Today was a fun day full of new experiences for Yikealo. We started out the morning by meeting Grandpa, Grandma, Jana, Jason, and James and Susan's family for breakfast and then we watched a Memorial Day parade. After the parade, we attended the special service held at the Wooster Cemetery. Yikealo got to see his first parade, learn about saluting the flag and spend lots of time with his cousins - all very exciting things. Our favorite quote of the day, however, came as a result of our attempts to explain our plans for the morning:
Me: "Yikealo, you need to hurry up and get dressed, because we need to leave soon."
Y: "Menden we're going?"
Me: "Well, we're going to go have breakfast with Grandpa and Grandma, and then we're going to go to a parade."
Y: "Menden a parade is?"
Me: "It's kind of hard to explain, but you'll get to see some police cars and some fire trucks and then we'll go to the cemetery and you'll get to hear some guns being fired and hear a band playing some music. Doesn't that sound like fun?"
Y: "Yeah! Mom, can I please shoot the band?"
Okay, so he totally missed the point of that explanation! Not to mention - what a violent way to commemorate Grandpa's service as a NON-combatant army medic in Vietnam! Once we got to the cemetery, he wanted to know if he could pull the flags off of the soldier's graves and play with them. We told him that he couldn't, and David attempted to explain:
David: "Yikealo, do you know what a soldier is?"
Y: "No. Menden a soldier is?"
David: "A soldier is a person who fights a war - as part of an army."
Me: "So that other people can be free."
Y: "Oh! Okay! I'm free too!" (He meant "three" - he still can't get the "th" sound down.)
David: (grinning at me) "So, how's it going for you this morning?"
Anyway, he was pretty fascinated with everything, even if he didn't get to "shoot the band." Here are a few photos for everyone...
He got to ride on Grandpa's shoulders for quite a bit of the time - what a spoiled little boy! In the first photo, he was insisting that Jana hold his hand so that she wouldn't fall.
So, God has been moving in our hearts for quite some time now, and during the last few weeks, He's really been grabbing our attention...and we are starting over on another adoption! It's so different than last time, and yet so much the same. It's scary stepping out into the unknown, but it's not quite so unknown as it was in the fall of 2008. We've actually got almost a year of parenting under our belts this time around, but of course every child is different, so that may not mean much at all in the end. We've already been through the paperwork and homestudy part of it once, so we may know what to expect, but on the other hand, there have been lots of changes to the process since we went through it, the most obvious being that Ethiopia now requires two trips to adopt a child.
The biggest change is in our hearts. We aren't fighting with God going into this adoption - instead, we are looking forward with joyful expectation to see where He will lead. Our eyes have been opened to the great need of the nearly 150 million orphans in this world that we as Christians have been called to serve and care for. Our hearts have been broken by the contrast between our lifestyle and the ones we saw in Ethiopia last summer, and we cannot turn our backs on the fact that we have the room and the resources available to take in another child in desperate need of a family. We are thankful that God has called us so clearly once again to reach out to "the least of these," and we are looking forward to the day when we meet our second child.
Will there be difficult days ahead? Absolutely. The little boy or girl that God brings to us will have already dealt with some type of horrible tragedy in his or her life. There will be scars and pain to deal with. Satan will try his best to distract us from the Lord's plans, and there will be days when it feels like he is succeeding. The last time, his attack came in the form of David's disintegrating health at a very crucial time. Yet we know that "greater is He who is in us," and our Father will be there through every single moment - to pick us up, dust us off, and restore our faith in the beauty of His promises. He is faithful, and after all, He has already done this for us: adopted us as His son and daughter - in spite of the mess that we were in, in spite of the way that we fail Him, in spite of the way that we push away from Him at times. He loves us anyway - always and forever. If we are to be His reflection to a dark and dying world, how can we turn away from those who need His light so very much?
We invite you to pray with us as we embark on this new journey. Pray for our unknown child, for the family in Ethiopia that is perhaps being forced into unimaginable choices, for Yikealo and his acceptance of a future sibling, and for our courage and faith to stay strong. Most of all, we ask that you pray that the name of Jesus will be glorified!
