Monday, July 27, 2009

Weighing heavy on my heart ...

Ever since returning from Ethiopia with our two little boys, there is something heavy weighing on my heart.

As parents, we all worry about our children. I'm not talking about the everyday concerns, I'm talking about those moments when you get a peek into somebody else's personal hell and you feel that momentary terror inside for your own child. You know, the things you see on the news that wake you up in the middle of the night, praying and pleading for your children's safety and health. Child abduction, molestation, disease, cancer, car accidents ... horrible, horrible situations that parents around the world, and across the street, are living through right now. When these situations hit close to home, I've often had the thought that I don't know how that mom or that dad can bear to live through it.

I remember seeing news clips about the famine in Ethiopia or the genocide in Rwanda, and turning my face away from the horrible images on the screen. Terrible images to see, but they did not affect me because I had personally never seen a starving child, or the look of desperation and hopeless pleading in the eyes of that child's mother. After awhile, the images start to all look the same and we become immune to the horror.

Then one day it struck me, that the only difference between my child (my precious, beautiful and valuable daughters) and that starving, orphaned child on TV was an accident of lattitude and longitude. Simply where they were born. What if that was me, living in poverty in Africa or Asia or India, and what if I was watching my child starve in front of my eyes. Worse yet, what if I was dying (of some stupid infection that could have been cured with a simple antibiotic) and when I was gone there would be NO ONE to love or protect my children. NO ONE to tell them they are loved and valued, NO ONE to give them hope. In fact, when I am gone, they will likely starve to death, become prey to some sick child predator, or they would have to sell their bodies for a scrap of bread so they can survive another horrifying day.

These thoughts are so horrible that as quickly as they enter my head and nauseate my stomach, I can banish them because that just isn't the reality for me, here in America. I know that is the horrible reality for other mothers, but what can I really do about it???

But then we chose to adopt, and yes, the experiences we had and the things we saw in Ethiopia continue to haunt me and continue to stir my heart and hands to action. But that's not the main thing that compels me to action right now.

It's my two little boys, our sons that we adopted from Ethiopia. It's my 8 year old son, who could not look me in the eye when he first came home with us. I would bend down to his level to look him in the eye as I spoke to him, and his eyes would dart away. I would cup his face in my hands and turn his eyes back toward mine, and he could not, would not hold my gaze. Why was that?? Is it because he did not know his worth and his value? What a difference just 8 months later. Tonight as we sat on the sidelines for his soccer game, he glanced over about 100 times during that game to see if we were watching. "Do you see me?" he wondered as his eyes searched for ours and his face would light into a huge smile when he saw us looking back.

It's our 3 year old son, who at first responded to us with glares, and rhythmic crying and biting - and now he wraps his little arms tightly around my neck each night when I carry him up to bed. And when I tuck him in, he kisses me on each cheek and then my forehead and whispers "I lus you mommy". And when I pick him up after work, he looks into my face with delight and asks, "Home??". "Yes, we are going home" I tell him.

And the problem is, whenever I see those sad images now ... a sea of dirty faces, of skinny children desperately smiling for the camera, with flies on their eyes and the corners of their mouth, and protruding bellies, and scrawny legs, and rag clothing. I catch my breath and tears well up in my eyes and my throat chokes ... because I see Wesley's eyes in that child, or Jayden's smile in that child and I know that my sons were there. Those could be my children, my sons and my daughters, and who is going to protect them, and love them, and tell them they are valuable, and worthwhile and precious beyond measure??? Who????

Those orphaned children are no different than your son or your daughter. The one thing they want most in the world is a family - a mommy and a daddy. Someone to protect them and to love them and to teach them their immeasurable worth.

So what do YOU do with that???

Consider adopting a child or children. If you've thought about it but just haven't gotten off the fence - GET OFF THE FENCE and then look out, because your heart will never be the same! It's not as difficult or as expensive as you think! If adoption is not right for you and your family right now, consider helping one or more of those children through Children's Hopechest, World Vision, Compassion International, or AWAA's Orphan's Ticket Home campaign (http://www.awaa.org/) or hundreds of other worthy child advocacy organizations. There are so many opportunties to help and to make a huge difference ... but to do that, you've got to DO something.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Ahhhhh .. the North Shore!

On Thursday, we had a hearing with a judge who issued a "judgement and decree" to finalize our adoption of the boys and give them U.S. citizenship. This is also the moment when their names are legally and officially changed to Jayden Dagmawi and Wesley Tariku, and they will receive Minnesota birth certificates. Once the decree was signed, the judge invited us up to the bench for a photo to commemorate this event. He then explained how much he enjoys presiding over adoption hearings because he was an orphan and was adopted when he was 6 months old!


