Fingerpointing? Gossip? Grey Area in Adoption? I swear I am almost done with my long ranting

Let's say you are in a classroom. This is the most important class of your life, everything hinges on this class.  Everything.
What if there were very specific class rules?
What if all the students knew the rules but some took them more seriously than others?

What if someone in the class is cheating? What happens when the other classmates notice?
What if they don't even have to notice, because the student is telling his classmates about it, asking
for high fives and help to beat the system?

What if the classmates know that if the professor discovers it not only the student cheating will be kicked out and lose the ability to graduate, but they too, will Fail the class, lose their credits and fail to graduate. What if this student is scrambling for an A he feels he needs and deserves for any number of reasons. But  the fate of the entire class is hanging in the balance!

Is it gossip or bullying to point a finger and say "No way, no way you are going to get away with this." Is it mean for the classmates to protect the class, the greater good over this individual? Is it selling them out? Is mean of the classmates to stand up and say "We are not apart of this, and we want the authorities to know?"

This is the worst metaphor I've ever written because in this scenario, the only people who lose are the class, or, if you aren't following the painfully bad analogy: fellow adoptive families and their potential children. In this metaphor the "A," the graduation, etc, that everyone wants to earn is a commodity, but in real like, what everyone is hoping to have in their lives are really live children, not commodities.

But my point is that by the peers and classmates standing up and saying "What this person is telling us about they ways he is trying to cheat and beat the system is wrong and we don't want these things happening. We don't think this is right" they are not gossiping. They are responding to what the cheater has declared he was actually doing. Now, I can see where it gets messy when the cheater stops talking and some of the students say Well, I didn't hear him say it. You're just speculating.  Then it becomes a We Say, He Said" argument.

But gossip and bullying to call the person who announced cheating to accountability and hope they change their tune? I don't think so.

Oh I swear, blog visitors, soon I will return to "We went apple picking look at my cute kids!" posts. Before I do so, I wanted to share what I was thinking about last night. I hope it is taken in the way I think the majority of readers took the last post: a non-judgmental exploration of really, really important adoption issues.

Someone I don't know, Carrie, left an interesting comment on the Big Ethics in Adoption post I recently wrote. She wrote about how corrupt things, people, philosophies are in Uganda. How hard it is for westerners to see and understand unless we've been there and interacted with the people over and over again.

And for the sake of the experience, I went there with her. I am not saying she's right, or that generalizations about people ever can be, but she got me to thinkin.' I love when comments get me thinking. I may be opinionated but I maintain I am always teachable. As a side note, I appreciated everyone who came by and spoke up. I don't know if I've ever used my blog as a platform this way, this dramatically. I hope this discussion continues.

While I do not know if this was her intent, Carrie got me pondering "grey area." Can there be grey area in adoption? I sure didn't make it sound that way on my last post. Black and White. Right and Wrong. Ethical and You're Out of Line.

But as it turns out, I am no stranger to ethical international adoption dilemmas. Some of you visitors might remember the post I wrote about my friend. Several months after being in the US her child's birth family in Ethiopia got a hold of her with some terrible news: Some of them were sick. They had no food, no shelter, and all of a sudden, every Golden Rule of International Adoption seemed irrelevant. These people were her daughter's family, and thus her family, and you help family. My scruples fell away sooner than I ever could have imagined.

In my heart I was all 'Wire the freakin' money transfer, hire someone to take the sisters to a doctor, do the thing, screw "the rules."' You can read a great discussion in the comments section of that post. It was a good learning experience for all of us.

But here we are, back in Uganda. I drew a line in the sand with my post, did I not? Our rules about ethics and codes of conduct serve the greater good by respecting lawmakers in the country, and more importantly they protect families and children.  That is what my original post was about. Stunts like what the family-in-question was pulling are unethical and endangering Ugandan adoption, just as similar actions endangered adoptions in Ethiopia and still do.

When we stand for Ethics in Adoption we adoptive parents are standing up for the children who need advocacy and protection from being commodities; items in a trafficker's shopping cart. We are standing up for a world where families aren't torn apart and can stay together when possible. And sometimes we are standing up shouting from the rooftops Follow the rules so you don't ruin adoption for everyone! 

But what if there are times when the Code of Ethics and laws in adoption which stand to serve the child. What if the police officer, probate officer, judge whoever -- the people who are supposed to advocate for a specific child fail her?

What if a prospective family or orphanage worker knows for a fact (and I am not saying the family-in-question does, this is all hypothetical and made up by me in the effort to understand how this happens). What if they know that this child's first family is hoping to hang on to her for money?

What if they are positive the 'We want her' stuff is an act? What if the first family is hoping for a bribe, or is pumped about the possibility of sponsorship funds pouring in that will never ever feed the child or place her in a school?

What if there is a clear path for this child being sold by her first parents into prostitution? What if that case officer himself is a ring leader pimp organizing the whole thing?

Let's all go there. Let's go to Uganda (or any country) and see everything, the system, is falling to crap around a kid, and knowing that if we walk away, the best thing that could happen to her is death.

What if it were you or me?

What if I was there, knowing what I know about ethics in adoption and believing how I do, looking at a family that I am losing respect for. Not because they are poor. Not because they live in slums. Not because we live differently, but because they do not treat their daughter with love. Because she has already been cast aside and is broken on the inside in all the ways we see our attachment-challenged and traumatized kids be broken.

Is this so far fetched? For example, there are some of foster/adopt parents in the US that I'd probably support in their fight to keep their kids from returning to abusive first families? I am the first person that will say biology does not necessarily equal Parent, let alone Loving Parent. Hello, I have a child who does not share my DNA, who has a first family. There lots of sperm donors out there who will also stand up and say biology doesn't equal parent either.

So what would I do to get a kid the he$% out of a terrible situation? Would I bend rules? Would I try to make a case before my hypothetical pimp probate officer?

I might.

Would I cry, pray? Maybe tip toe over the line to plead?

I might.

If I am honest, I might.


If I felt I had all the truth of the universe about her situation, no speculation and entitlement driving the decision.  Would I do what it took to help her, despite it being wrong on paper?

I don't know. Maybe.

Would I tell the world about the lines I've crossed and the things I felt I had to do to keep this kid safe?
Would I perhaps unintentionally but very effectively scoff at the systems in place, the laws and people of the country I claim to love, as well as all the other adoptive families waiting for their child's ethical process to be complete so they can welcome their children into their arms and new homes; would I spit in their faces by detailing the ways I am breaking the code of ethics and laws that keep adoption open in said country?

Would I trash the birth family in public while using mine and my not-yet-daughters actual name for all the world to Google? Would I sensationalize the experience for thousands and thousands of gaga-eyed followers, creating movie-like drama and up-to-the minute updates on how I was going to beat the system?

Would I ask my thousands of followers to support and approve of my actions?
Would I publish my actions in public so authorities could see them and potentially ruin every shot I've got at adopting this child I love and want to protect or any other child from that country?

Would I tell a soul besides my husband and God about what I felt I had to do?

No. I wouldn't.

So here I stand, after my high-falutin' Ethics Preaching saying I will go to a hypothetical place where perhaps a would-be mother, in a position like the one I've described, may be in what she considers Grey Area.

Maybe that is where that family was at. We don't know. (And a big part of me is all Hard-A and still doesn't care what they thought they knew. Grace's comment on my last post -she's currently the 6 down from the bottom I think- is bringing back my spine even before I hit publish on this post.)

