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.

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 . . .

One Month Home: Highs and Lows

We’ve been a family of seven for just over a month, now, and I thought I’d post a new list of the highs and lows.

Highs and Lows:

High:   Those in our community who have brought us (or had us over for) dinner, and those who have picked things up for us at the grocery store.  A couple of really awesome friends have come over to watch movies with the kids while I organize elsewhere in the house, or have invited me out alone to keep me from becoming (more) socially awkward.

Mostly High:  The girls’ command of the English language is improving.  Their command of commands is also improving.  Specifically, phrases such as, “Mom, I am hungry.  Eat now,” and “Hisaiah, stop!”

High:  Lydia has learned to ride her bike.

Low:  The girls’ first doctor’s appointments, including vaccinations and blood draws.  We were in one office or another from 1:30 until 5 pm one afternoon.

Low:  We have had to replace the upstairs bathroom sink and had to have our air conditioner repaired yesterday, making for some interesting (though small) hurdles.

Image

High:  We are watching God work in our eldest daughter’s heart.  I enjoy getting to teach brief theology lessons each morning to the three big girls, who sometimes teach the lesson to Daddy later in the day.  Or sometimes get bored during my lectures.

Low:  I really want a date with my husband.  No, just a conversation.  No, one complete, coherent sentence with an appropriate, thought-out response at the end.

High:  We had some really good family photos taken by our talented friend Tammy Stayton.   Tammy is the only person in the whole entire world who can get a good photo of me actually looking at the camera, and not looking like a buck-toothed, crooked-nosed, one-eyed chicken.  Feel free to quote any part of that review for your website, Tammy.  If that doesn’t get you business, I don’t know what will . . .

Low:  The head lice aftermath.  The head-shavings that followed.  The weeping and teeth-gnashing.

Low:  Materialism.  Technology.  Discontent.

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High:  Family devotion time at night which now includes an array of drums and a borrowed guitar that’s short a string.  Lest you think that’s metaphorical, I assure you it needs a new string.  No one in the house currently knows how to even play a guitar, but we have a few rock band hopefuls.  Right now, DA mans this guitar by randomly strumming it throughout whatever song we’re singing.  It’s humorous that the younger kids believe he actually knows what he’s doing.  They think he is simply amazing.   I think we’re Von Trapp family rejects.

Low:  Exactly one hundred Facebook acquaintances have invited me to get addicted to play some kind of Facebook game about candy.  I continue to ignore those requests.  And a bunch of e-mails.  And my voicemail box is full.  And I managed to eat two pieces of toast before 7 pm today.

Low:  The stress of trying to remember what grace for ones own self feels like.  First, I feel guilty for not getting something done/doing it quickly enough/doing it often enough.  Next, I am reminded that I should be having grace toward myself.  Then, I feel guilty for feeling guilty.  Repeat.  It’s a vicious cycle.

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High:  Knowing that it is God who has called us here, and that our hope remains in Jesus alone, regardless of what the day holds.

 

Two Weeks Home: Highs and Lows

family photo coming homeWe have now officially been a family of seven (in the same house) for two weeks!  There’s nothing particularly special about two weeks, except that I only just now seem to have the time to sit down and write something—anything—longer than my own name as I sign for pizza.

In true Family Group style, here are some highs and lows of the past two weeks:

Highs:

