They heard about the war, the Emancipation and they sighed with relief, confident that chapter of the world was closed. At least it ended. Bad stuff happened but at least someone did something about it and the bad stuff stopped. Mimi literally said "whew!"

We know that's not true though. Today is Martin Luther King Jr Day. If I am going to teach about who he is, and why we celebrate him, I must then also teach that for years and years and years after slaves were set free, white people in the US still treated brown people with indignity and ugliness. That it wasn't even close to being "over" after the Civil War. And because he tried to do something about it, people killed him. It is just all so terrible. We honor this day, this man, because of how very long the struggle for equality has taken. It is embarrassing and shameful as a society.  And if I am to be honest, I can't say But don't worry girls, NOW it's totally over. Everyone knows now that skin color doesn't matter and that we are all equal in the sight of God. That would be a lie. This topic opens up a door, one I am afraid of, to tell them after living in the US - land of freedom- for a measly four months, People may not like you because of the way God made you. Because you are brown.  

They will trust me, like me, feel more comfortable around me because I am pasty. This flawed, freckled, rashy skin is still considered superior by some people. No one will ever pull me over in a car and make me get out and frisk me because I am white. No one will ever cross the street to not walk near me because they are afraid of me based on my skin color.  No one will ever follow me in a store because they think I am stealing something because I am white. No one will assume I am breaking into my own house because I am white. I will never be expected to change my hair because it's natural state isn't 'neat or professional' because I am white. There are no hate groups dedicated to killing me. No one will reference ugly n-words or lynching or burning crosses in reference to me just to be mean. No one will guess that I got into college or had a good career because of affirmative action. No one will be surprised when I succeed because I they didn't expect me to do well based on my skin color. No one will make fun of my skin, my lips, my hair. No one will assume I am an addict or a negligent mother based on my skin color. It's not going to happen. But my loves, it will happen to you.
I am so grateful to him, and his family. I am proud that his dream has come true - well, is still coming true. I just don't like how long has taken. I am grateful for his dedication and mission so that my little white and black girls and boys that can hold hands together and sing and laugh and kiss and tickle and be family. We could never be here without Dr. King.

But I don't know if I am ready for this discussion. Mimi isn't a dummy. And Fikir is already sensitive about being brown. But skimming it and making it pretty isn't really easy to do and it may not be right, either. Yeah, that is my struggle in this moment. Is it wrong to "skip" MLK Jr day this year?

In a twist of fate, Hubs just walked in and said "Hey, I told Mimi about MLK day tomorrow." I gulped. OMG what did he say???

The funny thing about my fears and hesitation is, I've already blogged about this about my other kids. I broke the ugly news of the Civil Rights Movement to Samantha and Cookie long ago. But sharing it with the children that Civil Rights worked for? It feels like a different ball of wax. It feels harder.  How do you teach about Dr. King and Civil Rights to your children? Does it feel different teaching it to children of color versus white kids? Am I completely insane?

*PS. I wrote this at 3am. Now it is after 3pm. We didn't talk much about MKL Jr today. I didn't have the guts. But we did watch the presidential inauguration  I don't agree with President Obama on some issues. But his face, his wife, his children, the camera focusing in on way more brown people than they normally would have (in my opinion) gave me relief today. My children, on a day I stressed about greatly, saw positivism.  They saw something that Dr. King would have wept to see. The most important leader in this country looks like my kids. Today, I didn't care about political platforms. I felt relief that they could see that.

And at dinner time I might get brave enough to show them this sacred piece of history.

PPS. Incidentally, all Hubs told Mimi about today was that he didn't have to go into work in the morning because we are honoring a good guy who wanted people to all be treated well no matter what they looked like. Welcome to my over-analyzing brain and the Hubs that has to deal with it. It takes both kinds, people. It takes both kinds.


