Friday, December 25, 2009

Conflicted Christmas

First let me say we had a wonderful Christmas Eve and Christmas Morning. The kids were great, the tree looked great, we spent time with everybody we wanted to spend time with, and everyone seemed to genuinely enjoy the two days. So why the conflictedness?

I think its something every parent who has adopted from a poverty stricken country is feeling today. It really hit me when that song "Do they know its Christmastime at all" played on the radio. I mean, talk about a stupid song. The lyrics (when you can understand them) attempt to paint this dreadful portrait of a poor and starving Africa that we all witnessed when adopting, but trivialize it by way overdramatizing. In contrast, the melody and rhythms are joyous Christmas bells and upbeat rotodrums. Weird contradictions. Anyway, in the middle of all this nonsense, one of the singers belts out, clear as day, "Tonight thank God it's them instead of you."

That's the line that grabs me. When you think about it, the only thing that seperates us from some poor Asefa or Ketemash living in a dung hut spending Christmas morning looking at their drought and insect decimated crops and their starving children is where we were born. Doesn't that seem capricious? Doesn't that seem tenuous? Isn't that the most random thing in the universe, when you really think about it? Makes me feel like a lottery winner instead of someone who knocked himself out in college, grad school, and building a career.

So then I look at our girls. They are now normal size for their ages, totally healthy, comfortably playing with their new dolls in a warm house and enjoying a balanced breakfast. Three years ago they were starving and filthy, earning their own way in the village by tending chickens, collecting firewood, washing clothes and dishes, sweeping floors, fetching water, etc. Today, their are countless orphans in Ethiopia and other countries living exactly like our kids once did.

"Tonight thank God its' them instead of you." It's enough to make you cry.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Defending home field

I was holding this story from Panama because I could not decide whether it belonged in the blog. What the heck, we are recording history, right?

Marin and Emmy were playing in the pool. A group of boys a little older than Marin jumped in the pool and started playing rough, so Marin spoke to them about safety. This was the opening the boys needed to start teasing Marin.

Emmy, watching carefully, began to see that Marin was getting upset. I was about to intervene on Marins' behalf when Emmy unleashed a barrage of angry F-bombs and other choice words at the top of her lungs that set the boys back on their heels for a minute (FYI, she is not learning these words at home). While I sat in stunned silence watching from a pool chair, the boys regrouped and began teasing Marin a second time.

Emmy looked up at them, smiled sweetly, and informed them that she had just peed in the pool. The boys recoiled and moved on to another swimming pool.

Then Marin turned to Emmy, drop dead serious, and asked "Emmy, did you really pee in the pool?". Emmy burst out laughing and said "No, Marin. I was trying to trick those mean boys."

I really don't know where she learns these tactics, but Emmy is one little firecracker.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Why I don't share

Emmy has been reluctant to share with one of the kids at preschool. We talk to her about it, explain why it's good to share, why it's important to have friends, etc. Emmy has humored us for a few weeks but not changed her behavior.

In the car this morning I was lecturing Emmy again when she blurted "You don't know it, but (kids name here) sticks her hand down her pants to scratch her butt and then she doesn't wash her hands. It's disgusting. I will never touch anything she touches in my whole life."

Well, that little piece of information helps put things into perspective.

Santa's Village aftermath

Each Monday the children in Marins' class have a 'sharing minute' in which they bring something to show the class, or a story to tell. (I think we used to call this show and tell).

Anyway, Marin brought the photo of her and Santa taken at Santa's Village over the weekend. Unfortunately, I did not anticipate the controversy.

The kids peppered Marin and challenged her credibility.......
- Was he real or fake?
- How do you know?
- Did you see Rudolph?
- Isn't Santa really Mom and Dad? and on and on and on

Marin stood tall. After realizing she was getting no help from the adults in the room, she said "Listen kids. I sat in his lap and I heard him talk and he looked right in my eyes and told me I am a good girl. I gave him a picture I drew and Santa said Mrs. Claus was going to hang it on the wall in the North Pole. So he is real. I saw him myself."

That's my girl!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Santa's Village

Last weekend we took the family to Santa's Village ( to get into the Christmas spirit. I am writing because our girls were so well behaved I want to tell the world.

First, it was a very long day for us. We drove 2.5 hours to get to the place, then there was a long line to get in and a large crowd inside. Kids were melting down all around us. After a few hours of waiting in lines and listening to kids throw tantrums and scream for this that and the other thing, it dawned on me that our kids were behaving wonderfully.

They lasted until the 7pm closing time and then were very well behaved on the car ride home. After putting the kids to bed, Colleen and I talked about how lucky we are our kids behaved so well and how that really added to making a special day even more special.


We were driving slowly through the center of town this weekend and someone was on the sidewalk dressed as Frosty the Snowman and waiving at the passing cars. I slowed and rolled down Marin's window so she could wave to him. Marin was all excited and said "Hello Mr. Snowman. Merry Christmas!"

Emmy was bummed that she was on the wrong side of the car, so I turned around and gave Emmy a chance to say hello to the snowman. As I rolled down the window, Emmy stuck her head out and screamed as loud as she could "You're a fake!!"

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Chick magnet

Recently we were checking in at the Panama City airport for our flight home and there was a very attractive woman in the line beside us. Marin starts asking me questions about this womans' hair, nails, etc. Finally I said "Marin, go introduce yourself to her." To my surprise, Marin does. Even said "Mucho Gusto" which is a phrase we had worked on all week.

Anyway, they're getting along pretty well and I thought I should get a photo of this woman with the girls, so I asked. She says "Sure" and whips out a ..........drum roll........... Miss Panama sash. Now, suddenly, it all makes sense.

Attached is photo of Marin and Emmy with their new friend, Miss Panama.

National Geo comes through again.

Emmy has little scars on her cheeks. Nobody at horizon house could tell us what caused them, other than to say they might be tribal markings (like Sister Tyrhaz has in her eyebrows). We've always wondered, because Emmy's scars do appear to be intentional.

The Dec 2009 issue of Nat Geo has an article on page 94 about the Hadza tribe in East Aftrica.

One of the photos has faces of children with scars cut into their cheeks. The explanation is it conditions the children not to cry because the salt from tears will sting the small cuts in their cheeks.

Friday, November 13, 2009


Marin had a day off from school last week, so we left her with a dear friend and her high school daughter for the day. Marin cornered the daughter, thinking the mother was out of earshot, and began - ummmm - interviewing her.

Marin: Do you have a boyfriend?
Megan: Yes.
Marin: What's his name?
Megan: Seth. You met him before.
Marin: Oh yeah, Seth. He's cute. Do you kiss him?
Megan: Sometimes, a little.
Marin: Do you kiss him on the lips?
Megan: Marin!!
Marin: OK, OK, sorry, sorry. Do you kiss him in front of other people?
Megan: No
Marin: Only in privacy, right?
Megan: Yes.
Marin: Do you stick your tongue out when you kiss him? Like this. (demonstrates with a french kiss into the air, complete with eyes closed and moaning soundtrack)
Megan: Marin, I am not answering any more questions. Where did you learn about this stuff?
Marin: I watched my cousin do kissing with her boyfriend. But she is in college now.

That clinches it. I am locking her in the attic.

Thursday, November 5, 2009


OK, Colleen did not find this to be amusing, but I ran to my office, shut the door, and was rolling on the floor laughing.

Apparently, Marin and Emmy had located one of my old digital cameras (that I thought I had lost), slapped a couple of batteries in it, and were experimenting.

The kids were so proud of their work they handed the camera to Colleen to take a look. Next I hear Colleen in this really serious tone asking the kids when did this happen, how did this happen, where was Mama and Daddy when this happened, etc. Then I hear Marin and Emmy giggling and wondering why Colleen is not as pleased as they are. So now I am obligated, you know, as a father and husband, to go downstairs and investigate.