  • Lydia, Ruby, and Zoey seem to have adjusted well to family life here so far.  They are very sweet and joyful girls.  Along with Abigail and Isaiah, they are each trying to find their places.  All five of the kids seem to genuinely love one another.  Upon first meeting at the airport, Abby and Ruby made a beeline for each other, and Isaiah and Zoey became instant friends, as well.
  • Nothing—NOTHING—has been as bad as I’d been afraid it might be.  Right after we’d accepted our referral, I began preparing myself for the girls’ homecoming by reading blog posts, books, and talking to other adoptive parents about their struggles.  At least at the moment, we don’t seem to be facing any of the most frightening scenarios I’d tried to prepare myself for.  Our situation is entirely different, and probably will be in the future.  If I could go back, I would tell myself not to read anything other than biographies of missionaries who served a hundred years ago, because what we’ve done as a family is more like Judson or Taylor setting sail on a ship with all their earthly possessions packed in a coffin than anything else I’ve ever done.  We’re going to do this thing—by God’s grace—or die trying.
  • We sing more.  A lot more.  Although we have always enjoyed music, we’ve never been an especially musically talented family.  But it seems like someone is always singing something these days, sometimes accompanied by an African drum.  This is really fun when we have our devotion time before bed.  (I’ve also been singing “Lord, I Need You” and “Oh, How I Need You” on automatic replay in my head.)
  • We had previously decided to lock down and go nowhere for the first few weeks home, but that has not been realistic.  In fact, one week after we arrived home, the girls wanted to know if we were going to church.  Since they hadn’t read all of the books, they didn’t understand the adoption philosophy behind staying put.  We finally decided to go and come home early if necessary.  We’ve now been twice, as well as to dinner at an Ethiopian restaurant, the park, to DA’s school to set up his classroom, and to the seminary to swim.
  • We pray together often–and for positive reasons.
  • Not one single person has run down the road away from us, naked.

Lows:

  • All of the kid’s have their little arguments and complaints.  Someone is always calling for “Mom,” with all the urgency of a severe head trauma, but the reality is usually only as serious as someone not sharing.  Sometimes tears are used to [attempt to] manipulate the situation.  But, baby, I wasn’t born yesterday and I mothered a kid through 10 months of colic.  Crocodile tears are cake.
  • There is no universal naptime anymore.  My introvert time is limited.  This is in no way scientific, but I’m pretty sure I’ve had time to respond to about one e-mail or phone call for every five I’ve received.  Just today, I noticed that I’ve gotten to the point where I’m no longer ashamed to chase everyone outside to play, or to have quiet time while standing over the washing machine as it fills.  If you think about it, it’s kind of like relaxing by a fountain.
  • Cooking has never been my strength, but I’ve kept up with it well for the past two weeks.  Lydia has helped out by cooking a few Ethiopian meals, like shiro and tibbs.  This would be a “high” except that I almost set the kitchen on fire one morning while making French toast.  Near-fires are almost always a low.
  • We’ve struggled to find foods that all the kids will eat.  So far, our list is:  peanut butter sandwiches, pancakes, bananas, rice, and Cajun fish.
  • The lowest low has got to be treating everyone—EVERYONE—for head lice.  I seriously almost treated the cat, before we found out it wasn’t necessary.  I washed, combed, and picked through the massive amount of hair that our children have (ok, Yay’s off the hook here).  It took over eight hours.  We washed clothes for days on end.  I had to give one child a very short haircut.  I thought about hiring a realtor and just moving.  I still might.
  • We’ve watched High School Musical a lot.  I just feel like this needs to be on this list.

 Other:

  • Back in February, we accepted a referral for 3, 6, and 8-year-old girls.  It’s become clear to us, though, that our eldest is actually more like 11 or 12.  This has been a little challenging, in that we planned for an 8-year-old.  The clothing and toys we stockpiled were for an 8-year-old.  I remember feeling stretched by the thought of parenting a child older than Abby, but I thought, “How much different can eight be from six?”  Well, twelve-ish is definitely different from six.  Remember that tortuous era of your life called puberty?  Yeah, we’d tried to block that out, too.   We have had to hit the ground running.  Plus, I’ve never before had to think about the rules and limitations we now have to set on media and telephone usage, the appropriate fit of clothing, and how much High School Musical is too much (um, even a fraction of a nano-second of a choreographed song about playing some type of team sport?).

P.S.

  • If you see us out in public, please remember than my kids have been dressing themselves lately.  This should help explain their bold fashion choices of polka dots with plaid, pajama pants before six, sequined newsboy hats that are too small for their heads, shirts and pants that were intended to fit a sister of another size, and a colorful array of tutus, superhero masks, and a sombrero.

*Photo by Tammy Stayton Photography

Meet Lydia, Ruby, and Zoey

We. Are. Almost. There.

We’ve finally recovered from jet-lag enough to sit down and write briefly about our time in Ethiopia.  We had an amazing time meeting and spending time with the girls.  We were fortunate to be able to spend a lot of time with them, although we did go out a few times, for court, for a traditional Ethiopian meal, to shop in a local market, and up to the city of Bahir Dar to visit friends of ours.  We also got to see up close the work that they are doing there with the Grace Center, which helps mothers in need of job training and income, as well as orphans.  (For the record–and they want to be very clear on this–these friends, C. and A., met us in Addis and were the first of our friends to meet our girls.)  ;)

We were concerned for a few hours that we would not actually make it to Ethiopia 48 hours before our court date on May 17th (as required by Ethiopian law).  Our plane from Newark to London left seven hours behind schedule and at one point, the airline employees told us that if we did not take off within the hour, we probably wouldn’t arrive in time to make our flight to Addis.  We are grateful for the prayers of those who in contact with us during that time.

Of course, we did make it to Addis Ababa on time, and after traveling to the Transition House we finally, at long last, met our daughters.  Wow, that’s a weird sentence.  Friends keep asking if the first meeting went off as I’d envisioned, but I’m not sure what I envisioned.  It was great, though.  I can’t imagine how weird and uncomfortable it must have been for the girls, but they came to us and hugged and kissed us and then we all sat down to get to know each other.  Over the next few days, things began to feel much more normal and we saw increasingly more of their personalities.

lydiaLydia Joy Arafat Shores is eight years old and she is very mature.  She’s taken primary responsibility for her sisters in the time that they have been separated from family.  She loves to sing and dance and is anxious to learn more English (she already speaks some) and succeed at school when she comes home.

ruby

Ruby Suzanne Hajite Shores is six (roughly a month older than Abby).  She was a mystery to us when we looked at her referral picture, but we discovered that she loves big.  She has a sweet smile and is, like her sisters, quite athletic.  She speaks a little English right now.  We got an e-mail in Chicago’s airport that she’d lost a tooth the day after we left.

zoey

Zoey Elese Similee Shores is three, but will turn four in July (she’s six months younger than Isaiah).  She loves to cuddle and hug and speaks almost no English at the moment.  I don’t think she completely understands all that is happening right now, because we heard that the day after we left she was looking for us in the Transition House.

We came home to a letter from the organization Show Hope, saying that we’d been approved for a $6000 grant.  We applied for that way back in January when we thought we were adopting two kids under age 6!  We are amazed at how God has provided in such abundance throughout the entirety of this adoption.  The current estimation for when Lydia, Ruby, and Zoey will come home is the end of July.  After talking to the agency director on the ground in Ethiopia, and since we have to buy plane tickets anyway, we are considering traveling at the end of June and staying to teach English to all the kids there until the girls clear embassy.  Either way, we need to raise about $12,000 more in order to go and bring them home.  While this number seems big, we’ve seen God provide so much more—the referral costs alone for the girls was $19,200!

We have several fundraisers in the works.  The first one is a Kickstarter-type campaign.  We’ll have various tiers of giving with gifts that those who donate will receive.  Most of these gifts we bought on our last trip to Ethiopia, where they were made by women at the Grace Center.

Purchases can still be made at our Etsy store, Almost Africa, too.

If you would be willing to host a fundraising dinner, yard sale, or even a lemonade stand in your area of the world over the next few weeks to benefit our adoption, please let me know.  Every little bit helps more than you can know!

We are also thankful in advance for flat donations.  Our Lifesong matching grant is maxed out, but you can still give directly to us, or if you’d like your gift to be tax-deductible, you an give to our NAMB account:

NAMB / Attn:  Accounting-MSC / PO Box 116543 / Atlanta, Georgia  30368-6543

Our ID number is #8672.  You must put that in the memo line of the check or online in order for us to receive it.  If you choose this option, please drop us an e-mail or fb message letting us know how much you plan to give, so that we are able to count on it.

Kickstarter plan to follow in another blog post.

family in addis

Just, Whoa!

Whoa.  The past two weeks have been a whirlwind of activity:  accepting the referrals for three sisters, fundraising like the crazy people we are, and having the realization that we’ll be going from two English-speaking kids to five with varying language competency, one of whom is two years older than my current oldest, in a matter of only six months has hit me like a fully-loaded matatu.  Whoa.

The thought can be overwhelming at times!  But we are certain that God is leading us in this direction, and we’ve had so much confirmation along the way.  I don’t think for a second that this will be easy.  In fact, we’ve heard from several families who are built similarly who have said, one after another, virtually word-for-word, it’s freaking hard . . . but so worth it.  [Side note:  DA and I may have repeated this phrase in conversations with one another so much so that our six-year-old is now saying it.   Forgive us.]  And there is definitely risk involved.   But we acknowledge that any other calling God might extend to us has risks, as well (including parenting the two that are currently under our roof).

So, as we go forward, we’re trusting in his grace.  We’re trusting in the presence of his Spirit.  We’re trusting that his financial provision will grow to include provision for an abundance of wisdom, and love, and grace in parenting. We are also fortunate to live in a community full of adoption-related resources, including other adoptive parents.  And we are believing that God can make something good and beautiful out pain and brokenness, because we have experienced it firsthand.  We know.  We also know, firsthand, that it usually takes time.

God is building our family his way.  It appears that he’s chosen us for the incredible task of raising four daughters and one son in our home–(don’t worry, we’ll make sure Yay has some testosterone-time so that he can grow up to be the baseball-playing superhero he informed me this morning he plans to be.  Plus, he still has his college-aged “brother” Said to look up to).  Thank you for being with us on this journey, for giving sacrificially, and for your ever-increasing prayers.

 

Here are some more of the amazing ways in which God has provided recently:

–I had been harassing calling the good people at Lifesong for Orphans for a couple of weeks concerning the status of our grant application.  On Friday, we were told that we might be considered the following week.  On Monday, we were contacted and briefly interviewed.  They also said that they would have to find a willing “church partner” who would be willing to help supply a matching grant, which could take several weeks.  On Wednesday, though, I received a call that through Lifesong, our church, Antioch, was giving us a $300 matching grant, and the Orphan Care Alliance would provide an additional $7000 matching grant to bring the girls home!  God’s provision!  When I heard, I think I almost threw up.  Just being honest.  You’re welcome.  

(If you would like to donate and have your gift doubled, please make checks payable to “Lifesong for Orphans” and mail them to: Lifesong for Orphans, PO Box 40 Gridley, IL 61744.  You must include our special ID #3429 in the memo for it to go into our account. 

You can also give online at:  https://www.lifesongfororphans.org/give/donate/one-time/?giftchoice=Adoption%20Funding&adoptionfunding=Family%20Specific.  Again, we are ID #3429.) 

This will hopefully cover our travel and some other fees, along with the additional $800 that we need to accept the referrals.  Since we received this grant from a trustworthy organization in time, our agency is working with us to use it, so while we’ve paid the bulk of the referral fee already online, they said that they will wait for the rest to come out of the grant.

–A few days ago, I started searching Craigslist for cheap, used furniture items we need. No one outside of our house knew this. That night, I received an e-mail from a new friend who wants to donate her husband’s old twin bunk beds. Monday morning, while DA was chasing down the recycling truck with our orange container, he noticed that a house two doors down had set out a huge, old chest of drawers that are in great shape!

–Our girls’ heart language is Oromo. Most of our Ethiopia connections here in Louisville speak the Amharic langauge.  We were recently excited to learn that our friend who is a local Ethiopian pastor is married to an Oromo woman who recently arrived in Louisville and Oromo is her first language, too! God provides in so many ways! 

Blessings Along the Road to Addis, Part 3

Documenting God’s Amazing Provision in the Midst of Our Adoption Process

We are simply amazed at the ways in which God is providing for our adoption of three sisters from Ethiopia!  [Read our referral story here.]  We just have to recount some of them here for God’s glory and to preserve them for our own memories!  Please be blessed by these stories.

On the other hand, we don’t want anyone to feel guilty about what they can or cannot give (not that anyone has expressed this to me, but I want to make sure that we are emphasizing grace and freedom rather than pressure and guilt).  We are well-aware that we are hammering on this right now on social media (because we have less than a week to raise several thousand dollars).  Fortunately, we believe that God leads different people to respond to such requests in different ways.  Not everyone who reads about our adoption will give money to bring our girls home.  Nor should they.  But others will hear our story and know, simply know, that they have heard it for a reason and that God is leading them to write a check immediately.  The amazing thing is that God wants us to be obedient to the Holy Spirit, rather than to a blog post or Facebook update.  So we just wanted to clarify that if you don’t give financially to our adoption, we aren’t judging you!  Please, live in grace!  However, if you know that he is leading to do so, we will be extremely thankful for your generosity and obedience to God.

We do want to share this story that we received in a message a couple of days ago (the giver asked to remain anonymous publicly so that all glory would go to God):

Lindsay,

I have a story for you, a story of an awesome God. In December, we had been looking over our finances and talking about how we were struggling. We needed $1000 for bills, $1000 to put into savings and about $1000 for our mission trip in July. I told B— “it’s not like God is just gonna drop $1000 in our lap out of the blue”. We prayed and asked God to remind us how He takes care of everything. Our whole move here, B—’s job, He has taken care of all of the details and instantly, which has been pretty amazing since God usually likes to remind us how His timing is perfect. So we have seen God do all this amazing stuff and we were having a human moment and worrying and just prayed for God to remind us how He’s got it all under control and so forth. That Sunday, B— preached on faith. That Sunday afternoon, someone put an envelope in B—’s office with nothing on it but our name and inside was $1000. Overwhelming to say the least, remember, I had specifically said “it’s not like God is just gonna drop $1000 in our lap out of the blue” and yet here it was. A clear message from God to have faith (B—’s message). Very humbling and since it was obviously directly from God, we wanted to make sure and use it in the right place, how He meant for it to be used. We prayed as a family for God to show us what to do with it. We hadn’t felt any direct leading so we just put it in the bank and have let it sit until we felt how we are supposed to use it. This morning the $1000 crossed my mind regarding your situation and instantly I did the whole, that’s me not God, He provided that for us. The same thing crossed B—’s mind this morning and he also had the same instant reaction. When I showed him your message saying what was going on, he told me what had crossed his mind and his reaction and I told him the same had crossed my mind and I also had the same reaction and we knew, we knew what God intended for us to do with it. We talked with [our daughter] and as a family we prayed about it and we know. We know God blessed us with a gift that he intends to go to you. B— also preached this past Sunday and in his sermon talked about how He asks us if we are willing to give it all up and follow God where he leads, to pick up your cross and go no questions asked. Lindsay, God blessed us in a God way showing his faithfulness and reminding us how He is in control and for the first time since receiving that gift we know what He wants us to do with it. It was meant for you guys all along, He just wanted to show us His awesomeness in it.

We were amazed by this awesome story of God’s provision for both families.  I also want to share a couple of thoughtful notes we received from people who donated smaller amounts through PayPal.  It’s important to note that we don’t know either of these individuals personally, but that they are friends of friends who saw reposts of our blog.  (Your reposts really are helping!):

I don’t know you, but saw a posted prayer request for you on my homeschool list, here in Louisville, KY and went to your blog. Reading about your faith has encouraged me and I just wanted to send a little help, along with a prayer that others will add to it and God will bless your faith immeasurably more. Please don’t bother to thank me, just give it all to Jesus and keep your faith.

And another:

I don’t know you, but heard your families story through a friend on FB. I am praying for you and asking God to bless your commitment to love His children!

We ask everyone to continue praying, reposting our story, and if you feel led to give $5 or $500 in the next few days, we greatly appreciate it and will praise God for his blessing our adoption through you.  Additionally, enjoy living in his grace today!