(invisible) needs

I have been stewing for quite some time about disabilities. Special needs. I didn't know what I wanted to say only that something was crystallizing in the recess of my brain. I know some awesome children with special medical, developmental, physical, and emotional needs. A few of them live in my house and I have the honor of being their mother.

Sometimes dealing with the symptoms of our particular special needs, the day to day grind is maddening. It can be mind-blowingly taxing. The things they do are so hard to deal with it strains my mind and body to stay calm from moment to moment. And sometimes my resolve breaks and my patience is gone and I mourn a false reality where I don't have to deal with this crud.

Tonight I am think of the other children I love and know with special needs. I have a few little buddies with Downs, one with Cerebral Palsy, and one with Epilepsy. These things cannot be cured, they are life-long conditions. The children can grow, learn, improve, and have amazing parents who facilitate these kids' therapies and teaching with strength, passion and love. But they do not operate these necessary therapies and steer their children on paths of support with the intent to fix them.

I think I have been making a large mistake and I need to rectify it. My son Tsega has some challenging sensory issues as a result of neglect in his early months. He also has some serious anxiety and some PTSD trigger issues. Blog readers have been incredibly supportive as I've searched high and low to find the right therapists to help him get on a path to healing and helping him become a functional person. What I have realized tonight, right this moment actually, is that I need to stop trying to fix my son. He needs help. I am gonna do everything in my human power and maybe a little outside of that to get him access to help for as long as he needs it. But my goal cannot be to fix my baby. I cannot undo it. And I can't get mad at him for the results, or the effects of what happened to him. Just like a parent of a Downs child cannot attempt to undo the genetic moment that brought an extra chromosome into the DNA, it's silly. It's pointless. My sacred responsibility is to instill my child with the sure knowledge that I love him to the ends of forever and that nothing that he experienced is his fault. That he is worthy, and perfect and that he cannot with his actions make me stop loving him.

I have to stop reacting. And even more essential, I have to stop expecting him to wake up one morning and stop having these issues. Stop thinking or wishing he can or might just behave like other three-year-olds. (Who let's face it, are are minions of the devil to being with. Age three really is the worst age. It's a miracle parents survive it.) Having a child with invisible or hard-to-discern special needs makes one question one's sanity. Because you start talking and everyone nods and says "yes this is normal, all kids do this." And then you know in your gut it's not true, because the therapists see it and know it's not true, but you question yourself and think Am I over-reacting? Is it really that bad? Today has not been that bad. This week hasn't even been that bad. Maybe I have made this whole thing up. Maybe I read too many other blogs of mothers with traumatized kids. Maybe I need to get out more, maybe things are getting better?

But then things happen that bring you back down to earth. Aaaah, yes, there they are again, the issues, waving Hi Mom, still here! You're not crazy!  You and your spouse remember the time when it used to be every six to eight weeks that you'd have to up the security in the house, and now in three or four days he's overcome the new locks and the gates and you don't know how to stay a step ahead. You sleep with one eye open, never ever touching a drop of a sleep aid or even looking at an Ambien or Tylenol PM because you have to be awake in case something happens or another kid cries because someone has turned on the lights in their room at 3am and is putting puzzle pieces on their face. You worry that next time it might not be puzzle pieces. And that Brady, who is too little and weak and has his own set of developmental delays, can't fight back; might not be able to tell you when he's being picked on accidentally by a kid who dissociates while doing stuff in the middle of the night.

In the -hopefully distant- future there is a decent chance our cars will be crashed. There is a chance there could be small fires and hospital time. Things will keep getting destroyed. And we will keep working on teaching, guiding and  therapy will be our friend for a loooong time. As this spunky kid gets older, there is a chance the shenanigans and confusion and frustrations will intensify, not go away. He will have to deal with consequences and so will we. But if I have learned anything by the last year of my life with my special boy, time does not heal PTSD. If I have learned anything by being apart of online support groups for parents with kids who look a whole lot like my kid, it is that at seven, eight, nine, the need for therapy and support continues. Sometimes things get worse before they better. I know families who's children need to go into residential psychiatric treatment because staying at home isn't safe anymore. Our newest therapist says it is smart to realize that anything is possible when dealing with trauma and to never assume it will just go away. We know, Hubs and I, she is right. We see it with our eyes.

