Author Archives: kkmanning

For Grammy

This evening we opened a special box from Grammy with some cool wooden sailboats from the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum. Grammy has a beautiful Bed and Breakfast right on the water in St. Michaels, Maryland where sailing is a big preoccupation.

We decided to walk down the street for a swim at the pier and test them out after dinner. When I tried to take the kids swimming last summer I was convinced they were all going to drown. All three loved the water with abandon, and sunk like stones when they jumped in! Several sessions of swimming lessons and lots of time in the water since then, and I actually enjoy taking them now so much! We are fortunate to live on a beautiful lake and have easy access to the water. Here’s a review of the evening.

The boys finished up with a Daddy-assisted swim around the end of the pier. They were very proud of themselves.

Lovin summer!


Summer Snaps

Things have been busy around here! We had a great visit with my sister’s family from New York, with the kids finally getting a chance to meet the rest of their cousins. Cousin love! They were all so cute together. Especially these two:

 

Last week we drove to Wenatchee for a gathering of families who have adopted Ethiopian kids through our agency. We got to see a few long lost friends, and the kids enjoyed playing with kids from their culture of origin. Unfortunately Wenatchee Confluence State Park was flooded from this year’s runoff, so the swimming and activities weren’t as much fun as we had hoped. Still, we are glad we went!


School’s Out!

Joy!

He runs

Too much spring rain makes for beautiful greens!


Invasive Love

How do you love the people closest to you? What’s your style? Are you assertive, cautious, enticing?

This question is one I hadn’t thought much about before we adopted, but have been forced to think about a lot over the past year. My family of origin are respecters of privacy and personal space. Our interactions are always careful to not make anyone uncomfortable. My husband comes from a family that is less so. Our approaches, as a result of that training as well as our own personalities, are very different.

How does this relate to parenting adopted children, particularly when it comes to older kids for whom we are not the first parent-child relationship experience they’ve had?

As a new parent to a child you really don’t know, you can expect some semblance of a courting process…your goal is to fall into parent-child love with each other, but that doesn’t happen overnight. I mean maybe it does for some people, like love at first sight, but it didn’t happen that way for us and I imagine that it’s pretty rare. So set that expectation aside and think about how long it took you to really fall in love with, say, your spouse. And remember that most likely your spouse was trying to woo you during this process. And realize that you and your new children may not really feel like you love each other for a year, or two, or five. Because they will not likely be trying to woo you at first…you’ll be in a one-way relationship where you are carrying all the risk (from your perspective…remember, they are feeling very much at risk), and your advances are not being reciprocated.

I decided in our early days not to tell the kids I loved them until I really felt it. Because I figure, they are smart, and they’re going to see through it if I’m not being honest. I think it was at least seven months before I said it the first time. I showed them in a million tiny ways that I am a loving, attentive, thoughtful and capable Mom (wow did I just say that about myself?!) by meeting their needs repetitively, by introducing them to new things, by being happy to spend my time and energy and attention on them. I showed them affection through hugs, rocking, smiles, holding hands, pushing them on the swing, cooking them things I know they love, rubbing their backs, snuggling while we read, etc. etc. etc. But I wasn’t looking them in the eye and putting that love to words. Until recently.

Part of me is so overly sensitive to how what I say is going to make someone else feel or think, that I just don’t risk it. Plus my kids are so averse to words about love, and clear physical expressions of it, that I knew my advances would be rejected. But as I’ve gotten healthier accepting my new role and recovering from the shock of suddenly becoming a mom to three. I’ve realized that it’s time to make the kids uncomfortable. Because the truth is that I do love them now. And they are going to be uncomfortable with being confronted by that. And it’s OK.

If you think of them having a bubble around them on this topic, me telling them that I love them is an invasion of that bubble, big time. The bubble is one that says, “I’m going to keep people at arms length, but especially the ones who inhabit a role that I know to be untrustworthy.” I’m in the most critical of those roles: Mom. Primary nurturer. The one you can count on no matter what. Well in their experience you can’t count on a Mom no matter what. So even if they want to count on me, they’ve got little voices inside their heads screaming “NO!!! DON’T TRUST HER! DON’T LET HER IN! SHE’S NOT GOING TO STICK AROUND!”

So yes, it makes them uncomfortable when I tell them that I love them. And it’s my job to invade them with love. If I respect their bubble on this topic, I’m robbing them of the beautiful opportunity to learn how to have a healthy attached relationship. If I let them, they would keep their relationship to Mom on their terms. They’d accept the nurturing, the cooking, the laundry, the nursing when they are sick, the cheerleading for their activities, the taxi service, the social coordination, and they might never truly commit to the relationship. Sound like a bad husband? Well I’m convinced, if I don’t do the hard work to break through that bubble, they will someday become a bad husband. Because a boy’s relationship with his Mom is the model for his later relationship to his wife. And I don’t want my boys to become men who accept all of those gifts from a woman, but who won’t allow themselves to be vulnerable for her by committing to the relationship. I want them to have a wonderful marriage someday, and I want them to be able to fully engage in a loving, committed relationship.

We have a couple of other things working against us, those of us who adopt boys from Ethiopia. First, the culture is not one that shows women a lot of respect. Second, kids in the orphanage (and I’m only guessing that this is largely the case in orphanages other than the one we adopted from) have lots of female caregivers, and very few in authority. Women do their laundry, cook for them, keep things clean, entertain them, etc. But they don’t demand much from them. As the Mom, you are going to fulfill most of the same tasks that several female workers used to do for them at the orphanage. But you do NOT want to be your boys’ servant. You have to teach them how to relate to you in a different way.

I can’t remember if I shared this, but in the first couple of months that they were home, one of my boys snapped their fingers at me at the dinner table when he wanted more food. Probably the same one that wagged his finger in the face of the flight attendant and shouted “No!” on our flight home from Ethiopia when he didn’t want another drink. You will likely have to rehabilitate your boy in the way he relates to women.

I’d say after a year, we are really only just at the tip of the iceberg on the topic of expressing love or reciprocating in a loving relationship head on. The timing feels about right to be working on it now. We had a lot of other things to work on earlier.

As the Mom it can be really painful to be rejected by a child whom you want to shower with love. And by the way, I only have my experience and a handful of others to go by…you could well adopt a super affectionate child who doesn’t present these challenges. But if not, you will want to protect yourself by remembering that their fear of love, particularly for a Mom, is going to take some time to tame. Don’t take it personally, and don’t let them see how much it hurts you, especially before they are mature enough to care about such a thing. Recognize that your need for reciprocated love from them is not likely to be met at the level you need it to be. Celebrate the victories, and remember that you are watching your child begin to conquer their biggest fears. For example, I remember the day Melkam first climbed into my lap. I didn’t want to breathe for fear of losing the moment! You will know when the big victories start to happen.

We’ve had a lot of them, don’t get me wrong. My five-year-old asks for extra hugs when we leave each other for any reason, both boys ask for Momma Love (snuggle time), and my oldest and I usually give each other a kiss on the check during our goodnight hug. But the words, heaven forbid you say those three scary words. Tonight, for example, I told both boys I loved them when I hugged them goodnight. My oldest said “Mom! Don’t say that to me!” and I responded with “Alex, I’m going to say that to you for the rest of your life.” He said “Well I’m not going to say it back.” To which I replied, “That’s ok. You don’t have to.” And that’s just where we are right now. An uncomfortable invasion when I said it, but perhaps somewhat relieved by the idea that, for now, he is under no obligation to reciprocate the words. And by the way, his delight at being told I love him is thinly veiled under the pretense of disgust. It’s not hard to see. Someday soon I’ll tell him that I look forward to the day that he feels comfortable saying that back to me, but for now I’m not expecting it.

I’m talking specifically about my boys here (ages 7 and 5) because my little girl was about 13 months old when she arrived home. She doesn’t have the same kind of experience that the boys do, and she’s just as affectionate and cuddly as a typical toddler. She also has no fear of saying out loud “Mommy, I love you!” Or telling others that her Mommy or Daddy love her. So we’re just not dealing with the same challenge.

Speaking of Ellie, she is so precious! It’s a good thing 2-year-olds take a nice long nap. They are more charming with an occasional break! Here’s a video of her I caught today only because she thought I was checking emails on my phone rather than focusing the camera on her.


Theraplay for the attachment-challenged child

There are many labels that get tossed around when it comes to adopted children. Not getting caught up in those labels is important if you really want what’s best for your kid. By definition, older, and even younger, adopted children are ‘attachment challenged.’ They’ve had and lost primary caregivers, or they’ve never really had a primary caregiver until you step in as their new parent. Therefore, they are either recovering from the trauma of loss, or they just didn’t learn as an infant, how to attach to you. This is not terrible news, your child is likely to recover, and recover fully. EVEN if some authority tells you they have Reactive Attachment Disorder. Seriously, don’t panic. But also don’t ignore it. Find the right way to help them through it to become whole and as healthy as possible in their relationships. And remember, helping them early does make a difference.

The real challenge of any child who struggles with attachment on any level,  is understanding how to read and interpret their behaviors. Some of the things we’ve experienced include super-neediness, followed by total rejection once the parent responds to those needs. Or a child in a screaming rage fit who freaks out equally if you come closer or move away. They are in their own internal struggle: Desperate for your love, authority, nurturing, and terrified of letting themselves trust that you will provide for their needs. They also tend to try to fulfill their own prophecy because it makes them feel more in control…as in ‘if I believe these adults are going to abandon me, I’m going to do things that will make them want to abandon me.’ It’s heartbreaking and it leaves a parent at a loss for how to proceed in a way that best supports the child.

We found a local therapist who specializes in Theraplay for attachment challenged children. The therapist helps the parent learn how to incorporate some core messages into play, not psychoanalyzing the child through verbal interactions. We’ve seen her a handful of times with one of our children who struggles in this area most noticeably, and we’ve seen a significant improvement already. I can’t tell you what a relief it is to see even subtle shifts in your child’s ability to relax and be joyful. It’s so encouraging!

As the Mom, I think I was most attuned to the issues I was seeing because I represent the primary nurturer in our family. My kids behave differently with me than they do with their Dad or others. And by the way, adoptive Moms, there are going to be times you feel like they are sucking the very life out of you! Remember, most adopted kids arrive with a deficit of nurturing. You are the source that is going to fill those empty wells, which is a huge honor and a very, very taxing job.

I kept having this sinking feeling that my child was struggling within himself and I didn’t know how to help him. My best way to describe this is that he didn’t seem to know who he was or how he fit into this family or the world in general. He seemed discontent, combative at times, and generally as though he had chaos going on inside his head and heart. Moms (and Dads) if you have feelings like this about your child, don’t ignore them. Your gut instincts are important…seek help. Also, if you don’t feel like the therapist you’ve found is right, look for another one. You must feel comfortable with who you are choosing to help your family.

Here’s some info on Theraplay:

There are three goals of Theraplay: To help the child replace inappropriate solutions and behaviors with healthy, creative, and age-appropriate ones; to increase the child’s self-esteem; to enhance the relationship between the child and his/her caregivers.

Because the roots of development of the self and self-esteem and trust lie in the early years, Theraply treatment returns to the stage at which the child’s emotional development was derailed and provides the experiences that can restart the healthy cycle of interaction. Therefore activities are geared to the child’s current emotional level rather than to his/her chronological age.

Structure: Parents are trustworthy and predictable, and they help define and clarify the child’s experience. The adult conveys the message: you are safe with me because I will take good care of you.

Engage: Parents provide excitement, surprise, and stimulation in order to maintain a maximal level of alertness and engagement.

Nurture: Parents are warm, tender, soothing, calming and comforting. The message is: You are loveable, I will respond to your needs for care, affection, and praise.

Challenge: Parents encourage the child to move ahead, to strive a bit, and to become more independent. The message is: You are capable of growing and making a positive impact on the world.

One of the specific ways we’ve begun incorporating these ideas into play with our son has been to engage in purposeful, fun playtimes where the parent is running the show. Completely. Our child loves to play games, but will constantly try to change the game so he feels like he’s in charge. The goal is to teach him that it can be fun and safe to let the parent be in charge…taught through play experiences. So maybe we are bouncing a ball and counting how many times we pass it, and then I change the game to throwing the ball through the tire swing, and then moving the game to another place in the yard. All the while staying upbeat, focused on the child, and clearly in charge. No, I can’t do this all the time because I have three kids and yes, it’s exhausting! But a little of this goes a long way. And once you are thinking about it, it’s easy to incorporate into other areas (Mommy’s choosing the books tonight for storytime, for example). It doesn’t mean the child never gets to make his own choices and direct his own play, it just means that when Mom or Dad assert their authority, he’s less likely to react to it and more likely to yield and allow himself to be under the authority of his parents

I’m grateful to be finding this guidance that seems to be making such a difference for our family! The only thing is that the joyful version of my little guy is SO LOUD! Just this morning we were on a walk around the neighborhood and came to a corner near our house. A couple was sitting on their porch having coffee and laughing because they could hear my little chatterbox from a block away. They noted how happy he sounded. Which warmed my heart!


Tada! I’m back.

Hello friends! We’re still here and everything is fine; great really! I just took another hiatus. It’s hard to remember to blog when life is happening all around you! But since I love this as a method of recording our journey, I’m going to be updating more often.

We passed our year anniversary as a family of five on May 15th! We’ve had lots of talks lately about what we were doing this time a year ago, and it’s SO INTERESTING to hear the kids’ perspective now that they have both the language skills and the comfort in our family to share about that time. They clearly remember both the wait for us to return, and how long and frustrating it was, as well as the journey home. It was scary to leave the familiarity and routine of the orphanage and to get on an airplane with people who were basically strangers. Kids are resilient though, and they are good judges of character, so there are opportunities everywhere to reassure them, even when you don’t realize you are doing it. Kids with backgrounds like ours have become very good at figuring out who is trustworthy and who is not.

More and more we are becoming a family with kids just like any other family with kids, which means this blog will be boring to anyone other than grandparents, relatives, close friends. But there remain some interesting challenges both for us as parents, and for our kids, as they continue to heal from their past and and to incorporate themselves into their role in our family, and as we morph into the parents they need. I’ll try to continue to focus on these things, which are are the basis for the only unique perspective I have to offer. Also, when we were wrestling with our adoption decisions, the stories I most enjoyed and learned from were those of families who had been through it. For that reason I’ll share what I can that might be helpful to families embarking on similar journeys. Particularly on topics like attachment challenges, adopting sibling groups, and adopting older children.

Meanwhile, here are some silly videos of the boys on an evening recently when we went out for pizza:


Happy Abundant Mother’s Day

Last year was an unforgettable Mother’s Day for me (we were just bringing home our three kids from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia), but this year is special in a whole new way, because I’ve spent a year being called ‘Mommy,’ and I really truly feel like a Mom.

Feeling like a Mom means knowing that for so many things, for so many people, the buck stops with you. No one else is going to clean up the vomit, get the poop stains out of the onesie, remember to bring a diaper, remember everyone’s favorites and dislikes, and carry the hearts of all these little people with you throughout your day, no matter where you are. It means being woken at all hours with all kinds of strange pronouncements (I’m sweaty, I had a bad dream, my tummy hurts, my bed is wet, my nose is bleeding, my feet itch) because THEY know the buck stops with you and they’re smart enough to go straight to the top. To the person who takes care of business. It means fighting for the right teacher, paying attention to what each one is struggling with and excelling at, and trying to pull them along with the right balance of encouragement and discipline. It’s impossible to do it perfectly. And it’s so worth trying your very best.

Today I went to the Mother’s Tea at Alex’s school for the first graders. Alex has been working with his classmates on the songs they sang today and the gifts and cards they presented, for several weeks. He’s told me little bits about it along the way, and has been really proud of his preparations. To see his beautiful face today, the only black one in a sea of white, and to catch his eye and have him shyly smile at me as he sang songs professing his love for his Mom, really affected me. I was watching him and thinking about how last year he didn’t have someone in his life to call Mom. He had had it before, and knew what it meant to some degree, but I wonder if he really hoped to have a Mom again.

A transformative vehicle for healing with our kids has been Momma Love. We have a 12-year-old Vizsla dog, Noah, who has been a snuggler from puppyhood. Sometimes he comes over just to get loved on, and I’ve always called it Momma Love. I told the kids this one day many months ago, “Oh, Noah just needs some Momma Love!” while I was petting him and rubbing his ears and telling him what a good boy he is. It was only a matter of days before my boys, who gave a lot of lip service at that time (and still do) to how they didn’t like love. Didn’t want to hear that we loved them, didn’t want to say it to us or each other, didn’t want to be hugged and certainly not kissed. No love, thanks. But Momma Love? That looks pretty good, Bring it on! So they both started asking for it by name. “Can you Momma Love?” and then we’d sit in the reading corner and I’d snuggle with them one at a time, rub their back and their head and tell them how much Momma loves them. And I remind them that we all need Momma Love sometimes, that’s just the way it is, and no one gives snuggly love like a Momma.

For many years before we even began applying for adoption, and through the two years that we were in the process, I prayed regularly for Abundant Motherhood. Specifically that. God knew what he was doing when he held us back, until our yearning for children broke our hearts and helped us to yield to a plan that was not at all our own. Our faith teaches us that we must have no other Gods before our Almighty God, because He knows that we can only truly be free when we are not enslaved by the other gods we build to take His place (success, money, beauty, the perfect family, our own ideal plan perfectly executed). As a follower of Christ I succumb to the constant struggle to keep God in the forefront; I fail regularly. But oh how one’s faith is strengthened when evidence of His answers are so clear, especially when we see how personal and specific His responses are. I know that God answered that prayer for Abundant Motherhood when he prepared these three for us. I have never felt so clear on a communication with Him before or since. And Oh how I have felt unprepared for this job, ineffective and unworthy. But I truly believes that if He calls you, He will equip you, and I feel like I watch God rise to meet my needs every day; I have only to accept His unequivocal strength and wisdom and lay down my stubborn nature and my stiff neck.

I’ve been so humbled this year by the amazing mothers among my friends and family. I never paid much attention to that role, especially as I sought to distance myself from the role of mother while struggling with the pain of infertility. But this year I’ve paid close attention to all of you (it helps me figure out what to do next!) and I’m just, well, there are not words to describe the strength and commitment of a Mom. It’s an unbelievable blessing and an unbelievable burden. And I’m so honored to have joined your ranks this year for real.

To Moms!!! Hope you all have a very special weekend.


Goblins, Leprechauns, and the Easter Bunny

Imagine having to explain every American Holiday to an alien. Just walk through the customs and traditions for a moment…explain the characters, the colors, what people do to celebrate that day and why. In many cases it is absurd!

Well this is one of the things you have to look forward to if you are adopting an older child from a foreign country. It’s something I never really thought about, but every month or two throughout our first year home I’ve found myself back in that seat again, with two bright-eyed boys hanging on my every word (and asking for definitions when it’s new vocabulary), explaining turkey and mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie and pilgrims, or little men in green hats that hold secrets. It is so funny to explain things from scratch. They are right to think we are crazy.

Last weekend I completely forgot about St. Patrick’s day until the morning of. We had plans to enjoy Vietnamese food at a friend’s house that night, so corned beef was not on my mind. My sweet husband was on a flight home from a business trip and the kids and I were having a leisurely Saturday morning, the first one in some time without a basketball game for Alex. I made pancakes and let the boys watch cartoons. It wasn’t until later in the morning when we were getting ready to go to the store together that I thought about it. I said, “Hey guys! I forgot to tell you today is St. Patrick’s day,” and that they’d see lots of green things at the store and that they have to wear green in order to not get pinched. Their eyes widened and crinkled up at the same time. They were completely offended at the idea of being pinched, but then of course began chasing around and pinching each other. I tried to reassure them that strangers in the store would not start pinching them…

A pair of Eliana’s socks from her birthday gift from Nana had shamrocks on them and a little Leprechaun on the label. “Oh here!” I said, “This is a Leprechaun! They are from a country called Ireland. They are very small and if you can find one he will show you to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.” Alex looked at me like I was insane. I watched him trying to process this weird list of information I’d just shared. And I had a moment like the time I was trying to explain Halloween for the first time, where I realized how insane we all really are. Dressing up in costumes and knocking on the doors of strangers who are then obliged to give you candy. What?

Anyway, We are almost through the year. I’ve explained every American holiday now except the approaching Easter. And this one is special. We will celebrate Palm Sunday and recognize Good Friday and the Passover and then Easter, as a remembrance of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our kids are well aware of our Savior’s work on the cross, so a couple of days ago I was talking to my five-year-old about this coming holiday and why we celebrate it. But of course if we have to go to Wal Mart for any reason over the next two weeks they will see the explosion of pastel colors and plastic eggs and rabbits, lambs and chicks. The American public version of Easter. How did we get there?

Charles and I used to hold elaborate Easter parties back when we lived in Washington DC. One year I decided to serve rabbit along with our typical salmon and lamb. I thought it was ironic and that my fellow Christ followers would enjoy the irony of eating rabbit on Easter…a display of irreverence to the secular worship of giant pink bunnies. Alas the rabbit, although deliciously roasted and quite tasty, was largely left untouched. I guess there is still an appreciation of the Easter Bunny, bearer of grassy baskets and layer of chocolate eggs, even among the devout. Or perhaps I was just faced yet again with un-adventurous eaters. We Americans tend to like our food wrapped in plastic with a tidy label on it rather than recognizable as the animal it once was. Rabbit is a little too wild for the comfort of some.

But I digress. I will say that guiding our kids through their first tour of America is an enormous privilege, including the chance to reflect on many, many aspects of our culture. It helps our trust process when Mommy or Daddy explains something that sounds like a made-up story, and then it comes true. The kids have a great sense of adventure and wonder that makes it really fun to draw them into the fold and see them participate in our cultural rituals.

And how about the privilege of creating our family’s own version of each holiday? Rituals for our children to remember years down the road, that draw us together and mark our common history, starting just last year. It’s beautiful.

So I have to confess I can’t WAIT to make Easter baskets! My Mom made the best Easter baskets for my sister and I growing up and I have waited many years to do the same for my own kids. Little baskets of treasures that they will not be told are from the Easter Bunny, but rather from Mommy and Daddy to celebrate this special day where we remember together the hope-filled gift of a risen Lord. I know it’s a stretch, but I’m still trying to figure all of this out.

One of my most memorable Easters was spent with new friends (and no one who knew me well) on the island of Santorini in Greece. I walked with all the inhabitants of that island to the Greek Orthodox church up on the hill to celebrate Midnight Service of the Resurrection on Holy Saturday. The Eternal Flame burns at the altar while all other lights are extinguished and the crowd waits in anticipatory darkness. The church was filled to beyond capacity and I stood shoulder to shoulder with Greeks of every age on the cobblestone street outside, each of us holding an unlit white candle. At the stroke of midnight the priest began to light the candles nearest him with the holy flame, each person in turn spreading the light to their neighbors until the church and the streets were filled with light from a thousand twinkling sources. “Christos Anesti” (Christ is Risen) is called out as each flame is passed, and the response “Alithos Anesti” (truly, He is risen). The church bells ring, the people smile and celebrate and kiss each other. And then everyone wanders joyously home to enjoy the feast of lamb prepared that morning and spit-roasted whole to barbequed perfection. That’s one of my favorite Easter memories. Now that’s a culture who knows how to celebrate Easter!

Maybe we will be able to incorporate some of these experiences into our family Easter. What are YOUR favorite Easter traditions and memories?

And now here’s an unrelated video: Eliana opening a birthday gift from her aunt, uncle and cousins. Cause y’all want some media:


Our Debut as a Family of Five

On the brink of our tenth month home with our three kids from Ethiopia, we stepped out into the world.

I would describe our time together since May 15th of last year as a season of hibernation. And although I didn’t exactly plan it that way, there have been so many benefits of bringing home foreign adopted children to a small, quiet, slow town. We’ve been able to ease our kids into American culture, and into our family life, in a beautifully gentle way. Everyone has gotten comfortable with each other, with expectations, with roles. No long commutes to interfere with family life. The kids have had time to invest in friendships, to work on their language skills, to find their place. So when my husband planned to attend the annual GDC conference in San Francisco, and his parents offered to bring the rest of the family down to visit with them and aunt Kelly during that week, we jumped at the chance. And I have to say the timing was perfect!

We’d hit a comfortable place in our family routines…I think everyone was feeling safe and familiar. And when I began to plan for packing and taking our three kids on our first flight since Ethiopia last May, and for their first time out in the world really since coming home, I became overwhelmed with pride. I really am smitten with my kids. I think they are so brave and funny and smart and they’ve worked so hard to find their way and to learn how to communicate. I enjoy them, and I realized I couldn’t wait to share them with the world.

By the way, that was a great moment. Kind of like the first time I missed them. I spent so much time being overwhelmed by the kids in our first few months home that when I finally got a chance to be away from them for a half a day, I was delighted to find myself looking forward to seeing them again. I mean I could have just as easily felt like fleeing and never looking back, right? The fact that I felt the opposite was a good sign.  So it was when I realized I was excited to share my family with the outside world…a nice moment that revealed a heart truth.

I wouldn’t trade that trip for the world, but here’s the truth. My role on the trip to San Francisco? Sweaty Mom. Seriously, toting three young children around a city as busy as San Francisco is an incredible workout. Watching the boys do the splits at the top of the escalator while commuters mobbed up behind them in frustration. Sitting in tight quarters on a cable car with my toddler in my lap and the folded-up umbrella stroller between my knees…the wheels of which were within reach for her to LICK. which she did. after they’d been all over the public streets of San Francisco. I can barely stand to think of it. (But I do feel better having now confessed it.) Or how about when I got my loaded-for-all-kid-emergencies backpack, the umbrella stroller and three kids off the bus many blocks too early (oops) for the Academy of Sciences and then as we walked through a neighborhood trying to figure out how to resolve the problem, Melkam decided he needed to go to the bathroom NOW. Residential neighborhood. not even a cafe in sight. Guess who took pity on us and let him into her apartment to use the loo? Another mom of similar-aged kids just returning from the park who overheard him begging me to find him a toilet. Thank God for other moms. I’d be lost.

I stripped my children of any innocence they might have retained when I BARTed over to Oakland to visit the zoo. Welcome to African American culture, children. That’s how they would see it since it is thus far their only exposure to any significant crowd of people of color. You know what they will remember about that trip to the zoo? The crazy young black mom with a 2-year-old in her stroller who went ape $*!# on one of her brethren over the broken elevator in the BART station. Her X-rated diatribe went on and on; she left no four-letter stone unturned and even chased the guy around with a carton of milk from her grocery bag threatening to dump it on him since her verbal chastising seemed not, in her opinion, to belittle him enough. Unfortunately after ten or fifteen minutes of that, she left him behind, crossed the street to where we stood waiting for the zoo bus, and proceeded to call a girlfriend and recount the whole story (her slightly biased version) complete with all the profanity yet again. Eventually there was some sort of assault and the police were called. It was a great opportunity to remind the children how NOT to behave. No matter how mad you are.

The best part of this particular story is when Alex, my seven-year-old, who could barely believe what he was seeing (I kept answering their questions with “She’s just having a really bad day.” and “Don’t repeat anything that’s coming out of her mouth, ever.”) said slowly, “I am SO GLAD she is not my mommy.”

Lest you think I’m just a big whiner, I’ll move on from the challenging parts and share that San Francisco has amazing things for kids and I’m so glad we got to experience some of them. The Exploratorium was my favorite. Hands-on science demonstrations with a million buttons to push, moving parts to touch, and miraculous things to see. And if you didn’t know, admission is free the first Wednesday of every month and even though that meant it was packed, my kids never had to wait in line and there was always an exhibit free to play with. It’s an awesome awesome place.

The Academy of Sciences, which we did eventually make it too after a couple of snack and rest breaks and a GREAT DEAL of complaining, is absolutely beautiful. The aquariums, the white crocodile, the tropical rainforest with all the butterflies and birds. It was stunning.

Charles got to take the boys to Alcatraz on our last day there (a long tour which starts and ends with a beautiful boat ride out on the bay to the island). And throughout the week the kids got to spend time and go on shorter outings with their Grammy and Poppy, who introduced them to the cable car, the buses, Chinatown, Fisherman’s Wharf, Poppy-sized ice cream sundaes while a man with a waxed moustache serenaded them with “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” and other treasures of life in this beautiful city. The kids saw the sea lions at Pier 39, ate clam chowder out of sourdough bread bowls, tasted authentic Chinese food, and got to eat out at Cafe Colucci, the awesome Ethiopian restaurant in Oakland.

It was, as always, a visual feast and an inspiration of energy and ideas. It blew the kids minds in lots of ways. And with Grammy and Poppy willing to keep the kids for the evening, I actually got to go out with Charles a few times. We had amazing sushi one night. Oh how I miss it!

We are so grateful, Grammy and Poppy, for the opportunity to come visit you in such a special place at such a meaningful time for the kids. THANK YOU! And while it was great to break out of hibernation, we were so happy to come home to our beautiful, quiet small town. And we’ll look forward to the next big city visit too.

Alex poses in a concrete hippo outside the Oakland Zoo

Chowing down on clam chowder in classic San Francisco style: sourdough bread bowls!

Eliana trying to convince Alex that she will catch him if he jumps. Golden Gate Park on the way to the Academy of Sciences.

Watching the stinky, weird sea lions at Pier 39

By the way, I brought my Nikon on this trip and didn’t take a single photo. Hands were too full! I only got a few on my iphone…the rest are memories.

 


I wish he spoke English

I don’t know why we find this so funny, but a few weeks ago My friend K, who was working in Melkam’s Sunday school class, overheard Melkam and another little boy in a long conversation. When it was over, the other little boy came over to K, sighed and said: “I wish he spoke English.”

Melkam is talking up a storm right now, but not everyone can tell what he is saying! I just recently figured out that when he says, “Yesmember,” which he includes in most of his stories, he means “yesterday.” Melkam tells me stories all day long. And when I’m multi-tasking, which is most of the time, he repeats “Acuse me, Mommy. Acuse me, Mommy.” Until I [reward him with un-interrupted eye contact] (name that movie) which tells him I’m listening with my whole being. And offering appropriate facial expressions to show that I understand which parts of his stories are funny, which are surprising or amazing, and which are disappointing. And when his story is over and I rub shoulders with my sweet husband while clearing the dinner dishes, one of us will often lean over to the other’s ear and say, “I wish he spoke English!” Not because I want to make fun of my amazing little boy who is communicating incredibly well, but because it is exhausting to listen to it all day sometimes, and especially to try to understand what he means so I can give him appropriate feedback and help him feel successful.

Here’s the big plastic rocking horse (which I never would have imagined as resident of my living room), “Liberty” (ironic because this horse isn’t going anywhere), getting a workout.

No lack of energy in our house you see!

And Eliana enjoying a birthday cupcake and ice cream last weekend at our dear friends’ house in celebration of her second year on earth:

This was really her first experience with chocolate frosting and she was quite delighted!