Friday, July 31, 2009

Signs of my new life

I used to drink my morning coffee in one of two venues: either while rushing around frantically getting dressed for work, or on a day off, sitting quietly on the sofa, slowly petting a purring cat while reading my Bible.

Now, I drink my morning coffee while wearing my pajamas in the passenger seat of my car, while my son sits in the driver's seat pushing every button that he can reach, rolling the windows up and down and re-adjusting all of the rearview mirrors.

I used to listen to a huge variety of music: Christian, jazz, opera, folk, classical or whatever else suited my fancy at the moment.

Now my music choices consist of the following: Amharic children's songs or wonderfully intelligent lyrics like "There's a spider on the floor, on the floor. There's a spider on the floor, on the floor. Who could ask for any more than a spider on the floor? There's a spider on the floor, on the floor."

I used to read extensively -- J.R.R. Tolkien, Francene Rivers, Jan Karon, Anne Rivers Siddons, Randy Alcorn, C.S. Lewis, Ted Dekker, Steven Lawhead...

I still read extensively -- books like "Go, Dog. Go!", "A Cuddle For Little Duck" and "Curious George Visits a Toy Store" just to name a few. (Somewhere in the corriders of my brain, I am hearing my Dad's voice from thirty years ago, every time that we brought a new batch of books home from the library, "You know, I should really go into authoring children's books, if people can get THIS published!")

I used to spend time doing crafty things like making beaded watches or making my own notecards.

I still do crafty things -- like unknotting and relacing the shoestrings from David's tennis shoes that Yikealo has just spent the last twenty minutes "artistically arranging" while I was in the shower.

When I used to go out for lunch, it was generally to somewhere like Panera with my father-in-law, where we discussed current business ideas or had a deep, spiritual discussion.

Now, if I go out for lunch, it's to meet my brother-in-law at the McDonald's with the kid's play area, where there really is no conversation because we're busy watching our boys run wild and listening to twenty other sweaty little kids screaming their heads off.

I used to listen to all of my great music on shuffle while scrapbooking for hours at a time in my basement.

Now I scrapbook in half-hour snatches while Yikealo naps, and my soundtrack is his static-enhanced breathing from the baby monitor.

I used to laugh at my sister for yelling at her kids while we were talking on the phone.

Now I'm the one constantly saying things like, "No, do not look in the neighbor's mailbox - it's not ours," "Please stop jumping off of the sofa! You're going to get hurt!," "Yikealo, do NOT pull Frankie's tail again!"

David and I used to spend hours playing Settlers of Catan in our library.

Now we play a great game called "Honey, have you seen Yikealo?" while Yikealo "hides" under the kitchen table and shouts out suggestions of where we should search: "Mama, alga!" (bed) "Yikealo's in his alga?" I ask in a very loud voice. "Ow!" (Yes) from under the table. "No, he's not in his alga," shouts David from the bedroom. "Mama, mekina!" (car) yells the boy...and on...and on...and on...

And the best part is...I wouldn't trade it! Okay, so maybe I do miss certain things, and maybe there are moments when I do sort of feel like this about motherhood:

(Gwen managed to snap this dreadful photo of me last Sunday right as I removed Yikealo's hand from a rather...ummm...un-photogenic area.)

But honestly, I really love this kid, and he has added so much joy to our household. I wouldn't go back to any of the things that I used to love if it meant not having him...and for the most part, it really feels good to be here!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Ethiopia Trip - Day 4 (June 30th)

It’s nearly impossible to hit REM sleep with a sweaty little body rolling back and forth across your bed and confiscating the only decent pillow (the Tempur-pedic that you brought with you from America.) Add in the random dogs barking, roosters crowing and calls to prayer, and needless to say, we DID NOT feel well rested when we learned that our brand-new son was a “morning person.” UGHHHH! One of those happy, smiley, singing, joyful-to-be-alive people that usually end up just irritating me because I am SO NOT any of those things at 5:30 AM.

Actually, in all seriousness, it was completely humbling and beautiful on our first morning as a family of three, to be awakened by a beaming child who was delighted to see his “Ababa and Amama” laying on either side of him He had to wrap his arms tightly around both of our necks, and then he alternated between us, kissing various facial features, and then pausing so that we could reciprocate. It was unexpected - I had imagined him waking up and being afraid of finding himself in strange surroundings, but he seemed overjoyed to see us, as he has been every morning since then. It reminds me of a line from a Sara Groves song - dedicated to people who have been through some truly horrendous situations - “Tell me what you know…about God, and the world, and the human soul. How so much can go wrong…and still, there are songs.” This little boy had just been taken away once again from people that he had grown to know and love, and yet he still had so much love and joy in his heart. No wonder God says that we are to become like little children.

Once the smooching was over, the very first thing he had to do, of course, was put on his shoes again. Everybody needs tennis shoes with pajamas, after all. We showed him a few more of the toys that we had brought for him, and he spent an hour or so chasing the motorized tractor and wagon all over the hotel room. Eventually, we headed down to breakfast, where he ate a couple of bites ( some of which he spit out onto the floor again -- GGGRRRRR.) While picking up wads of chewed-up, slimy food from the hotel floor tiles, I realized that it was my 34th birthday. Somehow, I had never quite envisioned this type of birthday activity, but hey, sometimes the Lord leads you to some unexpected places! After breakfast, we headed out to Hannah’s Hope. Tuesday was the shopping day for the parents, and the children were going to stay for the last time with their special mothers while we were out browsing the local wares.

