Saturday, December 11, 2010

4 Weeks of New Life

"Mommy, wash-a my hens"

Words that just came from the lips of my daughter, who is proud of herself for washing her hands on her own.
Words that would have been meaningless to her a month ago, when the only English words she knew were trash, Mommy, Daddy, I love you, and I see you.
Now she is putting together full sentences, understanding that we ALL share a last name, and taking ownership of her home, her belongings, and her family.


She began her first days  home with excitement mixed with moments of intense fear.  She was smiling and chatty most of the time, but always made sure I was in view.  If she wandered out of the room while playing and forgot where I was, she would begin running in circles around the room and screaming with a look of utter panic in her eyes and tears streaming down her cheeks.  I would run to her and scoop her up, cradling her until she calmed down.  This happened several times a day.  At night, we began with her sleeping in our room on a pallet.  She would wake up screaming, soaked with sweat.  We realized after a couple of nights that we just needed to let her sleep with us.  She CRAVED physical touch and would cuddle in as close as possible, resting her soft cheek against the base of my neck.  I would hold her close and pray over her, for peace and the understanding that she is forever home...she is safe.
After about a week the night terrors stopped.  We then put a pretty pink toddler bed against my side of the bed and she seemed excited about it.  She happily went to sleep in that bed, but would awaken 2 or 3 times during the night crying out for me.  I would reach down and touch her and she would hold my arm like a baby doll and go back to sleep.
Meanwhile, the sweet bonding continued.  We began homeschooling again three days after she came home.    She sat and colored or played with play-dough, or went upstairs with Drew to play.  The school environment at the Transition Home was very similar to our homeschool environment, so we didn't have nearly the trouble helping her understand what needed to be accomplished that we anticipated.  Her older brothers and sisters, including Katie, fell in love with her.  We had only a couple of incidents of her acting out by scratching or hitting before she realized that it was not going to fly around here and she quickly gave it up.  (Time outs are extremely effective with her.)  Her improved behavior helped them to feel much more affectionate toward her.  The big kids carried her around, talked to her, and tried to learn Amharic while teaching her English words.  DJ announced after about a week that he was "glad we got her because she is funny!"  And funny, she is.  Little Sister LOVES to laugh, and laugh hard.  She relaxed her death grip on her backpack full of possesions little by little, and soon she was sharing with her siblings...realizing that they would, in fact, give them back.
She began to attach to Mommy and Daddy remarkably well, running to me to kiss boo-boo's or tattle when Gracie or Drew did something that she deemed offensive.  She looked for smiles of approval when she did something new or learned a new word, and soaked up our hugs and kisses like a sponge.  I cannot stress enough how much she needed physical touch.  When she was sleepy, she had a hard time settling down and crossing the threshold of sleep so I would swaddle her like a baby and rock her.  I kid you not, it would take less than 30 seconds for her eyes to roll back in her head and she would be out...I mean OUT.  Sometimes I would cradle her like a baby and hold her sippy cup like a bottle.  She ate it up.  I was thankful to have read lots of Karyn Purvis books and knew to allow her to be a baby at three.  It did not take long for her to pass through that phase.
At the end of the second week, she began to recognize her new name.  We were addressing her by her new American name combined with her Ethiopian name.  Occasionally we would use just her American name to see if she would answer.  Sometimes she did, sometimes she didn't.  But all of a sudden, she got it, and began to correct me if I only used her Ethiopian name.  I was very surprised for her to make that connection so quickly.
We celebrated her first Thanksgiving home and, though she was skeptical about the most of the food we laid out, she scarfed down turkey and sweet potatoes!  I had learned that if I could name the food in Amharic, she would at least try it.  My Lonely Planet Amharic book has been priceless!    Family came and went, and another foundation of trust was laid as she realized that, once again, she stayed with us.  After Thanksgiving we put up the Christmas tree and oh the excitement!  She kept exclaiming "Chrissa-mess!  Chrissa-mess!" and marveling at the lights and decorations.  She stayed up until after 10:00 and started to wilt out of pure exhaustion.  In our desire to get the decorations up and the mess put away, we decided to see if she would lie down in her bed...the one in the room she was sharing with Gracie...just until we got the boxes put away and then we would bring her down with us.  Up until now there was NO WAY she would go to sleep unless I was in the room.  I got out my Simple Amharic for Adoptive Families book (which, by the way, has been worth it's weight in GOLD) and told her that I was here, I would not leave, and it was time to lie quietly in her bed.  I then had a lightbulb moment.  I pointed at the painting on the wall above her bed and said "That says Mari.  That is YOU."  Her eyes lit up as she made the connection.  Now that she knew her new name, she finally understood that the name on the wall was HERS!  Her face lit up and she pointed to her name, then Gracie's which was over her bed and said their names.  She got it.  This is her bed, not just a bed for her to use...but her bed that she owns.  She went to sleep and woke up, in her own bed, eleven hours later...
and has done that every night since.

