Saturday, December 19, 2009

Journey of Three Hundred Nights

We're quickly approaching the ten month anniversary of when the older girls joined our family. I was just thinking that at some point I will stop counting days and months, and I'll just smile and say the girls have been here a long time. It's sort of like being the mother of an infant and reporting on their age to admiring strangers, except in adoption parlance this is called "family age." So, the girls are approaching their ten month birthdays of this family. Today they had medical check-ups and we learned that they have grown! Diva Darling is 13.5 pounds heavier and has grown 3.25 inches. Princess Moxie is 3 inches taller and gained 13 pounds since March!

One thing that i was reminded of recently was when Princess Moxie cut her right hand when the garage door slammed shut unexpectedly. (I still get chills thinking of that injury.) After cleaning and bandaging it, we prayed that it would heal quickly. Later that evening Marta showed me her LEFT hand and said, "Look! It's healed, it's a miracle!!"

Some of the funnier things said and done this week:

Diva Darling ran down the stairs in our house holding an orange tube in her hand. "This Colgate?" "No, face scrub," I told her. She looked ready to vomit and said, "Eeewwww, no taste good at all, Mom." "Yes, but look how clean your teeth are," I said laughing my head off.

Later, at their dental appointment Princess Moxie ran into one of the dentists in the hallway. He is a big, funny, gregarious guy and after listening to his act for a minute she asked pointedly, "Are you Dr. Seuss?"

As Princess continued down the hallway she saw the huge aquarium with not only fish but also snowmen and Santa figurines inside it. "Who knocked down the Santa?" asked Princess. The receptionist replied, "One of the fish did it." Marta quickly shook her finger at the fish tank and said, "Ok, you fish, you're in time-out."

One very poignant moment this week came at the dentist's office. One year ago I had brought Princess Sparky for her check-up and shared with the dentist (Dr. Seuss) that we were adopting two girls from Ethiopia. He admitted he didn't know where in Africa Ethiopia was, so I got a pen and paper and drew him a picture of Africa. Well, this past Saturday he told me that he has signed up to go on a trip to do cleft palate Ethiopia!! I stood there with tears in my eyes thinking what an awesome experience-in so many ways on so many different levels!

I wish you world peace and serenity in your home--


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

One Year's Difference!
Photos from this November and Last November

Monday, November 2, 2009


On Saturday, October 31, Princess Moxie ran in a large race for 4th and 5th graders in our area. It was fun for us to see her participate with a couple of hundred children and spectators. The run was billed as "cross country," but it was really only a quarter-mile, although it seemed much longer since it was raining!

Afterward, we went to the diner for pancakes, a kind of post-race-carb-loading frenzy. To top it off, Theo, the owner, invited our girls to go behind the counter to take some Halloween candy. Princess Moxie was digging through the bucket of candy, grabbing and eating everything she could and said loudly, "I am like a little mouse!" Theo quickly reprimanded her, saying, "Never say 'mouse' in a restaurant!"

Princesses Moxie, Sparky and Diva Darling went trick-or-treating with two neighbors in the early afternoon. My neighbor friend went with us, and we had a nice time watching the girls enjoy their first Halloween. (As a Christian, I have mixed feelings about Halloween. However, when I was a kid, I loved to dress up and go out trick-or-treating. Now, though, it seems that the adults have taken over and made it too scary and ridiculous with their grotesque "decorations.") After the trick-or-treating the girls took baths (it was still raining), and we watched Charlotte's Web and ate candy for dinner. Delicious.

On Sunday, November 1, the NYC Marathon was held. I wish I had thought to bring the girls to it. I've gone several times to cheer on the runners, and it's a thrill to be there. This year was especially exciting because Derartu Tulu of Ethiopia won the women's race and America's Meb (originally from Eritrea)won the men's race! I showed the girls the clip from youtube on Meb and will show them the video clip on Tulu when they get home from school. I did a little quick research and it turns out Tulu is from the Oromo tribe, so I don't know if our girls will be interested/impressed with her, as our princesses are Amhara; they have a lot of tribal pride and I've been told Amhara has long been the "aristocrats" and ruling group. At times when they speak about the other tribes it sounds like they don't even consider them Ethiopian. Interesting.

Regardless, next year we'll plan to go to NYC to watch, if the Lord is willing, and we'll cheer on our two home teams!!

Big hugs,

Friday, October 30, 2009

This IS my Life

A dear, thoughtful friend of mine recently asked gently, "Do you have a life?" I answered quickly, too quickly, "No, not really," I said, "I am with one or all of my girls 24/7."

First of all, that's not true. On Saturdays for several hours I leave them with my husband and relish in my alone time. On Sundays, my groom and I enjoy an afternoon date, sans children. So, I am not with them ALL the time.

But what I should have said, which is more accurate, is that my family IS my life. All I do whirls around them...if I am shopping, it is for them; if I am praying, it is concerning their needs and my need for help; if I am driving, I am bringing them somewhere; if I am on the phone, I am speaking about them, or listening to a caller and feeling distracted by thoughts of them.

Jesus promises us that if we lose our life, we will find it. I have "lost," what I felt was "mine." My time to do whatever the heck I wanted, when I wanted to, has been replaced with countless obligations. My six-figure salary is long gone, along with the fun perks such as being on Larry and Klara Silverstein's yacht during a lunar eclipse; having tea at the Ritz-Carlton in Palm Beach; lunching in Naples and hearing, "Yes," to my request for $1.5 million; co-piloting the Fuji blimp; meeting Her Royal Highness of Jordan, etc. Time for my interests: running, reading, writing, spending time with extended family and cherished friends, has pretty much evaporated. I guess this is what Jesus meant: our lives can be lost--submitted perhaps is a better word, and His promise is true. He will give us back so much more; in fact, He already has. What would I possibly buy that would bring me more happiness than hearing, "I love you Mom!" What is more fun than riding around with my three girls singing at the top of our lungs? What tastes better than a teary, salty kiss given as an apology for misbehavior? What book is better to read than listening to my children READ outloud for the first time?? I used to think moms sounded so defensive when they said, "I wouldn't trade this time with my kids for anything in the world." I thought their view of the world must be sorely limited. Now I get it. Now I am a mom. I understand that laying down my interests is necessary, and it's also okay. My interests are still there, like crocuses, pushing from underneath the heavy snow...yet, I don't need to indulge them right now. It really is okay. My interests are now in the larger, brighter snow-covered landscape. As my college roommate wisely shared, "What makes us women think we can have it all, all at once? We have to make choices."

