Friday, January 6, 2012

Melkam Gena

Ethiopian Christmas was a special day for Aster. It sounds just lovely.

Early in the morning, when it was still dark, Aster heard drumming and singing.  As the group moved closer to her home, she woke up and joined the group. As they walked through the streets, more and more children came out of their homes and joined the singing/drumming group (and mamas too - if they wanted). Once all the children were collected, they headed to church.

All of the children sang together in church. It must have been beautiful. When they were finished, the children returned to their homes and had breakfast.

It was then the adults' turn to go to church. At lunch time, all of her family and friends met at the church and enjoyed injera and wats. Everyone shared food, "a pot luck."

That tradition she really likes. Sharing food. That's a tradition she would like to continue.

This weekend we will celebrate Ethiopian Christmas with good friends. As presents, Aster wants to bring her favorite Ethiopian snacks- mangoes, bananas and avocados,
"People like food as presents!"

Extraordinary, right?
I know.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Christmas, Earrings and Bellyaches

We had a wonderful Christmas. It was more special, calm and comforting than I could have ever anticipated.

I was filled with anxiety leading up to it. There were moments when I thought that I couldn't do it. I wasn't strong enough for an American Christmas. We weren't strong enough. Not yet. We were in too deep to cancel.

People were thrilled for us. Our first Christmas. Together. As a family of four. I wanted to scream- DON'T YOU KNOW HOW TERRIBLY WRONG THIS COULD ALL GO?!

But, they didn't. How could they?

I felt lost. At times I felt very alone in my panic and deep breaths. A few times I misplaced tears and cried at little things. I was too stressed for words.

Tears poured as I was watching her first grade holiday performance. I was beyond proud. I kept flashing back to our Christmas one year before.  When I had to leave her. The most difficult time in my life. I hope my life is never that painful again, but my heartache was nothing compared to what she experienced. What she had already lost. My worst is nothing.
Loss is not relative. Pain is not relative.

Aster's performance was beautiful. She sang all of the chorus parts perfectly and quickly opened and closed her mouth - the worst lip synching possible - for the wordy parts. She stood tall and happy in her Christmas dress.
In between songs, children shared their letters to Santa. Every letter started the same, "For Christmas I would like to ask you for ___ for people who have less than me. I would like __ (fill in wii or iPod Touch or whatever)..."
I felt like I had been punched in the gut. It took me a few emotion filled moments to figure out why.
My daughter cannot tell the different between a bad tummy ache and being hungry- yet, she was coached to write a letter asking "Santa" to give people clothes. Santa never visited to give her food, yet he gives rich kids iPod Touches.
Pain is not relative. 
So much to explain.

Tonight we discussed the possibility of getting her ears pierced. When I told her she could pick earrings, she absolutely glowed.
My girl's ears were pierced before. Pierced, but she never got earrings. My little girl got her ears pierced and never got the reward of seeing shiny earrings sparkling from her ears- even for a moment,

"It was sad."

Looking into my soulful daughter's eyes- the eyes that are so full of love and genuine care for others- just reconfirms what I already know. Pain is not relative. Hurt is not relative. Love is not relative. My daughter's experiences have been extreme, too much, heartbreaking - but the result is extraordinary- she's breathtaking.

I heard you mommy. Who said that about me? Who said I will do amazing things?
I said it, baby.

She already has.

Monday, November 28, 2011


Almost exactly a year ago, I met my Aster for the very first time. For over two weeks, we visited the care center frequently. Knowing Aster a year later, I can't believe she's the same person. She appeared so strong, but many of her behaviors were simply a mixture of coping and surviving. No child should live in institutionalized care. Ever. The shorter the time, the better.
I fell in love with all of the children during those weeks. But, there was one boy that simply melted me. Perhaps I worried about him the most. He had such a gentle spirit. He was by far the oldest/biggest boy at the care center. I loved his eyes, the way he watched the other children play and his very shy smile. One day, when I walked by the children eating, I grabbed his foot and pretended to take a bite. He covered his mouth and let out a good laugh. It was that moment, hearing his sweet laugh, he had my heart completely. While in Ethiopia, I referred to him as, "my little bunny."
Well, my little bunny was still there when we returned in May. Still without a family. I couldn't look at him without filling with tears. I couldn't stand the fact that we were leaving my little bunny.
When Aster started talking about a boy named "Z" in Gambella, I was intrigued. She would laugh a huge laugh and tell silly stories "One time, poor Z caught his hair on fire! Mommy, he was ok. He laughed about it when he told me!" She told me that "Z" was so nice and such a hard worker. Aster worried about Z in Gambella.
A few weeks later I learned that Aster's Z was my little bunny. Z lived with his uncle in Ethiopia. Z's uncle is Aster's uncle. They share an uncle and lived a few steps from one another in Gambella.
My heart hurts that Aster's sweet Z still needs a family. She teases me, "I love Z, but so do you. I heard you. You call him a little bunny!"

