Friday, August 31, 2012

Shark!

Yesterday morning before school Eli wanted to go for a ride in my car, so I took him over to the play area in the Cherry Creek Mall before the stores opened.  I thought it would be a fun thing to do, and a good way for him to see the mall without the hustle and bustle of thousands of people.  I'm not much of a mall person, but if we have to run in there sometime on a Saturday afternoon at least it'll be somewhat familiar to him.

When we arrived at the play area I realized I forgot my phone.  Huge bummer because I was hoping to sneak some photos of our camera-shy kid.  Actually, he's not so much shy of the camera as he is angered by it.  Lately the sight of a camera on him can throw him into a rage.

So maybe it was better that I forgot my phone.  The temptation would've been too great because he was so adorable there.  And I maybe would've ruined a perfect morning by trying to take his picture.

He enjoyed the play area at first, but quickly became bored; it seems designed for younger kids. After he was done playing, he came and sat by my side (no touching!) and played with this shark bath toy Brad had bought him the day before.


The fish in the shark's mouth is on a string; you pull it out and the shark "swims" to get it.  It's kind of a bust in water, but Eli loves pulling the string and watching the fish go back to the shark while the shark thrashes its tail.  Since Brad gave it to him, Eli has taken this shark with him everywhere.

Within a few seconds, Eli had a whole crowd of younger kids in a semi-circle around him, fascinated by this shark toy.  Eli demonstrated how the toy works, then handed it to one of the littles to try.  When the fish was back up at the shark, the little handed the toy back to Eli, and Eli again showed how it works and handed it to another little.  This went on for a good ten minutes.  And when one of the littles wandered off with the toy, Eli wasn't worried.  He kept an eye on this boy and his shark and waited for the boy to bring it back (which he did).

According to Eli's paperwork, he has no younger siblings.  So my guess is he learned this tender behavior during his time in the orphanage, when he was surrounded by mostly younger children.

We adoptive parents are taught so much about the negative affects of orphanage care on children; and, indeed, I agree the world would be a better place if no child ever spent a single night in an orphanage.  But here was an example of something beautiful that likely came from his time in the orphanage.  He was so sweet and caring and patient with this group of littles.

Eli would make an excellent big brother.  (Somewhere Brad is groaning while reading this, and maybe rolling his eyes, but with a smile on his face.)

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Dental Maturity

Eli had his first visit to the dentist this week.  Brad and I were apprehensive because Eli has been pretty reluctant to let anyone look into his mouth, but we were also optimistic because he loves brushing his teeth.

We took Eli to Chidren's Dentistry of Cherry Creek; locals, if you're in need of a dentist for your kiddos, this is the place to go.  They were absolute pros.  (And Eli's dentist, Dr. Lisa, has been awarded one of Denver's top pediatric dentists for the past five years.  Well deserved, in my opinion.)

The dental assistant, Renee, told us at the beginning of his appointment that she would do as much as Eli allowed her to do, but her main goal was to make him comfortable being there so that on his next visit they could do more.  She began by using a puppet to show Eli what she was going to do in his mouth.


The next thing we knew he had his mouth WIDE open for her.  She'd given him a handheld mirror to watch what she was doing, and he was actually enjoying his exam.  They counted his teeth, she flossed his teeth, and he even allowed her to scrape some mysterious blue plaque from behind his bottom front teeth.

I wish I could've taken a picture, it was so adorable.  But things were going well and Eli hates having his picture taken.

Which is why I'm often forced to take pictures of him while he's sleeping:


Anyway, back to the dentist. . . .  When the dentist came in to examine him, she told us that his two bottom front teeth were adult teeth, and showed us that the teeth on either side of these were loose.  (yay!  tooth fairy visit on the horizon!!)

Eli grinds his teeth.  A lot.  We first heard it in the middle of his epic time-in with Brad, so we thought it was stress-related.  But then we noticed he also does it when he's happy.  My friend Anne, who's a dentist, told me it could be related to growing pains, and Dr. Lisa concurred.  She said that about 95% of her patients' parents report teeth grinding (so this is probably not news to most of you), and that it will likely stop once he loses all his baby teeth.  And she said that it was nothing to worry about.

