Archive for November, 2010

What’s in a Number?

When we decided to adopt siblings from Ethiopia, we knew that there was a good chance that the ages of the kids would not be accurate based on the experiences of others.  One of the reasons that children adopted from Ethiopia do not always have an accurate age is because most births occur at home in villages without any birth records.  The Ethiopian calendar is also different than ours, which compounds this problem of accurately pinpointing a date.  Sometimes records such as baptism certificates exist, but not always.  Another common reason for birthdates to be unknown is in cases of abandonment.  If a child is found abandoned, no birthdate is known.  Also, children who are malnourished are smaller in stature and weight, so it can be difficult to even guess an age, let alone assign a month as well as a year.  Another reason that ages are not accurate is of course that it is widely known that the younger a child is, the more likely they will be to find an adoptive family.  With this knowledge, there are some birth mothers, birth fathers, or birth grandparents who will lie about their child’s age when they relinquish them in order to raise their chances of adoption.    Even if they are given an accurate age, an individual within an orphanage may decide to lower the age in order to raise that child’s chances of adoption.  Given all of these reasons, we were very aware that the ages could be off and went into the adoption with our eyes wide open.  The farthest off we had heard of an age being was a little over a year at that time, so when we stated our age range in our referral request, we kept in mind that it could be off by as much as a year or so.

When we received our referral of Elijah and Sedaya, the paperwork stated that Elijah was four and Sedaya was three.  In their pictures, it was immediately obvious to us that Elijah was older than four.  For starters, I have never seen another four year old with six adult teeth!!!  It was harder to tell from Sedaya’s picture how old she was, but it seemed that she was at least a number of months older than what her paper age said.   Our daughter Eliana was on paper, the same age as Elijah, so we put his measurement up on the wall at our house and compared it to her height.  He was taller than her, but not by much, so we were unsure.

When we arrived in Ethiopia, it became apparent on the first day that Elijah was not four.  We estimated him, based on language, behaviour, and development to be the same age as two of our other kids, Gracelyn and Josiah, who at that time, were seven!  We had never heard of a child’s age being off by three years before, but he seemed about that age to us.  When my Amharic got to be good enough, I asked him how old he was and he replied “sebat”, which I knew meant 7.  We asked him how old Sedaya was and he told me that she was four.  That lined up with what we had been thinking too.  We thought that Sedaya seemed to be about the same age as Eliana, our four year old.

We were not upset that the kids were older than what we were told, but we were a bit surprised to realize that we now essentially had triplets and twins!!!

Once home, we stated their ages as seven and four, but on paper, they remained four and three.  While we felt okay about Sedaya’s age being off by just one year, we worried about Elijah’s legal age getting in the way of him reaching certain milestones such as getting a driver’s license, a job, and starting post secondary school at the same time as his peers, and more importantly, as his same-age siblings!  The age discrepancies were causing us problems when it came to soccer registration, swimming lessons, and other registered activities.  What I did to fix that is made up a birthdate that seemed plausible and used that for the kids for registration of those activities.  I reasoned that it may actually be their real birthdate, so it may not be a lie and their paper birthdates were lies for sure, so I felt okay about it in a moral sense.  There are things though that will require birth certificates to be shown and as the kids get older, that will become more and more of an issue.  We therefore, became determined to try to get proof of the ages of our children.

Their dentist was able to tell us that he felt that based on teeth, Elijah was between seven and eight and Sedaya was around four to five.  We put off doing the bone scans as they only give an 18 month window and are more accurate when the kids have been getting proper nutrition for at least one year.  As far as their heights go, both kids grew 6 inches within seven months of being home due to nutrition and were even more obviously not the ages they were legally.

We contacted the adoption agency that had facilitated the adoption and though they said they would look into it, many months went by without any response.  We were quite discouraged by this, but when Mark was in Ethiopia recently, he was able to obtain a baptism certificate for Elijah, proving his age to be eight currently.  Sedaya was apparently not baptized, so we are unable to provide proof of her true age.  As it turns out, Sedaya’s age is off by one year exactly and I think since she is a girl and she is the youngest, it will hopefully not be a big deal.  Elijah’s age is off by two years and we think it is important to try to have it legally changed.  I hear that it is quite a lengthy and involved process, but we feel that it will be something that is worth the effort.  I especially think that for his confidence, being able to get a driver’s license and job when others his age are is going to be very important.

Yes, an age is just a number, and quite frankly, I’d be pretty thrilled if someone would offer to take two years off my age (!), but the bottom line is that when our teenage son is sixteen but legally only fourteen, or nineteen but legally only seventeen, I think those two years will mean a lot to him.  I will keep you updated on our process to try to make the change legal.


