Thursday, July 28, 2011

Speaking Engleesh

When we started sharing that we would be adopting a little boy from Ethiopia, the thing people were most curious about was if he would be able to speak English.  We knew it was doubtful he would, and while we expected it would be an interesting transition, we didn’t really have any reservations about it.  After all, years before we had been told that Samantha, our oldest who was born deaf, would likely never learn to talk, and she has beautiful speech.  We had spent countless hours observing and participating in speech and language lessons with Samantha.  We knew how to make teaching prepositions into a game.  We could wallpaper our entire house with vocabulary cards.  We were not intimidated.

When we met Trey during our first trip to Ethiopia, with the exception of the primal howling he used to express his grief and fear, he was extremely quiet.  The primary language spoken by the staff at the Transition Home, and by most people in the capital city of Addis Ababa, is Amharic, the national language of Ethiopia.  Some of the staff were also fluent in English, which is the most widely spoken foreign language in Ethiopia.  Trey, being from the southern part of Ethiopia known as the Sidama Zone, was only familiar with the native language Sidama (or Sidamigna).  The staff explained that because of this language barrier, it was very difficult for them to communicate with him.  While older children at the Transition Home are often able to pick up common English words and phrases, Trey had the additional challenge of translating words from Sidama to Amharic, and from Amharic to English.

For the first seven days after leaving the Transition Home, Trey barely made a sound.  He would give a quick upward jerk of the head to indicate a “yes”.  He would tilt his head to one shoulder while raising the same shoulder to his chin to indicate a “no”.  This is the Ethiopian equivalent of nodding yes and shaking your head no.  However, he refused to make any effort to communicate verbally.  I know seven days does not seem like much, but let me say, seven days can seem like a very long time with a 5-year-old child who only jerks and tilts his head to communicate.  We were prepared to bring home a child who needed help learning how to speak, but didn’t know quite what to do about a child who was refusing to speak. 

On the seventh night, Dave sat down on the edge of Trey’s bed to tell him goodnight.  He asked him if he wanted to try to say his ABCs.  After no response, Dave started with an “A…” and waited.  After a few seconds, in a little raspy voice, Trey repeated an “A”.  Then a ”B”.  Then a “C”.  He continued through the entire alphabet before falling asleep.  Not wanting to interrupt, I listened in from the adjoining room and enjoyed the sweet relief of finally hearing his voice.

Trey has been home for three months now, and if we made a list of characteristics that describe Trey, “quiet” would not be one of them.  He’s done an amazing job of picking up the English language and has become quite the chatterbox.  Obviously, he has a long way to go to catch up with his American-born peers, but he adds new words to his vocabulary daily.  He has a cute Ethiopian accent which we find both entertaining and endearing.  For example, elephant is pronounced e-lay-font, and “Canasa feesh?” simply means “Can I have some Goldfish?”  The R and Th sounds are very tricky, and pronouns are beyond confusing.  He also feels he should add his name to the end of almost everything he says.  “I grocery store go with Mommy…Trey.” 

While we do make efforts to guide Trey’s language, most of what he has learned has come through simply observing everyday family communication.  He does a good job imitating our words and phrases, which sometimes provides a comical glimpse into the things that have come out of our own mouths.  For example, the other day Trey ran off to play, leaving a mess behind for someone else to clean up.  When I asked him to come talk to me about it, he was very compliant.  I asked him if he had made the mess, and he agreed that he had.  I reminded him that he needed to clean up his messes and to ask for help if he needed it.  He nodded in agreement.  I then asked him “why” he didn’t clean up his mess.  While he will ask “why?” a hundred times a day, it is a very difficult question for him to answer.  Still, I like to give him the opportunity and see what he comes up with.  I could tell by his facial expressions he was trying to come up with a suitable answer.  After a very long pause, he slowly responded in a hesitant voice, “Because I said so???”

While asking “why?” is a constant throughout the day, it doesn’t touch Trey’s favorite phrase: “What is this?” (or “What is thees?”).  He wants to know what everything is.  Everything.

