Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Tummy Trouble

One of the hardest parts of being a parent of a child who can’t yet say “This hurts” are the long nights of not knowing why your child is upset.

Mihret has been an awesome child in many ways, and being friends with people whose kids have had all sorts of crazy ailments has made me grateful that one of her many gifts is the gift of wellness.

Which is to say – she is not often sick.

Of the two “illnesses” she has had, both were ear infections that responded immediately to antibiotic treatment, and didn’t immediately return. One bout, sadly, ended in a bad diaper rash, but even that was minor in the grand scheme of things.

It looked bad, yes, and was unpleasant to treat, but it eventually skipped away – leaving everyone involved mostly unscarred.

So it was with great sadness that I awoke to my child screaming in the night this last weekend.

This was concerning for several reasons.

First, Mihret is usually a slow build. We’ll get a few test whines, followed by a cry or two. And then, if she’s really tired, she’ll nod back off. And if she’s really upset, she’ll move to crying. Loudly, yes, but it’s a cry, and not a scream.

Most of the time, this is an easy fix. Change the diaper. Give a bottle to a growing girl who doesn’t know it’s 2 AM, but does know that she’s HUNGRY.

Secondly, she’s usually a pretty quick calmer. Diaper, bottle, whatever, once the need is met, she’s OK. No harm, no foul, now is the time for sleep, so let’s get back to it.

But Saturday night? Woof.

It started at ten, which was weird, because we had just put her down a couple of hours earlier. She would cry – LOUDLY – then fall back to sleep. She did this three or four times, and finally we decided to change her diaper AND give her a drink, and hopefully all bases would be covered and we’d all go off to slumberland.

It worked.

Then midnight came. And with it came the screams.

It’s tough to know, in storytelling, whether to drag something out in a horrible, scary-story-type form, or if I should just rush to the exciting conclusion where the hero wins and everyone goes back to bed.

The middle-of-the-road version is this:

She screamed for thirty minutes straight. Oh, she’d stop for a second or two, and try to sleep. Her eyes didn’t even open most of the time, making it clear that she was tired, so tired, but couldn’t sleep, because something was WRONG, so WRONG, and it HURT.

So Kara and I tried to figure out what it was.

I check the diaper – dry.

I took her temperature, which was normal. Which I figured, because she didn’t feel even remotely warm.

There was no way she could be hungry – she had consumed eight ounces of liquid less than two hours earlier.

I touched her tummy, trying to figure out if her bowels were backed up. Kara and I played the “when was the last time she pooped?” game, and easily came up with an answer, because she had done so, and spectacularly, that day.

We were stumped. Stymied. And Mihret just kept on screaming, no matter what we did.

We tried lying her down. We tried rubbing her belly. We tried holding her in a lying down position, and in an up-and-down, cuddled against the shoulder position.
I tried holding her. Kara tried holding her.

After thirty minutes, I set her back in her crib, rubbing her belly, and turned to Kara – the words behind my lips were, “Bring me the phone, we’re going to have to call Nurse Direct.”

And then, there was a noise.

Kind of like – PHHHHHT! And then, moments later, another. PHHHHT!

Mihret kicked. Once. Twice. Then she was out like a light. Problem solved.

Ladies and gentlemen, our child is not bothered by a double ear infection, but bad gas? That keeps her up at night.

Two hours later, she woke up screaming again, and I left Kara in bed. I went into Mihret’s room, picked her up like an accordion, and pumped her legs up to her belly for a minute or two, until – PHHHHHHT!

She dropped off immediately, and slept until 8 AM.

Easiest kid in the world.

-Josh

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Other Side of the World

One of the things that Kara and I had many discussions about when we were going through the process of the adoption was just how much information we were going to share with other people, and what was only for “In the family.”

At least one social worker (and possibly more) rightly observed that ultimately we needed to preserve as much of Mihret’s story as possible. She’s small now, and there doesn’t seem to be any harm in sharing the tale of where she came from with the world – but it isn’t really our story to share.

It is Mihret’s story to share, if and when she decides to share it, and with whomever she decides to share it with.

