Archive for February, 2011

February 22, 2011

Baby Brandon needs a family!

Look at this little munchkin!

Brandon is almost a year old and needs a family!
He does have special needs – he was born without arms and his legs are deformed. They expect him to be able to walk with prosthetics. He is otherwise a typical, happy baby boy. This will be an international adoption.

If you’re interested in Brandon let me know and I can put you in touch with his adoption coordinator.

February 16, 2011

Bulgaria’s Abandoned Children

Have you seen this documentary?

It is heartbreaking and makes me furious.

I pray things have changed in the four years since this film was made but the facts are that these conditions are all too common in many Eastern European countries. 

I have pictures of some absolutely gorgeous children in Bulgaria that need families.   Babies to big kids.  Boys and girls.  They each have some sort of special needs, the severity varies.  They need families.  I will put you in touch with their adoption coordinator if you are interested.   Grants may be available for some of their adoption costs.

February 12, 2011

Saving Masha….

****** Masha has a family!!!!****

Look at this beautiful little girl.  Just look at this face!

This sweet little girl is Masha.  Masha is very close to being transferred to a mental institution in her Eastern European country.  Many children don’t survive long in these places.  Chances of her surviving are slim.  She deserves so much more. 

This beautiful little girl struggles greatly with the effects of FAS (Fetal Alcohol Syndrome).   She is four years old, but the size of a 12 month old.  She isn’t yet walking.  She is extremely delayed and stunted – partly because of her syndrome and partly because of her environment. 

Everyone who has met Masha agrees – this child will do amazing things with the love of a family and some therapy and medical care.   It is amazing  what the love of a family can do.  I just know this child will transform before your very eyes.

Masha could be transferred to the mental institution any day.  She needs a family NOW.

Masha has an amazing $17,721.75.  Yes, that is almost EIGHTEEN THOUSAND DOLLARS!  The cost to bring this baby home would so small.

Please spread the word.  Beg others to consider this sweet girl.  Contribute to her grant fund.  Maybe someone will step up if her entire adoption is covered?!   There is someone out there willing to save this precious child.  I just know it. 

 Interested?  Email Andrea at andrea@reecesrainbow.org or visit Masha’s page here.

February 12, 2011

We’re here…

We’re here! Blogging has become too much work – facebook is so much easier right now.

I hope to be back to blogging sometime soon but for now, here is a new picture of our cutie boy.  He’s getting SO BIG!

February 3, 2011

Guest Post – Adopting older children from Uganda

Hi everyone – I will be having a couple of guest posts coming up.  I’ve asked families I know who have adopted older and special needs children from Uganda to share their experiences and stories.  Of course, our goal is to educate and encourage families to consider adopting older, harder to place children.   The children below are from an orphanage with more than 900 school age children.   Many, many of these beautiful children (age 5+) are waiting for families to adopt them.  

If you’d like to write a guest post about your Ugandan adoption send me a message

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When Salem asked me to write a guest post on her blog about the specific joys and challenges of adopting older children, I jumped on the chance to share with others the realities of our adoption experience. So many emotions are involved with adoption that it is easy to forget the reality of bringing a stranger into your family and to focus only on the fairy-tale like side of things. We want to share with others our experiences because knowledge is power, and the more prepared you are for your older child when he or she arrives home with you, the easier your transition will be. 

It is not an easy thing to adopt a child. It’s a little more difficult when that child is from a foreign country, regardless of the age of the child. Babies are known to grieve for their home country and have trouble adjusting to the time difference in their new homeland. Older children may not know the language, or only know a little of the language, and have a tough time getting used to the wealth of life available to them in the United States. There are also challenges when a child must leave siblings behind, or is adopted into a family that already has children, especially when out of birth order.

Regardless of the challenges others and we have faced throughout our adoptions, my husband and I agree that we would go through everything all over again if we had to. We can’t imagine our life any other way than with Maggie and Angel. A friend of mine last night told me that going through the adoption process reminded her of being pregnant. Late into pregnancy, she started to feel as if she couldn’t last one more day with her son inside of her; but she did, and then another day went by, and another, too. Then he was finally born and several months later, she has already forgotten the pain and discomfort she experienced during pregnancy, and would do it all over again in a heartbeat.

