The Burden and the Blessing of Genetics in Adoption

I look like my mom. I have my dad’s nose and his genetic code that forces us to eat every few hours or we feel faintish like the damsels in distress in old black and white movies. But when I walk by a mirror and catch my reflection I’m always taken aback by how closely I resemble my mom. I have this image of her and me in a van we rented for a family vacation when I was around 6. This was a time before seat belts so I was sitting on her lap, facing her in the back seat. I was undoubtedly telling her a captivating story when I put my tongue between my teeth and made that fake fart sound that is all the rage with that age group. My mom belly laughed hard. So I did it again and again until she was crying happy tears and gasping for air. I’m not sure if the vivid memory of her face while laughing is what she actually looked like at the time or some combination of what I look like now and how I remember her from my youth but either way-we look and sound eerily similar when we are belly laughing.

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My most favorite thing about our trip to Ethiopia was that my boys finally got to do that too. Tariku’s special person stands exactly as he does in pictures. Exactly. When Tariku was playing soccer with his special people they played so similar. Nevermind that they’ve not played together for 7 years, all of their idiosyncrasies in the sport were the same. And their disappointment if they messed up? Identical. When Tariku’s special person put all of Tariku’s people on the same team there were always 5 identical reactions happening after any given play-either that of joy or frustration.

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Ethiopia is like every other developing nation in terms of the way dogs are treated. For the most part they are wild and often rabid, the closest they come to family pets is with regards to being a guard dog. Though even as guard dogs they are tied to a short leash and left in their cages, barking throughout the night. Not Tariku’s people though. They have an actual family dog that follows them around and helps them on the farm. When we went into the hut to enjoy lunch together the dog came too, lying at the feet of one of Tariku’s special people. Of course the one family in all of Ethiopia with a pet dog belongs to Tariku. I say “of course” because Tariku has always loved animals far beyond the average child. Obviously Zach and I have an affinity for animals as well but Tariku came to us like that, he was never scared of dogs the way every other child adopted from Ethiopia often is. Tariku loved it when we pointed out that he clearly came from a long line of animal lovers.

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We were able to get a picture of Tomas and Binyam’s special person they lost. “Look at the furrowed brow Tomas! Oh my goodness it’s yours exactly!” Tomas beamed, “It really is, isn’t it mom?” Tomas met a special person who shares his big heart and tendency for happy tears when the occasion allows-when they first saw each other both broke down in undistinguishable happy tears. When a funny story was told of Tomas I was hit by a surround sound of identical laughs from him and 2 of his special people. It made the rest of us in the hut echo their laughs as well, happy tears springing from my eyes as well.

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Binyam looks just like one of his special people who always found her way next to him. This special person knew Binyam was shy and liked to keep to himself so she never pressured affection but she would often try to catch his eye and together they would smile-an exact mirror of one another. Binyam was obsessed with the chicks at the farm and spent the entirety of our time with his special people holding at least one chick. That’s funny, one of Binyam’s people said, another special person shows a tenderness to the chicks when he’s feeling anxious too. When Binyam’s special person was saying the Kembatissa word for “anxious” her miming looked just like Binyam’s-right down to the way her eyes became twice their normal size and her mouth-pulled tightly at the sides-almost looked like she was smiling.

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We had a chance to ask their special people about the ones they have lost. What were they like? Do you see any of them in our boys? The expression on my boys’s faces at their responses always reminded me of Harry Potter’s whenever someone told Harry about looking just like his dad with his mother’s eyes. It’s been said many times over on here how big of a fan I am of the Potter series, I think I became an even bigger fan after we adopted Tariku. There’s a scene in the first book where Harry Potter finds the mirror of Erised, a mirror that shows the user his or her heart’s deepest desire. For Harry it’s his parents standing behind him looking content and pleased. Of all the things for an 11-year-old to choose and he chooses to see his parents, this is a pretty big lessen for adoptive parents if we allow it to be.

The movie "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone", (alt.: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone), directed by Chris Columbus, based on the novel by J.K. Rowling.  Seen here, Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter gazing into he Mirror of Erised, seeing his mother, Lily Potter (played by Geraldine Somerville) and father, James Potter (played by Adrian Rawlins).  Initial world premiere (London) November 4, 2001.  Screen capture. © 2001 Warner Bros. Credit: © 2001 Warner Bros. / Flickr / Courtesy Pikturz.  Image intended only for use to help promote the film, in an editorial, non-commercial context.

In many ways the genetic code can feel a bit like a tether, reminding us of who we come from and where we are when it feels like we’re on our own floating into the nothingness. A visible marker that proves we matter to someone. But it can also be a burden, particularly for kids who have suffered trauma or loss at the hands of those carrying their genetic code. I don’t want to oversimplify the experience our boys had while connecting to their like DNA coded kin because the truth is now that my kids know from whom they received the look of their eyes or the furrow in their brow it can be a reminder at moments that are not the most ideal to process adoption related emotional issues.

