Sunday, October 31, 2010

Trick and Treat

Jarod made a fun new video for you. Consider it our Halloween treat to you. Now go do a trick.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Whew.

Okay. So. What's my name again? Mami, I think that's it. The A is soft, not quite a short O sound, but not a short A sound either. This is what my daughter calls me most often. Jarod answers to Ababi, same sound for the A as in Mami, and we've had quite a time remembering to make the switch from Daddy to what Zinashi has dubbed him. But we love that she called him that on her own, and we very much want to keep it. We very much want to keep a lot of things that might change, or that will likely change. The way she prounces ciao, babbling in something between Sidamigna and Amharic, falling asleep against our chests as we rock her to sleep at nap time, walking with that funny little butt wiggle she has. Every day I look at her face and think, "Oh, if only we could capture that for longer than we'll have it." She will change soon, and too quickly for my taste, though I do look forward to seeing the person she will become at each stage of her life.

We are slowly figuring out life at home. By trial and error we discover most things, though some things come quite naturally. I know now that if I do not shower in the morning before she wakes, it will take at least two hours to get out of my pajama pants and ragged hoodie. I know that she prefers to be swaddled and rocked at nap time, but will fall asleep between us in bed at night with no rocking. I know that she will only play with a cup of tea, not drink it, even if she asks for it, but will drink hot chocolate to the dregs every morning if I set it in front of her. I know that she does beautifully, at least outwardly, even when the schedule gets too full, but there are small tip-offs that she is stressed. She needs to be held more, she doesn't want to sit on her own at the table, she's just plain cranky. I have my own tip-offs, mostly being that I feel very tired and start to cry at the end of the day if we've done too much. It is hard to say no to people who love Zinashi and want to do nice things for her, but it's a skill I need to develop quickly. And the truth is that if I'm too drained to do something, it's not good for Zinashi either, because then we're both tired and overwhelmed, and one of us needs to be the grown-up here. Zinashi is only three years old, so that leaves me to do the job if Jarod is not around, or even if he is. There's nothing wrong with having two grown-ups in this house. So we live and learn and prepare ourselves to speak up when it's necessary. We also learn to take breaks even when there are still a kajillion things to do, like organizing the luggage we've unpacked or figuring out where to put the extra things that go with having an extra person in the house or how to pay for an unexpected car repair*.

But so far, we're doing all right. Zinashi is thriving in our own space, and so many things have settled down that were a challenge, most notably sleep issues. She also just generally seems more secure, though we still have a long way to go. But overall, life is just better. We are so grateful for the time we spent in Ethiopia, and I wouldn't have wanted any less time there, but we are also enjoying the (relative**) peace of home life. In particular, I love our mornings, when it's just the three of us in the house, and breakfast is on the table and we're just being a family. It feels good. It feels really, really good.

*Welcome home! Your car is $2600 worth of BROKEN!

**So many people want to meet Zinashi, and we are having meals delivered every three days besides (thank you, kind meal bringers!), that a day has not gone by that we haven't seen at least one friend or family member, usually more, sometimes for an extended period of time. So while we won't begrudge people the chance to meet our girl, I also will be forthright and say that it is more stressful than I'd like, and that I am working on finding a better balance.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

What Came First

As much as we are loving being home, it was hard to leave Ethiopia. It was, after all, the only home Zinashi had ever known, and very much our first home as a family. We've made a little video of our first month together, with only the final photo taken outside Ethiopia. You will recognize some of the photos, I'm sure. We hope you like it.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Mama's Girl

As we rode the shuttle to immigration, Zinashi looked out the window and pointed. I asked, "Do you know what that is?" She looked at me with eyes a question mark, and I said, "America. That's America. You made it."

"America!" she parroted back, again and again, before switching to a sing-song of "Apple juice! Apple juice! Apple juice!"

It was a long flight. Eighteen hours in row twenty-two is quite enough, and I am grateful for the long layover. As soon as we were through customs and had our bags re-checked, we sought out a Starbucks, and now we are camped out there. I got Zinashi a hot chocolate, and she promptly spilled part of it on her white shirt.

baby's first starbucks

That's my girl!