We have been so very blessed that the Lord put several other families adopting older children in our path while we were in Uganda finalizing the adoption last spring. Knowing how rare it is to meet others adopting older children, we knew these friends were gifts from God and that it was His plan that we were all there at the same time. We’ve been each other’s rock several times over the past months as we’ve all worked through the ups and downs of our transition to life here with our adopted children here in the states, adjusting to each other.

Our daughters are Maggie and Angel. They are 14 and 13, respectively. We met them while serving during a mission trip to New Hope Orphanage & Primary School in March of 2008. We then returned to the school in June of 2009 to continue that work, and there the girls were once again. We felt the Lord working in our hearts, telling us that these two sweet girls were our children and that we were to bring them home with us. Through a whirlwind myriad of many God Things, we came home from Uganda that summer and began the legal guardianship process in Uganda through our agency, Lifeline Adoption/Children’s Services. We returned to Uganda in March of 2010 to finalize the paperwork and bring Maggie and Angel home. We didn’t know what we were going to face once we arrived in Uganda, but God had mighty plans for our family. There we embarked on a journey to battle the Ugandan courts, the US Embassy, and the work of Satan, all to bring our girls home with us. Worry, fear, frustration, and doubt weighed us down at times, but we knew without a doubt this was God’s plan for our family, so we never gave up. We remained in country for two months, until we simply couldn’t stay any longer. We had to return home to fulfill work obligations, but we still didn’t have the girls’ visas. We had to leave them behind. Our lawyer made sure the girls had a loving, safe place to stay so they didn’t have to return to the orphanage, which went way beyond his scope of duties as our lawyer and for which we will forever be indebted to him. He is a wonderful Christian man who truly cares about the children of Uganda and the families that he represents. Thanks to God for answering our many, many prayers, and it goes without saying, thanks to the hard work of many people, including our Texas Senator John Cornyn, I returned to Uganda for the girls at the end of May, landing at the Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, Texas, to a huge welcome home crowd on May 27, 2010.

As I look back at the past nearly 9 months since we’ve brought the girls home, I picture a line graph in my mind beginning that day we landed in Houston. The line represents our progress as a family. It starts at the very bottom, and works its way slowly, slowly up, up, up, as we pass each hour and day together the first week; then through the second week, and the third. The line dips and rises as we work through challenges and celebrate progress. And as each day and week goes by, the lines at times crawls upwards and then back down again, or inclines steeply before leveling off, and then dropping into another sharp decline. It seemed that for every two steps of progress forward, we would take about two steps back again. Then we hit the 6-month mark, when everything started to click, and settle, and we finally started to feel like a real, whole family.

We have enjoyed big milestones and small ones, at times nearly missing the progress, as it could seem to be so slight; and at other times feeling as though we were crawling through quicksand to get through whatever problems were at hand. We’ve definitely had our fair share of fun, laughter, struggles, puzzlement, challenges, and joys as we’ve grown together, bonded with each other, learned about one another, and realized many times over that we couldn’t imagine our family any other way but with our two beautiful daughters in the mix.

I’ll start with some of the specific challenges of adopting older children. These are the most difficult to talk about because it’s never easy to talk about the negative side of things; but, these challenges are the most important to prepare for as you adopt your older child. What color to paint the bedroom, what grade to put him or her in, and what size clothing to purchase are just details. The challenges are what will make up your daily reality. Keep in mind that each child has a different personality, with different life expectations, and different experiences that he or she will bring into her new life with you.

Many of our challenges came from the fact that we were completely new parents. We have no other children apart from Maggie and Angel. I will say that our situation allowed us to bypass some of the struggles of other adoptive parents of older children who have biological children at home. For example, jealousy issues between their biological children and their adopted older child, or figuring out what amount of “stuff” is okay to give the newly adopted child, while other children in the household may already have their own phones, iPods, computers, etc. Praise God my husband practically raised his much younger sister, who is now 16 years old. He began caring for her when he was only 16 as he helped his mom with their “surprise” baby. That gave him a lot of experience to go off of. Plus, he himself immigrated to the United States at the age of 12. He has a lot in common with the girls regarding their situation because of that. I have relied strongly for advice from my parents and parents-in-law, others in our community who adopted older children in the past, and many friends who have currently or have raised children the age of our girls. All of these experiences and resources have helped us learn to be parents, and the girls have taught us a lot, too! It’s amazing what children teach us about ourselves.

