Friday, August 24, 2012

One Week Home -- The Recap

It's hard to believe we've been home with Eli for one week; as in, only one week.  He has adjusted amazingly well to life in America and is flourishing in every way.

First escalator ride in the Addis Ababa airport; terrifying.  (Second escalator ride in the Heathrow airport; fascinating.)  First time on an airplane; loved it.  First moving walkway; yeah, loved that, too.  First time in a car seat; hated it.

First day of school at St. Vincent de Paul; loved it.  First day of school at St. John's was today; hopefully he'll love that, too.  Brad and I just got home from walking him to school at St. John's, which is located directly across the park from our house.  Eli rode/walked his bike, and only paused briefly when we got to the playground.  He'd never been to the other side of the park before, we've always stopped to play at the playground.  He was a bit leery at first of this new school, but within a few minutes he was playing alongside the other kids. When the teacher called them into the classroom, he put away his toys and went right in.

We wish he didn't have to attend two schools, but SVDP is only three hours a day, three days a week and Brad and I both have to go back to work soon.  We'd rather he attend a second school, with other kids, than spend that much time with a nanny.  And the program at St. John's seems really good, too.

He's been sleeping, on average, about twelve hours a night.  Eli has his own room, down the hall from our room, but has opted to sleep on a bedroll in our room.  When we were in Addis, we all slept together in a king sized bed in the hotel room.  However, once home we suspected that if we let him into our bed it would be really difficult to get him into his own room.

So each night we give him the option of his bed or the bedroll, and so far he's chosen the bedroll.  We do story time in our bed, and when the book is over he hops off our bed and onto his bedroll.  Only on the second night did he resist, and after a brief time-in he complied.

Eli's diet has been a fascinating puzzle.  He is very underweight, particularly for his height, so we've been pretty focused on getting good food into him.   But Brad and I also feel very strongly that we will not have food battles with him.

Brad and I eat a wide variety of mostly whole foods, and we know that so far in his life Eli has had very little processed food.  We'd like to keep it that way, as much as possible for as long as possible.

Eli has tried pretty much everything we've offered him, but has loved very few foods so far. For several days, the only thing we could get him to eat was bread.  Once we realized he'd eat the bread with nut butter on it, we felt a little better about his bread diet.  (Target has this great blend of almond, cashew and peanut butter, and he also likes Justin's almond butter.)

Other proteins he'll eat:  bacon, hard boiled egg, chicken (but not any parts blackened from the grill), fish (sometimes).

He likes pizza, with only a little bit of cheese, but he eats it from the bottom up.  The crust is his main focus.  Tonight we're making pizza with garlic scape pesto; it'll be interesting to see how he likes that.

We haven't been able to get him to drink much milk, so we've been trying other calcium sources.  He ate a bit of salmon last night and liked the plain Greek yogurt with honey that we offered for a snack yesterday (although he only ate about a quarter cup of it).  Yesterday I bought him the Horizon milk in the little individual container with the straw that you poke through the top, and the fun packaging got him to drink some.  But when I offered it again this morning he was not interested.

Pretty much the only thing he wants to drink is water.  We don't keep soda in the house, and when we were in Addis he'd drink soda if we ordered for him but he was just as happy with water.  He doesn't really care for juice.

One thing Eli LOVES is corn.  We took him into a grocery store for the first time earlier this week, after having his blood drawn at the pediatrician (about the worst set-up ever for a positive experience in a new, potentially overwhelming environment).

When we walked in the front door, there was a pile of corn on display.  He pointed to it; we asked him if he liked corn, and he said yes.  We had corn at home from our CSA, so Brad and I headed toward the back of the store to pick up what we needed.  Once we got to the fish counter, Eli started motioning to me that he wanted something.  I followed him to see what he wanted, and led me back to the corn.  His first time in a large American grocery store, and all he was begging for was an ear of corn.  We're pretty lucky with this kid.

So, even though we already had corn at home, we bought an ear so Eli would know we understood what he wanted.  Brad prepared it on the grill, as we'd seen done on the side of the road in Addis.  He was more excited for that corn than a child waiting to blow out the candles on his birthday cake.

We served the corn to Eli as we always eat it, the whole ear with a cob holder on each end.  He was fascinated by the cob holders, but was having a hard time with the whole cob because of his missing front teeth.  He picked up his knife and tried to cut the cob, so Brad took his plate away to the kitchen and cut the corn from the cob.

When Brad returned to the table, Eli was devastated; Brad had RUINED his corn.  What we realized is that Eli had wanted the cob cut into smaller segments, with the corn still left on the cob.  We tried again the following night, with his corn cut into small cob segments, and Eli was delighted.  All three of us were laughing at him plowing his way through that corn.

Other vegetables he'll eat:  onion (red and white), potatoes.  Not a very long list so far.

Fruits he'll eat:  avocado, tomato (sometimes), strawberries, banana, pineapple, mango.  But never a lot of any of them.

Sweets are not Eli's thing.  He doesn't like chocolate (including chocolate chip cookies).  We learned at the pediatrician's office that he'll eat an Otter Pop, so I'm excited to try making healthy popsicles at home.  He's eaten raspberry and vanilla ice cream.  We tried to order him a sundae with strawberry sauce and pineapple sauce, but the kid behind the counter was confused and made him a sundae with hot fudge, cherry sauce and pineapple sauce (yeah, not sure how that happened).  He liked the whipped cream and pineapple sauce; predictably, didn't care for the hot fudge; and didn't eat the cherry sauce, either.

