Merry Christmas!

We're going away for a few days... won't post again until the New Year, most likely. Have a wonderful Holiday season!

Chris and Lee and Habtamu and Yordanos


You Should See the Other Guy

Last week at the farm we visit... we call it "the 3 boys house"... the kids were all sledding off the deck. The older 2 of the 3 boys pack one of the stairways off the deck with snow and make a nice, scary sled hill of sorts. Habtamu came to the door and said "Um, Mom? Yordanos, she is bleed." Well, I didn't hear any crying or screaming, so I said "Really?" "Yes, she is bleed."

Sure enough, there she came with a big fat bleeding lip where her top tooth had punctured it after hitting her chin on the ice. She did not cry at all and I calmly cleaned her up and she looked at it and didn't freak. I was not expecting that after the Splinter Incident, in which she thrashed and carried on like I was chopping her hand off. Kristen, the 3 boys' mom, assured me that at least one of her children does the same thing.

The other day Yordanos came down first in the morning. This NEVER happens. After a couple of minutes I asked if Habtamu was awake. "Yes. He is cry in bed." So we go up and, sure enough, he's crying because he can't feel his leg... yes, it had fallen asleep. Now, I do have sympathy for this one, after the incident in high school when I found somebody's cold lifeless hand under my pillow. It was so asleep, that I didn't know it was mine.

One more of my own childhood stories... Mom, I'm sure you remember this... I was fiddling with a barette... one of the plastic little girl ones that has a little post that snaps into a hole. I was fiddling with it on my lip and I got it snapped shut on my lower lip. I panicked at that point, and couldn't understand why my parents were laughing so hard... it was tragic to me... but I was blubbering with this barette bouncing on my lip.

I leave you with this picture of my (now) experienced and competent sledders:

Yordi's fat lip did not stop her from sledding the very next day. She hardly mentioned the pain, but was (in true girl fashion) more concerned that her lips were not pretty now. Sigh. Less than a week later, the big scab has come off and she is very glad.

Snow Angels... wait, what?

Silly me... of COURSE my Ethiopian children would have to be taught how to make snow angels. Do you remember being taught, or does it feel like you've always known how? Do not judge me for my terrible direction giving... it was early. This is back on December 1, and they'd had very little interaction with snow at this point... Habtamu asks in the first video if he can lay down in it.


Seeing Stars... Not the Good Kind

My friend Katherine (another homeschooler) and I took our kids sledding this morning. Katherine asked if I was going to sled, because SHE was going to. I said no at first, but it looked really fun. And it was... the 1st 2 runs. Then I got daring and went over the little jump, got some air, and landed HARD on my coccyx. That's when I saw stars, and when the sled stopped, I laid there, unable to summon up the will to move. Trying to be brave so my kids didn't flip out, I started moving and got back to the top of the hill.

But YIKES, I sounded like a creaky little old lady for the rest of today. Getting in and out of my low riding Saturn was torture. And to put my boots on, I had to put my back against a wall and slide down. I tried not to grunt, but it hurt so bad, that I made a sound every time. And every time both kids said "What?" And every time I said in a strained voice "My back!" (Thinking "Remember? You were THERE when Mommy hurt her back.")

The kids were very helpful with the dinner prep... had them get everything lower than my waist. Forgot about the cookie shards that had to be cleaned out before making dinner... so I was down on my hands and knees cleaning that (now burning) crud out.

We decided to watch a movie together after dinner, and Yordi made my chair very comfortable for me, with pillows and blankets... very sweet. Habtamu had written notes to Lee and I earlier today and we opened those... also very sweet.

So, even though some stuff was bad, we came through it OK, and better than a lot of days, so I'd call that a Win for Team Gardner today. Even if getting up tomorrow is going to take me 1/2 hour to straighten up. :)

ALSO, did you know that "really" is a really, really hard word for new English speakers? The kids both say "early". It's very cute. Oh, also, just so it's documented, they both say "holgon" for "hold on". And Yordanos still calls the Library the "libaby". It won't be long before there won't be any amusing language fodder. I will miss this time for it's comedic value. :)


Pride comes before the (snow)fall

Just so you all know, I wanted to write a delightful story about Habtamu first encounter with a spork, but this came up instead:

Oh, and be sure to read the previous post first so the stage is set appropriately, and bear in mind that I had no idea what kind of day Chris already had when all this went down.

