Monica and Kelly spent, as far as we can tell, their entire life together. They lived in the same foster families and, with just about every single major life event, always had the other near. Not that I’ve always recognized this fact, but that permanence acts as a foundation to their relationship (and extends to our relationships with them). They know each other well. The quirks, the behaviors, the buttons to push (and not push) at given times. And they do love each other in typical sisterly fashion.

Now along comes a brother.

A brother who is close in age, full of energy, ready to play and fight, and who comes with his own distinct adoption baggage (different from their own). Plus (because it’s simple math), he divides mom and papi’s attention.

It’s been interesting.

We expected this. I remember talking with Chris and Mary on how Nicolas and Diana had to go through a stage of bonding because they never knew each other well (having not been in the same foster families). Biological families go through similar experiences as the number of siblings increase. It’s normal.

But still interesting. Monica tends to stay above the fray. She handles the changes in, frankly, a pretty mature and self-reflective manner (I can’t tell you how flippin proud I am of how that girl is turning into an awesome young woman). We’ve had some honest breakdowns. Yesterday she told me she wished she didn’t have a brother anymore (again, normal). We’ve had to curb some mothering behaviors. Overall, nothing major.

Kelly and Diego are a different story. One minute they’re best friends, hooting and yelling and running and laughing. The next minute they’re tattling and fighting and playing war games on each other. Part of this is that they’re so very close in age. Kelly, I would say, is having the hardest time adjusting to the new family hierarchy  She’s no longer the youngest. She’s also our daughter who responds best to predictable patterns, fewer surprises, and clear expectations. Right now we’re in a period of mild chaos. And that’s just how it’s going to be for a while as things settle.

Diego is adjusting and struggling in two areas. The first is communication. For the next few months he’s in the nether world of loosing the ability to communicate (as he forgets his Spanish) all the while trying to make sense of the new (English) words coming at him all the time. This is frustrating (think how frustrating it would be to us!) and you can see that frustration roll across his face sometimes. The second area of struggle is that he’s learning family rules. And the odd thing about some of these rules is that they were very much tailored to Monica and Kelly (and their issues) – so sometimes the rules seem strange (although some are arguably basic: don’t hit, bite, lie, etc.).

In short, we’re in an adjustment period. Overall I’d say we’re not facing anything unexpected (or drastic), but I do find value in recognizing that this is what is happening.


I Wish We Were Rich – Rambling Thoughts on Money and Choices

Monica wants – has wanted – a Nintendo DS for nearly two years. This has not happened, mainly because Ren and I are uncomfortable with yet another electronic gizmo (especially such an addictive gizmo) in the hands of our video game loving daughter. While we would approach such a purchase as (another) opportunity to teacher all things in moderation, that particular lesson gets taught on a regular basis with the iPad. No need to add battles.

This week Monica again mentioned her desire for a DS. We politely told her it wasn’t going to happen. And then, somewhat wistfully, she said:

Awww, I wish we were rich.

I’m still chewing this over 5 days later. To some extent, it felt like a familiar, cliché moment. What person doesn’t fantasize from time to time about a world where money is no longer an obstacle to whims of desire? To entertain the “what would you do if you won the lottery” thought.

On the other hand, her statement also felt a bit surreal. Because, let’s be honest here, we are rich when compared to all the world standards (a particularly poignant fact made clear after catching glimpses of hard poverty in her home country).

We’re certainly not limitless wealthy. Raising a family is a constant lesson in economics (one that warrants future posts). Scarcity, especially time and money, is always a factor. There is only a finite amount of you to get things done. And there’s only a finite amount of dollars to use towards any given goal. One of the blessings of the middle class is that you have choices. But you still need to make a choice. For example, Nintendo DS or gymnastics for the month?

I suppose that’s why I’m still thinking about this days later. I let her comment slide (I think I even laughed). “We don’t have money for that” is, sometimes, an easy way out (especially because it’s rooted in some truth). Explaining why we spend money on some things over others is a harder conversation, usually because it involves morally gray areas and uncomfortable truths even for adults.

Not to mention if you’re a follower of Jesus, there’s a whole extra layer of complexity when it comes to wealth. Because, you know, He had some things to say about poverty.

Much of parenting (or, arguably, much of life) boils down to getting my children to ask some variation of these questions:

  1. What are/were my choices/options?
  2. Why do I want to make a particular choice?
  3. Is that choice wise?

Question three is the hardest and requires experience, be that experience from others or personal experience (which requires age!).

To be clear, I’m probably over thinking Monica’s comment (she really wanted to play some Mario). But her comment provided an opportunity to reflect.


Happy Gotcha Day: Year 3

Right now, as I write, Kelly is curled up at on my feet playing with her teddy bear. Monica still sleeps – she’s tired because she spent yesterday at a gymnastic meet – but I know the slow rumbles of a house waking up (coffee maker, dogs playing, the furnace kicking on) will soon send her downstairs where she’ll first give me a hug and then ask if she can watch PBS Kids. I love weekend mornings because they’re slow and full of cuddle time, hugs, and hot chocolate.

Today marks 3 years of being a Papi.

Frankly, I’d love to reflect more on this. About how becoming a family of 4 seems so normal. About the constant, energetic vibe of two daughters bouncing around the house. About how blessed I feel every day, waking the girls up, making breakfast, and yelling at them to knock off the bickering over who combs the hair better (Kelly: “Monica’s making fun of my bed head!” Monica: “Kelly’s hitting me.”)

Adoption is such a cool thing.

But I don’t have a lot of time to reflect on this because we’re scrambling to finish the bits and pieces of Colombian Adoption 2.0: Diego. We may be leaving in a week (possibly two), and there’s just so much to do.

Still, today is about the girls. We’re going to Church. Then swimming at the YMCA. The dinner with family at our favorite place to eat, the Green Papaya (our Colombian by birth, Dutch American by adoption daughters love Thai food). Tonight we’ll give them gifts from Colombia (we bought enough to give them a gift every year until their 18th birthdays).

And tomorrow we start on the Gotcha for Diego.

Gotcha Day: Year 3
Gotcha Day: Year 3
Gotcha Day (Original Gotcha)
Gotcha Day (Original Gotcha)


Ren and I are teaching a class on Blended Learning and we approached the first session by spending some time talking about how the mind the works. One interesting question posed is:

How do you get students to remember things if what you’re asking them to remember really can’t be attached to meaning?

One solution to this question is the use of mnemonics. Monica’s teacher (who, by the way, is awesome), use mnemonics constantly. They’re perfect little memory nuggets for Monica (and, as you can see below, are all kinds of fun). Love it.



Explaining the Magna Carta to Monica

I’m transitioning jobs this summer and the back of the Toyota is currently serving as my temporary office. Books (fewer of these, thank you Amazon Kindle), coffee mugs, posters and pictures roll around until I set up shop at Hamilton City Schools. As the summer passes, my curious daughters are exploring the various items and plugging them into their imaginary worlds that crop up during car rides.

Magna Carta

The other day I heard Monica playing a trumpet. Except it wasn’t really a trumpet. It was a rolled up copy of the Magna Carta I purchased from the British Library in London.

“Papi, what’s this?” she asked.

“Only the coolest most awesome document in the entire world,” I answered.

“Why?” Monica always asked why. It is her favorite word. It follows after most sentences. I love this because you get to hear (and see on her face) her work out the world around her. Monica loves learning, even if she goes about it in round about ways (but don’t we all).

Still, it was a slightly tricky question. How do you explain to an 8 year old a founding document that limited the power of kings?

“Well,” I said, “What does Papi say about princesses?”

“That I can’t be one.”

“Right. Why?”

“Um, because princesses are bad.” Both my daughters had issues with this. Despite what their Papi said, they had images of Disney princesses who, frankly, kick serious butt in that odd Disney feminist monarchy way. Those princesses were cool.

“And why are they bad?”

“Um, because they make people poor.” This, in an 8 years old mind, is what my attempt at explaining concepts like feudalism, monarchy, and concentration of power by the small elite boiled down to. I’m a big believer in the ideas of liberalism and republicanism.

“Right. Also, princesses, kings, queens, and princes used to have a lot of power. So much power that they sorta did whatever they wanted, even if it hurt other people.”

I pointed to her trumpet document.

“That document says the king can’t do whatever he wanted. That’s why it’s the most awesome incredible document in the world. It started an idea. An idea that eventually turned into another idea that all people should be treated equally.”

“Oh.” I wasn’t sure how much of the conversation made sense. But Monica did slowly role out the poster and stared at it for while.