Monday, March 30, 2009

Another "10 Minutes"

So I must confess I didn't write that last post in exactly 10 minutes. I am using "10 minutes" loosely to refer to any sacred silent moment not punctuated by "Mama" (or "Mama-yeh") as is often heard in our Amharic-infused household. I know every mom says she's be rich if she had a quarter for every time she heard the word "Mom" in a day but it is so true. It's almost comical in our house. The JuneBug loves to say "Mama" all the time - in the car, at the table, on the pot - you get the idea. I guess when you have a limited vocabulary you use what you do have over and over again - kind of like those scary eggs at camp that just keep showing up in different forms at every meal. Lest you think I am some kind of Super Blogger (which I'm not), this post actually took several "10 minute" increments to finish given all of my copious spare time now. I may just take up knitting too...

As promised you will get two nuggets - one from our Ethiopian adventure and one filled with random reflections from life in the trenches in Mamaland.

Ethiopian Adventure - The $2000 Day.
Once we finished our very own Amazing Race and actually got to Ethiopia, we spent several days traveling in Ethiopia. We would highly recommend that adoptive families take advantage of adding a few extra days onto the trip in order to actually see some of the country if at all possible. Life outside of Addis Ababa is incredibly different. We feel that the time we spent traveling helped us to better understand the political, socioeconomic and cultural realities of our daughters' homeland. We were able to see Lalibella, Bahir Dar and Axum very easily in about 4 days. That also included our "$2000 day" - the day we took a trip to the girls' hometown to meet Eden's family.

God works in amazing ways. The way our trip had been planned, we were going to meet just Eden's birthmother at a cafe at the airport en route to Axum. I had always been a bit iffy - for various reasons - on whether or not this was the best plan. We finally opted to just go with the airport meeting plan because our time to explore other options was limited. Because of the mixup with our original air tickets, we ended up having the good part of a day in the town where Eden's family lives. We got to meet not only her birthmother but also her three siblings who also came along to meet us at a local community center. It was one of the most powerful and yet most difficult days we have ever experienced. It's hard to even articulate what is was like to sit across from a woman who tells you she had to give up her child because she was too sick to breastfeed and could not afford the formula to feed her newborn child along with the rest of her children given that she made about $10 a month and the formula cost $9. What on earth do you say to that?! How many variables are there to apologize for in a situation like hers? I could go on and on about this experience but suffice it to say - it was very clear through our meeting with Eden's birthmother that she - along with Junia - were dearly loved. We were able to get absolutely priceless video footage of Eden's family sending their love to the girls. We also got family history and pictures - provided to us by her birthmother (the copies were obviously originals, yet another sacrifice). Many years from now, what we got that day will be incredibly meaningful to both of our girls. It will help them to situate themselves in the world and understand the circumstances that led to their own life stories. It will give them a broader sense of place and of family. They will know they were dearly loved by birthmothers who chose to give them up because illness robbed them of the chance to care for them. Birthmothers who had the courage to love their daughters enough to want something more for them. It was worth our entire pre-placement trip - and the $2000 of repurchased airline tickets - to spend the day with this fiercely strong and beautiful family, a family that is now forever joined to us by chords of the heart.

Yuppie Goes Mama:
We have now been home with little ladies for two weeks. Here are few recent thoughts (or at least the ones I can still cobble together now that my brain feels like mush a fair bit of the time) as this yuppie goes mama...

