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The other day I was at my son’s preschool to pick him up. Often, we have “big yard” playdates with some of his classmates after school. The big yard is one of the common areas at the school where the kids play on the jungle gym, run around, pretend to be pirates on the big ship and eat leaves from the vegetable garden. On this day there were a lot of kids playing in the big yard, including little girl visiting the big yard with her younger sister. This young girl, who I’ll call Marla, couldn’t have been more than 6.

The Littlest E was playing with his friends as I sat at one of the children’s picnic tables.  Next to me was this beautiful, little girl with long, wavy hair, a round face and doe-like eyes.  The following is a conversation we had. I ask that you read it with the innocence of a 6-year old.

Marla: Is her your son?

Me: Yes, he is.

Marla: He’s really your son?

Me: Yes. Would you like to know how he’s my son?

Marla: Yes.

Me: We adopted him.

Marla: What’s that?

Me: Well, he didn’t grow inside me, but in his birth mom. For whatever reason, she wasn’t able to take care of him and he needed a Mommy and Daddy. My husband and I wanted a family so we adopted him and he became our son.

Marla: He has brown skin.

Me: Yes, he does.

Marla, said with great concern and caring: We have peach skin and there’s no one else here with brown skin. Will he be okay?

Me, smiling: That’s a really good question. He’ll be fine. He has lots of friends and, in his class he has other friends with brown skin.

Marla was quiet for a moment.

Me: It’s a pretty cool thing that there are all kinds of families, isn’t it? There are many ways to become a family.

Marla: Yes.

There’s another quiet moment.

Marla: Do you love him even if he has brown skin?

Me: I love him because he has brown skin, because he’s my son. I couldn’t love him more than if he grew inside me. I love him.

There’s another quiet moment.

Marla then yells to her sister: What are you doing?

Our brief exchange has ended and she left the table to play with her sister.

© 2015 Melanie Elliott

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Is it just me, or does it seem like the last few months of the year go incredibly fast?  We hit October and there’s Halloween.  You blink and it’s Thanksgiving.  You blink again and it’s Christmas/Hanukkah, and one more blink and it’s an entirely New Year!

New Years Eve

As I wrote in a previous post, we celebrate many holidays in our home.  We keep the Christmas decorations up after the New Year until the 12 days of Christmas are over – January 6.  The Littlest E was on break from school for 2-½ weeks and my husband took a staycation for 1 of those weeks.  It was wonderful to have both of them home.  Tom and I didn’t need to set an alarm clock because we knew our lively lad would wake us up around 6:30. I think once or twice during that week, we were blessed with a 7:00 appearance.  The luxury of sleeping in!  Part of me does look forward to the day when The Littlest E is a bit older and actually, truly does sleep in, however, I love the mornings when he wants to come in bed with us and hang out.  It’s awesome family time.  And, of course, our dog, Pepper, has to get in on the action, too.

Holiday time is such a busy time, with vacation, visiting friends, holiday gatherings, all the planning and prep it takes, etc., etc., etc.  Many people take time to reflect at year’s end and come up with resolutions for the approaching year.  I used to pick Angel Cards to see what words would be my focus for the year ahead.  I’ve never really been a New Year’s resolution person though, and, since bringing The Littlest E home with us from Ethiopia 4+ years ago, there doesn’t seem too much time during the holidays for major introspection.

That time happened on January 6.  Tom started back to work on January 5, and The Littlest E went back to school the next day. After I dropped him off, I came home, walked the dog and then proceeded to put away all our holiday decorations.  It was the first time in a couple of weeks I was alone for an extended period.  Pepper was resting and the house was quiet.  The only sounds were cars driving by on a street nearby, the heat coming through the vents wafting warm air my way, and an occasional bird making its voice heard.  It was the perfect opportunity for a bit of contemplation about the year past and the year ahead, and the floodgates of my mind opened with numerous thoughts rushing in.

Meeting Mickey

We had a good year as a family last year.  We traveled a bit to see our families, went to an Ethiopian adoptive heritage camp, went glamping with classmates from preschool, and took The Littlest E to Disneyland for the first time.  The Littlest E began asking more questions about his adoption.  Both Tom and I provided him and will continue to provide him with answers that are appropriate for his age. You’d be surprised at the kinds questions he was asking.  Kids are perceptive and understand more than we think they do.  I won’t go into details because it gets into territory that belongs to our son, since his adoption is his story to tell. I’m just really glad we are here at this point, and he’s asking.  It’s so important for him and for everyone concerned.

