An Open Letter to My Daughter On the Precipice of Puberty…

An Open Letter to My Daughter On the Precipice of Puberty…

Yesterday we were at an orthopedic appointment for Binyam and while waiting for him to be done with his x-rays Dailah and I were talking. This is when she told me that for lunch she was able to have Doritoes and a few chunks of chocolate because a few friends of hers didn’t want to eat theirs from their lunch box because they said it might make them fat.

They are 10.

We had the conversation we often have when we pass magazines of women tucked, airbrushed and whitened. The idea that she will feel pressure to look a certain way or act a certain way is not new to Dailah because, like me, she is constantly watching and feeling. My conversations with Dailah have morphed from the “there is no one way to look or to be healthy and confident and beautiful” to “listen to your gut, don’t drown out that voice inside that tells you the world is wrong or that you’re too much of anything.”

We got home and I thought of the hundreds of other things I wished I had said to her in that moment. I realize she’s not ready to hear some of this but as I started writing I realized not only was I writing to my 10-year-old but I was also writing to myself as a young adult as well.

Parenting Dailah intimidates me so much because I feel like I’m still trying to figure out what it means to be a woman and how to listen to my gut instead of our culture or patriarchy in general. I’m just terrified of me being the reason she tries to hide her incredible bright light. Normal aging and figuring things out is a valid and understandable reason why she might struggle with these same things, those I can live with. But if when she gets older she tells me that I have had anything to do with her feelings of low self worth-whether that means I didn’t prepare her enough or I didn’t empower her enough-I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forgive myself.

So with most things I’m trying to figure out, I started writing. This one’s for Dailah. And for you, dear reader. Or your wife or daughter. And for me, of course for me.

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Before you I wasn’t sure I even wanted a girl. I’ve never been an overly feminine woman so I never had big dreams of getting nails or hair done with a daughter. I was also really scared of the daunting task of raising a woman. With Trysten I didn’t know what I didn’t know and I could fool myself into believing with a little work and a lot of heart I would raise him to be a great man-plus he was caucasian, even then I knew all the cards were stacked in his favor. With you I remember all the ways in which I failed myself as a woman or all the ways in which the world used my female body to discount my words, my thoughts or my work and I was overwhelmed at the thought of raising a female when I had messed up so terribly at being one myself sometimes.

Dailah, I continue to be nervous about raising a daughter. You’ve been physically gorgeous from the start you see; even when you were a tiny baby who hadn’t lost all of your fur covering all the nurses would come in and tell me you were the cutest baby they had ever seen. There are very few family outings that pass without a stranger coming up to you and remarking on your beauty. I think as your mom I’m supposed to beam with pride but instead I shrink just a little bit. Because I don’t ever want you to think your beauty is the thing that you were born to offer the world. When people focus on your physical body I’m worried you’ll forget about how creative you are-making toothbrush holders out of empty Kleenex boxes and decorating your room with new artwork on a bi-weekly basis. People will talk about your beautiful eyelashes and beautiful smile because they are indeed striking but in the quiet of the night I want you to be thankful for the brain that loves math and the heart that breaks every time you see a person without a home on the street corner. Beauty fades, dear one, but your inquiring mind and big heart are the things you are uniquely qualified to offer the world-focus on building those.

A father of one of your friends made you change your shorts after a cheerleading practice once. Your cheer shorts are more like underwear as they allow you to tumble and jump without riding up your lady bits but you were just 9-years-old. Since he shamed you for their short length I noticed you do something that you hadn’t done before, you pull on the shorts whenever you wear them, willing them to grow a few inches. There will be men and women who will shame you for anything you do. I too had a teacher yell at me on a bus full of my high school peers for the top I was wearing. Whenever I recall that memory my cheeks flush and my stomach drops. Living and moving through this world as a woman means you’ll end up getting used to this feeling. It isn’t fair and it isn’t right but it’s the truth and it’s one of the reasons I feel ill equipped to raise a daughter. For a people pleaser like me, it still hurts when people shame me about my style even though as an adult I know it has more to do with their low feelings of self worth than the length of my shorts or the cut of my top. Start to develop the ability to separate what is your actual style and what our culture is trying to tell you it is. Choose comfort over anything else because when you’re comfortable you’re confident, and confident is the coolest and most beautiful thing you can be.

I hear your brothers call you dramatic almost on a daily basis. Though I stop them every time and remind them of the times they sound exactly like you without anyone calling them dramatic-I worry about how it affects you. You’re not dramatic, baby girl, you’re a storyteller. And the world needs more authentic storytellers. A story is not worth hearing with just the facts, your audience needs you to set the stage and tell them how it felt to be living in that moment-what did you hear and smell? And you tell that. Your teacher told me of the time when you got up in front of the class to tell them about our trip to Ethiopia, originally you were reciting from your journal but finally the details got too big and the story too important to continue holding the journal. You threw the journal on your desk and continued the story, gesticulating wildly. It was one of the best stories she heard, she told me, it didn’t even matter if all the details were 100% accurate. You have stories in you my fierce daughter; do not let the world tell you that they are too dramatic to be counted. Keep the drama, dearest, keep it within the art you constantly create and people will see the world through your eyes. And it will be beautiful.

Your fellow women are the best things God will ever give you. There is no room for drama in your relationships, honey, so don’t pay any mind to the shit on TV, movies or magazines about that. One day you might get married or might have kids and to be sure those will be some of the greatest gifts God gave you too but your relationship with women will be one of the first gifts and one of the last. Here’s the rub and the reason I was hesitant to become a mommy of a young lady- our culture will tell you in so many subliminal and not subliminal ways that you are to compete with women. They will throw models on the covers who have been airbrushed and starved without telling you they have been airbrushed and starved. They will feature women in TVs and movies who have personal chefs, personal trainers and dermatologists on staff to preserve their six pack and their skin but they won’t tell you they have all of that. This is one of the biggest lies sold to us-that these women are our competition.

The truth is, honey, they are just doing them and you need to just do you. Find a few truth tellers for friends, the women who will let you know when you are better than the way in which you’re currently behaving and the women who will plan a girls night out when you get the long awaited promotion. You won’t get along with every woman, trust me on that, but you need to respect every single one. Because life is hard and being a woman is harder, we are all just trying to figure it out as we go. There is no right or wrong way to live this life so even when you don’t like a woman you need to find it within you to love them. Love them then send them on their way with no ill feelings towards them at all. Find your people, babe, and move heaven and earth to be the best friend you can be to them. You will mess up so when you do, apologize and move on. You will be hurt but when you are, accept their apology and move on. You need women, Dailah, no matter how great your future husband or wife is you need female friendships more than you can possibly understand right now.

