What to do with your highly contagious child

Well, duh. What do you do with your kids when they're sick?
Well, duh. What do you do with your kids when they’re sick?

Last week, Thanksgiving week, Bini got sick. It started up on Tuesday, when he came home from school looking like he’s been up all night partying with Motley Crue. He fell into bed early and woke up sounding like he had consumption. We didn’t send him to school that day because we’re not completely evil, just somewhat (see No. 1).

We didn’t think it was anything more than a standard-issue cold, but it turned into the flu. Not a bad flu, because he’d had one-half of the flu mist vaccine. But bad enough that we couldn’t take him to the movies, or anywhere with lots of people.

Bini can now beat me about half of the time, proving that sick time can indeed be a time to develop skills.
Bini has mad skills.

So, from Tuesday to Sunday, we were mostly housebound with a sick kid. When you’re housebound with a sick kid, you’re basically killing time until you can put him to bed. Following is a list of the top six ways to occupy a highly contagious but still strangely energetic 5-year-old. You’re welcome.

  1. Go out to eat. Actually… don’t do that. We took Bini to a Nice Restaurant on Thanksgiving, because we didn’t want to eat PB&J at our house and we couldn’t bring him to anyone’s else’s house. Look, we didn’t know that he had the flu yet. But I’d still like to apologize to the waitstaff at the aforementioned restaurant.
  2. Air hockey. I taught Bini to play air hockey two years ago, and now he’s an ace. He beats me about half the time, and I am not one to let my kid win. I’m going to start practicing when he’s asleep.
  3. Obstacle course.  Bini never got listless-sick. He was just coughing like he had emphysema and running a fever that ping-ponged between 100.1 and 103.7. Anyway, on one of his more energetic days, he was climbing on the furniture and otherwise running amok so I just made an obstacle course. It kept him busy for exactly 34 minutes.
  4. This is about the extent of my craft-making.
    This is about the extent of my craft-making.

    iPad. I ditched my screen-time rules on Wednesday, and by Saturday we had completely given up. (See No. 6.)

  5. Crafts. If you’re craft-challenged, like me, this means going to the craft store (is there ANYPLACE scarier than a craft store at Christmastime?) and buying something preconfigured. Coloring a particle-board reindeer sign killed about 45 minutes. Then he went back to the iPad.
  6. “Return of the Jedi.”  And then — don’t judge us — “Phantom Menace.” We were desperate.

A fork in the road

On Monday, my son called me his nanny.

He told me that it was my fault that he didn’t live with his birth mom, because I was the one who wanted him. He told me that he was sad all the time– at school, when he’s falling asleep at night. And it was my fault.

He told me all of these things in the dark, in his loft bed. We were playing “sleep,” and I was cuddling him. It’s a step up from the usual. Bini typically hits me with the heavy stuff when we’re driving. Our therapist told us that’s because it’s less scary than a face-to-face conversation.

I did what I always do when Bini starts lashing out at me: I comforted him. I told him that it was OK to feel sad, that sad is a feeling, like happy or surprised or mad. I told him that it’s important to feel the feeling, rather than hold it inside, no matter how bad it feels. He cried.

I also told him, gently but truthfully, that we didn’t steal him from Ethiopia. His birth mother decided that she couldn’t take care of him, and we adopted him. We didn’t take him. And we weren’t going to give him away. Not ever.

“Yes you will,” he said in a high-pitched baby voice, which he reverts to when he’s emotional.

“No, we won’t,” I said firmly. “Not ever.”

Steve and I are six months into the long, long process of adopting another child. Our home study is done (or it better be), and now, we wait.

On Monday night, while Steve slept beside me, I thought about what my son had said to me that day. I’ve read the books and talked to the therapists and been to the training sessions and I know what he’s saying is normal. Of course he grieves. Of course he’s angry. Children have so little choice as it is, but when he thinks about his birth mother giving him up, I can only imagine how powerless he must feel. It makes my heart ache to think about it.