I think, for us, the biggest challenge of adopting older children was managing expectations. Regardless of where the child comes from, or how horrible their previous situation might have been, I can tell you this: A Teenager Is A Teenager Is A Teenager Is A Teenager…! Contrary to what everyone at our church, in our family, at our workplaces, and in our friend groups thought, our children were (and are) no more thankful for what we gave up, did for them, do for them or give them now than are any other children their age. We have dealt with attitude, entitlement, and incredibly high expectations from both of our daughters, one sometimes more than the other; but overall, they both had a misconception of what life in America would be like and were (at times) sorely, bitterly, and angrily disappointed when things weren’t as they expected them to be.

Their expectations came in many different forms. Some were disappointments about things like not having as big of a backyard as they had hoped (even though we have several parks within walking distance) and having to share a bathroom with each other (with complete disregard for the fact that they actually have running water and a westernized toilet!); not having a house as a big as other people in our community (again, completely forgetting what they didn’t have in Uganda and remembering there are people with much less than they have, even here in the US). Other expectations had to do with acquiring stuff. They wanted clothes and shoes and jewelry and hair stuff and iPods and cell phones and new bikes and…the list goes on. A Teenager Is A Teenager Is A Teenager!

They also came here lacking the understanding that not all Americans are “rich” in their idea of rich. Yes, the majority of Americans are rich beyond belief compared to the poor in Uganda, even though most of us don’t truly understand or appreciate the level of our wealth; but the catch is, and this was an “aha!” moment for the girls: we have to work for it. Nice homes and cars and cute clothes and good food aren’t just handed to us. There is a huge misconception of what American life is like because they only get the tiniest glimpse of American life through our short amount of time spent with them in Uganda.

Think about it this way (I will take the liberty to speak as my children speak): The kids at New Hope see us “whites” (as they call any foreigner with light skin) come to Uganda, hand out free goodies to them and their teachers, live in a nice hotel with plenty of food, and immediately assume that all Americans are super rich without having to do any work, ever, to earn money. When the girls arrived here with us, they were upset that my husband had to work and leave us at home. They didn’t understand that we, too, have to work for our money; that we work very hard to have a good life here. They didn’t understand that the beauty of living in America is about having the opportunity to succeed, that opportunity requires work if it is to be capitalized on. Things aren’t just handed to them, as they had expected it to be; it must be worked for. The same misunderstanding applied to chores and allowance, or school and grades. They were very frustrated, at first, that they had to keep their rooms and bathroom clean and help with the dishes after dinner each night to “earn” their weekly allowance. One of our daughters cried over her math homework each day because she actually had to work to earn good grades. They were addicted to the TV, which has been a huge struggle for our family and we had to set strict boundaries in order to overcome it.

They also didn’t understand what it meant to be children in a family. They both lost their parents at young ages and spent years in an institution where the hierarchy is built among the children and all adults (teachers, cooks, guards, etc) have respect and authority that comes with a fear of being beaten when a child steps out of line. We have slowly taught them over time, as they have come to trust us more and more, what parents are. We are their support system, we love them no matter what, and we mean no matter what. We are here to teach them to be the people God wants them to be as He has entrusted them in our care, which is a great responsibility. We are not here to be their friends, at least not right now. That made it a tough transition, too, given our previous relationship with the girls as the fun bazungu who played games with them in Uganda.

Is there any way to address their expectations prior to bringing them home? I would say the answer to that question is, “No.” Because they simply can’t fathom what America is like until they get here. Their only life experience is what they’ve known in their home country; and even when they come from an impoverished situation, they don’t necessarily think of themselves as coming from poverty. They tend to idealize their past and they very quickly forget where they came from.

