Friday, July 31, 2009

The author of one of the blogs we like to follow has started a website for Ethiopian adoptive families (or any families for that matter).

We are lucky enough to be featured in the 10 Questions section.

Take a look.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Recap of our trip to Ethiopia (better late than never)

Before I forget all of the details about our trip, I figure I need to write about it. It's a long post...

Our trip began on Saturday morning, May 30th, with a quick flight to Washington DC. We hung around the airport there so we could meet the other family we were traveling to Ethiopia with. After getting to know them briefly, Sara and I set off towards downtown DC, as we had a 10 hour layover and thought we should at least head down and take in a few sights. I had read and heard about how down to Earth the Obama family was, so we were a bit surprised not to see them walking the streets, grabbing some ice cream, or playing catch in the in the National Mall.

After our time had expired in DC, we boarded the Ethiopian Airlines flight bound for Addis Ababa, with a quick stop for fuel in Rome. The total duration of that flight was about 15 hours.

Upon arriving in Addis, we joined about 6 other families who were staying at the same guest house as us and headed towards our accommodations. That is our 8 pieces of luggage in the foreground of this picture. The 5 big suitcases were full to the brim of orphanage donations. Thank you again to all of you that helped make all of those donations possible.

We stayed the first night in the Ethiopian Guest Home. Guest houses in Ethiopia are homes that people have built or remodeled that serve as sort of a bed and breakfast for adoptive families. Most adoptive families stay in one of the many guest houses throughout Addis. After trying to get settled in and sorting through all of our donations to the orphanages, we laid down for for our last night of sleep before meeting Parker Lelesa. Upon waking up the next morning, we were greeted by a beautiful day and a very cold shower.

As we found out right away, the power supply to the city goes out very often in Addis, thus leaving no way to heat the water. Needless to say, we took quick showers. We then did our best to contact our adoption coordinator, as we were to meet her that morning to visit an orphanage and ultimately meet Parker. Along with the power going out very often, so too do the phones. So we battled through that for about an hour or so before finally getting ahold of her and receiving our instructions as to where to proceed to.

This was the view from our balcony at the guest house.

Our first stop, and arguably the most enjoyable stop of the trip, was to an orphanage in Addis. We had such a nice time meeting and playing with all of the children. They are such great kids, and almost all of them are still in need of a loving home. I reflect on all of the life changing experiences we have had over the last two years during our trips to Russia and Ethiopia. This visit to the orphanage in Addis ranks right at the top. These kids are so happy and well behaved and yearning to be one of the lucky ones who have parents coming to pick them up and take them to America. The need throughout the world for adoptive parents is almost too great to comprehend, but when you get to spend quality time with a few of those in need, and you get to see them smile and just act like any other kid, it becomes much more clear.

After our time at the orphanage we took a short ride through the outskirts of city to the house that Parker was living in with his other friends that were also waiting for their new parents to arrive.

This was a very common sight when driving through Addis.

Parker was taking a nap when we arrived, so he was a bit tired when they brought him out to meet us. We spent a few minutes with him outside before following him inside to meet all of the others that lived there with him.

Upon seeing how much Parker and the other family's daughter enjoy being together, and seeing how comfortable their hotel was, I began to try to work my magic and switch our accommodations from our guest house to their hotel. Thank goodness the owner of the guest house was very understanding, and allowed us out of our commitment.

Quick note: The Ethiopian Guest House, the house we were staying in, is very nice, and the staff is second to none. If you are interested in staying in a guest house, I highly recommend it. (

It was just that after getting to Ethiopia and meeting Parker and starting to get to know him, we decided it was in everyone's best interest to try to stay in the same place as the other family, and stay in the most comfortable setting we could. Frankly, the process of adjusting and getting to know an older child that you have just met, and you are now trying to parent, is difficult under any circumstances. So, with that being true, we didn't want to add to the difficulty by taking him away from his friend for the week or by having to worry about hot water for showers, or the internet or phones being down.