It was a joy to see Yikealo’s reaction to Hannah’s Hope - he was so excited to see his special people! As soon as we stepped inside the gate, he was calling out names and passing out hugs right and left. We could certainly never doubt that our little guy had been VERY well cared for while living there. He took off down the path to the house where he slept, arms thrown open wide, and calling out “Alem! Genet!” -- the names of two of his own caretakers who were walking toward him carrying a basket of toys. This is a photo of Alem scooping him up and kissing him:

Yikealo really wanted nothing more to do with us right then, so we spent a couple of minutes walking around the grounds, taking it all in, before boarding another crowded bus into the city. We drove for about an hour to a market area, where we were given some basics in bartering etiquette and turned loose for an hour and a half. Johannes and Julie stayed close by to answer any questions that we had. The shops were fascinating: crowded, densely packed, tiny areas that were often too small to fit more than three people inside, crammed with a mixture of beautiful and hideous items.

David and I bought a blanket with some pillow covers, several beautiful scarves, traditional Ethiopian clothing for all three of us, some coasters with African animals painted on them, a zebra picture made from banana leaves, a coffee pot (which got smashed to pieces on the flight home), a book on the Ethiopian Orthodox church (Yikealo’s religious background), a New Testament printed in both English and Amharic, some berbere (a traditional mixture of spices used in many Ethiopian dishes) and a kilo of shiro (ground chickpeas - apparently, the children ate this daily at HH, and Yikealo loves it when I make it for him.) We got an “Ethiopian Millenium” t-shirt, which doesn’t come close to fitting either one of us, even though we bought the largest size they offered, and a pair of leather sandals, which apparently we lost on the bus -- they never made it to our room at any rate. We also bought a poster of the continent of Africa after being chased from store to store by a street vendor who WOULD NOT take no for an answer. He followed us around constantly unrolling the poster, saying in heavily accented English, “Is plastic, not paper - good price,” until we finally just gave in and bought the dumb thing. Eventually, I’ll get around to framing it and hanging it in Yikealo’s room, along with the zebra picture and a painting that we bought later that day at a restaurant. Here are a few more photos of the shops.

Several things that we learned while on our shopping trip: we are both terrible at bartering, Ethiopian prices are unbelievably low, and you will greatly amuse shopkeepers (as well as your husband) if you say “A-wed-eh-hallow” (I love you) instead of “A-muh-seg-uh-nah-lehu” (thank you) following a purchase. So much for my skill with Amharic! Also, don’t drink too much coffee before leaving your hotel and taking an hour long, jarring bus ride, because the restroom facilities in the local coffee shop are VERY sketchy, especially on a day when the entire city is without power, and you can’t see ANYTHING down the dark set of stairs to the toilet. Maybe that’s a good thing though, because I probably don’t really want to know what I was stepping in.

After meeting back at the bus, we drove a short distance to Makush, a great Italian restaurant and fine art gallery. The food was really good, and the art was beautiful.

David and I had made the decision to buy a piece for Yikealo’s room, and after going back and forth between several different paintings, we chose this one, to represent Yikealo‘s birth-mom Mihiret.

The frame ended up being smashed on the way home, but the actual painting is in perfect condition, thankfully. We loved the stained glass look and the very sad, yet somehow resigned look in the woman’s eyes, as if she’s missing someone.

The service at Makush was VERY slow, and we were a really big group, so I think we were actually there for over three hours. It had started to rain as we left the restaurant, and there were groups of young boys standing outside holding umbrellas, which they would place over your head and walk beside you all the way to the bus, hoping for a tip. I am glad that we bought the painting - however, it made us feel pretty guilty to know that we had just spent around $350 on it - more than a whole year’s living expenses for many Ethiopians. This was probably the day where we saw the most abject poverty on our bus-ride around the city. I've already posted several pictures in "Sights of Ethiopia." We also saw several amusing signs: one that read "Big Mak Cafe - burgers, coffee & tea, wedding cakes." What else do you really need, after all? Then there was this one:

We were dropped off at the hotel with all of our purchases, and after spending some time trying to organize our disaster of a room, we walked back up to Hannah’s Hope to retrieve Yikealo. David had really missed him and was looking forward to seeing him again - I couldn’t say the same thing. I had rather enjoyed the hours of freedom, and I was SO tired by that point. I had gotten approximately 13 hours of sleep out of the last 5 ½ days or so, and I was definitely feeling it. The concept of Yikealo seemed completely overwhelming to me. I remember telling David, “If he completely ignores us when we see him again, I am going to be so tempted to just turn around and walk back to the hotel without him.”

Of course, that’s not at all what happened. God always knows what I need, and Yikealo reacted to us the same way that he had reacted to Hannah’s Hope that morning. The instant he saw me, he started yelling, “Mama, Mama!” and he ran toward me with his arms open wide and a huge smile on his face. When I picked him up, he wrapped his arms around my neck, squeezed tight and gave me a resounding kiss on the cheek. Alem was standing right there, and she held her arms out to him, just to see what his response would be. When he pushed her hands away and said, “Aiy, Amama!”, she and some of the other women started cheering and saying, “That’s good! He loves you!” It was amazing to watch their excitement in the process of “turning over” these little ones that they loved deeply to strangers.

