Monday, March 18, 2013

2 (ish) weeks in...

Call it the honeymoon phase, or what you want, but these last 3 weeks have been better than I ever could have dreamed...
I promise I've really been trying to find the time to update you all (and myself years from now) on these first couple weeks with our boy... but it appears that 4 children is a lot more work than I thought.
B was just saying last night, 'I feel like going from 3 to 4 kids is really like going from 3 to 6 kids.'  It is just so much work!  It feels like the cleanup, the dishes, the mess, the cooking, the laundry... lord have mercy, the laundry alone, has seriously multiplied.  We realized its because we went from 3 to a whole 4.  Not 3 to a baby infant nursing sleeping thing, but a real live body, running around like crazy person yelling at the top of his lungs 'on your bed' to the dog (more on that milestone later).  Not to mention, the whole getting to know you aspect.  Like getting to know if you really will run into the street (yes), if you will yell and pull books off the shelves at the library (yes), if you will fall off the ladder of the bunk beds (yes), if you will have more diarrhea blowouts than all my other kids combined (yes).  Its a steep learning curve over here...   and not without many bumps and bruises (literally).

But before you go calling CPS on us, please know all of this work is far outweighed by this boy's smile.  I mean, for the love.... his smile just lights up our whole house.  And its not like he's rationing those things, its one big smile and laugh coming out of his tiny 22lb body.  

So where to start... well those first couple days home we were all on edge.. and our best behavior.  We tiptoed around each other, waited cautiously to see how he would react to anything and everything.  He was absolutely terrified of the dog.  Like super scared.  We kept her outside or yelled at her a ton to get on her bed.  Slowly, but surely he got more comfortable   Thankfully emma lou is so good with kids and used to being abused (lovingly) by Tali.  Once Elliot realized lou could care less about him, he took it upon himself to yell at the top of his lungs, 'get on your bed,' EVERY time she got off of it.  It didn't stop there, just this last saturday at the beach he spent the better part of it yelling furiously at every dog that went by, 'get on your bed!'  We have some pretty rad video of him yelling a string of amharic words at him. If only we had a translator...
Anyway, aside from yelling at the dog in those first days, he was sleeping a lot. He would wake up from his naps in bad mood which consisted of  'i will cry if you don't hold me for hours.'  I realized a lot of that was the jet lag and by day 5 he was pretty well regulated in the sleep department.  I wasn't totally sure how to do the sleep thing.  As parents of 3 kids, sleep is the ONE thing I feel totally confident bragging about.  Our 3 kids are great sleepers and have been since they were wee ones.  We did the whole 'cry it out' thing as infants with them (some earlier than others), and so every night we have all 3 kids in bed asleep without any laying or whining or any disruptions until 7 the next morning.  Its been a huge part of how and why B and I have been able to stay happily married-- that time we have together alone from 8-10 every night is so huge (even if we do spend it watching breaking bad).  
I knew that Elliot's sleep situation at the orphanage was in some ways very similar to what takes place at our place, but for attachment purposes I wanted to spend some time with him alone, quiet, dark, letting him know how much he is loved.  And I can honestly say that even though in some ways it feels like I am un-training is his stellar sleep habits, the time I get holding and rocking him every night has been some of our richest moments.  As most of you know, he learned 'I love you mama' on our second day together... don't think I haven't totally exploited that-- I'm practically begging him to say it to me every minute:)  So every night I take him upstairs after he gets a kiss from Daddo, brother and sisters and its our time to cuddle.  As soon as we get in our room, he melts into my body and lays his head on my shoulder.  We walk and rock and I start by saying, 'I love you Tegegne,' and he whispers back, 'I love you,'  then I say, 'daddo loves you,' and he replies 'daddo loves you' I say, 'Sissy loves you, 'to which he says, 'sissy loves you,'  then I say 'Ozzy loves you,' he says, 'Ozzy loves you,' and then I say, 'Tali loves you,' and he whispers again, 'Tali loves you.'  Lastly I say, 'Jesus loves you more than anything and anyone Tegegne... I will always love you Tegegne, I will never leave you. It's bedtime now, but when you wake up, I'll be right by your side.  I will always be with you Tegegne.  Forever.'  Of course he doesn't understand a word of it, but something in me has to believe he's getting it... after all-- deep cries out to deep.
So the sleep thing is going pretty good.  Once he falls asleep, he sleeps through the night.  The night however is not without its foes.  He wakes up more than I would like, his disruptions range from a whimper, to some string of Amharic words, to a full blown cry.  He's comforted by my voice and touch and quickly falls back to sleep, but it does break my heart to see how vulnerable he is in his slumber. We've also been working trying to get B in the bedtime mix.  We've been making some progress on that front, but we are nowhere near me being totally out of the picture.  

