Tariku is 10!!

I’ve been thinking a lot about this post for Tariku. I kept trying to come up with a way to say just how much I love him-to come up with a phrase that embodies who he is or what he means to me. It’s kind of eluding me quite honestly.

Have you guys seen the movie Boyhood? I loved it. At all of the press junkets when it initially came out the press would ask the creator Richard Linklater to tell them about the movie he would always pause. It was a pregnant pause to be sure because, even though he had undoubtedly been rehearsed as to what to say, it just meant too much to him. How can you talk about this baby you’ve created, sweated over and cried about for 12 years in a way that can be used in a headline for page 6? Well you can’t. He tried, of course, but anyone who has seen the movie knows that no matter what Linklater said in those junkets probably didn’t do the film justice.

If you’ve been here long enough (or followed this blog’s predecessor hotflawedmama) you know that no one has ever worked harder than Tariku at accepting love.

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Even from the beginning we certainly wanted to be mom and son. I had thought of, prayed for and cried over him for months before he came home and I have no doubt across the ocean he was hesitantly excited about the possibility of a family.

Reality was, of course, harder than the daydreams (always is) and so for the last 7 years we’ve fought tooth and nail to get where we are-described a little more here-but no one has fought harder than Tariku.

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It’s really hard to believe Tariku is just 10-years-old. If you watch Tariku interact with the world you get the sense that he’s seen it all before. If you’re having a conversation with him you’ll notice immediately that he is listening. Not just listening but listening. His brow furrows, he makes really direct eye contact and it genuinely feels like he’s listening to it all-the words, the body language, the cadence of your words. It’s incredible. If you get an audience with Tariku you run the risk of believing the world was made just to hear your words.

Boy is he inquisitive! Of course on the days in which I am less than who I was made to be it can test my patience but most days I admire him for it. There are no “just because-s” with Tariku. I’ve taught all of my kids to wrestle with and question the world but no one does it quite like Tariku. Needless to say, he learns so much quicker than so many of his peers because he doesn’t just want to know why 1+1=2, he wants to know why you’re adding in the first place.

If ever we need something found within the house we call Tariku. If I need something done well (all mamas know what I mean by “done well” oy vey the half assing of kids-it will be the death of me) I call Tariku. It might not be fair but he is his mama’s son and darnit if we are working we are not going to pussyfoot around-we’ll get shit done right. (Mom, no need to remind me of my earlier years, I’ve come so far. 😉 )

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Zach and I coach a basketball team with Trysten, Tomas and Tariku on it. It’s for 5th and 6th grade boys. Tariku is in 4th grade and so often when Tariku makes a play or a shot that belies his age Zach and I just laugh. Tariku is often 2 steps ahead of his teammates because he thinks so quickly on his feet. He is just so freaking fun to watch.

I got a note from Tariku’s teacher last week about how impressed she was by Tariku befriending a new student. She said he had been so kind and helpful and it’s made her job so much easier. When I asked Tariku what kind of cupcakes he wanted for his school birthday he asked me to get cupcakes of all kinds so that everyone could find something they liked. When I asked who he wanted for his birthday party it took him 2 weeks to decide because he didn’t want anyone feeling left out.

This is Tariku. This is the guy who is turning 10 and the guy a truly flawed mama like myself gets to mother every day.

I don’t worry so much for Tariku about the world hurting him so much that he breaks, the world has already done a pretty great job of trying and yet here he stands. I worry more that he won’t open himself up to love, that he won’t become vulnerable enough to reap the scary big benefits of a relationship with someone.

I worry about that only because I know what it’s like to be loved by Tariku, a young man who asked his mama to take a picture of the sunset on his birthday because it was just so beautiful.

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Being loved by Tariku is just like looking up at a sunset and believing it was planned just for you. In this moment. Regardless of how badly you’ve messed up in the past.

Being the mom of Tariku feels like a once in a lifetime sunset, an awe inspiring blessing undeserved.

Happy birthday my Chooch. Love you so much.

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Tomas is 11!

Tomas is 11!

The first time I met Tomas I could tell he had been well rehearsed on how to act when meeting his new parents. Of course I was happy to see him but I wanted so badly to know how he was really feeling.

