Onward

In my head, I’ve written the letter countless times. When the work became overwhelming or seemed too fruitless, I wrote long-winded explanations. Itemized my irritations. Responded to personal questions that would never be asked. I knew I’d never send this letter. It was all bluster. It would never even make it onto paper.
The real letter is short. It gets straight to the point. It’s grateful for the experience.
It was written today.
We’ve been with our agency for ten years—a decade—and today marks closure. We are certain this is the time to resign. No, we never made as big a difference in the community as we had hoped. Did we actually accomplish anything? Did we entirely waste our youth doing an impossible task? Did we fail?  I am tempted to wonder, because the devil loves to torture.
When I was 18, I gave my life away to Jesus—or rather, in grace he took it from me. I would pursue him to the great rifts of Africa, I thought. But instead he said at long last, “Stay. Serve here.” (Mark 5:19)
So here I stayed and here I served.
To whom do I even address it? I’ve never thought this far into my fake-resignation letter. I’ll check online.
In my imagination, we were sometimes finally calling it quits out of frustration: with the people, with the agency, with the price of gas and midnight phone calls, with the heaviness of tripe sitting uneasily in our stomachs.
Most days, however, are a wonderful cacophony of guttural languages, masses of sticky children, aromatic spices, and tucking my layers of sweaty skirts beneath me as I kneel on a plastic mat to tell stories–The Most Beautiful Story. These days make me want to hang on forever. This I will not give up willingly.
We are quitting for More. Our life has outgrown our 20-hour per week agreement. It doesn’t compartmentalize as well as it once did. We have five children, with another to come soon. A full-time job and full-time homeschooling. Two cats. Two rabbits. Friends to drink coffee with. A church family who has embraced us and our messiness (big, adoptive, cross-cultural-chaos, post-depression-mom, family that we are), but which is not SBC. We use our gifts to serve within this new Body. And we still serve within our people group, teach a few English classes, and train churches to love refugees. We still get to serve our people in the same capacity, even while setting aside the title.
God has restored to us so much of what we had lost when our small group was scattered around the globe. We have found a like-minded Tribe. We are once again known and loved in spite of our brokenness–how heartbreaking it can be when you realize you are not even known, much less loved). If we had only known what God had planned, we would have run toward this change so much faster.
On the other side of the Dark(est) Night of my life, we still find ourselves holding onto the things that matter: loving, gospel-centered relationships with non-believing friends, with our children, with our Father, and with his people.
It’s time. The big, blue box clanks shut, another irretrievable chapter in my story drops beyond reach.
Onward.

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Help Us Adopt Eshetu

God has made it clear to us that there is a missing piece to our family. While we were not actively looking to add to our family, this is the path he has us on.   So we are now announcing our puzzle fundraiser! In honor of our journey to add this extra piece, we have chosen a puzzle of Louisville. For every $20 you donate to our adoption, we will write your name on the back of one puzzle piece. (This means, if you give $100, we will write your name on 5 puzzle pieces. ) This 400-piece puzzle will hang in the boys’ room as a reminder of those who helped us bring him home. We want Eshetu to be able to look at all of the names on the backside of the puzzle and know that he was loved by a great community before he ever even arrived.   In addition to helping us complete the puzzle, for each amount of $20 given we will enter your name once into a drawing to win a brand new iPad Mini (16 MB, Wi-Fi, White/Silver) or a photo session with Dalila of 1986 Photography, www.dalilaof1986.com. (This means, if you give $100, your name will be entered five times to win a prize). We will randomly select winners after the fundraising ends, and other prizes may be added to the mix along the way. If you have already donated toward Eshetu’s adoption, don’t worry, your name will also be added the appropriate number of times to both the puzzle pieces and the giveaway.

If you want to donate, you can give in person or through the mail, or you can do PayPal. This must all happen very quickly because of the short timeline! He could be home within the next month or so. We appreciate your generosity!

Here is the breakdown of what we estimate to be our expenses:

Homestudy: $1250

Agency Fee: $3500 (Grant Received)

Lawyer Fee’s: $2500

Travel, Forms, etc*: $1500

*Please ask if you want to know what etc* incudes.

Here We Go, Again.

Two years ago, our family of four became a family of seven. (Seven!) It was not without difficulties, but it was clear that it was God’s plan for our family. As time has passed, we have found our fit and experienced great joy with our blended family. We praise God for what he has done in our lives!

Five kids is a lot, right? (The answer I am looking for is, “Yes, Miss Hannigan.”) Of course, we’ve learned to function in this world of “more”: more seats at the table, more mouths to feed, more clothes to fold, more passengers in the van, more minds to educate, more birthdays to celebrate, more late-night, heart-changing conversations, more joy. But we’ve never, ever, said, “Hey, you know what we need? We need more kids.”