Apparently, there was no need whatsoever for concern about our appointment with USCIS yesterday, but thanks anyway for your prayers! I'll have to give some background here on why I was worried in the first place...
When an adopted child enters the US on an IR-4 visa (meaning the adoptive parents did not meet the child before the adoption became final in the foreign country) that child becomes a permanent resident, but not a citizen, so the parents need to re-adopt the child in order to gain citizenship. Every state, and actually every county, has different requirements on re-adoption, so it can get a little confusing. The state of Ohio requires that the child must live with you for a minimum of 6 months before the re-adoption takes place, and our county requires an attorney and a court procedure. We took care of that part of it in December, received an Ohio birth certificate in February, and then tried to apply for a Social Security number using his new birth certificate and the official court documents. I knew that eventually we would need to apply for a Certificate of Citizenship (COC), because you cannot get a US passport using only the Ohio birth certificate, as it is a shortened version. However, at that point, we were mainly concerned with getting our taxes done so that we could collect the rather hefty adoption tax credit, and I had heard from other adoptive parents that dealing with USCIS to obtain a COC could be quite a lengthy process. One family applied for their COC last July, and in mid-February, they were told that hopefully their application would be looked at within that next month - a little longer than we wanted to wait!
We were told three different times by three different Social Security agents that we had everything necessary and that we should receive the number within 2 weeks. After waiting for 3 weeks and hearing nothing, I called the SS office to check on it. Sure enough, I was told that they had been "planning to call me" because their computer system wouldn't take Yikealo's information without a COC, so we would have to get that document first. AAARRRGGGHHHH!!!! At that point, it was past the middle of March, so taxes were due in less than a month. We filed with the IRS for a tax ID number for Yikealo and also filed for an extension on our taxes. In a funny side-note, the tax ID # supposedly takes 4-8 weeks to obtain, but ours came after 3 and 1/2 weeks...on April 16th. We barely needed that extension!
In the meantime, I got serious about the COC nonsense and downloaded the form from the USCIS website. The 7 page form has 8 pages of instructions, and you have to send copies of every document ever produced about yourselves in with it: birth certificates, marriage license, proof of residence, court documents, Ethiopian documents and translations, green card, passport photos, etc. Oh yeah, and a check for $420. In addition, we sent copies of the referral documents that showed the two different birthdates for Yikealo, as well as a letter stating why we had made the decision to change his birthdate. Before I sent the packet in, I called USCIS to find out if I needed anything additional to explain why his Ethiopian and Ohio birth certificates had two different dates. The woman that I spoke with said, "Oh my, I have no idea how you should handle that. Let me check with my superior." I waited on the phone, and when she came back, she informed me that USCIS would undoubtedly reject my application unless I wrote to the US consulate in Ethiopia and asked them to please have the Ethiopian government to issue a new birth certificate with the new birthdate. WHAT???? In a slightly panicked voice, I told her that was impossible, and then I got a little sarcastic, "So you're telling me, that even though he became a US citizen in DECEMBER, has an OHIO BIRTH CERTIFICATE, and a UNITED STATES JUDGE signed court documents stating his new birthdate, that you still need another meaningless birth certificate from ETHIOPIA? It's not like the current Ethiopian birth certificate is original in any way - it has our last name on it, for crying out loud! Don't you think that the Ethiopian government has more important things to do than make up documents for citizens of another country?" She stated again that I could try to send in what I had, but that it probably would be rejected.
I called our adoption agency and spoke to the post-adoption coordinator, who told me that she had never heard of such a thing, and they'd had several families who had successfully changed a child's age. I went ahead and sent the application and supporting documents to our local USCIS office in Cleveland, and then prepared to wait for months before hearing anything further. To my surprise, we received the interview summons within 3 weeks. It didn't say anything about why an interview was required, but it did say in bold letters that we needed to bring the original documents for every single copy that we had sent in. Needless to say, I was a little worried, although David kept telling me that everything would be fine.