I see Colleen browsing through the viewer and looking at a series of Ethiopian moons. Apparently, Emmy would bend over to moon Marin while Marin took the photos, then they exchanged positions, and Emmy took the moon photos of Marin. We're talking about a dozen of just butt shots - and nothing else.

Emmy: That one's my bottom, mama.
Marin: That bottom is mine, mama
Emmy: I took that one, mama
Marin: No, that one's mine. My bottom is bigger and browner. (well, at least she is very comfortable in her own skin!)
Emmy: This one is mine.

The cutest part was Marin and Emmy were so proud of themselves. They had figured out how to use the camera with no adult help and then they took lots of pictures of each other. Naturally, after seeing Colleen get upset, they each were eager to give the other credit for the pose idea. I had the hardest time not bursting out laughing and pretending to be mad. I had to excuse myself.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Election Day

Our kids have been so into elections this year. Their grandfather is heavily involved in town and state politics, and a lot of people stop by his house for discussion and advice during the day and evening, and Marin and Emmy are often present to observe this. Additionally, the kids can read now, so they see all the names and referendum questions on road signs and they pepper us with questions about it.

So fast forward to this morning. I had the TV on at breakfast (something I NEVER do) in order to see the election results. The kids asked why the TV is on and I explained everybody voted yesterday and today we learn what the new rules will be.

Emmy starts in with
- What about Tracy, did she win?
- What about Noel, did he win?
- What about the farm? Will the people buy the farm? (referendum on a land conservation trust)
- Can two mommies get married now? (the gay marriage referendum)

And on and on and on. The kids have a remarkable memory, especially for names.

As I was about to lose my patience with the unending questions (while trying to pay attention to the TV so I would have the information to actually answer the questions), it occurred to me that here are two kids who will be voting here in less than 15 years, who may never have had an opportunity to vote if they had stayed in their rural village. In fact, they may not have even known the concept of voting, the democratic process, and one person/one vote equality.

Friday, October 16, 2009

What makes her tick??

This AM we had one of those dramafests that mothers and their daughters seem to get drawn into. The climax came when Colleen was buckling Marins' seatbelt. Somehow Colleen's thumb became entangled in the belt. At that instant, Marin decided to become resistant and tugged powerfully on the belt, spraining Colleen's thumb. Colleen, naturally, screamed out in pain. The interesting part is what happened next.

Colleen abruptly returned to the house to get an ice pack and an ace bandage. I put Marin in teh car and drove her to school. Marin was overcome with panic.

First, Marin thought she had killed Colleen. She made me promise her that Colleen was not going to die and asked me over and over "How do you know, Daddy?" "How do you know?"

Once, I got her off that, Marin continued her panic session expressing fear that Colleen would not want to be her Mother anymore. Again "How do you know, Daddy?" "How do you know?" The poor kid was like nearly suicidal until I finally dialed Colleen up on the cell, explained the situation, and Colleen got Marin calmed down.

Some thoughts....................

1. Even after three years in America, Marin's first reaction to even the most routine illness and injury is that the person is going to die. It's just unbelievable to think about how many people she saw die in her young life in Ethiopia. And its' equally unbelievable to think about how totally preventable those deaths were if the country had any kind of living standards.

2. Even after three years in our care, Marin fears abandonment. This really caught me by surprise. We have been totally diligent about hugging the girls every day, several times, telling them we love them forever and we will always take care of them. Never once using corporal punishment. And when we have ourselves convinced that the kids are totally secure with our love and commitment, something like this happens to make us realize they still live in fear of our abandoning them. Bummer.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

When does the hungry train stop??

Yesterday we were driving in the car and we saw a homeless person standing with a "hungry" sign at a busy intersection. Marin saw him and asked about it. So I gave a rambling explanation of what a homeless person is and why some people are hungry even in America.

Marin: But where is his guitar?

Me: What?

Marin: I know hungry people, too. But they play songs on their guitar and have a box to put the money in.

Me: Where did you see this?

Marin: At the Sea Dogs game ( local baseball team to which Marins day care went last summer)

Me: Tell me more about this.

Marin: Remember you gave me five dollars in case I needed to buy a snack at the Sea Dogs game.

Me: Yes.

Marin: Well I bought something to eat, but it cost only two dollars. So I had three dollars left, and I gave it to the hungry man who was playing his guitar.

Me: Why did you do that?

Marin: Daddy, listen, I know what it feels like to be hungry. It hurts and hurts and hurts in my belly. So I felt sorry for the man with the guitar and I wanted him to buy a sandwich.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Story

There's been a lot of traffic in the Eth adoption chat rooms about 'the story'. That is, what were older children told by their own families as the explanation for why they were getting into a van with a stranger to go someplace? Many were told they were going away to school and some were told they were going to visit a distant relative.

This is a great question, and one I wish we had asked when we were in Eth. It is a great question because it helps you to understand your childs' behavior. For example, if the child freaks out whenever you try to leave him or her at school, and you know that school was the story the Ethiopian family used to get the child into the van, at least you understand there is a rational reason to freak out from the childs' perspective. Without knowing the story, you would probably misdiagnose the situation.

So last night I asked Marin if she remembered what she was told when she got into the van with Solomon (I happen to remember her driver's name).

Marin said "They told me we were driving to the next village to get water."

Me: Really? Did you believe that?

Marin: Yes.

Me: Why?

Marin: Because that was one of my jobs to get water for some of the Mamas in the village so they would give me and Emmy food. I was happy we were driving because all the other times I had to walk. Then after we were in the van a long long time I knew they tricked me so me and Emmy started crying.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Emmy is such a teaser. Whenever I try to kiss her, she runs away. If I catch her, she wipes her face where I kissed her and says "Off. Off. Off. Off."

This morning I went to her room to wake her up. She was quietly snoring away. So peaceful. She was adorable. I slowly bent over and gave her a gentle kiss on the forehead. She smiled, pulled her blanket up over her face, wiped her forehead, and slowly said "Off. Off." and started giggling to herself under the blankets.

Monday, September 28, 2009


Marin is getting very philosophical lately. Always asking about death and heaven and God. Is this normal for a seven year old? This morning at breakfast.....................

Marin: Daddy, tell me all the things you think about God.

Me: Why?

Marin: Because I really want to meet her. (her?? where is that coming from!?)

Me: Why?

Marin: I want to ask her why I was born in Africa and why did she let my Africa Mommy and Daddy die and why do I live with you now and how did you know about me to want to be my Daddy.

Me: Is there anything else you want to ask her?

Marin: I want to know how far I am from heaven.

OK, anyone out there want to take a shot at these questions?

Fast forward, I have dropped Marin off at school and driving to work, radio blasting. And this song on the radio is playing............

Tell me all your thoughts on God
Cause I really want to meet her
And ask her why we're who we are
Tell me all your thoughts on God
Cause I'm on my way to see her
To ask her am I very far. Am I very far now?

Holy crap. Once it clicked with me what these lyrcis were saying, I almost drove off the road. What are the chances that this is a coincidence? What does this message mean? How spooky. Even tonight it gives me goosebumps thinking about this.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Ban the Nanny

About a year ago, we hired a wonderful on-call Nanny to spend overnights and help Colleen manage the kids when I am away on business travel. The Nanny is wonderful - an empty nester woman with a sweet disposition, patience of a saint, and totally kid centric.

We struck gold with her. Marin was miserable toward her.

Marin did and said mean things to the Nanny. Was often a terror to her. It was just ridiculous.

So last week I was away, and the Nanny arrived with a small wedding cake that was left over from her own wedding. WHAT????? We didn't even know she was dating anybody.

Marin leapt for joy. She was so sweet. Snuggled in the Nanny's lap. Showed the Nanny her presents from her own birthday early this month. And on and on and on. Marin could not have been a nicer kid.

Later on, I quizzed Marin about her behavior.

Me: Marin, you used to be so mean to the Nanny.

Marin: I know

Me: But this time you were super nice.

Marin: I know.

Me: Why?

