Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Yes, Chef!

My writing has been sidetracked a bit lately due to all the reading I've been doing. (ah, summer!)  Andrew gave me the new Marcus Samuelsson book for my birthday (while we ate at his restaurant Red Rooster- ta da!)

I highly recommend it to everyone who loves:
1. Ethiopia
2. Food
3. Cooking
4. Traveling
5. All of the above

Just a few pages in his memoir Samuelsson (I call him Marcus in my head, but I'm trying to be cool here.) reflects on his adoption to Sweden from Ethiopia, and the few memories he has from his early childhood in Africa.  He jokes kindly about all the adoptive mothers who come up to him to share their children's stories.


Here I am, a Marcus, I mean Chef Samuelsson stalker.  When Andrew and I went to Red Rooster for our anniversary this winter the Chef was there, and graciously agreed to my request to look at photos of our kiddos.  He sat down on the booth next to me, and taking my phone from my hands scrolled through my photo album.  He asked about them, their ages, etc.  Sigh. It was a marvelous moment (for me).

There are so few Ethiopian adoptees in America, and very, very few grown up ones. I think we adoptive moms have latched onto Samuelsson as a role model for our children, and his Swedish mother as ours. In Yes, Chef he is wonderfully affirming of his adoptive family, while honest about the complications and joys of reconnecting with his Ethiopian family.  He talks about the very different memories and experiences of his sister, who was 5 years old when they moved to Sweden.  Most movingly, he reflects on the ways in which his Ethiopian, Swedish, and international travels have combined to make him who he is now: a chef and business man with a family in Harlem.

If you live in or visit New York, I highly recommend eating at the Rooster.  (You'll need to make a reservation exactly one month in advance to get a table.)  The food is interesting and delicious, the service is warm and attentive, and you never know who might come in the door.  On our first visit we ate next to a former Governor!

Of course, Samuelsson is a chef: most of the book is about food.  Food preparation, food culture, tasting, traveling, discovering food.  If you like to cook it will make you want to go shopping at a farmer's market and pull out your big pots.  If you like to eat it will make you want to explore a new neighborhood or spice family.  I've found re-newed energy for perfecting my own doro wat.

And after you eat the doro wat or catfish at the Rooster, you might as well read the book too. It will make you hungry all over again.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Wait. Part 2.

Look at that wide eyed happy couple without any gray hair! Awww....

I have three champagne corks in Daniel and Lily's "Treasure Box."  They are nestled there along with Lily's 'baby' shoes and the t-shirts they came home in, and the little gifts that the Care Center gave us on our last day in Ethiopia.

One cork is from celebrating our official entry into the waiting family list.  We'd been filling out paper work and reading books and going to classes for months, and now we'd finally jumped through all the hoops,  fulfilled all the requirements of our adoption agencies. Yeah! Now we get to Wait, Officially!

The first wait was the trickiest for me, because I had to learn so much during it.  I'm naturally a pretty impulsive, quick to action person. I don't comparison shop.  I decided to marry Andrew after just a few weeks of dating.  I picked the very first wedding dress I tried on. And so on.  So having to sit, and wait, and wait, and not go crazy was very hard.  It required a lot of learning and a fair amount of growing up.

During this time I regularily got the following comments: "Aren't you, like, adopting? What happened?"  "I'm just sure you'll get pregnant now!". "Did you hear ___________ (every single person of child bearing age I know) is pregnant!?", and "Are you still adopting?".

I was tempted to get a t-shirt that said, "paper pregnant" with a big blow up belly, but that seemed immature.

So, I learned to wait. I learned that some days are easier than others, and some days are harder.  And that either way, I was going to be okay.  I learned that sometimes I needed to avoid baby showers.  I learned that whatever I was suffering, it was probably nothing compared to what our future child/children's family was suffering.  And that turned out to be the truth.  While I was sitting around trying not to twiddle my thumbs, our children's family was enduring illness and loss and hunger.  I've read that some adoptive mothers remember feeling extreme anxiety or pain on the days of loss for their future children.  (Those smart cookies that kept journals.)  I'm not sure if Daniel and Lily and I were connected in that way.  But I do know that I thought of them,  a lot.

I really don't like going to the dentist (who does, really?).  But I remember walking home from the dentist's office on a freezing cold December evening, thinking, "Hey, this is one of the easy days. I'm doing okay. Look at those beautiful stars."  When I got home, there was a voicemail from our social worker waiting for me.  And the First Wait was over, just like that.

And the new wait, the much harder one, was just beginning.

blog on blogging

A good friend of mine once said, "Everyone's life would make a great book."  I suppose we are testing her theory out now, all of us bloggers. (I hate that word! Can we start calling ourselves essayists please?)

One of my favorite blogs (essayists) to read is Finding Magnolia.  This family just brought home a tiny, sick little baby from Ethiopia, and I've been anxiously following her story as she comes home and receives medical care.  I've never met this family, or even live in the same time zone, but I'm worried about their baby girl.  Am I crazy? Or is it just the new internet connected world we live in?

I started thinking about the power of stories in our human lives.  How stories have always enthralled us, have always held the power to engage us like nothing else.  Didn't the English riot in the streets when a new Dicken's story was late? Perhaps my addiction to blogs is simply the latest version of the power of storytelling.  Everyone's life makes a great blog. Who doesn't want to know what will happen to a sick little girl from a country far away? And we have the gift of being able to add photos and videos and links to our stories.

I'm incredibly lucky that we created our family during the blog/youtube/internet age. How else would I know how to do Lily's hair? Where else would we find Ahmaric cartoons? Where else can I read stories about families like mine? There aren't that many of us Ethiopian- American families. (Which is why I immediately start stalking those that we do meet in person.)  I'm also incredibly grateful that so many folks have read and enjoyed the stories I've shared here. It is amazing to write a post in my quiet little apartment, and days later see a graph of all the "clicks" it got and read your comments.

Motherhood can be very isolating and frustrating, (as has been written about so often lately)  It always has, which is why women have always found a way to connect with each other to share their stories... over canning, quilting, the playground, the food coops, through letters and phone calls, and now... the internet.

Now I've got to go check my blog roll and see how that baby is doing. Thank you for listening to our stories...
I have no idea who they are copying.

To sleep. Or not.

We're on vacation right now, which has been lovely. Especially when the grandparents are around to play with, distract, chase, cuddle, read to and help clean up after our two balls of energy. I am missing our small apartment, with its baby proofing and door locks and my ability to see or hear them wherever I am. This big beach house we are in has so many doors! Lily, especially, finds this highly amusing. I don't know why I packed any toys, when they mostly just want to open, run through, and slam doors all day long.