You were born with a little bit of Klipsch and a little bit of Dawson coursing through your veins. This means your body type could be wide shoulders, small boobs and calves that can’t squeeze themselves into off the rack boots or you could have small shoulders, large breasts, a generous booty and long legs. You could have something of a hybrid of those. I have no idea what genetic code is within you but I do know it doesn’t matter. This is a tough one and one in which I spent too much of my life fighting and starving. Maybe there isn’t a way to talk to you about this to make you see what I see now-that being healthy and in love with your body no matter the rolls and wrinkles is the most liberating thing in the world-but I want to try. I want to tell you that the size of your waist or the curve of your hips are nothing more than more stories for you to tell. There will be people that will take it upon themselves to tell you that you are too skinny and ones that will tell you when you have gained a few pounds. The world will make you feel like there is one way to look but I need you to shut them out. You do so well with that now and I cry just thinking about the ways you carry on through life undeterred even when a fellow fifth grader tries to shame your low back hair or your little booty. In many ways you are more self-assured than I am-certainly than I was until my 30s. I hope you continue to wear your invisible armor, Dailah, because there is too much to do and see and being worried about how you look will stop you from experiencing that. Eat the food, drink the whiskey, and stay up until the wee hours of the morning playing silly games with your friends. Sleep with your make up on from time to time and go out the next day for pancakes and hash browns not giving a whit about the smudged mascara underneath your eyes or the slightly smeared lipstick at your mouth. Taste life without worrying what it’s doing to your hips, baby girl, and then call me to tell me all about it.

Use your body Dailah but use it how it was originally intended. Run if it feels good and dance when the mood strikes you. You will be tempted to use your body and allow it be used in different ways. You’re like your mama, sweet thing, and are already far too awake to the world. You notice that the world has already laid claim to your body and you’re just young enough to voice your concern over this truth. Fight this tooth and nail. I spent more years than I care to admit using my body in transactional ways because I didn’t realize that my body was mine. That I didn’t have to dress it up or starve it, expose it or offer it up. In the last handful of years I’ve learned to own my body. I work out when I want to because I feel like a badass not because I’m worried I’ll change my shape if I don’t. I eat what makes me feel good and indulge in vegan chocolate whenever it’s offered to me. I do this because whenever that small voice in my head repeats the language of our culture, I offer the language of love as rebuttal. There are days when I can tell you’re in your head and are not entertained by my required 5 minutes of dance while we cook. But once I start it’s impossible for you to stay in your head. You smile despite yourself. Because we are 100% in our own bodies, allowing that language of love to transform us into another time and space. When you become tempted to allow the language of culture dictate what you wear, how you move your body or who you give your body to-remember us in these moments. Remember what it feels like to be so fully alive and full of light and use that to chase out the dark.

Men. Oy vey sweet thing. You will have your heart broken, it’s true. Sometimes that heartbreak will be mostly the fault of your love but sometimes you’ll realize in hindsight that the heartbreak lands on you, which feels even worse. Just as with your friends- you will need to learn to be the best forgiver that ever was because you’re dealing with another human and humans are fallible, even the best ones like your daddy. I hope you have many loves over your lifetime so you will know exactly what you want and won’t settle for anything less. I got married young, it’s true, but as soon as I met your daddy I knew I didn’t want to be with anyone else because I had spent the years before that falling in and out of love with various good men. Find someone that will hold you accountable for your actions, I don’t want you to end up with someone who will allow you to trample on them. You’re a strong personality-it’s why we call you Doozie-and I thank god for that every single day, but be careful about dating or marrying someone who will let you make all the decisions no matter their opinions. Power uncontrolled is a scary thing because it makes you believe that you’re right all the time and that’s simply not true of anyone. Believing that won’t force you to be internally reflective of the ways in which you can be better and do better, I want for you a partner who will push you to be the very best version of yourself. Find a nice man or woman, of course, but make sure they feel strong enough to tell you how they feel. An equal partnership is a mostly happy partnership. I want you to find someone that may not add to your happiness every moment but one that you’ll look back after years with them and be full of gratitude that overall the years were full of joy and love.

Sex. It’s a big one for women and it’s one that took me so, so long to figure out. The world wants us to be two different things simultaneously and it’s impossible. Our culture wants you to be a sex vixen that knows every position and also a virgin. Growing up Christian complicates this even more and I’m so, so sorry for that. I wish I could tell you how to work through that but the truth is I still am so I’ll keep you updated on my progress. I don’t actually know how to successfully navigate hormones and society’s pressures as I did a pretty lousy job when I was younger but I believe in you and I think you can figure some of this out on your own with your dignity still intact. Here’s what I can tell you about what I’ve learned about sex: it should feel good. Not just physically but mentally and emotionally as well. I spent way too much time in my teens allowing heavy petting to happen even though I didn’t want it to because some young men thought no was a suggestion or because I just genuinely didn’t know how to say no. Practice saying no all the time with little things. Start right now. So that when the time comes (and it will, unfortunately) you will say it loudly and boldly. And remember, “no” is never a suggestion. If you’re thinking it in your mind, say it with your mouth. If he doesn’t listen and keeps touching then get the hell out of there. I don’t care if he’s your boyfriend of a year or the good looking stranger you had crazy amazing conversations with at the bar. You get to decide where it goes, he doesn’t. You are already being told that your body is not your body by our culture but that’s the biggest lie sold to us as women-no one else gets to tell you what to do with your body. So tell your partner what you want and don’t want and get on with it.

Have orgasms. If your partner doesn’t care to wait long enough until you have an orgasm then he or she is not the right partner for you. Don’t be afraid to tell them what you like and if they are not willing to work hard to give you an orgasm then they are not worth your time. Also don’t fake it. There is no way for either of you to learn if you’re faking it. Be authentic, don’t be ashamed and stay in the moment. Sex is best when shared with someone who respects you, find that and there will be no regret in the morning.

Develop your voice as soon as you can. You’ve already started, there’s not a person who knows you that wouldn’t agree that you tell it like it is and don’t mince words. Your opinions and your thoughts matter just as much as the man next to you. You will have teachers and bosses who put more weight in the man’s ideas than yours but you need to keep speaking up. Sometimes sexist things aren’t as obvious as offering you 70% of what they offer your male peers, sometimes it’s as subtle as treating you like the administrative assistant in meetings when you’re a Vice President. Kindly remind them of the hard work you put in to get where you’re at and suggest they bring in the hard working administrative assistant so that you can focus on doing your job. You probably won’t change our culture at large or the culture in your workplace entirely by your voice and you will be sure to piss people off and hear people call you a bitch but baby, let that slide right off of you. Earn your place at the table with the hard work and determination that you ooze out of your little bones already and don’t give any mind to the haters. Revolutions don’t start with bra burning, they often start with one person bold enough to believe she deserves better and demanding others start treating her that way. When the situation calls for it, be that woman and know that I have your back. I won’t come in and do the hard work for you as tempting as it is, but I will be on the other end of the phone call when you’re done. You can let me in on the moments when you were scared, because speaking your mind is always scary, but you’re one of the strongest women I know already-you got this my love.