I really want to know what you think. I want to know if you were able to jump into the grey area with me for the sake of discussion. My guess is some of you can.  And those who didn't: tell us why.

Before I step away from being Devil's Advocate here, I will close by saying I also am guessing many of us will never go to a place where we unapologetically glorify unethical adoption practices and ask for praise and support for them.

What do you think? And this is so long I don't even have time to re-read, edit, clean up or make better. Also, a box of cereal was just dumped out and I have to head into the hospital this morning with a child who shall remain nameless but pulled out his g-tube (again.) Off we go...

** I love that other folks are thinking about this too. Check out another voice on the matter.


Stirring the Adoption Pot *updated again!

**2nd UPDATE with more clarification
The entire post that has now been taken down was saved before that happened by smarter women than I, and is copied in entirety in multiple places. I now have one. Also it has been sent to people in Uganda who work on trafficking, and they are not going to like it. I was wrong about them changing her name and have since amended my post. Her first name was given, they added a middle name.

I also was wrong about the session with the grandmother, mother was not personally there, but had sent messages to them effectively saying "No way, I want her back tomorrow." I just wanted to clarify because this post is NOT meant to spread rumors or accusations. It is meant to shed light on bad practices in international adoption. I remarked in the comments section how I am sad they took the post down because I do not want to speak for them. I would rather their words speak for themselves.

I don't like speculation any more than you do. I do think the way the author represented herself and how she was handling her adoption warrants close examination and discussion and action, yes by her peers: the adoption community, many of whom want adoptions to stay legal and ethical.

This post is not an attack on her character or how wonderful a mother she is. I take issue with how she publicly admitted to unethically pushing through her adoption and her language about the birth family was shocking and also warrants discussion among anyone who cares about International Adoption and ethics in adoption.

Again, I wish it were still there for the readers here to go, read, and decide for themselves. I was sickened by the post, hence my drive to write about it.


Today I ran across one of the most upsetting blog posts I've ever read about international adoption.

A clearly well-intentioned  family is acting unethically and misguidedly though an adoption process in Uganda. They found a a little girl in need, loved her, want to adopt her, made all sorts of promises to her about how wonderful her life would be, renamed her, made plans, and then...they found her family. And her mother does not want her to be adopted. Her uncle, grandmother do NOT want her to be adopted and taken away.

Shockingly, they are fighting it. They are arming themselves with lawyers and other people who would profit by the transaction (though that is a side issue), trying to convince this poor, uneducated woman that they are a better family than she is for her daughter. They are showing this mother pictures of their big house, great yard, well fed children and essentially saying "Look how much better off she would be without you."  They are trying to convince the case officer to allow the adoption, when normally, and rightly, this person investigates a child's case on his own, sans influence of American prospective adoptive parents.

This is wrong. It makes me ill. And stunts like this are why so many people feel like adoptions in other countries are borderline if not 100% child trafficking.

As I said in an unfortunate FaceSchmook rant today about another adoption discussion:
I believe most of the kids should have the pleasure of growing up within their families. They are not necessarily in a "better place" to be in the US. Adoptive families in international situations, in my mind, are a loving, willing Plan B. If plan A, the first family wants their children, even if they do not know how they will meet those children's needs, that is their God-given right to keep their family in tact. I am aware that some first families are not full of pleasure. Hence the need for foster homes and Child Protective Services in the US.

Added now: I also know it is common if some African nations for children to have lviing family and be living in an institution. I do not believe this automatically means a child should be adopted. Many many families do not want their children to disappear to other nations without their consent. Just because they cannot take care of them well right now doesn't mean they don't love their children or wnat them to stay in their country.

It is my belief that adoption is not humanitarian work. It is not a selfless, noble act. Adoption should by definition be considered just as "selfish" an act as attempting to conceive a child. I feel first and foremost ones adopts because one wants to have a family and raise kids. (This thought is further addressed in a comments discussion below.)

Because that $20-$40 grand it takes to adopt? That could dig a few wells. It could keep a few families together. It could feed them for life so they don't have to relinquish their kids. Or it could pay for a whole town's life saving immunizations and health costs for years, keeping more children with their loving parents. If we claim that adoption from third world countries is selfless, I think we are going down a dangerous path. If we admit that we want to parent a child who happens to currently need a family to raise him/her, that makes more sense. 

Here is a question to ponder: Say you fall in love with a child who is teetering on the edge of losing her first family due to poverty or illness. Say someone asks "Will you pay $10,000 so this family can stay together? Will you buy her mother a few chickens and a house closer to a water source so she can get on her feet and feed her kids and stay their mother?" My guess is more people would be comfortable paying double or triple that amount to adopt the child then the $10K to preserve the family.

All of this hits close to home, as clearly I adopted internationally, and have not yet spent an equivalent amount in Ethiopia doing humanitarian work, though I surely am working on that discrepancy and will forever.

Even closer to home: not many people know this, but we were also once was in a position where an expecting girl in a very very bad situation was considering placing her child with us for adoption. We loved him. I dreamed about it. I was relieved for her and for him to be his second mother. I wanted to have an open adoption. My heart was sold. Perhaps it shouldn't have been.

Because despite the swirling cloud of risk for her personal safety and for the baby's she decided to parent instead of place him. It was really hard. It was very difficult to feel that this kid would likely have a safer, happier, smoother life with us. There was abuse in that family, fear, even a chance for kidnapping in future.

I still worry about this little boy. I think about him all the time and wonder what it might have been like if he were our son. 

I do have peace though: First family first. It was her choice.

All the comments, like mine, on this post that remark on how unethical and sad the actions are have been deleted or not accepted. Caring, genuine and not even overly-critical adoptive parents were trying to help her see how wrong this, have all been criticized by her other readers. 

One woman, not the author of the blog, just moments ago commented Thank You Jesus that the negative comments I just read have all been removed!

I responded to this How is it 'negative' to try to help a mother keep her child? What if the situation were reversed? What if someone was trying to convince you they are a better parent and had a better life for your child? 

One blog friend, and commenter-who-was-deleted, Semi Feral Mama, was very sympathetic about the situation in Northern Uganda. 

"I am not religious, but I asked her to pray with an open heart to be sure she was actually hearing God and not just praying for what she wanted.  And I questioned her respect for her children's biological families because she kept referring to the Grandmother as the 'Grandmother from the slums.' 

I add to Semi Feral's last words, it is a tragic and again, misguided Entitled-to-someone's-kid-because-I-am-saving-them! attitude that hurts international adoptions every where.

Another commenter, a fellow blogger and Ugandan adoption family had her comment deleted that asked her to
"...step out of the PO (probation officer) process. The PO report or care order determines if a child should be considered for adoption. Our PO process took over 6 months (for an abandonment case), her pushing to get it done in a couple days is horrible. 

There should be no input from the PAP. This should be an unbiased report, that investigates the child's background, how they came into care, their current setting, etc. If it is a relinquishment case, the birth family will have to sign releases. 

A PAP should have NO INPUT in this. If they in any way seem to sway a PO's opinion this in unethical. A PAP should have no contact with a PO. The Blog Author wanting to be in the meeting where the releases are signed and decided, where the PO is attempting to decide if IA is appropriate for the child is in no way an ok practice."