I love my family and honestly, couldn’t ask for anything more, well, maybe a bigger house, but that will happen in due time.  Our nightly gratitudes we say at dinner make me feel, well, grateful.  I hear the things my son is grateful for and it puts a smile on my face. Pepper, joined the family this past September and she’s love personified.  She fit right in with minimal adjustment.  Our new routine of daily walks including one in the morning with my son, allows me special one-on-one time with him, and a bit of exercise to boot.  I love just being with him.  We’re all good.  Tom and I could always use more date nights, but I think we have a balance that works.  I want to continue to love and support my hubby in all his endeavors.

Lightsaber!

The explosion of growth that has gone on with The Littlest E this year, not just height, but brain power, imagination, energy, and appetite.  You name it.  He’s sight-reading some words, and they’re learning to write in class.  Watching him figure things out is one of the neatest things I’ve seen or when he’s focused on building something with his Magna Tiles or figuring out answers to questions from his Sylvan learning books, it’s the best.  His imagination is on fire. The first part of last year was all about the Ninja Turtles.  Then the last six months and currently, it’s everything Star Wars. Everything is a lightsaber or sword.  He’s watched a Star Wars movie with lightsaber in hand ready to do battle along the other Jedi, literally. We have rules of play in the house that he observes (most of the time).  He can fight with Darth Wingback or Darth Couch, but can’t fight with Mom and Dad, if neither of us cares to join in.  And he loves stories, too. Right now Tom is reading to him a lot of Greek myths.  The Littlest E LOVES them and regularly asks on the way to school, “Tell me a story, Mommy.” Star Wars, Disney movies, Eurydice, anything made up, often make the ask list. Being a Mom is the coolest thing.

Myths

A headspace occupier for us this past year has been the quest for a kindergarten.  When I was a child, schools were vastly different. So it’s been a blog-worthy journey trying to figure out the best option for our son.  We’re not sure how things will unfold.  We’ll know in the next few months.  We just hope we do right by our son, and are excited about where he’s headed for his next phase of life and education.

Aside from a bit of skin cancer, I had a pretty good year.  Now that The Littlest E is older and heading off to kindergarten in the fall, I’m ready to get back to work and start contributing financially to our house.  In serving on the board of Connect-A-Kid and working on my project, I discovered that I’m pretty adept in reaching out to strangers, making cold calls, and networking, particularly when I truly believe in something.  I’ve got my project and I’m also partnering with a girlfriend to help her event company thrive.  I’m excited about both opportunities and have faith that it’s all going to fall into place one way or another. Somehow the Universe has always provided, when I do the footwork.  The biggest challenge from last year, as I think with any parent or person for that matter, is balance, when to say yes, when to say no, and when to take action or take it easy.  Balance will be key this year, too.

So, no resolutions, though more exercise should be on the list as well as cutting back on watching so much television, just ideas and thoughts about 2015, and reflections on 2014.  With life there are ups and downs. Hopefully, the year ahead will have more ups than downs. Hopefully, all the grandparents will stay healthy.  Hopefully, the year will be filled with wonderful adventures, good times with family and friends, and personal, professional, spiritual and emotional growth for the three of us.  We’ll see how the year unfolds!

Images: Cindy Kilpatrick, Melanie Elliott

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When Tom and I decided to adopt The Littlest E from Ethiopia, we made a decision to do our best to bring Ethiopian culture into his life and our lives in as many ways as possible short of moving to Ethiopia. It’s true that there is nothing like growing up in the country where you were born. International adoption is complex and there are many who believe it should be abolished and many who do not think that way. We chose international adoption because we knew there were children in the world that needed homes with parents who would love them, and there were certain aspects we were not comfortable with in domestic adoption. We made a pledge to the Ethiopian government that we would take care of The Littlest E, and part of that is ensuring he knows his country’s culture, heritage, history, food, music, etc.

Ethiopian Flag

We are fortunate to live in Los Angeles where there’s Little Ethiopia, a part of LA devoted to Ethiopian restaurants, travel agencies, merkatos (in Ethiopia it’s an open air marketplace, but in LA it’s a market), clothing and music stores. Plus, there are thousands of ex-pat Ethiopians living here and there is a sizeable adoptive community. Over time, we have met a number of adoptive families with children The Littlest E’s age and they have become friends. When our schedule permits, we go to the Little Ethiopia Cultural and Resource Center on Saturdays and our son, along with his friends, attends Amharic, Ethiopian dance and art classes. These classes are all taught by Ethiopians and exist to give the children a greater understanding of their native country.