She also told us he'd likely lost his top front teeth naturally.  (In Ethiopia we'd been told by one person that they could've been pulled as part of a tribal ritual, and by another that he could've lost them due to malnutrition.)  She said that African children can mature dentally faster than American children and, again, it was nothing to worry about.  His six year molars have not come in yet, so she estimated his age to be between four and five years old.  (Without looking at his chart or asking us his age.)

Eli's Ethiopian birth certificate ages him at four and a half years, but many adoptive parents discover the age stated on the birth certificate is way off--sometimes by several years--and we understand it can be nearly impossible to correct their birth date after they come home.  Brad and I have felt all along that Eli seemed about four and a half, but as first-time parents we have no real frame of reference.  It was a relief to know that we didn't need to worry about what age he "really" is versus what age he is on paper.

The final good news--no cavities!


Monday, August 27, 2012

A Letter to Eli's Teacher

Dear Mrs. Lynch:

Yes, Eli dressed himself this morning.  Actually he dresses himself every morning, and today is the first time he's really missed the mark so we consider ourselves very lucky.  Because with everything going on in Eli's life right now, we just aren't going to battle with him on his wardrobe.

We assume that, at some point today, he'll figure out it's 100 degrees outside and he doesn't need his jacket.  If so, you'll see he's wearing a bright red shirt with those bright orange shorts.


But as long as he pairs those orange shorts and red shirt with a big smile, we consider his outfit to be perfect.

Sincerely,

Eli's Very Blessed Parents

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Just Bein' a Kid

One of the things that struck us about Eli when we first picked him up from the care center was, in some ways, he reminded us of an old man.  He walked like an old man and many of his movements were kind of slow and deliberate.  Generally, he seemed like a person who had seen and experienced a lot in life, much of it not very good.

And maybe that's because he had.

Among the most wondrous transformations we've observed is Eli becoming a kid.  Just a plain old, happy-go-lucky kid.

Sometimes I look at him being a goofy four year old and I wonder if his birth mother ever had the joy of seeing him be carefree like this.  I suspect their life in Gambella wasn't all that carefree.

One of the greatest gifts of adoption is these kids from hard places get to just be kids, and leave the adult worries to the adults.

And it's also such a gift, as the adult, to see our child just be a kid.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Adoption's Like a Marathon

First, I have an announcement to make.  My "mom brain" transplant is fully complete.

Earlier this week I totally forgot about my hair cut appointment because it was new parent night at SVdP (a million apologies, Sara!) and this morning I forgot my Garmin for my long run.  Seriously, these are things I just do not do.  Or didn't used to do.  Sigh.

Next, today's 20 mile training run was on a super hilly course, and it's notorious in my running group for being a real killer.  I was a bit nervous because our trip to Ethiopia put a little wrinkle in my marathon training plan (as in no running for almost two weeks), but today's run was fantastic.  The weather was perfect and I had great company; we motivated each other up and over all those hills.  And we finished our run in a very respectable time.  (Thankfully everybody else had their Garmins!)

So I thought today would be the perfect day to share my thoughts on my two of my favorite things--adoption and running.

I'm not the first to say this; people often use the "marathon" analogy to describe something that requires perseverance and dedication.  But as a marathoner and an adoptive parent, here's my perspective on how adoption really is like a marathon.

The paper chase was marathon training.  As we gathered each document, it felt like miles in the bank that prepared us for the long road ahead.  There isn't any glory or excitement in putting together your dossier, it's just something everyone has to do before they toe the line for the actual event.

Going on the wait list was like qualifying for Boston, but still wondering if my time would be fast enough to actually register.  You *think* you'll be matched with a child, but so many of the factors are out of your control.  How many families on the wait list ahead of us are waiting for an older toddler boy?  How many other qualifiers who will register for Boston ran just a little bit faster than I did?  Are there even toddler boy orphans in need of a family?

Getting the referral call was like hearing the starter's pistol at the race.  So exciting!  You set off full of exhilaration and anticipation; probably going a bit too fast, expecting a bit too much.