For example, I’ll speak frankly here so that you, the potential adoptive parent, might be prepared more than we were for this. Our oldest becomes incredibly offended when anyone says anything she believes to be negative about Uganda or its surrounding countries. Angel commented to me one day how nice it was to have the garbage collection system here in town and how the streets in Uganda are covered with trash while ours are so clean. Maggie immediately defended Uganda, stating that they collect garbage there, too, and the streets are just as clean. Now I have been to Uganda, and I have seen the streets, and there is a huge difference in cleanliness between the community we live in Texas and where we stayed in Uganda. But I didn’t say anything about it. She also was upset when a mission team from our church presented a slideshow with photos from their work with Made in the Streets, an organization that works with street kids in Kenya. The pictures showed street kids, as you might expect to see them, in sad poverty, dirty, torn clothes, emaciated from hunger. She was upset that the people in our church were being shown “things that aren’t true” about East Africa. She will experience Uganda again for herself one day soon and she will experience her home country with new eyes and it will be a tough awakening for her.

A few weeks ago we pulled out some photos and videos of the girls at New Hope during our visit in 2009. Angel didn’t want to look at them or watch the video. When I asked her why, she said that person in the photos and videos wasn’t her. The girl in the pictures in the dirty clothes with a shaved head wasn’t her. She was upset by the way she spoke English in the video and how she walked. She simply didn’t want to see herself that way.

Those are just a few examples of realizations that your children may or may not experience. We spend a lot of time teaching the girls that their worth as people have nothing to do with how much they have, or what they look like, or where they come from; but instead, their worth comes from their relationship with and purpose in Christ. They should be proud of their home country for all of the beauty it offered them during their life there. It has taken a while for that to sink in, but after time and constant reminding, I think they have begun to appreciate this truth.

Another big challenge has been adjusting to American food. Some people might think that this is completely ridiculous because we have such delicious food available to us here in America. We are a multi-cultural society that offers a huge variety of delectable cuisines to choose from. How could anyone have trouble eating food here? The truth is, our daughters were used to a very bland diet – rice, beans, grains, plantains (un-sweet bananas), very little meat or fish, no vegetables except something called “dodo”, which is dark green and tastes like boiled cabbage. They had very little exposure to fruit, mostly jackfruit, which is actually very delicious. Their diets in Uganda offered little to no variety, which made the plethora of food available here and the variety of spices we use to season our food seem simply too overwhelming.

Some children might be overwhelmed by the amount of food available to them and therefore reject it out of guilt for those left behind in Uganda, or perhaps not know what to do with it. Children who lived on the street or in very poor families or orphanages might have been hungry constantly, never having a full belly. It might be hard for them to eat three meals a day at first. Give them time to get used to the amount of food we eat and be sensitive to the reasons behind their desire to not eat, but don’t allow them to skip meal times. Make them sit at the table with the family and teach them to respect the family in this way. Food can also be a control issue. As the parent, you determine the rules, not the child.

The opposite can also be true. A child who went hungry his or her whole life might gorge him- or herself at every meal. They might not believe that another meal is coming. It can be very helpful to leave a healthy and low-calorie snack like fruit in a bowl on the table and available at all times, so the child can see the food anytime. Let him or her walk around the house with it, take it with him or her when you leave the house. Always carry a small piece of fruit, bag of pretzels, or a granola bar in your purse or car, to help the child feel secure that they will never go hungry. Angel would always ask me if we had a snack in my purse when we left the house, whether it was a short trip to the store, going to church in the morning, or driving the two hours to visit grandparents. Remind them every day that you have breakfast for them, and that lunch is coming at what time, and dinner at what time. 

It is also important to monitor portion sizes. The way you begin your child’s relationship with food in America will be hard to change once it is established, so help them understand portion sizes from the beginning. Start by putting the correct portion amounts on their plate for them. Let them know seconds are available if they are still hungry. Encourage them to eat until they are no longer hungry and then show them how to save the rest in a Tupperware container and put it in the refrigerator. This can help them feel secure that food is there to come back to later. Over time, they will become accustomed to eating regular portion sizes at regular meal times.

Americans also move much less than the average Ugandan. While Ugandans are physically active in daily life, from walking to work and around the village; doing laundry by hand; and working in their gardens to cultivate food and take care of livestock, we Americans are much less active as a society. When most of us need food, we simply drive to the grocery store and back. The only physical work most Americans do to “gather food” is lifting grocery bags from the basket to the car, and from the car to the kitchen. We also drive mostly everywhere while Ugandans mostly walk. We exert ourselves much less in daily life, sitting at desks at work and school. Teach them the amount of food we eat is proportionate to how much we move. That has been a huge lesson for the girls. They have gained weight, albeit healthy amounts of weight; but they are starting to notice their belly’s getting bigger. Through our conversations and their health classes at school, they have learned they either need to move more or eat less. Maggie is really good about saving her leftovers in a small container in the fridge. She always looks forward to eating it the next day at dinnertime.

