Thursday, June 28, 2012

on naming our children

when we set out to choose names for our children, we knew we were undertaking a very serious task. we didn't want to choose names simply because we liked them or how they sounded or because they were family names. we wanted names with meanings, names that our children could live into.

i know the question of re-naming (or not re-naming) adopted children causes friction in the adoption community. i know some people who think it's simply wrong to take away a child's given name, primarily because it's stripping them of the one last tie they have to their birth culture (and, in some cases, birth family). i know others who believe it's the privilege of the adoptive parents to give their child a new name (like God re-naming abraham and sarah after he makes his covenant with them). and still, i know others who believe re-naming an adopted child is good for practical reasons (for example, so your child isn't the kid who gets his name mispronounced on the first day of school every year).

the thing is, based on how things have worked out for us, i'd probably tell all prospective adoptive parents to "wait and see" on the name. otherwise, you may have to write a blog post and circulate it to all the people who now know your children by the wrong names. most people go into the adoption process feeling really passionate one way or the other without considering all the variables. for the person who "knows for sure" they're going to give their child a new name, consider that your child may flat out refuse the name (this most likely won't happen if you're adopting an infant) or won't understand (because of language issues) that the new name is a name and not some other way of categorizing identity (ie, another title like "mommy" or "sister"). this has been the case with our daughter, and the reason why we have ultimately decided not to change their names. at 4 years old, our daughter knows her name is kalkidan. and while she seemed to like the name ruthie, she never latched on to ruthie kalkidan and instead consistently referred to herself as kalkidan ruthie. frankly, we decided it was unfair to force a new name on a child who so adamantly preferred her given name, especially since we have no way of really explaining the re-naming concept (likewise, i'd also say it's unfair to force a child to keep their given name if they specifically ask for a new name, which i know is common for older adopted children to do). plus, kalkidan (particularly her nickname of kal) is much more fitted to her fiesty personality, something we wouldn't have realized had we not at least been open to not re-naming her.

and for the person who "knows for sure" they're going to keep their child's given name, consider that your child may come to you with a name that's flat out crazy (ie, they could be named madonna or obama or something like that) or their name could present a religious conundrum for you (ie, you are a christian but your child's name means "the strength of allah" or something like that).

so if you know us in real-life, this is the newsflash that we're going to confuse the heck out of you by telling you that our kids' names are rebuma and kalkidan and not ruthie and ephraim. their full names will be rebuma ephraim dean and kalkidan ruth dean (because ruth flows better than ruthie after kalkidan), and you can go here to see what each name means.

and if you're thinking about adopting, my advice is to remember that there's no right or wrong way to approach naming your child. our kids may resent us one day for sticking them with names that are extremely unique and, for some, difficult to pronounce. they may also have resented us if we had changed their names and taken away their ethiopian names. i think each child, once they understand the issue, has the potential to take a different stance based on his/her personality. for now, we've done what seemed best with what limited perspective we all have.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

4 years old

today, our sweet kalkidan turned 4 years old.

(blog post coming about how we decided not to change their names)

i guess we can't really say any of those things about time really flying or how we can't believe she's already 4 since she's only been with us for a little over a month now. but what we can say is that we take such delight in this child and are so thankful for her life.

when we decided to adopt 2 children, we never dreamed we'd have a daughter. and now, here she is: half girly-girl (please note the tutu and pink high heels) and half tomboy (soon after the above picture was taken, she took off the tutu so she could ride her bike in just the bike shorts she got as a present today).

she loves baby dolls. her current favorite out of the dozen or so she has is an old cabbage patch doll from the 80s that belonged to me. she loves it because it has the yarn hair that's easy to braid.

she loves riding her bike and bouncing the ball outside.

her favorite songs to sing are "this is the day," "he's got the whole world in his hands," and "deep and wide." (also, she really loves "baby" by justin bieber and that "call me maybe" song). she also has a wide range of ethiopian songs that she sings a lot. we have no clue what the words mean, but we love the songs and hope she never forgets them.

she loves to watch movies, and i've recently been letting her have tv time while i fold the laundry in the mornings. on repeat are: toy story 1&2, madagascar (which she calls "i like to move it move it" because the lemurs in the movie sing that song), the lion king, and a random compilation of thomas the train episodes.

she started out being pretty jealous of baby brother, but she now loves him most of the time.

her favorite foods are pizza, pasta, watermelon, and bananas. she's gotten a little pickier about food since we've been home, but there's really  not much that she won't at least try. and she loved bbq when we had it recently, so she definitely fits in around these parts :)

she probably thinks burping is a socially acceptable habit, but don't worry, we've taught her how to say excuse me. and if you burp and say excuse me, she will say, "you're excused" over and over and over again until you thank her so she can tell you you're welcome.

i've been trying to remember all the funny words she says. she calls paper towels "wipers" and her leapfrog computer "people" (at least the paper towel word is an accurate descriptor. not sure where the computer word came from). she still consistently uses the amharic words for car, cup, shoes, ball, the phrase "good job," and her bathroom business. she's transitioned from amharic to english in a lot of other words, so these might be amharic keepers, which is totally OK with us since they're now part of our regular vocabulary.

she has such an amazing personality that i know will continue to reveal itself as time goes on. she is silly and loves to laugh, but she's also thoughtful and very bright. she catches on quickly to words and concepts, so her english and general communcation are improving daily. she is independent to a fault because she typically refuses to ask for help, even with tasks she can't do herself. but we've seen improvement in this over the last month. we know she still struggles a lot with anxiety and general fears about her place in our family, and we aren't scared to admit that these hurts may take awhile to heal.

today, we also remember a woman half way around the world who gave birth to this beautiful girl who is now our daughter. we pray for her, and we honor her.

happy birthday, kalkidan ruth dean.