Pretty soon, when the adrenaline rush of the start begins to wear off, you remember this is a long race.  You also have your first thoughts of "can I make it to the finish?"  But you reassure yourself with reminders that lots of other people have successfully run this distance before you; if you're lucky, you've run the distance yourself before, and can draw confidence from that experience.  You rely heavily on the experiences of other adoptive parents to keep you going.  You spend lots and lots of time reading their blogs, picturing yourself parenting your adopted child.

Waiting for a court date was the middle miles.  You still feel strong, but the process is definitely wearing on you.  You're starting to feel the first twinges of fatigue.

Passing court?  Well, that's the big, steep hill on the elevation chart you've been staring at for months, wondering if you'll make it over the top.  For those who've run Big Sur, I'd say passing court was like cresting Hurricane Point.  The world is absolutely beautiful from up there, and you descend feeling like there's practically nothing between you and the finish line.

Except there is.  There's still lots of pavement ahead.  And probably a few more hills.

Court is also the 20 Mile marker.  You're really only halfway there; the second "half" of the race has just begun.  It's only a 10k--a relatively short distance to you--but you don't feel like running a 10k.  You just want to be done.

Waiting to be submitted to Embassy was like running Miles 22-24.  Regardless of the terrain, they're always the hardest.  It's hard to focus, hard to keep going.  Sometimes it's hard to remember why you ever started in the first place.  Miles 22-24 are definitely more than just two miles long.  You swear to yourself that you will never, ever do this again.  It's too hard.  You're probably whining.  A lot.  But you know you just have to dig deep and keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Then you reach the final miles.  You've been submitted to Embassy (left, right, left, right), they've reviewed your case (left, right, left, right) and the finish line is in sight.  It's hard, so hard, but you just keep going because you have a great reward at the end.  And it's even better than a cold beer or a shiny finishers' medal; it's a beaming little boy.  You think about that boy, constantly, to get you to the finish.

Then the Embassy clears your case.  You did it!  You either hobble over or scream gleefully through the finish line (I've done both) and the glory is yours.

Forever.

And even if you crossed the finish line and burst into tears, still swearing you'd never do that again (Hello, 1998 Chicago Marathon and your 84 degree heat!), within about five minutes you're thinking about your next marathon (yes, even at Chicago I did that). 

Because as tough as it was, it was also the absolute best thing you've ever done in your entire life.

And it's changed you, in a very good way.

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.

Firsts
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.

Sleep
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.

Diet
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.

Language
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.

Play
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.

Friends
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.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Zoo!

Yesterday was definitely one of those days where after I hit "publish" on my blog post I felt a bit exposed.  But I was so comforted by all the emails and comments I received from our fantastic group of friends and family.  You all lifted my spirits and helped me cast aside my own expectations and focus on what Eli wants and needs right now.  We are so blessed to have you all in our lives.

I particularly loved the comment by our friend (and super talented photographer) Dawn Sparks, who offered the analogy of how we can reject God over and over again but he never stops loving us.  That he has loved us longer than we've known his existence.  Hopefully God will give me the grace that he has shown us all, never to let my own selfishness of wanting so much closeness with Eli to get in the way of allowing him to find his own path to me.

Eli, Brad and I had a fantastic day yesterday at the zoo.  And I learned that Eli will let me be near him, as long as I don't touch him.  :)





We were not sure how Eli would react to some of the animals there (we'd heard stories of children being fearful, particularly of hyenas), but he had no issues at all.  In fact, he seemed to get really excited when he saw animals whose habitat is in the area of Ethiopia.

We would've loved to understand his chatter yesterday, to know what he was thinking about all the animals.  It was also a great outing in terms of English development; he repeated the name of each animal and what sound each animal makes.


We brought along an old point and shoot digital camera for Eli, and he loved taking his own pictures of the animals.




He took a picture of his momma with a big snake.


He let me hold his snack.


The elephants were definitely his favorite.


His daddy bought him a toy elephant, which he dangled precipitously into each exhibit for the rest of the day.  I thought for sure he was going to learn the concept of "GONE" by dropping it into an animal enclosure, but he hung on tightly.