Does this make sense to you? It still surprises me...

The other side of this coin is that I have both interests and needs, and it my interests that I have and need to put on hold. My "needs" on the other hand, must be tended to, as I will not be able to be a good wife or mother if I don't take care of the foundational requirements. But that's a different post!

With love,

The First-born

Princess Sparky joined our family almost 3 years ago when she was one year old. Her sisters are older than she, but to pay homage to Sparky's earlier arrival, we refer to her as our first-born. Sparky's beloved grandmother, Nina, pointed out that I haven't been writing about her so much, so here are some little-known facts about our almost four-year-old:

Princess Sparky dropped out of preschool in late September and is living at home, still with no job or educational plans;
She seems to play all day and eats only when she's hungry.
She is obsessed with baby bottles and pacifiers;
She can count to 110 (yes, by ones, not just 10's)
She ties her own shoe laces (and her sisters, and mine, when I am not in a hurry.)
Sparky looks sweet but is actually quite spicy.
She recently watched her first full-length animated video; it was Charlotte's Web, and she now is a big fan of pigs but is still wary of spiders.
Sparky loves to climb a dogwood tree in the backyard, jump repeatedly on the low branches and sing, "Merry Go Round, Merry Go Round.." at the top of her lungs.

She is a confident, outspoken, funny, and clever kid who is wrestling with sibling rivalry and imaginary-as well as real-fears. She is also in the throes of mimicking the best and worst of her sisters' behaviors.

What more can I say? She loves to play school, doctor (will take turns being the patient and doc), dentist, eye doctor, and "neighbor." Playing neighbor entails going outside and ringing our doorbell, saying, "Helloooo, neighbor!" very dramatically, and then having a cup of decaf tea. She's into board games like Maisy's dominoes, the Very Hungry Caterpillar Game, and loves, loves play-dough. She still enjoys hanging out on a step stool over the kitchen sink and just playing with water, and exploring what things float, sink, or smell especially gross. She is also still enamored with baby dolls, wrapping them up in blankets, tablecloths, or whatever else is handy, and rocking them when they cry. She likes dogs and cats from a safe distance and once is warmed up them she will be very content to cuddle and pet them. She's musical and consistently says her favorite toy is her guitar. She strums the one good string and pings at the others and makes up songs about God, Jesus and herself. (That's not a joke, she thinks she's part of the Trinity.) She can sing every song on 10 cds from Music Together classes. Not on key but loudly with feeling.

Natalie's warmth and affection is often kept hidden until bedtime, and then she is all kisses and breathy, "I love you soooo much, Mommy." I am so glad she's no longer going to preschool so we can just hang out and play all day. I've missed our 1:1 time over the past 8 months and I want to make up for it by squeezing every minute I can with her. She is pure joy and a treasure from God :)

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The First Seven Months

I can't believe that it has been seven months since we came home with Princess Moxie and Princess Diva Darling. Rather than belabor the point "it seems like they've always been here," with the antithesis "it doesn't seem that long at all," I thought it might be illustrative to write some things that we've done which we have found helpful, as well as capture some changes that we've experienced. So, here goes:

1. The girls have truly learned English within 7 months
They aren't simply stringing words together....they are actually using metaphors and similes, to my amazement. Diva Darling woke up this morning, saw her hair was sticking up six inches on top and demanded that I fix it, saying, "I don't want my hair to look like a stack of pancakes!" Her older sister was feeling fed up with the three-year-old running around and flapping her arms, so she told her, "You are like a butterfly! Stop fluttering in my bedroom!"

This is what their "schooling" has been like:

March: After medical tests, exams, bloodwork and treatment for parasites, they received a full evaluation by our local school district. The assessment included Speech and Language with an Amharic native speaker to interpret; an Educational assessment; and a Psychological/Social assessment, again with an Ethiopian educational professional.
April-June: In-home instruction for 90-minutes/three days a week by an amazing ESL teacher
May and June: In-school instruction with a teacher 5/days a week for an hour before other students arrived
July-August (6 weeks): In school instruction, but this time one-on-one with ESL and another teacher from 7:30 am to 8:45 am followed by 5 hours of day camp in the same location (local elementary school).
August: Vacation Bible School where they played with their peers, memorized scripture verses, and learned about life during Jesus' time on Earth.
September: One kidd-o started fourth grade in the public elementary school. She has 19 classmates, and THREE extraordinary teachers in the room. She leaves for an hour each day to receive ESL instruction with an experienced and upbeat teacher and a few other students. The other kidd-o started third grade in the same school. She has about 22 children in her class and two fantastic, self-described "old-fashioned values" teachers. She also receives ESL for an hour.
Both girls have gym (either 2 or 3 times a week), Spanish (2 or 3 times a week) and Art and Music either once or twice a week.

Other things: During their "non-schooling" hours, we listened to music for large parts of each day. We heard and sang all types of music: Brahms (when I needed serenity); opera (which blew their little minds!); traditional children's songs (so they learned the alphabet or parts of the body); Amharic songs (found on YouTube and from cd's ordered on-line as well as our amazing local library); instrumental; other nationality's songs through "Music Together" cds and songbooks; and traditonal and contemporary hymns and Christian songs. Music was key to their learning English, intonation, and for just having fun.

Vacation: A week at the beach this summer with our immediate family did wonders for bonding together.

Prayers: We pray at every meal and before bed, as well as throughout the day. This practice not only helps us to maintain and enrich our relationship with the Lord, it also helped them to speak formally, outloud, with others listening to their thoughts and feelings.

Play: The girls played nearly every day outdoors for a long time. At first we went to parks and playgrounds, as playground equipment was new to them and very exciting. They couldn't do the monkey bars when they first arrived, their little bodies were so small and they were relatively timid. Now, their muscular, toned arms fly from bar to bar. Diva can even skip alternate bars, as well as do the monkey bars going backwards! The girls taught themselves how to ride bikes, swim, dive, and do cartwheels. They watch everyone else constantly and are quick to show off their new talents!!