 

I think of it as planting seeds, so that our son will hopefully look at Ethiopia and the culture with interest, appreciation, and a hunger to know more. It’s great to hear him speak simple words in Amharic like “Kai” which means red, and “and, hoolet, sost” which means 1, 2, 3. It’s not just about learning language, dance and art; he’s with his friends, his people.

IMG_5573

We also attend Ethiopian celebrations when they happen. The Ethiopian calendar (Ge’ez Calendar) is different from the Western calendar and their New Year falls on September 11th. A couple of weeks ago, we went to a New Years celebration in Little Ethiopia where we listened to music, visited booths, and saw lots of people. We happened upon a group of young boys playing street soccer, and our athletic son joined in. He was inches shorter than any of the other boys, but he held is own and even got the ball twice. This provided another taste of Ethiopia and the soccer game was the high point of the day for me (and I’m sure for him, too).

 

In August, we attended African Cradle, an Ethiopian heritage camp for adoptive children. There must have been at least 15 children all within a few years of The Littlest E, and within minutes after we arrived, he bounded down to the playground and immersed himself in playing with a handful of boys his age. I wrote about African Cradle a couple of years ago in an earlier blog. Again, it was an amazing experience. During the day, our son would be with all the kids his age and do arts and crafts, play soccer, and go on nature hikes, while the parents attended seminars on racism in team sports, cultural identity to name a couple of topics. There were times when the older kids and younger kids got to play/swim together. We’d all gather together for meals and, in the evenings after dinner, we’d go the fire pit and eat s’mores, listen to Ethiopian music and watch the kids play and dance. There were a fair amount non-adoptive Ethiopians helping with the camp, too. It was a sight to behold when we were all up on stage dancing, everyone together. It was like we were transported back to Ethiopia. It truly was a wonderful weekend and we all made some new friends.

IMG_5548 - Version 2

After attending African Cradle, our son wore his T-shirt he got there with pride. He’s proud of his Ethiopian heritage and Tom and I encourage that. He was born in Ethiopia and it’s part of his identity. As he grows up, it may become an even larger part of his life. Awhile back I was driving him to preschool and he started telling a story – he was 50 and came to visit one of his friends from preschool. I asked him where he was visiting from and he told me Ethiopia. It could be a prediction; who knows? What I do know is Tom and I are going to keep exposing our son to his Ethiopian culture, and when he’s a bit older, we’ll go back to Ethiopia so he can see it first hand. That will be one of many trips.

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I recently met a young Ethiopian man who has been in the U.S. for over a decade. Listening to him talk about his life and his own identity issues provided me with a possible window into my son’s life, adding adoption to that. It made me realize that there are many immigrants who may have issues of identity and how they see themselves in the world, not just internationally adopted children. It’ll be interesting to see how our son identifies himself as he grows up. For now, all Tom and I can do is be good stewards and offer The Littlest E with as many cultural experiences as we can, but at some point, it’ll be his decision.

©2014 Melanie Elliott

Images: Unknown, Melanie Elliott

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Over the summer, my husband and I purchased a new computer. For a couple of years, I have not been able to sync my iPhone with our computer and upload the hundreds of photos I’ve taken in that time. Somehow, on my phone and in iPhoto, there are duplicates and triplicate of the same photos. These last few weeks, I’ve tasked myself with going through each photo/video and deleting any duplicates. Tedious as it is sorting through 2,000+ photos, it’s given me an opportunity to look at our family photos, our memories of a lifetime.

Life did exist before we welcomed The Littlest E into our lives. Tom and I dated for a couple of years before marrying and we spent 6.5 years of our marriage working at starting a family. Though, in that time there were lots of valleys, there were also many peaks. Our honeymoon is Greece, Turkey and Paris was an amazing trip, though I didn’t have my iPhone back then, nor did we own a digital camera so our pictures are all in print. The Alaska cruise with Tom’s family in 2009, our Christmas in Taos and Santa Fe, and the trip to the Grand Canyon. We also took a couple of trips with a support group I’m a part of for women who used Eastern and Western medicine to help in making their families. Those trips were to the Bahamas and Asheville, NC. All of these trips were amazing experiences, adding to our palate as individuals and as a couple. I also have pictures of the home we bought in 2007. Life documented in photos.

