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Sunday, August 31, 2008

Happy Birthday Grace!

Our Gracey turned 9 yesterday which is so unbelievable to me that I can barely acknowledge it. We took ourselves, two of Grace's friends, and the unmatchable Aunt Heather and Uncle Michael to a local resort to celebrate (I will do anything, ANYTHING to avoid an all-out party with blow-up thingies in the backyard, possibly a traveling zoo, and 30 kids I barely recognize). One of the many benefits of living here in the hot, hot desert is that you can take advantage of the amazing resorts (and their low summer rates) without having to book a plane ticket (or seven).

Nina was UNbelievable during this trip. Seriously, last night David and I were sitting out on the patio after we gently placed Nina in her Heavenly Crib (yes, we were at a Westin), at which point she smiled, winked, and went to sleep (okay, she didn't wink) while Heather and Michael went to refill our iced teas before the 8:00 closing time of the iced tea shoppe, and I said to David, "Seriously, when's the other shoe going to drop? I mean, do you think this is our reward for surviving Jack, Henry, and George?" David said, "Don't question it or you're going to hear a 'clunk.' Just enjoy it. We clearly did something to deserve it. Don't know what that was. But again, don't question it!" We aren't questioning it, just enjoying every minute. She's unbelievable.

Here's a look at how we celebrated!

Friday, August 29, 2008

Oh Henry

I really don't think I should dilute the hilarity of this video by adding anything additional to the post. But maybe it's so funny to me because I know its star so well. Clearly, Nina is a very patient child.

I do need to point out that coming out of Henry's mouth repeatedly in the beginning is the phrase, "Who's the cutest one? Whoooo's the cutest one?" which is what he says to Nina when he's acknowledging her existence. The part later on about "Drink the milk!" also gets me just hysterical.

"Thursday in Ethiopia" is coming...I promise.

video

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Quick Update...

Two posts in one day. I must be bored. :)

Just wanted to quickly add that I've already waffled back on the homeschooling idea. Won't surprise most people. For those who've asked, the online academy to which I referred is called K12. The website is http://www.k12.com. They are an official public charter school in many states, including Arizona. So you get the public school curriculum, resources, etc. but your kids can also work ahead of their grade (or behind) if necessary. And you don't spend 397 hours a day on school work! (But you do spend 4-5, supposedly.)

However, after a few hours of thought I've realized that right now this really may be over my head. I tried some new tactics with the boys' homework tonight. You know, a little bribery, a lot of negotiating, a little screaming (on Henry's part, not mine).

When Henry spelled the word "could" properly but Jack spelled it "phlks" I sighed. And when Jack correctly calculated that 4+2=6 but Henry calculated the answer as 79 I sighed more loudly. I honestly think I might consider suicide if this were the dynamic that constituted my entire day. Or even half of it.

I'm not ruling anything out (those of you who know me well know I rule nothing out...ever). But dealing with those sorts of answers all day long? And the screaming? And the fact that at one point, their approach to the word "but" was to laugh hysterically for, like, 10 minutes even after I explained that it's the "but" as in "I'm getting very angry, BUT I'm trying to stay calm" and not the "butt" like "I think I'm getting ready to kick yours!" Hell, that made them laugh even harder!

Maybe I should leave all this up to the professionals (even though I know I could do it better!) Just sayin'.

Two things to ponder:

First, I took Nina to the lab the other day to get her heel pricked for her PKU test (newborn screening). The lab tech is a woman we've had many times when we've gone there for bloodwork. She's a nice lady, but phrases things a bit differently (and more directly) than I might choose to.

I took Nina in and she said, "Oh, she'd adorable!" I said Thanks and she asked, "Is she from India?"

"No," I answered. "She's from Ethiopia."

"Oh. Did you meet her mother?"

"Her birthmother? Yes," I responded.

"Did she cry?"

By this point, I realized this conversation was going in an interesting direction.

"Who?" I asked, "The birthmother or Nina?"

"The mother."

"Um, well, it was a difficult meeting."

"Well," she continued, "Why'd she give her up?"

At this point, I was looking to channel Laurie Hausam from her recent grocery store experience. I was looking for Laurie's wit. Do you think I found it? Here was my reply.

"Oh, I don't know. I guess she was having a bad day."

The tech looked at me as though I was serious. And I looked at her as though I wanted her to shut up. And she did.

Second, all you homeschooling folks out there, I need help (and yes, Laurie, I mean you). For the 18th time, I'm considering this option. My mother is having palpitations and hyperventilating as she reads this. But seriously, I have two main issues at the kids' school right now. One, they are being forced to the "average." So Grace is bored to PIECES and Jack is really struggling to keep up. Henry, who knows --- the other day he announced again that he'd been excused from homework (and all in-school work) until he was 16.

The other issue is that the homework and etc. is KILLING me. The kids come home with 1 1/2 hours of homework per night that, for the boys, is WAY over their heads and merely busy work (in my opinion). Grace is making up extra credit work because she's trying to challenge herself, a trait that I KNOW will disappear when she's in about 6th grade because she'll replace her boredom with boys and the oft-proposed idea that school is dumb and being smart is overrated.

Now, homeschooling from scratch is not something I'm capable of, trust me. My kids would end up living with us until they are 50 because all I'd come up with to teach them is how to calculate a good sale at Target.

But I've come across this interesting online academy which is technically an AZ public charter school (so it's free). This school exists in multiple states, actually, including California. They provide the textbooks, etc. and guidance from a teacher assigned to you. But you control the content your kids are learning. So if, say, you have a 4th grader ready for 6th grade science, you can do that. Or if you have a 1st grader needing kindergarten reading drills, you can do that too. You don't waste 7 HOURS at school doing work that is either too hard for you to understand or so easy you are dreaming about Joe Jonas all the live long day. It just seems inefficient. And the arguments at home over homework that no one wants to do (and no one understands) while trying to have some nice family time or do an extracurricular activity are getting me insane.

But pulling them out of public school is a HUGE decision and not one I take lightly. At all. I'm nervous for them, and I'm nervous for me. The social component doesn't concern me as they all have plenty of friends who they would continue to do things with. I just don't know how it would all work --- or IF it would all work. And it seems insane to pull them out only to put them back in.

I know people do this all the time - try homeschooling, or move, or somehow otherwise disrupt the status quo. But what if it COULD work? I ran into one of Grace's previous teachers this morning and she's considering the exact same thing for the exact same reasons.

So I'm looking for some honest feedback here. Let me have it! (Laurie - again - I mean you!)

Friday, August 22, 2008

Wednesday in Ethiopia

I'm on a dedication roll, and this one is for Karen. I had conversed a few times with Karen before we went to Ethiopia and, honestly, I had SO hoped we'd be in the same travel group. She's just one of those people who makes it easy to feel like you've known her forever.

Karen and Curtis were the last ones to join us at the gate in D.C. prior to takeoff, and when they walked up, her first words were, "Liz Lyons, I'm going to hug you now." I thought, "This lady, me, we same."

Because the seat next to me was vacant the entire way to Ethiopia (I know, hate me), Karen came and ate dinner with me (after Curtis and I compared notes on the publishing industry). It was awesome to get to know each other over those first 24 hours and I'm so glad they live not so far away.

On Monday night, after my day of being dead, Karen knocked on my door at the hotel. I figured she was checking to see if I wanted to go have dinner. I said, "Yeah?" and she did not, in fact, ask me if I wanted to go to dinner. She asked, "Are you having another break down?" THEN she asked if I wanted to go to dinner! It was frankly quite funny (in hindsight).

So, on to Wednesday in Ethiopia. Now, I have pretty much NO pictures of this day because it was the shopping day and I didn't take my camera. I had Nina, my baby bag, and a sling fit for carrying nothing other than a dead squirrel, and without a third arm the camera wasn't going to make it. Plus, it wasn't a small camera I had with me. Note: pixel size is important when you're going to a third-world country to which you aren't likely to return in the next 3 months, which is why I conned David into letting me take his 10+ megapixel camera. However, who cares about pixel size when you don't even have the ability to take the camera with you anywhere!

So, if you're going to take a whopping camera of which Ansel Adams would be proud, take a smaller one too (if you have one) to throw into your pocket or something for these types of excursions. Especially if you do not heed my previous advice and choose to go by yourself. When I think about how much "easier" it would have been to have David with me and be able to say, "David, take Nina," or "David, take the camera," or "David, catch me I'm going down," or "David, please reach down my pants and grab 100 birr," I want to win the lottery, hire a nanny who speaks three languages and has experience running zoos and three-ring circuses, and head right back over to do it all again...WITH my spouse!

