Thursday, May 31, 2012

In honor of E and Z's early intervention evaluation today, here is a list of words they're both using regularly now that we've been home for almost two months:
  1. Mama
  2. Papa
  3. Atticus
  4. Norah
  5. Nommie
  6. Grampa
  7. Bebee
  8. Stella
  9. Dog
  10. No!
  11. Mine
  12. Ayedelem ("no" in Amharic - I have no idea if I'm spelling that correctly.)
  13. Ow! ("yes" in Amharic)
  14. Nay ("come here" in Amharic)
  15. Stop
  16. Scootch (down the stairs)
  17. shoes
  18. cracker
  19. more
  20. please
  21. thank you
  22. Up! Up! Up! Up! (Wow, do I hear that one a lot these days.)
  23. Signing Time (E is in love with Rachel from this series and both kids are using some signs.)
  24. Poo-poo
  25. Pee-Pee
  26. Potty
  27. night-night
  28. bottle
  29. Hi
  30. Hello
  31. Bye-bye
Z babbles and talks more than E does at this point, but they are both talking and learning more every day. That is not to say that there isn't a lot of frustrated screaming happening around here - there's plenty of that too. When I make a list like this, however, it does remind me that the screaming will be temporary and they really are making a ton of progress.

UPDATE: After their evaluation today, it was determined that neither kiddo qualifies for services. They are both on track for gross and fine motor skills and both are at the bottom range of average for verbal skills of children their age. Considering that they've only been exposed to English for the last two months and both spent a year a half in institutional care, this is unexpected and great news. Way to go, E and Z!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Beach


E and Z now have two beach visits under their belts. Unfortunately, I didn't think to bring my camera either time, so these two photos from my mom's phone last week will have to suffice. The water is still freezing cold and neither toddler is interested in getting in the lake with their older siblings, but the sand has been a hit. Today all four children were playing a game inspired by a documentary about sea turtles that featured the four kiddos being buried in sand and then "hatching" and trying to run for the water before the crabs or gulls (played by Paul) could catch them. It was hilarious to watch.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Activities

I took all the kiddos to the local children's museum by myself yesterday. It was generally a success. Tegegn and Tiruye loved the tiny shopping carts - possibly too much since when it was time to leave our lovely outing devolved. A couple of babies were VERY unhappy to leave behind their new favorite toy. Queue lots of other parents with only two children each standing around gaping at me as I tried to herd my reluctant children out to the parking garage. We were a sideshow. And then Tegegn pushed the alarm bell in the parking garage elevator. Good times.



Sibling love continues to grow. There was a period of time when Atticus kept suggesting that we should have adopted Alyssa or Rowen from daycare instead because they don't cry or poop as much as our babies, but he's come around and is now saying that we should add to our family again. Below, Tiruye demonstrates her most-excellent style of kissing. She growls like a bear whenever she kisses. It's pretty darn adorable.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

In Defense of International Adoption

In recent months there have been several articles in prominent newspapers, like this one from the Wall Street Journal, that have cast international adoption in a bad light. I've held off blogging about them because I have a lot of ambivalence about this issue and I don't consider myself to be an expert about it by any means. However, I have been a part of the adoption world for long enough and am connected to enough other adoptive families that I can say that I don't think it's fair to paint all of international adoption in a negative light. It's beyond horrific that the birth family profiled in the Wall Street Journal article was lied to about what would happen after their child was adopted. It's indefensible and it never, ever, ever should have occurred. I don't think this was an isolated case, but I also believe there is evidence that the vast majority of adoptions from Ethiopia are not corrupt and are the result of children who legitimately needed new families to raise them.

Paul and I consider our children's adoption stories to be private for them, which is another reason I've held off voicing my own opinions about this issue. It's hard to narrate my sentiments without giving personal examples and this is frustrating because I sense that one-sided articles such as the one linked above cast aspersions on the way we formed our family. Here is what I feel can be said: We independently investigated (this is key, because you can't necessarily trust information given to you by adoption agencies)  all four of our children's stories. We personally traveled to three of their hometowns with an investigator and sent our trusted investigator to the fourth town to reconfirm what we had heard from another independent citizen earlier on about that child's case. All four of our investigations showed that our children genuinely needed new families. One of our children was terribly ill with malaria when s/he came into care. Another was in dire need of a corrective surgery without which s/he would have been disfigured and possibly died. One was so ill that all of the parties involved were shocked to hear that s/he was still alive. Another child was suffering from dehydration and malnutrition. Their stories and need for new families were confirmed by a wide variety of people, including young children who gathered around to participate in the discussions about the cases. These children were probably the most convincing of all to me because I'm pretty sure we could never get Atticus or Norah to falsely relate an exciting history without blabbing out the truth.

