Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Stopping the Insanity

Tuesdays are one of my main work days, so with Ted being home with the kids, he decided to institute a 'no tolerance' policy to fighting, rudeness, snatching, tattling, pushing, yelling, trying to rip each others' head off when we're not looking.

He told me that by noon, our daughter had kissed our son twice. Without being asked.

There are some amazing books out there about parenting and sibling rivalry and adoption and attachment; we have read some and need to read more. In the meantime, I have asked people I know and respect who have also adopted older children (especially out of birth order) to give us some advice. Here are some of the things they said:

"For our kids, finding small ways that she could help him, helped their relationship. It's not the "right" thing according to some books, but it worked like magic. She got self esteem from helping, he attached to her b/c she helped to care take, etc. The nice part, now that they are attached to each other, is that I see him help her in ways that she needs. He's very protective of her ("Dentist, you be nice to my sister!") and helps her socially (introduces her to friends he makes at the park, etc.). So it's no longer one sided. At all."

Our daughter is a natural caregiver, so we hated seeing her reject Abe. The last couple of days, it's been great to see her be a true big sister to him.

"We would talk about our family values in small doses. Like, 'we're a family so that means we forgive each other'. Or 'In a family we spend time together and love each other'. I don't know if it really helped them but it helped me to keep my goals out in the open."

I loved this one. We have been doing this too. It's helpful to explain "In this family, we forgive each other," or "In our family, we don't grab things that aren't ours."

"We tried to get them laughing together. Photo booth was easy and fun for this. All of us trying to make the same facial expressions. This was good for them."

This one has been pretty easy since B is quick to laugh, especially at her brother when he is pouting or simply being dramatic. It didn't hit me until last night how truly funny his dramatic faces are. So she and I have been imitating him (fine line between this and mocking, so we're careful) when the eyes furrow and bottom lip comes out with anguished cries about his movie being over. We all stand in front of the mirror and take turns "being" A, and it's not long before even he is laughing.

"We gave them joint jobs like clearing the table together or painting a picture on the same canvas. This always started out as competition but over time I think it helped them to see they were a team."

Yes, we love this one too. Yesterday, I directed the kids as they cleaned the entire kitchen together. They wiped the table and counters, loaded the dishwasher, swept the floor, washed the pots. They seemed genuinely happy to be doing a job together. I was shocked. And happy.

Working puzzles together counts as a 'job' too.

"We started special date times with each of the kids."

We haven't made it to this one much but we hope to soon.

"I started keeping a gratitude journal. It was not fun to constantly be putting out fires. I was stressed and afraid that things would always be difficult. And, this is hard to put out there, but I began to worry that we'd make a terrible mistake. Its hard to be a loving, attentive momma with a mindset like that. The gratitude journal really helped me. I also made sure I had time for yoga a couple times a week. I also started drinking more wine. These things helped me keep a heart of love and parent from a point of strength and calm. I also did this little experiment where I would look at my life through my pictures at the end of the day. It does something good for your perspective. I prayed. I talked to people I could trust not to judge me but just to listen and offer empathy or advice."

Yes, wine. Thank you.

"And yes, Abe will be ok.
In fact, Abe will be BETTER.
Abe will be great, even because of this change, you just can't see it yet.
He was made for this too."

This one, of course, made me cry.

I don't want to make it sound like the sibling rivalry issues are over. They're not. The kids still fight and push and get annoyed with each other and snatch. The difference now is that we don't let anything slide anymore. When it happens, here is our basic 'method'.

All activity stops.

The kids come to us and stand still to listen.

We say simply whatever our 'value' is and how their behavior is not reflecting this.

They turn to face each other and apologize as needed.

Hugs required. Kisses optional.

I am so thankful for the wise people in our life. We couldn't do this without our "village." There is now some light at the end of this tunnel.

Just hanging out at the top of the slide. Sister. Brother.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Treacherous Waters

The lake we were swimming in has a roped off shallow area that was swarming with people because it was the warmest day of a very chilly summer. One of our kids has had some swim lessons and the other hasn't. We were watching them like hawks.

