Because this is too cute not to post

SAM_0252Yep, her hairstyle lasted 3 days. So I had to change it up tonight. She’s going swimming tomorrow, and I didn’t have the three hours of hair time I needed so I threw her hair into some flat twists and called it a night.

What have I gotten myself into!?

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Hairable Experience

I’ve been blessed with several black female friends who, when they found out I was adopting a black girl, issued me  a challenge: “You have to take care of her hair.”

Of course, I thought. Wouldn’t all mothers take care of their little girl’s hair?

Clearly I was naive as to the depth and complexity of the hairable world of hair of little black girls.

Long before I met Addie, I was introduced to the blog-bible of Caucasian mothers who have adopted black girls, “Chocolate Hair, Vanilla Care.” I began to study at the feet of the author, who  taught lessons of cowashing, shingling, plaiting, and carrier oils. It would take months to read and understand her years of experience and wisdom. I’m not quite there yet.

Out of all the hairstyles I studied, I decided that the one I liked best was just a natural Afro.  I so hoped that Addie’s hair would be ringlets that would be naturally suited for a cute curly Afro!

When I first met Addie, her head had just been shaved days before. Apparently, lice was common in the orphanage, so the children’s hair was regularly shaved. I would have much rather dealt with lice than a year of, “Why is your little boy wearing all pink?”  I was so sad for Addie’s shaved head, but as her hair grew, I realized that it was growing into perfect tiny spiral curls. I was elated that my little girl would have beautiful perfectly ringlet-ed natural hair.

Fast forward 10 months.

My bathroom closet looks like a drug store clearance rack — a hodgepodge of products — conditioners, detanglers, moisturizers, curl activators, frizz tamers and on and on. We’ve experimented with a dozen different products in different combinations, and all with the same results: Addie’s hair looks adorable when she walks out the door, and like a rat’s nest when she walks back in.

I realized that I needed to call in backup.

So I met recently with two of my black female friends to discuss the trials of the hairable world of little black girls.

They assured me I would do fine. Yeah right.

I explained that after trying to do “natural hair,” I am waving a flag of defeat and trying to do something different with Addie’s hair. “But my problem is that I can’t find anyone who does black little girls’ hair. I’ve Googled numerous terms and can’t come up with anyone.”

Both of my friends laughed. “Oh, you don’t Google these folks. At least no one good. You have to have to find them by word-of-mouth.”

So I asked them for a reference. One decided to give me the name of someone she had recently used and that person’s cell phone number.  “Candice. 555-1212.*”

“There’s only a first name here,” I remarked. “Can I have her last name?”

“Oh, there are no last names in black women’s hair. But tell her that Shari Jarvis* with the Senegal twists gave you the number and tell her your story.”

“Gotcha,” I replied. “Where is her salon located?”

“No, no, no,” she chided. “You ask her to do it ‘on the side,’ and she’ll come to your house to do Addie’s hair. It’s actually even cheaper that way.”

She was speaking my language. I proceeded with my line of questioning. “So if I like a black woman’s hair, can I ask her what products she uses in her hair?”

“Nope, that’s a secret.”

“So, I can’t ask who does someone’s hair, or what products they use, but recommendations are all word-of-mouth?

“Exactly.”

“What if I were to do her hair myself? I’ve seen this great website that shows me how to do Bantu knots, cornrows, and extensions.”

They assured me that extensions were beyond my scope, but I could probably attempt something more simple. By this time, I was starting to get nervous about having anything to do with Addie’s hair. They reminded me that she had to sleep in a satin sleep cap with a satin pillowcase. Be careful about her rubbing her head against the car seat, and make sure she doesn’t play with her hair.

They also reminded me that they themselves were thankful that they had boys and never had to deal with the hairable experiences of dealing with the complexity of little girl hair. Very reassuring.

So Sunday night, I attempted to put Bantu knots into Addie’s hair, but I soon realized that her hair wasn’t long enough, so I quickly switched to comb coils. The rest of the night wasn’t so quick. THREE  HOURS LATER, I finished my first hairstyle on Addie, with no small amount of whining. Addie didn’t enjoy it much either. (Ain’t nobody got time for ‘dat!)

How long will it last? I’m told that many styles will last for 2-3 weeks, which is 2-3 days in Addie time.

When I picked up Addie from day camp today, the black woman sitting at the entrance table complimented me on Addie’s hair.

“I really had no idea what I was doing, so it means a lot to me that you say that,” I replied.

“Are you kidding me? I have no idea how to do that!” she replied.

“Oh, it wasn’t too hard. Maybe I’ll be able to put you in touch with some people . . . once I know you a little better.”

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* Identifying information has been changed to protect the innocent.

Surprising Parenting Skills

When we became parents, we didn’t start with infants, we started with “ready-made” kids. Well, ready-made kids who spoke another language and came from a completely different culture. There was no time to learn their personalities before embarking on disciplinary methods. We often didn’t know if their behavior was disobedience or ignorance. We didn’t know how much they could be trusted or if they were plotting evil against us.