Food: When the girls first arrived I was afraid that they'd starve to death in America. They would pick food up in their fingers, sniff it and say, "No." Our only rule with food was that they had to try the food, they never had to eat all of it at mealtimes. The kitchen remained open and they were allowed to help themselves to any food they wanted, regardless of meal time. This practice drove some of our visitors mad, but we now have two kids at healthy weights, with enviable BMI, who eat nearly everything. They still love fruits and vegetables, thank goodness. They pack their own lunches, and a typical lunch will include a sandwich on multi-grain bread, an apple, some carrots with hummus, and string cheese. I am so glad they are healthy and enjoy healthy food!

Church/Bible: Both girls came to us with an understanding of God and Jesus. Their faith is simple and one has a more mature level of understanding of praying God's will to be done. The younger of the two prays for her will to be done. We have switched churches recently due to doctrinal issues and look forward to having the girls in a Bible-believing, teaching church with a strong youth program. Interestingly, both girls like to go to bed praying with rosary beads. When their English improves we will be able to have more meaningful conversations to find out what they believe and have them baptized as proclaiming Christ as their personal Savior. (We are pretty sure they were baptized as infants as that is the common practice of Ethiopian Orthodox Christians).

Vital Help: We have been blessed by having three Ethiopian women involved in our girls' lives. Two in particular, one a young woman working at NYU Africa House and the other a devout Christian grandmother, have been instrumental in helping our girls maintain their Amharic as well as interpreting for us during difficult times. And there have been difficult times!!

Social Skills: The school social worker worked with us to identify the specific social skills which she will work with our girls on during lunch period. (She forms "friendship circles" with children in the same grade who need help learning our culture's mores and manners.) The list is long but the girls are so smart and eager to please that they will breeze through these shortly, I believe. I am so grateful that we have an experienced "coach" helping us to teach personal boundaries, eye contact, etc.

Extracurricular Activities: After some reflection, we have decided to limit the girls' activities outside of school. I was stunned when I tried to arrange a playdate with a third grader and learned we had to wait two weeks before she'd be "free." I don't want my kids to be in adult-run activities all day long. They need their quiet time, as do I. I want us to live a simple, quiet life, and if that means no Girl Scouts and organized sports, that's okay with me. I want my girls to know and walk closely with the Lord, be productive, kind, respectful, and make the most of every day. I don't think being busy makes them productive. They need time to internalize what they are learning and incorporate it into their routines. They need time to think, day dream, remember who they are and recall where they've been and have the chance to dream of where they want to be and do in their future. Because as we've learned during the past seven months, time can move very swiftly.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

More Strange but True Things I've Uttered...

Awhile ago I posted a list of the ridiculous things I've said to the kids. Here's a new list from this past week:

1. "Please don't play with the china and wrap it up in towels anymore. I just threw a beach towel in the hamper and nearly broke a figurine."

2. "That's not a toy, it's a tampon. Put it back in my purse, please, NOW!"

3. "No, it's not a parachute for your dolls, it's a tampon. Stop playing with them."

4. "Who took the doorknob off, and where did you put it??"

5. "When you said you put the dental floss in the toilet I thought you meant a strand, not the whole container, so, no, it's not okay to flush right now."

6. "Why is the red tablecloth in the tree?"

7. "Grandma Weaver looks different right now because she takes her hair off at night so she can go to sleep."

8. "It's just the smoke alarm. It's telling us that dinner was actually ready awhile ago."

9. "The lyrics to the song are, 'Where or where is Susie?' not 'Where or where is sushi?' "

10. "I don't know who Susie is...No, I don't know where she is...maybe she's eating the sushi."

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Look, there's a Rabbit in the Tree!

The kids fell sound asleep tonight at 7PM! I am thrilled to have time to sit and think!! Not that I don't think...that didn't come out right. I do try to think, it's just not readily apparent. You know what I mean? If you are not aware you're thinking then it feels like you aren''s just the busyness but when you think about thinking (what is that called, "metacognition"??) it's so satisfying...just to know that I still can think...are you following me at all?

So, I just want to jot down a few things before I forget that I even remembered them.
(Can you tell it's late?)

- Princess Moxie has really been speaking a lot of English lately. She has developed this funny but inane way of referring to me as "Ma Byrnes." It reminds me of JohnBoy calling his nana, "Grandma Walton" on each episode of the Walton's. Makes me feel 92 years old.

- The kids call zippers "seat belts." I sorta understand how they reached that conclusion and haven't corrected them yet. So, each morning one will invariably walk up to me, thrust her pelvis out and say, "Ma Byrnes, please, my seatbelt?" It's enough to make orange juice shoot out of my nostrils.

- Princess Diva Darling is very, very smart. But she insists on calling squirrels "rabbits." The other day she scared the life out of me by yelling, "Mama, a big rabbit jumped out of a tree and is on the roof!"

- Princess Sparky got a huge gash on her face this week after she fell on a pretzal rod. Yes, you read that right, she ripped open her cheek on a Rold Gold Rod. I think there is still some salt imbedded in her face but I can't be sure.

- Princess Moxie and I went bra shopping recently. Not that she needs it, but she asked for one, and I figured it's better to start wearing one when you don't need it than not wearing one when you do need it. The underwear is so small and sweet it looks like it goes with the American Doll Collection. Brought back uncomfortable memories of my mom, me and a grumpy saleswoman with a yellow tape measure at Caldors in the 70s.

- Princess Diva Darling went in a swimming pool for the first time in her life. She did great. She
even swam underwater. At the end of the day she spread her arms wide and gleefully reported, "I swam like a bird!" She did, she swam a rabbit jumping out of a tree :)

Big hugs to YOU.


How can I possibly complain about anything??

Here are some chilling facts about Ethiopia that I've unabashedly borrowed from The Rush Family Blog (thank you, Jenny!):
  • Ethiopia's doctor to children ratio is 1 to 24,000
  • One in ten children die before their first birthday
  • One in six children die before their fifth birthday
  • There are 4.6 million orphans in Ethiopia
  • 720,000 children have been orphaned by aids alone
  • 1.5 million people in Ethiopia are infected with HIV
  • 60 percent of children in Ethiopia are stunted because of malnutrition
  • Half the children in Ethiopia will never attend school
  • 88 percent will never attend a secondary school
When I read stats like these I want to bow my head and humble myself before the Lord and beg his forgiveness.