Beautiful families are holding an auction to raise funds for the three oldest boys at the care center. Two of the boys have families. Z does not. Yet.

Do some holiday shopping. Go bid on some of the wonderful items. For my Aster's Z, for my little bunny. For all the boys that deserve to be home yesterday.

Go here. Now. Thank you. Please.

UPDATE! Z has a family. It happened today! TODAY! Can you believe it? I know. Good stuff. YAY!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Present

With the holidays quickly approaching, my mind is swirling with thoughts about presents. I obviously haven't started shopping. I've just starting thinking.
As a child, present getting was the best.  I'd love nothing more than for my girl to love it like I did. And she will. In time.

You may assume that if you've never received a present before, your introduction to present getting would be a joyous and fabulous event.
Not so much.
After 6 months, some of my Aster's thoughts, "I love presents mommy. I like getting things. I think it's so nice of people to get me things...but, I just get sooo nervous."

By the time you are at the age where you are trying to please others - by the time you actually can think about what other people may be thinking - most American kids have opened an uncountable number of presents. They are experts. They've had years of gentle couching on what to say, rate of opening, how to respond, etc. They also are usually familiar with the items they are getting, know how to ask if they are unsure, speak the same language of the gift giver fluently and know the appropriate gift getting language. 

If you think about the pragmatics needed to successfully open a gift, it's a bit mind blowing. You need to know how to look and what to say during each of the numerous steps: When you get handed the package, while opening the package, after opening the package and later when someone wants to talk about it again.

Everyone stares at you (making you nervous, so you may hurry?), evaluates your facial expression.
What do they want me to say?
What do they want my face to say?
What if I don't like it? What do I do then? What do I say?
What if it's something I already have?
What if I don't know what to do with it?
What if I do like it? What do I do then? What do I say?
What do I do with this paper?
How does it open?
Do I shake it?
What do they want me to do with it after I open it?
Why are they STILL staring at me?
Why is my mom talking the whole time? "Slow down, relax, say thank you, don't shake it, don't throw it, look at it, look what it does, let me help you, say 'Thank you'..."

Remember the slight anxiety as a child when you opened up that gift from your great-grandfather? What could it possibly be? How should I react to THIS?
It's a billion times worse for our babies. We were possibly a little anxious, yet we KNEW what we were supposed to do.

Point? My baby girls LOVES presents and she should get them. Slowly. Without a lot of people. With support. With front loading.

She remembers who gave her each and every single thing she owns. Things that were here when she arrived, she has asked. She also treats all of her things respectfully and thoughtfully. Aster is amazing, but watching her open gifts is the most painfully awkward event. When she first came home, we thought that videoing her opening a present would be fun. Nope. Within 10 seconds we stopped. It was horrifying.

Even Christmas gift getting. It's just hard.

Thursday, November 24, 2011


Our Thanksgiving was wonderful. Parts of today were the first time I felt completely relaxed during the past 6 months.
It was just the four of us. We sauteed, baked and roasted it all. With no time constraints, we just cooked, cuddled, ate, slept, ate again, watched a movie and cuddled more. It was perfect. Although we missed our extended family, I knew the four of us couldn't handle any more.

Today, something fabulous happened.

6 months ago, the first morning we woke up in Ethiopia with Aster, she was mad. The anger seemed to happen during the dressing process. It lasted a long time. Breakfast was an Ethiopian shrug fest sprinkled with dirty looks and tears. No jokes or tickles could break it.
I recently asked Aster (she has the best memory and recalls all details), why she was mad that morning,
"Did I put the wrong shoes on you? What did I do?"
She laughed so loudly and said, "I was mad because I wanted the other shoes. It was the shoes, but it really wasn't the shoes mommy. I was just so scared. So, it was the shoes, but it really wasn't the shoes."

I know. Brilliant. 

When Aster came home, our biggest tension was getting dressed. If I asked her to pick something, she got big watery eyes and looked overwhelmed. If I gave her two choices, she'd still get watery eyes and look overwhelmed. She'd want to please me. I'd want her to be happy. I'd be unhappy because I couldn't figure out how to please her. She'd be overwhelmed and unhappy because I was unhappy. Usually there were tears. Most days I had to take a break during the process and take big, deep breaths. It was a big mess. We were a mess. Finally, I just started picking for her and dressing became a nice time to chat - just not about clothes. Recently, I've been asking her for some input, "Do you feel like wearing pants or a skirt?" It's gone well. Baby steps.