We were thrown into the deep end of parenting awfully quickly. We were four strangers trying to become a family, one way or another. So along the road to figuring out this wild-style parenting, I discovered that Ken and I had some really unique gifts that we never realized that we had.

Our surprising parenting skills:

The ability to make up a rule for no apparent reason. Tonight I literally told the kids, “You cannot have a cookie until you finish your popcorn.” Why? I don’t even know. But somehow it seemed like the right thing to do. And in a strange but not entirely unexpected twist, only one child earned a cookie.

To have a straight face when our kids are hilariously naughty. Palmer’s biggest crime at school has been giggling. He’s a goofy boy, and if he gets tickled about something, he has a hard time keeping a straight face. Still, we understand that inappropriate laughter can be very disruptive, so when his teacher sent home notes that he was giggling in class, we had to take it seriously. But to punish a child for laughing too much is a skill that has to be developed, even if the child’s story is hilarious. The parental laughter is saved until after 8:00 p.m. when the kids are asleep.

To come up with double-cross punishments. Many internationally adopted kids come to America believing that they will have whatever they want whenever they want, and have difficulty with limits. Palmer was especially that way. He would cry and scream if he could only watch one cartoon instead of two, or throw temper tantrum complete with kicking and yelling if we told him to put a toy away so we could leave the house or eat dinner. So we told him that if cartoons and toys made him sad, he shouldn’t have them. After all, we want him to be happy! If cartoons make him sad, he just shouldn’t watch them for the next week! If a toy made him cry, we should either break it or give it away to someone else who will be happy to have it!  A particular favorite of mine was when the kids used to refuse to ask to get down from the table. So I’d let them just at the table until they asked to get down. For over an hour. Boy, they really showed me! 😉 I took pictures, which I will show at some important late-high-school event. Or their wedding.

To recognize the level of misbehavior our kids are engaged in by the tone of their laughter. Addie has a particular high-pitched giggle, which automatically earns an, “Addie, are you being good or are you being bad?” question from across the house. 97% of the time there is complete silence from Addie. Then I remind her that she needs to be good. To which she responds with a sheepish, “Okay.”

To turn three pages at a time in a book that is way too long to be read just before bed. I know my children plot to find the longest books they can as bedtime stories. Two can play at this game. As long as Addie is sitting on my right, I can pull it off turning multiple pages at one time. Palmer is too observant. It does take a special diversion to get them to look at something on the page on the left. I have become a master of such techniques, because let’s be real, mommy really needs the little people to go to sleep so daddy and I can catch up on laughing at all the hilariously naughty things they did today. And eat chocolate.

To know which child has their eyes open during prayer without opening mine. Ahem. It must be the Holy Spirit.

To know who really did start it. Addie. She has a special gift.

To say things that my parents said and I swore I never would. “Because I said so.” “If I have to stop this car . . .” “When I was your age . . .” It’s almost like relearning to ride a bike, only you weren’t the one riding it 30 years ago. Some phrases just must be genetic.

Fortunately, our children have survived our initiation into parenthood and are doing well. Most of the time, I have no real clue what I’m doing, but count on the fact that God entrusted them into our care, and so He’s sort of obligated to give us the wisdom and resources to give them what they need.

Well, Look at You

You’re still here!

Let’s see if I can sum up the last 2 months . . .

We have now been home from the Congo for 10 months. Our kids are both now speaking in sentences, with Palmer completely comprehensible. Addie speaks with enthusiasm, although we’re never quite sure about what.

Addie finished educational testing. She now qualifies for speech and occupational therapy and will get an IEP. They say that they are still a little baffled by her because she has mastered more advanced skills for which she doesn’t have the basics. (She can hop on one leg for over a minute, but she cannot stand on one leg. This sort of thing happens academically too.) She has completely caught up with her gross motor skills. If you had seen her try to run or climb stairs in the first month she was home, you realize how miraculous this is. We hope to make similar progress in other areas, but it’s beginning to look like Addie is always going to need some extra help.

Palmer finished out the school year with a top award from the school: The Triple A Achiever for the overall school — academics, attitude, and attendance. He won a huge giant green frog stuffed animal. He still is behind his classmates, but his teacher recognized that his effort to try to catch up was remarkable. The first day after school ended, he begged to continue to work on schoolwork. So we’re working through some online learning programs with both of them, and have enrolled them both in a summer academic enrichment camp. Today was their first day, and they loved it.

Part of me wrestles with how much the kids have to do and work at. Not only the last year of school, when they both skipped a grade, but the 6 and 8 years prior to that when no one introduced them to numbers, or read them bedtime stories, or made sure their toys weren’t tainted with lead. They didn’t get the benefit of learning the language they are being educated in until they got to America. There are a million snuggly, enriched, carefully crafted moments that our kids missed out on. They have to make up for lost time. They have told us so many stories that make me shudder — and they don’t even know that all kids didn’t grow up the way they did. So sometimes they struggle with sitting still, or recognizing social cues, or trusting us as parents. I’m thankful for all the people in their lives who give them the extra grace that they missed out on the first 6 and 8 years of their lives.

