Monday, January 30, 2012

family day

On February 28, 2011 we walked off a plane and began life as a family of five. We have a few plans and ideas for how to celebrate the upcoming first anniversary of this amazing day, which I'll share below, but first I want to tell you about how I was recently and unexpectedly whisked back to that moment - the moment our family was together for the first time.

The boys were playing on my parents' computer a few days ago, watching home videos of themselves and their cousins. I was half-watching, half-checked-out, relaxed and thankful to have a moment of peace at the end of a busy day. N clicked to the next video and my head snapped up to see a fuzzy-headed brown-skinned boy being led onto an escalator by a tall, handsome white guy: shock. Tears. I have never seen this footage. Only now do I vaguely remember my brother having a video camera, but in the aftermath of Z's arrival I had forgotten all about it.

As N clicked through the videos one by one I couldn't hold back the emotion. A year ago I experienced that momentous day through the lens of exhaustion, jet lag, unrealistic expectations, and healthy dose of fear. My memories of it are colored by the sleepless nights and tantrum-packed days that followed. Watching those scenes the other night felt like recovering something precious, like the long-awaited fulfillment of a promise, like scales falling off my eyes. It was pure gift.

Viewing the event through the camera's perspective made me see it all with new eyes. So much beauty jumped off the screen: the genuine excitement and joy of my family members, meeting Z for the first time. N's gentle sweetness, taking Z's hand and leading him around the baggage area. The easy smile D gave his new brother, already trying to make Z laugh. And his mother, eyes bright with exhaustion and something else: a love she didn't know she was giving, receiving. She kissed his forehead, he clung to her shirt and rested his cheek on her chest. At the time those exterior acts of affection felt false, while the swirls of frustration, fear, and ambivalence under the surface seemed all too real... but watching it now I see that I had it backwards. I see a mother who loves her son. Her fear and self-condemnation breaks my heart: I want to give her a hug, bring her some strong coffee, look her square in the eyes and say, "You're doing just fine, mama. Just fine."

We finished watching and D asked me why I was crying. I told him it was because I just realized I am the luckiest mommy in the whole world. And I am.

*Oops I forgot to write about our plans for Family Day 2012... more coming soon.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

marriage letters

I'm participating in a link-up this week, hosted by Amber @ The Run a Muck. Here's what she has to say about it:

Join me and Seth (and also Joy and Scott) as we work hard to preserve marriage by writing marriage letters. There may be only a handful of us doing it, but if you’ve written a letter or a post for your spouse, please do add your link and be sure to link back to us so others can be encouraged. Especially in this stage of small children, it’s been good for me to see that we aren’t alone, and if you’re past this stage, it’s good to know that you’ve made it.


Dear J,

I am snuggled into my parents' guest bed, listening to the howling wind and spattering rain, waiting for you.

The boys were wild tonight, or so I'm told. The sweet babysitter earned every penny... They missed us. (Or maybe they're just wild.) It's a hard habit to break: telling you about the kids first. They're the loudest news, but not all there is to say.

I'm proud of you. Scrubbing floors and washing windows in our empty home, working while your family rests. I don't think there is any task you wouldn't do for us. Tomorrow a stranger will come with his camera, capturing the rooms where we laugh and bathe and scold and hold each other. On the flier they'll be bright and generic, as if anyone could do this, live here. We'll sell the walls and floors, but keep the sound of Matchbox car races on hardwood floors, the smell of sleepy boys between us on a Saturday morning, the window reflection of our long hugs in the kitchen when all the dishes are done.

Do I tell you that I need you? I do. Our house is just a house; God made you to be my home.


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

wild weather, perfect feet, and a quick getaway

It's been crazy around here lately: snow, ice, unexpected house guests, power outages, a weekend away, and an exciting trip to the doctor, all in the last 7 days!

