Tuesday, October 2, 2012

We Also Decided to Buy a House in Ethiopia


Today it is October, and it seems I've yet to figure out how to slow the passage of time. The days themselves rush by. We wake, we hang out together in the big bed, wait for Elvie to get sleepy for her first nap and doze off, then seize the moment to do schoolwork. Zinashi does her chore and I get started on my own chore list, and it's noon before we know it. Sometimes I stare at the clock and blink. Wait, one o'clock? How is it one o'clock already? If we must make an appointment, I make it for the afternoon; getting out of the house before noon might do us in permanently. We are adjusting to our new normal, but also accepting its limitations.

Figuring out our school rhythm has taken some weeks, and I'll admit that it's still something we just have to jump in and do. Some homeschooling parents talk of how much they love every minute of it, but I'm not here to tell you that. I'm here to tell you that I firmly believe we made the right choice for Zinashi and for our family as a whole in committing to homeschool this year, and I will work hard at it because I know it is better for her than the other alternatives available to us.

There are a lot of things that we are working hard at as a family because it is the best choice for all of us. I spoke of Zinashi turning a corner, and things are still going well. She's incredible, that girl. I mean that. I feel like, with this recent turn of events, we've uncovered even more of her sparkling personality, freed her up to be who she is, without so much fear and hurt standing in her way.

Some of you have asked what we did, and I think I can talk about it a little without divulging Zinashi's story or details that would be disrespectful to her. First, I want to note that we were seeing some warning signs that something big was going on beneath the surface. It made perfect sense to me that she would be struggling, and frankly I was surprised that nothing hit the fan earlier. There have been two huge transitions for her this year, moving across the country and becoming a big sister, not to mention the fact that in the middle of our whirlwind trip to adopt Elvie, we briefly saw Zinashi's family.

We've made a point to talk about her story with her on a regular basis, and I even tried to make some inroads lately to talk about seeing her family this summer, but she kept everything pretty shallow. I didn't want to press her when she wasn't ready, so I didn't. But then her behavior deteriorated in ways that we'd never seen before, and my frustration level grew, and my heart and my gut finally got together and said, "Look, you sleep-deprived idiot, your first baby is struggling hard, and you need to figure out what to do about it. She can't cope because she's five years old, and she has no idea what is hurting so badly inside, and even if she did, she would be afraid to say it."  

So I started looking for a particular type of therapist, and I tried to build upon the foundations of unconditional love and security within our family that we've done our best to lay from the beginning, and it just wasn't working. One night something triggered a behavioral response, of the sort that makes a parent not want to show any compassion at all, and I just felt like that was it, that if I didn't just make a leap, nothing would change. So I pulled her into my arms, and I started telling her the story of how she came to be with us, and for each thing that happened that led her away from her family and Ethiopia, I said I was sorry. And that was when she started to let her guard down.

We've had many conversations since, and I've made more leaps and addressed more subjects that I think might be bothering her. She's been so good about telling me, truthfully, if something I mention is bothering her or not, and there are usually clues from her answers that lead me down a path toward more clarity. This is a significant step forward, because before we had our big breakthrough, sometimes I would ask her if a certain thing was bothering her, and her default answer was no. For her, I think it made an enormous difference that I said out loud what had happened and that I was sorry that it happened. The improvement we've seen in both her mood and her behavior has been astounding.

This is why I fight so hard for others to recognize the obstacles that children who have been through trauma face. If we continue to behave as if they should just figure out how to deal with what has happened, if we expect them to find that healing on their own or to be automatically happy because their circumstances have changed so much for the better, then many of our children will never find the healing they need. Our children need to be seen for who they are. Their struggles need to be recognized and respected. We need to approach them with compassion and understanding.

Zinashi is a true treasure, and I cannot imagine a life for her in which her big, generous heart and captivating personality were blocked by behaviors that result from a hurt which is not her fault. I want the world to see how truly beautiful and special she is, and to that end, I will continue to advocate for her and do whatever it takes to help her when she needs it. Most days now, she doesn't need much more than the usual: a predictable routine, reminders that we love her no matter what, apologies when I am impatient, fair consequences when she makes a poor choice. I hope that what we have now continues for some time. It is good to see her heart so full and her confidence shining.

19 comments:

  1. And you're buying a house in Ethiopia?? Details!

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  2. Absolutely amazing insight. If only more adults who work with, care for or parent children could gain this understanding. I hope in the future that you consider a career in psychology or social services. Children need thinkers like you!

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  3. Go Zinashi...we're all rooting for you!!!

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  4. I love this post. Thank you so much for the reminder. We need to do this too. I work full time which makes every moment home seem precious (when I'm not at home) and rushed when I am at home. I'm going to print this and have my husband read it.

    And, I too want to hear about a home in Ethiopia!

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  5. Thank you for sharing. You are doing a terrific job of navigating that thin line between respecting Z's privacy and sharing what you are trying and learning.

    If you have a moment and care to share, what are some of the consequences for Z's poor choices? My husband and I are trying to figure those out for our 3 year old. I want to avoid punishing her but also want to set boundaries and provide consequences that make sense and focus on her choices and not make her feel bad about herself. Of if you have any books/web sites/articles you really like, those would be great to know too.

    Thank you!

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  6. I should write a longer post about our eventual unconventional retirement plan, but the short story is that we think that investing in property that can be rented out as vacation rentals is a good plan for us. We are working on a plan to buy a place in Nice, France, and if we choose wisely, it will make money which we can invest in more properties. The original plan was to have the second property be in Nice, but now we are thinking that, while it won't be a huge moneymaker, it would be possible to purchase a place in Addis that we can stay in when we travel there, but which can be rented out as a furnished home to others who have extended stays in Ethiopia. If we can pay for the house in cash, then there won't be pressure to have it occupied 100% of the time.

    This is a plan for some years down the road, and there's always the possibility that we could change our minds or that our reasons for wanting to do it would not exist anymore. But for now, we all feel good about looking at property there, and I think that for Zinashi, it would be really good to have the same place we return to every time, a place that can't change.

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    1. I've heard buying in ET is tough, because you don't actually really own thigns, you lease from the government who owns all land, period. We have thought about something similar. Hubs and I might want to invest with you, we came to similar thought. FYI. Keep me posted.

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    2. I am also interested in this home in Addis idea. My husband and I are seriously considering moving there for a few years to raise our three Ethiopian kids. I've heard owning a home is very difficult there, and having individuals you trust to look after it while away also might be a challenge. I'd love to know more though as you investigate the possibilities.

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  7. Such a beautiful sharing of the learning and growing as family! Thank you! And so glad the hard work is paying off for you all!

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  8. You are amazing and inspiring!! You just reminded me of this great presentor I saw the other day, Tina Payne Bryson, and she spoke about the importance of talking with children and helping them tell their story, exactly what you do with Zinashi. I haven't read it yet but plan to!

    http://wholebrainchild.com/

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  9. I often think we are feeling our way in the dark. We make guesses at what our kids are feeling and what might help them and when we guess right, we get some amazing reactions.

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  10. Wow, I think being able to go back to the same house for every visit to Ethiopia AND knowing that house belongs to you guys could be a really huge comfort to Z and eventually, to E. Great thinking!

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  11. Thank you. This is perfect.

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  12. You wrote this with such respect for your daughter...and I love how intentional you are.

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  13. Nice article , want to know more about this topic.

    how to buy a house

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  14. You are lovely. All of you.

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