Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Getting Ready for Halloween

Brad and I have continued preparing Eli for Halloween.  He still doesn't really understand, but he's enjoying all the activities leading up to it.

Like pumpkin carving.

Eli with his pumpkin.  He was so excited he asked to have his picture taken.
Daddy's pumpkin
Mommy's pumpkin
Every night as the sun goes down, Eli gets excited to go put lights in the pumpkins.  And every morning when he first gets up, he goes out front to check on his pumpkin.

We've also done a little Halloween baking,  We adapted this recipe from Bon Appetit for Pumpkin Spice Layer Cake with Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting to make cupcakes.  Um, yeah, they were awesome.

Eli zesting the orange for the cupcakes

More sprinkles = better, right?

Don't hate me, but he also does dishes.  As I was busy caramelizing the powdered sugar for the frosting, I turned around and saw this going on at the sink.

He was so proud to show me how he would do dishes "in the Gambella."

Perfect kitchen helper.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Warming to the Cold, Thanks to the Snow

We got our second snowfall of the season here yesterday, but the first "real" snow.  You know, more than a dusting that disappears after the sun comes out.

Eli was still unimpressed.  When he woke up, I showed him the snow outside and asked him if he wanted to touch it.  I warned him it was cold, but when the cold air reached him through the open door to our balcony, he cringed and turned away.

No snow for him.

He went to his bedroom to dress.  In shorts, of course.  Because he declared he'd not be going outside today.

Lately he's been asking in the evening, "cold tomorrow?"  It seems our African boy is not wild about Colorado weather.

But maybe that all changed yesterday after school.

I left work a bit early because Eli had another doctor's appointment.  More catch-up immunizations, ugh.  The kid probably thinks this is the Land of Needles.  And I suppose from his experience so far, he'd not be far off.

When I arrived home, Brad was out front with Eli, showing him how to make a snowball.  We didn't have much time but we were able to show Eli the basics.

And suddenly the snow seemed to have a whole new appeal to him.

He was intrigued, and tasted the snow.  I told him it was made of water and he thought I was crazy.

Now this is when he started to see the real fun in snow.  Anything he can launch is cool.  Like I've said before, this kid is 110% boy.

We weren't able to get him out of his cowboy boots and into his snow boots.  Or convince him to wear a coat.  For a kid who's always asking if it's cold outside, he's fiercely resistant to wearing a coat.

Eli's buddy Grant showed him how to roll snow to make a snowman.  Eli didn't quite get it.  Instead, he kept running back to our yard and trying to gather up enough snow to make a ball as large as Grant's.

So looking forward to watching these two boys play in the snow this winter.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

It's Official! (again)

Yesterday Eli, Brad, and I appeared before a judge in Arapahoe County, Colorado to validate Eli's Ethiopian adoption.  The Colorado validation also served to change Eli's name officially from Lingo Bradley to Elijah Lingo.

We talked a little bit with Eli before the hearing about where we were going and why, but when we arrived at the courthouse Eli immediately went into stress mode.  He became silent and tense, and I wasn't sure if he was on the verge of tears or an angry outburst.  I tried reassuring him but was shoved away.

We were called into the courtroom right on time, perhaps even a few minutes early.  Brad and I sat at the designated table, but Eli refused to sit.  He instead stood behind Brad's chair, peeking at the Judge from around the side. 

The Judge quickly ran through the jurisdictional and other questions, validated Eli's adoption, and signed the decree.  He apologized for proceeding so rapidly, but said he was due in another courtroom for a hearing on the Aurora theater shooting.

After signing the decree, the Judge came out from behind the bench and shook our hands.  He held his hand out for Eli, and Eli very tentatively shook it while diverting his eyes.  The Judge complimented Eli on his cowboy boots, and told him that he has some cowboy boots too.  I was touched that even though the Judge had such a weighty hearing to take up elsewhere, he still took the time to try and soothe the frightened boy before him.

We decided to skip the traditional courtroom photo, although I'm sure the Judge would've obliged.  Eli was so stressed that all I could think about was getting him out of there.  So we thanked everyone and said our good-byes.

As soon as we walked out the front doors of the courthouse, Eli's anxiety lifted.  I showed him his validation decree, and explained to him that the Judge just declared us a family forever in America.

He wanted to carry his "very important paper" from the Judge, and he proudly told us he was being careful not to let it blow away in the wind.