I want to look at my child with all of his needs as a whole person. A kid with autism or Downs does not require fixing. Neither does my son. But he does needs a Mom who understands him and loves him and doesn't expect him to do anything other than the best he can. Just like a mom with a child with cerebral palsy would never think about putting him in his chair without his straps on or a helmet if he needs it because I need him to sit still in his chair today. I am done. I am tired of having a kid who needs this helmet. It takes too much time and I want him to not need it. I mean, that sounds stupid right? Well,  I am guilty of expecting my child to do more than he can do sometimes. I need to continually set Tsega up for success and be patient when he acts just the way he does. I need accept him as he is, help him be his best and keep him safe and healthy within the scope of his capabilities.

Healing. Not fixing. It's a subtle difference between those two things isn't it? He needs help healing from the traumatic events of his past and forging an understanding of himself so he can learn to navigate life confidently and lovingly. He doesn't need me to be on some war path of Making Him Stop Doing Stuff. How ridiculous is that? Speaking of stop doing stuff, oh Meal Times, why art thou so hideous? But there I go again. If he had a condition that made it hard for him to use his hands and from here to forever he was going to spill and make a mess, I as his mother would need to realize This is what he can do. Meal times are going to messy.

Maybe for Tsega, food and mealtimes will always be stressful. I hope not, but maybe they will be. Instead of expecting him to be different, maybe I should work towards helping alleviate that stress, supporting him  and comforting him instead of criticizing something largely out of his control. Maybe one could argue Well, he needs to learn to sit and eat with other people! Does he? Really? Let's project him into adulthood. He can do whatever the heck it takes to calm his stress. If that means always having a snack with him in a baggie in his pocket and eating standing at his job or quietly eating his lunch on the train instead of at a table that is a perfectly decent coping strategy. Maybe at dinner with his family he doesn't eat much or sit long, but he does his best and as soon as he can't stand it he gets out of there. As an adult, these things are simply quirks. As a kid, though, not being able to sit down and eat is an offense that draws wrath and frustration and condemnation. Why? Why expect him to more than he can do?  Because it makes life easier for me, sure. But of all the things we are trying to teach him, this one may not actually fall in the top important ones.

I am full of Maybes tonight. I am questioning why I get angry. Why I get frustrated and what is reasonable to except my specific child with his specific disabilities and abilities to do. And you can't answer that for me. Isn't that the kicker? We think we all know what kids should be able to do, need to learn to do, but with special needs, what is "normal" doesn't matter one whit. And Tsega's needs aren't obvious to the casual observer. Actually, a lot of special needs aren't. But we judge away at the really loud, screamy, naughty kids in stores and restaurants (me too, I say "we" on purpose) because we can't see the sensory processing disorder or the trauma or the autism. We see a parent about to lose her crap, or looking embarrassed. Or even worse, maybe we think she doesn't look embarrassed enough.

I need, effective now, to stop becoming mad at and embarrassed about my child. I want to stop feeling like a crummy mom when my child with special needs acts like a child with special needs. I want God to kick me solidly in the butt and help me end my frustration when days are hard. And I want to embark on a new reality wherein I set Tsega up for success and stop wishing he were different. Because how on earth will he ever believe me that I love him no matter what if I only act loving when he is behaving the way that makes my life easier?

Oh these are murky waters to navigate: Accepting my child where he is but trying to help him grow and achieve all he can. How much is pushing? What is helpful, and encouraging and what is counter productive and discouraging? At what point in the teaching does Tiger Mom turn into torturer? I suppose that is where all parents fall short and where all our children, special needs or not converge: reaching adulthood and having to figure out how much they are willing forgive us.