I’ve now received my third injection of Xolair. I still have the same yucky cough, but my fever is better. My cough almost went away in the last few weeks, and then I had a bad weekend and it’s back. They say I should start noticing a difference in how I feel after month 3. I’m still waiting for the $10,000 worth of treatment to kick in. Most of the time, I feel okay. Some of the time I feel plain awful, and I still get random infections. Case in point: on Addie’s 7th birthday, I woke up with a raging case of bacterial conjunctivitis. I’ve never seen anything like it. My eye was swollen shut and goopy, fever, nausea, vomiting. But a little girl only turns 7 once. (Well, actually that might not be the case for Addie, ahem.) Anyway, so I pretended to be well for an hour that evening  because I didn’t have the energy to actually make any food, and we went to a dark Rainforest Café Restaurant and ordered the VOLCANO! for dessert. On the way back to the car, Addie asked me why my eye was gross. Because I like to do things really special for your birthday, Addie, like get a facially mutilating infection and appear in public. Isn’t that what every 7 year old girl wants for her birthday?

Addie and Palmer were presented for dedication in church at the end of April. While we’ve always recognized them as God’s children, we had to wait for a time for our kids to trust us enough to allow us to present them in front of the church. Given some of the things they have experienced in the past, this was pretty scary for them, but they did great! My parents flew out from Oregon, and my Aunt Nettie came down from Kentucky, making it all the more special.

Both kids played Upward soccer this spring and both did very well. Addie was quite good, in spite of the fact that she really only learned to run less than a year ago. Palmer excels at soccer, and now that he actually comprehends the rules of the game, he has been able to combine his skills with strategy and is a force to be reckoned with on the field.

Somewhere in the midst of all of this academic testing, award-winning, injection-receiving, relatives- having-in, soccer-playing, and infection-getting, I was promoted to the Director of our PA Program. I still have mixed emotions about this. On the one hand, what an honor! On the other hand, I’m drowning in work. We’ve had three and a half administrative faculty leave this year due to illness, retirement, family issues, etc. and I have a enormous task of taking on much of their jobs, delegating when I can, but most of it just has to be done by me. In the past fourish weeks, I have filmed a baccalaureate video, redesigned and edited the student handbook, coordinating a hooding ceremony, said good-bye to two employees, hired a new faculty member, helped coordinate our program’s first ever-indoor graduation because the outdoor one got rained out, took 11 students to an awesome conference in Atlanta about serving the poor through healthcare and debriefed them, written a magazine article, reworked our ACLS/PALS courses with a new team of instructors from out-of-state, conducted a two day orientation for new PA students who just started classes last week and managed the process of getting them started in a new Program, took part in alumni board meeting, negotiated a new position for our Program and the clinic for which I hope to be hiring soon, helped work on a neighborhood restoration project, staff a 12 week class exclusively with guest lecturers and an overseeing adjunct, continued to see patients in the clinic, negotiated several contracts for student software purchases, finished putting together and submitting a 116 page accreditation document with 28 supporting documents, and many other things that fill the spaces in between. And we are just getting started on the busiest time of year. Things are hard now, but they are going to be oh so good when we can catch up, adjust to the changes, and move forward with confidence that this is exactly what God had in mind. I know it seems a little crazy — to me too– but God has spoken to me about not wasting a vision, and how many examples scripture holds of God calling the weak and unsure so that only He would be glorified. I’m excited to see where God is leading. And slightly overwhelmed.

Ken just finished up his second year of Upward Sports. Last year, Ken worked 5 nights a week. This year, he worked 4. That’s in addition to working Saturdays and Sundays. Trying to balance that much work on the part of both of us has been exhausting. Ken and I almost never have a day off together, and barely have any evenings together. Those projects like: cleaning the basement, taking the kids to a museum as a family, sorting the junk mail, visiting friends who live out of town, or spending a day lounging in pajamas never happen. Add to the equation two new kids with some very unique needs, my illness and work challenges, and we are just . . . broken. It’s hard enough to do everything if both of us had “normal” jobs, but with nearly opposite schedules we needed a change. As God-honoring as both our jobs are, I don’t believe that God is honored when our fragile family is being stretched so thin. Yes, our kids are resilient, but haven’t they also had to deal with more then their fair share already? So Ken asked to take a salary cut and go part-time. And fortunately, the church said yes. It was a very painful — and costly — decision. Honestly, had it been me (the wife) going part-time, I don’t think it would have been as controversial, but I have benefits and salary that could absorb Ken going part-time. The opposite wasn’t true. We needed a new plan to make our family function more healthfully. So we’re tightening our belts and giving Ken working part-time a try.

So that’s the latest from our family, and a bit of an explanation of why we’ve been silent. I haven’t had a Saturday off since April, and my evenings have been packed as well, and I’m just starting a new semester. I hope that one day, things will slow down for us, but for now, we are continuing to trust in God’s guidance for our lives personally, and as a family.

Here are some photo highlights from the last 2 months . . .

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