Saturday, September 5, 2015

A Very Different Kind of "Back to School" Post

My heart is overflowing with joy.  As I sit here the past two days on Facebook reading everyone's complaints and woes, I am struck at our country's lack of perspective and gratitude.  How spoiled and self-righteous are we as a nation when we complain about our "first world problems" whilst people around the world fight for their right to simply live.

On Wednesday we, as a family, watched a documentary on Netflix called "On the Way to School".  It follows the lives of four different children in four different countries and documents their journey to school every day.  None of the kids in the film walked less than an hour each way to school daily.  One child had to watch out for elephant stampedes, while another pushed their brother, who was in a wheelchair, through very rugged terrain for over an hour.  Yet we complain.  After the film I was struck when the first words out of Charlotte's mouth was "When are we sending the money to send my sisters to school?".  Little did she know that I had been working on this very task over the past few days with our friend Workineh in Ethiopia.

I want to preface this post with the fact that Mike and I are no saints.  This story is of God and only possible through God.  We are simply following God's call on our lives.  He is the one making all of this possible, so please join us in praising Him and not us.

As many of you already know we hired an investigator back in May and were able to locate both birth mothers of our girls.  You can read ore about that story here.  We knew the twins had two sisters, one is now 7 and the other is 12.  In the interest of their privacy I will refer to them as K and N.  Once we found them I had a strong desire to make sure these girls were in a good school.  Since May I have been working with Workineh (our investigator turned friend) as well as our Ethiopian friend here in the states to determine what the best way to go about this would be.  Mike and I wanted to make sure we weren't trying to swoop in and be all "white savior" about the way we wanted to help.

This summer, while visiting family in Ohio, we were able to call the twins' birthmother, Abinet, ON THE PHONE!!!!  Our friend, and Godsend, Amsale in Ohio had her phone number from when the investigator told us that Abinet did have a phone.  Amsale happened to be in Ethiopia visiting her family in May when Workineh found Abinet, so she was able to talk with her on the phone 2 times while she was there.  We were sitting up in a bedroom in Amsale's house.  Our main goal of the phone call was to let Abinet know how we would like to help and find out what kind of school she would like the girls to go to. 

An interesting side note is the twins' response to our phone call to Abinet.  One girl wanted to stand in the room to just listen, but did not want to say anything.  The other wanted nothing to do with the call.  I mention this to emphasize that these are BIG and COMPLICATED feelings that they are sorting through.  They each sleep with a scarf tied around their waist that Amsale brought back for them from Ethiopia that she told them was from Abinet.  They love their first mother, but yet, there's so many feelings!  Mike and I are very intentional about letting them lead as far as how much, and what, involvement they want in this whole process. 

In Ethiopia a boarding school is the most prestigious school.  In my gut, I didn't think she would want to send them to a boarding school.  She already had to part with two of her kids due to terrible circumstances and I felt that she wouldn't want the other two out of her house.  I was correct.  She was so moved by our offer and asked why we wanted to help her.  All of us were crying.  We told her, through Amsale's translation, that she is now a part of our family and we help our family.  We conveyed to her how much we loved her and her other daughters and how we wish to come to visit her in three years.  At one point in the phone call she said "God made these girls (the twins) for you."  My response was "No, he made them for you, but we are so blessed to help."

She chose the school she wanted and let Workineh know how much tuition, the entrance fee, uniforms and school supplies would be.  The total for BOTH girls was...$310 for the entire year.  We are blessed with an incredible group of friends and family who all waned to participate in helping our new family members, which allowed us to send some extra money for school clothes, shoes, etc.

I sent the money to Workineh through Western Union on Wednesday and he traveled to their town on Thursday.  He sent me some pictures.  God is so good guys!

 Here are K & N modeling their new school clothes, shoes and backpacks.

 These are some of their new school books.

 This is the fabric that has been taken to a tailor to be made into their school uniforms.  School starts on September 18th.

 N, Abninet and K showing the photo album I made back in May for them of pictures of the twins from the entire time they've been with us.  Workineh delivered it to them on this trip.  

Here are the girls standing outside the school compound.

I need to express to you that through this entire process we have been very transparent and open with the twins.  They know everything, every detail we discovered about their birthfamily.  Some of it wasn't ideal, obviously.  This has brought the twins so much healing and helped them bond with us on a whole other level.  Their trust in us has grown exponentially.  They see our love for them shown through our love for their first family.  It helps that they no longer need to worry about what ever happened to their first family, especially their sisters.  We will always keep in touch and make sure they're ok, as much as is possible.