How can I live my life in such complete denial about the pain and suffering of my brothers and sisters in Africa? How can I spend more money on more stuff? How can I spend $39 a month at Weight Watchers to encourage me NOT to overeat when I could use that send that same amount to World Vision to feed, clothe, and educate an African child for an entire month?

I don't mean to be such a downer but when am I going to get my head out of the dirt and start to change? When am I going to stop complaining about all the petty dumb things and focus my energies on REAL problems, REAL issues, and REAL solutions for REAL people? Jesus, sweet Jesus, help me to see clearly and act rightly. I can't do a thing right without you.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Summer Arrives!

Three magical butterflies flutter to an abrupt landing.
Princess Moxie, Princess Diva Darling and Princess Sparky (from left to right).

I have been holding my breath for camp to begin. It started... exhale!
I am thrilled to have some time with just Princess Sparky and to simply BE.

Princess Diva Darling seems to love both summer school (7:30 am to 9am) and camp (9am to 1pm) while Princess Moxie is tolerating it. I remind myself that I hated camp,too, when I went as a kid, and only loved it fondly in my memories. That's just how it is with some experiences.

Diva is naturally more outgoing so it's been easier for her to meet and make friends. Moxie is quieter and more reserved, but each morning at breakfast she prays outloud that she will not be shy. Yesterday at the Village Pool she saw some girls from school and ran over to them. They all played together and I felt a huge sense of relief and hope.

Prior to the start of camp I brought the three Princesses to see the Royal Queen. Each morning we piled the kids into the old red wagon and ambled down the stony street to the beach. We had the most wonderful time! Here they are...

The big girls saw the ocean for the first time. I ought to add a video clip so you can see them react to the awesome sight! They were absolutely GIDDY!

Here is a view, however, of Diva Darling in a more pensive frame of mind:

Each evening we returned to the beach where we found ourselves alone with the waves, sandpipers, and setting sun:

And here's one of Princess Sparky after I told her for the hundredth time, "Put your panties on!"

Hope you're having a day full of laughs and, go ahead, wear your panties on your head!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Braids and Big Hair

"Hey, we made playdough, and it tastes really salty!"

Hi! A dear friend made a remark that she reads my blog. "Not a lot, of course, 'cause you don't update it often."

So, anonymous sweetie-pie (with the initials "RS") this one is for you!

And to my sweet soul sister in Atlanta (CW) who bemoans that there have been no photos of the girls recently (or ever, likely) I have posted some beauties here for you and your family to enjoy...

Pops taste better when they're shared...

The one above was taken on Picture Day at Princess Sparky's nursery school. I had the girls in darling coordinating dresses, but then they changed their clothes. Then they changed their clothes again. Then they changed their clothes again. So, we were a wee bit late for the "sibling photo shoot" and when we arrived the photographer asked, "What class is this?" I said, "They are siblings." He looked confused. "What class is it?" "They're siblings." I replied. "I'm sorry," he replied, "I don't get you. You teach a class called 'thereciblings'?" I laughed, "This isn't a class. I am their mother...these girls are my daughters... they are sisters...they are siblings." "Ohhhh..."

Have you ever had a Really Big Hair Day? Princess Moxie had a very big hair day recently...

Isn't she adorable?!

And here's another one, but with small hair, of Princess Moxie:

Her sister, Princess Diva Darling, on the other hand, is all about flowers:

And here's Princess Sparky, kicking back, as she listens to some EmmyLou Harris tunes in the car with her daddy:

(Before you go and call the circus, her feet are really not this big. I took the camera from a bad angle as I fell over laughing.)

And here's an even more recent view of Princess Sparky apparently trying to break her wrist just like her Big Sister:


Since their June 2008 physical exams, the girls have gained a combined 27 pounds! (Princess Moxie gained 12 pounds and Princess Diva Darling is up 15!) However, they are still slim enough to fit into Princess Sparky's size 4T dresses. It's the little known "Sleep 12 Hours, Eat for 6 Hours Straight-Then Run Around Like Crazy for 6 Hours-Diet." Works if you can keep it up; I've got the first two phases mastered.

That's it for now! May our all-powerful Lord Jesus Christ keep you safe and sound.
Trust Him.
Believe Him.
He's way too loving and good to ignore! :)


Friday, June 12, 2009

"Um, excuse me, but did I ask you for advice?"

I don't mean to slam anyone here. I just want to point out that people like me are not looking for advice or suggestions unless we actually say things such as, "What do you think of..." or "I'd love your opinion on this..."

Here are some things that have been told to be by random people in our lives as well as absolute strangers since we returned home from Ethiopia:

1. "Your kids should be in school. You should fast track them immediately. They should enter school immediately." (said by a medical professional who met my girls one time.)

2. "You should not put your kids in school yet. They need time to adjust."

3. "You need to buy the hair product in the brown and yellow tube."

4. "You need to buy Soft Sheen by Carson, it's in a pink bottle"

5 "You need to buy Hair Custard, it's available online."

6. "Are your kids always like this? Do you know about Reactive Attachment Disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder? You need to set your expectations." (said by a person I met once, at a funeral, before she uttered this gem.)

7. "Your kids should take tennis lessons."

8. "Your kids should be in gymnastics."

9. "Your girls should take karate."

10. "You should keep their hair in braids all the time." (really, all the time? I should never take them out, ever?)

8. "You should have them eat protein all day long." (great idea, I will install a feeding tube in the bathrooms)

9. "You should never give them any sweets." (uh-huh, let me take the lollipop out of your ear."

10. "You should take them to the city as much as possible."

11. "Whatever you, don't bring them to NYC too early."

12. "You should give them Benadryl."

13. "Give them Zyrtek, never give them Benedryl."

Ok, so you get the idea. I smile and say, "Wow. I didn't consider doing that."
And likely still won't.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Just another day at the office...

My college roomate and I had coffee together the other day. She asked me what our days are like. So, here's what happened yesterday...

