The Burden and the Blessing of Genetics in Adoption

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ethiopia Trip-Our Second Day in the Villages

This post was written on Wednesday, November 11.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ethiopia Trip-Singing in Joy and Sorrow

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

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

On to the trip…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Binyam is 9!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Binyam is 8! (3.5 months ago)

Oy vey you guys.

Let the fact that I never blogged about Bean’s birthday be proof of the craziness of the last few months and NOT proof that he is not profoundly loved.

Because this little guy who is now 8 1/4 is just amazing.

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His birthday always falls right on or just before school starts again. August 31st is a really hard time to have a birthday when you’re one of 5 kids and school is about to start. Especially when you have a mom like me who freaks out ever so slightly about re-training the kids to go to bed at a decent time and get their 30 minutes of reading a day. (Also when was the last time you guys brushed your teeth? Do that.)

One of my favorite parts about my Bean is that he isn’t fazed by any of that. I told him that on his birthday he got to choose what we did ALL day.

He chose to consume only chocolate milk. This comes as no surprise to anyone who knows him (including the women who work in the cafeteria at our camp who bestowed him with this name tag.)

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Instead of asking for friends to come over he asked specifically that he got to hang out with his siblings all day. Bean and Dailah behave like twins quite frequently but Bean also loves wrestling with his big brothers.

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In short, the day was spent playing A LOT of video games, eating A LOT of chocolate and hanging out at home. Normally a kid turning 8 would think it was pretty lame but at the end of the night Bean exclaimed, “This day was INCREDIBLE!”

Oh man this guy. He has the patience of a saint. Genuinely, a saint. If Bean snaps it’s typically because he’s put up with hours or days of crap from someone and he just can’t take it anymore. I would say he snaps once a month on his siblings which is why he deserves sainthood-they deserve it at least daily.

His patience is also proven in how easily he gets along with my littlest nieces and nephews. My 4-year-old nephew Cassius is adorably obsessed with Bean and Bean eats it up. My niece Adley is the same way. Bean never tires of them and I think it is just too sweet.

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Maybe the most amazing thing about this little guy is his tenacity. In all things, really. Things don’t come easily to him often-walking/running/math-all a bit tricky. But that doesn’t stop him. Ever. Need a cup?

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All his siblings playing soccer? Sign him up too!

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Run down a sandy dune in the dead of summer with one foot that still won’t fully plant on the ground? Child’s play.

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Wrestle with a kid at soccer practice and endure the pain that comes with teeth being implanted into your scalp? There’s a smile for that.

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It’s hard with our Bean because he can often be so quiet. I think even those of us who love him dearly in his family underestimate him on almost every level. Physically-of course, because we can’t imagine what it’s like to have so much pain every day in our legs and continue on anyway we tend to baby him a bit-much to his chagrin. Our delight and surprise when he says something simultaneously insightful and witty proves we also underestimate his mind and his social awareness.

I genuinely have no idea what the future holds for my Beantown. I think with all of my other kids I’m at least able to say, “I would be surprised if he/she didn’t pursue x” but not Bean. Bean is a mystery because he’s so freaking happy doing anything. He is just as delighted laying down and cuddling for hours as he is wrestling with his brothers or playing on a computer. I just find that incredibly inspirational.

I love you Binyam-ay, thanks for being my little ray of sunshine. Happy birthday buddy.

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My Bean

We are just coming back from an epic (I don’t use that term lightly) week and I have many posts coming regarding that, but for now I thought I should celebrate my Binyam WHO TURNED 7 ON AUGUST 31! Can’t even believe he’s 7.

This guy who has a threshold for crazy shenanigans from animals and humans alike.

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The guy who goes by “Bean” at school because he got tired of trying to get other people to say his name properly.

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The one who his teachers love for his huge smile and willingness to go with the flow.

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My babe who loves chocolate more than anything else in this world.

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Only thing that could compete with chocolate in his eyes are his siblings and cousins. Those people? Yeah he’d do anything for them.

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It’s always so fascinating to me that whenever I talk to people who know our family they usually say something like, “I love all of your kids but that Bean has a special place in my heart.” Of course I can guess the reasons for that, but at the heart of it all is simply-his heart.