I hope it's a lot. I hope they forgive all of it. Because I do love you to the ends of forever, my perfect boy.


Why I am Going

We've had the plague. I am only writing about it now because I can sit long enough for more than a single-line FB update. Admittedly we are usually lucky and have rarely seen our share of illness in winter months so I guess it was our turn. Oh man, it has been ugly and has forced me into something I haven't done with regularity in a long time: actually getting into bed at a decent hour. For eight long days Hubs was traveling the globe (Thanks for for my fake but really really good fake Dolce & Gabana sunglasses from China, babe!) and in cruel timing, the day he left I came down with Nasty Jungle Virus.  I do not actually have much memory of how I survived last week. There was a lot of PBS, a lot of Netflix, Mimi got really good at making breakfast for everyone but the fact that the toddlers are still with us is truly an act of God. It was the pits, and it is working its way through the children.

My own sickness hasn't left, it has morphed into a rocking sinus infection but I am feeling more functional now. I am zapping it with antibiotics and attempting to get out of bed before 9am and generally wondering how long recovery is going to drag itself out.

In the midst of physical torture and a bit of personal despair last week I hit a breaking point. I realized I was running on empty. Hubs travels a lot. Not as much as some spouses, not as much as my friends in the miltary, but enough to make life unpredictable and leave me winging it alone with the children most of the days and nights.

As I lay in bed, wanting to staple Tsega and his accomplice, Brady to my bed sheets so they couldn't do anything horrible or life threatening while I was unable to move, I realized something profound.

I gotta get the h____out of here. 

What tipped me off was this important discovery: I have stopped caring when the children cry. I am stone. My brain and body and mind and heart are all so flooded with tantrums, whining, tears, screaming, that I have built a mental wall of self-preservation. This thing children do, crying, to tell their parent as clearly as they can: I am in distress, please help! is no longer is impacting me the way it should. Instead of running quickly or thinking Oh no, what happened?! I have been finding myself thinking What is it now? Can't you just chill out for more than five minutes at a time? Why can't we can a solid hour without someone being a pain in my butt?

These are not loving, compassionate Mama thoughts. These are the thoughts of a woman who desensitived to her children's needs because there are so many.  As soon as the flu fog lifted, I realized the power my burned-outedness was having on me. I wasn't feeling nice. I was (ok, AM) annoyed with my boys instead of joying in them. Instead of feeling excited to help Fikir with English and pronunciation I was trying to avoid her so I wouldn't have to deal with it. Avoiding, not dealing, being annoyed? Bad signs, people bad signs.

And then the Benevolent Hubs returned from a week long travel fest with gifts and hugs and smiles and I wanted to punch him, (just a little). I envied his breaks from the chaos and the screaming and his ability to return home refreshed, ready to see the kids, them delighted to see him. No one is delighted to see me. I am not even delighted to see me. I am tired. I am blah. I have let myself become burned out on this blessing of a role: motherhood.

It's not surprising considering I haven't gone anywhere by myself since Samantha was born almost seven years ago. That is a long time to decide to not have a break. It's a long time to live in fear of plane crashes and car accidents or whatever else might go wrong should I leave the kids. Then I remembered something: I have friends who work against this very thing. Friends who plan a yearly retreat for mothers who have children with early trauma and attachment issues. Friends who are in the trenches with me with kids who are a little harder than average. Who talk to therapists more than real people. (Sorry therapists friends, you're real, too.) Why did it never occur to me to learn more about this?

Within fifteen minutes of thinking about it I made the decision to go. I called Hubs to tell him about this retreat and instead of having a conversation with reasons and logic and I opened my mouth and started bawling. (I've since heard that is the number one sign it is time to go on this retreat). I've been trying to prepare myself for such a thing when I wrote a few weeks ago about how scared I am to leave my children, and I decided to throw my fears to the ground and stomp on them a little. I need to change my trajectory. Because right now where I am headed is days full stony glares, hands yanked a little too hard upstairs for naps, less patience and a depressed-like state.