When he notices a small screw in the handle of the shopping cart…”What is thees?”
When he picks a miniscule piece of lint from his beach towel…“What is thees?”
When he spies a smudge on the window of a car in the parking lot of a restaurant…”What is thees?

All of this question-asking provides a wonderful teaching opportunity and should undoubtedly be credited for his rapidly expanding vocabulary, but I sometimes have to shake my head and confess that I don’t know “what thees is.”  Sometimes I am just all talked-out.

Finally, Trey also has learned that he can have an entire conversation and gain a great deal of information simply by using the word “and”.

Mom: Trey, we are leaving soon.  Please put on your shoes.
Trey: And?
Mom:  And then we will go to the library.
Trey: And?
Mom: And we are going to check out some new books.
Trey: And?
Mom: And we will bring them home.
Trey: And?
Mom: And we will read them together.
Trey: And?
Mom: And that’s all.  Put on your shoes.
Trey: And?
Mom:  And that’s all.


Monday, July 11, 2011

A Fantastic Fourth

As is tradition, we headed to our hometown of Clear Lake, Iowa, to celebrate the Fourth of July with family this year.  It is a 6 1/2 hour drive from St. Louis, but Samantha and Toby wouldn’t care if it was 612 hours.  They start the countdown weeks before we depart and are offering to help load the car before the suitcases are even zipped.  Feeding off his brother and sister’s enthusiasm, Trey was equally excited to hit the road, which was quite amazing since he often has no idea where we are going or how long it will take us to get there.  On any given car ride, we might end up at the swimming pool - or we might end up at the pediatrician for the next round of immunizations.  Luckily, he seems to be an optimist.

In addition to going on his first long car trip since coming home in April, and celebrating his first Fourth of July as a new US citizen, this was also the first time Trey met my parents (Mimi and Grandpa), my brother’s wife (Aunt Jamie), and my brother’s four boys (the Clear Lake cousins.)  Dave’s mom and HT (Granny and Grandpa H.) and my brother (Uncle Paul) had already met Trey in St. Louis, so a few of the faces were familiar.  I knew that everyone had patiently been praying for and awaiting Trey’s arrival and would be welcoming him with open hearts and arms, but I wasn’t sure how Trey would react to all of this newness.  I tried to imagine what it would be like for a five-year-old boy to suddenly be surrounded by a big new family, in a new home, with new rules, and new foods, speaking a language he barely understood.  If it was me, I don’t think I would have managed well.  Trey, however, jumped right into things, and behaved as if he had been a part of the family forever.  He played all of the games, tried all of the foods, and loved all of the people.  It was quite remarkable to watch him.  He was impressive.

Mimi always has an agenda full of fun activities planned.  A favorite this year was an Ice Cream Scavenger Hunt, during which the cousins followed clues to guide them throughout the neighborhood in search of small brown paper bags, each containing a topping for the ice cream buffet to follow dinner.  For Dave and I, dinner was the dessert.  Since we’re not big fans of St. Louis style pizza (which is topped with this thing called provel cheese…think pizza covered in white Cheez Whiz), we insist on ordering pizza from The Other Place during every visit.  OP pizza is like an old friend, and even if everyone moved away, we’d still come home just to be with it.

Everyone also enjoyed participating in the backyard Root Beer Tasting, where blind samples were rated on fizz, aroma, spiciness, saltiness, and overall flavor.  Adults and children were given score cards and asked to grade each sample based on these qualities.  Once all of the entries were submitted, the scores were totaled and a winner was declared.  In case you’re wondering, A&W was the favorite, followed by The Barrel (a local brew), IBC, Stewart’s, and lastly, Dad’s, which was declared to be “skunky” and unfit.

For several years now, my mom has incorporated another family tradition we refer to as Christmas in July.  Every December, after all of the Christmas gifts have been opened, one gift remains under the tree to be set aside until everybody returns home in July.  It’s always a “group gift” that becomes a part of our Fourth of July celebration.  The kids are always quick to remind Mimi that an unopened gift remains.  Two years ago, the gift was an ice cream maker.   Last year, the gift was a large tent which was set up for camping in Mimi’s backyard.  This year, the gift was a Bee Boo Big Bubble Maker, a simple contraption which makes gigantic bubbles, sometimes bigger than the kids themselves.  Creating the bubbles took some skill and involved running backwards while you maneuvered two large sticks and a rope drenched in a special bubble solution.  When the kids were able to successfully release one of these impressive bubbles, we went crazy for them, jumping and cheering.  We also happily boo-ed the adults for any failed efforts.  It’s not a family for crybabies.

Something new we did this year was visit the Fossil and Prairie Center in nearby Rockford, Iowa.  Apparently, Iowa was an ocean bed 350 million years ago (or something like that).  In this area of the state, the ocean-bottom sediment never turned to hard stone, as it does almost everywhere else in the region.  Every time it rains, fossils wash to the surface, ensuring that no fossil hunter goes home empty-handed. This was an excellent way to entertain six boys under the age of nine for a few hours on a hot July afternoon.   We had the foresight to explain to the boys that fossils are not exclusively dinosaur bones, but that they could expect to find small pre-historic sea fossils (aka – really, really old sea shells). 

Clear Lake offers lots to do for the many visitors during the holiday.  A carnival takes over the area known as City Park, a parade progresses down Main Street and throughout the downtown area, and an impressive fireworks show takes place over the lake.  Clear Lake is very Hometown, USA.  Several years ago, the Clintons and Mitt Romney, trotted in the parade.  This year, it was presidential candidates Michele Bachmann and Newt Gingrich. 

While all of that is kind of fun, it’s hanging out in my mom’s backyard with long time friends that I most look forward to.  My mom has a very open door (or open yard policy) and welcomes everyone to stop by.  Since my parents owned a restaurant during my childhood and never learned to prepare normal family-size portions, there is always more than enough food.  My sweet friend Libbey Wood and her lovely sister-in-law Nicki stopped by to catch up.  My dear friend Heather Datema and her super-cool daughter, Taylor, came by to hang out.  We were also able to spend a couple evenings with our good buddies Matt and Nicolle Amos and their cutie-patooties.  On the evening of the Fourth, the whole family wandered across the street to watch the fireworks with my childhood girlfriend (and roller skating buddy), Lori Brakke.  We also had an extra special visit from lovely Karen Wistrom and her adorable little boy, Wesley.  Wesley and his big brother Jayden were also adopted from Ethiopia through AWAA.  It was their family’s story that started us on our road to adoption, so it was thrilling to be able to spend a little time together and watch the boys play in the yard.

IMG_9833a[1]Trey and Wesley (stolen from Karen’s blog :)
Trey was adopted from Ethiopia 2 1/2 months ago. 
Wesley was adopted from Ethiopia 2 1/2 years ago.

IMG_1803Uncle Paul and Daddy teaching the plays for the backyard football game. 
 I see two snoops in the background.

IMG_1834GO TREY!!!  GO!!!…The Other Way!!!

IMG_1848Good Game…Good Game…Good Game…

IMG_1852Cousins Aaron and Issac

IMG_1861Clear Lake Cousins

IMG_1862Don’t forget Aaron!!

IMG_1895I think we’re running out of years to pull off the matching shirt thing.

IMG_1913Paul and Toby.  Awesomely Good Friends!!  Like PB&J.

IMG_1915Mimi and Trey

IMG_1936Who did this to my son?

IMG_1996Big Sister Sami helping Trey read his scavenger hunt clue.

IMG_1983Toby’s clue leads him into the old pine tree.

IMG_1992Isaac’s clue leads him up a tree.

IMG_2028Looking for fossils.  A little more fun than it looks.


This is my brother, Paul.  He does not have a blog or a Facebook account, so I feel comfortable posting whatever I want of him.


IMG_2056Trey and Luke leaving mommy and Mimi in the dirt.