Thursday, December 30, 2010

opposite man

Santa brought the kids a Wii this year. After a couple of days of demonstrating my incompetence at modern electronics, I finally got the darn thing working. (bonus points - I did not have to buy a new TV for it. We used the TV my brother gave us for a wedding gift 20 years ago- YES!!)

Anyway, one of the first things you have to do is design your Avatar (I'm sure most of you already knew that). Marin designed a beautiful brown skinned avatar for herslef. Then Emmy designed a beautiful brown skinned avatar with big blue eye shadow and big red lips. It was hilarious. Then I designed my avatar to look like me. The kids said "No, make him taller.", then "No, make him skinnier." Finally, I was about to hit the save button, and both kids looked at me, drop dead serious, and said, at the same time "Daddy, aren't you going to make him brown skin like us?"

So here I am - opposite man. A short, fat, bald, white guy with a tall, thin, brown, hairy avatar.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Blue Christmas

Blue was my family's Christmas colour when I was young. Grandmother's tree was trimmed totally in blue lights. My grandparents' parlor in which we trimmed the tree and exchanged gifts had blue carpet and blue wall paper. Elvis' Blue Christmas was the family Christmas carol. Most of the gift wrap was blue. And on and on.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago we are at the florist choosing a wreath for my mothers' grave. (reminder that we had a stone carved for our childrens' birth parents and placed it next to my mothers' stone) We asked the kids if they wanted to choose the wreath because it was for their parents, too. Out of hundreds of wreaths, what do they choose? A beautiful wreath made of blue spruce, decorated with blue ornaments, and a large blue and silver bow. It made a lump in my throat.

Unfortunately, the wreath also set off a two week period of mourning, especially for Emmy. She cried herself to sleep every night and woke up crying each morning. She wanted to know why we had not taken her African parents to America so we could all live together (they are deceased). And why we did not pay for doctors to save her parents. And its' not fair that other kids get to see their Moms and Dads at Christmas by Emmy does not. Emmy asks the deepest most heart breaking questions about sickness, death, afterlife, heaven, and so on. It was a truly blue Christmas.


The kids are really self conscious lately about being brown. Marin always wears long warm ups (instead of gym shorts) to basketball and to indoor soccer. She says it is because she wants to cover her brown skin. I told her the kids can still see her face. Instead of helping her understand how irrational she was, it just bummed her out. Then I felt even worse.

Last night Emmy and I were snuggling before she went to bed. She pulled my head under the covers with her and whispered " I don't like my brown skin. When I go back to school I am going to cover my whole face with a white permanent marker. "

We are constantly telling our kids how beautiful their skin is (it really is), and how much we love it (we really do), and we kiss them all the time and we tell them white people spend all their money going to tanning booths so they can have beautiful brown skin. It isn't working. Suggestions welcomed.


I took the kids to one of those arcades that spits out tickets and then you use the tickets to claim a crummy prize. I know, total ripoff, but the kids had a ball. What do they choose for prizes? Whoopie cushions.

I gotta hand it to my kids. Instead of just farting and giggling like juveniles, my kids created little skits incorporating the whoopie cushions. For example

1. Excuse me. I'd like to speak to the members of the town council. You're all a bunch of ............................

2. Good afternoon. This is Barak Obama and I want to talk to you about ..........................

3. Good morning. This is Dr. Rhoads (school principal) and I want to tell you.......................... Wait, was that you Miss Maggie (school secretery)?

I had to pull the car off the road I was laughing so hysterically. My stomach was cramping and I was crying.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Google it

So here we are, watching the Christmas special "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" on TV. The kids are watching intently, trying to figure out exactly how all this happened. Finally Marin says "Daddy, Google where did Santa come from".

American History Museum

We all went to DC for Thanksgiving. Like any family with kids knows, you have to get a hotel with a pool in it. So there are the kids in the pool, making friends with another little girl about Marin's age. You just never know where these new friendships are going to go.

Marin: Where are you from?
Friend: Georgia. Where are you from?
Marin: Ethiopia.
Friend: What? Is that in Africa?
Marin: (encouraged) Yes!
Friend: Wow, you are so lucky you got out of there. If you lived there a few years ago you would have been a slave!
Marin: What?
Friend: You know, a slave. Where white people beat you and make you work and buy you and sell you and you can't go to school or have friends or anything
Friends Mom (as alarmed as I am and trying to recover) No sweetheart, that was a long time ago and it doesn't happen anymore. Your new friend has nothing to worry about.

We spend the next three days reassuring Marin that she will not become a slave.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

This is my house??

Over the weekend Marin and I were enjoying a quiet breakfast. She had this peaceful, confortable, satisfied expression on her face. I asked her what she was thinking about.

Marin: I can't believe this is really my house.
Me: What do you mean?
Marin: I just can't believe it.
Me: I still don't know what you mean.
Marin: It is so different from my house in Ethiopia.
Me: Tell me about your house in Ethiopia
Marin: It was like a three little pigs house made from pieces of wood and grass and leaves
Me: What else do you remember?
Marin: It had a hole for a door. Not a door that you can close or lock. Just a hole in the wall that you can walk through. And it had windows. Not with glass or curtains, but a hole in the wall so the air and the light can come in.
Me: Do you remember anything else?
Marin: It was pretty tall inside. I could not reach the ceiling. Sometimes it was really quiet and peaceful. Other times it was really noisy, like when the chickens and the goats wanted to come inside.
Me: Do you remember anything else?
Marin: I remember the smell. Our house today always smells clean like the stuff under the sink. My other house smelled like outside. Mostly dusty and like grass, and sometimes like smoke if the Mamas were cooking.
Me: Do you miss your other house?
Marin: No. I like this house. But I hope I can see my other house again some day.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Amharican Chop Suey

OK, I invented this myself, so I'm pretty psyched about it.

In the grocery store I saw a box of german dumplings (spaetzel) and it had a photo of beef stroganoff on it. That was one of my Mom's best home made dishes when I was a kid and it brought back a flood of memories, so I bought the spaetzel.

I get home, and remember no one else in my family likes sour cream, or gravy, or mushrooms - three important ingredients in stroganoff. Now what? Ta da! Amharican Chop Suey!!