Chasing Lily through a big house is one reason this first summer vacation with children has proven vastly different.  The other is our (is just mine?) children's different ideas about vacation sleeping.  Andrew and I love to sleep in, especially on vacation.  Or as we say now, "sleep in". (because 6:30AM is not really other people's idea of sleeping in. Except maybe fishermen or farmers.)  Our kids, on the other hand, normally get up early, and when we are on vacation they get up extra early. I mean, there is just so much to do! And what do you mean we can't go to the beach at 6AM?  Lily's record this week is 4:30AM.  Vainly we tried to get her to snuggle in our bed with us, read a quiet book, maybe whisper a quiet song... nope. She's up! And she wants everyone else to be UP!

Which means that we are putting our exhausted, sandy, grass in the hair, mosquito bitten, tired and happy kids to sleep while the sun is still high in the sky and the heat shimmering in the windows.

I've gotten a lot of raised eyebrows and laughs, even criticism from others when they found out our kids' sleep schedule.  I brush them off, because, really as parents we need to stop being so critical of each other, and anyway... you don't live in my house, so what do you care?!

When we first planned for our adoption and did our required reading, sleep was a big concern for me. I like and need my sleep, and don't function well when over-tired. I read horror stories about traumatized, newly brought home adoptees who screamed and cried through the night.  We were prepared to sleep on our kids' floor, set whatever schedules they needed... we braced ourselves for the worst.

Lucky, lucky us. Jet lag worked in our favor. The first day we came home we bathed, fed and settled the kids in, and they were both sound asleep at 5:30PM.  Slowly we inched our way into our own time zone, but we never made it much further.  Daniel sleeps from about 7:30PM to 6:30AM, and Lily sleeps from about 7PM to about 6AM (plus a 2 hour nap), give or take a few horrible sleepless nights around daylight savings time or illnesses.

"What!?" You ask, "they sleep that much?!!!" Yes, yes they do. Because being adopted is exhausting.

Hearing and learning a brand new language all day is exhausting. Being with and learning a whole new family is really, really, exhausting. Navigating a new culture and social norms is exhausting.  Daniel, especially, sleeps like a rock. He once fell out of his bed, and (hearing a thud) I picked him up and tucked him back in and he never even cracked an eyelid.

So enjoy your late night dinners, your sunset cruises, your moonlit walks. We will continue to pull our light blocking shades all the way down and get some rest.  We've got an early morning alarm clock and she doesn't have a snooze button.


When my sister and I were kids, my parents convinced us that there was "no TV in Maine". Not just that we weren't allowed to watch TV while on summer vacation, but that, in fact, there were no TV's in the entire state of Maine.  They used to sneak into our rental cabin and hide the TV in the closet before we came in (this was easy for them, as Meg and I usually raced to the ocean as soon as the car stopped.)

The charade was ended when a local babysitter, frustrated by our endless games of Memory and Clue, searched through the cabin and found the hidden TV.   In the following summers, we continued to play Memory and Clue, as well as lots and lots of cards, but eventually we got a TV in the summer house, and then cable, and then a DVD player.  A couple of years ago I realized, we never play games anymore.  

So this year, the first year we brought our children to the summer house, we decided to re-institute the "no TV in Maine" rule.  We asked my parents to hide the TV, but we were honest with Daniel. We said, this is our special time for us to spend as a family, so we aren't going to watch TV, or play with our i-pods.  We are going to un-plug.  Then we crossed our fingers.

Our son loves TV.  I mean, loooooovvvvves, TV.  Any sign of disobedience or defiant behavior can instantly be curbed by the warning, "you don't want to watch TV tonight?"

I thought, before we had children, that they wouldn't watch TV.

Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!  A few weeks ago I punished Daniel by taking away TV for TWO NIGHTS.  Who suffered more? Me. Now I have to make and clean up dinner with two kids underfoot? Now I have to entertain you at the end of long day when nobody has any patience left?  It was not pretty.

We have accepted that TV has a place in our daily lives. We try to keep it under control, we try to limit their exposure to obnoxious cartoons...

"Mommy, why can't I watch SpongeBob? "
 "Because Mommy doesn't like that show, that's why."

... and commercials. The first time Daniel watched commercials was in a hotel room with no children's channels.  He kept yelling at me because he thought I was changing the channel on him.

Through the miracles of online streaming, on demand, you tube and DVR our kids have been coddled in the warm, wonderful waters of TV that doesn't drive me crazy: Shawn the Sheep, Curious George, Phineas and Ferb, Pixar movies, etc.

So TV serves a purpose in our "regular lives"... it is a nice quiet ending to sometimes noisy, always busy days.   But, we needed to unplug. We needed to prove to Daniel that he can have a wonderful day without cartoons, that he doesn't need TV to distract, amuse or console him.

TV is a great escape... who hasn't distracted themselves from chores, paperwork, or a bad break up with hours in front of the magic box. I certainly have (hello, summer I watched 5 seasons of Lost.)  It is easy not to think, it is easy not to feel when the TV is on.

So, for our son, who in a short time has suffered so many losses, transitions and challenges, TV is a great escape. The problem is, after too long in front of it, the return to his real life is extremely jarring. Everything is so much harder when he has to think, and feel and pay attention, instead of being transported into the TV screen.  The worst meltdowns he's had have been after extended periods of TV time.

It's been over a week since we unplugged our son, and I'm very, very happy with the results so far.  He's calm, engaged, responsive, and he hasn't asked to watch TV once.  Of course, there is so much to do here... grass to run on, rocks to climb, beaches to explore.  Our country boy is in heaven.

We'll see, when we return to our little city apartment and our busy city lives, how much the TV comes back on...

Daniel's First Movie

woohoo! 1000 page views! Who are you wonderful people who want to read my silly stories?! I love you!

Although we thought we were done with our Year of Firsts, we did experience a wonderful one this week... I took Daniel to see his first movie (in a movie theatre!)

The little town near our summer spot has a beautiful old movie theater. They show one movie a week, at 7PM, and have for decades.  Recently the old place was spruced up, but they made every effort to show off its great old fashioned qualities. The old popcorn machine, the stage, the giant red sashes, the tall windows hidden by thick curtains, the wide aisles and the big wooden seats. It is a special place to see a movie.

