Tomas is 12!

Tomas is 12!

Right now we are going to pretend that it’s March 7, 2016 and that there aren’t major things happening in the world that warrant mention in my first blog post in months. Since all of that will be covered in a future post we can just celebrate March 7 right now and in turn celebrate my Tomas turning 12!

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I was talking to a fellow adoptive mama last night who adopted a 10-year-old from Ethiopia. The child has since been diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder and she opened up to me about what life has been like since they brought her little one to America almost 10 years ago. She finished with, “I’m just not sure I can advocate for someone adopting an older child after that. ” She wasn’t saying it to be mean, she was saying it out of tremendous pain that she and the child had been through. She was actually advocating for a system where we can support first families and let them keep their older children rather than adopt them and tear them away from all they know.

On the drive home from that conversation I thought only of Tomas, who we brought to America when he was 6. There is truly no explanation for how seamless the transition has been with him. There were fits and starts as we navigated language and the like but overall it’s nonsensical how incredible this son of mine has been from day 1.

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At the camp my kids go to they award a kid in each cabin with what they call the Broken Arrow award. It’s a blind, private vote that each kid does separately so there’s no mob mentality. The kids just vote on who exemplifies the values of Eberhart the best-caring, honesty, respect and responsibility. It should come as no surprise to anyone who knows Tomas that he won this year. The award meant even more to us as his parents because middle school has been a little tough on Tomas. The pressure to fit in, to wear the right things and act a certain way is really, really hard to navigate for an extreme people pleaser like him. And so we were thrilled to be able to say, “Look! They gave you this award even though you wore the same outfit every single day! You hadn’t brushed your teeth or showered for a whole week! They gave you this award because of who you ARE not because of anything else. They see the real Tomas and they celebrated you. That’s a really big deal.”

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The counselor wrote on his note to give to parents at the end of the week, “It’s been a really great week in 13/14 and it wouldn’t have been possible without Tomas in the cabin. Tomas really helped out a lot in our cabin, he was especially good with the new campers.” This is the essence of Tomas. Very rarely do I have to ask for help and when I do, extremely rarely do I hear negative feedback from Tomas. It’s always an “Ok!” “Got it!”

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The first kid to ask how my day went or how my workout was or if I am feeling better after a cold is always Tomas. He doesn’t just ask because he thinks it’s the right thing to do, he asks to learn more about the person. He asks because he genuinely cares. It’s a trait I’ve not really seen in any other kid his age and I find it remarkable and charming.

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His laugh is a whoop then a laugh. When we first brought him home I had convinced myself he had whooping cough because he laughed at all the things and it sounded like he had poison coming his lungs. Slowly I realized his body was just collecting all the joy he stores inside and letting it out in one big whoop before laughing. It’s simply the best thing I’ve ever heard.

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Most of my other kiddos could be gone from home for a week with friends no problems but not Tomas. He’s a bit of a homebody. He’ll spend a night away and then be happy to come back, sleep in his own bed, eat the food he likes and hang with us or around camp. Needless to say I kind of love that about him.

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Zach and I were at Tariku’s baseball game so we asked Trysten, Tomas and Dailah to make dinner for when we got back. They ended up making some plant-based tacos. They were delicious and only 1 spatula was burned and a few tortillas lost in the process. I think that might always be the asterisk to Tomas’s stories “It was a huge success BUT I lost a toenail and broke my arm in the process.” There’s something just so sweet about his ability to go all in on something and lose sight of some inconsequential details.

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Tomas is 12 but looks older. The mustache on his upper lip is forming, his shoulders are broad and his chest barreled. He’s got hair on his legs and all the baby fat from his face is now gone. He’s mere inches from catching me in height and even with his disarming smile I worry about him.

Because he is love in a world that sometimes seems all consumingly full of hate. He is joy when the joy is sucked from every nook and cranny in the outside world. And he is full of faith-in people, in countries, in all the things- in a world that takes advantage of people like that.

I worry about him because I love him so much. And want to protect all that is bright and beautiful in him-which is essentially everything.