Woke up early and did my Bible study and reading for the day. Prayed for wisdom.
Natalie woke up crying. Took her temperature, it was 103. Got her dressed, woke the big girls, and they got ready for school. Gave Natalie some Motrin. Made everyone breakfast. Drove everyone to school and called Natalie's preschool to ensure no one has swine flu :) After an hour, picked the girls up from school. We worked together to clean out the garage. "Dora" wanted me to carry an old dresser from the garage into her bedroom, and when I said it was too heavy she pouted and stopped talking to me.

Bought a new thermometer and more Motrin. Asked the girls about the bathroom sink that's clogged. "Ochililly." That's the Amharic word for peanuts. "You put peanuts down the drain?" I asked incredulously." The 3-year-old replied, "Oh, no, Mama, not the peanuts, just the shells."
Dora still isn't speaking.

Brought the girls back to school for their speech and language evaluations. The interpreter is Ethiopian and she stopped by afterwards. She had cooked a boat-load of injera and shiro-wat along with gomen and some other things I didn't recognize but was excellent. We enjoyed a cup of tea and lots of dabo with marmelade.

The ESL teacher came over and worked with the girls for 90 minutes while Li slept and I poured Drano down and chased it with kettles of boiling hot water to melt the peanut shells.

Afterwards, all of the girls rode their bikes while I made dinner. Baths, ate, read books, brushed, doled out Motrin and Zyrtek on demand, girls picked out their clothes for the next day, prayed, and went to BED. Dora still isn't talking to me but she put her hand on my shoulder while I read her favorite story, so tomorrow will be fine. I think.

P.S. The plumber came. For $165, he pulled out a Diego toothbrush, half of a purple toothbrush travel holder, and one bar of blue-colored soap, but no peanut shells.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Need to Vent...

I need to vent. Last night we were at a dinner party with many people we've known a long time and some we had never met before. A woman I have met only once before (and that was at a funeral) commented on how beautiful the girls are. She then asked me if I was familiar with "Reactive Attachment Disorder" and "Post Traumatic Stress Disorder."

"Uhh, yes." I replied. And then--stupidly--I did what I often do when people ask me out-of-the-blue questions that are loaded. I gave her personal information that was none of her business.

"I was researching attachment specialists this afternoon," I shared. And, of course, this prolonged the conversation that I didn't want to have.

"Did you find a good one?" While replying to her question, I was churning inside. "Why is she asking me this? Is she a trained attachment specialist who sees obvious evidence of either of these devestating issues? Or is she someone who read an article in Women's Day about traumatized Romanian orphans? Why am I having such a serious conversation with someone I don't know? What's her point?

I often feel like I am on the receiving end of "unsolicited advice-giving" because surely if I had replied that I didn't know a thing about disordered attachment and PTS she would have regaled me with what she knows.

So, there are a few things going on for me during conversations such as these:

1) my own disturbed perspective that I have to answer unwanted questions, that I need to make the person feel valued and respected

2) my annoyance at people who think they know what's going on or is best for my kids (even if they have never spent one full day with them) This happens nearly daily. A stranger will correct my children's behavior, an acquaintance will tell me how and where they should be educated, a church member will tell me what I should do about their hair....BUT I didn't ask for this information and I am not interested in hearing it. Do they think that I just blindly make decisions for my children or am totally clueless??

3) my own insecurities that the stranger might indeed be right.

So, I ask myself, "How ought a real Christian respond?"

The first thing that comes to mind is that I ought to be respectful, concise, and I could do what Jesus often did, ask them a question instead of answering theirs. The adoption literature says that it's fair to respond with, "What makes you ask?" to bizarre questions.

Yet, sometimes I don't want to ask them anything or continue the conversation.

So, today, I am going to start a new strategy. If someone asks me a question that I feel is out of line I am going to turn the conversation off by saying, "That's not something we talk about outside our family."

And for all the people who provide unwanted advice on their behaviour, grooming, education, sports, etc. I am going to say, "Well, that's a decision we made/will make based on everything we know about what's best for our children."

I feel so annoyed when complete strangers ask me about the children's parents. That happened, too, last night. "Do you know what happened to their real parents?" A lady asked.

"Um, we are their real parents. Do you mean their Ethiopian parents?"

"Yes, that's what I meant. They're biological parents."

"Yes, we do," I answered. And she looked at me to give her more information but I just looked into her eyes daring her to ask another personal question.

UUGHHH why do people think that questions like these are okay to ask?

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Amharic Church!

Today is May 3, and the big girls and I went to an Ethiopian Church in Amharic this morning. Afterwards, we had traditional Ethiopian food with our new friends, and even met a family of four kids (three from Ethiopia) who live 15 minutes away from us. Among the group was also Sim who teaches Amharic to graduate students and to the youngsters whose parents attend the church service.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

A Day for Special Mothers

Three years ago, I dreaded Mother's Day. My husband and I had been struggling with unexplained infertility for 4 1/2 years; although, I always referred to it in monthly time slots. "It's been 50 months," I cried. Then, "We've been trying for 51 months," "Now it's been 53 months," I wept.

I always loved going to church, but not on that day. Every Mother's Day, well-intentioned volunteers would pass out a single rose or daffodil for "all the mothers out there." Most times I would smile and say, "Not for me, thanks." One year I burst into tears, and the kind elderly grandmother said, "There, there, honey, you are a mother-to-be," as she pressed the flower into my empty hand.

This Mother's Day, my husband and I will be celebrating with our three daughters: Natalie, age three, born in China; Alem, age 8, born in Ethiopia; and Alem's biological sister, Dabash, age 10. My heart feels like it will burst with love and joy. I am writing this today to encourage every woman who has felt the torrent of grief, pain, resentment, bewilderment, and anger that pours down due to infertility. Please know that your pain will be transformed into joy.

The path to becoming a family has been long, expensive and challenging. I often thought we would never see it through to fruition. Anyone who knows anyone who has gone through international adoptions knows that this is not a path for wimps.