1. What we have endeavored to do is very hard. Let's just be honest about that. If you have no kids and a very convenient life with unlimited freedom and opportunity, bringing two toddlers (who are close enough in age to feel a lot - a bit too much sometimes - like twins) home with you from another country will ROCK YOUR WORLD. People keep asking me squishy and sparkly questions like "Aren't you just SOOOO excited to have the girls home?" These are hard questions to answer. Yes, we are excited to have them home and we adore them but in the transition time you are not thinking about squishy and sparkly things. You are thinking moment by moment of how to just survive. We knew this was going to be a big adjustment but sometimes words fail to describe what an adjustment it can be. That being said, things are finally starting to make sense again. The girls continue to bloom in their new environment. Eden absolutely terrified me at first because she did nothing but scream - all the time. She is now a totally different child. She is so much fun. She is fearless, fiesty and very outgoing. I am amazed. She is now very bonded to both of us (she wouldn't even look at me the first week we had her without screaming) and is an absolute joy with her wide 6-toothed grin. We are also finally now starting to feel like a family. You get off the plane as a "family" by definition but it has taken us all some time to start to feel like a family. I am now actually excited when the JuneBug bounds into our room in her footie pajamas at 7am with her mushed 'fro and huge bright eyes saying "Mommy! ...Puppy!" to remind me that the dog is in our room. It's hard to top that. They are both just so darn cute and they have completely stolen my heart. I get a kick out of just taking Junia with me to Target. She makes me proud because she's just adorable and she is so much fun to be with. The other day she saw this awful yellow hat on clearance at a kids' store we were at. I bought it for her because she was SO excited about it and it was just a buck or two. She wore it the whole rest of the day and kept saying to me (as I was driving!) "Mommy! Hat! Photo!" because she wanted a picture in her new (atrocious) hat. I've taken way too many pics of them but it's hard not too when they are that cute.

2. Speaking of the "puppy", the dog situation has also improved. Eden now giggles when the dog licks her in the face. Junia is very curious about the dog now too. She talks about him all the time but still wigs out a bit when he gets too close and she's standing on the floor. I can't say I blame her given that they look each other in the eyes when they are both on the ground. I seriously wondered if we were going to be able to keep the dog because the girls just would not tolerate him. Now, I'm happy to say that things are really looking up on the canine front. I think in a few more weeks the doggy drama will also be a thing of the past.

3. When adopting toddlers, it is hard to determine what meltdowns are adoption related and what are just age related. Junia hears a lot of "Koom-ee" in our house (this is Amharic for "Stop"). She is prone to being a drama queen and can be quite the whiner. We don't put up with that and she knows that now. We hope we aren't being too insensitive but we feel confident that almost all of these whiny meltdowns are because she's a two year old, not because she's adopted. It's hard to know for sure though and it really does come down to knowing your own child in certain situations. I'm sure as we get to know her better (and once we can all speak the same language), we will be able to fine tune our parenting a bit more.

4. In that first week back, we asked ourselves (multiple times!), "When will we find ourselves and each other again?" We felt as if our entire previous existence had been swallowed up when the little ladies arrived home. That too is getting better. We went on our first date (with a sitter!) last weekend. Once the girls were down (they sleep through the night with no issues - total blessing!), we headed out for coffee and then hit a late movie. The movie was marginal but it was significant for us to prove to ourselves that it really is possible to add children to your lives without losing your entire identity as individuals or as a couple.

5. Don't take on too much too soon - for you or your girls - even if things seem to be really humming along. We realized last week that even though both of our girls are VERY social (they both talk to every person behind any counter in any store we go into - in a combination of Amharic, baby babble, and "bye bye"), we may have been exposing them to too many people each day. I know that office Christmas parties wipe me out. Small talk, chit chat, lots of photos with strangers. The whole thing can be exhausting. I think kids can feel the same way. We realized at the end of one day that the girls had probably had too many people touching them and talking to them that day because they seemed really exhausted. We are now trying to limit the amount of people they see in one day so they don't end up feeling like they are on parade all the time. That's hard when they are so loved by so many already. They are blessed to have such a rich and caring community - as are we.

I also thought that I was enough of a Rockstar Mom to attempt to take my newly adopted children to a family gathering several hours away alone (without Daddy's help). Davis couldn't go because it was midweek and I thought I'd just buzz down with the girls for the night. This was a very bad idea. I had no idea what a mammoth undertaking out of town travel is with toddlers (especially if one of them is "sort of potty trained" and may start sobbing instantly about the need to go potty when you are in gridlock on the freeway and have no exit strategy). Eden ended up really melting down because of the change in surroundings and all of us were in tears when our 3 hour drive home turned into 7 thanks to 40 (that's right, 40!) accidents on the LA freeways the day we came home (CNN even covered the traffic that day!). I realized that the girls - especially Eden - are not ready for a change in surroundings yet, even for one night. That day will come, but it's not now. This was an example of too much too soon.

