A New Year

Just last week I read a desperate message from a new mom, three months into the adoption of a 9-year old kid. She was at a low point, and described the horrors she was living with as this child worked through his desperation, frustration, and brokenness in what is possibly the most safe environment he’s ever been in, his new family. The rejection, the harmful behaviors, the manipulation, the gross things, the loud things, the most shocking things kids can think of to do, to try to rattle the new cage and see what it’s made of. My heart broke for this mom. I don’t know what will happen with this family, but what I thought about was how deep down, somewhere deep that may never show itself, this kids is so GRATEFUL for her consistency, for her reliability, for the safety she represents. Afraid to trust it, so afraid, but so thankful for the glimmer of hope that it might possibly be real.

In Coming to Grips with Attachment, by Katharine Leslie, the author talks about three months being the safety and security period. This is where the child finds out whether they are in a safe place. It happens with newborn infants, and it happens with “newborn” adopted children (meaning children of any age who newly enter a family). Kids who have been through trauma are pretty aggressive about testing the validity of that safety. Ask any adoptive parent and you might just be amazed by what lengths their kids went to in their testing process! Ms. Leslie goes on to say that the next year is the ‘falling in love’ period, where real love develops among the family members. That can only happen when everyone feels safe and comfortable in their roles, so the drama of the first three months (or however long it takes) is sort of inevitable. I know in our family we saw a significant behavior change begin to take place around the three month mark. And thank God, because I wasn’t sure how much more I could handle. I felt that same sentiment in this poor momma’s words on the screen, more so, as the things she’s dealing with now are more extreme than what I endured with my three. I didn’t feel I had advice to offer, but told her about the above-mentioned book, and told her I’d be praying for her, specifically that she’d start to see that shift happen. There is such huge potential for relationship with a newly adopted child, but boy does it take time and testing. I so hope that she finds a fulfilling mother-child relationship with a healing version of her child sometime very soon.

So I was thinking about this as the year turned, our second holiday season together. As we returned from a wonderful Christmas week traveling with our three kids to visit their grandparents and cousins. I am so proud of my kids! They are a pleasure to travel with, they are fun to share the world with, they are neat people to hang out with. They have worked hard to get to this place, where they are comfortable enough to relax and enjoy themselves. We have all worked hard at it, and the hard work is paying off. And I’m so grateful for my family!

We took an epic bike ride across the Golden Gate Bridge on our trip to San Francisco. That was CRAZY…crowded, overstimulating, far too close to a lot of car traffic and even more foot traffic, but so cool!

Grammy and Poppy were such troopers! As was Melkam, the youngest rider on two wheels, and Ellie, not pictured, who did it in a bike trailer where she slept through most of the adventure.

We were missing a couple of our group, but here’s the crew who went! Grammy and Poppy were such troopers! As was Melkam, the youngest rider on two wheels, and Ellie, not pictured, who did it in a bike trailer where she slept through most of the adventure.

Our boys played beautifully with their cousins and watched way too many movies, which they loved. Grammy was great to stay with Ellie when she napped so the rest of us could get out and experience San Francisco, which means enjoying a lot of Asian noodles. We rode cable cars, visited parks, did a little shopping for the right fit of jeans for one of our boys. We visited Grace Cathedral for their Christmas Eve service, and the life-sized gingerbread house in the lobby of the Fairmont hotel. Grammy and Poppy surprised us with a wonderful gift, tickets to see The Lion King, our kids’ first experience with live theater. It was spectacular! The costumes, the music, the sets. so cool. I just felt grateful for the whole trip.

With the cousins, all dressed up for a party

With the cousins, all dressed up for a party

Sunrise over the city from our window at Grammy's house!

Sunrise over the city from our window at Grammy’s house!

And then we came home and still had a week to enjoy together. Now a year ago, I probably still would have dreaded that (what am I going to DO with the kids for five extra days??). This time, I really had fun with them. Genuinely. I know, I surprise even myself!

We went on a snowy hike one morning with some friends and I marveled at how far this boy has come.

DSC_0027Alex

This one was ‘hypervigilant’ when he came home…his brain was spending a lot of time worrying about safety, trying to make sure there were no surprises, and watching out for everyone and everything around him. When we went on walks or hikes, the rest of the kids would run ahead and play, and he’d hang back near the adults, feeling more a part of our group than theirs. It was sad, and a complicated problem…encouraging him to go play wasn’t helpful. He’d just worry that he was doing something wrong, or that the adults were making other plans that we didn’t want him to hear. That hypervigilant brain on overdrive. As we walked last week, with some boys who have become good friends, I was overjoyed to see him run ahead, a big smile on his face, and to adventure with the rest of the group. I mean, look at that face! Open, happy, relaxed. I love it. He was laughing out loud, climbing up things, getting too close to the icy water’s edge. Being a little boy!  Really, really warmed my heart and made me so proud of him! And also proud of the work we’ve done as a family, because it’s the boring, daily stuff that creates a sense of security. The boring daily stuff every day for a year and a half. That’s what it took for this kid to spend half of a walk letting go and letting himself be free. He did hang back during the second half, began caring for the toddlers and acting like an adult. And that’s fine, that’s part of who he is (and a part I love, this caring, sensitive leader), but it really made my heart leap to see him allow himself a little abandoned joy. I hope there’s more and more of this in the future.