Today, however, I am not focused on my daughters, or even their biological mothers. (I think about them every day. ) This day I am acutely aware of the women, half a world away, who served as my girls' "special mothers" in their orphanages. These are the young women, Asian and African, who fed and clothed my babies when I was pining for them. They sang songs to them when I all I could do was cry. These gentle, sweet souls prayed for my daughters while I prayed, too. Together, our prayers mingled and raised like incense which I know was pleasing to our Lord.

When I met these ladies--in China they are called "Baby Nannies" and in Ethiopia they were named "Special Mothers" -- I was struck by their sincerity, their joy and their love for the children I would call my daughters.

"I prayed for your girls everyday," one whispered to me in a flower garden outside the African ophanage, "and I also prayed for you."

When the baby nanny hugged my Chinese daughter for the last time she said sweetly in English, "It's time for you to go to your American mommy now, my darling," and she swung her gently to make the baby laugh one last time in her arms.

These are the women I will be thinking about today. You are always in our hearts.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Weird but True Things I have Said

I find myself saying the strangest things. I'm not simply muttering weird things out of the blue; all of what I am saying is in response to the sometimes funny, often times outrageous, behaviour I see in our own home.

During the past week I have actually said these things to one (or more) of the girls:

1. Don't eat your flipflops.

2. Please take your feet off the wall.

3. You can use a knife. Ok, then, use your chopsticks. Never mind, just stop using your hands!

4. Who left the pen in the washing machine? Well, it exploded and now the clothes are clean but they're also stained blue.

5. Why are you wearing your underwear in the tub?

6. May I put some more olive oil in your hair?

7. I know you wrote, "Mom Love" on the backseat of the car. I love you, too, but please don't write on the car seats anymore...only write on, have some paper...yes, I know you already have a pen.

8. I know you want to be a puppy but I don't like it when you lick my arm.

9. Stop licking the door!

10. Just stop pouring apple juice onto your cereal.

11. Who put that red nail polish all over your face?

12. Is that candy or are you really eating chalk?

13. My name is no longer "Mom." When you want me, just call me, "Daddy..."

Saturday, April 18, 2009

For Susan Boyle...

In case you STILL haven't watched this clip on youtube, please please watch it NOW: and type in "Susan Boyle." Then sit back and prepare yourself to be moved.

Susan Boyle, you are my hero. You are better than Elaine Page. You rock. For every woman who ever wondered if Botox was a good idea, who thought they had to have beautiful hair and waxed eyebrows, or whiter teeth and tanner skin, you proved to them that you can be respected and adored for simply being yourself.

Dreams never die. They are either alive, achieved, or abandoned. Her performance is a reminder to never put your dreams away in your sock drawer.

For me, becoming a mother was a dream that I feared would be denied. It takes so much patience, perseverance, and stamina to hike up the unbeaten path rather than the ones most trampled. And once the dream is achieved, one needs to be awake and mindful of how precious it is and, perhaps, to dare to dream new dreams...

Just a day

Hi, everyone. I want to take a few minutes to capture some memories before they're forgotten...

Dora and Marta think the word "yummy" means "good." So, they constantly talk about the "yummy playground," describe their beds as "yummy, " and ask me to play "the yummy music." I haven't corrected them yet because I find it highly amusing.

Sometimes our communication misunderstandings are based on their limited English and my very limited Amharic. For days the girls asked me for "carsi," which are socks. I bought them each a package at Walmart. They repeatedly asked for carsi, and I kept getting them socks: gym socks-low cut and ankle-height, dressy socks, even socks with the days of the week on them (thinking what a great educational tool). Finally, while we were in the car surrounded by packages of socks Marta pounded Boots' carseat and said, "Mama, no socks, I want a carsi." Went back into the store and bought two booster seats.

When they were in Africa they must have been told emphatically that they would soon be going with their new family to New York. Unfortunately, they think the word "New York" means "home." So, whenever we are out and getting ready to leave they will ask, "New York to go?" When we spend time with a relative or friend they usually ask if she/he will be spending the night: "New York to sleep?" Nearly everytime we pull into the driveway they laugh merrily and exclaim, "New York, New York!"

This evening, as usual, Marta was riding Boots' tricycle, which is ridiculously funny to watch since she is 51 inches tall and her long skinny legs bend nearly to her head as she rides around. I told her that she needed to come in for bathtime. She stopped the bike, smiled, and said, "Sorry, Mama. No go inside. I'm at Red Light."

A good deal of their English vocabulary has been gleaned from singing songs. One of the traditional songs they like to sing has these lyrics:
"Mister Rabbit, Mister Rabbit, your ears mighty long."

Well, the English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher is Mr. Robert, so you can guess what happens each time he's here...the girls start loudly singing this song as soon as he walks into our house. And it's so darn catchy I find myself humming it all afternoon.

Speaking of music, they LOVE it. They listen to music--all genres--as soon as we are done with breakfast, all day, in the car, in their bedroom, in the playroom, in the kitchen, wherever they are the tunes are on. In addition to the Music Together cds, they love an ABC cd that Natalie received as a gift more than 2 years ago, and they can't get enough of the World Playground cds with songs in French, Arabic, Portuguese, and English. I will never forget the look on Dora's face the first time she listened to opera. She was absolutely radiant, and Marta squeeled with delight.

That's enough for now. I hope if you've read this far you have a better idea what these two amazing girls are like and how much we laugh each day.


Monday, April 6, 2009

Life with a rosy glow and pink cast

This week has been very, very good. Here are some of the highlights:

1. The girls started receiving ESL instruction today. The teacher said repeatedly, "I'm amazed at how much English they know." Well, perhaps it's because we have the uncanny combination of smart kids and a mom who constantly talks to them, at them, and with them. We sing. We shout. We harmonize. And we never, ever whisper.

2. I tried to teach the girls how to play racquetball today, and we had a blast smashing the little blue ball around the echoing court. I am beginning to think that tennis or squash might be the sport for these three girls.

3. We found out that a day camp in town costs $5,900 for the summer PER child, and after I finished choking, I found another one that runs for 6 weeks and is only $200!

4. We had fantastic visits with family: Pat and Jen came last weekend; then Dad and Carolann came Friday evening; and Sheila, Kavan and their boys came Sunday. It was wonderful to see everyone and the girls loved meeting more "agundaya."

5. Rachel brought GS cookies, a truckload of gifts, and our new Bible study text called Anointed, Transformed and Redeemed-A Study of David, when we met at Panera. I am so grateful!!

