Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Sweet M* Baby

I knew this day would come, but I didn't realize how soon.

We are leaving later this summer for Disneyworld and we will be flying so I have been talking to Sweet M* A LOT about airplane rides and where we are going, the hotel, etc... So, last week I decided to get an older photo album out with pictures of us there to show Sweet M*. He loved looking through all of the pictures and then he asked about the baby in the pictures. I explained that the baby was Belle when she was little. He didn't get it though. He would point to another picture of baby Belle and ask if it was baby M*. When I explained that those pictures were all baby Belle he started looking through all of the albums for baby M*. I explained that M* didn't live with mommy (me) when he was a baby. And, we went over his past... that he was born in Ethiopia. He had an Ama and an Aba (mom and dad in Sidamese) etc... But, he said "No, Aba/ Ama... mommy coming." And, then he continued looking for baby M*. I didn't know what to do so I jumped online real quick and showed him a picture of a newborn baby with brown skin. He LOVED it and proudly showed baby M* to his sister and I. But, I felt so bad.

I try to prepare for these types of moments, but that day last week I realized I can't always be a step ahead. Sometimes I'm going to have to think on my feet and I am not always going to do the right thing, or say the right thing at the right time. My question is what would you have done???

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Birthday

Sweet M* had a wonderful 1st Birthday with us as we celebrated him turning 3 this past weekend. We had to keep it very small because we weren't sure how all of the attention was going to affect him. Luckily, he handled it very well... I was super impressed with him. We had been talking about birthdays with him and Belle and he had decided he wanted a Mickey Birthday, so while he was napping we decorated the house. He was so excited once he woke up. I think his favorite part was listening to us sing him happy birthday and then getting to blow out his candles because he wanted to watch it over and over on the camera afterward and when I was laying him down for bed he couldn't stop talking about it. It was such a joy to share this special day with Sweet M* and I feel so fortunate to have him in my life.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Happy Birthday M*!!!

Today my sweet sweet boy celebrates his 3rd and 1st Birthday with us. I am overwhelmed with the joy we are feeling... and saddened by the pain and grief his birth family must feel missing this event in his life. I wish they could see his happiness today.
(side note this cake was made by one of my employees- isn't it AMAZING!!!)

Friday, June 18, 2010

Progress Report (6 weeks home)

6 Weeks Home
We have been home from Ethiopia for 6 weeks today. In many ways it feels like forever ago that Sweet M* joined our family, and yet at times it still feels like we are strangers to each other.
We have begun the long process of attachment and bonding and we are learning each others moods and emotions. I want to explain to people that may be in the process what has gone on these past 6 weeks because as I awaited the day our family would be complete I scoured blogs and read books trying to foresee my future and prepare myself for the experience. Now I feel it is my turn to share.
My feelings on the adoption process are that it is HARD. It is hard to make the decision to adopt, hard to explain to people your choice and why, hard to do the research, hard to get all the documents completed (correctly), hard to wait on a waiting list, hard to prepare to travel, hard to travel to a third world country and hard to get through the first days, weeks and I imagine months. And, through all of the HARD that we are feeling as adoptive parents there is a child that is feeling LOSS... big huge traumatizing LOSS and HURT. Loss of a birth family, culture, language, foods, smells, friends and the list could go on. But, hopefully through all of the HARD work and the LOSS and HURT we can come together and HEAL.I can say that after 6 weeks of testing, boundary setting, loving and learning we are beginning to HEAL. We are starting to bond, trust and attach to each other and it feels GOOD. I think that all of the attachment parenting we have been working so hard to do is finally paying off. Sweet M* is down to one or two 10-15 minute tantrums per day. The trying to bite, hit and throw things has reduced dramatically. I am learning how to calm him down when I see a tantrum brewing. We are still working on the screaming but that too has been a lot less.He is eating very well (and all of the time). He is allowed to feed himself and is doing very well- he is such a clean eater. He will try almost anything but he definitely has favorites. He loves yogurt, hard boiled eggs, cheerios, pasta (with and without sauce), salad with dressing and bread. He does not like raw carrots or watermelon. I do make sure that I have plenty of snacks whenever we go out and I have to watch and keep track of his eating because like any toddler hunger can lead to a tantrum. But, the fact that I can say no to certain foods or say that he has had enough is HUGE. I am really proud of him.I am so thankful to report that he is finally on a good sleep schedule-- better than my other toddler in fact. He sleeps at night from 8pm-6am with a 1 1/2-2 hour nap in the afternoon. I have a very steady routine for sleep. I lay him down at the same time, I turn on the same song on repeat on my iphone, and I either put him in the carrier and kind of bounce and rock him or I lay with him and rub his back. I have not transitioned him out of our room, so he sleeps on a toddler mattress on the floor. He wakes up only to go to the bathroom, and he falls right back asleep after. One thing that we did that really helped was hang blankets behind our blinds to block the sun. I need to go buy shades and hang them as the blankets are super tacky. But, that has added about an hour and a half of sleep for me in the morning because Sweet M* would wake up around 4:30am when the sun was coming up before.As far as personality goes Sweet M* is very affectionate and he is also very funny. I think we will be in for some good jokes when his language fully develops. He LOVES water. He loves to swim, play, splash, run through and drink water. He also loves to point out water whenever we see it (i.e. garden fountains, waterfalls, sprinklers, on the tv etc... He also enjoys bubbles, bikes (he just learned to peddle yesterday) and balls. He is very athletic, has a ton of energy and he is determined. He taught himself how to peddle on the bike and he has learned how to freestyle swim without much effort on my part at all. He just will try and try and try until he gets it. He amazes me.I have posted about his language but I am still so impressed at how much he comprehends and how many words he can say. I guess they aren't kidding when they say toddlers are like sponges.