So that's my "10 minutes". Here's a final thought on "how you know your life has really changed". I now have a pink potty seat in the back of my shiny BMW. We used it today by the side of the road and I kept thinking "This is awesome!" Yes, things have indeed changed.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

In Process - Part Deux

I've decided that if I can blog in little chunks, 10 minutes at time, I may actually get to tell you the story of our Ethiopian adventure and update you on the little ladies. Anything more than 10 minutes starts to seem unrealistic at this point! In each post, you'll get two nuggets - one from our Ethiopian adventure and one from "Yuppie Goes Mama". So, here goes.

Ethiopian Adventure Nugget: Our trip started off with a phone call from our travel agent as we were boarding the plane to London. It turned out that the travel agent had booked our flights in error and had us leaving from London to Addis on the same day we were leaving from LA to London. Oops. Given that our mountain of luggage was already on the plane, we had no choice but to fly to London with no idea of how we were going to get to Addis or what we were going to do in London when we got there. When we finally got to London, our travel agent was MIA. We tried calling him a million times but because of the time change he didn't answer. This then forced us into our very own episode of The Amazing Race as we hoofed it around Heathrow airport pushing the Luggage Mountain trying to find another flight to Addis. If we delayed our trip (the agent had casually mentioned that we just "hang out" in London for a few days and make the best of it until he got things worked out ... yeah, great idea given that we didn't even have jackets packed!), we risked not meeting Eden's birthmother which was the main reason we left early for Ethiopia in the first place. Missing our meeting with her was a totally unacceptable alternative. Hence, the amazing race. We finally booked ourselves on a flight via Brussels and arrived just one day later than we had planned. The additional flight cost us $2000 which was the amount we had saved by booking half of our trip with frequent flyer miles (it took days to put that together!). This extra financial expenditure was a total bummer and we are doubtful that the travel agent will give us any of our money back. However, that extra flight allowed us to have an absolutely PRICELESS day with Eden's birthfamily. We called it the $2000 day. More to come on that...

Yuppie Goes Mama: The girls are doing surprisingly well. They are very at home and are clearly becoming sisters. Junia is notorious for stealing Eden's sippy cup. I was pleased to see today that Eden stole Junia's snack cup. I wanted to high five her. It was about time for Little Bear box out with Big Bear. Speaking of high fives, Davis has already taught the girls "gimme high five" as well as "gimme knuckles (a la Obamas)" and "gimme 'bow (elbow)". It's pretty hilarious. They are both very extroverted and seem very connected to us which is a blessing. I carried Junia through a crowded mall last weekend and she waved at all the random people we passed saying "Ciao" and "Bye Bye". We're hoping it's not a bad sign that they like people so much. We've heard we may need to limit their contact with others for bonding sake but they seem to clearly understand who Mommy and Daddy (especially Daddy...they LOOOOVE their Daddy) are. It just seems that they are very social. Junia is also very smart and is learning English very quickly.

Mommy and Daddy are doing ok too. This has been a HUGE adjustment and last week I had an absolute breakdown wondering what we had done. But what a difference a week makes! We are slowly figuring out our new routine and the girls are learning boundaries that we hope will give them security. It's a major life change though, particularly for a two parent working family who has no other children. Going from zero kiddos to two toddlers can prove to be interesting (or to use my other favorite word of late - gnarly). Our biggest hurdles right now are figuring out how to make sure Mommy has time to get her work done (this is even harder when I'm trying to work from home) and how to see that the poor dog feels some inkling of love in a given day. The girls aren't wild about him so our first "child" finds himself banished more often than not. This makes me feel horribly guilty. We're hoping all three members of our little brood will make peace soon. I'm also not sure if I will ever get used to the staring and the random comments. I try to be gracious but it really bugs me. Davis thinks I need to get a t-shirt to wear out that says "What?! My children are black?" (as if this was a surprise to me). I know people are just curious but when you are just trying to eat your burrito in peace (the girls LOVE Mexican food - true Californians!), it gets really old. So my kids are a different color than me. They are still cuter than yours so you eat your burrito and I'll eat mine. More rants on that later.

We are really grateful that our transition is going so well. Things take SOOOO much longer than they used to but little by little we are adjusting to life with the little ladies. This picture is from our first Sunday back at church. The ladies had been home exactly one week at that point!

10 minutes are up. More to come when I find another 10 minutes...

Thursday, March 19, 2009

In Process

So I have come to the conclusion that the grand blog post that I am envisioning to chronicle our adventure just isn't going to happen in one shot. It's going to have to come in installments. This is literally the first time in four days that I have had the chance to hit the blog. Our lives have become a time warp of going potty, eating graham crackers, and throwing temper tantrums (them, not us...we've been pretty close though). This transition has been harder for all of us than we anticipated. Our little ladies are doing much better now (the first few days home were ROUGH ROUGH ROUGH) and both are becoming little baskets of giggles. They both love to call for their Daddy all the time ("Abat! Abat!"). They also love to take baths and splash around in the tub. Junia thinks trying to escape from Mommy as she laughs her head off and runs down the hall naked is a blast. Eden pretty much thinks life revolves around graham crackers. We still can't get them to nap - hence the lack of a blog post and the pooped out Mommy. We are hopeful though that that day will come.

Installment #1 is just pictures for those of you who have been stalking us to get us to get something up on the blog. Sorry this has taken so long. I'll follow this with more about the trip in Installment #2. We spent several days seeing Ethiopia prior to picking the girls up. We also travelled to meet Eden's birthmother and siblings. We look pretty exhausted and dirty in most of these pics, primarily because the girls had gastroenteritis from the day we picked them up. We pretty much spent a week trapped in our guest house covered in barf and diarrhea. Seriously. Good times were had by all. But we survived. As you will see, our little girls are settling in to life in California!

Monday, March 16, 2009

We Are Home!

We made it. The trip home was gnarly. There is really no other word to describe it but we lived to tell the tale. We are incredibly jetlagged and have mountains of luggage to dig out of but we did survive. I had planned to blog our entire adventure while in Ethiopia but sporadic (at best!) dial-up connections made that impossible. More to come....

For those of you that asked us to take pics for you, we have tons of great video and pics of Baby N, Baby D and Little Miss E. You'll love them. We'll be in touch soon...

Sunday, March 1, 2009

We're Off!

Today one journey ends and another one begins. We leave in just a few hours for Ethiopia. We will be in transit about 40 hours and have had almost no sleep. Good times!

I have not been blogging for about a week. Can you guess why?! Things have been crazy around here. We had our last "we-don't-need-a-sitter-date-night" on Saturday and slept until 9 in the AM quiet (knowing it may be 18 years - if we are lucky - before that happens again). This has been a crazy week of procuring "mom shoes" (thanks for your concern...mission accomplished...the final verdict was Simple and Keen), getting typhoid and malaria meds, finding dollar bills printed after 2002, taking doggy to Grandma and Grandpa's, gathering up way too many documents for our embassy visit, reviewing our Amharic cheatsheet (as long we were are talking about eating and going potty, we are in pretty good shape...other topics are outside the boundaries of our vocabulary!) and the list, as you can imagine, goes on. We are now almost ready to go - at least with regard to the many logistical details to be dealt with. I'm not sure if anyone can ever be "ready" to say to two toddlers "Hi. You don't know us. We're going to be your parents now. Hope you don't mind that we're white and probably look kind of strange to you. Want to get on a plane together for the next 40 hours?" Apparently we gave up sanity for Lent.