So, yesterday we went to Cleveland for our appointment...and it was great! We were essentially there for a ceremony welcoming Yikealo as a US citizen. The lady that we spoke to was very friendly and she kept commenting on how cute Yikealo was. The only "original document" that she asked for was his green card - which she kept, because he no longer needs it. We had to verify his name, our address, and his birthdate, and then sign several documents in his name. Finally, David had to stand, raise his right hand and take an oath of citizenship on behalf of Yikealo. Y thought that this was great fun and raised his right hand too, trying to repeat everything that the lady said. Finally, we received the coveted Certificate of Citizenship, along with a letter from President Obama congratulating Yikealo, and Yikealo received a little American flag. It was actually a sweet little moment, and even better....we're DONE! All that remains is to get that Social Security number...
I recently came across a scrapbook page that I did over 5 years ago after watching my sister and sister-in-law with their children at Christmastime that year. At that time, my views on motherhood looked like this: "I have to admit that I don't ever remember having the desire to become a mother that most women seem to have. Maybe it's simply that I'm too selfish, but I love the feeling of being responsible only for myself, and I find the truly selfless attitude of the young mothers around me amazing. Motherhood will sit on an uncomfortable stairway while the rest of the family is celebrating Christmas Eve - just to make sure that the child is falling asleep upstairs. Motherhood will hold and console a cranky child for hours if necessary. Motherhood gets more excited about the child's new teddy bear than about her own Christmas gifts. I don't want it for myself, but I truly enjoy watching this miraculous thing called motherhood."
Okay, so it's no secret that my feelings have changed rather drastically during the last year, but those of you who know me realize that those changes didn't come easily. I gave into God's call to motherhood under duress and only after arguing vehemently with Him first. I remember a phone conversation with a close friend a few weeks after we brought Yikealo home, during which I said, "I still don't understand why so many people WANT this! Life with a child isn't BAD at all, but it's certainly not BETTER than what David and I had before, so why does everybody seem to have this great "need" to become a parent? I'm just not understanding why this is so desirable." She wisely told me that I "just hadn't gotten to that part yet" but that I undoubtedly would before too long. She was right of course. Today I can honestly say that I adore Yikealo more than words can express, and I love being a mother. He brings so much joy into our lives, and I cannot imagine my existence without him.
Yet I cannot attribute the change in my attitude only to the relationship that I have with my son. There is someone else who deserves recognition on this day dedicated to mothers...her name is Mihiret Embaye, and she is Yikealo's first mother. She has impacted my life in so many ways, even though I've never had the chance to meet her face to face. She has dealt with so much pain and hardship that I can't even begin to imagine. She has lived with disease, with unbelievable poverty, and with overwhelming losses that would cripple almost anyone. She has made impossible choices, and her courage in those decisions staggers me. She has given my son life two times over: through birth and through relinquishment to strangers who could provide physically for him. That wasn't a simple choice for her, and I can't imagine the heartache that it caused. Yikealo is one of the happiest, most loving little boys that I have ever met, and I know that those characteristics aren't completely attributable to the care that he has received from David and me. He understood affection and love in a wonderful way from the day that we first met him, and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that he learned much of that from the wounded hands of the beautiful woman who first cared for him.
An update from our case-worker at the beginning of last June gives a tiny glimpse into what Mihiret was going through during her last meeting with Yikealo: "I also met a birthmom who had come to say goodbye to her child. I could not believe what she must have been feeling. She was crying at first, but it was good to be there and laugh at the silliness of her little one and encourage her as best I could. I hope I can see her when we travel to the North to meet her other child who is in our sponsorship program."