So my morning started with my alarm not going off and Chris kicking at me an hour and a half later than I normally get up. I speed through my morning routine, grab CatX (Working title: Momo,) who is due for a neutering, and get in the car. I drop the cat off at the vet and head to work for what turns out to be a fairly routine day, other than the fact that I'm close to 2 hours later than usual.

It starts snowing in the early afternoon and there's not a thing I can do to get out of work early. 5:30 rolls around (which is like working the 2nd shift in education, where 'after hours' starts at around 3) so I go out and brush nearly 4 inches of snow off my car and get ready for the long haul home. Today the commute took 20 oz of Coke, 2 phone calls, a good mix on my iPod, and an hour and a half of driving 20 to 40 mph. Not the worst, but it still wears on you. Pulling into the driveway I notice that the garbage cans are still out and nothing has been shoveled, fortunately, I was caffeinated and took care of both items.

I enter the house at 7:15 pm. The kids are in pajamas and fidgety. I haven't eaten and am just trying to keep it together.

Dinner gets reheated for me and I eat with two other heads closer to my soup bowl than my own. The invasion of personal space I could deal with. The burping, farting, and giggling I could deal with. The problem is, that they were too close to each other, and so what started out as an amusing game of 'Irritate Daddy and act like we don't know why' quickly decayed into pushing and slapping.

Daddy's had enough and explains, in so many words, that they need to go in opposite directions quickly. Habtamu takes the hint and, although frustrated, removes himself from the situation (kudos to Chris for facilitating the distraction.) Yordi follows H into the other room. I explain that this is unacceptable and that she needs to find something else to do. She holds her ground and gives me the old 'but Daddy I'm just looking' shrug which is one of the ways she says "I'm really tired but I don't know it." So, Chris and I decide for her that it's bedtime. She doesn't move. My last emotional thread is tightening. I'm not asking for her to carve up the moon and give it to me on a plate, I'm just asking for her to comply with something... anything... I've asked for in the whole 15 minutes that I've been home. At the very least figure out that Daddy doesn't think it's a game. "It's time for bed, honey. Come on, let's go," I say with what turns out to be my last truly calm words of the evening. She gives me the shoulder, my thread snaps. "I asked you nicely twice," I say (which I had at that point) and grab her arm to take her to the bedroom knowing exactly where this situation is going: it's going down the same road I went with her brother two days ago, which ironically, he claims started because she was mimicking him during grace at dinner. Always gotta try things out for herself...

After wrestling her into bed, I calm down a bit and say something to the effect of, "You still have a choice at this point. You can go to bed and cry and be grumpy, or you can go to bed and I can check your closet and we can talk for a little while."

"YOU NO TALK! NEVER TALK! NO LOVE! HABTAMU MOMMY DADDY FAMILY, ME NO FAMILY!" blah blah blah she was reading Habtamu's script from the other day line for line. Any rebuttal or reassurance digs them in deeper. So I played my role, letting her have the same experience as her brother.

"Is this your family?"
"Is this your house?"
"Is this your bed?"
"Then get out of it," and I threw her blankets off.
"This is my daughter's bed, are you my daughter?"
"Then get out of my daughter's bed."


"Is this your family?"
"Is this your house?"
"Then you must be in the wrong house."


"NO FAMILY! NO blah blah blah..."

"Do you want to stay?"
"Ok, I'll help you leave," and we walk downstairs to the back door. I open the door and all that's standing between her and the new fallen snow is the stormdoor and her pink socks.

"If you want to go, you can go."
"No, *you* said this is not your house. *You* said this is not your family. Do you want to stay?"
"Your choice." I open the storm door and cold air hits her squarely in the flannel pajamas.
"Come back when you are ready to be part of the family and say you're sorry for not doing what Daddy asked."

Now, I'll be honest... I expected her to turn around and come in after about 5 seconds, but I waited on the stairs and got my shoes on just in case.

She didn't come in.

I see her standing right outside the door crying so I motion to her to come in.

She won't.