Anyhoo, we all met at HH around 9:00 to head to the shopping area. I don't remember how far away this place was. All the trips in the van started to run together at this point. And, as you'll realize after about the 3rd trip, when you leave HH, you can only turn right onto the highway. So you have to drive about 2 miles and then do a U-Turn in this roundabout and head back PAST the alley that goes to HH to get wherever it is you need to go. And everywhere to which you need to go requires a left-hand turn outside the alley from HH, which you cannot make!

We got there and parallel parked and, I'm telling you, upon our even considering opening the door to exit the van, vendors were already laying in wait. It must be how Tori Spelling feels as she prepares to exit her vehicle for a book signing. (Yes, I'm addicted to Tori & Dean: Home Sweet Hollywood. And I'm okay with that. We all need a little good, clean reality TV in our lives.)

We made our way through many little shops. With Nina in one arm, her bottle balanced sometimes by my other hand --- and sometimes by my chin depending on what I was doing --- there wasn't an ability to negotiate too much. It's too bad some of the vendors didn't realize this. They could have said, "This dress will cost 3000 birr" and I likely would have paid it because I was too tired to do the conversion and birr (or "beer" as Tim continuously referred to it, which was most hysterical when he continued to tell folks begging at the windows that he was "out of beer") still felt like Monopoly money.

There was, however, the vendor who kept repeating, "I give you good price. No forenjee price." I'm just spelling that word phonetically. I later learned, thanks to Karen, that it's the word for "foreigner." I thought he was telling me he would not charge me a "Frenchy" price. No, he would not, I thought, because I am not French. Plus, when you tell someone you are NOT charging them something, whether Foreigner or Frenchy, chances are you ARE. So I left. Communication issues sure can cause problems (and loss of income).

I bought some dresses for Nina and Grace and some outfits for the boys. I also bought some necklaces, a cross for Heather, and I think that's it. I thought a lot of thing were neat, but it felt a bit like being on the boardwalk after not too long; you know, a bunch of stores all selling the same stuff. And so it started to feel more touristy and less unique and I realized that while I thought I'd want to buy a lot of stuff there so I could say I bought it there, I could probably just as easily order it over the Internet! Plus, after about 40 minutes, I was drenched in sweat, Nina was less than pleased, and I was tired of reaching down my pants (or asking someone else to reach down my pants) to get money. So I called it a day and popped back into the van.

One of the craziest parts of this shopping experience was a phenomenon of which I'd heard, but had yet to witness: The Lady Cop of the Marketplace. This woman was shorter than I am (and I'm 5'3"...barely). She wore this crazy leathery coat that I figured she must have been roasting in and she wielded this huge stick, with which she'd threaten to hit (or actually hit, on occasion) those who were begging from the tourists and not allowing them to shop. The shop owners pay her to do this because if she didn't the people would stop shopping there. She would get so mean as she'd chase these kids away, and then turn and smile this HUGE smile at you. I stole this photo of her off of Karen's blog --- it's perfect and it makes me laugh every time I look at it.

We gave out as much candy etc. as we had from the van windows as we waited for everyone to finish shopping. I'm an idiot, so I hadn't thought to bring all my candy/lollipops/Twizzlers to the shopping area. Though, really, I would have had to stuff THAT down my pants too with no appendages left to carry things, so maybe it's best that I left it at the Union.

We left the shopping area after about an hour total and headed to a coffee store called Aster Bunna (bunna, pronounced BOO-nuh, is the word for coffee in Amharic). We drove down this very bumpy gravel road and finally arrived at this place. I mean, there are no maps there. You either know where this place is or you don't. I think just about everywhere is like that in Addis!

We went inside and learned that the beans were actually being roasted right in the back! David would have been in hog heaven and that was probably the point during the trip when I missed him the most (well, okay, the moment I almost died at the Embassy was one during which I prayed he might walk in the front door as well, but...).

I ordered 5 bags because that was all I thought I could fit in my luggage, but it killed me because it was only about $2.50 per 1/2 pound. FAR less than Starbucks and FAR better quality! Karen and Curtis bought, I think, 20 bags. David would have started some contest with Curtis to see who'd buy the most (and be able to fit it in his suitcase).

During this time, many kids from down the "lane" came up to the vans and Tim and Scott came outside and were giving them all candy. The thing is, they all just keep coming! And they don't politely stop when you give them one thing. It's not the U.S. and it's not Halloween. They don't know when they'll get more, so they beg and beg and beg. And it's candy, not fruit. I mean, they don't have dentists. And it makes me so sad that this is what makes up the majority of their daily diet.

This is why we were all thrilled to hand out our remaining Power Bars and other more "nutritious" items on our way to the airport on Thursday night! The kids aren't rude, they are just in survival mode. And when a child takes even ONE thing that another child believed belonged to him --- even something as small as a Tootsie Roll --- a fight can break out. Over a Tootsie Roll. It's heartbreaking. I mean, Jack and Henry will go to blows over a Tootsie Roll too, but not because either believes it might mean the difference between hunger and not. It broke my heart over and over.

After the coffee place, we went to Makush for lunch. This was a really nice restaurant that served Italian food and there was a lot of neat art hanging around available for purchase.

I ordered a 4-cheese pizza that would have served 2-3 (even though they said it only served 1) and cost just over $4. There were many Americans in this restaurant. Everyone was well-dressed, and it seemed many were having business meetings. It was really fun.

After lunch, it was time to head back to HH to collect our kids' passports and other documentation needed to get back into the U.S. Almaz gave us some great instructions including the "5 dumb things people do upon entering the U.S. with this paperwork that we should not do."

This is a photo of the babies' bassinets (Moses Baskets, in case you ever wondered what the heck a Moses Basket is) lined up in the room downstairs where the babies spend the majority of their days when not outside.

This is myself, Almaz, and Nina. Everytime I look at Almaz, it warms my heart. She's just beautiful, inside and out and I sure hope I get to see her again.

Finally, in the midst of yet another rain storm, Danny and Johannes drove us back to HH with all our shopping bags, our kids, our paperwork, and the majority of our sanity.

I think we then had dinner and called it a night. It was a full day! And there was only one more to go. The next night we would all head back to the Bole airport to get ready to board our flight back to the good old U.S. of A.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Happy 4 Month Day!

This post is dedicated to Dawn, who is checking the blog "several times a day" in anticipation of the Tuesday in Ethiopia post. I've always wanted a fan (just not a crazy one) and I've always said that if I got one, I wouldn't take her for granted. Plus, I understand the pain of checking blogs and wondering where in hell the author is and what she could possibly be doing that could be more important than providing an update for me to read. I don't want to inflict that sort of pain on anyone. So Dawn, this one's for you!!

First, I interviewed cleaning crews this week. Still not happy about paying for that. But at this point, let's get real.

Second, I must mention that Little Miss Fantastic is 4 months old today! Truly, she is an absolute angel who spreads sunshine wherever she goes. Her personality is really starting to come out. She smiles her huge, dimply smile and she kicks her legs like crazy while making these hysterical noises when anyone talks to her. She's also really filling out --- even in the 2 1/2 weeks since she's come home we notice such a difference. And her hair; it's still growing! $43 worth of Carol's Daughter products later (which only makes up half of our supply of products for her hair) and I think I'm prepared to nurture it.

Hi everybody! (she is actually twirling her hair in this picture, which she does all the time)


I remember when our other kids were born and I was frantically paging through the umpteenth parenting book on not sleeping or constantly screaming or giving me the finger when I wasn't looking or whatever unpleasant thing we were enduring 24/7 in an attempt to figure out what on earth the baby (or babies) could possibly still be mad about and how to fix it. Most authors brilliantly discussed the fact that all babies would operate perfectly provided they were put on the proper schedule, talked to the right way, held the right way, dressed in proper couture attire, breastfed by a mother subsisting on soybeans and wheat berries, blah blah blah. And of course, I was doing ALL of those things!

I didn't understand. "Based on what study of what baby (from what planet) did this person come up with these conclusions?" I wondered. "Because it can't be a human baby. That's simply not possible. At least, not when they come out of my body. Because my children were seemingly put here to push me to the absolute brink of insanity within the first six months and five days."

Folks, I've figured out the solution to all that nonsense (at least in our case). Apparently, one must simply go to Africa. You have to go only that far to find a child who follows the rules!

