Wednesday, June 25, 2014

An Open Letter to Short-Term Missionaries

Dear Short-Term Missionarines Who Went to Abi's Orphanage:

Thank you for teaching my daughter how to play. You made it so much easier for her when she came home.


Not long ago, I read this fascinating article by a young man who grew up in an African Orphanage. He comments on the positives and negatives of the short-term missions teams who came through. Some were helpful... some not so much.

In Abi's case, someone taught her to pretend to make coffee.  Looking back, I'm pretty sure it was the only play that she knew. She didn't understand baby dolls, nor did she dress up. But she did use a little plastic MegaBlok upside-down as a cup to make and serve cups of coffee. Someone taught her that. Someone who was probably there for the week, and who was probably "taking a break" from painting the building or something.

So many adoptive parents say that their children come home from orphanages and report that their children do not know how to play. They don't pretend. They don't know what to do with toys.

Somehow, someone taught Abi to pretend. And tell stories. And sing songs.

And when she came home, those simple games blossomed into a rich imaginative life. It helped bridge the gap with her new siblings here.

I hope that whoever those missionaries are, they realize that the greatest good they did for my little girl was not in painting or building or delivering supplies or doing programs. It was just sitting with her and teaching her how to play.

Abi in the guest house playing with a few pieces of LEGO
that I brought when I picked her up.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Hardest Day

Chatting with my friend about Abi when she first came home has me reminiscing today. For the first time, I can go there mentally without having an overwhelming feeling of panic. It’s taken a long time to put enough distance between myself and those days: those exciting, terrifying, wondrous, crazy days of bringing my child home.

There was one day in particular on that journey. One day that changed me as a person. It was a hitting bottom, yet going through it empowered me. Here’s the story of that day.

First, I need to give a little background. I’d already stayed with Abi for a week in the guesthouse. During that week I spent as much time as I could learning about how she did things, what she said (in Amharic), how she liked things. I was scared to bathe her lest I do it wrong and scare her. I tried to take mental notes on what she liked to eat, and which of the little toys I’d brought that she liked to play with.

The women who worked at the guest house were wonderful. One in particular, Genet, had worked in the orphanage and knew the routines and the children. She translated Abi’s three-year-old chatter for me and showed me how to bathe and oil Abi’s skin.

When it was time to leave the guest house and board our plane, I felt as though I was being cast adrift. Thankfully, God provided a beautiful Ethiopian woman in the seat next to us on the first flight. It was she who took Abi to the tiny airplane restroom for the first time.

We left the Ethiopian airlines in Johannesburg, South Africa. We had a five-hour layover there, and then we boarded the long flight to Atlanta. Seventeen overnight hours were spent crammed between the window of the plane and a 6’4” Marine. I think I slept maybe 30 minutes.

Then came THE DAY. We deplaned in Atlanta on US soil. I had clutched in my shaking hand the packet of immigration papers that our agency had given me. If they had done their work well, Abi would go through. If they had skipped one signature, she would be detained. I followed the crowd of people, my tired eyes unable to read any of the signs.

The line was long. It inched along for two hours, and the crush of people made the room swelteringly hot. I’d already had a problem with my woman’s time, and I’d had no opportunity to clean up or change my soiled clothing. Abi, completely overwhelmed, was sweating, whether with fear or the heat I could not tell. In one hand I held my new daughter, and in the other I held a suitcase, packet of papers and bag, dragging them along with me.

We finally reached our turn at the counter. Without letting go of Abi, I fished my passport out of my hidden wallet. We were led to an immigration room for our interview. Abi took that opportunity to proclaim that she wanted “Shintabayt” (bathroom), and I pleadingly asked the woman in the office if there was a restroom we could use. She affirmed that we could go find one, although I could tell this was a breach of protocol and an imposition on her busy schedule. I asked for specific directions.

“It’s over there around the corner,” she said, waving a hand vaguely ahead of her. “You’ll see it.”

I sighed. I would have to find a friendly passer-by for better directions when I got closer.

With Abi in tow, I ventured out. I’d tied the Ergo baby carrier around my waist to try and hide the problem clothing, and its buckles flogged my legs as I walked. I made my way down the wide airport hallway and around a corner where luckily the only door turned out to be the women’s room. Abi and I both went, but I had not thought to bring my bag, and had no extra clothing in it if I had. I tied a coat around my waist and we headed back into the office again.

To my intense relief, the papers were all approved. The shot of joy that coursed through my system carried me through the next few minutes, although I could feel fatigue nagging at the corners of my mind and limbs. We gathered our things and I took my newly minted American citizen in my arms, heavy as she was and headed into the Atlanta airport.

We only had a few precious hours to find food and figure out where our next flight was. I put Abi in the Ergo on my back. I figured keeping her there would work best for both of us. Then, I took a firm hold on my suitcase and bag and we were off.

The shopping mall-like hallways full of shops and restaurants was almost too much. I felt the last of my reserves leave and panic set in. I could not read any of the signs and the glittering light fixtures sent shards of artificial light into my tired brain. I was hungry, and my blood sugar was low. My body wanted breakfast, although in Atlanta, I think it was closer to dinner time. I stood for a minute in the center of the bewildering place as people hurried around me. I wanted to cry.

Food. I needed food. I tried in my hypoglycemic haze to center my brain on that one thought. I started meandering, trying to smell my way toward a restaurant. Whatever I got had to be something Abi would eat, and it needed to not contain much sugar or I might end up making myself sick and miss our next flight.

I walked near the shop doorways, looking through the too-bright lights and the hurrying crowds to try and determine what each shop contained.

Lots of black, square stuff. Electronics.

There’s a shop with food. Looks like all sweets.

Please, God, help me.

That one has souvenirs. Stuffed animals and sports memorabilia.

That one has candy bars and magazines.

There’s a lounge. It’s dark and they aren’t going to let Abi in there.

At last, at last. One that looked like some kind of buffet. Chicken, I think.

I entered and a pleasant young man asked if he could help me. Thankfully, I made a beeline for him and asked him they served. He pointed to the menu behind him that I couldn’t read, and I asked him wearily if he just had any combos or specials. I finally learned that he had a grilled chicken, rice and veggie plate.

That would work. I thought Abi might at least eat the rice.

I paid an exorbitant amount and also bought a $4 water bottle. I maneuvered suitcase, tray, bag, papers and child to a nearby table and sank gratefully into the seat. We ate, Abi receiving bites of chicken and rice into her mouth like a little bird. I tried out my stumbling Amharic on her. “Doro?” (Chicken) “Wooha?” (Water).

“Ow,” she said, which meant yes. Apparently she wasn’t in the mood to be picky. Small blessings.

She ate very little, and went back into shutdown mode, which at this point did not bother me. Better than screaming.

It was now time to find our departure gate. Summoning all the physical strength I could muster, I reinserted the heavy three-year-old onto my back in the Ergo and wrestled the rest of my possessions into submission.

Once again in the echoing, bustling hallway, I searched for a departure board. I was on the verge of stopping a hurrying passer-by to ask for directions, knowing I would get confusion and rolled eyes, when I spotted the big, square screen. I hurried toward it, praying that it was positioned low enough that I could get close enough to read it.

It was. I fumbled with my paperwork, and found my flight number. Then the gate.

Next, I had to find the way to departures. I got close enough to a sign to figure out the right way to go. Atlanta, of course, has to shuttle you to the farthest building, and time was beginning to run low. I hurried to find signs that I could read and figure out the shuttle system. Partly by following crowds, partly by asking a series of questions from people, and partly from sheer luck, at last, at long last, I found our gate. We were none too early, and it wasn't long before it was time to board.

Settling into my vinyl seat, this time next to a heavily tattooed young guy from the Army, I breathed a long, long sigh of relief as the panic began to recede. Someday, this nightmare trip would be over and I’d be home again with my family. I waited gladly for the plane to taxi and take off.

At that moment, a little voice beside me asked, “Shintabayt?”

It would feel like 137 hours until I stepped into the snow and sunlight and waiting arms or my family. In reality I only had about 6 hours to go. It was in those moments, when I dug deeper into reserves I never knew I had, that I changed. I grew. I learned that I am weak, and that I am strong. I learned again that single steps eventually bring you a thousand miles. And I learned just how far love will go.

Turtle Mode

A friend on Facebook with a newly adopted daughter asked me what I did with Abi when she was first home. Did she want to explore or did she want to sit and do nothing? It took me back to that first, difficult year and the many, many times when Abi did NOT want to be part of our family. As much as it hurts to remember those days, it's also neat to see how far she has come. 

I decided to copy part of the conversation here in case it helps others too:

With A--, it sounds like disengaging and thumb sucking is her bid for power in her little world. Abi was that way. We called it "turtle mode." She would curl up face-down somewhere and ignore us. It was the only thing she thought she had any control over. After a while, I'd scold her for ignoring us. Now, we have a "rule" in our house that if anyone says the name of someone else, they have to at least answer. That helps the blind kid too.  Like this ongoing game of Marco Polo LOL. But it started with teaching Abi not to ignore us. 

At first, it was the least hint of responding got rewarded. If I talked to her and she moved at all, I praised her. And I'd try to coax her to be engaged with favorite toys. "Little bear wants to talk to you!" Later, when she knew more English, I'd say "Abi, you need to answer when I say your name." If she didn't, something that worked was, "Oh (very sad tone), kids who don't answer Mommy don't get to come with me to the park! So sad!" That would often snap her out, because she LOVED the park. She also loves presents. So "kids who answer Mommy are going to get a new toy at the grocery store!"

I did a lot of rewarding Cody for doing what Abi was supposed to do LOL. He didn't mind. *smile*

We did silly "training" games toward engaging her and getting her to stop being a turtle. During a time when she was engaged, giggling and saying "Abi!" "Mommy!" "Abi!" "Mommy!" really fast over and over got her into a sort of habit of answering, so when a turtle, I'd say "Abi!" In the same quick, playful tone, and sometimes, she'd forget and answer! Once I got her to do that, the power struggle was broken and she'd snap out. She might try to go back but I'd laugh at her and tickle her and she'd give up and laugh.

Now, Abi doesn't bother with Turtle Mode much. She has learned that she is safe in her new world and likes to be engaged. I'm amazed, thinking about how far she has come! Healing takes a long, long time, but with gentle consistency, it does happen. 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Chinese Tea Cups

Today for lunch, I served leftover Teriyaki chicken that was from an easy crock pot meal the other night. 

What makes it fun is serving tea in the little old Chinese tea cups that came from Grandma Doris. How many times I remember as a child being allowed to drink from the quaint, colorful little cups! I let the kids get the tiny spoons from the coffee stuff in order to add sugar to their tea. It almost turns a meal of leftovers into a feast!

The Microscope

My mom, the scientist, gave us a little microscope set for Christmas ages ago, but we hadn't ever gotten it out. We put it down in the storage room to gather dust and, because life is busy, mostly forgot about it. 

Little Mister braved the depths of the storage room last night in search on a sleeping bag, and he found the microscope set. 

A sudden interest in microscience has pervaded our house today. 

A parakeet feather




Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Busy Summer Learning

The younger three and I took the bus to the Dollar Tree and spent a few allowance dollars on toys. The kids all handled their own money. 

Then, it was on to the indoor park to play with the new toys, and home again on the bus where Curly fixed French Toast for lunch. Yum!

Right after lunch Curly, Mister and Bean walked downtown with me to watch the Summer Matinee, which was showing "How to Train Your Dragon." Some friends were there, so of course we went to Friendship Square Park to play for a while. Since we were downtown, a cookie (for them) and a coffee (for me) didn't hurt!

At 4, we had the kickoff for the Food Co-op's "Growing Up Gardening" program, which we are THRILLED to participate in. The community garden is much sunnier than our yard, so we are hoping for much success in the veggie department. (A side note: Why learn about photosynthesis in February when you can learn about it in June and July in your own vegetable garden?) :)

Directly after gardening, we picked up TacoTime and drove out to Palouse. 

Curly has the opportunity to work with a little mare called Burlington, who is something of a newbie at the Parelli Natural Horsemanship method. She is a sweet little thing, though, and Curly enjoyed her time with her tonight. 

While Curly played Parelli games with the mare, I took pictures of the gorgeous Palouse sky. 

After all that, we were glad to head home, do a few chores and go to bed!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Cabin/Silverwood Trip

Photos from a family trip this weekend. Fun memories. :)

Playing Clue on a homemade board, and eating chocolate chip cookies.

Nice new deck that Mom and Dad put on the cabin last summer. 

Yes, we even brought the bunny. I'm not sure what I was thinking, but it turned out fine. Curly was thrilled. Hubby... Not so much, although he said he didn't really care. He's become accustomed to our traveling circus. 

The kids have grown so much since this same picture two years ago!

Throwing rocks in the river. 

Hubby got some nice skips. The kids just picked up the biggest rocks they could find and lobbed them into the water. 

Even though the weather was drizzly and cold, it was still beautiful. 

We built a fire on the beach where someone had left a ring. Then Curly and Mister fished for a while. 

Mister's casting gets better every year. Except for a catch-and-release incident with a bobber, they didn't see any action. I'm blaming it on the enthusiastic spaniel that shared our beach and dove into the river to fetch a toy that it's owners threw. If I was a fish, I doubt I'd have stayed. 

Small Bean, big bridge. 

Fritzie found one of Cousin Chewy's rawhide bones. After working on it all weekend, he succeeded in gnawing one corner. 

Enjoying ice creams. Hubby's philosophy of camping is that good food always makes it better. 

On the train at Silverwood. We'd bought tickets with a group of homeschoolers and got in for about half-price. 

Curly LOVED driving the car. Abi drove too, and let me tell you, there is a reason they don't let blind people drive. She bumped us every which way against the track! I've never had a rougher ride, but her grin when she finished was worth it. 

The kiddie coaster was a hit, although the Littles were both tall enough to ride the big coasters with us this year. Abi in particular discovered that the roller coasters "tickled her tummy," and she couldn't get enough of them. At the end of the day, she agreed to be my buddy and ride Tremors, since I love the wooden coasters. 

The Frog Hop ride gave satisfying tummy tickles as well. 

At the restaurant near the end of the day, we ordered spaghetti, and spent the waiting time taking pictures of one another making silly faces. 

Garfield. Lasagna. 

Some good friends who live in Coeur d'Alene took the animals for us while we were at the theme park. The first thing Fritzie did when we got him back was fall asleep. He'd apparently had all-day fun with their kids. 

My kids all fell asleep in the car too. I'd say we successfully wore them out. :)