My kids deserve a mother who learns how to take care of herself. No kid wants a mom who sacrifices herself for them only to turn into a living shell of a woman who feels angry and tired much of the time. No kid deserves that. I remember at times watching other women in my life including my own mom do that to herself and it's not worth it. It does nothing to build relationships. I want my girls especially to learn how to manage this role of motherhood. I want to give their future selves permission to not kill themselves in this role.

And the amazing thing is, clicking "purchase" on that plane ticket has changed everything. I feel lighter. I feel hopeful. I feel like maybe I can make it seven more weeks until I get to be embraced by a slew of mothers I admire and care about who are doing the same things I am doing, and will never judge me for my feelings and frustrations. It doesn't hurt that we are all converging in Florida. I know the sunshine and warmth will be a balm to my weary soul. I can already feel the rays reaching for me, beckoning, just in the act of deciding to go.

Hubs has been so supportive and kind. He looks at my request to go as as sign that I will not eventally lose my ever-loving mind, something he feared when I suggested oh-so-long ago that we adopt again. He wants me to take care of me. And until this point, I have not done this well.

The buck stops here. Well, it stops in Florida. And I am soooo ready.


Now and Then and Now

Yesterday, my new Ethiopian girls (when will they stop being "new?") requested I pick up a bushel of jalapenos. Why? I asked. Raised eyebrows and smiles: To eat? they retorted like I was daft. Then they proceeded to eat them bite by bite with dinner. Even convinced Samantha to join the party and munch on them. The three girls sat, chewing jalapenos with dinner like this is what everyone does. I cannot tell you how much I love being an Ethiopian American family. We are richer, more fun having all they bring, literally and figuratively, to the table.

Later, I showed the girls an article about our church building a new meeting house in a town I'd never heard of in Ethiopia. Mimi got a look on her face. I need to start noticing it because it means she has a story, a slice of information about life before, in Ethiopia. She told me something about this town. That they'd lived there. Stuff like this never makes it onto official documents. I love writing down her tidbits, her memories. She is the keeper of truth about their past. We had no idea. We folded up the newspaper article, put it in a drawer and vowed to go visit this place when we go to Ethiopia.

Tonight I was remembering for the children the day Hubs and I left Ethiopia with Tsega. I recall being faint and vomitty the moment we stepped on the plane. I was in such bad shape I had to be wheeled to the jet way and they did NOT want to let my six-months-pregnant butt on the plane looking like I did. I had LAWSUIT! stamped on my belly and pallid face. But we got on there, me preggers, a tiny, weak, scared-silent infant in arms, and a worried Hubs.

Tonight I told the tale to Mimi and Fikir who have never heard about his adoption story and Brady's subsequent arrival. Mimi stared with horror: Oh Mama, you are strong. I cannot believe you got on zat plane wis two babies. I never do zis. Never.

How kind she is, and wise beyond her years to realize how freaking scary it all was. That flight home was a disaster. I wonder if I would have wanted someone to tell me what was about to hit me. I wonder if I would have wanted someone to stop the wheelchair, pick up my chin, look me in my droopy eyes and say

Three days from this moment, your water is going to break, and you are going to have a very, very early and very sick preemie baby, along with this fragile, malnurished baby in your arms. You will be hospitalized for more than three weeks, and be separated from this new baby you have due to complications from the surgery you're going to have. Your new baby who hasn't had a mother, and just got one: you are going to abandon him again. And the other baby, the one about to be born, he isn't going leave the hospital for four months, in fact, he's going to be moved from hospital to hospital six times. It is going to rock you.

You have a two-year-old at home that needs his Mama and also will suffer trauma from not having you for a month, and a four-year-old who may as well be fifteen for the maturity she will muster from all of this. And two needy babies, between whom you are going to attempt to split your brain and body for the next two or three years....Oh, Scoopy, you are in for a ride, friend. The last few months of bedrest, PICC lines, stress and this sickness you feel right now: Just the beginning.