It shocked us when we learned that God was saying this to us.

It’s been nearly two weeks since we saw Eshetu’s face and knew that he is our son. I can’t fully explain it. I’ve seen plenty of kids who need homes. I’ve read many sad stories. This time, though, was different, so we checked into his story.

Eshetu is a seven-year-old boy, who was adopted from Ethiopia three-and-a-half years ago. For reasons we don’t want to share publicly, his adoptive parents could no longer keep him, so he has been placed for adoption again. (I would like to be clear that given what we know of his story, we have no reason to fear that he will physically or sexually harm our other children.) This will be a domestic adoption, rather than an international one.  We have spent many hours praying about adopting Eshetu and have asked a few people who are part of our lives for wisdom and to be praying, as well. We have come to the conclusion that he is our son and we have to pursue him.  Here are a few things about Eshetu that fit well with our family:

1. He has some food sensitivities. We have learned to cook for various food sensitivities over the past two years, including gluten/wheat, dairy, eggs, yogurt, and black pepper.

2. He has a vision problem. He will need vision therapy just like Abigail went through last Fall. It helped her immensely and it can help him, too. This particular type of therapy requires that an eye doctor be specially trained and certified, and so it is something that is not available in every city. But we are only about 15 minutes from the Louisville office.

3. He would do best being homeschooled. Which we already do.

4. He has anxiety. I do wonder if this could be a reason why I have dealt with anxiety so much over the past two years, so that I could understand and identify with a child who is suffering from it. I get it. I really do. (Mine was related mainly to my thyroid not working properly and food sensitivities. I personally have not had a panic attack since last October and have had a great deal of joy again since we made some major changes in our life back in March.)

So we completed an application. We found a home study agency. And Eshetu could be coming home within one to two months!

We are not naïve. We are being educated. We are bracing ourselves for the difficulties. But imagining the coming difficulties does not mean that we can be disobedient to what God has called us to do. We want to walk in faith and not fear. We are reminded almost daily of our family verse:

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” –Joshua 1:9

We are nervous and excited, but we are not frightened and we are not dismayed.

He is with us.

Racism, Our Story

A mouthy, disobedient, (clearly unarmed), 15-year-old girl was thrown to the ground by her hair and then restrained by an officer who knelt on her back as she lay prostrate in the grass. Apparently, a fight between two women at a pool party in McKinney, Texas had prompted a call to the police. According to accounts, most of the officers present handled the situation calmly and with level-heads. Cpl. Eric Casebolt, unfortunately, seemed to think he was auditioning for an action film as he chased down and intimidated kids, dropping f-bombs, doing barrel rolls, separating out the white kids (who were allowed to go) from the black ones (at whom he waved a gun and handcuffed). Finally, in a grand show of his strength and power, he forcefully threw the aforementioned skinny, bikini-clad, African-American girl to the ground and sat on her.

(Look, I totally get it. As parents of five, we understand that when your kid talks back and refuses to obey, you sometimes have to get a little rough with her, throw her to the ground, point a loaded gun at her. Except we don’t understand, and if we did treat our children [disrespectful and disobedient as they may be, at times] the way that Cpl. Casebolt treated this child, we would be the ones handcuffed.)

But I digress. This isn’t a blog about a pool party in Texas. This is about our experience with racism, trivial as it may be in comparison. I tell these stories because many of you know our daughters. You comment on their sweet attitudes, their faith, and their kindness. You find them endearing. You cannot explain them away because they live in the inner city or belong to a gang or dress immodestly or shoplifted once or have a police record.

One of my earliest memories of people discussing race was when I was in second or third grade. My parents wanted me to take swimming lessons and I recall family members discussing the pros and cons of sending me to the YMCA in the next town over. Our small town was not very diverse, but Nashville was, particularly the area in which the Y was located. “Do you really want her to swim with all those black kids?” someone asked. I remember it clear as a bell to this day. Seeds of racism, planted into a little girl’s heart.

No one in my large, extended family would have ever physically attacked someone of another race, but they might privately have spoken unkindly of them. They would never have suggested re-segregating schools, but they might have relocated to another area in order to avoid a highly-African-American population. They would have hated the institution of slavery or the establishment of Jim Crow laws, but still might scrutinize non-moral aspects of black culture, saying, “We don’t do that.”

Three of our daughters came home from Ethiopia nearly two years ago. While I can’t say how many dirty looks our transracial family has received (because I am totally oblivious to these things—maybe none?), I can recall at least four very clear instances of racism toward our kids.