I think she was outside for 3 or 4 minutes in 20 degree weather before Chris intervened. "Either she's going to freeze or someone's going to call the cops," she said, and somewhere under all my anger, I know she's right. I keep thinking my kids understand cold, but they really don't. I also keep thinking my kids understand how much we love them, and that the point of letting them 'leave' is so they get the happy 'coming back' experience, but they really don't understand that either. And on top of it, their stubbornness must be fueled by hellfire because I don't know what else in this world would make you think that not apologizing would be worth losing a couple fingers. Habtamu had to be dragged back in the other day too but at least he picked a 40 degree day to have a meltdown. So I go out there, hoist my daughter's wailing body over my shoulder and say, "You are making such a bad choice that I need to stop you. Daddies protect their children. We are going inside to get warm before you get hurt." She's kicking and screaming the whole time, wrenching her cold fingers out of my warm hands, fighting me while I try to take her wet socks off.


Sigh... Yeah. You're welcome. It is so bed time.

Before anyone decides that my daughter would be treated better at Gitmo, and starts making phone calls about my 'snow-boarding' technique, know that she's fine. 10 fingers, 10 toes, and was only quivering with rage when I brought her in. Also, she was determined to walk back to Ethiopia until the moment she fell asleep, so apparently the self-imposed deep freeze treatment didn't even flicker the fire of her spirit. One word: Hellfire.

If anything good came out of this, it's that Habtamu seems to understand that she picks up these 'I'm too stubborn to admit I should have put on my shoes first' ideas from him. We've been trying to explain that he can't really stop her from copying him, and though it's hard, he needs to remember that she's always watching how he deals with situations. He asked if he sounded like that when he Umbie-Umbies. "Yeah, exactly," Chris replied, "And you do it longer."

We'll find out next time if any of that sunk in.

Remind Me

Remind me, next time a kid says their stomach hurts... to put a bucket near them BEFORE they vomit on the rug. Not my kid, but a friend who was over... anyhow, people vomit is WAY worse than cat vomit. Remind me to thank my children for not yet vomiting, and making me have to complete my parenting training. Actually, I feel pretty blessed to not have had to change any diapers. It makes me useless for watching other people's babies, but that's not a bad exchange.

Kudos to single parents. Lee is late coming home today, and I'm not sure what I would do if there was no one coming home to help... even late help. Maybe you've been in this situation before: it's after dinner and the kids are chasing each other around the house. You're doing the dishes, and enjoying a few minutes of nobody asking you WHY?. You know that the running around will end in tears, but at this point, you feel like you could not possibly care LESS about what's going on. Your brain waves are registering a low hum, and that's about it. The noise level grows and you hear a large crash, followed by debris flying across the floor. It is suddenly VEEEERRRRY quiet in the house. Do you a) enjoy the peace and quiet for a few minutes, or b) go check it out?

I checked it out, and found all my beading supplies strewn about the floor. The sound of beads skittering on the hardwood floor had not stopped. There were two children looking at me like deer caught in headlights waiting to see what I would do. I'm proud to say that I chose the high road, although a sizable part of me wanted to place hands on hips and start yelling. I said "Oh dear! Well, help me pick this up." We all helped pick it up and it was over. I did stop the running around the house at that point, although I was pleased that it did NOT end in tears as I predicted.

Sunday DID end in tears, and we weren't expecting it. H went down HARD. Lee's folks and his sister and her husband were over, so he must be feeling comfortable with them. Small comfort while I'm an emotionally wrung out rag, and Lee had to go lay down when it was over. H spent several minutes (30?) outside in just his socks and a spring jacket. (And other clothes... just pointing out the inappropriate parts of his attire.) When it was all over, I tried to make clear to him that other people MAY call the Police if he's wandering outside like that, screaming and crying, and that the Police would say "Bad Mommy and Daddy." I think he understood, but I'm not sure if we've seen the last of that kind of outburst.


My New Job

Nope, it's not a typo. I really did write it.



Well, it took a while but we finally have some leverage on our children. When your kids have had nothing, expect nothing, and are used to nothing, it doesn't leave you much to work with on the discipline front. You can't take stuff away because it either doesn't mean anything, or it means everything. Like Habtamu and shoes. We don't know what the story is there, but the boy gets really edgy about his footwear and it would just be cruel to even threaten to take a pair away. Grounding doesn't mean anything unless you can explain to them what they're missing out on, and in general, lingering around the house is just stressful for everyone.

