Posted by: Kristin W | April 5, 2012

Days 5-6 – Friday and Saturday

Friday
Today was one of the most memorable days I will ever have. I lack the ability to write well enough to capture the sights, sounds and emotions that we experienced, but I’ll give it a try and let the photos help me tell the story.

We woke up early and drove about four hours to Afar. We traveled with Steve and Morgan, and while they were very much a part of our experience and us a part of theirs, I am going to leave out the parts that relate to them. Suffice it to say that it was one of those experiences where you bond pretty quickly. Along the way, we stopped for some pictures at a volcanic crater.  Because how often do you get to do that?

 

Next stop was a hotel where we met the orphanage director who runs the local orphanage where A and H spent six months. He took us to our birth family meeting. I won’t share a lot about our experience there, but I will say that it was absolutely amazing. We got to see the house where A and H were born and get some of our questions answered. I will say that although we had prepared questions, we didn’t use them all. But we did feel like A and H had been loved and were truly relinquished by a family that just could not support them. They were amazed at the pictures of where the kids would live and excited to see that they would go to school. It really puts things in perspective that I complain about how small and cramped our house is when the kids first home was about 40 square feet.

After our visit, we went back to the hotel for lunch and to meet our guide for the next portion of the day. He took us to his village in Afar so we could see how they live. He took us into his hut, where his dad was sleeping and there were chickens roaming around on the floor under the bed. There were distinct spaces for sleeping and preparing food. It was made of small sticks and covered with cloth, but really amazing construction.

When we went outside, there were about 20 kids who had gathered and we took some pictures (they love seeing their faces on the digital camera screen).

Andrew bought their butter container (a hollowed out gourd covered with shells), and they promptly scooped out the butter and handed it over. Then a little girl brought out a four-day old goat for us to see. Suddenly, Sam, who had been kind of intimidated by the crowd of kids, stepped and held the goat while all the kids laughed at his awkwardness. He was very proud of himself.

We left Afar and drove to the Awash National Park, where we stayed for the night. A-mazing!!! The lodge has “traditional” huts, but with super-comfy beds (better than Horizon House), running water, and toilets. But the best part is that it’s right next to the waterfall and you can hear the rushing as you sleep.

We started by going for a walk down to the falls.  Gorgeous.  That’s all I can say.

Sam, the mirror image of Mulat (I don’t really remember what they were doing here):

Next we walked through the nearby areas of the park, where we ran into a group of about 20 baboons in a tree. There was an alpha keeping watch, moms with babies, and lots of kids jumping through the tree. And it was all happening right in front of us with no cages or glass.

We continued on and saw some other animals, but decided to go back and take some bread we had kept from lunch to feed to the baboons. Mulat (our guide/translator) took a piece of bread, walked right under the tree, and held it high above his head. S, being suddenly the bravest kid I know, stormed in right behind him. Suddenly, the trees came alive with monkey sounds and jumping around. Mulat and S threw their bread and everyone else followed suit, which resulted in baboon frenzy, screeching and fighting for the pieces. E was pretty freaked out by the whole thing, but the rest of us loved it. The baboons were seriously only a few feet away, and at one point Steve was shooing the baboons back because they were too close. Truly an amazing experience. Unfortunately, it was pretty dark by this time, so I didn’t get any great pictures of it. In addition to the sheer wonder of being an actor in a Wild Kingdom episode, I was amazed by own son and his fearless nature.

That night, we had a fabulous traditional meal outside around the campfire. E was tired, so the two of us started walking back to our hut and ran into a family of warthogs. My only experience with warthogs is watching Pumba in the Lion King, and I have to say, they were not nearly as cute, musically gifted or calm. I thought one was going to rush us, as he was staring us down and refused to move. Of course, I’m trying to play it cool so I don’t freak Eleanor out, but we decided to walk around the long way!

There’s just something funny about watching an iPad under mosquito netting:

Saturday

We got up early the next day and went for a game drive with Mulat as our spotter. It was amazing to see the animals out wandering the plains as the sun came up. We saw more dik dik than I can count, lots of oryx, some more baboons, guinea fowl, jackals, and lots of birds, including the cool blue one with the yellow beak that Zazu is based on. Then we had breakfast overlooking the falls and got to watch the crocodiles below. Breathtaking views.

