Monday, May 17, 2010


Here are some quick notes on the kids...

River recently performed in "The Music Man" as part of the cast and lighting crew at the middle school. We are very proud of the time and effort he put into the production, at times spending several hours after school several nights a week. As he approaches 13 years old, he acts more and more like a teenager, but a wedgie now and then keeps him in line. He excels in school and is currently on the honor role. He gets up on his own at 6:15 AM every morning, gets ready for school, and makes himself breakfast - all before anyone else rolls out of bed. River is also taking electric guitar lessons, learning chords, and picking up rock tunes. He is a wonderful big brother to all his younger siblings. It's amazing to watch kids go from pooping, crying, keep-you-up-all-night babies to responsible, helpful, mature, little-bit-lippy-now-and-then people.

Forest is a joyful goofball. Despite the cold spring water, he spends a lot of time in the pool. He is doing well in school (4th grade), because of the effort he puts into his homework every night. He is also involved in orchestra (cello), music ensemble (for which he goes to school an hour early once a week), and takes acoustic guitar lessons. He recently played his guitar for his school talent show. You can watch a video of his performance here. He also loves playing soccer, lacross, and camping in the yard with his buddy Kyle. Forest is also a great brother. One minute he will be rough-housing with River in the pool, and the next minute be playing with Hirut or feeding her. He is a playmate to all his brothers and sisters.

Stephanny is an adorable, sweet girl. Many mornings, we wake up to the sound of her and Hirut chattering in their beds. It is easy to see how much she enjoys having a baby sister. At times Stehpanny and Krem play like best buds, and at other times she gets a little frustrated with his high energy. Stephanny has recently starting curling up in bed to read chapter books. She also does well in school and gets glowing reports from her teaches. She has just started taking guitar lessons with her brothers. Stephanny's best friend Jenna lives just down the street, and they spend lots of time playing together with their American Girl Dolls. Stephanny and Jenna recently performed a dance routine in their school talent show. See the video here.

Krem continues to embody the happiness of Micky Mouse and the energy of the Tazmanian Devil. His language continues to develop at a steady pace. He is now starting to formulate simple sentences. He adores Stephanny and want's to play with her constantly. And we continue to catch glimpses of his life before joining our family. While doing yard work yesterday, picking up sticks from the yard, he grabbed hold of a root sticking out of the ground and, realizing what it was, became very excited. He bent down and started chewing on it, motioning me over to have a taste. Of course, roots are a part of the diet for some Ethiopians living on subsistence farms, so it was not surprising, but still an interesting contrast between his birth and adoptive cultures. Considering the poison ivy around the yard, we will unfortunately have to discourage chewing on roots while working outside. Stacey also recounted another anecdote from earlier this week: On a friends farm, Krem points to the chickens and makes a motion clearly indicating we should break the birds neck and says "Eat?". Stacey responds "No Eat". If I were there I would say "Yes! Yes!", if not for the effect it would have on the friendship. Another anecdote: Stacey took Krem, Stephanny, and Hirut hiking in the Susquahannah river valley along a creek, through the woods. Krem was very nervous about the wilderness and seemed fearful of bears, animals, and "scary people", at one point bolting down the trail in terror when other hikers approached from behind. Clearly, the wilderness is something unfamiliar, except that he knew it was scary and things in the woods would get him.