Happy birthday my Tomas-ay.

2015, A Recap

2015, A Recap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tesi

Ethiopia Trip-the Logistics

When I was trying to organize our big trip to Ethiopia I found great resources in the online groups I mentioned previously, as well as with friends who had done similar trips before. Planning a trip like this can be overwhelming and I found even with the resources I had, there were still some big question marks that left me feeling anxious even as we arrived in Ethiopia. In this post I hope to go over the (sometimes boring) logistics for those of you interested in planning a family trip. I’m also going to go into money spent while in country because that was the hardest thing for me to budget. No one could give me a good idea on how much they spent for food, drinks or lodging but have no fear! I kept track of every dollar spent so that you have a better idea for your trip.

This trip we flew Qatar Airlines. For the two trips prior we flew Delta/KLM and both Zach and I agreed Qatar featured nicer planes and more comfortable seats. Around January of 2015 I made myself a Google Alert to notify me of any flash airline sales flying to Ethiopia. In March I was notified of Qatar offering a flight from Chicago to Ethiopia for just $700/person. Having spent roughly $1500/person for both previous trips I jumped at the chance to cut the ticket price in half. There’s my first piece of advice-get yourself some Google Alerts! We saved around $6,000 because we were flexible with our travel dates and we waited until there were flash sales. 

Visas. My understanding is that you can get them before your trip and they last 2 years for $70/each or you can get them at the airport for $50/each and they last for just your current trip. We chose the latter and it worked just fine. If you’re doing the math that is $350 we spent in visas. They will take Ethiopian Birr or USD but there was no one at the window to exchange money so we ended up just paying in USD. Also important: make sure you have the address and phone number of where you will be staying in Addis handy as you will need that when going through the Visa process.

If you do fly Qatar know that they will usher you out of the Domestic side of the airport. We found out it was because most Ethiopians fly Qatar so they both load and unload all flights for that airline through the domestic instead of international. This is important information! We landed a little after 1am local time and could not find our driver anywhere. Dailah was crying, Zach and I were freaking out a little bit because there was not an english speaker to be seen. We finally found another english speaker with a phone and called our hotel to ask about the driver we had arranged for an airport pick up. The driver had been on the international side of the airport the whole time. So if you are flying Qatar and are arranging an airport pick up, make sure you tell them you will most likely be coming out of the domestic terminal.

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Interestingly, the difference in the domestic and international is HUGE! Our return flight left at 2am so we got to the airport about 9pm just to allow our driver the chance to see his family and to ensure we had plenty of time to find where we were going. On our previous trips we enjoyed surprising luxury at the Addis Ababa airport but when leaving from the domestic side it’s a totally different story. The bathrooms are less international and more like what you will find throughout Ethiopia. They treated the Ethiopians rather terribly, making them squish into tiny spaces to make room for diplomats or forenji like us. Even when we were waiting at the terminal, the services were so far below what they were in past trips it was shocking. None of this is bad enough to avoid Qatar but if you were planning on waiting to buy trinkets at the airport you will be totally out of luck.

Our first night we stayed at Wellspring Guesthouse. It was a beautiful house with top of the line accommodations. We were able to stay in one large room that had a queen bed, 2 bunk beds and a cot. It also had a large bathroom and large closet space. It was by far the nicest place we’ve stayed while in Addis Ababa. We pulled into the guesthouse at around 2am but had to pay for that night as well as the next. For our large room it was $190/night. Considerably more than we had ever paid for a room in Ethiopia, actually in America as well. 😉 The breakfasts were delicious and the owners were friendly. There was also a decent amount of room to play soccer in the gated courtyard in the front of the guesthouse.

At checkout they did charge us for the airport pick up even though I had thought I arranged that with no additional fee. We were already going to be paying a driver for that day so had I known they were going to charge us $40 for an airport pick up I would’ve just arranged for our driver to pick us up instead. Next piece of advice: just get it all in writing. Make sure you understand what you are and aren’t paying for, this includes water set out in your room, etc. If you have all the money in the world to throw at the trip then you can avoid that little nugget of wisdom but if you don’t-it will save you so much stress and hassle.

