Saturday, February 12, 2011
Thursday, August 5, 2010
Sunday, October 4, 2009
Monday, October 20, 2008
Ethiopia changes me
I can't and won't speak for anyone else. The inadvertent use of the word "we" anywhere in this blog should be disregarded (same can be said for mother(s), American(s), women, etc). I can barely account for my own experience; I will not assume I could accurately describe anyone else's. As I have said and will say again, this is all about my filter, my view, my perspective. You might go to Ethiopia and see something else, but this is my story, this is what I saw, and this is what I carry with me.
Ethiopia was an amazing place. I learned a lot about myself and a lot about the world and I acknowledge that there is an infinite supply more to be learned. Approximately one year ago we decide to adopt a baby. No where did I ever sign up for, or agree to, anything that said I would get SO much more than I bargained for. I would do it over again, just that being the planner that I am, a little forewarning would have been much appreciated.
Wanting to expand our family, having three instead of two - seems now like such an innocent and even ignorant endeavor. I can only imagine that in any adoption there is a complexity of adding a completely new family member, culture, and possibly set of values to a family. I imagine the complexity of domestic open adoption (where you meet the birth mother), or the complexity of international adoption where you do not meet the birth family... then our experience, international adoption and meeting a birth family, they all have their own complexities. I know my words cannot do it justice.
I want to take another opportunity to say that I am looking at this situation from my Western eyes. My limited exposure to planet Earth does not allow me to have a broad perspective, or even close to a balanced perspective, of any kind. If I were born in another part of the world, or if I were born in Ethiopia, this may all look different. This is about my learning and my experience not a generalization about a culture or a group of people. Me - my experience - period.
Just two blocks down.
There were two guest houses available for families with our agency in Ethiopia. A short walk (maybe 2 blocks) from one house to another. As we made that trip several times during our stay - there was a constant. The image - A grandmother, mother and baby, sitting quietly, rocking, living right there. I don't know their story, an inability to speak their language literally and figuratively, I don't know if they were related or why they were there. But they were there - every time we passed they were there. Sitting, quietly, living. We gave them money, because we didn't know what else to do. But I felt quite small and humbled that money was all I knew to offer. Journalists and media might have the ability to photograph this situation, but it seemed intrusive and disrespectful. From my eyes it looked like the dignity of these people had been stripped. I pray that they have a different view on life than the one I saw, that they understand why... why... why. We see "homeless" and "beggars" here in the States, but I can say that I have never seen a mother and child, who looked so hungry and so needy as what we saw on that corner in Ethiopia. I am ashamed of what I have and others do not. Again, I am not looking to live in another time or another place, I just want to acknowledge privilege in whatever form it is packaged. I am sure I will never forget those three - grandmother, mother and baby. May they be blessed with whatever happiness can find them.
Strange as it may sound, I often take photographs, in my mind's eye. I decide that there is an image and I freeze it, just that way, just as a picture, no movement, no feeling or emotion, just a photo in my mind. The photo is there and I can access it whenever and wherever without much effort. And when I do, I can apply all the feeling or emotion of when the moment existed or re-evaluate it for a present emotion. (you can apply whatever pathology you want to this later, just follow me for a moment). I have an image of each of my children in their first moments "with us". I have an image of the first time Angelisa held a rattle. I have an image of Trent on a walk in the rain when we first dated. I have an image of my little brother about to hit a baseball in little league. Complete color images, with light reflections and shadows that help to remember more than the image. But it is the image, just like a photo and, as I mentioned, the feelings I apply to it.
I cannot stress enough how it is impossible to accurately describe this next part using words. It is mostly emotion and reaction, it's like trying to take a picture of hot or cold, or describing a color in the dark, it just doesn't work. These are the disclaimers I must offer, because in my heart there is no way I can read my own words and be convinced, I know a reader will never be convinced, unless you were there.
Traveling to Hosanna
It was 6am on Wednesday morning (I think). As I have mentioned numerous times, I am missing blocks of time during our trip to and return from Ethiopia. I can't tell you anything about getting ready that morning or getting on the bus. I can't tell you much about the first couple of blocks... but out of the city, a new place - something I knew I needed to remember. I thought to myself, I must pay attention, I must remember ALL that I can. For Tamene, for my head and for my heart. I must remember as much as possible. The destination that day - to meet Tamene's Adda (his first mother). I knew I would not be emotionally in a place to observe the surroundings on my way home from this trip.