He played the drums.


We rode the carousel (with him on the elephant, of course).


It was a very good day.


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Where's Mommy?

A few of you have asked about the lack of photos of Eli and his mommy.  The truth is, Eli's not much into mommy right now.

When we first picked Eli up from the care center, he wanted to hold my hand and sit on my lap. In his sleep, it was me who he snuggled up to; Brad received Eli's feet in his face.  As Eli became more comfortable with life outside the care center, he wanted me a little bit less.  But then traveling home he clung pretty tightly to me again, particularly at the outset of our journey in the Addis airport.

Now that we're home and he's gotten settled in his new environment, he wants little to do with me.  I will ask him a question and receive a scowl; Brad will ask it immediately after and get a pleasant response.

Brad and I knew there was a good chance that Eli would attach to one of us before the other. We'd heard that sometimes the kids will reject their adoptive mother, as a reaction to having been relinquished by their birth mother.  Maybe it's anger at their birth mother, maybe it's fear of being rejected again that causes them to push the mother away; control the pain that they think is inevitable.  And we know nothing about what kind of relationship Eli had with his birth mother before his relinquishment, and how that may be complicating things between Eli and me.

Before we brought Eli home Brad and I agreed that, whatever happened, we would foster attachment in any way we could.  To whichever parent Eli was inclined to attach.

But you know what?  It's hard.  A lot harder than I thought it would be, not to let my emotions get in the way of simply allowing attachment to happen on Eli's terms.

It's hard to have your child recoil from your touch, and then accept his father.  It's hard to have your child shove you away, over and over again.

And it's hard for me to be honest about this.  It would be much easier to just post cute photos on facebook and give the illusion that everything is perfect.

But the truth is I look at our son and my heart aches.  And I have to remind myself that I have loved him a lot longer than he's even known I exist.

Intellectully I know to be grateful that Eli's attaching so well with one of us--Brad and I planned for this possiblity, and I am truly happy for the bond he and Eli are forming.  To see them together, father and son, makes me almost weep with joy.  I wouldn't change that for anything.

We have our moments, Eli and I.  Mainly when the rest of the world, including his father, aren't around.  And Brad has been really sensitive to giving Eli and me time alone to develop our relationship.

Yesterday afternoon, Brad left us at home to run errands for a few hours.  While I was working on the computer, Eli came over to me with a set of earbuds and plugged them into my iPhone.  He put one earbud in his ear and handed me the other.  We listened to CSN and Y (Deja Vu, a favorite) and looked at photos from our Embassy trip.

And I savored my moment with him.  Because it's these that keep me going.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Our First "Connected Child" Experiences


We've been home with Eli only four days now.  In some ways it feels like he's been a part of our family for much longer, but we know that all three of us are still going through major adjustments.  Learning about each other, establishing routines, setting and testing boundaries.

Overall, Eli has been a champ.

That's not to say we haven't had our struggles already.  Eli has a pretty solid defiant streak in him; some of that is probably typical four year-old behavior, some is probably cultural (particularly when it comes to him resisting discipline from me), and some is probably his grief and pain manifesting as controlling behaviors.  But whatever the cause, it's something Brad and I must address as it happens, so as not to allow larger issues to develop.

We've been able to put into practice what we've learned in Dr. Karyn Purvis's book, The Connected Child and in her two-day workshop last spring.  If you're an adoptive parent, either waiting or home with your child, and you haven't yet read The Connected Child, you should make it an immediate priority.

Dr. Purvis writes about establishing a "trust account" with your child.  And employing firm, gentle touch to bring your child close to you, even while disciplining them.  It's an extremely compassionate approach that resonates well with me.  And it works.

One example is using a "time-in" instead of a "time-out" in response to bad behavior.  A time-in is a variation on a time-out, but instead of sending the child away to consider their behavior, an adult always stays close by.  Being sent away to a time-out can mirror the rejection and loss of losing their first family, so instead of being sent away the child is brought closer.  The message is always "we are not going anywhere, even when you misbehave."

