An adoption Lifebook is basically a book that tells the story of an adopted child's life so far. Shep has a baby book and albums full of baby pictures. We have no pictures of the first 9-12 months of N's life so this will contain the earliest record of his infancy/toddlerhood. Everyone needs to know their roots because it is a big part of who we are. Our hope is this book will help N process his roots as he grows and develops his identity. I have been working on N's Lifebook for months and still have a lot of work to do on it. I will probably use a Snapfish photobook to create a very basic book once N is home and we have more pictures and facts to go into the book. Then I will make a more advanced version in 2 or 3 years when he is old enough to understand a little more and there are more memories/firsts to put into it. I look forward to holding N in my lap, sitting in the rocker, and reading him his Lifebook. This is what we have so far - would love to get your input on anything else that we might include!:
You were born ____ in ____, Ethiopia on ______. (Baby pics, pics of Ethiopia, particularly Nazareth)
Your birthparents wanted to take care of you but they were not able to. They wanted you to be happy and made sure you got a family who would love you very, very much.
Mama and Daddy knew you were out there somewhere and decided we would do whatever it took to bring you home.
We hadn't met you yet, but we already loved you even across the ocean between us! We knew that God had planned for you to be our son. We could hardly wait to meet you!
We prayed everyday for God to protect you, for you to be happy in the orphanage while you waited for us, for us to be able to bring you home soon, and for you to feel our love, even across the ocean between us! Pic of us praying together Pics of N in orphanage with caretakers
Waiting to bring you home was one of the hardest things we have ever done! We knew you were our baby and we just wanted you safe and sound in our arms, with no more ocean between us.
When we first saw pictures of you, we noticed your sweet smile. We wanted to kiss your chubby baby cheeks! First pics we saw of him
We called Honey and Pop, Gramma, and all our family and friends to tell them all about you. We were so proud to have you as our son! Pics of us looking at his pics.
As soon as the Ethiopia allowed it, we flew in a plane across the ocean to meet you and claim you as our son. pics of us traveling to Ethiopia.
When we met you, we ____. First pics of us with N
We had to wait ___ more weeks until you were allowed to come home!
While we waited, we prayed for you and prepared for your arrival. While you waited, you learned to ____. Pics of N while he waited Pics of his room here
When it was time, you flew on a plane across the ocean to us. ___ flew with you. She was ____. You had to fly on __ planes for __ hours to get to us. Yay, no more ocean between us! Pic of baby & escort or parent
When we met you at the airport, ____.
______ were all there to welcome you home! airport pics, pics of the welcome party & signs.
It was so good to finally have you home! We had missed you so much! Pic of our family together
You slept in a crib. Your first night home, you ____. Pic of N sleeping
The first time you ate American food, ____. Your favorite foods were ____. Pic of baby eating
When you came across the ocean, you brought a piece of Ethiopia with you, inside of you, because that is where you were born. We love Ethiopia, too, so we _____ to celebrate Ethiopian culture. Pics of us eating Ethiopian food, wearing Ethiopian dress, celebrating Ethiopian holidays
You and Shep _____. You liked to play ___ together. Pic of baby & Shep
You loved ____. Your favorite toys were ____. Pic of baby with toys
You also liked to play ____. Pic of baby playing ___
I've been meaning to cook my first Ethiopian meal for a couple months now (I'm admitting this on here to hold myself accountable to following through on this!). Here are the recipes for my first adventure in Ethiopian cooking. I'll let you know how it goes! And you let me know if you have any other Ethiopian recipes you recommend (especially if they are not spicy!) :)
Ethiopian Flat Bread (injera) (Recipe courtesty of adoptive mom Danae)
In a large bowl mix: 3 cups of self rising flour 1/2 cup whole wheat flour 1/2 cup cornmeal (use Masa Harina) 1Tbsp active dry yeast 3 1/2 cups warm water
Let the mix sit in a large bowl, covered, an hour or longer, until the batter becomes strtchy. (My mom called this a "sponge".) It can sit as long as 3-6 hours. When ready stir it up if the liquid has settled to the bottom. Then whip in the blender 2 cups at a time, thinnking it with 1/-3/4 cup of water. Batter will be the consistency of pancake or crepe batter. Cook on a non-stick frypan without oil over medium high heat. (I have a lefse griddle that I preheat for 5-10 minutes at 400 degrees. Pour batter from the blender jar starting at the outside of the grill making concentric circles filling in as you move toward the center. Bubbles will form all over the bread. I put a lid on for a couple minutes at this point. It kind of helps with the correct spongy texture. Then I let it finish cooking uncovered until the edges get dry and start to roll up. The underside will be a little golden. Slide the injera off the grill onto a dishtowel and let it cool. The towel will absorb the steam. When cooled enough place the bread on your stacking plate. It should be stretchy and flexible and filled with bubbles, less than 1/4 inch thick and will tear into strips readily. I cover an individual plate with injera ruffling the edges so it fits and spoon wat in piles around the injera.
