Thursday, May 29, 2008

Sleepovers, the funny stuff and the sad

Ben had a sleepover at his friend J.'s last weekend. He was very excited and talked about it constantly in the days leading up to the big event. When it was finally time, he went to his room to pack. A short while later he offered us a briefing:

"Wanna know what I've packed so far? My rocket launcher and four peppermints."

(the rocket launcher in question was a Nerf toy he'd gotten at his birthday party - if that makes it any better).

When we stopped laughing, I suggested he throw in some clean clothes and a toothbrush, just to balance out the weapons and candy.

That was the fun part.

This was the sad part (for Chakisae): We took Ben to the friend's house, then did some errands, then came back to the friend's house to have pizza with that family. That was fun, too. But eventually it was time for us to go home, and when Kisae realized Ben was staying and she was not, oh the tears. She cried all the way home (fortunately that was only a mile).

She cried as we got her ready for bed, though Jim did manage to cheer her up with some silliness. She woke up happy, calling me from her crib. But after a few minutes, she realized her beloved brother was not home and, once again, her mood soured.

"Ben no go to friend's house ever and ever. That not him mommy and daddy. That not him sister!"

She'd previously had a fit when a friend called to invite Ben over to swim. All she heard me say was, "Oh sure, I can drop Ben off" and she started to cry and then scream, "Drop me off too! Drop me off too!"

So while all of this is sweet in a way (how much she loves him, and vice versa, though maybe part of it is she is just mad she cannot always do what he does), it does not bode well for this weekend. Ben is going to New York to visit grandma -- and Kisae, well, she's not. Neither are we, but this likely will make little difference to her.

When she spotted his suitcase earlier this evening, I had to tell her Ben was going on a little trip. "Him not leaving!" she said, then she stuck out her quivering lower lip and started to cry.

It could be a long weekend.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A conversation with Chakisae

We were in the car on the way to Chakisae's preschool when I got this question: "Mom, you have a costume?"

Me: "No."

Chakisae: "You need a big, big princess dress." (I guess because I'm really big?)

Me: "What for?"

Chakisae: "Um, um, for, Pumpkin!"

Me: "For Halloween?"

Chakisae: "Yeah."

Me: "What do you want to be for Halloween this year?" (okay, it is just May, but I figured I would just go with this).

Chakisae: "Spiderman! I like him."

So for some reason, I must be dressed in a stereotypical princess dress (in size XL, apparently) but she is free to branch out -- at least as far as the things she knows are stashed in her brother's costume box.

She is a cute Spiderman, though.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Cool. Is that safe? Oh, no. No! No!

I came outside to take photos of the kids on the trampoline. Ben showed me his flip (cool, I thought, quickly followed by, is that safe?). Kisae then showed me her "flip," which is just a somersault with flair. Then I heard Ben say "for our next act ..." And the next thing I know Kisae is in the middle of the trampoline in a duck-and-cover crouch preparing, apparently, for Ben to leap or jump or flip over her. I shouted, No! (because I was sure that was not safe) and Ben stopped and did a handstand type thing next to her. But not over her. Whew.

I didn't even realize I got a photo of the near act. But it turns out, I did. The funny thing is that Kisae was the mad one when I stopped things and remained in her position shouting, "I like it Mommy!" for several minutes.

All of which goes to prove that it is true that if Ben suggested they spend the day walking over hot coals, Kisae would smile, say "okay!" and happily follow her beloved big brother.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Mother's Day writings

These are things the kids drew for my mom for Mother's Day. They both spent a lot of time at the kitchen table carefully working on their signs. Ben wanted to write in cursive. Kisae wanted to write her name. She did pretty well, I think, copying what I'd written for her.

She had the most trouble with K. "That's a hard letter," she said.

I love how they love their grandma so much, how they got such a kick out of making pictures for her.

Ben also made me a sign, which was taped up near the table when I got up this morning. I'll have to get a picture of that, too. He also got Kisae out of bed and let me sleep this morning. Now that's a nice Mother's Day present.

Monday, May 5, 2008

A phone call, an email and word of a daughter, waiting 7,689 miles away

When the phone call I'd been waiting for finally came, I wasn't thinking about adoption or our new child but about pizza.

It was a Friday, two years ago today. I'd just left work and was doing my usually 1.5 mile dash to Ben's school. I was going to pick him up along with a friend, and the friend's family was going to join us for pizza. So how many pies to order, that was the question on my mind.

When my cell phone rang, I assumed it was Jim and didn't even glance at the number. It was our adoption agency in Minnesota. We had a daughter, waiting in Africa.

She was 17 months old. Her name meant "light." She needed a new family. I heard all that. I said very little. Though I ask questions for a living, I was nearly speechless. I had a daughter, in Africa. The agency official said she's email the file right away. I called Jim from the school, and he quickly called up the email.

There were two photos, a few pages of medical and background information.

"She looks sad," he said (he was right, she did).

And he laughed because she was wearing an outfit decorated with Mickey and Minnie (destined for Orlando, it seemed).

We shared the info with our son that evening. "She's adorable!" he said.

The photos were embedded in the file sideways, and we couldn't figure out how to flip them. All that weekend, the three us stared at the photos on the computer screen with our heads tipped to one side.

It is hard to imagine a child (your child) from a few photos. One photo was of Chakisae alone, standing by a bed in that Disney outfit. She was staring straight ahead, perhaps confused by the camera, perhaps just annoyed. Her eyes were big and dark and sad. The other was smaller and blurrier, a black and white shot of her and great-grandmother. Her great-grandmother had an arm around Chakisae. I'd learn later that this elderly, frail and blind woman living in a small village in Ethiopia had cared for, and loved, our baby -- her baby then -- for more than a year. I still do not know how she managed but am forever grateful that she did.

I stared at the photos often in the 9 weeks between when they arrived in our inbox and I arrived in Ethiopia to bring Chakisae home. It is a funny thing to be falling in love with pictures.

She would be 19 months old by the time I landed in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia's capital. She was tiny by American standards but with a big belly we attributed to early malnutrition and bald because orphanage workers had shaved her head. The doctor we shared her records with said her head was a good size. Feed, he said, she'll grow (she did, five inches in the first five months home).

The papers described her personality with a single word: Quiet.

This was true when we were in Ethiopia together and even the first few weeks at home. But soon enough, she was babbling in the car, shouting her brother's name or wailing "jump!" when she spotted him on the backyard trampoline, and she hadn't been invited.

"Why did we get a report saying she's a quiet kid?"Ben would ask, delighting in the inaccuracy. "Mom, are you sure you picked up the right kid because this one isn't quiet!"

But he always answers his own question. She's the right one. In fact, he calls her "the perfect little girl" for us. We never disagree.

I think of Chakisae today, my amazing, delightful daughter. But also of the poverty and tragedy that marked her first family and, really, her first country. Ethiopia is beautiful and fascinating, literally the cradle of mankind, home to early Christianity, the only African country never colonized, a place proud of its coffee, its customs and its history. It is also terribly poor, home to millions of orphans.

Today, I also think of other parents (or parents to be) waiting for a phone call, an email, word of a child.