Saturday, April 28, 2007

Mealtime Prayers

Having the opportunity to pray at mealtime is a big enough deal at our house that we have to take turns. We all hold hands when we pray. Not for any religious reason, but with as many kids as we have it is best to know where everybody's hands are when your eyes are closed.

K.D. takes the liberty of praying the exact same prayer at every meal after the person whose actual turn it was.

"Dear Jesus, Thank you for this day . . . food . . . in Jesus name, Amen!"

When the "Amen!" is exclaimed, he raises his hands above his head dragging upward whoever's hands he is holding.

Whenever Little Foot prays, he always has the line, "And please help F.G. and K.D. to learn English quickly."

F.G. is a touch more reluctant to use her newly acquired English skills praying at dinner time. However, the other day she did offer her own prayer request.

"Little Foot . . . learn Amharic quickly."

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Big Family Life - Fire Alarms, Urgent Care, and Concerts

Last week I told of when K.D. pulled the fire alarm, but I left out what else was going on that night. CrazyMom was going to take Miss Bookworm to her concert while I was going to take the rest of the crew to church. It was becoming evident by the look in Ed's eyes, however, that she was going to have to go to urgent care.

Well, what do you do in such a situation? Impose on friends, of course.

I took off with soon to be Mr. Fire Alarm and three others while CrazyMom went to the school in search of a friend (a.k.a. victim). She found a family to collect Miss Bookworm after the concert and gave them our video camera to capture the event for us.

Later, on my way home from church, there was a flurry of cell phone calls between me in the car, CrazyMom at urgent care, and our gracious friends leaving the concert with Miss Bookworm. I am not sure how people survived before cell phones.

As Pa Ingles always said, "All's well that ends well." And we have a video of the concert to boot. (My deepest apologies go to the composers for chopping out a few random seconds from their master compositions.)

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

What have I done?

"What have I done?"

It is the words spoken in great desperation and grief by the mouths of many adoptive parents, particularly those who have adopted an older child.

I think of an email from a friend in the early weeks after she and her husband brought home two children from Ethiopia.

After the kids are in bed asleep, I will be walking by their door and I will feel a pit in my stomach. I ask, "What have I done?" I used to have such a nice life with my husband and our three birth kids. Now that life is gone.

I think of one of the adoption stories that Melissa Fay Greene tells towards the end of There Is No Me Without You

More than one of the family members began to wonder, on the long highways across Pennsylvania and Ohio, "What have we done?" Which question could be subdivided into "What have we done to him?" and "What have we done to our family" (p.390)

"I am completely exhausted," said Dave in his second week home. "I don't know if I can do this". (p.391)

Although spring in Michigan usually signals the end of cabin fever, Dave's was just starting. He felt himself a prisoner in his own house, a prisoner of the demanding, fit-throwing, clinging boy. (p.392)

But Dave was reeling into a depression. By whose slip of a pen on what paperwork, by what strange spin of the globe, had this orphan of Addis Ababa landed in Dave Armistead's kitchen? "I love teaching," he was thinking, as he staggered around the house or the backyard with Ababu's stranglehold on him. "I love history; I love teaching high school history. I traded that for this?" (p.393)

I think of a training session that I went to where an adoptive dad was brought in. He had just had one long, tearful, gut-wrenching, hair-pulling year. As he spoke to us there was no controlling the emotion in his voice or the tears that flowed.

I, too, have asked this question. It was even during the first 24 hours, while I was still in Ethiopia realizing the dream. I remember standing there, looking at a misbehaving boy and projecting that behavior forward for the next 13 years. The question screaming through my head was, "What have I done?"

And what is worse, adoptive parents can think that the proper question is, "What have I done?" This seems like the right question to ask because it feels that there is no one to blame but yourself. After all, you are the one who rebuffed critics. You are the one who quoted stats about the needs of children around the world. You are the one who advocated. You are the one who insisted on adopting. You are the one who believed that God was calling you to adopt. And now you are filled with self-doubt as you realize that the adoption attachment issues you read about are yours and not your child's.

And how can you complain to others? All they will say is, "You made your own bed. Now you have to lie in it."

But the blessed news is that this stage will pass. Though in each of the above stories there were times of doubting, grief, and feelings of disconnectedness that sometimes lasted up to a year, they all passed. Each family is now strong and in love. They can't imagine life without their adopted children.

I know not every family emerges from the "What have I done?" stage. A small percentage of adoptions do disrupt. My advice to perspective adoptive parents is to gird your loins beforehand, prepare for the worst, make sure you have emotional reserves, educate yourself, read Green's article on post-adoption panic, and get connected with other adoptive parents. Then you will most likely be pleasantly surprised at how well your adoption is going or, if the early times are tough, you will be well prepared.