Now, before everyone hates my guts for posting, let alone living with, this angelic experience we're having, let me mention a few things:

1. This is completely abnormal and probably shouldn't be expected. I've concluded that we were blessed by two things: her age and her innate disposition. Being only 3 1/2 months old when she came home was huge, I think, because she hadn't really developed any strong attachments to anything in Ethiopia. Almaz did tell me that for the first 8 weeks of her life, she was such a challenge (crying constantly, sleeping for only 15 minutes at a time) that the special mother at HH after whom she was named wanted to change her name! Honestly, I'm okay with having missed out on that little segment of her life. I also think she's just a happy kid, likely to become a nightmare adolescent. Because that's how it works, right? There's no such thing as a child who never has a challenging spell as far as I understand. So all of you who presently hate my guts can focus on how hard life will be when she turns 13. Feel better?

2. Her personality is absolutely coming out now. So I think that if I'd gone to get her at 5 or 6 (or more) months of age and disrupted her routine, it's highly likely that we'd be in adjustment hell right now.

3. Let's remember that I birthed twin boys --- after 20 days of in-hospital bedrest, not allowed out of bed even to go to the bathroom and during which time I endured (and barely survived, as I don't tolerate even getting my eyebrows plucked) the insertion of eleven IVs, two of which blew up the veins into which they were inserted. And, let's remember that those babies were on two-hour opposing schedules for 6 months. One ate every single hour. Each feeding took 30 minutes. Plus a diaper change. You do the math. Oh, and there was a newly turned 2-year-old running around at the time. Hard times. Very, very hard times.

3. After the twins, we produced another son who cried from the moment he took his first breath until 5 minutes ago. He'll likely start again in 30 seconds. We haven't had a full night's sleep in seven years. And a well-balanced meal? What is that exactly? Cheerios and cous-cous anyone?

So, at this point, I think we were destined to be blessed by a child who, at least temporarily, is relatively content. Because with 4 others running around, 3 of whom are rarely content (the 4-year-old of whom I spoke earlier is yelling at me right this very minute because he cannot get Mario on top of some planet on the Wii. 'Cause, somehow, that's my fault), the good Lord knew I couldn't handle much more.

I also think this is God's way of saying, "You two are DONE!" After this, I would be terrified to bring another child into this house. It can't get much easier than this, so I think we'll go out on a good note.

And, to be clear, this isn't easy by any stretch of the definition. The juggling act is mind-boggling at times. But it's nothing compared to every-hour feeding, 24-hour screaming, and zero sleeping, all of which I've unfortunately experienced...simultaneously.

This is how Nina survives tummy time in our house (for a whopping 52 seconds at a time).

George is always very happy to take care of Nina when she's less-than-happy
Okay, I admit it. I have help. But it comes in the form of a 4-year-old.
George: "Dear God, can someone else please help?"

Now - on to Tuesday in Ethiopia....

I woke up after a good night's sleep and felt much better and was SO thrilled because this was to be the day many of us would meet the birthmothers. I mean, the idea of barfing on Almaz was mortifying, and the thought of barfing on the birthmother? Well, that is just horrifying beyond belief and I don't even want to go there so let's just move on. We were told to come to HH before our scheduled time slot. Mine was at 10:30 - I was the second meeting.

I went down and had some funnel cakes --- I mean pancakes, but they were JUST like funnel cakes --- and coffee. Finally, food was good again. Because when food is good, life is good.

I was so anxious to see my Nina that I headed over to HH around 9:30 or so with some other families. The special mothers were just bringing the babies downstairs for the day and I asked someone where Rahel was. They said she was coming down. One of the special mothers handed her to me and when Nina saw me, she smiled. Coincidence? Probably. But it was the first time I'd seen her smile and it made me so happy! I pretended it was her way of forgiving me for deserting her for that first 24 hours while I recovered from being dead.

Nina's birthmother showed up right on time. Understandably, I'm sure, I won't dive too deep into the details of that meeting. The thing is, Nina has so little that's her own private story to share (or not) when and how she chooses. And this part of her life, this person in her life, I hope will be so special to her. And I want her to know that this person is a special angel, and that the details of her life are hers to share how and with whom she chooses.

I will simply say that I was in absolute awe of her mother. Her beauty, her poise, her grace, her maturity. I loved her. And that was what I most wished for. I prayed that she would show up because, sometimes, the birthmothers are notified but don't show. Or show up late causing anxiety that they may not show at all. And I prayed that I'd like her. That may sound silly because, in the end, no matter what I thought, I'd tell Nina wonderful things about her. But I really wanted to feel those things. And I did.

All adoptive parents feel differently on this issue. Some want to meet the birthmother and even have an open long-term relationship with her, some want to know nothing about her and dread the day their child begins to ask questions. This choice is personal for each woman. For me, I see this as a journey her birthmother and I were meant to walk together. Two people meant to be brought together for the benefit of this little girl. She gave her life, and I will give her a life. Without both of us, she could have neither. So this woman, Nina's birthmother, is very, very important to me.

After the meeting, several of us hung out at HH for a time before heading back to the hotel for lunch. We learned that while our schedule said that the cultural dinner would be Wednesday night, it was actually Tuesday night. Again, I was thrilled to be feeling better so I could attend and enjoy it!

We had lunch at the hotel which was hilarious to me because it again proved that whenever a parent sits down to eat, a child needs to be fed. Seriously, almost every time my food was served in Ethiopia, Nina got hungry! The first few times with this were a bit challenging. I mean, we all have our way of feeding babies. Nina wasn't real used to my way. She was used to being swaddled in a blanket with part of the blanket over her head to block out all other stimulation. Oh, and she had to be bounced around all the while. So, there I was, a bit like Tigger with an invisible pig in a blanket trying to get 1 1/2 ounces into her so I could eat! It's still amazing to me that only 3 weeks ago she took 1 1/2 ounces at a time and now she takes 7 ounces at a time --- and not only doesn't need to be swaddled and hidden from the world but refuses to be!

We headed back to HH from our hotel around 6:30 so that we could meet the night special mothers. This was really important to me because Nina was named after one of these women. I so wanted her photo as well as for her to have a chance to say goodbye to Nina.

Those of us with infants went upstairs to see these women because they were in the midst of putting the babies down for the night. Holy crap - it's HOT up there! Honestly, as an American, with all we hear about overheating and SIDS and etc. you want to go through and pull all the blankets off these babies. It's amazing. They have space heaters in each room and then the babies are in warm PJs and also have blankets around the tops of their heads and heavy comforters on them (and they have little pillows!). It's sort of funny - I kept stripping layers so as not to pass out!

We headed out from HH around 7:15 for the cultural dinner. It took about 30 minutes to arrive. The restaurant was pretty crowded. There were a few other families with their new children, some business men, some families. It was a good mix.

Almaz ordered the food and the dancing began. The food, which I ate only a bit of just in case, was phenomenal. Karen was kind enough to find the non-spicy stuff for me and pretty much hand-feed me all night since I had my hands full with Nina (literally).

Nina got pretty cranky and at one point I had to hand her over to Almaz. I was like, "Uh, no clue. Work your magic." It was really loud and I think maybe that got to her.

We got back to the hotel around 10:00 and headed up for bed. This would be my first night with Nina and I wasn't sure what to expect. Almaz had given me a little Moses Basket to put her in, but she seemed really uncomfortable in it so I just lay her in bed with me. She doesn't roll yet, so I figured she'd be fine. And she was. She only woke up every 4 hours or so to eat and then went right back to sleep. No problem.

I kept thinking, "Okay - start screaming now. Because that's what my kids do: scream for no reason for hours on end rendering me completely exhausted and crabby. So, don't hold out on me. Anytime now. Ready...Set...." But nothing. It was amazing.

Only two days left! And Wednesday was shopping day! That was quite an experience...to be documented next...

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Friendship

Tuesday in Ethiopia is coming, I promise.

Last night at 9:00, I was sitting on the couch writing an email. The doorbell rang. The dogs (okay, A dog, technically MY dog) went berserk. It scared the crap out of me.

I thought, "Well, that must be Heather because she's the only one who would come over this late. But it is late. What if it's a salesman? Or a murderer?" I've always found it interesting that alarm salesmen tend to come after dark. And I don't find it interesting in a comforting kind of way either.

I inched my way toward the front door (which is full of windows, so those outside can see in but we can't always see out. Yes, I know that I should remedy this, but really, when?)

This is what I saw when I looked out the windows:

...with this sign on it

I mean, come ON! I opened my door and yelled into the darkness, "Now this just isn't right!" And out popped Heather and Michael.