Today, I made a promise to her. We weren't going anywhere. We were going to stay home, eat, cuddle and watch TV. All day. Nothing else. No one else. That was all.

I saw her relax. In that relaxed state I knew she could do it. Even do it happily.
"You can pick anything in your closet to wear. I don't care what."

Her face lit up and she smiled. She whispered that she knew exactly what she wanted. She went to her closet and picked out a beautiful hand-me-down Christmas dress,
"I saw it in a movie. I want the Christmas dress."
I took it down. I put it on her. She smiled. I smiled. We were dressed.

It was a Thanksgiving Day miracle.

Since Aster was "fancy" - Judah wanted to be fancy too.

Monday, November 21, 2011


I often find myself having more thoughts than I could ever process. More concerns, more guilt, more questions than I can comprehend. Clinging to the people that understand. Being unsure how to interact with those that don't. Thinking I need to explain, when words aren't necessary. Thinking I don't need to explain, then quickly (or not so quickly) realizing I do. A state that obsesses over death, trauma, loss, parenting, race, hair, discipline, language development, neurology, pragmatics, culture, family and so much more. Sometimes it feels good to let all of it go and just look at us. When I take away all of those thoughts, all of our real struggles, something very important emerges clearly. Despite all (that word is not nearly long enough) of it, we are unbelievably filled with joy. Each of us. We have ridiculous amounts of fun. We trust and love each other. We are silly. We are thriving. From their struggles, my children have skills, strength and beauty beyond their years. Despite it all, they are happy. There are not enough words to express how proud of them I am. So we dance.

I am so thankful for my babies - such funny, smart and strong souls. 

Thursday, November 3, 2011

I wouldn't...

I could write a very long novel explaining in detail all of the reasons why I would never put hair extensions on my daughter. Not that I judge people who do. You know your children best. I'm too busy trying to tread water. Judging? Wow. I don't even know how to do anything yet. It seems way too big of a job to judge. 6 months ago, I would have laughed just thinking about ME putting hair extensions on a CHILD. Really. I would have thought and thought and analyzed until I was sure that hair extensions + barbie would have been the equivalent of just handing a girl no self esteem and a couple dozen eating disorders. Then I met my grounded girl. The most mature person I know. The girl that has such real struggles and real thoughts, that any sort of temporary happiness- real or imagined, anything that makes her feel like she fits in a little bit more, anything that makes her feel lighter and less serious, anything. She knows more "real" than any person should. I looked at her last Saturday morning and impulsively decided. Really. At this point, some fake hair on her head is the last thing that's going to hurt her. I spent over 10 hours last weekend putting hair extensions on my daughter. It sucks to lose everyone you know. It sucks to worry about and miss your family. It sucks to be a girl and to have your head shaved. A few times. It's a tiny part, but it's the only part I can sort of, not really, almost, a little bit, fix.

Saturday, October 29, 2011


I've learned to look at feet much differently. Aster and I have spent a lot of time recently, talking about feet. Her feet. Her beautiful feet. A few weeks ago, after her bath, I painted her toe nails. You mommies know. Carefully placing the chosen blue polish where the nail should be. Filling in the bits where the scared toe nail curves. Adding, sculpting, loving. She was thrilled with the result. Adorable. There was something in her eyes while I was working. Something that told me- she didn't love her own feet. Those perfect feet. I took some time to kiss all of those scars and lines and places that hurt her at one time. She told me, "sometimes, maybe carrying water for my family or something and feet hurt." "What did you do when your foot got hurt?" Shrugging,"I keep walking. I don't say anything." "Because that's who you are. You are someone that will work so hard for people you love and not stop even when you get hurt. You are so strong. So beautiful. So good. Your feet tell stories about how good, strong and beautiful you are." I look at my own characterless feet. Feet seem so symbolic of our lives right now. Those with characterless feet learning from those with beautiful feet. No one, no thing, could have prepared me for this- for how inexperienced I feel. I am just starting to learn about real loss, fear and pain. When you love your child, you feel and hold their pain. My daughter is a shining, thriving, beautiful girl that happily squeals things like, "I know how to spell HALLOWEEN! H-A-L-L-O-W-E-E-N! I DID IT!" I am just breathing. I don't know what to do. I'm just new.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


13 months ago. The first picture we ever saw of our girl.
4 months ago. When I first held her and knew I'd never have to let go. Ever again.

One month ago. On our first family vacation.
One week ago. Celebrating Ethiopian New Year. With friends. Real, beautiful friends.