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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Happy Birthday Emme!

Emmelyn turned 12 this week and we celebrated her birthday today at the bowling alley with her school friends. Even as I scrolled back through pictures for this blog, I am amazed at how quickly time passes and how our first, sweet, baby girl has transformed into a beautiful, mature, smart and confident middle-schooler.

Jay and I regularly reminisce about our time in Ethiopia and how glad we are that we took both of our daughters with us. Travelling with all 4 of us there - and returning with 6 - was expensive and stressful at times, but I would not change a thing in hindsight. It was so important for them to be there at the very moment we became a family of 6. It was also important for the boys to know and understand immediately that they were not only receiving a mom and dad - they were being gifted with 2 loving sisters as well.

The other reason I wanted the girls to be with us in Ethiopia is because we have always tried to teach them gratitude and thankfulness - no easy task in our country - where "things" and opportunities are abundant and accessible. After spending time in a 3rd world country - you never again take for granted what we have in this amazing country we live in.

The girls shed many tears of grief while we were in Ethiopia and they wrapped their little arms around countless orphans in an attempt to bring some measure of comfort and to demonstrate their immeasurable worth and value. Even at the orphanage with HIV+ kids, the girls never gave the disease a moment of thought as they waded in and shared their love openly.

I look back at pictures of the meeting we had with Jayden's birth mother and Emme's hands are covering her face and her shoulders are racked with sobs. I asked her later what she was crying about and she said she was putting herself in Jayden's shoes, feeling his pain and imagining saying good-bye to her mother or father forever. It tore her heart apart at that moment.

I look back at moments like that and I am thankful for the experience and thankful for my daughters' sensitive, empathetic hearts. If I am to consider some of the things I hope to teach my children, empathy would be one of the qualities at the top of my list. Gaining a first-hand, world perspective at such a young age can only have a great impact.

I keep reminding my daughters that I was 40 when I went to Africa for the first time. They were only 10 & 11 and the things they saw and experienced will leave them changed forever ... and perhaps even change the very course of their lives. Happy Birthday Emme!

Emme's school friends celebrating her birthday at the bowling alley.

Last weekend at church, Amy and Julie, gave us scarves that they had hand-knitted while we were in Ethiopia, praying for us during our trip. Not only did they make these beautiful and meaningful scarves for the boys, but they remembered our girls as well. All of the kids were very appreciative and I was especially appreciative because they knitted them at the very moments we were in Ethiopia!

A few quick photos of Wesley sorting his animal blocks. These blocks have been a favorite of his since day one. He spends hours in complete contentment sorting and organizing the blocks and matching up the pictures in pairs. He can name all of the animals and as he matches them up he counts them "one ... two ... monkeys". When Jay's aunt Mary (80+ years old) comes for a visit, he runs for the block box, climbs up on the sofa with her, and spends the next hour or two going through the blocks with her - and he has her undivided attention the entire time.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Feedback from school

We recently had school conferences for our kids in elementary school. Maea had the customary good report and we were looking forward to talking in-depth with Jayden's teacher about his progress. We know at home that he looks forward to school every day. He finally has our schedule figured out - five days with school, 2 days with no school. He is always happy to be going back to school on Monday mornings. I wish I could say the rest of us looked forward to Monday mornings like that!

In Ethiopia, going to school was a privilege reserved for the wealthy and Jayden still maintains that point of view. He was eager to start school when we arrived in America - it was the first thing he asked for and insisted upon, and ended up starting school one week after we arrived home. We help him with his homework each night and it is certainly a challenge. He memorizes letters and numbers but doesn't grasp their meaning or how they really work together. So we were looking forward to his school conference to get a better understanding of his progress.

His teacher was just beaming as she explained how amazingly well he has adapted to the class and how adept he is at picking up social cues from the other kids. Jayden works with an ESL (English as a Second Language) instructor 2-3 times per week at school and she too was very complimentary of his progress. Jayden's teacher reinforced our perceptions that he is an extremely bright little boy. In first grade, oftentimes kids are overwhelmed and exhausted by the new information their little brains are working to comprehend. Attention spans are typically short. But with Jayden, he has an amazing attention span and despite the language barrier he demonstrates remarkable patience and determination. Once he grasps the concepts of letters and numbers, she said his learning curve will really rocket!

At home, we have noticed him starting to put more and more words together - up to 4 words at a time. Early on, Jayden would go into lengthy explanations in Amheric. Lately, he chooses to converse with us in English only - partly because of his determination to master the language, and partly because we have no earthly idea what he is saying in Amheric.

As a family - we continue to find our balance and feel more like a normal family with each passing day. Jay commented a few days ago that suddenly he can't imagine not having our 2 little boys. We have been home from Ethiopia a little over 2 months and what felt all "topsy turvy" for the first 6 weeks, now feels like it has always been this way. Looking back - I am amazed at how far we've come in such a short amount of time!

And now for a little commentary on the idiosyncracies of life with adopted kids ... I copied this quote directly from Bethany Taylor's blog because she summed things up perfectly. Bethany and her husband are first time (brave) parents of two kids adopted from Ethiopia - Tigist (4) and Fikadu (6). Jayden and Fikadu were buddies at the Transition Home in Ethiopia so we have followed the Taylor adoption journey closely. Here are Bethany's words about the EXTREME curiosity of children who have never been exposed to the every-day items we take for granted in America ...

"and to constantly have to micro-manage two children who want to touch EVERYTHING, (really, EVERYTHING think, toilets, trash, outlets, stove tops, EVERY button on your computer, EVERY button on your phone, EVERY button on your camera, EVERY button on the dishwasher, EVERY button on your sewing machine, EVERY button on your coffee maker, EVERY button on your printer, EVERY button on your microwave, flip EVERY light switch (multiple times) - get the point???). =)"

I smiled knowingly as I read her post because this extreme curiosity was one of the first things we noticed upon arriving home. EVERYTHING had to be touched, pushed, pressed, toggled and fully investigated. I watched Jayden try to climb a floor lamp once so he could twist the switch on and off. Nevermind that he had just twisted the exact same type of switch on every table lamp, but now he needed to attempt to climb a floor lamp so he could twist that switch too. He has since satisfied that type of curiosity and in this scenario too we have settled into more normalcy. :)

Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Zoo

For a long time, I have looked forward to seeing the boys' expressions when we introduce them to the zoo for the first time. We love to visit in the summer, but even in the winter, the tropical area is open and there are plenty of animals to observe. We spent a relaxing Sunday afternoon at the Minnesota Zoo and the boys just took it all in stride.

Jayden would quickly locate each animal and then want to run ahead to the next one. I kept slowing him down so we could all observe and comment on each one. Wesley was tentative and wary at first. I think he was worried the animals could somehow get to him. All of the kids seemed to enjoy the large aquariums the most. Jayden wondered about the fish getting water in their eyes. I'm sure he had never observed fish in this way before.