Now, it should be known that I am a Stroller Queen. I'm obsessed with finding (and obtaining) THE perfect stroller. I've owned 13. And after much research, I had decided that THIS was the one for Little Miss Fantastic. And it isn't an inexpensive stroller because I don't know how to choose anything inexpensive. It's not that I don't WANT to. It's just that, if you line up a bunch of items from which I should choose and put no prices on them, I'm going to choose the most expensive one. It just keeps happening. David loves it.

They said, "We wanted to get something for Nina."

Uh, a book would have been fine.

Seriously, gas is still $3.78 a gallon, and Heather drives a Mini Cooper which requires premium gas (but gets 40+ miles per gallon, so I guess it's sort of a wash). And really, a whole stroller? Of the Liz variety? It was just totally above and beyond and I didn't even know what to say.

David came out and I asked, "How do you fold this thing up?"

Well, that started a whole big 10-minute ordeal wherein Heather was reading instructions and Michael, David, and I were attempting to follow them. Michael goes, "Okay, folks, how many adults does it take to collapse a stroller?" But we figured it out and it's brilliant.

Honestly, there just are not words for how blessed I feel to have these two people in our lives (and as Nina's godparents). They are THE most incredible, supportive, amazing people I think I've ever met. Heather has been the BIGGEST support to me during this entire ordeal and I will never be able to repay it.

When you're on kid #5, support isn't measured in gifts (especially when the economy is tanking), which is why it was really hard to accept this huge one. Heather and Michael have already given us the greatest gift just by being here for us. For asking what we need. For asking how we are. For taking an interest in Nina, in my trip, in our lives.

Support and friendship, by this point, is measured purely by the amount people show they care about us. I know that Nina is our umpteenth child. I know that the novelty of Liz popping out kids has worn off. But it's still a really big moment for us --- a moment's that's been in the making for over a decade. And the arrival of Nina is as special to us as our first baby was almost 9 years ago. Sure, after the first or second child, all the hoopla that are baby showers and doorstep dinners and storks in the front yard have worn off.

But our truest friends have celebrated Nina's arrival with as much love and excitement as they did Grace's arrival. They have taken a few minutes out of their own busy days to call and ask about Nina or email and ask about her (and the rest of us), to take genuine interest in this major shift in our lives. And to them (and they know who they are --- or aren't, frankly), I say Thank You. It means more than you know.

And, in fact, the blogging community has been fantastic. I've received so many wonderful comments and emails and it makes me even more glad to be a part of this wonderful group.

And because I'm sure it's clearer than the Caribbean sea, if you're wondering whether or not I'm saddened by the reality that folks I thought would be in contact in some way have not been, I am. I'm going to focus on the wonderful people who know me well or don't know me at all but nevertheless have been wonderful. It's just hard when you expect to receive a certain level of interest/support from someone or someones and it isn't there. It just requires a change in perspective I wasn't aware was coming.

But I LOVE the stroller, as I knew I would. Henry asked to push it today in Target (because he's freaking STILL home sick!) and I had to say No. Maybe next week.

Here's Nina with her Aunt Heather!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Brief Nina Update...


First, a quick little "Hi" to Trendy Mindy, whom I've not yet met or corresponded with directly but who always posts such nice comments on my blog entries. Thank you - this does not go unnoticed!

Second, a little update medically on Little Miss Fantastic. She had her first pediatrician appointment this morning. You'd think this could have been well-coordinated in advance, and it was, but of course a wrench got thrown into things last minute.

Henry stayed home sick yesterday with a fever and a lot of aches. This morning, he wasn't doing much better, so I determined --- because, of course, I always have all the answers --- that he had strep throat. David didn't agree, but because David was in charge of taking George to his first day of preschool, I decided to call the doctor and see if we could get Henry in. Now, again, the call went like this:

"Hi. Henry has strep. Yes, I'm sure. Yes, I remember that I was sure last time and was also wrong. But this time I'm really sure. Can you get him in just for a culture? Oh, and it needs to be between 8:50 and 9:30. No? Can't do that? Okay - how about 10:15? Yes? Great."

You might wonder if this appointment was made with the same pediatric group I was taking Nina to. The answer? No. You see, our pediatric group, as I've mentioned, is really far away, so when there are issues like assumed strep throat we just take the kids to our family doctor, who is only 20 minutes away.

David's plans to hit the grocery store during the 1 1/2 abbreviated hours George was at school (abbreviated for the first 3 days) were canceled due to the inability to have groceries sitting in the car while he was in the doctor's office given that it's still 110 out. So we'll be eating PB&J tonight for dinner...again.

And all that reorganizing of schedules and plans? It was well worth it. Because his strep culture? Negative. So I'm not ALWAYS right (but I usually am).

Anyhoo - Nina weighed 12 lbs. 9 oz which is in the 32nd percentile, so that's good. She was 24 inches, which was in the 50th percentile which seems about right because I'm sure that even SHE will be taller than I am.

The doctor said she looks really healthy. Developmentally right on track. She did have to get FIVE shots (which is the standard now at 2 months, so she's only one set of shots behind), which included, I think, 7 vaccines.

We do need to consult with the pediatric cardiology group at Phoenix Children's Hospital because Nina does have what's called a Ventricular Septal Defect. It's a small hole between the lower chambers of her heart. The doctor said that the murmur was really quiet today so it could just be a Quiet Murmur Day OR the hole could be closing, which would be fantastic!

It was also recommended that we do an official newborn screening on her. This checks her thyroid and some other things and also checks for metabolic disorders and whatever else Arizona tests for in newborn screenings, which I understand isn't nearly as much as some states are testing for (of course -- because we live HERE). She also wanted to do some basic testing to check for Hep C, all STDs, etc. Fine.

So, I wasn't pleased that I'd have to go to a general lab around here because 1) they are always packed and 2) I knew that the phlebotomists (by the way, did you KNOW that to become a phlebotomist you don't have to have any formal training whatsoever? Like, I could go in there tomorrow, fill out an application, and be drawing your blood next week?) would just dig and dig around in her little arms. So, David, being at the OTHER doctor, mentioned to the P.A. there (who we love) what we needed and she said to bring Nina right over and she'd do the bloodwork for us. Wonderful.

Now, it didn't go perfectly. There was some digging in her left arm. We then moved to the right. That didn't look good either. Neither did the hand. She said we might have to go into her foot. "Fine, just not her head," I said.

On the second try, she got a good vein in her right arm and got what she needed. She said Nina has tiny veins. Of course she does.

Now I only have to take her to the lab for the heel prick for the PKU and the overall newborn screening. That I can handle.

She's now sleeping, as she deserves to be doing. The sick clown is NOT sleeping, nor is his younger brother. But I've got, maybe 15 more minutes of peace and I intend to enjoy every second.

Coming Soon...Tuesday in Ethiopia!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Continuing on...

First, I must mention a little hilarity from around our house. Figuring out how to balance life with 5 kids, 2 dogs, and 2 companies (that have barely launched) is NOT easy. We've done this from the very beginning with no help. We have no family living nearby, and we've never hired so much as a house cleaner (okay, we have hired a house cleaner, but none more than once. I simply cannot pay someone $100+ if they don't know how to dust!) The house cleaner thing is about to change because, really, come on.

So, I look for hilarity wherever I can find it. I need my sense of humor in check or...well...I might kill myself.

This morning, Henry (who is one of our 6-year-old twins and who I will be lucky to survive --- those of you who know him understand this completely) came in and saw Nina wearing a little hair wrap in her hair - you know, the elastic kind that wraps around your whole head? He said, "Mom, when she wears that thing in her hair she looks just like you!"

Then, I gave Nina a bath and I brought her out to put her in her Exersaucer. George came over to say Hello. Henry says to George, "George, be careful. Mom just put handsome spray on her." Huh?

It's good he says funny things sometimes because, honestly, his behavior is taking years off my life. And that doesn't take into account his twin, Jack, who has had notes come home from school for the last two days noting that he is "not staying on track with his classwork and acting goofy." Great.

Anyhoo - back to Ethiopia and the moment I hit the wall.

We went back to the hotel to have lunch before our embassy appointment. The group had already seen me eat two fried eggs like a bird for breakfast and now they watched as I ordered tomato soup and ate only 3 bites. They really did not get to see the real Liz in action with food. I mean, with no younger ones to care for during meal time, trust me, I could have eaten my own weight in food. But that was not to be at this point.

Karen had ordered the tomato soup and said it was awesome. And I agree, it's pretty good --- if you're not so sleep deprived that you're starting to see dead people. After 3 bites, I thought, "I am going to puke my way through the rest of this day."