Three of the instances were in dealing with a woman down the street who has since moved (because she didn’t like “where the neighborhood was headed,” referencing the increase in non-white refugees and immigrants). This woman, and her daughter, who lived with her, would not let her pre-teen granddaughter play with our children. She explained simply, “My daughter is overprotective and doesn’t really let her play with those kinds of kids.” She later went on to tell another neighbor about our two sweet kids in front of my husband. My husband interrupted and explained that we actually have five sweet kids, since we had recently adopted. “But those two,” she continued, undeterred, “they’re really something.”

The fourth incident occurred when our eldest daughter was invited to the birthday party of a friend-of-a-friend, who promptly sent her away after she first accepted the gift our daughter bought for her. My daughter’s friend’s parents later talked to the girl’s parents, and sure enough, the family had a problem with a black girl showing up at their house for the celebration.

This is racism. Singling out the black kids and throwing them to the ground for minor infractions or waving a gun at them is racism. Avoiding people or locations because black people are there is racism. If you agree that all people should have equal right to a water fountain, but then relocate and start a new water fountain so that you and your white friends don’t have to go back there to that water fountain, this is racism. If you take mission trips to third-world countries populated by people of color, but then avoid certain “black” areas of your own city, this is racism.

Tiny, seemingly minor racist actions like avoiding a certain race of people or quietly speaking negatively about them, or seeing them as “less-than” because of their hairstyle or the slang they use to express themselves, breed a culture in which, on one hot summer day in Texas, it seems completely reasonable for a white cop to sort a bunch of kids by color and go all ‘Barney Fife’ on them. But of course, it is not, it’s racism.

Fear (and Overcoming)

Throughout the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments, God reminds his people not to be afraid, but to trust him.  Not unlike how I have to repeatedly tell my children to clear their plates from the table, put their bikes away, or finish their math, God gives this command over and over.  I understand why: life is scary and the past two years of my life have been brimming with fear.

Fear that I would never be a good enough mother, that I’d never learn to cook or clean for seven people, that I’d never enjoy quality time with my husband again, that I was burdening my family with my newly discovered health issues, that I’d never eat a meal without experiencing anxiety over the allergic reaction that might follow, that people thought I was either making up my health issues or that I was straight-up insane, that maybe I was actually going insane, that I was giving in and giving up by accepting antidepressants, that panic attacks and insomnia would forever control me, that I would never recover from depression so dark that it sometimes made me want to quit life altogether.

Fear that all of the friends who knew me were leaving town, discovering that most of those who were left didn’t know me at all and had no intention of doing so, that I might never be known and loved for who I am (or in spite of who I am) again, that I would have to change to be accepted, that my gifts were no longer useful to the Body, that my family would be reduced to nothing more than poster children for adoption (and terrible ones at that, because living out adoption looks a lot less glamorous than those around us expected it to), that I would never be able to spend time with my beloved Somali friends again, that I would never hear the Holy Spirit speak again, that God didn’t want me because I was stuck here while all of my friends were headed overseas to the real work, while I had settled for compromise.

Fear that my kids would never trust Jesus, that I couldn’t parent children of another race or ethnicity well enough, that they were broken beyond repair by life, that they weren’t behaving as expected in public, that they weren’t learning English fast enough, that they weren’t progressing quickly enough as I homeschooled them, that we were suddenly parents of a teenager, that we would forever be late again to everything and that people would make rude comments, because we just couldn’t get it all together fast enough, that our children would resent us forever and write scathing blogs and books about us when they became adults, because sometimes they do.

Fear of speaking up or speaking out. Fear of moving on. Fear (during allergic reactions) that I couldn’t remember a word of Scripture at the moments I needed it most or that I couldn’t think of coherent words when I desperately needed to pray. Fear that everyone I loved would abandon me.  

Fear of judgement.

All-consuming fear.

When we began this journey about three and a half years ago, God gave us this verse:

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9

And we walked through sickness, and adoption, and the loss of nearly our entire group of friends and co-laborers, clinging to this verse.
But along the way, I began to let fear rule. I read blogs to educate me on our undertaking, but instead they made me more fearful that the children we brought into our house would be stolen away from unsuspecting mothers and sold into orphanages, or that they would never attach properly and run away or harm us, or that as adults they’d despise me because I never learned how to properly braid cornrows. People who learned we were adopting three children (for a total of five kids altogether) would make smart remarks about how crazy we must be to take on such a responsibility. As though we hadn’t already considered the responsibilities, the work, the cost of bicycles and braces and college, the emotional needs of four daughters. But I had already accepted (somewhat giddily) the fact that this was what God wanted! He had chosen us for this! We only needed to obey. Walk. One foot in front of the other. No looking to the right or the left.  

But as I walked, I glanced to the right and felt lonely, incapable, and unworthy. I peered to the left and felt alone, abandoned, and afraid. I was terrified when I realized that God was marching us through something so big, that there was no return. I would literally never be the same again. Not only was the size of our family, van, and grocery budget different, I had been completely altered and I was unrecognizable to myself.

At some point, after things began to calm down, I stopped walking and tried to settle back into the same life I had once loved, but that proved impossible, because I am no longer the same person I was. God may as well have changed my name from Sarai to Sarah. Or physically altered my body with the slice of a blade. Or made me a citizen of a brand new city.  

I tried to settle back on my old plot of land when God wanted me to keep walking.  I hadn’t reached my destination just yet. He still wants me.  He still has plans for my life.  He has not revoked my gifts and left me useless to the Body. He doesn’t want me to alter the person he has made me to be, just for the sake of “fitting in.”  This is not middle school.  This is the Kingdom–his Kingdom–and in the Kingdom, everyone is wanted, everyone is needed.  I am wanted.

So, here I am: fear behind, eyes fixed ahead, in strength and courage, I walk.

Friendship: For Elizabeth

This past year has been a long, tired sigh. The result of the baited breath and frenzied pace we kept until the girls were officially ours. There is something in today that feels like the conclusion of that final exhale of air.

Today, I said goodbye to my best friend. She’s not dead, only moving. And she’s not the first who has gone over these long, over-emotional months. But she is the most difficult goodbye. We’ve been friends for the better part of a decade, growing as mothers and wives and ministers of the gospel over that time, while our lives were centered in this city, only a few blocks from one another.

Over the course of these years, we have compared and contrasted parenting approaches, cloth diapers, homeschooling curriculum, and nutritional plans, and despite often falling on opposite ends of the spectrum (I emphatically will not co-sleep [again] or mill my own grain, I will not!), we have never waged a single “mommy-war” against one another’s choices. We’ve also purchased and delivered more Little Caesars ‘Hot n’ Ready’ pizzas than anyone should ingest.

We have co-hosted prayer nights, Bible story groups, denominational outreaches, community groups, high-maintenance internationals, and princess-themed birthday parties.

We have attended countless conferences together, taking turns watching our infants and toddlers in a back room, and more recently, sneaking out during breaks to distribute snacks and restart their Netflix-binge.

We have ugly-cried together as we lobbed up prayers for the individuals, people groups, and nations that we love, but whose hearts seem just so hard. We have written strategy papers, and prayer requests, and presented together at churches (on one occasion, while our husbands were taking care of an emergency car repair, she was imminently due with her third, and her daughter had worn no shoes).

Her husband has been my husband’s friend, coworker, small group leader, church elder, seminary grader, and professor. Her children have been my children’s longest friendships in this city where they have no cousins.

Our families have snapped photos together beside the Superman statue in Metropolis, Illinois, and distributed backpacks filled with school supplies to inner-city African refugees.  We tried to make our own butter once–it was disastrous.

They helped us tame the disorganization of our house before our adoption home study. We have borrowed their truck from others who borrowed their truck, because they so freely loaned out their truck to anyone who needed to move their junk from one location to another. We have shared textbooks and bassinets, cardigans and headscarves, crock-pots and waffle-makers. Then, we helped them, if only slightly, to pack up their house to leave . . .

We both knew this day would come, and I think we both expected it would be a lot sooner than it was.  We hope and pray for all the good things that we know will come from their move, and that they will joyfully embrace all that is new and exciting in this adventure, but I’m not going to lie: my heart is breaking. In a couple of days, this city will seem a bit emptier, a little lonelier.

So, I can only conclude with this: Thank you, Elizabeth, for your friendship. Thank you for serving beside me and interceding for me; for loving my children and my people; for being honest with your struggles and constant in your faith; for disjointed phone conversations in which neither of us can hear the other for all of the racket our kids are making in the background. I truly love you, friend.

10 Items We Were Glad We Had During Our First Year Home

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.

Celebrating One Year since our adoption was official with friends on May 17, 2014.

Celebrating our first ‘Gotcha Day’–one year since our adoption was official–with friends on May 17, 2014.

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).

Daddy-Daughter Date Nights seemed weird to everyone at first, but they turned out to be a success.

Daddy-Daughter Date Nights seemed weird to everyone at first, but they turned out to be a success.

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.

Amazing friends treated us to a couple nights at Great Wolf Lodge.  This trip  marked a turning point in our family relationships.

Amazing friends treated us to a couple nights at Great Wolf Lodge. This trip marked a turning point in our family relationships.

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.

I took these pictures this very morning at breakfast.  We may be taking this color-coding thing to a whole new level.

I took these pictures this very morning at breakfast. We may be taking this color-coding thing to a whole new level.

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.

All this organization makes me really, really happy.

All this organization makes me really, really happy.

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.

Sibling bonding is serious business.

Sibling bonding is serious business.

6. Bikes

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.

Sharing is good, right?

Sharing is good, right?

7. Games

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.

These kids are always making Trouble.

These kids are always making Trouble.

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.

Instead of spending a lot on picture frames, I bought blank wood plaques, scrapbook paper, and Mod Podge so I could fill up the wall with family photos fast.

Instead of spending a lot on picture frames, I bought blank wood plaques, scrapbook paper, and Mod Podge so I could fill up the wall with family photos fast and inexpensively.

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.

family in addis

 

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
  • Legos
  • 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)

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The Kids’ Mother’s Day Survey 2014

This Mother’s Day is especially poignant for me, since it was only last Mother’s Day that we boarded a plane to Ethiopia in order to meet our girls and appear in court to officially adopt them. We’ve all been roomies for a little over ten months now, which is just long enough for them to have formed some interesting opinions of their mom. This is good, because when DA asked me what I wanted for Mother’s Day, I said simply, “To laugh. A lot.” He’s a good husband. I got what I requested.

The kids were interviewed separately. Some of these answers are surprisingly accurate, some are ridiculously false, and there are several that I wish were more true—but somehow, by God’s grace, my kids seem to have discerned my intentions, despite my failure in sometimes following through. They actually said much more than I included here, and it was all very kind. Many answers were of a more personal nature, though, so I’m mostly only posting the funniest responses. I think this (abridged) Q&A was the perfect gift, as well as a humorous family update.

1. What is something Mom always says to you?

  • “That she loves me.  That I’m precious.” –Lydia, 12-ish
  • “I love you, you are my precious baby.” –Abigail, 7
  • “Me, I love you.” –Ruby, 7-ish
  • “I love you.  Go to bed.” –Isaiah, 5

2. What makes Mom happy?

  • “When we help clean up the house.” –Lydia, 12-ish
  • “Us” Abigail, 7
  • “Cuddling and hugging her” –Isaiah, 5

3.  What makes Mom laugh?

  • “Jokes and our accents.” –Lydia, 12-ish
  • “When we do funny stuff.” –Abigail, 7
  • “If we say funny stuff.” –Ruby, 7-ish
  • “When we tickle her.” –Zoey, 5-ish

4.  How old is Mom?

  • “33 or 32” –Lydia, 12-ish [winner, for accuracy]
  • “23” –Abigail, 7 [winner, for thoughtfulness]
  • “13” –Ruby, 7-ish
  • “12” –Zoey, 5-ish
  • “43” –Isaiah, 5 [no dessert tonight]

5.  How tall is Mom?      

  • “6 feet” –Lydia, 12-ish
  • “10 feet” –Abigail, 7
  • “14 feet” –Ruby, 7-ish
  • “Big.” –Zoey, 5-ish
  • “A little bit littler than Dad.” –Isaiah, 5

6.  What is Mom’s favorite thing to do?

  • “Talking to Dad” –Lydia, 12-ish
  • “Cuddling and getting stuff done” –Abigail, 7
  • “She wants to go have coffee and alone time.” –Ruby, 7-ish
  • “Eating with us at the table” –Zoey, 5-ish
  • “Play with me and tickle me” –Isaiah, 5

7. What does Mom do when you are not around?

  • “She has quiet time and watches a movie or TV.  She prays.” –Lydia, 12-ish
  • “Clean up” –Abigail, 7
  • “She cleans.” –Ruby, 7-ish
  • “Nothing. I can’t see her when I’m not here.  Pray maybe?” –Zoey, 5-ish

8.  What is Mom really good at?

  • “Telling people about Jesus or helping them.” –Lydia, 12-ish
  • “Painting.” –Abigail, 7
  • “She cooks really good.  She cleans really good.” –Ruby, 7-ish
  • “She is good at making food and making clean.” –Zoey, 5-ish
  • “Cooking and making cakes.” –Isaiah, 5

9.  What is Mom not that good at?

  • “Transforming Transformers.” –Isaiah, 5  [This is the absolute truth.]

10.  Where is Mom’s favorite place to go?

  • “Djibouti.” –Abigail, 7
  • “France.” –Ruby, 7-ish
  • “She likes Dinosaur World like me.” –Isaiah, 5

 11.  What makes you proud of Mom?

  • “I’m proud that she loves and cares about me. She doesn’t want me to get hit by a car. She always says, ‘Wear a helmet!’” –Lydia, 12-ish
  • “When she cleaned up the basement and changed [rearranged] the living room.” –Ruby, 7-ish

12.  What cartoon character should Mom be?

  • “Batman or Spider Man, because I like them” –Lydia, 12-ish
  • “Maybe a Mom character?” –Abigail, 7
  • “Twilight or Rainbow Dash or Girl Spider-Man” –Zoey, 5-ish

13.  What do you and Mom do together?

  • “She tells me about the Bible.  Sometimes we clean and cook together.” –Lydia, 12-ish
  • “Cuddle and paint” –Abigail, 7
  • “She helps me with school.” –Ruby, 7-ish
  • “Pray for each other, talk about what we like, and what to eat” –Zoey, 5-ish
  • “Sometimes she lets me help cook.” –Isaiah, 5

14.  How are you and Mom the same?

  • “Maybe the way we get angry?  We also have brown eyes.” –Lydia, 12-ish

15.  How are you and Mom different?

  • “God make me brown and make Mom white.” –Zoey, 5-ish
  • “She is not a boy.” –Isaiah, 5

16.  How do you know Mom loves you?

  • “Because she always tells me” –Lydia, 12-ish
  • “Cuddles me when I’m hurt” –Abigail, 7
  • “Because she feeds me and buys us clothes.  If we do bad things, she forgives us.” –Ruby, 7-ish
  • “She tells me when it is sleep time.” –Zoey, 5-ish
  • “Because I am her son.” –Isaiah, 5

It is a blessing to see such fruit coming out of the sometimes-painful growth our family has endured over these past months. It is an honor to know that while I am hiding out by the washing machine, contemplating whether or not I have the requisite time and skill to tunnel out through the dryer exhaust vent, these are the five kids who will be tirelessly bellowing out, “MOM!” from two floors above.

me and kids md

Homeschooling: Our First School Year

 

We never do school like this, but doesn't it seem idyllic?

We never do school like this, but doesn’t it seem idyllic?  (When this photo was taken last fall, most of the people staring intently at books here couldn’t even read English.)

One of the most pressing questions I have received from parents who are soon to bring their school-aged, internationally adopted children home is, “What should I do about school?” I’ve asked it, and since our girls came home nine months ago, I’ve seen other moms reiterate the same concerns I had. In fact, it was around this time last year that I was covering all my bases, calling around to local schools and reading every blog that even looked vaguely like a homeschool curriculum review.

My husband and I have always cared deeply about education. He is a sixth grade social studies teacher in a public school, and years ago, I was employed as an English as a Second Language teacher in a local public school system. I worked one-on-one with kids in all grade levels (elementary through high school)—talk about preparation. Before our [new] kids came home, we already had a four-year-old son and a six-year-old daughter, and I had a year of homeschool kindergarten under my belt–child’s play.  Our new daughters were three, six, and eight—on paper. Over the course of the past year, we have learned that probably none of those ages is correct. Nine months later, we feel fairly confident that we have two kindergarteners, a first grader, a second grader, and a sixth grader—I feel a panic attack coming on.

Our first full school year is nearing its end (in about a month).  Basically, I am writing this to describe what we have done educationally over the past nine months, as I am often asked.  We have succeeded at some things and failed at others.  We have switched curriculum mid-year and struggled to find satisfactory replacements.  Also, since every child is different, I’m certainly not prescribing our methods, but I do hope to put some of you waiting moms at ease, give a few ideas, and provide some hope if your child is not anywhere near the grade level he should be in when you begin.

Schooling Method: Public, private, or homeschool? This is often a pressing question when adopting an older child, and many people on the outside of your situation have firmly held opinions on what you should do. Private school was out of the question for our family because of the expense, so our options were really limited to public school or homeschooling. In our research, we found that the schools in our area of the city do not have stellar reputations (or test scores), particularly those intended for ESL students. We further learned that if our kids went with my husband to his school system in the next county, we would be required to pay a monthly fee for each child. Since the new kids landed in the US just three days before school began, we, along with input from our social worker, decided that homeschooling, though it would be difficult (and it really is), would provide ample time for bonding and would allow us to move at whatever speed was necessary for our specific children. In the long run, we may eventually move to public schooling once our kids are caught up to grade level, but we are allowing a transition period of a couple of years for that to happen.

The First Days of School: During the first few months home, I made a schedule and tried to follow it, more to get myself used to the routine than for any other reason. After lunch, I would often put the youngest two down for a nap and I would watch TV with the older three, two of whom were still speaking very little English (at that point, I could not leave their sight for more than five minutes, and even a trip alone to the bathroom was pushing it). Later in the evening, we would watch more as a family (particularly during the winter when we were all stuck inside—there’s a lot less of that happening now). We didn’t previously consume a lot of TV around here, but it can be helpful in learning English, especially when it comes to pronunciation and accents. Once I’d [mostly] weaned the new girls off their steady diet of tween-age Disney yuck they’d been consuming overseas, we watched a lot of Gilmore Girls, The Cosby Show, Quantum Leap, Anne of Green Gables, The Chronicles of Narnia series, and two movies I highly recommend about the civil rights movement in America, Selma, Lord, Selma, and Ruby Bridges Goes to School.