It’s for that reason that Kara and I have put almost nothing about Mihret’s birth family on the blog. I mention them now only because the news from Ethiopia just isn’t good, these days.

The big news over there has been the drought. There’s going to be less food, almost certainly, and probably less work for farmers, and while both of those things would be bad here in the States, over there they can be completely devastating.

People see images of hungry people in Ethiopia, and they think it’s awful, yes. Some people have probably even been there, and seen the poverty, and realized that it goes beyond awful and into tragic.

But our daughter, my wife, myself – we have family there, now. Family that we can’t help. Not directly.

And so I worry. And Kara worries. And we look at our little girl, and we suspect that one day, she’ll worry, too.

And we pray for them nightly and hope that’s enough.

-Josh

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Sometimes, It’s the Simple Gifts

If you’ve ever had to wipe the nose of a child, you know that it’s right up there with catching a fly using chopsticks.

Oh, sure, in the first few months, when there’s no head control, it’s pretty easy. A little wiping, maybe a little whining, and you’re all done.

But then your kid develops motion and personality, and suddenly, they have opinions, and in there opinion, getting their nose wiped just isn’t all that much fun. So they fight it.

Sometimes they’ll jerk their head away. Sometimes there’s screaming, kicking, and/or crying.

And sometimes they’ll just give their head a little flick, so that instead of pulling out the errant nose goo, you end up spreading it to other areas of their face, which makes the whole process take even longer while you try to clean off every last bit ‘o gunk.

By the by, a tip for all you parents trying to clean out your kid’s nose. Wait for bath time. Dunk one cotton ball in the water, then “plug” your kid’s nose with it. (This is tough to describe. You know how, when you were a kid, you’d take your hand and hold your nose and then jump into the pool? Do it like that.) This moistens up all the crusty stuff. Do this one or two more times, and generally your cotton ball will come away with at least one glob of something you’d rather not think about too much.

I should warn you, however, that there may be more stuff that slowly creeps out over the course of the bath – so be prepared with an extra cotton ball or two. Or just use the washcloth on their nose one last time before pulling ‘em out of the bath.

Luckily for me, over the last couple of months, Mihret has finally come to realize that if she just complies when the tissues come out, things will go a lot easier and she will be able to return to playing if she just lets me mop her up right away. Sometime in the last few weeks, I presented her with a tissue, and she tipped her nose forward as if to say, “Okay, but make it quick.”

And then today, well. Today was magical. She was all dressed, and ready to face the day, except… well, her hair had to be done.

Mihret does not enjoy this process. She does not enjoy it one little bit. She wails and screams and sometimes she even manages to get one tiny little crocodile tear out. It is the four minutes of the day she dislikes the most.

I need to back up just a touch in the day, to the moment I looked up her nose. If you have kids, you’ll recognize the magic of the inside of a kid’s nostril. If you glance at one, and you’ll see a tiny bit of crust, and you’ll grab a tissue and swipe, and the next thing you know… you’ve discovered that the crust was merely the tip, and you have pulled out an iceberg.

And that’s what happened here. I fixed Mihret’s hair, I washed my hands, and when I went to retrieve the wee one from Kara, she noted that a wad of gunk had shot out of her nose. So I grabbed the toddler and she grabbed a tissue, and moments later, one nostril was clean.

“She’s got stuff in the other one,” said Kara.

I debated for a second. The contents of a nose that isn’t on your face can be hard, and sometimes impossible, to retrieve. Sometimes they come out in seconds. Sometimes it takes minutes. And sometimes, all your hard work results in shoving what must come out farther into the cave it tried to escape from.

“Meh. Not worth it,” I replied. “I need to get to work.”

And then? Mihret sneezed. And the contents of nostril number two dislodged, and moved out of her nose to the area above her upper lip.

“Tissue?” I said to Kara. She handed me one, and with a single swipe (followed by a quick check for residue) her nose was completely clear.

Such a small thing, really, but when you’re racing through the house trying to clothe and otherwise make respectable a human being who doesn’t yet understand the wonders of a toilet, well… small victories.