So that's sleep.  Food has been rather interesting.   As many of you know, my 3 bio kids are probably the worst eaters in the world.  No joke.  It could be pages of pages of a blog entry.  Lil, Oz and T straight up blow at eating.  I've tried almost everything, but no matter what I do, I'm a short order cook.  Its mac and cheese, chicken dinosaurs, pizza, or quesadillas every night around here.  Not only are they picky, but they are also very light eaters.  We're talking like its a struggle to get them to eat two chicken dinosaurs, and 1 box of mac and cheese easily feeds all 3.  I'm sure it has nothing to do with all the crackers they eat throughout the day, but I learned early on-- choose your battles-- and this one was one I clearly kept losing.  I'd heard a lot of things about ET kids appetites and I was excited to finally get an 'eater.'  And I will say, I definitely have an eater, but the eating that is going on is exactly what my crazy picky kids eat!  All he ever wants is bread, crackers, milk... forget any meat, fruits or veggies, he acts like they are an abomination in his mouth!  I had brought a couple sippy cups when I went to ET and he majorly attached to a yellow one.  By attach  I mean he held it all day long no matter what he was doing.  He's gotten a bit better at home, he doesn't need to always have one, but every so often he'll remember they exist and get them out of the drawer.  He'll try almost everything, but is very clear if he doesn't like it.  We are working hard to get as much protein in him as possible per Dr. B's instructions.

Now that we've covered the food... we can move on to the radical diarrhea we are battling.  I suppose battling is a inaccurate term since we loosing pretty bad.  Not much to say on that front, except it smells so incredibly wrong-- and the smell just lingers and lingers.  Febreeze, candles, scentsy- they are no match for the big D.  We are awaiting the lab results- but likely its giardia or some other type of intestinal parasite.
Homie loves water --especially dog bowl water
Mastering the slide in our backyard
Baby Ce-Lo

Probably the most frequent question we get is, 'how are the other kids doing?'  And to that I say, 'I couldn't be more proud of them.'  They really haven't missed a beat.  I know its still very early on, but they've been so great about it all- by all, I mean way less attention:)  Its definitely the most hard for Tali.  It's never easy getting bumped from baby status.  However she continues to amaze me.  In so many ways, she's the perfect kid to have this happen to.  She's my most social, cuddly, loving, accepting child of the 3.  She definitely has her moments-- telling me I always hold Elliot and not her.  It makes my heart sad for sure, but then the next minute she's begging me to wake him up cuz she wants to play with him.  It will be much easier when he can communicate, for now they just spend a lot of time tormenting the dog, or hoarding paper, bread, or canned goods and hiding them in various cupboards.  Most of the time they are outside sitting in the barbie jeep together, or making 'soup' out of mud, dog bowl water, and rocks.  It's really neat to see their love for each other grow.  I see it in little things every day.  Elliot bringing Tali her purse in the morning, or Tali giving him bites of her dinner.  Oz is still waiting patiently for Elliot to be ready to play guys, but in the meantime will settle with some hide and seek.  Lily and Elliot has been really special as well.  He seems to be the most enamored with her out of all the kids.  She loves to pick out his outfit and shoes, give him snacks and plays with him outside.  He in turn tries to get in her bed every night and pretend sleep, or sit next to her on the couch.  Just this last Saturday night, Lil was at a friends for a sleepover and as we were getting ready for bed, we were having the kids all take turns giving him a kiss like we do every night.  This is one of his (and their) favorite activities.  It's really cute to see him respond to their affection.  After tali and oz's kiss, he started looking around and asking for Lily.  It was super cute.
Besties (or at least working towards it)
Brother love
LOVES the beach