The knowledge of her has brought so many questions into my life. Why have I been given everything that I could ever want while she struggles every single day just to survive? If our lives had been different, would she and I have been good friends? Yikealo's personality meshes so perfectly with mine that it's easy to imagine that his two mamas might have hit it off too. How can I complain about the little so-called "problems" in my life when she and so many others are being forced to make the ultimate sacrifice that motherhood could make - the giving up of their children so that those children have the chance to survive? When I find myself thinking that I just "need" the next new thing, I have only to look at her pictures and her face reminds me how selfish I am. She has taught me so much about contentment and thankfulness and yes, shame, without ever saying a word to me. I think of her every single day, and I feel so responsible - not only to take care of the precious gift that she gave to me in the form of Yikealo, but also to make the most of the many blessings that God has given me.
So, to any mother who may be reading this, as you celebrate the gift of your children this weekend, remember to say a prayer for the millions of Mihirets around the world. They are truly examples of the miracle of motherhood...modern-day Jochebeds who have sacrificed their own joy in order to provide their offspring with a hope and a future.
We have certainly enjoyed the lovely spring weather that we've had this year. I've never been a real "outdoors" kind of girl, but let me tell you, that changed last year with the introduction of a little boy to my life! Yikealo and I were both going a bit stir-crazy after being inside so much during our long winter. He gets bored with more sedate indoor activities after awhile, and I can only handle so much of the following: "Mom, PLEASE play with me!" (This is always said in the whiniest possible voice and usually after I've just spent 2 hours playing with him and have finally stopped in order to catch up on the laundry.) Needless to say, these longer, warmer days have been a huge blessing!
Yesterday, the temperature was supposed to hit 80 by early afternoon, so Yikealo and I dug out his wading pool and filled it up. We added 4 or 5 kettles-full of boiling water to the frigid stuff from the garden hose and then let it warm up in the sun for several hours. By the time we finished lunch, it was the perfect temperature, and he splashed and played in the water for two hours while I sat in my camp chair, read a book, and soaked up the sunlight. Ahhhhhh.....bliss!!!! I did manage to get some cute pictures, so I'll have to share a couple...
By the way, the only way to actually get good smiles out of this child when you have a camera is to look at him sternly and say, "Yikealo, don't you DARE smile! I mean it! I'd better not see any smiles!" It works every single time. If I don't play the mind games with him, and simply ask if I can take his picture, I get something like this:
...which is not exactly attractive. I'm sure that Ethiopian authorities would be thrilled to get this in his one-year post-adoption report, don't you agree?
Oh yeah, and he also wanted to "show me his muscles," which looked like this:
I'm not sure exactly which muscles he thought he was showing off, but there you have it!
The other amusing picture is his imitation of me being irritated about something, and I have to admit, he sort of nailed it: the hands on the hips, the furrowed brow, and the pursed lips.
We have definitely learned that everything that we say or do WILL be repeated. Take last night at bedtime, for instance. I was snuggling him for a bit, and in spite of being absolutely exhausted, he kept bringing up some new topic of conversation so that I wouldn't leave the room. I answered about 20 random questions and then said, "Yikealo, that's enough. Go to sleep!" He replied in his best authoritative voice (while pursing his lips and emphatically shaking his finger at me), "You go to sleep too! Menden times I tell you go to sleep? Two times? You better listen! If you don't go to sleep right now, you is going straight to the chair! You hear me? I don't have time to fight with you!" Okay, so I have to admit that I started laughing and tickling him at that point, which really didn't do anything to settle him down, but it is sort of humiliating and funny at the same time to hear him imitate us perfectly.
I do have a quick prayer request. Next Tuesday, we are scheduled for an interview with USCIS (Citizenship and Immigration Services for those of you not in the adoption world.) About two months ago, we discovered that we could not get a social security number for Yikealo without first obtaining a certificate of citizenship from USCIS. We sent in a 7 page application with a huge stack of personal documents and another hefty check, and a few weeks later we received the summons for this interview. I don't know what they want, but these are generally not friendly, pleasant people. I'm sure that the official age change is throwing them for a loop, and I would just ask for your prayers that our interview goes smoothly and that we can finally complete the steps to full citizenship for our son. It's a little bit ridiculous when the citizenship hoops take significantly longer to jump through than the entire adoption took!