Friday, January 28, 2011

Two Ring Circus

Wow. Where do I begin? We are on our 11th day with the kids and there is a reason I haven’t blogged. Each day is like a 24 hour circus, without an intermission. I am the ring master, James is the clown (sometimes the sad clown with the painted tear, sometimes the happy clown with the maniacal smile), Lilah is the (untrained) lioness and Cleo is the (untrained) bear cub. There is a large audience of Ghanaians here for the show, watching, judging and dishing out parenting advice every chance they get (and the chances are frequent). This collectivistic culture invented the phrase “it takes a village to raise a child,” and they are always willing to step in and help. Their helpful advice is usually focused on which methods we should use to beat our children.

I had an arsenal of parenting strategies I learned from the most up-to-date child psychology and adoption literature, but oops, they require a shared language. Our girls speak very little English. Nonverbal communication has taken on a whole new meaning. Considering that communication is my supposed field of expertise, I have high expectations, which often go unmet. Don’t get me wrong, the girls are learning very quickly. Every day they learn new words (“Top Ramen”) and new ways of doing things (going #1 in a toilet instead of outside in the dirt).

Every day I cry. One moment I am crying out in fear because my child picked up a razor blade on the beach, the next minute I am crying tears of joy while I watch them sleep because they are safe. I cry out of frustration, I cry from exhaustion. But my sad tears never last long, because there is never much time for any given emotion. Just as I begin to cry from desperation, I find myself laughing uncontrollably when Cleo says “Mommy, me poop!”

We are staying about 30 minutes from the orphanage, and we’ve visited twice so far. After the third night with us they expressed some “homesickness,” so we paid our first visit to Christ Outreach Orphanage and School to check out their old digs. When we arrived they were greeted like celebrities. Their friends were hugging and grabbing them, and they soon became overwhelmed. Once they were inside the gates, they didn’t want to be there at all, and we couldn’t blame them. As we got the insider tour, led by 10-12 little tour guides, we were sick to our stomachs- not because we can’t handle poor conditions, but because the idea of our babies living here for the past two years was heartbreaking. They showed me Cleo’s bed, which was a fly infested mat on the floor. She has to sleep there because she wets the bed. Lilah’s bed looked like a cage with a mattress in it. The “toilet” was a pile of trash in the back, with chickens picking at it. The “kitchen” was a room with an open fire on the floor, populated by the same roaming chickens from the toilet area. The 6-7 “classrooms” at the school had no teachers (except for one class), just 10-12 students in each room, running around hitting each other. I don’t describe this situation with judgment, just observation. This orphanage/school is a very rough place and it breeds very tough children with, literally, no fear. This has been our biggest challenge next to the lack of English. Our kids seek danger- they thrive on it. When we take them to the beach they run out to get pummeled by a wave- especially Cleo, who is THREE years old! They want to touch every sharp, splintered, and dirty item on the ground. They want to eat plants, lick dirt, and drink from the sewer. I realize these can be typical kid behaviors, but combine these tendencies with our attempt to navigate first time parenthood in a third world country, where danger lurks around every corner, and it’s quite stressful. Poor James is so protective he is about to have a nervous breakdown.

Having said all that…I am having the time of my life. Bonding with my babies is the most gratifying thing I’ve ever done. Lilah loves learning from her workbooks. She colors beautifully, always inside the lines, and copies all my phrases, such as, “Okay, let’s go!” Cleo is still a baby. She makes little baby sounds in her sleep and I lay awake just to listen. Her laugh is to die for. If ever I am having a hard time, that laugh is a guaranteed remedy.
There are so many “firsts” I could never keep up with documenting them. First flushing toilet, first pizza, first video, first doll, first closed toed shoes, first kiss. That’s right, they did not understand what a kiss was for almost a week. We had to teach them. Kissing children does not seem to be a common behavior here, and people stare- but I don’t care. Step right up, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to The Hutchinson Circus… the Greatest Show on Earth.


  1. And, honey, I hope you like the circus because it's pretty much as perpetual state of being as a parent, particularly with multiple kids, multiple jobs, school schedules, etc. I laughed outloud at the crying paragraph! You so nailed it. I sometimes feel like I am only now able to process some of the emotions from the radical life change of our adoption - and it's been almost 2 years! It's really about survival mode for quite awhile. The good news is YOU CAN DO IT. I know you and I know you can. It takes time to grow into being a mom and it's the hardest job you'll ever have and yet one that has more meaning than anything else you'll ever do. It will get better every day as you get to know each other better and it will get infinitely better once you are home. I promise promise promise. We almost kissed the ground at the airport and things were so different even just a week after being in our own home. Can't wait to meet your precious kids!!! Take notes on what we can do to partner with you to help those who remain once you are back. Love to you, Ringmaster!

  2. Carrie! I can only imagine the stress of the situation. Goodness - I know you all can't wait to come home and I pray that it is very soon for you. Hang in there, mama! It's heartbreaking to hear about the conditions in the orphanage, just heartbreaking. And those pics of the kids who are still there just make me want to reach out and bring them home and take care of them. I hope more people do what you both have done. I want to tell you that your story has been inspirational and very eye-opening to me and have been thrilled to be part of the journey. My friend who donated the toys/clothes has also told me to thank you because it's given her a platform to talk to her kids about foreign adoption and gratitude. You are amazing. I can't wait for you to come home and we can shed our Mommy tears on each other's shoulders, lol. Love to you all.