We were really worried about how we'd communicate with Eli when neither of us speak Anuak and he speaks very little English.  But we've found it's actually quite easy to communicate, and a lot of fun to watch him develop his English vocabulary.

When we first had Eli with us in Addis, we taught him sign language for "potty."  And we relied on a lot of "yes" or "no" questions, to which he'd usually respond with his Gambellan shoulder shrug (no) or eye raise (yes).

Now, at two weeks together and week at home, we've been asking him to use his words instead of accepting his nonverbal responses to our questions.  We've also been requiring him to use his words when asking for things for which he knows the English word, like water.  And for the most part it's working quite well.

Last night Brad and I were talking on the phone with his parents and Eli was sitting next to me (not touching! haha).  He motioned that he wanted the phone, so I handed it to him.  After a shy start, he began chatting away with Brad's parents--some in Anuak, some in English.  He said "grandma" and "grandpa" in his cute Ethiopian accent, rolling his "r's."  Brad brought over a photograph of his parents, and showed him who he was talking with, and Eli seemed to make the connection between the people on the phone and the people in the photograph.  He laughed and laughed, clearly enjoying what was probably his very first telephone conversation.

The Dogs
This is another area where we were very concerned; we'd heard that Ethiopian kids have no experience with household pets and are generally afraid of dogs.  And we have two big dogs, a Rottweiler (Ruby) and a German Shepard Dog (Zorba), each weighing 80-90 pounds.

We talked to Eli a lot about our dogs before we came home and showed him lots of pictures of them both.  And Brad bought Eli this little stuffed Rottweiler, which we gave him before we brought Ruby home from the kennel.

In fact, we were so focused on introducing Eli to Ruby that he thought "Ruby" was the English word for dog.  In those first days at the park, he'd point at a dog and say "Ruby!"

Our GSD is almost thirteen years old and is very mellow.  Eli has taken to her quite well; hugs her good morning and good night every day.

Eli is still more intimidated by Ruby; he'll pet her hindquarters, but is still leery of her head.  We have him feed both of the dogs a treat every day, which has helped build his trust in the dogs.  He's learned to say "Ruby, NO!" to let Ruby know he's uncomfortable, and Ruby has done really well responding to his command by giving him more space.

And even though Eli's still intimidated by Ruby, he's also fascinated with her.  Almost every day, at some point, he grabs one of the Carl books by Alexandra Day and flips through it, pointing at the picture of Carl on each page but saying "Ruby!"

We're using a baby gate to keep Ruby in the back part of the house during mealtimes and when Eli first wakes up in the morning.  (Eli startled Ruby one morning when Eli first got up, and Ruby started barking, which scared Eli, which further startled Ruby.  So now we give them both time to remember each other in the morning, with Ruby behind the baby gate.)  But when we're just hanging out in the house, Ruby is with us and Eli doesn't seem bothered by her.

Eli loves cars ("ma-kee-nah") above anything else.  He keeps all his cars, along with a few other toys we picked up at the Heathrow airport and some other treasures (like the earpieces he snagged from the drawer in the pediatrician's office) in a zip-lock bag in his backpack.  And he has to take that backpack with him every time we leave the house (although thankfully he's fine with leaving it in the car when we get to where we're going).

Yesterday after school Brad set up the Hotwheels track.  He and Eli had a blast launching the cars, and Eli learned that not everything launches.  It was hilarious watching him try to launch an airplane, a dumptruck, a front loader.

He was laughing and chattering away in Anuak, and we took about ten minutes of video.  We've tried to take a lot of video of him speaking his native language because we understand he'll lose it quickly as his English skills develop.

The bike riding is taking some time.  His lack of muscle tone makes it really difficult for him to push the pedals, so he walks his bike a lot.  But he loves his bike and wouldn't think of heading to the park without it.  With time (and muscle development) we think the time spent riding it will increase, and the time spent walking it will decrease.

When his teacher was dismissing the kids from his (SVDP) classroom yesterday, we heard one of the kids say to his mom "I have to say good-bye to Eli!" and another girl gave him a good-bye hug out in front of the school.  (He didn't return the hug, but thankfully he didn't shove her away.)  So it seems his first day of school went really well in terms of making friends.

When we went to the playground last night, he played with a few of the kids who were there.  At one point he was chatting away (maybe in Anuak? maybe just nonsense sounds?) and one of the kids started making the same chatter.  It was really cute, this other child connecting with Eli.

We're looking forward to being able to schedule some play dates with other kids.  From what we've seen so far, we think he'll have no problem making friends here.

And that makes us very, very happy.


  1. Love love love!!! that he talked to Grandma and Grandpa on the phone. I bet they were over the moon!!!

  2. love this post!! you guys really seem to be adjusting well and I am SO happy for ya'll!!

  3. so great to hear this update! sounds like you guys are the type of parents the rest of us aspire to be! you are all doing a great job becoming a family... so happy for you!

  4. My favorite part of the story was Eli saying "Grandma and Grandpa"! I'm sure they were absolutely thrilled! :)