My final piece of this rant goes as follows: there are parts of this little girl's story the would-be adoptive mom hasn't shared. Maybe these parts include, like my would-be-sons story, abuse. Maybe they are concerned for her safety, maybe she was neglected and they don't want to see that happen again.
I don't need to know the details: because no matter what, no matter how one spins it, recruiting and convincing families to relinquish their children is wrong. Even when it hurts. Even when one fears for the child.

I suggested in my deleted comment offering to sponsor the girl, make sure she is fed, communicate often, make sure she knows she is loved, and back off, for the sake of protecting ethics and adoption. That is where I stand on it, with my limited knowledge. 

And thus, Pandora's Box is opened.

**UPDATE. The family has removed the post from the blog. For those who did not have the chance to read it before it was erased, it detailed hours of the Prospective Adoptive Mother spent with a facilitator or orphanage worker trying to convince her grandmother to let a child leave their family. The blog author said (I am paraphrasing)

"Her mother wanted her back with them RIGHT NOW. But I knew that God could save this orphan."

This was the crux of the post and this is what was so frightening. The writer was so deep into this "miracle" she couldn't hear herself. The grandmother, and someone else representing the mother of her "orphan" were sitting right there, in front of her, saying NO. And her inability -- and the facilitator's as well-- to respect them and their choices was shocking. She tearfully, while begging and pleading, busted out her photo album of her other children and husband. She told them how much she loved Uganda and how her family all visits there, how great her connection could be with her first country.

In the now-removed post the author chronicled how she and this facilitator bullied them (all the while saying God is changing their hearts!) for hours. And how after these hours of bullying, someone agreed to let her come try to convince a case officer who is supposed to be impartial and not influenced by anyone, the next day to let this all fly.

Again, I don't know the whole story. Some member of the birth family could be an abusive creep. I am sure they are decent people who are blinded in their current situation, not the sheer evil I am tempted to think of them. I know they mean well but are on even on shaky moral ground. They are in the pit.

I am not orphan hater as the many of their supporters claims. I want this poor girl to have love in her life, and food, opportunity and joy. But the practice of recruiting a child away from her parents for the sake of an American with money is every kind of unethical and I know this family and their facilitator who was helping is not alone in using these techniques.

They have told themselves God wants to Save this Orphan. It never occurred to them to save the family, since she is not in fact, an orphan. It never occurred to them to realize she needs to be with her family but let's figure out a way to lift them up, stay in her life, support her and love her as if she's another one of our children. Instead they just want her, on their terms.

I am Christian, I love God. I believe God can perform miracles in our lives, and the post used these concepts and words to defend things that were wrong. It is dangerous disconnect. The 150 "positive" comments they received today were not balanced, in that all of the What are you doing?? comments were not published or were systematically deleted one by one.

I think what is interesting is that Ethiopian adoption is "old," and to every.single. Ethiopian Adoption parent who went to read it- including my husband who just got home from work and whom I caught up to speed-  it is obviously, glaringly, messed-up Wrong.

Maybe it is because ET adoption folks are now seeing the fruits of unethical adoptions. Maybe the Uganda program is too young. Maybe they don't realize how very bad this is.

I do not believe in a God who moves mountains (to quote the original post) for people who coerce children away from families. What this family and their supporters failed to realize as they condemned us "mean Satan people" was that every single voice of dissent was an adoptive parent. Every single one of those people loves adoption, cares about orphans and is passionate about helping people.

They dismissed the group of who knows, 50, 100, 150? commenters who left messages that would never be published but left anyway in the hopes they would be at least read by this family. They called us folks who pleaded for them to see what they were doing, tread more carefully, understand this isn't right: Satan's minions trying to drag them down.

All I can think abut was that Grandmother (and non-present Mother who sent the memo) saying no, and rich, white, educated powerful women wearing them down. No advocate for Mother and Grandmother in that room. And that poor little girl, who maybe now thinks the rich white folk are going to give her Disneyland Utopia in the US, and that everything will be "OK", when she should be working on reuniting with her first family.

It is sad. And I am standing by my thoughts here. Thank you for the wild and unfailing FB support about this post. I had a heart attack pushing publish. I am tired and I may edit a tad in the morning to tidy it all up.

Selam. Peace. If you are "late" to the discussion, the next installment written the next morning after this post, with equally fabulous comments is here.

More response to this topic all ovah FB, and here and here. And the comments to this are awesome and I have been challenged and taught by all of you. Thank you for coming by and letting me learn too. Please, read the comments. I've written more, you've all written more.  Some of it instructive, some of it unhelpful, but I won't delete it unless it gets down to F-words. So for the cowardly anonymous person who just used "ASS" I will leave you up. But you're on notice. ;)


New Rule

Look at me, two in one day. I needed to get this down in a moment of clarity and self-soothing. 
We have a new rule in this house instituted exactly two minutes ago: If someone has a toy you want, you wait. I don't care how long they've had it, or that it's "yours." You can ask them to share it, if they say no, find something else. I am not going to spend my day refereeing turns. I am not going to set any more timers, help you count to ten, back and forth hours on end.
Work it out without violence. If you hit, push, or scream for a toy, you will not get the toy, you will sit on the dark basement stairs until you are ready to be civil and find another toy. If that is ten seconds or thirty minutes, it is your choice entirely.
You can ask me for help if someone is being mean or unfair in your opinion, I might intercede, or my answer might be "find something else until they are done." 
The kids are eating lunch right now, and I've made them repeat these words out loud to me three times like a mantra. It has to be better than what has been going on. I will recant if the Lord of the Flies Nonsense gets worse over here...

A present for you: Homemade Lara Bars

I am not dead, Internets, just up to my eye balls in some fun, time sucking projects. I have been staying up until 2, 3, 4am some nights just to mess around on my projects, relax and then dive into housework. Thank heaven my kids sleep until almost eight...

I don't know why, but I am happiest when I go overboard and Wooo Boy, I am there. Treading fake water with a big smile on my face, but wishing the water were real because showering has not made it to the "to do" list for several days now. My poor, poor husband.

I wanted to share something quickly that has become an obsession in this house, nay, I think a permanent essential. I recently saw a friend of mine blog about making homemade Lara Bars. You know, the energy bars that cost upwards of $2 each?

I was intrigued and inspired and of course, because I am me, I had to tweak her recipe. We can't. Stop. Eating. Them. If one of the children spies me trying to sneak and eat one they all clamor until they have one in their hot little hands. They take approximately six minutes to make, there is no wheat, eggs, milk, they are raw, whole ingredients, and they don't require baking.

Please, do yourself a favor and get on this train, immediately. Thank you, dear friend. Despite the fact that these are supposed to be healthy, we might start packing on the pounds.

Scooping it Up's Homemade Lara Bar Recipe  (With a side order of laziness. I didn't photography all steps or ingredients, and I will just say it's because you are all so smart you don't need it.)

What you need:
4 oz dark chocolate chips. Avoid milk chocolate if at all possible. Don't go nuts with the chocolate chips either. Just a handful.
16 oz dates like these, take out the pits and chop them in half.

10 oz of cashews. I also have done one batch with 7 oz of cashews, 3oz almonds because I ran out, and they were great.

Don't be deceived by the empty 16oz bag, we were making several batches. 

3 tbsp unsweetened coconut flakes. I used to think it was really sissy and lame to have this around, but let me tell you, these bars are really sweet by themselves and do not need more sugar.

