There are many dates in an adoptive parent's life that stand out. Some fade over time: the date my dossier was finished and went to Ethiopia, the first and second court dates that fell through, the dates I flew over and home again, etc. But there are a handful that will always be remembered and celebrated: referral day, family day, the day I met Mari's birth family, landing in the US and being HOME.
Today, October 5th, is referral day. The day I fell in love. The day I received the picture of the baby with the unbelievably gorgeous, and intense, chocolate brown eyes. Those eyes dared you not to be in love, they had stories of untold sadness, they asked questions, they held a lifetime of anticipation, and they were full of curiosity. Those eyes still speak volumes but they've added new depths; laughter, wonder, and a twinkle that tells me I better be on my toes every minute of the day.
I fell in love with those big brown eyes 4 years ago and they are still my favorite part of you, Miss Amari.
Wednesday, October 5, 2011
Posted by Jill at 6:37 AM
Tuesday, September 20, 2011
For the third year, we spent our vacation at the beach. I love the beach but I hate heat, sun, and crowds. So we always wait until after Labor Day to go....lower prices, cooler temps, less crowds. Two years ago it was hot, last year it was chilly. This year it was perfect! Our vacation was in immediate danger of not happening - two weeks before we went, Hurricane Irene rampaged right on through our beloved beach and then it was again threatened by Hurricane Maria. Luckily, the damage from Irene was minimal and quickly fixed and Maria decided to take a quick turn back to sea. Other than some clouds for the first day, the days were perfect. Sunny but not scorching, cool breezes but not chilly.
We arrived on Thursday, early afternoon. I had been told that we should be able to check in early but our room was not ready. Our hotel allowed us to go ahead and park and use their lobby bathroom. We headed straight to the beach....Mari and I playing while my mom took advantage of the afternoon to scour the coupon books.
Mari love love loves the beach. It is pure nirvana for her. From the sand to the salt water, she is completely content on the beach.
Beach, beach, beach. Finally at the beach!
Posted by Jill at 7:23 PM
Tuesday, August 23, 2011
The first day of Kindergarten is now tucked away in our memories. It went very well (except that part about the massive earthquake we had in the middle of the first day of school!).
Mari has been so super excited about Kindergarten. I think it confused her at first when we made the decision to start a year early because I had always told her she had to be 5 to start K. But after a couple "practice" days in her K class, she was more than ready to hop right in and could care less if she was the youngest in the class.
We keep a calendar on the wall to mark off the days and help us keep track of upcoming events (so when she asks me 100 times when we are going to the beach, I can tell her to go count the days). Here she is posing with her calendar....the schoolhouse sticker doesn't stick as well because school was originally supposed to start after Labor Day but they decided to move it forward 2 weeks (so I had to move the sticker!). This worked out great for us because it shortened the wait time (she was SO excited) and also alleviated the problem of our beach trip interfering with the start of school.
I'm guessing this will be the first in a series of pictures....hopefully, I will do this every year!
Posted by Jill at 8:54 PM
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Haven’t blogged in awhile. We’ve been busy this summer and working on some decisions about the upcoming school year that I didn’t want to share on here. I purposefully didn’t share what was going on because I know there are strong opinions on both sides of the picture and it was a decision that I needed to make myself without any outside input. Finally reached a decision and I’m feeling really good about it.
Our big decision is to send Mari to Kindergarten this year. She will one day shy of 4 years and 5 months old. I originally blew off our pediatrician’s suggestion to petition the school system for early entry. I felt comfortable with where we at and what we were doing. Then, in the course of some general playtime, I discovered that Mari knew how to add – actually, when I asked her if she knew what math was, she sat down and wrote herself a worksheet of addition problems complete with + and = signs and then solved them. I was speechless. I showed her how to subtract and she caught on to that like wildfire. Coupled with the fact that she was moving through her reading levels at school at a quick rate, I began to research just what is necessary to be “Kindergarten ready”.
There is a lot of controversy surrounding K starting age and there are people with all kind of opinions regarding it. What I’ve found through my research (and asking people that I trust) is that it is a very individual thing. Most people will say that being the youngest in your grade is a disadvantage except that everyone that I’ve spoken with that started early (before age deadlines were strict) said it really wasn’t a big deal. There is also a movement over the last decade supporting holding children back until they are six. But new studies are showing that this doesn’t necessarily help children unless there is a specific delay. It’s a pretty mixed bag….what it all boils down to is the individual child and their needs.