The true Purvis time-in involves a "think-it-over" place, where the child can be near the adult until they're ready to talk about what they did and develop a strategy for a do-over.  We can't really explain a think-it-over place (or the concept of a do-over) to Eli right now because of his very limited English, so we have employed time-ins by holding Eli close to us when he misbehaves.

Our first time-in was in response to Eli refusing to come to Brad when he called him.  We had just finished lunch and Eli scrambled away from the table without being excused, and while Brad and I were still eating.  This is not how we've established our mealtime routine; the family eats together and finishes together, and if Eli is done first he may ask to be excused.

Eli was only about ten feet away when Brad called him back to the table.  He looked straight at Brad and gave the double shoulder shrug (the adamant Gambella "HECK NO").  So Brad went over to Eli, picked him up, and brought him back to sit on his lap at the table.

Eli was furious.  He screamed, he cried, he kicked, he flailed.  And the harder Eli resisted, the closer Brad held him.  Brad told Eli what was expected of him at mealtime, and that he must always come when called.  But Brad also told Eli how much we loved him, that he was a good boy, and that even good boys sometimes make the wrong decision.  This went on for an hour and fifteen minutes, until Eli finally quit struggling, quit crying, and would look Brad in the eye.

We don't know how many of the actual words Eli understood, but I'm confident that Brad's firm but compassionate approach reached him.  Because the next defiant episode (that night, at bedtime, with me) was resolved with a much shorter time-in, probably only ten minutes.  And the one the following day (again with me) was so brief I could almost describe it as instantaneous.

One of the routines we've established with Eli is that we all help clean up after meals.  While Brad and I clear the table, Eli takes our napkins upstairs to the dirty clothes hamper.  When we all got up at the end of our meal, I tried to hand Eli the napkins but he turned away from me and gave me the shoulder shrug (just one shoulder this time).  I gave him another chance to do it, but he still refused.

So I scooped him up, sat him on my lap, and held him tightly.  I put the napkins on the table in front of me.  He screamed and struggled for about a minute, then reached out and grabbed the napkins and looked at me.  I let him get down and he went straight upstairs and put them in the hamper.

Success.

I'm so proud of you, Eli.


Monday, August 20, 2012

Day 1 at Home (or how we ignored conventional wisdom and lived to tell about it)

Our first day home really couldn't have been any better.  Before we left Addis, Brad and I talked (lots!) about what life at home would be like for us.  We planned to have a very relaxing first day at home; a trip to the park in the morning, and maybe heading over to the ice cream shop in the afternoon.  We'd play it by ear and see how Eli did.

When we arrived home late Friday night, Eli spent some time exploring our house.  First the main level, then upstairs to his bedroom and ours, his bathroom and ours.  When we asked him if he wanted to see the lower level, he first said no but then headed downstairs.

His playroom is down there, with a train set, a circus tent, and lots (and lots) of toys.  But he only had eyes for Brad's road bike.  He climbed up on it and had the biggest smile on his face.  Right then we knew, if was at all possible, we needed to get him a bike the next day.

Our trip to the park Saturday morning was fantastic.  Although Eli was very tense on the walk over, he soon relaxed and began to enjoy the playground.




He was a happy boy.


But every time he saw a kid on a bike, or a bike just laying on the ground near the playground, he'd stop whatever he was doing and point.  He knows very little English, but we're all communicating quite well.  And his message on this matter was clear.

Things were going so well.  But Target on Day 1 in America?  On a Saturday?  Were we insane?

Maybe, but we decided to give it a shot.  And he did great at Target.  We got him a bike, which he and Brad assembled when we got home.


And then we headed back out so Eli could give it a spin.



I've mentioned before that Eli's malnourished; his BMI is not even on the CDC growth charts.  What we realized yesterday is he has almost no muscle tone.

It was obviously very hard for him to pedal the bike, and he was also having trouble figuring out how to position his feet on the pedals.  He was using a sort of duck-footed position, so with each stroke his heel hit the crank and stopped him.

But he was determined to ride that bike.