Final ingredients: 1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder, and 1 or 2 tbsp flax seeds, a few shakes of cinnamon. C'mon. You know I don't measure and I making all these up anyway.

What to do:
Everything but the dates goes into a food processor. I should mention, I have the 11 cup Cuisinart and this recipe uses full capacity, so if you have smaller one you will have to do it in batches. I pulse until I have a nice rough chop. Not too small, you don't want this turning into a powder. If they are bigger than you want, don't worry, they will get buzzed again once they dates are in.

After maybe 15 seconds of processing, add in dates and pulse some more, until you are happy with consistency.

Use spatula to press into a pan, 9x13 is a little too big, I have one that is 7x11ish that works beautifully. I like to put the pan in the fridge for twenty minutes to make bar cutting easier.

Final product: bliss.

Variation: 12 oz dates, 10 oz cashews, 4 oz dried cherries, 1/4 tsp vanilla, 4 oz chocolate chips. These are a huge hit as well.

How would you tweak the recipe? Make them and come tell me!


As it Stands, Part I

This is an incredibly long, self-indulgent post but I hope you feel adequately warned and gain some enjoyment.

It's taken me weeks to get it all out, I keep coming back in little moments. I decided once a year to do a crash-smash-spewing-forth update about the development and personality of all my little ones. I do this to freeze a moment in time for myself, and to see how they've changed. Reading last year's proved to be an emotional exercise for me. Seeing how far they've come and how much life has changed is staggering for me.

Off I go, starting with the oldest this time. Samantha is five-years-old. Weighing in at 34 lbs on a good day, she's a skinny little thing, with 4T pants and skirts falling right off her hips. She is my free, goofy, independent spirit.

Her greatest achievements lately include sounding out words from stories, street signs, and doing adding and subtraction in her head. Recently on command she counted by twos and we started working on fives. She can count to 100 by herself.

Favorite toys include her beloved Hannah doll, a stuffed giraffe named "Abeca" and coloring. She burns through coloring books, and often sings or pretends out loud about the characters while she's coloring. There is a constant dialogue that would make one think she was playing with dolls, or some kind of figurine.

The lines for her are still blurred on whether or not she is actually a mother to her Hannah. The doll is always dressed appropriately for the weather, for formal or casual occasions, and bedtime. She even gets diaper changes, naps and is worn in an Ergo carrier for dolls.

Samantha has a pathological fear of band-aids and refuses help of any kind after scratches or stumbling. She cannot abide minor surface wounds of any kind, and limps for days and refuses to bathe if she has any part of her skin marred. For this reason we have not pursued a two-wheel apparatus of any kind because it's not worth the injuries.

She still sleeps with her blankie, has changed her favorite color to pink, ousting the previous favorite purple by a land slide. Her favorite (and only, I should add) show is Dinosaur Train, and her obsession with horses is now simmering, but hasn't been completely replaced by dinosaurs. Her activities for the fall include singing classes, rhythmic gymnastics, Kindergarten at home, art class with Grandma, and t-ball. Samantha is affectionate with only her immediate family, and a few friends she really loves, but for most folks, she has a personal space limit and doesn't like being forced into hugs by relatives or other adults. Samantha plays well one on one with each of her brothers. As a group, she is sometimes annoyed by their general grossness and roughness. I object to those same things so I don't blame her.

She applies almost daily pressure to her parents to adopt a five or six year old girl for her to have a sister to play with. When she and I spoke about how a girl that age might need time to learn to be in a family, learn English, learn to feel safe and loved and learn to play, she started to cry and said "but Mom, I want to play with her now. I can't wait, I just can't." After wiping tears and good a talk, she decided she would learn some Amharic so her sister would feel safe and loved.  She talks about her like she's already here. Hubs and I try not to egg her on or set up her hopes, especially because we cannot guarantee Ethiopia will stay open as a country that allows adoptions, and who knows when we might be ready to undertake the whole operation, but do allow her to talk about it like it's a possibility.

In the meantime, she counts among her best friends her cousins, most of whom are girls, on both sides.

She gave me a dollar and four pennies yesterday to send to Somalia, and today she told her brother that maybe they could get a "kermit crab if they save up." She is an inventor of names and words. Today I heard her yell at Cookie Monster "Stop swacking me!"

Samantha's newest thing is announcing, for example, that today her name is  "Galala" who is "seven and a half, going on eighteen" and "speaks Spanish." Then she will proceed to speak to me in her version of Spanish and look at me like I am an idiot when I don't understand what she is saying. She will keep this up for hours without breaking character. Another similar game she invented is 'baby wolf.' The three older kids all will turn into baby wolves and howl, whimper go about on all fours and refuse to answer when I call them their names instead of 'baby wolf.'

She is brilliant at spelling phonetically and purposefully spells words in different ways with letters that still produce the desired sounds. I don't want to discourage this creative thinking and will try to make sure I don't stifle this talent while I teach her correct spelling. A few weeks ago I heard a little girl talking about Samantha to her mom Mom, that girl is in my Sunday School class, she is SO smart!. I almost peed my pants. I was insanely proud of Samantha for doing something, anything to give other kids the impression she's got game.

Samantha's best job is setting the table for her and her brothers. And it really does help me out at meal times. To this day though, she has opened the fridge may ten times by herself. She asks permission still. Thank Heaven for my child who doesn't get into things. She is holding strong at age five. Two of her greatest personal strengths are her ability to delay gratification and transition seamlessly. With very little coaxing and rarely a fit she can put off something she wants to do or have if I give her a reason. She is very logical and very patient and truly is a gift in a house swirling with chaos. She can interrupt something she is doing to help me for a moment without complaint and then go back to it with my praise and thanks following her. A hundred times a day I ask for her help and support and she gives it. I hope and pray I don't abuse this and that she feels my love and gratitude.

Her memory is a thing to be admired. She shares my gift of remembering names. We met a little girl her age back in May for the first time at a large Ethiopian Adoption event. She asked me yesterday about this girl and asked if I would call her mom to ask for a play date. I love this about her so much. She remembers and values people.

Samantha is pure joy, except when hair brushing/doing must occur. The crying, wailing, screaming then is comical it's so ridiculous. Here logic fails. "Samantha, Tsega sits for over an hour and has more than twenty braids and a ton of kinky curly hair. You are getting one pony tail we will be done in less than two minutes, do we really need this???" My pleas fall on deaf, emotional ears.

Aside from hair woes, I really enjoy hanging out with her and doing school with her has been wildly rewarding for both of us. If I could use one phrase to describe Samantha it'd be even-keeled. She is reliable and goes with the flow more times than any five year old is obligated. I continually impressed by my daughter and of course, think she is the most magnificent girl I know.

Cookie Monster is three, and one hundred ten percent boy. His walk swagger, his obsession with tractors, attention to details about such tractors Mom, dat not a steam roller, dat a grader his deep love of sports and desire to hit things speak volumes about him. He still our resident snuggler. His play is a lot rougher than it used to be, which directly contradicts his gentle, sensitive, lover heart. Cookie requires a lot of physical affection and his ability to communicate drops to nil when he's lacking this connection. When he is sad it difficult to find out why he is sad and what he would like anyone to do about it.  He still likes to be rocked with his blankies and paci. He has a sweet, young soul and frankly, I am not gonna do anything about that paci and blankie for awhile yet.  There was a time I thought that was borderline child abuse to allow a kid to hang on to such comfort measures at this age, but I am a different person now and have a boy who needs a lot of love and comfort.

