Monday, January 6, 2014

6 Months Together!

On January 4, 2014, we celebrated six months since the day we first met Goddy and Shekina. The day Shekina ran to me, jumped into my arms, and instantly called me Mama. The day Godson screamed and cried, devastated to leave his nannies and sick with what we later found out was malaria, bronchitis, an earache, scabies, ringworm, giardia, and malnutrition. 

Here are some pictures from the ten months before we met them. The changes from then until now are astounding in Godson. Shekina, strong and outgoing from the moment we met her, has not changed that much appearance-wise. Healthy as a horse, strong as an ox. 

Major bump on the head from a fall on the orphanage's concrete or tile. Almost a year later, the bump is still visible. No smile.
Always sweet and cheerful 

Bump on the head. Feeling bad or unhappy? Most likely sick. 

Never smiling. 

So sick looking. 

Sweet, sweet girl! 

So incredibly bloated. No smile. Looks so uncomfortable. 

Flash forward to Dec. and Jan., 2013-2014. Shekina is completely fluent in English, and although she can be hard-headed at home, her behavior at school is outstanding. She participates in gymnastics after school twice a week, can spell her name, and is chomping at the bit to learn to read. She is completely ready to do so, I truly so believe. She's incredibly bright!!! Although her papers say she will only be 5 in June 2014, she just lost her top two teeth. The greatest excitement this year, other than enjoying the heck out of school, came from learning about the tooth fairy and Santa Claus. Shekina was very upset that I wouldn't leave her window open for the tooth fairy, but I told her she could easily fly through the dogs' door. (Not a major fan of the dogs, S wasn't thrilled with this either!) 

Godson is incredibly sweet-natured, and unlike the ten months prior to July 4 (the day we met him), he is smiley, healthy, playful, and gets uncontrollable giggles, especially when tickled. He loves dogs, eating just about anything, and anything transportation-related, especially trains. He loves school, can already count to five and sing his ABCs at age two. He's into EVERYTHING, and his favorite thing, to mom's chagrin, is to throw things in the toilet when we forget to shut the door. He can climb like crazy, and is very close to climbing out of his crib. Hardly able to walk when we first met him, he now races around the house like a madman! He's a night owl who fights sleep something fierce, but he does sleep in his own bed every night except for visits to the grandparents' house. There, he sleeps horizontally across the bed, causing everyone to get a crick in their neck. What a beg hog! 

Check out some of these six-month pictures! 

Bundled up for the coldest temps Memphis has experienced in decades. Two coats and Mama's scarf. Refused to wear gloves. 

Obsessed with trains, especially Thomas. 

Don't they look so good?!!! Christmas Eve, 2013. 

In his engineer cap and Thomas pjs

First braids since having to have her head shaved in Congo. Lost both her top teeth just in time for Christmas (and just in time for people to teach her the obnoxious song, "All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth!" (Blech!) 

Wild man riding poor Bing, our big yellow dog. 

Recently discovered his belly button and I have received reports that he goes around preschool showing it to everyone, laughing his little booty off. Oh, brother!!!

So playful! Our little Elton John

Shekina was one of four chosen out of her school's pre-K program to sing a Christmas solo. She brought us all to tears! What PROGRESS, what CHANGE!!! Unbelievable. 

Can't WAIT to see what the next six months bring. 

(One proud and thankful mama) 

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Healthier Eating!

As southerners, we believe we have to have blackeyed peas on New Years Day, and both greens and cornbread are natural (and delicious) accompaniments. I worked hard to cook both the greens and peas from scratch yesterday, and to make them really flavorful with pork. I thought Shekina, as is normal, would turn her nose up and ask for pizza, or something equally as junky. But last night, she ate her peas up, and tonight, January 2, she ate her portion of greens and asked for more. I'm ecstatic! Here she is showing us the empty space where her greens once were. (I needlessly bribed her with an additional game of Candy Land if she would eat two bites of greens. She ate way more.) I'm so proud! 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Looking for Book-Loving Memphians

Hey, all book-loving Memphians, 

I'm looking for people who a) love, love, love the experience of reading, and b) who have an hour to spare a week with a hilarious, intelligent kid. 

Here's the deal: I teach in inner-city Memphis, and the majority of kids I work with and have met in the Binghamton neighborhood are struggling readers. If you think back to the subjects you studied in elementary school, you know that you have to be able to read to succeed in every area except for math. So, imagine you are a kid whose parents work 6 days a week, who is one of many siblings, and whose parents can't read or speak English. Your parents don't teach you to read or help you with homework, simply because they can't. You don't sit in your mom's lap and read a bedtime story. She doesn't have time to do that, or maybe she doesn't have the ability. As a result, you haven't seen a love of reading modeled. Your parents' favorite books haven't been shared. There is no love of literature present in your home. You learn less words from the very beginning, and are always at a disadvantage in any reading-related subject. Going to the library and reading are drudgery. It's just too hard, and why bother when there are video games and Netflix? 

We know why these kids should bother, and we have the ability to teach them in a fun way. Here is what I am hoping to do in order to foster reading success and possible resulting mentor relationships (should these connections "take"): I would like to match you up with a really smart kid who could care less about reading. You would read once a week with that kid for an hour. You and the kid would choose fun books, and you could share your childhood favorites. You could share your passion for books. For sixty minutes a week, you could do that "lap reading" that research shows is so effective in developing strong readers (minus the lap; please don't engage in actual lap reading!!). 

I would introduce you to a kid who needs help, and we would schedule a few sessions in their home (so that other adults would be present, so their parents could become comfortable with you, etc.).  I would be present for one or two sessions, but after that, it would be up to you and the child to schedule sessions. If the parent felt comfortable enough later, you could meet at the local community center/restaurant (or Sonic when warmer), within walking distance of all the kids' homes. 

Here's the thing: I'd do this with every single one of these kids if I could. I'd love to meet them up at the community center for a soda and a burger, and read really funny things while we're eating and visiting. But I can't. Even before I had kids, there just wasn't enough time. But what I can do is matchmake. I can match kids who are in dire need with grown- ups who are able to give a few minutes. 

The schedule would be completely up to you. The reading material? Up to you. Your time with these kids has the potential to be life-changing---and I don't mean just for the kids. 

My goal is trifold: a) Give the kids more time reading aloud and handling vocabulary they don't know while being supported by an experienced reader; b) foster a passion for reading within these amazingly smart kids; and c) should the reading go well, perhaps you will see fit to serve as a casual, as-needed mentor for the kid as he/she grows up. 

Please email me at if you are interested. The majority of this work would occur in a very safe, neighborly part of Binghamton, Memphis.

Here are a couple of the highly intelligent kids who would absolutely love spending time with you (and who would also begrudgingly read). 

Some of the sweetest girls you'll ever meet

A pancake eating contest at IHOP last winter 

Much of the group with my cousins Brittain and Coleman and my own two kids, Godson and Shekina, at the park this summer.