It's taken six months but the kids finally have a routine that they understand and like, and they have expectations. Which means, we can now say, "Because you (fill in the offense,) the TV will not be turned back on until Thursday" and it stings a little. It's enough to make them think twice and start cutting deals.

Hitting. No discussion. No TV. One day minimum. This knowledge alone has stopped Habti faster than I can grab his elbow when starts to wind up.

Burping (not regular burping but the, "Look at what I can do" kind) at the dinner table means you take everyone's plates to the dishwasher after the meal.

Yordi tried out some new English today. In specific she tried out the phrase, "Don't you talk to me like that," on her mother. Unfortunately that's a one-way statement. One-way to the no TV zone. Chris responded with the grammatically correct, "Oh no you didn't," and thus ended today's viewing of The Parent Trap.

It's just nice to have an avenue of discipline that doesn't involve dragging, suppression, screaming, banging, yelling, crying, etc...

I also wanted to mention that, when the kids were still speaking Amharic they would have this little banter between them. Kind of like how you see lawyers talk to their clients in movies. They would either lean in toward each other, or say something so nonchalantly that you'd hardly know that one was addressing the other, and suddenly a decision would be announced. The example I remember is that at meal times one would often talk their sibling either into or out of eating something, sometimes mid mouthful. There would be a whisper, or something that sounded like, "Hmm, which one is my salad fork" and abruptly the other would point to their plate and say, "This? No thank you," even though they had just devoured half of it. Or the opposite, one would approve of something and start cooing into their bowl, then the other would take half-hearted spoonfuls and choke it down.

I bring this up because the tone and rhythm of that banter has returned, but now it's in English and I still feel like I'm listening on their secret language. Chris wrote about the, "Don't hit me, and I won't hit you so we can watch Hercules this afternoon, Ok?" pact, but there have been many other communiques that are reminiscent of table talk during a card game, or like two mobsters making deals in a confessional.

Oh and speaking of language learning, the kids are now in the epicenter of the, "Why?" phase. Insert both eye roll and eye twitch here. They love to ask it. Won't answer it.

Why? Because it's time to find something else to do other than watch TV.



Sledding - another first off the list

Armed only with an inflatable tube, Habtamu sizes up the opposition

I was going to let the pictures speak for themselves, but that's just not my style. The kids had no problem figuring out the rules of the hill, and even exemplified proper 'sleddiquette' by not line jumping and (generally) waiting for others to move out of the way before barreling down. We went sledding two days this weekend with no hard life lessons, with the exception of one headlong encounter with an immovable iceball. Otherwise, as Yordi put it, it was, "Down very fun. Up not fun," the rest of the day.

You tell me, does he look like he's having fun?

Yeah, she isn't either.

It's really interesting to me to watch my kids literally get 'up to speed' with American life. 6 months ago we were cramming Habtamu into a baby swing with a plastic seat and a safety bar. 4 months ago the one ticket rides at the fair were invigorating, then bikes stepped it up another notch. Now they are sledding and their brains are calculating and adjusting for everything the whole way down. They ditch and roll when they want and not accidentally. And you know things were going well because I asked for 'real smiles' for the following picture and actually got them. Woo-hoo!

Ahh, just like the good ol' days on the frozen hills of Ethiopia.

To wii or not to wii

I wanted to write about this earlier, but I was afraid that if my kids ever read this, I would be on the unforgiveable list with my name written in red. It's one thing to tell adults that you can't afford to buy something fun and cool. It's another thing to have your kids find out you returned their Christmas present.

Since the beginning of my marriage to Chris, we've had the red-light/green-light system as part of our vocabulary. It's a communication technique that I heard some other couple using where you don't go forward on a big decision unless you both get a 'green light.' Red means forget it. Yellow means you either don't care (and it's the other persons decision) or that discussions need to continue. What I really like about this techniques is that it takes into account your gut feeling on a situation. "I don't know why, I just have a red light right now," keeps communication open instead of, "No, because I said so."

