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Archive for January, 2011

40 and counting…

Today is Brian’s birthday. And it’s a big one. 40.

What can I say about this guy? He’s witty, brilliant, cute, talented, and fun. He’s affectionate, a great listener, a truth-seeker, creative, tolerant, honest. He’s complex, interesting, and multi-faceted. He’s the string to my kite, the cream in my coffee, the butter on my bread. Wait a minute, he hates butter, so I take that back. But he really is all that and more. Hopefully he’ll eventually be father to my kids, too.

We’ve been married almost nine years now, and have worked together all of that time (the past five years from home) and we never tire of each others’ company. As we weather some storms of late — related to health and work–I am reminded of the strong team we make, and how much I love him.

Here’s to at least 40 more for my favorite man on the planet.

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Olga

I can’t believe I don’t have a better picture of my sister, Olga, than this badly cropped shot, but oh well… at least you can tell how beautiful she is.

My family is legion as you may know, and every now and then (when I remember), I like to pay little birthday tributes because the truth of the matter is, every single one of my family members is awesome and I miss them all the time. Today is Olga’s birthday.

She got the Russian name … and the Scottish constitution, which in my family means you never get sick and you can basically get less then three hours sleep every night for ten years and still look like you stepped out of an Ivory Girl commercial. That’s Olga. Mother of four little ones. Wife of a rural doctor. Former occupational therapist. Green thumb. Gourmet cook extraordinaire. She makes it all look effortless and she’s always cheerful.

Olga and I share a major food bond. Years ago, when my father took us on a family cruise to the Caribbean, Olga and I sat beside each other at every meal and made our menu selections together so we could sample and discuss every dish. We still talk about it.

My sis and I share other things…. like procrastination when it comes to studies. When she was an undergraduate and I was getting a second degree, the phone would ring at midnight and I’d know it would be her, calling because she had a 30 page paper due at 9AM and hadn’t started yet. The next night, I’d be calling her under the same conditions. We got each other through a lot of painful school nights.

This girl is very smart, a peacemaker, and a lovely soul. She was the sweetest child, so naturally kind and good. She never complained about anything, never got in trouble. When it eventually came time for her to make her first confession, she came to me:

Olga: I’m nervous… I don’t know what I should say in confession.

Me:  Well, just say the things you’ve done wrong.

Her: (Pausing.) But I can’t think of anything.

Me: Well…. haven’t you ever disobeyed mum or dad, or said something mean, or stolen a cookie?

Her: No.

Me: (Realizing she was right — she really hadn’t ever done anything wrong.) Well, just make something up!

You can see who really needed confession.

But that’s truly Olga…pure hearted. She’s also tough, loves to laugh, loves to read, and is fun to be with. My sisters and I wish we could just hang out at her house on a regular basis. She’d be fine with that, because she’s as laid back as they come and would like nothing better than to whip us up a delicious concoction made from something she’s grown in the backyard. Her beloved husband, on the other hand, might have something to say about that.

Happy birthday, Olgie, hope it’s your best year yet!


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Food issues

Last night I participated in a webinar (put on by our agency) about food issues in adopted children. I’ve already read a lot about this from parents on adoption forums, but I was reminded of some basics and learned some helpful tips.

Food is a primal need of all human beings, and in the beginning, the parent-child bond is primarily built through feeding. The baby is hungry, it cries, the mother responds with food. Rinse, rather, repeat. This repetitive process builds trust in the child… “I can trust this person, there will always be food–and plenty of it.” The mother, likewise, bonds through feeding (a father can, too), finding satisfaction in providing for her little one.

When you breast or bottle feed a baby in your arms, eye contact is automatically built into the process — another essential element for bonding. In fact, according to the book, Parenting Your Internationally Adopted Child, an infant gets approximately four hours of eye-contact over the course of 12 feedings a day. That’s a whole lot of eye contact — and bonding — directly tied to feeding.

I don’t think most parents think about things like this in such a lazer-beam way. When children are born to you, many of these things happen naturally — you don’t think about what so many little moments between parent and child are actually doing… fortifying your bond, developing the brain, establishing security and trust, building muscle strength and coordination, integrating sensory stimuli. Feeding a baby does all these things and more. It’s all tied in together.

Many emotions surround food because it’s so basic and communal. A child soaks up whatever attitudes his caregivers have about it. He learns if food is a source of pleasure or stress, nurture or discomfort. He learns whether food can be counted on and if it’s a reason for sadness, anger, anxiety, satisfaction, or joy.

You might imagine, then, why adopted children — particularly coming from poor countries — have issues around food. They have experienced a world in which food is not a given. They’ve cried from hunger, but their need wasn’t met. They may have absorbed sadness and anxiety from birth family who couldn’t provide the basics. If they were institutionalized, they were often fed lukewarm mush in clinical conditions, or from propped-up bottles with holes cut so big they had to swallow very quickly or not get enough.

Many internationally adopted kids don’t know what it feels like to be full. Toddlers may not be able to chew and swallow properly because they’ve never eaten anything crunchy or solid. Babies may not know how to suck properly.

Many adopted children, when they come home, will gorge, horde, eat until they vomit, be very picky, or take forever to eat. They may cry at mealtimes, throw tantrums if you touch their food, be unable to handle being in a grocery store.

It’s all about control. Food is tied to survival, which is tied to anxiety, which is tied to control.  An internationally adopted child must be given a sense of control about their food. They must also learn that they can trust their new parents to provide for them.