We left the courtroom and drove directly to the North Shore of Lake Superior (our suitcases were already packed and waiting in the car). Lake Superior is one of our favorite summer-time destinations ... and we were looking forward to having the boys experience it.

Over the years, the girls have become rock-hounds and can find beautiful agates along the shore. Jayden was a bit confused by our activity on the first day (because our "activity" consists of hiking and exploring beaches, and combing through rocks for hours on end to find the much-sought-after and highly prized ... Lake Superior Agate). But by Day 2, Jayden and Wesley had both figured it out and were contentedly sifting through rocks and occassionally calling out "Agate!!"



Look at this hand-full of little beauties!








After an entire morning of hiking, we fix lunch right on the beach. This log washed up on the beach and created a handy "picnic table" for lunch.


Wesley has a knack for finding teeny tiny agates and sea glass.


When we find agates this size, we quietly hide them away in our pockets to be "revealed" to everyone when we gather to leave the beach. We call these "lunkers" and we found dozens of them! If you are wondering what we do with all these rocks, we have a large rock polisher that runs almost constantly through the summer and the kids love seeing the rough, dull rocks go in ... and come out 6 weeks later all smooth and shiny, with all their beautiful colors fully revealed.










We filled this jar to the rim with "fairy tears" or sea glass - soft, tumbled, beautiful colors of white, amber, several shades of green, and the most-sought after, cobalt blue!




Jay is a master "rock-skipper" and can "roll" a rock across the surface of the water 15-20 times. Jayden was determined to master this trick, so Jay and the girls spent quite a bit of time showing him how to find the ideal shape of rock, how to hold it in your hand, how to flick your wrist, and how to aim for the surface of the water. After many, many, many tries .... success! (see below)



Tuesday, July 14, 2009

On the topic of skin color ...


Wesley, age 3, knows his colors very well. He even readily identifies white, khaki and black. I know this because every 30 seconds or so he will confidently notify me with a point of his finger in the direction of a color, and announce "Mom, yellow!, Mom, orange!, Mom, black! Mom, blue!", and so on, and so on and so on. And he is correct every time. He even understands shades of the same color and will identify the color family. When I show him 4 or 5 different shades of blue, he understands they are all in the blue family.

A few days ago, he pointed to his hair and said "black". Then he pointed at Jayden's hair and said "black too". I pointed out how Emme and Maea's hair is blonde, and mine is red and Jay's is brown, and that yes, his and Jayden's hair is "the same, and it is black". He seemed pretty pleased with that.

Then he pointed to his arm and said "brown". "Yes", I said, "your skin is brown". Then he pointed at my arm and I wondered what he would say. He pondered for a moment and then announced "orange!" Not white, but orange. How interesting! Then he turned his hand over to his palm, and placed it on my open palm, and with his little finger wagging back and forth between both of our hands, he said ... "same".

WOW - truth from the mouth of a child, because they are indeed the same! I told him, "Yes, you are right. Inside we are the same too!"

We took the kids fishing last weekend. The last time we went fishing, we did not catch any fish and Jayden kept looking at us expectantly, trying to figure out what the big deal was with holding a string in the water. Now he knows! And he LOVED it! Wesley was even brave enough to hold his little hands out as Jay took each fish off the hook. Wesley would then clap his other hand over the fish, sandwiching the fish between both hands, and then walk to the edge of the dock to release the fish back into the water.

That evening, Jayden asked, "tomorrow we fish?". "Probably not tomorrow," I told him. He then explained to me what his preference for tomorrow is ... "go to sleep, wake up, open eyes, go fish". Hmmmmm ... spoken like a true Minnesotan!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Excuses, Excuses ...




Jayden (8), spends a little time each day with Daddy reviewing basic math and spelling problems so that he is prepared for 2nd grade this fall. He has only been in America for about 7 months now, and although he has made incredible progress with language, there are still some concepts that are hard to grasp, and we still have language barriers that are quite entertaining!

There are so many funny statements or questions made throughout the day, that Jay has started writing them down so we don't forget these one-of-a-kind moments.

Here are a few of the exchanges Jay noted today ...
I pointed to the number 23, and asked him "What number is this?" After a long pause and deep thinking, Jayden replied "Triangle??????"

Here are Jayden's excuses for not being able to answer any of his math questions ... "I'm dying" ... "my teeth hurt" ... "I'm tired, me sleep no big" ... "my eyes are hot" ... "I'm cold" ... "my brain no work" ... "my brain no charge".
Jayden is concerned when I write things down in a notebook. He questions, "Why you writing? Jayden no good?" I told him he was good and I was just writing stuff down that I thought was funny. He doesn't want me to write stuff down. I'm going to keep writing stuff down.
Calculator = Calcagator in Jayden Englishiopian

When trying to explain what the word "between" means, I drew stick people of Jayden's friends, Aiden and Quincy, and drew a stick Jayden in between them. He was concerned about why I chose to draw a stick Quincy instead of a stick Spencer. We moved on to the next question and I made a mental note to draw stick Spencers from here on out. Jayden still doesn't know what "between" means.

