Friday, August 31, 2012

Fishin' Pole

When you're only two years old...

...and your older siblings and Mommy are sorting through fishing gear...

...but no matter how much you whine and beg, they won't let you play with it... really helps if Mommy makes you a toy fishin' pole out of a drumstick, some thread and a bobber.

Snapshot: Google Maps

"Look, Mommy, I found Israel and Egypt, and there's cities and pictures and a pretty waterfall!"

Dad and Grandma Doh

Grandma Doh (the kids' nickname for Grandma Doris) hates having her picture taken. But when she came up to visit us yesterday for a few minutes, I sneaked a couple of pics without telling her. I like her and I wanted a pic. So there. 

She doesn't use computers and hates the internet, so she'll never know. Unless Dad tells her. Hopefully he tells her she looks stunning, because that's the truth. 

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Meeting Teacher Marnie

This fall, we've enrolled Abi in the same Preschool as Curly and Mister attended. Because of her disability, and our work on bonding, I've been in close contact with the teacher, who by this time is a good friend. I was a little worried that she would not want to teach a blind child, since she doesn't have special training. She told me at first she was hesitant that she would not be able to make the experience meaningful.

As we have exchanged emails, however, she decided that she would be able to use her daughter, who is interning, to help with Abi's needs, and with me to supply special materials, ideas and support, it will work out fine. In fact, her willing attitude has been a blessing!

Today we went in to meet her and learn the classroom, where the restroom is located, the playground and other locations. Abi LOVED it. She didn't get weird about Teacher Marnie at all, like she does with some of the older ladies at church. She was excited to play with the toys, and was disappointed that there were no friends there to meet. For her part, Marnie was impressed with how well Abi moved around the classroom, and how quickly she began playing an imaginative game with the toys.

We were both pleased with how this initial meeting went, and I'm looking forward to the beginning of classes next week.

While she is in her classes, I plan to use the time to let Bean play and do some formal homeschooling with the older two. They seem to be looking forward to it also. Having some attention from Mom and learning something new is always high on the list of stuff they enjoy.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Little Abi

Today, our social worker came to do the interview for our 12-month report (yes, just a bit early). It's made me introspective and a little sad, but also thankful for how far we've come. We're standing on the threshold of life being [good? normal? easier?] again, according to all accounts.

I have wanted to write this post for a long time. I know it'll make me cry.

I'm going to share all the pictures that we received month-by-month while we were waiting to bring Abi home. All the pictures I was not allowed to share when we got them, due to confidentiality purposes. Every month, we'd get a new picture of her looking a little bigger, a little sadder, and each month my Mother-love wanted a little more to have her here in my arms. I wanted to hold her and tell her everything would be okay. Every month that we waited was another month that added to the difficulty bonding with her, and every month was one too many spent without a family.

Still, I'm still blown away by how God cared for her before she came home. In spite of being abandoned, starving, going blind and losing a primary caregiver FIVE times, she came home developmentally on track, with a sunny, loving personality and a precocious trust in Jesus. I've seldom seen life deal out a rougher hand; on the other hand I've seldom seen a kid as resilient as she is. She absolutely amazes me.

So... *deep breath.* Here goes.

July 2010. This is the first picture we ever saw of her. When we did our initial inquiry after finding her on the Rainbow Kids web site. This is the picture that captured us, that convinced us to apply to adopt her. Hubby's comment: "Cute little gourd." :)

This was the next one we got in October of 2010. We were officially "matched" and I began to feel as though she might become my daughter. This is the one I showed friends and family for months.

In November of 2011, I got this one. She wasn't smiling, and my heart ached to hold her.

In December, someone had gotten her to smile and clap. She looks like a baby, a sweet, soft happy baby, as if maybe life hadn't hurt her terribly after all. Her mismatched clothes, and the laundry hanging behind her, though, were a reminder to me of where she lived.

This one from January of 2011 struck me with how beautiful she is. She stood so straight in her pretty blue dress. I would look at this picture for hours, memorizing the shape of her ears and eyebrows, trying to cross the future months until she was home. It would be a year. A year of waiting and hoping and praying.

February brought this one. Her hair was shaved again. She was playing with a toy. I greedily grabbed at any scrap of information about her personality and interests.

March 2011. Again, a pretty dress. Did she like pretty dresses? (I know now the answer is a resounding YES!!!) She was holding a toy close to see it. I wondered what sight she had. I was glad she had a chance to play with a toy, since I'd heard stories of institutions with none. I wondered if it was just given to the children for picture time. She had a birthday; turned three years old. I hoped it was the last birthday she'd spend without a family.

April 2011. I was told she was sleepy and refused to smile. My heart ached nonetheless. I did not know that for the rest of the year, each month would just get harder.

May 2011. I had naively hoped to have her home by this month. In spite of telling myself it would take longer, I still clung to hope. At this month, I gave up and knew it would take as long as it took. I prayed that God would keep my little girl safe. People seemed to delight in telling dramatic horror stories about acquaintances they knew whose children took sick and died before they could get them home. I'd look at this picture and weep, praying that God would bring my little girl home.

June 2011. Someone put finger-curls in her hair. Did she like having her hair done? (Yes!)

July 2011. Eating. What was she eating? Did she like it? She had just been transferred to KVI orphanage. Did she like it? Was she scared. Someone had shaved her head again. Why? 

August 2011. I love this picture. The intensity of her expression. The fact that she is using her left hand to color. Was she left-handed? (I still don't know. She uses both interchangeably.) I loved that the staff let her color pictures and did not assume that because she can't see she would not want to color.

September 2011. When we got this picture, we had a travel date and a court date. She looks unhappy in the picture. I was told she grew more and more moody. Knowing her now, I think she was struggling with the transition to the new facility. They had given her a toy, trying to coax her to smile for the camera, but she was having none of it.  She looked so much bigger in this one. I grieved the time we were losing, but I was excited to travel, to meet her in person.

October 14, 2011. A day that will be burned into my memory forever. We met her for the first time. We held her for the first time. All of those months of pictures became a real, living, breathing little girl. She played with us briefly. Then she refused to have anything to do with us. I did not blame her. Still, I grieved. And then I had to leave her. I signed papers in court that she was my daughter. And I had to leave her there in an orphanage in Africa.

We did not get a picture in November. After all, we were just there. We'd just seen her. In December, just before Christmas, we got this one. A smile! A little girl sitting in the sun! She was over the flu that had made her so grumpy when we visited her, and she was sitting in the sun laughing! It was like a gift.

January 2011. At last! At last I held her and knew I never had to let her go. We had a LONG road ahead of us before we both felt like we belonged together, but at last that journey could begin. I think my smile could have split my face. She was more interested in my camera case.

After ten long days, on January 21, 2012, I brought her home and placed her in her Daddy's arms. Her brothers and sister met her for the first time, as did my parents. She was asleep. The 34-hour plane trip was a killer.

At last, my little girl was with her new family. At last, we had smiles in the pictures again. Some of them. She still had months of grief and fear, and the frustration of a huge language and culture barrier. Still, she knew from the very first day that she was loved. A real Mother's love, and a Father's love. Not nannies and social workers and strangers who gave her a sucker to get her to smile. Sometimes that seemed stifling when she was used to nobody caring if she wanted to pout. But still, she began to smile again.

These precious pictures are all I have of my little girl. No round, fat baby pictures or first steps. Still, I treasure these pictures, even though they make me sad. I'm surprised how much of her personality I see in them, now that I know what to look for. I did not get to care for my baby during those years, but the One who loves her even more than I do cared for her. The Father of the Fatherless.

Psalms 68:4 Sing to God, sing in praise of his name...
    rejoice before him—his name is the Lord. 
5 A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, 
    is God in his holy dwelling. 
6 God sets the lonely in families,
    he leads out the prisoners with singing;

Monday, August 27, 2012

Like Twins

In the last blog post, I mentioned that Bean and Abi are a lot like twins right now. I thought I'd expand on that just a bit.

While I can tell Abi actually has 4 year old thought processes and memory going on, her language is about as basic as Bean's. Yesterday, she kept going on about "seeking" which I finally decoded to mean "shaking" and making her hair beads rattle. Talking with either of them is like an ongoing game of Phrases, where they spout off something that only makes sense in their own heads and we guess until we figure out what they're saying.

Another twin thing: they are the same height. Still! When Abi came, I expected a growth spurt would put her above Bean. She did indeed have a growth spurt this summer. In fact, she grew 6.5 inches since she got here, which puts her back onto the growth charts finally. Bean, though, not to be outdone, also had a growth spurt. And they are still the same height.

They are also becoming best friends. They adore each other, asking where the other is if they aren't together. They cook up mischief together, like tearing the couch apart and jumping kamikaze onto the cushions.

Like twins, they compete for my attention. I've even had people ask me if they are twins, which makes me laugh, since they are different colors, almost two years apart in age and they originated on opposite sides of the globe. But sometimes, I'm with those people. I wonder if they are actually twins? ;)

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Spotlight on Little Mister

Bringing Abi home is a lot like having a new baby. I count the months and record each precious milestone. My blog fills with pictures of her. And stories of her. It's kind of a mirror of our house at present. The Abi channel. All Abi, all the time.

Some families report having only pictures of the oldest kid. By the time number three or four comes along there are no pictures at all. I seem to have the opposite problem. The baby gets all the attention. Or, babies. Bean and Abi are a bit like twins for the present.

Little Mister gets almost no airtime, and it's really not fair! He's not the oldest, so not breaking ground with amazing new learning milestones or violin recitals. He's not the youngest, so no sweet, soft baby cuteness pictures, or surprising feats like a first step. He's actually very hard to photograph at all, and it's a rare smile that I do manage to capture with the camera.

Mister is solidly my middle child. The poor kid can hardly get a sentence out without his rambunctious siblings interrupting him. And yet, though I seldom write blog posts about him, I absolutely adore him. I am not supposed to have a favorite kid. So I won't admit anything. But good heavens, how I love this kid.

Using shapes on the Curious George web site, he built a sand castle with an exactly symmetrical pattern of decoration.

He was the only one of my children I bonded with instantly when I first met him. I fell absolutely head over heels for this red-headed guy. I love how he is so much like his Daddy in looks and temperament, but so much like me in how he learns and in other ways. He amazes me daily with what he knows; his memory is like a steel trap. He's sweet and funny and brilliant and absentminded. Yes, he has a temper, and yes, he can get very whiny. But how can I remember that when he looks up at me with his twinkling hazel eyes and says, "Mommy, I sure love you." 

I think this year if I do nothing else than try to spend some quality time every day with Little Mister, I'll have succeeded as a Mom. He's going to be six, you see, and in Kindergarten. Six is a very important age, and he, despite how it feels from his view as a middle child, is a VERY important person. 

New braids for Preschool

There are just a couple of colors Abi can see. One of them is yellow, and it's her absolutely favorite color. Several times a day, she finds something "Beechah" (yellow) and tells me about it.

So, this time I did her hair, I used "beechah" beads. To say she was thrilled would be an understatement. "Abi's 'qonjoh' (beautiful)" she told me when I was done. I agreed.

I noticed a few fun little milestones this time: her hair is long enough to do a bit of a cornrow in the front. Since we saw a LOT of ladies in Addis Ababa with cornrows in the front, and another style in the back, to me, she looks very Ethiopian with her hair done this way, and I love it.

This time, I did her hair all in one day. Today. And no, I'm not faster. It still took ten hours. Whew. Luckily, Abi loves getting her hair done. She feels loved and pampered, so she sits for me and watches Sesame street. Every hour or two we take a break, stretch and play for a bit, but then we're right back at it again. Hubby helped braid out a few braids and put on beads. I'm grateful for every second of help.

Now we're good for another 4-6 weeks and she feels pretty for Preschool starting. She's going to the same Preschool that Curly and Mister attended. I'm a little concerned that it could be rocky at first, given the bonding issues we're still having from time to time, but in the long run, I think it will be good for her to make friends and have some structured learning time. I've been in contact with the teacher regarding adapted learning ideas, and the teacher has been absolutely fantastic with her enthusiasm to teach Abi and listen to my ideas for making the experience meaningful. I'm looking forward to classes beginning next week.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Building Bunk Beds

The past two weekends, I built the kids a bunk bed using some upcycled headboards I got from the classifieds, along with some lumber that we stained to match. Hubby joined in the fun for this project, and we had a great time working together. He enjoyed learning some woodworking techniques, since he hasn't done much before. 

Curly and Mister get the new bunks for now; later, when the Littles get big enough, I'll set up my old bunk beds and we'll have a girls' and boys' bunks. :)

Friday, August 24, 2012

In The Front Yard

Bikes, trikes and a scooter. (I did not enforce helmets; nobody was going fast enough to do more than merely tip over.) We're enjoying these summer days, although today was cool and felt more like fall.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

What She Can Do

The other night, it occurred to me that I've taken very few videos over the past six months. There have been a few violin ones, but not much showing Abi. Part of it is that I don't really want to remember the transition difficulties this year; part of it is I just forgot. People keep saying, make sure you videotape her speaking Amharic! Make sure you record this time when she's so little and new. Make sure, make sure.

Well, anyway, I pulled out the camera the other night. I wanted to record her while she's still learning English and has the cute accent, to be able to look back and remember. I wanted to give the grandparents a chance to see how doggone cute she is, well, all of them! And I wanted to show curious people how capable she is of getting around an environment where she is completely familiar. Given the freedom to explore, a kid who is almost totally blind, like she is, won't have any trouble playing just like the other kids. Mostly, it's the adults who need to chill out and simply encourage playing, without hovering and warning of potential dangers all the time.

Part 1 (Ok, Safety Sammies, yes, I let more than one kid jump at a time. Leave a comment scolding me if you must, but I think that's a dumb rule. We've been jumping for two years now, and no injuries so far, knock on wood.)
Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Seven Months!

I have a migraine today. My husband worked 11 hours, I woke up at 5:30, and Curly has a fever.

Not much celebrating went on today.

More like a LOT of Blue's Clues.

Still, it's worth noting that we have reached Abi's SEVEN MONTH anniversary!! On this day last January, I stepped off the plane onto a skiff of sun-brilliant snow with a sleeping bundle in my arms and tears running down my cheeks.

Seven months means we are more than half-way to a year.

And a year is a fantastic milestone, as this wonderful, funny, honest blogger writes. Please read this post. Please.

Okay. More later when I can think again, and fix lunch without dry heaving. (No, I'm not pregnant. Migraine, remember?)