So for Christmas we've been going back and forth about how we should celebrate, and in specific, how much stuff should be under the tree for the kids. We've gone through their Birthdays, garbage bags full hand-me-downs, Halloween, and a couple gift showers so it's not like Christmas will be the first time they've received presents. But we aren't to the Christmas List point yet, they kind of know what they like, but mostly we know because they wear it on their sleeves. If it's pink, Yordi will like it. If it's on TV, Habtamu will watch it.

We have a couple friends with gaming systems, and when we have visited, the wii has been a big hit with both children. So Chris and I figured picking one up for the whole family would a quick way to wrap up the Christmas shopping season. Everyone wanted one... it was a no brainer. So when one of my friends offered to pick one up while he was out shopping, I was all for it. Because the only thing that would possibly be better than getting a wii, was not having to fight the crowds for one. I got the call a couple hours later saying that I could come over and pick up the wii at my earliest convenience, and to bring a check.

Now, I don't even remember how much I thought the wii was going to cost, but when I saw the price tag (and it was a good price) my light went from green to yellow. Several of our friends have wii's so going out to their houses has been an extra special treat. This was just the price of the base unit, let alone the wii-fit, and the second controller, oh and games, probably need a couple of those. How are my children ever going to learn 'social engineering' if they have everything they want? Will they ever use crayons again if there's a gaming system in the house? We can't afford it, we don't need it, and I should have spent the money on new tires. This is rapidly becoming a red light situation. But since Chris was gung-ho about it, I left my light at yellow. A very stale yellow.

I talked to Chris expecting some kind of "If we don't get a wii-fit our children's brains will rot into the couch during the winter months" speech, but I never got it. She just sighed and said that she saw my point but still wanted it. It was in our basement, unopened, I still had 20+ days to return it if I really felt strongly about it.

Then, about a week later, Habtamu ended up with a dollar to spend (whole different story there...) so I took him to our local Dollar Store and said, "Ok, You can buy any one thing here." Long story short, it took him 2 hours to decide on a pocket radio. Two hours of picking things up and putting them back. Shopping, prioritizing, making any form of financial decision was a completely new skill set for him. We came home, and I told Chris that we had grossly underestimated the power of a dollar in our kids lives. Red light. I returned the wii the next week, and prepared myself to someday be seen as The Grinch for the rest of my life when my kids found out. Maybe next year, I thought, but we can do without this year.

Meanwhile, the friend who bought the wii for us had already cashed the check, saw the reimbursement on his credit card, and wrote us a check back. On friday, I was hitching a ride from a workmate to get to the bank, when he nonchalantly says, "Oh, by the way, word got around that you returned the wii. It's down-right heretical work in the computer industry and do that, so to keep you from burning in techno-hell for eternity, we took up a collection. Someone is standing in line right now ready to make the purchase, but we thought we'd check with you first."

I started laughing, "Um... let me call my wife," was the most coherent thing I could think to say.

Suddenly my light turned green and it was like there were a bunch of people I've known for years honking at me to punch the gas and get through the intersection.

There's probably a spiritual lesson to be learned here about the importance of community, generosity, and humility, but I think the real moral of the story is: don't get in the way of computer geeks on a mission, they can change traffic signals.

They are kinda like ambulances with pocket protectors.


Playing Catch Up

Wow! I'm really behind in reporting the day to day activities around here.

Tuesday: Habtamu had a 4 hour umbi-umbi rage ("Umbi" is "No, I won't, I don't want to, etc" in Amharic, so now we call these episodes "umbi-umbi's") I was emotionally and physically exhausted by it, and the reason (had to do with tea - SO not the real reason, if there even was one) was silly. For his 4 hour ("Not 4 hours, Mom! 3 and a half!") umbi-umbi, he got his favorite video series taken away for 4 days. We had to explain exponential growth between the infraction and the consequence.

Also, the kids have been kind of hitting each other... well, especially H toward Y, which is unacceptable on many, many levels, him being so much bigger than her. We told them if it happened again, we'd take away their other favorite video series. Today I heard them making deals like "You don't hit me, I don't hit you, or no Avatar." "Ok."