We went back to the hotel and took turns trying to keep Yikealo occupied in the room, but he really didn’t want to be there. He kept trying to leave, until we finally locked the door and hid the key from him. I don’t remember what finally caused it, but he and I reached our limit at about the same time - he was wailing and I was crying, and David just looked at me and said, “Honey, you need to sleep. Everything will look better after you’ve had some decent rest. Why don’t I take him downstairs and let him run wild in the lobby for awhile, and you pray for a bit and then try to get some sleep.” Have I ever mentioned that David is the best husband in the world?

I remember crying out to God after my guys left, asking Him to please pour His love through me to Yikealo, to soften my type-A-everything-needs-to-go-my-way personality, and to really become the mother that He wanted me to be. I knew that He had led us here, and I also knew that one of the reasons He had was so that I could be molded more completely into His image. I have a lot of growing to do, and there is no doubt in my mind that Yikealo is going to be a great facilitator! Parenting is such a beautiful picture of God’s love for us - he reaches out to us unconditionally, during the moments when we are the most unlovable, and offers over and over to pick us back up again, soothe away the pain caused by our stubbornness and pride, and offers a new start. I realized that I needed to do no less for the precious child who was now my son.

It didn’t take long at all for me to fall into an exhausted sleep, where I stayed for over two hours, until David returned with our well-fed, tired, happy boy. They’d had a grand time down in the lobby/restaurant with many of the other families and had a new "secret father/son handslap" to prove it. David had also managed to find something to eat that Yikealo couldn’t get enough of -- shiro and injera, which was what he was used to eating at Hannah‘s Hope, and which the hotel staff was happy to make, even though it wasn‘t on their menu. No more spitting on the floor? Excellent! Even better, God had either answered my prayers really quickly or getting some sleep had made all the difference in the world (and I'm not ruling out the possiblity of both!), because I felt sudden, overwhelming affection for Yikealo - much more than I had felt up to that point.

Yikealo fell asleep almost as soon as we got him into his pajamas, and then came one of the things that I had feared the most about this trip - the dreaded stoma-pouch change. Because David’s Ankylosing Spondylitis has locked his neck in an upright position, there is no way that he can see his abdominal area, so I’m the official pouch-changer in this house. (Hey, those of you who know me well have to admit that I’ve spent LOTS of time well outside of my comfort zones in recent months! I have also become convinced that enterostomal nurses are really angels in disguise.) We had been told not to use the water supply at the hotel to clean around the stoma area, as it was not a clean source, so we had to use bottled water. At times, David’s pouch changes can coincide with an extremely active time for the stoma, which means that he’s spending up to an hour and a half in the bathroom continually cleaning up before we can attach a new pouch - not a good scenario if you’re using a limited supply of bottled water. The electricity had been out almost all day, so we had also spent some time trying to figure out where to place the flashlights for optimum viewing. We also had to be quiet enough so as not to awaken our sleeping child. After spending some time praying that all would go well, we had what was probably the quickest, easiest pouch change that we’ve had since April -- oh yeah, and the electricity came back on in time -- just another reminder that God answers prayers, even when (and maybe especially when) they are about mundane, everyday things. I think that our Father loves it when we come to Him with anything and everything.

Finally, time for bed! I followed David’s example and took a sleeping pill to ensure a good night’s rest, and it worked like a charm. David claims that about 10 minutes after I took it, I was asking him why he had four eyes and three noses…but at least I finally got a decent amount of rest!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Falling in love with Mimi

Yikealo had the chance to meet one of his great loves today -- his three-year-old cousin Malia (known to all of us as Mimi.) In the care package that we sent to him at Hannah's Hope in May, we included a CD of hymns sung by the Wenninger family, on which Mimi sings an adorable version of "Jesus Signed My Pardon." He loves to listen to that song repeatedly, while gazing at Mimi's picture in one of my scrapbooks, and today, he finally got to meet the face behind the voice!

Yikealo and I met my sister Erica and her four children half-way at our new favorite spot in Upper Sandusky, and the kids had a great time on the playground equipment and in the pool. Yikealo liked Malia pretty much right away, which is interesting, because he's mostly ignored other children that are close to his age when he first meets them. He kept himself (and her) occupied for quite some time by chasing her around the enormous kiddie pool and tackling her whenever he could get close enough. He did really well with the Shana, Adrian and Ashton too, but Mimi was the favorite, and he's been wanting to see her pictures ever since we came home.