For kids who are 11 or 10 or 9 being reminded when you look in the mirror of the person who caused you the most amount of pain-no matter how worthy or right the reasoning-is a really hard thing to work through. And sometimes due to the lack of maturity in their physical ages and the stunting that takes place developmentally when trauma is introduced into the equation-the manifestations of the shared genetic code are disrespectful, rude or hurtful. When those manifestations happen it’s hard to remember that they aren’t actually hiding their pain from us as adoptive parents but are indeed showing it to us in a way that speaks to their age. Though I don’t share any DNA with my boys, when they are in pain I feel it just as viscerally as if I did share their DNA and so am called to remember to respond in a loving way-no matter how annoyed or angered I am. This isn’t always easy but sometimes it’s a little less complicated for the precise reason that they look differently than I do. This difference in our physical appearance triggers the reminder of the pain so when I’m at my best, which I regret to admit is not always the case, I’m reminded of the trauma and can engage in a nurturing way.

I don’t claim our trip to Ethiopia has been a life altering thing for the boys yet, I think it’s both too soon to tell and also too early in their maturation for them to vocalize its true effects. I do know, though, that this morning in the bathroom Tariku was combing his hair when I was putting on my make up. He smiled a big smile so I asked him what he was thinking about. “Sometimes I just like to smile because I look like my special person. Sometimes in the mirror it looks like he’s smiling back at me.” I smiled back at him, “I totally get that, Tariku, when I’m having a bad day I do the same and I see Mimi Connie as well. It feels like exactly what I need some days.”

He shook his head yes and turned towards the mirror as did I, both of us smiling. Our own Mirror of Erised infusing love and support into our splintering hearts. Together we left the magical moment and went about our day, still feeling the power of our special people behind us. The burden and the blessing. Today I’m grateful for them both.

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Ethiopia Trip-Our Second Day in the Villages

This post was written on Wednesday, November 11.

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I woke up this morning knowing I was going to make it to the villages. I had slept soundly through the night, despite sleeping most of yesterday. After careful calculations I realized I had slept 21 of the last 24 hours. My body put up a good fight and won, I’m so thankful.

This morning we were off to Tomas and Binyam’s village first. We spent the morning talking and playing soccer with his special people. Though the crowd of 200 people wasn’t there to greet us today, we had a truly beautiful time in the hut with our special people. True to our experience in Ethiopia, there was a steady stream of community members who came and sat at the doorway of the hut just to watch the ferengi (foreigners) talk with their fellow villagers. Binyam and Dailah remained fixated on the tiny chickens. Binyam, I think, because staring back at the dozens of eyes staring at him was just a little too much for my introvert. Dailah because they were simply too cute (one of T & B’s people told Dailah she should name the chicks. She named one “Cutie Patootie” and they all really loved that. )

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I loved that the special people didn’t just ask Tomas and Binyam questions but also Tariku, Dailah and Trysten. It was clear they saw no difference between the siblings and loved them because of their relation to T & B as well. It’s rarely like that in America where one of the first questions we get asked is, “But are they brothers?” about our Ethiopians, as if the fact that I called them all my kids wasn’t enough proof that they are brothers. The Ethiopians never asked if Trysten and Dailah were our biological children or how/why our family came to be. They just started calling Trysten, Dailah and Tariku “son” and “daughter” as well. What a beautiful thing that is.

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We were served roasted beans (delicious), crackers and soda. Despite my churning belly I was struck by how relaxed I was. Obviously no one in the tent save for our family, our translator and our driver spoke English but it never felt uncomfortable. It just felt really, really good to surround our boys with so many who love and pray for them every day-Ethiopian and American alike-and sometimes just sit and marvel at the miracles they truly are.

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We got to hear funny stories of Tomas and Binyam when they were younger. Both sides of the family (Ethiopian and American) loved to hear that, though so much has changed, in many ways the boys remain remarkably similar to how they were when they lived there. We have told similar stories they told with just a few different cultural variables. Some of the stuff I had worried might be adoption related with both of them turned out to be something they’ve done from the beginning. It felt so reassuring to hear details on those personality traits and think to myself, “Oh my, they’ve been doing that since they were babies, everything is going to be ok.” Very rarely with international adoption do you get to fill in holes of the adopted child’s story so I genuinely can’t tell you what it meant to do that in so many ways for Tomas-adopted at age 6 and Binaym-adopted at age 3.

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After many photos and prayers, we were off to Tariku’s special people for the afternoon.

We found out that one of Tariku’s special people had essentially told the village they weren’t allowed to hang around their hut the two days we were there. This special person didn’t want a spectacle made of the return of a beloved. It is perhaps why it felt so much like spending time with family while we were in their village.

They set up a soccer game, Tariku’s special person chose teams this time and definitely stacked one of the teams with all of Tariku’s people. Normally I would question the fairness as Tariku’s gift of excelling in sports ran rampant through his team, but it was clearly making his special person so happy so I just sat back and enjoyed the show.