Wednesday: At our friends' farm, Habtamu had his first driving lesson... a little tractor their kids use to plow with. Habtamu promptly drove it through the electrified fence, into the ditch. Go Team Gardner! He admitted that he was NOT looking where he was going at the time, oh, and, also, he didn't know how to stop it. When the boys came up to tell us, Habtamu had blood pooled under his left eye. On closer inspection, it turned out to be his latest sty that must have exploded on impact. Thankfully, I am not squeamish and since he wasn't screaming, I deduced he couldn't be hurt THAT badly, and he wasn't. He got driving lessons, and is VERY attentive to where he is going now. I think a monster has been created, though, becausee all he can talk about is driving that tractor again.

Thursday: We went to our new pediatrician's for the 1st visit. There was very little drama this time. SO MUCH BETTER than previous Dr.'s visits. We got meds for his eyes.

This day was SO busy, that I don't even want to talk about it. Or think about it again.

Friday: Lest you think that I've forgotten about Yordanos... we were getting ready to leave for Hometown Christmas tonight (all the local businesses gussy up their windows, and there are crafts and games and horse rides up and down main street), and I put on my Head Sokz, and Yordi flipped out. She was saying something about how I would be the only warm one. I offered it to her, and said I'd wear a different hat if she wanted it. (I THINK I said it nicely.) Anyhow, she was discontented, and Habtamu and I were getting irritated and angry, because we wanted to GO. So, we all get outside and she takes off in the wrong direction. We have to go after her because it's NIGHT and she's too young to be wandering around alone. Then she heads back towards home and I tell her she has until the house to stop umbi-umbi or I take away Avatar. I take it away for multiple days and still she doesn't come back. Finally, I firmly take her arm and lead her back into the house where she screams bloody murder as I take her boots off (didn't want her taking off) and I left her in the hallway.

Habtamu and I played Jenga, and she calmed down and came to watch. I asked if she was feeling better. Yes. I said "Come here and tell me what happened." She starts to cry again, so I went to her and held her and FINALLY she says "Red hat, Mommy scary." Well, I felt bad at that point because it never occurred to me that my HEADGEAR would be scary, but it kind of is. So I apologized and said "I never thought about it being scary, I'm so sorry." Then I suggested that in the future she could just say "Mommy scary" earlier and avoid the whole umbi-umbi and getting your stuff taken away.

This parenting thing is like herding cats.

Speaking of cats, I won't tell you about the cat that's now living in our basement. Because we are Suckers, is why. We're both avoiding making a decision about what to do about him, because I think we both know where this is headed. His name is Momo. Dang it.


On Joy and Sorrow

Adoption does not cure infertility. I had kind of assumed being a mother would purge those biological urge feelings once and for all. It doesn't. I'm thinking that there must be a God given imperative to create life in our genetics. I can't explain away that little spark of jealousy and anger and disappointment that I get when others are pregnant with their 1st child. I need to grieve that I will not have a child that looks like me. I grieve that I will not be their caregiver before they draw their first breath. I grieve that my womb has been labeled "inhospitable" for life to grow.

The logical part of me does not even want a baby. I don't even want to deliver a child. Thanks, Nicola and Katherine, for showing me that I am not missing anything by not giving birth!

For many, many years I could not/would not attend a baby shower. How could I bring myself to go to "Babies R Us" and pick out some cute little outfit? I tried once and ended up sobbing in the car for 1/2 an hour afterward. So, I'm sorry to whomever was pregnant during the "dark years" of infertility. I couldn't even BUY you anything, much less attend your shower. I couldn't even think about you without tearing up.

Once you had your babies, I was fine. I didn't want YOUR baby.... I wanted MY baby. And, once you were on your 2nd child, I was mostly fine. I don't know what made the difference between the 1st and 2nd child, but it mattered.

Mostly now, that infertility sorrow is buried pretty deeply under LIFE. Life does go on. If people live far or I am not close to them, I am able just to be happy (tra la la) for them and not think about it. I am still blind-sided from time to time, but I am no longer a slave to those feelings. I know that they will pass, and that I shouldn't be afraid of them. Crying with Lee for 10 minutes makes the world right again.

I had thought that I could purge those feelings once and for all, that there would be only joy for those who give life, but I see now that it doesn't work that way. I'm way to human, and we humans have feelings... even the yucky ones, even the ones we don't want to have. I have learned to handle those feelings better now, and not let them lead me on a path to despair. I am able to have joy for my friends and sorrow for me at the same time. Then the sorrow goes away, and I'm left with joy and peace. Praise God.