Lucky for our early to bed kids, this summer they added Sunday matinees. So while baby girl napped, I took our big boy to the big show! We saw the first Disney movie without an orphan as the main character! Hooray! I didn't even need the extra tissues I brought. (Don't ask me about my recent trauma watching Tarzan. I had to leave the room.)  Brave was a great story and Daniel had a great time.  We got popcorn and candy and took a silly photo.

What could be better?

Love is not enough...

Today we took the kids to their first Country Fair.  All the way there, Daniel asked lots of questions, "What is a fair? Will there be games there? Will it be fun? But what is a fair?!"... After a while I said, "Daniel, you're going to have to trust me."

To which I got a well deserved eye roll.

There is an ongoing debate about whether it is okay for white families to raise black children.  In the 70's the black social worker association came out against it.  Our own adoption agency has a special department, formed decades ago, aimed at increasing adoption of African-American children into Black families.  Every time another celebrity is spotted with an African-American newly adopted child the media goes at it again: race, adoption, racism, heritage, white privilege, and on and on.

Most of us adoptive parents would probably agree: it is better for a child to have a family.  Would it be wonderful if all children were raised within their own cultural/racial group? Yes.  It would also be wonderful for all children to be raised by their first family. It would also be wonderful if poverty, disease, fear and religious intolerance didn't cause children to be relinquished and families torn apart.

When Andrew and I started pursuing our African adoption, we got some interesting comments from folks about choosing to raise Black children.  (I'll spare you- use your imagination. Polite racism, anyone?) We read some, we reflected a lot, and we tried to come up with a plan to help our children learn about their ethnic and racial identity.  We knew that this would be one of our biggest challenges (and it is), not because there aren't lots of challenges in adopting and parenting, but because we, as white folks, were the least prepared for this one.  We felt guilty (and still do, sometimes) about taking our children from a proud country (Ethiopia was never colonized, the only African nation to escape that fate.) in which they were the majority race, to America, where they would not only be in the minority, but have a low status- unknown in Africa.  The shooting of Trayvon Martin shook me to the core, as I realized that not only would we have to educate our son about his position in our society for his own safety, we would have to do it soon. Way too soon.

So here we are at the fair! Tra-la-la-la-la.  We had a lovely time.  They rode ponies, we saw a steer pull, we ate fried dough.  We got lots of stares, not only because my children were 2 of the 3 black people there, but also because this is Maine and everyone knows each other, so as strangers we got a lot of looks.  What were these people doing watching a steer pull?! (If you've never been to a country fair, you need to.  I'm just sorry we missed the pig scramble.)

Daniel now knows what a fair is. And, maybe he learned to trust me, just a little bit more.

The truth is,  Love is not enough. Love does not overcome racial stereotypes, the loss of a family, the loss of a culture and a language.  Love is not enough to make a family. Not even love and lots of injera will work.

Trust is the thing we need. Trust is the thing we work on every single day. Trust is the thing we will need in order to help Daniel and Lily navigate this crazy world.

Every morning I go over what our day will be like with Daniel. I tell him, sometimes 2-3 times, our schedule, and who we will see, and what we will eat, and what will be challenging, and what I hope will be fun, and what I expect him to do.  At night we talk about our favorite part of the day, and then we go over what will happen tomorrow. If I'm not sure that we will do something, I say so, or I just leave it to be a surprise.  It is too important that Daniel learn to trust that what we say will happen, does happen.  This child has had too many nasty surprises in his life, it is understandable that he hates them.  It's understandable that he doesn't trust us, not yet.

Every day we live up to his expectations, every day we don't let him down is another day to build that trust.

So next year, he'll know what a fair is.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Happy Un-Family Day to Us!

Those of you with adopted children will not be surprised to hear that our Anniversary Day did not include a lot of celebrations.

For Andrew and I, the day we came home with our children was the culmination of years of dreams and hard work. For Daniel and Lily, it was another hard step in their journey of loss and unwanted changes.

So it was no surprise to me that the day, while it had joyful moments, also had more than our usual share of tantrums, arguments and challenging behaviors. It probably doesn't help that we are on vacation in a home they've never been to before.

This morning it was a relief to wake up knowing that the first year is over. Everything won't always be new. Everything won't always be a "first".

I think the kids are feeling that way too. We ate our celebratory pie one day late, and maybe that is just right.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Gratitude on Family Day

One year ago today our family of four landed in America, at last.  We were exhausted, smelly, grimy, over burdened and shaky but immeasurably happy.

One year later I offer some belated Thank You's....

to the flight attendant who filled bottle after bottle with warm water for Lily's formula with nary a complaint (maybe just one eye roll)

to the airport driver who let us ride in the "mekina" (car) through the terminal, fulfilling one of Daniel's (newly formed) life-long dreams.

to the flight attendant who let me stand up, holding a sleeping baby against my chest, even though the seatbelt sign was on. Because we all knew that if I sat down, the crying (ok, screaming), would begin again.

to the passengers to gave baby girl high fives and wiggled their fingers at her, over and over again.

to the other mother in the looooong, hot, immigration line who said, "Would your kids like a lollipop?". I am eternally grateful for your perfect timing and enormous kindness.

to whoever brought Andrew and I steaming hot cups of coffee in the airport terminal as our children met their extended family for the first time.

to the man at the long term parking lot who cheerfully and calmly fixed Lily's car seat for us.

to my mother and sister, who left macaroni and cheese in the fridge, and cookies in the pantry.

to our children, for sleeping through most of the flights, and being amazing, resilient troopers through that whole 24 hour trip.  We were, and continue to be, in awe of you.

to all the members of our church, and the co-workers and friends and family members who gave to our children so generously. We had such bounty and such kindness all around us.

It does, indeed, take a village.

Who would you thank, if you could, today?

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Wait. Part 3


It is common to offer analogies between adoption and the more typical way of having children, sometimes known as "home grown".  Here is my shorthand:

Applying to agencies/homestudy = Trying to get pregnant.

Waiting for a referral/match with birthmother = Pregnancy. Sometimes a very looooong one.

Referral/match with birthmother = Yeah! Sonogram! It's a boy/girl!

The Moment of meeting your child = Yeah! Super 4D Sonogram! (ok, this is a stretch)

The Flight Home = Childbirth. (painful, long and involving way too many bodily fluids)

Some day I'll tell you all about our flight home from Ethiopia, but like childbirth stories, really only people who have recently gone through it, or are about to go through it, will want to read about it.

I've already written about how the Third Wait is the toughest.  It is also the one with no analogy in the "normal" world.  Hence the difficulty.