1. Boil the spaetzel per directions on the package until plump and tender. Then drain.
2. Add about 1 lb of cooked meat (ground beef, or ground turkey, or ground pork, or shaved steak (like in a cheesesteak sandwich)) I used shaved steak.
3. Add one or two cans of spicy tomatoes. I used Hunts chili ready tomatoes.
4. Add spices. I used a little cumin and a little berbere.
5. Toss ingredients until blended thoroughly.
6. Serve piping hot in a big deep pasta bowl.

For vegetarian use peas, green beans, carrots, eggplant, zucini, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, tofu, etc instead of meat.


Sunday, August 29, 2010

Tool time

Obviously, the kids are spending a lot of time with their handyman grandfather and homebuilder Uncle David. Yesterday the kids were in the yard pounding a couple of pieces of wood with a couple of different rocks.

Me: What are you doing?
Them: Building a strong fairy house.
Me: Strong?
Them: You know, so it won't blow down in the winter.
Marin to Emmy: Get me that special rock.
(Emmy hands Marin a rock)
Marin: No. That's a regular rock. I need a Phillips rock.

Friday, August 20, 2010


I was away on business recently and called the kids around bedtime to say goodnight. Emmy was very curious about where I was and what I was doing.

Emmy: Where are you?
Me: In Chicago in my hotel
Emmy: No, exactly where are you? Are you in your bed?
Me: Yes
Emmy: Is you bed bigger than Mama's bed?
Me: Yes
Emmy: Who is with you?
Me: Karen.
Emmy: Do I know her?
Me: No
Emmy: She's with you in Chicago?
Me: Yes.
Emmy: In the same hotel?
Me: Yes
Emmy: (in a hushed secretive tone) Daddy. Does Mama know about this?
Me: Emmy. It's a business trip. Karen is about business.
Emmy: Oh. Goodness. I though you and Mama broked up and you forgot to tell Mama.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

This is the job of a parent

We are spending this week with a family that recently adopted a wheelchair bound child. Great kid, great attitude, great family. The reason for my post is the way the Mom handles well intentioned people.

For example, I found myself wanting to help this kid at every turn. You know, wheel him around, lift him, get him water, whatever. His Mom was constantly reprimanding me (and others) to let him do it himself.

Finally, I gave her this exasperated look. Whereupon she oulled me aside and gave me 'the talk'.

"Listen, I know you mean well. But someday I won't be here to fend for him. My most important job is to prepare him for that day. That means teaching him how to do things for himself and then giving him the room to do it for himself so he can gain confidence and become a problem solver. I know it is hard to watch. I am always catching myself about to jump up and help him. But, trust me on this, every time you do something for him that he can do himself or should be able to do himself, then you are destroying his future. And I know you would not want to be complicit in destroying his future."

Wow. That is one smart parent. When you look at the thousands of spoiled brats walking around today, don't you wish they had a mother like this mother?

Monday, August 2, 2010

Fresh Air

Last weekend we had an awesome camping event in NH with about 15 other Eth families. Swimming, fishing, ball games, hay rides, carnival games, campfires, etc. It was a ball!

This campground is quite large and has a number of full season residents - seems like mostly retirees and empty nesters. They were very friendly - too friendly. Telling us how wonderful we are, how kind, generous, etc. I thought "That's weird, why would anyone say that to a perfect stranger?"

Then it occurred to me, these other campers think that our families are hosting"Fresh Air Kids" (see and we're so nice to take them out of the ghetto for a weekend in NH. I took this little theory back to a couple of other parents and they said I was crazy.

Sunday Morning. Lovely, sunny, mild breeze, I am walking on one of the campground roads and a couple of older women stop me to talk:

Them: We just think its' so wonderful what you all are doing.
Me: Thanks.
Them: How did you get involved in this?
Me: Well, we did some research online and met with some other families to ask them about it.
Them: That's all?
Me: Oh no, that was just the start. Then we had to do background checks, home inspections, a financial review, job verifications, references, all kinds of stuff.
Them: Wow, all that for just a few weeks?
Me: Huh?
Them: I mean, you only have these kids for a week or two, right?
Me: Why do you think that?
Them: Aren't you all the Fresh Air program or something similar?
Me: Oh, OK. No, all of these children are our children adopted from Ethiopia.
Them: Really? All those kids are adopted?
Me: Well, not the white ones. Those are birth children. But all the brown ones are adopted from Ethiopia - many of them from the same orphanage - which is why we arrange to have them see each other every now and then.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Race Relations

Nto sure what is going on with Marin, but she is peppering me with questions about Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King. Basically, what was going on with white skinned people to the extent that Rosa and Martin had to do what they did.

I explained it in the context of bullies. You know, the white skinned people used to bully the brown skinned people until the brown skinned people decided to not take it anymore and the brown skinned people got all the rules changed so no more bullies are allowed.

Marin understood that, then asked why the bullies still happen.

Me: It doesn't happen much anymore, Marin. The while skinned people and the brown skinned people get along now. Look at how many white skinned people love you and Emmy.
Marin: Only in my family.
Me: What are you talking about?
Marin: Not at school. It's not like that at school.
Me: What do you mean?
Marin: Well, on the last day of school, a lot of kids come up to me and said "I didn't like you at the beginning of school because you had brown skin and I thought it was gross, but I like you now."
Me: Seriously? Who said that?
Marin: Everybody except Molly and Vee.
Me: speechless

So here I am thinking everything was great at school. Marin loves school. She actually is bummed when she has school vacation. She seldom shows signs of being bullied. I am not sure what to do with this.

Mother Daughter Dance

Marin and Emmy were supposed to run in their first track meet last week. Just the relays, but I was really excited about watching them. Alas, my car battery dies and I cannot get there. Colleen volunteers to pick up the kids and take them to the meet.

I get a phone all. The kids will not get out of the car at the meet. They claim the crowd is too big, it is scaring them, they think its a bad idea. And they are inches away from a meltdown. I tell Colleen to abort and take the kids home. She does.

Later that evening, I take Marin to the high school for her field hockey clinic and the track meet is still going on. I suggest that Marin and I go watch for a little so she can see a real meet and not be so scared next time. She agrees.

So there we are, standing at the rail, right where the relay baton handoffs occur. I explain to Marin what is happening and she is nodding her head and smiling. She sees some of her friends run the relays and she cheers for them.