Monday, June 4, 2012

on being home

on the plane ride to ethiopia, i was suddenly hit with a pit in my stomach. a panic washed over me and with it came a load of guilt. we'd been waiting for this time to come for years, and all i could think about was how drastically my life was going to change. there were moments during that plane ride when i wished we could just keep on perpetually waiting. i wanted to keep the idea of having children without having to jump into the real life of parenting them because i knew before we even had them in our custody that it was going to be hard.

we've been home for over 2 weeks now. while it has been hard, i'm thankful that we've also had many wonderful moments with our children that have been joy-filled. we have 2 really funny kids who love to talk, sing, dance, and play. our daughter loves bubbles. at every meal, she asks to hear "baby" by justin bieber (and we normally oblige). our son loves peek-a-boo, and his laughs sound like what i imagine an old man chipmunk would sound like. but i would be lying if i let people believe that we haven't had our fair share of trials. some who have visited us since our children came home have remarked at how well they seem to be doing as if they've adjusted with no problems. and it's true, considering all the transitions they have been through in the last several months, they probably are doing "well." however, appearances are deceiving, especially when you are dealing with a child who has come out of trauma. my daughter plays with a smile on her face a lot of the time, but it takes one moment of laying my hand across her chest and feeling her heart beating as if it's going to come out of her chest to know that she probably spends most her days in fight or flight mode. it takes one moment of listening to her cry over something she wanted that she couldn't have to realize that she was only crying for about 30 seconds over that thing and the rest of the time she's been crying over something else entirely -- unknown to me but deep down in her soul. it takes one moment of thoughtlessly shutting myself in the bathroom to clean off a dirty cloth diaper with my son outside the door (because there are poopy wipes in the trash can, and my son will somehow manage to pull them all out and make a huge, gross mess when i'm not looking) to know that my son still struggles with fears of being without a mommy.

one day last week, we'd just come in from playing outside, and i carried my protesting daughter to the mattress she's been sleeping on in our room (as an aside, i will say that bringing home 2 kids at once has had its challenges. on this particular day, my daughter was refusing a nap, so i had to carry her upstairs, which meant leaving my son at the bottom of the stairs with the baby gate closed. as soon as i had gotten my daughter somewhat calmed down and on her bed, i heard my son crying, which meant leaving my daughter alone to go comfort him. and while it seems logical to bring them to the same place so they can both have mommy present, that just seems to add to more stress for both of them. so unfortunately, at least in our 2-kid situation, we have to compromise on some things that adoption literature says are important so that both our kids get what they need). a few minutes later, i heard her yelling for me, so i went back up there (thankfully, my son was calm at this point). what struck me was that she was laying quietly on her bed, and she spoke with a nervous whisper -- quite a turn-around from the child she'd been just minutes earlier. as i stroked her little face, and gave her kisses on the cheek, it hit me that part of my job as her parent is to help her heal from having to be this split child. the vulnerable child who let me lay beside her is my real child -- wounds and all -- while the protesting child is an imposter who shows up when the hurts and the stresses are too overwhelming to bear. my hope for both of my kids is that one day they will be able to come to terms with their losses and will trust us enough to tell us when they are hurting.

i know other parents may be reading this and thinking, "are you sure you just aren't making a bigger deal out of behaviors that even biological children struggle with?" and it's true, bio kids can be crazy at naptime and cry when mommy is out of sight. but when your children have a history of abandonment, loss, and institutionalization, those typical behaviors are often magnified by that history. unfortunately, as a parent who is also a sinner, my tendency is to forget that my children have such tragic pasts. i have had to apologize to my daughter countless times already (even though she can't understand much of what i'm saying because of the language barrier) for being harsh with her when i should have been more gracious. sometimes giving grace is just better for attachment and making your child feel secure. but the christian tendency in parenting is to feel like you have to correct, correct, correct because you feel like you're creating a heathen if you don't (and also, if you're like me, you like to be in control all the time, so it feels like an assault on your control and on justice as you know it if you let your child get away with something).

so yeah, that's how we are doing. i don't really want to overshare about my children on the internet for lots of reasons (primarily, because they might read this blog one day), but i do think candor is good sometimes. i want people to know about adoption -- both how miraculously beautiful and awesome it is and also how hard it is. i want people to know that my children are just like your biological children and also not like them at all. i want people to know that i've yelled at my kids and have given them wrath instead of grace a million times already since they've been home and struggle everyday to be the kind of parent i know God has called me to be (and that i literally plead with the holy spirit to help me because i can't parent these kids on my own). and i also want people to know that there are still orphans out there who need a family, and there are still kids at risk for becoming orphans whose parents need assistance and empowerment so they can keep their families intact.

since my son only naps for about 30 minutes a day right now, this is probably the only substantial writing i can do for awhile, so i tried to get in all my current thoughts :)