Without a doubt, there were many things that could and should have been in place to prevent our children from entering the adoption system - better access to preventative medical care and medical treatment, more tolerance for single mothers, easy access of emergency funds and food to help families stay intact, and a greater ease and acceptance of domestic adoption in Ethiopia would all be a great place to start.  International adoption should always be a last option, with the best option being for children to stay with their birth families.  The fact remains, however, that those other options were no longer on the table for any of our kids. They didn't have family or neighbors who could take care of them. When they were brought to the orphanages, they were already at Plan Z.

This is the room where one of our children spent several months of his/her life:


There are more than a dozen children currently living in this orphanage who are considered by the government to be unadoptable and they will therefore remain at the orphanage until they turn fifteen and then be turned out into the adult world to fend for themselves. The nannies and director we met at this facility seemed nurturing and loving towards all the children, but I hardly think that this is really the best option for any child.

Another argument by adoption foes has been that if international adoption disappeared the communities would begin to absorb the orphaned children themselves. One of the police stations we visited during our investigations had done exactly that. There was a ten-year-old boy living there who had been orphaned and is now living at the police station, sleeping under a desk, and cleaning the courtyard and offices to earn his keep. The police officers seemed very maternal and appeared to genuinely care for this young man, but I'm not convinced that it's exactly a fairy tale ending for him.

We visited five orphanages in Ethiopia and all of them were nearly at capacity with children who need families. We photographed the intake log books of these facilities and they all feature a handful of children whose final destination is listed as "deceased". It's undeniable that there truly is a need for someone to provide loving homes for the children who find themselves in these waiting rooms of last resort.

In recent years, the Ethiopian courts and the U.S. Embassy have taken many steps to prevent corruption in adoption. Relinquishing birth families are now required to attend a court date in Addis Ababa in which adoption is explained to them and they are asked specifically if they understand that adoption is irreversible, they won't receive any financial compensation, and they likely will never see their children again. This is done before the adoption is ratified by the Ethiopian government and there have been several cases in the past year in which adoptions in process were halted and reversed when birth family members willing to parent the children were found. In cases of abandonments, fliers with photographs of abandoned children along with contact information for those seeking information about them is posted outside of police stations in the towns where children were found. Neighbors and those who found the children are informed of where the children will be residing in case birth family returns wanting to reclaim their children. At one orphanage we visited, the director confirmed that he had seen this system work on occasion and birth parents took their children back to raise. The U.S. Embassy is scrutinizing cases carefully and demanding more information when facts don't line up. It's agonizing for potential adoptive parents to go through this additional screening, but a necessary and reassuring step to insuring that completed adoptions are ethical and are the result of a true need for new families for the children concerned.

Adoption is not a solution to the societal problems that plague any country, including the United States. It doesn't fix the root causes that lead families to feel they can't raise the children born to them. For the children trapped in the morass that already exists, however, it's a vital way to avoid being raised in an institution that is incapable of substituting for a loving family. This adoption attorney and this adoptive parent provide even better insight into this matter if you're interested in reading more.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

You Leave Them Alone Washing Their Bikes for Five Minutes...



The mischief these two are capable of creating together is epic, but it makes my heart overflow to see the love they have for each other. Atticus and Norah, thanks for being the two awesome kids who made me a mom for the first time. I love you!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Family Bed


I am thoroughly convinced that acknowledging that your children appear to be sleeping well is the fastest way to jinx the process. I told a friend a couple of weeks ago that Tegegn and Tiruye were sleeping through the night and then that very evening, for the first time ever, Tiruye got up at 2 a.m. and refused to go back to sleep. So I am NOT here to tell you that our new kiddos are much better sleepers than their older siblings were right after they were adopted. 

When we were preparing to be parents for the first time, I read a lot about sleep and was convinced that A) Any idiot should be able to get their kids to go to sleep if they just follow the steps from the parenting books. B) I would get up joyfully with my children whenever they awoke in the middle of the night because I would just be so, so, so grateful to be a parent that I wouldn't mind waking up. C) We would never "resort" to sleep training our adopted children because the experts warned that it could affect bonding. Time and experience have shown me how naive I was and I now believe that while some strategies may help most kids, every child is different and what works for some families may not work for others. Also, I now firmly believe that a chronically tired, stressed parent is probably a lot worse for the family than almost any sleep strategy you could try.

If you have been in our lives for several years, you probably know that Atticus and Norah's terrible sleep habits were easily the biggest problem we faced when they came home. It was awful and I want to cry just thinking about how tired we were. We tried everything - white noise, silence, blackout shades, nightlights,  co-sleeping in our queen bed, having the kids' cribs in our room, having their cribs in a separate room, separating the kids into different bedrooms, sleeping with them with one parent in each room, music, baths before bedtime, no naps, extra naps, swimming to tire them out, earlier bedtime, later bedtime... It was not pretty. Norah's sleep did eventually attain a manageable pattern once she was in her own room, but with Atticus we ended up needing to sleep train him and later added melatonin to our bedtime regimen.