Marin: Because all the times you went away I didn't know if you would come home and Nanny would be my new Daddy and I did not want that. Now I know Nanny will not live with us because her husband won't let her do that and she wants to sleep in the same bed as her husband like you and Mama do.

I post this so you will know that every time your kid is acting out, there is probably a very rational reason inside the kids' head that is driving the behavior. It is our job as parents to question carefully and skillfully to draw out the reason for the behavior, and thereby enable ourselves to address the root cause of the behavior.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Cutest Soccer Player

Emmy had her first soccer match Saturday. She plays in the 4 yo league. You know, 8 kids cluster around the ball like a rugby scrum for 30 mins?

Emmy finally broke the ball out of the pack and started heading toward her own goal. I yelled to her "turn it around Emmy turn it around!". Which she did, and then dribbled the ball the entire length of the field into the correct net and scored her first goal.

Emmy then proceeded to do the exact same thing a second time and a third time. Now our team was ahead 3-0 after about 3 minutes of play.

On the fourth time, as she crossed midfield, I yelled "Emmy, no more kicking into the net. Pass the ball to one of your team mates."

So Emmy dribbled the ball down into the box, to the mouth of the goal, and stopped about 5 feet short of the goal line. There she stood, patiently waiting for one of her team mates to come kick the ball into the net. It was so fun to watch and Emmy was too cute.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


First, a little back story. Emmy took a wicked tumble on her bike over the weekend. No stitches and no broken bones, but dozens of cuts, scrapes, and bruises that required a lot of cold packs, childrens aspirin, band aids, and good old fashioned 'spoil the child' therapy.

This morning, Marin and I had the following exchange, which I post here just to show people how these kids think sometimes.

Marin: How long have we lived in America now?

Me: Over two years

Marin: Oh, that's not a long time.

Me: It's long time for Emmy. It's more than half her life.

Marin: Huh?

Me: You know, Emmy was only two when we got her and now she is almost five. That's more than half her life.

Marin: Is that a good thing?

Me: I think so.

Marin: I don't

Me: Well, we love Emmy. We send her to school, give her good food, she has her own cozy bed, and warm clean clothes. Don't you think that's all good?

Marin: But you made Emmy have an accident?

Me: Do you mean the bike accident?

Marin: Yes

Me: Do you think if Emmy stayed in Africa she would not have any accidents, ever?

Marin: Yes. That's what I think.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Stuart Little

We teach our kids that all life is precious.

Friday morning, as we left the house, we saw a tiny little infant field mouse on our porch. I figured he was stillborn or something and continued on.

Saturday morning, the kids were playing on the porch and found this same mouse. Using two sticks, I attempted to move the mouse off the porch, and it moved. It opened its eyes, moved its legs, and tried to walk. Oh, crap. The darn thing is alive and the kids saw it.

Of course, they started in right away with "Can we keep him? Can we keep him? We can feed him and everything!" Right.

So I went off to work on my woodpile, but I couldn't get this stupid mouse out of my mind. I started thinking about that kids story Stuart Little. In the meantime, the kids are pestering me with "Daddy, you aren't going to let this poor mouse just die, are you? What is he gets too cold? What if a cat eats him? What is his Mama is looking for him? "

I remembered this guy in town, David Sparks, who rehabs injured animals and releases them. I called him with my tale of woe. He said to bring the mouse down to his house and he would do what he could. So I put the mouse in a salad bowl, strapped the kids into thei car seats, and off we went.

David was great. He gently picked the mouse up and stroked his fur. He said he would pop the mouse into the incubator, feed him with an eye dropper, and when the mouse got stronger, David would release him into a field.

My kids were beaming and so relieved. "You promise?" they said. And they asked if they could come back and see David's other animals some time.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The race card

I never thought I would say this. I finally understand why some black people are so quick to draw the race card. Here's the situation.

We all know kids can be mean. It's like they have a sixth sense that can sniff out vulnerability in a heartbeat. Marin is just not yet equipped to successfully disarm mean or cliquish American kids. She does not have the verbal skills, the confidence, nor the combativeness.

The comments Marin faces most often are "You're stupid" "You're an idiot" "I don't like you" and "Your brown skin smells funny". Believe me. Marin is a smart, sensitive, and sweet kid. It's not just because I'm her father. Virtually every adult says these things about her.

We tell Marin that kids who behave that way really feel bad about themselves so they say mean things about Marin to make themselves feel better. Then we role play Marins' responses to these aggressions. Sometimes she pulls it off well, but many times she speaks with such trepidation that the bully would become emboldended. It's going to be a long road.

Back to the race card. I am so tempted to teach Marin to say, loudly "Look, I know the only reason you are talking to me this way is because I have brown skin and I am going to tell the Principal right now. You will be in the deepest trouble ever." Sometimes it feels like the only foolproof weapon she has. And its' kind of like verbal karate. You insult me because I am black, so I will use your racism against you. You try to isolate me because I am black, and I will use your racism to isolate you. You try to marginalize me because I am black, and I will use your racism to silence you. You try to degrade me because I am black and I will use your racism to minimize you.

I am beginning to realize the power of the race card. The beauty of its'design is that, in the proper hands, it cannot be successfully employed unless some racist first creates the opportunity for you. It is self governing in that way.

Monday, August 24, 2009

She got skills

Can I brag on Marin for a minute?

Last week she participated in a weeklong soccer camp. On Wednesday, Marin came home and told us she won the MVP of the day (she doesn't even know what MVP means, just that everyone clapped for her and gave her high 5s). On Wednesday evening, I met the coach and asked him about the MVP. He told me they give one MVP award every day of camp and Marin won today because he had bumped her up to fill an open position on the 3rd and 4th grade team and Marin made some key contributions on defense and scored a goal. "Marin plays far above her age" the coach said.

Then on Friday, they held a mock world cup tournament of 16 teams and Marin's team (Hungary) won the mock world cup. She had a wonderful week and we are so proud of her success.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A Brilliant Idea

Read "all my gold for a photo" two posts ago.

One blog reader suggested we could contact a police sketch artist to draw the African parents based on how our girls described the parents. Great idea that we took one step further.

We contacted the local college of art and asked to speak with a portrait specialist. The Artist agreed to draw a portrait of both parents based on (1) what our girls look like (2) photos of the siblings, newphews, and nieces of the parents (which we have) and (3) descriptions voiced by Marin and Emmy. So, using all three sources of info, the artist will create the portrait of an Ethiopian couple that we will then frame and hang in our home.

Let's hope this works!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Perhaps a game of chess?

Over the weekend two of my friends visited and decided to teach Emmy to play checkers while I prepared breakfast. I am overhearing snippets of the coversation.

What really caught my attention was when the two adults said, in unison, "Wow, that was a great move. How did we miss that?"

Turns out they had told Emmy what move to make. And Emmy said "No. I want to do this one." And it was a way better move. The kid is amazing. She connects the dots so FAST!

All my gold for a photo

Emmy cried herself to sleep last night. She said she wished her African mommy could visit her and see how much she has grown and what a good girl she is. She asked if her African Mommy could visit from heaven for just a few minutes and then go back before anyone knew she was missing.

Finally, we got to the bottom of why Emmy was so upset. She has forgotten what her mother looks like. Because her mother passed away before we travelled to Ethiopia, we do not have a photo of the mother. Poor Emmy. Her wailing was so pitiful. She felt so guilty because she has forgotten what her mother looks like.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Call me Amy

Emmy had a new friend at school, Owen, and he is from Texas.

After playing with him all day, Emmy came home, exasperated, explaining that Owen was calling her "Amy" all day long even though she told him a hundred times her name is Emmy.

Monday, July 20, 2009


I was telling another adoptive Mom about what happened with Marin yesterday. She said "Let me tell you a story about my Mother."