6. Amy stopped by with FOUR bags of clothes, shoes and goodies for the girls. They were ecstatic as they tried on clothes in the living room and pranced around like little naked deer.

7. We received an amazingly generous gift from dear friends of our family. You know who you are, and we are deeply touched!!

8. And the best news of all: Marta's fall off the monkey bars didn't result in a broken arm! It is only her wrist that suffered a "buckle" fracture. Dr. Orthopedist was great; he seemed highly amused by Dora and Boots in particular. He let Marta pick out her favorite color for her cast, and of course, she chose pink. His secy liked us so much she kept us in his office waiting room for three hours...I guess his office staff just didn't want us to leave because we were so entertaining.

Gotta go, Alem is calling and now Natalie is crying...

Monday, March 30, 2009

Questions for Super Nanny

If you find out that the Nanny tv show is looking for a real-life family in the NY Metro Area, feel free to submit our family. I know what I am supposed to do differently (at least some of it) but I'd really like to watch her incorporate "house rules" to children who don't speak her language. I'm eager to see if she loses her cool after one of the kids leaves a car door open or a car light on for the fourth time in a row requiring yet another visit from AAA. I wonder if she would allow all three girls to wear their pajamas outdoors if it means a quieter, calmer morning. I am curious if she would allow 9-year-old children who weigh what an average 7-year-old in America weighs and have the body fat content of a professional athlete to consume 5,000 calories a day (most but not all nutritious food). Would Nanny let the kids sleep late if they were up crying several times? What if sleeping late meant that one of the younger kids didn't make it to preschool? What matters? What really doesn't? And at what point do the things that "don't really matter" begin to add up to the tipping point of really mattering?

I asked myself where God was in all of this, and then I realized (with some degree of horror) that He is in my dining room. The good news is that He knows me and my mess-ups, and He is walking beside me. If I could get the kids to quiet down, perhaps I could hear Him.

Keep those prayers up.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Chicken Tikka Masala and Other Blessings

I want to share yesterday's blessings. Mainly, I am doing this for myself as a reminder of God's work in my life. (When I read scriptures, it's mainly when believers deny or forget God's strong arm and huge heart that the real trouble begins. Check out the life of Moses if you disagree.)

The day started off with Natalie's fever gone. That was a blessing.

The twins cleaned--scrubbed--the kitchen spotless after breakfast without being asked. Blessing number two.

All three of them ate oatmeal without complaining, playing with it, or smearing it around on the table. Blessing Three.

The shower water was hot and plentiful, and the 70-year old pipes didn't clog which meant that the $200 we paid the plumber last night was worth every penny.

The car started despite having a bad battery that I have neglected to have changed.

The policeman who pulled me over for making an illegal left hand turn smiled as he approached our car and instead of giving me a ticket he just reminded me to pay more attention to the road.

There was cash in the ATM.

As we drove east over the Tappan Zee Bridge and marveled at the incredible beauty of the Hudson River, the kids and I sang together with the Jamaican lady on the cd singing, "This is my message to you...Don't worry, everything is going to be all right..." at the top of our lungs with the sunroof open and the warm spring air rushing through our hair.

Then there was more: Amy M. babysat Natalie ALL DAY.

My plan was to drop off Natalie in Westchester and then take the twins to Manhattan for Ethiopian food and to meet an employee of NYU who speaks Amharic. I had left the lady a message offering her to meet us at Awash Restaurant, or if she couldn't meet us we would call her en route to West 4th Street and meet up with her closer to the NYU campus. Another blessing: I found curbside parking! But then I realized I had no quarters for the meter. Next blessing: a guy working on a roof nearby reached down and gave me 8 quarters and shared that the fine would be $125 so keep watch of the time. I love NY. And I love the Lord.

S0, this is where some would say the blessings "dried up."

The Ethiopian restaurant on W. 6th Street was CLOSED.

I had been talking about it for days with the girls and I knew the closest one was on the Upper West Side. Worst of all, I couldn't find my cell phone whichI had used at Amy's house. That meant I couldn't call the lady from NYU to tell her not to meet us at the restaurant. We waited a bit for her, and then I rationalized that she likely had called my cell phone to say she couldn't meet us at lunch. I figured after we ate I'd go back to the car and ask the roofer if I could borrow his phone since we were both out of quarters for me to use a pay phone. So, we wandered West 6th Street ("Little India") with its dozens and dozens of restaurants to decide which one to enter. We started into one, but for some reason I backed away. "Not this one, girls." We walked between 2nd Avenue and 1st Avenue, walked past a place called the Spice Cave, and then re-traced our steps to go in there. It was a typical NYC restaurant: small, dark and cramped. No Zagat rating sticker on the door. We grabbed a table and I ordered for them.

As we ate our tikka masala and delicious nan I heard the waiter ask a newcomer, "Do you want to stay or have take-out?"

Then I heard a female voice ask in response, "Maura? Excuse me, are you Maura?" There was Aday--the lady from NYU whom we were supposed to meet 30 minutes earlier!

She said she had left me a message on my cell saying she'd meet us at Awash and left me another message when she reached Awash and it was closed.

Aday said, "I never came here before. I just wandered around looking at the restaurants. I went into one but then walked out of it. I saw this place and decided I'd do take-out. " She said that she had noticed my girls, who looked Ethiopian and about 9 years old, and then she noticed me. (I do not look Ethiopian.)

She sat down and rattled away in Amharic with the twins for three hours! The girls were animated, talkative, and treated Aday like a long-long sister.

They told her they are very happy living with us, and they shared about their childhood, that Dora knows how to roast coffee beans over a raging fire and can perform the traditional coffee ceremony, that Marta can braid Dora's hair, that they love to cook. They described their home--a tribal hut with no bathroom or running water. Hyenas and packs of wild dogs roamed around the huts, scaring them.

I learned that Dora can actually read Amharic. They went to school for a short while but stopped because they got beat up a lot by other children.