In no way has this discovery made me feel any "less" their mother.  I have not felt threatened in any way.  I feel closer to them knowing their history.  It has made me love their first family like they're my own.  It has opened my eyes and broken my heart for what breaks God's.  It has brought me closer to God.  He has been in every small detail of this whole experience.  I pray for Abinet everyday.  I wear a bracelet that says "enat" {mother in Amharic} to remind me to pray for her.  

I sleep better at night knowing I am doing all I can to help them.  It has brought our whole family here, and friends, together for such an amazing reason.  Our family has made us feel so loved, and again it shows the twins that they can trust all of us.  I sleep better knowing that this woman halfway around the world knows she's not forgotten.  She knows her babies are loved and cherished.  She knows that God has heard her prayers and is using us to help answer some of them.  That is an incredible honor.
Monday, June 1, 2015

Family Zumba...Good Lord!

There are not many times that I have the thought "I wish someone was filming our life right now.  This is incredibly entertaining", but tonight was one of those times.  I swear that our family can not do anything in a normal or inconspicuous way.  We recently joined the YMCA and tonight the girls and I went to a family Zumba class.
First of all let me just say that when I read the name of the class I assumed that the class would be a bit less difficult.  Kind of like how I want to go to a senior yoga class (for real folks, I think I might just sneak in and pretend one of those ladies is my grandma!!).  I am easing back into physical activity since my surgery and knew I was not ready for a full on Zumba class.  Talk about false advertising, good Lord!  This teacher led us down a full on, hard core, exhausting hour of Zumba!  The girls did a good job at attempting to keep up.  Each girl had a different experience.

Caroline LOVED it.  She was grinning from ear to ear the entire time.  Every time the teacher did a new or difficult move Caroline would twist her sassy and expressive little face into the most hilarious looks and kept cracking the teacher up.  She never even took a break to get water. Apparently they did Zumba in her 2nd grade class sometimes as energizers, because Mrs. Speckman is da bomb.

Charlotte was very intense.  She hardly smiled because she was so focused on trying to figure out the moves, and unfortunately the girl has no rhythm and very little coordination.  She was not a fan because she could feel that it was working her stomach muscles.

Celia, oh Celia my dear love.  I was hesitant to even take her since she's five (although her emotional age is more like a 3 year old) plus she finds any excuse to complain about everything...EVERYTHING.  She does love to dance though so I let her come to check it out.  In the beginning she seemed to have fun.  She was making the older ladies in the class laugh a lot when she would shake her cute little booty.  About 30 minutes in she started to cry because she wanted to leave the class and go running around the track.  At this point, for the sake of making it through the last half hour, I told her she could just do her own moves, dance however she wanted.  That helped.  With 10 minutes left she asked me who she was supposed to be watching.  That might explain her look of confusion for the previous 50 minutes.  She's my blonde.

As I said before I went into this expecting it to be lower impact than typical Zumba and am still very out of shape.  I am also recovering from my third intestinal resectioning surgery from Crohn's Disease.  So it came as no surprise to me that about 40 minutes into the class I feel something below the belt that made me panic.  Was it booty sweat or was it something more???!!  Oh good Lord, did I just poop my pants at family Zumba class??  I went to the bathroom and much to my relief it was simply sweat.  I, in fact, was dripping with sweat and, when I looked in the mirror, my face was as red as my red t-shirt I was wearing.  Like, for real, only a shade away from fire engine red.  As I went back into the class I noticed that all of the other women in the class were older than me, like significantly.  All of them were as pale as me, and NONE of them had red faces!  LOL!  Once again, the older chicks were in better shape than me and kicking my butt at Zumba.  This felt very familiar since I had the same experience in a Jazzercise class last year which I blogged about then as well.