"My Mother visited this morning and was all bummed about. I asked her why. She had been thinking about the baby she lost over 40 yeasrs ago. So here is my 75 year old Mom who has 8 kids, an army of grandkids, a house on the beach, a host of friends, is in good health, travels all over, and has enjoyed a wonderful life. But every now and then she gets gripped in a moment of sadness about the baby she lost. "

The point is there are sometimes holes in our hearts that cannot be filled. Not by new parents, not by America, not by time. Our job is to help Marin understand it is OK to feel what she is feeling, there is no shame in it, and to understand that feeling may stay with her throughout her life.

Give us strength.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Poor Marin

This is sad story. You need two pieces of back information first.

1. There is a boy named Eyob in Ethiopia who is about 10 yrs old and quite sick because he was born with Spina Bifida. A family we know sponsors Eyob and brings us up to date on him from time to time.
2. I recently accumulated enough frequent flyer miles to take the four of us to Addis for free, and I am trying to convince Colleen that we should all do a homeland visit during April school vacation in 2010. Colleen is concerned it is too soon and will create too many emotions for Marin.

Fast forward to yesterday, we are all in the car and Marin starts asking questions about Eyob. We're having a nice conversation about Eyob and Ethiopia and I decide this is a good time to ask Marin if she is ready to visit Ethiopia "Not to stay, but just for a few sleepovers and them fly back to America". Marin was very excited and started talking about all the people she wanted to see, including Eyob, and using the few Amharic words she remembers. I looked at Colleen as if to say "and you were concerned about what??"

Suddenly, Marin fell silent and her face was expressionless. Then she burst into inconsolable wailing. " I miss my mommy. I want my mommy. I miss her so much." Whoa. We thought we were way beyond this. We had to stop the car and hug and rock Marin to calm her down. I think this is a new definition of powerlessness. When we have invested almost 3 years of bonding with a great kid, only to find out that when the chips are down, it is still her African mother that she will call out for, even when we are sitting beside her in the same car. We were heartbroken for her.

Emmy had a nightmare

Emmy woke up crying and calling for Colleen. Colleen rushed to Emmy's bed to see what was wrong.

Emmy - I had a bad dream
Colleen - What was it ?
Emmy - Where's Daddy? I need to see Daddy.
Colleen - Daddy's in the shower. Why do you need to see Daddy?
Emmy - In my dream Daddy died. I need to see him.
Colleen - Emmy, can you hear the water running? Daddy is in the shower
Emmy - No Mama. I need to see him right now.

So Colleen relents and carries Emmy into the bathroom to see me. Emmy suddenly breaks into this huge grin, which Colleen thought was an expression of relief. Emmy looked at Colleen and said "Mama. I tricked you into letting me see Daddy naked."

I'm telling you, this kid is going to be impossible when she gets older.

Emmy Ninja

Emmy and I were lying on my bed on our backs reading a book. Suddenly, Emmy asked me if I wanted to see her new karate move. Before I could answer, she was standing on the bed beside me as I laid on my back. She said "Ready Daddy?" And I thought to myself "she weighs less then 35 pounds, how much can this hurt?" So I said OK.

Emmy tucked her right elbow tight into her body and held her right wrist tightly so her right elbow was firmly locked. Then she jumped and did a flying landing with the point of her elbow jammed into my ribs. It hurt so bad I swore she broke one of my ribs. After catching my breath I asked "Emmy, where did you learn that?" She replied "The boys at school taught me. Want to see it again Daddy?"

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Ants Marching

You know how wet it has been lately. It has caused some big black ants to migrate into our house. I staked out a lot of ant traps over the weekend.

So this morning Marin and I are at the breakfast table and I spied an ant scurrying across the kitchen floor and I stomped on it.

Marin - What was that?

Me - An ant.

Marin - Did you kill him?

Me - Yes

Marin - Are we gonna eat it?

Me - Did you eat bugs in Africa?

Marin - Yes

Me - How did you eat them?

Marin - Cook them in a pan until they go pop like popcorn

Me - Did you like them

Marin - No. They don't taste good inside me.

Me - Then why did you eat them?

Marin - I was hungry.

Sometimes I wonder if I will ever get to the bottom of all her stories. So many divergent situations bring up a memory that takes is down a trail and I learn something new. I just hope I always remember to ask Marin questions instead of shutting down the conversation.

Friday, June 19, 2009

School Field Trip

Today I helped chaperone Marin's class on a field trip to Boston. We all rode the train. I was surprised at how popular Marin was with the kids. They all seemed to want to sit with her and talk with her.

By the by I tuned into these conversations. To my surprise, it was all about Africa. For example:

Little girl eating strawberries: "Did you eat strawberries in Africa?"
Little boy playing his Nintendo DS: "What Nintendo games did you play in Africa?"
Older boy: " I saw giraffes and lions in a zoo. Did you have them in Africa?"
Older girl: "Did you watch Hannah Monatana in Africa?"

The kids are totally curious about Africa. And some of the questions they asked were so far out of context, it was hilarious.

Snapper Soup???

While driving the kids to school, we crested the hill to see a car in the middle of the road, its emergency flashers on, and a large dark lump in the road in front of the car. As we got closer, I realized it was a really huge snapping turtle. Yippee! Science lesson for the kids!

I pulled the car over, unbuckled the kids, and headed for the snapper. Visualize now, I am doing my best Bill Nye the Science Guy. I'm telling the kids about the shell, pointing out the claws, showing how he snaps at a stick, telling what he eats, and describing how I am going to lift him by his shell and toss him back into the brook so he does not get run over. I go on and on and on, finally pausing for a breath and to ask if the kids have any questions I did not answer.

After a pregnant pause, the kids lifted their eyes from the turtle to me and asked, matter of factly, and at the same time "Can we eat him?" I should have known.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

National Geographic

Did anyone read the June 2009 issue?

There is an article about food scarcity beginning on page 26. As usual, there is a photo of a skeletal infant Ethiopian crying his eyes out from hunger but there are no tears because he is so dehydrated.

I walk into the kitchen this morning and Marin is sitting at the table with the magazine open to the photo I just described.

She asked me "Daddy, what is this?"

I said "Marin, do you know that family?"

Marin "No"

Me "Do you know what that photo is?"

Marin "It's not fair and it is scaring me"

Me "Do you know what it is?"

Marin "It's an Africa baby who doesn't have food. It's not fair. He's sad because his belly is hungry. His face is scaring me. I don't want to be hungry again."

It's conversations like this that send so many thoughts whirling through my head - like

1. Why don't we just sell everything and move to Ethiopia and devote ourselves to helping there?
2. Why don't the environmentalists give up their wacky 'corn for fuel' mirage and send some food overseas instead?
3. How can I make sure my kids excel in fields like science or medicine that can help some of these poor people?
4. How can a six year old engage in deep conversations as often as Marin does? What other ghosts does she carry?

Spring Soccer 2009

Marin played spring soccer a year ago and was painful to watch. She was slow, passive, clueless and jsut happy to be out in a field with her girlfriends. This year is totally different. She hates to lose, loves to score, loves to play D, and is just passionate about this sport. Here are a few examples,

Week 2: Our team got killed and Marin was totally ticked off. She refused to leave the playing fields until I got her into another game. I looked around, found a team that was understaffed, and asked if Marin could sub in. The coach was psyched, and marin was psyched.

Week 3: Same situation, but this time Marin got to play with 3rd graders. She loved playing with kids who kind of understood the game and she learned a ton.

Week 4: Practice got rained out. Marin went upstairs and cried for 15 minutes because she could not play.

Week 5: Our team finally jelled. We scored about 15 goals and Marin scored about 5 of them. She was so excited. I gotta admit, I was really proud watching her take the ball end to end, her braids bobbing around, dodging defenders, and just powering the ball into the net. She looked like one of those Jamaican Olympic sprinters. It was cool. Then on defense, Marin would start screaming NO! NO! NO! NO! whenever an opposing player got into the box. I think she scared the hell out of a few of those kids.

Week 6: Our team had the last game, so there was no other game for Marin to get subbed into. She was looking around the field for another team to play for and everyone was leaving. Marin looked at me and asked "What are we going to do?" I told her we played late today and there are not more games, so let's go home. She said "Well, we're not going home. You stay here and practice with me." So Marin and I kicked goals for another 45 minutes before she was ready to go home.