The other thing way in that adoption differs from most pregnancies is that it is extremely unpredictable. Most pregnancies and child birth stories are pretty much the same, except in the thankfully uncommon dramatic cases.  Excuse me, veteran mamas from the ChildBirth Wars,  but after a while they all sound the same.  And, I LOVE to hear childbirth stories. No, really. :)

Adoptions... oh boy. They are all over the map. Each step can take either days or weeks or years. Each step involves multiple decisions that can take you in multiple directions. It's a "Choose Your Own Ending" story, only, it's your life. Domestic? Foster? Private? Infant? Child? International? Which country? Special Needs? Siblings? Boys? Girls?

One of the reasons Andrew and I choose to do an Ethiopian adoption is that, when we started in 2009, that country had a simple, easy, straightforward, predictable process that would be about a year long.

Mwah, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!

There are all kinds of reasons why none of that was true. Some good reasons. (Ethiopia started paying more attention to international adoption and scrutinizing the process more carefully.) Some not so good. (So many folks wanted "easy" adoptions that Ethiopia became a target for corruption.)

In the end, we have beautiful Daniel and Lily.

In the middle, holy hell. Unpredictable! At first it was just paperwork hiccups.  One agency needed a letter from a therapist I saw 10 years ago, saying I wasn't, in fact, crazy.  (Or, I wasn't 10 years ago.)  We changed our age range and needed to read more articles and have more conversations with multiple social workers and attend an extra class.  Because that TOTALLY prepared us for adopting a 5 year old boy. Uh-huh.

We had it pretty easy, though, and got a referral very quickly.  We were all set to fly to Ethiopia and bring them home! Then. The one trip process became a two trip process. The time between the two trips doubled, then got longer, then became, "too difficult to predict".  Some bureaucrat in Ethiopia who was supposed to process a big pile of letters started only doing 5 a day.  One day in March I checked our email and found a notice from our agency that said, in effect, "We have no idea when you'll be able to bring your children home, but it could be next year. "  I cried all day.

That day in April, in Ethiopia when we finally met the judge, and she finally said, "They are yours," I had to ask our translator/social worker to say it again about 5 times before I believed it.

At this point, there is just a trickle of adoptions being finalized in Ethiopia.  Newer programs are being started in other poor countries in Africa.  Other new-to-adoption couples are hoping for a simple, quick, predictable adoption and are learning just like we did that simple, predictable adoptions are unicorns.

I don't recommend the Ethiopia program to people who ask me for advice. The two of them, that is.  (I do recommend adoption though.)  However unpredictable and complicated the process is, it is beautiful, and it will teach you many things about yourself and the world.  And it will prepare you for parenting, which is the most unpredictable, complicated and beautiful thing of all.

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Wait. Part 1.

Piles of things waiting to be packed for our second trip.
Two of my favorite blog authors are enduring the Third Wait right now.  Their posts range from exhausted to frustrated to weepy to angry to confused to heartbroken. The Third Wait. The hardest one.

In Ethiopian adoption there are three waits.  The first is the wait for referral.  Depending on what your priorities or limitations on what type of child you would like to adopt the first wait can be a few months to a few years.  Want to add a healthy, young girl to your family?  Sit tight, you will be waiting 3 years.   Want to add a 12 year old boy with a diagnosed medical condition to your family? Go ahead and buy a plane ticket. He is waiting right here.

The second wait is the most predictable and probably the easiest.  After you've accepted a referral, you wait for the Ethiopian courts to process your case and schedule your court date.  This usually takes 4 months. During those 4 months there is a lot to do.  You finally know who your child is, so now you can plan: doctors, schools/child care, decorate their room!, clothes, and your travel plans.  Also, there is paperwork to do. (There is always paperwork to do.)

The third wait sucks.  There is just no way around it. It's a mountain. Can't go around it, can't go under it, can't make it magically disappear. You just have to go through it.  And there isn't even any paperwork to do!

The third wait is after you've traveled to Ethiopia to meet your child/children and appeared in Ethiopian court. Your children are legally yours.  Only you are back home in America and they are still living in an orphanage.

During this time the US Embassy in Addis Ababa reviews your case, interviews birth family and sometimes does an investigation into the circumstances of your child's abandonment or relinquishment.  This can take a few days, or a few weeks.  In the rainy season, nothing happens at all, because the roads to the villages where your child was born have been washed out. The third wait can be a few weeks, or a few months.  You will get an email from the US Embassy with your visa appointment 1-2 weeks before you travel. You will pay a ridiculous amount of money for plane tickets to make that appointment because goddamn it, you have waited long enough.

I have very little useful advice for the Third Wait.  My coping strategies were compulsive nesting and cookie dough.  Most of the women who traveled to Ethiopia with us were either the thinnest they've even been, or the heaviest.

Here is what I would say to those enduring the Third Wait: if you've got the energy, use it. The nesting impulse is very strong. All that mothering you are waiting to do has no outlet.  At one point during this time, I found myself: making chicken stock, baking muffins, sewing curtains and freezing produce at the same time.  I was never tired, except when I was exhausted.

(People who know me in real life will say, but Becky, you seemed fine! Yes, that's because I went home every day and ate a bowl of cookie dough. It is amazing how good that can make you feel, temporarily.  Also, my sister did me the great service of needing help planning her wedding. Nesting, deluxe!)

Here's what you shouldn't do: worry about your children. They are fine. And anyway there is nothing you can do for them so you may as well try not to go crazy thinking about them.  Also, don't eat too much cookie dough that you can't fit into any of your clothes.  Don't Google MD any of the medical issues your child may or may not have. Those are not good ideas.

Here's what you can do:  Pray. Ask others to pray for you. If you are not the praying type, sit quietly in a chair with a cup of tea/glass of wine and think about how sitting quietly in a chair is not something you are going to doing again for a long, long time.  Savor the silence. Cook your favorite meals and freeze them, because you will not be cooking, properly cooking, for a long time either. Do all those little projects that need to be done. Make your house beautiful, then take a photo of it to remind you that your house was once clean and beautiful.  Very soon and for a long time it will be filled with noise, plastic crap and unbelievable amounts of crumbs and cheerios. Go out with your partner and your good friends and gaze upon them.  This is what it is like to be out in the evenings with people you love without worrying about if you will be late for the babysitter.

As much as the Third Wait shreds you, you must try to treasure it.  This separation only brings you closer to your child and your child's first family.  For them, the separation is permanent.  The universe is so large, and your child so far away, but in this way, your heart and their hearts are right next door.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Ice cream

On a lighter note...