Me: So Marin, do you understand what is happening here?
Marin: Yes.
Me: It looks like fun doesn't it?
Marin: Yes
Me: You could do this
Marin: I know
Me: You could have won a ribbon on the relay team
Marin: I know
Me: So what went wrong? I thought we had you all ready to race today?
Marin (shaking head wearily) Daddy, you just don't understand. Sometimes Mama brings out the worst in me.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Seize the moment

Marin has field hockey practice in the evening this week. Last evening, I decided to leave her at practice and go run some errands. When I returned, there were no players on the field. After a mad scramble, I learned there had been lightning sighted nearby, the coaches cleared the field, and had the kids all sitting in a van on low ground.

As I approach the van, I see Marin sitting in a folding chair, arms crossed, big pout, and ugly look on her face.

Me: Hi Sweetie. Are you OK?
Marin: No
Me: What's the matter?
Marin: I've told you I need my own cell phone for situations just like this one. But you don't listen to me. What if my coach had to leave? I would be here all alone. How can you do that to a little kid? It is too dangerous for me to be out here with no cell phone.

Wow. She ripped that off like she had been rehearsing it for months and just waiting for the perfect moment to serve it up.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Lonely Goatherd

We were at a large Eth gathering earlier this month and some of the children were recent arrivals. One little boy, who came from a family of goatherders, was picking up the pet cats and dogs by their ankles, slinging them up over his shoulders, and carrying them around the yard draped across the back of his neck and shoulders. Another little boy watched while his mother patted a goat. The mother said "Oh, isn't he a cute goat!" to which the boy responded "When are we going to eat him?"

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Great Debater

We're working with our kids to make good decisions about needs vs. wants. You know, so when they say they really need an iPod, we can counter with "No, you really need food and water, but an iPod is a want" kind of thing.

Apparently, Emmy, our five year old, was paying close attention. It is my habit to be in my office on Sunday mornings from about 4AM to 8AM. It's my quiet time to think clearly about strategic questions, tie up loose ends from the week before, and plan the coming week. Last weekend, about 7:30, my cell phone rings.

Emmy: Daddy, I want breakfast. Where are you?
Me: Emmy, I'm at work.
Emmy: Why are you at work. Today is a no school day.
Me: I have to, buddy.
Emmy: You have to?
Me: yes
Emmy: Is anybody else at work?
Me: No
Emmy: Did your boss make you work today?
Me: No
Emmy: Oh, so you want to work?
Me: Huh?
Emmy: You don't have to work, Daddy. You want to work. It's not a need. It's a want.
Colleen: (in the background laughing hilariously)

Friday, July 9, 2010

speechless in sebago

So there we are at the playground. There was another little boy about Marin's age and the kids started playing with him. He starts doing the 'eeny meeny miny mo' rhyme and goes with the 'catch a nigger by the toe' version. You know, it's Maine. I'm not gonna lie. Me and my friends used to say that all the time in elementary school. There were no blacks in our school. But it's been about a hundred years since I heard a kid say 'nigger' so I just kind of stood there hoping the moment would blow by. No.

Marin: Daddy, what's nigger mean?
Me: (crap - trying to buy time because I had not previewed this situation in my head) Marin, I'm not sure, let me think about it.
Marin: you know Daddy, tell me the truth

Parents of Ethiopians know that these kids don't come with the baggage of slavery and discrimination that many black Americans grew up with. Eth kids can't get their heads around it because where they come from, brown skinned people are all up and down the social and economic ladder and there is are no white skinned people to practice discrimination. Back to the playground.

Me: (to the little boy) Do you know what a nigger is? (hoping he doesn't)
Boy: Yes. You're one (pointing at Marin)
Marin: What is he talking about?

By this time, the boy's mother can see he is getting uncomfortable so she walks over (after snuffing out her cigarette, shutting off her iPhone, and dumping out her beer - OK I made up the beer part).

Mom: What's wrong honey?
Boy: This man is asking me questions.
Mom: Why are you bothering him?
Me: I'm not. Did you hear what he said?
Mom: I did.
Me: Can you help me out here?
Mom: You leave my son alone.
Me: I will, I am just wondering how I should explain this to my kids. Can you help me?
Mom: Listen buddy, if you can't solve your own problems, maybe you shouldn't have kids. (grabs son by elbow and walks away)

So, I guess I got told by the white trash Mom. I actually felt a little bad for the kid. He recognized he had said something inappropriate, but he could not figure out what it was or why. I imagine this word gets used regularly around his house and he is insensitive to it. His Mom is obviously not going to inform him.

I guess I should feel fortunate it took us 3.5 years to encounter the N word. I still have not told Marin what it means. Any ideas re how to address this?

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Sudan

So there we are, wandering through the produce aisle, and Marin spies a couple of tall dark women dressed in the really colorful traditional African dress and headscarf. Marin laser locks on these women and insists on talking to them.

Turns out they are from Sudan, but when they learned Marin was Ethiopian, they said they were from Addis. So I asked "Wait a minute, I thought you just said you were from The Sudan?" (and, by the way, they looked way more Sudanese in appearance than Ethiopian) Big mistake my asking. Now we get the whole Sudanese refugee story.

The women speak: "We are from Sudan, but conditions there are terrible terrible. Soldiers are killing our families, burning our houses, and stealing our livestock. There is no jobs, no food, no water. This women here, my sister, and me, we packed our belongings on a donkey and walked to Ethiopia. We can travel only at night to avoid the soldiers, but we can travel only in daylight to avoid the lions and hyenas. It is very dangerous. Many of us were lost. Once inside Ethiopia, we found a bus ride to Addis. Once inside Addis, we must do unspeakable things to earn money to go to London and then to America. " And on and on and on.

Normally, I would be fascinated and heartbroken by such a life history and would have invited these women someplace for dinner to get the time to hear all the details. But in front of Marin? Shheeeesh. I could see her little head about to explode. So now we are in the car. Marin..........

"Why did soldiers burn them house down?"
" What did they eat when they walked a long time?"
" What does the word unspeakable mean?"
" What did they do that is unspeakable?"
"Daddy, tell me the truth, is this what really happened to me and Emmy?"
" Were we in Sudan and had to walk to Ethiopia before you found us?"
" Daddy, did the soldiers have guns or knives?"
" Did they hurt kids or just grown ups?"