-Josh

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Choir concert made special connection

My husband Josh and I recently attended the first show at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center for which we needed a diaper bag and a booster seat.

We chose the African Children's Choir performance as our 14-month-old daughter Mihret's debut in a concert hall audience. We couldn't have made a better choice.

Josh and I, who sang together in our college's touring choir, value music and its presence in our home. We want to expose Mihret, who hums along with the hymns at church and dances even during diaper changes, to music from around the world.

The songs that moved us Thursday — from Uganda, Rwanda, the Congo, South Africa, Nigeria — aren't likely songs our Ethiopian-American daughter would have heard before. But they came from her native continent, and as such are especially precious.

Music is a part of daily life for Mihret's birth family, whose members sing their own traditional songs in Ethiopia as they work in fields of enset, a banana-like plant.

During one musical number, the African Children's Choir singers, with their clear, jubilant voices and beautiful, beaming smiles, pantomimed the activity of a village at harvest time. As the children danced and sang in celebration, tears sprang to my eyes as I thought of our family's link to a place that always seems at once so near and so very far away.

To end the show, the choir performed "Nkosi Sikele." More than South Africa's national anthem, the words also are a prayer asking God to bless the entire continent.

On stage, the flags of Africa's nations unfurled to create a multi-colored and colorful backdrop behind the choir — including the flag of our daughter's native country.

As other African-American community members stood to honor the anthem, we stood, too, holding Mihret.

Kara Patterson: Post-Crescent staff writer

Get Up, Get on Up


(Parental Note: Kara did her own take on this, and it’s running in the PC – but she only got 250 words, and I had some thoughts of my own. Once her version has run in the paper, we’ll be putting it up here.)

So, last Thursday – April 10th – we took Mihret to her very first concert – The African Children’s Choir.

That name, by the way? Total misnomer. Choir, to me, implies a bunch of kids dressed up in matching outfits singing songs. The concert was more like a series of production numbers – different songs, with different dances and playacting to go with them.

And there was some storytelling – most of it talking about the choir, and the history thereof, and what became of various kids who had been in the choir.

Kara and I debated for a pretty long time before deciding to take Mihret to the concert. It started at 7:30 in the PM, which is usually when our little one getting tucked in for the night. And we didn’t know how long the concert was, for that matter. An hour? Two hours?

On top of that consideration, we didn’t know what she’d be capable of by the time concert time rolled around. We had to buy the tickets a couple of months back, and we had no idea if she’d be, like, super-active, or one of those kids who can just sort of sit quietly and amuse herself.

There were a lot of X-factors, is what I’m saying.

So it was, with some trepidation, that we headed over to the Appleton PAC and took our seats.

As any parent knows, bringing a baby means bringing a diaper bag. So we had that on the floor. And we had Kara’s purse. And we had an umbrella, because there was a pretty nasty bit of rain going on.

And we all had coats, which we sorta-kinda crammed into our seats. I mention all this stuff because we had to pull most of it off the floor when a latecomer had to get by us twenty minutes into the show.

The PAC, helpfully, provided booster seats. This was nice, but they were sort of impractical. At just over 20 pounds, Mihret barely had the weight to push the folding seat down on her own. This sort of worked out okay, as it caused the seat to tip back just a bit, preventing her from tipping forward suddenly and falling out of the chair.

We got to the concert a couple of minutes before they were going to start, and while I generally like to be earlier, this worked out very well for us. It meant that we didn’t have to let her wander around while we were waiting for something to happen.

Finally, the show got started, and right from the start, she was pretty much into it.

At the dinner table, Mihret can usually sit for 10-20 minutes, depending upon whether she has something to eat or play with, whether or not there’s a mess in her diaper, or whether Kara or I are sitting and playing with her. She made it about ten minutes in her seat at the concert, and then she wanted to get up.

I kept waiting for the moment that Mihret tried to squirm out of our grip and go running around, but the moment never came. First she wanted to stand in my lap. Then she wanted to sit for a while. Then she would kind of crouch for a bit, so that she could see the stage better.