Last week we had our first (and hopefully only) major snow event of the season, which meant no school, no work, and no driving anywhere for a few days. Then an ice storm hit, followed by more snow, which meant many downed trees and branches, causing power outages that affected us and over 300,000 other residents for two full days (and longer for some). In the meantime, we took in some friends of friends who were stranded in Seattle for three days trying to get back to Southern California. We love house guests and the boys were thrilled to make friends with Kristen and Karen, a mother/daughter pair from Orange County - great folks.

Anyway, the reason I'm bothering to blog about this is because in the midst of this big storm we still managed to make it across the city to Z's follow up appointment with his pediatric orthopedic doctor. I didn't want to drive that far in the ice and snow, but when I called to reschedule their next available was in May! Considering there was a possibility that Z might need surgery in April I was not about to wait that long, so we borrowed my parents' 4WD SUV and braved the roads. It turned out to be worth the trip because the doc took one good look at Z's foot and pronounced his club foot to be totally corrected! He recommended we continue to use his orthotic brace at night until he turns three, and he wants to see us again in a year, but other than that we are DONE. Praise God!

In other exciting news, last weekend J and I had our first overnight trip away from the boys since Z came home. We went to Vegas for... wait for it... a baptism. Isn't that why everyone goes to Vegas? Our dear friends Mike and Nicole (who live there) asked us to be the godparents for their beautiful baby boy, who happens to share a name with Z. We were honored, and happy to come out for the baptism (OK, and a little fun at the tables too -- we actually won $70!).

This was our first time leaving Z for that long, and he did great. My parents were out of town too, but thankfully Z's preschool teacher is also a close family friend and one of the few people we would completely trust with all 3 of our boys, so she and her husband stayed with the kids and the weekend went well (aside from a few potty accidents... sorry Colleen! You're the best!). We've been back two days and so far I haven't seen any signs that our time away had any negative impact on Z or our attachment process... which means we should do it again soon, right?!

When I think back to where we were about 9 months ago, these two milestones seem utterly unbelievable. At that time Z's foot was in a cast, he hadn't been put to bed or fed by (much less left alone with) anyone but us since coming home, and I could just barely make out a pinprick of light at the end of the tunnel. I am so humbled and thankful for all that God has done to bring us from there to here!

Monday, January 16, 2012


Today we watched this together:

Then we read this post about child slavery in Ghana (or rather, I summarized it for the kids in an age-appropriate manner), and made a small donation to the Mercy Project. (H/T Kristen)

His dream is alive, but it is not finished...

For the sake of cuteness, here's a circa 2009 video of 3 year-old N talking about MLK

Friday, January 13, 2012

talking about race

Race is one of those things that I have hesitated to write about for a few reasons. It is scary to me to write on such a far-reaching and loaded topic because two of my biggest fears are being misunderstood and offending people, and race might be the topic most prone to misunderstanding and offense in the whole universe. I'm also hesitant to write anything about race because I know I can say something but I can't begin to say everything, which means I'll leave something out and not say what I really mean and not give this topic the thorough and nuanced treatment it merits.

Buuuuuuut, those are all basically excuses. As a transracial adoptive parent, this is something I can't afford to be afraid to talk about, so today I'm diving in and sharing my thoughts, questions, and ideas about race.

Three years ago I would have told you that the issue of race did not play a major role in my life (spoken like a true white person). I did not believe myself to hold any racial biases. I believed that America was a place where people of any race could succeed if they worked hard enough, and the election of our first black president seemed to put an exclamation point on that sentiment.

What do I believe about race in America now? I'm not sure. I do know that in terms of racial equality, this country started on a very bad foot, and that the echoes of those beginnings still ring loudly today. I grew up and remain today largely shielded from that noise, but that doesn't make it any less real.

I am a product of White Privilege. I'm not ashamed of that, I don't feel guilty for that, and I can't apologize for that because I didn't choose to be born white, nor did I create the system which afforded me such privilege. I believe that my whiteness has been a critical factor in my success in school, sports, and relationships throughout my life. If you misinterpret that statement it could actually come across as being racist, so let me clarify: I am not saying that being white in and of itself made me a better student, better athlete, or better friend/wife/mom. I am saying that the systems and institutions of our society provided me, my (white) parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and on down the line, with unearned privileges that significantly impacted our ability to succeed... because we were white.