Eli smiling at the above photo Brad took of us outside the courthouse.  He loves looking at photos of himself, just hates having them taken.  Go figure.

While I'm a little disappointed we don't have "the" photo from his validation hearing, I think we did the right thing by not forcing him to pose in the courtroom.  He's not fond of having his picture taken under the best of circumstances, and he was so scared I didn't want to throw him into fight or flight mode.  No photo is worth traumatizing our child.

Our reward for not forcing the courtroom photo was seeing the happy confidence in his stride as we left. 

However scared he was in the courtroom, I think his memory of validation day will be a good one.  What more could we want for him, and us?

Friday, October 19, 2012

How and When to Talk to Your Adopted Child About His Past

During our adoption training classes, one of the topics discussed was talking to your child about adoption.  As in, the fact that he or she was adopted.  As in, don't lie to your kids.

Honestly, we thought the discussion was silly.  Because here's us:

Just a typical Sunday, lying around amidst cut-out hearts

And here's Eli:
Yes, another picture from his class field trip to the pumpkin patch.  :)

Clearly adopted, no?

Plus, he was four and a half years old when we adopted him.  So while he may not have understood the intricacies of the process, he does know that he was born to one family in one part of the world but now lives with a different family in another part of the world.  The notion that we had to decide whether or not to tell him he was adopted was pretty funny to us.

(And most, if not all, of the families in our class were adopting from Ethiopia.  One family during this particular class was African, but the rest of us not.  And we were not the only ones adopting an older child.  I know I sound whiny an unappreciative.  Sorry.  Sometimes I'm just like that.)

What would've been more helpful to us?  A discussion of how and when to talk to Eli about his past.

We want Eli to know we're open to talking to him about his adoption.  We want to share with him the little we know about his past.  And we'd love for him to tell us what he remembers.  But how, exactly, do you broach this topic?  How do we give it the significance it deserves without making it feel too "big," and thus perhaps stifling a free discussion?

We've casually asked him about Gambella, in terms of "did you see this kind of animal in Gambella?"  Or "did they have this kind of tree in Gambella."  We've also tried to ask him about his necklace, which he was wearing when we first met and which Brad has researched and found to have connections with his tribe.

The other night I was going through some photos on my laptop, trying to organize them, and Eli was sitting next to me on the couch.  I showed Eli this photo I'd found sometime ago on another adoptive parent's blog:

It's the orphanage in Gambella where he stayed until right before Brad and I went to court to adopt him.  At least that's what we thought it was, since we'd never actually seen it ourselves.

When I showed the photo to Eli, he got excited and pointed to it.  He recognized it!  We asked him if that's where he slept before he came to us, and he said yes.  He excitedly tried to tell us something else, but he couldn't find the English words and we didn't understand his (presumably Anuak) words.

Then he asked "we go there tomorrow?"  This stumped us.  Because it sounded like he wanted to go there.  We told him that it was very, very far away and we would not be able to go there tomorrow.  He asked if it was "in there," pointing to the television.  (Remember, "in there" can mean just about anything or anywhere.)  Again, we had no idea how to respond.

Honestly, friends, I was not prepared for our child asking to go back to the orphanage.  He's seen plenty of pictures of our agency's care center in Addis Ababa and has never asked to go back.  Panic filled me.  I mean, I thought we were all doing well here.  Better than "well," I thought we were doing great.  I thought he was happy here.

I swallowed my fear and asked him if he wanted to there, pointing to photo on my laptop of the orphanage.  He said "yes."  But by the way he said "yes" we suspected this was a "yes means no" response.  That he was being the good kid, telling us what he thought we wanted to hear in preparation for going back.  Or maybe he's thought all along that we'd be sending him back at some point.  (I ache through to my soul even thinking that.)

Pointing to the photo of the orphanage, Brad and I explained to him he would never be sleeping there again.  That he was a part of our family now and would never, ever not be a part of our family.  I wanted us to be able to tell him that someday we could go there to visit, but I don't know if that's a promise we can keep.  And I didn't want to try explaining to our son that where he was born--where his birth family still lives--is too dangerous for us.

I'm not sure how much of what we said he understood, in terms of the actual words we used, but he seemed to understand the meaning. 

And he looked relieved.  Bless his little broken heart.