Oh, and just one last piece of unsolicited advice for those thinking about adopting. Depend on God. The Father of the Fatherless wants his orphaned children cared for and He has chosen us to be His hands and His feet to them. He will give you the strength to see it through.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Warning: Don't Forget This Rule!

There is a lot to teach Ethiopian kids when they come into your home. In addition to English they need to learn about bathrooms (how to use a toilet you sit on, what to do with the toilet paper, and what the towel is for), how to use silverware, not to push every button on all the electronic devices in the home, etc.

Then there are all of the safety rules. Wear a seatbelt, wear a helmet, and by golly wear a coat when it is below freezing outside. Think of all of the "don'ts" we have already taught our kids. Don't run in the street or across parking lots. Don't walk off in a store. Scratch that - just don't walk off at all. Don't ride your bike with your eyes closed (still working on this one with F.G.). Don't play rough on the steps (K.D. has tumbled a full flight already).

For all of the rules we have taught our kids, we missed one.

Don't pull fire alarms.

It was crazy hat night at church last night. When my kids and I arrived we were swept into a sea of bobbing hats flowing down the hall. I saw K.D.'s hand go up to the bright red box as he passed by. The white lever must have a universal appeal since K.D. could not read the "PULL ME" words that have tempted countless other children through the ages.

I was two arm lengths behind K.D. Reaching for him was out of the question with at least four big hat heads between us (one of which was our own baseball cap to the right, Old Navy cap to the left, Tigger hat on top concoction). So I yelled instead.


I got everyone's immediate attention except K.D.'s. He proceeded to pull the lever down setting off the alarm. I reach the box and tried to put the lever back up to turn off the sirens. Well, you learn something new every day. When you pull a lever, it locks in the down position.

The hallway got packed as all of the hats further ahead turned around and were being shooed back to exit the building while all of the hats behind us continued to be shooed forward since their parents could see that it was a false alarm.

K.D. was standing there with his own cap-cap-cap concoction displaying his large beautiful brown eyes that were, of course, a little larger than usual. His eyes did not display the "I just did something really bad" look, however, since he did not know that he has just done something really bad. It was a more pleasant "Gee, I just caused a lot of excitement and I think I like it" kind of look.

Our quick-minded and handy associate pastor appeared with his oversized key ring. He unlocked the lever, dispatched someone to call off the fire trucks, and proceeded to the main fire panel to silence the alarms.

Then, almost a fast as it had started, it was all over. You just don't know how relieved I was to know that the fire alarm system in our church actually works.

Oh, yeah. When all of the other people cleared out, I gathered K.D. and F.G. around one of those red boxes and taught them one more rule.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Ethiopian Children's Rock Game

When we brought children from Ethiopia into our home, we brought a lot of other things as well. Forgetting for a moment about the parasites (nothing that a prescription drug or two couldn't wipe out), their culture came into our home in terms of language, mannerisms, and ways of thinking and interacting. Another fun way we have seen their culture is through their childhood games. Here is a clip of F.G. teaching us a rock game much like jacks.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

"You Are Doing Such a Good Thing"

"You are doing such a good thing."
"It is wonderful. We all are so proud of you."
"You’re a good man, Charlie Brown."

All of these things and more have been said to me. Each time I smile, nod, and say an honest, "Thank you."

But I wince inside.

I don't wince because the people are not genuine; just the opposite is true. And not because I am too humble to receive the praise; sadly I am not. For a long time I was not even sure why I was troubled. It has been something that I have been thinking about for months now.

Other "good deeds" that I carry out elicit no such response from people. Nobody comments on the common or the expected nice things that I do. When I loan out my truck, the recipient thanks me. No one else thanks me, because loaning out a truck is a common good deed for truck owners. When I take my son Buddy to the emergency room there is no fanfare because although the deed is uncommon (well, sort of), it is expected.

But adopting orphans from Ethiopia. Now there is an event that is neither common nor expected. And so it is noteworthy. "You are doing such a good thing," they say.

Now I understand why the comment makes me wince. When someone speaks those words it testifies to the fact that what I am doing is uncommon and unexpected.

But the need is so great. The children are so beautiful. Life is so precious. They are "made in the image of God." Why should caring for orphans be uncommon and unexpected?

I dream of a world where all children are cherished. A world where we spend more time and energy securing the future of the world's children than securing the future of the world's oil reserves. A world where caring for orphans is common and expected.