I also learned today that the other moms hanging around the pool with their little darlings give you very strange looks if you respond "I really don't know" when they ask you "How old is he?" (referring to the little brown boy that I'd obviously been parenting for the last hour.) The truth is, though, that we DON'T know his age. There are two different birthdates in his paperwork: June 12, 2005 & August 1, 2006. We have no way of knowing which, if either, is accurate. It's not something that you ever think about in our culture of calendars and clocks and dayplanners and cell-phones and computers and hospitals and birthday celebrations, and really, no possible way to get away from the inexorable movement of time. In Mihiret's world, though, I'm sure that things are very different...I doubt very highly whether a poverty-stricken woman living hand-to-mouth in a third-world country even OWNS a calendar, let alone any of the other time-markers that we have. I would be surprised if Yikealo was born anywhere near a hospital, and she may never have thought to make a note of the date. To further complicate matters, Ethiopia uses an entirely different calendar - I believe that it is currently the year 2001 over there, and their new year is in September. The birthdate that was chosen for his newly issued birth certificate in June was the earlier one: June 12, 2005, making him four. A few of his actions and motor-skills seem more like four, but in every other area, including size, he is significantly behind many American 3 year olds, and actually, he was very close in size to most of the 2 1/2 year olds that were adopted in our travel group. We'll probably decide to change his age when we go through the re-adoption process required by the State of Ohio -- keeping the birthdate of June 12th but changing the year to 2006, making him currently a fairly new three-year-old. At the very least, that will give him a bit longer to catch up to his peers before we're forced to make decisions about school.
Besides, that would have the added benefit of making him only four days older than his precious Mimi!

Our cats don't nah

A fly on the wall at our house may observe -- and rightly so -- that the vocabulary of the two college educated inhabitants has been reduced to four monosyllabic words:
  1. Aiy - no
  2. Kum - stop
  3. Koy - wait
  4. Nah - come here
While limited in breadth, this dialect definitely has a robust scalability allowing us to communicate messages beyond those discernible on the surface. We have found by varying the order, frequency, and volume of these fours simple words that a rich world of playfulness, seriousness, and frustration can all be expressed.
We have, however, hit a snag. While Yikealo responds to these words better than I would have expected from a four year old, the two denizen cats have refused to adapt. Just this morning -- I kid you not -- I told Frankie "aiy" twice while she was trying to barge into the bathroom while I was using some Drano on the tub. Neither iteration was as effective as closing the door on her.
Also, Yikealo has expressed significant frustration over the fact that neither Frankie or Cleo will "nah". Larisa even let this slip the other day when calling the cats. All the cat owners reading this post won't be surprised, but our cats definitely don't nah. They are bilingually insubordinate.

Friday, July 24, 2009

A pound a day

We interrupt our normally scheduled Yikealo blog for a brief update on Yikealo's dad's health...

It's really Susan's fault. How am I supposed to know the difference between a 9X13 and a jelly roll pan? Get real! So when I call and ask for Peanut Butter bars to take to work, of course I pick the larger of the two. What self-respecting male wouldn't?

I knew I was in trouble when we picked up the the bars Monday night and they were all tucked sweetly away into a nice disposable tin pan the size of a freezer chest... just as heavy too. What I had imagined to be around five dozen was more like eight dozen.... along with 5 dozen chocolate chip cookies... for the 18 people at our work luncheon... my kinda odds.

These Peanut Butter bars are evil. They feel like sugar on your tongue after the third chew (more on this later). Sheer Peanut Buttery delight, and Peanut Butter is one of my favorite food groups. I have regularly eaten myself sick on these bars and was delighted at the prospect of taking on the PB freezer chest as "prednisone boy trying to gain weight post-op". I really cannot envision a better scenario.

The cool thing about work luncheons is you can count on most of the females in the office not to eat their allotted dozen cookies/bars all at one sitting. The resultant left-overs work to your advantage if you're a shameless snacker like me... I mean... if your surgeon has told you to eat small amounts more often (snicker).

For the purposes of this discussion, let's assume that I ate X bars where X is an integer significantly larger than one.... per day... for four days...

Let's also assume that I now know the ingredients of afore-mentioned evil bars to contain: Peanut Butter, butter butter, Karo, sugar, brown sugar, and powdered sugar. No wonder they feel like sugar in your mouth! At the slightest mention of saliva or chewing they're simply reverting to a former state like ice melting to water.

Finally I think there is something further at work here. If you're familiar with Ezekiel Bread, you may know that the ingredients, when combined, produce some really cool proteins; the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. The Peanut Butter bars, I suspect, have a similar quality. The weight of the whole, when combined, is about three times that of the sum of the individual ingredients. Thus you can eat one... umm... let's say ounce... of bar and amazingly gain three ounces.

So anyway, I step on the scales this morning and, SURPRISE! I've gained seven and a half pounds this last week. Somewhere the email from my colorectal surgeon stating "it is difficult to gain weight with a stoma" is ringing very false. Maybe I should take the Peanut Butter bar recipe to the Cleveland Clinic as a favor to future patients in my condition.

The good news is that a pound a day isn't all that bad; at least not for one week. I've been trying to put on weight ever since mid-February and really haven't had much success until Suzy's freezer chest full o' calories.

For those of you new to our family, or not necessarily familiar with my medical chart, a brief medical history:

I have both Crohn's Disease and Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS). These two conditions fall under the collective family of auto-immune diseases and can be treated, if not controlled, with similar medications. In January 2009 my Crohn's disease started to flare culminating in the removal of my colon on 4/6/09. As a condition of this surgery I needed to stop my auto-immune medication and, subsequently, my AS took the opportunity to go nuts in the absence of any serious medication. This combination of facts has landed me in the ER twice; once before my surgery and once after.