Some of the things that qualify a child to be “Kindergarten ready” really surprised me. I guess from the standpoint that I was surprised that most kids aren’t ready to do them by Kindergarten. But then again, my child has been in daycare/preschool for over 3 years now and the school she is at now is very structured. I’ll explain more about our choice of schools in the next post but I’ll just mention that the current class she is in for preK is more structured than the public K and even 1st grade that I visited.
Some of the things that deem a child as Kindergarten ready include: able to stand/walk in line of children, able to be a line leader, able to sit for periods of 15 minutes to listen to a story or do seat work, able to change activities with minimal redirection, able to follow 2-3 step instructions, able to feed oneself, able to handle bathroom activities themselves. None of these should be a problem. Mari does tend to be a jumping bean when it comes to sitting for activities but only if she’s bored…if she has something to focus on, she is fine.
As for the academic readiness, that’s a whole different ball of wax. Things that are considered K-ready include:
*Recognizing and writing first name - she can do her whole name as well as most of her friends and teachers
*Counting objects to 20 – She can count to 138 (the highest I’ve listened to), she can count to 100 by 2s, she can write all her numbers up to 100 if called out randomly, she can add and subtract as long as she has enough fingers and toes for the problem.
*Recognizing basic colors – She’s known her colors since she was 18 months old.
*Recognizing and drawing basic shapes – Not a problem.
*Recognizing some letters and their sounds – She can read most Level 1 books and has short and long vowels down. She’s pretty good at sounding out words phonetically when trying to write them. (Like she wrote Perry the Platypus as "Paree the Platdepos".)
Sooo…..we went and had her evaluated at the public school (again, more on school choice later) and they assessed her to be at a high level of K/going into 1st grade level. The reading specialist said (and I quote) “She read better than any of the incoming Kindergarteners I’ve assessed this year, she’s way ahead of most of them.” That was 3 months and several reading levels ago.
I’ve had to question my motivation for placing Mari in K early. It comes down to keeping her happy and motivated. She LOVE LOVE LOVES doing schoolwork and worksheets; she will turn off the TV (her love) to do math problems. We read together all the time and the worst punishment I can give her is to take away evening book time. I come from the background of being one of the smartest kids in my class – never having enough to keep me busy or challenged, always being the outcast for ruining the curve or always getting the best grades. I don’t really want Mari to be in that position. She’s still going to be super smart even if we start her early but I want her to have to work and stay focused. You can already see the difference in her behavior when she’s bored vs. keeping her mind busy.
Is she ready to climb on a school bus and ride 45 minutes to elementary school, stay focused in a class of 20-25 kids, stay safe in a school of several hundred, ride the bus home 45 minutes? No! But is she mature enough to handle a small Kindergarten class with kids she already knows and a teacher she already loves, using a curriculum that has already proven to be outstanding? Yes!
So we start Kindergarten in less than one week. Help!
Posted by Jill at 2:59 PM
Tuesday, June 7, 2011
Mari: Mommy, I decided I don't wanna be a nurse when I'm bigger. I wanna be a firefighter.
Me: That's cool, Mari. You can be whatever you want to be. A firefighter is a very brave thing to be.
Mari: Brave? Why is it brave?
Me: It takes a very brave person to fight fires.
Mari: FIRE? I don't like fire!! I'm not getting near any fires!!!!!
She's rendered me speechless again.
Posted by Jill at 9:47 PM
Monday, April 25, 2011
**Make sure to read this out loud, really fast, really loud, and very high-pitched.**
"Mommy? Remember when B came to my birthday but it wasn't my birthday it was America's birthday and there was a parade and fireworks but they were scary fireworks and I don't like those but if I stand up those fireworks are okay if I have a flashlight and I used my flashlight when it was thundering and we had to go to the closet if it got bad but it didn't get bad so we didn't get in the closet and I was sad because I wanted to use my flashlight that I got at the arcade when we went with Daniel when we went swimming but it was plain old swimming not the waterpark even though the arcade was at the waterpark and Daniel wore his Spiderman swim stuff like the Spiderman puzzle I have that Alyce helped me put together on that day I went to work with you because there was no school because it was Easter even though it wasn't really Easter yet even though we did our Easter Party at school but then we had to wait a long time until it was really Easter to go to church at Lydia's church not Lydia-at-school but Lydia-my-neighbor that I go to ballet with when we get McDonalds and have a picnic and watch softball and then go to ballet and I have to be careful not to get grass stains on my ballet tights cause ballerinas don't have grass on their tights and Lydia got to be the line leader and we had an egg hunt at her church and then we came home and the Easter Bunny hid eggs in my yard while I took a nap and then Madi came over and helped me find the eggs but Aly didn't cause she's just a baby and I sang her a song to keep her happy and then everybody went home and I was really sad?"
