Photo by Drew Bittel

courtesy of Kristen Howerton

Moms. Our experiences are different, yet the same. Here, we'll share our stories.

Today's guest blogger Kristen Howerton is a mom to four gorgeous kids (three of them under the age of three!) and the eloquent blogger behind rage against the minivan. Kristen recently returned from Haiti, where she adopted her son Kembe (she was there when the earthquake struck). Here she talks about adjusting to family life with a new member -- who's got some ideas about ice cream and T.V. (and a language) of his own.

It's been almost two months since our newly adopted son Kembe came home from Haiti. It's hard to believe ... it feels like he has been here forever, and yet we still feel like we are in transition mode as we get to know each other.

I definitely haven't found our "new normal" yet -- so far life feels more like a triage situation, where we are just reacting to chaos and crisis as it comes. And it does seem to keep coming. I'm hoping things settle down soon, but there is a part of me that has a sinking feeling that life with four kids within four years might mean I don’t rest until they are all in kindergarten.

It's been interesting watching Kembe adjust to the culture here. There are many, many things that translate. One of my favorites is our bedtime routine. In the orphanage, they always read a story, sang songs, and said prayers. We do the same thing here. I think it is a big comfort for him.

We also have a trampoline, and jumping on the trampoline was his favorite thing to do in Haiti. He spends a lot of time out there with his siblings, laughing and jumping (and showing them up with his flips and stunts).
 

Other things have not translated so well.

We like taking the kids for ice cream. He thinks it's disgusting. I think frozen anything is pretty foreign to him. I have never seen a kid throw a fit over the proclamation, "Let's go for ice cream!" But that's exactly what happens in our house.

Kembe also hates watching T.V. He yells at me whenever I turn it on. My kids don't watch a ton of T.V., but it is definitely something that serves a purpose in our house. (And that purpose is me taking a shower in the morning). I've been working really hard to warm him up to watching it. Never thought I would be saying that ... I'm training a kid to watch TV. But seriously, Mommy needs a shower.

He's perfectly content to ride a princess bike, or walk around in princess shoes. But for some reason, a pink sippy cup is where he draws the line. He will NOT TOUCH  a pink sippy cup. But he's cool with the pink bike with pom poms.

Kembe is adjusting to family life remarkably well. He is a very loving and affectionate kid, and seems to be bonded to us already. He hugs us (especially the baby) and tells us he loves us often. He has been grieving, to be sure. I know he misses his nannies and his friends, and this sadness is very present when he is tired or upset. Over the first few weeks he had crying spells each day -- those have decreased to a few times a week. He seems happy and excited most of the day, and is such a great fit for our family dynamics. He is even begging to go to preschool with his siblings. He is picking up English very quickly, and my other two are picking up Creole.

My Creole is improving. I know just enough to communicate most of what I need, in cryptic directives. I’ve figured out a pretty decent system, between searching for things on google translations, and reading out full phrases from my handbook for adoptive parents. The problem is, Kembe now thinks that I can fully speak Creole. When he first came home, I was impressed with his understanding of the language barrier, and at his attempts to communicate with me through signals and gestures. Now, though, he's abandoned those efforts and just talks back to me in rapid-fire Creole, and then looks at me with annoyance when I don't know what the heck he's saying. It seems like our previous system might have frustrated him less. But, we keep trying. Jafta seems to really enjoy talking in Creole, and also enjoys making up words and then asking me what they mean: "Mommy, what does 'comapekapesa' mean in Creole?" Also lost in translation.

I was also made aware of an interesting fact by the good folks at the church nursery. Apparently, a ration of 3:1 (three children to one adult caretaker) is what the government considers to be acceptable standard for the care of children under age 3. Most of my day I spend alone with four children, which is an illegal ratio in many settings. I'm not gonna lie. It feels that way. Just yesterday, I looked down at Karis and she was crawling up on all fours. I thought to myself, "Huh. When did she start doing that?" And I realized that Karis made the transition sometime in the past three weeks without me even taking notice of it. Her babyhood is very different from my oldest, who got so much undivided attention, and actually had this thing called a "baby book" devoted to recording his milestones.

But, Karis seems to be having a blast with her big siblings, especially with her new brother. They have forged an interesting bond, where he basically roars like a lion in her face, and she cracks up laughing. I spent the first week asking him to be trankil (calm) and janti (gentle) with the baby, and then realized that she loves it and he loves it, and who am I to keep him from screaming in her face if it makes her so happy?

Our house is loud. I am still not sure when I will feel like I am getting in a groove. This morning we realized we were out of groceries and had nothing to serve the kids for breakfast, and that we’d forgotten to make treats for the class party. I can't seem to find the time to return emails (or shower). I'm having doubts that I will ever be on time for anything again.

But as I'm typing this, I just heard Kembe scream in Karis's face, and then say, in perfect English, "I love you baby." And that just makes all this chaos worth it, doesn't it?

To follow Kristen's daily adventures with her husband and four kids, visit her blog rage against the minivan.