Thursday, November 29, 2007

Christmas is New

We're seeing Christmas through new young eyes this year. Trees with lights are new. Giving gifts wrapped up in colorful paper is new. Snow (which we are waiting for with much anticipation...and almost experienced a few days ago) will be new. It's fun to watch.

And surprisingly, even baby Jesus is new. Ethiopia is a Christian nation yet our girls have never heard the nativity story. We've overheard some fun conversations as they try to piece it all together.

"Look, Neti. Baby Jesus is naked."

"No he's not. He's wearing pajamas."

Looks like we're going to experience yet another "new": the swaddling clothes talk.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


On Monday we went to court to readopt our kids. I'm still not real sure what this accomplishes because legally our kids are our kids even without this step in the process. I think it has something to do with becoming citizens of the U.S. (at least that's what I've been telling people). We just do what we're told.

We went into this day thinking it was just an insignificant formality but it became a meaningful experience. One of the court officials found our blog several weeks ago and read it from beginning to end. Before getting down to the "official" business of the court, she began sharing our story with everyone there. Our photographer (one of Rhonda's friends) became an instant blubbering crybaby. We ended up giving out our blog address to several of the court officials before leaving.

I left thinking "It's official. These are our kids".

Of course, in our hearts that had already happened nearly a year ago.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Middle Sisters (part 2)

Tonight there was another battle for the same territory mentioned in yesterday's post. Kailey was upstairs reading a bedtime story to her two younger sisters - something I asked her to do so I could spend a little bit of time with Bethany. But instead of reading I heard the battle lines being drawn again.

"Noooo! You said nyah nyah nyah nyah NYAH!"

"No I din't, Kailey! Nyah nyah nyah NYAH nyah nyah!"

Bethany and I stopped talking so we could hear what was going on. The nyah nyahs increased in emotion and volume to the point where we could tell there was a property dispute being tried in the self-appointed court of middle sisterdom.

As they bounce back and forth several more times, I caught myself thinking, "Wow, her English is getting really good."

Then I thought, "Wow, they're really sisters!"

Finally, I realized that intervention was needed. I walked upstairs and calmly ordered both girls to bed immediately. Kailey complied without question realizing that it was only five minutes before bedtime anyway. Neti hasn't figured out the time thing yet. She began sobbing uncontrollably.

The dispute was over silly little ball. Mommy had allegedly asked Kailey to put it away twice. She didn't. Neti, feeling like two warnings was enough, decided that Kailey had forfeited ownership of said ball. Now being public property, Neti snatched the ball up in her purse and took it to her room, claiming it as her own, thus firing the first shot of the battle.

I spent ten minutes with each girl lying in bed and talking through what happened. Neti and I talked about ownership rights and eminent domain. Kailey talked responsibility, understanding, and respect.

I ended my conversation with Neti by saying, "It's a little bit hard to be a little sister, isn't it?" Whatever control she had found was lost again in the new reality spoken by her Daddy. Her little body began involuntary trembling as her lungs gasp for air in a series of short bursts. She buried her head in her pillow and let out a long howl.

It's gotta be tough.

We spent the last 5 minutes listing the good things AND the hard things about being a little sister. (She filed getting cool hand-me-down clothes in the positive column.)

She regained control and maybe a touch of identity.

We went to bed.

Things are good.

For tonight.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

How Could You Forget THAT?!?!

Zipping down fuzzy full-body pajamas in the morning.
Doing somersaults before bed with slip-type pajamas.
Changing clothes at midday.
Going to the bathroom

What do all these things have in common? They're times where you might discover that your two youngest daughters aren't wearing any underwear.

"Oops. I forgot." (infectious giggle)

I don't get it. Rhonda lays out their clothes for them on their bed, COMPLETE WITH UNDERWEAR. Whats going through their mind when get completely dressed and there's still underwear on the bed? Are they thinking "I wonder what that's for?" Or mabe "It's too late now, I'm already dressed".

We're learning to check these things before we take them out in public.