"Do you remember that, Mommy?"
Ummm.....what was the question??
Posted by Jill at 6:42 PM
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
I know I'm long overdue for a regular old update. Mari turned 4 a few weeks ago and I just haven't had time or energy to update. We had Influenza during our birthday weeks (we are 10 days apart) and then Mari had a streak of really horrible behavior, complicated by some health issues on my end that were leaving me worried and drained......anywhoo. Moving on.
So I'll have to do a separate post on Mari's birthday. I think I still owe you posts on Halloween, Christmas, etc etc etc. Um, yeah.... Sorry!
But this update is just a Mari update.
I don't know where to start with this one. Mari can read! I'm talking, really really read. She is only behind one other kid in her class on the reading chart (and most of the kids are going into K this year) and she is miles ahead of most in her class. I knew she was doing great but when I took time to look at the chart in her classroom, I didn't realize that she was doing THAT well. She has finished her set of 10 preschool books and is now in book #4 (of 8) in her K books. She can read most Level 1 I-Can-Read books with only a little assistance on some odd words. It has been amazing to watch this process. She gets SO excited when she reads, I love to see her so proud of herself.
She has also come a long way with her writing....she very rarely gets any letters backwards and is even starting to be legible in cursive (I still am not sure how I feel about preschoolers learning cursive but it doesn't seem to hurt her). She can count easily to 100 (and count, not just recite) and recognizes most of those numbers. When she writes her numbers, she does very well until she gets to about 14 and then she starts writing them backwards (15=51, 16=61, etc).
She can draw circles, squares, and triangles (her pediatrician acted like triangles were a big deal??) She love love loves doing dot-to-dot puzzles and she has a new book of "spot the differences". She has been waking up early in the morning (like around 5!) and I'll find her sitting on the couch with a pencil in her hand and a workbook open "doing her homework."
I love my little nerd.
I had thought about asking to place her in Kindergarten this year. She's at a private Christian school that goes up to 6th grade. Her pediatrician also suggested that I petition the public school to let her in this year because she is going to be so bored. I'm still deciding whether to talk to the public schools or not (about where she will fit next year) but I think I'm going to leave her where she is at. She LOVES her teachers now and she has never had the same teacher for more than a few months. I'd love to give her the stability of keeping those teachers for another year. They will continue to progress her at her own pace, so I don't have to worry about her slowing down this year. Also, while I like her being with older kids to challenge her, I think she's at a point where she is self-motivated enough that I want to give her the advantage of not being the youngest in the class anymore. So we will see where this year leads us.....
Mari started ballet class a few weeks ago. I found an 8 week class for a very very good price that is held at a local elementary school. I thought she'd enjoy it but didn't have high expectations because gymnastics was a disaster (which surprised me because of her acute case of "bouncitis"). I have been shocked! She LOVES it. It is the highlight of her week. She asks every morning if it's ballet day. She practices every night what she's learned and checks on her leotard and shoes constantly. She focuses in class and tries so hard. We are already exploring options for a more permanent ballet class!
Some of my coworkers got Mari a guitar and a microphone for her birthday. The entertainment level in our house went to a whole new level. Mari stages large-scale concerts in our living room, complete with an audience of stuffed animals. Sometimes it's songs she knows, sometimes she makes them up as she goes, sometimes we hook the MP3 into the mike amp to do karaoke, and sometimes she tells stories with different voices and sound effects. She is a real ham.