But still, his words hurt. I get the brunt of Bini’s anger and grief, I guess because his birth mother is still living and his birth father is not. Steve and Bini share that — a father who is no longer living. So they grieve together.

And as I lay there, sleepless, I thought: I don’t know if I can do this again. I don’t know if I can parent another child who blames me for his adoption. I don’t know, I don’t know.

The next morning, I called our adoption agency. I had read something in the latest newsletter that bothered me: Families in our Ethiopia program should be prepared for a 36-plus month wait. I believed, I guess because that’s what I wanted to hear, that the three-year waiting period started when we filled out our application and sent the first check. But no, actually, we enter the three-year waiting period now.

Three years. I’ll be 46. Bini will be 8 1/2. Three years.

I texted Steve right away: This is too hard.

He texted back: It is. 

So we’re not doing it. And it hurts. It hurts more than my son being angry with me.

Steve and I said, when we kicked off the second adoption, that we only wanted to do it if we could go back to Ethiopia. We love Ethiopia. We wanted Bini to have a sibling from his home country. We wanted to take him with us. We don’t want to go anywhere else.

Two nights ago, I was doubting my ability to parent another adopted child, but now, it’s all I want. I want to take the risk. I want another child, damn it. I want my family to have another person in it. I’m so angry and so sad, so fucking sad that it’s so hard for us to be parents again.

Steve says that our reaction, our sadness, shows that we need to keep moving forward with adoption, even if Ethiopia doesn’t make sense anymore. I spoke to an adoption lawyer yesterday, and an adoption facilitator in California today. We want a child that is biracial or African American, and there just aren’t that many legally free African-American children under the age of 4 in Washington state. So we are considering, very seriously, adopting from the foster care system.

It isn’t the path we planned on, but it is a path we’ve considered. We’ve been talked out of it a couple of times, but here we are again. There’s a reason why we’re here. Before we decided on Ethiopia for our first child, we’d been “sure” about China and then South Korea. But something drew us to Ethiopia, and thank God for that. So is something drawing us to foster care now? I’m not sure. I feel like a sailboat after a storm, bumping along the choppy waters and looking for safe harbor.

Parenting isn’t safe, no matter what. Biological or adopted, they break your heart. Bini breaks my heart all the time, but I still want to do it again. I don’t know why. I don’t know if it matters why.

One from the archives: Ode to the Charlie Brown Christmas tree

A Charlie Brown Christmas tree. Not just a tree, but a way of looking at the world. (Image courtesy of CBS)
A Charlie Brown Christmas tree. Not just a tree, but a way of looking at the world. (Image courtesy of CBS)

It’s Dec. 2, and I’ve already felt the wrath of stressed-out Grinches everywhere. In the parking lot today, I got screamed at by a woman for not backing out fast enough. At the grocery store, I veered toward the clementines and earned a snarling “Watch it!” from the guy walking behind me. I get stressed out and snarly too, but around the holidays, I like to be a little kinder and gentler. Here’s to hoping other folks get the hint, too.

So, I can’t write any new posts for a bit, because I have to write some things and get paid for them. I do that sometimes. In honor of “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” which aired tonight, I’m linking to my homage to the Charlie Brown Christmas tree, which I wrote a couple of years ago for Today.com. I can’t cut and paste it here, because there’s copyright laws and stuff. But I hope this excerpt will tempt you to click through. It’s one of the favorite-ist things I ever wrote.

An ode to the Charlie Brown Christmas tree

“I never thought it was such a bad little tree. It’s not bad at all, really. Maybe it just needs a little love.” – Linus Van Pelt, “A Charlie Brown Christmas”

At the Christmas tree lot the other day, I strode past the big trees. I led my family past the full, bushy trees, to the end of the line, where the little, sad, scraggly trees lived.

“Oh, I know which one you’re going to want,” said my husband, Steve.

And he was right. I walked right over to a loose-limbed tree that stood maybe 5 feet tall. I placed a protective hand on its wobbly top. “This is the one.”

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