There will be much more to come once we are all the way home and have showered and slept and found jeans to wear that have been washed as opposed to worn over and over and over again. As much as I am dreading getting on a plane again, it will be so good to get home. We can't wait.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Sost!

Sost is the word for three in Amharic. It is also the number of days we have left here. We have her visa, our flights are confirmed, and I have a master plan for packing. We're pretty much ready to roll. We are so looking forward to being in our own space and watching Zinashi* destroy the house in ways we never dreamed possible. I have so much to say--so very, very much--but Ethiopia's farewell gift to Jarod was a bout of food poisoning last night, and the tiny Queen of Sheba and I are at the Hilton all on our own. Which is to say that I am contorting myself in order to type while feeding my daughter a cookie and making sure she doesn't spill her hot chocolate all over herself and the Hilton lobby bar. So far, we are successful, but I am not pushing my luck. I'm sure you won't mind if I just leave you with a photo of Zinashi and me practicing being catalog models, and promise to be in touch on Tuesday. Here you go:

future catalog models

*This is what we usually call our lovely daughter. I sometimes work in the Nola part, but even she thinks her name is now Zinashi, or, as she pronounces it, Ginatchee. Either way, it suits her. We love our Zinashi Ginatchee perfect piece of Ethiopian pie.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Numbering Our Days

I'll just cut to the chase. We have an embassy date next Thursday, just like we wanted. We have booked flights home, leaving Addis the night of October 25th and arriving in Kansas City the evening of October 26th. Tomorrow we return to our agency's guest house, where we have our very own bathroom. (And the angels sang, and the peasants rejoiced!) We are happy and blessed. When all is said and done, we will have spent thirty days in Addis. I suddenly feel like that's not long enough, like I don't know enough about Ethiopia to properly convey to my daughter what her home country is like.

At the same time, we are so ready to get home, to stop living out of suitcases, to slip back into the ease of knowing how to get what we need when we need it. I am ready to cook our own meals and do our own laundry and sit in my very own chair while my daughter plays.

I am ready to see her sink into her new life, to move through the hard parts where everything is new to her and we still don't understand each other all that well. I am ready to give her a bath in our own bathtub, where the water always works, and she won't have to stand there scrubbing her tummy while we wait for it to come back. I am ready to just be her mother at home instead of in someone else's space.

It's going to be hard, I know this, but it is going to be good. It is going to be so, so good.

After today our internet will be very limited. We will try to check in at least once next week. If you don't hear from us, know that we are collecting stories to tell you once we get back. We look forward to being more present to all of you then.

So let's hear it for October 26th! HOORAY!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Holding Pattern

This morning Jarod and I went to the US Embassy to request that our case be expedited by one week. We didn't get an answer, and we left behind both our keys to our guest house room and Nola Zinash's favorite bunny. So we went to the US Embassy twice, actually, and do not have any new information, but we do have our keys and the bunny back. Success rate: 50%! Or at least that's what I'm saying for now.

This whole process has been all about waiting. There are so many things to wait for, and we have become rather good at it, if by good at it, you'll accept that we mean that we can sleep at night now when we do not have rather important information at our fingertips. I have become a lot more comfortable with knowing just enough as opposed to knowing enough to plan for the next eight years. So we will wait to see if our embassy appointment will be in one week or two, if we can book flights or if we need to get Jarod's visa extended. We trust it will all work out. It has so far.

What we can plan is this: we will return to our agency's guest house on Sunday, which is the last day we can stay at our current guest house. We will meet Nola Zinash's Ethiopian family member sometime next week (cue Mary crying here) (and here) (and anytime I think about it). We will go shopping for a few things we'd like to bring back with us--mostly things for friends and family and a few things for Nola Zinash to have as she grows up. We hope to also visit the National Museum and the Lion Zoo (at least, I hope to--I think Jarod would be A-OK if we skipped it). And that's all we've got, except hopes and prayers that our embassy date will indeed be in one week, and we can set our feet on home soil soon. I have mixed feelings about leaving Ethiopia, as it has been such a sweet time here with our daughter, but I know that it will be best for all of us. She needs more routine in her life, a day that is not spent in pursuit of paperwork or internet or the things we left at the US Embassy. I feel this deeply at night, when the twilight bark begins and the cars are honking on the street adjacent to where we sleep. And also, if I may admit my selfishness, I could use a really good shower. You know, one that I don't have to wait in line for, during which every last bit of shampoo gets rinsed out of my hair.

It will be really wonderful. All of it.

(Not just my shower.)

Good to the Last Drop

Many adoptive families have indicated that their children do not like sweets. I was kind of worried about that, since sweets are pretty much my favorite thing and the thing I'm best at cooking. I needn't have worried; she now eats more than half the slice of cake if I order one for us to share, and every morning, this is what she does to her mug of hot chocolate.

breakfast at the cozy place

Is this girl the perfect girl to be my daughter or what?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Adjustments

When we took our daughter into our care, we were told that she was A) a very good girl, B) never cried, and C) was mostly silent and didn't say many words. I have come to believe that this was all largely for self-preservation purposes, as our daughter now A) is testing her limits, B) cries for true needs and when she doesn't get what she wants (the fake cry, honestly, kind of cracks me up), and C) wakes up jabbering. When we are out in public, she goes quiet again, though she does sometimes cry, just not with as much, ahem, gusto as she does for us alone.

This is a really beautiful time in so many ways that I hate to cloud it over with talk of the tough parts, but I do think that it will be helpful to you who are adopting or thinking of adopting, particularly an older toddler, to know what has been challenging for us and how we have handled it. First of all, I will confess that it can be incredibly frustrating when she chooses to be contrary, and as she has become increasingly comfortable with us, she feels increasingly comfortable in pushing against the boundaries we are establishing. But what I do my best to remember in those times is that she spent nearly six months being good and being silent, and it is quite understandable that she would be making up for that now. When she becomes upset, our method is for whoever is not currently holding her to remove her from the situation and let her figure out how to get her equilibrium back. When she is just plain being naughty, it's harder, because removing her from the situation only works in some cases, and the language barrier seems absolutely huge in these moments. We cannot explain consequences or rewards to her, so we just do the best we can. The biggest struggle comes at naptime, when she needs to sleep but does not want to, not under any circumstance. Honestly, we usually just wait for her to get upset enough about being laid back down time and time again to need a cuddle. When we are cradling her against us, she will finally give up and drop off to sleep. When she first got comfortable with us, it took an hour and a half. We were down to half an hour until yesterday, when we took her for her TB test and really made her mad. Yesterday it took a little over an hour. Future adoptive parents, if this happens to you, it is normal. When you can't figure out why your child won't sleep, know that none of us have figured it out, but lots of us have observed this difficulty in our children. I'm just calling it an adjustment, and we will work through it.

In the beginning, she also wanted, even needed, us to do most things for her. When we brought her back to the guest house for that first lunch together, they had set a separate place for her. I set her in that chair, and she just looked alone and lost, and so I picked her up, set her on my lap, and fed her every single bite she needed to eat. Since then, we have taken turns holding her on our laps and feeding her. As she gets more comfortable, she wants to feed herself more, and will also refuse things she doesn't like or just sort things out in her mouth and reach in and hand you what she doesn't like in that bite (onions in her scrambled eggs, for instance). This can be a big challenge when we can't figure out just what she wants and the table is full of options, but we are managing. We are also sharing absolutely everything on the table. She can have a bite of whatever she would like, and likewise nothing belongs only to her. At first she balked at this and didn't want us to eat off the plate in front of her (though she still wanted the food in front of each of us), but now she has accepted that this is just the way we do it in our family. This is also the end of Coca-Cola for Mama, as I cannot tell her we are sharing everything and then refuse to give her a drink of my caffeinated beverage. The only case in which this does not apply is when I am having coffee, which she understands is not for children.

We have also witnessed another huge issue surrounding food, which is that she would eat and eat and eat and not want to leave any food on the table. This is terribly common in children who have spent part of their lives hungry and malnourished. Which is to say, we did expect this. One stressful evening, she was trying to hide french fries under her chin so that she could have them for later. She would eat more than was necessary every single meal and try to hoard the rest. We have responded by being firm about not hoarding food on your person, but allowing her to eat as much as she wants at the table and then keeping some small snacks within her reach for whenever she wants them. In our room, we have a shelf that holds all her things, and we have put a package of plain biscuits (cookies, similar to a graham cracker) there for her to have whenever she wants. We also keep bananas on the coffee table. Increasingly, she is pushing back from the table when she is full and not trying to take anything with her. She will also eat only part of the banana if she isn't that hungry and has fed us more biscuits lately than she has eaten herself. This is significant progress.