I don't know if this was the best way for us to begin talking to him about his past, but I'm glad the conversation has begun.  We have a few photos given to us by another family, where his birth mother is in the background.  We're not sure exactly when we'll share those with him, but we'll probably wait a little while for his language to improve.  We want to be able to answer his questions, and ask him questions that we have.  Most of all we want to be able to reassure him about the security of his home now, and know that he understands what we're saying.

Because his past is important.  To him, and to us.  It's part of who he is, and so now a part of who we are.

Because we are family.


In other news, Eli gave me a kiss goodnight for the first time that night.  Okay, so it wasn't a real kiss in terms of what you'd think of as a goodnight kiss.  He kissed his hand and then touched my arm with the hand he'd kissed.  And his dad prompted him to do it.

But, friends, to me it was a perfectly beautiful KISS.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Two Months Home -- The Recap

First pony ride.

First pair of cowboy boots.

That he of course wore out of the store.

First snow.

He was unimpressed by this half inch or so of accumulated snowfall, but a few days later he was delighted by some light flurries landing in the palm of his hand.

First trip to REI for cold-weather clothing.  And all he wanted to do was play.  Of course.

Met Grandma and Grandpa for the first time, and went on his first train ride with them.

And he still talks about Grandma and Grandpa almost daily.  Yesterday he asked "Grandpa coming tomorrow?" and I said "no, sweetie."  So he asked "Grandpa coming in five minutes?"

First class field trip, to a pumpkin patch (another first).

After picking his pumpkin, Eli enjoyed running through the pumpkin field.  Just like his mom would've liked to do.  He never tripped on anything, unlike his mom would've.
Hauling his pumpkin
In the maze
Jumping off the tractor tires
Climbing around the spider web with Jane
Feeding the goats.  Guess the field trip to the pumpkin patch should've been its own post.

First school pictures.

St. Vincent de Paul

St. John's.  Yes, he dresses himself.  Why do you ask?
Eli's still sleeping great, a good ten or eleven hours a night if we get him to bed on time.  He still occasionally wakes up cranky, but that seems to be getting better.  Now, more often than not, he's up with a smile on his face first thing in the morning.

He's still sleeping on his bedroll in our room.

Usually with one of his toys.

Yes, that's a John Deere tractor tucked into bed with him.

We tried reading his bedtime story in his room, thinking it might be a good transition to him someday sleeping in his bed, but he refused.  He's just not comfortable in his room yet and we think it's too early to worry about that.  When it comes to feeling safe and secure, we follow his lead.

Eli's obsessed with what people in America eat.  Whenever he sees an animal--in person, in a book, in a movie--he always asks "eat dis" (eat this)?  He's usually appalled when we say yes, and I've begun to wonder if he has the heart and soul of a vegetarian.  (Or maybe a vegequarian--he loves fish and asks for it all the time.)

Generally, he's coming around with his eating.  He's willing to try most things we put in front of him; in fact, he's come to enjoy trying new food.  He doesn't always like what he tries, but we've continued our philosophy of not forcing any food.  We recently observed a perfectly reasonable, seemingly rational woman brought to near-hysteria trying to force her child to eat a strawberry.  It didn't work, was embarrassing to watch (our kids were sitting at the same table, so hard to avoid), and renewed my conviction that we never, ever force food with Eli.

Eli loves to help us cook, which I think has also helped him try new foods.  And he's actually pretty good in the kitchen.  A few nights ago he peeled carrots to put in our pasta, and he ate every carrot that ended up in his bowl.  He left the kale untouched, but my guess is there are few kale-eating four year olds.  Last night he helped Brad make lamb chops with roasted potatoes and carrots for dinner, and he ate everything.

Blurry iPhone action shot of Eli bringing dinner to the table.  Notice the kitchen towel slung over his shoulder, just like his dad in the background.  Same shoulder, even.
Clearer shot of Eli setting down our lamb chop dinner on the table.

He also enjoys grocery shopping and is well behaved in the store.  He used to get kind of grabby in the produce department, but even that has calmed down. I think he's finally understanding that food's not in short supply here and we're going to keep feeding him consistently.

Eli making his selection at the fish counter.

Because Eli loves fish so much, I offered him some canned tuna for lunch the other day.  He pointed to it on his plate and said "mommy, not fish.  Chicken."  I told him that even Jessica Simpson knew what was on his plate was fish, but he was unconvinced.  He finally put a microscopic piece in his mouth to try, but still declared it chicken.  "Mommy, no good."