Cookie is the best napper of the boys and one of the least picky eaters I've ever met. He still takes naps almost every day, he is super adventurous with food. He loves him some Ethiopian food and spicy Mexican. It seems his lactose sensitivity has mellowed some, making cooking and baking a lot less tricky. One thing he is holding onto: soy and almond milk. He won't touch cows milk with a ten foot pole. Cookie is not tall but is stocky and built and turns heads. His grin is catching. Today at church he was looking over stylish and it took Hubs and I a few minutes to figure out why: he was wearing his big Sissy's skinny jeans. Seriously, he looked so good I am gonna buy him a pair of his own. 

At 33 lbs he wears 3T on tops and bottoms. He resists baths and hair washings and recently told me when he, Tsega and Brady were all in the tub "Dere too much traffic in here."

He is the best pouter in the family but also the best laugher. I have to work hard to keep his love tank filled. I am so grateful for this because he really reminds me of me and gives me a hint of what my husband might feel like sometimes about my love tank.

Cookie Monster and I have this game called "Stay in, Love!" When he is out of control, sad, especially whiny, or being aggressive I note out loud to him that perhaps all his Love has fallen out. I hold him and grab love out of the hair and start rubbing it into his head, belly, arms, legs feet, all the while he screeches "It's falling out again!" When I've grabbed all the Love around me and rubbed it all in while he laughs I then squeeze him in the biggest Mama Bear Hug I can and shout "Stay in, Love!" It takes a few rounds sometimes, but somehow calling a spade a spade, and telling him that I want to fill him with happy, loving feelings seems to resonate with him.

Cookie is a champion knot-tier. He has a game called the Rope Process wherein he ties up Hubs with a rope so he can't leave for work. He gets really excited to telly Daddy about his Rope Process plans for the next morning, and Hubs promprly exlaims without fail "Oh no! Not the Rope Process!"

His favorite toys are Stinky his alligator from New Orleans when Daddy traveled there once, and Rex, from Toy Story. He really loves coloring with Sissy as well, and his toy runner ups are playing animal figurines and trucks.

Cookie lives for dinosaurs and loves Dino Train on PBS like his Sissy. He has a favorite shirt with t-rex skeleton on it that is getting snug and I've been searching for a replacement, maybe a few since he only wants to wear clothing depicting dinos.

Cookie and Tsega have been fighting a lot for the past few months, but Cookie has slowly begun to rise above. We've worked so so so hard on not fighting back or escalating, and I've seen Tsega recently pinch Cookie so hard he took skin with him. Actual chunkage. Cookie sat there, crying, bleeding, and didn't pinch back. I was so proud of him and encouraged him "Next time, hit his hand off, you don't have to let him hurt you!" He really has been amazing with his patience with Tsega.

Cookie is great at recognizing numbers and letters, and recently when teaching Sissy about counting by twos he was listening and shouted out answers right along with her. Last night when I asked him who is best friend is he replied "Erin." Which promptly brought tears to my eyes because Erin was his amazing speech therapist. He loves her and fully acknowledges that she changed his life. "Her taught me to talk." Cookie's grammar is irresistibly cute if inaccurate. "Dem silly birds funny at me!" He uses the word "who" to ask any "w" question. "Who dat glasses from?" means "Where are those glasses from?" "Who Grandma coming?" he means "why is Grandma coming?" I correct him only fifty percent of the time, and other times not because I love it so much.

Cookie prays every day for the people in Sudan and Somalia. He always remembers. When we went to Costco today he asked if we should get extra food to send to Somalia. He is a heart breaker. He is also the king of one liners lately.

Cookie: Dad, I gotta poop!
Dad: Ok go. (he goes)
Cookie: Oh it's just a baby one. It need a mama.
Dad: Welllll, is there more coming?
Cookie: Nope. (smiling) It all alone in the ocean.

He is thrilled to be doing t-ball this fall and wears his baseball hat religiously. He has told random strangers that his dad plays on the Red Sox, or with Tom Brady on the Patriots. (Neither are true, though both boys wish).

In another few months when it gets colder he and Tsega will go to a My Gym kiddie gymnastics class together, which was one of our favorite places last winter.

I will plug for that place, it is expensive but for our kids, has been worth it for the few months out of the year we do it. The staff has a ton of energy, manages a crowd well, and I know these classes boosted Cookie's self-confidence big time.

Also for the boys we will be installing swings, a climbing wall and a trampoline in our attic so I have a shot at surviving winter with two very physical boys. Oh, and he still lives up to his nickname: Cookie just walked by and I asked him what he wanted people to know about him. He said "Cookies, football, baseball and t-ball."

Oh how I love this boy. I am pained by his sometimes-struggle to make himself heard and understood. I am continually enamored by his sweet, sensitive heart, his sense of humor and ability to crack up his siblings, and every day I enjoy our co-dependent physical affection. I am so lucky he is my darling son.

....next week with bring As it Stands Part II: the Saga of Tsega and Brady


Home school in the first weeks: Good, Bad and Adapting

I can't tell you how many days we've been doing Kindergarten with official  Xs on the calendar. Why? Because it started slowly a month or two ago, and has been building and growing like a little teensy snowball collecting weight and volume as it rolls along. To exhaust the metaphor, sometimes a chunk of snow falls off so we have to just keep rolling and pack more on the next day.

Though I had entertained the notion there might be, there was no magic day that everything fell into place where I was able to say Yes! Now we are commencing with the Predictable School Schedule Commencement! I think any one's first year of educating not in an institutional setting can be deemed an Experiment, and certainly it is the case for us.

I am learning quickly what works and what doesn't work, but I think it will constantly shift and change and require adaptation, which I don't mind. Despite being wound a little tight, I actually enjoy flexibility, which is one of the biggest bonuses of home school in my mind. I like the ability to recant, relearn, restructure and redo and say tomorrow let's do it this way. Freedom goes hand in hand with my sanity and happiness.

What is not working:
1) Doing all subjects every day. We have a specific reading and writing curriculum, a very specific math curriculum, and then art, science and social studies units/lessons that I have created based on what we like and things I've read about "what kindergartners are supposed to know by the end of the year". We do not hit every one of these every day. Not even close.

2) Doing school at the same times every day. We suffer from Many Children With Over Ambitious Mother Syndrome. The most common way this presents in families is that we do not have the same schedule every day. If we have a day at home with nothing on the calendar aside from the usual kids beating each other up and making messes, the three boys have five naps between them and I do a decent job of making them happen in an orderly manner. But, we do not have very many days where we just stay at home if I can help it, so our schedule is tweaked a lot. The boys wake up at different times and aren't always ready at the same time to go back to sleep. He who cries the most is put down for a nap the soonest. Attempting to plan "we will do math at 10am tomorrow during the naps" isn't really possible. We cannot predict all the time when things will be quiet. Which leads to the next point:

3) Doing school when Tsega and Brady are awake does not work. (Actually, attempting to do almost anything productive while they are awake is a complete joke.)  They work very very hard for my attention and because school is so new Samantha needs a lot of direction on lessons and assignments. We have stopped attempting to accomplish anything unless the two babies are asleep.