Co-op: We were a one-car family until recently, so there was not much that we could escape the house and go do in those early days home. A few friends organized a small, weekly co-op just down the street. We met every Wednesday for about eight weeks and all of our kids (mostly preschoolers up to age six, with the exception of our then eleven-year-old), learned art, music, worm science, brief history/geography lessons based upon well-known missionaries, and they participated in an obstacle course. After the three hours of study, we all ate lunch together and then headed home. The capstone project of the co-op was making a worm bin to use this spring in a garden. Our fatted worms are still eating our trash and are otherwise “hanging out” in their Rubbermaid tote next to the washing machine in the basement. This co-op provided such a great relief in those first few months as a family. It was wonderful to have something outside of the pressure-cooker of the house to plan for, to enjoy adult conversation for a few hours, and to know that my kids were gaining educational knowledge that I was not yet able to provide due to the exhaustive work of settling in as a family.

Subjects Covered:  We have chosen to focus mainly on math, English, and art during this first school year. (We have also studied Bible stories extensively, as part of our family devotions). Any science or social studies have been extra—science projects as a family on the weekend, watching an episode of Mythbusters or Travel the Road (both on Netflix), a brief explanation of how our government works around the dinner table, etc.

Bible:  Most days begin with a short devotional from Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing, by Sally Lloyd-Jones, and the older kids reading a passage from Psalms for Young Children. My husband has alternated in our devotions before bed between reading from The Jesus Storybook Bible, drilling catechism questions, telling Bible stories or using prepared story sets from Training for Oral Trainers, and just sending overtired and angsty kids straight to bed, because dang, we’re tired people.

Math:  Our chosen math curriculum is Math-u-See, as much for my ease as for the kids’. Our eldest tested at the Beta level when she arrived and is now only days away from entering the Delta book (that’s two books worth of progress in nine months). The others are roughly where they should be, (two children are in different places in Alpha, and two are at different places in Primer).

English:  We have used a more scattershot approach to English. When we first arrived home, we tried Rosetta Stone for our sixth-grader and our second-grader. While it worked for a while, after the third disk (of five), our eldest knew enough English to be bored out of her mind. Plus, at that point the text of the lessons discussed topics like the Euro and life skills such as how to purchase train tickets. Sometimes it would use maps and ask questions that were hindered not by her comprehension of English, but by her insufficient knowledge of geography. Also, there was some kind of glitch with our disks that would sometimes keep the main screen from recording her progress and marking a finished lesson. We now use old English textbooks (not Olde English, but rather those acquired at yard sales and thrift shops) and a Language Fundamentals workbook to study grammar, and she has an e-mail account which has given her more practice with written communication to family (and helps me to see where her spelling and grammar problems are).

Our seven-year-old daughter never did quite get the hang of Rosetta Stone, so I bought an account for her on the online Explode the Code program already in use by our other seven-year-old. It took a little while, but she eventually caught on and has moved quickly through it. Additionally, their time on the computer frees me up to work with the other kids. The kindergarteners have begun the Get Ready for the Code workbooks.

Art:  As for art, I wanted our kids to have something regular in their education that transcended language and gave them a means to express themselves. As of yet, none of our kids is a particularly gifted artist, but since January, they all have enjoyed spending nearly every other Tuesday around our table with Mrs. Rebekah, a former-art-teacher friend who volunteered to teach them. Over the past four months, they have painted self-portraits, stamped with sponges, and learned about shading and perspective.

This is Yay's self-portrait, entitled, "Isaiah as a Lion."

This is Yay’s self-portrait, entitled, “Isaiah as a Lion.”

Plans for the Summer: I’m not a huge fan of year-round schooling, but because our kids are still catching up, we will continue to make ground in math and perhaps begin a spelling curriculum during the summer months. We will probably also work on committing facts to memory, such as states and capitols, names of planets, important addresses and phone numbers, etc.—basic information that most of the American population takes for granted.   We’ll also have increased opportunity for travel and more visits to places like the zoo, the farm, and the local science center.

Challenges: We’ve had to overcome several unforeseen educational challenges around here. Here are a few and how we’ve met them, although there’s no promise that our solutions will work for your individual child.

1. It became clear back in September that one of our children was truly struggling with reading. After an eye exam, it was determined that the issue was a vision problem that has required vision therapy in order for her to progress. We are still fine-tuning what that means for our homeschool plan and seeking out curriculum that meets her specific needs.

2. One of our daughters dug in her feet during the first few months home and made so little progress that I was constantly stressed out teaching her. For whatever reason, she was simply not motivated to learn. I can’t say that this would work with all children, but friendly competition with her siblings spurred her along and since Christmas she has made great gains, sometimes completing multiple lessons in a single day, proving that the issue was never her intelligence or ability.