At the end of the block we asked him if he wanted to turn around and he gave us the Gambella shoulder shrug to indicate "no."  We asked him if he wanted to keep going and he gave us the Gambella eye raise ("yes").  This went on, and he got better and better with his foot position on the pedals, and he rode that bike for well over a mile.

Yes, a mile.  It was slow going, but he persevered.



And he would've gone further if we hadn't gently swung him back around to our house through the park.

It was about 6:00 by the time we got home from the bike ride, and the next thing I knew both he and Brad were crashed out upstairs in our bed.



It had been a very busy day, but it was oh-so-good for us all.  Peeking in on my boys napping after such a great day just about made my heart explode with happiness.

Life is good.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Our Beautiful Gambellan Friend

Thursday, August 16, 2012

This was our last day in Addis, and we were invited for lunch and a coffee ceremony at the care center.  While we were there, we had the most amazing experience.

We met this woman who was born in Gambella (Eli's home region), moved to Addis when she was a small child, and then moved to St. Paul, Minnesota as a teenager.  So she spoke Anuak (Eli's language), Amharic and English.  She was living in Addis for a few years because her husband was teaching at the university, and was at the care center to help interpret for some birth mothers who had Embassy appointments.

When she first walked in with one of the birth mothers, my heart leaped because I thought maybe it was Eli's birth mother.  That maybe somehow our prayers had been answered and she'd made it to Addis to meet us.  Both had the beautiful, striking features of Gambella women.

It wasn't Eli's birth mother, it was the mother of two other boys at the care center.  I spoke with them, and the birth mother asked me (through the interpreter) what I knew of the family adopting her children.  Would we live near them?  I told her we wouldn't live near them, but that they live where Brad was born.  And that we hoped to see them occasionally.  I told her this family was a good family, and that they love her boys very much.  That they would give her boys a very good life.

It touched me deeply, how happy this mother was to meet someone who had even the most tangential relationship to her children's adoptive family.  And it made my heart break again for Eli's birth mother, who never got to meet us.  Never got to have that sense of closure and hopefully peace with knowing the people who would raise her child.

We took some photos of her with her boys and printed them for her.  She was so happy to have the photos, and I am so happy to also be able to share them with the adoptive family.

She looked through our photo book and tried to help me figure out a way to get it to Eli's birth mother.  She doesn't know her, and neither does the other birth mother.  Our agency's in-country staff had told us to bring the photo book home and give it to the US staff, who would then mail it back to Ethiopia to have it forwarded to his birth mother.  (Sound ridiculous?  Yes, we thought so, too.)

After lunch, she had to leave suddenly for the Embassy appointments.  She told Brad it was a very good thing, what we were doing, adopting Eli.  That the people of Gambella truly appreciate it.

I took another few quick photos for her, and promised to print and leave them for her at the care center.  (The little portable printer is very handy, but the photos take a long time to print.)   She asked if she could hug me, and with tears in my eyes I said of course.  Even writing about her now brings fresh tears, it was such a beautiful experience meeting her.

I wrote our contact information on the back of one of the photos, hoping that somehow we'd be able to stay in touch with her.  When I told her we have family in Minneapolis, she asked if perhaps we could see each other again when she returns to the states.

I pray those photos made it to her.  I asked the person with whom I left them several times if he understood who they were for, and he assured me he did.

Because I know how that birth mother felt.  This beautiful Gambellan woman, our new friend, is the closest link we have to our child's birth mother.  And I so desperately don't want to lose it.

Entoto Mountain

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Poor Brad, Eli and I both woke up with a case of the grumpies this morning.  Eli has a good excuse, he's been through a lot change in the past several days.

Me?  I'm just a wimp, not used to roughing it.  I want a warm shower.  With a stream of water with sufficient force to rinse shampoo out of my hair.  And I'm not sure which I miss more right now, my bed or my pillow.  I'll just say both.  If I'm going to whine, I may as well go all in.  Right?

We met up with our friend Julie to take the boys up Entoto Mountain, which seemed to do Eli and me both a lot of good.



Fresh air and a little (tiny) bit of sunshine.


The boys had a great time running around like a couple of puppies.


