Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween!

The muscles in my cheeks still hurt from laughing so hard last night. I think we have more pictures of Paul's pumpkin head than we do of our wedding: Mr. Pumpkin approaches the dog, Mr. Pumpkin takes a nap, Mr. Pumpkin drives a car, Mr. Pumpkin as The Thinker... I'm waiting to see how great he smells after wearing a real pumpkin on his head all day.

The students weren't allowed to dress up today, but teachers were told they could as long as their costumes related to the curriculum somehow. I went as Turtle Wexler from The Westing Game (the book my 6th grade students are currently reading). I ended up being the only person in the entire school who was dressed up. Still, it was a lot of fun and my students seemed to enjoy it.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

"Gotcha" Day

This woman's post about "Gotcha" Day has me thinking about the subject today.

"Gotcha" Day is one term people in the adoption community use when celebrating the day when children are united with their adoptive parents. A teacher friend of mine was recently talking about a former student who used to bring in cupcakes every year to celebrate her "Gotcha" Day. I think it's such a great idea to make it a day of family celebration each year and commemorate the date on which children joined the family. I definitely plan on doing something similar and making it an annual family tradition to celebrate.

I tend to agree, however, with the woman who wrote the post I just linked: the word "gotcha" doesn't have good connotations for me. It makes me think of playing a practical joke on someone at best, snatching and stealing children at worst. I certainly don't like that! Around here, the anniversaries of our children's adoptions will most likely be called "Family Day" since what we want to commemorate is the special day that they became a part of our family.

News of our adoption: is no news at this point. Most of the families from our agency who received referrals last month have recently been given court dates for mid-November, meaning they'll most likely be able to travel to bring their kids home sometime in December or early January. I'm operating on a theory right now that all of the children currently in the orphanage have already been matched with families and are waiting to be taken home. Until that happens, there won't be space for new children from the satellite orphanages to be brought into Addis Ababa for medical testing and be matched with families. So... we very well might have to wait until the other families travel before we get matched (again, December or January). Sigh. I'm trying to remind myself that this scenario would give us a little extra time to save up some more money and would allow my maternity leave to be timed so that I wouldn't have to go back to school for very long before the end of the school year. Mainly though, I wish someone could just give me a date. Even if I were told that we won't have our kids home until say, May 10th, I think I would be okay. I could plan my schedule, know what I can and cannot commit to in the spring, and then chill the heck out. It may look as though I'm just lying around the house and/or pacing around the house, but really this waiting stuff is very hard work.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Holiday Safety Tips

This is an important podcast from Talk of the Nation on NPR about zombie safety. Halloween will be here before you know it and we should all be prepared. When Zombies Attack

Sunday, October 28, 2007

At Least I've Never Done That!

My school hosted an alumni open house today and I had a chance to talk to many older people who graduated more than 60 years ago. I heard a lot of crap about "kids these days" and received more than enough feedback about the arrangement of my classroom (I have discussion centers, beanbags, and yoga balls) and why it must contribute to a lack of classroom discipline. I enjoyed talking to everyone and hearing about what the school was like back in the days when the average classroom had 60 students. Several of the older women had brought along pictures of their own classes at that time. Wow. If I had 60 students to manage, I would be a mean, crabby, nun-style teacher too.

However... I'd like to think I wouldn't smack a kid's head into the blackboard causing him to have a brain aneurysm and die. And then get away with it because it was all in the name of classroom discipline. When the little old ladies told me that story about an incident at another local school 70 years I feel bad when I raise my voice and feel like hitting students.

So anyway, that was the most unique part of my weekend. Yesterday was rainy and cold here - perfect for hunkering down and spending a peaceful day hanging around the house. Paul and I took Stella on a long walk today in the sunshine and autumn leaves. I washed the floor... really nothing to write home about, but quiet weekends like this tend to be my favorite.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Attachment in Adoption