Life in the Middle

The authority structure according to Neti:

"Neti and Meke are no boss"
"Kailey, a little bit boss."
"Bethany, a little bit bigger boss."
"Mommy and Daddy big boss."
"And God is BIG BIG boss." (said with eyebrows raised and arms outstretched)

She's been able to verbalize it for a few months now. However, living under such structure is something she's now beginning to struggle through.

There was a time when Neti occupied the office of "a little bit boss". In fact, there seems to be a time in her not too distant past where she was "big boss". The circumstances that led them to the orphanage thrust Neti into the role of Mom - protecting, making decisions for, and watching out for little sis. (Thus the commonly heard phrase directed toward the 6-year-old at the Waal house: "You just worry about Neti.")

Bethany and Meke are still oldest and youngest sisters, respectively. They've faced the adjustment of adding two new sisters. But Neti and Kailey have faced the most radical change in birth order. They're fighting for territory unfamiliar to them, trying to figure out their new identity in the family.

When there's a conflict among siblings in our family, it's usually a power struggle in the middle of the hierarchy - Kailey and Neti. Sometimes it can be very heated. And whoever is determined the "winner" (which often involves parental intervention) is left scratching her head as to the territory she's reclaimed. It's confusing territory neither has occupied before. Middle sister.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Every House Should Have This!!!

Our kids and our friends' kids wrasslin'.

7 kids - 3 adopted - 2 more coming from Ethiopia soon

Monday, November 05, 2007

Ethiopian Rock, Paper, Scissors

Surely one of our readers knows the answer to this one.

I ordered a DVD called Ethiopian Kids Playground (which, by the way, helped Neti to break through the nothing-to-do-with-Amharic phase). On the video there's a sort of Rock, Paper, Scissors-type game where a group of kids circle up and put their hands in the center as they chant "someboday" (sum-bud-DAY). Neti immediately jumped in and wanted to show us how to play. However, she has no idea what "someboday" means. Is it an Ethiopian word or just an English "somebody" with an Ethiopian accent?

Friday, November 02, 2007

Catching Up

It's been awhile since I've posted anything. Things have really been crazy with yet more new stuff for our family. Maybe I'll fill you in on that later.

Quickly, to catch everyone up. This week Neti and Meke got new (to them) winter coats and their first exposure to American Autumn traditions. Meke couldn't bring herself to look the big gorilla with the Daddy voice in the eye for at least 3-4 blocks.

Speaking Amharic (Attempt 1)

Some good friends (we think) of ours anonymously ordered us beanbags with Amharic numbers and colors to help with the girls' retention of their language. (By the way, there's a great kid's Amharic book on this site too.)

Kailey and I cracked the beanbags out and lined them up. We began counting from 1-10 in Amharic thinking it would spark Neti and Meke's interest. We expected that they'd come over and help us count. They heard us very plainly but remained content to continue playing, almost determined not to hear (or to pretend they didn't hear).

I took a more direct approach. "Neti. Ahnd...Hoolet...Sost." ("one, two, three" in Amharic)

She looked up. Unmoved she went back to playing without interest. I sensed it was more than a lack of interest. Her body language spoke loudly. She was determined not to engage in this conversation at all.

I pressed a little more to see what would happen.

"Neti. Ahhhhnnnnd...Hoooooooletttt..." ("Onnnnnnnnne, Twwwwwwwooooooo...")

(Long pause)

Nothing. They didn't finish the equation. They kept playing.

We've tried without success to engage them in their native language. We've repeatedly asked Neti "What's this in Ethiopia?" (pointing to something). The most common response is a shrug. A while back we put Neti on the phone with an Amharic speaking friend of a friend. Normally, she'll chatter away with anyone on the phone. The minute she heardAmharic on the other side she withdrew and wouldn't respond.

Not sure exactly what's going on. Maybe it's confusing for her to mix both languages. Maybe she associates bad experiences with the "old" language. Maybe she feels no need to use Amharic because everyone here speaks English. The ESL teacher at her school tells us it's normal for kids to reject their language for a period only to reengage later.

Meke's become a little more open to Amharic - as long as Neti's not around.