I've been told that 4 is so much better than 3. I was in serious doubt the first couple weeks but now I'm getting a sense of new confidence and a whole new level of cooperation. First, Mari has actually stopped herself in the middle of tantrums a couple of times and told herself to calm down!!!!!! She is able to reason through situations when I ask her what the consequences will be depending on which action she chooses....it took a lot of effort on my part to instill in her the fact that Mommy WILL follow through with the consequences. That involved missing a movie with friends one time and missing a playdate (among other smaller things). She now knows that I stick to my guns and she is testing me so much less these days.
Just in the past week we've done the following: planted some plants, made candy sushi, made chocolate chip cookies, stomped in rain puddles, watched movies together, had 2 picnics, watched a softball game, she's had an Easter party at school, she's getting ready to have a taco party at school......it's just been a week of happiness all around.
And she learned to snap her fingers this morning. SNAP!
Posted by Jill at 8:24 PM
Saturday, April 16, 2011
With severe weather in our area, and me being an absolute wreck when there is even a hint of bad weather coming, we prepared to spend our Saturday indoors. I had planned for us to just stay in our PJs all day and laze about listening to the torrential downpours. Unfortunately, a tornado watch was issued during naptime and quickly changed to multiple tornado watches all around us. We tried to stay busy in order to not freak out. In the end, there were possible tornados that touched down way too close to my house for comfort (but thankfully, no one was injured). Strangely, while we had some pretty good storms, they came nowhere close to some of the intense storms we've experienced before, so I'm a little freaked out that it got so bad so close. Yikes!
Here's how we passed our day....First, Mari decided that she would pack her backpack for Kindergarten and sit at the window, doing some songwriting, while waiting on the bus. I didn't have the heart to tell her that it will be 16 more months before that school bus comes.... Mari's been asking to grow something for weeks, so I bought some supplies and we got busy planting a little indoor garden. She took her job very seriously. I tried to pick things that could be "started" indoors (not that we'll ever make it to transplanting them) and that wouldn't take too long to sprout. Most of these should start sprouting in 7-14 days....hopefully, she won't lose interest by then. We planted peas, cat grass, impatiens, marigolds, and "mixed-up" flowers.
Posted by Jill at 6:35 PM
Thursday, March 10, 2011
Over and over again, I hear how lucky my daughter is. How fortunate she is to be with me. How much better her life is here as opposed to there. She has been rescued. Saved.
Telling the people that voice these platitudes that I am the lucky one, that I’m the one that needed saving, that I’ve been rescued is usually met by blank, ignorant smiles. They accept this as something nice I’ve said, but they don’t get it. They don’t realize that my child is not the lucky one. That she is not necessarily better off here as opposed to there.
She hurts. Aches. Grieves. Suffers. She is confused, I feel guilty.
Sadly, I was completely unprepared for my adoption. Even worse, I was completely ignorant of this fact. I knew how to take care of a child, meet their basic needs (okay, my parenting skills of a preschooler could use some serious work!). I had lots of education in transracial and transcultural adoption. I read a little bit on attachment as it related to infants, I read a lot on the integration of an internationally adopted child into a new family. I thought I was prepared.
Until the grief hit. I wasn’t prepared for my almost-4 year old to suddenly wake up to her reality.
How can a child that was brought home at 9 months remember anything? You have to remember something in order to grieve its loss, right? You can’t miss what you’ve never had, right?
But what if you missed learning basic human interactions? Why do they put newborn babies right on the mother’s chest and encourage immediate breast-feeding? If that is so important, then how can you dismiss the longterm effects a child will experience from not attaching to anyone? How can you say that a child was too young (at 9 months of age) to be affected by the turmoil of adoption?
Yes, I just said adoption and turmoil in the same sentence.
My daughter was born. She had a mother and a sister. At around 3 months old, a time when most infants are starting to connect with the main caretakers in their lives, she was taken to an orphanage. She remained there 3 months….she was in a small room with only a few babies and a sweet grandmother of a nanny. When she reached the impressionable age of 6 months, when most babies are interacting and seeking attention from those they love, she was moved to a transition home. She remained at this transition home for 3 months, in a room full of infants with several nannies running around busily. At 9 months of age, a complete stranger showed up and whisked her away. To a new climate. A new language. New air to breathe (if you’ve ever been to Ethiopia - you know the air there is VERY different). New people. New routines. New tastes. New smells. New sounds. New emotions.
4 living situations, 4 “families”, 4 completely different environments in 9 months. 9 months in which she should have been learning who her family was. She should have been learning how to make lasting, trusting relationships. She should have felt unconditional love. She should never have known hunger or cold or fear or loneliness or anxiety.
But in those 9 months of life, she learned far more than most. She learned survival. She learned she didn’t need love. She learned to trust only herself. She learned that if she wanted attention, she had to initiate it. She learned that she existed for herself and no one else.
Will she remember these times? No. Do they still affect her? Yes, daily. Will they always affect her? They shape who she is and will become.
We are learning to let go of a lot of these things. I say we because she, while being very emotionally mature, is also very emotionally immature and needs help and guidance. She’s felt things we adults can never begin to imagine but she did not have anyone to teach her appropriate responses to emotions in the beginning…she is still learning how to deal with her feelings. She is giving up her independence….a tough balancing act for a strong-willed, spunky almost-4 year old. She is learning to trust me, that I will always love her - even when I’m angry, disappointed, or just plain grumpy. She is learning that she does not have to be the center of attention in order to be loved. She is, quite simply, learning what unconditional love is…..and testing it to the very limit to make sure it sticks.
We are also learning to grieve. Mari is sad and angry. It is very easy to blame myself for this and feel guilty. I question the choices I’ve made and the ways I’ve handled things as being the source of her deep-rooted confusion. But it’s becoming quite obvious that we are going through a grieving process right now. 3 years after the fact may seem like a long time but we’ve just now reached a new level of comprehension. Mari is learning how families start, how families live, how families interact, how families love. She is just now learning that hers is different than most. It’s with this newfound understanding that she is beginning to realize what she has doesn't have.
We celebrate her family in Ethiopia. Her mother and sister. We’ve talked about them from Day 1. I call her birthmother Mama H, as if that’s her name. I don’t say your mother or your birthmother or your first mother anymore…..it’s too confusing. We say Mama H, just as we would say Grandma or Auntie, etc. We talk about her birth story in very simplistic terms, leaving emotions out of it and focusing on physical things like lack of food and shelter. We talk about how I came to find her and that Mama H was happy to see me, how we gave a stuffed toy to her sister to remember us. We have pictures up in our house and light candles on special days.
It’s only beginning to settle into her little brain. Why is my sister in Ethiopia, Mommy? Is she hungry too? Did you take her food? Does she go to school like me? Do I have to go back to Ethiopia? Can I go back to Ethiopia?
We talk, we cry, we hold each other.
Recently, the anger and sadness in Mari has escalated drastically. I had a feeling that it was adoption related as her behavior was very rejecting and hurtful towards me (this is her defense mechanism…she puts up a wall to protect herself….she can’t lose what she doesn’t love, right?). Finally it all hit a boiling point and one night she asked me “Why didn’t God give me a daddy?” I was starting to make supper and I could tell by the way she was asking (in the middle of quiet sobbing) that this was a turning point. I stopped everything and turned off burners and scooped her up. I explained, again, how I was not married so she did not have a dad. I explained that we did not know anything about a dad in Ethiopia, I was honest and brief.
And then she asked, “Why doesn’t anyone love me enough to be my daddy?”
We sobbed together for a long time (I’m crying as I type this and it’s been over a week). She was so sad and so angry because she didn’t have a daddy. And she thought she was the reason.
I’ve known for a long time that she wants a dad. What child of a single mom doesn’t dream about having a dad? But I never would have guessed that she felt it was her fault. We are still learning. And these lessons in life come neither easily nor painlessly.
Don‘t try to tell me that an infant is too young to know loss.
Don’t try to tell me that my child is lucky.
How many 3 year olds cry because they want to see their sister that they don’t remember?
How many 3 years olds cry because God didn't give them a daddy?
How many 3 years old are that lucky?
Posted by Jill at 9:16 PM
Saturday, January 29, 2011
We've all heard the adage, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." But....when something breaks, fixing it sometimes just doesn't cut the mustard. Sometimes you have to completely scrap everything you know and start all over.
One of the easiest things about parenthood for me has always been bedtimes. Mari has always been a rockstar sleeper. Other than occasionally whining because she would rather play than take a nap or that she wanted to stay up longer, she has always gone to nap and bed without a fuss, without getting up, and would sleep all night. Sure, she is a super early riser and there have been episodes throughout the last 3 years (usually when she was making some big developmental leaps) where she would have trouble with sleeping the whole night. But, honestly, we have absolutely coasted by. Until now.
I'm not even sure when it happened. I really began feeling the stress of it between Thanksgiving and Christmas but I think it was well before that when it started. Probably back around September, maybe? I remember dealing with some behavior issues after our beach trip but between that throwing our schedule all off and the fact that she moved into a new, more advanced class at school, I took this lapse in stride.
Back around Thanksgiving, we were really revving it up with fighting going to bed and getting up in the middle of the night (usually multiple times) and really fighting about going back to bed.
One thing that Mari really enjoyed was being able to stay up and read for a little while. So I moved her bookcase and lamp next to her bed and she would get 10 minutes of reading time after I read her stories. I also gave her permission to turn her lamp back on and read in the middle of the night if she woke up and couldn't go back to sleep (this was my mom's suggestion). It worked, she stopped getting out of bed in the middle of the night shortly after Thanksgiving and I don't think she ever actually took advantage of the middle-of-the-night reading session. Unfortunately, the novelty of being able to read in bed by herself wore off very quickly too.
I started toying with the idea to move Mari up to a bigger bed around Christmastime (as you can see, her bed was a little crowded). The only time the guest bed is used is for company maybe 1-2 times a year....and the guest bed is used by me as I usually give my guests the master bed/bath. So I figured, I could move the full bed into her room and then just bunk with her when we had guests. When I offered her a bigger bed, I was super surprised when she flat out refused, saying she didn't want a new bed cause hers "was a perfect fit."
Bedtimes started getting harder and harder. We tried rewards, we tried threats, we tried the old "put the kid back to bed but completely ignore her because she just wants attention" method, Santa Claus sent her messages to stay in bed, she got some of her Christmas toys taken away, she had TV taken away. It became a huge battle. Most nights she ended up finally crashing at around 9:30-10:00 when, before, she could never make it past 8:30.
#1. We were no longer reading before bedtime - Mari has just gotten too big for sitting with me in the rocking chair to read and it was not relaxing to sit on the floor by her bed and read. So we'd pretty much stopped.
#2. Our bedtime routine of "I Love You"s and kisses/hugs was nonexistent because she started throwing a fit as soon as we headed to her room.
#3. It had become a big game for her to try to "sneak" out of her room as many times as she could.
So we needed something new. After some discussion with some of the greatest friends in the world (have I ever mentioned how much I love the people that adoption has brought into my life? WOW!), I came up with a new game plan. I decided not to give Mari a choice about moving up to a big bed. I'm trying to reorganize the house and a huge part of that plan was giving her the guest room bed. It was suggested that, if this was going to be a definite change in the future, then I should go ahead and do it - no point in fixing bedtime and then trying to throw in a new bed. When I re-proposed the idea to Mari, it turns out that she was only worried about keeping her favorite blankets, NO PROBLEM!
Operation Save Bedtime
We moved out Mari's toddler bed and moved the big bed into her room. She loved "helping" me and was really excited to get to pick a set of "Mommy's sheets" to put on her bed. I explained what a big girl she was and how exciting it was going to be to have a big bed.
The first night, I was able to crawl up next to her and read her a bunch of books right there in bed. Then we also worked to fix problem #2 (the hugs/kisses) by taking another mom's suggestion of instituting a snuggle time. I set a timer for 5 minutes and laid with Mari and we talked & talked & talked & talked. (Turns out 5 minutes is not long enough for her to wind down and relax, so we upped it to 10 minutes after that!)
Since it is still dark out when we get up (6am), she really can't tell whether it is morning or not when she wakes up. So I found her "OK to Wake" alarm clock that we had bought awhile ago and set it for her. It glows a soft green when it's okay for her to be up. It never worked before but I guess now she's old enough to "get it" - she has not gotten up once before the green glow appeared since we started this. She will often come in my room at 6:00 to tell me that her light "finally" turned green!
She was pretty happy with the results! So was I!
The best part of it...instead of dreading bedtime, I now look forward to it. I've always loved reading to her and now I can do it comfortably. And the snuggle time is the best. It's our favorite part of the day and after Mari talks my ear off for a couple minutes, she settles down and it's usually a struggle for her to stay awake until Mommy leaves the room.
Posted by Jill at 9:21 AM