Lentil Wat: (From "Ethiopian Cooking in the American Kitchen", by Tizita Ayele)
1 cup split lentils 1 cup chopped onions 1/2 cup oil 1/8 cup of beer (cooking wine, or water) 2 tbsp red hot pepper powder 2 cups of warm water 1/4 tsp powdered cinnamon and cloves 1/4 tsp salt
Clean the split lentils, removing any foreign matter and wash them using warm water Fry the onions in half cup of oil until they get reddish brown and add beer. Add the red hot pepper powder and stir the mixture for about two minutes. Pour the lentils in the boiling mixture. Add 2 cups water and cook until split lentils get tender Season the dish with cinnamon and cloves and let it simmer. Take of the fire and add the salt. It can be served hot or cold (Notice that you do not cover the pan while cooking.)
Parents passionately want to succeed in raising emotionally healthy children. They also want to enjoy their little ones. When their children arrive later in infancy or childhood, most parents are well-aware that they are doing more careful parenting. They are nurturing not only to build a relationship, but to help mitigate any impact of losses or maltreatment. What are reasonable things for parents to concentrate on during the first year home? How can parents do the best to enjoy their children? They do not want the pleasures of parenting their children dimmed by a chorus of cautions. On the other hand, they do want to make that first year a great start. Here are my TOP TEN hits for a great start to your relationship with your baby or child.
1.Spend ample time in nurturing activities. The most significant process of the first year home is creating a trust relationship. Intentional and ample nurturing promotes this goal. Restrict your hours away from the little one. Do not leave your child for overnight trips for this first year. Meet your little ones needs in an especially sensitive manner. Feed on demand. Respond quickly to fussing. Allow the toddler or child to regress, bottle-feeding, rocking to sleep, lapsitting, and being carried. Let your child experience you as the safe person who is sensitively meeting her needs. Play little games that promote eye contact, like peekaboo, ponyride, and hide-and-seek. Make positive associations between yourself and food. Rather than children becoming more dependent through this extra nurturing, they instead become trusting. Anxious people do not know who they can trust to help them. More secure individuals understand that they do not have to be perfect and that they can rely on significant others. Children who do not learn to depend on others tend to be anxious or emotionally constricted. Their "independence" is a false one, meaning that they do not trust others and can only rely on themselves. The child who has learned a healthy dependence is more secure in trying new things and venturing out. She always has a safe, home base to come back toyou!
2.Teach children to play with you. Many little ones have missed the joys of play. Act as an amplifier, teaching toddlers and children the pleasure of play. Most children have missed the experience of having parents express joy as they played. Because of this, their reward centers were not stimulated. This restricted the association of exploration and play with pleasure. Set aside at least thirty minutes a day for play with your children. Younger children may want this in segments. Do not hesitate to use voice tones and expressions that are ones usually meant for infants and younger children. If your child can already play, then continue to build your relationship through play. Shared enjoyment cements relationships. Make your family one that develops a pattern of having fun. Throughout life having fun as a family builds self-esteem. While some children take off in play, others cannot stay engaged for long. Continue to stretch the more tentative child, engaging her in mutually enjoyable activities. Look for different sensory modalities that might feel safer or more interesting. For example, a boy who was afraid to play outdoors began to use sidewalk chalk with his mother, even though the grass seemed overwhelming. Gradually a ball was used on the sidewalk, and then onto the grass. Take things in steps if children are wary.