Since that major milestone was reached, it is like she has always been here.  She fits in so perfectly.  She still has moments of fear, but they are becoming fewer and fewer.  Tantrums are no longer a daily occurrence.  She and I have the most funny conversations...she speaks to me in Amharic, I answer her in English, and somehow we are communicating.  It has to be a God-thing.  She learns new words and phrases every day, and we have learned so much from her.  She loves to hear us talk about Ethiopia, and points to herself proudly saying "Mari Ethiopia!"  She tells me that she saw Zebras in Ethiopia, and looks at her lifebook full of photos over and over again, naming everything and everyone in every single picture.  Her bussa (backpack ) is her most treasured possession and goes with her everywhere.  She sings to herself almost daily, the sweetest African songs that I will miss when she one day forgets them.  Thank God for modern recording devices.
She loves baths, but hates shampoo.  When the tub is full she swims like a fish, coming up sputtering and laughing and waving her arms in delight.  Watching her bathe is nothing less than glorious!  In my mind I imagine her in a river in Ethiopia, dancing in the water with the sunlight glistening on her wet body, enjoying the simple thrill of being naked as a jaybird and free.  Joy just emanates from her body.

She came home with a stowaway of sorts...giardia...a common parasite found in the water in Africa.  A week of antibiotics took care of that and we have noticed her tummy no longer looks so swollen.  She gained 2 1/2 pounds in less than two weeks and now, when I hold her, her little bottom is not so bony but has a bit of plump to it.  She sings "kee-leen up, every bodee, every where" when she puts away her toys.  She says "Mommy, com-ee" when she wants to show me something.  The Amharic word for going pee, which is "shint" has been a source of MUCH laughter around here as her siblings (and, truth be told, even her daddy!) have adopted that word with great delight!  Just imagine..."I need to go shint.  "  "I need to take a shint."  "MOM the dogs are going shint outside!"
Yes, it is just delightful...ahem.
Potty requests in public always result in stares from strangers and giggles from my kids.

The sweetest thing of all, though, are the times that she has walked up to me and said "Eh weh de shah loh."

Those are my favorite Amharic words of all.

She is saying "I love you."

Oh sweet girl, I love you too.  More than I ever dreamed.  You delight my heart, and have brought such joy to our family.  You are, indeed, a perfect fit and I will never, ever get over the thrill of watching you learn and grow and thrive.  Eh weh de shal loh, precious one.  Forever and always.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Coming soon...

I wish I could convey to you the transformation I have seen in my daughter in three short weeks.  We are coming up on her 4 weeks home-a-versary and I am going to do my best to do it justice this weekend!

But here is a teaser.  She knows her name.

Her new name.

And if I ever forget and address her with her Ethiopian name, which we kept has her middle name, she corrects me.

She says her new name...first, middle, and last.

Then she smiles at me with eyes shining with joy and says what every orphaned child longs to say...


Every orphan longs to have a mother's neck to hug.

Every orphan longs to have a daddy's whiskers to rub.

Every orphan deserves what my daughter now has...

and I want to encourage you to take those first steps, for their sake.

You will never be the same.