The past two weeks we have made huge progress. Snuggling with Sweet M* each night, tending to his needs and watching him experience new things every day has made me fall in love with him. I know that everyone develops love for their adopted children on their own time line but I can say that for me it was fairly quick. I love M* and there is no doubt. I am not mad when he tantrums... I am sad. I am exhausted, but wouldn't trade our life for any other. I am learning so much through parenting Sweet M* and every day gets better.
I read a lot about toddler adoption prior to bringing Sweet M* home and I have posted about the tantrums, exhaustion and hardships. But, there is also something VERY VERY special about bringing home a toddler or older child and that is "firsts". I can't even explain in words how thrilling it was to watch Sweet M*'s eyes light up when he saw the pool, Mickey Mouse and the ocean. Or the glow in his smile as he enjoyed sliding down his first water slide, played with our dog, or rode his first bike. It is one thing to experience firsts with a newborn... but they can't appreciate any of it. To see a child experience such joy is a gift. And, it is a gift to have the privilege to parent Sweet M*.
alas... here are some of my favorite firsts with M*:(seeing the backyard)
(down a slide)
(lego tower- all by himself)
(feeding the ducks)
(seeing a character)
(ride at a theme park)
(face painting)
(firework show)
(cotton candy)
(viewing marine animals)
(water slide)
(and ocean)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Progress Report (reflections from the first few weeks home)

We were all pretty exhausted when we finally arrived back home and it took a few days to adjust to the big difference in time. But, after the jet lag wore off we all started doing a little better... especially Sweet M*.

We were able to control the environment once we got home and that was a huge benefit. In Ethiopia it seemed like almost everything was not child friendly. The steps were made of stone at the guest house including the inside staircase so I was worried about him falling, there were plenty of breakables inside, and playing outside we had to watch out for the cars, the ball falling into the open sewage ditches, or M* trying to run off.

We could also help him with his food issues. M* wanted to eat or drink any and everything that he saw anyone else with, and he was never full so when that item ran out he would lose it. In Ethiopia this was hard because we would often just give in to the sodas, candy etc... to save everyone else a headache. But, at home we could control what foods he could see and that helped me get some better food in his body and a lot less screaming. I think the good nutrition helped him control his mood swings a little better. The first few weeks I had to store all of our sweets (including cereals) up high where he couldn't see them. Then I put the healthy foods that I didn't mind him eating a ton of at eye's level. This was a smart move bc at first I realized that anything with sugar in it he would never be done with and once it was gone he would scream. If it was a healthier item like fruit, veggies, pasta, or popcorn he would eat and then be done and move on. Something else that helped was that I portioned everything out so I could easily grab a baggie of whatever and he did not see that there was an unlimited supply.

Saying no to anything would still set M* off. So, once we were home I would put him in the carrier almost all day so that I didn't have to say no as much. Sometimes he would enjoy being close and other times he would throw a huge fit. But, even now when he gets scared or sad he will ask for the carrier so I think it really helped him to feel safe.

Sleep was definitely the hardest in the beginning. Sweet M* had to be in the carrier with a bottle and either walked outside or taken in a car to fall asleep. And, once asleep he would only sleep a few hours and then he would want to be up and play. This was rough trying to re-cover from jet lag with a kid that only would sleep a few hours consecutively. But, I would nap when he did. I leaned on my mom to help with my other 3 and we survived.

People talk about attachment and I have read a lot about it. I think it was hard those first few weeks because he wasn't attached at all. Yes he called us mom and dad, and he knew who we were so when he needed something he would come to one of us to get it. But, everything was on his terms. He could care less if he was in a bad mood and he knew we wanted something. In fact in that type of situation he would be sure NOT to do what we wanted. But, we are learning together how to make it better. Progress is made it seems and then we regress a little. There are good days and bad days... but one thing is for sure. I LOVE my son.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Ethiopia (Homecoming)

The Last Day
Leaving Ethiopia was bittersweet. I truly did enjoy my time there and I knew it would be awhile before we would be able to get back. But, at the same time I was SO ready to get home to Cuddlebear and Belle and the comforts of home. It was also scary because I knew the plane rides were not going to be easy. Turns out I was right.