I watched out the window, and tried as intensely as I could to take as many pictures in my mind's eye that were possible to be absorbed. The camera was low on battery and I knew I would want to be sure to get photos (real) at Hosanna. Mile after mile, picture after picture... people - people everywhere. Walking, people walking. Where were they walking? What were they doing? Mile after mile, people walking. Mile after mile I noted the green but no bodies of water. Finally we came upon water about 2 hours into the trip. Here in Minnesota you can barely make it to the corner before you see another body of water... in Ethiopia this is not true. Green, it is green. It is beautiful. I don't know that I have seen these images much in the media. Before I knew you Ethiopia was a place with children with distended bellies and swollen eyes, being swarmed by flies, waiting for an American to skip their daily cup of coffee to "provide hope for a child." Ethiopia was a barren place with sad and sick people. Mostly helpless. Before I knew you Ethiopia could have been on another planet, and Before I knew you, Ethiopia didn't affect me. Or at least I was naive enough to have all these selfish and ignorant thoughts. Ethiopia is a beautiful, beautiful place.
Ethiopia does affect me, it did Before I knew you, and it will forever forward. Aside from Tamene's connection and obvious bond with this country, there is more. First of all a proud country, full of proud and loving people. I recommend you read up on their history. Except for a brief "misunderstanding" of occupancy by the Italians, this country has never been colonized. And they are proud of it. They are proud to live in this place. If you haven't been there, I am sure it is confusing to think about being proud and underfed. Maybe for a moment, picture being a proud American in the settling dust of the World Trade Center attack. Things don't have to be perfect for us to be proud. We just have to acknowledge or efforts, that's what makes pride.
So the bus moved along beep-beeping as I noticed the rolling hills into rolling mountains. Looking out over a hill side I see the tops of several huts' roofs peeking out from the trees, grasses, and False Banana plants. Along the way, my mind's eye is very busy snapping shot after shot. Green hillsides, Acadia Trees, people, huts. Herds herded by young boy after young boy. Small children walking alone or with older children, parents no where to be seen. Young children carrying younger children on their back. Everyone seems to be going somewhere. I imagine the parents are caring for some other family need, sending their children off to do the best they can for the day and being rewarded by returning to their home together each evening.
I continue to watch along the road taking in the sights trying so hard to notice the light and sun, and the colors, the temperature and the smells. It's so much work. I am exhausting myself. But for me and for the stories I tell Tamene, I continue to "research" and gather information. Did I talk to those around me on the bus during this time? If I did I don't remember. But the people outside and the hillsides, I remember.
Arriving in Hosanna
A day prior to this trip we were able to view video of Tamene's birth mother, meeting her would have some familiarity for me, but none for her. I would have the excitement of telling her how beautiful Tamene is and how he was already loved by all of us. She would have the difficult task of asking us if we would raise him as our own, and if we would provide for him and make sure he grew up well. Perspective continues to settle on me. Where did all of this come from? Love for a woman I had never met, compassion for a broken heart I didn't understand and empathy for grief I could not imagine - where did it come from? How did I get here. Months earlier it was only excitement about a new family member. This would be a good thing (and it is) and we would all be excited about the opportunity to be blessed by another child... no one warned me, not even a glimpse, of the heart wrenching difficulties that I was about to experience. Or, if I was warned, I wasn't listening - ignorance.
I feel that I have come a long way in sharing these parts of the story, and I will continue here. But I will stop to say that there are no words, not even a fathoming of the imagination that would allow me to try to communicate what it was like to meet Tamene's first mother. I will tell you that she is a beautiful woman. He clearly gets those amazing eyes from her. My heart sank when I saw her. They share their eyes, the profile is shockingly similar. She and I, we held each other, there was no "comforting" but rather a passing of a torch and a receiving. There was nothing that would comfort her, she was clearly heart broken, but each hug and each kiss was another creation of a memory, a hope, or a wish. I hope I heard her heart as clearly as I thought. I hope my heart spoke back as clearly as I tried. I love her. I miss her. I will never forget her hands, her touch, her skin, her hair, her eyes. Each piece of her has it's own vivid memory, each slide together to make her real. I hope that some day Tamene can meet her, and if somehow that opportunity never reveals itself, then I pray I have captured those moments strongly enough in my spirit that he will feel them when we speak of her. I will end there. Mostly because there is no end. We did leave that place, but there was no good-bye, she is with me as I hope I am, and Tamene is, with her. I hope that in the memories of Tamene she finds a moment of comfort when she is in need.
We left Hosanna. I do not remember leaving. But I do recall leaving part of my heart there.
We traveled back North to Addis. Along the way our agency arranged for us to stop at the home of a "local family". I promise to educate myself more on all of this and get the terminology correct. For now, just the western view. They lived in what we would call a hut. There entire living space was the size of one room in my house. I am sure this is not a surprise, we have seen pictures and heard about this. We were there in the home of this beautiful family, maybe 7 members. I am not sure how they all slept in that space, it was small and I can imagine they each sleep next to the "fire pit" in the middle of the living area when it is cold. I'd like to consider myself privileged for something as small as being able to rest at night when I don't have to worry that my two year old might wake and decide to play in the fire.
So this little home was near a road, but you could see many homes off in the distance that were probably a few miles from the road... and we had heard of many more that lived several hours walk from the road. And on this trip in driving, I now can say I don't recall passing one hospital or medical center of any kind. We saw a couple of schools, and maybe I have a flash of a Red Cross that we might have passed... but if you live two hours drive from there and you have an emergency, I don't see that being a reasonable or likely journey... these people do not own cars. We were the privileges ones with cars, cameras, stickers, clothes and food. So no medical care near by, we didn't see any water in this area either. The children all came to us. So excited to see us or maybe excited to see what we were bringing. I had stickers. Stickers???? These are starving children and I have stickers. Again, there was no warning about this, and the trip didn't come with an informational packet outlining the correct "souvenirs" (read, survival items)to distribute to these children. So after we photograph the children with our "high tech" cameras and show them the pictures of themselves, they are so thrilled. We hand out our stickers, fellow travelers brought pretzels, toothbrushes, and other small items. We head to the bus to depart. The children follow. The windows are open and the begin to put their hands in the window. We start digging in our bags for any food we may have brought for ourselves. Protein bars... just in case I might get hungry, I brought protein bars. A day long trip and I have along a handful of protein bars because I might, might, might feel a twinge of hunger.
Let me tell you about the hands in the bus. All those little hands. This was more than reaching for a treat. More than a holiday parade where my kids have been so picky they "didn't want that kind of candy" and either wouldn't pick it up from the ground or if they did, didn't eat it later. There were the little hands. I blindly pulled things from my bag and just handed them. Not noticing that only the big enough and tall enough children were getting anything. I dug around hoping to find more. While digging I look out the window to see only the strongest were able to get items. But there was a little hand, a little girl, her fingers barely inside the bus, pushed to the back of the group but struggling to get the tip of her finger even near the bus. I saw her out there, I found one more bar, I grabbed her hand, I held it. I took her fingers and quickly and tightly wrapped it around the bar and pushed her hand back, giving her time to run before the boys might try to take the food from her. Only recently did someone explain to me that at times the children will physically fight over this food and that what we offered to them probably had bigger repercussions than just taking food and it belonging to the person possessing it at that moment. I hope that little girl was able to keep the food and eat it. I wonder if our protein bars gave a moment of relief of hunger. But that is my western view, my American description, I can't claim to know anything about what it was like for those children before, during, or after our brief and unknowing visit.
I have pictures of the home and the children that we met that day. The pictures are beautiful, the people are beautiful. Nothing about the pictures captures what we saw at that home in Ethiopia.
If this blog is making you sad, or you wonder how much longer I can go on... you have only been reading a few minutes... we were there a week. A week - a tiny drip in the bucket of time, but not enough words that exist to explain it.
An e-mail to JB while I was writing this post: I have been writing a long time... it is long (this blog). It is sad. JB, I am sad. This is not about Post Adoption Depression, I love, love, love Tamene. I couldn't be any more in love or be any more his momma in any way (ohhh it makes me soooo excited for you)... but I am so so sad about what I saw in Ethiopia, I mourn for him the loss of his first mother, I mourn for me the loss of a sister (his mother) that I never knew. - In thinking about this communication to JB, I mourn for what I did not learn about the country while I was there. I was there to bring home Tamene. And we did. But as I mentioned earlier, I didn't know this all came with the "deal". I had no idea the the emotional experience that was about to hit me like a truck. I knew that there was a big truck coming our way when we decided to adopt... but that was about a baby and a family of five that would live here in Minnesota., that was about intercultural, interracial adoption - that was about being accepted by our family. That was about bringing home a healthy child... Healthy? What did I know?
Leaving Ethiopia was bittersweet. Landing in Washington DC, feeling like the adoption was real and complete, final, in it's own symbolic way. So sad that Tamene would not be able to live the beautiful culture of Ethiopia first hand, yet so grateful that he did not have to experience the effects of Ethiopia first hand.
Before I Knew You
Before I knew you I read other adopting parents notes that including fretting about the kind of bathroom they would use while in Ethiopia. Or wondering if the food would be something they "liked". Others, including myself, worried about earplugs to ensure comfort while sleeping, or feared bedbugs and the discomfort that might come from possibly sharing a home with such critters. Another concern was whether or not we would have our own private car for the trip to and from Hosanna. Families were concerned about their privacy after such an event. Privacy, really? Privacy? We- umm, I, just completely invaded and stripped this birth family, the first family, of any privacy and possibly dignity that they might have had about this situation, and I am worried about my privacy. It's wrong to worry about these kinds of things, it just is. I didn't know it then, but I know it now. There were the reasonable worries about the status of our children and the progress of adoption... I think that is all reasonable and expected. But looking back... who cares about a bathroom, who cares about what kind of food you eat for one short week of your life. Who cares if I was "comfortable enough"... I'll spare you my thoughts on childbirth in that country versus this one, only to say again, how blessed I am.
Before I Knew You the world was a smaller place. Before I knew you, I knew very little, and now I know how much more I have to learn. Before I knew you I loved you. Before I knew you, you belonged to us and to this family. Before I knew you, I prayed for you. Before I knew you.
Now, here I am. I know you. Little Tamene, how perfectly you fit into our family. Each of our children making the perfect fit and the perfect combination for our family. We welcome you, your first mother, your first family, first culture and life experiences... we welcome you here to this time and place. We welcome you home.
What could be better than a story that never ends. You can watch us all live happily ever after at http://www.theyalllivehappilyeverafter.blogspot.com/ . I promise that the new blog will continue to address issues of race, diversity, adoption, gratefulness, gratitude, pre-teen years and life with a three year old boy from Ethiopia. I promise to try to offer the naked truth about my experience with my family, while maintaining the privacy and the dignity of my family.
What can I do?
I asked myself, while writting this post: What else can I do? I have many big plans and big dreams about how I can change the world... but today I will take this small step:
This is a program that allows individuals to sponsor children in "developing countries" who have needs. There are many other opportunities that are out there to change the world. But, in our travel group to Ethiopia there were two familes who sponsored children through this program. They were able to meet the children they have been sponsoring and see the difference they have made in the lives of these children and their families. So, that's what I will do.
What will you do?
What will you do?
Edit 7/24/09 - We never signed up to sponsor a child. But I think I still did take action. I still did something. I still made an effort to make another small change... 5 days from now I will be in Ghana joining my two newly adopted daughters. Ghana changed me too!
Saturday, October 18, 2008
Be sure to book mark that link; the "Before I Knew You Blog" is retiring. Each of my children has a detailed account of my journey to them and the time before I knew them. Each different, but amazing and life changing for me. Angelisa, Naven and Tamene: I love you!
Again, many thanks to those who traveled this journey with us. I have heartfelt gratitude to all of you!
If I had started this blog with a wish list of things to learn about, receive, and grow in... I couldn't have created a more perfect experience than the one I lived during the past year.
I love my children, they are all a blessing. The blessing of the journey to Tamene was more than I could have ever imagined. I learned a lot about myself, my children, my family and my friends. I view the world through a new filter, where things are complex, yet more beautiful than ever.
Hopefully, with eyes wide open, I will find more journeys, more opportunities, and more love in this short moment we call life.
See you at: They All Lived Happily Ever After
Thursday, October 16, 2008
NLO, I will get you pics. I am glad that you have hung around on this blog. You are my big brother and I do look to you for approval. I don't tell you how often enough that I love you and miss you desperately. Most days I encounter a childhood memory that includes you. I wish you the best every day and hope that life is offering you its best. Now, you are/have been the parent of the four legged type of children. I don't get any sympathy from you about the loss of my little Luna? Save it now, soon I will be posting pictures of my new little Ethiopian Coffee Dog... you can just rave about how cute he is!
Gram, I love our family, but the LAST thing I want to do it take a road trip with Tamene. I'd be happy to hold an open house and everyone can come here :-)
Hilde, I tried to call you and stop and see you at work. Sorry we missed you! The Sorrento Grill in DC was great, I would recommend it.