He is light, love, joy and cotton candy goodness. His authentic giggle will have your sides splitting. Because he didn’t walk for his first 3 years of life (he was born with club feet) almost every time he runs I get a bit choked up. He also didn’t talk much his first 3 years so when I hear him in one of his rare monologues with his siblings I can’t help but believe in miracles.

Being the mommy to a boy like Bean is so very humbling because he’s a constant reminder that most of the shit we moms tend to dwell on just. doesn’t. matter. Do you love me? Will you take care of me? Will everything be ok? Then nothing else matters.

I love him, I am beyond grateful for him and I will spend my days trying to earn this gift that was given to me.

Love you Bean, happy birthday buddy.

3 years

3 years ago Tomas and Binyam touched Iowa soil for the first time.

3 years ago I wrote this about being home.

3 years ago this was indicative of how Tomas felt about me.

3 years ago we would find Binyam awake, looking out a crack in the doorway hours after we put him to bed. So scared that something would change while he was sleeping, he remained vigilant until I figured out I had to sit by his bedside until he fell asleep.

3 years ago we didn’t have air conditioning in our house (yikes!)

3 years ago the kids looked like this.

So hard to believe it’s been only 3 years since bringing “The Birhanu brothers” home. I genuinely can’t picture my life without either of them and so to believe I have spent more time as a mom without them than with is kind of jarring to my senses.

We’ve come a long way from the time that Tomas wouldn’t look at me, let alone hold my hand. Most nights he can be found making a beeline for me to hug and kiss goodnight and forgetting to do the same for Zach. Binyam barely blinked the first few weeks home he was so over stimulated. He didn’t talk, he didn’t smile (much) he drooled constantly. Looking back, I’ve never actually seen a child exhibit fear in such a profound way at such a young age. Today he’s our giggle monster who falls asleep the second his head hits the pillow.

The first time I saw those two little boys I knew they were going to be ours. I knew they were adorable, I knew their social reports made them sound like perfect little angels. I knew of Binyam’s club feet and Tomas’s older age. I knew the bare minimum and yet, I knew they were my sons.

I had no idea Tomas was called “little mayor” in Ethiopia and that his ability to win over adults in split seconds would negatively affect our bonding. I had no idea Tomas would struggle so much with his working memory, forgetting details so easily-making it harder for him in school and any social setting that would require him to remember to bring things. 🙂

I had no idea Binyam would shut down when he felt attacked to the point of screaming and drooling for an hour at a time. I had no idea he would climb so far into himself that no one could get to him for hours or days. I had no idea that this would affect his schooling and his ability to maintain relationships.

But I also had no idea that Tomas would teach me all I ever needed to know about joy. I had no idea that when I heard Tomas laugh with absolute abandon for the first time that the sound would settle somewhere in my heart to be accessed in really tough moments. I had no idea that one day he would be the kid I turned to when I needed someone to tell me a story that would make me both laugh and cry. I had no idea one day he would hug me, without prompting, and I would feel more loved than I ever have in my whole life.

I had no idea that Binyam would one day look at me with his big eyes after getting discouraged and say things like, “I did it, mommy! I took deep breaths and I didn’t get angry like you said!” I had no idea that mothering Binyam would unleash a mama bear in me that had yet to be discovered. That when I didn’t think he was getting the help or attention he needed that I would unceasingly call every person I knew to get him an appointment with someone I knew could help. I had no idea when he gave me a kiss with those beautiful lips (snot included!) of his that I would know for certain all good and perfect things come to those who wait.

These last 3 years haven’t always been easy. There have been days when I wanted to give up. Days I wanted to start again. There have been many unanswered prayers, but many more answered even though I never thought to ask.

What I know for sure? Regardless of the fact that we knew nothing about these boys before we begged to adopt them, they have been two of life’s greatest blessings for me. Proof that we don’t always need to know every possible outcome of every possible equation to know fully what we are supposed to do. To me, Tomas and Binyam are proof of God’s grace to a gal like me, because surely no unworthy soul would ever be given two remarkable boys like them.

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