Hirut is still a very content and easy baby, but she certainly is developing some new personality as she grows older and gets more comfortable with our family. She has been giggling and laughing a lot more over the past few weeks. She also picks up new words almost daily. She says "Hot", "Hi", "Momma", "Dada", "Peekabo" (Peeaboo), "Ei-ei-ooo" (Old McDonald had a farm). Also along the lines of "communicating", she grunts when she poops and she has realized that this gets our attention quickly. She is now grunting to get our attention in general, and it is hilarious. "Grrrrunnnnnt", now means "I want another bite", "Look at me", "get me that toy", or "pick me up". Here is another funny habit she has started: we stopped giving her formula after her first birthday. She now gets about a half bottle of milk before bed. Being used to a full bottle, she was at first confused when she did not get as much as she expected. These days she is down right pissed. I know it's not right to use such language when talking about a baby, but no other word explains it quite right. She's not just angry. As soon as that last drop comes out, she immediately wails and throws a fit, flopping around in our laps to get down. She'll find her bottle, next to the rocking char, grab it, desperately drain any remaining drops, and continue to express her utter disappointment. This only lasts a few minutes, luckily. It is important to point out that this usually happens about an hour after dinner, where she generally eats hefty portions, such as a full slice of pizza. We're not starving her by any means. She LOVES to eat, and has serious affection for her bedtime bottle.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Matters of Perspective

I visited Kolkata, India for work in 2007, and delivered much needed supplies to a small local orphanage. The facility was a crumbling, dilapidated concrete structure. To one side there was a dark, sticky, hot room, the floor covered with various cloths and blankets, with a fine mesh netting strung over a rope crossing the room. Under the netting a dozen babies lay sleeping, grunting or babbling, or visually exploring their surroundings. Not a cry was heard. In the upper floor of this building was a room with several cribs, acting more as cages than a place to sleep to several toddlers. In a corner sat a lone child on a potty. In a building next door, several older children ranging from ages 5 to 12 waited excitedly for us to visit their room, a small area with a dirt floor and various cots lining the walls. A girl sat on a chair near the doorway, sunken depressions where her eyes should have been, but a wide grin on her face nonetheless. Several of the children had visible disabilities. All were eager for any acknowledgement - a smile, a word - of any kind. Two children were notably older and looked healthier than the rest. The director of the orphanage explained they had failed to be adopted due to a serious blood illness.

Elsewhere in Kolkata there were miles and miles of very simple shacks and homes lining nearly every street. There is nothing separating bystanders from the private lives of those living along the road. At night, many families draped crude tarps along the sidewalks and made small fires and rough beds for the evening. Many families bathed in a lake near the hotel I was in. From a distance the water was serene and picturesque, but close up it was littered with trash and choked with pond vegetation. The park surrounding the lake was covered in debris and trash, with many children and women scavenging and wandering among the garbage.

Fast forward to Ethiopia almost 4 years later. We visited a market looking for gifts and traditional art. The shopkeepers booths were packed tightly together along a dirt road just off a major intersection. After visiting a few shops and buying a few items, we realized every merchant would do whatever it took to nudge us through the curtain into their dark booths smelling of a beautiful mixture of woods, incense, leather, and cloth. The items sold were similar from booth to booth, so after visiting a few, there was not much to be found that we had not already seen. Everyone had a huge incentive to sell us something, and the effort and persuasion that went into their pleas reflected the opportunity they saw in a foreigner in the market. Having walked down one side of the market we were out of time and tiring of the unyielding attempt that each merchant made to convince us to buy something, anything, from their wares. We resorted to telling shopkeepers we had run out of cash. An older, gray-haired store keeper with leathery skin and years of hard life written in the wrinkles of his face gently pulled me by the wrist into his store, no bigger than a 8' by 12' closet, but with every possible inch of wall, floor, and ceiling covered with items for sale. Not wanting to look any longer, I quickly roamed the wares with my gaze and absently picked up a Mancala board to inspect. Upon seeing my feigned interest, the man immediately began to barter. The board was hand carved of ebony, beautiful yet simple. He was asking the equivalent of 10 dollars. I quickly repeated what I had told the last several peddlers - I had no more money, and the man quickly dropped his price to about 9, 8, 7 dollars. Blocking the doorway trying to convince me to make a purchase, I did my best to convince him I was out of cash. He even said he would let me take the board and the taxi driver could collect the cash from the hotel. He would do anything to make the sale. I did not want the board. In a last effort to make the sale, I saw, with heart wrenching dismay, tears welling in the old mans eyes as he broke down, pleading that he was hungry and would sell me the board. "Just make offer" he said.

I was shaken. I again repeated that I did not have money, and I exited the booth quickly. Stacey and River were in the booth of another merchant trying hard to make a sale. I collected them and we made our way to our taxi and hotel. Soon after we left, I had a pit in my stomach. With money in my pocket I had left the shop unwilling to look for something of interest and buy so that this man would be guaranteed a little money and perhaps a meal that night. I tell myself to live life without regrets. But no one does really. I have a few, and not buying something from this man is now counted as one of my regrets.

Earlier in the day we had made our way to the Blue Nile Gorge, to the north of Addis Ababa. Along the way we made several stops, often along the rural road seamingly in the middle of nowhere. In every case, almost out of nowhere, children would come running from the fields, eager for a handout, kind word, or a touch. Without explanation, their beaming, giddy smiles melted away as soon as a camera was pointed their way, and the hard lines in their young faces shone through. When the smile was gone, it appeared as if these children, 6, 8, perhaps 12 years old, aged a decade. Without a smile, there was no emotion to mask their sunken cheeks, their rail thin bodies.

But as soon as the camera was gone, the smiles reemerge. That's the beauty of the human spirit. It's the wonder of perspective. I saw it in India and Ethiopia - despite the conditions people may live in, if a person lives and grows knowing a way of life, there is an awful lot a person can put up with and still be happy. The shacks in Kolkata were surrounded by children chasing each other, splashing in the water, playing simple games with sticks and rocks in the dirt, enjoying each others presence. In Ethiopia, the children have rocks, sticks, and each other as their playthings. You can see them making chase among the goats, cracking their whips, looks of joy on their faces. Children, especially, can overlook an awful lot of hardship and find happiness in even the worst conditions.

But the old man teaches us there is only so much a person can bare, only so hungry a person can be before desperation takes over. The image of children surrounding our vehicle in Ethiopa, and the merchant's eyes filled with moisture, helps keep my perspective in check as we face our future as a large, multiracial family. I have spent hundreds of hours over the last 2 years working on our house in preparation for Krem and Hiruts arrival. There were many long nights, ending with sore muscles and frustration of facing many more weeks of work. Just the other night I was behind the house at 11 PM , with the cover off the septic tank, fishing a clog out of the sewer line. I'll admit the prospect the task made me less than chipper, but inside were 5 kids off to bed, complete with mattresses, surrounded by books, toys, dressers full of clothes for every occasion, steps away from cabinets full of food. They would wake up with smiles on their faces, and the prospect of vast opportunities in their future. If millions of people can find comfort and happiness in shacks and huts, with very little to eat, and little chance for a different future, we can certainly cope with the challenges that come our way as a larger family, with three different cultures and races under our roof.

Monday, May 3, 2010

One of Billions

"Experts" say there are 1.8 billion people with access to the internet. 1.8 billion people - that is our potential audience. I see there are three people following our 'blog'. By all standards, our penetration is atrocious. So why do we write this for all to see? Why does anyone keep a blog?

Before I go any further let me tell you how much I despise that word. It's like "Dork". Just the sound of the word is irritating. I have a friend who will not use the world "Dork" because he hates how it sounds. When "Blog" rolls off my tongue its like a half gag ending in "G". I'm going to refuse to write "Blog" from now on. It's "online journal" from here on out. Or the "B word".

These "Experts" also say there are 50 million online journals in existence. Even if 75% of them are no longer maintained, there are still millions to chose from. Up until the last 6 months, I had not read a single one, at least not intentionally. And I am not misconceived that I have anything more interesting to say than the other 10 million people vying for your attention. At least a million of those folks must have more interesting things to say.