This time around, we tried something new and put our own queen mattress on the floor with a twin mattress on either side of it - essentially creating a wall-to-wall bed that nobody can fall off of. Even though Atticus and Norah often wake up in the middle of the night and join us, it still is a very handy arrangement. Tegegn and Tiruye are both wigglers and change positions all over the family bed throughout the course of the night, but we still manage to get a decent night's sleep most of the time. Each night we read books with all four kiddos in our bed, tuck Atticus and Norah into their own beds in their own room, and then we lie down with Tegegn and Tiruye in the family bed until they fall asleep. We then creep downstairs for a couple of hours of adult time before returning to bed ourselves, with me armed with my Kindle and a book light because I can't fall asleep without reading in bed each night.

Part of me will be delighted to have our bedroom back to ourselves. Sharing a bed with only one other person is starting to seem like a luxury. For  right now though, this arrangement seems to be working really well for us, I love having the extra snuggle time with my babies throughout the night, and it seems to make the kiddos feel safe and secure.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Monday, May 7, 2012

Attachment Update

Attaching with your children after adoption is always a subject of interest and I've been meaning to post about how it's going for us.





Tegegn: It's a lot easier to write about his attachment because it has been very straightforward and linear. I posted before that we were quite concerned when we met him in December. He was not a happy camper for the first few days when we spent time together and therefore the few pictures we have of him during that time are all similar to the ones posted above. He cried and wanted to be held the entire time. Checking him out of the orphanage last month was one of the most gut wrenching experiences of my life. He'd obviously been told ahead of time what was happening and was then unceremoniously plopped in our arms and we were sent on our way. He screamed, thrashed, and sobbed. When we got back to the guest house, he refused to eat for the rest of the day and did his now-patented silent Tegegn head shake whenever we tried to offer him anything. It was heartbreaking to watch and I thought we were in for a very long haul. However, in the middle of that night he sat up, accepted a bottle, and then fell sound asleep back on my chest. When he got up the next morning, it was like a switch had flipped and he was mostly okay being with us. It wasn't a magical overnight transformation, but he seemed to have decided that he liked us, we were his people, and he was therefore okay. He's doing great now. He is genuinely happy and playful almost all of the time when we're home as a family. He seeks comfort from both me and Paul and still loves to be held. He shakes and screams with excitement each day when we pick Atticus and Norah up at school. He still tends to be quite shy around people outside of his immediate family, but we take this as a good sign. Truly, we're thrilled with how well he is progressing.

Tiruye: Tiruye is also blending in beautifully and making steady progress, but she's been a tougher riddle to figure out. She's an extrovert by nature - as evidenced by some of the first pictures we took of her - and it can be difficult to tell whether she's seeking attention from strangers indiscriminately (a warning sign in Attachment Land) or if it's simply her personality to be bubbly in public. Norah is similarly social and will initiate conversations with everyone she meets. Yesterday she had a chance encounter with a drag queen dressed in full regalia. "Oh, I just love your [hot pink, patent leather, thigh-high] shoes! Can you walk in them? I'm Norah and this is my mom, Mama. How come you're dressed like a girl but talking with a voice like a man?" In Norah's case, we don't worry anymore that her sociable nature is a sign of problems, since she is so clearly is attached to our family. With Tiruye, however, it's still a work in progress and every time some well-meaning person says, "She'll just go to anybody! Isn't that adorable?!" it's like a knife to my heart. On a more positive note, Tiruye has already made lots of strides. The first week she was with us, she absolutely did NOT want to be touched when she was falling asleep. Now she demands to put her head on mine and wants to sleep that way all night. She has moments during each day when she cries, reaches for one of us, and then angrily swats us away when we try to pick her up, but she also seeks us out for comfort regularly and is happy to be carried around much of the time. Tiruye's developing relationship with her older siblings has also been more complicated. Much of the time she's happy to follow them around and loves playing chase with them. However, the big kids' love is a full-contact sport and Tiruye doesn't always appreciate that. She's not used to having someone hone in on her personal space and this little girl is not afraid to let her opinions be known. If the other kids are bothering her, she feels free to swat and squawk at them and has also been known to spit at offenders.  Overall, however, I think she's doing really well and we've seen a lot of growth in her attachment and comfort levels at home.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Pictures






If you could just imagine that the house is clean, the yard is groomed, and the children's faces are wiped in these pictures, I would appreciate it. I'm quickly realizing that if I wait for those three events to happen at the same time before I take photographs it will never happen.

Tegegn and Tiruye are both making great strides in adjusting to life around our house. Tiruye was completely unwilling to sit in the swing when she first came home and now she loves being pushed and spun in it by her older siblings. Tegegn was really afraid of baby dolls and today discovered that he loves rocking them, kissing them, and carrying them around on his back. Both of my "babies" love being in our Ergo carrier (it's the only way Tiruye will nap if we're not in the car) and they were psyched when I fashioned slings for them to use with their dolls today. 

Our First Glimpse


I've been meaning to post the first pictures we received of Tegegn and Tiruye on July 1, 2011. You have no idea how torturous it was not to be able to share these while we were waiting to bring them home!