As strong as you are don’t be afraid of your emotions. They don’t betray you they guide you. For a very long time I thought that my propensity to cry rather easily was a weakness but now I see that all along it was a compass directing me to the things that moved me. I think you’ve inherited this from me, as proven by the other day in the car when you turned to me while reading your book with tears in your eyes, “Mom, the kitty didn’t make it. I’m so sad the kitty didn’t make it.” Let those tears out, sweet thing, and don’t be ashamed of them. It’s easier to hide your feelings and your emotions from the world then to let them out for people to misuse or dismiss them but that’s a cowardly way of moving through the world. Know that being vulnerable and learning to understand your emotions is one of the strongest acts we can do as humans. As long as you never use your tears to manipulate, each one is there for a reason. The world is beautiful and brutal place; if you’re not feeling both of those at any given moment then you’ve closed yourself off. Be strong enough to welcome it all and don’t let anyone shame you into suppressing your wild heart.

All of this said, being a woman is also really incredible. There is nothing as extraordinary as sitting down with a group of women and relating in truly deeply ways. When we embrace all that makes us women there is nothing more powerful in this whole world, I truly believe that. Once you’ve learned to tune out all the rest, you’ll be able to harness the real power inside you that is uniquely female. This person that is both tender and fierce. The one that nurtures animals back to health and then turns around and fights injustice when she sees it. I don’t want you to be afraid or overwhelmed by all the ways being a woman is scary, intimidating or oppressing-I want you to build your life around all the ways that being a woman is empowering, liberating and unendingly beautiful.

I may not have been praying for a girl before I had you but every night I am so incredibly grateful that you’re mine. There will be times when life chews you up and spits you out but as long as you learn what you were supposed to from it, you’ll be just fine. Being a woman means you’ll forever live in the tension of trying to claim your body when so many others lay claim to it as well but there’s also so much beauty in womanhood too. Stand in your strength, expose your heart and don’t think for an instant you’re less worthy than anyone with a penis.

Remember that you are loved infinitely more than you can possibly imagine right now and that there is not a thing you can do to be loved more or less-by me or by God. I’m not perfect at this womanhood thing but as soon as I learned the extravagant love that has always been there for me, my fight got bigger and my voice louder. It’s what I want for you. Because you are deeply, truly loved.

-Mommy

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*Photo by Sy Abudu

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How to Talk to Your Kids About Trump

How to Talk to Your Kids About Trump

A few months ago my sister-in-law and I started a podcast. (This is genuinely the real reason I haven’t blogged since it began.) I’ll go into that more in a future blog but it is because of that podcast that I’ve had MANY emails, Facebook messages and texts asking me how I talk to my kids and my family about Donald Trump.

We end each episode of the Mama Bear Dares podcast with a dare that (we hope) inspires the listener to live life with more love and compassion-for themselves, for their significant others, for their children and for all of humanity. So people aren’t reaching out to me because they think I have it figured out, they are reaching out to me because Leslie and I have created a platform that encourages people to continue to reach out in kindness and love.

The honest answer to their question about teaching my kids kindness when they are hearing sound bites from a man who could be our next President being the very opposite of kind? I’m genuinely not sure how to answer that.

I admit to saying truly unkind things about Trump. Maybe some are true, most are probably just fear coming out in words. Sometimes my kids are around, sometimes they aren’t. So if that’s where you’re at-where the fear and the anxiety and the sleepless nights have you being unkind-I get that.

Here’s what I’m going to try to do today though:

  1. Instead of just give my kids sound bites from me I’m going to sit them down and tell them why I’m not voting for Trump. I want my kids to see that I arrived at my decision because of facts not fear. I want them to learn what we value as a family by who we elect politically. When we read the Bible and hear about all of the times Jesus came to help the people the governments of the day forgot-I want my kids to understand the relevance of that today. I don’t want them to grow up thinking that Christians vote Republican. I want them to grow up being able to differentiate between someone who says they love Jesus and then treats everyone around them like hot garbage from someone who just does the daily work of loving those around them consistently and (sometimes) quietly. My kids deserve to hear smart, rational, non-fear based facts about how our country is right now and my hopes for the future. They won’t get that from me yelling, “What an idiot” at the TV.
  2. I will show them videos of past Presidents during their acceptance speeches at the conventions. I will try to raise kids who don’t just fall for the flashy lights, pretty words and rehearsed pauses. We will stop the videos and ask “ok this is what they said, what do you think this means?” Just like when we go past magazines at the store and one of them comments on the models I remind them of photoshop, lighting, make up and angles-I will also remind them of the difference between rhetoric and reality. I never want my kids to be disengaged consumers buying whatever anyone is selling. I want them to see past the rhetoric. Who is being included? Who is being left out? If Trump were to make this actually happen who benefits? Who doesn’t? In that phrase he just said is it inclusive or exclusive? Overall did you get a feeling that he loves this country and its people or did you get the feeling that he hates this country and most of its people?
  3. Every time I hear another racist, misogynistic, islamophobic, homophobic (all the ists and bics) instead of reacting out of anger I will label those things appropriately and, when able, ask our kids to imagine someone from that target audience and ask how they think it would feel for them to hear that. Because when Donald Trump is coming at us with anger, I want my kids to instead react with empathy. Just like I encourage my kids to empathize and defend the kid from the bully at school, I want them to see what Trump is doing and recognize it as the same. And I’ll also discuss the danger in other-izing an entire group of people. Once again asking, if someone talks about a group of people who looks, believes or acts differently than they do in a way that’s derogatory do you actually think they would ever go out of their way to make life better for a member of that group? I hope this teaches them that in the future when they hear of kids or adults speaking poorly about an entire race, gender, nationality or religion it’s probably a good indication that my kids’s energies would be better spent on someone trying to heal the divisions rather than widen.
  4. When my kids come home to tell me that their friends are voting for Trump instead of reacting with a “Jesus” (this is my go-t0 response, it’s whatever. I’m working on it but dam*. Bless) I’ll react with a “and how does that make you feel?” If my kids don’t have the words for how that makes them feel I’ll give them words for how it makes me feel when I have friends voting for him. It makes me scared. It makes me angry. It makes me sad. It makes me feel like maybe we don’t have as much in common as I thought we do. It makes me feel like we need to move. It makes me feel like I’m alone. It doesn’t necessarily erase any of their feelings but I hope it helps them process them in a healthy way. In a way that is able to sit back and understand that maybe those friends are just regurgitating what their parents say. That it doesn’t necessarily reflect on the children themselves but on their desire to relate to and be a part of the conversation in their own homes. It’s a good example of how wanting to be included can lead to things that maybe don’t actually reflect how we feel or what we think and I’ll stress again that being an independent thinker is one of the most powerful things you can be. Sometimes it’s lonely but you’ll always be able to fall asleep knowing you’ve stayed true to who you are.
  5. I’m going to remind my kids that they can make a difference. I genuinely believe this election will come down to who shows up at the polls. Obviously every election does to some extent but this one feels like the stakes are higher. I have told them for as long as I can remember that their voices, their bodies and their stories matter. But I’ll show them I believe my own life matters by voting in this election. And I will remind them that as they get older I want them to vote however they see fit not how I see it, not how their grandparents or their friends see it. I don’t want them to think that because they are Christian they need to vote Republican. I don’t want them to think that because they are white they vote this way or black they vote another. I don’t want them to vote with who their husband or wife is voting for. I want them to do their own due diligence and research all of the candidates. I want to equip them with the knowledge of how to do that and this election seems like a pretty great time to start so that when they turn 18 (just did the math…Trysten is eerily close to voting in the next Presidential election. Gulp) they are confident in their ability to choose for themselves and no one else. It took me far too long to learn that lesson.
  6. And I will point out the things that they aren’t old enough to see but that I believe is important. I will show them that most of the people at the RNC this week were white. I will remind them that whiteness doesn’t represent our country and that when any majority is allowed to go unchecked it always spells disaster for minorities. Always. So when I encourage them to be kind I mean to be kind to the people who are being left out of the conversation when Trump is at the podium. The people who run the risk of being exploited even more than they are already. I will remind them that our kindness is ALWAYS better spent on the people for whom our communities, our countries and our world discounts and sees as disposable. And I will wake them up to the privileges they have that others don’t. And use Trump as an example of unchecked and unregulated privilege. Though I’ve talked to Trysten specifically about winning the virtual privilege lottery (white, male, middle class, intelligent, no visible signs of disability, cisgendered, currently straight identifying, etc) I haven’t talked to the others about the other various ways privilege plays out and how we have to stay awake to the realities of others or we run the risk of neglecting them too.