And about a million more questions. I am exhausted.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


So there we are, Marin's first track practice.

The coach asks the kids to run at medium speed twice around the track to warm up. Marin is walking.

The coach divides the kids into relay teams of about 20 runners each, and tells the kids to sit down after they have run to help her keep track of who has run and who has not. Marin, about 5th in line, casually looks around, sneaks her way to the back of the line, and sits down before having a turn at running.

At water break time, I ask Marin if she is having fun.
Marin: An enthusiastic "Yes, Daddy! I love this track game!"
Me: Then why aren't you running?
Marin: Huh? I'm running really hard.
Me: Marin. I watched you. You walked while the other kids ran and you sat while the other kids raced.
Marin: Really, you were watching me?
Me: Yes. So what is it you love about this track game?
Marin: (looks around carefully, leans in, and whispers) I get to talk to all the boys.

Thinking quickly, I informed Marin that boys like girls who run fast. The faster the girl, the more the boy likes her. Marin looked cynical. Thankfully, one of the Mothers had overheard the entire conversation and piped in "Oh yes, Marin. I learned in third grade that boys like girls who run fast and I started practicing my fast running and always had lots of boyfriends."

Well, that was all Marin needed to hear. She burst back on to the track and instantly became the Usain Bolt of third grade!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


Emmy's newest weapon of tantrum is to threaten to kill herself.

So there we are in the kitchen, she asked for something ridiculous (I honestly don't remember what it was) and I said no or not yet.

Emmy: That's it. I'm really going to kill myself now.
Me: No you're not. I'll miss you too much and I love you too much. And Mama will cry.
Emmy: Yes. I'm going to sit in the road and wait for a car to run me over.
Me: Emmy. The car will see you and stop.
Emmy: Oh. Then I have another trick.
Me: Emmy, please just stay here with us.
Emmy: I'm going to wait for the leaves to fall from the trees and the hunters come. Then I'll go in the woods and pretend I'm a deer and they will shoot me.
Me: Emmy. How do you pretend to be a deer?
Emmy: I'll put on a big red nose from the dollar store and walk like this (prancing leaping motion) and go 'beep! beep! beep!"

(I think she was trying to be Rudolph the reindeer)

Dear God. OK - I know she's goofing, but at what age do we have to start taking these conversations seriously?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Lighten up on the Sarcasm

This morning Marin came down to breakfast in a foul mood.

Me: "Marin, why are you so upset?"
Marin: "Mama said 'Ooohhh, you're hair looks soooo nice today'.
Me: "Why is that upsetting? Mama is telling you how pretty you are."
Marin: "No, Daddy. Her words were nice, but her tone was mean. She wasn't telling me the truth. She was teasing me. Grown ups do that all the time. They think they are tricking kids but we no for real when they are being mean."

Wow. That was a mouthful. Even though Colleen was being sincere (I learned afterward), the fact that Marin faces sarcasm so often, and has now caught on to it, has compromised her ability to differentiate sincerity from sarcasm. I am really bummed by this. Colleen and I took the anti-sarcasm pledge. The most difficult challenge will be another close relative - who has a highly acid tongue even when she is being sweet.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Decisions Decisions

So there we are at the voting booth and there is a giant candy dish. Emmy stares at me with this pleading look in here eyes. "OK, Emmy, but just one piece." She took a peanut butter cup.

Fast forward ten minutes I am getting ready to drop Emmy off at daycare.

"Daddy, I want to take this inside. No wait, then I will have to share it with everybody."

"Daddy, I want to leave it in the car and eat it tonight after dinner. No wait, it might melt in the car."

"Daddy, I want you to hold it for me. No wait, you might eat it first."

Then Emmy plops down in the middle of the daycare parking lot and starts sobbing. She can't figure out what to do with her peanut butter cup. Finally I said, Emmy, why don't we go sit on the bench for a minute, I'll unwrap this for you and you can eat it now.

"Really, I can eat candy this early in the morning?" She sat down, ate the candy, licked her fingers, looked up at me with a big smile and said "You know, Mama's gonna kill you for this."

Sunday, June 6, 2010

My pee is red!

I was preparing dinner today and beets were on the menu. The kids have never eaten beets before and they had a ton of questions. Marin said "Hey, William (her cousin) told me beets make your pee turn red. Is that true?" I said it can be true if you eat enough beets.

Fast forward, the kids are wolfing down the beets. They didn't eat anything else. Beets everywhere. Colleen, who was not in the room during the whole beets conversation, asked "What are you girls doing?" The answer "Making our pee turn red!"

As soon as they were excused from the table, the kids bolted to the bathroom. We could hear them in there>

"Hurry up I want a turn"
"Look, I think I see red"
"No its not"
"Yes, look right there, see?"
"Flush that, I want to try"

So, parents, now you know how to get your kids excited about beets.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Political Animal

It's Primary Election season and there's a lot of talk about it on the radio. Today, I'm driving Emmy to preschool and she asks me "Daddy, what's a Democrat?" (OMG - the opportunities to go nuclear on the editorial scale!)

I explained "Emmy, you know when we go to vote? Well, there are usually two teams trying to win. One is the Democrats and one is the Republicans. They are two teams playing against each other trying to win the most votes."

Emmy "Oh, who usually wins these games?"

Me: " In Maine, usually the Democrats win"

Emmy: "Which team do you like?"

Me: "Usually I like the Republican team."

Emmy: "That's because the Democrat team makes you pay too much money to the man, right?"

Awesome.....Is it possible Emmy has the only Republican preschool teacher in the whole state?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Fake right shoot left

So there is Emmy, warming up for her pre-K soccer game. The opposing coach is in his own goal letting his players warm up on him. Naturally, he is playing very soft, letting everything go in, as he should with players this age.

Emmy makes her way down to his end of the field and asks if she can score in him. He says "Sure!" but something about Emmy must have rubbed him the wrong way because he suddenly decides to play like its the Olympics. Emmy comes in with the ball on her right foot and the coach sells out right, I mean lays right out horizonally. Emmy shifts the ball to her left foot, and toe flips the ball into the upper left corner, making the guy look like a fool. He turns bright red and being sold out by a little girl. It gets worse.