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Zach and I sat on chairs with other special people to watch. Our translator walked around so it wasn’t as if we were holding conversations but there was something so universally joyful about those moments. To be watching the two worlds collide in such an ordinary way. No fanfare, no staring. It felt like a regular Wednesday in so many ways. I have to admit it was maybe my favorite time of the whole trip.

I’ve been asked if it was weird to not be able to communicate. Of course there were times when the translator was maybe in one area and we were in another that I would’ve normally started small talk with the people around me. But without the small talk, when we were able to communicate via translator our words had more purpose and more weight.

I realized that in America it’s so easy to “know” people. Maybe we small talk on a pretty regular basis, perhaps we comment on all the social media the other posts. We share the same language and perhaps we talk all the time but we don’t know each other. One of the truest gifts we received in Ethiopia was our ability to get to know our special people. When you don’t speak the same language there’s no fluff-our conversations were about the hopes, dreams and fears the other has. The stories told weren’t just silly anecdotes they were glimpses into a larger narrative about who my boys were then and how they’ve affected who they are now.

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We had some funny moments too to be sure because there was an awareness of the weirdness of the whole situation.

There’s no doubt God never intended Tariku to be with us and not with them, adoption was never part of the original plan. I think we were all aware of that in a rather profound way. But somehow we found ourselves huddled over a large plate of injera and shiro celebrating the messy, traumatic, complicated way in which we had become a family bound together by the absolute love we share for Tariku. If Tariku’s special person would’ve allowed village members in I have no doubt they would’ve recognized the common language of love in our adoring eyes and directed smiles whenever Ethiopian or American looked Tariku’s way.

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I was asked recently if it was awkward to be around Tomas, Tariku and Binyam’s special people knowing in some ways we share the same roles in their lives. In all honesty, I feel so grateful to have partners in this monumental task of raising our sons. An open international adoption is weird and inaccessible at times but when I’m feeling dark or hopeless about my abilities to raise my boys right I’m reminded of who is alongside me and I get a tremendous amount of strength from that. I feel more reassured that the boys will be okay knowing I’m not alone in raising them.

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When Zach was speaking to Tariku’s special people he said, “I just hope that I make you proud as his father with how I’m raising Tariku to love you and to love Ethiopia. I think of you often when I’m with him and just want to do right by you. Thank you for the opportunity to help raise our son.”

I thought it perfectly summed up our time spent with all of the special people. It was our way of thanking them for the gift it is to help raise our sons and to celebrate the gift in a beautiful multi-cultural, multi-lingual way.

Ethiopia Trip-Singing in Joy and Sorrow

I wrote a few blogs while in Ethiopia but never had solid enough wifi to post them. I’ll post some now and then I’ll write a recap blog that is more about specifics about our itinerary, cost of the trip, etc for other people considering taking their kids back to Ethiopia for a birth place visit.

I just need to urge any adoptive families to do it. And do it as soon as possible. Zach and I don’t have a lot of money-he works for a non-profit and I’m essentially a stay at home mom-so I understand how daunting it can be to consider. But it’s so worth it, I promise. And I genuinely believe it’s essential for our adoptive kiddos. Essential.

On to the trip…

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As soon as we touched down there were cheers, clapping and singing. Our Qatar flight from Doha, Qatar to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia was full of Ethiopians-save for the 4 American borne of us and 2 other Americans we would later learn were about to bike across Ethiopia (silly ferengi). As soon as the cheering and singing started, a huge smile lit up Tomas’s face. He was home.

This theme presented itself throughout our 8 days in country. From our 3rd floor private room, we huddled around the windows overlooking the front entrance of the Lemma Hotel waiting for Tariku’s special people. Our breaths held until they let out in forceful puffs, steaming up the windows. Finally, a glimpse of our translator pulling up and our special people getting out of the car one by one. Tariku, usually one to keep his emotions tightly in check, began to wave frantically-catching me so off guard it knocked the camera out of my hands. In his excitement he knocked on the window and caught the eye of one of his special people. She looked up and started to mirror his frantic waving. In this moment Tariku forgot it was safer to not let anyone know how he was actually feeling and just allowed it all to come out without over-processing. It struck me as the first time he had behaved quintessentially Ethiopian in 7 years.

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The next day was spent in their villages of birth. Tariku’s was up first. I spent countless nights before the trip praying that Tariku wouldn’t close himself off to his special people, knowing they would want access not just to him physically but emotionally as well. Not only did I think they deserved to meet my real “Chooch” but I knew he deserved knowing what it felt like to reveal himself fully and be fully loved in return.

And he did. In the pictures it’s easy to see he didn’t just allow people to hug him, he fully embraced them as well. Tariku also welcomed the wet kisses, hands placed on forehead while prayers were whispered, and tears of both joy and sadness that ran from the eyes of his special people down his cheek and on to his shirt. Though he didn’t shout out or sing-he was at home in a way that he’s not often in America. The land had a way of reminding him that he was made to wear his emotions on the outside because the whole community would do the same. It’s impossible, in that way, to be lonely in Ethiopia.