What is working:
1) Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons
This book is brilliant, requires ZERO lesson prep from a parent, and really works. We are on lesson 22, and her foundation in reading is solid and gaining momentum. I think this program kicks the crap out of Phonics, which is a good  learning method and this is based on those principles. But Distar (Direct Instruction System for Teaching Arithmetic and Reading) method of teaching gives the educator a very scripted lesson with everything I say and do written in red. It teaches me how to teach phonics-like principles. I rarely vary from what is on the page and I don't have to. Even the most effective way to reinforce principles or correct mistakes is provided down the phrasing. This book offers a huge return on investment of time and I can't say enough about it.

2) A block schedule is working, and making peace with adapting to every day as it comes. Though it's not set in stone a pattern of subjects is emerging. Science and Social studies are only going to be addressed two maybe three days a week tops. Some weeks that might go down, or it might go up if we hit a unit that is super detailed and exciting, but we will build to that. On tap for science and SS: bi-monthly trips to Museum of Science and Children's Museum. This won't start until October, I can feel it.

3) Things that work just about every day despite the craziness: No matter what we do reading (100 Easy Lessons Book) writing practice every day. Writing practice can be one of three things. A letter to a cousin,  a journal entry. (I have started giving her prompts. "Today I felt..." or "If I had my own room it would have...")
or the final option, if I've noticed certain letters need work we just copy them over and over and trace, etc.

No matter what, over breakfast each morning we go over what day of the week it is, the date, the weather, what day was yesterday, what day is tomorrow, what the weather tells us about the season and what we are going to attempt to accomplish today. Cookie Monster is totally into this and likes to be apart of it.

This handy dandy chart from LakeShore Gouging Learning really helps.

4) RightStart Mathmatics is totally working. This math curriculum is the most money we've spent on anything related to schooling for this year. At a whopping $160 I think it will be worth every penny.

I live in fear of numbers. By the time I finished fifth grade, with the help of my teacher I had labeled myself as "bad at math." I spent every year up until the day I graduated from college miserable and woefully behind in all my mathematics classes. I never could quite keep up; I never firmly had the concepts ingrained and so when the class moved on from one week to the next, I was a lost cause. If I passed it was solely because I tried, I had teachers take pity. Every homework assignment I survived with B scores but would fail every.single.test. University statistics was a three attempt undertaking: The first try I had to drop it because I was failing, next time D+, which was not good enough to count for my major and on the third attempt I achieved a C-. Calculus too, was a drop due to failing, then my final attempt I earned a C+, and this was a super human effort to carry off that sad little C+.

Long story not made shorter, I have weighty, embarrassing baggage about math. I was not confident teaching it and searched high and low for curriculum that would help me not pass on any of my emotional instability around math. It's not that I can't add 2 + 2, but I wanted more than that. I wanted to do this right, and give her a love of numbers and logic and how they work together to create things, problem solving, applying principles. Ya know, the stuff I could never do. It is very clear to me this curriculum can help me do that.
It is just the right fit and she has already shown promise in breaking the cycle of fear and incompetence by declaring "Mom, can we do math? I love it!"

The lessons do require some effort on my part, because it doesn't flow easily as I read it, I do need to prepare a little and read through them before I whip it open in from of Samantha.

5) Doing ten or twenty minutes at a time instead of trying to block off two hours. It's a different point, but somewhat related, we do much better to incorporate school into things we are doing than try to come up with certain lessons at home. I know this is not new information to veteran home schoolers, but it's taking me some time to put into practice.

As we drive places, I drill Samantha and Cookie on math problems, or ask them to count how many cement mixers we see versus cranes and front loaders. When we are stuck in traffic I ask Samantha to sound out street signs and make observations about license plates. We count, we do patterns, rhyming. It seems silly, but I feel good about myself if I can engage their brains for even just six minutes. I also think a general attitude of learning while out and about is taking hold. While we are in the store, instead of telling them to shush while I shop, I am getting into the habit of telling them to look at how much. for example, the different apples cost per pound. Looking at prices, comparing them, making decisions based on what we learn is teaching them life skills as well as anything academic.

I should note, we have days where nothing happens. It can't. If the day is busy with errands, play dates, gymnastics, my photography work or house work, or the boys had a hard day etc, once the boys are all in bed for the night, Samantha and I snuggle up on the couch and can jam for an hour or two of school, which because it's one on one, probably is at least a three hour school day.

It feels good to know that even on hard days, she and I can accomplish something together.

6) Among things that are working for us so far: Science experiments. We are slowly adding in science. It might take us another four or five weeks to have the science going but what are doing now is fun and at least getting us thinking outside of what we normally do in a given day. We have a book called Oobleck, Slime & Dancing Spaghetti: Twenty Terrific at Home Science Experiments Inspired by Favorite Children's Books. It bases science experiments upon children's books, and provides insights into how to carry off the experiements, the science behind them, how to chart observations and record results, and ideas on how to take things a step further. The book is great fun and will work until I get us into a flow with our science units like plants, animal life, solar system, human body, weather, dinosaurs, geography (for which I have a this fun little book).

One of the experiments we did this week was a whole family affair. We took on the Butter Battle Challenge, and first we had to check out this book:

It addresses the concept of escalation and retaliation between different peoples based on ignorance and intolerance. The story references the Cold War and made for a great discussion on how sometimes we don't accept people or ideas because it's different then how we do it. The book leaves off with an open ending and it was a good exercise to ask Samantha how she thought the story should end and tell me what she thought about the actions of the Zooks and Yooks in the story. 

The only thing left to do was to start making butter! Our science book provided two different recipes and I think the key to this activity was to do BOTH, because most of the fun was observing how differently they looked and doing a taste test to see if the different methods created a superior butter.

One recipe was made right away, pouring heavy whipping cream into a jar with a marble. And then you shake and shake and shake and shake (and then roll it back and forth on the carpet like it's a ball, or hand it to Daddy to have a turn, or give it to Tsega to run around with). It took about thirty five minutes for the majority of the cream to turn into butter.

The second recipe requires the cream to be left out over night and then the shaking commences.

Mom, I am getting so tired and strong.

Mom, I hungry...

You can see the solids forming.

Once we had both butters side by side it was easy to tell how differently they came out. 

Crumbly bumpy looking butter was the overnight version, smooth operator on the right was the straight up shaking butter. But what was better?? Was one tastier than the other? Time to find out!

To be honest, we liked them both, and it wasn't easy to tell the difference between them based on taste alone. Samantha claimed she preferred the "second one" which was the bumpier, cream-out-over-night butter.

Once we removed the blind fold we also experimented with the Yooks vs Zooks main argument: is it good to eat with the butter size down??

Samantha claimed she did not like it butter side down, but that she wouldn't bomb anyone over it. Thank goodness.

Brady approved of the entire operation.

Every time I overhear someone talk about how hard their schedule is with school I breathe deeply and am grateful that should this all work out, we don't ever have to do that. Someday we might want to, because needs of kids and families change. But we can decide that all later. So even though home school is a work in progress, I am confident slowly but surely we will get to a great place.

Overall assessment:  This totally working for us and it is a massive relief to exist as we want to on our own terms. Samantha is eating it all up and just like breastfeeding oh-so-long-ago: it forces me to take time to give her one on one undivided attention every day and I can already feel us growing closer together.

In the timeless words from that stupid Adam Sandler movie: "All good things."