All told, she got through the first hour with only a squeak or two, and we even got her to clap at the right time once.

Then came intermission. By then, it was around 8:30, and while there was some energy in her, I could see it starting to fade. She wasn’t cranky, really, but she had already listened to an hour of singing and dancing, and she was kinda-sorta ready to move on.

On top of this, the second half of the concert had a lot more talking. There was a small screen above the stage that showed images of the choirs and choir members being talked about, yes, but for the most part it was someone talking for three and four and five minutes at a time. We got a squawk, followed by another, and I started to get nervous.

Luckily, I thought to dig into her diaper bag and pull out the snack food. I fed her puffs one at a time while Kara held Mihret on her lap, and after several minutes, the singing and dancing started back up again.

Mihret was much more subdued by then. She stuck her finger in her mouth, leaned back into daddy, and cuddled while the children sang and danced. There was, I think, one more “I’m kinda ready for bed now” squeak somewhere in the concert, but it was clear that she was fine with some cuddling and a show.

And then they had the big finale, and it was over, and she made it all the way through a whole two-hour concert.

Let me state up front that I was really, really proud of our daughter. She sat still (for a toddler), didn’t make a lot of noise (especially for a toddler) and she seemed to really enjoy herself, at least as much as a toddler can in a situation where they have to sit for two hours.

But it was when we hit the lobby that I really felt a jolt of pride. I opted to put the wee one in her coat while Kara went to pick up a t-shirt, so most of what happened next only happened to me and Mihret.

We had spent the concert sitting in front of (and next to) a group of older folks – some appeared to be in their sixties, a few perhaps in their seventies, and I asked a few times if she was being any trouble. I don’t know that there was much I could have done if she was, but I wanted to be accommodating to all the folks around us who were sharing space with a 14-month-old.

One of the couples seated behind us walked up to me after the concert, looked directly at Mihret, and said, “She could teach some of the other concertgoers about manners.” I politely thanked them, and they walked off.

A few minutes later, I got into a lively conversation with a woman who had an adopted son from Haiti, and whose older daughter had adopted from Ethiopia (sadly, she wasn’t there).

And a few moments after that, I had a nice chat with some folks I know a bit from the African Heritage group.

And a few moments after that, I saw a lovely family with a small adopted boy running around with his older, most likely birth siblings.

More than one individual has noted that Mihret probably won’t remember a single minute of the concert, and I had to tell one well-meaning couple that, sadly, while Mihret is from Africa, none of the songs sung that night were from Ethiopia – so no, she was probably hearing them for the first time, just like me.

But even that was okay. I got to teach someone something, and there’s nothing wrong with that. And even if Mihret doesn’t remember a minute of it, we can tell her about it when she gets older. Plus, CDs were purchased.

As for myself, well, I think Kara and I shared some similar emotional experiences, but I won’t speak for her.

Early on the in the show, some of the kids are dressed as soldiers, and they are seen carrying what I presume are fake guns, brandishing them at other children while some of the history of the conflicts in Uganda and Rwanda are explained to the audience.

I never saw anything as threatening as a solider while I was in Ethiopia, but the moment that the soldiers walked out, tears filled my eyes. Whether it was because I suspected some of the kids onstage might have really been threatened, or whether it’s because I’m a dad now, and to see any child in danger is just too much for me to handle, I don’t know, but I saw the next ten minutes through tears.

I got misty-eyed here and there throughout the show, and I think that’s expected and probably encouraged. The kids are there to entertain you, yes, but they’re also there to let you know that some parts of the world are dangerous and unfriendly to children, and that we would do well to remember that and try to correct it.

But the moment that really got me came at the end of the concert.

Up on the stage, a bunch of cute kids, looking a lot like my kid, say, “We know that some of you have asked if you can adopt us. Sorry, but we’re going to go back to our country. But you can take us home with you in four different ways. CDs! DVDs! T-Shirts! Jewelry!”