Dik Dik:

Oryx:

Oryx with babies:

Gazelle:

Nests:

Baboon who greeted us as we returned to the restaurant for breakfast:

Crocodiles:

View from our breakfast seats:

On the way back to Addis, we were driving along, when Mulat asks the driver to stop and he hops out of the car. There was a local market set up and there were people everywhere. We hopped out and walked through the market, which was truly amazing. We started with a stop at the parking garage…the place where everyone puts the goats and camels that carried their goods to market. S wanted a picture with a camel, so Mulat walked him and Dave over, while crowds of people started to form just to see the white folks and laugh at the fact that we were taking pictures of camels. Some of them actually pulled out their cell phones to take pictures of us taking pictures of camels. The crowd grew larger as we continued on through the various stalls.

There was a vendor selling shoes made out of old tires, and S wanted a pair, so they found some that were the right size, and then they hammered them together. They don’t finish making them until you’ve paid for them so it wouldn’t do you any good to steal them.

Some more pictures from the market.

Last stop on our adventure was a stop at one of the crater lakes. Mulat told us that it was a kind of Lookout Point of Ethiopia. Beautiful scenery.

We got back to Addis at about 4:00, and since we had missed lunch, the folks at Horizon House had saved our food and served us a full meal, even though dinner was scheduled for two hours later. That’s the kind of hospitality you get in Ethiopia.

I have never been as dirty, tired or drained as I was after this trip. It was truly an amazing experience and I’m so thankful that Mulat was along to add some extra sightseeing into our trip. I have read a lot of blogs and talked to a lot of people about their birth family trips and I have never heard anything that evens come close to the experience we had.  It really made me feel connected to the part of the country where are kids are from, and I can honestly tell them that it is an amazing place that I love.

Posted by: Kristin W | April 5, 2012

Day 4 – Thursday

Today was a tough day for A, but probably an important one for all of us.  It started with the coffee ceremony, which is a traditional celebration in Ethiopia.  This coffee ceremony was to say goodbye to the kids who are leaving this week, including A.  That in itself was a little weird, because we aren’t leaving for another five days, so it was odd to have all the kids saying goodbye, but not going anywhere.  Anyway, during the ceremony, he had “borrowed” another dad’s sunglasses.  I’m not sure how it happened, but another kid ended up with them, and A was MAD.  He wanted them back, but knew he couldn’t have them.  So he just cried.  So sad.  After the ceremony, I pulled him on my lap and we sat for a few minutes, but he refused to be comforted.  One of the nannies talked to him and explained that they weren’t Andrew’s, glasses, which did not help.  Finally, he wanted to get up and we went out to the courtyard to play.  We asked a nanny to explain to him that we would be taking a trip the next day (for the birth family visit).  She did, but also told him where we were going and who we were meeting with.  After that, he had a series of tantrums.  I think the combination of the coffee ceremony, the lack of nap, the fact we were leaving, and the discussion about his family was just too much.  Little guy was tough to handle and it’s so frustrating not being able to communicate effectively.  While we love all of the caregivers at Horizon House, it’s very difficult to establish our role as parents.  When we have to ask for help in talking to A, the nannies don’t  translate for us, rather they take over and handle the situation as they would.  I feel for Andrew, because A has definitely bonded with him, so he is having to deal with the brunt of it.

Some pics from the coffee ceremony (A is not wearing his traditional Ethiopian attire, as we bought it on the first trip and forgot to pack it for this one):

And, here’s a video of Ayub leading the prayer:

Posted by: Kristin W | March 29, 2012

What I’ve Learned in Three Weeks

I’m taking a break from the story of our trip to give an update on the last three weeks.  That’s right, we’ve been home three weeks now.  I should probably wait for the one-month mark to roll around, but there is a lot in my head that I want to share.  Don’t worry, I’m sure I’ll forget some and have it left over for another milestone.