I went up to my room and took some Pepto (like, the whole bottle) and got some of my Preggie Pops (people use them for all sorts of issues other than pregnancy, folks, and I PROMISE you that pregnancy is the LAST thing I was using them for!). Nothing worked.

I went downstairs so close to tears that if I even looked at anyone I would have burst. I mentioned to a few folks that I was not doing so great. We trudged up to HH to get our kids and the whole time I kept thinking, "Oh my God, I'm not going to make it to the embassy. I'm going to fall DEAD before we get there. And then I can't take Nina home. Because I won't get through my appointment. Because I'll be dead."

The van ride was challenging. The diesel and the humidity didn't help, but being near the window did. Tim and Cheryl sat in the 3rd row with my Target barf bag and I told Tim, "Tim, if I say 'NOW!' throw that bag up here. Immediately."

We got to the embassy and had to go through two security checks. This was most interesting as I was feeding Nina as they were happening. My passport was out of reach so Almaz was practically reaching down my shirt to get it as I willed myself to "not barf on Almaz. She's an angel and you don't want to barf on an angel. That will surely get me into Hell in a hurry." Something in my pocket set off the metal detector. I emptied my pocket. The culprit? A Preggie Pop. Interesting.

Our embassy appointments were supposed to begin at 3:00. We were in our seats in the waiting room by 2:45. There were a number of others there --- some Americans finalizing their adoptions and some Ethiopians finalizing who knows what.

By this point, I could no longer hold Nina. Curtis graciously took her and toted her around for me as I sat with my head in my hand volleying between tears and heaving. It just made me so sad. This was NOT how this was supposed to play out. I never could have imagined that I'd fly for 18 hours and not sleep OR get to a nice, warm bed and proceed to not sleep for another 9! Coupled with the day in D.C. on Saturday and the time at the hotel between slumber times, I was up for nearly 51 hours straight. I got, maybe 2 hours of sleep during that time, but it clearly was not enough. The bottom line is that I should have been toting my own daughter around. My travel companions should have been nurturing their own kids with their spouses, not feeling like they'd adopted two! It was very upsetting and, of course, every time I contemplated that fact I started crying again.

Almaz continued to go upstairs to check to see what the holdup was. Trust me, if there was going to be a holdup, today was NOT the day for it to occur.

She came down a bit later and said that while she'd been told that the kids' medical reports had been received by the embassy the previous Friday, they were apparently not there. Long story short, she had to send a courier to pick up the medicals from someone somewhere and bring them to the embassy. That took nearly 2 hours.

By 4:30, Scott was in charge of Nina. Specifically, Scott was in charge of feeding Nina, which he did very well. Cheryl was in charge of making sure I didn't collapse permanently on the floor of the U.S. Embassy.

Finally, at about 5:05, our names began to be called. I was last, which was nerve-wracking only because I thought, "Oh dear Lord, am I not being called because there's an issue with her file that they won't be able to fix until next week and I'll have to stay here? In a hospital? Dead?"

Finally, they called my name. Cheryl went with me to the window (you know, in case I began to pass out and someone needed to catch Nina). This young guy was in charge of asking me questions. And when I say young, I mean, like, 10. Seriously. And I wondered, "How do you GET a job like this? At the U.S. Embassy in Ethiopia? Because if I had known that something like this was possible, maybe I could have had a career I actually enjoyed for a while."

So, he asked me all the requisite questions, for which Almaz prepared us very well, and that was that. Very anticlimactic.

One funny moment occurred when he addressed Nina's heart condition. She has a small hole in her heart and he needed to ensure that I was aware of that. He said, "I see here that the pediatrician noted that she has a small heart condition. Are you aware of that?"

"Yes."

"Do you want to proceed with the adoption?"

You have no idea, even as sick as I was, how tempted I was to say, "You know, on second thought, I don't."

I realize he has to ask me that, but seriously.

He then said, "Yeah, you know, I'd just suggest that you see a doctor in the U.S. about it."

Really? I'd never considered that.

"Because doctors in Ethiopia are good, but those in the U.S. are better."

Really?

"I agree," said Almaz, trying to end the whole thing before I died right there on her watch.

And that was it! We all got some documents that I shoved into my baby bag, learning later how important they are for re-adoption in the U.S. So, treat those papers with great care! You can't get them reissued later!

We then headed back to the vans and back to the hotel. At some point during all of this, Almaz asked me what was going on. I told her, and she said, "You can't take her back to the hotel tonight. You've got to sleep. The night special mothers will be thrilled to have her for one more night."

I seriously almost jumped on top of Almaz in gratitude. I would never have asked Almaz for this special treatment. And I didn't want to leave Nina at Hannah's Hope. But I wouldn't allow myself to be a martyr. I couldn't have cared for her properly that night by myself. And I knew a night of great sleep was just what I needed.

We went back to the hotel and I plugged in my ear plugs, put on my sleep mask, and hit the sack. I slept for 4 hours and then woke up and panicked. "What if I can't get back to sleep? Four hours isn't enough to get me out of this sleep-deprived mess!" But before I could finish the thought, I was out for another 4-5 hours. When I woke up on Tuesday morning, I was a completely different person. I was well-rested, far from nauseous, very hungry, and ready to go pick up my Nina!!!

Full Day #1

On the morning of our first full day (Monday), I woke up...oh yes, I didn't really wake up, but I got up...and was ready for the day I would meet our new daughter! For the record, this is the bed I lay awake in for many, many hours on this trip.


While I was waiting to go downstairs for breakfast, I took some photos of some buildings across the street from the hotel. I learned from the hotel manager that this building, which Kristin took a picture of on her trip a few months ago, is going to be a clinic. The scaffolding is beyond description. It's just all wood! I have no idea how these folks feel safe on it and you now there isn't workers comp in Ethiopia!

Interestingly the sliver of a yellowish building to the clinic's right is a residence. I asked the manager about this because it's clearly a very nice home. He said that in Ethiopia, the rich live among the poor. There is no segregated area for them, no gated community if you will. Their homes are gated, but they're right there in the middle of all the hustle and bustle and poverty.


This is a picture on the other side of the hotel. This building will apparently be apartments when it's complete. I wonder how long it takes to build a building in Ethiopia because, let me tell you, it's not a quick process! These shacks to the left of the apartments being built are mostly residences. Danny, our fantastic friend and tour guide, lives in one of these with his parents, his sister and his brother.


At about 10:30, we all headed up to Hannah's Hope in the rain, which had thankfully slowed down.


We approached the gate and Almaz knocked. Dom, one of the employees there, answered and we began to slowly file in. Almaz had asked that the parents of older children go in first because the children were so anxious and if they had to sort through too many faces to find their parents they might become overwhelmed.

I will also take this opportunity to say that one of the many things about Hannah's Hope that so impressed me was the number of men working there. They have many jobs: drivers, handymen, and lifters of heavy things, but what struck me the most was their role with the kids. They provided an important male presence for all of the kids and at least one of them could always be found playing soccer with the older kids or chatting with a younger one. The toddler girls who were coming home with members of our travel group just loved some of these guys. I think it's so healthy that they are cared for by both men and women in this amazing place.

I was in charge of videotaping some of the parents meeting their older children. Watching that unfold was the most beautiful thing I have ever witnessed, and I considered it such a privilege to be there to see how amazing these parents were in the way they approached their new children. I will never forget those moments for as long as I live.

After the older children had been united with their parents, Almaz individually united each family with their baby. I don't know where I fell in the line-up because I was having too much fun watching the older kids. At one point, I heard Almaz say, "Who has Rahel?" That's me!

She took me inside and told me to wait in a little room off to the side. I thought she was telling me that Rahel was in that room, which led to the confusion documented below. All of the babies were in the downstairs "baby room," and there were enough of them in there that it would have been nuts for me to try to go in there and find Rahel or be united with her in there. So, this little room was a great idea! Stuart graciously offered to videotape the meeting. She was exactly as I expected --- perfect (and very small!). She's a very content kid, which is good because after 4 who were NOT so content for the first year (or seven) of their lives, I deserve a content kid!

video


Here we are, still in that little room! Over the next few minutes, other families trickled in with their new babies. It was a great place to escape the constant movement in the front of HH. With it raining, everyone was inside. It's a lot of people to fit in there and there's lots of activity going on all the time with special mothers preparing bottles, cleaning, feeding babies, etc.

After 45 minutes or so, it was time to head back to the hotel for lunch before our embassy appointments. We were told to be back at HH at 1:50 sharp so that we could get our kids, load into the vans, and be at the embassy by 3:00.