M* had a major meltdown in the airport when we were trying to get through customs. I was actually nervous that they might not let us through. Thankfully we did and we soon found ourselves walking around the terminal. Our first flight went well and M* slept the entire flight. We arrived in Dubai and I was excited bc Emirates had comped a room for us for the long layover. I knew it was only a few hours but I figured we could shower and sleep.

Unfortunately, Dubai was really scary for M*. I think this was the peak of his tantrums. We got on the shuttle from the airport to the hotel and it was pretty full, and the poor thing just couldn't handle it. He screamed, and crawled onto the ground and held on to the seats so tightly that I couldn't even remove him. Everyone was staring of course and most were upset because he was screaming so loud. There were a few other adoptive families actually on the shuttle coming home with their Ethiopian children. You think this would have given me comfort, but watching them with their quiet children only made me feel worse.

The hotel wasn't any better. Sweet M* was wide awake so we took turns trying to entertain him for the 3-4 hours we had there. But, he was angry and hyper and it was difficult to find anything that would hold his attention. It was so exhausting. By this point I started feeling really bad for Captain Crazy. He was crying because he was so tired and needed sleep, but couldn't because of the noise. ugh... it was rough. It was about 2am Dubai time and Sweet M*'s screaming was so loud that a women actually came and knocked on my door and wanted to know what was going on bc she was scared that a child was being hurt. My heart sank and I felt like someone punched me in the gut as I opened the door to show her it was just my poor son having a hard time as a newly adopted child. This was the lowest point for me for sure.

The plane ride from Dubai home was lengthy and M* only slept for maybe 2 hours the whole time- and not consecutively. I literally had to hang out in the bathrooms with noise canceling headphones so the crying wasn't so loud for the other passengers. Passengers were coming downstairs from first class complaining, flight attendants and people on the flight were offering all sorts of help- we took all of them up on it- but nothing worked. Eventually, that plane landed safely.

I can't even explain what a wonderful feeling it was to be on the ground again. To be walking off that plane knowing that my kids were outside the gates waiting for me and that in a few hours I would be home. WE MADE IT!!!

Learning Language- #2

Wow... so Sweet M*'s language is just exploding. He says so many new things everyday that I don't even know if I can really keep track.

Some recent ones are: go far Nana, this way, M* do it, come on, no more, no thank you, pool, dinosaur, slide, ride, bikes, eyes, ears, cups, sit down, uppie (not a real word I know but still its a toddler word), bubbles, paint, color, hungry, bird, M*'s turn, baby, bigger, big kid, girl, boy, sit down, yelling, down, funny, cake, clean up, trees, grass, house, puzzle, tree, grass, broken & duck. He also says laughing, carrier, eating, cleaning, and washing.

The other daily improvement is how much he understands me. I can now speak to him using the same phrases I would use with Belle (my other 2 year old) and he totally understands me. There is a lot less gesturing now. This has also helped with tantrums bc he doesn't get as frustrated with me not understanding him or him not understanding me.

One thing that really helps is using Harvey Karp's fast food rule where when I see that he is frustrated I repeat back to him what he is telling me. Like today he wanted to ride bikes outside, but we couldn't because we were getting ready to leave. So, I said, "M* wants bikes outside, M* wants bikes outside. But, mommy said no and now M* is sad. I am sorry." And, he just stopped the tears looked at me and wanted a hug.

Ethiopia (taking custody)

(The moment we took custody)
(First Bath)
(Getting used to having another little brother)

The day after we returned from Awassa our agency brought our children to the Guest House. All of us parents were excited and we paced and waited for the van to pull in... yet not far from our minds was how difficult this moment must be for our kids. I think Sweet M* had the hardest time out of our travel groups children. His heart was racing when they put him in my arms and he even tried to run out the gates of the Guest House bc he was just so nervous. It was the hyper/ excited/ nervous so he was smiling, but he just wasn't himself. We took him upstairs and gave him a bath which he loved. We were shocked that he could wash his entire little body all by himself with a bar of soap. He would even scrub his face with the soap and then dump the water right into his eyes. It really makes you wonder who or how he was able to bath in the orphanage and with his birth family. He was pretty proud of himself after the bath and some new clothes and he continued to bath about 3 times a day for the remaining days.