Last week we were talking about Zach’s long hair he was rockin’ when we picked up Tomas and Binyam. Zach is a bit embarrassed of it now but I was curious what Tomas thought then so I asked him, “Tomas, what did you think when you first saw us in Ethiopia? Did you think ‘what’s this guy with goofy hair doing here?”’

“Oh mom, I don’t remember what his hair looked like. I was just so happy you were finally there. I finally had a family. All of my friends had gone with their families and I watched them go but finally it was my turn.”

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At the “going away” ceremony in Ethiopia I could feel the fear in the boys, it was palpable. Tomas was going from Ethiopian adult to Ethiopian adult, never coming by Zach and me and Binyam played with a balloon for 2 hours straight.

So when it was our turn to cut the cake I wrapped my arm around Tomas and, even though he didn’t understand a word of English, whispered, “I don’t know when, but it’s going to be ok. We will be ok.”

As nervous as I was about bringing these young men into our family, it was nothing compared to what they were experiencing. But Tomas? Other than a few rocky initial weeks, he has entered almost every bit of life with a joie de vivre that defies his circumstances.

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The day before his birthday we invited 3 of his buds over for Skyzone fun. He is a head taller than most of his friends but is the gentlest giant I know.

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I was able to pick up some birthday donuts and, true to form, on the day of his birth he waited for everyone else to pick out their donuts before picking out his own. This is despite the fact that I had publicly stated Tomas and his friend Riley were to go first.

Like his older brother, he too chose Buffalo Wild Wings for his birthday dinner out. Tomas isn’t a foodie so much as he is a lover-of-all-food. Cooking for Tomas (and Tariku) is my favorite thing because I can’t remember a single time they didn’t proclaim each meal to be the best they’ve ever eaten. When Tomas (and Tariku) go to a friend’s house and I ask how it was, 99% of the time they will talk about how great of cooks the parents of the friend are. I freaking love that.

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There is a weird dichotomy to how I feel about Trysten getting older and how I feel about Tomas getting older. With Trysten I get to just embrace every new step towards adulthood. With Tomas, however, I feel a constant tightening of the chest as he gets older. He’s gone from this squishy faced, adorable 6-year-old brown boy (as he liked to call himself) to a sturdy, solid 11-year-old young, black man.

Studies prove over and again that being a young black man is one of the more dangerous things you can be in America.

So though I as his mother still see so much of his childlike innocence, I also get a front row seat (quite literally since Zach and I are his coaches) to the basketball games when the moms of the opposing team yell that he (and Tariku) are being aggressive and out of control even though they are playing almost exactly like their white counterparts. Though Tomas has a smile that lights up the whole world, I know that only those who know him are able to focus on that as a symbol of his undying love of all the things. Everyone else? Well it’s clear they don’t always look much further than his black skin.

I worry more about it with Tomas, I think, because sometimes social cues are lost entirely on him. Not because of some inability to see them but rather because he has a genuine need to and gift of seeing the good in everyone. As he’s gotten older so many of our conversations have been about becoming friends with kids who do the right thing and encourage him to do the right thing. Tomas is so easily susceptible to the kids who manipulate because he wants to believe they are as good as they say they are.

It blows being in a world where this son of mine who walks around this world as if he’s not wearing any skin can so easily be hurt. But there it is. And since it doesn’t seem to bother him, I’m trying to live every day the same way.

Happy birthday my Tomas-ay. May you continue to serve as a reminder to us all that being vulnerable can be the most beautiful and brutal thing in the world. But that the beauty is always worth it.

Love you.

Trysten is 12!

Trysten is 12!

It doesn’t matter how many times I say it or write it, it’s as if my brain refuses to accept it. Alas, it’s true-our oldest is 12.

Last week a few days before his birthday Trysten started saying he wasn’t feeling well. Since he was a tiny baby it’s always been obvious when Trysten doesn’t feel well, his eyes sink in and he gets dark circles around them. Also since he was little, he’s been open to sitting next to me and letting me try to heal him by giving him a head massage. Also we sometimes wear the same sweatshirt.

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This 12-year-old of mine happens to be a foodie. When I asked him what he wanted to do on his birthday all of his recommendations revolved around food. It could be said that most of my thoughts throughout the day revolve around food as well so I was happy to oblige.