We are having a ball. Both Marin and Emmy are great kids.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Ethiopia Day at school

Last week we hosted an exciting event for Marins first grade class. We live in a very non-ethnic place; and even though Marin has been largely welcomed, she is still obviously foreign and not well understood. We talked to her teacher about hosting an Ethiopia culture day which came together like this.

First, for about a half hour, we talked about our experiences in Ethiopia, showed a few photos, and displayed some of the items we brought home from Ethiopia. The kids asked lots of kid questions about climate, language, animals, typical daily activities, etc. They asked about life in a village vs. life in an orphanage. This gave Marin an opportunity to tell her story in her words with the safety of teachers and parents around her.

For recess, we led the class in some of the kids games and dances that they do at HH. Marins friends really enjoyed these.

Then we arranged for the head of the African Culture Museum to come in and present. He is a tribal chief from Nigeria who brought a large collection of ceremonial masks and drums. He told stories about the masks, then let the kids try them on and pose for photos. Then he taught a few drum rhythms and invited students to take turns accompanying him on other drums. The kids were having a ball.

Finally, we wrapped it up with a catered Ethiopian lunch from Asmara Restaurant. FYI, the chicken legs and injera were a smash, but everything else became leftovers (which we are still eating).

Here's the best part, Marin came home from school that day with a big manila envelope full of thank you notes written by each of her classmates. At dinner Marin read every one of them to us. The most common comment was "Ethiopia is so awesome!" and three of the boys asked Marin to be their girlfriend. Then we had to explain to Marin what a girlfriend is. It's a girl you play soccer with or ride bikes with, right?

Monday, May 4, 2009

You tube videos

People who follow this blog know that we do not have a television, but sometimes as a special treat, we will let the kids watch a few you tube shows. Tonight Marin wanted to see videos posted by people who had traveled in Ethiopia.

While watching these, a serious and sad expression came over Marins' face. I was afraid it was bringing back too many memories. I asked her why she looked sad.

Marin " I just feel so bad for all these poor kids"

Me "Why?

Marin " All their Moms and Dads are dying."

Me "How do you know that?"

Marin "Because they are in Africa. The Moms and Dads always die all the time. That is what African Mommies and Daddies do."

Sunday, April 26, 2009

things that scare us

Every now and then we still get some good nuggets from when the kids first arrived here. Turns out they were afraid of trees and white hair.

Their home area was barren. The only trees they knew were banana trees, which are not tall and do not have long branches. Then the kids saw our trees, so tall, with so many long branches - and when it was windy - the kids thought the branches were trying to reach out and grab them. Looking back, it makes sense why they were afraid to go outside for about three months after arriving here.

They had never seen white hair before. Nobody they knew grew old enough to have grayed. So when they saw white hair, they thought it was a ghost.

Giving Mom a stroke

A few nights ago Colleen walks into my office and Marin is on my computer. Colleen looks closer and Marin (age 6.5) is on Facebook.

Colleen (horrified): Marin, how did you do that?

Marin (non -plussed) : f-a-c-e-b-o-o-k dot com

I mean, what did Colleen expect Marin to say?

We're just mystified because we thought we had done such a good job of sheltering our kids from the worst America has to offer. For example, our TV has been unplugged and dark for about 30 months. Our kids have never been to a Mall or a movie theater. They don't even know to ask about DisneyWorld. No nintendo, wii, ipod, or cell phone.

And then - boom - facebook. Like who left the back door open?

Friday, April 17, 2009

Sister Tyrhas

Last week Marins' first grade teacher sent home a memo that she wanted all the students to dress like their role model on Friday 4/17. It would be a class project/ show and tell. We explained to Marin what a role model is and asked who she wanted to be (figuring she would say Hannah Montana or something).

Marin asked to see her scrapbook, turned some pages, and found Tryhas. Marin said "I want to be her. She was my doctor in Ethiopia. She gave me medicine and bandaids. Do you remember her name?"

So we dressed Marin up in a beautiful headscarf, put a little makeup and an ethiopian necklace on her. Then we had the photo of Tyrhas laminated with a brief description of who she is, tied it to a ribbon for Marin to wear around her neck, and sent Marin to school.

Marin was the belle of the ball. Everybody wanted to know who she was and wanted to look at the picture. The teacher even went to get the Principal so Marin could tell her story to him. It was a great day for Marin and the teachers did a wonderful job of reaffirming Marins' heritage for her.

The water hum

Ever since we met Marin, she always hums when there is moving water.
- washing dishes
- in the bathtub
- rinsing hands
- wetting the toothbrush
- a running hose

It doesn't matter, whenever there is moving water, Marin will hum. Just a soft pleasant monotone hummm.

I've asked her several times what that means or why she does it. She says something like "In Africa we sing when we carry the water."

I was recently reading a National Geographic that described "The Singing Wells of Southern Ethiopia". Apparently, in order to get water, the tribes dig wells deep into the earth, then lower ladders into them, then pass buckets up and down the ladders to get water. The work is very strenuous, so the men often sing in harmony to encourage each other and ward off fatigue.

I'll bet Marin was one of the little kids at the top of the well filling up jugs to take back to the village.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


We found this little East African cafe in town last weekend. Trust me when I tell you this place is pure Africa. I felt transported in time.

The front room is this tiny space with a dirty floor, a couple of tables and a couple of chairs. It is full of men of all ages drinking soft drinks and tea, eating rice and flatbread off a communal plate, and watching English soccer on the TV.

Behind that is a little tiny kitchen in which 4 woman wrapped in layers of robes slaved over a tiny stove.

Behind that is a cleaner dining room where families with children sat. We sat there. It was 3 or 4 men with lots of children. All the men were yapping on their cells in some foreign language, and all the children were silent, staring bug eyed at us. I am the only white person in the place.

Finally, a boy about age 10 approaches Marin and asks her "Is that guy your friend?" nodding toward me. Marin said "No, that's my Dad." The boy scrunched up his face and said "That's weird. His skin is a different color." Whereupon Marin looked at me as if to ask "Now what do I say?"

Nice to meet you, too

I was away at a business dinner, meeting a new client for the first time. I was seated at the table next to a very stylish woman, younger than me, and we were making ' get to know you' type conversation. One of my best friends, Kevin, was seated on the other side of her.

Denise asked me about my kids, and then how old they are. I told her 6 and 4.

She looked up like she had seen a ghost, nearly spit her wine back into her glass, and blurted "Oh my God. You have a 4 year old?" I'm thinking to myself "Wow, do I look that old?" but I gently said "Yes, and she is wonderful". My friend Kevin was almost passed out from laughing so hard. I don't think Denise realized how horrified she looked because she turned to Kevin and asked "What's so funny?" Then Kevin had to quickly make up a lie so as not to offend Denise.

New Preschool Research

Colleen really wants to put Emmy in a kindergarden program, so she took the girls to scout out a place the other day. Marin and Emmy were walking around testing out all the toys, and finally Marin approached the owner and said "Excuse me, can I ask you some questions?"

- Will you feed Emmy lunch?
- What about Emmy snacks?
- Can Emmy take a nap when she is cranky?
- Can Emmy go outside for fresh air?
- Do you have a computer here?
- No dogs gonna bite Emmy, right?
- Are your neighbors nice people or bad people?
- Tell me about the other kids in this school?

and on and on and on and on.

When Marin was finally finished, the owner looked at Colleen and asked if she had any questions. Colleen said " I think Marin covered everything."

Marin still thinks she is Emmy's mother.

April Fools Day

Remember when, as a child, you first learned about April Fools Day? If you were like me (and most kids) you said ridiculous stuff like "There's a chicken on your head" and your Dad said "Oh no! Oh my Gosh!" in mock horror.

Emmy (4 years old) played the most sophisticated tricks on me. She is scary.