Working through the Mess

Things have gotten messy. The relationships within the kids, the house, my time management. It dawned on me tonight how crippled I am without my babysitter. (Stupid higher education pulling her back to fun peers and career pursuits away from my cute, poopie kids and my messy floor!) It's not just her willing hands and patient heart, my chance to come up for air during the day, the opportunity her presence gave me to actually have more than one baby's needs met simultaneously, though I miss those things more than I can describe.

Aside from her help, I used to have a witness to the craziness. Someone who I could look at with open mouth, and say Did you just see that? Can you believe that just happened? My side kick of Validation is gone and now for all I know I could be insane. Maybe I am misinterpreting my life and my children because no one is around during the day to say Yes. That was intense. Or hilarious, ridiculous, etc. I am searching for my replacement set of extra hands. But no one is her. No one can be like her. She held down the fort with the kids while we went to get Tsega from Ethiopia. She was here when the ridiculousness started. She knows it all and has seen the ugliest moments of the last few years of my life as well as some of the most wonderful. She is infinitely capable, trustworthy and caring and adventurous.  I miss you, Lizard.

There is this Bermuda Triangle of Emotion swirling over the boys these days, (maybe they miss Liz too?) and I am trying to regroup, give one on one time, dole out hugs, kisses, reassurances, but sometimes they are all eating me up 'til there is nothing to spare. Sometimes this happens by 10am. They all take turns manipulating me -- or rather, they do not take turns but instead single me out like a skilled pack of wolves pulling down a weak elk. They wear me down until they have me where they want me. I still don't know exactly what they want, but they sure know how to get me to stop doing anything but focus on them.

I think I need to work on a life book for Cookie. Cookie needs to be told the story of who he is, why he is loved, what happened when Mama got sick for a long time, and then left him for a month, and how much he was loved and adored that whole time, and how Mama never forgot about him and always cherishes him. He needs to hear the story of how Mama knows what he needs and wants to help him be happy. Cookie heard this story, complete with details about the hardest parts of his short life for the first time tonight, and I hope it opened his eyes and heart a little. As we talked and hugged tonight it felt right. Here is to being a better mother to my sweet boy.

Hubs has taken home ownership by the horns and rented a very large power tool last weekend to cut up our driveway and make room for more grass and possibly a play set with swings. Can't you just feel the testosterone?

A few weeks ago I plagued my FB friends with craigslist sagas. In short, I wanted a Tripp Trapp chair for Brady, but didn't want to have to sell a kidney to purchase one. After much ridiculousness and a great find on the internet, he is now a member of the family at the table, ergonomically supported, happy as a clam, tripp trappin' and asking where's the beef? This chair truly is a work of design genius and I wish I had one for Tsega too.

The seventh iteration of baby boy braids this summer. (I refuse to acknowledge Fall.)

I ran into a gaggle of tween African American boys at a park in Boston last weekend all of whom had very impressive, long braids and intricate cornrows. They went wild over Tsega's hair.  After we settled the point that he wasn't mixed race, but rather had been adopted, we moved on to the topic of hair.  I claimed that because I do his hair like this he gets called a girl quite a bit. The oldest among them said "They are just haters. He looks awesome." Then the boys surrounded Tsega and taught him how to do a fist bump. This is why I like being in Boston. Tsega gets to meet big boys with awesome cornrows.

When I peeked out the window today and saw these two with a fake snake and a tree I almost killed myself tripping over things, running to fetch the camera. I present to you: Adam and Eve.

Did a little photography work recently, can you tell who it might be for???? Shhhhhhhhhh!

As I try to figure out how to do it all, be it all, or more realistically, let things some things go, I am trying to embrace a little more chaos, give myself and the kids more grace, and just work through the mess.

Up for next post is how home school is going after three weeks: The good, the bad and the adapting...


frowny on the inside

Did you know I write posts, and then schedule them for later? I don't always hit 'publish' as soon as I take a cursory read through for edits, when I miss most of my typos and grammar mistakes that are insanely embarrassing because I truly detest those things.

My last post -you know the one that was all 'My kids do work, Suckas!' was not actually written that day, it was written several days before that. Which makes the fact that it was published this week hilarious. Because things around here can change on a dime. This week has been, oh pick a word, any word that could possibly encapsulate the badness? I got nothing. No sum up. So you can have the long version.

It was a ten poopie diaper a day, screaming with no perceivable cause and certainly no conceivable comfort kind of week. It was a spill something, wipe it up, repeat ad nauseum kind of week. Some of the spills are not accidental. Many messes in this house are not "oopsies."

First I found that above handiwork, and then proved how I knew who was the guilty party.

We accomplished so very little the past few days. Except for the poop and screaming parts. There was an unholy amount of those things.

I know, I know. You hoards of young, frolicking professionals who read this blog what with your Jimmy Choo shoes and non-pooped-on clothes don't want to hear about me being pantsed in front of the UPS man by a screaming, filthy child hanging onto my crusty elastic-waisted yoga pants, while holding another crying child who might just have a subdural hemotoma, while yet another crying child is actually sitting on the back porch because my kitchen reverberates sound like Carnegie hall, and the Concerto Tantrum Grosso that was about to hit the hour mark had to be moved outside for a bit so I could
a) hear myself talk
b) not pull a Jack Bauer and stuff a wash rag in the mouth and cover with duct tape so as to make the sound stop
c) it was only 9am and I was already rocking a massive headache and
d) I had to answer the door with only 50% of the kids in shambles, as opposed to 75%. I have some pride you know.

Here is the goose egg owie that I thought might actually be a trip to the hospital but turned out OK.

Don't go take your nap after this hit kid, stay awake  for a few more minutes, k? Let me see your pupils. What is 9x4?

It was a mind numbing kind of week. I actually called Hubs at work crying over how hard the kids were being, twice. I yelled. I even threw a few things. I went to their level I was so mentally worn out at times. All the lessons and books I've read on patient, loving, intentional, therapeutic parenting were lost on me as I said nonsensical things. I sucked. And frankly, they did too. But it's my function as a human to not suck even when they do, and I had some poor Mommy Moments this week. I cannot remember when I last felt so brain dead for so many consecutive days.

Me chewing the kids out for leaving the marker box out for Brady to dump out for the fifth time that day:
Kids, I expect you do blah blah blah be responsible. blah blah, listen the first time, blahdee dah.
Samantha: We have to be good so no one will call CVS on you?

Peeps, I love my life. I love my kids. I think they are exquisite humans and I am honored every day to be their mother. But today, and yesterday and the day before that, they sucked out my soul and hope and goodness.
-HA! Speaking of mistakes, this just published mid-writing. My head dropped onto my hand for a moment while I thought and something happened and it published unfinished. Sorry for those of you with readers and email subscriptions, that really stinks I just sent you all an unedited draft. 

Well, perhaps it's a good place to stop. There isn't anything deep about any of this except I am praying that I can wake up in the morning having shed the weight of this week. I am praying for a scream-free morning. I just wanted to remind myself and the world I suppose, that it's not all field trips and obedient workers around here. We are normal, in that we have really, horrific-Devil-Posession bad days. And hopefully both the metaphorical and literal suns will come out for us tomorrow.


Work: How I Learned to Stop Fearing my Kids (for now)

The title of this post might come across as a bit dramatic, but I assure you, asking kids to work entails high, ridiculous drama. Or, rather, it did.