About a month before we brought Elliot home I was having all kinds of dreams about him. Crazy things, like he was able to totally speak English  or he just loved me so much, or he could be around other people no problem.  All of the dreams were REALLY good.  I'm not a crazy dream person, but every time I would have one I would wake up feeling so hopeful.  Even though life isn't exactly like what happened in those dreams, the feelings are the same.  I've had my ups and downs and struggles and fears of inadequacy these last few weeks, but all in all, I'm so overwhelmed with gratitude and awe at God's grace on all of us in this time.  When I tell people how well its going, a common response I get is, 'he must be so thankful.'  Those statements used to sit uneasily with me, but after further thought and time, I'm realizing that there are elements of gratitude.  I think mostly due to the freedom alone he now experiences- but really it just comes down to feeling so much love.  Elliot is SO loved by us and everyone he meets.  And so as I spend my days getting to know my new son, memorizing every inch of his body- a luxury from birth I didn't have with him... I marvel at his hands, his feet, his tummy... I see his little moles, and I see his scars.  It's hard not knowing why or where they came from, but I love knowing that every little pain he feels from now and forevermore I will know about and I WILL be there to kiss it and make it better.  As I watch him begin to grow into a healthy, confident little boy and beam at his infectious smile bringing so much joy into my heart and my home, my heart breaks knowing his birth mom (wherever she may be), will never know this boy born of her body. Yet in that same sadness, I'm overwhelmed with thankfulness knowing that God knew that the moment Elliot was born, that I would be his forever mom.  And I'm here to say as I do to him every night before bed, 'I will never leave you Tegegne, I will always be here for you.  Everyday, when you wake up, I will be here for you, because I am your mom and I love you.
One of many  semi- failed attempts at all 4

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Day 5

Even though we had a really special time at the goodbye ceremony on Tuesday  I came back to the guesthouse that day overcome with a lot of emotions.  After our nap, I started to feel super restless and kind of depressed.  I was feeling SO done being at the guesthouse.  We were the only people staying there and although it was 'kid friendly' in the ethiopian sense, it was far from easy having a toddler there.  The whole area was gated, so it wasn't unsafe, but the way it was laid out made it difficult to keep track of Elliot.  He couln't just run around free because there were many steps and drop offs at random places.  We literally had to follow him around the whole time he was outside, and HE was (and still is) totally obsessed with being outside.  On top of all that, I was just desperate to get home and see the rest of my family.  Having my mom there was so huge for so many reasons, one of which was she really helped keep my spirits up.

Waking up Wednesday morning, I was SO happy thinking that it was my last day there.  Unfortunately our flight wasn't out until 10:15 that evening, so we had the whole day with nothing to do.  There are no parks, or kid things, and we had no car even if there was somewhere we wanted to go.  The guesthouse that we were staying at has a ministry that they founded in in Addis  They encourage their guests to go tour the grounds of the ministry when they stay at the guesthouse.  Since we really had nothing else going, we decided to go check it out.  We had arranged to go the day before at 10, but in true ET fashion, when we arrived at 10 in the lobby, they were far from ready.  At about 10:30 they finally enlightened us that they were having a hard time finding a car to take us.  No problem, we'd just keep chasing Elliot around until they got there.  At about 11:15, a van pulled up.  In some of the reading I've been doing, they say it's important to really study your child, to find the things that can be fear triggers for your adopted child. I noticed on our drive from the orphanage that first day to our embassy appointment that Elliot's body kind of just went limp.  Sure he was holding on to me, but his overall disposition was extremely passive (not the boy we've come to know).  He barely moved, spoke or smiled-- he just fell limp in my arms.  When we got in the van to go to Mission Ethiopia, he started to do the same thing.  I felt so bad thinking that he was scared that we were going somewhere that wasn't safe.  I tried to comfort him and even asked the girl we were with to explain where we were going.  He loosened up a bit once we arrived, but still I felt sad.