First, Emmy talked me into buying a Milky Way bar for her preschool teacher Carla (who happens to love them). When we got home, Colleen pulled the Milky Way from the bag and put it in her purse, probably anticipating that Emmy would eat it before it made its way to Carla. The next morning, we were driving to preschool and Emmy, in her best whiney voice, said "Daddy, we forgot Carla's Milky Way." So I turned around, drove home, ran up the stairs, and tore the house apart looking for this stupid Milky Way. Can't find it. Go back to the car and tell Emmy it must be in Mama's purse and I start to call Colleen on the cell. As I am dialing, Emmy says "Daddy, look in the mirror." And there she is grinning and holding the Milky Way bar. I am about to erupt as she has wasted ten minutes of morning commute time and she says "Daddy, I April fooled you." Just think about the premeditation it took to pull this off. First she stole the Milky Way from Colleens purse and smuggled it to the car without us noticing. Then she waited for the right moment to start whining, because if she waited too long, I would not have turned the car around. Then she maintained composure as I drove like a madman back to the house and ran up the stairs. Then she waited til the very last second, just as Colleen's phone started ringing, to reveal the trick. I am very afraid.

For her next trick. Emmy noticed that whenever I read a magazine, I fold down the corners of the articles I want to keep or send to friends. The day after April Fools, I picked up my Forbes, that I had just finished reading, and found the corner of every single page was folded over, very neatly, at exactly the same angle I fold my pages. I was furious and started yelling for Colleen. Emmy walks by, non-chalantly looks over her shoulder and as she walks away and says "Daddy, that was my April fools trick to you."

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Tooth Fairy Part 2

Poor Emmy. She developed an abscess tooth which required emergency oral surgery for extraction. Colleen and I were beside ourselves thinking about putting our little baby under anesthesia. You know how they scare the hell out of you by telling you "in rare cases, patients do not wake up. And with this child, because there is no medical record, the risk is much higher, so please sign all these papers promising not to sue our asses. " So reassuring.

We spent the evening before the surgery talking Emmy through all the steps and what was going to happen. She awoke the next morning begging for breakfast, but we could not feed her because of the surgery, so we promised to pack her a big snack for after the surgery.

Now at the Doctor office, Emmy was a champ. Very calm and pleasant. The nurses could not believe she is a 4 year old. They said over and over "Four year olds just do not behave this way. She is remarkable." She really is. Emmy has an amazing tolerance for pain.

About to go under, the Doc is holding the mask near Emmy's face and gently wafting the anesthesia toward her nose. He is telling Emmy about the wonderful strawberry smell and how much Emmy will enjoy that. Emmy scrunches up her nose and asks Colleen "What is this stuff?" Colleen says "It's gas." Emmy about fell on the floor laughing. "Gas Mama? It not gas! Gas really stinks. You're tricking me Mama!" and she went on and on like Beavis and Butthead until, like in mid-laugh, she suddenly passed right out.

Surgery successful. Big fat molar extracted. Emmy to recovery.

As Emmy awakes, still super groggy, the Doc shows Emmy to the tooth. Emmy, even though she is cross eyed and silly, doesn't miss a beat and says "Does this mean the tooth fairy will come visit me?"

Our final sledding party

The snow is disappearing fast. Last Sunday was probably our last sledding day of the season - so we made it a special one.

First, it was almost 60 degrees out, so we let the kids take off their coats, hats, and mittens.

Second, we sled on a golf course, and the clubhouse restaurant had just opened for the season. After sledding, we visited the restaurant for a pizza party.

It was a memorable way to end a wonderful sledding season.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Still missing Mama

Tonight it took us almost 3 hours to get Emmy to sleep. Turns out one of her little girlfriends in preschool, Kiera, was adopted by her Grandmother today. I don't know the back story of why that happened, but it set Emmy off.

Emmy was sad for Kiera that Kiera's Mommy was not able to take care of her anymore. And the more she thought about it, Emmy became sad that her own mother was not able to take care of Emmy anymore. Then Emmy started fretting about what would life be like if something were to happen to her new American mother. She was inconsolable. It was hard.

Just like Marin the other night when something out of the ordinary catalyzes this chain of thoughts that cascade out of control.

Monday, March 9, 2009

In your Eyes

We were driving in Portland Sat evening and slowed down for a bunch of flashing blue lights. As we passed, I saw a man handcuffed and thrown across the hood of his car. Marin, who was in the rear on my side, saw the same scene. Marin's radar went on high alert and she started asking a lot of questions.
- Who is he?
- Why does the policeman have him?
- Why is his arm broken? ( it wasn't, but it was bent oddly because of the handcuffs)
- What did he do?
- What happened here?
- Where will the policman take him?
- Will he get away?
- What if he comes to our house?
- Can he find me here? and on and on and on

When we arrived home, Marin continued the questions and began to cry. She could not, or would not, explain why she was crying.

When Marin woke up Sunday morning, she picked up right where she left off, and the crying escalated to he point of a panic attack. I was rocking her, holding her, doing everything I could think of to comfort her. Nothing worked.

Finally I asked "Marin, did you see men like that in Africa?" She said yes. I asked her what happened to men like that in Africa. She said "Sometimes the policeman shoot him and kill him. Sometimes he gets away. If he gets away, he comes to peoples house and kills them."

It's really interesting how people's brains work. Just when we think Marin is totally comfortable and 100% adjusted, something quirky like this will jump out of nowhere and reawaken some frightening memory of hers. She is such a sweet kid. It's just hard to imagine the demons she harbors. We did not realize she was exposed to so much violence.

Monday, March 2, 2009


I took Marin to the Conference Basketball Championship at the local college. We walked into the gym and took our usual seats. Marin asked to sit somewhere else, so I told he to choose a new seat. "Really? Anywhere I want? You come with me, Daddy?"

So Marin chooses two seats right smack in the middle of the visiting students section - Emmanual College from Boston. Marin was so excited, almost giddy, then this look of total contentment and comfort came over her face. I asked Marin if she was happy. She said she was.

"Why are you so happy?"

"Look at all the brown skin people! We are sitting right here with all of them."

I guess I need to get her out of maine more often.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Emmy the Button Pusher

St Josephs College, a small D3 school with a great basketball program is only about 15 mins drive from our house. I love going there to watch hoops up close, and tonight they hosted the semi-final game of their conference tourney.

We took our usual seats in the front row on the corner where the players come in for their introductions. But tonight there was this supersize student all dressed in Royal Blue who decided to be the designated cheerleader right in front of us. He blocked 2/3 of the court when he stood still - but he jumped around so much he basically blocked the whole court. Emmy and Marin were after me to yell at him, but I held off figuring he was just excited and would sit down as soon as the game began. I was wrong.

I asked him a couple of times to please sit down so we (my whole section) could see the game. He looked at us like we were interrupting his private show. Finally, the kids and I got up and climbed about 5 rows higher so we could see over him. And this is when Emmy got her revenge.

Emmy went down to floor level and started running around the sideline. She had on thick winter pants so she would run and then slide on her knees on the hardwood. She started sliding right into this huge guys feet, then looking up at him with a wide grin and saying "sorry". But she kept doing it and doing it so he couldn't jump for fear of stepping on her. Then the guy started getting mad and looking around for Emmy's parents. I just sat there. Emmy says to him, smiling sweetly the entire time "Why are you so angry? It's just an accident. You don't be mean to me. You are a bully." Then all this guys friends started busting on him "Yeah, dude. Why are you so angry? She's just a little kid trying to enjoy the game too. Don't be a bully"

It was classic Emmy. Only she could get this idiot to finally sit down so the rest of us could watch the game.

Speed Reader

I have to keep reminding myself that Emmy is only four years old.

Last evening we were driving home and we passed a couple of houses with 'for sale' signs on them. Emmy asks me "Daddy, what does real estate mean?"

Are you kidding me???

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Just how devious are you?