Emmy falls to the ground, holding her belly laughing, and starts yelling at no one in particular "Oh my God, did you see me fake that guy out? That was so hilarious." The parents in the lawn chairs were all asking each other "Did you see what that little girl just did?"

At this point it was getting embarrassing for me. Thanks goodness most of the crowd don't know we're Emmy's parents.

Thursday, May 6, 2010


So there we are, tucking the kids into bed, having our 'calming down' conversations to get the kids into the right frame of mind to go to sleep.

Marin: Daddy, what do you want from me?
Me: Marin, I want you to be nice and love me forever like I will love you forever.
Marin: Mama, what do you want from me?
Colleen: Marin, I want you to be nice and love me forever like I will love you forever.
Marin: Emmy, what do you want from me?
Emmy: I want you to be super mean to me and always push all of my buttons all the time.

Monday, May 3, 2010

One Moon Ethiopia

Last weekend we attended and participated in an exhibit of artwork created by the children of adoptive parents from Ethiopia. About 15 families from southern ME and NH participated, and all the kids had a total blast.

On the ride home, it got me thinking.

What is it about these 15 families that motivates us to seek each other out, gravitate toward each other, and in some cases, cling to each other? The surface answer is we have a common bond, children from Ethiopia, and that is obviously a part of the answer because we probably would not even know each other if not for that.

But this phenomenon runs deeper. We seem to be building, or striving to build, something deeper and enduring. A permanent community of sorts. A legacy for our children so they will have roots after we are gone.

We sense, on some level, that our children do not, and perhaps will not, have the deepness of roots we thought they would have in America. That even in our biological families, there is transracial undercurrent that anyone other than the parent(s) cannot fully appreciate. But other adoptive parents do understand and can shed light on solutions. Our kids feel comfortable being with the other kids that have experienced substantially similar life trajectories. The kids are approaching an age now where they can compare notes and begin to explore unanswered questions for themselves. Having good relationships with their fellow Eth orphans helps get them through this.

I'll close with one cute example. This weekend we saw a little girl that shared a dorm room with our girls at the orphanage in Addis. They have had no contact at all in almost 3 years. They looked across the beach, recognized each other, ran to each other, gave each other a long embrace, and played together the entire day as though they had never been apart.

Only these kids know what they left behind. Only these kids know what it took to survive that. Luckily, the parents get it, and the parents know it is these kids that are the support network our kids are going to need feel connected, supported, and affirmed into adulthood.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Showing early promise

Today was opening day of spring soccer.

Marin plays in the 2-3 grade bracket. Her team lost 3-1, but Marin had a decent game and scored her teams' only goal.

Emmy plays in the pre-K league. She probably should be in the first grade league. Today Emmy scored six goals in the first five minutes of the game. The opposing coach and I talked it over, decided the field sloped in a direction that favored Emmy's team (it really did - it's a crummy field), and switched goals so Emmy would have to score uphill. No problem. Three more goals in the next five minutes. I sent Emmy to the bench so other kids could touch the ball.

When Emmy returned to the game, we were leading something like 10-1. I told Emmy "No more goals for you, you wait for one of your team to get to the goal with you and pass it to her". Emmy responded with a cheerful "OK, Daddy."

Emmy takes the ball, zip zip zip, and is at the other goal waiting for someone on her team to catch up. She turned around and yelled "Hurry up and I'll shoot it to you and you can score a goal." And she did - about a dozen times. It was just ridiculous. Thankfully, all the parents knew I was doing everything I could to take the attention off Emmy, but it just wasn't working.

It is really exciting to watch her play.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Is that you, Uncle Jim??

So there we are, watching the Celts in the process of stealing game three in Miami. Every time Jeff Van Gundy says Glen 'big baby' Davis, the kids roll on the floor laughing and ask me "What's big baby's number again, Daddy?" Eleven. "Oh, yeah, a waaahhh and a waaaahh, big baby". Giggling their heads off.

Anyway, they cut to Rick Pitino (former Celtics coach) in the audience and they interview him for about 60 seconds. Suddenly, Emmy and Marin are motionless, silent, watching intently. Finally Emmy asks "Why is Uncle Jim not wearing his glasses?"

I'm thinking "What??!!??" Then I look at the TV again, and Pitino does look like Colleen's brother Jim, but with a few more wrinkles. Colleen starts cracking up. I can't wait to tell Jim about this.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

What's the Frequency, Kenneth?

So here we are at a large family gathering, about 80 of us, for a special event. Some of us, including my Dad and I, arrived early to verify things were arranged as we had planned, check in with the caterer, etc.

My Aunt pulls my Dad and I aside and starts talking in a wierd blend of hesitant, apologetic, defensive tone. I can't imagine where this is going, and she eventually cuts to the chase.

Aunt: Well, my daughter has sort of become a foster mother to one of the boys who is friends with her son.
Us: Oh, wow, congratulations.
Aunt: Well, it's likely he will be joining us here today and I want to be sure its OK with you that we have one more guest.
Us: Of course.
Aunt: Well, he's a black kid.
Us: OK
Aunt: Really? You mean thats OK with you?

At this point, my Dad and I look at each other trying to read each others reaction and determine whether my Aunt is pulling our legs or not. Could she possibly be serious? Has she forgotten that my children and my Dad's grandchildren are African? Apparently, she did not make that connection. So, how to process this conversation?

On the one hand, I am thrilled that my Aunt does not even think of my children as black. That she is totally oblivious to my kids skin color is incredible, astounding, and exhilarating. My kids are totally and unconditionally accepted by the older generations in my family, and that is awesome.

On the other hand, there is still this latent attitude - I don't even know how to describe it - that the older generations have about blacks. It's really subtle. It is not evil; they wish no ill will to blacks. It's more like "I like blacks better when they keep their distance" and "I am concerned you will not accept me if I am associated with blacks." I think America needs to lose two more generations - say 40 more years - before these attitudes will be largely extinguished.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


Emmy is a little more than 5 years old.

Yesterday, she went to the car to get her sunglasses, and accidentally slammed her fingers in the door of the car, tearing off a small piece of flesh. Correct me if I'm wrong, but wouldn't most kids age 5 stand there with their fingers stuck in the door and scream bloody murder?