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After getting some sleep and eating breakfast, our driver Solomon (more on him later) picked us up for a day around Addis. I hadn’t done much planning of what I wanted to do I just knew that I wanted to have it be pretty laid back to ease us into the new time zone. I told Solomon the only thing for sure I wanted to do was go to the National Museum and he took charge from there. It was so great to have him plan the rest of the day.

He first took us to exchange some of our USD to Ethiopian Birr. There is a good chance your driver will know of a place to get a better exchange rate than the average bank so I would encourage you to ask for that! Solomon found us a place that exchanged at a rate of 1 to 23 instead of the 1 to 20 at banks. It may seem like a small difference but when talking about the amount of money you’ll spend on the trip it really helps!

Our trip to the Museum was our best one yet. They’ve upgraded it since the last time we were there so it was far more educational for the kids. Solomon arranged for us to have a guide who was so great. For $5 he took us through the whole museum explaining things in really vivid detail. Other than Trysten who was pretty much sleeping while walking, the kids were captivated by the history of Ethiopia. In total it was just $10 for all of us to go to the museum and to have the guide-this is a must do in my opinion!

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We then went to a local zoo. Though it cost just $3 for all 7 of us, this is something I wouldn’t recommend. We are clearly pretty big animal lovers so I’m not a huge fan of zoos anyway but this was the saddest zoo I have ever seen. There were maybe 10 animals total, all of them looking old and unhealthy. This was also a place the kids felt the most uncomfortable as there were a lot of locals that just stared at my kids instead of the animals. Because it was so crowded my kids were often petted and and touched in a way that wasn’t as common the rest of the trip. It did kill time for the day but in the end I would avoid it.

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Solomon then took us to the Lucy Restaurant next to the museum. It was a nice restaurant with authentic Ethiopian food. It was almost exclusively foreigners who were dining there, a common theme for the places Solomon took us to eat. Because this was our first restaurant in the country we had no clue how much food to order so we each ordered an entree. We made that mistake a few more times before realizing the 7 of us needed only to order about 3 entrees. We are all really big eaters (when I’m making a meal at home that says it can feed 12 I double it and rarely have leftovers. We just really, really love food y’all) but injera has a way of expanding to fit the size of your stomach really quickly. There’s not really refrigeration readily available so there’s no point in leftovers and I have a thing about throwing away food so if you do too I would order less-knowing you’ll always be able to order more if you still have hungry kiddos. Helpful tip: order less than you would in an American restaurant and enjoy passing the food between the group!

We then went to the top of the Entoto Mountains. It was incredibly beautiful! This was another of Solomon’s ideas and I’m so glad we went with it. Make sure you have your driver take you. Great photo opps and fun climbing areas. There’s also ample opportunity to race up the mountain as long as you’re mentally prepared to watch as cars fly far too close to your babies during the race.

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We had Solomon drop us for a little siesta after that. Within minutes all 5 kids were snoring loudly in their beds. I would recommend carving out a little time for a nap the first few days, especially if you have kids around the ages of mine (9-12) as they are too told to typically fall asleep in the car or on laps but sometimes have a harder time coping with jet lag because their bodies are so programmed to sleep at certain times, eat at certain times and the like.

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For dinner I wanted to go to a traditional restaurant so the kids could see the dancing and traditional clothes and listen to traditional music. Solomon took us to 2000 Habesha. We had been to two different places the previous two trips and they all kind of run together in my mind. I think you really can’t go wrong with traditional restaurants so if I were to do it again I would ask Solomon to take us to one less expensive. I remember when we went 5 years ago (I know it was 5 years and there’s little things like inflation, but still) Zach and I paid for the two of us, a bottle of wine, a few beers and 4 of the drivers who all had meals and a few rounds of Cokes. Our total then was $35. This time for all 7 of us it ended up being $150! It was still worth it, the kids had a blast and the food/dancing/music was wonderful! I highly recommend doing the traditional restaurant thing for your kiddos but be prepared for that price at the 2000 Habesha.

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The next morning we ate breakfast at Wellspring (free with your stay) and were off to Hosanna. Most drivers will charge you a flat rate for their driving and then have you pay for their gas as well. To fill up Solomon’s van that fit all of us and could off-road like you wouldn’t believe it cost around $45 to fill up the tank. We had him drive us from Sunday-Saturday, driving all over the South of Ethiopia which required just 2.5 tanks of gas. Totally worth the $115.

In Hosanna we stayed at the Lemma International Hotel. There is a new hotel in Hosanna called the Shembelala that I’ve heard good things about. The Lemma: there’s a reason there’s a hashtag created just for this hotel. #lemtastic is perhaps the most ironic hashtag that ever was. The rooms are tiny, requiring a family our size to rent 3. Zach and I were in one with a queen bed, Trysten and Binyam took one with 2 twin beds and the other 3 decided to squeeze on one queen bed as well. The price of room varies depending on where it’s at in the hotel as well as which kind of bedding configuration but we spent 3 nights total at the Lemma and paid $190 for all 3 nights (if you’re paying attention you’ll notice that was exactly what we paid for one night at Wellspring-there is no doubt the Lemma is a steal!) Unfortunately you get what you pay for with the Lemma. 2 of our toilets didn’t flush at all which required moving rooms a few times. They also never cleaned the rooms the 3 days we were there. Normally this wouldn’t be a huge problem but the Lemma is where I got really sick (and Trysten dealt with a small bout of sickness as well) so we could’ve used clean towels and bedding and flushing toilets. I did ask for them repeatedly but was never brought any.

I’m not sure of the prices of the Shembelala compared to Lemma but if we were to do it again Zach and I both agreed we would probably book the Shembelala. We are outdoorsy, rarely wash our hands kind of hippies and yet we were all a little overwhelmed by the Lemma. If it’s possible to budget for a little more money spent at hotels I would say splurge a little on the Shembelala, if nothing else their bedding is certainly newer than at the Lemma and that little difference would’ve felt like luxury. *It does need to be said that I was feverish and ill all 3 days that we were there so I’m not sure I have the necessary perspective. I don’t want this to come across as whiny so take all of that with a delirious grain of salt.*

I chose the Lemma because I heard their food was really delicious. I wonder if maybe they weren’t just having an off week because even though I don’t have picky eaters, no one was impressed with the food. We tried almost everything on the menu and were only blown away by two of their traditional meals. I do want to point out that most of us are either vegan/vegetarian so we didn’t try all the meat dishes-I chalked up our lack of enthusiasm for the food to the Lemma staff’s focus on the meat dishes. 🙂 That said, you can’t beat the prices for their meals. On average a meal for all 7 of us ran us around $15.

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It does need to be said the Lemma’s coffee and macchiatos are second to none. If you stay at the Shembelala make sure you make it over to the Lemma for coffee!

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While in Hosanna we used the services of a friend of ours that has delivered correspondence from us to our special people for the last 7 years. If you’re looking for something similar leave a comment or shoot me an email and I can put you in touch with him. Zach and I both agreed his service was worth the fee and we can’t imagine ever going back to Ethiopia if he’s not able to be with us when we visit our special people. He has done such good work building trust with the locals so they will often tell him things they maybe didn’t mention during the adoption process or had previously not told for fear of stigma. A translator who can be trusted by both birth families and adoptive families alike is one area you don’t want to cut financial corners!

After our incredible time in Hosanna and surrounding communities we were off to Lake Hawassa and the Lewi Hotel & Resort. Many of my friends recommended finding a place at the end of our trip to unwind and process. I am so glad they did! There is another great resort along Lake Hawassa that was a little nicer (we went to compare) but cost a bit more as well and didn’t include unlimited pool access. The Lewi was just perfect for our needs. We got two rooms that were attached. Our room had a pretty rockin’ circle bed, a huge living room and nice bathroom. The adjoining room had a bathroom with a jaccuzi tub as well as 2 queen beds.

