Sunday, January 31, 2010

Out of Control

I have to be the first to admit that two of my three children have recently become out of control. Etienne and Charlotte, both similar in personality, have taken command of the house, our lives and everyone around them. Srong-willed, demanding, quick-tempered and agressive are chosen words to describe their recent behavior, in variably any situation. I am feeling at a loss in my parenting abilities and am open to any successful solutions.

To elaborate, Etienne loves and craves attention both good and bad. He strives to make people laugh but goes beyond the acceptable measure to do so. Instead he becomes so wild and crazy that what he considers humorous is perceived as obnoxious to his audience. In conjunction, Charlotte needs to be in control of every situation at every moment. She will not stand for being told "no" and has become a dedicated fan of tantrums. As a mom I know that these are typical behaviors in average 4 and 1 1/2 year olds, however this realization doesn't help me when I am struggling to discipline my daughter who just hit an innocent and unsuspecting kid in the face at Flabbergast, because they were in her way.

We've begun the crack down on crazy by revisiting our house rules, taking away personal items for a given period of time to encourage reflection, administering time-outs for Etienne and time-ins for Charlotte and one-on-one discussions focused on what was done wrong. Still we have little to no progress. As a result, I plan on dedicating this week to further researching discipline techniques in the hopes that we'll turn a successful corner.

Exhausted, I confirm that parenting is a constant up and down, a struggle internally and externally. I try my hardest and perform as best I'm able but am constantly doubting my proficiency. I often wonder if this doubt will fade with time and circumstance. I fear that I will always wish that I could do and be more for my children. The love that I have for them encompasses me and out of this love we discipline, yet to them it just feels like torture. Little do they realize that it's torture for us too.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Finally...

I checked the mail with no hopes of our USCIS approval being in there and to my astonishment it was there! Our last little piece of paperwork has arrived and I am on my way to the post office to expedite it to Madison for authentication. Once we receive our approval back from the Secretary of State our dossier will be complete and then we can officially be on the wait list. Current wait times with our agency are eight months for a referral... I feel like the first part of the journey is about to close and then we're onto the second leg of the race to our little man! I'm smiling.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

To Blog or Not to Blog

A discussion presented itself to me and I am going to attempt to dissect my personal opinions on the topic at hand, blog style...

What is the point of a blog? Is it considered a social networking tool, a format for expression or both? By definition it is a shared on-line journal, where individuals post diary like entries about their personal experiences, hobbies and interests. It can be a means of staying connected, however, it seems to extend beyond the realm of Facebook, Twitter or Myspace. There appears to be a greater personal and emotional connection, rather than simply acting as a tabloid for the non-famous.

Before anyone becomes offended, I will openly admit that up until recently I have indeed fallen victim to the Facebook takeover. I would spend my free time posting random pictures, maybe jotting a thought down here or there and sending the occasional message. Eventually I began to feel like I was being counterproductive. Now, I know that not everything in life necessarily needs to be productive and that everyone needs to have a "release" of sorts, but for me the time that I spent following along with friends and acquaintances via the internet, the more I began to feel a disconnect.

Who knows maybe this blog of mine will eventually follow the same path but for now it is a place that I can express my thoughts, document our family history and record our current adoption process. It is a place that I can write which is something that I haven't done consistently since the birth of Sophia. I feel like I am contributing to freeing my mind to focus more clearly on life and in turn I am able to honestly evaluate the significance of where I am.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Snapshot

The past week and a half has been a whirlwind. We're moving forward in a multitude of directions, trying to keep pace, remain faithful and embrace the journey...
  • Met with our Realtor to put our condo on the market: It's bittersweet to be "attempting" to sell our first place. However, as any good story goes, all that is must end for the next chapter to begin.
  • Put our name on two unofficial lists for Haitian adoption: If it's God's will and desire to bring the orphaned we will be waiting. AJ and I have come to realize that our future may hold more children than we could have ever imagined to parent. In this realization we feel obedient.
  • Have the preliminary sketch: Our brilliant architect and dear friend has designed the initial drawing of the home that AJ and I plan on building in the "near" future. I am so excited, overwhelmed, anxious and thankful for an opportunity to construct a home from the ground up, with the man that I love, for the children that I cherish.
  • AJ performed at a benefit concert: The benefit was for the Pablove Foundation, raising funds to improve the lives of children with cancer. It was a notable cause and the first time AJ has played live in over a year. He has distanced himself from music, despite it's significant pull in his life, and although unsure of whether or not he will pursue it any further in his life, I am confident that he has too much to say to stop singing.
  • Received an email from USCIS stating that our I-171H approval form is on the way: Finally... This is literally the LAST piece of paperwork that we need to complete our dossier. Adoption is truly a test of patience and faith. I know that everything will be completed when our baby boy is ready for us, and that God's timing is perfect, but it's still difficult for someone with little patience to have great patience.
  • Charlotte is teething: I'm not talking about one little tooth here or there, I mean this girl is TEETHING! Molars on both sides of her little mouth are pushing their way through and she is miserable and at times so are we. Nevertheless, she is just too stinkin' adorable... even if she's irritable!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Battle