Lisa @ Work, it was great to see you. I am constantly moved by the outpouring of love that has come from this journey, thanks for walking with us.
JB and Mc Sturm, sending all the positive thoughts and vibes I have, your day is soon.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
"The family. We were a strange little band of characters trudging through life sharing diseases and toothpaste, coveting one another's desserts, hiding shampoo, borrowing money, locking each other out of our rooms, inflicting pain and kissing to heal it in the same instant, loving, laughing, defending, and trying to figure out the common thread that bound us all together." ~Erma Bombeck
How many times have you stepped on your kid, or bumped them and knocked them over and then fixed it instantly with a kiss. And why is it that you can't buy that same stuff bottled? I have never applied a band-aid, a spray, or a cream that has ever cured ANYTHING as fast as a kiss can.
Lilo: "Ohana" means "family." "Family" means " NO ONE gets left behind."
Lilo was a smart kid... she loves Elvis and family. Seriously though, think about this statement, realize how we could change our own little world if we took it literally. No one gets left behind. We are all family and we are all here to help each other succeed.
A family is a unit composed not only of children but of men, women, an occasional animal, and the common cold. ~Ogden Nash
Trent found the "common cold" part funny; I actually laughed at the "occasional animal" part. Let me just slip in here that a new puppy is on the way. More about him in another blog.
You don't choose your family. They are God's gift to you, as you are to them. ~Desmond Tutu
At this very moment I am not sure if I am more proud to be the parents of my children or the children of my parents. But both ways, it worked out perfect for me!
*** I do have a new appreciation for the word family. Every time I say it or hear it, it rings louder and hits harder than ever before. I suppose it's like taking air for granted, it's not a big deal until you don't have any or you worry about the future of it. Some times we question our family or wonder how that person ever came from the same line (environmental or genetic). I thought this quote made it more clear:
We all grow up with the weight of history on us. Our ancestors dwell in the attics of our brains as they do in the spiraling chains of knowledge hidden in every cell of our bodies. ~Shirley Abbott
Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one. ~Jane Howard
I agree, and frankly, if you are out there and you need one of these "families", let me know, I'd be happy to have you (stalkers and unwanted lurkers excluded). I'd say if there is anything I learned from my family, it's that anyone can be part of the family if they really want to be, all you have to have are the guts to come on in!
Just a few final words for tonight. Love you all!
ancestry, ancestry. associated words: genealogist, brood, cadency, category, children, clan, class, cognomen, descendants, domesticity, dynasty, extended family, family tree, foris-familiate, genealogy, generation, gens, group, household, kin, kindred, kinsmen, line, lineage, menage, nepotic, nepotism, nuclear family, offspring, paternity, pedigree, progeny, relatives, tribe
1. parents and their children, considered as a group, whether dwelling together or not.
2. the children of one person or one couple collectively: We want a large family.
3. the spouse and children of one person: We're taking the family on vacation next week.
4. any group of persons closely related by blood, as parents, children, uncles, aunts, and cousins: to marry into a socially prominent family.
5. all those persons considered as descendants of a common progenitor.
6. Chiefly British. approved lineage, esp. noble, titled, famous, or wealthy ancestry: young men of family.
7. a group of persons who form a household under one head, including parents, children, and servants.
8. the staff, or body of assistants, of an official: the office family.
9. a group of related things or people: the family of romantic poets; the halogen family of elements.
10. a group of people who are generally not blood relations but who share common attitudes, interests, or goals and, frequently, live together: Many hippie communes of the sixties regarded themselves as families.
11. a group of products or product models made by the same manufacturer or producer.
12. Biology. the usual major subdivision of an order or suborder in the classification of plants, animals, fungi, etc., usually consisting of several genera.
13. Slang. a unit of the Mafia or Cosa Nostra operating in one area under a local leader.
14. Linguistics. the largest category into which languages related by common origin can be classified with certainty: Indo-European, Sino-Tibetan, and Austronesian are the most widely spoken families of languages. Compare stock (def. 12), subfamily (def. 2).
a. a given class of solutions of the same basic equation, differing from one another only by the different values assigned to the constants in the equation.
b. a class of functions or the like defined by an expression containing a parameter.
c. a set.
16.of, pertaining to, or characteristic of a family: a family trait.
17.belonging to or used by a family: a family automobile; a family room.
18. suitable or appropriate for adults and children: a family amusement park.
19. not containing obscene language: a family newspaper.
20.in a or the family way, pregnant.