Haben turned three on February 11th which was the best news ever for him. He loved feeling special and kept repeating, “It’s My Birthday!” everywhere we went. He reminded his siblings all week long and told friends and strangers. We brought him to Disney with his buddy Jonas and the rest of the awesome Armstrong family. Haben now seems to think Disney IS his birthday and those fireworks were surely for him. It was an awesome day and the 8 little ones did great to make it all day long and even lasted through a late pizza dinner. His favorite present was his big boy bike from Mom and Dad.
Why does everything just seem cuter in December? The adorable crafts the kids bring home, the cute outfits we dress them up in, and the bright lights and décor all around. And I swear, the kids are at their cutest trying to be so sweet knowing Santa is coming. We get so excited about using our advent calendars with surprises everyday. My very favorite part of Christmas this year was letting the children pick out presents for their siblings and opening them separately on Christmas Eve. William and I could almost cried seeing their sweet faces being so thankful. Their siblings just mean so much to them and even the teensiest gift was important to them this time. Glad I incorporated this. And I somehow even got all my wrapping done before Christmas Eve! These are some Christmas card reject photos but they show more of the fun they are having. And check out that might big bribe they got in the end!
Another highlight was our family vacation we took on the other side of the city. We went to the Gaylord Palms Hotel for their Shrek the Halls and it was a great vacation trial experience for us with 5 kids. We loved playing in the fake snow and enjoyed the cool Ice display. There were lots of our favorite characters and Haben seems to like all except wanted to keep some distance between Shrek and the Kung Fu Panda. We were happy William’s parents and my Mom came along to enjoy the fun. One discovery... we have outgrown the one hotel room, completely.
We were thankful to enjoy Haben’s first Christmas with us. He was just perfectly appropriate and surprisingly not overwhelmed by it all. What a cool kid.
Baptism with an Ethiopian Coffee Cermony
We pulled together Haben’s baptism finally on November 20th. We were so blessed to have Father Walsh choose to perform his baptism, our head Priest who married William and me. Our wonderful Godparents are Heidi & Scott, the sweet parents who inspired us to adopt with their sweet Jonas, also from Ethiopia, and our super friends Mike & Cristina, college roommates of William’s from dental school and beyond. Father Walsh made it the perfect ceremony by keeping it kid friendly and light but making Haben feel special and blessed.
We tried to keep the after party simple and light but when the idea of a typical Ethiopian Coffee ceremony came to mind, we couldn’t resist inviting some of our Ethiopian friends. We hired a local Ethiopian woman to come to our home to perform the ceremony. The ceremony includes incense, boiling of Ethiopian coffee beans and of course, serving coffee with other treats like popcorn and crackers. Ethiopia is where coffee originated and I kind of compare it to how the British have their teatime daily. William put on our downloaded Ethiopian tunes and Haben probably thought we were all crazy. Hopefully it will mean something to him in the future. It brought back memories of our experience in Ethiopia and how they performed these coffee ceremonies even in the orphanages when we visited. Just the smell can bring you back down memory lane to a big time in our lives.
October brought us to our usually spot, the pumpkin patch, where we let each kiddo pick a medium sized and a small sized pumpkin. It’s a long and difficult process to make decisions on those. I decided to forgo my favorite pile of hay that I love to stack on the porch for décor. William really despises the mess of it for some reason and well, 8 pumpkins and 4 kiddos is a car full for us.
Haben loved his Yo Gabba Gabba costume! He really is a music lover like DJ Lance Rock and with his matching brown skin we really couldn’t resist. He learned real quick about heading up to each house and repeating what the siblings say gets you CANDY! And well, not sure if he was too exhausted to get up any more stairs towards the end or if he just didn’t want to get up out of the wagon and stop grabbing into that candy bucket. William's parents were in tow and William's cousin Mike & Jennifer Dunn, with their two cuties, our Halloween get-together ritual. Red solo cups for Mom and Dad of course, a neighborhood norm.
Our sweet Liam was Captain Jack Sparrow (Yippee! Another year of something that is not Star Wars or Scary…like the big kids). Kaylee was a good witch of course and sweet Mayla has wanted to be Daphne from Scooby Doo for two whole years so we went for it. Advice to all parents, don’t use a costume with a wig for 4 or under…it never seems to work. The cute little Ninja is our good buddy Cian, Liam's best bud. Good times by all.
Can you believe I’m sending this little cutie to school already?!! We felt like a two day a week morning out with peers would help with his language development and socialization as with any two year old. He adjusted great to his first several days. He had a good balance of excitement and anxiety of leaving Mom. He felt so proud to be able to go. Carrying his schoolbag around is a favorite thing to do. Reports from the teacher say he’s off to a great start. I think the teacher's all knew about him throughout my journey so they enjoy him and his story I think and look after him. Not to mention...he's just a good little boy. It works out well that Mayla goes to Pre-K at this school also and since they are such buddies they just head out together.
Liam and Kaylee starting Kindergarten has been an exciting but tough transition. We are up earlier than we are used to for their starting time and it's a long day for them and for me without them. Thank the Lord it's the sweetest school and we are so thrilled for them to be a part of such a loving, spiritual community. They adore their teacher and are pretty excited about the uniform thing.
Aubrey got all settled into her dorm and we are excited for her sorority rushing activities. It was sad to move her in and then pull away but thank goodness she is only about 11 miles away. We aren't sure what we are going to do without having her around all the time.
Haben has gained 5 lbs. since coming home, grown 3 inches and is now on the growth chart at the 15th percentile. Yahoo! He has caught up on his immunizations primarily, survived circumcision surgery and is a pretty darn healthy kid. He is potty training quickly and excited to do everything these big kids can do. What a little smarty I might add.
Summertime didn’t slow us down a bit. We went from Aubrey’s Senior activities, to Graduation, to Haben’s swim lessons, Summer camps for the middle kids, 3 weeks at the beach, moving Aubrey in her dorm at UCF, getting the twins ready for Kindergarten, Mayla for Pre-K, and Haben starting the 2 day 2’s class at preschool! What a year William and I are having!
Haben has managed to keep up with this busy, active family. He has been to Disney World, t-ball and soccer games, been to a dance recital, to Monkey Joe’s (Bounce place), tubing on a lake, been to the Florida Aquarium, a road trip to Grandma’s and Aquatica water park. We are floored by his adjustment to his new family and our lives. Haben loves being a sibling in his new family and loves being part of all the exciting firsts he and they can discover together.
At the beach, you couldn’t keep him from a turn to be thrown into the pool by Daddy. He insisted on trying the skim board at the beach like big brother Liam. There truly isn’t much Haben won’t try or want to be a part of. We are often asked how the other children in the family are doing with Haben. They just adore him. They constantly fight to sit by him and help him. Mayla can’t stop hugging and kissing him. It’s like human nature for them to welcome him in. I think they are under the impression that some Moms get babies from their belly and well, some Moms get them from Africa...and that's that.
Getting Haben to sleep was an emotional challenge for me in the first few months. It is just so hard to use discipline or behavior-training strategies when one is so new to the family and this side of the world. We still had him in a toddler bed in our room but put him to sleep before we came in. After a month or two of spending a couple of hours to get him to sleep, I finally realized he needed us to be to be a little more strict and consistent to build security and expectations. I used the same process of rocking him once, then laying down with him for about 5 minutes and then leaving him and letting him cry in 5 minute intervals. When I went back in, I would just cover him and say its okay…never changing that cycle. He did learn to get up and come out of the room and we gently reprimanded him verbally, brought him to his bed. At times we would just find him passed out in my spot of the bed and then we would just relocate him to his toddler bed in the room. After the two months we moved him into his own room. We asked our son Liam if he would mind sleeping in their with him. Shockingly, he said yes and we moved the toddler bed in there for Haben as well as the single bed for Liam. After a few weeks we would always find Haben in Liam’s bed. We thought he liked sleeping with Liam but found out that it was the big boy bed he preferred and Liam was off the hook to go back to his own room. Haben is sleeping great now.
Food continued to be an issue for a while. We had to make it available to him at all times for him to realize it wasn’t going anywhere. Keeping the kids away from his food, limiting sharing circumstances, and splitting food up in individual bowls helped. On the flip side, he loves sitting in the highchair and will sit and sit and eat and eat.
Haben is doing super! The first several weeks home Haben has been an overall happy guy and so go with the flow for all of our busy, family activities. His adjustment has been so much of the basic adjustments that you could expect. After reading a toddler adoption book on the problems possible with bonding, we are so blessed things are going so smoothly for him and us. He had his kind of whiny moments as expected and needed Mom to hold him often as a cure. I would put an Ergo back pack carrier on the chair in the living room and when he was needing to be close to Mom, he would go get it and bring it to me so he could be held. It was a perfect fix for him and me, a busy Mom who just couldn’t hold him all the time but carrying him on my back wasn’t a problem. I’ll never forget strapping him on in my pajamas just to get breakfast served for the rest of the family. The Ergo was so much easier on my back and I would highly recommend it for any Mom with a desire to hold and bond with a toddler. I’m so thankful my adoption Mom friends recommended and loaned one to me. We didn’t leave home without it for a while. I could tell he liked to be held more when the siblings were at school. Probably just too quiet around here than he used to and possibly creates anxiety for him. Thank goodness for this noisy house full I guess.
All are still adjusting well and we think it's going pretty darn smoothly somehow. We have heard and read that toddlers usually have the toughest transition with adoption and can, in turn, make for a challenging start. I guess we are getting lucky. I keep wondering if some new big challenge will come our way. Haben is sleeping well, always eating well, playing well and seems to be a pretty happy guy. He fights going to sleep at times like most toddlers, not wanting to miss the action. He will sleep without his shoes now and will sit down in the bathtub (we can tell he has never been in a shower or bath and we learned from an older child he knew from the orphanage that he was washed with a hose in a basin tub outside).
We did find that he was getting confused after the first 3 or 4 days with all of the adults we have in our home (Aubrey almost 18 and my dad who is living with us). Haben was clinging to anyone that was there for him at that moment and then refusing to go back to anyone else. He was kind of a wreck for a few days until we remembered what we needed to do to help him adapt better. I focused on the bond with Mom only and requested that I be the only one to hold him, feed him, bathe him and put him to sleep. This consistency really helped after a few more days and we found him to be more adjusted and understanding of who Mom is. I knew that strengthening the bond with Mom, who is the primary care giver, to develop that trust would help him feel more confident and trusting. We have moved to allow Dad to help some more and he is still doing well. We continue to have the food issues but are used to them and they show some improvements. We have learned a few tricks like putting away the food in sight (hiding the fruit bowl and not leaving family sized bowls of food at the table for buffet style eating.) It's hard to find the balance of showing him the food is endless without letting him stuff his face beyond belief. It's a super sad thing to see a two year old feel this way, but on the other hand hilarious to see him pound five bananas or load every crumb in a napkin to save it. (Hopefully I will learn to be a better saver from him.) He's gained a pound and a half in two weeks which is not bad for a 22 pounder.
He has caught on quickly to a lot of our family rules and expectations and he loves being in the mix with his brothers and sisters. He cracks me up when he copies things like taking his plate to the sink...too cute.
Haben is just so smart. His language is coming along great and he has probably learned 20 English words already. Often the sounds come out very different but we know just what he is saying. He says Mommy, Daddy, Aubrey, Mayla, (Liam & Kaylee come out crazy although he tries), water, bye bye, hello, night night, all done, shoes, no no (to the dog), beep beep, peek a boo (or more like teek a tu...precious), thank you, monkey, teeth, Papa. We feel he understands us so well. We can give him so many requests that he understands...we are so impressed. He is also requesting to use the potty and goes every morning. Not sure if it's a good idea to break out the big boy pants or not. Quite a lot of new adventures he is taking on at once!
He has enjoyed his first trip to a playground, enjoyed the swing and slide, had his first of what will be many rides in a stroller and wagon, seen his first t-ball game of his brother's, went in the pool, had his first egg hunt, has his first tumble down a few stairs and ate a flower his sister gave to him.
He had a really good check up with the doctor and didn't even flinch when he had tons of blood drawn. He seems to be a healthy little guy somehow.
Haben loves spoons and forks, musical instruments, looking in the mirror, anything with buttons (phones, computers, remotes, the IPad), yogurt, bananas, sword fighting with Liam and Daddy, being silly, kissing, brushing his teeth, taking a bath, riding in the stroller and wagon and eating of course.
The Haben spunk and smiles continued as we arrived home and showed him around for his first night at home. He was loving the brothers and sisters, the toys and life in general. He laughed, played, ran around the house with the kids and had some pizza for dinner with everyone. There wasn't one thing he didn't enjoy except for the dog. He squealed as she got in the room and we had to keep her basically out of sight for a while. He went to Daddy, Aubrey, let the little brothers and sisters smother him, went to Grandparents and took pictures with friends. What a turn around in security! It was all seeming too easy.
Kaylee and Mayla were a little emotional about their parents being gone and figuring it all out. Mayla was having the most trouble as she wasn't the baby anymore and it was just impossible to prepare her for a new toddler baby brother. She complained he took her things and cried when something got broken. Extra whining and crawling into our lap but all with our understanding.
Sunday and Monday, home day 2 and 3, Haben continued showing happiness, security and lots of exploring. We noticed he was amazed by so many things like the ceiling fans, the toys and the grass outside. We bravely went out to a family dinner, we had a couple of visitors here and there and even piled all four little ones in the tub for a bath and a photo. Monday morning we survived getting him into the car seat without trouble and got the other three little ones off to school. The kids proudly walked him into school to show him off to teachers and friends. We stayed and played in Liam and Kaylee's class a bit and then headed to show him off at the dental office to William's staff. He did great for all visits and activities and we are just feeling so thrilled he is fitting right in and feeling secure. The food issues have tapered off a bit and all is surprisingly well. He is waking up a couple of times at night but goes back down with a little attention. He still feels more comfortable sleeping in his shoes, but we still feel if this is his only security request we can honor it. The kids are teaching him new words quickly and we practice his saying of each of their names. He did well for his first doctor visit and we are adjusting just fine to having another cutie in the family. It's so fun for all of us to teach him new words and show him many new things and firsts.