I dream of a world where it would not occur to anyone to say, "Your doing such a good thing" to an orphan-adopting dad.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Lines, Lines, and More Lines

When I was looking for a college to attend, one in California caught my eye. I was living in the Carolinas at the time and my parents said it was too far away. So I went to college in the Midwest and they moved to California.

On summer break I went to visit them in Orange County. One of the overarching impressions from my trip was that of lines. There were lines to get gas, to get on the interstate, and then to move on the interstate. There were lines at restaurants and grocery stores. There were lines everywhere.

I decided lines were not for me.

The other day I reached down and grabbed F.G.'s wrist and ankle and began to swing her back and forth. After a few swings I let go of her ankle and she landed on her feet and hurried to the back of the line. Yes, the line. In the 5.3 seconds of swinging, word went out to all corners of the house that dad was doing something fun with somebody. Now there were six waiting expectantly in line.

Given my shoulder issues, I had F.G. leave the back of the line. While I was pretty sure I could manage six swinging sessions without an ER run, I knew twelve was out of the question.

The other day we were eating ice cream at a local shop and Ed asked me to take a picture of her with Brutus. I obliged. Then came all of the rest.

Then there was the releasing of a turtle found earlier in the day. Only four this time. Evidently the mechanism that carries out the word that a line is forming is impeded by walls and two did not emerge from the house.

There are all of the other lines as well. Lines to wash hands before dinner and lines to brush teeth at night. Sometimes I issue an edict:

Notice: From this point forward if a child is waiting to wash his/her hands at a sink and there are three or more siblings in front of said child, said child shall be obligated to leave the line and find a different sink at which to wash his/her hands.

Having decided that lines were not for me and now living with lines in my own home is probably just further proof of God's sense of humor. It is just too bad it is at my expense.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

How Bad Is It?

Sometimes I wonder how bad the orphan situation really is. The UNICEF report certainly paints a dim picture. The title on the cover ("Excluded and Invisible") almost seems cheery compared to what is reported in the back tables (700,000 orphans due to HIV/AIDS in Ethiopia . . . 4,000,000 orphans due to all causes in Ethiopia . . . 42 million orphans in Sub-Saharan Africa . . . 143 million orphans in the world).

But what does it mean? I just can't seem to wrap either my mind or my heart around such numbers.

Then a vignette.

CrazyMom and I were walking last October through an airport changing planes on our way back from an Ethiopian adoption conference. We ducked into one of those sandwich shops that put on a fa├žade of being upscale with the only supporting evidence being the prices they charge. We were (and still are) in the early stages of being able to recognize the origin of people, but the woman helping us appeared to have the look of one from the horn of Africa. Debating between Somalia and Ethiopia, I guessed she was from Somalia since a brightly covered scarf covered her head (there are more Muslims in Somalia than Ethiopia).

"Do you mind me asking if you are from Somalia?" I asked.

"I am from Ethiopia," she responded.

"Really?!?! We are adopting from Ethiopia and we are on our way home from a conference about it," I said hoping my enthusiasm would be shared by her. In some way I want every Ethiopian to approve of me parenting a child from their country.

The conversation turned. The enthusiasm that I had injected into the air now quickly turned to urgency. The receipt was already being ejected from the register and others in line behind us were inching forward into our personal space.

"Please," she said. "My friend is dying and she has a daughter. Can you do something for this girl?"

She went on with a few particulars, giving the town where they live. She did not seem to care if we were good parents, had a tidy home study done, were properly fingerprinted, had taken the mandatory training classes, or that we were white Americans. She just wanted to know if could help -- if we could do something for the girl.

"Our adoption agency does not work in that region of Ethiopia, but let me check into it," I said feeling the pressure of the next in line.

She took the receipt from the register and wrote "Fayo" and a cell number on it in elongated letters and numbers. I reached out and took it from her hand and my wife and I reluctantly moved on.

We did look into it and, as suspected, short of hopping on a plane ourselves, it would not work out. We know of no adoption agencies working in that area.

So how bad is it? I don't know. Ask Fayo.

Sunday, April 8, 2007


F.G. and K.D. got to experience their first major Christian holiday - American style. Easter is an even bigger holiday in Ethiopia for the Orthodox Christians, who have a special type of fast that lasts for nearly two months. On the last day of the fast (Saturday), the people go to church all day for celebrations and then return home in the middle of the night to break the fast and have a grand celebration and feast on Easter Sunday.

Well, rather than spending the whole day on Saturday at church like the Ethiopians, we colored eggs. An event boasting of dye filled mugs - whose contents are intended to stain - combined with twelve inexperienced hands does not normally get classified as a holiday. But after the last brightly dyed egg was put out to dry on the cooling rack, CrazyMom and I were surprised that things went so well. No egg fights, no throwing (or even dumping) of dye mugs, no crazy silliness that starts like a spark in dry grass and is soon uncontainable. Expecting disaster helps. It makes anything less than a disaster seem like a cause for joy.

Easter baskets neatly filled with plastic "grass", weeks worth of candy, and a small toy were waiting for the kids Sunday morning, thanks to CrazyMom and another late night run to the store. The kids were excited and quickly figured out that in America one gets to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ by having candy before breakfast. You got to love this country.

While some of our traditions seem weak compared to Ethiopian culture, we are very competitive in the feasting department. After church we were treated to CrazyMom's Easter Feast. Ham, cheesy potatoes, sweet potato casserole, green beans, bread, green jello, green jello salad, lemonade, and brightly colored hard broiled eggs. Recounting it all makes me full all over again.

Inclement weather drove our traditional egg hunt indoors. The hidden plastic eggs were empty, rather than filled with candy. You do, after all, have to draw a line somewhere. F.G. and K.D. caught on quickly to the hunt and it did not matter that the eggs were empty. Miss Bookworm was showing signs of age when she elected to help hide eggs this year rather than hunt for them.

A family prayer time in the girls room closed off the day for us. The warmth of all of the kids gathered around in PJs after a long solid day together still has not faded away.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Unseasonable Weather

Unseasonable weather rocked our part of the country today. CrazyMom spent much of her morning trying to convince F.G. and K.D. that it was too cold to go outside. Finally, to prove her point, F.G. was commissioned to brave the cold and go to the mailbox.

"That will show her that it is too cold to play outside," CrazyMom thought.

No, it would not.

Upon her return, F.G. was even more eager to go outside and play, so CrazyMom sent her out. F.G.'s enthusiasm is evident in the following video - which was shot from inside the house by Too-Cold CrazyMom.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Life Lessons

Since my last post (A Hand in Mine) was all of the mushy "love for a child" stuff, it seems that you should know what happened in the hour after I pushed the "publish" button.

CrazyMom went upstairs to check on the sleeping kids and get ready for bed. When I went up, I was a little surprised that CrazyMom was not done checking on the kids, but like the good husband that I am, I figured she had it all under control and I went to brush my teeth. Moments later, my wife burst into the bathroom, clearly a little agitated, and loudly announced, "He peed on me!" I was able to manage a chuckle through my toothpaste filled mouth.

(Note to male readers: While what I am about to describe is an event to chuckle at, one should not chuckle within the first 24 hours and certainly not within the first five minutes. This is the first life lesson from this event.)

CrazyMom, who moments before was warm and fuzzy while reading the love post, was now a little cold and prickly from the pee and the chuckle.

The seeds for the peeing event were sown earlier in the evening when K.D. had too much to drink from a found water bottle on the car ride home from evening church. We knew this and when we put him to bed we commented that we should get him up when we went to bed to go to the bathroom.

Well, two hours evidently was too long for the young boy. When CrazyMom went to get him, he had already done the deed. The life lesson here is that when a little boy is tanked up with water when you put him to bed, get him up after one hour to go to the bathroom, not two.

CrazyMom got K.D. out of bed to change him out of his wet PJs. She stood the groggy boy up, pulled down his soaked pants, and then he peed on her. The final life lesson is that when a sleepy boy has to go potty, pulling down his pants should only be done when he is in front of the toilet.

Well, CrazyMom screamed. K.D. snapped awake and was ushered quickly to the bathroom. Live and learn.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

A Hand in Mine

We all have moments where we are overcome with emotion. I have had these moments in the past, but now the spaces between them are smaller.

Tonight I had another "episode".

I was standing in church worshiping. K.D. was at my side standing on the pew. My arm draped over him and his around me. He wiggled his small hand into mine hanging at his side so that my hand was wrapping around his. Then the emotions came.

Now I am fully aware what if feels like to be overcome with the love for a child. I do, after all, have a number of them. The emotion that now overtakes me is all of that, but also more. There are other flavors mixing with the love of a child that are not yet fully identifiable to me.

As I see his velvety brown hand in mine, I can just dimly make out some of the things that cause these other flavors to mix in. He stands there in all of his beauty. He stands there so full of life that he is a living testimony to me of others who are also worthy of life. We are transracial, transcultural, transcontinental. We don't speak the same language. We are enjoying the newness of a relationship now just a month old.

In one way these things matter so much and in another way they don't matter at all. It is enough that I am father and he is son.

And so the emotion that rolls over me is rich and complex and new.