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As Tomas and Binyam entered their birth village, the crowds began to gather. Soon enough, around 200 people had come to celebrate the return of two of their sons. A church choir was brought in to sing, 2 chairs were placed at the head of a table for which to seat their little princes. On the table, flowers bursting with color and scent-all worked to join in the celebration of their arrival. Tomas, adopted at 6-years-old, has always been good at embracing his feelings. Perhaps because he had the most time of my 3 in Ethiopia, whether it’s joy or sadness he’s feeling-it’s quite easy to tell. But in Ethiopia even the tone of his highs and lows were brighter and more vibrant. His smile had no pull at the edges, only full abandon-taking up the majority of his face.

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Our Bini is perhaps too introverted to thrive in an environment where he’s seated at the King’s table and made to sit and watch as the community pays tribute to his homecoming. So he spent the time in his villages playing mostly with Dailah and the chicks instead. It wasn’t until we got back to the hotel where he could unpack what had just happened that he told the story with giggles and gesticulations not common with our Bini. He too, had embraced his Ethiopian nature to live life in a big way.

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It was essentially the same as we left the villages on our last day as well. Though I’m sure the words in the songs were different, there was still singing. There was still clapping and there were still tears. Even as an American who considers herself pretty openly emotional I felt rather stunted, I had no idea whether to laugh or cry. It occurred to me that I can do both as it was the happiest and the saddest I had felt in a very long time. Though I’m not currently able to do what Tariku calls “The Ethiopian yodel”, I am able to feel two seemingly contradictory emotions at the same time. Arguably that’s what makes them even stronger, being able to compare the high and the low right next to each other in the same moment. One without the other dulls them both.

Only time, the true author of our stories, will tell whether they continue to allow that openness in a considerably more closed off America. I hope so, because over time they will grow to understand that their emotions and feelings are safe here too, even if we don’t express it as empathetically. If nothing else comes from our trip but the ability to better express what they are feeling then it will have been worth it. So, so worth it.

Upon landing in Chicago I turned to Tomas and started clapping and jumping in my seat. A smile spread across his face and he joined. Next time, I told him, let’s start cheering too. Yes, he said, let’s do!

Binyam is 9!

In case you’re keeping track-the birthdays of my kids actually follow their birth order throughout the year. Trysten (February), Tomas (March 7), Tariku (March 16), Dailah (July), Binyam (August). There is no real reason to point that out other than to tell you that I find that to be so interesting for no real reason.

For Binyam’s birthday he chose food that surprised no one who knows him. For breakfast he wanted donuts, preferably chocolate donuts with “stuffing”. Meijer had made some that looked like caterpillars, which made Binyam’s entire month.

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For lunch he wanted Tombstone pizza and root beer. Not just any root beer, he had a taste of the craft root beer found in glass bottles a few weeks prior so that was his specific request.

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Zach works with a truly fantastic woman named Judy. Judy has become a little like a grandma to my kids. Living far away from their actual grandmas can be hard when they are looking to get spoiled with love and affection so I’m incredibly grateful they’ve found a soft heart to land with Judy. When she heard it was Binyam’s birthday she went and threw a little party at her house, complete with a Happy Birthday sign by her pool, drinks for the adults and the most incredible food cooked by her husband. For a kid who grows 3 inches every time someone shines their spotlight on him, this is just what he wanted for his big day.

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Oh my has this kid shot up physically. He has no baby fat to speak of so I have no idea how his body continues to stretch but continue it does.

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I was talking to a mom yesterday about just how laid back Binyam is. Very rarely does he voice his opinion on any matter, he would rather the inquisition be on someone else thankyouverymuch. So it was that before we left for the open house at his school I asked him if he still wanted kids to call him Bean or if he would prefer they call him Binyam. I explained how each year he got to choose so if he didn’t want to go by his nickname he no longer had to. “Yeah, I think I would like them to call me Binyam this year.”

An hour later he introduced himself to his teacher with a “Hi, my name is Binyam but everyone can call me Bean.”

If I know anything about my Binyam it’s that he will need to end up with someone who really likes making decisions, otherwise the pair of them will spend their lives on the couch due primarily to no one telling them where they should go.

Life always amps up around Binyam’s birthday. This year the kids are involved in a few sports each so right after school we are hustling to various practices. A week after his birthday we were getting everything together to head to drum lessons, football and soccer practices when I realized he had just one shinguard. I sent him into the house to grab his second shinguard and loaded up the van with the rest of the kids (plus 2 extra friends of the kids). Van was full so off I went, dropping Trysten off at band practice first. When I was turning towards the football/soccer fields it occurred to me that I hadn’t heard anything from Binyam (this in itself is not surprising, he and I have went hour long car rides just the two of us without many words said. There are just so many questions I can ask him with one word responses before I turn the podcast on and we both learn something new from 99% invisible).

We had been gone 15-20 minutes when we arrived back home to pick him up. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was searching for that second shinguard for 19 of those minutes but when we pulled up next to the house there he was, sitting on the stoop looking unbelievably calm and charming, with both shinguards firmly in place. When Tariku asked him if he was scared being alone he said, “No, I knew mom would come back for me.”