This political season is a really great training ground for teaching my kids that fighting fire with fire burns the entire country to the ground. We are seeing this play out on the national stage but my kids do not need to see it play out in my house. If I genuinely want my kids to react to an angry person or an angry idea with respect and rationality then I have to show them how to do it. I’m absolutely going to mess up because I’m human and I’m still learning to process my emotions in a healthy and beneficial way but I have to start somewhere.

Last night a friend who, like me, has Republicans running down all sides of her family. People she respects and loves messaged me with “I need someone to tell me what to do.” I don’t think I know what to do but I’m going to start here.

Equipping my family with knowledge, agency, love, empathy and compassion feels like the most profound thing I can do. Today it certainly feels like the most revolutionary act that is needed from us.

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Are you feeling this same tension? What are you doing with you kids?

 

 

Dr. King’s Dream UNrealized…

Dr. King’s Dream UNrealized…

I think one of the more frustrating things about celebrating Martin Luther King Jr day is watching as many white people who had terrible things to say about the protestors in Baltimore and Chicago share some of Dr. King’s more famous quotes on social media. It’s always the more comfortable ones, the ones that don’t push or pull at any of their preconceived notions about what it’s like to be black in America. “The time is always right to do what is right.”  “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

I haven’t seen anyone post some more controversial but ultimately more timely of his quotes. Allow me.

It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city’s white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.

I think it is good and right that we are celebrating the life and legacy of a man who disrupted the national language on race. He was not the first and he won’t be the last but he is certainly the most widely acknowledged and for that, I am forever grateful. Of course my current life and roll as mom to my five humans wouldn’t have been possible without his and so many others who sacrificed. And yet…

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.

I can’t help but believe there is no way Martin Luther King Jr would have been okay with the current status of our racial relations in this country. I can’t believe that when he penned his Letter from Birmingham Jail (excerpts in italicized bold throughout this post) that he would see a boy like Donald Trump who openly espouses racist ideology leading the polls of an entire party as progress. And what of the confederate flag still waving above state capitals? Would he not see the unjust irony in the same state capitals waving the confederate flag taking the day off of work to commemorate his life?

But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society…There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.

And yet people point to having a black President of the United States and many other black Americans in positions of power. Steps forward, to be sure, but Dr. King never talked about allowing a few African Americans to be let in to the benefits of society that white Americans were naturally allowed because of the color of their skin, he was talking about all Americans being afforded the opportunity. I’m sure King would’ve celebrated Obama’s victory but also challenged Americans who believed it was a symbol of the death of racism. Particularly when faced with the reality that in 2010, 27.4 percent of blacks were still stuck in the airtight cage of poverty, compared to just 9 percent of non-hispanic whites.

A law is unjust if it is inflicted on a minority that, as a result of being denied the right to vote, had no part in enacting or devising the law… Throughout Alabama all sorts of devious methods are used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters, and there are some counties in which, even though Negroes constitute a majority of the population, not a single Negro is registered. Can any law enacted under such circumstances be considered democratically structured?

53 years after King wrote the above, there are states in America that are passing Voter ID laws that place an undue burden on mostly poor and disproportionally black and latino Americans. Every bit of research proves election fraud is a nonissue and in that rare case that it happens, it’s mostly by mail-in absentee ballots (and thus not weeded out by the Voter ID law). 53 years and and the call to lift the obstacles in the way for black Americans and their right to vote remains.

I doubt that you would so quickly commend the policemen if you were to observe their ugly and inhumane treatment of Negroes here in the city jail; if you were to watch them push and curse old Negro women and young Negro girls; if you were to see them slap and kick old Negro men and young boys…

And what of the incarceration rate of black men in America in 2016? Can we honestly say King’s dream has been realized when African Americans are imprisoned at nearly six times the rate of whites? Even though 5 times as many Whites are using drugs as African Americans, African Americans are sent to prison for drug offenses at 10 times the rate of Whites. 53 years later and black Americans are still being slapped, kicked and killed by police with impunity. How do we celebrate the man but okay the status quo?

I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice… Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I admit to being for many years one of those moderates to which King references. I had no idea what white privilege meant or how I could possess it without ever having asked for it. I think because of that I find myself not in a position of pointing fingers and accusing other moderate whites of being terrible people or outright racists because they aren’t out joining protests. What I am saying is that I understand how the moderate whites who say nothing do more harm than the outright racists who spout such terrible rhetoric only other terrible people will agree. We whites who are kind, thoughtful, smart, considerate, community and business leaders who are not doing our part to educate ourselves and the people we love about what America is actually like for people of color hurt the cause more by turning a blind eye and encouraging others to do the same. We can no longer claim we are ignorant of the plight of people of color because we have access to their stories at our fingertips. Our ignorance is no longer bliss it’s poison and I believe King knew that even then-years before the Internet.