Favorite foods:  Fish, pasta, bread, french fries, potato chips, onions, brown rice, corn, ice cream, tomato soup, biscuits, pancakes, peanut butter.

New foods he's tried and liked:  Broccoli, pumpkin, candy corn, sugar cookies, lamb chops.

Eli continues to amaze us with his language acquisition.  A friend recently commented that Eli's English is building by the minute, and he's not far off.  Eli's now speaking in full phrases and sentences, although we sometimes have to ask him questions to narrow down exactly what he's trying to say. 

For example:

"dis" (this) is his most generic word.  It's usually what he says when he doesn't know the word or words for what he's trying to say.  "Dis" can begin the most frustrating exchanges (for him and us) because it can mean anything.  And Eli's English has gotten so good that it's hard for him when we don't understand him.

"in nair" (in there) also a generic phrase, which can mean in there, over there, out there, upstairs, downstairs, in the car, on another planet. . . .

"I show you" can mean either he wants to show us something or he wants us to show him something.

"No," which can mean "no" or "yes."  We've learned that, when in doubt, Eli just says no.  Nancy Reagan would love this kid.

"Koy."  No idea what this means, but it's most commonly used as "koy, I show you."

Other times, his meaning is perfectly clear:  "Eli do it!" or "Yo wanna dooooo it!"

He understands pretty much everything we say to him, and other parents have told me how excited their kids are that Eli's speaking up more in class.  One of his classmates invited him to the zoo before school yesterday and her mom told me her daughter was excited to teach Eli the names of the animals.

The Dogs
Not much new to report.  Eli is still pretty wary of Ruby, although he is now sometimes ok with her hanging out with us while we watch movies.  He still gets frightened when an off-leash dog comes running over to us; and this situation may or may not elicit a snotty comment from me when the dog's owner calls out something like "he's friendly!"  Why do people think it's alright to let their dogs run free in the neighborhood when they have zero voice control over them???

On a positive note dog-wise, we ran into Alane and Blondie in the park last Sunday and Eli walked Blondie all the way around the park.

Eli's showing a little interest in soccer again.  He's asked recently to go outside and kick the ball, and my friend Erin told me that while she was running in the park she saw Eli at school kicking a ball around with some of his classmates.  We're not pushing it, but I really hope by springtime he's ready to try playing again.  He's so good at it.

When I came back from my run the other morning, all sweaty and a little out of breath, Eli asked "mommy runner?"  I replied "yes, mommy runner.  And maybe someday Eli will run with mommy."  He considered it for a moment, then said "noooooooo."  But he also had a big grin on his face, so this may be one of those "no means yes" situations.  I hope, anyway.  But, again, not pushing it.

Eli had a great time at Grant's birthday party last weekend, it was really fun to see him roughhousing and running around with Grant and the other boys.  His friendships at school seem to be coming along more slowly.  When I was with him on his school field trip last week I observed that the girls adore him (something Eli doesn't quite appreciate . . . yet), but the boys are more distant.

While Eli and I were waiting for his teacher to open the classroom door at SVdP on Monday--Eli with his nose pressed against the glass, me a bit further back in the crowd--I chatted with a boy from his soccer team.  He asked me why Eli hasn't been coming to soccer anymore and I told him Eli didn't want to play right now but maybe he would want to play again in the spring.  The boy paused to consider that, and then said "good.  Eli's cool."  (What mom doesn't love hearing that??)

This has probably been the area of greatest improvement over the past month, at least from my perspective.  Eli has been allowing a lot more touch from me, even in public.  I make a point to put my hands on his shoulders, rub his back, give him a little caress on the top of his head or the side of his face, as often as he'll allow.  And lately I haven't been shrugged off or elbowed.  But one day I pushed my luck and tried to give him a peck on the cheek and he shrieked "NO!!!!!"

And he's the sweetest kid.  He insists on opening and closing our car doors (any door, actually), and is quick with a "thank you" when we've done something for him.

Last week I volunteered for his class field trip to the pumpkin patch because Brad and I didn't think he'd be comfortable going without one of us.  While happily eating his peanut butter sandwich (Eli style, tearing small sections from the top piece of bread and using it to scoop up the peanut butter filling), he turned to me and said "mommy, thank you."  Out of nowhere and in the sweetest tone.  I don't know whether he was thanking me for making him the sandwich, for being there with him, or for something else, but my heart rang with joy and gratitude that God sent this sweet child to us.  And out of the corner of my eye I saw the jaw drop on the mom across the picnic table.