Then on April 9, 2010, our lives changed forever when I received the call from the adoption agency telling me they had a baby boy available for referral. Four months later, The Littlest E became our son. Fortunately for us, our agency sent us a number of photos of him along with a 13-minute video, before we even met him. We are grateful to have those images. These photos will eventually become part of his lifebook. Since he’s 5, he’ll help create his lifebook with us, which hopefully will be a good family bonding experience.

I know I’m not the only parent who’s browsed through family photos. Aren’t we all lucky to have them? Moments captured in time. Going through these photos brought back so many memories, our trip to bring The Littlest E home, his first few days/weeks/months with us, and the cementing of our family life. We have photos of all his toddler adventures with friends from the parenting classes Burbank Adult School and Sunnyside Preschool. I’ve looked at photos of holidays, boo boos, our travels to see family, the day our son became a U.S. citizen, and most recently, all of The Littlest E’s adventures in soccer, baseball and basketball. I wasn’t just looking at them, but re-experiencing them. Thankfully, my task isn’t finished yet.

What I glean from this trip down memory lane is we have built a lovely life for us and for our son. Most of the photos are filled with smiles, love and joy with The Littlest E, family members and friends. We are blessed to live the life we do, and I’m eternally grateful The Littlest E is part of it. If you have a minute, or five or fifteen, take time to look at your photos, your memories of a lifetime.

Next up, I’ll be writing about continuing The Littlest E’s Ethiopian culture, and all that entails.

©2014 Melanie Elliott

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I truly can’t believe it’s been 4 years since The Littlest E became our son.  Where did all the time go? I’m sure most parents feel the same way when celebrating their child’s birthday, along with tremendous joy and gratitude.  As an adoptive parent, I get to celebrate the birth of our son, and the birth of our family, our Family Day.  I hope I never forget what life was like before The Littlest E came home with us, so that I don’t lose the gratitude I feel everyday that I get to be his Mom.  Adoption is a gift, one that I cherish with my very soul, for without that gift, my life and my husband’s life would be drastically different.

Our Family - 2010

Our Family – 2010

I remember our first days with The Littlest E, all 19 pounds of him.  He didn’t want to crawl; he just wanted to be held and held and held.  It was a big adjustment getting used to each other, but he knew we were his “go to” people.  We were there for him night and day.  At the foster center where our son stayed in Ethiopia before coming home with us, he attached to one of the caregivers so we knew he’d be able to attach to us, and he did.   After being home for a couple of weeks, Tom, my husband, went back to work, and I was at home with our new son.  Quite a discovery we both had during our hours together.

One day, I took him on a tour of our house (which isn’t very big) so he’d feel more comfortable in his new digs.  I got on my knees and crawled around with him from room to room.  Seeing the house from his vantage point, I could imagine how overwhelming his new environment might be.  Yet we had fun discovering each room.  I would explain the names of the rooms and what happened in each.  From that point on, The Littlest E felt comfortable to crawl around.

As time passed, he went from crawling, to waddling, to walking, to running.  Now, he often starts in our kitchen, sprints, and does a running leap onto our couch that is frequently used for tackle wrestling.  Yes, he’s home and we’re home and we’re a family.  Love really does make a family.  Blood doesn’t matter so much.  Families come in many different ways these days.  Thank God for that.  Here’s a poem I posted several years ago when I was writing for an online parenting magazine that I found on a friend’s blog:

The Gift of Life

I didn’t give you the gift of life,

But in my heart I know.

The love I feel is deep and real,

. . . As if it had been so.

For us to have each other

Is like a dream come true!

No, I didn’t give you

The gift of life,

Life gave me the gift of you.

– – – Author Unknown

Our Family - 2014

Our Family – 2014

There’s nothing like waking up every morning knowing our son is down the hall in his room sleeping.  He greets most days with a smile and a snuggle, then it’s time to continue our morning routine.  He’s 5 now and still as active and energetic as ever.  In the evenings when Tom is home, we have family time, usually around the dinner table.  We say our daily gratitudes, takes turns saying a blessing, eat and talk about the day.  It’s a lovely routine.  After that, I do the dishes and Tom gets some good, quality time with his son.  Who could ask for anything more?

I can’t wait to continue to experience life with The Littlest E and our family we’ve created through adoption.  We are blessed to have what we have, live where we live and do what we do.  To those of you who are waiting to be parents, your time will come.  You’ll hold your child in your arms, however that child comes to you, and life will take on new meaning.  Hoping that your wait is short and that your child is with you soon.

This blog can also be found at Mothering In the Middle, an amazing website for midlife parents, where I am a contributor.