The biggest key to an easier transition into American life and food is to make them try everything. And I mean everything. I know to some people this sounds horrible. But the thing to remember is, they are children. They don’t know what is good for them. Consider their diet in Uganda, which is comprised of mostly carbohydrates. They may have been fortunate to get protein from beans or meat. They may or may not be used to eating vegetables or fruits. It is to the child’s benefit to learn a new, healthy diet for a new, healthy life in America. Start out slowly if you like. Introduce one new vegetable each week. Make seasonal fruit readily available as a snack. I try to always have clementines, bananas, apples, and/or pears available in a dish on the kitchen counter. We have found that an early dinner works best for our family because the girls come home famished after school. If they are hungry before dinner, they can have a light snack (a piece of fruit, some raw veggies or a glass of milk) in order to leave room for the healthy evening meal.

When the girls first arrived home, we cooked rice, beans, and chicken for every meal; we had eggs every morning for breakfast with a side of sliced tomatoes and “chapatti”, freshly made tortillas from the local HEB. After a few days, my husband and I had enough of the rice/beans/chicken meals, and started venturing into our normal mix of Persian (my husband’s heritage), Middle-Easter, Mexican, Italian, and American dishes, while always having rice and beans on hand for the girls. Even so, we always made them try a taste of everything. We figured we would be hurting them more than helping them if we didn’t let them try new things. We eventually stopped having rice and beans on hand as the girls learned to like the new tastes and textures of a variety of foods. We’ve now settled into a pretty good rotation of dishes, and when I cook something new, they are receptive to trying it.

Our youngest daughter, Angel, has had the most trouble adjusting to food. For some reason, she believed that she had stomach ulcers and that red meat and pork would make them flare up, so she wouldn’t touch anything with “meat” in it. To be clear, she classifies meat as only red meat and pork. She will eat chicken, turkey, and fish, which she says is not “meat”. We know through medicine (my husband is a Physician Assistant in the ER) that red meat doesn’t cause problems with stomach ulcers, but she wouldn’t believe us. So, we had her checked out and, sure enough, she doesn’t have any ulcers. To be honest, we don’t eat much red meat ourselves, only in a few select dishes. Otherwise we use a lot of ground turkey and chicken. We were most concerned that she had a false understanding of her body.

Over time, we have helped her overcome that fear of red meat and pork. It required us to make her eat foods that brought her out of her comfort zone. If we had just patted her on the back and allowed her never to eat meat out of sympathy, she would never have tried it, and she would have had a much more difficult time adjusting here as she goes to school, friend’s houses, family events, and youth group activities where she has no control over the food served. She used to make what we called her “food face”, or a scrunched-up-disgusted look, when she was served a dish she didn’t recognize. This has a lot to do with her age and maturity and she has mostly grown out of it; but again, we had to push her to try new things in order to get her through that stage. If we hadn’t, I bet the “food-face” would still be making guest appearances.

Maggie, our oldest, tries all new foods and loves many of the dishes we cook. My husband is Persian so we make lots of stews and rice dishes, which actually helped both girls transition as they were used to rice in Uganda. Our family rule is to eat vegetables with every meal. The girls know that if they don’t put a good amount of whatever vegetable we have on their plate, then we will do it for them, and our portion is always bigger than what they would take for themselves! My husband is in the habit of peeling oranges or a grapefruit every night after dinner, which allows us to stay at the table longer to talk and share news about the day. Plus we get to slip a serving of fruit in the girls’ diets. They used to make food faces at grapefruit, but eating the fruit has now become a welcome and anticipated nightly event.

The last food “surprise” is their reaction to sugar. They don’t like very sweet things. It must be an American thing to be addicted to sweets, chocolates, ice cream, desserts, donuts, and pies. They don’t like very sweet, rich or creamy treats. No-sugar-added hot chocolate is something they enjoy, but give them the regular kind and you can be sure they won’t touch it. We are actually thankful for this and we don’t encourage them to eat many sweets. Even American ice cream was a hard adjustment for them. The ice cream in Uganda is more comparable to what we call Cool Whip than the thick, rich, sometimes hard, ice cream we have here in the US.

