On May 17th we celebrated our first official ‘Gotcha Day’ with our daughters! This year has been something we never could have completely planned for, but since I know there are prospective adoptive families scouring blogs for first-year tips and hints, I thought I would post a few of the items we were glad that we didn’t have to live without during this year with our “older” kids.
1. Paper Plates
My mother-in-law came to town a few days before we traveled to pick up our daughters and brought with her a stack of paper plates large enough to last us at least two months. This easily freed us up from one of our regular chores, at least until we recovered from jet lag and developed a dishwashing system. (Turns out, at the time, we didn’t have enough plates for our newly-formed family of seven to eat even two consecutive meals without first washing).
2. Gift Cards for Shopping and Meals
Shortly before the girls came home, our church gave us a storage-container-and-gift-card shower. After they were here, we incurred all kinds of unexpected expenses and it was a blessing to have a pile of gift cards we could use to order pizza, shop for groceries (we had no idea what a realistic budget for a family of voracious locusts seven was at that point!), pay for one of our many doctor’s visits, or help purchase home school materials (Visa gift cards and cash helped our here). We asked family for restaurant gift cards for each child as Christmas gifts, so each of our girls could go out to a special dinner alone with Dad. A monetary gift from our friend Kristen’s family allowed for us to go to an amusement park together. My husband’s coworker Michelle, thoughfully gave each child (including the bio’s) a gift card to the Build-a-Bear store, which was a fun family experience. Later in the year, my friend’s Lindsey and Mandie and their husbands treated us to a much-needed overnight getaway with their families.
3. Color-Coded Items
This is fairly straightforward: each kid has an assigned color and we’ve slapped corresponding duct tape on everything that couldn’t be bought in that color in the first place. Coat racks, suitcases, storage bins. Everything. We also purchased cheap plastic cups in their designated colors, as well as dinner plates, lunch trays, bath loofahs, water bottles, etc. It has simplified life so much! There aren’t arguments over which item belongs to whom, we no longer dirty a hundred clean cups a day, and if I see that a plate hasn’t been cleared from the table, I know exactly who to call to clean it up.
4. Storage Containers
We have invested in a plethora of storage containers. Of these, there are three specific uses that have come in particularly handy (beyond the usual toy, clothing, or food storage). First, each child has an under-the-bed box with a lid bearing her name on her color of duct tape. This box holds “special” papers, toys, gifts, keepsakes, etc, that they’ve collected over time. I don’t always understand why a particular item goes in the box, but I know that it is there because it is somehow special to its owner and that it is now off-limits to the other kids. Second, we bought stacking shoe bins for each child that keep all of their shoes together in one place. Third, we found small plastic hampers with wheels for each child, and assigned each one his or her own laundry day.
5. MP3 Players
Music has proven to be essential to our kids well-being—especially our 12-year-old. We brought a few CD’s full of Amharic worship music back with us, and in those early days, she would often plug in her headphones and head onto the porch where she’d belt them out for all the neighborhood to hear. As her English increased, we added songs from our playlists to her iPod and before long, she knew most of the songs we sing on Sunday mornings, as well as every, single lyric from the High School Musicals. You win some, you lose some.
I had secretly hoped to acquire bikes for our kids before they came home. I didn’t know how it was going to happen; we were adoption poor. And then suddenly, they just started pouring in (or wheeling down our driveway), without me ever mentioning it to anyone outside of our home. First, our neighbors across the street who were moving offered us their son and daughter’s old bikes. Next, our Cuban neighbors, brought us another girls’ bike (at the time, they had no idea that our family was growing). Then, a woman from our home church sent up a fourth, and our friend Jessica dropped by with a fifth, large enough for our eldest. Within a matter of weeks, God had provided a fleet of bikes, which received maximum use until the weather finally got too cold. The kids loved the challenge of learning to ride as well as the sense of freedom. Now that we have nice weather and they’ve begun riding again, I’m enjoying the moments of free time these bikes provide.
Uno, Dominos, Memory, Jenga, Trouble, Twister—basically, any game that requires very little English. The only caveat is that our kids previously learned some of these games in Ethiopia with rules of their own making, and trying to explain the “reverse” card to a four-year-old who barely understands a word you say can be a bit wearisome, so there’s that.
8. Art Supplies/Legos
Art supplies and Legos place at a tie on this list because they both accomplish the same goal: keeping my indoor children quietly occupied over the longest winter that ever was. The fact that they promote creative play is all bonus. (Thank you, Nana.)
9. Photo Frames
I’m not sure how they kids felt about it, but it made me feel a lot better when I could look at our walls and see photos of the whole family. In retrospect, I waited too long to do this, mainly because, at first, life was so chaotic that ordering prints seemed like the kind of frivolous thing that someone with actual free time does. If I could go back, I would have placed this nearer to the top of my list, and I would have created as many of these visual reminders as possible from the very beginning.
10. Year-in-Review Book
When our bio kids were born, we made beautiful photo books celebrating their birth stories. They sit on a shelf in our living room and from time to time they like to pull them down and look at them and ask questions like, “Who is that person?”, “Why is Daddy crying?”, and “Where are my clothes?”. Our new daughters obviously don’t have fancy baby books, and while I eventually plan to make life books for them, it takes time to pull the story and photos together for such an endeavor. The thing that has filled the gap for us is our Year-in-Review book that we make each year as a Christmas gift for the grandmas. One night, I watched as Abby and Isaiah both thumbed through their books on the couch. Zoey was sandwiched between them, inquiring about naked-baby photos when, suddenly, she stood up and took down the 2013 book, turned to middle (where she first appears) and began proudly retelling her story—the one about the time when Mom and Dad came to meet her in Ethiopia. Potential problem averted.
This is by no means a complete list, and perhaps I’ve left off something another family would consider imperative. I’d love to hear, in the comments section, what your your family could not have lived without during your first year home.
If you have a friend who is adopting an older child and you are trying to decide on a gift, consider these ideas:
- Bikes, Skates, Helmets, Balls, or Other Outdoor Toys
- Simple Board or Card Games
- Art Supplies
- Photo Frames, Albums, Journals, or Scrapbooks
- Cash or Gift Cards for Grocery Stores, Department Stores, Pizza, Restaurants, i Tunes, Amazon, Visa, Shutterfly (or another photo site)