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Some of my adoptive mama friends remarked that this showed great attachment that he knew I would return. I do believe that’s part of it, of course, but Binyam has never considered that someone wouldn’t come back for him. He trusts so completely anyone who gives him a kind smile or offers a gentle hug.

This summer Bean has been swept up by the Harry Potter books. He went from reading more typical 1st/2nd grade books last year to diving into the HP series. It has been so fun watching him get excited about the books and the movies. In the past Binyam has struggled with comprehension but something about the books (I obviously believe it’s just the magic and the power of the series) has him captivated to the point that he tells me what’s coming next when watching the movies. Just don’t ask him directly when he’s reading what he just learned or he freezes under the pressure to answer and his mind empties. If you come at him resembling anything like a test he will shut down, it’s just his thing.

For his birthday Binyam invited his two best buddies over for a sleepover. They’ve been his buddies since we first moved here, regardless of whether or not they are in his classroom or how often he sees them. Binyam is like a lobster-the guy mates for life. If he’s ever loved you he will continue to do so until the end of time. Being on the other side of that is truly precious so if you get the chance, make it happen.

While watching him play soccer yesterday I said to Trysten, “I know I say it every game but watching him run makes me get teary every time. What a miracle he is. Can you even believe he’s figured out how to do all of that with the legs he was given?” Because it is. And I’m not the only one who feels that way. At baseball this year the entire crowd (who did not know him and were not always the most supportive group of parents out there) were cheering for him and, when he got on base, were on their feet clapping. Not in a precious kind of way but in a powerful kind of way-sometimes being around Binyam makes you feel like you’re a part of his miracle. It’s absolutely intoxicating which is why I think so many people who meet our family for the first time are instantly drawn to him, he with those puss and boots eyes.

For every one of my other kids there are futures Zach and I have talked about that we wouldn’t be at all surprised to see happen. With Binyam, we just have no idea. I’m not sure if it’s his laid back approach to life or his absolute joy in whatever he’s doing that makes me believe no matter what he will continue to be the happy guy I know him to be. What a gift it is as his mom to know that with almost absolute certainty.

Love you so much, Binyam-ay. Honored to be your mama.

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National Bridge State Park/ Red River Gorge

National Bridge State Park/ Red River Gorge

Summer kind of got away from us this year. The kids were involved in baseball/softball until mid July and then I was trying to squeeze in a “laid back summer” for the rest of the weeks. I’m sure this will come as no surprise to you, but a forced laid back summer didn’t feel so laid back and so it was that Zach recommended we take a family camping trip before school started.

During the school year I can sometimes fool myself into believing we have our stuff together because the kids are gone at school for most of the day and then activities at night. But summer? Oh summer comes at ya with all the problems and issues that have been pushed down or run over from the crazy of the school year.

I think particularly with our babes who have suffered trauma-the unscheduled-ness of summer can sometimes be really scary for them. Scary for them often means intense parenting for the mamas and the papas.

All this to say, our camping trip came just at the right time. Our plan was to head to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan but a few days before we were to leave we noticed it was supposed to be 60 degrees with 90% chance of rain so I we made the executive decision to try the National Bridge State Park in Kentucky instead.

It had been a few years since we last went camping and, since then, have adopted a plant based lifestyle so I was a little nervous about what exactly we would eat for our 4 day vacation in nature. More on that later…

 

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The kids are now of ages where they can put up the tent by themselves while I organize/read my book. It is bliss.

We arrived much later than I was hoping so part of dinner was prepared by flashlight. Fajitas (sautéed on my new pan. I physically danced when this little lady and her dutch oven sister were delivered to my door.)

Vegan Fajitas

Onions, peppers, garlic, zucchini, squash. Buy the refrigerated tortillas at Costco, they are so good and have only 5 ingredients! We added guac and salsa for obvious reason.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next day called for oats with almond milk and honey. Cooked to perfection and overwhelming praise by all. So easy, so delicious.

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Our first hike was up to the National Bridge. I had forgotten my nice camera but remembered my selfie stick so not all hope was lost.

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Even though we live at a camp in the middle of beautiful wilderness, it’s so easy to take for granted just how beautiful nature is. When you’re on a hike with no distractions other than your 5 children playing an adorable game of follow the leader and your husband’s calves flexing in the sexiest way possible-it’s easy to be reminded just how big and beautiful this world is.

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Dailah was often behind the other kids just chatting with Z and me. At one point she turned to me and remarked, “I think I’ve been talking the whole time we’ve been walking mom!” And then carried on before I could give her confirmation to the fact. She may look like her daddy but I suppose there’s a piece of me in there somewhere. 😉

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The lead up to the natural bridge was a teeny tiny staircase. Hiking with Binyam is no different than hiking with other children until we get to cliffs and tiny spaces. He stumbles often in his walking, so every stumble is a little bigger of a risk and my anxiety tends to get a little out of hand. I don’t think he knows I feel this way as I usually overcompensate the fear with effusive love, praise and picture taking.

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The top of the bridge is just gorgeous, both the views and the actual physical bridge.