I've been thinking a lot about my dad's question "What have you learned from this?" As I said on Jericho Day (or Victory Day or Hallelujah Day - take your pick), that feels like such a DEEP question but it seems like one that is so important to answer. More than anything, I do hope we learned something from what was such a LONG and often EXHAUSTING journey. (I have a feeling that was a primer for parenthood). Someday maybe I'll sit down in my spare time (as the mom of 2 toddlers I've heard I'll have TONS of this) to write a book about this for the little ladies. For now, here are the Cliff Notes. Oprah has a thing in her magazine called "Things I Know for Sure". Here are mine:

1. Miracles happen.
I know because I witnessed one. If I hadn't, my daughters would not be coming home in time for Easter. For intellectual people, this is no small thing. I don't like fantasy movies (except for maybe Twilight...please don't tell) because I can't get past the fact that they are not real. Maybe there is a parallel there with my faith. This experience allowed me to SEE that God IS real. I think I have lived a Christian life of choosing to believe that God is real but for an intellectual there is an element of "fantasy" there because your empirical knowledge of God is somewhat limited. Maybe like doubting Thomas, I just needed tangible evidence that God was real. I now have evidence that God and His promises are true. That's incredibly significant for me and perhaps makes the additional days of waiting worth it. I've thought often of a quote my friend Leah sent me from a Beth Moore Bible Study during our time of waiting: "When something comes so easily to others and not to us, we often feel frustration. But it might be that you are the one chosen to see the supernatural. Maybe you are not picked on, but picked out to see the glory of God."

2. Prayer works. We both made the effort through vigilant prayer and fasting to intercede for our daughters and God was faithful. We learned a huge lesson from this about what faith needs to look like and what it can do. That too was very significant. In Streams in Desert (you know by now that I love this book), the author reminds us of this: "The land of God's promises is open before us, and it is His will for us to possess it. We measure off the territory with the feet of obedient faith and faithful obedience, thereby claiming and appropriating it as our own. How many of us have ever taken possession of the promises of God in the name of Christ? The land of His promises is a magnificent territory for faith to claim by marching across its length and breadth, but faith has yet to do so." In my life this was all too true. I had never been so desperate that I needed to claim God's promises as my own and act in response to those promises. I learned through this process what it means when we are told that "faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the evidence of things unseen" (Heb. 11:1). In this adoption, I was forced into a place where I had only the assurance of God's promises to carry me through. I learned that that alone is enough.

3. Be prepared to do battle for your children. Through this, God has shown me that as an adoptive parent you need to be prepared to do battle in prayer for your family. Adoption puts you on the "front lines" in a fight against injustice, poverty, and apathy - things that break God's heart. By choosing adoption, you are making a very open statement (particularly if your adoption is a transracial one) to those you encounter about the transcendent love and grace of God. The enemy cannot allow that. Nothing is more attractive to a hurting world than the hope that maybe, just maybe, God does care. By choosing as a family to bring orphans into your home, you are choosing to show the world that God does care and there is great evangelical power in that (provided that you are purposeful about directing any praise received back to God rather than taking the "you're-such-a-good-person-just-like-the-Angelina-Jolie" comments and using them to pat yourself on the back). My "labor" with my girls was a labor of intercession and I feel that that was training for a life of covering them and our family with prayer.

So, I guess that's the short of what I have learned. Dad, did that answer your question? The learning continues and we look forward with anticipation to the life that awaits us around this bend. Thanks to the armor of God - and some snappy Mom Shoes - I think we've got a shot at this.

We would appreciate your prayers once again as we go to get the little ladies. Here's what we need prayer for:

Please pray that God would give them courage and strength. This has the potential to be an absolutely terrifying experience for them. Pray that God grants them peace.

Pray also for that the bonding process goes smoothly. Pray that they are drawn to us and feel safe with us. We have lots of "snake charmer" toys that we hope will fascinate them enough to make them like us!

Pray that the girls receive their visas without any problems or delays.


Pray that God would keep us safe and healthy and equip us with what we need for this journey. We too will need courage and strength. This has the potential to be terrifying of us too (maybe more so than for the girls!).

Pray also for that LONG flight home that we will all survive and live to tell the tale.

Lastly, Pray that we are able to transition effectively back to work when we get home. Being gone from work always causes things to pile up which can add stress to an already stressful situation.

Thank you for sharing in our journey.

"Blessed be the Lord,
Because He heard the voice of my supplications!
The Lord is my strength and my shield,
My heart trusted in Him and I am helped;
Therefore my heart greatly rejoices,
And with my song I will praise Him."

Psalm 28:6-8