Monday, February 15, 2010
Thoughts at Six Months Home...
We have been home from Ethiopia for six months. In many ways it feels like it has been six years, and in many ways it feels like it has been six days. I can honestly say that the best piece of adoption advice that I ever read (and I can’t remember where I read it) was:
Don’t evaluate anything in your new family for at least six months.
Sleep when they sleep.
Two very important pieces of advice.
The past six months have been intense. The whole experience, from the trip until now, has been ‘ier’ or ‘er’. Everything was just more than I imagined it would be, ‘heavier’ ‘happier’ ‘sadder’… you get the idea.
When you reach a certain age, you think that you have absolutely experienced every single emotion that exists. If you are a melancholy, depressive type, you might think that you have known the very deepest sorrow. You are sure that you understand grief and loss. If you are a person who has reached a certain age, you are sure that you have experienced happiness. Moments of joy may seem few in comparison, but you are sure that you have felt them, and that you fully understand what joy feels like. Having children changes all of that. I realize now that I really had no idea. I didn’t know anything about sadness. I didn’t know fully what joy feels like. I do now.
Being a Mother
I have always been a person who was a little bit good at a few things, but not really excellent at one thing. I think that I thought that ‘being a mother’ would be the thing that I would succeed at, that maybe I would be an excellent mother. Well, it isn’t, and I am not. I am not as good at this as I thought I would be. I fail repeatedly. It is much harder than I thought it would be. I am disappointed in myself, but realize I can improve. I will improve.
Don’t evaluate anything in your new family for at least six months.
If we hadn’t followed this advice, I think that Steven and I would have separated. I don’t say that lightly. That would have been something huh? Get everything that you always wanted, after ten years of trying, and then fall apart. Those first few months were extremely hard on my marriage. I now see that this has been a huge transition period for all of us. As Steven is now most likely banging his head on his desk at work while reading this, let me just say that I think it might be helpful for other newly formed families to realize that it might not be a romantic, loving, happy-ending period in your marriage. It might be challenging-ier. You might be frustrated with each other. You might have different ideas of how things should go.
One thing that we have agreed on though is Attachment parenting. Our kids needed, and still need, this kind of baby-wearing, co-sleeping, attention. It works for them. They feel more secure everyday. They trust us. Meazi and Melese have now been with us longer than they were in care.
I believe that attachment is something that you always deal with as an adoptive parent. Your kids aren’t all of the sudden ‘attached” to you. There will be an ebb and flow. As they change developmentally, their attachment will change too.
It took Melese nearly four months to make eye contact with us when we were giving him a bottle. I had read something that said, “Take the bottle away until he looks at you, then continue feeding him.” This seemed wrong to me. I didn’t want to force him to look at me. He needed time, so we gave it to him. Now he stares at us with those big, beautiful browns, and it was definitely worth waiting for. We still haven't left Melese with anyone. He cries if he can't see one of us. People say, "Oh good, he is attached to you," but he isn't. He is not secure in his attachment. If he were, he would know that we will return, and he wouldn't cry. I guess we would have to leave him for him to figure this out. I am not ready to leave him with anyone. I don't think he is ready either. So, yeah, not securely attached.
Meazi would have attached to a lamppost in Ethiopia. She wanted attention. She wanted love. She had experienced great trauma and loss. She had also fully developed what I call an orphanage persona (including a name for herself). When we first came home I read Amanda’s blog and thought that if Meazi had been in care as long, and had been as old as Samry, we would have been dealing with the exact same issues. Thank you Amanda for being so honest about what it was like for you. Meazi’s alter ego, which served her well at the orphanage (she got to wear the red sparkly shoes and the pink shirt) quickly faded as she figured out that she no longer had to compete with anyone (except maybe Melese) for attention, that all of the clothing in the closet belonged to her, and that there would always be enough to eat. You can tell when Meazi is feeling insecure now, she will crinkle her nose the way she did in Addis, and her voice gets weaker and higher. I still think she has a bit of ‘indiscriminate attachment’ lingering, but it is much, much better. She is very gregarious and friendly so it is a delicate balance, I don’t want to discourage her effusiveness, but I don’t want her kissing the UPS man either.
(Meazi waiting to see the pediatric infectious disease specialist at Cedar's Sinai).
I wonder if other adoptive moms do this. I wonder if you ever say to yourselves, “Well yes, it is a better life for them here in America.” If you are like me, you may feel conflicted about taking your children from their birth country. You may feel that their losses are enormous. There have been three times where I felt like M&m were better off here. The first time was our first week home when Meazi’s pediatrician looked at me and said, “Yes, it looks like she still has her clitoris.” Meazi, unlike thousands of girls in rural Ethiopia, was not a victim of FGM. I breathed a sigh of relief at that moment. Life is hard enough as it is with a clitoris. I am making a joke here, but really it was something I was worried about, and it is something that should never happen to anyone, anywhere.
The second ‘better off here’ moment was the week before Christmas. That same pediatrician called me and said that after four months of treatment, Meazi was finally free of the six different parasites that had been ravaging her little body. Merry Christmas.
The third moment happened recently at the LACMA.Walking through the galleries I thought... Meazi and Melese will see things. They will travel. They will have opportunities. They will see art, maybe even play an instrument. They will go to school. They will go to college.
So, three moments in six months. Not sure these balance out the other moments, moments like Meazi asking to see someone in Ethiopia, or Melese kissing a certain picture we have, but we continue to try and navigate our way through this sea of joy and sorrow.
The kids had met my parents. Meazi calls our room out back the “Nana Bet’ because on the day we came to America together, Nana picked us up and was living in her Nana house out back. They love their Nana and Papa. (In these past six months I have also been reminded just how incredible my own parents were/are. Nothing like instant parenting to make you appreciate your own parents).