What would I have said if someone told me all this as they wheeled me to the door of the plane?
Would I have believed them?

In this new year, I feel a profound respect for what our family has been through, and come out of. We survived hard things. And we are still digging away in the trenches. I feel grateful for the hundreds of people who have said a prayer to God or the Universe on our behalf. I feel grateful for the encouraging words, ideas, advice thrown my way. For hugs, knowing looks, dinners, visits, babysitting, kindnesses. For friends that don't judge me when I call and say matter-of-factly something ludicrous like I would like to dump a bucket of cold water on one of the kids. No? Not okay? Fine...

I feel grateful to finally realize that life doesn't have to be easy for it to be good. It may never get easier than what I have right in front of me. It will change, but I have learned to get comfortable with constant discomfort. I haven't been not tired in six years. I may be tired forever. I know this, please don't try to convince me otherwise. I have kids with special needs, I have a lot of children, and someday five of them will be teenagers all at the same time (heaven help me). This, right now, is as easy as it is going to be for another decade or so. And I feel strangely calm about it.

This year is first and foremost about gratitude. Gratitude that we have come so far. It is also about acceptance that there is so much more we have to do and overcome. Finally this year is about connection and relationship building with the six children, and by all means necessary (read: therapy) meeting their emotional, psychological, academic and developmental needs.

To sum it up, I will be shoving at them with all the strength I have compassionate love, good food, good books, Jesus and therapy.

First though, I need to to the dishes. Because it's 1am, Hubs is on an airplane somewhere over the Pacific, and they aren't going to do themselves.

Happy New Year to you all, thanks for coming here and being apart of this.


communicating under water

I remember the first time I was able to connect to Tsega, my three-year-old's "story." I was sitting on the couch, talking to one of his therapists about his challenges, my concerns for him, what I believed about his trauma and the effects of it on his life and brain and future. And I broke down into an ugly cry. As I spoke the words aloud and shared the details of his life it hit me: The depth and scope of what my son experienced. And I wanted to take it all away. It was horrible, unfair, stupid. I was angry at the people in his life that allowed it. Most kids at age three are learning colors and how to sort shapes and how to share toys. He has bigger fish to fry and sometimes it feels like the fish are trying to eat him.

Now I have two more recently adopted children. It has been an interesting pursuit to once again attempt to relate and really understand the events and circumstances that have shaped them. With Fikir, my six-year-old particularly, I've been trying to get inside her life, her past a little, so I can better meet her needs. I want to understand why she does what she does. I also would really love to know who she is. It is a good exercise in empathy for me, to put myself where she was and try to feel what happened to her, and pinpoint where in her development she was when things went downhill for her family.

I have been a little stuck in this exercise. I have found it hard to see the links between her coping mechanisms, behavior,  her personality, and her story, her life.  I feel a compulsion to find these connections so I can appreciate the complete package and see the whole person, not just the one in front of me. Because the one I hang out with everyday is like experiencing a human in 2D. Communication is largely to blame.

She is magnificent, brave, spunky and determined. But she had some tender years robbed of their innocence and safety. I am certain based on tales from her mother and from how well she is doing in her new family she had some good years. Real stability and love from her parents. It is obvious our girls both had love, because they know how to give and receive it. But she cannot remember much of those years.  Truthfully, she is wholly incapable of talking about feelings or memories. She doesn't admit to having any or thinking about much. She lives completely in the moment. She likes to play, she loves the snot out of her new siblings, and I mean, I cannot stress enough the inseparable nature of the kids in this house. She loves doing school and her activities, and she has handled the transition of her life in Ethiopia to this one in the US as well as any kid could. It's shocking how well she is doing.

But, but, but... I feel like reaching her on deeper level is like trying to have a conversation with someone under water. It's distorted, blurry, we can't really hear each others' words, and she doesn't understand what I am saying, and she doesn't have the words to say much. If she did, I wouldn't be able to hear most of it. We are signaling, gesturing, at least, I am, and the bubbles and shiny things are distractions in the way.