DSC_0010boys

 

 

boys on a log

boys on a log

My toddler is another story right now. She spent almost this entire walk in a backpack on my back screaming in my ear. It was rather hard to enjoy, I must say. Didn’t want down, didn’t want up, didn’t want snacks, etc. When we got home and finally got her calmed down I asked her why she cried through the whole walk. She said, “I didn’t like the walk.” Got it. That’s what I thought. It’s the phase she’s in. But darned if she isn’t cute as a button!

sorry about the fuzzy photo!

sorry about the fuzzy photo!

 


Ode to Dog

Last Saturday I started writing this post. It began like this:

“Only a couple of weeks after his 12th birthday, Noah is dying of cancer.”

Noah is my dog. My beloved companion, beautiful Vizsla, our first child (and only child for ten years of our marriage), running partner, fellow adventurer, faithful protector. Perhaps most importantly, he has helped teach my kids about love over the last year and a half. We nearly put him to sleep on Saturday. It was an absolutely wretched weekend.

The short story is that after several tests to determine the cause of a strange variety of symptoms over the past couple of weeks, a chest Xray on Friday revealed what the vet described as a classic picture of metastatic cancer in his lungs. We were devastated. We picked him up that night and he was terribly, terribly sick. He hadn’t eaten during the 24 hours he’d been on IV fluids. I was encouraged when I got him to eat scrambled eggs at home that night. Saturday morning I had trouble waking Noah from a deep sleep. I thought he was dead or in a coma. I’m not kidding, he was that out of it. But he did wake up after a minute, and slowly that day he started to get a little better. Eating and drinking at various intervals, sleeping a lot. But we were going through the process of saying goodbye. My husband and I were a wreck, crying at the drop of a hat, neglecting our kids’ requests to play games or have friends over, resenting their neediness. The news was so sudden and such a shock to me that I couldn’t quite get there…making that terrible decision. I just wanted another day.

2010, hanging out on the boat with my two favorite boys in the world at the time: My husband and my dog. We all loved that boat and being on the lake.

So we waited a day. We had some family photos taken of us on the porch with Noah in them (with enough makeup to cover my swollen eyes). We created a concrete garden stone from a kit and pressed his paws into it to memorialize him. We tried to find ways to say goodbye.

By the end of the day on Sunday he had improved quite a bit. But it was Monday morning when we saw a drastic difference. He was alert, interactive, wagging his tail and wanting to snuggle, back at his post beside the high chair, waiting not-so-patiently for Eliana to drop something. He was finally hungry, really hungry! We were perplexed, relieved. I took him in that the afternoon to have the catheter removed from his leg…the one they left in in case we brought him back for the deadly injection. We got a prescription for prednisone, which should help with pain and inflammation for the time being, and which they tell me may actually have an impact on the cancer itself.

Maybe we’ve bought ourselves a few weeks with him, maybe longer, it’s impossible to say. What I do know is that we did some serious grief processing over the weekend and it wasn’t pretty! So now I have a dog with cancer. For now he seems like he may have a few more happy days in our family, and we’ll take them.

But it does prompt me to write a post to remember him by (Perhaps more for me than for the listening audience). My sister did this once, the year before her dog had to be put down, and I always intended to do the same, to capture memories of a beloved pet. So here it is:

CH Bitteroot’s Bellwether Captain Noah

My husband and I got Noah about a year after we got married. I won the argument over which breed…I was not going to be cleaning up Bernese Mt. Dog hair in the apartment, and we didn’t have enough room for a dog that size. I knew I was going to win that argument…I had planned on getting a Vizsla since meeting my first V puppy while still in college. I was very determined.

This is not Noah, but this is what a newborn Vizsla looks like. I didn’t get the chance to meet him at that age!

Noah was 12 weeks old when we had him flown to SFO from Spokane airport. I picked him up out of the travel crate and he wrapped his paws around my neck and snuggled in for a very intense hug. He rode home curled up on my lap. I was smitten!

Our life in San Francisco was a sweet one for Noah. He got to come to work with us most days. He played every day at a local dog park or went on long walks or runs with me through the beautiful Presidio Eucalyptus woods. On the weekends we often went on ‘Vizsla walks,’ meeting fellow Vizsla owners in the area for hikes through some of the amazing national park system and beaches in Northern California. It was not unusual for there to be a pack of twelve or more Vs; they are very social pack-oriented dogs and they loved running together at full tilt. It was a beautiful experience. He was an integral part of our daily exercise and the reason we explored so much of the Bay Area’s incredible park system and beaches.

Noah’s protective instincts showed themselves at an early age. When he was five months old we were leaving our office in Emmeryville one evening (this was well before Emmeryville was a nice place to live or work). A suspicious-looking character approached us in the parking lot and Noah put himself between me and the stranger and growled at him. The first time we ever heard him growl. It was pretty cute…he was far from scary at that age.

After a couple of years, Noah moved with us to Washington DC. He and I both hated that move at first. It was August, and unbearably hot. We moved for Charles’s job, and I was job searching for three months after we arrived. Noah and I spent a lot of time together during that three months, trying to get our bearings and find relief from the heat. We began to discover Washington’s impressive park system and made some new friends, first through the Vizsla community.

Noah on the left, sweet friend Emma on the right.