3.Talk to your child. Parents of infants use exaggerated voice tones to emphasize important concepts. Their "amplifier system" helps children with attention to most important parts of the whole environment. After children move into the preschool age, some of this "cheerleader" amplification diminishes. Continue to use this brighter emotional tone with your child as she understands your shared worldeven if she is not an infant. Explain things to him, even though you might think that the meaning of what you are doing is obvious. Not only are you conveying information to him, you are revealing your view of the world to him. Your voice tones guide him to better understand the context. Be sure to use your fingers and gestures to point out important things to him. This helps him to both attend to and understand the meaning of the context around him. Early language not only teaches us words, but a way of understanding our world through the subjects selected for attention and their associated intonations, expressions, and gestures. Most of us have an internal dialogue going on during the day. (Yes, we are actually talking to ourselves.) Simply make some of this internal language external. This is a typical activity for parents of infants. However, it tends to diminish as children get older. Since children have missed this early activity, parents should feel free to describe things as they would to an infant.
4.When toddlers or older children have behavior problems, use your body to stop them. Be gentle, but be consistently and predictably competent in stopping negative behaviors. Do not use over the shoulder commands or across the room reminders. Stay within arms reach of the child, moving their hands, bodies, feet, to where you want them to go. Never tolerate hitting, kicking, or hurting. Some parents allow a child painful "exploration" of the parents faces. This is teaching that will have to be undone later. Gently move their bodies to where you want them to be. For example, if your little one is reaching for an item, move the child or the item. Use the voice for a back up. Do not remind or repeat several times. Instead, describe in a pleasant manner how precious or pretty the item appears to youas you move your child. Teach boundaries of respect from the beginning. Obviously, most parents will not be getting much done except parenting when their child is awake. Remind yourself that your primary job is parenting when your child is awake.
5.Get enough sleep, good food, and exercise to stay in a good mood. Little ones who have been moved and/or neglected tend to be irritable, fussy, and hard to soothe. Parents use their own positive, well-regulated moods to help calm and engage these little ones. Your own emotional stability will help to steady your childs moods. A depressed parent struggles to form a positive, secure attachment with her baby or child. Depression makes the parent emotionally less available. The parent who is tired, eating junk food, and inert by days end does not give a child a competent source of emotional regulation. Parents who find that their moods are slipping, even with good self-care, should see about counseling and/or an antidepressant. It is simply too hard to do this essential, nurturing parenting while being depressed. Model respect for yourself by taking time for showers, good meals, and sleep.
6.Be part of an adoption support group. The relationships between families are invaluable. The relationships can be emotional lifelines on hard days. If possible, find a mentor who is positive, and who likes you and your child. Ask her to be part of your circle of support. We all need to feel understood and authentically accepted. A mentor who can provide that sense of nurture for the parent helps the parent to be a good nurturer. The mentor relationship provides a sense of being heard and accepted, and tips and information. Parents are working harder emotionally when parenting a baby or child who has lived through uneven parenting. Parents need someone who cares for them. Sometimes this can be mutual support, and sometimes one-to-one.
7.Keep a calm, but interesting home. Match the amount of stimulation in the home to the amount that is within the childs ability to tolerate. Many children have been massively understimulated before they came to parents. Neglect massively understimulates children. They do not build neurology to process as much sensory stimulation. After adoption, their worlds can suddenly be overwhelming. Things are too bright, too loud, move too much, and tilt too much. Slow things down, buffering your baby or child to the extent that they can process the information coming their way. Often children who are overwhelmed by noise will begin shouting, or those overstimulated by too much movement will begin running with arms like windmills. Lay out predictable, consistent events for the day. Some children find the movement of the car to be disorienting. If your child is having difficulties, try a couple of days limiting the car, determining whether or not this makes a difference.
8. Explain to children basics of your relationships as they gain language. For example, "A mothers job is to love you. I will always come back home to you when I leave in the car to go shopping. You will live with me until you are as big as I am. I will not let anybody hurt you. I will never hurt you. We will always have enough food." One mother told me of her sons relief and better behavior when she told him that she would never allow others to hurt him. "Why didnt I think to tell him the first year?" She questioned. "He was afraid every time we went to the mall. He has been thinking for two years that just anyone could haul off and hit him." Another parent told me of the melting smile that her daughter gave her when she said that a mothers job was to love her child. "I just assumed that she knew that. But she didnt. She looked at my face much more after that."