Ted had gone to sit down in the grass after I'd had my turn reading my book. It was now me and the kids. The scene was making me uncomfortable because of two factors: my kids don't like each other most of the time and the place was swarming with people. So it's not as if our kids were together playing much. They kept going in opposite directions, no matter how many times we tried to keep them together.

At one point, B yelled for me "Look, Mom!" so I turned her direction. I immediately turned back to check Abe. Watching our two kids in this shallow lake was like watching a tennis match. Back, forth, back, forth.

In the time it took me to turn my head back to where A was, he was gone. No sign of him. The first two seconds, I didn't freak. I just called him name. He didn't appear. I called louder.

Second three: my heart started racing, and I started counting how many seconds it had been. I am aware of that two-minute mark of a kid being under water. I started screaming. Louder. Louder. LOUDER. Everyone in a twenty-thirty foot radius of me got quiet.

Where is Abe?! TED?! Where is Abe?! WHERE IS ABE?!

These seconds, which Ted promised me were not longer than ten, were the worst seconds of my life as a mother. I saw the blank, dark area of water where my son had just been. Try it: count to ten. Imagine the terror of thinking your child is under water, stuck, unable to get to air.

In the midst of my yelling, Ted appeared at my side, Abe with him. Our son has simply decided that he was tired of being with me and his sister. He simply decided to go find his dad who was sitting on a crowded grassy hillside. He simply decided to do this without telling me, though he knows he is never to wander away from one of us. His simple decision plunged his mother into the depth of terror.

As all four of us walked to our spot on the hill, many mothers looked my direction, concerned and sympathetic looks on their faces. I sat down. The kids immediately started asking for drinks and snacks. I put my head in my hands and lost it. The tears came pouring out as I shook, my body releasing all that adrenaline. Of course, I wanted to shake and yell at our son.

Instead, I pulled him to me, squeezed the bejeezus out of him, locked eyes with him and told him how terrified I was when he left my side. I think he got the message not to do it again.

I don't know if his wandering away was connected at all to the tough adjustment period we're in. It could be. It might not be. I just don't know. I know it's a phase we'll get through. But right now? It's not easy. B told me tonight as she was helping me with the laundry that she loves me, she loves Daddy, but that she doesn't love Abe. He has told me that he's finished with her and doesn't want a sister anymore. The two of them constantly antagonize each other.

People tell us this is normal sibling stuff, but I know it's not. This is adoption stuff and language acquisition stuff and changing family dynamics stuff.

Eventually, we'll get through it. Sometimes our kids get to fighting so intensely that they start laughing. I don't know how it happens, but it does.

Tonight after swim lessons, the kids were playing at the park. As B was going down a slide, Abe yelled from the other side of the playground to a kid near the slide, "Hey! That girl is my big sister!"

This simple declarative statement by our son gave me some hope. We'll make it through.

Swim lessons.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


The relationship now:

The way we hope it will be:

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

One Week Home

All that stuff they say about the transition from one to two kids? It's true. It's a kick-in-the-pants. We've been in survival mode for the last week.

We've been home exactly 8 days.

Every day gets a little better. Except when the nights get progressively worse because one kid wakes up early and the other sleeps in, and then the early kid is waking up during the night and then going to wake her brother and hang out with Dad for a couple of hours.

It's like having a newborn at home.

I get to sleep through it because Ted is father-of-the-decade and knows that Mama doesn't handle sleep deprivation well.

On that note, after traveling 37 hours to get home after not having slept so well before the journey and then waking up at 6 am your first morning home, it's advisable not to drink a second cup of coffee because after a few hours, while doing laundry, you will get so sick, sick, sick, that you find yourself sitting beside the toilet begging God to please let you throw up, please, just throw up, to puke, to vomit, to rid your body of that coffee.

Then your blessed husband lets you go to sleep at 8:30 and sleep for 11 hours, and you don't drink coffee for the next 8 days.

Those were my first two days back. It wasn't fun. A flood of neighbors, family, and friends came through to say hello, bring gifts, meet our daughter. But I hardly remember. I sat on our front steps in a stupor for two days.

Our first day home, our daughter sat next to our son and went together through her photo album, naming as many names as she could. As she did this, our son whispered my direction, "Mom, I'm so glad I have a sister."

They napped together the second day home. They giggled and liked each other.

Then that stopped. Beti finds Abe to be funny when he's not intending to be funny, like when he's walking around with his thumb stuck in his mouth or when his face is pulled into a forced anguish about something nonsensical (i.e. whining). She would giggle and point at him. She started calling him the "baby." Well, that did it for Abe. The newness has worn off. Abe is done with having a sister. Done. He wants us to take her back.

This changing family dynamic has been...challenging.

I could spend the rest of this post gushing about our daughter. Really. She's that great. Her smile will make this rainy city much brighter this winter.

Watching the world through her eyes is a trip. The look on her face when she discovered the vacuum cleaner and what it does? Worth every bit of pain and angst of the adoption.

Then she discovered the ice maker. Holy moly.

She already teases Abe. And tattles. But she also feeds him injera and doro wot from her hand to his mouth, then gives him his cup of milk and napkin since it was pretty spicy.

This weekend, she said the sentence, "Mom, Abe is running and fall down" with a look of worry on her face.

She's a linguistic genius. She's already pretty much memorized Hop on Pop.
I can't wait to introduce Go Dog, Go! to her.

She giggles uncontrollably when I wash her feet in the bath.

She answers the video narrator of Tsehai Loves Learning as she watches.

"Do you want to sing along with me this next song?"

Then a loud "Oaw..." from Beti.

She always remembers her bike helmet and if she gets ahead of me by two houses, she looks back and asks, "Go, Mom?"

She made sure Abe remembered his cape that he wore to the park this weekend.

She played tennis with Ted's best friend for the first time and is a natural.

She already knows the names of all the kids on our block and just today has started to greet them when she sees them with a loud "Hi!"

Last night, she started saying "see you later!" and then giggling.

She eats everything we offer her except for certain raw vegetables, which she'll still chew up and swallow if she's been promised leftover injera from the night before.

She is much more athletic and rambunctious than we thought she'd be. She wrestles Dad with the best of the boys. Yet she still likes to color and wash her doll's hair and paint fingernails.

She makes excellent silly faces, even as good as Abe's (don't tell him).

Her eyelashes are the longest I've ever seen.

I should go to bed. Life is intense these days. Good, but intense.

Thursday, August 11, 2011


I'm writing this down with little editing because I don't want to forget it.

We know a teenage girl who was taken from her family at the age of four. A relative took her secretly to another relative's house in a foreign country where she lived until she was ten, after being tracked down by a private investigator hired by family who agonizingly missed her.

This is a remarkable girl. We love her. She is only here part of the year, and we all feel lucky when we get to see her. Tonight was her going-away party. She has been very interested in our daughter, and tonight she pulled me aside to talk to me.

She said a lot of things. I wish I could remember them all. She has beautiful, huge, piercing blue eyes that stare straight into you when you talk to her. She is as intense and soulful as her eyes. So with this soulfulness staring into my eyes, she told me about what it was like for her to be in a brand-new place at the age of four, where no one understood her language and everyone was a stranger.

Her eyes filled with tears. She told me, "Give Beti a lot of hugs. Make sure you always hug and kiss her. Smile at her. If you smile at her, she will want to do anything for you." She said that the new people she was with gave her
affection but "it was never enough."

She remembers one relative harshly scolding her when she disobeyed. She told me that Beti will "do weird things" but to be patient with her because she'll get it eventually.

I teared up as I listened to her talk about her experience and told her about how this morning, as I was still groggy and waking up, Beti asked me to lift her. I did, and she wrapped her long legs around my waist and held on to me so tightly, her head laying on my shoulder. She squeezed. I could have done jumping jacks, and she wouldn't have fallen off. I squeezed back.

I must remember to always squeeze back. I must remember to smile always, no matter how I feel, to pick her up, to rub her back, to remember that she is brand-new and scared and needing affection. She needs the comfort of knowing she is someone's baby.

Thank you, beautiful Miss S, for the heart-breaking and kind reminder.

Our very first moments together, she leaned into me and held my hand.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


We are home. Let's all now have another cup of coffee, shall we?