Attachment is basically the process of helping your children to realize that you're their parents. Children who are adopted internationally have often been bounced from caregiver to caregiver throughout their short lives. Even if they've been lucky enough to have a stable situation in foster care or a good orphanage, they still will have had their lives massively disrupted by the adoption and will need help feeling safely and securely bonded to their new parents. I'm hardly an expert on this subject, but it's one we've been talking a lot about in our house so I figured I would jot down some of the tips we plan to use once our kids get home.
  • Carry your kids as much as possible. Hopefully our kids will both be amenable to being carried in slings because we plan to do this a lot (as a side note, doesn't the couple in the photo above look kind of creepy?).
  • Limit visitors as first. In the first several weeks or months our kids will have a lot of changes going on in their lives. They need to attach firmly to us, the people who will be permanent fixtures in their lives, before we start introducing others that they might not see very often. We'll probably host a baptism party open-house or something similar a few months after we get home so that they can be properly welcomed into our community of friends, but at first we'll be very conscientious about who they're exposed to.
  • Parents need to be the ones meeting the kids physical needs. The books all recommend that Paul and I need to be the only ones feeding, changing, and bathing them at first. They need to be assured that they can trust us to meet their needs. It's also recommended that we feed them by hand even if they can do it themselves. For example, if we can get our toddler to let us feed him or her a bottle while cuddling it's a great way to bond. Many older babies can hold their own bottles, but we should do it for them.
  • Similarly, parents should respond immediately to night wake-ups for the first few months. Normally, parents would probably be sleep-training older babies or toddlers to self-soothe and might be allowing them to cry it out for awhile. Our newly arrived kids, however, need to be treated for the first few months like newborns when it comes to wake-ups. Again, they need to be shown that their needs are going to be met by us. We're planning to keep their beds in our bedroom at first to make this easier.
  • Spend lots of floor time with your kids. Playing and spending fun time together is really important to bonding (duh) so we'll be hanging out a lot playing peek-a-boo, building with blocks, etc.
  • Establish predictable routines and expectations right from the beginning. I think this is important for all kids, but especially for a toddler whose life hasn't been stable from the beginning.

Friday, October 26, 2007

I Go Through Puberty Every Year and Other Great Reasons to Teach Middle School

I hated junior high. I felt fat, friendless and unpopular. The boys were mean and the girls were even worse. The changing body, the bad fashion sense, the cliques of popular girls and middle school relationships....ugh. Seriously, I didn't have it that bad, comparatively speaking, but 7th and 8th grade were probably the two least-favorite years of my life so far.

It might seem strange then that I've chosen to re-immerse myself in a middle school. Eight hours a day I'm surrounded by kids who are in the middle of the battlefield that is adolescence. Hardly a day goes by when some aspect of puberty doesn't smack me in the face: getting braces, putting in contact lenses for the first time, pimples, first periods, body insecurity, fights with parents, hating your parents, breaking up with boys, breaking up with best friends... it's all in a day's work around here. Most adults look at me with pity when they find out what I do. "Better you than me," they always say.

The thing is, middle school is so much better the second (and third, and fourth, and fifth) time around. It's so much better when you know that the petty things that seem to matter so much now will mostly not matter in the long-run. In addition, it's such a cool age of kids to work with. They come in as green little 6th graders and leave as young adults. In middle school they're just beginning for the very first time to figure out who they are and who they want to be. I feel really blessed to have the same students for 3 years in a row. Watching them transition from tiny kids who play house and imagine that "Fat Granny" lives down the sewer grate, as they do when they're 11 years old into the mature 14 year-olds who graduate three years later is truly amazing and it's humbling to get to be a part of that.

Teaching the same students for three years has also strengthened my belief in redemption. I get second chances every year. The kid who hates me this year, who's determined to hold a grudge against me forever because I accidentally used his apology note from detention as a funeral shroud for the classroom pet, well, give him two years of growth and hard work on my part and he might turn into a nice, reasonable young man who can laugh at that memory. I've seen it happen. In the past week, ten of our former students have taken time out of their busy high school lives and stopped by to visit us. Those are some of my favorite moments, seeing them looking even more grown-up and so excited to tell us about what they're doing.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Heather Doesn't Live Here: A Reminder about Stress Reduction