Before long we moved to a house in Northern Washington DC, just a block or so from one of the entrances to Rock Creek Park. I ran or walked with Noah on the trails almost every day. And even though I was warned not to go in there alone or I’d end up like Chandra Levy, I always felt relatively safe with Noah at my side. Although sometimes he was far from my side, exercising the over-abundant deer in the park. In our house in DC there was a dog door in the basement. I would regularly hear Noah bound down three flights of stairs, bump open his door, and then lay on the top of the slope in the back yard to sun himself. He loves the sun. Any source of heat really, but the sun in particular. He looked like the king of his domain out there…so happy and content.

Looking handsome in our garden in Washington, DC.

 

While he was highly trainable in many ways, I never succeeded in training Noah to walk nicely on lead, and it wasn’t for lack of trying. He pulled like a maniac, except on a show lead. I just tended to prefer places where we could enjoy off-leash walks and less yanking. He also has loved to roll in dead things all his life. Couldn’t be happier…the stinkier the better. Two memorable rolls come to mind: the remains of a dead seal at Ocean Shores while visiting my parents, and the remains of a dead racoon in a field near my friend’s house. You can’t imagine how horrific. At times it seemed the only solution would be to just burn the dog. But we bathed and scrubbed and always forgave him in the end. Noah couldn’t have cared less.

Not a very nice habit for such a gentleman. You see, back in California, the owner of Noah’s sire had convinced us to enter him into a show when he was six months old. He won best of opposite sex to best in sweepstakes (this means something to some people), and then went on to earn his championship on the East Coast after we moved to Washington.

Looking awkward and uncomfortable as his owners, not knowing what to do in a dog show photo. But very proud. This handler’s name was Nancy Brown. She took on quite a project when she agreed to handle Noah for his first show, but she did a great job!

What a stunning guy, no? This is a shot of Noah from a later show, handled by Pat Malan, a Giant Schnauzer breeder and show handler.

You wouldn’t know it from those photos, but he was very unruly. Very. When I took him to puppy school he was the one in the room that made all the other puppies look like nice, trainable dogs. I just knew everyone was thinking, “Well at least my puppy isn’t as bad as THAT puppy!” He was completely disruptive. Young Vizslas have an unbelievable amount of energy. But he did learn his lessons pretty well.

I titled this shot “I’m Too Sexy.” This is in our sun room in Washington DC. Noah and I loved that light-filled room with windows on three sides.

We also did a little field training. Just outside the DC metro area there are some amazing places for upland game.

Noah sired two litters while we lived on the East Coast, as we dabbled in and were tolerated by the true enthusiasts of showing, training and breeding dogs. It was a pleasure to see his beautiful puppies go on to light up each of their new families. Here’s a shot of Noah with some of his kids on our last group walk before moving to Sandpoint, Idaho:

All the ones with lolling tongues (1st, 3rd and 5th from the left) are Noah’s kids. Hilarious that he passed that trait on to them! Noah is on the far right.

Our move to Sandpoint in 2005 was a bit of a homecoming for Noah; he was born in Kingston Idaho. We visited the family we bought him from not long after we arrived. Noah and I set about finding our new hiking trails, and making friends through fellow dog owners. In fact, we have met some of our very best friends through Noah, both in DC and here in Sandpoint. Although the local parks in our new small town were ‘unenlightened’ when we arrived (lots of NO DOGS ALLOWED signs), we were able to find wonderful trails, a dog beach, and plenty of fun to be had in the wild west. And our lake is such a great place to swim in the summer! Noah took to flinging himself off the end of docks, or the bows of boats; the bigger the splash, the better.

His ‘game for anything’ attitude has always been a source of joy for us. Noah was like a marine for most of his life. You’d say his name and in a split second he was at your service, sitting in front of you with a look that said, “Yes sir? Reporting for duty sir!” He wanted to go anywhere with us, and was fearless about new experiences. The elevator, the airport, the boat, yes sir! He would get in a car with anyone, ready for the next adventure.

Caught airborne while running on a trail in Sandpoint. A way I will always remember him!

Noah’s hearing and alertness also were a pain at times. He developed a bad habit of ferociously responding to the mailman who pushed mail through the slot in our front door in Washington, DC. He would hear him coming and start barking, and when the mail emerged through the slot, he would grab the bundle and fling it into the house. Sometimes our mail ended up scattered down the hall. Never chewed, just violently tossed. Many accumulated hours of watching the mailman retreat from the house after the delivery seemed to teach Noah two things: 1) That he was winning the battle against an intruder, and 2) That mail carriers could be identified by a specific uniform. To this day, on walks around the neighborhood, a mail carrier in uniform gives him pause. He doesn’t do anything but stop and notice, but I’m sure he’s thinking, ‘I’ve got to keep an eye on that one.’

But he was also a source of protection and comfort to me, especially when Charles had to travel. And there were years where he traveled a lot. I never felt scared sleeping alone in the house with my faithful dog present.

One of those times, after we’d moved to a ground-floor apartment in Sandpoint, there was an attempted break-in in the middle of the night while Charles was away in Asia. I was awakened by Noah’s ferocious barking, and I saw the shadow of a person pass by the window. Despite the sound of a scary dog inside, the guy returned a few minutes later, methodically going to each window and door. Noah followed his every move, barking like a maniac. I called 911 and the craziest thing happened; the dispatcher said this to me: “I’m sorry but I don’t have any officers available right now.” I remember how my heart sank in that moment. I was watching someone on the other side of the blinds try to pry open a window. The dog was furious and ready to do battle. After a couple of minutes, a squad car came speeding across the parking lot, slammed on the breaks, and the cop jumped out and tackled the guy who was on top of a garbage can prying at the window. Turns out the 911 dispatcher did report the call, she just failed to tell me that. After they arrested the guy, the cop came to the door to talk to me. Noah, who had been completely amped up for twenty minutes, recognized him as a good guy, and turned into the welcoming committee, bringing the cop a toy and going into a full body wag. “That’s a great watch dog you’ve got there,” the cop told me. I know, I thought, he’s the very, very best.

Noah running in the K9 keg pull during Sandpoint’s winter carnival in 2010. His bait? Me! Charles would hold him back while I started running away from him just before the starter said ‘Go.’ He will follow his Mommy anywhere! I think he won 2nd place for his class that year, and we took home several great prizes.

There’s a common thread through the majority of Noah’s life: ours was a family without children. We wanted children, prayed for babies, read a million books and ran what felt like a million tests. We had unexplained infertility, and struggled with that for nine years. Noah was the willing recipient of our parental love and affection; the only child. It was important to have a place to channel some of that maternal energy. My way was to take the best care of my dog I knew how. For my husband, Noah has been his first dog ever. Despite wanting pets as a child, it was never allowed because of allergies in his family. He has loved Noah ferociously.

All of our lives changed dramatically a year and a half ago, when we adopted three children from Ethiopia.

Noah was already in his golden years when we exploded the family structure with three loud, energetic foreigners who were not just here for a visit. The baby bugged him, stepped on him, invaded his bed, played in his water bowl. He was not thrilled at first, but he took it all in stride. The boys had screaming rage fits every day or so in the first three months of homecoming. Noah dropped several notches in priority in terms of my time or ability to meet or exceed his needs. Despite all this, within six months he had come to not only accept, but love his expanded pack. He handled the change with impressive grace, and he played a critical role in welcoming these frightened, mistrusting children that I had never considered: Noah was a non-threatening model for love and affection.

Alex, our oldest, quickly became a big fan of Noah. He brought him to show and tell in 1st grade, and began walking him all by himself in recent months.

2011. Welcoming a snuggle from a boy who really needed some uncomplicated love.

Noah has brought so many gifts to our family. He’s been a pain, a joy, and everything in between. He has made me burst with pride, shrink in embarrassment, burn with anger, and roll with laughter. He has shown me that particular joie de vivre that only a dog knows how to live out, and that a Vizsla knows especially well. Noah represents an era in my marriage, the Before Kids era, which is proving to be so different from the After Kids era. Having him here now has been a strong thread to that past that I’ve so cherished. But the time is coming to say goodbye. Oh the agony of falling in love with a faithful dog and knowing that their lives are typically little more than a decade; a block of time, a portion of our own history. That someday, with a breaking heart, we will have to say goodbye.

To my beautiful, sensitive, rambunctious boy: When I can see in your eyes that you are suffering too much, that you are ready, we will do the impossible and let you go. For today, I’m so grateful for the extra hours of your loving and faithful presence in our family.


By Alex (and Mom)

Awhile back, when we were reading a book from the library called When Africa was Home, my oldest son, Alex, asked me, “Why don’t we write a book?”  Today he has school off, and I’ve invited him to be a guest writer on the blog. He would prefer this time that I ask questions and he answer. Someday soon, he’ll write the whole post!

Hi, I’m Alex and this is my sister, Ellie. She’s a monster!

I like to bug her and make her scream. It’s fun! You should try it with your baby sister. Just kidding!

Ellie is really cute and she loves to eat strawberries.

This is my mom and Ellie. They are really silly.

This is a story about coming home to America.

K: What do you remember about going to the airport in Addis Ababa to fly to America?

A: We went in the taxi, then we drove all the way to the airport, then we waited for the plane to come.

K: Do you remember the food we had in the airport, or having to rest on the floor while we waited?

A: Yes. We had some peanuts. I was really bored and scared. I was scared of you guys.

K: Then what happened?

A: Then the plane came, and the lady let us in. And we got to be in the plane, we had to wait in a long line.

K: Was the plane what you expected?

A: I didn’t really know we were going in the plane. I didn’t understand the taxi driver…I thought he was talking to you guys. (we had had the taxi driver translate expectations to the kids about what was going to happen…guess that was useless!). The plane was a lot bigger than I thought. I liked having my own seat, and being able to watch movies.

K: What else do you remember?

A: We went in three planes, two small and one big. I remember sleeping in the plane and the lady woke us up when we were at the airport. Then friends came and picked us up and we had snacks.

K: What would you tell a kid who was getting ready to come to America and was feeling scared?

Don’t be scared! It’s fun, and you will learn lots of new things. You will learn to like your parents. It takes a really long time, and you can watch movies in the plane, and you might have to do three planes or four planes. It’s really a long drive, a taxi comes and picks you up. Don’t be scared. It’s fun to move to America. In the plane the food is not that good. And you have to have peanuts and sparkling water, the sour kind. And your ears hurt from the plane going. the server comes and picks your plate up after you are done eating, and there are a LOT of people on the plane and you have to sit with somebody.

K: What was your favorite thing when you first came home?