To Jayden, "hundred-million dollars" can be used in place of the word "very". For example, "This pool hundred-million-dollars deep" or "I swim hundred-million-dollars fast".

In a conversation about tornadoes, Jayden questioned "Tornadoes faster than Jesus?" Commenting on a cartoon villain, he said "This guy no like Jesus."

Reading through Jay's notes from today, I laughed until I cried, and then I hugged Jayden and told him he was very good.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Finally! A little shock and awe!



Ever since our adopted sons have been home with us, I have looked forward to their "first" experiences in America. In the beginning, it was the little things, like drinking fountains (they try to suck the water right out of the nozzle no matter how many times I demonstrate the correct technique!), and escalators, and elevators ... oh and I almost forgot, the adventures in public bathrooms. Jay says he could write a whole blog about the many, new and varied adventures in public restrooms!

Have you ever noticed how many different ways there are to flush a toilet? In one restroom, you push a button, in the next you pull a lever, and in the next one there is a motion sensor that flushes when you move ... even when your bottom is still on the toilet. Oh what a fun surprise that one is!

Then there are the adventures in hand-washing ... and even better, the adventures of hand-drying. There are innumerable hand-drying devices, and each of them needs to be fully experienced.

In one restroom, Jayden (8) was in the stall, and Jay was waiting near the sinks. A man walked up to the urinal right next to Jayden's stall. Jayden noticed the new pair of feet near his stall, and Jay watched a little finger snake out and touch the man's foot. The man looked at Jay, and with a chuckle he said "your kid just touched my foot".

I completely got sidetracked with the bathroom stories ... so back to the topic of "firsts".

Later, I was looking forward to some of the more momentous experiences ... like the first visit to the zoo, or the first glimpse of an ocean. But I was to be disappointed .. because the boys took each of these new experiences in stride. "THIS is the ocean!" I would explain, "It's soooo big you can't even see the other side!" And Jayden would look at me with raised eyebrows and shrug his shoulders as if to say "hmmmmmm, that's nice Mom."

I was looking forward to the 4th of July holiday, holding out just a little bit of hope that something would impress the boys and we would experience a moment of awe, or even a little shock. For the holiday, we always go back to our hometown of Clear Lake to spend the weekend with family ... boating, swimming, fishing and tubing with the cousins. The parade. Grilling hamburgers and hotdogs for lunch. Sitting by the lake and catching up on "life". And of course the 4th of July fireworks over Clear Lake.





They boys LOVED the boat - they thought it was pretty cool that daddy let them drive. Tubing was a new adventure too, and Jayden caught on very quickly to the hand gestures (thumbs up for "go faster", thumbs down for "go slower"). Jayden used the "thumb's up" gesture the entire time.


So as evening approached, we donned sweatshirts and jeans to ward off any possible mosquitos and the chilly evening air, and we made sure all the lights were working on the boat. By this time there are HUNDREDS of boats on the lake, with their green, red and white lights visible. We eased our way toward city park and anchored the boat near one of the 3 barges that would be shooting off the fireworks. And then we waited for the show to begin ....

As it approached 10:00 pm, Jayden kept looking at me and asking when they would start. I kept pointing to the little fireworks that people were shooting off along the shore and explaining to him that those were "little fireworks", and that soon we would see "BIG FIREWORKS".

Finally, the first shot was fired and the boys' eyes turned expectantly to watch the lone spark arc into the sky. It reached the pinnacle of its flight and EXPLODED with a thunderous "BOOM" that reverberated in our chest cavities. Their mouths dropped open!

That lone "boomer" was the signal for the entire show to begin and the night sky filled with explosions of color and sound for the next 30 minutes. The fireworks were right over our heads and the trailing sparks seemed to rain down around us. The explosions were so loud, they would thunder above us and we could feel the repercussion through our chest cavities, and then they would thunder an echo around the lake.

We all watched Jayden's and Wesley's faces to see their reaction. Jayden's mouth hung open in shock and wonder for a full minute or two, before he noticed us watching him and then acknowledged us with a huge grin. Wesley (3), flinched at the first "BOOM" and then sat motionless for several minutes with his eyes glued to the sky and a very serious expression on his face. After a few minutes, I asked him if he liked the fireworks. He responded by burying his face in my shoulder and crying "Noooooooo!" But after a few moments, he was peeking at them again, and a little while later, he was cheering with the rest of the crowd.

Seeing the expressions on their faces, and getting to watch their wonder and awe as they experienced their first fireworks, was priceless.