I felt we would be supported by the white church felt that the white ministers, priests and rabbis of the South would be among our strongest allies. Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leader era; an too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows.

The church. King writes in his Letter from Birmingham Jail that he has wept for the laxity of the church. “But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church.” Man do those words hit home for me as well. I’ve blogged before about my issues with the church and it seems King’s words are more prophetic than ever in that regard. It turns out I’m not nearly as forgiving as Dr. King because the church’s silence on matters of race is one big reason I still haven’t walked through the hollowed doors of a church in awhile. The deafening silence of my fellow christian when black life after black life is taken is enough to make me wonder if God is listening at all. And yet, I believe He is and I believe in the church-that she will come again to walk alongside the oppressed as Jesus once did. I know enough church leaders who are doing their part to call their congregation to come alongside their African American peers and to fight the injustice that pulses through the veins of our country to have hope. Dr. King taught me that.

Why I celebrate Dr. King today is because he is proof that a completely fallible human can carry out a revolution. Anyone who has done their homework knows that Dr. King wasn’t a perfect man and yet he became the voice of a generation who had been oppressed for too long. He is proof that you can do big things with your one big life no matter your past and no matter your current shortcomings.

Let today be a reminder of how far we’ve come, thanks in part to Dr. King, for sure. But let it also be a reminder of just how far we have to go.

Let it remind you that our current justice system is the exact same justice system that was in place in Dr. King’s time. It is currently working exactly how it was intended. This means we don’t need an updated justice system, we need to tear the current one completely down and start from scratch. We cannot possibly expect equality in our prison system when the system began on the backs of African Americans.

Let it remind you that current housing policies and racial bias in the workforce continue to keep people of color smothering in the airtight cage of poverty at far greater rates than whites just as they did 53 years ago.

Let it remind you that the school to prison pipeline is taking our children of color and setting them on the same paths of imprisonment that Dr. King abhorred. We can claim to have come so far but when we are stacking the cards from such a young age we can longer be surprised when the lives of people of color crumble under such weight.

And let today remind you that you are capable and have the moral obligation to act on behalf of those still oppressed. That you have a moral obligation to listen to their stories and not count them as false just because they differ from your own. Yes, the moral arc of the universe is long and bends towards justice but we have to be the ones to bend it. Let today remind you that no matter who you are, how little you think you matter or how many mistakes you make that you can make a difference. That your voice matters. It’s time we stop whitewashing Dr. King’s legacy and start taking up the cross that burdened him and continues to burden America. Because even though part of Dr. King’s dream has been realized there is far more that has been unrealized and it is that part that needs your voice. Lend it.

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2015, A Recap

2015, A Recap

What a year it’s been! WordPress sends out a yearly review of this blog and it was brought to my attention that I only blogged 25 times this year. Could that be true? That means I missed a lot of what we did this year so I wanted a place to recap 2015. It’s my blog, I can photo dump if I want to.

January 5 Ian Matthew was born and the world will never be the same. I wrote about this little bit of squishy preciousness here.

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Zach and I tried teaching Dailah to snowboard and Binyam to ski. It took multiple hours, numerous utterances of the F bomb and this one selfie of Zach flipping off the camera with a gloved finger for us to cry out uncle and literally never return.

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Dailah received a 1st place trophy for cheerleading. Even though our alarm clocks rang out at 3:45am we still managed to hoot and holler louder than anyone else.

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We had our first experience with toboggans. The hill is on the left, only 2 people the employees of the hill had ever seen crash halfway down are on the right. We assume it’s because not many things were meant to carry 2 Klipschs due to sheer head size and overall beefiness. We lived and I peed a little laughing so hard so not all was lost.

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My kids continued to eat me out of house and home. I now double a recipe if it says “serves 8” and usually the kids still eat more fruit after all of that is gone. If you hear of giveaways that feature blessing someone with groceries for a year I’d be much obliged if you would enter us. I’ll have to start working if these people continue at this pace. 😉

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Tariku and Trysten filmed a commercial for summer camp. I’m not entirely sure why anyone would use anyone other than my kids in their commercials after seeing how adorable they were. 🙂

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I helped a fitness studio start up. Though I’ve done marketing for over a decade it was fun to be able to shape the tone and “voice” of the business from the beginning. Plus I got to work with my good friend Kyle Taylor in creating the logo (thanks, Kyle!)

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We said good-bye to our first family car-the Honda Pilot. Zach got in a car accident and it was totaled. The airbag shredded the gloves he was wearing with the force of the accident-I can’t believe how fortunate we were that he was ok. Despite the fact that she had seen better days, that every part of her was dented and bruised. Despite the fact that she was perpetually dirty from living at a camp and that her bumper stickers signified a moment in time now gone, she also brought home 4 out of my 5 kids. She was the place the 7 of us were first a family and on the back of one of her seats was where Tariku decided to practice writing his name in ink. In her trunk was where we said our final good byes to Abe and Aristotle and, above all, she protected Zach on her final trek. She was a good car.

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We bought a Subaru (great car!) and soon after Zach took Trysten on a road trip with my dad, uncle and cousin to Colorado for a week of snowboarding. Zach took this picture, one of my all time favorites.

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We said good-bye to my sister’s white boxer, Leo. Leo lived with us a few times throughout his long life and I sure did love the way he took care of my sister when she lived on the east coast away from us. Once Ian was born it was as if Leo knew my sister was going to be okay so he let go. I can’t stress enough how much I love dogs and Leo was one of the good ones. Miss ya, buddy.

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We took a family trip to Sleeping Bear Dunes for spring break.

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The kids played baseball/softball which I do believe is the longest season of any sport. The older 3 tried out for All Stars and were selected. Tariku’s team made it really far and was a fun team to watch. Tomas and Trysten’s not so much. 😉

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The big 3 were all on the same team as it has been for many years mostly because Zach and I don’t want to make too much work for ourselves. So it was that they were often in the field together. In the below picture Tariku is playing short stop, Trysten was pitching and Tomas was playing catcher. It was more fun than you can possibly imagine.

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They also played a lot of soccer! (My favorite!) My parents came over for quite a few games considering they live 7 hours away. This surprises no one who knows them.

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While playing 3rd base, Tomas took a ball to the face from the hardest throwing pitcher on his team. This was soon after I posted a picture making fun of little girls wearing face masks in softball. I feel largely to blame for this injury but true to his nature Tomas was smiling the whole way through getting stitches.