It warmed my heart to see them roaming, knowing that for far too long their play area has been a concrete courtyard that doubles as a parking lot.


We got a few smiles from Eli.



And this great picture of Brad.



On our way back down the mountain, we stopped again at the Ethiopian Women Fuel Wood Carriers Project to buy some more scarves.



Eli was fascinated with the looms.


And they had baskets available this time, too.  (On our last trip, somebody had been there just before us and bought all the baskets.)


Lunch came a little too late again that day, but thankfully we didn't cross the "too cranky to eat" threshold.  Eli and I share a love of french fries, but it seems Brad and I have somehow been matched with a child that does not like chocolate cake.  Honestly, I had no idea such a creature existed.

After lunch we stopped by Aster Bunna to buy some freshly roasted Ethiopian coffee.  Like so freshly roasted the bag was still warm.  (And I'm sipping some right now, back at home, while I post this entry.)

It was a very good day.

Embassy Day

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Embassy day!  Yay!!

We met Julie and her son Chaz in the lobby of the hotel and set off for the care center to get her son Ujulu.  We were a bit concerned about how Eli would react to going back to the care center, but we needn't have worried.

Being back at the care center popped Eli right out of his shell.  Seriously, it was like a switch was flipped.  Our quiet boy was suddenly very animated, showing all the other boys his shoes.  His cars.  Eli talked nonstop, his excited chatter in Anuak peppered with references to "in America!"

Hmmm, it seems Eli may think the Addis View Hotel is "America."

When we all left the care center, Eli and Ujulu sat at the window of the van and took in everything on the street.


Dogs were exciting.  Donkeys, even more exciting.


But the buses were the most exiting thing of all.



Our Embassy appointment was as anticlimactic as we'd heard it would be.  Once checked in, you sit in a waiting area that is very much reminiscent of the DMV.  A nice DMV.

After some time our name was called and we went up to the window.  The Embassy employee had us all swear to tell the truth, including Eli, and then asked us a few questions about our case to confirm the information in our file.  She explained to us that the Embassy had decided to forgo the birth parent interview because our file was complete and the basis of Eli's orphan status was clear.  She seemed apologetic that she had no other information to offer as to Eli's background because they'd not conducted an interview.  We, of course, were still delighted that the Embassy did not schedule a birth parent interview because that meant we were able to bring Eli home faster.

But we were hugely disappointed that we did not get to meet Eli's birth mother.  In fact, "disppointed" doesn't even come close to how we felt.  We were devastated.

Brad and I requested (and paid for) a meeting with her.  And our agency's US staff had assured us that she would travel to Addis to meet us, even though she didn't need to come for an Embassy interview.  That she would want to meet us.  It would be as important to her as it was to us.  And the US staff told us weeks ago that the in-country staff was working on setting that up for us.

But our agency's in-country staff seemed to have no idea they were working on this.  When we took Eli out of the care center on Friday, Brad asked about our meeting with Eli's birth mother.  The staff member seemed surprised and said they'd try to schedule it.

Try to schedule it. As in, they hadn't yet tried.

And when we were back at the care center on Embassy day, we were told they tried contacting the orphanage in Eli's home region and were told his birth mother was not around.  No sense of an apology in this announcement, just "we tried, she's not around."

This birth parent meeting was very important to us, and we'd made that clear to our agency.  We made his birth mother a photo book, we brought a portable photo printer to Ethiopia so we could send her home with pictures of Eli and her together.  We were frustrated that apparently no effort was made ahead of our arrival to contact the birth mother, but I can't say we were surprised.  Just another disappointment by our agency in this process.  Honestly, I sometimes wonder if the US staff ever actually talks with the in-country staff.

After our Embassy appointment, we went to Top View for lunch but found they were closed for annual maintenance.  So we went back across town to Lucy Restaurant.

By the time we got there it was 3:00 in the afternoon, and we were reminded that "late lunch" is not such a great idea with a toddler.  Brad headed for the bathroom while we were being seated, and when Eli and I got to the table he refused to sit.  I tried picking him up to put him in his seat and he went rigid.  And threw my arms off him.