We get along. But it's all logistics. It's What we are doing today, it's Planning for tomorrow, it's What she did at gymnastics. Think about how you converse with a two or three-year-old and you will know the extent of what we discuss. (Don't be deceived by her knowledge of all the lyrics to Call Me Maybe She has no idea what "threw" "wish" "well" "stare" mean.) We can chat about meals, the need for clean teeth and bathing, tired, car rides, please don't lick that, coloring, games, stories, scary monsters not under bed, who's turn it is for something, animals, clean ups "oops, spill!" Beyond that, well, there is watery abyss.

We've known each other for four months. We are family and we live together and hug and share cups and do hair and rub lotion, and read stories, and plan outings and laugh. And we've never had a real conversation that hinted that she understands or acknowledges in the slightest what has happened to her life, her family, or how it's made her feel.  I don't know if  she's ever thought about it, and even if she has, she has no way to talk about it. If you ask her how she's doing, she will say good, and get back to her barbies. And she means it. She would have no idea how to talk about anything beyond this moment, wherein she is actually good. It doesn't matter if I speak to her in Amharic, either. She is shut off in both languages.

Oh yes, to me it feels like we are communicating under water. This girl in front of me isn't real, because when I think about what happened to her I want to throw up with fear and panic and the Unfairness of it all. The lack of real feeling and understanding is harder on me than her. This shallow level of interaction comes naturally to her. It's safe to think about nothing. It's a happy place.


Every adoption book and therapist gently reminds parents that however long a kid has been the family, should be how we view their development in months, and eventually years. We should go by their "family age" not their actual age in meeting needs and setting expectations. So Fikir has been here four months, and really, it is clear she needs the kind of patience, nurturing and has many developmental skills and needs of a four-year-old. And it can be so strange, confusing, tiring to treat a big kid capable of some big kid things more like a little kid, and adjust expectations in a downward direction.

It can also be very freeing. Fikir isn't ready for "school." She needs to have fun learning her shapes, colors, letters, how to find things that are alike and similar, following directions, basic sequencing, logic and of course, above all, English English English learning. We are working on what are by definition pre-school skills. I had visions of schooling my same-age girls together, and it has been humbling to realize that what Samantha needs in school is so different and that I can do almost zero school for them the same way. Samantha is learning to read novels on her own and respond to writing prompts. Fikir is learning what sounds the letters make and how to hold a pencil properly and how to tell if things are alike or different.

And Fikir deserves to learn those things. She is doing great at those things. They cannot be skipped nor rushed. She is learning words for things in English that she never knew the word for in Amharic. Like  "ladder." A picture of a ladder stirs up no word for her in Amharic, she never needed one, maybe never saw one. During some really important months, when she was four when kids in most of our families are introduced to hundreds of new words, places, things and ideas in a given month, she was tucked away in the walls of a care center, where little changed, she wasn't read to, and there was little introduction to new words, ideas, places, or vocabulary (and oh yeah, not the least of all factors she was a little tiny girl who lost her parents. Her brain probably did a darn fine job protecting itself by starting to shut things out. New things = scary.)

She is making up for lost time. She is cheerfully and doggedly learning about the world and how it works. I just hope that with her words and with her neurons connecting so too our communication will improve. I hope that someday she will have enough words and the desire to talk about herself. Her feelings, who she is, how she thinks. Because right now, she is an utter mystery to me. It feels so strange to have a child, my daughter be so unknown and unknowable. I live with a giggly stranger.

I know, I know. It takes time. Patience and time.  I guess for now I will sit down here with her in the water, playing "tea party," smiling as much as possible through the distortion, the light prisms and the bubbles. But I can't wait to get out of the water onto dry land, and really hear her and have her really hear me. I don't know when it is coming, but I suspect it will feel like breathing air.