Here's another observation I made.  If you've ever taken a Zumba or Jazzercise class, you may have had that moment where you are in the groove, you are keeping up!  You must look pretty good doing this!  You think to yourself "After this class the instructor is probably going to come ask me if I've done this before.  She will probably tell me that I should become a teacher myself!  I am rocking this!"  Then you make the mistake of looking at yourself in the mirror.  OH NO!  Who is that freak looking back at you?!  Turns out that you don't look nearly as cute and coordinated doing it in real life as you do in your head!  I danced competitively for my entire childhood and even was on the dance team of a professional sports team in college, and even I look like a silly fool during these classes!
So in conclusion, thank you Zumba instructor for throwing me into the deep end of getting back into shape.  I may not be able to walk for three days, or shower, or brush my hair, but I know I will be stronger in the end.  It was pretty fun and entertaining to take an exercise class with my kiddos though.  I think Caroline and I will go back again...once I recover!
Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Twins' Adoption Story (part two)

The original family was not the right placement for the girls and they knew it.  Many mistakes were made by our adoption agency.  Their first family made the difficult choice to disrupt the adoption knowing it was in the best interest of the girls in the long term.  They needed to be the only children in the family, they had a lot of special needs that needed to be addressed.  It just so happened that the girls fit the description of what we were looking for. Oh, and you know those insurmountable obstacles that popped up during our homestudy?  Yeah, those weren't even an issue now because, since the twins were already in the US, this would be considered a domestic adoption and none of those things were even an issue.  (Props, God!)  So over the next 2 weeks we got to meet them and visit with them everyday and by the end of those 2 weeks they were living with us full time. BAM, instant family!

At this point I felt a wave of calm come over me as I realized that I no longer could give God the silent treatment. I needed him. This was not going to be easy. These 4 year olds spoke no English, they were in diapers, and they had severe behavior problems. It was like jumping into the deep end of the pool without any swimming experience, no life jackets and no life guards. We just had to figure it out.

We spent the next few months in a bubble. We couldn’t leave the house. The girls had to be completely socialized. They knew nothing of being in a family, had no idea of social norms or socially acceptable behavior. The amazing part of it all was that even though they had been through so much in such a short amount of time, they were so open and loving to us. They began bonding with us so willingly. Those months were filled with a mixture of tantrums, dance parties, physical restraints, and hair salon parties, but all of it brought us closer.
Their English became so good so fast, no one could believe it. And, with the help of many professionals, their behavior was improving as well. They began preschool and did wonderfully! We still had many struggles behaviorally and I’m sure the library considered calling Children Protective Services based on what I was checking out at the library! I read everything from “The Rage Free Child” to “The Out of Sync Child” along with any other creative consequences books. According to the books we were doing everything right, but our kids just didn’t fit the molds of these books so we just prayed and did the best we knew how.

Along the way they’ve been diagnosed with a whole myriad of disorders, ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorder, Reactive Attachment Disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and the medications have been an amazing tool for helping them cope with all of the change and trauma. It wasn’t until the summer of 2011 when we were sitting at the table that we really understood the scope of what their little brains were dealing with. At the dinner table we start talking about their life in Ethiopia. They weren’t often open about talking about it, but this night they were. They told us in their broken English, that they lived in a mud hut, with a dirt floor with their mother and older sister. They bathed, drank and relieved themselves in the same river. Once their mother had another baby is when she relinquished them to the orphanage. We later found out in 2015 when we hired an investigator what the whole story was.

As I think back about everything I am amazed at how God works. I know now that losing my job was such a blessing because I got to spend those last precious weeks with my dear Geeta.  I believe God used Geeta to tell me what His plan was since I sure wasn’t listening to Him! The black mold we discovered during our homestudy forced us to move into a beautiful large home with 4 bedrooms, and 2 twin beds that were already there from my childhood. That’s what the girls sleep in every night. The disrupted adoption meant that I did not have to travel to Ethiopia, which was going to be difficult because of my health. It also saved our family a lot of money not having to travel.  God's timing is always PERFECT.  If we had not started the process when we did (when it made no sense for us to do so) we wouldn't have been ready for our daughters.  Listen to God people!

Through this amazing experience I went from being a control freak, to working hard to be an open book for God. I try everyday to soak in everything he is trying to convey to me. I know now that God has wonderful things in store for our family and I don’t want to miss any cues from him!

The Twins' Adoption Story (part one)

In the fall of 2009 I felt very angry with God, in fact I was giving him the  silent treatment. After abruptly losing my job, we had a sudden death in the family and then my dear friend Geeta lost her battle with breast cancer.