When the kids first came home, Daniel didn't like ice cream. It was too cold for him. Lily never had a problem with it. Fruits and vegetables... Those are proving more difficult to sell her on.

Luckily, after a year of careful ice cream therapy and coaching by his friends and cousins, Daniel is successfully eating America's favorite treat.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Second Choice

a female wood carrier walking down from the mountains, Addis Ababa

Daniel and Lily both have Life Books, which we try to read often.  Right now they are not as interesting as The Avengers Sticker and Activity book, but we try.  Their life books are simple versions of their story; how they came to be living in America, with us.  In the old days of adoption, children weren't told their story- sometimes living until adulthood without any idea of where or from whom they came from.  We try not to have any secrets from our children.  Daniel, especially, knows exactly what happened: he was there.  But there are parts of the story that we don't dwell on, at least not now.  We don't dwell on the fact that there are medicines in America that could have cured his mother. We don't dwell on the fact that in America, fathers don't have to watch their infants starve. Hunger, yes. Starve. No.

We also don't dwell on why mommy and daddy decided to adopt.  There are many people who create or add to their families through adoption as their first choice.  I love these folks.  We came to adoption the round-about way. First we tried to get pregnant.  Then teams of doctors tried to get us pregnant. Then we decided to adopt. PHEW! (Side note: a homestudy is nothing after infertility treatments. Want to know everything about me? Sure! I have no secrets anymore. I get to keep my clothes on? Even better!)

One of these years the kids will figure out that adopting two Ethiopians was our second choice for creating our family.  But you know what?  Relinquishing their children to be adopted was their Ethiopian family's second choice too.

Adoption is a tiny beautiful bandaid on a large ugly problem.  My children have a loving family, plenty to eat, and a chance for a successful, healthy life.  They are very lucky in how their bad luck turned out. Their family's second choice turned into a second chance.  There are millions of children around the world who just have bad luck and then more bad luck.  There are millions of families torn apart by disease, poverty, lack of clean water, fear and religious intolerance.  Only a small thousand of those children are adopted.

So when people say, "It is just wonderful, what you are doing."  I first say "Thank you", and "We have been very blessed."  Then I think, if I was really wonderful and saintly, as you might be thinking, I would have given all the money I spent adopting these kids into keeping their first family intact.  That is the argument that folks make when they criticize celebrities, and non-celebrities, for their international adoptions.  I don't really disagree, in theory.

John Seabrook wrote a beautiful piece about adopting his Haitian daughter in The New Yorker last year.   In it he reflects on how, in miniature, international adoption makes perfect sense. A child needs a family; a family needs a child.  When you pull back and look at the bigger picture, things aren't so clear.  It suddenly seems like there are millions of families who need better choices, more choices.

There are parts to our children's story that we don't dwell on, at least not now.  But someday, I hope, those sadder, harder, more confusing parts will inspire them to create change in the world, as they have inspired me to share our story here.  Until then, Avengers! Assemble!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

on being a Visible Family

This afternoon Daniel got an impromptu haircut! I've been trimming his curls myself every since a traumatic hair cut experience last summer... but Mom can never get his hair to look as cool and neatly edged as a professional, so every time we pass a barber shop I say, "Wanna get your hair cut!?". To which I usually get an eyeroll in answer, but today he said yes!  So in we went.  It turned into a very positive experience, and not just because of the trim.

During our pre-adoption training we were introduced to the term "visual family".  (I know, as opposed to the invisible family- a shy troupe of super heroes?) Like much else in our pre-adoption training and reading, we nodded and said, "oh yes, mmm, mmm," without a clue.

Visual family = trans-racial family = family that doesn't match.  This is not a bad thing, most of the time. It just means that when people see us, they have a moment of cognitive dissonance. We humans are used to family groups looking alike.  When people see a family like ours, they do a little double take, and then you can see the internal questions starting.  I do this too- maybe even more now.   Are they a family? Just baby sitting? Adopted? Inter-racial? Foster Care? Blended family?  When I see a family that looks like mine, I think, are they Ethiopian!!? Then I go ask, because I have no shame nor embarrassment left.  Just ask Marcus Samuelsson of The Red Rooster about the crazy lady who made him look at photos of her kids.

We are a family that people stare at. Which means we (okay, I) now have a new set of "rules" about how we appear when we go outside.  Which means, when we go out, we look put together.  Clean faces, clean clothes, neat hair, no rips or stains allowed.  Lily's hair is done.  I remember to brush mine.  In the mix of questions and comments that people have flowing through their minds when they are trying to figure out my family, "That white lady doesn't know how to do black hair." or "Look how that boy is dressed." or  "Look at those poor kids." will NOT be on the list.

I know, I sound over-protective and a little crazy.  Maybe I am.  Maybe I underestimate my fellow humans.

Today in the barber shop.  Three black men, two cutting hair and one getting his hair cut, one black woman watching the T.V.  Daniel holding it together as the buzzing commenced.   Lily, being Lily: dancing around the room, climbing into the chairs, shouting, spilling orange juice, charming everyone in the shop, etc.  I start out being on the defensive, apologizing for the state of Lily's hair (why! won't she wear a sleep cap!?!)  But then the woman says with a big smile, "I just think it's wonderful, what you are doing."

Yes, sometimes I do underestimate my fellow humans. I forget that this thing we are doing... not that many folks do it.  I forget that it's not normal to go to Africa and bring two strangers home and raise them as your own.  I forget that not everyone is judging me too harshly.  Some people think I'm saintly. (ha!)

We'll definitely go back to that barber shop.  Not only because Daniel looks so handsome and didn't cry, but because sometimes Mommy needs to be validated by African- Americans that we're not doing these children wrong.  That Lily is just a baby and it's okay for her braids to get fuzzy.  That having a family is way more important than having a black family.  That being a visible family means you are teaching others something about the world and the human experience- just by walking around!

How marvelous.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Injera, wat?!

I suppose I should live up to the name above and write about Ethiopian food.  I've been working on a post about The Wait, but it's depressing on such a beautiful day.  I've got a pot of lentils on the stove, so why not share the little bit I know about Ethiopian cooking instead?

The truth is, I don't know how to make injera. Yet. I tried once. It was a very sad waste of teff flour. I've been told by Ethiopians that making injera is very, very hard. Sigh. Anyway...

A traditional "fasting" or vegetarian meal in Addis Ababa.

If you've had Ethiopian food, you either love it, or hate it.  If you've never had it, go try some and come back. I'll wait...