I take Eli to school every Monday, and now he always waves good-bye to me when the teacher opens the classroom door.  This week I wasn't looking when the teacher opened the door, so he called out "mommy!" to get my attention so he could wave good-bye.

At bedtime, Eli still does not respond when Brad and I say "I love you."  But instead of just being silent, he now mimics our tone and makes silly noises in response.

We're getting there.  On his terms.  Which is fine by us.  

Monday, October 15, 2012

Haunted Gingerbread House

Eli's school had a teacher in-service day on Friday, so he and mommy hung out.  We had a blast.

We started our day at Toys "R" Us, shopping for a birthday gift for his friend Grant.

Eli waiting impatiently for the store to open.  After waiting impatiently at home until it was time to leave to go to the store.  I drove slooooowly and still we made it there before they opened.

Going to Toys "R" Us is always a bit of a challenge; heck, I get overwhelmed in there.  So, before we went, Eli and I talked a lot about what was the purpose of our trip.  We were buying a birthday gift for Grant, but he could also pick one Captain America toy.  (He and Brad had been looking for a Captain America figurine when they were out and couldn't find one, so Eli's been waiting for this particular toy.)

As we stood out front we entertained the other moms with our banter:

Me:  "How many Captain America toys do you get today?"

Eli:  One . . . two! (big grin)

Me:  One.

Eli:  Two.

Me:  Zero!  (big grin)

Eli:  One.  (laughing)

I also tried to distract him by taking photos.  As usual, he was not exactly cooperative.

Marching over in protest of the photos.
So I let him play with the camera.

Number 1 Dork Mom.
Once inside, he did a great job not getting too distracted by the overwhelming amount of toys.  Of course, we found the Captain America figurine first.  And then he picked out a really cool Tonka-type tow truck for his friend.

He doesn't really "get" the concept of a birthday party, this will be the first for him since he's been home with us.  But he adores Grant, so was very happy to pick out a present for him.  As we continued our shopping, he kept pointing to the Captain America figurine and saying "Eli" and then pointing to the tow truck and saying "Grandma" (we're working on the annunciation of Grant).

Then suddenly he switched the two:  Captain America figurine for Grant, tow truck for Eli.


Honestly, Grant would've been none the wiser if we just gave him the Captain America figurine, but this was an important lesson for Eli.  So we stopped in our tracks and talked about how he'd picked that tow truck out for Grant, and he was going to give it to Grant for his birthday.

Eli was not persuaded.  At this point I just needed to get my near-meltdown child out of the land of too many toys, so we made a bee-line for the cash register, I just paid for everything, and we left.

We put everything in the trunk, out of his reach.  And he sulked.

Eli with his best "you are SO UNFAIR" look going

We made another stop on our way home, and by then he'd snapped out of it.  On his own he said to me "Eli, Captain America; Grandma, big makeena (Grant, big car)."


After we got home, we saw Grant outside.  Eli was so excited to show Grant his Captain America figurine and he kept saying to me "Grandma, big makeena" and pointing to the house.  He was anxious to give Grant his present, but the party wasn't until the following day.  Fortunately Grant didn't understand what Eli was saying -- other than, maybe if he knows the meaning of "makeena," that Eli's Grandma drives a big car.

Later Eli, Brad and I made a haunted gingerbread house.  And Eli learned he likes candy corn.  Not the chocolate flavor, of course, and not the pumpkin shaped-candy.

Eli with the Captain America toy

Brad served as the structural engineer and Eli the design consultant.  I was the laborer, making and tinting frosting.

Eli and I bought the kit on sale at Williams-Sonoma (Eli loves W-S, btw).  It was impossible to put together, so we were fortunate to have an engineer on hand.  It's basically held together with a ton of gloppy icing.

Yes, that's Eli hiding behing the haunted house.  I almost got him to pose for a photo with our creation.

Eli still doesn't really "get" the concept of Halloween, but we're working on it.  Trick or treating holds little appeal beacause he's not wild about candy.  Hopefully when he sees all his friends dressed up and excited he'll join in the fun.

He'll be dressed as Captain America.  Of course.