We are also working hard on bonding and attaching. I have a lot more to say about that, which I will address in a future post, but suffice it to say that we are in the "two steps forward, one step back" phase. We see significant regression anytime she must visit the transition home or interact with the transition home staff (during her doctor visit yesterday, for instance). Whatever ground we lose in these instances, we work hard to regain. We babywear, we cosleep, we keep her on our laps and in our arms as much as she needs us to. She never reaches up to be held and is denied. But like I said, there is a lot more to say on this topic, and I will say it later, when we are a little farther down that road, and hindsight has taught us what truly worked for us here in Ethiopia and what didn't.

So we are adjusting. Every day we figure out a little bit more, and every day she does a new thing to baffle us. But every day she also does a thousand things to delight us, so we feel that the scales definitely tip more toward happy family than challenging parenting. It's all good; we just have to remember that when she's wailing loudly enough to wake the neighbors.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

We're Already Having Her Practice Smiling with Her Eyes

You guys, I think we accidentally adopted the Queen of Sheba.

queen of sheba

Or maybe a future Gap model?

would you like to make a call?

I mean, come on, this kind of beauty just isn't fair to all the other aspiring child models.

oh, come on, this is just not fair

But hey, if we need to take her down a notch when her beautiful head gets too large from all the konjo lich and such a beautiful baby and I will give her my ice cream, so cute!, we will just remind her that she declined to play with toys and chose something in a less glamorous category.

no, really, we brought her some toys

All is well here in Addis. We send you joy and love and are planning to surprise you by teaching our daughter a song (though now I have ruined it completely by telling you). I vote for Every Rose Has Its Thorn, but perhaps you would prefer Killing Me Softly? We have heard both live this evening, and really, I just can't decide.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Hard Parts

When we go on a walk, there are always more outstretched hands than there are one birr notes and coins in our pockets. We buy bananas and hand those out instead. Jarod has his shoes washed by a little boy who quotes one birr, then charges five.

"Wait, I thought it was one birr."

"It was, but he used soap."

"Ah."

"I gave him six."

There are so many here with so much need. The official agency travel guide tells us to give to organizations that will benefit the whole community instead of to people on the street. But when a blind woman is holding a baby, or a young girl is running alongside you with hope in her eyes, is it ever the right thing to offer nothing in that moment and feel satisfied that you have given to an organization that benefits the community instead? So we give birr and we give bananas and we look into the faces of children whose future is uncertain and mirror back their smiles. We go home and set aside all our one birr bills and get ready to go back out and do it all over again.

And then there is our own daughter, who has a certain cry when she is grieving. She wraps her head in my scarf just so and begins to cry, and I am fairly certain she is remembering her mother. She cries the same cry sometimes when she is trying to sleep and when she gets restless right before she wakes up. It is enough to break your heart into a thousand tiny pieces. Which is, I suppose, why we are here. Maybe to let love in properly, you have to allow your heart to be broken into a thousand tiny pieces.

And then that same daughter will laugh, and it will all be bound back up again. Sorrow and joy, all at once. This is, indeed, why we are here.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Ordinary Days

Today we moved into a larger room at our guest house. When I made the original reservation, I thought it would just be Jarod and me here for the week, so I booked a smallish room. Then we got here, and it was a smallish room (like I requested) and it was very dark and our daughter had only one pair of underwear and I cried. (I also was suffering from a certain female affliction called PMS. Nature's timing is so beautiful!) But Nola Zinash seemed happy to play in that room, and Jarod went and found a shop to buy more tiny underwear, and all was fine with the world, albeit a bit chaotic with all the suitcases stuffed into our dark, little room.