Eliana’s Penguin Party

It is no secret that Eliana’s favourite thing in the world (next to God and her family) is penguins.  For her sixth birthday, she asked for a penguin theme party.  This one is not as easy to pull off as themes where the cake pan and decorations are ready made, but I was up to the challenge!

For the cake, I baked a cake in the 3D mini bear pan, cut off its ears and feet, made a beak out of part of one of the ears and glued it on with icing, moved the feet to the front and iced.  

Then with the remaining cake batter, I poured it into a glass bowl and attempted to bake an igloo cake.  This one didn’t really turn out because it stuck to the bowl really badly and came out in pieces so I have to use the other side of it, so it wasn’t very round, but six year olds don’t care.  I sprinkled icing sugar over everything to look like snow and voila – penguin cake!

For activities, the kids did races with a balloon between their legs, like the dad penguins carrying the eggs, they made a penguin craft, and they made sugar cube igloos.  The kids who stayed later also got to watch “Happy Feet”.

The kids ate Penguins of Madagascar pasta, fish crackers, Oreos (because they are black and white), and drank blue punch (for the ice cold water that penguins like).  Eliana had a great time!

Adoption Challenge #1

(I know that I posted this on my private blog already, but really want to get as many people involved as possible, so I’m posting it here as well.)

I have always had a passion for adoption, but there are times when it melts into the background of my busy life and other times when I really feel powerful about sharing the message of how much it has changed our life and want to share it with others and also want to help others who are somewhere in the process of adoption.  Whether people already have their children home with them or are in the paperwork phase or one of the many waiting phases, they need support and encouragement and I want to be able to give it in any way that I can but again, there are times when that melts away into the background of my life.  This week, those passions were lit again.  Part of it was of course seeing the pictures and videos that Mark brought back from Ethiopia and looking into the faces of the children at the two orphanages he visited.  The biggest thing that ignited this is the comments and e-mails that I have gotten this week from mainly strangers.  There is an article that I wrote called “Adopting Older Children – What I Wish I Had Known“.  Someone who read it contacted me and asked for my permission to put it on a large blog called We Are Grafted In and it was put on there this past Thursday.  Since then, I have been getting comments and e-mails from people who have expressed how much my words have done for them, what a difference those words have made to them, or how timely that article was to read because of their situation.  I am honoured that God is giving me the words and the forum to be able to help people on their journey and I am hopeful that I will be able to help more people, and most of all, help children.

There are still so many children in foster care, in orphanages, on the street, and in institutions who need families and I hope that those who have been blessed by the miracle of adoption in their own lives will help me to spread the word about how rewarding adoption can be.  To be clear, I did not say “how easy adoption can be” or “how perfect adoption can be” or “how simple adoption can be”, because I also want to put a spotlight on the truth about the challenges in adoption so that people go into it with their eyes open, their expectations realistic, with the greatest chance of success.  The fact that there are 147 million orphans worldwide is overwhelming and horrific, BUT when you consider that the population of Canada and the United States combined is roughly 340 million, it makes it seem like maybe we could take some of those North American numbers and make a dent in some of those orphans numbers.

I know that this part is a bit controversial as there are many who get very offended by strangers asking them about their adoptions, but I am sending a challenge out there to all you readers who are already adoptive parents.  The challenge is this…the next time someone in the grocery store or in line at the bank or in the waiting room at the doctor’s asks you a question fishing for information about your obviously adopted child or children, use the opportunity to market the blessing of adoption and the need.  I know that some people are just nosy or even rude and I know that you want to protect your child’s private story, but this does does not mean that you cannot turn this into an opportunity to speak broadly about adoption.  Perhaps you could even ask the stranger if they have ever considered adoption themselves.

Statistically, the average person thinks about adoption or foster care for FOUR YEARS before they start pursuing even the beginning stages of it.  That means that even if the person you speak to does not seem to be spurred to action by your information, you may plant a seed in them that may grow over time.  If we all can plant seeds, and for each of us, ten of those seeds planted translate into a child being adopted, that will translate into HUNDREDS of children eventually being adopted.  HUNDREDS!  So yep, even if you are uncomfortable with this challenge, I am urging you to give it your best shot.