Anyway, I've mostly had a very difficult time recovering: weight loss (about 40 lbs), fevers, night-sweats, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, joint stiffness, stomach pain, hiccoughs, and a general lack of appetite have hindered my progress and threatened my ability to travel to Ethiopia to bring home Yikealo. This all started changing the last week of May at which point I made two decisions:
  1. Give up my "right" to be healthy. I surrendered this to God and instead of praying for health I prayed for the grace to be the best 131 lb weakling Christian that I can be
  2. Focus on the adoption trip and postpone my next surgery (to reverse my ileostomy) until some later date

I am convinced that decision one is the key here because as soon as I changed my prayers I started getting healthier. It is true that I also started taking steroids at the same time and this no doubt has played some role, but all the other medications I had tried had been essentially useless up until the end of May so it seems unlikely that a new one made all the difference.

If you know anything about prednisone, you'll know the situation I face: keep your current symptoms or take the drug and change the old symptoms in for some new symptoms. To paraphrase my physician "prednisone is one of the few drugs where they leave 'may' out of the phrase 'this medication may cause side-effects' -- it is not a matter of if but when they occur". That said, we made the switch in hopes of being healthy enough to travel to Ethiopia, and God blessed the meds so that my appetite increased and my joint pain decreased.

Since returning home, I've started a new medication -- Enbrel -- with the intent of getting off of prednisone ASAP. I've been on Enbrel before with good results and so far so good this time 'round: my joint pain is essentially gone, my strength is coming back. Oh yeah... and I gained seven lbs this week.

Well, that's enough about me. As they say in Amharic: chow.

Okay, we interrupt this interruption to take you back to Yikealo for today's funny stories. Also under the heading of "Suzy's fault" and "David's newly acquired fat rolls" we had an appointment with a stoma nurse today at the Cleveland Clinic. Larisa told Yikealo that they were going to go with Ababa in the mekina, and that he should go get his shoes. After rustling around in his closet and hers, he emerged like this:

That's right...carrying one of Larisa's purses and wearing the dreadful Holstein wellies that he got guessed it...Aunt Suz. On the wrong feet, no less. And no, Larisa did not let him wear them.

Tonight we're telling him to "brush teeth" and he's repeating it like "butt cheek?". Being mature adults in our mid thirties, this didn't amuse us in the least and we did not -- no matter what you may hear via other channels -- hoot with laughter and roll on the floor. Nor did we have him continue repeating this by saying "brush teeth" to him.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

All boy

This adorable, angelic-looking face belongs to a child who is ALL BOY!! That's right - "a noise with dirt on it," as evidenced by these photos from our walk tonight.
It rained pretty heavily today, and our street had some nice big, muddy puddles. David and I avoided them, and at first, Yikealo just barely dipped his toes into the very edges. That was until we got to the end of the street, where a clogged storm drain had provided the biggest, muddiest one of them all. Without any hesitation whatsoever, he stomped right through the middle, and then delightedly ran in circles, splashing water everywhere!

So many positives

The first question everyone asks us is, "How is it going?" I can honestly say that so far life with Yikealo has been going amazingly well - much better than I had imagined that it would. This may be the "honeymoon" period that everyone talks about, but he's been making our transition into parenthood pretty easy overall. Just a few of the positives:

  • He is so incredibly affectionate to us. He is constantly hugging and kissing us and saying "I love you." Yet, he's normally very stand-offish with new people, at least until he's been around them for quite some time. He did fall in love with our friend Gwen, though. He asks about her all the time, and today he named a new teddy bear "Gwen." Come to think of it, he told Jason (Gwen's husband) the other night that a picture of a bear in their photo album was "Gwen" too - hmmmmm...

  • He frequently tells me that I'm beautiful - "Amama konjo!" Come on, what Mom wouldn't want to hear that?
  • He typically listens really well to me. Not so well to David, because David is just the big new toy, but we're working on that one. We've been told that this makes perfect sense, because women have always been his authority figures.
  • He eats almost anything that we give him. Usually, when presented with a new food, he'll look at me and ask, "Yanta no?" (It's yours?) When I say that it's his, he'll usually put on his pouty face and say, "Ah-fell-ah-gimm" (I don't want it.) Once David takes a bite and says, "Yummy!", however, Yikealo HAS to have it immediately! The only things that this hasn't worked with so far are blueberries and strawberries. He doesn't seem to care much for chocolate either - go figure.

  • He's picking up a bit more English every day - just a word or two here and there - but I feel like our communication is getting better all the time. He's starting to love having us read to him, and he's begun singing a line or two from "Jesus loves me."
  • He loves to "help" around the house. Usually it just ends up taking longer that way, but at least he likes to be with us!

  • He always picks up his toys when he's finished with them and puts them back in his room.
  • I put together a little photo album with the pictures of his birth-mom. He calls her "Mihiret," and he loves to look at it. Every time he does, though, he also wants to look at the photo album that I had sent to him at Hannah's Hope, with the pictures of us and our house. He gets delighted when he sees the photo of our home, and crows, "Yikealo's house!!" He also wanted to have photos of Ababa and Amama added to the back of the Mihiret album, and after he kisses her picture, he always has to kiss ours.