Most importantly, Dora was able to explain why she is awake at night: "My Ethiopian mom died last year. I miss her." And she eventually told her that she's angry with her Ethiopian father who used to steal the mother's hard-earned cash to buy liquor. When he returned drunk to their hut, he'd beat up the twins until the mom stopped him, and then he'd beat her up. She is afraid that the parasites she's being treated for are huge worms in her stomach that are growing larger everyday.

With tears running down her cheeks she told Aday, "My heart beats so hard and fast because the worms are moving in my tummy."

Wouldn't all that keep you up at night?

When we went to leave, they asked me, "Aday, New York to go?" which means "Can she come home with us?"

Oh, how I wish she could!

Specific prayer requests:

1. Please pray that the Lord would heal these girls' hearts. Their grief is tremendous. They need healing and to be set free from their anger and resentment.

2. Please pray that the girls' medical treatment would be swift and effective.

3. Please pray for the girls' father and their 3 brothers in sister still in Ethiopia. The famine is severe and life is so hard.

4. Please pray for the street children who have no family or neighbors to care for them. Please pray for the children, especially the older children, who are in orphanages.

5. Please pray that I would be patient, kind and loving all day. (Please pray this one everyday, ok?!)

God bless you, dear ones.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Our Reality Show

Ok, so I laid out a typical schedule in the previous post. Here is some of the colorful examples of what life is like at 33 Sunrise Avenue:

6:30 AM
Natalie: "Mom, my sister is touching me. Take her back to Ethiopia. Now!"

7:30 AM
Twin #1: "No more 'Dabash.' Call me 'Marta'"
Twin #2: "No more 'Alem.' Call me 'Dora.' "
Natalie: "That's not fair. If she's going to be Dora, I want to be Boots."

9 AM
Dad: "Any reason why your car battery would be dead?"
Mom: "The girls are still learning how to shut car doors. I guess we forgot to check them. I'm sorry."

10 AM
Mom to twins: "Girls, we need to collect stool samples for the doctor. Kaka goes in this plastic cup. Like this, see? Poopoo in this container...? Ok? Next time you go kaka, go in here, yes, I know it's silly and weird and embarrassing. Just do it, ok? No shinte. Just kaka. Then yell, 'mama, kaka here,' and I will come and get it and will spoon it into this little tube. I know this sounds very ridiculous... we don't do this all the time in America...just today, and well, tomorrow, too, and also the next few days, ok? Just don't forget to tell me, don't just leave it in the cup on the bathroom floor, let me know it's there, and don't let Natalie play with it, either. Please be careful and don't kick it over. Thank you, sweeties."

11 AM
Mom to twin#1: "No! That's dog food. Put that bowl down! No eat."

Mom to twin #2: "That's called a water fountain. Clean water, yes, we just have to push a, it never runs out."

6:30 PM
Twin #1: Eating dessert and looking adoringly at her new mother. Twin says, "I love you..." mom looks so pleased until she hears the rest of the sentence..."ice cream."

Things that are new to the twins:
Western style house
washing machine
single beds
bath tubs with no baskets for babies inside it
food everywhere, anywhere, all for the taking
shiny shoes
new sneakers
snow and ice
ice cream
mittens and gloves
hairbands of all colors
a closet with all their own clothes
a playground with slides, jungle gyms, and several swings
automatic toilet flushing, automatic faucets, hand dryers, paper towels
computers, keyboards
music class

Month One

It's hard to know where or how to begin this post. Tomorrow will mark the one month anniversary of our traveling to Addis Ababa. We have had our two girls, "Dora" and "Marta" with us since Sunday, February 16, 2009. We arrived home nearly three weeks ago. It's been organized chaos since then.

A typical day looks something like this:

6:45 am I am up, coffee is made and breakfast is on the table
7:00 am All three girls are up, one or two might be dressed, and we sit down to pray.
9:00 am Breakfast is long over, beds are made, girls are dressed, teeth are brushed, and we are more or less ready to be seen in public. We are on our way to nursery school, the gym, music class or cleaning the house.
10:00 Snack time
11:45 Lunch
12:30 Storytime upstairs, each girl chooses a book, naptime & quiet time begin
2:30 Snack time (again!)
3-4:30 Play outdoors
4:30 Prepare dinner
5:15 Baths for the girls
5:45 Dinner
6:30 Storytime
7:15 Bedtime (that does not necessarily mean "sleep.")
11:30 pm, 1:30 am, 3:30 am typical wake-up times for one or two of the kids

Did you notice that there is no school? Yeah, that has to start sometime soon...and I need to have more time by myself in the morning to pray and read. Also, Bible study starts next week and I will be back to having daily homework. I am in desperate need for time to myself to spend with the Lord. I miss Him even though we talk throughout the day :)

So, that's a day without the post will include some of the specifics of what happens when this schedule is in play.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Lilypie Date is set Ticker

I can hardly believe that we will travel tomorrow! I am soooo excited my heart is dancing and my hands are jumping...making it difficult to even type.

I feel like Jesus is alongside me, holding my hand, and leading me one step at a time, always one step ahead of me at all times. For instance, today I meant to go into Staples but got distracted when I saw Radio Shack in the distance, so I ended up walking into the shack. The salesperson was very nice and managed to find 2 of the 3 things that I wanted. The third item, a 9.5 v adapter with 2 amps, was not on the shelf. When I said I really wanted it for our trip, he asked where I was going on vacation. "Well, it's not a vacation, we're going to Africa to visit an orphanage and we're adopting two girls. It's more like a mission trip than a vacation," I explained. A minute later, a kind tall salesman leaned over and asked where in Africa we were going. He then said, "It's funny. I was at a Bible study last night and there was a missionary we support from Kenya there. She was telling us about Eastern Africa and what's happening. I'd like your name and contact information so we can pray for you."

Does this kind of thing happen to everyone? I feel like each time I turn around I am being blessed in the sweetest ways by strangers.

And don't even get me started on my friends and family! They have been over the top in their kindness! Phone messages, cards, letters, gifts, meals, offers to babysit and provide clothing leap out at me. The amazing people at The Masters School in Dobbs Ferry sent over more than 1000 diapers and wipes for us to bring to the orphanage. I was flabbergasted. God is ALIVE and at work through these individuals!

You are such a light, dear friends, you know who you are, beaming so bright and sending a show of light and love everywhere you turn.

Thank you, dear ones. I love you.