Today we moved into a room with three beds (one king sized, for sleeping, two twin sized, for Nola Zinash and I to lay out our outfits, of course), a sitting area, and lots of light. It felt like a miracle. As does life lately, even though our days are pretty ordinary. We wake up to a the prayer call first, the morning light second, and a smiling girl third. If I am quick on my feet, I can sneak in a shower before the other guests also decide they want to sneak in a shower before anyone else is awake. (How many others we share one bathroom with depends on the guest count that night and if the second bathroom on the premises is working or not.) We dress our girl, who is becoming opinionated about whether a sock should be worn on the foot or used as a pretend cell phone, and head outside for breakfast. We eat, we play, we put Nola Zinash in the carrier on my back and go for a walk. We have lunch, we endure the protests over a nap (for a girl who was silent and never cried at the transition home, she is certainly finding her voice now), we finally nap, we play, we have dinner, we start down the long, winding road toward bedtime. And that's it. Sometimes we forget what day of the week it is.

It is Thursday, right?

We owe so many of you replies to your kind comments and emails, and visits to your own websites. We are indebted to you for all your kindnesses, and hope that our hearty thanks will serve as a stand-in for the communication which is forthcoming once we are stateside. We treasure you all. Thank you for being part of our ordinary days; aside from Nola Zinash's smiles, you are the best part of them.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

He Also Does Hair

IMG_5093

I wanted to post this yesterday, as it was a very special day, but the internet would not cooperate. Luckily, the cake DID cooperate, which was important since it was Daddy's birthday. One of the great joys of things working out the way they have is that I've had the great privilege of watching my husband become a Daddy this week. In my opinion, he's probably the very best daddy ever. We are so lucky to have him, and to celebrate his special day with him, and not just because we all got to eat cake.

IMG_0121

We love you, Daddy. Happy Birthday!

IMG_0113

Sunday, October 3, 2010

One Week in Ethiopia

What a difference seven days can make. One week ago, we were nearly ready to land in Addis, and our plans were to sleep as much as possible that night, meet our daughter the next morning, and have a tour of Addis that afternoon. The rest of the days that stretched out for us in Addis were to follow the same sort of pattern: see Nola Zinash in the morning, explore in the afternoon. And then, after Jarod left, my plan was Nola Zinash in the morning, volunteering in the afternoon. And then six words changed everything. "You can have her with you." Instead of touring Addis, we took our daughter back to the guest house and had lunch, then took a nap. When we put her down on the bed between us, she turned her head from one to the other of us, beaming. She couldn't believe her good luck.

The new plan is: Nola Zinash in the morning, Nola Zinash at lunch, Nola Zinash napping in the afternoon, Nola Zinash at dinner, Nola Zinash in the bath and into bed. We can't believe our good luck either.

crazy face

Nola Zinash will make you laugh. Also, she styles her own headband. You like it, no?

her favorite toy is the maglite

Nola Zinash will take your flashlight, and use your flashlight, and take apart your flashlight. She can mostly put it back together.

legwarmers!

Horizontal stripes in order to show off that magnificent belly. Leg warmers because Mama thinks they're funny.

And now just a quick note in order to cover our butts a little bit. Previously, I had agreed to our agency's request not to share information about seeing Nola Zinash during my extended in country stay if that indeed happened, and I thought that was a perfectly reasonable request and intended to stick to it. But when this happened, it changed what I wanted to share about my time in Ethiopia. When it was just a possible couple of hours with her from time to time, I figured it didn't matter if anyone knew. But now our lives are upended, in a good but challenging way, and I think it is only appropriate to share this part of the journey with everyone who has followed our story this far. In all honesty, this is partly because we need support as we navigate how to proceed from here; your comments and the knowledge of your presence here buoy us up as we contemplate things like how long Jarod can stay in country and what it would take to get things taken care of at home while we are both away for longer than planned.

If you are an adoptive family using our same agency, we only ask that you respect the decisions that are made on behalf of you and your child. We believe that both the staff in the US and here in Ethiopia have acted in the best interests of our child, and we do not encourage anyone to seek (or especially to demand) this same path, as it may not be best for you and your family or for your child. Respect, respect, respect. Got it?

Friday, October 1, 2010

World Premier!!!

She's even better looking in person! Everyone please say hello to Magnolia Zinash!

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