Maybe that last paragraph makes you roll your eyes and say "duh." Maybe it makes you confused. Maybe it makes you yell at your computer screen, "What are you talking about?! What about poor, unsuccessful white people?! What about rich, successful black people?! What about all the hard work that you and your family members before you put in to earn the success you all achieved?!"

Fair questions. Questions I just wrote 450 words trying to answer and then erased them all because they didn't even scratch the surface.

Other people have written clearly and thoughtfully about this, and rather than trying to summarize their words, I'll just tell you why I decided to listen to them. During the process of preparing to parent a child of another race, I had to come face to face with the truth that I didn't (don't?) have the first clue what my son will experience as a child of color. I realized that the sum total of my knowledge about race in America today could fit on the head of a pin. I stopped talking and started listening. The things I heard sounded strange, impossible even, but I had to remind myself, I wouldn't know.

It might sound magnanimous to say that race doesn't matter in adoption. Love is colorblind, and all that. I can say that race doesn't matter, because it's never had to matter for me. But it might very well matter to my son. And if I am not equipped to understand or even acknowledge that reality then I am leaving him out in the cold on a critical identity issue. Please, let's not do this to our kids. Let's not be afraid of race. Let's not shove it in a back corner and pretend it doesn't exist. Let's put it on the table and talk about it, because our children learn from what we don't say as much as from what we do.

Our first-grader is learning about Martin Luther King Jr. this week at school. He was telling me what he had learned about the civil rights movement, and I shared with him that racial discrimination and prejudice still exists today, though they take different forms than in MLK's time. N considered this, then looked up at me and asked, "Then who is helping today, Mommy?" Gulp. "We need to," I told him. And we do. I'm still bumbling my way through figuring out exactly how we do that, but I won't put my head back in the sand and pretend it doesn't need to happen.

Books, Links, & Resources
[this is a VERY incomplete list -- less of a resource list and more like a road map of my specific journey]
White Like Me, by Tim Wise -- start here.
Uncle Tom's Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe -- slavery sucks.
White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, by Peggy McIntosh -- free pdf
The Sword of the Lord, by Andrew Himes -- this one is not focused on racism, but it gives a window into race & conservative Christianity in the 20th century.
The Same Kind of Different As Me, by Ron Hall and Denver Moore -- again, not a book about racism specifically, but Denver's story blew my mind.
Love is NOT Colorblind, from the Livesay [Haiti] blog
Parenting While Not Noticing Race, from the Adoption Talk blog
Love Isn't Enough, blog about race and parenting
Racialicious, blog about race and pop culture

**What's missing from this list: more stuff written by people of color. Thanks for your patience, I'm working on it.

**What's missing from this picture of our boys and their cousins on J's side? You guessed it - more people of color! Thanks for your patience, and no, we're not working on it yet... but hopefully someday. :)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

mesob mischief and miscellany

I really want to write a post about race, but I'm a little bit scared I don't have time tonight, so instead I will share this photo of Z at the YWAM Ethiopia Melkam Genna event last weekend:

This week has been ever-so-slightly better than last week. Progress! I am taking extra time each day to remind Z that he is loved and safe; I hope it is sinking in.

Last week I was at the Ethiopian market by our house and struck up a conversation with another patron. He asked if Z was adopted, and then asked what part of Ethiopia he was from. As it turned out, this man was from a town just 20 minutes from Z's birth place! He was so excited to tell me that there are many Ethiopians from that region in Seattle and he invited me to come to his church. I cracked up when he pointed to Z and told me, "I have two small children at home and they look just like him!" We exchanged contact information and I'm hoping we can connect again soon. I continue to be amazed by the friendliness and hospitality of the Ethiopian community here! What a blessing for families like ours.

Stay tuned for heavier stuff (maybe)...