We drove through the city for about 10 minutes then kind of pulled off the road onto a dirt road.  Houses and buildings were replaced by shacks and shanties.  We were in the slum.  It's hard enough being in the city, but being in the slum is a whole other experience.  The poverty and depravity is just staggering.  It pierces through your heart and steals the breath right from your chest.  To think this is the only reality these people have ever and will ever know is so defeating.  The girl began explaining what the Mission was as we pulled into the gates.  They are ministry that serves HIV positive women, widows, single mothers and their children.  They provide jobs for them.  They make necklaces that they call 'chunky beads'-- they are essentially necklaces with beads made of compressed paper- very common in certain parts of Africa, though called different names.  They then sell these necklaces at the guesthouses.  It's pretty rad, and I really commend the guy that started it all.  Like so many of us, his heart broke for the people of Ethiopia when he adopted his 2 kids a few years back, so he started this all up.  While touring the grounds we met many of the workers.  One guy with leprosy weaving door mats.  His fingers were pretty much non existent from the leprosy, but he smiled continually at us and you could tell that he had a real pride in his craft.  While the mom's are at work, there is a room for their non school age children to play and learn.  The kids were so excited to see us and kept yelling 'ferenge' (ET word for white people).  For some reason, seeing all this was incredibly overwhelming for me and I fought to keep my tears under control.  I was thankful that these kids had their mom so close by, but heartbroken for the poverty they had to face day in and day out.
Goodbye Addis

After our visit, we faced a long afternoon waiting for our flights.  I packed and re-packed and organized.  Finally it was time for dinner and before I knew it, Abe poked his head in and said it was time!  I was so happy to finally be beginning our journey home, but also incredibly overwhelmed at the first flight being 17 hours!!! Abe's fiance met us at the airport to say goodbye. They were so cute and gracious-- I can't wait for them to get married in a couple months!  After our goodbye we made our way into the airport.  I tried putting Elliot in the ergo, but after a few minutes he was pretty over it.  He wanted to run around.  We checked in with no problems and made our way to our gate.  Elliot didn't seem to concerned about the airplane once we made our way on.  He sat in his seat, then my lap, then back in his seat.  He hadn't napped that day, and it was 10:15 his time, so I was anticipating some good sleeping in his future.  I can't tell you how incredibly thankful I was that we flew Ethiopian Air this trip.  The whole staff from airport to flight attendants are so kid friendly and just generally awesome.  Once it was time to buckle up, Elliot started to get restless-- it was clear he did NOT like being restrained.  I asked the flight attendant to please explain in Amharic what was going on.  She did and he relaxed considerably.  But after about 5 mins more of this he was getting antsy again.  After crying for about 2 minutes, he fell asleep, and slept for.... 6 HOURS STRAIGHT!!! I was so relieved and happy.  I took advantage of sleeping as best I could with his head on my lap.  Part of the reason the flight home was 3 hours longer than flight there was because we had to stop in Rome to refuel.  By the time we landed in Rome, lights were on and people moving around made it so Elliot began to wake up.  He had a little snack as we waited to take off again.  The whole stop from touchdown to takeoff was about 2 hours.  Once the seat-belt had to come on again, he started to cry again.  I tried to comfort him from my seat, but again without the language I was feeling very inadequate.  Next thing I know, the angel flight attendant leans over me and starts rubbing his back and whispering to him in Amharic   As a mother of three, I feel like I know a thing or two about parenting, but I can't tell you how incredibly humbled I was in that moment. Humbled and overcome with gratitude.  It's never easy to see your kids suffer-- especially when there is a way to alleviate it.  Not being able to be the mom I wanted in that moment was just another reminder of just how little control I have over anything-- big or small.  Next thing I know, his little body gave way to sleep and he slept for another 2 hours.

So that made for 8 hours of sleep!  YES!  However, this led to a wake time of 7 hours.  On an airplane.  With a two year old.  I barely know.  Let's just say we did a lot of 'laps.'  We walked and walked and walked around that plane.  He just about won the heart of every soul on that plane.  And the flight attendants .. have mercy!  They scooped him up more than I could ever ask and just took him to their little hangout spot and loved on him.  It was so RAD! When we weren't walking around, we were trying to entertain him with play-doh, markers, and food. We had some success, but it always came back to the walking. Finally after 7 hours of this, he fell back asleep and slept the next 2 hours until we landed in DC.  As we deplaned in DC, I started to feel sad thinking this was the last time he would hear his language for a long time... The next few days and weeks would be incredibly lonely for him.  Again, I began feeling inadequate and sad that I couldn't fix this for him...
Sweet angel of a flight attendent