Here is a list, in no particular order, of what I’ve learned in the three weeks since A and H came to live with us:

1.  My older kids are amazing.  Yes, I already knew this, but I’ve gotten to see them be amazing in a new light.  They have taken their role as older siblings seriously.  They are helpful (well, not always, but most of the time), they are enthusiastic, they are playful, and I’ve even seen some real empathy from E.  Of course, empathy from S is always near the surface, like tonight, when A got a time-out, and S had tears in his eyes because “I hate to see him upset.”

Here’s proof.  If I interrupted Mario Kart, I doubt S would be so accommodating:

 

2.  This is hard work.  Yes, I read the books.  Yes, I talked to families who had adopted siblings.  Yes, I attended the classes.  Yes, I poured over the boards for information.  Yet somehow I felt completely unprepared.  The level of fear that we could see in A’s eyes was staggering, and without language, we were helpless to do anything about it.  The word tantrum gets used a lot, but I think there needs to be a different word for it when newly-adopted kids do it.  I’ve seen tantrums…some real doosies.  But this was all new territory.  The good news is that it’s already getting better.  Both the frequency and the intensity have drastically dropped off over the last week.  And, while I’m on the “good news” front, both kids are doing great with attachment with at least one parent.

3.  Food is going to be an issue.  Both kids have strong likes and dislikes.  A is not willing to try anything new, which leaves us pretty limited.  Does anyone know how long a kid can live on Ritz crackers and bananas?  I had all these plans and had read all these things about what to feed them.  Fail.  We had doro wat frozen when we returned.  He doesn’t eat chicken.  We had a shaker of berbere on the table so he could add to anything we were eating.  He used it once and refused to look at it again.  We had a list of food that other adopted kids have eaten.  Forget it.  So, we just keep feeding him Ritz and offering other things.  Slowly, we are adding to the list of acceptable items, but it’s still a very short list.  H, on the other hand, will try most things, but is very far behind developmentally.  At 11 months she should be eating mostly solid foods and only drinking with meals.  However, at Horizon House, they don’t let the kids self-feed, so she had no idea what to do with solid foods.  We had to back up and start her on Stage 1 baby foods and move on from there.  She will now eat some finger foods, but we still have a long way to go.

We did find a winner in corn on the cob:

 

4.  Language is a funny thing.  Everyone told me that I’d be amazed at how quickly A picked up the language.  Well, I got the stubborn kid.  He has chosen to hold on to his language.  He is not willing to use words that we know he knows (and we know he can say).  He continues to try to get us to use Amharic words.  I don’t fault him for that at all.  I get it. And I would love for him to teach us Amharic and us be a bilingual household.  Problem is, he is still going to have to go to school someday.  I don’t think they are going to be quite as willing.  Don’t get me wrong.  We’ve made great progress, and he is starting to use some words more regularly.  It’s just not the “wow” speed of language that I had heard about.  I’m compiling some video clips of his language, which I will post later.

5.  Giardia smells as bad in human poop as it does in dog poop.  Enough said.

6.  Names are important.  And confusing.  We are still debating this one.

7.  A loves to brush his teeth.  For a while, he insisted on doing it every time he went to the bathroom.  Flush, wash your hands, brush your teeth.  He also enjoys vacuuming.

8.  A is likely to be voted class clown.  He is always trying to get a laugh.  And with a 10-year-old brother and limited vocabulary, that usually lead to jokes about bodily functions.  Boys.  Anyway, while I tell the kids not to laugh and encourage his behavior, I have to admit that it’s pretty funny and I love seeing him try to crack up his older siblings.  He is also a singer.  He makes up songs about everything.  The other day we were driving along and he was singing something that sounded like “God Damn-O” over and over again.  If anyone knows what that means in Amharic, I would love to know.  I thought it was pretty funny, but not sure it would go over in most circles.  He continues to amaze us with his facial expressions.  He can express a lot of emotion in those eyebrows.  He really does remind me of Jim Carey.

9.  H is the sweetest baby.  Ever.  With H, I kind of thought that maybe we were having the honeymoon phase that I’d heard others talk about.  But, I have decided that she is just 100% adorable.  She does have her moments (usually when I am not holding her) when she screams and cries.  But, for the most part, she’s content to be along for the ride.  She smiles.  A lot.  She’s a little shy, or maybe just afraid that someone besides me might have the nerve to hold her.  She’s also a bit of an entertainer.  Once she learned Peek-A-Boo, that’s all she would do for days.

Posted by: Kristin W | March 28, 2012

Wordless Wednesday…For Trayvon

Posted by: Kristin W | March 22, 2012

Day 3 – Wednesday

We had our Embassy appointment this morning.  We were in the baby room getting H when A walked through the door.  He was wearing real tennis shoes instead of Crocs and he was strutting around like he owned the place.  He was very excited about going in the machina (car) and was the first one in.  He was having trouble sitting still and was trying to climb over the seats into the driver seat, so Andrew asked Mulat to intervene.  I’m not sure exactly what was said, but it clearly hurt A’s feelings, and he settled down and stared out the window for the entire drive with slow, sad tears running down his cheeks.  Heartbreaking.  He is so tough at some times, but so vulnerable at others.

We arrived at the Embassy and went through security to sit in a large room filled with people.  Along one wall there is a bank of walk-up windows and they were calling the families names over a hard-to-understand loudspeaker.  Luckily, there was a small playhouse and slide at one end of the room, so A had a place to spend some time.  Under the play area was carpeting…something it was obvious A had never walked on before.  Finally, they called our name and we went to our window.  A was super-cute, saying “la, la, la, la!” to the man through the glass, trying to get his attention away from the paperwork he was sorting through.  Andrew signed a few forms, then A took the pen and wanted to do the same thing, so E gave him a piece of notebook paper, on which he made a few lines before shoving it under the window.  The guy took it, put it with the rest of our paperwork and slid it back through.

For those of you wondering about the process, he did ask us a few questions:

  • Did we meet both the children before attending court?
  • Had we met with the birth family?
  • When were we leaving?

He also told us a few things that the birth family had told him during their investigation, which matched what had been told.  Always a good sign.

This afternoon, we went to the Hilton for lunch and swimming.  The big kids were in need of some food.  S was feeling better and was rehydrated, but still hadn’t been eating much, and E, who is usually a pretty adventurous eater, was also ready for something familiar.  Five cheeseburgers and an hour of swimming later, they were tired, but feeling much better.  To top it off, we got ice cream.  The guy scooping the ice cream told me the flavor was caramel, which I ordered, then when I tasted it, realized that it was coffee.  So, Eleanor got two cones.

When we came back, I spent some time at the big kid house with A and the rest of the family came back and played with H.  I was the only parent at the big kid house, so A and I spent our time alone, playing catch with one of those Velcro mitts and tennis balls (thanks to Kim and Gennet).  It was good quality time.  We haven’t had much chance to spend time with just the two of us.  He is definitely bonding primarily with Andrew, so if Andrew is around, I am totally irrelevant.  Of course, the ball game ended and I was back to pushing the car around or watching him push the car around.  I am on the verge of setting fire to the car.

Posted by: Kristin W | March 21, 2012

Day 2 – Tuesday

Today started with a sick kid.  S woke up at 3:00 feeling like he was going to throw up.  We sat in the Brangelina suite bathroom (no, Brad and Angelina didn’t actually stay at Horizon House when they were here, but if they had, they would have been in our suite) for about an hour with a cold compress on his head, until he decided he could go back to bed.  He woke up this morning still feeling bad, at which point we started to suspect altitude sickness more than anything else.  After getting him to drink some Pedialyte and water, he perked up considerably.  Meanwhile, E went down to breakfast, but didn’t want to eat anything, so she came back up and Andrew gave her a Cliff bar, which she promptly threw up.  She, however, felt much better instantly, and went on with her day as normal.  Not sure what that was all about.

We had good news about H today.  After our last visit to Horizon House, I told several people about what a happy baby she is and that we never even heard her cry.  I then started to worry that she had been conditioned not to cry, as many orphanage kids give up crying because no one ever responds.  But today, we learned that she can, indeed cry.  I took her back to “Room 2” after playing for a while and put her back in her crib with a toy.  As I was walking toward the door, she let it wail.  So, good news…she DOES cry and even better news, she was crying for ME!

This afternoon, we went shopping and S got to try his hand at haggling in the market.  I’m not sure he really understood what we were doing, but he did a good job of bargaining to get us some dolls, scarves, and a mancala set.  I probably would have gotten them for less, but S was very proud of the deals he got.  After shopping in one area of town, we took a drive through the Mercado.  Unbelievable.  This place has people everywhere.  There are little booths about 10 feet wide and they all specialize in one thing.  So one guy may sell only shoes, the woman next to him sells spices, and the next one sells kitchen faucets.  We even saw people walking around selling live chickens.

One street in the Mercado

 

Spices

And my kids complain about taking out the recylcling...

For dinner, we went to an Ethiopian restaurant with dancing and entertainment.  We were all pretty wiped out after a long day of shopping and sightseeing, but had a great evening.  E loved the beef tibs so much that we asked for some extra and they brought more for everyone in our party.  E wore her traditional Ethiopian dress that she bought while shopping and brought along her new Ethiopian doll.  It is great to see her soaking in all these new things and experiences.

Washing up for dinner

Watching the performers

Posted by: Kristin W | March 14, 2012

Day 1 – Monday

I am finally getting my photos organized from our second trip to Africa, so will be posting more about our trip.  Here’s the beginning.

We arrived at the airport in the early morning, yet none of us had had more than a few hours sleep on the flight.  Naturally, this made me very nervous about how much stamina we would have to get through the day. 

We arrived at the guest house and went straight to meet H.  She was standing up in her crib like she was waiting for us with her typical smile.  The kids each got to hold her and play on the floor with her and the other babies.  E was so excited and took an instant liking to H. This was a huge relief from the kid who didn’t want a little sister, definitely didn’t want a BABY sister, and didn’t want to share her room.  She was immediately asking when H could sleep in our room and could she sleep next to her.  

Image

While the kids stayed with H, Andrew, Dave and I went over to the big kid house.  We walked in and I got the biggest hug ever from our little guy.  Everyone told me that we would pick up right where we left off, but I didn’t believe it until I saw his face light up.  We got there just in time for snack time, where A led the other kids in prayer.  Super cute, and we could tell he was really proud to do it in front of us.  After snack, we walked him back to the guest house where he met S and E.  He was pretty shy and didn’t know how to take all the attention from them, so clung to Andrew for a while.  We took him into the baby room and all sat on the floor and played.  Eventually, he warmed up, and he and S came up with a game of throwing some cloth blocks into a crib, then A would stick his arm in and fling them over the railing.  It would have been unremarkable to most families, but to me, it was the first time we had all been in a room together, so it was quite an occasion.  The rest of the day was spent with lunch, a nap and much more playtime. 

Image

Posted by: Kristin W | February 24, 2012

We’re Going to Africa

We are going to Ethiopia!  We will be leaving tomorrow and will return home on March 7.

We wanted to take a moment to thank all of you for your support over the past many months (OK, years…) during the long adoption process. It means so much to us that you have all been so supportive and encouraging.  We are really lucky to bring two kids into an environment where so many people care about them already.

We also wanted to explain a few things regarding attachment and an adopted child. We have been advised by our social workers, adoption experts and doctors that A and H will need some transitioning time once they are home with us. Although we know everyone is eager to meet them, we will be spending the first few weeks at home without visiting or having visitors at our home.

There are a few reasons for this.  A & H will need time to form a bond with us as their parents and siblings. They will need a few weeks at home with only us as their caregivers, tending to all of their needs. They have lived in an orphanage in a communal setting without a main caregiver for a while now, and we want them to understand that they can count us to meet their needs in the future. They have not had the opportunity to form attachments and it will take some time for them to settle into family life. They will be leaving all they have ever known, and will need time to grieve and adjust to being in our family. Some children adjust right away, other children need more time. Until we get to know their personalities better, we won’t know how they will react to meeting new people right away.

Please understand that if we don’t come around often, or let you hold our child at first, it is not personal. We are just trying to do what we feel is best for our new family members. This method of parenting might seem different to you, but please undersstand that we will need to parent A & H differently than a child biologically born to us and that we know what we are doing. Your support means a great deal to us at this time and we really value all of you!