Little did I know, I was about to hit a wall!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Here's what I do when I can't muster the energy to get out of bed. Granted, it only seems to work for both other parties involved for about 6 minutes, but that's 6 extra minutes in bed for me!

video

Now, let's finish up Night 1 in Ethiopia, shall we? We got to the hotel and Danny, Johannes, and several hotel employees helped to carry our bags to our rooms. We had to fill out some registration forms at the front desk which was interesting because I, for one, was so tired that I could barely write! I was given a big, whopping key for room 103 and up I went.

The hotel really is quite nice as long as your expectations are in check. It's not the Sheraton and it's not the Ritz. But for the purposes you're there for, it's great. It's very clean and its location cannot be beat. The staff are very nice and will help you with whatever you need.

I took about 40 minutes to get my things organized for the next day and hopped into bed. Many thought the beds were rock hard, but I didn't think mine was too bad. I was very glad I'd brought my own pillowcase as there is just a sham on the pillows. However, if you forget a pillowcase, they do have some if you ask. There is also a large exercise room if you're so inclined. Frankly, at 8500 feet I think I might have died if I tried to work out there! (Plus, did I mention, I hate to work out and I had about a million great excuses not to in Ethiopia.)

For the next 8 hours, I tossed and turned but never slept. For those who've heard that the Call to Prayer occurs at 5:30AM, let me inform you that that's incorrect. It occurs at 12:30, 2:30, 4:30 AND 5:30 (at least) but for all I've heard about it being so loud as to be distracting, I didn't find it to be that loud. If you have earplugs, you won't hear it at all.

The dogs, however, ARE distracting. They bark and fight all night long. I understand why Ethiopians find it unacceptable to keep dogs as pets; I wouldn't want those dogs as pets either!

After 8 hours of sleeping not a wink, it was time to get up to get ready for the day. My shower was most interesting. It was a plastic tub with no curtain or door and a hand held shower head attached to the wall. But I had hot water, and that's all I cared about. Also, there are water heaters in the bathrooms so if you hear this weird whirring noise at around 5:00AM that sounds like someone's frothing milk in your bathroom, it's the water heater heating the water. Honestly, at first I was like, "WHAT is THAT?" So, hopefully this will save you that alarm!

Some rooms have incredible showers. I went into Karen and Curtis' room and was like, "Oh my LORD. If this were my bathroom, I'd be in the shower all DAY!" They had an enclosed shower with a nozzle at the top that made it like the shower were raining on you and then power jets all around the sides of it.

Almaz was to meet us at the hotel at 9:00 and we'd heard breakfast can take a while, so we wanted to get down there nice and early.

I ordered two fried eggs which I barely choked down. Chris was like, "Are you going to eat those? Because if you're not, I am." I was so nervous that I was shaking and felt very cold. In hindsight, this was likely the beginning of my body shutting down from lack of sleep. Others ordered the pancakes (which rocked; they were like funnel cakes) and coffee. The coffee is amazing. It's this dark brown syrup-y looking stuff. It's the real deal and folks could not get enough of it. You can order it anytime of day (or night, in all likelihood). The cappaccinos were delicious. And the hot tea hit the spot since it was so chilly out!

Almaz came at 9:00 in the midst of an incredible rainstorm and we started to get our paperwork finalized. Again, the paperwork requirements change frequently, so take an extra set of paperwork that's blank (with your spouse's signature if he doesn't go with you) and that way, if something isn't filled out correctly you can just start again without any stress.

Around 10:30 we got ready to head over to HH. I don't think any of us had fully processed that we were about to meet our children. It was hard to fully enjoy the walk to HH as we were all hovering under umbrellas and really watching our step so as not to slip on or trip over the stones that made up the street.

And then, there we were. In front of that big red gate we've seen a million times in photos. The gates to All God's Children....

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Life As I Know It (For Now)...

Okay, to my recent very long post about transracial adoption I'll add some of my more recent thoughts (processing all these new ideas is a work in progress that, frankly, I'm really enjoying).

I went to umpteen stores today with Nina and I learned after not too long (because I'm trying to be very present in my thoughts about all this right now) that I don't wonder about or worry about what other white people think of my new little bundle. And I don't worry per se about what African Americans think. But I do wonder. And I am aware of and interested in the fact that I wonder. And, for someone who, when initially considering adoption from Ethiopia, was concerned about the seeming lack of African Americans in my area, let me tell you --- there isn't a lack.

I read a post on another blog a while ago about the idea that if you want to see something, look for it (and the author of that post, as a black woman in the midst of adopting from Ethiopia, was referring to the numbers of black Americans around her as well. She noted that someone had recently said to her that there weren't any, and she responded that she sees them everywhere!). How right she was; when you're cognizant of what you're seeing, what you're looking for is all around you.

Anyway, I became aware of two main things today: 1) I don't make eye contact with anyone when I'm shopping which takes me back to my days with newborn twins. If you make eye contact, you're inviting a question or an opinion. If you don't, you aren't. It has nothing to do with having an Ethiopian child or having newborn twins, it has to do with needing to get what I need to get without people's questions, comments, opinions, or hands getting in the way. 2) I realized that no matter the color of their skin, people who aren't going to comment nicely or support our family dynamic aren't people I'd want to be in a relationship with even outside of the adoption experience. So, frankly, if they're going to comment rudely (which NO ONE has done), I see it as a bit of a blessing. Show me your true colors now; that way, I don't waste time with pleasantries or thinking we're having an exchange that we're not having.

Okay - that whole thing is a work in progress for me. But I've gotten some nice comments about it and I enjoy writing about it.

One more thing I must say: I took Nina to three stores today to find her a bathing suit. We went to Target, Old Navy, and Marshalls. No bathing suits. The employees said they are "out of season." I'm sorry, What? We live in the desert, it's August and therefore hotter than f*^& (sorry, but it is), and bathing suits are out of season? Unbelievable. So I went to Gap.com and ordered her a suit and a cover up to the tune of $31. I was hoping for something more like $6 at Marshalls. However, she's going to be so cute in it that we won't notice the bill. I hope.

Now, to the trip.

Here I am in my wonderful seat (3L) preparing for takeoff from Dulles. The flight was long, yes, but it wasn't as long as I'd imagined. The stop in Rome certainly helped just in terms of breaking it up. We were fed constantly (it seemed), and three movies were shown, none of them good. Even in business class, we didn't have our own TVs on this plane (we did coming back, but didn't know it until we were about 29 minutes from landing!).

I now realize why business class on Lufthansa or British Airways costs $10,000 while on Ethiopian Air it cost about $4,000. I have now made it my personal mission to somehow get a business class seat aboard Lufthansa or British Airways to Ethiopia to see how THAT expeience is. Not happy that we likely have to land in Khartoum, Sudan for refueling, but hey, it's all part of the experience, right?

As I mentioned in my Tip List, the flight attendants declared it naptime after each meal. I never took out my laptop or my book, but I did do a few crossword puzzles and am pleased to report that I completed my first one ever without getting help from the answers section!

I stared at this screen in as zombie-like a manner as I stare at the Weather Channel. Seriously, I could watch the Weather Channel 24 hours a day. It puts me in a meditative state. It was interesting to see the lakes and countries that I honestly didn't know exist. I'll admit that I did not like watching this screen when we were over the Atlantic because the idea that, if we have have to make an emergency landing, the only option is the ocean was not a great feeling.

This is a hanger at the Rome airport. This sign does say Aeroporti di Roma. I was beyond sad to know that I was in Rome and this was all I was going to see! The crew got on board to clean, restock, etc and I was like, "Okay, talk - I want to hear Italian!" By this point, I was tired enough that I asked Karen, "Do you think that the new crew will be Roman?" She said, "You mean Italian?" Yes, that's what I mean. I'm an idiot.

And here I am in baggage claim in Addis Ababa. We got through the Visa line and the customs line rather quickly and our bags were already coming out when we got into the baggage area. Thanks to Curtis for taking this picture (and so many others), proving that I indeed was in Ethiopia!

After this, the van ride to the Union Hotel Apartments took about 45 minutes. It was surreal to realize we were in Ethiopia while trying to take in the scenery around us (but NOT take in the diesel fumes!). It was raining (which it continued doing for the next 3 days). While we were loading the vans, several men came over to help load the luggage. We weren't prepared for this and were all digging through our purses to find $1 bills for each of them.