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We went vegan/plant-based. More on that later.

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We had a visit from my friend Chandra and her 5 kiddos. I loved watching them play and have so much fun together. It’s weird that a few of my great friends have never met my kids except through my blog and the stories I tell when we get together so it felt ridiculously good to have Zach and my babes meet this friend of mine I always talk about.

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My good friend, Alex, brought her boy toy and dog up to camp for a weekend. She used to live at our previous camp as well so to say I miss seeing her randomly most days would be an understatement. She’s a fellow Harry Potter junkie and just overall top-notch human.

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Tariku offered to hold my hand for the first time. On Facebook I wrote this to mark the occasion:

Last Thursday after his baseball game, one in which he got a minor injury, I asked him if he ever just wished I was there. To comfort him, give him a hug, make it better. No, he says, sometimes I wish the animals were there though.
I told him how when we first adopted him that used to kill me-that he would never let me hug him or snuggle him, not even hold his hand. I told him now I realize it’s not that he doesn’t see me as his mom but that he really just doesn’t like physical touch so I didn’t take it personally anymore (and that I never really should have).
Then on Saturday while walking around camp, with tween girls in swimsuits everywhere, he told me I could hold his hand.
My relationship with Tariku continues to be a reminder that the most beautiful things in life are often the result of a lot of hard work and sweat/tear equity. It’s also a reminder that the culmination of that hard work can sometimes be in something as relatively unremarkable as an outstretched hand and an offer.

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Leslie and Jake finally got a dog! Though I think Leslie is still on the fence about Daffy she hasn’t gotten to the good stuff yet where Daffy is no longer chewing everything and is instead comforting my nephews or niece when they are sick or sad. Hang on, Leslie, you’re almost there!

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My nephew Caden John was born!! On my birthday! Which happens to be my mom’s birthday too! He’s a smiley little man and I love him so. I wrote more about him here.

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We played more rounds of basketball in the front yard/court than ever before. We even talked grandparents and dogs into playing along too sometimes.

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The kids finished their last day of 6th, 5th, 4th, 3rd and 2nd grades respectively.

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Doozie competed in Regionals for cheerleading where they took home 1st again.

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I continue to do the marketing for my brother’s Chiropractic business, Dawson Chiropractic near Des Moines, Iowa. I do it mostly for the free adjustments but also because he is genuinely the best chiropractor to which I’ve ever been. Oh and because it forces my little brother to talk to me on a regular basis, a perhaps not naturally occurring thing for a quiet dude like him 😉

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While at an orthopedic appointment for Binyam our car was broken into and stuff was stolen (also, weirdly, the thieves tried on every pair of my sunglasses but didn’t take any. It took me a good while to put them back on my face after imagining some weirdo trying them on. Also made me seriously question my style that they didn’t deem any of them worth stealing. But that’s neither here nor there.) I called the police and then about 5 minutes later called Jimmy John’s since we hadn’t eaten lunch and it was well past 2pm. Jimmy John’s arrived first which was hilarious to us all.

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Zach started seriously training for triathlons and I continued to take hundreds of pictures of my pets. Zach is on the left swimming in the lake while Hagrid and I kayaked next to him-keeping him safe and looking adorable in the process.

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All of the Klipschs came to visit-even Kait straight from the NYC. I continue to be beside myself with gratitude that I count Zach’s siblings and significant others as some of my greatest friends. And time spent with my remarkable niece and nephews is always exactly what I need.

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My 5 all went to Camp Eberhart for a week and had a ridiculously good time. Trysten got to go in the bigger kids cabin where they stay up a little later and hang with the older girls cabin over campfires. I pretended to be all cool as a cucumber but there were def a few nights when I drove past “on my way home” just to see what was what.

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A few weeks later Dailah was off to cheer camp. It was her first time at an overnight camp that her dad wasn’t in charge of and at which we didn’t live. Despite her smile here she actually hated it-coming home with bruises and bumps covering her legs from being dropped and thrown around (as fliers are, obviously). Soon after spending $250 on this camp she decided cheerleading wasn’t for her and asked if she could not try out for the coming year. This perfectly sums up the personality she was born into by nature of being her father’s daughter.

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Tomas’s face was used for marketing purposes. This makes sense because of all of my kids his face best translates constant joy-which is what you get when you send your kids to camp, obvs.

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We let the kids sign up for tackle football for the first time. I held off for as long as I could on account of me loving their healthy knee joints and beautiful, developing brains. I’m still hoping they choose cross country or soccer over football but now at least I know it’s possible for all of us to survive football season.

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My sister and I got another matching tattoo (we both have the purple cross on my sister’s foot, along with our mom, from when I turned 18). This time we got the two “d”s. Before marriage our maiden name was “Dawson” and in high school sports we were called “the double Ds” not due to mammary size, clearly. She and I are polar opposites in so many ways but I love her like no one else. That veiny arm would be mine. Gorg.

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I got a selfie stick. I don’t always use it but when I do everyone loves it. 😉

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My parents took us all to Adventureland-an outdoor roller coaster and water park. It never disappoints, especially now that the kids are old enough to go on all the rides by themselves if they want to.

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Then my parents took my kids for a long weekend while I flew off to Colorado and Zach stayed in Michigan to work. I spent Thursday-Sunday with my blogamiga friends for the 5th year in a row. There is just no way to tell you how much these women mean to me. Mothering can be really quite lonely despite having little ones in your business all day e’ry day. Adoption parenting adds another layer that can add to the loneliness, particularly if it’s an adoption of a child from a different race. Sometimes there are just too many things that are specific to that where other friends just can’t possibly understand because they haven’t been there. These women though? They’ve been there. And they are better women, better mothers, nicer people, bigger hippies and funnier than I am. So I basically spent 4 straight days stealing all of their knowledge and then claiming it as my own when I got back. I love them more than they can possibly know.

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Upon my return my parents took us all to the Iowa State Fair. If you love fried food, the smell of animal shit and people watching, then the Iowa State Fair is a must see. It’s ranked as the #1 state fair in the country and with good reason-I really do love it.

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We took a family trip to National Bridge State Park. Despite Tomas’s look of confusion we had a tremendous time together.

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Zach and his good friend, Isaac, participated in two olympic sized triathlons: the Three Rivers, Mi and the Chicago Tri. It’s always good fun watching the two of these old friends together and I tend to get all the feels when I’m watching people I love compete in feats of strength.

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I left Binyam home alone, on accident, for 20 minutes-marking this as the first time I’ve ever left a kid anywhere on accident. I knew he was going to be ok when I got home (he’s 9-years-old for goodness sake and Zach was literally working a few hundred feet away) but I still felt like total crap. Until we pulled into the drive and saw him sitting on the front steps looking ridiculous presh with his soccer stuff ready. He had no doubts I was coming back to get him-I love that about him.