As many of you know, I'm not the most patriotic gal.  But landing on American soil that day was one of the best feelings ever.  I wasn't sure how it would work with customs and immigration, but the officer handled our paperwork in about 2 mins and passed us through-- like it was NO big deal to bring an Ethiopian toddler to America as your own.  As we walked through the airport to our next gate, I was holding Elliot and looking around the unusually quiet airport.  I suddenly became so overwhelmed looking at him taking it all in.  To think that walking through that gate, Elliot's life was changed forever.  He could BE anything now, he could GO anywhere.  EVERY opportunity is at his fingertips.  He could BE any kind of man he wants to.  At the risk of sounding totally cliche, this new world was his oyster.  If nothing else, I'm so thankful for the great opportunity this land will give him. (To clairfy- I'm not saying he couldn't do all this growing up as an orphan in Ethiopia- our God is very big and can do what He wants, yet I'm not totally ignorant and recognize the opportunities America affords all its people is incredibly unique and wonderful- and for that I am very thankful).

We stopped off at the food court to refuel before our last flight home-- a mere 5 hour jaunt across the states.  My mom took him on a little walk while I caught up on some texts and calls and generally just sat down feeling more exhausted (physically, spirituality, emotionally) than I had in long time.  My mom and him stumbled upon pretzel annie's where it turned out the girl working could speak Amharic   Elliot just lit up as she asked him his name (Tegegn), his age (2) and where he was from (Addis)-. He answered all of them.   (Side note, apparently he told one of the flight attendants that he was from Addis, but he wasn't going back!)  The pretzel girl then asked  him who his mom was, and he totally turned and hugged me! It just melted my heart.

Finally it was time to board our last flight...I love flying Virgin, but not with a 2 year old.  We were surrounded by a bunch of young career types all dressed in biz cas doing a lot of talk about re-branding, public radio, and ski trip to aspen with colleagues.  The irony was so thick to me as I sat there with my 1 day old adopted son coming off a 17 hour flight from a third world country.  Irony lost on them, but I was cracking up inside... they have nooooooo idea.  Probably about anything.  Harsh I know, but you know I couldn't resist.  After about 2 hours of fidgeting, Elliot finally fell asleep and slept the last 3 hours home.

When the captain finally uttered those sweet words, 'Folks we will be landing in San Francisco in about 20 minutes, please fasten your seat belts,' I just about died of relief.  It was finally ALL over.  I honestly can't think of a time in my life I was more thankful.

As we turned the corner to baggage claim, I laid eyes on the sweetest thing... there was my man.  My partner, my besty.  We hugged and rejoiced-- grabbed our stuff and began the drive home.

The care ride was relatively uneventful- Elliot struggled a bit with the car seat, but eventually sleep won him (and me) again.  Pulling up to Fearn ave, our new life officially began....

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Day 4

So after my good morning cuddles, we made our way down to breakfast.  I brought down some plain instant oatmeal I had packed from home.  While we were waiting for our breakfast I made the oatmeal for him and he ate the whole bowl. Then the eggs and toast came out. He ate at least 2 maybe 3 scrambled eggs and 2 pieces of toast!  It was so awesome.  After breakfast, he discovered outside.  Once that slider was open, he was gone baby gone.  The guesthouse is completely gated, so he just roamed around, coming in and out.  Laughing, running, smiling… not a care in the world.  I loved seeing him so happy and carefree.
Abe arrived at 9:30 and took us over to Hilawe.  I was a little nervous to return there after the amazing 24 hours we had together, but I knew how important this goodbye ceremony was for the orphanage, as well as for Elliot.  They sat us down and asked if they could take Elliot up to change him into his clothes for the ceremony.  While E was getting ready, we chatted with the director of the orphanage.  It was really interesting talking to him about adoption, the future, and just the process in general. He was a very neat man, and you could tell his best interests truly were with the children.  I came away from our conversation feeling really thankful that Elliot got to spend so much time at that particular orphanage. 