I proceeded to spend the next few months wallowing in self pity.  Finally one day I felt my friend Geeta with me. I felt her saying to me “Get off of your butt and stop being sad. It’s time to make your own happiness!” Before she passed away we had had many conversations about international adoption since she and her husband had adopted from Guatemala. So I just keep feeling her nagging me to start looking into it. I had the time, so I researched different agencies and countries and made a nice organized spreadsheet.

I presented all of this to Mike who was definitely on board, but concerned. You see, it definitely did NOT make any sense for us to do this now. I had lost my job (still on unemployment) and he was serving tables at the Olive Garden trying to finish up his PhD. We lived in a small 2 bedroom apartment with not a whole lot of extra income at the end of the month, let alone extra thousands of dollars lying around to be able to afford this! We knew we wanted to adopt eventually because we both have some serious genetic health issues on both sides of our families that we didn’t want to risk passing onto our children. But now? My brain knew it didn’t make sense but my heart wasn’t listening!

Not long after I began my research I got a call from my cousin Kimberly.  We had become closer since the sudden passing of her mother.  She offered me a full time job working for her!  Looking back I see that as soon as I was blindly following God's call for my life, he was providing for our needs.

After Christmas we really began finalizing our choices as far as agency and country. We chose our agency because it was the same one that Geeta had gone through and we chose Ethiopia because the kids were healthy, they were being hyped as not having attachment issues (HA!), and they were beautiful! It was a new program so there was less red tape and less of a wait time.

Now came the issue of financing this. We starting some fundraisers that yielded small profits but realized we were going to have to come up with a better plan. I am blessed enough to have very generous and well off grandparents, so we wrote up a business plan of how we would pay them back and presented it to them. This was a very big chunk of change we were asking to borrow but luckily for us they said yes and we were on our way!

We started our homestudy in mid-February 2010. When our social worker came out to our home, one of the many times, she asked about the possibility of us adopting 2 children. After talking it over we decided that we never wanted only one child so why not go ahead and get 2 at the same time, preferably biological siblings! We figured at least if they are going to look nothing like us, they can at least look like each other! So we got approved for 2 children and when we said we didn’t want to request a gender, we were informed that we would probably get 2 boys then, because most people have been requesting girls. At this information my husband, who grew up with no sisters, says “Wouldn’t it be cool if we got twin girls!”. I said “No! You have no idea the kind of drama that would come along with that! Two prom dresses, two weddings, and let’s not forget the hormones!!”

There were a few road blocks that we ran into during our homestudy process.  For one, when we were married I chose to change my middle name to my maiden name.  I was told at the Social Security office that I could do that and was not informed that any other legal action needed to be taken.  Well, it turns out that I needed to go to probate court to officially change it legally.  Due to strange rules I was going to have to wait an entire year before I'd be allowed to go to probate court for this which was going to set us back an entire year!  My doctors were also NOT fond of me going to a third world country in Africa since I was on so many immune-suppressant medications.  There were some vaccines that were recommended that were live viruses, which I was told I was not allowed to have because of the meds I was taking.  Many tears were shed over these seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

During this process our agency connected us with another family who was local and also adopting from Ethiopia through the same agency. We became Facebook friends and had sent a couple of emails back and forth. When they made their trip in late March to pick up their children, I found myself glued to my computer! I just kept looking at their pictures. I was amazed with the scenery, and the culture and of course, the children. I showed her pictures to everyone I knew. When my
mom saw the pictures of the children this family was bringing home, she gasped and said “Oh Sarah, can’t you just have them? They’re beautiful!!”. My response, of course, was that I was pretty sure it didn’t work like that!

We were moving into my grandparents former house that spring.  On April 30th everything changed. All of our things were in boxes as we were moving the following day. Our phone rang at about 8pm. Our adoption agency was on the other end, asking us how we would feel about adopting twin 4 year old girls. We were in shock! Our homestudy wasn't even finished yet! When we ask when, her response is just “soon, very soon”!  We asked them to give us the night to pray about it.
From their description of the girls’ ages I knew it was the same 2 little girls I had been looking at pictures of over the last 2 weeks. So we logged onto our computer and looked at their pictures again…and wept. These were our daughters!!

Read part two for the rest of the story!

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Blessed By Birthmothers Across the Globe

Last week we hired an investigator halfway around the world in Ethiopia and this week we have pictures and information about all of our daughters' birth mothers.  MIND BLOWN.