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I celebrated 13 years of marriage to this guy. Even in my darkest moments he’s been my harvester of light, what a lucky thing it is to be his wife.

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The kids started another year of school. It’s already been a trying year in many ways so I’m just constantly praying we get through it with our grace and sense of humor still intact.

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We talked our good friends the Korandas into coming on one of the busiest athletic weekends of the year. Declan Zachary handled it like a champ and I was a smitten kitten getting so much time with him, his mommy and daddy.

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I had the distinct honor and pleasure at being asked to be Ian’s Godmother. Until he has questions about God I am assuming my role is to just spoil him with chocolate, candy and more kisses than he could ever want. I take this very seriously.

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Zach and I tried acri-yoga after watching a few videos that looked easy enough. This is as far as we got before Zach told me I was about to expose my breast. This wouldn’t normally be cause for concern but since Trysten was capturing this glorious moment, Zach thought he would save poor Tman a year’s worth of therapy and just stop. The idea crossed my mind to put on a bra but I kind of have a strict policy about not doing that while at home so we scrapped the idea altogether. Maybe 2016.

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Zach taught the oldest 3 to shave. Since both Zach and I are legit at growing facial hair-it’s no wonder Trysten already had a decent amount at 12. (Truth is he was born with it. Zach’s first words to me when Trysten entered the world from the womb were, “He has your sideburns!” Bless) Now if someone could actually get them to wear deodorant every day I would feel a lot better about their future prospects.

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Trysten and Tomas went out for the middle school cross country team. They worked hard all season and both did really well. I could genuinely care less how they rank as long as they give it their all when they are out there and they did that-it was a fun season!

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The Jake and Leslie Klipschs, Isaac and Papa Frank came up for a weekend where the men went off to the Notre Dame game and I got 7 uninterrupted hours talking with Leslie. The next day we took everyone to the Notre Dame campus. Watching these cousins together is just too much of all the good things.

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We went trick-or-treating with the Dawson and Klipsch cousins as well as the Smitty besties. It was the first year my kids, Oliver and Eli and the Smittys went off by themselves to tour the neighborhood when the adults got too cold. I got to go with my niece Landry and listen as every. single. house told her she was the cutest they had seen all day. It’s true-she’s 100% ridiculously cute.

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We celebrated my brother-in-law Frank’s birthday with his adults only party again this year. Zach and I went as Doc Brown and Marty McFly and the birthday boy went as his own spirit animal. See if you can tell what the other Klipschs were…

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I also talked all of the Dawson side into coming this year too! My brother was a legit Wolverine and my sister-in-law as Steve Bartman went over super well in a house full of Cub fans.

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My father-in-law was elected as Davenport, Iowa’s new Mayor! I was so happy we could be there and the kids could watch the whole process unfold that night. He will undoubtedly be the best Mayor that city has ever seen. Grateful as always that I married into that crazy group of justice seekers and public servers.

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I got to work with Leslie on our 7th Water Party together. I’m so proud of how she’s taken over since my move to Michigan and made it bigger and better than ever before. This year the event raised over $35,000. That is beyond my comprehension as I so vividly remember the first year sitting up at midnight counting the $10,000 in cash with Zach. I am grateful for every penny then and every penny now. We have the most generous friends and family of anyone I’ve ever known. I always go through Leslie withdrawals after the event because I’m so used to spending an insane amount of time talking and texting with her leading up to the Water Party. I’m just really lucky to count her as a best friend.

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Not sure if you heard this or not but we all went to Ethiopia. 🙂 I’m ready to go back.

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Barbara Streisand and Hagrid just continued to be off the charts adorable on the daily.

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We had such a fun time cheering on our Iowa Hawkeyes this season! Though they lost to our current state, we are excited to see them dominate the Rose Bowl tomorrow!

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The bigs had their band performance (Trysten on drums, Tomas on trumpet) and the littles had their Holiday music concert. Binyam had a speaking part for the first and probable last time of his life. He went as Harry Potter and was nervous as hell. I was beaming and crying and waving like the fanatic I am. Proud mama heart burst moment for sure.

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Just before leaving for Ethiopia Trysten tried out for the 7th grade boys basketball team and made it. They went on to become conference champions. Man were they a fun team to watch.

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Trysten and Tomas had their first semi-formal middle school dance. Tomas was true to his nature and asked his girlfriend what color of dress she was wearing so that he could match her. He could be found trailing a few feet behind her wherever she went. Trysten was true to his nature and translated loosely “semi-formal” by wearing basketball pants and a t-shirt until I begged him to at least wear jeans and something that didn’t stink of puberty and hard work. He and a few of his buds went stag with plans to tear up the dance floor seeings they had no ladies to tether them down.

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While the older 2 were at the dance, the younger 3 were painting snowmen for the elementary PTA. Dailah took her job seriously, as she always does when it comes to creative outlets, and the other two were mostly there for the cookies.

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Dailah chopped off her hair. She told me she was ready for an adventure and had read about donating hair to kids with cancer who lose theirs. I asked her on the way to the appointment if she was nervous, “Nope just excited! You’ve got to think about the worst that can happen and if it’s not death or lots and lots of pain then there’s no reason to be nervous!” I love that about her.

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On Christmas Eve the kids made a fort that took up the entire “fun room” for the second year in a row. This one had separate rooms and everything. Christmas continues to feel so magical with these kiddos. As they get older I appreciate even more how close they all are and how often they want to be around just each other. My most common prayer is probably that they continue to be best friends throughout their lives.

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We had a truly great Christmas both here and in Iowa celebrating with grandparents, aunts/uncles and cousins. So much so that I didn’t take very many pictures. 🙂

While Trysten fights off the pneumonia that has been plaguing me for the last few months (I legit broke a few ribs coughing so hard. My cough is mostly gone but the pain in my ribs is redic. Avoid that at all costs.) the other 4 are at Winter Camp at Camp Eberhart.

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I think after writing the post about being lonely some might think I don’t like living here but it’s even more obvious after looking through the pictures of the year that my life here is full of goodness. I think if nothing else, the moments when I’m lonely only make it super obvious that overall our time here has been overwhelmingly happy and great. This year has been one full of growth for all 7 of us and with that will surely come some growing pains in every sense of the phrase. But at the end of the day I get to kiss the 5 sweetest, kindest, funniest most beautiful children in all of the world and cuddle in next to the funniest, most loyal husband out there. What more could I possibly ask for?

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Happy NYE everyone. May you find peace, happiness and insurmountable joy in the coming year. Thanks for reading. Love to you.