Okay. Ethiopian food, like Ethiopia itself, is unique in Africa. It is similiar to Indian food and shares some of the same basic ingredients and spices as other African cuisines.  In other ways it is very different from traditional foods in other African nations.  Each African region has its favorite starch, just as each European country does.  Rice, maize (corn), fufu, yams, potatoes, breads both flat and risen form the basis of African cooking in different regions.  Injera is the Ethiopian starch, and it is found nowhere else.

Basically a pancake cooked only on one side, injera is used both to serve and to eat a variety of traditional stews.  Injera is made from teff flour, a grain grown in Ethiopia.  (I have several bags in my cabinet, sigh.)  To make it, you need a starter- a fermented mix of flour and water. This makes the injera rise, like yeast does in bread. Good injera has lots of perfect little bubbles all over it... it is neither sticky nor dry, crumbly nor too chewy. I've heard that Ethiopians are very particular about their injera. Ahem.

I was very intimidated by cooking Ethiopian food, but quickly realized that I would need to get over it. Since the very first week the children were home we've been eating at Ghenet, a wonderful local restaurant.   After months of weekly dinners and some helpful advice from Ghenet's cooks, I tried out some recipes suggested by other adoptive moms. (like this one)  Daniel especially thrives on traditional food, and he has been very enthusiastic about my attempts at cooking his favorite foods.  God Bless the Internet, you can buy Ethiopian spices online.

Most Ethiopian stews or wat are made with either a mild or a spicy base.  You start by sauteing onions, garlic and ginger root in butter or oil, then add a little bit of tomato paste or fresh tomatoes, and either tumeric or berbere.  This is your base, to which you can then cook lentils, beans, chicken, beef, goat, or mushrooms (Daniel's favorite). Tonight I made some lentil wat, which we'll eat with some crusty rolls, salad and cheese. Yum!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Daddy's Girl

In the process of having a child the "normal" way, there are several universal milestones: the pregancy test, the pregnancy announcement, the first sonogram, the birth, boy!? girl!?.

In the adoption process there are different special milestones.  Parenting classes, the homestudy, paperwork finalization, dossier completion... really none of those are very much fun.  You don't make cute postcard announcements about your dossier being accepted, momentous as that is.  But, there is:


The moment adoptive parents first meet their child (or children).  It could happen in a hospital, a foster care agency, a social worker's office, even a hotel. Or, an orphanage.  When we first decided to adopt from Ethiopia I fell into a youtube vortex of Moment videos.  Ethiopian agencies typically videotape these meetings, and they are universally heart warming (heart rending?).  An eager, nervous American couple rushing up some steps.  Kind, smiling nannies and nurses.  A small frightened child who smiles wide when given a brand new toy, and a brand new family. Smiles, tears.... ahhh.... I couldn't get enough.

So, our moment?

We don't have a video of it, which is fine because it was unforgettable, of course.  Nervous American couple, rushing up some steps.  Kind, smiling nannies.  Lots and lots of children.

On our first visit we were pretending NOT to be adoptive parents. Since the time between our first trip to Ethiopia and the children actually coming home was so long and so unpredictable, it was in the best interests of Daniel and Lily to think we were just some nice Americans with some nice new toys for the orphanage.  We played it cool.  (I know, this sounds horrible, but actually it was much less stressful for us, knowing that Daniel, especially, would not suffer during the WAIT. After our travel dates for the second trip were secure, the nannies started to talk to him about us and show our photos to both the children.)

So here is what happened on that amazing first day. First we played with Daniel and his friends in the big kid room. We brought markers and paper and traced their hands and feet (so I knew what size shoe to buy for him.)  We gave everyone hugs and kisses.  Daniel got a few extra, but nobody noticed. We were good actors. :)

The babies were in a nursery upstairs. Andrew got his turn first to sneak upstairs to see Lily.  After a few minutes, we switched.  I came into the little room.  Lily was sitting with a few other babies on a big mat.  I tried not to scare her by rushing over and scooping her up.  I sat with her and started to interest her in some rattles.  She was one year old, but still catching up developmentally from those early months of hunger.  She couldn't crawl or walk. (Hence our shock when we came back just a few months later to find her walking and climbing!)

There on the mat, little Lily gave me some very skeptical looks.  She was loathe to be picked up or cuddled. Then Andrew came back in the room.

She gave him a wide smile and lifted her arms to be picked up.  He carried her around the room, talking to her, and she grinned and grinned at him, sending me dagger looks over his shoulder.

Great, I thought, 5 minutes in and she's already Daddy's girl.

And she still is. ;)

We still have all those drawings and handprints from our first visit to the orphanage.

Here is hoping that all those children have found a family too.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

These Two

Yes, they are biological brother and sister. We get asked that a lot. I'm always surprised, because I think they look so much alike. Also, they are inseperable.

One afternoon I came home from work without Daniel (who usually travels with me.) He had an after-school program or a playdate or something.  Lily greeted me, then looked for Daniel and then FREAKED THE #@*$ OUT when she realized he wasn't there.  So much so that we went to pick him up early.

I've read about other siblings adopted together being similarily attached to each other. It makes perfect sense to me. If you've lost every other family member and the only home you've ever known, you'd be pretty stuck on the one person who's still around.

Daniel and Lily are certainly each other's best friend.  But they weren't always. During the first trip, when we first we met them in their care center in Addis Ababa, we had them bring the baby down from the nursery to the big kid playroom.  All the children shouted to Daniel that his sister was there.  They crowded around her, tickling her and calling her name.  Her brother looked at her and shrugged, then went back to playing ball.  Lily was also un-impressed with her big brother. On our trip home, in our first days together, they mostly ignored each other.  I suppose the excitement of two new parents and a new home was enough distraction.

Then we took them to the pediatrician for the first time. Lily had to be strapped into that horrible board thing to have blood drawn. She screamed and screamed during her entire exam.  Andrew was sitting with Daniel in the waiting room.  The baby had some milk and fell asleep, exhausted from the ordeal of American style medical care.  It was then that I saw Daniel's face. He had tears in his eyes, and his face stern and terrified, his eyes accusing me.

Daniel is here next to me as I write this. Lily is napping.  Her brother flits from activity to activity, unable to really enjoy himself solo.  At some point he asks if it is time for her to get up.  (Good God, NO! Never wake a sleeping Lily!)

Before we child-proofed (ahem, Lily proofed) the doors, Lily loved to try to sneak into her brother's room in the mornings to wake him up.  Now she just bangs on the door, calling his name.

These two.  I hope they always can't wait for the other one to wake up.

Friday, July 6, 2012

An Education...

One reason I started this blog to try and develop and catalog some Ethiopian history and culture materials for my children.  I don't know why it took me nearly a year, but this month I realized- no one else is going to teach them about their heritage. Duh.

I started a little on-line research, beginning with YouTube.  Unfortunately I made the mistake of doing with this Daniel present. We got a little side tracked watching cartoons that have been dubbed in Ahmaric.

So, here you go... my first foray into Ethiopian culture.  Madagascar cartoon animals singing a popular Ethiopian song.  It is pretty cute...


Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Hair. Hair? Hair!

Lily and all her beautiful curls on wash day.

Here is my hair routine: Every morning I pull it back in a sloppy ponytail.  I try to remember to brush it and pull it back into a neat ponytail before I leave the house. The End.

So, you can imagine that when we learned we would be raising an African daughter, her hair was something of an issue. I was determined to "do" Lily's hair. I didn't want her to have what I call, "white mama hair".  My apologies to all those mamas (white and black) who let their children have wild, free flowing hair.  I was raised by a Jamaican nanny, and that is just not happening. My goal was simple: every day she looks like a lovely, talented Black woman did her hair.
one of Lily's first hair dos... just one little puff!

I started on a quick, steep learning curve.  All I can say is: God Bless the Internet! Happy Girl Hair, Girls Love Your Girls, youtube... other adoptive mamas and African-American women willing to share their experience and wisdom saved me (and Lily's hair). What a wonderful community I found!

 After nearly a year of learning,  I love doing Lily's hair, and I take a lot of pride in how she looks. It was easy in the beginning: she and Daniel had both had their heads shaved a few weeks before they came home. Lily because she had a scalp infection, and Daniel because that's how boy's hair is in Ethiopia. Short! (And we're keeping it short, thanks to my handy buzz cut kit!) So she had just a few little curls to admire.

Lily admiring her new hair style.
 Part of our routine is admiring our gorgeous selves in a mirror.
 So here is Lily's hair routine. Every morning I spritz her hair with a conditioner/oil/water mix and freshen up her puffs, braids or twists. I add in some accessories from my color sorted collection of barrettes, clips and pony-tails. This usually only takes a few minutes, although Lily might say FOREVER! She doesn't really like having her hair done, as it requires sitting still. Which is the reason why I never put braids in; they take too long and require extra sitting still.

This is how hair gets done: in the highchair, with snacks and TV.
 Once a week I wash her hair with Aubrey Organics Honeysuckle Rose conditioner.  First time I rinse it all out, then I leave some in. (Same with Daniel.) Every few days I rub in some coconut oil or other leave in treatment. We've got quite an assortment of hair products at this point. I have a hard time passing by "African Natural Hair Care" displays without stopping. (Why African hair care needs a "special/wierd hair" aisle is a post for another time.)

Then we sit down and I start combing and parting and making pretty happen.
 Her curls are really delicious. Big and bouncy and shiny and healthy. Just like her.

 A few weeks ago, while Lily was wearing a head full of "twists", I received the ultimate compliment. An African American woman (with beautiful natural hair), stopped me to ask me how I did Lily's hair, and say how cute it looks. I nearly cried. But I kept my composure, and only squealed with delight once she was out of hearing. I hope.


dedicated to all you great ESL teachers...

One of the most common questions about our adoption are: How about English? Does he speak English (before the kids came home?) How will he learn English? Will it be hard to communicate? How are you going to teach him English? What about English?!!!

One reason for this may be that as Americans we tend to be a bit foreign language phobic. We like English and we get stressed out when we can't communicate in our own language. So, those questions above, while totally valid, tended to be asked in a frantic, worried tone that was totally unnecessary.

Frankly, Daniel's English skills have never been the most pressing issue we deal with as a family.  We were prepared.  First of all, I teach in a very diverse school, and I've taught many young children English as a their second (or third or fourth) language.  I knew some "tricks", and I knew he'd have great teachers with the talent and creativity to help him.  Second of all, our son is pretty smart, gifted with language skills and was very, very motivated to learn!

Here are some of the things that worked for us teaching our newly adopted son our language.

In our first days in Ethiopia

1. We started with safety words. Stop, Come, No, Go.  We played endless games with the toy cars in the courtyard... saying "1,2,3 GO!" then yelling "Stop!" We gave endless praise when he responded to commands, and used only 1 or 2 words along with gestures to communicate.

2. We relied on the translators available. Especially for the "big topics". Like, explaining that he would have a new name. (!)  And making sure he understood that he was leaving Ethiopia, forever.  Going through our travel plans in detail, so he would understand this epic trip we were about to embark on.

3. Family Words/Family Photos. Daniel had been looking at our photos for several weeks. He knew "Mommy" and "Daddy".  We also brought extended family photos and short home videos. He loved to go through the photo book and practice everyone's names.  When all those people were at the airport to greet us, he knew who they were!

4. Before we left, with the help of the social workers and the guest house staff, we made sure that Daniel knew some crucial English words (hungry, no, stop, come here, go,) We also learned some important Ahmaric words (car/mekina, toilet/shintah, bread/babo) that Daniel used often.

In our first days Home

1. We kept using the Amharic words as we introduced new English words.  So long as we all knew what we were trying to communicate, it didn't matter which language we used.  Here is when my son showed us his gift for language. He figured out quickly how to combine gestures, simple phrases and facial expressions to get his message across. He would take my hand, pointing to a photo or object, or mime what he wanted.  There were only a few instances of communication between us breaking down.  Those were moments when a deeper, more complicated idea was impossible for him to put into a gesture or two word phrase. But somehow, I knew from his frantic, sad tears the words he couldn't say. I mean, what would you say if you were suddenly transported to a new family, city, continent!?

2. We focused on the here and now.  Food words, words for things in our house, places we went. Park, car, TV, book, stroller, pool.

3. We introduced feeling words. Andrew was the best teacher of these; he would make sad/happy/mad/scared faces really exaggerated and quiz Daniel on them.

After school started, and beyond

Daniel's formal ESL education begin just weeks after he came home.  He quickly picked up words from classmates and soaked up the language of his teachers.  We used pictures from books and familiar stories to teach him new words and concepts.  He begin asking, "What's this? What's this called?" His first full question was "Where is the car!?"