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I posted this picture on Facebook and the commentors had a great time trying to find Binyam. He’s there, but he blends in perfectly with the foliage.

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Zach taught the kids how to safely get to the side of a cliff to look down and I sat down in the center and shit my pants prayed.

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Tariku was pouting about something or other, I was a safe distance away from the side and Dailah had found a rock to climb. But I loved this shot of Z and 3 of his boys.

I love all things yoga and meditation and when I’m in nature, it always inspires me to move my body in a way that reflects that. Natarajasana (Dancer pose) is one of my favorites because of all of the angles it creates, plus it just feels awesome.

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It could be said that sarcasm is our family’s love language and so when that’s the case, it comes as no surprise to find one son meditating on a rock during the hike and another imitating my love of yoga. I love all the things- their budding senses of humor in particular.

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From the natural bridge we could see another cliff (over Zach’s shoulder in the shot of the two of us) that the kids wanted to check out as well so off we went.

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We didn’t get a whole lot of sleep the night before so we headed back for some lunch/naps.

Lunch was veggie burgers and some grillin’ beans. Zach bought himself 6 cans of these things and I think we ate every one. It is legit the only time we eat baked beans but there is certainly something about the taste the open fire gives them. (Make sure you get the vegetarian/vegan kind. Most have some sort of pork in them so check the label!)

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Zach and Dailah chatting in the hammock during chill time.

Have I mentioned how much more relaxing camping is when your kids can also start fires? This is particularly enjoyable when I have a book that I can’t put down. (Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. It’s a must read, truly.)

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The next morning I did a tofu scramble for breakfast with a little tofu, garlic, cayenne pepper, turmeric, nutritional yeast, spinach and tomatoes. Mmmmm might need to make that tonight…

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That morning we hiked a trail close to our campsite. It was a decently strenuous hike that was much longer and higher than the previous day’s but one that I preferred. Took us over an hour to be able to see the sun through the trees so everything was lush and gorgeous.

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I’m not actually leaning against the tree behind me, this was kind of a tricky pose on the fallen tree. I jumped down and Dailah asked, “Isn’t it so fun to be a kid again?” It is. It really, really is.

We had to descend pretty quickly as we had a kayak/canoe trip down the Red River around lunch. When we got to the campsite I couldn’t help but smile, what a lovely thing it is to be with the ones I love-all of our needs met so simply.

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We were warned by an older couple who took a liking to our kids that the water level was low in the gorge so we might be in for some pulling of our various boats but we Zach decided to soldier on. Dailah wanted in with me and I enthusiastically agreed, forgetting momentarily that when Dailah decides she’s over something there is not a human alive who can talk her into engaging. The first few minutes were pure bliss though.

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We arrived at the water hole with a cliff just perfect for jumping. I’ve had many opportunities to go cliff jumping in my day and I’ve declined each and every invitation for I imagine the same reasons Dailah stopped rowing 5 minutes into our excursion-it just didn’t appeal to me. I’ve never loved heights, nor has anyone accused me of being a risk taker in the traditional sense. I typically like my 2 feet planted firmly on land, thankyouverymuch. But I try really hard to be an ever evolving person, letting go of the things that no longer serve me, and fear of cliff jumping seemed like one of those things I could let go of.

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On the way back, it was decided I would be canoeing home with Binyam (the three bigs all had their own kayak)-which makes the most sense since together we have virtually 0 experience canoeing. Ahem.

You know where this is going…we hit some rapids and when I told Binyam to duck to avoid a tree branch he took that to mean grab on to that branch like your little one precious life depends on it. Next thing I knew, I was ducking to avoid my child and grabbing him down from the tree at the same time while our canoe tipped over. Binyam freaks in the face of most things and so when I stood up the first thing I saw was his big, beautiful eyes peaking out from the water with a look of sheer panic. It took what felt like 42 minutes to convince him to stand up as the water was shallow enough for him to touch. Bless.

It ended up being a really fun 4 hours. We were basically the only people on the water so we could take our time admiring the beauty of the gorge.

Probably one of my favorite parts of camping is sleeping all in one tent. When Zach initially wanted to get into family camping my one condition was that we all sleep together. Oh and air mattress, I wanted to be sleeping on one of those.

Going to sleep and waking up next to the kids is so fun, in particular because our bedroom at home is a child free space. The only time you’ll see a child in our room is if they are 1) sick or 2) sick. And even then, there better be puke somewhere or you can just figure it out on your own. Kidding, kind of. Maybe it’s because I created that sanctuary when my kids were so little that I can now appreciate the moments when we’re all together. Sure I don’t sleep as well because Tomas yells in his sleep and a few others are loud breathers/snorers but I can’t beat waking up to this sight.

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On the way home our van officially hit 80,000 miles. It is 3 years old. You do the math here, there is a lot of love and miles lived in our minivan. I love adventures and if there is one thing I hope my kids take from me it’s that-travel, travel, travel. And pay off your cars as soon as you can so that you never believe there’s risk in getting that mile ticker to go higher.