  • He's so playful, and he's always making us laugh - like when he insists on jumping over every tar strip on the street during our walks.

  • He and Frankie have begun making peace. She's been sleeping on his bed while he naps. Cleo, on the other hand, still wants nothing to do with him - especially after he tried to share his cheerios with her by chasing her around the house yelling, "Kitty, na!!" (come here.) She can often be found hiding in tight spaces in order to avoid him.
  • He always sleeps through the night in his own bed. Now, if only we could get him to sleep in later!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A much-needed new perspective

Does God ever just grab your attention at the perfect time and make you realize an unpleasant truth about yourself ? Make you realize that you've been incredibly selfish and all focused on you when there were much bigger things going on? Make you wonder when you were really going to learn to be more like Him? Yeah, well, that just happened to me yesterday, and I really needed it.

It had been a somewhat frustrating day in Mother-land. After a wonderful weekend with Daddy around, Yikealo was fairly distraught when David had to go back to work yesterday morning. Throughout the day, we had been through a number of melt-downs over absolutely NOTHING. He had decided to decorate my kitchen table with permanent green marker. He had hurt his foot (very minorly, but enough to cause screaming and sobbing for about 40 minutes) by messing around with our exercise bike after I had repeatedly told him not to. He took over an hour to eat his breakfast of oatmeal and a banana. He spilled his milk all over by shaking the lidless cup up and down. He wet his pants (while we were not at home) about 5 minutes after I had taken him to the bathroom. He constantly asked for Ababa and then pouted when I said that Ababa was working and would be home a little later. By the time David DID get home, I was pretty tired of the whining, and I told David that HE could deal with the child for awhile after we were finished with supper.

So, David and Yikealo headed off to "lift weights" together. (Yikealo is fascinated by David's exercise routine.) I headed off to the computer for some peace and quiet and to check my e-mail, and that's when God managed to get my attention. We had gotten a message from Julie, our adoption case-manager, and it included pictures of June 5th - the last meeting between Yikealo and his birth-mom. I am not going to post pictures of her at this time - Yikealo hasn't seen them yet - but here is one of him from that meeting.

I know this look: it's the same look that he gives us when he is showing us something new and he is looking for our approval. I also know what he is pointing to in this photo - the album that I had sent to him with pictures of him, us and our house.

Here he is again, looking at our Christmas photo from last year. This photo was missing from the album when we met Yikealo in Ethiopia, along with two of the photos of him. I know that Mihret has them now - one last memory of her final meeting with the child that she had given birth to.

I wonder what things went through her mind at that was the same day that our court case had been approved. She had ridden on a bus for many hours to the city of Addis Ababa in order to finalize the relinquishment of her child by attending the court proceedings. It had been three months to the day since Yikealo had arrived at Hannah's Hope, and I've been told that he could understand very little of what she said to him. He had already lost so much of Tigrinya, the language that they shared, and instead was speaking mostly in the Amharic that he had picked up at the orphanage. He treated her like a stranger for the first several minutes, not wanting anything to do with her. Eventually though, he warmed up and brought a stool over to sit beside her while he showed her his new treasured photos. What was her thought of the smiling Ferenji couple that were going to be raising her son in a matter of weeks? What was her thought of the photos of our house - very small by American standards, but no doubt palatial to her?

Her hands show up in several of the photos - her fingers are completely eaten away by her leprosy, leaving only a few shortened, blackened stubs where they used to be. Yet she is smiling in several pictures - a bittersweet smile to be sure - but I can see the joy along with the pain in her eyes as her lost little boy leans against her once again. Having lived with Yikealo for the last 3 weeks, I know how valuable my hands are - I can't imagine trying to take care of this energetic, full-of-life child without the full use of my hands! How did she manage for so long, and what was it that finally pushed her over the edge into the arena of reliquishment and adoption?

And the most painful question for me as I cried at my keyboard - what would she have given yesterday to have had the chance to listen to his whining once again when he wasn't getting his way, to change his clothes after an accident, to watch his inner artist drawing on a new surface, to sit beside him while he dawdled at a meal, and to gently massage and kiss his "injured" foot? How dare I - HOW DARE I - complain about these kinds of minor things? How dare I lose patience with him when he's missing David - how is he to know for sure that Ababa hasn't left him too?

I was still crying when my two guys emerged from exercising. Yikealo gave me a very puzzled look as I hugged him and pressed my teary cheek against his; then he grabbed David's hand and mine and led us both back to the basement bedroom. There is a tri-fold mirror mounted on the dresser in that room, and he loves to look at himself in it. He wanted both of us to sit down on the bed; then he climbed up behind us, wrapped his little arms around both of our necks, and pressed his face in between ours, beaming at the reflection of his new family.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Ethiopia Trip - Day 3 - (June 29th)

Day 3 was probably the most surreal day of the trip - the day that we took custody of our little boy. I so loved the Psalm that we read together that morning: "Praise ye the Lord: for it is good to sing praises unto our God...he gathereth together the outcasts...he healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds. He telleth the number of the stars; he calleth them all by their names." ( Psalm 147: 1-4) What a great God we serve!