3. Another of our daughters has a very driven personality and she wanted to know everything there was to know now. I felt a lot of pressure as I tried to hold her back and teach in bite-sized pieces, as much for myself as for her. Just because she wanted to study pre-algebra like her public school friends did not mean we should just skip over multiplication tables—that would be a recipe for certain disaster. Part of the problem, I learned, was that she did not feel like she was making adequate progress. So, I came up with a system of badges (small paper squares) that visually symbolize each completed book. Suddenly, she could see all that was behind her and it didn’t seem so small, after all. Friendships with other homeschoolers who are at various levels have helped her feel more secure in this area, as well.

Our schoolwork in clear pockets and badges that have been earned.

Our schoolwork in clear pockets and badges that have been earned.

4. Homeschool curriculum can be expensive, and we knew that we could not afford every child to have his or her very own $30 consumable workbook, so we invested in clear plastic ticket holders and I deconstructed the workbooks. Since each kid is on a different chapter in math, she finds her current chapter hanging on the wall in a ticket holder, and can first watch the DVD and then complete her work with a dry-erase marker. I do have to grade each child’s work daily, but it works out well for our budget, since I only have to purchase one new math book at a time.

5. I’m terrible at record keeping. I really like A Record of the Learning Lifestyle from the Notgrass Company, because it has plenty of room for educational activities that do not easily fit into more conventional subject areas. For example, our daughter has been helping out weekly with a local ministry that teaches crafting and business skills to refugees, which I count as school, but it is certainly not a traditional class that fits under a normal heading. I also like that it is a written record, rather than typed, so that I can fill in information anywhere—at a meeting, in the car, in a waiting room.

Finally, I just want to encourage you, if you have chosen to homeschool your newly-adopted older child, that they will learn English. They will eventually know their home address. If given enough time, they will catch up to their peers. It’s a process and it does not happen overnight and those on the outside will often put pressure on you to perform. There is already too much undue pressure when you arrive home, (to look like everyone under your roof has it all together, to appear to others that your family is gelling the way they all always dreamed it should be), so don’t lose heart (like I have at times). There is no surefire program or curriculum that fits every child’s needs, and your child is going to be working through issues much deeper and more important to their mental well being than the correct sounds of dipthongs, anyway.

Trial and error will be the norm and your day will not look anything like all the homeschool mom blogs out there—not nearly as well-planned, as professional, or as stinking adorable. You might start your day at eleven o’clock while still in pajama pants and, if you’re lucky, you may get a shower while Steve Demme (of Math-u-See) spends quality time with your child via DVD. You will break up kindergartner’s fights over the iPad while the Unicorns (they prefer this to the term “middle kids”) figure out a loophole on the online Explode the Code, that allows them cheat their way into the next book before you even realize it’s a thing. It’s OK. Chase the Littles outside and reset the Unicorns back to their rightful place. Locate the Big and make her put the lanyard with the multiplication table flashcards attached, back around her neck, because you are well aware that she keeps “losing” it around the house on purpose. If you are a parent who chooses to send your children to public or private school, great, you will have benefits and challenges all your own. But if you choose to homeschool, don’t give up. At the end of the year, you will be able to look back and see just how far you’ve come.

Is it too much of a stretch to call this PE?

Is it too much of a stretch to call this PE?

Nine Months Home

I want to write about all of the up’s and down’s of the past nine months since our family became complete—the triumphs of the hard-fought battles of bonding, the pits of the exhaustion and loneliness, the struggles of searching for and reclaiming my own identity again, the ridiculousness of what the whole ordeal must look like to the outside world.

I want to write about the joy-drenched labor of leading a daughter through her first steps as a new believer, crawling, falling, running after her Savior, sometimes inadvertently pushed down by Mom, because Mom still falls, too.

I want to write about the anxiety I’ve felt in the darkness of it all, in the long, excruciating silence of waiting for God to speak again. Hungering and thirsting after Him, until, without the opportunity for Bread and Water, I had eventually all but given up hope.

I want to write about the desperate desire for someone to speak true, kind words when my soul feels like it is dying and I can’t find space alone in my house to find space for the Word. Not the pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps advice that stabs a dying man in the heart, but words infused with the gospel and hope and perhaps even a compliment or two about how my children are probably not all going to end up in prison or therapy and graduate high school with a third-grade education, because I am a good Mom, and I am a Mom who is trying, and because failing all this (and fail it will), there is yet grace.  These really are the thoughts that pummel my waning confidence every, single, day.

I want to write about how most days it feels as though life is finally, finally, leveling out and that the much-too-fragile emotions of individuals are now beginning to withstand the daily strain of close relationship. I want to believe that this is natural as roots dig deeply into the fertile soil of family.

I want to write when I have the time and the clarity of thought and the moments alone, but it is rare that all of those things coincide.

And I’m just not sure I can find the words . . .