We all laughed, of course, and then they launched into a funkified version of This Little Light of Mine, and the flags of every country in Africa dropped from the top of the stage.

The Africans and African-Americans in the audience stood up.

Kara took Mihret in her arms, and stood up, because Mihret is, and always will be, a part of Africa.

And I lost it. There was joy in the song, and it was well sung and had cute choreography, but my heart was with my little girl, curled up in her mommy’s arms… until she got restless, and had to be curled up in daddy’s arms.

Because I love my little girl, and I love her country, and being in touch with it – even just seeing the flag, and hearing the voices of young Africa, well, what can I say? My heart swelled, and all that emotion had to come out somewhere. So why not my eyes?

Josh

Thursday, April 10, 2008

A Day Late and Hundreds of Dollars Short


This picture includes an outfit that is designed for the baby’s first birthday.

It’s cute, really. There’s a cake on it, and obviously the girl inside the outfit is adorable.

I suppose there are other, more organized parents who might have gotten this picture taken on the baby’s first birthday. Or maybe in the same week, give or take.

We took ‘em the week she turned 14 months old.

I’d like to say there’s a story there, but it had more to do with being busy, and trying to research the topic.

One could argue that the best way to deal with getting baby pictures taken is to figure out whatever is cheapest, and head there, and take the picture and be done with it.

But as it happens, we know professional photographers. Which is neat, but there’s a whole extra expense issue there, at most pro photogs charge a sitting fee. Meaning you show up, and just by being there for an hour, you owe ‘em $50.

One place was up front about this – it’ll cost this much to be here for this time.

The other place we looked at, we checked everywhere on their web site, and there was no information on prices.

So we sent them an email, asking about prices, and got no answers. So clearly they weren’t that interested in new business.

And then there’s The Picture People. Who we finally called because Mihret was getting bigger and was going to age out of the outfit her Nona bought for her, and we were NOT going to let that happen, we just WERE NOT.

Nice enough folks, The Picture People. They give you their prices up-front. There’s no sitting fee, and you just pay per sheet – meaning, say, the cost of an 8 by 10, or 10 wallets, is the same, because they’re both one sheet.

I knew there had to be a scam of sorts, but I couldn’t suss out what it was.

We called them up, and they had an opening at the time we needed one. Which struck me as a miracle. So we moseyed on over, with the baby freshly napped and fed and ready to rock out.

We took pictures. Dozens of them, in different poses, with different objects, and even in a couple of different outfits.

Then we were told it would take about 20 minutes to “edit” the photos, and we wandered the mall, and when we came back… they tried to spring the trap.

The trap is easy enough – they stick a bunch of the cutest pictures into frames and then tell you that they are “only” XYZ dollars. Always north of $100.

Now, I can see this working. My kid is adorable, and I’m sure everyone else thinks much the same way about their own child. So you’re sitting there, with these really nice photos, really nicely presented, and all you can think is “my daughter will never be this age again.”

And then I turned to Kara and said, “Before you think about buying anything, ask yourself this – where are you going to HANG the photos?”

We have a kinda small house, and wall space is at a premium there. Most of the walls are crammed with stuff, and we have things that very much need framing so they can fill up the remaining spaces.

What we really don’t need are a bunch of oddly-sized frames that really have no place to belong in our household. So we managed to hold off there.

Then came the “Well, how many of these OTHER photos do you want?” questions, with, of course, the caveat that we can buy them in a package, and this will magically save us money. By spending $150.

I have to say, the logic just plain escaped me at that point. It’s brilliant, because each and every picture is of your favorite thing in the world, and even though you have no homes for the pictures, you buy and you buy and you buy and you think, “Won’t these look cute together?”

One of the magical things about having a child so young is that they change from day to day. You encourage them to grow, and at the same time you hope from moment to moment that you’ll never forget each mystical slice of time as it passes by. The first time your kid says the word “Puppy.” The first time the baby gives you a sloppy kiss on the cheek when you ask for one.

Just how tiny and amazing they are – that they can open books and flip pages and look like they’re reading, and studying, and are otherwise fascinated at the magic contained between the pages.