©2014 Melanie Elliott

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Gray

I’m starting a new section in my blog called Parenting Gray Areas. It’ll be located under the “Parent” category at the top of the blog.  As a parent (and in life in general) not a day goes by where there’s a situation or something happens and I wonder what is the best way to respond.  I’m calling it Parenting Gray Areas because there are so many of them, and sometimes there’s more than one answer to the issue, problem or situation.

It’ll be a bit stream of consciousness, figuring things out, brainstorms, ideas, and thoughts.  I’ll write and talk about real stuff, those gray areas of what to do when you come across something new or unknown.  Sometimes I’ll be able to give answers, and sometimes I may only offer questions.  We’ll take it as it comes.  Would sooooo love it to be interactive, get a dialogue going and maybe come up with solutions together.  If there are topics you’d like to bring up, please contact me on Twitter at @Mom2TLE.  Please feel free to comment on blog posts and I promise I’ll respond.

The first post coming up in this section will be on when to intervene in a bullying situation. Stay tuned!

©2014 Melanie Elliott

Image: Marie Brizard

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We recently transitioned The Littlest E from his toddler bed to a big boy bed. He was so excited to be in his new sleeping environment with much more room. Confession: we probably kept him in the toddler bed for too long as his feet were close to touching the end. Silly parents, but we wanted to wait until we knew for sure he wasn’t having nighttime accidents.

Big Boy Bed

Our big boy was over the moon with his new mattress, bed and soft, soft sheets. Plus, he had a real blanket, not a toddler/baby blanket – many comfy nights’ sleep to look forward to. My friend, Cindi, recommended putting pillows at the sides of the bed at bedtime in case my sleeping son fell out. Tom and I thought for sure that wouldn’t happen. Well, guess what? A couple of nights into the new bed and, of course, he fell out. Lesson learned, listen to your friends who have older children and have been through this before.

With the new bed came a clearing out of other things.  Over the almost 4 years since we adopted The Littlest E, I’ve kept particular clothing and items of import. They’ve been in one of his dresser drawers and I decided it was time to put them in a box for safe keeping in our garage.

First Shoes

As I was going through the clothing, blankets and items we’d kept, I couldn’t help but have memories of everything. We’re definitely keeping the outfit he was wearing when he first met us, that day that’s forever embedded in my brain, the day we became a family and he saw us and reached out to me when I asked him in Amharic if I could hold him. There’s his first Halloween outfit, Mariner’s sweats, and Cal Bears onesie. There’s his Lovey, which he still uses, and the baby cell phone we took with us to Ethiopia, and we’re definitely keeping his first shoes, and favorite blankets, plus all his preschool artwork and other things we’ll treasure. Keepsakes we’ll save for him for when he’s older and look at every once in a while just to touch them and remember.

* * *

Fun in the Toddler Bed

Right now, I’m waiting for the Baby2Baby person to come pick up a lot of furniture and other items we are donating, his crib/toddler bed and mattress, the changing table, his Learning Tower, a number of toys he’s too big for, the Little Tikes table he used for several years that he’s outgrown, his car seat, his stroller, blankets and sheets, and I can’t help but wonder, should we be keeping some of this stuff for the future for when The Littlest E is a dad? We have numerous keepsakes, and we’ll hold onto many books that we know will come in handy in years to come. What to keep and what to give away? Baby2Baby is such a great organization. Everything we donate to them will be given to families in need, who need it much more than we do, and who will create their own memories. Pass it on. We have a gazillion photos as well, though most of them are digital. It’s not the same thing, but it’s a sensory memory.

Fun with Rody

Must confess again, I’m a bit weepy saying goodbye to everything. All parents go through this, right? It’s the passing of time, transitions. It happens, and it’s going to continue to happen. Our son has grown close to 3 inches in the past 8 months; he’s getting so big and growing so much inside, too! New clothes, new toys, new books, new adventures, new fads, these are all things to look forward to. In our kitchen, there’s a space where his Learning Tower used to be. It looks empty, but soon a doggie dish and water dish will occupy that space. The Littlest E is starting Pre-K at his preschool in a few weeks, so that’ll be new, too. This is part of what makes parenting special and life-changing, watching the little love of my life get older, learn and grow, become a person with thoughts and opinions, dreams and hopes, skills and talents. It really makes life worth living, living it to its fullest. So, goodbye to the old and welcome the new!

Images: Melanie Elliott

©2014 Melanie Elliott

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