On the ride to the hotel, many Ethiopians came to the van's windows when we were stopped knocking and begging for food or money. The one image that will stick with me forever was a girl, maybe 10 or 11 years old, who came up to the opposite side of the van from where I sat. She said, "Welcome to Addis Ababa" and continued asking for "just one" over and over again. Her voice and the look in her eyes was as vacant as you can imagine. It was like there was a physical body there, but no spirit. It was the truest picture of complete despair I could ever imagine. I thought, "We'll keep going. But they'll do this all night every night, probably for the rest of their lives." It's something I can't even begin to process, and possibly never will. Trust me, nowhere in this country do we see ANYTHING like this.

I will note that I liked the smell of Addis Ababa. Okay, not the diesel. But there was a sort of smoky smell that permeated the air. It reminded me a bit of Sedona, AZ and all the incense burned there. We later learned that the smell was from the coal that those living on the roadsides burn night after night to stay warm.

This is the image that everyone longs to see - Johannes waiting with his sign! Johannes and Danny are as gracious as you'd imagine. They do this same thing time after time and the energy they have makes you think it's the first time they've ever done it. They are truly committed to these children and to their families and it was such a joy to spend time with them. I think we need to get them to the U.S. for a few weeks!!!

More to come...

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Funny, Crazy Day

Well folks, Nina's sweet little disposition headed a bit south today. Not sure why, but by 10:00 this morning I was convinced she had an ear infection. So I called the pediatrician and made an appointment.

Now, making an appointment with said pediatrician is harder than you might imagine because the call goes something like this: "Hi. I need an appointment because blah blah blah. However, keep in mind that I'm 45 minutes away and my older kids get out of school at 2:45 so I have to be out of your office by 2:00 - better make it 1:45 in case of traffic - or I could come sometime after 3:30 but then I have to be out of there by 4:30 because two of my older kids have Tae Kwon Do and at the rate I pay for them both to participate, they may not miss a session unless they are hospitalized. Yes, my daughter's name is Nina. Oh, but for insurance purposes you'll have to put Rahel. Why? Well, Nina's not the name on her birth certificate. Did we decide we didn't like her name? No. It's sort of convoluted. Familiar with international adoption? No? Okay - just put Rahel on everything and we'll work it out later. She's not in the system? That's weird. David said he called. Oh, you have a Nina born on 4/19? No, I'm bringing a Rahel born on 4/20. Again, long story ... Yes, I'm sure this kid is mine. And yes, right now it is very much all about me."

20 minutes into our drive to the doctor with George in the back complaining that whatever was on Satellite TV wasn't what he wanted (again), I thought (after I considered how potentially stupid I was for thinking that Satellite TV would save my life), "Uh oh, I had an interview 12 minutes ago for an article in Pregnancy magazine. Hm."

Honestly, this week is insane. The big kids started school on Monday, they're exhausted beyond reason, Henry claims his teacher told him that he alone is exempt from homework all year long, Grace wants a playdate every afternoon, and I'm again subsisting on handfuls of Craisins and four non-consecutive hours of sleep per night.

We arrived at the pediatrician (love the pediatric group, wish they'd open a satellite campus) to learn that she's healthy as can be (no ear infection, but does have fluid in her ears which is potentially bothering her), likely beginning to teeth (great), weighs 12 pounds, and commands a lot of attention.

Some women in the waiting room were very enthralled with her and overheard when the receptionist asked if I had adopted her and from where. So, with that cat out of the bag, out came all the questions. One woman literally flew over to the seat next to me with a "Can I please hold her?" request as though she were nine and Nina were a koala bear, to which I replied, "Uh, no." I always think that's weird. I mean, what makes people think that a 3-month-old is going to be super comfortable with a complete stranger? Not to mention the 3-month-old's mother?

So then, this same lady leans forward with the anticipation of a kid on Christmas Eve and says, "So, what was it like. Tell me all about it."

"What was what like?"

"Getting her. Going to Africa. What was that like?"

"Well, it was ---"

"I mean, like, did you just, like, walk into a room and say, 'I'll take that one?'"

Um, what?

"Yes, that's exactly how it works. You just waltz into a big room, look around, identify the cutest one, say 'I'll take her,' and head for the airport."

Good God, people. Okay, so I didn't utter the above line, but really, I was like, "Lady, I actually have a negative amount of desire to educate you on this process right now." I don't remember exactly what I said, but it consisted of no more than five words, I'm sure.

During one of Nina's many crying fits today, she was in her crib and I'd gone in there about 15 times to replace the o'mighty pacifier and finally Jack (who's 6) says, "Mom, do you need me to go in there and try?"

Yes, please.

He goes in, and about 6 minutes later emerges with a lollipop casually dangling from his mouth as he says, "Mom? Yeah. She's either really hungry or she really wants out of there."

Thank you for that assessment.

Finally, at 7:00 she fell asleep. I'm sure she'll wake up any minute for the rest of the night. But for now, I'm enjoying the first moments of peace I've had all day and I'm loving every second.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Differences...

Still working on the day-to-day activities in Ethiopia. It'll probably take a year to get all that down!

In the meantime, I thought I'd post a bit about my thoughts on the experience of actually becoming a transracial adoptive family. I've debated posting about this. It's a heated topic - or, at least, it can become one.

I want to first say that I'm a pretty open person. I'm more than happy to put myself out there and welcome what comes back. However, what comes back must be respectful. These sorts of discussions are important. But the only way they work is if everyone engaged is respectfully engaged. If your opinion is fixed, and it differs from mine, we'll never get anywhere. I don't have time to travel long roads that have a Dead End sign fixed in cement fifty miles away! Before I had Grace, I worked as the communications lead for the North American diversity program of a major consulting firm. The issues aren't new to me, but the perspective from which I see them certainly is.

I have four biological children, two of whom look NOTHING like me. Seriously, blond hair and blue eyes. When we were initially with the Guatemala program, it was mentioned more than once that a Guatemalan-born child might very well look more like me than these two biological children of mine. I've been asked many times if one of my blond-haired, blue-eyed babes is the other's friend or if I'm a nanny or if, as though surely the answer is no, they are all mine. And before anyone says anything, I do understand that having a biological child who isn't the spitting image of you is different from having a child of a different race altogether who became a member of your family through the gift of adoption. I'm merely pointing out that I don't have four biological kids whose features scream, "My genes are hers!"

But I also wonder, "Isn't there another dynamic at play here besides skin color? At least when you're talking about adoption from Ethiopia?" At first blush, I realize that people are initially staring because she's black and I'm white. When speaking about domestic transracial adoption, meaning a black or bi-racial child adopted into a white family, I suppose it's possible that if a black family were available to adopt that same child, they might (if they chose) be able to provide that child, or continue for her, a heritage that a white family couldn't provide in the same way. But, with regard to an Ethiopian-born child, even if a black couple did adopt her, there's still a missing link: the child resembles the parents, and I acknowledge that a black parent is likely far better equipped to help a black child deal with issues of racism, etc., but the issue of a lost culture remains. It stands to reason, in my mind, that an African American family cannot necessarily nurture the lost culture or language of an Ethiopian-born child any better than I can.

And, in the end, what are the alternatives on the table? When you have a child, whether white, black, or purple, who needs a loving home and family, would anyone out there prefer that that child languish in the foster care system or on the streets of Addis Ababa homeless and hungry to being raised in a loving home where her parents are doing all they can to honor her heritage, even if they are learning themselves as they go? I know there are folks out there who would prefer the former. But it makes little to no sense to me.

I watched the CNN special "Black in America" several weeks ago and thought it was well done. It didn't address transracial adoption specifically, but the general discussion was still relevant. One thought I had as it ended was, "It sometimes seems as though there's a strong need to separate black and white, to make the issue black and/or white (literally and figuratively). Is there any possibility at all that transracial adoption might provide an opportunity to bring these two communities together? To begin discussions that wouldn't otherwise begin? To break down stereotypes?" I also know this is perhaps an easy question for me to ask because I am white. I only know it from my perspective and my experiences. But considering that white families are adopting as their sons and daughters children from other races, does it not make some level of sense for these cultures to come together and try to learn from and about one another, not only for the good of the children, but for the good of mankind?

I read a fantastic book a while ago called The Faith Club which was based on dialogue between a Christian woman, a Jewish woman, and a Muslim woman. The Christian woman obviously represented the majority. But she was in there, in the conversation to be heard and to learn. And I think both occurred. The overall intent of the discussions was the same as I just mentioned: put the stereotypes on the table, put the misconceptions out there to be corrected. And this occurred between three friends. The discussions weren't always easy, but I think the three women would all agree that they are better for having them. And I assume they are still friends! I think it's too easy to respond to white parents' vows to want to learn and engage in the dialogue by simply saying that it's easy to be in our shoes. To say that is also just an easy response. Many of us are eager to listen, to learn, to understand. That's one of the guiding premises that brought many of us to this place. It's not fair to dismiss us simply because we're seen as "having it easy."