A: We ate homemade tortillas in the middle of the night when we woke up. The next day we met some friends. Grandpa and Nana came over with their friends. You guys showed us around. Grandpa took us up to Schweitzer and showed us the snow. Then Grandpa and Nana left. Then you guys took us up to Schweitzer and you teach us how to ski. Then Grammy and Poppy came to keep Ellie with them so we could ski. Learning to ski was one of my favorite things. I like summer because you can go swimming and make sand castles and you can go on the boat and go tubing fast. You can jump off the boat into the water. And there are sailboats and speedboats and regular kind of boats. And we have chickens and we have a dog named Noah and we had five chickens and one of them got sick and died. Now we have four chickens. Two spotted ones and two light colored ones. We used to have one black one but she died. And Noah is our dog and he’s really nice, he does not bite and he’s friendly.

K: When you first met him (our dog, Noah) were you scared of him?

A: Yes. I just kept petting him and knowing he is not scary.

K: Do you remember being frustrated when you first came home when no one could understand you?

A: Yes. I felt angry. I wanted to go back to Ethiopia. Learning things made me feel better…riding a bike, going to school, learning to ski, going to the beach.

K: So, just getting used to your new life?

A: Yes.

Now here’s a story from Alex from when he lived in Sidama, Ethiopia:

First we went in the garden and went to pick some coffee cherries. Then we let them dry, then we stepped on them with our bare feet. They get dry pretty fast. Then you put them in something you hold like a basket, and they toss and catch them to get the sun heat. if we need more we go get more. Then you cook them. you can eat them or you can make coffee out of them. We usually make coffee out of them. It’s really fun to make coffee, I like coffee. No one really knows about teas. No one drank tea in Sidama. A boy his dad was leaving a big coin on his table and a really small boy picked it up and ate it. And then he couldn’t breathe so he suffocate and he died. His dad tried to help him. We went to church. When you come from the market, our house is really close to the market. When it gets rainy people just come in our house and it’s really loud. And sometimes we don’t let the people in becuase their shoes are really dirty and they just still come in. When you go to market, the big market, when you go far away from your house to market a trolly comes to pick you up. For little kids you don’t have to pay money for it. Trolly looked like a flat trailer and there were horses that pulled it. There wasn’t anything to hold on. It was really fun to go fast! Sometimes we go to that big market when our wassa is not ready (in our garden) and we get wassa. I don’t really remember what else. And we used to have chickens. And we used to have two pigs. They were not that fat. We didn’t eat them. They were like the size of Noah (our dog).

K: What were your chores in Sidama?

A: We had to clean the pig’s pen and the chicken house. We had to fill their water up and make sure they had enough food to eat.

K: Who cleaned the pigs pen with you?

A: My brothers. I had eight brothers and sisters. All together if you count moms and grandma it was twelve of us in my family. of the kids, the oldest was like an adult, he could drive. Maybe he was 17, he lived with us sometimes, but not always. Then a girl she was 16. Then the second youngest girl was seven years old and she was older than me, her name was Genet. There were two more boys, one was sick and younger than me. He had rash all over his head I think his name was Zachariah. He was older than Melkam. The other boy was older than me. Then me, then Melkam was 3. And we had a two-year-old boy. Then we had grandma and mom. Mom had six sisters, six aunts. One had two babies. The others didn’t have any babies, but one was pregnant.

One day when my oldest brother was sleeping in the house and I came from a friend’s house to wake him up, with my friend. We saw a snake going through the crack under the door. We called a friend from next door and he got a hammer and smacked it and killed it. It was a poisonous snake, it was black and orange. My brother didn’t wake up, he was still sleeping when the snake died. Then my mom woke him up!


Saturday is for Soccer

I think my transition to soccer mom began when we traded in our old SUV for a new, ultimate-mom-mobile minivan, the Honda Odyssey. None of our kids were yet playing soccer, and I was unaware of the giant leap we were taking down this path. Fast forward a few months and I was somehow convinced to enroll Alex in Strikers, the more organized, competitive option for soccer in Sandpoint. Since Melkam was already in karate, I reasonably surmised that one sport per kid at a time was enough, and he could do soccer next year.

Alex’s twice-weekly soccer practices fall right during the dinner hour, so we joined our close friends in a family-focused practice of bringing portable dinner to the field. Because we eat together, and one of our family members had to be on the field, so the rest of us were there too.

Getting pretty comfortable guarding the box

This has proven to be a lot of work, but it’s also been fun. And what I realized was that Melkam was choosing to don his hand-me-down L.A. Galaxy Jersey, and practice soccer on the sidelines of Alex’s practice the entire time. Twice a week. And he was good!

As our friends with five and six year olds signed up for rec league soccer and asked me where Melkam was, I found a rec league team that happened to practice on one of Alex’s practice days, on a neighboring field. Ah, what the heck, I thought! Melkam can be on a soccer team too.

Melkam hustles!

And now, we are officially a soccer family. Stinky socks in the wash, shin guards strewn about, water bottles in wash rotation, soccer balls rolling around in the back of the van pretty much all the time. At least for the rest of October. And guess what, it’s SO FUN! We’ve had the most beautiful fall, with not a drop of rain for a practice or game. We’ve seen the boys develop confidence and skill, and they love it. And we really enjoy watching them play! Both have improved tremendously since the first few practices (during which I was thinking, “somebody get the coach a scotch, how can any human being have that much patience?!”). Alex plays defense, and he’s getting it! He’s earning his nickname Alex “The Wall” Manning. Which he’s quite proud of. At Melkam’s age, they rotate positions a lot, but he’s fierce out front. Fast and agile and incredibly determined. He shoots and scores

! He also talks to himself the whole game while he’s racing around, and his arms flail a lot. Very cute.

Anyway, Vive La Soccer! We’re in! Here are a few more shots for the grandparents!

Little sisters and dear friends, cheering on their brothers!


Chapter 16, in which we get away

A miraculous thing happened a couple of weeks ago; my husband and I had our first trip together overnight AWAY from our kids. Sixteen months after arriving home with our three, we had a long weekend without them. It was glorious in all respects! I was overcome with gratitude the day I arrived in Northern Ca; gratitude for my beautiful kids (because being away from them gave me space to appreciate them more), gratitude for my parents for traveling to our place and staying with them, gratitude for our wonderful friends who invited us to join them on a fun adventure/escape, gratitude for my husband who I love even more today than I did when we married thirteen years ago. I felt euphoric. And invincible. When can I go again?!

Two of our friends were celebrating their 40th birthdays, and their spouses surprised them with tickets to ride in the Levi’s Gran Fondo out of Santa Rosa, CA. Two couples rode, two couples (including us) lounged and cheered and sampled wine. We cooked together, hung out together, went on runs around the neighboring vineyards. It was heavenly!

“Team Sandpoint, 40 and Still Climbing!” Crosses the finish line!

Celebrating 40 years with 103 grueling miles; You guys inspire me!

A nice spot for lunch, with delicious foods from Big John’s in Healdsburg.

Tasting at Truett-Hurst Winery.

Enjoying the weather, the scenery, and friends!

A beautiful cave under the vineyard

4 wonderful men; husbands, fathers, providers, friends. Love these guys!

Not only did we get refreshed, inspired, and rested with this getaway, our kids had a wonderful time with my parents, and I think my parents had a wonderful time with our kids. What a cool opportunity for kids and grandparents to continue to build their relationship. Loved it all! Now, when can we go again?

 

 

 

 

 


Happy 8th Birthday, Alex!

I wrote briefly yesterday about Alex’s birthday party, but here are some more photos from the event. This was my first REAL birthday party I’ve ever thrown for a child. I was a little out of my element! Here’s what I learned: 2nd graders love to dress up. The costumes added enough fun to the group, that they were pretty content to run around and make up their own games based on the costumes. A couple of times I asked other moms if I should round up the kids for an organized game or two. They wisely encouraged me to leave them alone if they were having fun! Right-O. We did end up playing capture the flag and having a candy race. The kids were great, Alex was so happy, and I didn’t have to clean up my house from a stampede of eight-year-olds (because I held the party for free at a local park). It was nothing really special, but I’m giving myself a point for throwing a successful birthday party! One more next month…hmmm.

Alex wore his pirate costume from last Halloween. In this photo he has a fake pistol, I think from the kid who dressed as a cop. Maybe he pirated it from the cop…

The grim reaper being chased by a ninja, with pirate, cop and knight in the background

A beautiful vampire!

Adorable cowgirl!

One of Alex’s good friends as a fabulous clown!

Brilliant: A white box, red duct tape for stripes, popcorn sign, arm and head holes cut out, real popcorn glued to the top. Is this not the cutest thing? I love it when people are so clever. And behind popcorn girl is a cute cheerleader and a ballerina.

A group shot with most of the kids present, Alex holding court in the center.

The kids voted for their favorites by putting names in jars labeled Best Overall Costume, Funniest Costume, and Prettiest Costume. Some kids voted for themselves, over and over again! It was really funny to read the votes.

Ellie made a late appearance in her chicken costume.

Show me your teeth!

My sweet husband ran the candy relay. Management skills come in handy in these situations!

A green team and a blue team, they had to move all the candy from one bucket to the other one spoonful at a time.

Alex loved sitting in a pile of kids opening gifts!

Melkam as a knight

Alex was stoked to get gum in one of his gifts.

I love this boy. I can’t believe he’s eight. It’s really weird to be a mom of an 8-year-old when you’ve only been a mom for about 16 months!

Being fierce.

I love this boy, too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Ah, September

As a friend once posted on her blog, at some point you start to become just a normal family and maybe what you write about on the topic of raising adopted kids isn’t so specific or relevant or interesting anymore. Maybe we are heading in that direction. Just like millions of families across the country and around the world, we’re back in school! How NICE to be back in a routine. Just saying, I guess that’s how I am. I like the chaos of summer, but I’m glad life isn’t like that all the time!

Bringing home our three kids from Ethiopia a little over a year ago, I had a clear sense of their innocence, their as-of-yet-un-Americanized-ness. My kids had no expectations. That’s how we were able to do a 9-hour road trip with them in the back of a very old Honda Accord with no air conditioning, no DVD player or even CD player, barely room for the three to fit across the back seat. That’s when they thought of Grandma’s old honda as a race car. Those were the days! Their birthdays were low-key dinner parties with a few close family friends. It never occured to them not to eat the crust of their sandwich.

They didn’t know legos, or star wars, or Pokemon.

I really enjoyed that time, I treasure the memory of it. And while I wouldn’t want them to stay that way, ignorant of their new childhood culture and all that it entails (good, bad and ugly), I also am glad we don’t live in a larger city where they might have been bombarded by it. For the shift came swiftly nonetheless. Even in our small mountain community in Northern Idaho, with one at public elementary school and the others just participating in normal life, my kids were quickly exposed to Ninjago (I still don’t know what that is exactly, but my two-year-old sometimes shouts it with an upraised arm), Saturday morning cartoons, the $5 movie bin at WalMart, lego obsessions among their friendds, computer games and the idea that they should have them, pizza and hot dogs, and elaborate birthday parties.

We avoided signing up for anything that sounded remotely like getting roped into a schedule that might dictate our Saturday mornings, for example. We held that line quite well for about a year.

And then we caved. Hard and fast. One thing led to another and the logical choices just stacked up.

I think it all started with the minivan. Did I mention that we became a minivan family last year? A Honda Odyssey. It’s amazing…I love it. I never ever ever thought I would love a minivan, but it is truly a vehicle designed for moms. It has a fantastic sound system to go with the wide screen DVD display. It came with headphones that, when on the kids, let the adults up front listen to something other than the movie! Brilliant.

Today, my two oldest are in school 5 days a week, at different schools. Alex is in a fairly intense soccer program with practices on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, frequently on Fridays, and games on various weekends, through the fall. Melkam is in Taekwondo on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and now ALSO soccer on Tuesdays. (yes, you are now correctly visualizing a mini-van-driving soccer mom.) Alex has violin lessons on Fridays. Both boys attend AWANA bible study on Friday nights. One or the other of them is in counseling once a week, one at a time.

I just threw a birthday party for Alex’s 8th (I can’t believe it!) for which I acquiesced to his request to invite his entire 2nd grade class (19 kids) plus his friends from last year who are no longer in his class. I held it at a local park and made it a costume party. I didn’t give out party favors and I couldn’t pull together the pinata he requested, but I did serve his choice: angel food cake with fresh strawberries and real whipped cream. I consulted heavily with my sister about the best games I could lead a bunch of 2nd graders in at a park. I can’t believe how many gifts my son received. But mostly he just had a great time running around with his friends playing various forms of tag.

Alex’s friends at his 8th birthday costume party

While there are things I really wish were different about American culture (I recently discovered, to my horror, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.) it is what it is…made up by everyone who lives in this country and the organizations that shape it. I’m so proud of my kids for jumping into it so readily and making a way for themselves. They are really comfortable, at this point, among their American peers. They are doing great in school and sports and they have lots of friends. Their ability to pick up on subtle nuances of our collective sense of humor is impressive. Sometimes I think they fool me into expecting far more of them than perhaps I should.

We had an awesome summer, with dear friends visiting, Charles’s parents to help us celebrate his birthday in August…

Our best friends from DC to just spend some summer time with us and give the kids a chance to enjoy sleepovers and lots of hang out time with their “cousins.”

Love, really in only one direction…

Still the love is really Eliana+Celeste, not so much obvious in the other direction…Eliana nearly is choking Celeste…

Perhaps the last lemonade stand of the season. Juliette was a great promoter!

shucking local corn in the front yard…

 


August

It’s so hard to fit all the fun into every last second of August, but we are doing our best! Here’s a photo review:

Our new friends from Liberia, Prince and Ezekiel, stayed with us for one vibrant week while touring and performing in Sandpoint with the Matsiko choir. My kids LOVED having older brothers in the house and have been asking for more.

Looks like someone is in love!

We volunteered and attended almost all of the Festival at Sandpoint shows in the first two weeks of August. The lineup was awesome! My favorite show was Pink Martini, but I also loved Alison Krauss, and the finale with the Spokane Symphony and fireworks at the end was wonderful. The kids came with us to some, and we had sitters for others. It was a nice mix!

painted faces at the Childrens’ Concert at the Festival

We’ve done lots and lots of swimming! Our lake is glorious this time of year, especially on a 90-degree day. We walk to the pier a few blocks from our house and jump in, or ride our bikes to City Beach about eight blocks away to meet friends. We’ve also been invited on a few boat rides, and to pools this summer. The kids all are doing great with their swimming and loving the water.

With Anna and Alyssa Howarth at their new condo pool!

Swimming with friends off their boat. Eliana loves to backfloat and splash in her life jacket!

Too bad we don’t like each other much…

August fun has also included some barbeques, blueberry picking, and a day of pickling with my friend Kathi. We’ve eaten ice cream, made watermelon popsicles, and tended the garden. Today Grammy and Poppy arrive from Maryland for a visit, and our best friends from Washington, DC follow right on their heels. August will go out with a bang and I can’t believe it’s almost time for school to start again!

Hope you’ve all been having a great summer.


African smiles

We live in a small town, waaaaay up north in the Idaho panhandle. When people hear we are from Idaho, they always think potatoes. No, don’t think flat, agricultural landscape, think mountains and trees. When they ask me how far north, I always say, “Almost to Canada.” to which they invariably respond, “Oh! That IS far north!” Yes, it is. We get a lot of snow, our summer is short but the summer days are long, our winter is long but the winter days are short, and it takes a long time for people who immigrate from other countries to make their way this far inland. Our town severely lacks diversity. We’re VERY predominantly white!

I have written about this topic a few times in our adoption journey because it’s something we considered carefully before bringing three Ethiopian children home to live here. And now it’s something we think about as our kids have become part of our community; we watch for racial issues and we pursue cultural opportunities that will help them not feel so alone.

Well, one of those has arrived! This last week we took our kids with us to the opening night of The Festival at Sandpoint, which started with artists from South Africa. Simultaneously the Matsiko Childrens Choir arrived in town, with children from Liberia and Peru. They sang our National Anthem to open Thursday’s show, and then they hung around for the duration.

We are hosting two Liberian boys and an American group leader starting tomorrow. It’s a crazy decision considering all that’s going on in our lives and family, but I think it was the right one. I consider it a gift to my kids to house and feed three more big boys for a week. No, I do not have all the meals planned yet and YES I’m panicking a little!

We got to meet Prince and Ezekiel, our temporary kids for next week, at that opening show. When they learned we were to be their host parents this coming week, they rewarded us with enormous African smiles, filled with love and warmth, and they threw their arms around us for big hugs. It was JUST LIKE when we welcomed our two girls from Uganda for a week a few years ago. Africans I’ve met from many countries have this incredible gift of love and friendship…if they decide to welcome you, it will be a welcome to remember!

My kids were fascinated and overwhelmed by these bigger boys (I think they are 11 and 13), so comfortable in their own skin, offering big hugs to their new friends. Alex clung to my side and watched them wistfully for a good thirty minutes as they danced to the opening performers. What dancers they are, and what unabashed fun they were having! Alex wanted to be with them, to learn to be like them, in the worst way. “Go!” I told him, encouraging both the boys to hang out with the kids from the choir who were beginning to draw a crowd of children. Finally, Alex worked up the courage. He loitered around Prince for a while. Melkam, always the social butterfly, quickly engaged in a game of tag with some of the younger kids.

Before long, there was a full-on wrestling match going on in the grass at stage right! Alex’s smile was from ear to ear as he tussled and tackled with Prince while other kids rolled around in the grass and pig-piled with each other. I saw Melkam being toted around on someone’s shoulders. Our friends’ kids, adopted from Ethiopia and China, were in the fray with those from Liberia and Peru. Kids of many colors linked hands and began dancing in a giant circle together, welcoming all comers, regardless of age, size or color. I can’t tell you how my heart swelled!

The best part was seeing my oldest, my responsible boy, the one who reminds me which things are dangerous on a daily basis, lose his inhibitions. He danced with abandon, he laughed with his whole body. He relaxed and was himself. It was a beautiful thing!

Our house will be packed to the gills this week with eight of us here, and I’m afraid of how much food we are going to go through, but I hope this week will help my kids feel more proud of who they are, and less uncomfortable with expressing love. Because two really fun big boys, with skin similar to theirs, will be modeling for them what it’s like to be proud of who you are, able to express love openly, and comfortable in the beautiful skin God gave them. Thank you, Lord, for this great opportunity! May you be present and at work at our house.

PHOTOS FORTHCOMING!


The Skin We’re In

There are several books with a similar title…one children’s book that we enjoy at our house. But a call from a friend yesterday had me thinking about it.

She was doing something near a table at the beach where our kids were all involved in activities at Vacation Bible School when she overheard an unknown boy talking to Melkam, my five year old. The kids had big white bandanas and were preparing to tie-dye with the group. The boy next to him said (apparently several times) “I’m going to wipe this brown off your skin so that it will be skin-color.”

What did Melkam do? I asked her. Nothing really, just kind of ignored him. She couldn’t tell if it was really registering with him. I wondered if I should come get him, or go talk to a camp counselor and make a big stink. I didn’t. I talked to Melkam later when I picked him up for karate. I asked him if he had fun, if he’d had a good day. Yes, he happily chattered at me about what they’d been doing. I asked if he liked the kids, if the kids were nice to him. Yes. He made a new friend, he couldn’t remember his name. Sigh.

Then this morning I read my friend Dakota’s blog. She lives in Ventura California. We live in Sandpoint Idaho. I only need my hands to count how many black people my kids see on a regular basis. An executive at our bank. My friend’s adopted kids from Ethiopia and from New Orleans. A girl who was on Alex’s basketball team, and her mom. We sometimes drive an hour and a half to go to a black gospel church in Spokane where we are welcomed with open arms and we tell the kids that Mommy and Daddy may be the only people with light colored skin in church today, and they giggle and squeal with delight.

Like Dakota, I try to find a legitimate reason to start a friendship with other African Americans because of their skin color. What is that, like reverse racism?

On a recent trip to the Washington Coast we drove through Ranier Valley in Seattle to get to a highly rated hole-in-the-wall Ethiopian restaurant. There were scores of Ethiopians playing soccer in nearby parks, walking together, etc. The little community park in Redmond where I took the kids and dog while my husband went to a meeting was filled with Indians, Ethiopians, Asians. I miss that. The restaurant had the best injera I’ve ever tasted! The lovely family who runs it tried to greet our children in Amharic and it’s the first time Alex, our oldest, has registered regret for not remembering how to communicate with his fellow Ethiopians.

We will just keep taking advantage of every opportunity we can find to bring people who look more like our kids into their everyday lives. August brings two: First, we’ll take the kids to opening night of our famous outdoor music festival to see Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Remember them from Paul Simon’s Graceland album? Here’s a cool video of them performing. Second, we are hosting two boys from Liberia for a week in mid-August, along with one of their leaders, as the Matsiko World Orphans Choir tours our area. We did this a few years ago with two girls from Uganda. This time around the visiting kids will have children to play with at our house.

Despite the dearth of ethnic people in our area, we have found it to be a wonderful and loving community to bring our kids home to. Our oldest gets easily overwhelmed with lots of chaos…we’ve discovered this on visits to San Francisco and Seattle, for example. It has been nice to ease them into their new family and American culture in a small quiet place, with small schools and close friends and no long commutes anywhere. We are grateful for this, but no place is perfect, and ours could certainly use some more diversity. We’ll just have to keep working at it…hard!