Sophia and Etienne had no school so I had glorious plans of taking all three kids to the public museum for an unstructured day of learning. Instead, I sat back in amazement and annoyance as the two of them had a continuous battle of who's better at this and that. It's amazing how two little people can have such strong opinions, opinions that they fight for, literally. I began to wonder if as adults we continue to crusade for our deepest passions and follow through with action, or do we talk more than we act?

"My muscles are bigger than yours," Etienne proclaimed, "No they're not, see I can lift this stuffed animal with one hand," Sophia rebuked. This went on and on and on until they were beginning to smack themselves in the head to determine which one could take the biggest punch whilst expressing the least amount of pain.  This is where the referee (aka: Mommy) stepped in to halt the fight and instructed them to give one another a hug, while I prepared a bowl of popcorn and then took everyone downstairs for movie time.

Such an easy solution to a problem that was as big to them as any of our individual or worldly troubles are to us. At this realization, I asked myself if I act when necessary, if I put up a "fight" for something I am passionate about. I believe that I do, however,  I note that as we get older adults become more frightened of what others think. We don't want to mix "it" up so much that we are caught in an uncomfortable situation. This fear, in turn, makes us idle and eventually we move on to the next cause, whether it be donating to help earthquake survivors, supporting the fight against hunger or actively regulating our children's media consumption.

I'm reminded of a quote by Gandhi stating "that you must be the change you wish to see in the world."
Fear of the fight is no reason to ignore the calling. This day of sibling competition between Sophia and Etienne made me again realize, again, how important it is to raise my kids to be passionate about the world they live in, to act on that passion one way or another and to follow-up to ascertain that changes were made. No cause is too small or too big if you're called to it. I plan on honing my little one's fights and directing them as they grow and leading them by example. For now in the world of four and six year old's, the battle remains over whom is taller than the other. At this point in the game, Sophia is in the lead, but I have a feeling that Etienne is not far behind.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

What a Differerence a Year Makes

(The first photo taken of Charlotte at the orphange)

One year ago today, Charlotte was taken to an orphange in Hossana by her birth mom, Almaz, a woman who could no longer provide for the daughter that she loved so dearly. Her strength and unselfishness gave her daughter life and completed a void in my existence that I was anxious for. We were number ten on our agencies' unofficial waiting list, and in my nesting frenzy I was obsessively jotting down name ideas and continually asking my tireless husband if he thought today could be our referral day. Little did I know that half-way around the world  my baby girl was about to begin the journey to us, the journey that I had begun months earlier. As we both lived seperately and struggled through the ups and downs of adoption, in the end we were united. Today as I reflect, I realize how blessed we are how I am constantly in awe of this little girl and how she fits perfectly into the family God had waiting for her.

Thank-you Almaz for your courage, selflessness and trust.


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Quote of the Day

Sophia: "T, you should be a policeman when you grow up then you can eat doughnuts all of the time."

Etienne: "Yeah!!! I like doughnuts!"

(My sincere apologies to anyone who is, knows or was/wants to be a policeman/woman. We went on to explain all of the wonderful things that the police do and Etienne thinks it all sounds great!)

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Eight Month Mark

Eight months ago today AJ, Charlotte and I stepped off of a plane in Chicago and our family was officially composed of five. So much has happened since that early spring afternoon that if it weren't for my obsessive calendar keeping skills I may have forgotten more than I remember. I have watched Charlotte turn from a weak, undernourished baby girl into a strong and healthy toddler. I am a proud mama that has been humbled in knowing that although my hands care for her, God has saved Charlotte and blessed our family with the gift that she is. Simply stated, I am the grateful individual He chose to raise this little Ethiopian princess.

This leads me to my next thought, why me and not Almaz? Obvious reasons spring to mind in regards to basic needs including food, shelter and the like, however our love is unvaried. In the video provided by CHSFS interviewing Almaz, her face expressed the love she holds for Charlotte and the anguish she endured in letting her go. Charlotte was with Almaz for eight months before she took her to the orphanage.  As we land on our eighth month anniversary with Charlotte, the thought alone of possibly never seeing her again breaks me. Although, if I were in a different situation, a situation that caused Charlotte hurt would I break further under her pain? I expect that in seeing my daughter hungry, dehydrated and ill while knowing that I could do nothing to help, I would choose to let her live even though I may die of heartbreak in her absence.