It has literally been a million times easier to find these women in rural Ethiopia, living in mud huts, than it has to get my license plates switched over from Ohio to Pennsylvania, which still has not happened and we've lived here nearly a year.

Mike and I have been saying for the past 4 years that as soon as we got our 2011 tax refund, which includes our adoption tax credit, that we would hire an investigator to look into the twins' birth family.  Because this tax refund took a whopping FOUR YEARS to get straightened out, this has seemed like an elusive goal, something out of our reach.  Thanks to my superhero tax attorney Uncle Mike we were able to finally get the refund and not 2 weeks later I saw a question on an Ethiopian Adoption Support Group page I follow on Facebook.  There was a woman asking for a recommendation for an investigator and it just so happened that my friend Scott commented.  I sent Scott a message to ask more about this man he was recommending and his response was that this man was like a part of his family, a Christian and one of Scott's best friends.  SOLD.

I reached out to this man on Facebook, who lives in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  I gave him all of the information I have from the paperwork from their adoptions.  I've had a few friends go through this process and find out that most, if not all, of the information that was in their adoption paperwork was a lie, so there was no guaranteeing this information I was giving him was factual.  I figured we'd wait a couple of months to find anything out.

Imagine my surprise when only a couple of days later he was in the village that the twins were born in.  He had information.  Mike and I held our breaths when opening the email and reading his report.  

We hardly knew anything about the twins' story, beside what they could remember and verbalize to us in their broken English when they were four.  They talked about a mom figure, but called her by her first name.  This mom was on the paperwork once as their mother and yet on another set of paperwork she was listed as a guardian.  We weren't certain if she was the mom or an eldest sister.  They also spoke of an older sister and a baby sister.  Charlotte named all of her baby dolls after this baby sister and missed her dearly in that first year with us.  Even after being with us for nearly 3 years I remember a night where she broke down and wept because she was worried about her baby sister in Ethiopia.  My heart broke not being able to give her those answers she was craving.

Now we had the information in our lap and we prayed that it was good news that would be healing.  We opened the report and read it together before sharing it with the girls.  It turns out it was their mother and she is well, living with the other two daughters.  While the paperwork said that their father died, it turns out he just up and left once the baby sister was born, leaving their mother with no way to support her family.  She was in an impossible situation.  She relinquished custody of the twins when they were 3 (6 years ago) and had not heard a word about their whereabouts since.  She was so happy to see the pictures of the girls that we sent with our investigator.  She wept over them for a long time, he told us, and she had a hard time speaking.  I cannot even imagine not knowing where your children were and if they were ok for SIX YEARS.  The girls' sisters are also well, looking to be about 13 and 6 years old.  The younger one looks like a crazy awesome combination of the twins. 

When we showed the twins the pictures and shared the information they were beaming from ear to ear!  They loved seeing someone who actually looked like them!  They no longer have any conscious memories of their life back then, but I could see how healing it was going to be for them to have this treasure of information.  Seeing their first mother crying tears of joy when looking at their pictures.  She LOVES them, she MISSES them, they were wanted.  She made a selfless and impossible decision to give the girls a chance at a better life.  

A couple of days later we got word that our investigator was in Celia's family's village as he sent us pictures and a report.  Her birth mother is very young and very poor living in a home made of branches and sticks.  Once again the story of Celia's birth father being deceased proved to be untrue.  He also disappeared once Celia was born.  Her birth mother was so poor she was unable to feed herself enough to be able to produce milk to feed her baby.  Celia was very malnourished when she came to the orphanage.  She is now remarried and just recently had another baby, a boy.

Celia is only 5 right now so this information is a bit much for her to be able to process.  We told her about her baby brother in Ethiopia and her response was "I know, I remember him."  Umm yeah chica you left the country before you were one year old and he was just born, so no, you don't remember him, but whatever!  I feel good that as she gets older and does have questions that I will have some of the answers she is seeking.

As I look at the pictures of these beautiful women on the other side of the world I realize how incredible it is to be able to love someone this much without ever even meeting them.  I love these women.  I feel like our family has grown.  I never thought that we would have the opportunity to have any form of an open adoption when we adopted children from another country, but God has now opened that door.  Through our investigator I can now send letters, more pictures and other items he thinks might be helpful for them.  Mike and I are also looking into what it would take to pay for the twins' sisters to attend a good school.  We are praying about what we do next now that we have all of this information.  We feel a responsibility to help our new family members in any way we can.  While I set out to do this for the girls, I have realized it was just as much for me.  I needed to know that these mothers knew that their babies were well, loved and had a family that would never let them forget where they came from.  I feel lighter somehow.