Last weekend I was quizzing Emmy about what she liked to do and some things she wanted to buy. I was trying to get ideas about how to entertain her over school vacation week.

Emmy gave me that "I don't trust you for a second" look, stalled, stalled some more, and finally said "Daddy, I don't want to tell you." I'm in disbelief here because I have the most generous intentions. So I asked Emmy why she doesn't want to tell me. She said "You're trying to trick me. You want to know what I like so you can take it away from me as punishment when I'm a bad girl."

Did I mention Emmy recently turned 4 years old? I've got a long life ahead of me.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Now who is the minority?

I took the kids snow sledding today and there were a few other families on the hill. As I got closer, I recognized one of the families was a Jamaican family from Marins' school, and the other family was Dominican. I don't know why it never occurred to me before that we have both Jamaican and Dominican families in our school.

After a while Marin looks at me and says "Do you see all the brown skinned people here?" and I said yes. Whereupon she remarked "Daddy, you are the only white skin boy on this whole hill!"

I mean, I lived in Philadelphia for years and I was never the only white boy on the hill. Here I am in rural Maine, in February, participating in a winter sport, and I am the only white boy on the hill. I can't believe it.

Valentines Day

Colleen and I finally enjoyed a real Valentines Day. One of the Aunts took the kids for the evening. We ordered a ton of Thai takeout, like the whole menu, and set out a picnic on the floor in front of the fireplace. Lit a few candles, some music, a few drinks, and just unwound like we haven't in years. We were like, giddy, its' been so long since we had total silence in the house. Man, that was so nice.

So we were reminiscing about Valentines Day 2007, which was about 4 days after we arrived home with the girls. Colleen and my sister in law had spent the entire day fighting the girls tantrums, and trying to collect stool samples for the kids' Doc visit. When I arrived home around 5:30, I fought the tantrums for a few hours to give COlleen a break, then finally we got the kids to sleep. At that point Ellen said "Well that was certainly a memorable Valentines Day." Colleen looked at me and started crying. We were so strung out with the kids that neither of us even knew it was Valentines Day.

So, for all you recent arrivals, we know its' crazy for you right now, maybe even torture right now. But in two years it will be all better. Hang in there.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

How do you answer these questions?

Emmy and I were driving to her gymnastics class and, out of the clear blue sky, Emmy asks me why the name on Marins adoption and transit papers say 'Marin LDT.

First, Emmy's only 4 years old, so how the heck does she know that? And second, what is spinning in her brain that she would ask such a question?

So I explained to Emmy about flying on the airplane from Africa to America, the people on the airplane want to know who Marin's daddy is. We decided to call Marin "Marin LDT" so all the airplane people will know.

Then Emmy asks "Why not the name of my real Daddy, ASFL? Why not say Marin ASFLand Emmy ASFL?" The kid has a ridiculous memory. She was only about a year old when her father died. Emmy remembers her Mothers' name, too, and she never even knew her Mother who died when Emmy was a newborn.

Anyway, so I had to go back to the beginning. I asked Emmy if she remembers that ASFL and KD died. She said yes, then she asked why they died. I told her that Africa does not have enough doctors and not enough medicine, so if someone gets sick in Africa they might die because they have no medicine. Emmy got totally somber and said "That's really not fair Daddy. Africa people need doctors and medicine, too, you know. And food, Daddy. Africa people are always too hungry. Only eat food one time a day. That's not fair."

Holy cow. I can't believe the stuff she comes out with. I can't believe how well developed her sense of injustice is. Emmy was only two years old when we adopted her. For American kids that age injustice means they had to drink apple juice instead of soda.

Hey, Goombah!

The other night I was teasing Emmy about something. Finally, she got fed up, whipped her head around to face me, stuck a finger in my chest and said "Daddy, you stop it right now! Capish?"

I said "What? Capish? Where did you learn that word?"

(For those of you who do not know, capish is Italian for "Understand?" and something that my Grandmother, Grandfather, and Father often said when I was growing up)

Emmy got that smirky look on her face like "Oh, now whose in the drivers' seat?" I asked her several times to tell me where she learned capish and she just sat there grinning.

Finally, Marin, apparently annoyed with both of us exclaims "Daddy! Capish! Do you understand me? Now be quiet!"

For crying out loud, both of my kids know Capish and I have no idea where they learned it!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


This week is the second anniversary of our going to Addis to get the girls. I asked Marin if she remembered meeting us for the first time. She smiled and said "Yes. I remember that." So I asked her to tell me about it.

Marin said "I thought Mama was beautiful."


"Because she has yellow hair. No Mamas in Africa have yellow hair. Mama looks like an Angel to me."

"What about Daddy?"

"I wasn't sure who was my Daddy"

"Marin, you didn't know it was me?"

"No, it might be that guy with all the hair on his face." (we brought my cousin Pete, who had a beard at the time, and Marin was not sure which guy was Dad)

"So, Marin, what did you and Lidet and Abaynesh say about us after we left?"

"We thought it was so weird. Which one is the Daddy? We don't know! We just laughed and laughed and laughed. Then someone said Marin has two Daddies. Marin has two Daddies. And they make a big joke about it."

It just cracks me up to think here are these two poor little kids, half starved, about to be moved half way around the world, and they're making jokes in their bunk room about having two Daddies. Kids are pretty resilient.

Gambling Addiction

Last Sunday was the super bowl, and I took the girls to a party at my cousins house so they could play with all their little cousins. Naturally, there was some low stakes gambling, and I wagered five bucks.

Emmy observed the transaction with grave concern, and pulled me aside to question the wisdom of my actions.

"Daddy, why you give him our money?"
" How we gonna buy food?"
"Daddy. No money to go skating? We can't skate again?"
"Daddy, what about college? Need money for college?"

Well, the good news is, Emmy seems to be paying attention to my frugal lessons.

So we enjoy the party, etc. and fast forward to the car ride home. I asked the girls if they had a good time.

Marin - an enthusiastic YES!!! When can we do it again??
Emmy - "Daddy, did that boy give you our money back?"

Here is where I should have lied and told her yes, but I thought it would be good to teach her that gambling usually involves losing money and you really should never do it. Big mistake.

Emmy came right unglued, sobbing and thrashing and wailing with pitiable grief. "Daddy. I can't believe it. Now we have no money to buy food. We're gonna be too hungry. Mama's gonna be so sad." and on and on and on. Emmy is so dramatic, she made me feel terribly guilty and almost had me crying.

As I watched this whole episode unfold, it occurred to me I should have taped this as a public service message for gamblers anonymous. It was way more effective than anything else I have seen on the topic.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

I love Chuck

Two facts you need to know for this story to be cute..........

1. My parents nicknamed me Chuck when I was an infant. Some family members still call me that.

2. Marin knows this kids song called "I Love Mud"

So this morning, Marin was sitting at the kitchen table enjoying the breakfast I just made her and I was nearby packing her lunch box. Suddenly she breaks into this song.....

Chuck, Chuck, I love Chuck
I'm absolutely positively wild about Chuck
He makes me good breakfast, then he packs my lunch box
Absolutely positively super duper Chuck!

Then she looked over at me and grinned and started giggling, then asked me if I liked it.

She is such a cool kid.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


Today I took Marin out of school at about 11AM to come home and watch the inauguration with me on the TV and have lunch. Marin was very excited about this because she was the only student in her class doing so.

Marin was very attentive as all the dignitaries filed in and she named the ones she knew like George and Laura, Bill and Hillary, and Joe Biden. She was really excited when Obama's two daughters walked in with their Grammy.

When Obama was finally shown walking through Congress on the way to the podium Marin leaped out of her chair and exclaimed "It's him! It's Barak Obama. He so handsome. I love him. He has brown skin like me but he's not from Ethiopia. I want to marry him!"

Then we watched the whole event. Toward the end Marin said "Daddy, did you know they get to do a sleepover in the White House tonight?"