Emmy reached over with her other hand, opened the car door, and removed her injured hand. Then she walked into the house, held up her bloody hand for us to see, and calmly asked for an icy bear (ice cube) and a bandaid. Only after we got her hand all cleaned and bandage did she go lie down with her doll and stuffed animal and begin to sob quietly.

Monday, March 22, 2010

March Madness 2010

I am having a blast introducing the girls to March Madness. I showed them the brackets and asked them to pick a couple of teams to cheer for.

They picked Temple because they liked Hootie the Owl Mascot, so I taught them the Cherry and White fight song. And they picked Syracuse because we have been following the Orange all season and their favorite player is Scoop Jardine. Temple lost its first game, so I asked the girls to pick another team to cheer for. They liked the Xavier cheerleaders, and now they run around the house with their forearms crossed in the shape of an X chanting "Lets go X! Lets go X!"

They are so into the games - asking questions like what's his name?, what's his number?, is he a big man or a little man?, whose cheerleader is that?, which team are the most people cheering for?. Then they start mimicking the announcers - from downtown, in the paint, for the jam, tough D, and the foul, for three, travelling violation, airball - it is awesome. Who needs sons to enjoy march Madness? Last night, we were watching Purdue v. Texas A&M, and one team committed a horrific turnover so the coach called a time out. Emmy turns to face me, dead serious, and says "Coach wants to talk it over, right Dad?"

Now weneed them to grow to 6 feet so we can pursue that hoops scholarship!

Friday, February 26, 2010

GriefStorm Part 2

This was Emmy, crying and crying and crying herself to sleep last night.

She wants to believe her African mother is still alive and we can go back to find her and bring her to America. If I didn't think it would create even more issues later on, I would be fine letting Emmy believe her mother is still alive. We finally talked her back down to the point where she acknowledged her African mother is not alive.

At that point, she suddenly turned on us, sobbing bitterly, and angrily accusing us of not doing enough to save her mother. Why didn't we bring medicine to the mother? Why didn't we pay for her doctor? Why didn't we bring her to America to get healthy?

Aye aye aye.

Still puzzling over why this is happening now, and with such frequency, and with such raw emotion, we called our friends the O'Connors. They suggested two theories..........

1. February is the third anniversary of the adoption. Jeff said all their kids got depressed or homesick around their anniversaries. I asked "How do they know? We don't celebrate the anniversary. We don't even acknowledge it in front of the kids." Jeff said they just know. Maybe they recognize the season or something, but they just know.

2. Eyob. At our house we talk a lot about the O'Connors pending adoption of Eyob and one the reasons for that adoption is to get a lot of medical attention for Eyob. Emmy, listening to that story as often as she has, probably wonders why the same effort was not made for her Mother, and the fact that it wasn't strikes Emmy as frustrating and profoundly unfair.

Saturday, February 20, 2010


Don't know what triggered this - maybe a dream or something - but the girls were in full blown grieving this morning. Bodies shaking with sobs, contorted facial expressions, flailing limbs, ear splitting wailing, pillows soaked with tears, inconsolably begging to see and hold their Ethiopian parents. I'll tell you what, I am having a hard time coming up with words or analogies to describe the shock value of such an emotional display and the helplessness that we, as parents, were feeling.

When we finally got them calm enough so we could reason with them, we told the kids we would take them to their parents grave to spend time with them. (readers of the blog know we had a stone carved for the girls' parents and placed in Leo's family plot)

So this afternoon, I took the kids to the graveyard. The kids can find their parents' stone by themselves now because they recognize some of the names on nearby stones.

Marin stared at the stone for a few minutes and read it out loud to me. Then Marin said "I think I feel my mother here". I said "Marin, if you feel her here, then talk to her. I'll stand over there and give you privacy."

Marin kneeled in the grass and bent over to kiss her mothers' name on the stone. Then she said, in the sweetest sounding voice, the kind of voice used when people see someone they really loved for the first time after a long absence and they aren't really certain how the other person is going to respond. "Hi Mama. This is Marin. I want you to know I am having a good life in America. Emmy too. I hope you are having a good life in heaven. I miss you. This man behind me name is Leo. He is my new Daddy. He is doing a good job. He treats me and Emmy good. I love you and I miss you. From Marin."

Then she bent over and kissed the stone again, and we left.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Adults are Coming!!

Emmy needed a neck and throat Xray. Turns out we know the Xray technician, and it was a slow time of day, so she let me and Emmy come back to see Emmy's xrays on the computer screen. It was fascinating to show Emmy her skull, neck, collarbone, ribs, etc. in the photo and then trace her finger along the bone through her skin so she could feel the bones she was looking at. While showing Emmy her teeth, I saw this second row of teeth directly underneath them. I said "Emmy, look, these are your grown up teeth getting ready to push your baby teeth out of the way. Wow. Look how close they are. I'll bet you start losing some teeth soon." Emmy was speechless.

When we got in the car, Emmy wanted to call Mama and tell her all about the xrays. She was so excited, all she could say was "The adults are coming. The adults are coming. The adults are coming!"

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


Last weekend we entertained the family of one of Marin's classmates. They are interacial - the wife white american and the husband cambodian. The wife was particularly interested in Marin and Emmy's story - down to the details.

As we were talking about the severe malnutrition and the fact we left an older sister behind, the husband started crying. I was a little surprised and uncomfortable and tried to look away. The wife was consoling him and telling him it would be OK. The husband continued sobbing and excused himself from the room.

I looked at the wife as if to say "What was that all about?" Turns out the husband lived his very early years the same way Marin and Emmy did, just working for food and looking for food. Then he spent several years in a refugee camp where he lost two siblings to starvation. The story of our kids brought all those memories right back to life for him. When we realized what was happening, we almost started crying, too. It was heartbreaking to see a man get transported back decades in time to a living hell right before your eyes, and it is heartbreaking to see the first evidence we have seen that our kids may never outgrow the hardships they survived.

Eff Bomb

So Marin finally heard it on the playground at school last week. She comes home, sits quietly at the table coloring, then looks up to address Colleen.

Marin: (tentatively) Mom, what is fuck?
Colleen: What?
Marin: (cautious and puzzled) I heard a new word on the playground today. Fuck. What does that mean?
Colleen: (cool as a cucumber) What do you think it means?
Marin: I think it means run as fast as you can. But I'm not sure because the playground lady said it is a bad word.
Colleen: Why do you think it means run as fast as you can?
Marin: Because when the boys say it, they are doing something naughty, then the say 'Let's get the fuck out of here', then they run away as fast as they can.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

What next??