We do plan on making a trip over there once the girls are older and when we go we will most definitely spend time with their first mothers.  I can't wait to hold them, cry with them, laugh with them, pray with them, cook with them and thank them for the gift they gave us and our girls.  These girls are going to do BIG things, and that began with their mothers making a very brave and scary choice of giving their children life.

God's timing is pretty amazing.  All of this happened just in time for mother's day.  Best gift ever.
Thursday, March 26, 2015

Mother Knows Best...

Well, I have finally caved.  Mom, you win, I'm waving the white flag of surrender.  Today I purchased real grown up anti-aging facial products.  Yes, mom, of course I bought the Target knock off brand!  Do you think I'm made of money?!
My mother has been preaching to me about proper skin care since I was in high school.  I've always been pretty arrogant about my skin.  I never had to go through any breakouts in high school and if I did get the stray pimple, my beloved freckles were standing guard ready to camouflage it.  I have never been one to wear a lot (if any) make up, so I've never seen the point of washing my face before bed...I KNOW I KNOW!  It's like a cardinal sin of womanhood, I get it.

Over the years I've considered diving in and paying more attention to my skin.  I even made it a New Year's Resolution in 2014, but we all know how those turn out.  It didn't last more than 2 weeks.  I bought the fancy expensive organic stuff at the home party thinking THAT would get me to do it.  Nope.  I just used it in the mornings in the shower, even though I was told at aforementioned party that if I slept with a dirty face that I'd turn into a monster (or something to that effect).

My overconfidence is not helped by the fact that my mother and grandmother have AMAZING skin and do not look anywhere close to their ages.  They've always been like that, so I've got good skin genes.  Plus, I'm still basically 16 in my mind so I've got plenty of time to worry about that. (no?) Then you add on a chronic health condition and raising three young kiddos from hard places and suddenly good skin care isn't even in the realm of priorities.

After this last major surgery, and horrific endless recovery, I could see the stress of it on my face.  What?  It can't be!  My 16 year old skin has finally started to crack under the pressure.  I finally admitted to myself that the only reason that my Me-me and my mom have such great skin is because they've been regimented about taking care of it for decades.
If you know me at all you may have picked up on the fact that I could give a crap about what other people think of me (to a fault according to my mother ;) ) and I'm not one to care much what I look like.  I've left the house before looking like a mess on many occasions because I just don't even think to check the mirror before walking out.  My motivation you see is not vanity, it lies with my dear mother.  You think she hounds me about this skin care thing now?  Wait until I'm 40 or 60!  Since my Me-me has lived so long I know my mother will too and her filter and self control about nagging me on such issues will only get worse.  I can hear her now, "You know, if you had listened to me in your 30s and started using that Olay stuff I told you about your skin wouldn't looks so....rough."  Or, "Honey, you really ought to have something done about those wrinkles, they're really aging you."  She will forever haunt me about it ya'll!!

So, mark this down as a win for both of us I guess.  I'm sure I'll thank her when I'm 60, and people don't think I'm too old to have 12 Ethiopian kids...LOL!  Love you Mom!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Unexpected Parenting WIN!

If you follow me on Facebook you may remember this status I posted sometime just before Christmas:
Tonight this scenario played out while Celia was napping:
Caroline- (counting her money from her wallet) "Charlotte, let's go downstairs. Mom, you can't come since we are talking about something that's a secret. It's for Christmas, but it's not a present, it's something in an envelope."
She then proceeds to come upstairs to ask me how to spell "orphanage", 5 minutes later she comes back to ask how to spell "charity" and finally a few minutes later she needed me to spell "Africa". They asked if they could use the sharpies to decorate the envelope.
I know it's a surprise and I have "no idea" what they're doing ;) but I have a feeling I'm going to be an incredibly proud mama!!!
Well on Christmas morning we found this envelope under the tree:
(It says "Clean Water fo(r) all people")

And inside was this note along with $30 in cash:

(Dear Mom and Dad, Caroline and Charlotte are sending money to charity to build a well in Africa.)

Wow.  I was blown away.  What 9 year old thinks of this?  How did we get here?