We got up early to make sure that we could get breakfast in before our 9:00 meeting with Almaz (the director of Hannah‘s Hope.) The Union served a breakfast buffet every morning that included an interesting variety of foods, such as pasta with marinara sauce, meatballs, and crepes with marmalade. The best part was the dark, syrupy coffee served with plenty of milk and sugar.

Around 9, Almaz walked into the hotel with her younger brother Johannes, and Julie, our case manager from the Oregon office. She had been spending the month of June in Ethiopia, and it was so great to be able to meet her. It was wonderful to be able to meet Almaz as well - we had heard so much about this incredible, Godly woman, and she had been the intercessor for each family’s case at our court appointments some weeks before. The court appointment was when Yikealo had legally become our child. Almaz walked us through the last few documents that we needed to fill out for our US Embassy appointment that afternoon, and then we all decided how much money we wanted to exchange in for Ethiopian birr and how many kilos of coffee we wanted to purchase to take home. Johannes was going to handle all of that for us while we had our appointments with the Embassy. David and I exchanged $400 which gave us a little over 4500 birr and ordered 10 kilos of coffee. The price for the coffee ended up being something like $3 per lb!

We had been given an itinerary the evening before, and David and I had noticed that we were not included on the list of families that had a birth family meeting scheduled for Wednesday. While the paperwork was being finished, Julie told us that when Yikealo’s mother Mihret had come to Addis Ababa for the court date, she had stopped in at Hannah’s Hope for one last farewell to her son. Julie had been there for that meeting, and she told us that she had taken lots of pictures of the two of them together. Furthermore, Julie had taken a trip up north to meet some of the families that AGCI has begun to sponsor. While there, she had visited Mihret’s home (where Yikealo had lived prior to his relinquishment in March), met Yikealo’s 10 year old brother Edil, and had signed Mihret and Edil up for the sponsorship program. She also had taken many pictures of that visit, and she promised to get them to me once she got home and had the chance to get re-organized.

Once the paperwork was completed, Almaz talked at length about many things: our children, Hannah’s Hope, Ethiopian poverty, and adoption. She warned us about the many things that we would see over the next few days - including the many children that would be begging us for help or asking that we take them to America too. She gave us the example of Danny, the young boy who claims to be the “guide” for Union guests. His biggest dream in the world is to go to America, and yet this has caused him to “check out” from his loving Ethiopian family in order to try to form relationships with the Americans that stay at the hotel. She reaffirmed that adoption is NOT always the answer and said that her prayer for children like Danny would be that they could be part of their own families and help Ethiopia to become a better place. So sad.

She explained our day in detail, and then we walked out of the hotel and followed her around the corner and up the hill to Hannah’s Hope. It was our first up-close view of our surroundings, and it was almost overwhelming to be faced with that type of poverty. The Ethiopian people are so beautiful though, and they are nearly always smiling - an incredible lesson to me. Why is it that those of us who have the most in the area of material possessions are also the most likely to complain?

My heart was pounding as we rounded the corner and saw that red gate. David and I kept exchanging wide-eyed, excited but terrified looks as we tried to get our heads around the fact that we were moments away from seeing in person the face that we had been staring at on our computer screen for 3 ½ months.

We stepped inside the courtyard of Hannah’s Hope, and found a little spot to stand and wait for Yikealo to be brought to us.
I snapped one last self-portrait of the two of us as we waited. Do we look as frightened and giddy as we felt?
It seemed like just seconds before we spotted a woman in white scrubs being dragged up the walk by a very familiar little figure wearing the same red and white striped shirt that he had been wearing in about half of the referral photos that we had received.
It is absolutely impossible to describe the emotions of that moment - surreal is really the best word that I can think of. I think that the human brain is sometimes incapable of dealing with so many conflicting, intense feelings at once, and I found myself concentrating on little details: “Oh my goodness, look at that curly hair! It’s so different from the photos! Check out that swagger in his walk! Why is he the only kid wearing shorts and short sleeves, and since when do red stripes go with blue and orange fish?” (Leave it to a designer to be concerned about non-matching clothes at a time like that.)
Almaz was trying to direct him toward us, and I was trying to take pictures, but he was having none of it. He had made it outside, and he was ready to run! This photo is the second one that I shot - the back of his leg as he ducked around his "special mother" while trying to avoid Almaz!

She finally got him corralled and told him in Amharic to hug his Daddy. He hugged and kissed David and then me, and then sat still on David’s lap for about 15 seconds, while I took some pictures. This is thefirst look that I got...

followed by this one...

I don't think he was too sure about me at first, but eventually he came around a bit more!

Once he grabbed the soccer ball, he was done with us for awhile. I’m not above bribery, and fortunately I had remembered to pack some fruit snacks in my purse. He loved those, as well as the matchbox car that we handed over, and we spent the next 30 minutes or so chasing him around the courtyard, kicking the ball to him, feeding him fruit snacks and trying to keep him out of the way of all of the other families who were in the middle of their first meetings with their children - not an easy task! Bereket, a nine year old adoptee who had met his family the day before passed out some small boxes of raisins that Yikealo DID NOT like. He kept trying them, but as soon as they were thoroughly chewed, he would spit them emphatically on the ground. At some point, Julie attempted to take a family photo of the three of us, but Yikealo was not interested in being held, and this was the result. Charming, isn’t it?