As we were talking, the nannies began bringing down all of Elliot's friends one by one.  They all get to sit on the rug and be a part of the ceremony.  Elliot was no stranger to these goodbye parties, they said he had been to dozens. 
My mom with the sweet babies

Next thing I know, baby boy comes marching down the stairs being held by one of the nannies in his ceremony clothes.  He had the biggest grin on his face, it was so adorable.

Once downstairs, we huddled together in a circle.  They told me we would all lay hands on Elliot and they would pray in Amharic and then I could pray in English if I wanted.  As soon as my fingers touched his nannies, I was  a goner.  I had no idea what they said in Amharic but when it was over I jumped at the chance to pray for my boy with his people.  I wanted to be sure and give all honor to them for the care and love they gave him before I got him. I mentioned how crazy it was to be in eye of the past and future.  I had to cut it short because the tears were winning and I would be a blubbering mess if I didn't wrap it up.  After the prayer, we sat down.  With Elliot on my lap, we cut the huge loaf of bread and partook in the traditional coffee ceremony.  Always awkward since I don’t ever drink coffee and don’t like it one bit, but thankfully the cups are tiny.  They gave me a few little gifts, and expressed how bittersweet this day was for them.  On one hand they are so happy that he has a family now, but they will miss him tremendously. 

Handprint for the orphanage

Elliot has been with this girl for the last year.  Staff said they were very close.

After the formalities were over, we were stuck waiting for our driver to come back to get us.  We hung out around the orphanage, chatting with the staff and watching Elliot run around like the king of the castle.  He was loving the special privilege of being downstairs for so long.  I watched him play soccer with the guard, pray for more people, and steal snacks from the kitchen.  It really was neat to see his true self come out. Next thing I know, he comes around the corner with diarrhea all the way up his back—all over his ceremonial wear!  I didn't know how to deal with it, I only had so many wipes, and it was everywhere!.  One of the staff told me the nannies would take care of it upstairs because they had a shower where they could rinse him off.  She started to bring him up the stairs and he looked back at me with big tears, and started leaning for me and crying.  I of course came to his rescue and walked up there with him. While the nannies changed him, I waited in the room where he used to be.  It was naptime so the babies/toddlers were in various stages of napping.  Some were asleep, some were being changed.   I looked over where I had seen Elliot sleep a few times and saw a little guy probably about 18 months old sitting up, clutching a blanket, and making that nursing suckling sound.  He kept taking the blanket up to his mouth and trying to nurse it while he dozed off.  It just about broke my heart in two.  On one hand, I was thankful he actually was able to nurse for a time, but on the other so heartbroken knowing that was no longer a reality for him.  Who knows what his story is, or how long he had his mom, but regardless it got a hold of me in way I wasn't expecting.  My heart was just breaking for all of these babies…

Back downstairs, we spent a lot of time talking with the head social worker who had told me about Elliot’s praying.  Her heart for the kids was on her sleeve, and it was really special to hear her share about her faith and thoughts about everything.  She shared with us her great dream for her daughter to be able to go to university in America.  Before we left, I really felt like God was telling me to give her my necklace.  The necklace was incredibly special to me, as it was given to me by my girls before I left for my first trip.  It said ‘miracles happen every day.’  I wore it every day my first trip and Elliot clung to it many times.  At the guesthouse the last 24 hours, he would find it and give it to me all the time.  Not only did the necklace play a large part in our initial bonding, it was also a special gift from my best friends.  Yet looking at the passion in this woman’s eyes, I knew my time with it was over.  So before we left, I took it off my neck and placed it around hers.  I said, ‘this necklace has been such a blessing to me for my time in Ethiopia, it was a gift from my dearest friends, it says, ‘miracles happen every day,’ and it just so turns out I already got my miracle. He’s in the car waiting for me.  Its your turn now.  I pray it brings you many miracles now.  I promise to raise this boy in the way of the Lord.  Thank you for taking him this far.’ It was incredibly special to share that time with her.

Back in the car, we made our way to the guesthouse and left Hilawe for the last time. It was bittersweet for sure.  But for the most part, it was so incredibly freeing--  He was all mine now.  Back at the guesthouse, we napped again, had dinner and went to sleep with the great joy that we were leaving the very next day.