It is true that they are from a rural area of Ethiopia where, when they first came to our family, they recounted to us how they remembered bathing, going to the bathroom and DRINKING water from the same river.  When they first came to America, like nearly all Ethiopian kiddos who come here, they both had intestinal parasites that were remedied with a couple of rounds of antibiotics.  Some families I know didn't have it quite that easy.  Their life involved dealing with these parasites, and sometimes worms, for months after the child(ren) were home.

Because of this realization, Mike and I looked into finding a reputable organization that was building clean water wells around the world, and particularly in Ethiopia.  That's when we found out about charity:water.  

In December of 2011 charity:water happened to be raising money to build a well in Tigray, Ethiopia.  So, instead of going to a store and buying a gift for the adults in our families we decided to make donations in their name for this well.  We did something similar the previous Christmas after watching a documentary on Netflix called "Making the Crooked Straight" about an American doctor, Dr. Rick Hodes, who practices in the capital city of Ethiopia treating people from all over the country who have tuberculosis of the spine.  This is a curable condition that needs surgery.  We were so moved by this documentary that we made donations instead of buying gifts and on Christmas morning we showed our families the documentary.  We have continued this tradition every Christmas since, with choosing a different cause to support each year. 

For those of you thinking "You don't give your kids presents on Christmas????!!!" you can relax.  Our children receive more than their fair share of gifts (mostly because of their grandmothers) but Mike and I have consciously tried to reduce the amount of gifts they get from us and Santa (who by the way I am super sick of, why does he get all of the credit for the gifts I BUY?!  But that's a separate post).  Partially because they all have sensory issues and get overwhelmed easily and partially because we want to be conscious of making sure that our kids know that this holiday isn't about gifts.  

Another tradition we have started with our girls is that when they have a birthday party where they invite their friends, we allow them to choose a charity or cause to support then we ask for donations instead of gifts on the party invitation.  I remember the first time we did this I got a few calls from panicked parents.  "Can we just bring a small gift?  My daughter doesn't understand that she can't take a gift to her friend at her party."  No.  Explain to your child that we are collecting money to send to people in Ethiopia (we donated to Feed the Children for their first party) so they can have enough food to eat.  I realize these kids were 5, but why not start them early understanding that there are less fortunate people in the world?  Each year the twins have raised around $100 for whatever cause they've chosen to support.  This past fall was Celia's first experience with this and she decided to collect pet food and we took it to our local shelter.

Again, not to worry for my poor little girls, they get plenty of presents from us and our families for their birthdays.  My favorite thing that has come of us starting this tradition with our girls was the day they came home with a birthday party invitation.  It was for one of Charlotte's classmates, and she was asking for food donations for a local food pantry instead of gifts.  You know who it was from...that panicking mom I spoke with on the phone only a couple of months earlier!  The twins were so excited that she was doing the same thing they did, and it was not lost on them that she got the idea from their party.

So I guess to answer my own questions...they learned it from all of the little philanthropic efforts God has inspired us to make as a family.  We've modeled to them that it means so much more to send your money to a good cause in someone's honor than to spend money on something at a store.  We are blessed with a little extra spending money so if there's something little I'd like for myself, I can usually buy it for myself.  For the majority of people around the world "spending money" or "blow money" is an unknown luxury.  I am so glad that my children are soaking in this concept of helping others.  I know this is planting the seeds for what GREAT things God has in store for them in the future!
Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Caroline's 65 Year Old Smoker Soul

If you have spent more than five minutes with Caroline, then you've heard me apologize for her attitude by explaining that she has the soul of a 65 year old smoker.  I have said this since day one with her.  I guess you could say there's something about her that is an "old soul".

When we first moved to PA, our new cable package included the Lifetime Movie Network, which was new to us.   On this channel I stumbled upon a show called Ghost Inside My Child.  The show interviews parents of children who have memories and knowledge from another lifetime, including how they died when they were a grown up before.  Crazy, right?!  It could all be scripted, who knows, but it is pretty fascinating and it got me thinking about Caroline. 
 Here are the top ten reasons I believe Caroline has the soul of a 65 year old smoker:

1.  Ever since day 1 she has had a scratchy smoker's voice.  It has become less evident as she's grown older and polished her English, but it's still there.

2.  Her attitude...about everything.  She has this bitter old woman sense about her, mad at the world and bitter about everything.  She always manages to be disappointed about everything.  I could say we were having ice cream and donuts for dinner and she'd still manage to let out a sigh and walk away in her Eeyore manner.