If you would like to help, our fabulous friend Christie has set up a way to bring us dinners.  Click here to sign up.  Right now, that is the best way to help us spend more time with the kids.  We will also be updating facebook as we can, and I’ll try to blog about our adventures, but don’t expect too much.  After all, I am the mom of FOUR KIDS now!

Thanks for all the well wishes.  Let the adventure begin…

Posted by: Kristin W | February 21, 2012

The Wait is Over…Almost

I haven’t posted in a long time because I didn’t have anything to say.  But now, I’d like to shout from the rooftop that WE CLEARED THE EMBASSY!!  This means that we will travel soon to pick up A and H and bring them home forever.  Finally.

Start to finish, our whole process will have taken 37 months.  Who knew when we started the journey to adopt a domestic infant in February of 2009 that we would end up with Ethiopian siblings in March of 2012?  It’s been a crazy ride.

You may wonder what I’ve been up to for the last few months.  Of all the 37, these last two were definitely the hardest.  I spent a lot of time staring at pictures on my iPad.  And then there was the nesting.  I have completely cleaned out, organized and rearranged almost every junk drawer, dresser drawer and kitchen drawer in our house.  Not sure why the fascination with drawers, but once I started, I couldn’t stop.  I have a deep need to organize.  I figure in a few short weeks, this house will be total chaos (more than it is now) if I don’t have good systems in place.  Laundry is the thing that scares me the most, so I started by labeling everyone’s socks.  (I started with initials, but then read a better idea that you use dots – 1 for the oldest, 2 for the next, etc.  Yes, I learned this after I Googled “laundry for large families,” because I’m that serious about researching this topic…)  I got a new spinning shoe tree for the garage, so the kids can all leave their shoes out there.

Of course, I also finished up both kids’ rooms.  The boys will be sharing a room, and the girls are together.  It’s a little cramped, but I think it will work until I win the lottery and we can buy a bigger house.

But, mostly I’ve shopped.  I think it’s mainly retail therapy, but I had a sudden desire to have things.  Stuff.  Some important stuff, some fun stuff, but lots of stuff.  Shopping for stuff for the little kids makes me feel somehow more connected to them.  I also got a lot of stuff for the big kids to do on the plane ride.  Everyone has a backpack full of gear that they will probably never use because there are free movies.  I get that.

I also packed.  That’s right, we’re almost completely packed.  All I need to do is a few loads of laundry and pack the clothes we need to take for us.  The stuff for the little kids, the travel backpacks, the care center donations, and the medications are all already packed.  You would think I’m excited or something…

 

Posted by: Kristin W | January 7, 2012

The Black Hole

Four weeks ago today we landed in Ethiopia.

Today, I have trouble describing where it is that we are.  I’m not much of a science fiction person, but I think terms like black hole or vortex fit well.  Or maybe it’s kind of like Marty McFly in Back to the Future – stuck in a strange place in time.

I know what our past was like.  We got up, got the kids ready, went to school and work, chauffeured kids to activities, had dinner, did homework, and started all over again.  Then, when we were in Ethiopia, we saw a glimpse of what the future will be like – diapers, playing soccer, bottles, hugs, and communicating with a little guy we can’t speak to.  Now we’re back at home and we’re supposed to be doing all those things in the first list.  And we do.  We get up.  We go to work.  We eat.  But it doesn’t seem real now that we’ve seen what the future will be like.  It’s so hard to explain, but I feel like something here should be different.  But it’s not yet, which is heartbreaking.

Mornings are the worst.  I wake up and automatically do a +8 calculation to figure out what time it is in Ethiopia, and therefore, know what the kids are doing right then.  (It’s a pretty predictable schedule!)  Then I lay in bed wishing I was there to do it with them.  Wishing I could be the one making their lunch or that I was tucking in them in at naptime.

Yet, I keep putting one foot in front of the other, doing the things I am required to do.  I will keep doing them a little longer and hopefully soon, it will be time to go back.  I certainly hope it happens quickly, because this twilight zone is maddening.

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