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On Baltimore

On Baltimore

On last week’s episode of the podcast This American Life they were talking about how studies show posting news articles or constantly making your opinion known on social media does nothing in the way of convincing someone from opposing viewpoints to change his/her mind. What does work, though, is when we get to know people with opposing viewpoints and can learn just enough to pull down the-relateively small-walls that separate us. TAL gave the example of people in California who were canvassing for the same sex marriage bill. It was proven through results of the canvassing that if the canvasser was gay/lesbian and was able to just enter into a conversation with someone who was against same sex marriage, more than likely that opposer would change his/her mind. Because now there was a face to the issue. (You can find the podcast here or just search “This American Life” in iTunes.)

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I’ve been thinking about that a lot this week as Baltimore has erupted in what has become a common scene in America. I see my white friends who do not have black children mostly silent other than a few posts celebrating the woman who beat on her son who was rioting or a post encouraging the police. I see the adoptive contingency being pretty vocal-at least numerous posts a day about really poignant pictures or prose that speaks to the racism still so prevalent in these United States. Many of my black friends are relatively silent on the issue, perhaps because it feels like the story they’ve been told for as long as they can remember continues to play out.

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I just want to take this moment to remind us all of one thing: you can say whatever you want about a situation, but that does not make it true. You can even believe it to be true, but that doesn’t make it so. You can say the sky is gray, but that doesn’t make it true. Just like you can say that we don’t have a racial problem in America, but that doesn’t make it true. You can say we don’t have a police problem in America, but that doesn’t make it true. We can say any number of things and yet, just because we want them to be true or we were told they were true-does. not. make. them. so.

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One of our dear, dear friends is an amazing Lt on a police force. He works his ass off to do the right thing by the citizens he protects and, of all of my kids, he’s quite partial to Binyam. I know him, I love him, I believe him to be “one of the good best guys.” This doesn’t mean I believe all police are like him. I can love and celebrate my friend while still demanding we take a long, hard look at why we’re throwing men of color in prison at much higher rates than white men. It’s taken me a long time to realize the two ideas (loving a police officer while demanding an overhaul of the system in which he works) are not mutually exclusive.

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I love America. I have been to other countries so the luxury of living in a country where I’m free to blog about this topic does not escape me. Not for one minute. But because I love America, I refuse to let this be part of our story. Zach loves me more than he loves anyone else and because of that love, I’ll sometimes get a text that reads, “For the love of everything holy when you drive my car will you please put the seat back before you get out so I don’t castrate myself when I try to get in?” He refuses to let me continue on any path that isn’t directly leading to me being the person I was made to be. If we don’t wrestle with our policies and our politics as a nation how in the hell do we expect to be the best in the world (as many Americans believe we are)? It’s impossible. Those two ARE mutually exclusive. If you want to be the best, you have to shine the light on your dark places and work. them. out.

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Now is when you start changing the conversation to the riots, right? Because that’s how these things go. Listen, no one wants property damaged. No one. I’m sure no one in Seattle wanted their property damaged when they won the Super Bowl and yet, it happened. Only this time they were celebrating a sports victory instead of protesting another life lost in police custody. The media coverage of the Baltimore riots is a smokescreen. They’ve not been showing the daily protest of Donte Hamilton’s family in Milwaukee who was killed by police 1 year ago. Peaceful protests with prophetic signs don’t sell-the destruction of property, the fires, the rage-it all sells. Do yourself a favor and be better than making this about the riots. If you take nothing from this blog take that, do not let the rioting enter into your conversations, it only goes to show you’ve taken your talking points from less than awesome media outlets (I know many of you will assume I’m talking about one media outlet but rest assured, our 24 hours news cycle has made it so there are handfuls of media outlets to which I’m referring.)

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The other night I walked downstairs to grab something from Trysten and Tomas’s room and Tomas was standing there shirtless with shorts on. Something about the way he was standing made him look like a teenager. He was obviously mid-thought so his brow was furrowed and his mouth, normally fixed in a gigantic smile, was downturned. I quietly closed the door so that he wouldn’t see me panic.

Every day I notice just a bit more facial hair on Tomas and Tariku. Every day closer to adolescence is another day their childlike, cartoonish expressions give way to more somber ones. Not because they aren’t the happy, loving boys they’ve always been but because they are seeing the world in a whole new way-they are going through everything we all did at their age.

But seeing Tomas in his room like that or having Tariku point out his mustache only works to take the Baltimore protests and bring them to my back door. For those who are not trying to raise black men and women in America undoubtedly you don’t feel the urgency or the weight of that truth but man is it heavy-particularly as a white woman who feels so incredibly ill-equipped to navigate the treacherous waters.

1 in 3 black men in America will spend time in prison. 1 in 3. Most of them for small drug related charges that Trysten is more likely to be guilty of (statistically speaking, not because he seems to have a proclivity for it at 12). I think you can understand why the weight of the 1 in 3 statistic weighs heavily on me.