Just make sure to keep in mind that kids can attempt to use food as a way to control you. Our adopted children have come to a new country, with a new language (even though they know English, you’ll soon learn it is very different English than what we speak here in America), and are living with practical strangers far away from anything they know and are familiar with. Food may be the only aspect of their life they feel they can control. As the parent, you can choose the food for the child, no matter the age. They are not used to food in America and won’t know, at first, what to choose for themselves for a balanced diet. If they want to help prepare meals, ask them how they cooked in Uganda and allow them to cook Ugandan style from time to time. But when you are the one to prepare food, let them know they will eat what you have provided. We don’t cook together a lot during the week because we eat very soon after they get home from school, as I mentioned before, so I am usually done preparing dinner by the time they get home, or very soon thereafter. But when we do cook together on the weekends, we take turns teaching each other. It helps to have spices on hand that remind them of Uganda. My husband picked up some things like Garam Masala and Mchuzi Mix, which are commonly used in Ugandan dishes that our daughters like. When they smelled the food cooking and realized we were having “Ugandan” fish and beans, they started doing happy dances around the kitchen! Cooking food that smells “like Uganda”, as our kids put it, gives them a sense of comfort and brings good memories of their home country. Offering them a variety of foods, including those familiar to them as well as new, gives them a well-rounded appreciation for food in America. Teaching them to appreciate the food put in front of them helps them to appreciate what they have in other areas of life, as well.

Regarding education, we found that our daughters are at two very different ability levels and education levels, even though they both finished the sixth grade in Uganda. Schools teach differently in East Texas than they do in Central Texas, so it’s no surprise that schools in Uganda teach differently than schools here in the US. Regardless of your assumptions of your child’s education level, or what they have completed in Uganda, or what someone has told you about your child, I highly recommend having them tested for their appropriate grade level in your school system.

Our girls’ arrival was just in time for school to end and summer to begin. Due to that, and the fact our local public system does not have a standardized grade level test for middle school placement, we enlisted a dear friend of ours who is a High School teacher (and had personally lived abroad in Egypt for 7 years throughout middle and high school) to evaluate the girls over the summer. She worked with them in English and Math, as those are the two subjects most likely to hold them back in our school system, and found that they had missed some very important concepts at the 5th and 6th grade levels. She met with them three times per week for about 2 hours a time and assigned them homework Monday-Friday (with weekends off, of course!) to help them practice. This brought them up to speed over the summer and allowed them to enter 7th grade in the fall. Because of her teaching and their hard work over the summer, they were well prepared for 7th grade material and have been very successful. 

Another big challenge for us was, and still can be, communication. Both of our daughters learned English in school and at home. For one of our daughters, English was her first language, taught in the home; and Luganda washer second, having picked up what she calls “broken Luganda”, or slang Lugandan words, from kids in the school yard. Surprisingly, she is the one that struggles in English. The other daughter’s first language is Luganda and she learned her second language, English, at school. She is the one who does very well in her English classes and loves to read books, magazines, and newspapers of any kind. She drinks in written words and loves to talk about books.

We thought we would get to skim the frustrations that other adoptive parents faced whose children didn’t speak a lick of English. The truth is, our girls knew a much different English than what we speak here in Texas. (I don’t say “here in America” because accents and slang change from region to region here in the US.)

There were times when I could not understand why Maggie would go and do something I just told her not to do. I thought it was complete defiance of authority and would handle it as such. Then I began to see a pattern in her and began to wonder if she was not defying me, but instead, misunderstanding me. So we sat down together and, for the first time, she opened up to me and let me know that she doesn’t understand a lot of what I say! That would have been very helpful for me to know and would have saved us a lot of angst and frustration. The truth is, because of our assumption that they knew English so well, we completely missed opportunities to teach them the language, and we completely misunderstood each other as our communication wires got crossed over and over again, sometimes several times in one day.

The English our daughters know is a mix of British English, taught because the British once colonized Uganda; and Lugandan slang English. Some common British terms they use are “chips” for what we call “french fries”, and “smart” to describe someone who is well-dressed, not how intelligent they are. Some slang the girls used are “abuse”, to mean “mocking” or “joking” around. We had a whole lesson about not using the word abuse when referring to joking around with someone because it means something very different and bad here in America.