We began the day at a local coffee shop that makes super legit cinnamon rolls. My system has started staging minor revolts when I consume high fructose corn syrup so I took a hard pass on the roll and enjoyed watching my eldest devour his with gusto.

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Trysten went to school just long enough to get all the attention every 6th grader deserves on his/her birthday and then I picked him up (per his request) so we could hang. He chose lunch at the same cinnamon roll place, mostly because our small town of Three Rivers doesn’t have a whole lot in the way of non-Applebees joints but also because their lunch has vegetarian options and Trysten wanted to make sure I would enjoy the lunch as well. I don’t think I’ll ever get over the fact that my kids are getting old enough to start looking out for me in small (and sometimes big) ways. I really dig it.

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He wanted ice cream afterwards so we grabbed some to go. It was one of the first days I can remember in this harsh Michigan winter where the sun was shining bright enough to make it hot in the car. We sat in our warm, sunshine-y minivan, eating our ice cream and talking in the Meijer parking lot. What people don’t tell you when you’re holding your newborn baby (or small toddler, in the case of my boys who were adopted) is that no matter how much you love snuggling that little one-it actually gets better. Because soon enough you’ll be having conversations. Real, awesome, true conversations. You’ll be able to get to know those little ones as their own-apart from you- humans and it. is. awesome. Especially when those little ones turn out to be as great as Trysten.

After a little shopping at Mejier we headed home so I could get some work done and he could play a game we were not letting him play until he was 12. 🙂 Despite being allowed to play a game he had been wanting to play for years, he came up soon after and asked to make birthday brownies with me.

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Per usual, the son of vegetarians chose Buffalo Wild Wings as the place to have his birthday dinner. Even foodies can’t resist buffalo wings dipped in various high sodium sauces, apparently.

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In some ways it’s a miracle Trysten is such a well adjusted child, especially if one looks back at the pictures of his first hours on earth. He was greeted by one bleach blonde, long haired parent and one short haired parent who exclusively wore old baseball sweats for weeks in a row (ironically, that was his dad and mom respectively).

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I credit so much of his cool, laid back nature to the fact that he’s loved reading the classics since a wee one. It helps, I do believe.

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I’m not sure Trysten gets enough credit for our whole family’s transition to Michigan. Whenever people ask how our kids have handled the move, Zach and I marvel at just how well they’ve adjusted. When I really think about it, I can’t help but realize a lot of credit goes to Trysten. As much as I hate to admit it, eldest siblings have a lot riding on their shoulders (you win Kara!). I have no doubts that if Trysten were angry with us about the move or hated the idea in the first place, there would be 4 other children echoing his sentiments. Zach and I repeatedly joke that if Trysten were any more laid back he would be asleep for all of the hours but it’s true, and some days it’s exactly what this family needs.

I’ve seen so much growth in Trysten this last year. Though I can sometimes see him wrestling with his independence and our rules, he always does so respectively which is something I admire. A few nights a week we have a “make your own” dinner where each kid is responsible for…you guessed it, making his/her own dinner. Though the younger ones often go for leftovers or cheese crisps, Trysten has started venturing out to pancakes, eggs, etc. He whips up enough pancakes for 14 people and then proceeds to eat them all. There’s a chance he’s growing physically as well.

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This kid has always been good at making good friends. When he asked if he could invite a handful of boys (as opposed to the 2 we usually allow) to his party I knew it would be fine because I knew they wouldn’t be too much to handle. I’m not sure who enjoyed the trip to Skyzone more-me or them-as it was just so much fun hearing them interact with each other. They continued to be well-mannered gentleman throughout the sleepover-making their parents proud and allowing me to listen to my podcasts in peace.

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The years continue to speed by with regard to mothering this son of mine. Though I absolutely loved our time together when he was young I’m just not sure I’d trade it for the moments when he comes up and throws his arm around me now. Sometimes to tease me about my (rather beautiful) opera voice or because he’s upset and just needs a little reassurance. For all the times we spent oooohing and aaaaahing over his first words, I still maintain talking to him now about our shared passions or passions I will never understand (I’m lookin’ at you NBA2K15) is infinitely more fun.

Happy 12th birthday Trysten Zachary, may you continue in this next year to be the kind, independent, funny, hard working young man you’ve shown us in your previous 11 years!

Love you.