I know it's not as simple as this, but we must start somewhere and let it branch out into as many limbs as necessary. Again, provided we teeter respectfully. Without respect, we can't get real far.

Anyway, when we were in Ethiopia, I was of course very aware as we drove and as we walked that it was evident that I was adopting an Ethiopian child. It was clear to everyone around me. It was clear to those looking into the windows of our van and clear to those who passed us as we walked to Hannah's Hope or to the Addis Ababa Golf Club. It was clear to the hotel staff, who see this same thing week after week.

After having a baby biologically, I've been out and about and people have stared. I've KNOWN what they were thinking, "A little baby!" Everyone loves a baby. But in Addis Ababa, I became conscious that I was wondering what they thought --- and certainly not confident that it was as simple as, "Oh, what a cute baby!" That feeling was exacerbated as I entered the U.S.

In Ethiopia, I wondered, "What is that person thinking? Does he or she support this? Does he or she think poorly of me (or not) without having a clue who I am simply because I am carrying this child?" Almaz told us that most Ethiopians are very open to the idea of adoption by Americans (or Europeans) because it means a life for these children that they could not have in Ethiopia. However, there are some who are opposed to the idea, and they are very loud about it. For that reason, Almaz and a few others involved in adoptions on the ground in Ethiopia now choose to keep families a little more protected and sheltered than they perhaps did in the past. This may speak to why there aren't as many public outings as there once were (though I also think that has to do with the reality that packing so much activity into four days can be challenging given the circumstances).

Watching TV in the hotel in Addis, I was struck by the way that Americans are portrayed. I know it's propoganda, but really, it's no wonder that we're not liked all that much. Al Jazeera TV and Ethiopia's CBS division portrayed us in ways that made me laugh --- but only because I knew how ridiculous it was. Those who don't personally know an American and who assume we're all like this don't find it terribly funny. And to see one of us carrying one of them down the street, well, that probably doesn't always go over real well.

As I wandered the streets of Ethiopia with Nina, I again found myself wondering, "What do these people think of me?" As I sat on the plane next to an Ethiopian woman for 17 hours from Addis Ababa to Dulles, I wondered, "Does she approve of this?" When I got off the plane in Dulles and the ladies at the United check-in counter oohd and aahd over Nina I was so proud. And when the customs woman began making racist comments, I wanted to make a few comments of my own to her and to her supervisor. But I refrained. I decided not to give it more energy, to let the negativity stop right in my very tired --- and suddenly very annoyed --- brain. I decided that karma would bite her in the ass sooner than later and that was enough for me.

When I exited the international arrivals area and several Ethiopians or Ethiopian-Americans were standing waiting for their friends/family members to exit, I wondered what they thought. Their faces revealed nothing. Nor did the faces of the African Americans standing nearby. Ditto for the faces of those who look like me. Perhaps we were all just exhausted. Perhaps there was nothing more to it than that.

And then I again began thinking of terminology (as I was dragging myself and all my gear out of the terminal; deep thoughts for someone who's nearly incoherent.). African American vs. Ethiopian American vs. Black vs. White. The topic can feel so complicated. Probably because it is so complicated. And you want to be able to boil it all down to something simple, like, "it's the HUMAN race." But I think that's ignorant. Because it's not that simple. It's nowhere NEAR that simple. And I know that most of all because of how I felt in the airport in Addis Ababa --- one of only 15 or so white people. Suddenly, some things were awfully clear. Suddenly, I felt the shoes. Just for a moment. We want it to be simpler because it feels like that would make it easier. But ignoring the elephant in the room doesn't make him disappear.

As I walked through the Dulles terminal, exhausted beyond measure, I cried each time someone smiled at me or at Nina. And I cried when a black woman at my gate glared at me. Or did she? Was I too sensitive to what I perceived her opinion to be? To what I interpreted from her facial expression (or lack thereof)? Maybe she was tired, just like me.

And when I bypassed a newspaper stand and then went back, feeling like I should buy water and the woman at the register asked if Nina was Ethiopian and I said Yes and she said, "I am Ethiopian!" I turned into a puddle right there over a stack of New York Times. She bent down and kissed the tops of Nina's hands in typical Ethiopian fashion and talked to her. Her name was Mimi. She gave me a discount on my water. I cried most because I knew that I was meant to walk into that shop to be filled with a bit of validation.

At my departure gate, a woman marveled at Nina. Another woman asked how long we'd been traveling. When I said, "25 hours," she asked where we'd come from. "Ethiopia," I answered. The woman who'd been marveling put two and two together and asked, "Oh, you adopted her?" I was flabbergasted. It was the first time that Nina's adoption wasn't assumed. I felt great hope at that moment. And I know the assumptions will run the gamut: that my husband is black (or that David's wife is black), that Nina is a product of the American foster care system --- perhaps a baby born to a drug-addicted mother, that I'm babysitting. And just as people assume one of my twins is smarter than the other, or that they have two different fathers because they look so different, I'll have to get used to it.

As an adoptive parent of a child of a different race, I've considered and researched the concept almost to death. And it did scare me at first. I had many questions and few answers. Most important, I had few answers in my own heart. But after reading and thinking and talking and thinking some more, I found those answers. And that was all I needed. What I realized was that no matter what you do, someone won't be happy with you. Heck, I didn't breastfeed my twins for more than 4 weeks and I got an earful from some. People get pregnant with quads and don't reduce and the minute they make that fact public, someone will judge - loudly. People who choose to homeschool are often judged simply because it's not "the norm." Fill your cart with Cheetos and someone's going to whisper something to her companion about how your kids are going to get fat and score low on tests and need cholesterol medication by the time they're 8! Have a child with a physical challenge and people might stare. Have kids pitching a fit because you won't buy them M&Ms and people might stare. Have 4 kids waddling behind you pinching each other and whining in Target and, trust me, people WILL stare. Have a child of another race and people might stare. But is it personal? Maybe. Maybe not. What we have to get a hold of is our own comfort level with and confidence in our choice --- in each of these situations. That's Step One.

At the end of the day, we have to be able to make decisions that are right for our family without worrying about what the rest of the world will think (or say). That's what keeps us sane. At the same time, we must remain flexible to issues that may arise and have the presence and the grace to respond in a way that is in line with our values as people and as parents and in a way that protects the spirits of our children.

But, when you have other children especially, you consider how they will be affected by certain questions or comments. I've already experienced this in the twins world. I've had folks ask me right in front of Jack and Henry which one is smarter. I've had people say right in front of my 3 boys how sorry they feel for me that I have 3 boys. The Double Trouble comment is so old it's beginning to decay. In many ways, I believe all these instances are learning experiences for our kids as well --- to hear things and to know when to ignore them, when to stand up for themselves and their siblings, and when to say something in response (which, while I wouldn't advise it in most instances, I have no doubt Henry will do sooner than later!).

Miraculously, over the last 3 days, I've felt all my concerns and all my anxieties over what people might think dissipate. I went to Babies R Us today and honestly didn't care if people were looking or what they were thinking. I went to Babies R Us on Saturday with Heather and didn't want to notice what people's reactions were because I was still tired enough that an obvious reaction one way or the other would have rendered me hysterical once again. Heather said most everyone smiled. And I believe that in the long run, most everyone will. But I can't expect everyone to. And as I expect them to respect my choices, I must respect their opinions --- especially if they aren't made known with unkind words.

So, here we are. We're a bi-racial family. And even after only one week, I can pronounce unequivocally that I love Nina as much as and in the exact same way as my four biological children. And this does not surprise me in the least. I know that she's Ethiopian and that her birth culture and history are different from mine and from our other four children. As her mother I want to honor those differences in every way that I can. And I'm not so naive as to insinuate that she has differences just like our biological kids have differences. I hope I'm not that unaware.

I'm willing to put myself out there and enter discussions about transracial adoption. I'm willing to entertain respectful, intelligent discussion about issues related to it. I'm willing to step foot, potentially as the only white person, into the Ethiopian Orthodox church in our area. I want to learn all I can. Not just for her, but for me.

But more than anything, I'm willing to love this child for the rest of my life. I'm willing to offer her whatever she needs to find success, to feel love, to be who she is and to know from where she came. That is what her birthmother wanted for her. That is what I was asked to provide for her. That is the promise I made from the bottom of my heart. From here on out, I am her mother. And in the end, once I shoo all the other complicated issues aside, it boils down to only that. And in that, I feel great peace.