Most of our relatives were only here for three days. The kids loved their Aunt Kate, and their Uncle Mark, and Kate's boyfriend Tarek. It has to be weird though right? "These people are now your aunts and uncles." After the first two nights of festivities (and truthfully this was a really fun, beautiful, longed for time, and the kids did enjoy it) Meazi said, “Mommy, tonight just you, and me, and daddy, and Melese.” I said, “Is it too much Meazi?” She said,”Yes, too much, too much hugging mommy." Uncle Mark, who had planned to stay for two weeks, noticed that we needed some time alone. He cut his trip short and returned to NYC. It took our kids exactly three weeks to recover from the holidays. It was too much. The change in, or lack of, structure (school was out too) really set us back. Both kids regressed, Meazi’s nose got crinkly, and they both needed carriers and bottles. It was a textbook regression. We regrouped, and holed up, and repaired, and reminded them who we were. Structure and Nurture, I try to remember Rebekah’s advice at times like those. I also stumbled upon this advice.
A Pound a Month or Don’t eat every time they eat unless you are trying to gain weight.
These kids eat a lot. Meazi has gained a pound every month, as have I. I realize that I did not have very regular eating habits before the kids came home. Steven eats a lot of meals at work, and I am a grazer. I like to snack and drink coffee. Sitting down to three meals a day plus snacks causes me some anxiety (and not just because I gave Melese a cup of sweet potatoes that had gone bad). I wish that I had spent less time blathering about waiting and more time learning to cook healthy delicious meals for my family. Every time I defrost a processed foodstuff from Trader Joe’s I think, Carrie would never give her girls this. Another area of parenting that I need to work on.
Our M& m’s
Steven, who really should take over the writing of this blog, told me the other day that he believes that these kids really are like M&m’s. They have a tough exterior shell, but underneath they are soft. The shell is very, very thin. This describes them perfectly.
They are also sweet and shiny like an M&m. (Dear the makers of M&m’s, right now would be an excellent time for you to make me an offer I can’t refuse. Please sponsor my blog so that I can put the monies into a violin lesson fund, or a “Travel to the Statue of Liberty” fund. Thank you).
Before we met our kiddos we noticed that all of the Ethiopian children we knew were tough, very tough. They would get knocked down, and get right up again. That is why we now walk around the house with our fake announcer voice saying to each other, “Today on The World’s Most Sensitive Ethiopian, Meazi’s eyebrow gets brushed by a shirt sleeve," Or “Today on The World’s Most Sensitive Ethiopian, Melese melts down because mom needs to pee." These kids are super sensitive.
Melese turned one on January 1st. I know, I know, sounds like a made up birthday huh? I don’t care. Also, we were going to call him Mel because Melese sounds like Melissa. Well, I just can’t. He is Melese. He knows his name; he has known it since we met him. He is Melese or Meles. People will continue to think that we have two girls I guess. Melese continues to be the ‘Bringer of Joy’. He is one cuddly, huggy baby, and Oh. Those. Eyes. He has eight teeth. He walks. He has started to utter words; dog, daddy, mamma, guitar, and this and that (which my friend Heather reminded me that maybe I am not always saying the name of the thing that he is pointing at and instead saying ‘this’ or ‘that’. Mother fail again). Melese loves the dogs. The dogs are very patient with him. Melese rips off all childproofing gadgets in mere seconds. He is like King Kong tearing through the joint, putting socket protectors in his mouth and turning on all of the gas burners.
He is obsessed with the vacuum cleaner and cries his eyes out when I put it away in the closet. He has given us stomach raspberries since the first month. Where does a baby learn to give a raspberry? He is crazy cute. He loves the color yellow, his dad’s guitar, and above all else, his sister Meazi. She is his touchstone and as Claudia pointed out in a comment that really stopped me in my tracks, “ It will be such a gift for her to tell Melese their story."
Steven and I continue to agree on one thing, waiting for siblings was the best decision we made.
Watching these two interact may be the most rewarding part of the whole experience. I am so relieved that they have each other.
You’ve seen a bit of what Meazi is like. She amazes me. She is stubborn, or as her Nana puts it ‘determined’. She is sensitive. She is affectionate. Her Pre-k teacher told us that in thirty years of teaching she has never seen a child pick up language the way that Meazi has. Meazi remembers everything. Last week she reminded me about a disposable sippy cup we gave her in Ethiopia. She told me this elaborate story of how she brought it to the school in Ethiopia, how they wouldn’t refill it with water for her, how she brought it back that afternoon to the care center, about how the nannies kept it in the kitchen for her , and then gave it back to her the next day. We talk about Ethiopia a lot. We showed her her video lifebook when we got home, and she asks to see it every few weeks. We talk about adoption. There are a lot of questions.
My father visited us again in January. One morning, over breakfast, Meazi told her Papa the story of Ruby Bridges. It went on for some time. In her story were references to Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. My father and I just looked at each other in shock. Did I mention that she was smart?
Don’t evaluate anything in your new family for at least six months.
At six months the laundry continues to pile up in the unused crib, the dogs have been demoted to (gasp) dog status, there is more defrosting than there is harvesting, and there is more pizza than there are vegetables.
I wanted these children so much, and now I want so much for these children. I want to give them everything. I want them to be happy, and safe. How on earth will I keep them safe?
At six months we are a family. M& m’s story has become our story too. We are a family with two countries. We are Habesha. We are American. We are stubborn, (I mean determined), and we are sensitive. We love each other. We don’t always agree. We grieve and we heal. We laugh and we cry. We dance and we sing. We worry, and we let go.
There is sorrow and there is joy.
At six months...
We move forward.