Our girls also had a limited descriptive vocabulary. Whenever they ate a food, they would describe it as either “sweet” (meaning it tastes good) or “sour” (meaning it tastes bad). This prompted a whole food taste test where we gave them foods and candies that actually tasted sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and savory. We also had to teach them the difference between spicy hot and spicy flavorful. They would get scared of foods when we used spices like cardamom, thyme, cinnamon, thinking they would be hot, not flavorful. They claimed Ugandans don’t cook with spices, only salt, pepper, and curry. We knew this wasn’t true but there was no convincing them otherwise. Once we brought home the Garam Masala and Mchuzi Mix, we could prove that Ugandans cook with spices, and they began to understand the different between flavor and spicy hot.

Maggie once told me that she could still hear the food in her mouth. I thought she was referring to crunching or chewing loudly, but she was eating soft food, so it didn’t make sense. After some probing questions, I realized that what she meant by the word hear was actually taste. She thought that you hear foods, not taste them. We had to explain that hear refers to ears and sound and that taste refers to the tongue. She had never known any different.

We’ve also had to learn about the many phonetic differences in our daughters’ way of speaking English due to the girls’ accents. For example, Angel once asked me for a pass when we went shopping the first time after their arrival. I asked her what a pass was because I didn’t understand what she meant. She kept repeating the word and trying to use her hands to describe it to me. Finally she pointed to my handbag and said, pass. Then I understood what she was trying to say: purse. Her accent confuses me a lot more than Maggie’s accent. It taught me to be careful how I pronounce words to them, too.

Once we realized that the girls either didn’t understand our accent or had no clue what we were saying, we started applying this communication method. We would explain something, and then ask them, “Do you understand?” They would always say yes, we learned, because they didn’t want to disappoint us. Eventually they got over that once we proved to them that we aren’t disappointed in them for not understanding something and they would be honest and say, “no”, when they didn’t understand. So we would explain it again. Now, when they said, “Yes”, we would then say, “Okay, tell me what it means in your own words.” Now that was the true test to see if they understood us. In the beginning, most often times they would admit to not knowing, and we would then try to explaining again in a different way. But as time has gone by, we have grown accustomed to one another’s accents and they’ve been in school surrounded by English all day, they understand us – and we them – more often than not. When we ask them to explain, they are able to put what we’ve said into their own words, showing a true understanding and positive communication.

All that to say, be prepared to work at communicating with your child no matter how well you think they understand English. As we were surprised, you may find yourself very surprised, as well.

I do realize that some of our experiences I’ve shared with you might apply to young adopted children as well as older adopted children, but I don’t know the overlap seeing as how we have no other kids than our “new twin baby girls” of 13 and 14 years of age! I do know that the best thing you can do, as a prospective adoptive parent, is to ask questions and don’t be afraid of what other people will think of you. Raising adopted children is different in some ways than raising biological children. Seeking advice for an adopted child’s behavior or problems from someone who has biological children might not give you the answers you need to best help your child. The best advice I can give, over and above any of the advice we’ve learned through our own experiences, is to build a network of adoptive parents of children of various ages from the country, and similar countries, of your child’s birth. Get to know the language and culture of their home country as much as you can. It will help you see this big new world through their eyes. Never be afraid to ask questions. Take time for yourself, away from the kids, with your spouse if you are married, and keep yourself refreshed. You will be stressed, frustrated, and confused in the beginning; adoption, while a huge blessing, is a very tough road. The best things you can do are give yourself time to relax so that you can be the best parents you can be to your new child, and to seek the advice of others who have walked this road before you.

That said, I am not an expert by any means and I have made many parenting mistakes with more surely to come! Even so, I welcome any questions or thoughts from any of you thinking about adopting or in the process of adopting, and from those of you who are home with your new child and have questions…or simply need someone to vent to whom you know won’t judge you or share your secrets with anyone else. You can email me at erikap217@gmail.com.

All blessings on your adoption journey and may God give you peace as you give a very special child (or children!) a loving, nurturing home.

Erika

Beds at the New Hope Orphanage & Primary School

February 1, 2011

One year

One year ago we were granted guardianship of our beautiful son!

A whole year as a family of three. 

We’re so blessed!