So why do I write? I sometimes tell myself I write online to keep family and friends informed because it is so hard to keep everyone up to date. That purpose is served, but I don't think that's the "reason". I also try to convince myself that I write to have a record of these important days of our lives. While I believe we will read these words later in life and be thankful to have them, I still don't think that is the driving force that makes me get up a bit early once ever couple weeks and regurgitate such mental bile into the ethosphere. In reality, I am just hoping that someone will find our drivel interesting enough to read a single entry from start to finish. It took me a while to realize it, but that's the truth. That's why I also maintain a family web site. We have invited adventure and chaos into our lives, and sharing it online is a way to take pride in what we have worked so hard to achieve. We toss it out there for all to see. It's bragging really, but you only have to hear it if you chose to lay eyes on it. If your thinking "Oh god, what an ego", well, feel free to exit now. Go ahead, close your browser. Go check out what's on ebay instead. I'm sure you can find a nice set of used kitchen knives.

Oh shit, now no one's reading.

What I am trying to achieve is truth. To myself, and to you, and understand what motivates the other 10 million people like me. I think we are all looking for someone to take notice. It is nice to hear someone say "I read that, you guys are crazy" (we take that as a compliment), "I liked what you wrote", "You guys are doing it right". In grade school we are told "your special, you can be anything you want". Really? Are we? Can we? We're mostly just worker bees with 1 to 3 kids, trying to make ends meet. We have split-level homes and subscribe to cable. We look for kitchen knives on eBay. We stand around the water cooler to talk about the same shows that we ALL watch. We don't want to admit that we did not expect to be part of the vast sea of people all doing the same thing, all thinking we would be leading a far more interesting life. We want someone to take notice and say, "your doing it right". But really, if that were true, we would not be keeping an online journal - someone would be writing it for us, about us. That's when you know your life is interesting, when someone does your bragging for you. (That little tid-bit also comes from the same person who hates the word "Dork".) For the time being, it looks like we will have to just keep on bragging for ourselves.

But writing is also therapeutic. Taking the time to write out our lives and adventures forces me to reflect and organize my thoughts. It's like coming up for breath. Breath in - breath out. Something new happens every day and we rarely have the time to fully appreciate those moments. Writing is realizing those moments and appreciating them more completely.

What has caught me by surprise is the comfort I have gotten from reading other peoples online journals. I am not the most chatty guy on the plant. OK, I may actually be the least chatty guy on the planet. If you call me and I seem less than interested in talking, it's because I am not really interested. If I am chatting, I'm only pretending to be interested. You want to get together? Sure. Let's go biking. Let's take the kids to the playground. Chat on the phone? No thanks. So it goes - I don't have thoughtful conversations with other adoptive parents about how things are going. But there are a couple of friends keeping blogs about their adoption experiences, and it is surprisingly comforting to identify with their challenges, hesitations, fears, joys, and witty parenting anecdotes. Our adjustment to bringing Krem and Hirut into our family has been great. Many of our fears and concerns did not come true. But there are big challenges, and it helps to know we are not alone in facing them. I read the blog of a family that stayed in the same guest house in Ethiopia, and the mother accurately described Stacey's feeling of the hopeless war with the laundry. She may win a battle, but the war will definitely be lost. To know someone else feels the futility of this effort is somehow comforting. Another mother shares her fears about parenting an older child from another country before they travel. Her list of worries could be mine or Stacey's.

So in this way we are just like so many other people who have adopted a child (or two or three). Except it feels good to be just like one of the crowd. It's nice to know we are not doing it wrong or 'messing up our kids'. Or maybe we are messing them up a little, but at least we are not the only ones, and it's going to be OK. We are not going to be perfect, we will make our mistakes too. But we are doing it mostly right. Taking a peak into other peoples lives helps realize that. So if your reading this, and your one of those other "B**G" writing parents out there, maybe I read what you had to say, and it helped me a little. It was nice to hear your having your doubts too, and that things are going well for the most part, but there are moments. I'm not going to call and chat about it, but I still appreciate it. Thanks for writing. Really.