Readers of this blog know that Marin periodically has episodes of badly missing her Ethiopian mother, and these episodes have become more frequent recently. We comfort Marin by reminding her that a Mother's love for her child never ends, and her mother is loving her from heaven right now and forever, and some day Marin will see her mother again in heaven, and she has to be patient for that day.

Saturday evening we entertained an Ethiopian immigrant family at our house. The husband began speaking Amharic to Marin to see what she remembered. Marin remembered a little, but not much. She went back to playing with the other children and we all enjoyed a very nice evening.

Sunday morning, Marin awoke in a bad state of distress. After getting her calmed down, she explained she is upset because she forgot her Amharic, and how will she speak to her mother in heaven if the mother speaks Amharic and Marin speaks English? OK, I'll admit, I am not fast enough on my feet to come up with a credible answer to that question.

Friday, January 15, 2010


It occurred to me that Marins' class might discuss race issues next week, so I thought I better get a preview. Marins' teacher was great. She said "I'm really glad you called, because I have been a little anxious about this, too. Will you come in Friday AM before school and review the lesson with me?" Boy, am I glad I did.

First, a little context. Ethiopia is the only African country that was never colonized and one of the few regions that was not involved in slave trade. Marin saw brown skinned people in all positions of power, wealth, and poverty. There was no marginalization based on skin color.

Back to the classroom. There were two basic books. One was a biography of MLK that spent a fair amount of time describing the isolation and discrimination he endured as a child. It is so different to read these stories know as the parent of an African child. All I think about is how she is going to feel being the only black kid in the room when they talk about black kids being picked on. I asked the teacher how she is going to teach this. She said she is going to focus on respect. That people in the past were not respectful but now we spend a lot of time teaching respect. Be respectful is one of the key precepts in our primary school.

I decided I was OK with that, as long as she kept an eye on Marin and Marin did not show any visible signs of distress.

The second book was the story of Ruby Bridges, one of the first black girls to attend a white school during the school integration movement. This book was pretty intense. It told about courtroom battles where lawyers argued to keep blacks out of white schools. It had photos of riots and protests. The upshot was a real newsphoto of Ruby climbing the steps of the white school escorted by armed soldiers. Ruby looked like Marin. The teacher turned to me and said "I am not at all comfortable with this one. That little girl looks so much like Marin." I'm thinking to myself "Holy cow, that IS Marin." So we agreed she would not teach the Ruby Bridges book.

This is the conflict. On the one hand, you can't hide from history and all these kids are going to learn about these events some day. On the other hand, Marin is the only black kid in her class and she is really sociable and well liked. Do we want to risk upsetting that supportive environment by introducing all the hatred and unfairness of past generations?

I'll tell you, America's history takes on a whole different hue when viewed from the perspective of what it could do to your child's self esteem and relationships with classmates when she is sitting in a room full of whites learning about all the past crimes and injustices committed against her people only because of their skin color. It is painful.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Baby Einstein????

OK, we all know parents who think their kids are genuises, but Emmy (just turned 5) is doing things that flabbergast us. Three examples.

First, she recently beat me in checkers, and I was trying to win. I showed her the basic rules and she intuitively figured out how to split defenses, set traps and lures, and prevent me from battling to a draw.

Second, last night she was lying in bed counting her fingers when she asked me how to know when to stop.
Me: What?
Emmy: What is the biggest number? How do I know when I am at the end?
Me: Google. Google is the biggest number.
Emmy: Daddy, you're wrong. (staring at her fingers) Google and one, google and two, google and three. See Daddy, whatever number you say, I will just add one to it and make you wrong.

Is it common to self-discovered the concept of infinity at age 5?

Finally, when we are driving on the highway, Emmy will stare at the oncoming traffic and have a dialog with herself.
- We're gonna beat that car to the sign
- That car is speeding, it's gonna beat us to the tollbooth
- That truck will beat that car before it goes under the bridge
- When I look out my window, the trees that are close to me are speeding but the trees far away are moving slow.

Is it common to ponder concepts of relative position and relative motion (differential calculus) at age 5?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Sen Harry Reid

This is typically an apolitical blog, but Harry's comments are so insidious that I feel he needs to be called out. For those not familiar, Sen Reid's comments about Obama during the 2008 primary process were recently exposed. Reid said (paraphrasing) " Obama is electable because he is light skinned and he doesn't speak with Negro accent, unless he wants to."

So why is this political analysis objectionable? Aside from being brazenly calculating and showing how ugly the depths of his mind truly is; to understand, you must understand the history of light brown vs dark brown.

In the colonial south, the light skinned blacks were usually the offspring of a male master and a female slave. As the masters' offspring, the light skinned blacks were afforded preferential treatment - usually given light duty, were given proper nutrition and medical attention, often received an education and taught to speak proper English, and basically had all the priveleges and liberties of a white. This is where the expression "raised white" originated. On the other hand, dark browns had the hard labor in the fields and barns, were beaten and fed poorly, kept uneducated, and really lived the hard core life of a hard core slave. This is where expressions such as "black list, black ball, black mark, etc" originated.

Even today, when you look at female black models, the more successful ones (Tyra Banks, Iman, etc.) have light complexions, straighter hair, and anglo facial features. When you look at a criminal suspect lineup, the blackest faces with the blackest facial features are perceived as the most menacing.

So Sen Reid, as a Senate Majority Leader, and in all his clumsiness, basically validated the racist perception that lighter skinned blacks are more 'acceptable' than darker skinned blacks because lighter skinned blacks may have caucasian genes (as Obama does) and may have been 'raised white.' His ham fisted statement of fact, that these unfair perceptions dating from 200 years ago, are still valid today, makes him unsuitable for a leadership position in he US government.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Amharic Yenta Sisterhood

Yenta - Yiddish - Meddler, gossiper, meddlesome, busybody, nuisance. Mostly Judaic and female. (from the Urban Dictionary)

Back to this Ethiopian Party, there was a group of about six mature Eth women and they wanted to meet all the adopted children and their parents. Out of respect, and believing we may learn some important cultural things, we parents complied.