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Emmy Comaneci

We signed the kids up for gymnastics lessons two weeks ago. At the end of the first lesson, she as already doing a running tumble, and was promoted into the next highest class. After the second lesson, she was promoted again to the next class. Now she is with the Junior High kids.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

diversionary tactics

I took Emmy to the quick care for an ear infection.

In one of the exam rooms, a teenage girls was vomiting her guts out. I mean this loud reverberating, throw your entire alimantary canal on the floor type vomit. Emmy, being curious, wanted to see it. Of course I told her "no" and explained why.

Emmy relaxes, gets pre-occupied with something else, and then says "Daddy, what that sign say way over there? I can't see it." I scan the room and see this little sign way across the room, probably a no smoking sign or something, so I say that. "No, it not's that Daddy, no red cross" (geez, they learn about america fast!) So I step a little closer to the sign to see what it really says.

WHen I did that, Emmy made a beeline for the door to the room where the other patient was puking. I caught her just as she was about to turn the knob. She looked up at me with her 'gotcha grin' and said "Daddy I almost tricked you. I was really close."

One mother, watching all this asked "And how old is she?" "Just turned 4." "Dear God, you are going to have your hands full."

Man, don't I know it.

confidence crisis???

We were a little concerned about Marins' confidence level and we happened to mention that to a teacher.

In response, the teacher gave us a homework assignment to list all the reasons we love each other.

Marin wrote, about Emmy: funny, amazing, happy, smiley

Marin wrote, about herself: cute, gorgeous, smart, beautiful, gorgeous.

OK, so maybe our concerns were unfounded after all.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Some assembly required

Tonight I had an opportunity to watch Emmy eat her peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

I make these sandwiches the same way I imagine most parents do.
- put the peanut butter on one entire side of one slice
- put the jelly on one entire side of another slice
- put the two coated sides facing each other
- cut in half so little hands can manage

Emmy takes the sandwich apart so she has four pieces of bread facing her coating side up. Then she puts the peanut butter pieces together to make a peanut butter sandwich and the jelly pieces together to make a jelly sandwich. She eats the PB first and the jelly second.

When she was done eating I asked her why she did that.

She said "because I like the jelly part best and I want to eat it for dessert."

When I asked her where she learned to do that she said "I teached myself."

Monday, January 12, 2009

Street smart

I took the kids to a birthday party of an Ethiopian family in our community. The father, who had never met my kids, still speaks Amharic. He was asking me a little about the kids and he asked me if he could speak Amharic to Marin because he wanted to see if she remembered. I told him OK.

So the guy starts talking to Marin and she just stares at him with a blank face. Totally unresponsive. Almost like a death mask. Finally the guy turns to me and says "I guess she forgot."

Later, in the car on the ride home. Marin started asking me questions about the man.

"Why did he ask me where I live?"
" Why did he ask me if my shoes were comfortable?"
" Why did he ask me if I like cake?"
" Why did he ask me to dance with the kids?"

and on and on and on.

Finally I said, "Marin, so you do understand everything he said?" Obviously yes.

"Then why did you pretend to not understand him?"

Marin said "Because I thought he was from Ababa Kakos (the director of the orphanage) and he came to take me back to Africa."

The poor kid. It never even entered my mind that she would read the situation like that!

Too fast

You know that game we used to play as kids when you're giving someone a high five.

High five! On the side! Down low! Too slow! (while pulling hand away so the other guy misses).

We were at a basketball game over the weekend and one of the Fathers started playing this game with Emmy. Emmy smacked his hand down low. So the Father did it again, and Emmy smacked him again. After five smacks in a row (and Emmy waiting patiently for a sixth opportunity), the father looks at me with a sheepish grin and says "Your kid is pretty quick".


I left Emmy in the car for a minute while I tool Marin into school this morning. When I returned to the car, Emmy was in the back seat just beaming - all proud of herself.

"Guess what I can do, Daddy?"


" I can burp and cough at the same time."


"Watch me"

And she proceeded to demonstrate.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Mother Africa

I recently found my journal from a 1982 trip to India. It reminded me of the predictions of a fortune teller I engaged in Connaught Circle, New Delhi.

He said "Your first wife will be a cute blond. She is nice, pleasant, has a good heart, and everybody in your family will love her. Alas, she will not be the Mother of your children. You will later fall in love with a woman of dark hair, and she will give you two children. Two daughters. "

I remember telling Colleen that story when we were dating. Kind of as a joke like "We can get married, but we'll probably divorce because this fortune teller told me I'll have children with a dark haired woman."

So I pondered the fortune tellers predictions, all of which have come true except that I am still married to Colleen. Then it occurred to me, the Mother of my two daughters is a dark haired woman, and I did indeed fall in love with an entire culture of women with dark hair, and could this be what the fortune teller intended when he told me his prediction?

It is a mixture of freaky and calming to think about a total stranger having predicted this arc of my life over 25 years ago.

The F word

Marin and Emmy were in the playroom and I was in the kitchen reading the newspaper. Over time I tune into what they are saying.

"You said the F word."
" No you said the F word."
" I'm telling Mama you said the F word."
" No I didn't, you said the F word first."

Hesitantly, I interrupt the conversation to ask "What is the F word?" hoping to God it is not the real F word.

Marin says "You know what it is Daddy." (Isn't that the perfect bait I might have bitten on if I were 20 years younger) "Yes, Marin. I know what it is, but I want you to tell me."

Finally, Emmy, unable to stand the tension yells out "It's fart Daddy. The F word is fart and Marin said it first."

And I breathe a sigh of relief.

If the glove fits............

I can't believe I forgot to post this Christmas story.

About a week before Christmas, I had a repairman come in to maintain the gas space heater in the cold living room (the room over the garage where we have our tree and host Christmas) so we can have heat for Christmas.

Fast forward to Christmas morning, Marin is rummaging around for gifts under the tree and suddenly cries "Come see this! Come see this!" as she proudly hoists a pair of old blue and yellow work gloves. "I found Santa's gloves! I can't believe it!" Then she stuck her nose deep inside one of the gloves, inhaled powerfully, and exclaims "Yup, it smells like Santa!"

We promised Marin we would mail the gloves back to the north pole so Santa can have them for next Christmas.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Speed Demons

I took Marin and Emmy skating for the first time. What a show. They gingerly stepped out on to the ice and hugged the siderail with a death grip. Taking baby steps, we completed our first lap around the rink in about 25 minutes.

By the end of the free skate, Emmy was standing by herself out in the middle of the rink doing turns. She fell a lot, but she always got right back up and skated more, and she got really upset with me when I tried to help her. The kid is fearless.

Marin was a lot more tentative. She began skating better and faster, but was never more than six inches from the rail, and always caught the rail before she fell.

The kids really enjoyed skating and I think we'll do more of it.


People who have been reading the blog know that our children are true orphans and they miss their Mother terribly. One of the ways Marin and I first bonded was when I told her that my Mother died. We told each other stories about our Mothers and then I took Marin to my Mothers' grave site. Marin calls this "Maries' place."

Colleen and I had been talking for some time about buying an engraved stone for Marin and Emmys' parents and placing it beside my Mothers' gravestone. Last month we finally did it. It is a beautiful roughcut stone that we imagine you might be used as a gravemarker in a poor country. It has a few hearts carved into it and is inscribed with:

Our Father Asefa Lema - 2005
Our Mother Ketemash Dube - 2004
Shebedino, Sidama, Ethiopia
Missed by Meron and Emnet

Before Christmas we took Marin and Emmy to the graveyard to show them the stone. Marin teared up, but she was beaming with happiness. She and Emmy asked us to read the stone to them several times. Then they hugged us and thanked us for giving them a place to visit with their Africa Mommy and Daddy.

Love for Daddy

The other day I had to scold Emmy. She ran to her room, jumped on her bed, and pouted.

After a few minutes I heard her cute little sing songy voice making up another song and I thought to myself "Wow. She really got over that one fast." As I got closer, I heard her singing.

I wish my Daddy wasn't my Daddy.
I wish my Daddy wasn't my Daddy.