I’m putting this out into my tiny corner of the internet with no expectation. I’m putting it out there because this blog started as a way for me to process the journey of adoption and motherhood. And though dossiers are in my rearview mirror, I find the actual mothering of these boys for which I prayed and cried is infinitely more complex.

I love my children the way you love yours. In our messy, complicated, probably overbearing way. I want to believe that if your child was facing some insurmountable obstacle I would come alongside you and, at the very least, say, “I don’t understand it but I hear you and I’m next to you and we’ll figure out a way to get your child through to the other side.”

Maybe for today we can just get there. Maybe for today we can speak out in grace, peace and love and let those be our guiding emotions instead of fear or self righteousness. Of course I know this can’t happen everywhere but I believe strongly in creating small ripples that lead to revolution.

Peace and love,

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Spring Break 2015

One of the reasons we decided to move to Michigan is because Zach’s current job opened up so many more possibilities in terms of travel and adventure. I’ve been making a running list of places people tell me I “must go” in Michigan since we moved here a year ago but we had yet to take advantage of living in a brand new state we know nothing about.

The kids started spring break on April 2nd and on March 25th we started talking about how maybe we should go somewhere. 🙂 We originally wanted to camp but most of Michigan was still either under a layer of snow or might as well have been with the 20 degree temps. We looked at Louisville for awhile because I have family there I’ve been wanting to visit and it looked to be at least a little warmer.

On March 31st we still didn’t know what we were going to do for sure. Zach and I are similar in a lot of ways but there are enough differences to really keep things interesting-namely, he is totally cool spontaneously throwing one outfit in a bag and taking off for parts unknown and I like more than a day’s notice for reasons like packing for 5 kids and myself. But mostly because I need to know where, what and when I’ll be able to eat at all times.

In the end we decided on renting a cabin near Traverse City and Sleeping Bear Dunes for the first part of spring break. Zach still threw one outfit in a bag and I packed 4 bags of groceries and that is how you manage 13 years of marriage. You’re welcome. 🙂

The cabin was big enough for all of us but not big enough for any of us to retreat into a corner and hide. We brought board games and played them every night. It was magical in a really laid back, fun way. And it was gorgeous. Absolutely gorgeous.

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The first day we headed out to Sleeping Bear Dunes for a hike. It was a beautiful day, a little chilly on the parts of the trail that was thick with trees but actually quite warm when we got to the exposed part.

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After a few miles we got to some pretty gorgeous views of Lake Michigan.

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“Launching” is a Klipsch tradition that was started by Zach and his siblings and continues with my kids. There’s a whole lot of talk on who has the best launch, points scored, how to get higher/faster/longer. I’m not sure about the details of it all, I just know that it’s really fun to watch. (Binyam’s club feet don’t allow him to jump so launching isn’t really an option. Never to be left behind, he did enjoy falling and rolling down the dunes anyway. 😉 )

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Dailah and I did some yoga

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Zach and the boys did more running and climbing of the dunes.

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Zach and I were preparing to continue the hike when we turned to yell for the kids to follow. This is what can happen in a few minutes when there’s 5 of them. Love it.

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Still a little crazy that my kids are old enough to go on some paths by themselves and catch up with us somewhere down the line. It’s so fun watching them find their independence.

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On our way back, with about a mile left, Binyam’s feet had hit their limit. Ever the amazing brother, Tariku offered to give him a piggy back ride for the rest of the way.

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The next day the wind had picked up but we wanted to see more of the dunes so we just threw on another layer and away we went. While Zach and I had another cup of coffee got ready the kids took off around our cabin to find quality walking sticks.

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Most of the trail was wide open and the newly picked up wind created a legit wind tunnel that brought the temps down to freeze-your-facial-expression proportions. I was so, so thankful none of the kids complained. It felt like an Easter miracle but maybe it’s just the kids getting older.

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While the bigs climbed (and then launched from) a big dune, Dailah found the rest of us a little bunker to hide from the wind. It was then that Binyam, with his frozen facial expression, whispered about all of the things that hurt on his body. He wasn’t complaining, just stating facts.

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It was still really, really beautiful despite the wind.

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It was a little too chilly to head out again in the afternoon so we went to Traverse City to walk around their really great town. First stop was a coffee shop where Zach and I sat at the coffee bar while the kids enjoyed cinnamon rolls and looked at a map to decide where they wanted to go. Z and I talked for a good 5 minutes about how lucky we were that they get along so well (most of the time) and that we get these moments every day to reconnect just the 2 of us. It’s a lovely thing.

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It ended up being a mixed blessing it was too cold to hike-Traverse City was wonderful! We got back to the cabin and Zach built a nice little campfire outside our cabin. It was just a perfect day.

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We are amping up for a full schedule of baseball/softball/soccer and cheer this spring so it really was our last weekend totally free. One night in the cabin after the kids had gone to bed Zach did the math on how many more of these free weekends we probably have before Trysten is off to college and then I cried myself to sleep and it’s just not enough. I am so grateful for every weekend I get with these beautiful babes of mine, grateful we get these chances to get away and hunker down as a family. They really are my favorite people.