*Mesob is the Amharic word for the woven basket that Z is sitting in. :)

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

(un)happy new year

From what I can tell, Z is trying to show the year 2012 who's boss. And so far? I think he's winning.

OK, so it probably has nothing to do with the calendar changing from December to January, but the change in Z's behavior marked. Remember my post last month about how happy he was? Well, he rang in the New Year with the biggest tantrum we've seen since our first week together in Ethiopia. Only now he is 10 months older and has that much more strength and stamina, plus the vocabulary to throw in a few barbed words with the screams. The good news is that we have 10 months of parenting this boy under our belts, and we knew what he needed (though it took him a full hour to be convinced). What did he need? He needed to know that we're not leaving, we're not quitting, we're not giving up. He can scream, cry, thrash, and hurl ugly words all he wants: we're still here. During our time in Ethiopia with him and in the first week or two at home his fits would end when he wore himself out to utter exhaustion and fell asleep mid-scream. But our New Year's morning rager ended with him resting on my lap, letting me feed him bits of string cheese, pausing to nuzzle his head into my neck. For the moment, he was reassured and relaxed.

The past few days since then haven't held any major tantrums, but Z has been restless and touchy, struggling through mealtimes and waking up in the night. There is a perfectly reasonable explanation for this -- we've been off-schedule with the holidays and school breaks, there's been so much going on, we just returned from a week visiting Mimi & Grandpa three time zones away, and maybe that's all there is to it. He's confused by the strange schedule, he's overtired from traveling, he's adjusting to the transition back to home.


We're on the cusp of becoming Z's longest placement. I only have approximate dates for when he was moved from place to place, but if the information I have is correct then the longest he has ever lived in one place is around 10 or 11 months. Adoption literature suggests that even very young children can be subconsciously aware of these time intervals, and may display regressive behaviors around those times. Is this happening with Z? I have no idea. If anything its probably the combination of lots of changes happening at an inopportune time. But just in case, I am going to do my best to meet these behaviors with extra compassion for my little guy. More than anything, I want him to feel safe and loved and secure -- I want him to know that we are not just a placement: we are a family.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

sigh no more

My 2012 New Year's Resolution:

To sigh less.

I don't know when my sighing habit started. I rarely realize I'm doing it, and I probably wouldn't have noticed it at all except for the good-natured teasing I get from my husband about it. It may seem like a small thing that isn't worth bothering over, but I've come to realize that there is a lot more to my sighs than breath.

I sigh when I feel hopeless.

I sigh when I think of all the things I didn't get done today.

I sigh when I'm worried about something.

I sigh when I'm thinking negative thoughts about myself.

I sigh when I'm disappointed.

I sigh when I'm letting the kids' behavior drive me nuts.

I sigh when I'm being impatient.

But mostly I sigh when I forget -- forget who I am, forget my calling, forget God's grace, forget my blessings, and forget my unshakeable place in the everlasting kingdom of the One who calls me his Beloved.

This year, instead of sighing I want to learn to breathe.

To inhale God's peace and exhale my gratitude. To inhale remembering myself in Christ, and to exhale his love to the people around me. I want to breathe in the forgiveness and unconditional loving-kindness of God and let go of the lies, distractions, and anxieties that bind me and blind me to his goodness.

[Notice that my resolution is to sigh less. The grace is built right in, to preempt the temptation to heave a big fat ugly sigh over my failure to completely eradicate sighing. I'm onto you, inner perfectionist!]

Tonight at dinner I caught myself beginning to sigh no less than 10 times. Ten times! During one meal! But that's OK. Ten times to reorient and re-purpose my breath. Ten times to remember. Ten times to let the Spirit of God fill me, even as my toddler screamed and my first-grader asked the same question over and over and my preschooler sassed me and my husband tried to tell me about his day but I couldn't hear a word on account of the screaming and pestering and sassing... Breathe.

P.S. The title of this blog is a Mumford & Sons song, which did not particularly inspire my resolution but is share-worthy nonetheless: