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8:28AM

Girl (nickname), interrupted

From the girls' front:  third round of antibiotics seems to do the trick on Abebu's stubborn ear infection.

Both are now on a lengthy round of a specific antibiotic compound to kill the specific giardia (small intestine infection caused by parasites discovered in secondary tests--the first test missed these apparently) they suffer from.  A lot of their bad times struck us as gut related, so Vonne insisted on rerunning the tests and--sure enough--they both clearly had it.

With the help of these antibiotics, then, all of that is settling down reasonably over time.

The English is coming, but they still speak to each other a lot in Sidama, their local southern Ethiopia tongue. We know that capacity gives the pair a lot of mutual comforting in their new and somewhat confusing lives (they will often talk each other to sleep at night), and it'll be sad to see it go and be replaced, even as we'll readily welcome the easier communications. But the language is so obscure (less than 2m speakers) and there are no language training assets beyond a fairly crude english-amharic-sidamo dictionary we picked up in Awassa, that we don't see how we can preserve much of anything (language is a muscle, you use it or you lose it). Still, they delight in picking up the english because they like the feeling of making their ideas and feelings known.

The relations with our three other kids is going amazingly well. Hardly nirvana, but like Billy Preston or Eric Clapton sitting in with the quarrelsome Beatles, everybody is suddenly on their best behavior because it's like we've got these permanent house guests. Everybody is trying so hard to get along. But it is stressful in a macro sense. Everybody likewise feels like they're putting out as much as possible and limits are frequently reached, but little traditions are emerging in spots--here and there. We may not have any lyrics yet, but melodies are appearing. We escape the house regularly, but only is small spurts with the girls, who find all such trips simultaneously exciting and very intimidating. Everybody we meet is fascinated by them and showers them with attention, which they like but are simultaneously overwhelmed by. Still, as the GI issues disappear, the tendency to retreat into dark moods likewise lessens. I think the giardia left the girls with only the thinnest veneer of good spirits that was easily disrupted. As their health solidifies, you can see the resiliency expand exponentially.

One tidbit:  when we got the girls, they had dark lines across their otherwise good-looking teeth (almost no sugar in their diet and a decent amount of calcium judging by their love of yogurt).  The cause of the dark lines:  using twigs to clean the teeth.  As we use regular toothbrushes, those lines quickly disappeared and their teeth look good (special trips to the special peds dentist await, and we expect some trouble but hopefully not too much).  Better yet, no gum bleeding, so compared to Vonne Mei coming from China, this is looking pretty good for now.

The trick of this new family (and yeah, it does suddenly feel like a new family with Emily off to college and near-twin girls roaming the house) is this:  while plenty smart, introducing the pair into our home is suddenly like having a pair of babies thrown into the scrum:  they need a lot of care and you have to translate their needs, but their capacity for mischief is way out of proportion. These are "babies" who can open doors and exit the house and take off down the street if the mood hits.  So we scramble to set up the rules by which we collectively monitor them even as we know everything will evolve quite rapidly--i.e., they'll "grow up" into their actual ages in a matter of weeks and months, not months and years.  

Fortunately, Kev, Jerry and Vonne Mei have all elevated their game considerably in response, which has been a joy to watch.  Kev is suddenly the eldest now that Em is gone and he's stepped into that role with surprising grace.  Jerry has always been a great older brother and is experienced with taking somebody in under his wing. And Vonne Mei is suddenly no longer the baby but the supervising older sister.  Meanwhile, the cats are all taking a pass on this for now.

So like any family crisis (and while this is all good, it does make sense to adopt a crisis mindset which promotes the notion of rapidly changing conditions, rules and outcomes), this involves a lot of intense parenting, or concentrated, precedent-setting, with-lotsa-downstream-impact interactions.  And these are exhausting for everybody.  Days seem to go on forever.  We can't believe they've only been here three weeks, because it seems like forever.  Again, all very exciting but likewise all very exhausting. You find yourself allowing more slack in the system because--yeah--we're in crisis mode and so we let some things slide so we can concentrate on others.  But likewise, you find yourself feeling the need to make special efforts with the "incumbent" children, or the "vets" forced to take in the "rookies."  So a lot of bonding experiences whether you want them or not; you simply find yourself bumping into them.

Decisions flow in rapid succession . . .

One clear casualty is the notion of nicknaming Abebu "Abby." Because Metsuwat is going as Metsu, Abby just seems too Americanized--too out of the blue for our (now) third brown-eyed girl (Vonne Mei still owns the top bunk on that score). Everybody likes calling her Abebu (ah-BAY-boo) and the only person who employs a nickname is Metsu herself, who calls her little sister Abu (ah-BOO) much of the time.

So Abby is retired and Abu emerges.  And everybody seems pretty good with that.

We've finally set new birthdays for the girls, discarding the loose estimates we were provided by the orphanage in Awassa (their two b-days were suspiciously close to the day they entered the orphanage).  Metsu will be 4 in late October (my aunt's birthday--she too was adopted) and Abu will be 3 next February--my mom's birthday. We wanted to connect each of the girls to strong women in our lives.

These birthdays will be legally set when we re-adopt the girls in US courts, and then they'll populate their officials records (US birth certificates, SSNs, passports, etc.).

UPDATING FRIDAY 6PM:  just-in test results said that both girls had hepatitis-A as well, now finished.  So when we took custody, they both were with upper-respiratory infections, ear-infected, Hep-A and giardia--and still they were awfully lovable most of the time, even if they were cranky as hell overnight and were terrors on the toilet.

Reader Comments (6)

Fantastic. She is a beauty.

September 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBen

My wonderful daughter Margaret will be 20 next February 2, 2011. We would be honored to share that birthday with Abebu ~ Thank you for the post on the girls, and so glad they are recovering from giardia. Joy to all of you! Mary McKinney

September 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMary

Tom,
I will keep you and your growing family in my prayers. When you strip away all of the political strife and national pride of the world, you see in those innocent little people the need for love and acceptance... just like every person who has walked this earth.

Globalizing love... there is nothing better.

As I review your columns and look to the left of your page I notice that one category isn't mentioned "Love" - perhaps this entry is the first in the category.

My brother you are walking the walk not just talking the talk. I'm inspired!
Steve Gallison

September 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSteve Gallison

Giardia are often a missed diagnosis, and are tough bugst to kill, at least in the water. Easy to spread too - be careful. The hand sanitizers aren't gonna help, you'll need to focus on washing those things down the drain.

September 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTEJ

God we are a tough species. Think of how many of our ancestors died because of all those nasty things the little girls suffered from. Yet so many lived.

I don't like to see kids on antibiotics for too long. I guess these tykes need a little boost.

If i get to heaven I won't see you Tom. You will be on a much higher level.

September 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTed O'Connor

Thanks for this snapshot of the way your two beautiful little girls are impacting your lives. Nothing better than family and all that that means. Good luck and God bless.

September 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJimmy J.

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