I believe that our family has received a remarkable gift in Charlotte and we will continue to embrace her past while navigating our future together. I used to be a woman of unswayed plans but in recent years I have come to realize that my plans are not His plans and that His plans are always better. I never thought that I would adopt a child. Now, I don't know if I will ever be able to stop adopting! I am forever changed by the life that I have been blessed with and I pray that these changes will never cease. I am eternally thankful for the past eight months and look forward to the next part of His plan for our family.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Significance of Shoes

Besides the obvious attraction to shoes that many a woman face, our little Charlotte has developed a shoe fetish just shy of 20 months old; way ahead of the curve! For months we thought that it was simply adorable how she would sit down on the entry-way rug after gathering her shoes from the closet and wait for us to put them on her, when it was time to go anywhere. However, this morning in our mad dash to make it to school on time, I quickly put on my boots with the intention of leaving her shoes off because she would not be leaving the car. We'd just be pulling up to the curb where we'd give Sophia a kiss good-bye and then we would drive home. Charlotte sat on the rug waiting, growing more and more impatient with each passing moment that I didn't put her shoes on until she finally lost it completely and fell into tantrum mode.

Tantrums in general have been commonplace in our home lately for various reasons, she's almost two, she is teething and she's approaching a milestone moment in her brief but extensive life, which is most likely stirring a multitude of emotions in her. I was about to categorize this particular episode with one of the previous listings until I noted the fear in her expression. She began pulling towards me and holding me, hugging me while she sobbed. In this moment I realized that shoes are much more than a fashion accessory for Charlotte, shoes symbolize togetherness. I imagined a scene in my head of an eight month old baby girl in her birth mom's arms, they approach the orphanage and before they enter, her birth mom removes her shoes and places them next to the door. Once inside there are new faces, objects, smells and in a moments time Charlotte's birth mom hands her to a nanny, walks to the door, puts her shoes on and leaves - forever. Her fear eventually subsided, we put on her shoes and took Sophia to school.

A glimpse into the ramifications of the life that Charlotte led in Ethiopia was shown to me this morning. I felt a little of the fear she experienced and it brought me to tears. I mourn for her loss while at the same time feeling grateful to have her with me. It is an incredible divide to observe and an even greater divide to live. This event showed me how sensitive life is, how delicate a moment can be and how God works above our level of comprehension. If He, in fact, exposed every detail with complete clarity and we were able to fully realize the depth of certain situations we, as humans, may not be able to cope. As a result, in simple terms we'll get through this moment by always putting Charlotte's shoes on when we leave the house, even if we don't plan on getting out of the car.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Road to Maturity

Let me begin by stating that I was completely unprepared for the words Sophia spoke to me when I picked her up from school today. Note her slight valley girl tone as you read the following..."Hi Mommy, I'm going to M's house after school today, she said I can come over. I'm so excited, she has a cat and we're going to play and you don't have to stay with me. Her mom said it was okay." These statements in various forms and with added details continued on until we arrived home and I dialed M's house for Sophia so that we could confirm this Friday night hang-out session.

It was confirmed and Sophia was so overjoyed to be able to actually go to M's house that I've never seen her move so fast or talk so much. Fifteen minutes later we arrived, I walked Sophia up to their door and she vanished; gone without a "good-bye" an "I love you," or "I'll see you soon." Plans for the evening were discussed between the parents and I drove away with one fewer kid and a new realization that Sophia, my baby, has a life that extends beyond me. She has a life that I am only a spectator of, a life that she has matured by herself that includes friendships, experiences and memories I didn't create for her.

I am so proud of the individual Sophia has become. She is kind, generous, compassionate, nurturing, comical and steadfast. She is the type of person that others admire for her grace and sincere goodness, she is the type of person that I admire. As we begin this next chapter in parent/child relations I am excited to watch her grow, saddened that she is getting so big so fast yet fascinated that someone so amazing could be my daughter. We'll see what next Friday brings...

Ethiopian Christmas 2010

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Abandonment

I'm not sure if it is the significance of a day two weeks out that is beginning to haunt me or the significance in the day one month later that is beginning to build up a flood gate of emotions. Either way, I am feeling a lack of control combined with anger and confusion. I've noticed the same changes in Charlotte over the past few weeks; she can go from being a fully content little girl to the same child who is frightened and unsettled.  On January 20th Charlotte's birth mom, Almaz, took her to an orphanage and on February 20th my mom took her life.

I've never noticed this similar abandonment that my daughter and I share until now. I don't have this commonality with either of my other children or my husband. I've realized that this is something that only Charlotte and I can relate to together on an very intimate, emotional level. We've been abandoned by our birth mothers.

Almost five years have passed since that snowy February evening, in this time I have grieved, healed as much as possible and moved forward in my life accepting that it was her time to go and that her decision was not a reflection on me, but rather that God was ready for her. I've now realized that as I've lived through this time as an adult with memories and pictures to remind me of what was, Charlotte is going to have to endure this pain and healing as a child with few memories and less photos. When she wakes in the night crying is she seeing Almaz, when she can't find me and begins to panic does she think that I've gone, will I be able to give her enough of my love to ensure that she knows that her birth mother's decision to relinquish her was not a reflection on her but rather a decision to ensure her life.

Did our birth mother's decide to leave in order to give us a less complicated life or was their pain simply too much to endure and they had to let go? These are questions that I have accepted to be answerless. I tell Charlotte constantly that I will be with her always, that my life was incomplete without her in it and that she is a miracle. I've known that she was my daughter since the moment I saw her referral, from the instant we turned the corner in the Ethiopian care center where she met our gaze and smiled; God has given me a child, born a world away but connected to me like no one else.

Over Christmas break our best friends returned from Texas to visit and in one of our moments together they told us that some have asked them if we had changed since bringing Charlotte home or if we'd remained the same. I recalled the time leading up to giving birth to Sophia and how AJ and I were determined to remain the same people that we were and to do the same activities, when Etienne was born we knew that babies do in fact change everything and as we brought Charlotte home we knew that change had happened. I am a different person. I feel more compassionate and understanding, more emotional and open. I have seen a country filled with nothing but so full of everything. I have a bond with a woman I've never met but feel like I know so well. I am so thankful for the changes and the challenges that God has placed in our lives and although there are times when normalcy seems so desirable, I trust that what ever path I am taken down will leave me greater strength, confidence and faith.

As Charlotte and I approach two days with great significance, I know that underneath any discomfort or pain we may endure we know we are loved and we know that we will always have each other.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Ye Ganna Baal!

Christmas is a widely celebrated holiday in Ethiopia where most of the population are Orthodox Christians. Observed on January 7th, The Feast of the Epiphany or Ganna is a celebration of the birth of Christ (leddat) and rather than focussing around the exchange of gifts, it is a time to feast on traditional Ethiopian cuisine such as doro wat and injera. It is a time to sing carols by candle light, play games said to date back to the time of Jesus' birth, burn frankincense symbolizing the gift given by King Balthazar of Ethiopia and a time to embrace the blessing we've all been given through salvation.

Last year this time Charlotte was with her birth mom, Almaz, in Shashemene, Ethiopia. A world away, we will probably never know what this day meant to Almaz. It was just two weeks before she took Charlotte to an orphanage in Hossana. Her first and last Ganna with her daughter and now a year later with Charlotte in our arms, I pray that Almaz will celebrate this holiday and that she will be comforted in knowing that our daughter is safe, healthy, loved beyond comprehension and above all joyful. We plan on integrating Ethiopian Christmas into our lives and to always remember Charlotte's first Ganna; as we light a candle to honor Almaz we feel a connection to a woman we've never met though whom we affectionately hold in our hearts always.

Ye Ganna Baal... Ethiopian Cottage here we come!

Friday, January 1, 2010

A New Decade

Every year I document the day to day events of our family on a monthly calendar. It's a way to look back at the year past and recollect the big events that changed life as we knew it, as well as a way to count how many times we dined at Chili's. As I am closing up 2009 and entering 2010 I have to note that this past year was truly one of the most fulfilling, enduring and monumental years of our lives.
  • We received our referral for Charlotte and instantly fell in love
  • Etienne cracked his head open for the first time, although likely not the last
  • I stopped working outside of the home
  • AJ and I traveled without the kids to Dubai and onto Ethiopia to bring our beautiful daughter home  
  • Our best friend came with us to Ethiopia to photograph this time and to support us
  • Charlotte celebrated her first birthday 
  • We bought a lot in Oconomowoc, WI  and proudly accepted the fact that we've been suburbanized
  • Etienne mysteriously came down with Mono
  • We sent in our application to Gladney for our second adoption - a son from Ethiopia
  • Our dear friends brought their handsome son home from Ethiopia and we're already thinking "wedding-bells" between Charlotte and him
  • We ate at Chili's 
  • We celebrated Charlotte's re-adoption with her adoring Godparents
  • We went to our first Brewer Game as a family... We're obviously not the sporty type 
  • Our best friends moved to Texas
  • Sophia began Kindergarten
  • We joined a new church and instantly knew that we belonged there
  • Charlotte began walking
  • We celebrated our first Christmas as a family of five
I am a self proclaimed pessimist, however I am excited about what lies ahead in 2010. Life has never turned out the way I have envisioned it despite my protests; As daunting as this can be at times, the unexpected always - eventually - leads to a beautiful ending and a new beginning that exceeds my greatest hopes. I wish you a year filled with hope and faith, a year appreciated and cherished.
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