When I was at a course recently, a couple introduced themselves and said basically that they had ended up adopting because of me.  I am not actually going to take credit for their adoptions!!!  I know that this couple have a wonderfully loving family and they may have adopted eventually anyway, but it was really cool to hear that I had played a small part in their adoption of TWO children.  I met this couple ONE time.  I shared with them about our experiences in adoption and gave them some encouragement.  Over the years, Mark and I have met with many couples in this capacity.  Someone we know will phone us and tell us that they have a friend of a friend of a friend who is interested in fostering or adopting and ask if we will meet with them.  We have the couple over, answer extremely honestly and candidly about our experiences and perhaps help point them in the right direction as a starting point and that’s it.  We usually never hear what ended up happening, though we have heard through the grapevine of one or another who did end up fostering or adopting or both.  Hearing this couple say that they had adopted two children and given them a family was a tremendous encouragement for me.  I know that Mark and I cannot adopt every child out there who needs a family, but we can help children find homes by sharing our story and encouraging others or answering questions.  And so can you.

So please, take up my first challenge.  Let’s do this together.  There are 147 million orphans out there counting on us!


Weekly Wrap Up – Honesty

This week in homeschool was a good one.  As it was mid-November and hadn’t yet snowed, we made our own snow in Science.

The kids had fun trying different things with the “snow” like putting it in the freezer to get crunchy and adding more water to it to make it slushy.  I think making our own snow may have been a mistake though because the next day, the real stuff came and today, it’s minus 25* Celsius!

Tuesday, the three eight year olds went to a homeschool art class.  It was on Mirrored Canadian Landscapes.  Their projects were neat.  They made a scene in pastels on one end of the paper and then created the mirror image of the scene in torn bits of paper.

We did the usual stuff like Math, Memory work, Bible, Printing, Daily Grams, Spelling, etc.

In Story of the World, we were studying Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphs and the kids all wrote out their names in hieroglyphs.

Josiah made this to welcome Mark and Mackenzie home from Ethiopia:

For over a month now, we have been doing this little book called “30 Very Veggie Devotions about Honesty”.  It’s Veggie Tales daily devotions that I assume are directed towards preschoolers, but they are easily adaptable to school-aged kids as well.  I have really been enjoying them as the daily lesson gives us a starting point for a discussion, provides relevant Bible verses and quotes, and ends with a short prayer about what we have learnt.  Now that we have been doing these devotions on a regular basis, I have been noticing two things.  First, that we are starting our homeschool mornings in prayer because of this, which is a great way to start a day.  I take the tiny prayer provided at the end of the devotion and add to it specific things about our family and those we know or know of who need prayer.  The kids sometimes give suggestions for the prayer as well.  The second thing I have noticed is that the honesty lessons are paying off.  There have been some great topics so far such as the boy who cried wolf and how lying becomes a habit, as can telling the truth.  When we were having our devotion the other day, Sedaya suddenly piped up and said, “mommy, I need to tell you the ‘trufe’ about something.  I took the syrop and went like this (motion of glugging the syrop into her mouth!).”  I stifled a laugh and told her that I was proud of her honesty and reminded her that syrop should go on pancakes, waffles, or crepes, and went on with the lesson.  I have noticed that all of our kids have been making more of an effort to be truthful in general and have been admitting to things more readily since we began these devotions.  I never would have believed that this little Veggie Tales book would have made such a difference in our family.  I even hear the kids talking amongst themselves about honesty because of it.

This afternoon, we are off to a field trip at the library with some other homeschoolers.  If anything exciting happens there, I’ll be sure to get some pictures.

The Boys Are Back in Town!

Mark and Mackenzie are back from Ethiopia after a very adventurous trip that included visiting Addis Ababa, Adama (Nazret), Metahara, Lalibela, Axum, and Debra Damo.  They were even able to spend six hours in Amsterdam on the way home and visit the Anne Frank Museum.  Mark’s parents are from Holland, so it was really nice for Mackenzie to be able to see a little bit of Holland.

Their time in Ethiopia was pretty amazing and they were able to do some of the things that were on Mark’s list of adventures as well as bring donations to FAYA Orphanage and visit KVI Orphanage and spend time with the kids and speak with some of the caregivers.  On a note of huge importance for our family, Mark was able to obtain Elijah’s baptism certificate, which will hopefully help us to legally change his age here in Canada.  I will post further about the age discrepancy for both of our Ethiopian-born children later this week.

I am trying to get back into a new routine now that they are home but now can get back to regular blogging and blog stalking!  So, welcome home boys!