Two of the women stroked and stroked and stroked the hair on Marin's and Emmy's head.
Yenta (frown on her face): Who does this hair?
Colleen: I have it done professionally about every second month and I do the daily routine.
Yenta (still frowning): Hmmmmmm.........this is not a good job.
Colleen: What do you mean?
Yenta (now smug): It is not how I would do it.
Yenta (asking another Yenta): What do you think of this hair?
Other Yenta (shakes head and clucks tongue): Such a shame because her hair could be so beautiful if the mother did it correctly.

Holy Cow! I really wish Seinfeld were still airing because I would submit this script! Anyone who knows Colleen knows she spends way way way too much time and money on our girls hair. I didn't know whether to laugh my butt off at the ridiculousness or cry for Colleen because I knew it must be killing her to hear this nonsense.

So the next day, Colleen was on the phone comparing notes with the other adoptive mothers.

One mother was scolded for picking her daughter up to hold her too often (remember these are orphans who often suffer abandonment anxieties).
Yentas: What are you doing? You should not hold her so much. You will ruin that child. Let her cry. Let her learn to do by herself. She does not need you hovering over her all the time. You are a smother mother. Go relax somewhere, drink your wine, and nothing will happen to your child.

Another mother was lectured because her daughter was not particularly eager to return to Ethiopia for a homeland visit.
Mother: Well, my daughter was very hungry in Ethiopia and she was worked very hard. Her memories of Eth are not that pleasant.
Yentas: She is playing you. African children are very clever. Do not believe her. Somebody was whispering in her ear before she came here. She was coached what to say and what not to say. You must get to the bottom of these lies or you are not a good mother. You come see us in a few months and tell us what you have learned. If you have learned nothing, then we will figure this out for you.

So, fair warning to all you adoptive parents, if you encounter the Amharic Yenta Sisterhood, make sure you have taken your self- esteem supplements beforehand. And before you take even one work of their advice, post on your adoption yahoo group or chatroom to make sure you get the reall skinny from other adoptive parents. Good luck to all.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Homesick, Part 2

Saturday we were at an Ethiopian Christmas (Feast of the Epiphany) party. There must have been at least 60 ethiopians there spanning all generations from toddlers to grandparents. It was pretty cool and our kids had a ball.

Sunday morning, all Marin wanted to talk about was Ethiopia, her adoption, and how we found each other.

Marin: "Daddy, tell me the whole story, from the very beginning, about how you met me."

Me: "Well, we flew on the airplane.........

Marin: "No, before that. All the way from the first time you thought you wanted to adopt a kid."

Me: (tells the entire story a to z)

Marin: Tell me everything you know about my Africa Mom and Dad.

Me: (tells the entire story, which isn't much)

Marin: And when can I see them again.

Me: Sweetheart, you know what happened to your Africa Mom and Dad, right?

Marin: Yes.

Me: Were you there and do you remember?

Marin: Yes (getting choked up)

Colleen: Marin, we will see them again in heaven. Just be patient. They are watching out for you from heaven and they will be excited to see you.

Marin: OK, Now tell me about my brothers.

Me: Marin, I don't know of any brothers. Do you remember any brothers?

Marin: No, but just checking, you know, in case you forgot to tell me. Tell me about my sister Genet.

Me: (tells all I know, again, not much)

Marin: But Genet is your daughter, too, right?

Me: No, Marin, we did not adopt Genet.

Marin: (tears welling up) What? Why, Daddy?

Me: (caught totally offguard) Well, Genet, is a teenager. She could take care of herself. You and Emmy were just little kids and you needed someone to take care of you.

Marin: (falls into my arms, full blown bawling her eyes out) But Daddy, how do we know Genet is OK? We need to find her. If we find her will you adopt her, too, so we can be all sisters again?

Anyway, now Colleen and I are discussing whether I should take a fact finding trip to Eth this year. Just to see if I can locate Genet, take some photos and video, and set the stage for a visit with Marin and Emmy. I think it's a bad idea to take the kids over there and conduct the search with them in tow. We need to know beforehand whether Genet is still alive and where she can be found.

Brown skin girls

I had womens basketball on TV, UConn vs. Carolina, but no one was really watching it. It was background noise to all the stuff we were doing around the house. Suddenly Marin perks up.

"Daddy, on the TV is all brown skin girls."

"Yes, Marin, sometimes in college the brown skin girls are the best basketball players."

"Daddy, brown skin girls rule."

Monday, January 4, 2010

Eighty Eight

Continuing on this homesick theme the next morning, Marin asked a lot of questions about death and heaven, and whether I promised to take care of her the rest of her life.

I told Marin I promised to take care of her for as long as I live, which then prompted questions about how long I will live (Marin is very alert to possible double talk and digs for the truth). Unbeknownst to Marin, longevity is something I obsess about because it is linked to my determination that we not outlive our wealth. I have gone so far as to have my life expectancy scientifically projected using data points like my health and safety habits, blood and urine test results, family history, and genetics. So, I have a very good idea about how long I will live and a financial plan for supporting that life span.

So then I ask Marin "How old do you think you will be when you die?" Without missing a beat, she shoots right back "88" (which happens to be my number) . I looked up at her, to see if she was smirking or laughing - you know - anything to signal that she had overheard me saying that number to someone and was trying to push my buttons - but she was dead serious. That was her real answer.

It's creepy. Marin is not that good at math (yet), and of all the numbers she could have said, she just pulls that one out of thin air.


We had a great New Years Eve celebration with two other adoptive families and one waiting family - a total of ten Ethiopians in the house - with Injera bread on the buffet and Ethiopian pop dance music on the CD player. The waiting family, naturally, talked a lot about their prospective visit to Addis and asked the kids what they remembered about Eth.

During our ride home, Marin was very quiet, with a pensive look on her face, then she started asking a lot of questions.

When will she go to Ethiopia again?
Can we find her sister?
How will we know where to find her?
If her sister wants to come to America will we take her?

Then Marin started talking about all the people in Eth she missed, which brought the discussion around to her mother. I asked Marin if she remembered when her mother died and to tell me about it. Marin said she remembered all the family standing in a circle holding hands, saying prayers to her mother and telling stories about her mother.

We are starting to realize this wound may never heal, it can only be managed, as positively and constructively as possible.