Here’s what I know so far:

  • No matter how old your children are when they arrive, treat them like infants. Offer them a bottle, even if they’re “too old” by American standards. Hold them or have them sit on your lap when eating. Feed them yourself. Make eye contact when you do.
  • Make sure meal times are prompt and always at the same time. Draw pictures to show your child what the clock will look like when the next meal is ready.
  • Keep a drawer or large bowl full of healthy snacks to which your child always has access.
  • Give the child a bag or container with food and snacks that she can carry around the house.
  • Let your child take snacks into their bedroom at night — it can help make them feel more secure.
  • Make mealtimes relaxed and enjoyable, with helpful rules and consistent routines.
  • Never judge your parenting by how well or how much your child is eating.

Food is a big deal in our house… in a good way. I hope, in time, our children will learn to have a healthy, happy relationship with food. I expect they’ll also enjoy getting some on our new red couch.

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Rouge

This is the big red couch that’s now in our small brick house. Yes, the sofa, which caused me so much angst, arrived at long last. Two of them arrived, in fact — in the two colors I couldn’t decide on. (Remember that saga?) Once the delivery guy brought a few cushions into the house, it was clear the red worked better. Thank heavens for my husband, though, or I probably would have hemmed and hawed for hours. The picture above doesn’t quite show the color properly — it’s a bit more of a deep, wine color.

At first it seemed enormous — and it is, compared to the small green love seat that used to sit there. It’s growing on me, though. It’s actually comfortable, and you can stretch out… a whole new experience. I like that it’s a “spill-friendly” fabric and that it was custom made in the next state over.

The rug underneath is too small, but we’ll deal with that later. The only thing I don’t like is that it picks up lint fairly easily. And my hair. Which is not good, because I shed hair like a dog for some reason.

The weird thing about having a red couch is that it’s red. I always choose neutrals, I’m just typically more drawn to them… creams and taupes, sages and browns. Then I need accents of color. But a big red couch? That’s a new one.

I guess it’s the year to live dangerously.

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My little brother, Zach, is a Catholic priest, currently stationed in a small fishing village in Nova Scotia called Herring Cove at a parish called St. Paul’s. Herring Cove is as picturesque as they come, and it’s home to an annual Polar Bear Dip on New Year’s day.

Now that Fr. Zach’s in town, it was only appropriate that he be the one to lead the flock into the frigid waters… Be not afraid, right? It just so happened that Rick Mercer decided to come to town for the big event. Mercer is Canada’s cross between Jon Stewart and Colbert, only he travels around the country doing crazy things.

For a good laugh, a taste of wacky Nova Scotians, and a peak at my sweet and handsome brother being interviewed and jumping in, watch the first six minutes HERE of the Rick Mercer Report. (Zach’s twin, Alex, also jumped in — though he isn’t shown.)

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It was Ethiopian Christmas on Friday — they follow the Coptic and Julian calendars — so a group of adoptive families gathered at a local Ethiopian restaurant to celebrate yesterday.

Brian was able to come and for some reason we both thought the food was extra yummy. Maybe because we were hungry, but the dishes seemed even more fresh and well-flavored than usual. We met new people and caught up with folks we already know. Kelly organized this one and she remembered to bring name tags — they definitely help when you’ve got 30 adults plus kids in tow.

These gatherings get more fun each time because the relationships are stronger. One of the best parts is always seeing the kids — they change so much! And there was a new little one who came home six weeks ago — so precious.

A lot of people talked to me about how long we’ve been waiting. I thought one mom was going to break down in tears on my behalf. She said, “I keep coming to this, hoping you’re going to show up with kids in your arms… When is it going to happen, when?” I felt like I needed to comfort her.

There is never time to really explain myself.

Many things have helped me — and us — with the long wait. The first is that we weren’t quite ready when we went on the waiting list in the first place. We could have made ourselves ready, but we knew it would be many months so we planned for that. Not being parents, our lives and home were not set up for children so there was plenty to do in addition to our regular busy lives.

The second thing that’s helped is how much we love our lives as they are. I never would have imagined I could be so fulfilled without children for this long — especially since being a mother was the only thing I ever felt sure about. This has got to be a testament to the quality of my marriage, the friendships and projects that constantly enrich my life, and the presence of God.

Another big help is that something in me doesn’t want the adoption to happen any sooner or later than it’s meant to. Why would I wish to lessen even a moment that our children have with their birth families, surrounded by the sights and smells of their homeland? And so, I choose to believe that all the elements (which are completely out of my control) are being orchestrated in a way that I am simply to accept as a gift with gratitude.

There’s something else, though, and it has to do with the waiting itself…

I’ve had to wait an unusually long time for a few things in my life. It wasn’t easy, but I came to believe that waiting is an important spiritual exercise. It can be very fruitful — not easy, of course, but when did anything worthwhile come easy? Waiting forces you to become more patient, to face desires and emotions that are messy, and to better empathize with others who are also  waiting… to get well, to find the right mate, to give birth, to grieve, to die.

We think of waiting as an undesirable time between two acceptable points. But that time in between has so much potential. It’s always a choice, though. Is the glass half empty or half full? Well, it’s both, but each perspective will take you down a different path. How you wait is a choice.  I think a lot of growth happens during waiting, and it can serve you in ways you can’t imagine while you’re going through it.

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14 mos

And to think there was a day when I thought we’d be celebrating Christmas with our children. Ha!

Yesterday marked 14 months of officially waiting. Of course, we started the process long before that, but who’s counting?

I find I’m getting more antsy, which is good because it means I just may be sorta, kinda ready when it all happens.

Our case manager emailed today to say that she’s not aware of any siblings matching our request yet. I was glad she checked in.

Now I’ll set my sights on springtime and be glad the babes won’t have to come home to winter.

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