Finally, Almaz told Yikealo to tell us goodbye and told him that we would be right back. We walked back to the hotel, dropped off our cameras and cell phones (no electronics are allowed near the Embassy) took a few minutes to breathe deeply, and headed back to Hannah’s Hope, where we collected Yikealo and boarded a crowded bus for the Embassy.

The bus-ride took about an hour, and Yikealo sat quietly on my lap the entire time, staring wide-eyed out of the window at all of the traffic. At the Embassy, we had to go through a security check, and while we waited in line, Yikealo began to sing the same little tune over and over, very LOUDLY. Almaz wasn’t sure what he was singing - she thought that maybe it was a snippet of a commercial, but it was certainly amusing to everyone around us, including the security officers. That should have been my first clue that we were going to need ear-plugs with this child!

Our “appointment” (and I use that term very loosely) was at 1:00, but we spent probably 2 ½ hours at the embassy complex. The building was very crowded and warm, and of course, it was the time of day when all of the children were normally taking naps back at Hannah’s Hope, so it was lots of fun trying to keep them quiet and occupied during the long wait. Yikealo is a little hot-box anyway - he is always sweating - and so the only place that he was interested in standing was outside, where it was cooler and raining. David and I took turns holding him outside on the covered sidewalk, while the other one waited inside to hear our name called. At one point when David was taking his turn outside, Yikealo began rattling away to an Ethiopian man who was walking into the building. The man answered Yikealo in Amharic, and then looked at David and said, “He’s telling me that you are his father.“ Awwwww!!!

Each couple had to meet separately with an official who asked a few basic questions. We were asked the following: “Is this the child that you were expecting?” (Yes), “Does he have birth family living?” (Yes, his mother and brother), “Where is his father?” (He’s not in the picture), “Why was he relinquished?” (His mother has leprosy and no income), “Are you meeting any of his family members?” (No.) If we had answered “Yes” to that last question, we would have been cautioned not to give anything to the family, so that it could not appear that we were “buying’ this child. That was about it, and we were handed a stack of papers including the decree of adoption and Yikealo’s new birth certificate, stating that his name was Yikealo David. In Ethiopia, a child’s last name is the father’s first name, so when our case had passed court on June 5th, he had gone from “Yikealo Haftu” to Yikealo David.

After another hour long bus ride back, we were dropped off at our hotel. We spent a few minutes with Yikealo in our room, showing him some of the things that we had brought for him. He was the most impressed with his new “chama” (Thomas the Tank Engine light-up tennis shoes from my Mom) and immediately had to trade in his red crocs for the new pair. He also found the photo album that we had brought along to give to Mihret, and he spent quite a while looking through it kissing all of the pictures of himself! After an hour or so, we went downstairs for supper, where Yikealo continued to spit food onto the floor if he didn’t like it or if he took a bite that was too big - not my favorite characteristic of my new son! Out of the twelve families in our travel group, we were the only first time parents, so I’m sure that a lot of the others were highly amused by our somewhat inept childcare abilities!

Following supper, we went back to our room and I gave Yikealo a bath. He was TERRIFIED, and absolutely HATED having his hair washed. He cried and cried, but as soon as he was out of the tub and dressed in his pajamas, he was fine again, and he spent some time playing with the soccer ball that we had brought for him. He was terribly tired and whiny by that point. He and I had been having a battle of wills over the spitting incidents at the table anyway, and following the bath, I was NOT his favorite person. He really wasn’t mine either - I was tired too, and I really wasn’t enjoying motherhood any more than I had imagined that I would. I remember trying to read a children’s book to him - “I Love You Through and Through” - and I remember the tears rolling down my face as I read it. It was the total opposite of how I was feeling. I looked up at David after finishing it, and whispered, “I hate this - I don’t even LIKE him right now.“ David replied, “Larisa, it’s okay. You’re doing great. Love isn’t an emotion - it's a choice - and those feelings will come soon anyway. Hang in there, honey. I’m praying for you.”

After watching him yawn for awhile, I asked, “Yikealo, alga?” (bed?) to which he nodded and headed for the door. He tried to get out of the room, no doubt to go back to Hannah’s Hope, and he looked very confused when I picked him up and carried him over to the bed. He started whimpering, and then started to sob when I took off his new shoes and put his ball on the floor. I’m sure that he was so scared - who were these new people anyway? Why had they given him these new things and then taken them away? Where was he, and where was Genet or Alem, who usually took care of him, and where was HIS bed? Why couldn’t these new people talk to him in a language that he could understand and when were they going to take him back to Hannah’s Hope where he belonged?

I picked him up and rocked him, using his sippy cup as a bottle and softly singing “Jesus Loves Me.” It probably was no more than 10 minutes until he was sound asleep. I laid him down in our bed - we had decided to just let him sleep with us while we were in Ethiopia, and David and I both spent an hour or so journaling our thoughts and feelings. I was probably more thankful that evening than ever before for all of the obvious signs that God had given us about adoption. In spite of all of the frustration and exhaustion, there was absolutely no doubt in my mind that I was right where God wanted me. That didn’t make it easy, but it certainly brought feelings of peace and security.