Oh, boy.

It was a short-lived resistance because once Brad was back he scrambled right up onto his seat, but then he wouldn't eat.  It was nap time according to the routine we'd established with him.

Overstimulation from the care center + no lunch + no nap =  Very cranky boy.  Lesson learned.

Once we got back to the hotel we laid down for a bit, but I think our fate for the day was already sealed at that point.  And no surprise we had our first official melt down that night after dinner.

Eli was so tired but wouldn't let us turn off the light to go to sleep.  Brad and he matched wills with the light switch above the bed, and I finally had to lay on top of Eli to keep him away from the switch.  I know that sounds awful, but it worked.  And thankfully he fell asleep quickly.

Our Addis Routine

Monday, August 13, 2012

Life in Addis was pretty basic for us those first few days, and Eli seemed to be adjusting to our routine fairly well.  We even saw a few smiles.



When we picked Eli up from the care center, our driver recommended we take him to this park that kids really love.  The next day we had a different driver, and I'm pretty sure we ended up at the wrong park.  I was essentially an amusement park, which was way too much stimulation for Eli.  He hated it.

After a short time of wandering around, and this one awful ride, we ended up standing in the parking lot for an hour waiting for our driver to return.

Eli hating the ride and Mommy about to puke from the effects of that dang Strawberry juice.

The gray, rainy weather then forced us to stay indoors for pretty much the rest of the weekend.  And it was probably the best thing for us, just spending time together in our hotel room.


Playing, reading books, coloring, watching Thomas the Train videos on Brad's iPad.


And napping.  We took lots of naps.


It was great.  I don't think I've ever been more well rested.

In those early days, Eli cried silent tears at some point each day.  Heartbreaking.

I felt pretty unequipped to help our grieving boy, so we just held him and let him cry.  We told him over and over that it was alright to be sad, it was alright to cry.  That we understood.

And that we were never, ever going to leave him.

Gotcha Day


Friday, August 10, 2012

I'm not sure how I feel about the term "gotcha day," but it seems to be what everyone, in the adoption world at least, will recognize as the day we finally had Eli with us.  Forever.

Heading over to the care center on "gotcha day," I was more nervous to see Eli than when we met him for the first time.  Would he remember us?  Would he want to leave with us?  Were we ready for this?

When we pulled into the care center the kids were in the middle of lunch.  They trickled out of the dining room a few at a time, and then suddenly we saw him across the courtyard.  He looked at us a bit timidly, unsure what to do, but he definitely remembered us.



Only the nannies were at the care center when we arrived; none of our agency's in-country administrative staff were there.  We stood there wondering what to do--could we just take him?  Did we have to sign him out?  A bit of annoyance crept into our delightful moment, our agency once again not being there to help us with a fairly major milestone.

So we changed him into the clothes we brought and spent some time with all the kids, whose families back home miss them so much.





And Brad gave Eli his backpack.  It was nice to upgrade him from the ziplock bag in which he'd been keeping all his treasures.



Right before we left, one of our agency's in-country staff returned to the care center.  We asked him about our meeting with Eli's birth mother and he seemed not to know what we were talking about.

Sigh.  Seriously?

He asked when we were leaving Addis and said they'd try to get in touch with her to see if she could come to the city.  Something our agency's US staff had assured us weeks ago was already in the works.

We took Eli back to our hotel, and he had a great time checking out all the stuff we'd brought for him.


And changed him into some jeans because the adorable 3T convertable pants we bought him at REI were too big around the waist for our little string bean.  (We learned the importance of those elastic adjustment tabs on the inside of pants.)


After a short nap we had dinner at Lucy Restaurant, which had been a favorite of ours on our court trip.  Brad and I ordered a strawberry juice for Eli, which he was reluctant to drink.  So we each had a taste to show him it was ok, and it was delicious.  It was basically pureed fresh strawberries.  Yum.

Sandy, if you're reading this, you already know what happened next.  Yes, you warned me specifically about juice.

To spare everyone the details, let's just say Brad and I started taking Cipro the next morning.  Ugh.