As I type this, the majority of the pictures still sit in our house, frameless. They’re wonderful, adorable, perfect photos that we have no time to hang because Mihret is getting bigger and doing exciting stuff and otherwise putting us under her spell just because we love her so much.

Hopefully, we’ll be smart and buy fewer photos next time.

And maybe we’ll get the photos we already have up on the walls before she becomes a teenager. That’d be nice, too.
-Josh

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Giggling


video

No matter what the day has been like, a round or two of "Peek!" makes it better.

Friday, April 4, 2008

In the Name of Love

Martin Luther King Junior was shot forty years ago today.

I’d love to write something profound and moving about the occasion, but really, I’m just grateful.

I’m grateful that Martin took a stand, so that myself, and my wife, and my daughter, don’t have to.

I’m grateful that Martin helped to bring people together, so that myself, and my wife, and my daughter can be together.

I’m grateful that Martin helped to make our country a better place – as a reminder that myself, and my wife, and my daughter need to help make this country a better place.

And more than anything else, I’m grateful that when my daughter goes searching for people to look up to and to emulate as she grows into a woman, I can point to Martin and say, “That man. Him. We should all – you, me, and everyone else – be willing to work so hard to make sure that people are judged, not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

-Josh

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Socially Secure

Much as I love talking about my kid, today is all about the giving of advice, with a few words about American governmental systems that aren’t working at max capacity.

First, if you’re looking into adopting a kid, and tax time is coming up in the next six months… do yourself a favor and get them a Social Security number, like, right away.

Why?

Because otherwise you get to have the following conversation with the nice guy who does your taxes:

“Say, can I get your daughter’s social security number?”

“Um…”

And then you get to go through the following hassles.

First, you get to check the IRS web site and discover that it is, in general, super-unhelpful.

Then you’ll call the IRS. You’ll sit on hold for a long, long, long time. Then a dude who mumbles so badly you’re not sure he’s in possession of teeth will tell you that he’s going to pass you to someone else, because they are “an expert” in this particular area.

Then you’ll talk to a chick who is an “expert,” inasmuch as she’s an expert at giving you the phone number for Social Security, and then reading off a long list of stuff you could maybe do to remedy your problem, which is mostly about just filing your taxes as if you had no child, and then filing an “update” in which you say, “Whoops, I might have not mentioned that I have a kid. Can I get that money that I get for having a kid now?”

You will follow up this phone call with a call to the Social Security office.

This is where the funny comes in.

The first question you will be asked, by a machine, is “What is the Social Security Number of the person you are calling about?”

And you cannot get past that question to a person, because your problem is that YOU DO NOT HAVE A SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER.

It’s genius, really.

So then, after two hours of this, you’ll Google Social Security and discover you have a local office, who ALSO doesn’t really know what to do to help you, except to tell you that you should, like, totally get a Social Security card.

Luckily, the Social Security “I need me a card, yo,” form is readily available on their web site. So you’ll download that, and print it out.

And then you’ll fill it out at your dining room table.

And take it to their office, where they’ll ask for a court form that is NOT mentioned on their web site, over the phone, or anywhere, really, except at the desk where you’re just trying to get a Social Security number from.

So you’ll go back a second time, so that the same person can photocopy one form and assure you that you’ll get your number by Wednesday. Or maybe, like, Friday. Or soon. Maybe.

And did I neglect to mention that you’ll be floundering around like a total idiot, telling these random bits of information to your tax guy, all while appearing to have no idea what you’re doing?

Yeah. You’ll do that, too.

So here’s the deal.

If you’re a parent of a recently adopted child who was born outside the US? Get a Social Security card NOW. Do it today.

More than likely you have been told you should first perform your in-country adoption, then have the child declared an American citizen, and then get a Social Security number, but all those things take time and involve paperwork getting through the United States governmental system without typos.

Get the number.

Go to court.

Have your child declared a citizen.

Then tell the U.S. Government – hey, my kid isn’t a resident alien anymore.

Trust me. It’ll improve your stress levels.

-Josh