Weekly Wrap-Up

This week in our little homeschool was a great one!  On the teacher front (that would be me!), I was able to attend a wonderful homeschool meeting and prayer time with other moms which gave me a few new ideas and helped recharge me.  Here are some of the other things that went on this week:

We talked a lot about the future, different careers options, family, that kind of thing and the kids made a mini book for their “All About Me” lapbooks entitled “the future” in which they answered questions such as “when I grow up, I will…” and “my wish for the world is…”  They had wonderful answers and it was sweet to hear their dreams of a day when there will be no orphans in the world, everyone will have access to clean water, no one will be hungry, and they will be mommies or firemen or a builder and take their kids camping and when they will do anything for God.

On the subject of careers and future, we were able to take a field trip to a firehall, which was especially great for my younger boys because Josiah wants to be a fireman when he grows up and Elijah says he may want to be a fireman.  Before the field trip, I had the kids make the firemen a card or draw them a picture to say thank you for what they do and we brought cookies for them, which they seemed to like!

Look at their expressions as they look into this special camera that detects changes in heat and see how cold my nose is compared to the rest of my face!

a peek into the future perhaps?!

Here, Josiah and Elijah are checking out some of the equipment on one of the rescue trucks.

At the field trip, the kids also got to sit in a firetruck and go into the back of an ambulance and have their oxygen levels checked.  They got a tour of the fire hall, got to hold a fire hose, and were able to ask any questions they had.  The field trip was two hours long and there were many other homeschoolers there.  The kids really enjoyed it!

Also this week, we talked about “loyalty” and focused on that as our character quality of the week after it came up during a study of Benjamin Franklin using the Nest video and corresponding workbook.  Loyalty is actually a pretty difficult concept to explain to younger kids and it was much harder to find examples of the kids being loyal during the rest of the week than it had been to find examples of them taking initiative the weeks before.  Anyone have any good suggestions for reinforcing the loyalty concept?

As Thursday was Remembrance Day, we talked about the sacrifices servicemen and women have made for our freedom and the kids did a colouring sheet of the poem In Flanders Field and I read it to them and tried to get some of the older ones to memorize it.

Other than that, we did the usual…Math, memory work with quotes, scripture, and poetry, Devotions, Daily Grams, Story of the World – we are doing Ancient Egypt right now and I have decided to take some extra time on that with other activities next week as it’s really interesting for the kids, and I am reading “Ramona and Her Father” to the kids every day.  I loved Beverly Cleary as a girl and it’s bringing back wonderful memories for me, but I have to say that the chapters are incredibly long!  One more to go and then we are done though and moving on to another book.  Oh, and the kids had swimming lessons on Wednesday.

Jonah is continuing to read a book every couple of days, Gracelyn still loves practising art, and Josiah just started journal writing this week.

If you want to read more homeschool weekly wrap-ups, go over to Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers and check them out.

The Not Knowing

It’s very strange to know things about some of your kids so easily because you have been there since their beginning or since very near their beginning, but not know things about another of your children.  Awhile ago, we were in the waiting room at Gracelyn’s doctor’s office and there was a baby girl walking around and the other moms were marvelling at how she was walking so well at such a young age (she was only ten months old) and they all began to talk about what ages their children walked at.  I was about to chime in and say that Gracey had walked at eight months but one of my sons hadn’t until he was sixteen months but then remained silent because I had all three of my girls with me that day and I realized as I sat there listening to the conversation around me that I have no idea how old Sedaya was when she took her first steps.  On an intellectual level, I have always known that I don’t know this information about she or Elijah, but today some of the implications of that became more clear.

When they have their first child, there will be no discussion about how the baby looks so much like what they looked like as babies, no comparing baby pictures.  They will not be able to phone me with a developmental concern for their child and have me say, “well, you were a late talker so I wouldn’t worry about it”.  I am discovering that the more I get to know my amazing new children, the more I realize how much I have missed.  With them, I do not know if something they do is a quirk or a phase or a behaviour because I don’t know if it’s new or something they have always done.  With them, I do not know how they typically respond when they are scared or sick or excited.  I cannot answer the origin of Elijah’s scars or how Sedaya got the scar above her lip or the very noticeable one on her eyebrow.  I don’t know if a fever makes them throw up or if they get rashes from stress.  I don’t know if Elijah has always fallen asleep easily and quickly like he does now or if it is a response to stress.  I do not know how he survived having the measles and the chicken pox in a village in a developing country with his body already riddled with parasites or even how old he was when he got those illnesses.  I do not know what Sedaya’s first word was or how old Elijah was the first time he laughed.  I do not even know how they were born or truly even when they were born.

I do know that I wish I knew these things and so much more, and that there is some loss involved in the not knowing, for me and for them.