We gradually (reluctantly, on my part), begin using only English instead of Ahmaric.  After about 2 months, we noticed that Daniel no longer understood the waitresses at the Ethiopian restaurant.  He spoke English, just like that.  I've been told that his accent sounds just like the Kenyan boy Dora meets.  It is a lovely lilt, and I dread the day he sounds just like every other New York kid.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012



Just in case you thought I only write about my son...
Here is our girl...
 Smart. Mischievious. Silly.

 Curious. Lively. Fun-loving.

 Wild. Loud. Unpredictable.



 Our baby, soon to be our Big Girl. 

 Obsessed with shoes, phones and her brother.

 There are lots of unknowns and unpredictables in international adoption. 
Lily was our suprise in many ways. First, it was a beautiful surprise to be matched with such a young child, when we expected to be referred older children. Second, she is extremely healthy and robust, now weighing in at 30 lbs at 2 years old.

Like I said, she's got a taste for rocks and other non-food items. 
Maybe it's because for the first 6 months of her life, she was always hungry. Starving.

 Our first snuggle together. Look how unsure she is of this whole "Mommy" thing. 
She was 15 months old, and for most of her life, her only family was her brother. 

 One year old. Playing with her nannies at the care center. 
Happy as can be, now that she's got as much milk as she can drink. 

Our Lily. Our first photo of her. At 7 months old, she weighed only 8 pounds. In her referral the nannies wrote that she never stopped crying. Good for her, I thought. The silent children are the ones who have given up.  Lily is a fighter. She knew that someone, somewhere, would finally answer those cries. She will never be ignored, and she'll never be hungry again.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Our First Day Home

Our First Day Home
or, why I should have kept a diary...

because I don't remember any of it.

Well, just bits and pieces.

I know Daniel helped his Daddy haul two giant bags of laundry to the laundromat in THE BEST DECISION I HAVE MADE IN MY LIFE SO FAR: paying for our 40 lbs of filthy clothes to be cleaned instead of doing it ourselves. The laundromat is next to a park, so after we freed ourselves of our burdens we put the kids on swings for the first time in their lives. They loved it. Weeeee!!! Higher! Faster! Weeeee!!!! Here we go, FAMILY!

The kids had pretty much been loving everything about their new home so far, except car seats.  All the food, the ways drawers open and closed and there was so! much! stuff! in them. Toys hiding all over! Miracles like rain boots and sunglasses and winter vests and shoes!, shoes! shoes!

Note to all adoptive parents bringing home older than 1's: Lock up all out-of-season clothes, or your child will put together outfits like the get up Daniel wore on one of our first days (before I got smart and hid everything): a winter cap, a vest, wool socks, shorts, sandals and a tank top. It was July.

Andrew and I weren't so sure about how much we were enjoying our new life. We missed sleeping, lazy mornings, eating complete meals, being able to stay awake past 9. Peace. Quiet. We stumbled through the days. We tried to keep our eyes open and our bellies full. Write down each day's events? All the firsts and bonding and attaching we were accomplishing? Ha! Who has energy? Zzzzzzz..... We collapsed at the end of each day like all new parents do.  But instead of a tiny, portable newborn we had 2 sentient, active, walking, talking, demanding children.

We played in the park. We ate. We played at home. We ate. Repeat. That was our first summer together.  Now that it is our 2nd summer as a family, we are back in the park. I am remembering all those sweaty days again. Following baby Lily, who had just learned to walk, around the playground, trying to keep her from eating any of the thousands of bright colored bits of plastic, popped balloons, old crackers and rocks that littered the ground. The girl had (still does) a taste for rocks. She wasn't so sure about solid food, but bits of balloon she found on the sidewalk? YUM! 

I remind myself: this summer is so different from last year. First of all, my son speaks English.  A year of wonderful teachers and hard work and constant, "What's that mommy? What's this called?" worked wonders.  Lily is a "big girl" now, preferring to chase after her brother, or climb to nerve wracking heights. They have both made their peace with the car seats. We can do things, so many things, that we didn't dare try last year. Last year just a trip to the park on a hot day was so nerve wracking I was constantly holding back tears, bracing myself for a scraped knee or a lost toy to send one of them in a spirally tantrum.

It seems hard to believe that we did it. We forged a family out of 2 sets of strangers. We really did make 2+2= Family. If I had known how hard some moments would be, I might not have tried. But that is the grace of life, that challenges ahead remain out of sight. Wonder what this summer will bring...

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The afternoon we left Addis Ababa it was pouring rain. Hardly surprising, given that it was the rainy season. But it made getting the hat back that much more difficult.

Daniel's hat. The same one as Daddy's, exactly. In a newly created trans-racial family, this small similarity was one of our only tangible links.  Something that said: We belong together.  We'd brought the matching hats with us on our very first visit to our new 5 year old son and new 1 year old daughter.  Blue baseball caps from our favorite local team.  Daniel wore it all day that first visit, and on their first visit to the guest house.  After days of eating and playing and meetings and farewell ceremonies, we were heading home at last.

But where is the hat!?

Hours before in my exhausted, feeble attempts at organized packing, trying to make sure we had enough bottles/wipes/changes of clothes/snacks for our epic trip home, I realized we'd completely forgotten the hat. It was at the care center. When we picked up the children for the final time, they wore traditional white clothes. I noticed another boy wearing the Hawaiian t-shirt Daniel had worn on our first visit.  So probably some other child our son's age was wearing the hat, kicking a soccer ball around the courtyard.

We drove in the rain through the city, surrounded by piles of suitcases and other families tense with exhaustion and nervous anticipation of a 24 hour trip with new adopted children. I watched the faces of my children. The baby, up later than usual, was wired and curious, peeking out from the carrier at the rainy city. Daniel was quiet and attentive, feebly responding to the driver's jokes and attempts to get him to smile.

After I'd realized that the hat was at the care center we begged our local driver and guest house manager to help us get it back. With several airport pick-ups and drop offs to arrange, and the constant rain storms, we got little reassurance that the hat would get to us in time.  I tried to explain the significance of the hat. Of course we could buy a new one, of course it was just a hat. But, it was The Hat. The one we gave to our son the first time we see him as our son. The hat in the video we will watch over and over of our meeting day. The hat we are building this fragile new thing on: our family.

After several phone calls and conversations with drivers, a plan is made. We are not told of the plan, in case it will not work. But it does.

We stop on the side of a roundabout, and a young social worker from the care center runs up to our van, holding a newspaper over his head, and our precious blue hat.  My husband retrieves it, and puts it on Daniel's head. His tiny, serious brown face breaks open in a wide, wide smile.
America, here we come!