I mentioned a few posts back how the last year or so of my life has entailed throwing on PBS sometimes so I can clean/cook/accomplish something without death and destruction. This still happens on occasion as I am human and sometimes it really is the only solution to an immediate problem that needs addressing and I must leave three very young people alone for several minutes, but this TV Babysitting Twenty Eight Minute Miracle was recently twisted into something ugly:

Dinosaur Train became a habit. Then an entitlement. Then a negotiation tactic. I actually heard a Mom, if you let me watch Dinosaur Train I'll... I don't know how I let something that really was for ME, turn into something the kids expected and felt they were owed. As if it were some little Zone Out time they get to expect as part of their day, every day. If you couldn't tell internets, I am violently uptight. We don't eat fast food, I use natural cleaning products and avoid HFCS as if it spreads leprosy. I have perhaps unfairly high expectations of my kids in regards to behavior and obedience. She-Who-Controls-Much had lost control of the TV situation and was turning into a maid for the kids. How did I let this happen???

Fits started happening if I turned it off before it was over. With real live Instaprojectile Tears(TM) they'd cry things like I want to watch Dinosaur Train You're So Mean I Never Thought I Could be This Unhappy! That is a direct quote.

We are at a crossroads with the older two kids. At ages three and five, they are on the cusp of being capable of real responsibility. I've always believed in teaching children to do chores, work, contribute etc. Hubs and I have loooong -since like, before being engaged times- battled over the concept of allowance for kids. My watered down argument had been that kids need to learn that chores and work are a part of being in a family and you don't get money for doing the right thing. You do your work because that is what it means to live in a house with your family (so help me soap box).

Hubs' basic stance was that teaching kids that their time and efforts have value and they can save money and learn how they feel when they spend it on dumb things or more long lasting things are worthy lessons. Money they've earned and spend can make a huge impact on kids respect for how far money can go, etc.

Can you tell by our positions who wasn't compensated for chores? I think I created in my mind a world where it was nobler to have kids who worked in the name Rightness and Being a Team Player, versus kids who wanted to earn some money and save for the $100 Nikes. I should mention now that we are at less of an impasse these days, because I believe both arguments are true and valid. He's swayed me quite a bit, what with his career in finance and such. 

While none of these theories and practices have been implemented in any kind of organization as of yet, there has been growing a cycle of craziness that I had.to.break. which centered around a lack of Rightness and Team Playing. Maybe this looks familiar to you.

After a week or four of escalation I did something that at the time felt profound, though it might sound completely obvious to you, Perfect Internet Parents. It still, each and every time it happens, feels like I created the wheel, made fire for the first time, and discovered gravity:

As we ate breakfast one morning I casually mentioned that there would be no Dino Train this morning. But a viewing could be earned through uncharted and uncounted and at times intangible acts of obedience, kindness, politeness and above all, helping cleaning up messes without whining. I believe the uncharted and uncounted acts is important for us. If they knew they had to pick up things five times, or obey three times, or say four nice things, we would miss the boat entirely. They have had to throw themselves into general good attitudes in the hopes that it will earn them something. What they don't realize is that the day is going better and everyone is happier.

Baby steps and set backs aside and long story shortened: my kids are working every.day. With and without the Dino Train reward, though I like to give it because hey, after all their hard work, I can still get that time to answer a few phone calls and have peace.

They are like my cleaning gophers, taking a stray sock, toy, dirty diaper to its proper location which is no easy task in our house of four floors. They are speed cleaning the blocks. They are sorting art supplies, folding towels, searching for the (swear word omitted) missing shoes. My favorite job they do that is now fairly set in stone that actually makes a big difference in my life is setting the table while I finish dinner prep. Samantha likes this job because she is allowed to pick which color cups and bowls her siblings use and she enjoys power.

Why didn't I just do this before you ask? I hated the whining and shirking. I was afraid of the crying when I made them stop what they were doing to clean up. The worst part of my day was when they ditched one fantastical set up with the Duplos and trains to go play with dolls and stuffed animals.  Forcing a time out to go back and clean up the previous mess led to nasty horrible tears that left me yelling and the day derailed.

I was avoiding the great deal of work it is for me personally to slow down and help them work. They need a lot of direction, and I must note, this was one of the biggest fears holding me back these past few weeks: the fact that is not faster in any way for them to help me. I just didn't want to deal with the inconvenience of watching the three-year-old place only one block in the basket at a time, when we have over one hundred twenty blocks.

Having now pressed forward in spite of the fears I can say I am surprised every time they manage to get a room clean. I am surprised at how over just a week of revamping the Family Work Theory, and talking about it constantly they are whining less, and working more.
I cannot believe how afraid of this process and my kids I had become.
I am surprised how strong the temptation still is to just throw them in their beds at the end of the day and tell myself I will pick this up tomorrow.

In practice, the answer to this temptation is saying all the while expecting melt downs Guys, we cannot go to bed with the room like this. Clean up before stories. Right now. This involves delaying precious bedtime, I usually am directing traffic with one of the babies on my hip who is trying to fall asleep, picking things up with my feet and trying to get one of the other babies to stop undoing what the biggies are doing. It's hard. But it has never been as bad as I thought it would be. They are trying, bless their little hearts.

Make no mistake, there is still an intolerable amount of whining in this house. And an inexcusable amount of tension and yelling from the mom. (Almost any amount of yelling from me is inexcusable.) And we still watch PBS almost every day. I admit with trepidation, I don't want to hear stories about how your family has never watched TV and your kids make their beds every day while speaking fluent French and how women like me are lazy and pathetic.

I have my own set of judgements and pulled-out-my-butt Parenting Standards so I totally get you having yours, but I am feeling alright about things and don't want to be off my high yet. If, however, you have brilliance on how you help your kids work I'd LOVE to hear that! Please share!

*Oh, and as the "for now" in my post title: We all know that once you figure something out with kids in about eight weeks it's time for new tactics. In fact, read here how just a few days later things went to crap.


Franklin Pahk Zoo

An afternoon with cousins and Grandma, in a place so close, so lovely, with so free parking. So wonderful. (Did you know the Kevin James movie The Zookeeper was filmed there? Now you do!)

Perhaps setting oneself up for disaster when one of the babies falls asleep on the way there.

This place was crawling with adorable zoo babies. Baby wildebeest, baby gorilla (OMG the cuteness), and we must have good luck because we once again had a day where the animals seemed to be out playing.

Cookie and Tsega, hug for the camera.
But Mama, I need to go see the lemurs!

Little Miss Independent chose shoes I knew were gonna hurt. About three seconds in she abandoned the shoes and went barefoot. So lucky to live close to family.

Our Liz, Babysitter/helper/Goddess has worked her last day for us. Though I prepared myself, I am still reeling from her absence. She is so lovely and we miss her already.

She took these two shots:

I was right, Tsega was emotional the whole time, but he told me with his amazing screaming communication skills that if I let him keep his precious blankie on him at all times, he'd be OK. He was.

Cookie Monster, with his best pose. I hate to break it to him, but he is not actually 100% Abesha like this shirt indicates. But this is one of his favorite ensembles, and he did tell me last night he wished he were Ethiopian. I said I love you just the way you are, you're perfect! But I understand. Sometimes I wish I were Ethiopian too.

Our favorite part was the butterfly house. It was like a fantasy garden.

While warm this afternoon, I have been feeling Fall coming. So many people love it, but to me the entire season is tainted by its proximity to winter, and as such, we cannot be friends. Here is hanging on to summer as long as possible...