But, what also came with the nervous/ excited/ scared little boy that I had was tantrums. I was expecting tantrums, but I had read more about them with kids from Russian orphanages and I hadn't seen much about it on Ethiopian Adoption blogs. I don't know that I was ready for the blood curdling/ inconsolable crying (screaming) that was going to occur. From the moment we took custody anytime we had to give direction Sweet M* would go into a full blown tantrum. He wouldn't hit or bite (yet) he would just scream and cry. It was so loud the maids and guards would come to see what was going on. I felt awful. Walks outside would help him calm down, but at the time I just couldn't do it. Taking him into the streets as a white person in Ethiopia while he was kicking and screaming was just too much for me- I was scared we would ruin international adoption for anyone behind us. So, I would allow the maids and guards to help console him. At first they could, but as the days went on and people just kept giving in to his fits he got worse and even the guards and maids would give up trying to get him out of his raging fit.

The last day there I decided that I was not going to let the others help and if he needed to cry bc I had to give him a direction so he did not hurt himself that was okay. His tantrums started to slow down and get a little better. And, he would calm down after he came out of a fit which I noted as progress. But, I was really having a hard time and I was exhausted.

The one thing that really helped me was Nancy Thomas' "Taming the Tiger" program. They have a yahoo group that was my savior while I was in Ethiopia. I just needed to hear that others had been in my situation and that they and their children got better. They told me that they did and now I can say that we are making it to. But, I'll catch you up soon on our more recent progress.

I have paused, erased, re-wrote and re-thought typing this information, but I want to be REAL. I was scared in Ethiopia. I was worried that I wasn't capable of handling my son and it was hard to see it getting any better. And, yes I read a ton of books and researched toddler adoption- BUT it is different reading it and experiencing it. I want those behind me to understand and be able to be prepared for this part of the process. And, I hope you find this information helpful.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Ethiopia (Orphanage & Birth Family Meeting)

I want to back track a minute bc I wanted to do a separate post on our orphanage/ birth family visit.

So, while we were in Awassa we visited Ajuuja (M*'s original orphanage). I was amazed and thankful when the gates opened into a bright and clean courtyard. I was beyond impressed with the care the children were receiving and with the owners of the orphanage themselves. They were such kind people who genuinely LOVED each child that was or had been there.

The children were separated by age, and they took us to visit each age group. I remember being surprised at the children because they were all so much healthier and happier than I would have imagined. The owners also took us to meet our child's nanny (the one that is on day staff), visit the bed they slept in and answer any questions. They had a beautiful coffee ceremony for us and they talked about the orphanage and their mission. After the coffee ceremony was when the nerves really started to kick in because we all knew the next step was the birth family meeting.

We feel so blessed that we were given the opportunity to meet Sweet M*'s birth father (Aba in Sidamese). The meeting was hard, uncomfortable, gut wrenching, heart breaking and joyous all at once. It was one of those moments where well... I guess you would say it was an out of body experience. I am so thankful for the little bits of information we learned and more importantly for the video and pictures we have to share with Shea. I know they will mean a lot of different things to him through out his life.

Something I did not know I would gain was the feeling of peace. After meeting with M*'s Aba I knew this decision was a last resort and I really felt like our whole process was ethical which I always worried about before. It is hard to be wrapped up in this thing called "international adoption". Like everything in life there are very bad things that can and really do happen. It is not something we as adoptive parents can turn our heads on and just forget about. And, it is also our job to educate those around us about the positives that come out of international adoption. That not every story is a bad one like the media likes to convey. That is a heavy burden that I am still trying to wade through and figure out. I would love to say that I have a quick answer and a witty response to the comments we receive... but truth is I don't.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Ethiopia (Final Days)

Final Days in Ethiopia
(Images from the car on the way home)
(Small set of shops close to Addis)
(There were tons of houses like this)
(In a village in between towns where women & girls would walk to get clean water)
(One of the many animals that would be cruisin' in the middle of the road)
(Mike at Dreamland's Restaurant in front of a big lake)

(Our travel buddies and a WACAP staff person... we all excited about cheeseburgers)
(Captain was excited about Miranda- Can you tell the kid isn't allowed to drink soda at home)

Our last days in Ethiopia are a little bit of a blur. Coming home from Awassa was nice. The driver went a lot slower so we were able to enjoy the drive heart attack free ;) We did have one scary incident. One of our travel buddies was taking pictures as we were driving through a town and she accidentally took one of a security or police man? He made the driver stop and with his rifle in hand he opened the door and demanded the camera. Luckily, he they were to show him that they were able to erase it. Lesson learned.

Driving past all of the mud huts and people gathering water was hard. It just doesn't seem real even though its right in front of you. I really wanted to be able to do more... and I felt helpless just staring through the car window. I really believe that all of us adoptive parents owe it to our children to visit their birth country. There is no way I would be able to have such a profound respect for Ethiopia without being there. The people are so kind they just really touch your heart. And, when you return home you just want to figure out how you are going to do more to help them. And, yet at the same time you realize how much they have helped you. I feel like my outlook on life has forever changed for the better after spending time with people who have so much joy and so little money.