9. Do watch for signs of an exclusive attachment by the end of the first year. Children should be seeking out their parents for affection and play. They should be showing off for positive attention. They should prefer being with the parent. They should show some excitement about time together. When hurt or distressed, the child should seek out the parent. In a secure attachment, the child will calm with the parent and accept soothing. Trauma and traumatic grief are the common culprits when children are remaining wary, fearful, and controlling of their parents. Signs of trauma with younger children include regular night terrors, dissociation (child shuts off emotionally and stares away), scratching, biting, extreme moods, freezing in place, and destructiveness. Parents who see these symptoms should be finding a mental health counselor to help their child. If the child is under the age of three, the parent is given special parenting advice. Usually therapy with an experienced child therapist can begin not long after the age of three. Do not have an artificial timeline of "fixed in a year," for the preschooler or older child. Consider the year marker as the time it takes to really get to know your childnot to iron out any behavioral irregularities.
10.Enter your little ones space positively. This often means getting low and looking up for eye contact. It means trying hard and trying patiently for a longer time. You are the one who has the responsibility of engaging your child positively. Do not use punitive techniques to try to build relationships. After all, no one wants to attach to a mean person. Instead, be strong, dependable, available, and kind. Veer away from advice that is strong, controlling, and mean in tone. Sensitive and kind parents gradually build empathy and security in their relationships with their children. That process takes time and the type of parenting that caused you to want to be a parent in the first place! Maintain a sane schedule as you move into year two. Many parents decide that the first year is the marker until they can re-enter a "normal" schedule. Among family therapists there is national concern about the taxing schedule that Americans are considering "normal." Resist this widespread but unhealthy pace. Continue to parent with margins of time that allow for sensitivity, with margins of emotional energy that allow for appreciation of those around you. Model a healthy, emotionally fulfilling lifestyle to your child.
Deborah Gray is a childrens psychotherapist who specializes in the areas of attachment, adoption, trauma, and loss. She is the author of Attaching in Adoption: Practical Tools for Todays Parents, Perspectives Press, 2002, and Nurturing Adoptions: Creating Resilience after Neglect and Trauma, Perspectives Press,2007.
I won't lie - after sending the email letting AAI know we were ready to move forward in adopting N, I had a momentary flash of "What have we done?! This is a huge commitment!" But it went away just as fast as it came and has since been replaced with complete peace over our decision. Even the scary, "there is no turning back" language of our adoption placement agreement didn't shake us. You know the feeling - when something's right, it's right and you just know it. Billy and I feel so good about this and feel that N is the perfect fit for our family. He and Shep will be about a year apart in age and will grow up as best buds. We cannot wait for them to meet. When we point to the two pictures we have of N (framed 8x10's hanging on the mantle, of course), Shep says "Brudder" with the sweetest little smile. We cannot wait to hold our baby in our arms, kiss him all over, and nurse him back to health. We cannot wait to teach him about this world, about God, and to show him the unconditional love he has yet to experience.
WE LOVE YOU, BABY N!
Thank you, Father, Giver of all good things, for our precious sons. Our hearts are so full. You have blessed us so abundantly. Guide us as we guide them through life. Fill us with Your love that we may love them completely, selflessly, sacrificially. Help us encourage them to become the godly men You have ordained them to be. Amen.
Book: I'm Chocolate, You're Vanilla: Raising Healthy Black and Biracial Children in a Race-Conscious World: A Guide for Parents and Teachers
By Marguerite A. Wright (an African-American psychologist and mother)
Online adoptive parents course: With Eyes Wide Open
This is great for any family adopting transracially and/or internationally.
Movie: Losing Isaiah (made in the 90's, starring Jessica Lange, really gets you thinking...). Great for any family adopting transracially and/or domestically. Rent it from Netflix.
Adopted??? - we rented this from Netflix & were so impressed, we bought the DVD, which comes with a really great companion part, "We Can Do Better," which interviews many adult children who were adopted transracially. This is great for any family adopting transracially.
Talk Radio: Creating a Family - an excellent blog talk radio show that hosts experts as well as adoptees and adopters and often discusses race issues in adoption.
