Monday, September 24, 2012

Then and Now

I work for a few hours a week at the family furniture store. I am responsible for some of the buying as well as the design of the showroom floor, and for the most part it fits nicely into my busy mommy life. I choose my own hours, rarely get questioned about my decisions, and can take my boys along with me to work on some days. One of our upholstery vendors does their own furniture show in Fort Wayne, IN twice a year. We nearly always attend this show: this company is our top vendor, so it is very important for us to see what they are doing. They pay for a hotel room and give us meal vouchers for a number of great restaurants in the Fort Wayne area. In addition, it is close to where I grew up and we can generally see some family, so David and I have usually made a mini-getaway out of this trip. Having just returned, I've been struck by how much our life has changed over the last couple of years.

It used to look something like this: The three hour drive was filled with romantic music and reading to each other. We had riveting discussions about our jobs and the vacations that we hoped to take. Our evening meal was long and leisurely, and we NEVER worried about how much food we had left over. We smiled benevolently (and let's admit it, somewhat condescendingly) at the way James and Susan would have to rush through dinner because their kids were begging to swim. We would offer to take care of their bill so that they could hurry to the pool for a few minutes before their tired and whiny children needed to be put to bed.  Then, the two of us would order coffee and dessert and gaze into each other's eyes across the table. After dinner, we would enjoy a quiet, romantic evening together. The following day, we'd spend a couple of hours at the furniture show and then take off for a day of shopping, visiting chocolate shops and coffee houses, holding hands and revelling in each other's company. We'd blow hundreds of dollars on new clothes for the season and not think anything of it. Hadn't we earned this? I did work in a fashion industry, after all, and it was important for me to appear trendy. Monthly budget? What's that? We're not in debt and we have the money, so let's spend it.

Enter these two:

Now our trips look a bit different. I still read to David as we drive west, but I also spend time in the backseat of our (gasp) minivan doing Phonics or Language Arts with Yikealo. Sintayehu interrupts every couple of seconds to thrust one of his earbuds at me so that I can hear what he's listening to on his (it used to be mine) i-Pod shuffle. For dinner, we choose the quiet hotel restaurant, rather than the crowded, trendy one where we used to eat. We spend our time shoveling bites into the boys' mouths, asking the waitress to please bring extra napkins, telling Sintayehu to use his inside voice, to stop pretending to be a jack-in-the-box, and for heaven's sake, STOP crawling on the floor and eating the french fries that you dropped! Now we obsess about how much food is left (WHY didn't we just order one meal for the boys to split?) and we box up the extra and order a refrigerator to be delivered to our room. We KNOW about those starving people in Africa now, and there is no way that we can let that much food go to waste, regardless of the fact that we aren't paying for it anyway. We take one child out to the restroom, only to have the other shout "Kaka! Shint" across the restaurant upon our return. We cringe and glance around at the other diners with chagrined looks on our faces. Now we're the ones to rush through eating so that we can get to the swimming pool before bed. James and Susan, on the other hand, are having a leisurely, romantic dinner at the cool, trendy restaurant....having left all four of their children at home with family, so that the kiddos don't miss any school. How times have changed!

While we all change into swimming gear back at the room, we try our best to keep our sleep-deprived, hyper children from disturbing other hotel guests. They are bouncing off the walls after having been cooped up in the van and at the restaurant for so long, jumping back and forth between the beds, shouting and wrestling around on the floor. Eventually they both end up in time-out chairs while we threaten them with loss of pool-time if they don't shape up. We spend 45 minutes or so down at the pool, exhaustedly watching the boys splash each other delightedly. It's closing in on 9:00 and we're worn out. What in the world happened to that cool, young couple that would stay up past midnight, enjoying the romantic atmosphere and each other's company? Forget romance....we just want to sleep.

Back at the room, we shower and lotion the boys and get them into their PJs. Sintay's a bit out of's way past his bedtime, and he's in a strange place. We try to put the boys together in one of the beds, but it quickly becomes clear that there is no way that is going to work, at least not until they're sleeping. David and Yikealo take one bed, while Sintay and I take the other. He whimpers and asks about his house, and I tell him that we'll see his house again tomorrow. That calms him down, and before long, his sweaty little body is whiffling away against my chest. We move the boys together into their bed, read one more chapter in our book and fall asleep before 10. We are awakened 8 or so times during the night by Yikealo talking in his sleep, or Sintayehu's gruff, bear-like snoring, or by the boys tossing and turning. At least 3 times, I get up to move them back onto their own sides of the bed. How in the world do little kids get into this many different positions while they sleep anyway?

In the morning, after some wake-up snuggles, I head out to the furniture show with James and Susan while David takes two pajama-clad boys with matted bed-head down to the hotel restaurant for breakfast. (Let's just say that if I had been around, there is NO WAY they would have gone into public looking like that.) Then, tragedy strikes: the ceiling in the pool area is being repainted and the pool is closed, leaving some very disappointed little people. No problem....David makes do with a "swimming" party in the hot tub for an hour, while they all breathe in paint fumes. Fabulous.

We have planned on spending the rest of the day with David's brother Mark's family, since they live about 15 minutes away from where we are staying. Sintayehu has not met their family before this trip, so it will be a great time to introduce him. Our sister-in-law Julie meets us at the hotel with her youngest Reed, and the boys have a great time running around while we finish repacking. She wants to show us their favorite coffee place in the city, so we head out to get our morning joe.

Upon entering the coffee house, it becomes clear that once upon a time, we would have loved this place. Funky chairs in every shade of bright paint, bins full of bulk coffee beans from all over the world, hip young people hanging out with their laptops or notebooks, lingering over their enticing beverages and chatting, while the dark, beguiling scent of rich black brew permeates the air.....but I digress. This is now our reality: as we go inside, we get "those" looks. You know the ones I mean, from those people without small children. The looks that say, "Oh great, our peace is about to be interrupted. The "cool" vibe just went down substantially and maybe we ought to get out of here quickly." We try to ignore them while our six-year-old grabs a handful of coffee stirrers and inserts them under his upper lip in an attempt to be either a saber-tooth tiger or an elephant, I'm not sure which it is today. Our three year old is wiggling frantically in my arms as I try to figure out my order, making demands in his foghorn voice. I order a tall raspberry mocha and a lime sugar cookie, which causes a full-out temper tantrum from the three-year-old, because I will not just hand the entire crumbly cookie over into his sweaty little paw. I'm in full mama mode, juggling a hot cup of coffee and a struggling toddler, breaking off pieces of sugary sweetness to stuff into his mouth, all while hunting through my cavernous bag past sippy cups and pull-ups for my wallet. David, meanwhile, is completely ignoring his charge (the saber-toothed elephant is now dancing wildly around the room) while he pores over the tempting bins of whole beans, trying to make a decision on what type of coffee to buy. I get Sintay situated at a small table with the cookie, but he just whines for coffee. (This child is Ethiopian, after all, and he LOVES coffee.) I give in, because I'm getting a little tired of the withering glances from the other patrons. Anything for some peace and quiet, except now we'll be dealing with a caffeinated whirling dervish....wonderful. David has ordered his drink and is waiting for the barista to bag the whole beans. The drink is handed off to Yikealo, which of course has disastrous results, since he attempts to drink the steaming liquid through his "teeth/tusks". It's much too hot for this, and he ends up spilling coffee all over the table. While I'm cleaning up Y's mess, Sintay yells that he has to go potty.

As we leave, I feel like I've been wrestling an octopus, and the relief of the other customers feels palpable. For a moment I miss the old days....but then I look down at the happy faces of my little boys, overjoyed by their time with family, and I think, "I wouldn't trade this for the world." We won't be shopping on this day...our monthly clothing budget was spent on new socks, underwear and jeans for Mr. Y, and our "fun" budget was spent on a trip to the zoo earlier this month. Besides, we could never justify that type of expense anymore. Instead, we'll be having a simple lunch with family, and visiting the children's home where Mark works so that our boys can see the piglets, goats and cows that are being raised there. I don't want my old life back (okay, to be totally honest, I might feel like trading a few hours now and then) because I love the life I have now. A line from a Sara Groves song runs through my head: "And the places that used to fit me cannot hold the things I've learned..."  and I smile up at the sunshine. It's going to be a good day.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


Over the last few weeks, we've done lots of school, met friends from Texas, gone to the zoo and the fair, had picnics, and started wearing warmer clothes. We've also heard some fun statements from our boys (mostly Yikealo, of course!) Here are a few of the recent bits of amusement, interspersed with photos from our adventures:

During Phonics, Y was supposed to use the word "have" in a sentence. His sentence was, "I HAVE a bronze cheerleader." Huh? How does my 6 year old, home-schooled son have any idea what a cheerleader is, let alone a bronze one? Should I be worried about this?

We visited my sister's family and spent some time with their good friend Ginny and her sweet son Stone, who was  adopted from Hannah's Hope at the same time as Jordan and Jalen. We also discovered all over again that it is impossible to get a good picture of 9 kids. 

In Science, we used a balance and gram cubes to measure the mass of various objects: paper clips, pennies, pencils, etc. When David came home, Yikealo proudly told him that a penny was "10 graham crackers." David looked fairly confused...

5 little Ethiopians

I had nearly had it with both boys one day. They were fighting continually, and I had a splitting headache by mid-morning. David texted me at one point to ask how my day was going, and I went off about the behavior of the kiddos. David called to tell Yikealo that if Y REALLY wanted to be just like Daddy, then he needed to treat me like a queen. Later that afternoon, Yikealo gave me a huge hug and said, "You are the bestest, wonderfullest Mama I could ever have. Is that treating you like a queen?"

First fair ride ever for Mr. S

Some neighbors have two dogs in their yard: a yappy little terrier of some sort and a huge, silent Great Dane. While we were walking past one evening, Sintay waved to the canines and shouted out, "Hi Dog! Hi Horse!"

Yikealo's prayer one night: "Help Mama to be warm and snuggly tomorrow and help that Dad would lose the hairiness and boniness from his body and be more snuggly like Mama." Hmmmm....Mama is probably not gonna second that prayer...

While the boys were playing happily together, Yikealo shouted across the house in a rather surprised sounding voice, "Hey Mom! This is really fun, having a brother around! I actually LIKE sharing my toys with him!"

Sintayehu's favorite pair of underwear features Buzz Lightyear prominently displayed across the rear. While he was wearing them, David referred to him as "Buzz-butt." Now S is convinced that is Buzz's actual name. Yesterday he was looking at a Toy Story book and proudly pointing out "Buzz-butt's ball, Buzz-butt's mekina (car), Buzz-butt's Ababa (father)." Imagine how pleased he was to discover that Yikealo has an old "Buzz-butt" costume!

This, I kid you not, was one of Yikealo's questions to David at bedtime: "If somebody had a long rope and they tied a chicken to it and threw it to the sun, could they cook the chicken and then pull it back and eat it?" Where does he come up with this stuff?

Yikealo had awakened before Sintay and was in our bed for some snuggles. David told him to turn his back to me so that the three of us could "be spoons." Yikealo wanted to know where Sintay would fit when he woke up, and then he quickly answered his own question: "I know! Sintay can be the fork!"

The "fork" with his cousin Jalen

Mr. Y emerged from his bedroom dressed for the day and asked, "So, Mom, do I look nice in this? Or do I look like an utter cow?" I think that I need to rephrase some of my Sunday morning questions to David....someone is obviously listening in a little too closely.

Yesterday in his writing practice book, Y needed to finish the following: "She has short hair. I have ______hair." He chose the word "boingy." When I asked if "curly" might not be a better choice, he responded, "No, because if I had a bug in my hair, he could just go boing, boing, boing, and my hair would be sort of like a trampoline for him." There you have it....the definition of "boingy" hair.

In his journaling notebook, Y had the sentence starter "If I could fly..." Here is his completed thought: "If I could fly I would want to be a bold eagle. I woud hav loing weings. I would not haft to licin to my mom and dad." Nice....methinks someone was a bit bitter about being forced to write sentences.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Ethiopia - Trip 2: Last Day in Country (June 22, 2012)

During both of our adoptions, I found our last day in our childrens' birth-country to be so bittersweet. I'm not much of a world traveler, and after a few days of worrying about unsafe water, I am READY to be back in the good old USA! At the same time, I have such a great love for the beautiful country of Ethiopia, and there is a part of me that longs to be back there. On this trip, we were aching to see Yikealo again, which made us that much more ready to get back home, and yet I don't know if my words can ever really do justice to the painful experience of how it feels to rip a child away from everything he has ever known. Inside, I was weeping for Sintayehu while I was rejoicing for myself.

This was a pretty relaxing day for the most part. We had been told that someone from HH would bring Sintayehu's visa to the hotel around 11:00 am, but in typical Ethiopian fashion, that didn't actually happen until about 2:30 pm. While we waited, we played in our room, did some shopping at the little "store" inside the hotel lobby, and spent a lot of time talking to Michael and Mindy while Sintayehu and Alaysia played outside together.

Danny, the HH driver showed up while we were eating a late lunch of french fries. Since we had picked up our luggage the day before, we had 2 suitcases full of donations for HH. We also had lots of photos to give to the special mothers and the rest of the staff, so we asked if I would be able to take a quick trip back to the transition home with Danny. We had thought that David would stay back at the hotel with Sintayehu, so as not to confuse him by taking him back to the special mothers. However, trying to explain our thoughts to Danny proved to be a bit much for the language barrier! He called back to HH to get permission to bring all of us back, and then told us all to follow him out to the van. We let it slide, because I was pretty sure that Sintay would do fine. As we've explained before, the Ethiopian people are very friendly....especially with children....and his reactions to the hotel staff all week showed us pretty clearly that he was starting to feel attached to us. When a smiling Ethiopian would come up to him and try to talk to him or touch him, he would jerk back, shrug them off and cling to me, hiding his face against me. Sometimes he would tell them his name when they asked, but more often than not, he would hide behind me and ignore them.

He certainly didn't ignore Danny though! He didn't want Danny to hold him, but he definitely liked giving out orders to him! While Danny waited on us to finish eating, Sintay commanded him to sit down and eat, handing him one french fry after another. When we got in the van, Sintay started yelling out commands, one after another in Amharic, while Danny laughed and translated: "He is telling me, 'Be very careful! Drive slowly! Go very very fast!'" Mr. S kept up his steady stream of demands all the way to HH. When we arrived, he jumped out of the van and ran to show his new shoes to all of his friends. They were all so happy to see him, of course, and we enjoyed seeing the older kids again. While I was handing out photos to the various staff members, Sintayehu marched around saying goodbye....but he wouldn't let anyone touch him unless I was standing right beside him or holding onto him too....another good sign that he was feeling attached to us. These people had been taking excellent care of him for 4 months, but he was all about Mommy.
 Saying goodbye to his buddies

 Checking out photos on the i-phone

 Sintayehu with Tsige. She is the Intake Coordinator at HH, the expert on each child's story. It is she who completes the research on each child, and interviews and photographs their birth families when they come to Addis for court.

Sintay with Haile, our Case Processor. Haile accompanied us to court on our first trip.

Soon, we had said our final farewells and were climbing back in the van for the last time. Back at the hotel, we asked for a 7:00 pm check-out, and while Sintay napped, the A family moved their luggage down to our room for the last few hours....their flight left around the same time as ours, and there was no sense in paying 2 late check-out fees! We spent our last few hours showering and changing into clean clothes for the LONG trip home, repacking everything, and eating one last dinner at the Riviera. At 7, we headed down to the lobby, where we waited for our shuttle to the airport.

Our shuttle was about 30 minutes late, of course, but we sailed through airport security and ticketing with no problems whatsoever, and ended up with over 2 hours to sit and talk with the A family. The time flew by, and before we knew it, we were hugging them goodbye and promising to pray for each other's safe travels. We walked through more security checks, and at 10:30, we boarded our Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt and settled in for the first leg in our LONG trip to America. Hurrah! Only 32 hours to Yikealo!