Tesi

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-On Water

Ethiopia Trip-On Water

While we were having lunch with Tariku’s special people at the hotel I started to feel my belly rumble. It had been feeling off all day but I assumed it was nerves and excitement for the day to come. I excused myself and made the long walk up 4 flights of stairs to our room where I got sick and then laid down until the dizziness passed. Over the next few hours I did this 3 more times, always trying to go join the group afterwards.

On the final time, the getting sick part was so violent and lasted for far longer than the previous trips so it took my body too long to stop shaking and sweating. I lied down and fell asleep until my family joined me upstairs.

This continued for the next many hours, roughly every 45 minutes. I would doze in between but because this is a family blog I will tell you I have never been as sick as I was at that time. Never.

I didn’t have a scale there but I would assume that in the next 48 hours I would go on to lose about 10 pounds because of the combination of getting sick and lack of appetite. I’m typically right around 125 (give or take a coconut milk ice cream sandwich, obvs) so 10 pounds wasn’t insignificant. I tell you this only so you can understand that after I came out of the worst of the fog I couldn’t shake the gratefulness I felt at having 10 extra pounds to give.

As I slowly recovered Zach and I tried to figure out what it was that caused me to become so violently ill. Because he and I were eating roughly the same thing for meals we originally couldn’t come up with something that could’ve made me sick and not touched him. Then I remembered eating some fresh greens that hadn’t been cooked but had been rinsed by local water sources.

The irony that I had gotten sick from unclean water was not lost on me.

Even though I’ve been a pretty passionate clean water advocate for 7 years, being sick by unsafe water put things in a whole new perspective for me.

-What happens when these children, mothers and fathers don’t have 10 pounds to lose?

-What happens when they don’t have a support system like I had in Zach who took care of me in ways never foretold in our marriage vows? (Seriously, moment of appreciation for the man that Zach is. I am crying just thinking about his service to me.) What happens if their support system needs to work to keep the family alive or feed the family?

-What happens when they don’t have the world’s best driver leave his hotel for the night to get prescription medicine, rehydration packets and bottled tonic water?

-What happens when they don’t have access or financial resources to access those in the first place?

Well we know what happens to them don’t we? 1 out of every 5 deaths of children under 5 in Sub-Saharan Africa is still caused by water-related disease. I don’t just know that statistic anymore, after personally suffering from water-related sickness I know that statistic. Without all the things mentioned above, I’m not sure what my survival rate would have been and I’m a grown, healthy woman.

The day after the special family trip to the hotel we were supposed to go to the villages of all 3 of my boys. I woke up that morning determined to go, regardless of how I felt. I was able to put some clothes on and walk downstairs but as soon as I smelled food I made the 4 flight trek up the stairs just in time to get sick again.

I missed the first time my boys saw their villages again because I was sick from unclean water. This is nothing when you compare it to the 44 million school days that are missed because of water-borne illness in Sub-Saharan Africa alone. Or the 64% of the families who rely on women to collect the family’s water-and will often go without when she falls ill.

Missing a day in the villages was a really big deal for me and I still haven’t quite gotten over the guilt I feel about it. That said; it becomes easier to not revel in self pity when the reality of the world water crisis is so much bigger than my few days of poor health.

Once I was able to get the strength to correspond I sent my sister (in law) Leslie a text saying essentially, “After this whole debacle I am even more passionate about the Water Party, let’s do what we can to not let this happen to anyone else.”

I’m so grateful I have a healthy outlet to channel my outrage at getting sick because of dirty water.

The Water Party is in 3 days. This year the committee working on the event is bigger and more motivated than ever to get people passionate about the water crisis. We are raising money once again to provide local people (this time in Tanzania through Empower Tanzania) jobs as well mechanics. These well mechanics will go on to fix the broken wells that are pumping out dirty water and making their families and friends sick. My favorite thing about the last few years of the party is that we’ve been creating sustainable solutions to the water crisis by providing jobs and dignity to my brothers and sisters around the world-empowering them to take the crisis into their own hands.

When I was sick Tariku’s special people went out of their way to bring me bananas. Solomon, our driver, dropped everything to get me medications. While Zach took the kids to the villages, the Ethiopian people in the Lemma hotel stopped by my room every hour to check on me and see if I needed anything-offering to go outside of the hotel for more medication if necessary. Our translator came to my room offering a ride to the hospital. Tomas and Binyam’s special people gave Zach a local herb that I was to chew that settles the belly. This bitter herb smelled terrible but worked in the short term. And the next day when I arrived at the villages, before hugging the children, these special people came to me and asked if I was better-praising God when I told them I was.

The Ethiopian people didn’t withhold love or care because I wasn’t Ethiopian; they took care of me as one of their own and did it in a way that restored dignity to me.

And I want to do the same for my Tanzanian brothers and sisters. I know there is so much pain and suffering happening right here in America but if we continue to close our borders (literally and figuratively) when the world needs us they will do the same when we need them. I’m not sure what my week in Ethiopia would’ve looked like without the care given to me willingly by Ethiopians, I truly don’t want to think about it.

So this week I’m going to celebrate that in the midst of so much terribleness in the world, on Saturday we will change mourning into dancing. We can’t change lives for everyone but we can do all we can to change the lives of as many people as possible.

You can join us, if you too are needing a little celebration. If you’re in the Davenport, Iowa area please come to the event. November 21, downtown Davenport, 3rd floor of the Redstone Building. Check out the event page on Facebook to hear how we use local vendors and artists to provide global resources. We have always believed that we can do both as Americans-support and encourage small business in America while working to end the water crisis. It’s the very best kind of 2 for 1.

If you can’t join us you can still donate. 100% of your donation goes to providing access to clean water because Leslie and I fundraise separately for the cost of the event. Go here to donate.

You can also purchase these beautiful handcrafted bracelets. Designed and crafted by local Maasai tribe artisans, these bracelets are a show stopper-I’m always getting compliments on mine when I wear it out! For just $30 you’ll be providing clean water for 2 people, what a small price to pay for fashion. Buy those here.

Maasai Bracelet

You can also enter our raffle to win a $300 purse, a $350 bottle of Opus One Wine, an authentic Maasai kanga and one of the Tanzanian bracelets. We will ship to you should you come out the victor! Enter to win here.

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We are living in a moment of time riff with violence and devastation. The only way I know how to cope is shine a little light in the darkness. It doesn’t necessarily help the people of Lebanon, France, Kenya or Nigeria but hope is contagious. I just want to plant a seed of hope this week and see how it grows over time.

Thank you for reading these blogs of our trip. Despite the sickness (or maybe because of?) I am eternally grateful for the opportunity to take our family and for the outlet this blog has provided to wade through my experience.

Much love.

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An image in Southern Ethiopia of kids swimming, bathing and collecting water from this river. Zoom in to also see the animals doing the same.

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!