After reading my last post, I realize I was on a bit of a soap box so this is probably a good point to say WE DON'T HAVE ALL THE ANSWERS. This is a brand new journey for us. All we know is this:
We have an African-American son.
We are a now a multicultural, multiracial family.
We have a responsibility to help our children navigate their way through the world, without being paranoid about racism and without tolerating injustice.
We must lead by example in how to love people and celebrate differences.
We must continually educate ourselves on race issues, past and present.
We must ask God to fill in the gaps where we are inadequate to teach N how to be an African-American man in this world.
Someday, our children will be grown and we will remain only in their memories. I hope we will have done the best we could to parent them. I hope the world they live in will be different, more accepting, more loving, more understanding, than the world we live in today. And I hope our children will be a play a part in making it that way. Lord, show us the way. Amen.
Honestly, the fact that our child/ren would have a different skin color wasn't a big deal for us when we chose to adopt from Africa. We started out thinking we would just be "colorblind" with our children. We would treat them all the same, love them all the same - because that is the way the world should be. But we have come to believe that is a naive way to raise children. Because although it may be our reality, it is not everyone's reality. Sure, the Colorblind Approach would work just fine if N never left the safety of our nest, but, one day, he will. And the world outside our door is not colorblind. Racism still exists.
My grandmother grew up with Africa-American "servants" who were nearly as oppressed as the slaves of my ancestors. My mother was raised by Glynzerine, her African-American nanny. What about the Civil Rights movement? Yes, progress has been made. But White Privelege is still alive and well - especially in the South. Times have changed, but there is still progress to be made. It would be a disservice to our son to ignore his skin color. He needs to know how to deal with racism because, chances are, he will experience it firsthand.
We have been getting a lot of "now whats." Here's what's next in the adoption process:
September: [hopefully] Ethiopia assigns our adoption court date, then we can book our flights and hotel in Addis Ababa (any airline or guest house recommendations?). Also, we get to send N a "welcome [to the family] bag" (details to come in another post). November or December: [hopefully] this is when Billy & I will be traveling to Ethiopia for our court date - and meeting N for the first time! Oh happy day! January or February: [hopefully] this is when N will come home to us. Either Billy will go get him or an escort (someone screened and approved by AAI, likely a staff member or volunteer) will bring him to the U.S.
Notice all the "hopefully's"? We have learned that is key with adoption. If you don't have any expectations, you won't be disappointed. We must remember that years from now, it won't matter if N came home in December or February. All that will matter is that he's home.
Meg's parents, us, Meg's brother Trey, his wife Jen, & their four. Maybe N will be in the next picture of us all!:
1. EXCITEMENT: We are every bit as excited about the news of our new son as we were the day we found out we were pregnant! The feeling is identical. We have both been on cloud 9 since last week and talk about N constantly - what name fits him best, how he will look up to his big brother, the things we need to do before he arrives so we are prepared for him, the things we will do after his arrival to make his transition smoother, etc. It is JUST LIKE the feelings we experienced during pregnancy. Please join us in our excitement!
2. WORRY: We worry over N's safety, physical health, and emotional health as he will be living in an orphanage until he is allowed to come home. Words cannot express how difficult it is to know our child is across the world being cared for by strangers. There is also the nagging worry in the back of my mind that something will go wrong and N will not join our family. This worry is similar to our worry during pregnancy that I would miscarry or that something else might happen to Shep in utero or during birth. There are no guarantees in parenting a biological child or an adopted child - so worry is inevitable. We are doing our best to trust God to care for N until he is in our arms. We also worry about N's adjustment to our home and family when he arrives. Please join us in praying for him!
3. LOVE: We love our son already. There is a place in our hearts only he can fill. If something goes wrong with the adoption process, we will grieve just as if we miscarried during pregnancy. No, our love for him is not as strong as our love for Shep. Love is not usually instantaneous - it is something that grows over time and experiences together. When Shep was born, our love for him was a sliver of what it is now. When we meet N, hold him in our arms, hear his voice, experience his emotions, get to know his personality, our love will grow, just as it did for Shep. I can't speak for Billy, but I would say the love I feel for N right now is very similar to the love I felt for Shep as a newborn - real but not full-fledged yet. Please join us in loving and getting to know our son!