The next couple days of our visit included lots of pool time, plenty of shopping, and the all important Embassy visit. As in Russia, the Embassy visit was a breeze. You jump through so many hoops in the world of international adoption, I think it is only right that the US Embassy tries to make the final step in the process relatively painless.

The sights and sounds of Ethiopia are something I will not soon forget. The conditions in which people live, and by many accounts, live happily, are far from conditions that I have ever seen before. The poverty is mind boggling. The love Ethiopians have for each other and openly share is eye opening (it is not uncommon to see two men walking down the street hand in hand). The pride Ethiopians take in their culture is something unfamiliar to me, as we were stopped numerous times by locals that would come up to Parker and hug and kiss him and wish us well, all while asking us to keep his culture strong. The intrigue in children's eyes when they see a white person is unforgettable. On more than one occasion, a small child walked up to Sara and just gently touched her arm, almost seemingly wondering what a white person felt like.

On our last night in Ethiopia, a group including us, the other family we were traveling with, our adoption coordinator and her daughter, and a couple of others made our way to a restaurant for an authentic meal and a performance by some very entertaining and talented Ethiopian dancers. It was a very enjoyable meal. I was also quite pleased to be able to enjoy a couple Ethiopian beers at dinner.

Our last afternoon consisted of lounging by the pool and having a nice meal before heading to the airport. Parker and his friend enjoyed a large plate of injera, and enjoy it they did. The devoured it. It was alot of fun to watch.

Parker definitely wanted to make sure that Daddy tried some of his Ethiopian food as well. I, of course, obliged.

The flight home, although extremely long (16 hours from ET to Washington, DC), was fairly uneventful. Parker slept a bit, we read some books, and Parker realized how loud an airplane toilet is (he is not a big fan of that noise).

In summation, I really enjoyed the relatively short period of time we spent in Parker's homeland. I am excited about one day, hopefully soon, venturing back there and experiencing it all again.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


While posting about Emily's wedding, I can't help but think back to that day in October 2005 that Sara and I tied the knot. Kiawah Island, SC was the place we chose to wed. My family has been vacationing in Kiawah for over 20 years, so after introducing Sara to this diamond in the rough, we were sold on making it work as a wedding destination. And work it did.

Hopefully whoever it is that our little girl (we don't have her yet, in case you were wondering if you missed a post or two about that) falls for doesn't mind that we already have her wedding planned for her. Mark your calenders for a big party in Kiawah maybe sometime around 2034.

A much needed night out...

Sara and I were afforded a night out without the kids for my sister's wedding, thanks to Sara's mom and step dad for coming down and entertaining the little ones.

On July 17th, my younger sister became the last of the Ritzmann children to wed. She and her fiancee, Andy, ditched their single years in style with a fantastic wedding and reception. Thanks to mom and dad for throwing one heckuva party. For those interested in a really unique venue for a wedding or party in Indianapolis, give John Mavris a call and take a look at his facility ( You won't regret it.

Editorial comment: Indianapolis is a great city. I would very much appreciate if the powers that be in Cincinnati would make that 90 minute drive and spend a day or two in Indy to get an idea of what a desirable city looks and feels like.

Back to the wedding, here are a few pictures from the evenings festivities.

The happy couple posing for a picture with my mother.

Sara and I with Indianapolis as a backdrop.

The Ritzmann siblings.

The Ritzmann siblings with significant others.

Our hosts for the evening, more commonly known as my mom and dad.

A few delicious spirits plus the addition of some good music, equals a recipe for dancing.

The boys did make it to out for the pictures before hand, so we are quite excited to see those pictures. They looked very handsome in their sunday best. Those pictures will certainly be posted once I can get my hands on them.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Weekend fun

Parker enjoyed playing games with his cousin Tanner.

We don't have to twist Lleyton's arm to spend some quality time at Chuck E. Cheese either. Sidenote, I must preface this by saying I haven't run into a pizza I don't like yet, but the pizza from Chuck E. Cheese was pretty darn good, as were the breadsticks. My compliments to the chef.

What is a belated birthday celebration without getting your picture with man himself.

Parker was quite pleased with this creation from the new toy that he was given by Sara's Aunt Beth and Uncle Mike. I highly recommend this toy, by the way.

The boys' reward for behaving so well on our trip to Kokomo on Saturday was flying kites on Sunday. They had a great time, as is evident in the following pictures.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Pictures of our growing children

We put Lleyton in this outfit the other day and Parker laughed at him and told him he looked like a girl. It didn't phase Lleyton one bit, as he has seen me sporting a pink shirt every now and then.

I wish I could say this is what they look like when Tiger Woods is on TV, but instead they are only this interested in Elmo and Special Agent Oso.

Parker's Birthday

Parker's 6th birthday was on Friday, but my sister had already claimed that day as her wedding day (and it was one heckuva wedding at that), so we thought it would be appropriate to celebrate Parker's birthday a couple of days early.

Here are a few pics of our birthday boy.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Facilitating adjustment and attachment

Throughout the last 6 weeks we have learned more than we ever thought we would have to about how to best deal with a child that is exhibiting attachment issues. We have really leaned on a couple of very nice experts and they have come through each time for us. We also really appreciate one of Sara's friends and blog reader for her advice as well, it has worked quite well too. Thanks Kate!

Here's a taste of a few of the things that we have implemented or tried with Parker:

- Daily events poster: This is poster that Sara put together that shows Parker, through pictures, what each of his weekdays is going to be like. We go through it each evening prior to bed and when he wakes up in the morning.

- 4 STARS equals a prize: Each evening that Parker goes to bed without fighting us, he gets a star. Each morning that he gets up and brushes his teeth and gets dressed without fighting us, he gets a star. Each time he reaches 4 stars in his STAR JAR he gets a prize. We just implemented this one, but he is loving it thus far. If only we can keep this up, because bedtime has continued to be our most challenging time of any day, and that is putting it lightly.

- Weekly calendar: This is poster that Sara again has put together that shows Parker what is on tap for each day of the week. According to the experts, getting him comfortable with each days activities is key, but it would also be very beneficial for him to start thinking into the future, be it only a week into the future. This could facilitate him not worrying as much about whether we are going to pick him up from school, or worrying about us not being there for him when he wakes up in the morning. This also seems to be going quite well.

- Time-ins: This is the tough one. When we made our first call to our social worker shortly after we arrived home from Ethiopia, our discussion was basically based around how to properly discipline him when he is acting up. The school of thought for most children is to put them into a timeout when they misbehave. That school may not be appropriate for children like Parker. The opposite mode of discipline has proven more effective, the time-in. We go through days where we have 3 or 4 time-ins with him and each is not any more fun than the previous. In a nutshell, a time-in is when we instead of sitting him in a chair or putting him in his room by himself, we hold him and talk with him until he settles down and seems to understand what he did wrong and how to handle himself moving forward. This can be difficult b/c needless to say, he doesn't enjoy time-ins. He will scratch, and bite, and kick, and hit sometimes just trying to get us away from him, but we have to simply ignore that and finally, after a period of time, he does settle down. I don't know if I described that very well, but it has been effective, although no fun at all.

It is interesting and, frankly, comforting, reading other families blogs who seem to be dealing with circumstances not unlike ours. In the midst of one of Parker's episodes, one can feel quite helpless and alone, but once those feelings pass and the feelings of what am I doing wrong, or what can I do better subside, relaxing and reading about how others have handled similar situations is invaluable.

In an effort to be as honest and forthright as possible for those that might be reading that are experiencing the same thing, there will be feelings of "what have we done?", "How can we get through this?", "Did we make a mistake?", but I must say that having had feelings like that makes every little instance of your child acting the way you have taught them, or changing his/her behavior for the better, or simply smiling at you and telling you that he/she loves you are some of the most rewarding moments you can have.

We are far from in the clear when it comes to issues with Parker's behavior, but I do think it is getting better thanks to the ideas I wrote about above. Now we are hoping that as we continue to work with Parker each day, he will become more and more comfortable with us and his moments of discontent will slowly decline to a more manageable number.

Who am I kidding? I hope they go away completely, but I am also more realistic than maybe I used to be.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Evening activities

Our evenings go by pretty fast now that the boys are both in daycare. But we make the most of them. One of the boys favorite past times is racing up and down the sidewalk on their scooters, and they also immensely enjoy spending time at the swimming pool.

Here are a few recent pictures of our little guys...

Lleyton and Parker modeling their new towels before heading out to the pool. A very special thank you goes out to the ladies in the Accounting Dept. at UCB for the fun filled gift bags for the boys.

The kid loves to smile.

Parker is a natural on his scooter, as is evident in this action shot.

Lleyton enjoys being out ahead of the curve when it comes to fashion. I am almost certain you will be seeing this look on the pages of fashion magazines in the very near future. Is there a better combination than the Reds and John Deere?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Coping with possible attachment issues

Bedtime has proven to be one of the most difficult times of our day. Parker usually throws what I would deem a monumental fit each night after we tell him it is time for bed. With that being that case, and us not having been able to find a way to settle him down at night, I put a call into our home study agency director this afternoon for some guidance. What a difference a little professional advice makes.

After I explained to her the challenges we have been facing on a daily basis, she quickly surmised that Parker is probably having some attachment and bonding issues. Sadly, Parker has certainly been through some very tough things in his short life. His having lost both of his parents and more recently having lost his aunt, who gave him up for adoption, is probably hindering his ability to fully attach and bond to Sara and I. Those attachment issues could very well be leading to our tough moments in the evening and in the mornings. The thought is that he is not sure that when when we put him to bed in the evening that we will be there when he wakes up, and he is not sure that when I drop him off to daycare in the morning, that we will be there to pick him up in the evening. It's sad, I know. We know we will never leave him and we will always be there for him, but he may not know that right now. I can't fault him for having those feelings.

One of the solutions she recommended was for each Sara and I to take a few minutes alone with him before bed and hold him and talk with him about our day and what we are going to do tomorrow. This will help him settle down a little bit and prepare him for what the next day holds. I hate to jinx it, but it worked like a charm this evening. He was a perfect angel when it came time for bed. I hope that it stays that way.

Another of her ideas was for either Sara or I to head to his daycare once or twice a week and have lunch with him. Great idea. I am quite excited about seeing him interact with all of his little friends at daycare. On the other days, we are going to start sending something special for him, so that he knows we are thinking of him during the day. Whether that be a special snack or a picture of us, or something else is yet to be determined, but however we can try to help facilitate his attachment we will do it.

After all, he is a great kid, and we don't want him to ever forget his life in Ethiopia, we just want him to realize that we are always going to be here for him.

Hopefully other promising experiences to come...

Coming to bookstore near you...

Parenting 101 By: Matt Ritzmann

Parenting a 5 year old adopted child with limited English is proving to be much harder than we had anticipated. We had read so many blogs and talked with many families about their experiences after adopting older children from Ethiopia and very few (1) mentioned anything about the difficulties that may come with this experience. With that, we kind of had this rosy picture in our heads of what it was going to be like.

Parker is a great kid. I believe he is just having as hard of a time adjusting as Sara and I are, probably harder. After all, he has lived the first 5 years of his life in a world completely and totally different than the world that he lives in now. I would pay to hear what he is thinking and feeling. The language barrier is, in my opinion, the biggest contributor to our difficulties. Parker is unable to speak to us and tell us what is bothering him, thus he turns to acting out, or going into a shell, or whining and crying. It breaks my heart not to be able to speak to him and understand exactly what he is feeling.

I could go on about the challenges that we have encountered over the first three weeks home, but we also have had many great times. Like yesterday after he visited the zoo with his daycare class. He was so anxious to tell Sara and I all about the animals that he saw, and he was even more excited to share with us all of his artwork that he has done during his first few days of daycare. Moments like those, and like when he and Lleyton ride their scooters in the evening and take baths together help us put the difficult moments into perspective. I am certain that some of the challenges that we are facing are the same things that any other family with a 5 year old faces. Those same challenges are just compounded due to the language barrier and the adjustment that Parker is going through from living in Ethiopia to living in America.

I, in no way, want our difficulties to deter anyone from taking on the challenge of adopting older children, because there are millions of other Parkers out there in this world that need the love that families like ours can offer. I just want to make sure that those very families know that there will be challenges upon arriving home. We have found great comfort in being able to speak with our social worker and the director of our home study agency regarding our issues and how to best handle them. Their insight and advice has helped us effectively deal with some of the poor behavior we have experienced.

We tried to prepare for how difficult this transition could be, but that is easier said than done. With time, I am confident our difficult moments will become less frequent. Until then, we are learning on the fly. Learning what he likes and dislikes, learning how he tests us, learning how to comfort him, learning how to discipline him. We are constantly learning. I wish we could simply consult a book that had all of the answers, but I know that doesn’t exist, so I am thinking that maybe my second career may quickly become being a writer and providing adoptive parents with answers to all of the questions we are coming up with each day. Maybe you will see it in bookstores near you soon.

Hotel vs. Guest House

We experienced both during our trip and would recommend Hotel

In preparing for our trip to Ethiopia we had been told many times that adoptive families should stay in a guest house in Addis and refrain from visiting the two big hotels. We were told that it was frowned upon for Americans traveling to Ethiopia to adopt to stay at those hotels. So, with that, we took that advice and booked a room at one of the guest houses for our stay in Ethiopia.

We did stay in the guest house for our first night. Let me say the guest house we booked was nice and the staff was very friendly and accommodating. It just wasn’t as comfortable as we might have envisioned. In Addis, it is commonplace for the power to go out almost daily, thus there are many occasions of not having hot water for showers. That happened to us the first morning. The internet connection at the guest house was virtually non-existent, which made it very difficult to communicate with family back home.

A guest house is similar to a bed and breakfast. The one we stayed in had about 6 rooms, each occupied by an American family staying in Addis for an adoption. Each of the other families staying at the guest house were from the same agency (not the agency we used). Their agency told them that they were not to take their children outside of the guest house at any point during the week other than for the embassy appointment. I cannot imagine traveling all the way to Ethiopia to pick up Parker and not being able to leave the confines of the place we were staying to experience Ethiopia with him. Some of the most memorable times we had in Ethiopia were when we were walking around the city experiencing the culture and enjoying some of the restaurants and shops.

After our first night, we went and met Parker and picked up him from the transition house. From there we went with the other family we were traveling with to their hotel, the Sheraton. The hotel was fantastic. After seeing the hotel and noticing how well Parker and the other family’s girl knew each other and enjoyed playing together, we pulled a few strings and moved into the Sheraton. This was the best decision we made while in Ethiopia.

The transition of just getting Parker and getting to know him was difficult even in Addis, but being in a place that we were comfortable made such a big difference. Having the staff at the Sheraton, who were incredibly nice and loved talking with Parker, was such a valuable commodity. Not only was the hotel perfect, the staff was second to none, the pool area was invaluable, as we learned how much Parker enjoyed the water, and the restaurant was reasonably priced and the food was above average.

I would recommend that any family traveling to Addis to adopt look into their options for lodging. The Sheraton is very expensive, but if you can find someone to offer you a friends and family discount, as were lucky enough to have, the price becomes much more reasonable. The extra money we ended up paying to move to the Sheraton was money very well spent, as having a comfortable place to stay was very important for us. It allowed us to focus solely on Parker and getting to know him.