3.  Her sass and sense of humor.  She's straight up HILARIOUS.   Her sense of humor is way more mature than her age.  It makes it very hard to keep a straight face when she says something that's not quite appropriate for a 9 year old to say, but it's super funny.  She is super sassy and acts as if she invented the eye roll.

4.  One time right before Halloween when she was only 5, my mother gave the girls a bag of goodies for them to open up.  Inside was a small rectangular box of Malley's chocolates wrapped up in pretty paper.  She picked up the box, shook it next to her ear and said "Granny, why you get me some smokes?" then proceeded to tap the box on the palm of her hand a few times.  We all just stood there with our jaws on the ground.  Who says "smokes" anymore?  No one in our family even smokes.  This was the first specific incident when I knew there was some serious history wth this girl.

5.  In our hometown there is this super cool 50s type hot dog diner called Dan's Dogs.  We would go there frequently as a family.  All over the walls are pictures of celebrities and memorabilia from the 50s and 60s.  The first time we went there Caroline pointed to a picture of Elvis and asked who it was.  Over the years, every time we've gone she has asked questions about Elvis and found a book they have about him at the restaurant to read while we wait for our food.  

6.  Last year for the Fourth of July we went to visit some family in Toledo.  As we were all sitting around outside eating, my father pipes up and says "Hey, do you guys want to hear a funny story?"  Now this was a rare occurrence because my dad is a pretty quiet guy and is usually one to sit back and listen to other people talk, so all of our ears perked up.  This has got to be a good story for him to want to share, right?  So, he starts telling about a time where he left one of his three cell phones on the top of his car, started to drive off onto the highway and the phone flew off of the roof of the car.  Before he was even finished with what he thought was a hilarious story, Caroline rolls her eyes and loudly says "Good grief Gramps, great story." very sarcastically.   Who even says good grief anymore???  No one in her world, I can tell you that for sure.

7.   This child is OBSESSED with the TV.  It literally does not matter what is on the TV (commercials and all) her eyes are glued to it.  We here in the Bratt household refer to this as her TV comma.  At first I just figured "hey, the kid has lived in a mud hut for the past 4 years so she's never seen anything like this" but it never ever wore off or has lost its intensity.  It just got me thinking that if her "old soul" is from the 50s or 60s, then TV would have been a very new and fascinating thing.

8.  I'd say ever since she was 5 or 6 she would always point out to me when there was a handsome guy on a magazine cover in the grocery store, or on TV.  She was always on point too.  She always noticed, while Charlotte never did, nor did she care.  Caroline has a thing about peoples' eyes.  She's always pointing out if people have pretty eyes, even in person she'll say "Hey mom, did you see that man's eyes?  They were so pretty."  Just not typical for a 5 year old.

9.   She has always been very difficult to parent.  She's just so over being a kid and having to listen to other peoples' rules.  She has this air about her that an adult would have if their parent was telling them what to do.  I'm pretty sure at the age of nine she thinks she could go out, get a job and live on her own.  I'm not 100% certain she's wrong either!  Girl's got tenacity! 

10.   This story: We went to visit my friend Mary's campground one fall day and came away with one of my favorite stories of all time with Caroline. She had to go to the bathroom while we were there so Mary had her go into her parents' house to use the bathroom. Caroline has never met Mary's mom before. She walks through the kitchen to get to the bathroom and sees some junk food laying out like pop-tarts, chips, etc. She turns and looks at Mary's mom and says "Someone in this house is about to get some diabetes." I didn't even know she knew the word diabetes, let alone know how to use it properly! Half of the words in her vocabulary she can't pronounce properly, but diabetes she's got down cold!

 Now, before you get all "Well, aren't you a Christian?  How can you reconcile the concept of reincarnation with your faith?"  I don't know!!  It's just not that serious, ok?!  All I know is that the "child" I live with and love, does not act like a child a lot of the time.  It's mysterious, awesome and frustrating all at the same time.  One day I'll get to ask God what was up with that, but until then I'm just enjoying the ride.
Friday, March 6, 2015

Financial Planning According to a Pair of 6 Year Olds!

I came across this gem the other day and had to share it with all of you.  The girls are now 9 and got a kick out of watching this the other day.  I'm so glad they have life all figured out. (LOL)


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