I'll be the first to admit it: I'm a tad bit tightly-wound these days. It's been a long journey and I'm not enjoying the wait for a referral phone call. Someone told me not too long ago that I shouldn't acknowledge these feelings, that I should just feel optimistic, be positive, etc., etc., etc. - I kind of wanted to scream at that moment. I think on a scale of 0-10 I probably rank about a 7 on the positivity scale. I generally have a pretty sunny outlook but I do like to indulge in dark humor and I get crabby when people tell me what I have the right to feel.
Anyway... the last couple of days I've been feeling like a caged animal. The phone keeps ringing and it's not the adoption agency. It's not even somebody calling for me. We've had our current phone number for over 2 years, yet we still get calls almost daily for a woman named Heather. Heather evidently was a very popular lady in her heyday - especially with sketchy gentlemen callers. Calls for Heather always seem to come at the most inconvenient times like when I'm napping, up to my arms in dishwater and across the house from the phone, or in the middle of my favorite show. But I always answer, because it might be the adoption agency and I won't want to miss that call. When I answered the phone breathlessly today and it was a man asking for Heather, I snapped. "Heather DOESN'T live here. This isn't her number anymore. Don't call her on it!" I schooled him (see, it wasn't that severe - I'm not that mean of a person). It turned out the man was calling to solicit funds for wounded puppies and sad babies, or some other such charity and then I felt like a total jerk.
So, I took a note from the stress-reduction workshop we had after school today (SIDE NOTE: You know what doesn't help with stress-reduction in the workplace? Having to stay after after work to listen to some chiropractor sell you stress-reduction treatment.) I went outside and burned off some of my pent-up frustration and stress by mowing the lawn while breathing deeply. I have to say, it did make me feel better and got me through my daily pity-party a bit more smoothly. It kind of kills me to admit the guy was right.

Monday, October 22, 2007

A Hike, A Nuclear Power Plant, and a Dead Cat

Today was a beautiful day for a field trip. We hopped on a chartered bus at 8:30 a.m. and took off for the Indiana Dunes State Park. I had worried that our field trip there would consist of four hours in a park shack listening to lectures, but instead we took a three hour hike through the woods leading to the beach! It was sunny and warm and the leaves were beautiful. For most of our students it was the first time they'd ever hiked, ever seen wetlands, ever been to the dunes... it was a fantastic learning experience and will give them some real-life experiences to draw upon in their science classes.

After spending an additional hour doing volunteer beach cleanup, we jumped back in the bus and drove to the Cooke Nuclear Power Plant which is also along Lake Michigan. I can't say that I really understand more about nuclear power than I did yesterday at this time, but it was a unique experience. The facility was built in the 60's and was eerily reminiscent of the Dharma Initiative. I did learn about how they secure nuclear waste (it involves 3 1/2 feet wide cement walls and some steel), how they transport it, and how many gallons of water it takes per minute to condense the steam (1,500,000 gallons a minute). I did not see Homer Simpson.

Tomorrow my students will begin writing narratives about their field trip experience. I'm looking forward to reading about the moments that impressed them the most and hoping that their narratives do not focus heavily upon the dead cat we saw or the surprise trip to McDonald's that our principal hosted towards the end. I haven't forgotten the first time I assigned field trip narratives and received 20 papers entitled "The Time Joe Puked on the Bus".

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Happy Birthday Grandma!

Today is my grandma's 88th birthday. She's one of the best grandma's ever. I spent all of my summers with my grandparents while I was growing up and she did all the things a grandma is supposed to do. We went berry-picking and made jam, they let me catch tadpoles and keep them to see what happened, they drove me hours each way to ballet class and supervised endless amounts of swimming at the lake. They spoiled me and made me feel like the center of the universe, which after all, is what grandparents are supposed to do.
My grandma is an inspiration to us all. She spent decades teaching and can still empathize with the problems I encounter in my own classroom. She probably reads more than anyone in my entire family, which says a lot since most of us are book fiends. My mom is there visiting her this weekend and it's safe to bet that they're probably out enjoying a nice fall day hiking in Vermont. I wish I could be there.
Happy Birthday Grandma! I love you!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Farmers Market

It's a gorgeous fall day here and we just went for a drive to a new farmers market. Wow! The entire barn was built using pegs and it is a beautiful facility. The selection of produce really isn't as good as our farmers market here in town but they have lots of beautiful handmade furniture, quilts, organic meats, soaps and natural products. The building has the nicest women's bathroom I've seen in a long time. I asked Paul to go check out the men's bathroom for me but he explained that men aren't allowed to go in bathrooms if they don't actually have to use them . Especially if they go in and tap their feet or stick their hands under stall doors. There was also a petting zoo with a baby pot-bellied pig (I want one in the worst way) and a baby bear eating a cantaloupe.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Twenty-Two Weeks (Not That I'm Counting)

Tomorrow will mark 22 weeks since our dossier reached Ethiopia. On the Ethiopian adoption blog I frequent, a woman this summer received significant sympathy for having to wait that long before receiving her referral. I'm just saying...

In all honesty, I'm not entirely prepared to add two children to our lives. We have the following items tucked away in our home waiting for them:

  • a pair of pink-striped tights, size 2T (the first thing I bought - Keep in mind that we don't know the gender of our future kids)

  • 33 gigantic disposable diapers (a gift from one of my mother-in-law's daycare parents whose child had been potty-trained)

  • 2 sippy cups that my mom bought last week

  • 2 stuffed monkeys

I know that people adopt domestically all the time with very little notice and their children survive just fine. I'm sure that a few quick trips to Target and some creativity can solve a lot of "stuff" problems. I'm also remembering the time our niece, who was about two, was sitting on my lap (I was wearing a short skirt) and asked for a drink of water. Without thinking about it, I offered her my glass of ice water which she promptly dumped down my legs. Or the time our friends' three kids came to stay with me for the day and I was shocked to find out we had absolutely nothing in our fridge they would eat. Hummus? Leftover tofu stir fry? Gin and tonic? In hindsight, seating them on our couch with their oatmeal also wasn't a good idea.

I'm a teacher. Anticipating logistical problems and messes is a part of my training. I've worked with small children in the past, so I don't understand why certain complications that would seem glaringly obvious to most onlookers don't occur to me. Maybe I'm just a very hands-on learner? At any rate, going from zero to two children overnight is sure to be a learning experience for all of us.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Some Days Being a Teacher Is Nice

Today was a good day at school. I caught two boys who don't like to read with our class novels tucked behind the other work they were supposed to be doing - they couldn't put them down. I love that they're enjoying Tangerine by Edward Bloor and The Giver by Lois Lowry so much.

Another of my kids, a boy who generally struggles to pass his classes, got a 20/20 on our vocabulary test today. That's never happened for him before. He was so excited when he turned it in; he knew he'd done well and he couldn't wait for me to grade it. When the A++ and the sticker, and the EXCELLENT! stamp were all in place I gave it to him to go hang in the hall and he was glowing.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Some Sobering Statistics

  • The average life expectancy in Ethiopia is 48 years.
  • 131 of 1000 infants born alive will die before their first birthdays
  • 174 of 1000 children born alive will die before their fifth birthdays
  • The maternal mortality rate is 871/100,000 live births.
  • 10% of births are attended by medical professionals
  • The average Ethiopian lives off the equivalent of $780 US dollars a year.
  • 34% of adult women and 49% of adult men are literate
  • 35% of eligible Ethiopian children are enrolled in elementary school
  • 12% of girls and 19% of boys will enroll in secondary school
  • 10% of Ethiopian schools have libraries
  • 11% of the country's children are orphans - That's 5 million children missing parents.

My favorite English teacher used to say statistics are meaningless unless the author interprets them. These particular statistics aren't new to me - I've been thinking about them a lot for the last year or so. Still, I'm struggling to find the right words to interpret them. As I sit here, it's making me think about the ways in which these statistics are probably already adding up and exerting their influence over the lives of our future children.

I wish I could deceive myself and imagine that our kids are going to be delivered lovingly by storks, fairies wearing tutus, or Santa Claus himself. I can't really wrap my mind around the idea that our children's path to us is likely to be the direct result of their birth families' misfortunes. Logically though, I know that's the truth. Somewhere on the opposite side of the world, our children's families must feel as though their lives are falling apart while I'm sitting here in my comfortable computer chair wondering when we'll get our referrals so that our own family will feel complete. It seems like a cruel way for the world to work.

I don't mean to make it sound like I'm ready to dress all in black, draw the shades, and listen to The Cure all day for the rest of my life. When I think of our children coming home I'm filled with optimism. They will have a stable family and a hope for a better life and I'd like to think this is exactly why their first-families will have decided to place them for adoption. Tonight those families are on my mind.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Commonly Asked Questions

There are some questions we get asked all the time about our adoption. Here are a few of them along with the answers:

What do you know about the children you're adopting?

We don't know very much at all yet! Our letter to the board of the orphanage stated that we seek to adopt two children, one 0-6 months and the other 0-36 months. We don't have a strong preference about gender, so I'm predicting we'll be referred two boys (there is a strong bias for adopting girls in the adoption community). We don't know whether or not they'll be biological siblings.

Will you have to travel to Ethiopia?

We don't have to, but we are planning to do so. We want to be able to tell our kids about their first country, experience it for ourselves, and hopefully be able to make contact with their birth-families. Paul and I both enjoy traveling and we're very excited about having the chance to go to Ethiopia. I'm not too excited about the idea of traveling 20-30 hours to come home on an airplane with two young children who have just had their lives completely up-ended, but I guess it will give me my own "labor" story to tell in the future.

Why are you adopting two children at once?

There are a variety of reasons why we've chosen to adopt two at once. Most importantly, we always said if we adopted one child we would want to adopt a second to avoid making the first child feel like the odd-man-out in our family. We know we'd like to have several children eventually and anticipate it will be harder for us to finance future adoptions once we have a child at home (especially if we end up choosing for me to work part-time or stay home full-time). Finally, we feel we have the support system in-place to make this a manageable feat. I've corresponded with several families who have adopted two at once and they've all said it worked out well for them in the end. Please remind me of this if neither of our kids ever sleep once they get home.

When will you be traveling to bring them home?

The million-dollar question! We don't know yet! Right now we're just waiting for our referral (which is when the orphanage matches with children who need a family). As I said yesterday, that could happen tomorrow or it might still be a few months away (I hope not!).

What happens after you receive your referral?

  1. We celebrate like mad! The orphanage will send us pictures along with any medical and family information they have about each child.
  2. There will be a court date in Ethiopia in which they are legally declared to be our children. This usually happens 4-6 weeks after a referral but is subject to the court's schedule. There are a couple of caveats here: A.) Birth parents could reclaim their kids before the court date. This very, very rarely happens (maybe 0.25% of the time) but it happened this week to a family on an adoption board I frequent. Ultimately, it's good news if a birth family decides they can parent after all and they absolutely should have that option. If it happens though, I reserve the right to be crushed. B.) Sometimes the courts run out of time and dates have to be rescheduled. This isn't the end of the world, but it can be very frustrating for adoptive parents who are longing to bring home their kids.
  3. An embassy date is scheduled and we are told to buy plane tickets for that week. Usually they seem to schedule embassy dates for 2-4 weeks after a successful court date.
  4. We fly to Ethiopia! We will be staying for about a week before bringing our kids home.
P.S. The picture above represents some of the paperwork we had to fill out in triplicate and get notarized. I think our bank's notary was really starting to hate us!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Until we have kids, pictures of Stella will have to provide visual entertainment.

I Guess I'm a Blogger Now

After hearing from my mother that an e-mail I'd sent about somebody's experience adopting from Ethiopia had practically gone viral, I started thinking that there might possibly be a market out there for my own blog about our family. So here it is - my maiden post.

I hope I'll have some interesting information to post soon. Right now I don't have any terribly exciting news about our adoption to post. The courts in Ethiopia re-opened last week after being closed for nearly two months. They close every year for the rainy season and in the past it's caused huge back-ups in the entire process. Since the court opening though, everyone who had submitted their paperwork ahead of us has received their referrals. On Friday a woman who submitted her dossier the month after us got a referral. I fought back the urge to yell "LINE CUTTER! NO FAIR IT'S OUR TURN" when I read that. The board of the orphanages matches children in need of homes with the parents they feel will be the best fit so it's all very woo-woo cosmically mystical and referrals aren't given out in order. So... we could get a referral any day now or it could be months. Every time the phone rings I think it might be our adoption coordinator: Don't be surprised if you call our house and I sound breathless and disappointed when I find out who's calling!

I'm a little grouchy and anxious these days waiting for our referral. Paul has lots of faith that the agency is saving the perfect kids for us but mainly I walk around convinced they've either forgotten us or decided that we're not parent-material. Meanwhile, we're having a nice weekend spending time with Pat, going tailgating, and shopping with my mom. Well, I went shopping (baby shopping!) - Paul stayed home and watched the game. I'm getting the sense that I need to schedule a lot of activities for myself in order to stay calm and optimistic.

This post is starting to get really long and I haven't even invited anybody to read it yet. If this blogging thing seems to work out I figure it will be a good way to keep everyone updated once our kids come home.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend!