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!

The stories we tell…

For those that don’t know, I work in the fitness industry. In my current role I am a group fitness instructor and a small group personal trainer though in the past I’ve also done personal training as well.

Being in the fitness industry is a hard industry to be in when, like me, you believe women are beautiful and have value no matter her shape or size. It’s a hard industry to be in because, if I’m being honest, I profit from society’s pressures to look a certain way. Obviously for many, many women and men coming to classes or working out isn’t directly related to looking a certain way. I know for me personally it’s my release. I genuinely love working out and need it to let go of stress. On days when I don’t get a workout in there is an obvious difference in how I feel and how I react to those around me. It is better for everyone when I move my body in some capacity every day.

But I hear firsthand accounts of the many ways women hate their own bodies. Boy have I heard some doozies about thighs, butts, bellies and arms. The surface level comments don’t bother me as much as the ones that are clear signs of an internal war happening. “I have belly fat” versus “I am fat”. There is such a wide and endless gulf between those phrases. In the former it’s just a statement-sometimes true-that doesn’t really comment on the actual person. The latter, well that’s a statement on who that person is as a human.

I was talking to a client a few days ago who, when we started training, wouldn’t even try to jump on a step. She would instead kind of walk up on the step when I wanted her to jump up with both feet landing at the same time. I know better than to push people too hard in the beginning so for a few sessions I let her do her walk up, encouraging her to go a little lower instead. But after a few sessions I told her it was time she started jumping. It was the same with push ups when we started. She would immediately drop to her knees and bring her body weight as far back as possible. Even when I got her to pull forward a bit, she only dropped an inch or so before she said it was too hard.

This week, almost 6 weeks after her initial start, she is jumping on a higher step and is doing push ups primarily on her toes. Of course nothing has changed on my end, I’ve done absolutely nothing differently, all of the work has been on her end. And though she has gotten considerably stronger in those 6 weeks the reality is she could’ve been jumping on the step and doing push ups on her toes at the outset. The only difference is now she believes she can and so she does.

I’ve been thinking so much lately about how often I sell myself short because I believe I’m one way even if all evidence points to the contrary.

I’ve got this terrible adult acne thing happening for the last many months that has me totally self-conscious. I used to be a really, really self-conscious person growing up but I had more or less dropped that as I’ve gotten older because 1) I realize no one actually cares and 2) I recognize that even if someone did care I don’t care and so I rock on with my bad self. But man, this adult acne…it’s brought back all the demons again.

Last night Dailah was getting dropped off by a new friend’s mom and she came in the house to thank us for letting Dailah come with her daughter to a party. I was already in my pajamas, my face was washed and I was just not up to meeting a new person. So I hid. You guys no exaggeration, I ducked behind the couch and hid until I realized how obvious my hiding was. Then I made all the things more awkward because I popped up as if I wasn’t just hiding and introduced myself. In my braless, stained sweatshirt, just hiding behind the couch state.

I just can’t even with myself some days. Cannot.

She was lovely, I was a hot mess. Dailah pretended like all of this was completely normal and Zach encouraged me to never be that awkward again because…middle school kids.

Look, the point is I had told myself I wasn’t worth meeting at that moment in time but of course that wasn’t true. Dailah didn’t care what I was wearing or that my face looked as though a tiny army of ants were having an all out war-she wanted me to meet her friend.

The header on my blog used to read, “I’m no writer I assure you…” I took it down yesterday because I am a writer. I love writing, I always have. I spend a little part of every day writing something because it helps me process the day. When I’m upset with Zach or the kids or myself I just open up a new Word document and figure it out. I may not be a published author but I am a writer.

I wonder what we would be capable of if we got out of our own way. What kind of art or music could be produced if we stop saying we like to paint and start calling ourselves painters. I wonder what kind of books could be written or meals could be prepared if we stop worrying about failing and start getting down to business. What if instead of waiting until we feel worthy of time spent exercising or taking care of our mental health we just jumped in and assumed our position of worth first? What kind of breakthroughs would we see then?

I notice with my boys they approach every single scenario as though they are already capable of excellence. There is no doubt in their minds they are artists, comedians and authors just waiting to happen. Dailah, on the other hand, rarely approaches new things with the same voracity. It’s got me thinking that though she is but 9 years young, she’s lived long enough in this society to assume her value as a girl is less than her brother’s and so maybe she should try something a few times before she decides if she’s able to do it?

It’s both completely heartbreaking and completely relatable.

As women I think it’s time we stop lying to ourselves about who we are or downplaying who we want to be. The world needs you and everything you have to offer, as imperfect as it might be. Don’t wait until all conditions are perfect to offer your gifts to the world, let’s do it before we feel ready. Let’s just do it now.

I made a little promise to myself this morning. No more hiding behind couches, figuratively or literally. I have far too much to offer this world to spend time crouching in a corner, waiting for the opportunity to pass. I am a wholly imperfect being that is sometimes terrified of making mistakes but I’m going to just go ahead and greet the world anyway. Braless, adult acne and stained sweatshirt be damned-I’ve got shit to do. And so do you.

Let’s do it.

 

 

Here’s how I’m doing that: when I start some negative train of thought such as, “You should definitely not post that blog, it’s just not good enough.” I write it down. And then I change “you” to a friend’s name. It makes it almost laughable, I would never think of saying that to a friend. I think it’s time we befriend ourselves. Would you join me?

On Miscarriage

October is Pregnancy & Infant Loss awareness month. I’ve seen some strong sisters posting on Facebook about their personal dealings with this particular trauma and it’s had me thinking of my own miscarriage.

It’s been over 10 years and I still remember the details so vividly.

The day after Trysten and I told Zach we were going to have another baby I was on the floor of our local Y writhing in pain. A doctor’s appointment confirmed everything was fine with the baby and everything was fine with me, probably just implantation pains they said.

A month later we were returning from my nephew’s birthday party and I just didn’t feel well. I told Zach I thought I just needed a long nap but after waking up drenched in sweat we headed to the ER. My temperature was over 104 degrees so they admitted me, telling me if it got that high again it wouldn’t be good for my baby who was a few degrees higher than me as it was. I sent Zach off to spend the night at home with Trysten and settled in feeling better knowing I was in good hands at a hospital.

What felt like a few hours later a nurse came to check my temperature. The details are fuzzy here, probably because of how high my temperature was but I just remember her muttering, “Oh Tesi” and then yelling Code and pushing a button that made a loud sound. Nurses came running in, I felt them lift me up and set me back down. Then they were covering me with something, I couldn’t be sure just what. I went in and out of consciousness for awhile but when I finally came to enough to understand where I was I realized I was laying on and covered with ice packs. The same nurse that discovered my fever was rubbing my head and heads with something so I asked if her if my baby was ok. She looked at me and said, “I have no idea honey, we’re just happy you’re still with us.”

After she left I called Zach to tell him we had lost the baby. I had the strongest knowledge that it was gone that I just couldn’t shake, even after they confirmed a heartbeat the next day. The doctor explained there was a smaller chance of miscarriage now that we had entered the second trimester. He seemed so sure that I wanted to believe him.

They sent me home but a few days later I started bleeding. Zach wanted to go to the hospital but I knew it was too late.

When we went in the next day I’ll never forget the face of the woman who did my ultrasound. She knew immediately, as did we, but she couldn’t tell us. I started shaking as she made us wait for the doctor to deliver the news. He wanted us to go right in to the hospital to perform a DNC.

After I woke up from anesthetisa I began yelling, “I want my husband! Bring my husband to me!” A friendly nurse came up to me and said I wasn’t ready to see visitors but I wasn’t having it. We had just lost a baby, I wanted only someone who knew what that felt like to be with me. She finally sent me to my room when I wouldn’t stop screaming for Zach. It’s so unlike me to be so vocal I can’t believe I did that but I did.

I thought that was the end of it, that life would move on. Many women had miscarriages and go on to have healthy pregnancies, I had women like that in my life. I tried so hard to shake off the loss. How could I be so full of mourning for a baby just a few months old? I didn’t even know him.

Him. I always knew it was a son.

A few weeks after that, while enjoying a soccer game of my brother’s I started to hemorrhage. I told my mom who was sitting next to me that something was wrong and as soon as I stood up she could see why. The chair, the ground beneath the chair and most of my lower body was covered in blood. We were in a remote, different part of the state so we covered the backseat with as many towels as we could find and drove me to the nearest possible.

Here the details become fuzzy again. I remember this time in snippets stretched out over years.

Walking through the hospital, a trail of dark blood following behind me.

A wheelchair, “Sit here ma’am while we get you registered.” Blood. Everywhere.

Being lifted onto a table, hospital staff taking off my pants and examining me. Blood. They are covered, I am covered.

I fall asleep. I dream of the baby.

Jolted back to consciousness. There’s a needle, they just shot me with something. It hurt.

They make me walk somewhere with my mom. I am scared, I’m so scared. So is my mom, though she won’t say it. So much blood. Why is there so much blood, Tesi? She asks. We walk silently afterwards, terrified of the answer.

I get to the room and then nothing.

I woke up to hear I had been taken back to surgery, some kind of balloon was inserted into my uterus and a connecting tube was attached to my leg. My uterus had collapsed on itself and was forming scar tissue. They had to remove all of that and then insert the balloon to prevent it from happening again.

The next months were spent in and out of doctor’s offices and hospitals getting procedure after procedure done. The procedures were spread out just long enough to allow me to begin to process the grief and then it was a time for a new one. Reopening the wound, ripping out the healing, forcing me to start again.

I was 23 and had no concept of how to deal with that kind of grief and trauma. I didn’t know how to verbalize what it felt like to come so close to dying and then, upon losing a baby, almost wish I was gone too. I didn’t know how to tell anyone, not even Zach, that I wanted so badly for the floor to open up and swallow me whole the grief was so large and insurmountable on days.

Because I was 23 and a born people pleaser I hid my devastation so well. But inner turmoil has a way of showing itself so I acted in aways that would devastate my family-even years down the road. I felt so alone at the time. So many people were flippant about miscarriages because they happen so frequently that I didn’t feel a right to my grief. I didn’t understand how some women seemingly got over it-I wanted to be one of those too.

Sometimes as women it’s so hard to tell our stories, particularly of loss. The world likes to shrug it’s shoulders and chalk it up to hormones and yet our stories matter. We are the keepers of these memories. I am the only one who knew this baby on this side of heaven and his story matters to me. If I keep quiet, it feels like a betrayal of his memory, like it never happened in the first place.

Even the terminology adds to the grief. “MIScarried” as if I did something wrong while carrying the baby. “Loss” as in the same thing that can happen to car keys. I lost my baby the same way I lost one of my earrings. It’s so hard not to feel responsible when even the telling of the story uses words that blame rather than words that heal.

It’s also so hard to tell our stories because people get skittish when you talk about sadness. As much as people are craving honesty and vulnerability in this digital age, so many of us turn away to the brutal parts of the human condition. We want you to be honest but could you please put a smile to your vulnerability so we don’t feel so awkward when you tell us?

The truth is, I still cry about it sometimes. Dailah loves asking for stories at bedtime and a few nights ago she asked me about the baby that I lost. The kids know about this baby and so I was telling her some of my (less gruesome) stories and I started to cry. She rubbed my back and I said, “Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t cry over something that happened long ago. A sadness is a sadness no matter the time. It’s ok to continue feeling it forever.”

In some ways I think my miscarriage has helped me grapple with the loss suffered by my boys. One look at them and you would never know the tragedy they’ve dealt with in their short lives but it shows up in tiny, unmistakable ways that I catch every time because of what I have been through as well. I was so scared of having another baby and losing it that I spent most of Dailah’s pregnancy hyper-alert and awake. Of course my boys would be hesitant to welcome me as their mother, of course they would take some of their sadness and frustration out on me. It’s completely normal, I’ve done it too.

If you are or know someone who has lost a pregnancy or a baby to stillbirth just reach out to them today. Don’t say, “It was God’s plan” or anything remotely close to that. Just say something simple, “I’m thinking of you. I don’t know what you’ve been through but I love you. I remember your baby, too.”

After I lost my baby I received a card from my Aunt Glenda. In it she told me that upon hearing of my loss she pictured my Grandpa meeting my baby in heaven, and how happy they must be together. The image stays with me today, the gesture from my Aunt is something I won’t ever forget.

As a friend you won’t stop their grief but it might reassure them that their one precious baby isn’t relegated to their memory alone. And that might be enough to help them heal, even just for today.

My love to you mamas remembering your babies today. They matter, you matter. We might be internally beaten and scarred but we are alive to tell our stories, and sometimes that has to be enough. Peace and love to you. 

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Coming to Terms with My Own Struggles So I Can Better Help My Kids Come to Terms with Theirs.

Last night we had to sit down with one of our sons and break the world down for him a bit. We’ve noticed this child has started to do things just to be cool. For now it’s nothing alarming, mostly just wanting to wear all the “right” clothes. He layers on his accessories like he’s never heard the phrase “less is more”. Bless.

If one of the kids has a friend over this child is known to say things that are so clearly wrong -last night it was telling a friend that tofu was a fruit-only to try to sound smart. He also claimed to have finished a book his siblings had already finished so that he could watch the movie with them. With just one question about a main plot point in the book it was quite obvious he hadn’t read it.

Even just a few weeks into school we are starting to see a pattern where he’s finishing his tests and work in class as fast as he can or not bringing work home to study at all. Though his intention is to look smart/cool, it all crumbles when he receives a D on his test. His friends might not know about his terrible grade, obviously, but he momentarily forgets that his mom has 24 hour access to his grades online and that she checks it roughly once every hour knowing he is not a kid who will be able to skate through school on his smile and good humor alone.

In some respects I believe this is typical behavior for boys his age. The struggle between the illusion of independence from parents and the obvious dependence on the parents is real. It is, of course, the human condition to want to be liked and admired. I don’t even believe this in itself is a terrible thing. More often than not when other parents or teachers talk about this son of mine they mention how kind, caring and respectful he is-all attributes built from the same place his desire to be liked is housed. A double edged sword indeed.

But it’s also typical orphan behavior as well. This charismatic son of mine did what the adoption community calls “mommy shopped” for almost 2 years before we met him. His desire to be loved and seen as cute/cool went spectacularly in Ethiopia, every time a friend of ours went to Ethiopia before us they gushed over his adorableness and his friendliness. As soon as I was able to make public his photographs I received an influx of emails from people who had traveled the previous 2 years saying roughly the same thing, “As soon as we got home my husband and I prayed about going back for him. If we could’ve gotten the resources together we would have. You are so lucky!”

I remember when the kids were little being physically exhausted roughly all the time. Trysten and Dailah slept through the night since they were 8 weeks old (don’t hate) and the boys have all been phenomenal sleepers since we brought them home as well so I’m not really referring to the sleepy fog. I’m talking about being physically exhausted in the way that, when Zach got home, I basically threatened him within an inch of his life to not touch me. I so vividly remember being a human playground and often the only one able to comfort an upset child.

As the kids continue to get older I’m no longer physically exhausted, the tables have reversed a bit in that department-I’m typically the one smothering them when I’m feeling a little low or needing some personal connection. Parenting older kids feels so emotionally exhausting instead.

This thing with our son has stirred up some heavy reminders of when I used to be so concerned with being cool. I never did it in the ways he is doing it: I didn’t ever care much about what I was wearing or being the smartest in class. But I did care about my status as an athlete, always having a boyfriend, being liked by as many people as possible.

I’ve done some pretty terrible and painful things to other people and to myself in the name of “being cool”. One of those things I did when I was roughly the age of my son that still haunts me from time to time. My best friend in elementary and I had decided to be locker partners in middle school, we had bought the mirrors and other things in which to adorn our shared locker. But that summer I started hanging out with someone else more. She seemed so cool and didn’t have the elementary baggage that my other friend had (by the way, none of this is on the middle school friend-she continues to be one of the kindest, most compassionate people I know) so a week before middle school started I called my elementary friend to let her know I was changing things up and would no longer be sharing a locker with her. How she forgave me for that (and many, many other things) over the years and continues to be a friend I have no idea.

And honestly, as I got older, the stakes were higher and so were the MIstakes. The need to be loved and adored was so acute I hurt people so deeply that some, rightfully so, haven’t forgiven me since.

Last night I related all of this to my son and told him, “Do you know why I fell so hard for your dad? He showed up to our first date in clothes from Goodwill and shoes made of duct tape. He was the first person I ever knew to be so completely him all the time. Your dad has never put much thought into what people think of him and yet people love your dad. They are so devoted to him because they know the person they are claiming their devotion. They know it’s not going to shift and change depending on the season-your dad is your dad-take him or leave him.”

Then I reminded him that we aren’t expecting an overnight success in his ability to just be ok with dropping the masks and showing the world just who he is. We are ever evolving humans after all and, though Zach has inspired me to drop all of my masks since the day I met him, I continue to struggle with the old demons from time to time. That struggle is the reason I got “I am God’s beloved” tattooed on my collarbone-it’s a daily reminder that no matter how badly I’ve effed it all up (and woof are there some doozies in there) I am so completely and incomprehensibly loved.

And so is he. Because, as I told him, the people who will be put off by the real him were never meant to be in his life in the first place. And the people drawn to him? Those will be the people who will live and die for him. Those are the only people he needs to worry about doing right by.

I slept so poorly last night because I just kept thinking of ways in which I could save all of my kids, this son in particular, from making the same mistakes I’ve made in my life. I longed a little for the days when I was terrified of outlets and steps rather than BIG feelings like self acceptance and people pleasing gone too far. The risk feels greater now, the repercussions heavier. It’s impossible to know whether I’m doing the right thing as a mom now that my kids are becoming fully formed young adults before my eyes but every night I fall asleep knowing I did my very best and will apologize in the morning for the ways in which I fell short.

The risk is indeed greater but so is the reward. Getting to know my 5 on a personal level is one of the coolest experiences of my life. It’s so humbling to watch them wrestle with the same things I did at their age and so gratifying to watch them beat the beasts that took me so much longer to conquer.

Last night I looked my son in the eyes and said, “God made you so perfectly, son, I am so in awe of how wonderful you are. I love you so much there is absolutely nothing you could do to stifle that and nothing you could wear to make that love any bigger. Let’s show everyone else the son I get to see-they will be awestruck by the awesome.”

He smiled and went to bed and as he did I realized I was talking to myself, too.

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Preparations for the BIG trip to Ethiopia

Next month all 7 of us will be on an airplane bound for Ethiopia. Yes, all 7 of us.

We told the kids in March. This was their reaction, please play close attention to Binyam-our little guy in the corner.

Mostly excitement (and how much did you love Trysten’s reaction, “They are adopting!” When you’ve been sat down and told news of an adoption enough times you come to expect it at every family meeting) except for Binyam. If you watch Binyam close enough you can see him keeping his emotions pretty close to the vest, when the image is clear enough it’s obvious he’s looking around at all of his siblings waiting for cues on how to act excited. At the end, when I ask them if they are excited, you can hear him say “Kind of a little.”

It’s safe to say that for the last 6 months, everyone but Binyam has continued to grow increasingly excited. I’m not exactly sure why Binyam hasn’t been excited, I think it has mostly to do with the unknown. I’m not entirely convinced he understands that we will all be going over and we will all be coming back together. I’m also not sure he understands that we’ll be staying in something a little nicer than a hut or that we’ll have access to safe water and plenty of food. Though Binyam swears he has no memory of his 3 years in Ethiopia, it is clear some visceral part of him remembers and continues to be traumatized by it.

Tomas has been the most excited, with the obvious exceptions of Trysten and Dailah, which is true to his character. He remembers the most of his life in Ethiopia but, having come to America at 6-years-old, he has glamorized his birthplace to some extent. There was a time a few years ago where if there was something he couldn’t do (backflips, for instance) he would just tell us that he used to do them all the time in Ethiopia. He has outgrown much of those complete fabrications but I can tell a large part of him is excited because he remembers all the best Ethiopia has to offer, a natural thing we humans do when something or someone is no longer with us.

I was most nervous about telling Tariku. He has been in such a great rhythm, for the most part, the last year or so and I was terrified how news of returning to Ethiopia might set him back. I’ve been so pleasantly surprised with his reactions. He’s not scared like his little brother and he holds no illusions to Ethiopia’s grandeur as his older brother, he’s quite realistic about what might happen there-which is true to Tariku’s character.

As the departure date approaches the proverbial wet blanket has descended on the house. In kids who have experienced trauma or loss, anxiousness isn’t just a general sense of malaise but a relentless, never-ending assault on your emotions. What does that look like in young boy-men? It looks like notes on behavior with kids who never get notes on behavior. It looks like disrespect towards adults from a kid who is typically the most respectful. It looks like wanting to quit a sport that’s been a favorite for 7 years. It’s reverting back to orphanage coping mechanisms. They aren’t constant but they are obvious.

So why do it if I could see this happening?

There’s growing evidence to support the idea that kids who have been adopted need the connection with their birth countries and birth families to have the best chance possible at overcoming some of the trauma from the adoption. I won’t ever tell their personal stories on this blog, perhaps that’s something they’ll be interested in doing as a guest post when they are older, but I’ll just say another major impetus is that we still have people special to us over there and there are just too many unknowns in developing countries in terms of basic survival. I knew I would never forgive myself if I didn’t get the boys over to see their special people before they were gone no matter how nervous I was about whether or not they were ready for such a trip.

We have been doing a few things that I think have helped ease some of the BIG feelings for the boys in preparing them for their visit to Ethiopia.

Let them help plan: This one is kind of tough because there are some major logistical things that need to be worked out with international travel that can’t be done with too many (young) fingers in the fire. Plus, we didn’t want to tell the kids the trip was happening until we had bought the tickets and knew for sure the dates so we wanted to have a few things put in place first. For us that meant we wanted to make sure the man who has been our liaison with our special people was available for the dates we were going to be there. That was our first priority because both American and Ethiopian sides of the equation are used to him and respect him. Once we knew he was available, we booked the tickets and told the kids. Since then they have helped us navigate how much time they want to spend with their special people, if there are any cultural things they want to learn more about, etc. This obviously works so well because the boys are currently 11, 10 and 9-years-old but I think letting the kids help in an age appropriate way gives them the feeling of control, which is essential for our adopted kiddos.

Talk about potential what ifs, including the ones that might be a little scary: I’ve been so lucky to have many friends make this kind of trip before me so I’ve been a sponge for things they’ve learned along the way. One friend told me that sometimes Ethiopians will spit on the kids to either 1) ward off evil or 2) in celebration. We told the kids of that possibility. We also told Trysten and Dailah that when we were in Ethiopia both times, the Ethiopians loved touching and pulling my hair. We talked of the possibility that the boys could be carried on shoulders in their home villages but also that it would be a quiet homecoming. We’ve told them of the real poverty and what that actually looks like in Ethiopia. We also warned them that many beggars have club feet-a potential trigger for our son born with the same condition. Though no one who knows me will be surprised that I’ve taken a “tell it like it is” approach to the trip (I am, after all, the woman who just told my U12 soccer team that they have the right to protect their penises and breasts from the soccer ball but otherwise can’t use their hands-to which they all giggled and Tariku whispered to me, “Mom, jeez, can’t you just say private parts?”) Telling the kids of any known possibilities has seemed to curb the onslaught of fears of the unknown. The more they know the more confident they seem to be in the trip, which has been easier on all of us.

Talk about hopes and fears: We try to do this at the dinner table so that everyone is involved and the boys don’t feel singled out by the questions. Zach and I talk about our hopes and fears and prompt the kids by asking if they’ve ever wondered about something similar. Some good discussions have come up about the first time seeing and smelling this country they haven’t seen in so many years. If you’re doing this with your kids, maybe try to keep the discussions short and sweet. I’ve found when I try to drag them out the boys start to disengage but when I make a point to change the subject after a few minutes and then maybe broach the subject again a few minutes later, they are more open.

-Show pictures: Google is an amazing thing isn’t it? Even though some of the places we will be staying are small and have no online presence to speak of, we’ve been able to find a few images here or there. Tomas has come home from school a few times asking to see pictures of one of the hotels, proving they are thinking about it. This helps offset unrealistic expectations as well. Yes, we will be in hotels for many nights but no-none of the hotels will be like the hotels they are used to here.

-Join online communities: If you’re on Facebook and are interested, there are a few groups dedicated to homeland tours and one specifically for the are in which my boys were born. Email me for those details.

The planning for the trip hasn’t been easy. The hotels and service industries in general are not anything like they are here in America. I have yet to book an actual hotel room because I keep hearing, “Oh but your trip is so far away, contact us when you’re in Ethiopia.”

Gulp.

I find myself reacting in an adult version of the way the boys are feeling-since I can’t control what’s going to happen there in many ways, I want to control every other detail. It’s been so frustrating not being able to work out my control issues in that healthier, more widely accepted way. Also the image of 7 of us with our luggage and nowhere to sleep at 2am continues to wake me up in the middle of the night.

But ready or not, in a month we’ll be there. I’ll, of course, be posting here as much as possible. This continues to be the place I go to really work out how I’m feeling about any given topic.

Ready or not…

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On being a Christian who doesn’t go to church.

One of the more popular texts/emails I received after my last blog was from the Christian contigency of readers asking if I had found a church. If you’re not in Christian circles you might not be familiar with the very prevalent idea that once you find a church, you will also find a group of people to hang out with and thus never feel lonely.

I used to be better about accepting that ideology. Go to church, meet other believers, build your family around that church. When we first moved to the Quad Cities I was having a hard time finding friends with kids so my sister-in-law suggested I try a church she thought we would like. We did and I did. I ended up meeting some really amazing women there (you might remember it was at that church and with those women that the idea of Water for Christmas began.) I forgave a few things that bothered me about the church (namely that the pastor often said some rather sexist things in the form of terrible jokes) because I loved the women. But then the church waved proudly all the red flags I had been seeing over the years when, instead of helping some friends of mine after their world was shaken, they chose instead to kick them while they were down. It was an in your face way of showing how they really felt about sin-hide it, suppress it and don’t speak of it otherwise we will publicly shame you and push you out of the church.

Message. Received.

I didn’t go back to church after that and I started questioning everything I had once believed. I decided that if I were to go back to church, and take my family with me, I would no longer stick around if the pastor was a teeny bit sexist or if I thought the message was a teeny bit derogatory towards poor people. I didn’t (and don’t) expect perfection from pastors or a church but I certainly expect to hear more love and a little less joking at the expense of an entire group of people.

A few years later we happened upon a church that was taking place in a bar.* Sunday mornings they gathered, soles of their shoes sticking to the floor from the previous night’s shenanigans. It was a group of 50 or so who worshipped with their eyes closed, hands raised and their feet moving side to side coming unglued from the alcohol laden floor with the rhythm of the music. On our second time trying out the church a parade of members including the pastor and his wife got up on stage. As the music played they turned over cardboard signs with the worst sins they had committed written on them. These weren’t your “I stole an eraser from my friend in 4th grade” (I did that by the way) these were the big ones. And I started the ugly cry immediately. To be in a place where the leadership of the church was so openly admitting to their humanness was exactly what I needed.

Of course we stuck around. The two pastors were both equally amazing, always on point with their message. They never went for the easy sermons either, meant to make you feel ok about heading home to your cushioned couch to watch the football game on your big screen without a second thought to what it means to be a Christian. They were always asking us to do more, love more, give more (not to the church-but to community organizations or to the Water Party), volunteer more. Once a month on Sundays instead of a service, the whole church would volunteer at area organizations. Sometimes they literally just went to the neighborhoods surrounding the church and did little projects for the elderly that lived there. They welcomed refugees and helped them navigate life in America. They never confused a relationship with Christ and a relationship to a political party. We naturally became friends with people from that church, and continue to be today.

And then we moved. We moved to a small town in Michigan that features many churches. We’ve tried the largest church in our town that many of our friends go to. It’s not for us. I hold no ill feelings towards that church, its pastor or its members but I just can’t do it anymore.

I am no longer impressed by fog machines, cafes and hundreds of people. I am impressed by vulnerability, openness and authenticity. Those will always, always win out for me.

I no longer feel like church has to be a part of our routine “for the kids”. I would rather them experience God in nature on our Sunday hikes or in a book on our Sunday reading sessions. I would rather them get to know God because of how He talks to them in the quiet stillness that accompanies our relaxed Sundays than hear a bullet pointed kids sermon while they are gripping a climbing wall.

I would rather them grow up knowing God is love than grow up learning from the church and its people about what God hates. And by that I don’t mean what God actually hates but what Christians often hate.

I refuse to go to a church that dives into politics unless to talk about our commands to help the poor, welcome the refugee and love one another.

Any mention of an “us” versus “them” philosophy is a non negotiable for me. Whether that be Christians versus non-Christians, Republicans versus Democrats, Americans versus non-Americans, etc. If you’re into polarizing rather than uniting-I’m out.

If you spend more money on your church renovations and your coffee than you do on local community support, I’m not interested. If your church would close its doors and the community wouldn’t feel the pang of loss (other than the members), you’re doing it wrong-I’m out.

I don’t have much interest in piousness (as evidenced by my affinity for cussing and my aversion to the modesty culture for women) but I can’t get enough of the tenets of forgiveness, peace, hope and love.

I love Jesus but sometimes I find it so incredibly hard to love Christians.

In Rachel Held Evans’s book, Searching for Sunday, she writes, “I often wonder if the role of the clergy in this age is not to dispense information or guard the prestige of their authority, but rather to go first, to volunteer the truth about their sins, their dreams, their failures, and their fears in order to free others to do the same. Such an approach may repel the masses looking for easy answers from flawless leaders, but I think it might make more disciples of Jesus, and I think it might make healthier, happier pastors. There is a difference, after all, between preaching success and preaching resurrection. Our path is the muddier one.”

Yes.

I know many can grow in their faith and love in humanity through the hallowed walls of a church and, in some respects, I’m jealous of that. Because for me the times I’ve felt God’s presence the most have been when all 7 of us are snuggled on couches reading books, in the quiet moments right after my meditation when I’m breathing in the vastness of the world and in a tiny room in Ethiopia sharing tears and coffee with our special people.

In the end, though, I can’t quit the church entirely. Being surrounded by relatively likeminded people can be a salve at the end of a long week. A sense of belonging to something bigger than oneself is a powerful thing. Find me a church that’s not defined by who it leaves out but by who it lets in, and I’ll be there. Probably crying, definitely being vocal when I agree. Standing with my brothers and sisters who have done and seen the worst but still claim the worst powerless against love.

 

 

*Connection Church in the Quad Cities, go check it out or just listen to the podcast like I do!

On being lonely, a year and half after a move.

There’s this crane that always sits on the edge of our dock. Every day I see her multiple times a day by herself just looking out on the water. I finally had to do a little research on cranes because I was so curious if it was normal to have a crane be alone for so long. It’s not, as it turns out, and yet there she sits-by herself for the last year and half.

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For anyone who has moved somewhat recently you know when I say I’m lonely that it doesn’t mean that every hour that passes I lament moving here. Most of the time I am caught up in our day-to-day life, one that wouldn’t look a whole lot different if I were still in Iowa actually. Wake up, meditate, hustle kids to school, teach a few classes, grocery shop, dog snuggle, Snapchat lunch and dog snuggles, homework, post-school activities, husband snuggles and bed. All the same no matter the state.

Anytime I cried myself to sleep thought about how badly I’d miss my sisters and friends before we moved to Michigan, I would tell myself that in this stage of life we really didn’t see each other much anyway. It’s the ebb and flow of life, right? I think perhaps nowhere besides motherhood do you feel that so succinctly. When my kids were little I needed my girlfriends in a desperate sort of way, in a bring-me-coffee-and-come-over-quickly-so-our-kids can-play-together-and-we-can-speak-about-anything-but-kids kind of way. It’s no coincidence it was during that flow of life that the idea for the first Wine to Water event was borne.

But this ebb? Even in Iowa a good portion of my friendships were handled via long text conversations while seated at a baseball game. Some of my best friends live on the west coast and I only see them once a year yet we make up for lost time as soon as we are together again. That was all the proof I needed to believe I would be ok not living close to friends and family.

What I failed to realize, though, was that I was able to enjoy my long distance friendships because I also had no distance friendships. I couldn’t possibly have foreseen that when the vast majority of my friendships were on the long distance side, it would tip the scales and send me reeling-even 1.5 years later after the move.

I couldn’t possibly have known that investing all of my time into creating friendships that were deep, powerful and so very life affirming would make it so much harder to see women in my new state and have to talk about stuff like the weather or our kids (we are so much more than mothers, no?). Though I haven’t dated since I was 19 (!) I imagine dating feels remarkably like trying to make new friends without the additional perks of make out sessions and free dinner-and really, who wants to be dating without those?

I went to an acupuncturist a few months ago. When she was doing her typical assessment she hovered her hands over my heart and said simply, “You have deep sadness.” Even after I tried assuring her that I felt pretty great she interrupted me with, “You have deep sadness, it is not my business whether or not you choose to acknowledge it but it’s there and it’s undeniable.”

I’ve always been one of those “make the best out of any situation” kind of people. I recognize that it can often be annoying but it’s kind of my set thermostat. Only recently have I realized there are some cases where that might be a crutch with which I lean when I’m too scared to admit that I’m a little sad, maybe a little lonely. That even though life is terrifyingly good in so many ways, I just miss the hell out of my support system. Perhaps that’s why when the acupuncturist told me I had deep sadness the first face I saw in my head was that of my sister’s and then in quick succession my best friend and other sisters.

I’ve been lucky though, to have made a few friends here who are my kind of people. I was at lunch with a few of them the other day when I turned to one and said, “I’ve always been teased about how quickly I eat but the first time we had lunch together we finished at the same time and I knew we were going to be friends.” And it was true. Though I buffered the sentiment in a joke, what I was really saying was, “You have no idea how good it feels to have so much in common with someone geographically close to me again.”

But I’m realizing that being happy and hopeful about certain aspects of life in MI doesn’t negate the fact that I cry every time I leave Iowa to head back home. Spending time with those I miss the most almost makes it harder, which honestly surprised me to learn.

Zach will sometimes make comments about the time I spend on my phone texting/checking in with social media. I admit it’s gone up over the last year, though I’m currently doing better about putting it away thankyouverymuch. I have no problems admitting I maybe overuse it as a way of staying grounded to a life now gone, that checking in with the people I miss on social media gives me a false sense of being there being in their lives in a more tangible way than I currently am. It’s a long cry from sitting next to them sharing a plate of chips and guacamole and a bottle of wine but for now I’m giving myself time to ease the transition.

I know if my life were a romance movie I would be looking deeply into Zach’s eyes telling him that wherever he is-is home for me, and it’s partially true but it’s missing the big picture. Because most women know in any happy family photo if you zoom out you’ll see the best friend who just helped with hair and make up, the sister who just dropped off the one kid with the suspicious looking chocolate mustache and the various other women who all played a part in making the woman in the center of the picture smile broadly with her chest proud. If you look closely enough you’ll see the tension between the woman and one of her little children and then, upon even closer examination, you’ll see one of the friends quietly lifting mom’s arm to put around the shoulder of that child. Bridging the gap of humanity and brokenness one encouraging word at a time.

The longer I live the more I’m convinced we were never made to live in isolation. If the last year and half has proven anything it’s that naiveté really does favor the young. So even though I’m sure it will get better, today I’m just admitting that it’s hard. And maybe I’m just a little too old for this shit. 😉

This morning after my meditation I was slower to open my eyes than usual. I could hear the kids starting to wake up and I just wasn’t ready to enter into the madness quite yet so I sat there and just breathed in the silence. After a few minutes I heard a weird bird call that wasn’t familiar so I opened my eyes to place the visual with the auditory and there she was-the crane on the edge of the dock.

Though this time there was another one with her.

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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Caden John

Last October most of my Dawson family (and a few friends) visited us in Michigan for a Notre Dame game. The men had tickets to the game but the women chose instead to tailgate before the game and then walk around campus during the game. At the tailgate I went to pour myself and my friend a drink and then asked my sister (in-law) Lindsey what she would like.

Here’s something you should know about me: I have a sixth sense when it comes to pregnancy. The night before the Notre Dame game I noticed Lindsey not having a drink (it’s a Dawson tradition to have a drink after a long road trip) and munching on food more than she normally did. I gave her a raised eyebrow look to let her know she was being closely monitored. Bless.

Back to the tailgate: she followed me to the makeshift bar at the back of my minivan (I keep it classy people, don’t ever forget that) and said simply, “I know you already know, I saw your face last night when your mom asked what I wanted to drink. You cannot say anything to anyone because no one else knows but that eyebrow raise was correct, I’m pregnant again.”

My brother and Lindsey already had 2 amazing little girls so I was thrilled they were giving me another remarkable child to love on. Plus, it just so happened that every other male Dawson in our extended family had given birth to all girls. So it was that the Dawson family line either continued or ended with the tiny zygote now officially implanted in Lindsey’s belly. No pressure wee one.

Lindsey also mentioned, while I poured a celebratory vodka tonic for auntie Tesi, that if her calculations were correct this baby would be born on or around my birthday. I wasn’t aware of any way this news could have gotten more exciting until that moment.

As June 5 approached I checked in every few minutes relentlessly to see how Lindsey was doing. On June 3rd I decided to make my way to Iowa knowing Lindsey traditionally had very short labors and I just didn’t want to miss it!

When I got to Iowa the doctor okayed the induction for the 5th because Lindsey was already dilated and contracting-we were going to have a baby!! On my birthday!! Which happens to fall on my mom’s birthday!!

Marcus and Lindsey took off for the hospital early on the 5th so my mom and I got to spend our birthday hanging with my two nieces. I miss these two little girls so much every day in Michigan so getting to spend so much quality time with them felt like a perfect birthday gift.

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There is something about Landry that resonates within my soul. Not sure if it’s because she is now the middle child in a family with 2 older girls and a younger brother, much like myself, or if it’s her love of food and books but-I just love her.

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Truth be told I am not at all good at sharing my food. But Adley Sue can ask me for anything and I would give it to her. It’s rare that I’m around them without my kids but it was a truly special time, Adley and I were joined at the hip all day and it made me incredibly happy.

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After a quick pit stop at the tire store to fix a flat on my brother’s car, Lindsey’s mom took the girls while my mom and I headed to the hospital.

I knew I had to make the 8 hour trip back to Michigan later that day as we had a weekend full of kid activities so I spent most of those first hours praying labor would be quick and I would get as much snuggling as possible before I had to leave.

Soon after we had lunch with Marcus and Lindsey in their room, there was a text letting us know Lindsey was just checked and it was baby time.

2 minutes later my brother sent a text with just the baby’s face and the words, “It’s here!”

Mom, dad and I spent the next 10 minutes staring at the picture trying to guess what the sex of the baby was and begging my brother to let us in. We legit snagged a security officer and asked him to go back to the room and find out for us. That actually happened.

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Finally he told us we could come back. I made a video to document. I feel like I need to apologize for all of the things. In this video you will hear my “baby voice”, my “happy scream” and witness my inability to remember what I’m doing when I’m overcome by joy.

Brace yourselves, Lindsey looked way to good to have just had a baby. (And let me just take a moment to reiterate how much I love that sister of mine, I’m so so thankful she’s in our family. What a good mama and good wife to my brother. #blessed as the trend goes.)

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When I did the math, I had approximately 45 minutes to snuggle before I needed to get on the road in order to make it home by about 1am. I didn’t waste a single second.

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3 generations of Johns (Grandpa John, Dad Marcus John and baby Caden John-if Tomas would’ve been there it would be 4 generations btw).

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I don’t know, man, but watching my brother become a daddy again was just really special. I am so, so thankful I can count my brother as one of my good friends and am incredibly proud of him. Even in the months when people wondered if they would have another girl he made sure everyone knew it didn’t really matter to him. Lindsey mentioned numerous times she was more anxious about producing a boy than Marcus ever was. I love him, that’s just all there is to it.

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Yes, it was my mom and my birthday but it was also Emmett’s. Emmett is Lindsey’s sister’s son who was also born on June 5th. Of course we had to take a picture of the June 5th birthday buddies!

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It’s been 2 months since that day and I haven’t been able to get back and see little Caden John. Even with all of the modern technology, I hop on the struggle bus most often when I think about my nieces and nephews. Next week we go for a visit and I’m beside myself with anticipation.

Heard you loud and clear Caden John, see you soon. Love you so much.

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