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At the Lewi you can choose from a variety of options. Bed and breakfast, Bed, breakfast and unlimited pool access or all inclusive. They have a workout room, miniature golf, and ping pong tables as part of the all inclusive package. We chose to just do the bed, breakfast and unlimited pool access which ran us $145/night. The rooms at the Lewi were the nicest we stayed in and the service was terrific. I highly recommend the resort!

We ate the rest of our meals at the Lewi as well, each one averaged around $35 for all of us. The food was really, really good! Meals did take longer to prepare so make sure you go before you feel really hungry. We made that mistake the first night and after an hour of waiting for our food we begged the waiter for some bread to tide the kids over. It was no problem after that since we knew to account for extra time.

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Solomon ended up taking us to the Hawassa fish market. We were skeptical at first due to the whole being vegan issue but Solomon had yet to disappoint us so we went anyway. It cost $7 for us to enter. We went later in the day so the frenzy of a typical fish market had died down but it ended up being a really fun trip. Solomon encouraged us to try a fish that was prepared before us with a spice blend that was common in the area. Delicious doesn’t begin to describe it. If you find yourself near the fish market please go! We also got to see Ethiopian volleyball, storks and the fishermen preparing their nets for the next day. Plus it was just gorgeous.

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While at the Lewi we actually only ended up swimming twice. The weather was warm but not hot so it wasn’t as big of a draw as it would’ve normally been. All things considered, we were really glad we got that as part of the package because our kids are big swimmers and made the most out of it. We were also glad we didn’t do the whole all inclusive package. We tried asking how much it would cost to just play mini golf or just allow the kids to play a game of pool. The prices ran the gamut from $1 each kid to $5/minute depending on who you would ask. Other than mini golf we probably wouldn’t have used any of the rest of it so unless you’re planning on spending your entire days at the resort without venturing out into the city, I don’t see any reason you would need to buy the complete package.

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Another reason I just don’t see the need to buy the full package is because of the monkeys! My kids spent more time feeding, playing with and obsessing over the monkeys than they did in the pool and rightfully so! They were incredibly adorable and could get playful or even downright nasty if you tried to withhold food.

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But seriously, it was just unbelievably breathtaking. Zach and I ordered a bottle of wine and took it to our room to relax and talk about the trip. It was a perfect way to spend our last night in country.

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On our way back to Addis we stopped at a different Hailie resort in Ziway for lunch. It was beautiful there as well. The food was good and it was a nice little stop to break up the 5 hour trek from Hawassa.

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Having bought most of the traditional Ethiopian items our last two trips we didn’t have anything we really wanted to get on a shopping trip other than coffee. The Tomoca bags are now about $7/each and worth every penny. There is simply no better coffee than Ethiopian coffee and they make such great gifts!

If you are in need of specific shopping items, there are Ethiopians who will get them for you. For $100 you hand them a list and they go get them. If we needed anything at all, I would’ve definitely bought this service. I hate haggling with a hot, hot hatred but I also hate knowing I’m paying more for something than I should be. This shopping service is a great way to sidestep those things! You can still go shopping for a few little things if you want to have your kids experience it but for the bigger items I would certainly recommend the shopping service.

Solomon. He is so good at what he does. My friend Meghan had told me that he is superb with kids but I think she might not have even done him justice in that description. A few of my kids who aren’t real trusting of strangers or are a little quieter with them spent no time opening up to him. Tariku and Tomas specifically bonded with him in a way they don’t normally which made me so happy to see. Those two would often ride up front with him and learn Amharic words for the things they were seeing. It’s true he was incredibly kind and sweet with them but he also didn’t let them get away with anything-which is such a blessing for a mama like me. It’s no secret Solomon hates electronic devices so he didn’t hold back in telling the boys to put them down and enjoy the scenery. *For the record, our kids did play their iPods on the trip. You do what you feel is right for your family. The iPods ended up being a great way to come down from their emotional highs and to take some of the edge off. Plus, they all took their own pictures with their iPods so seeing the trip through their eyes is fun as well!

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We were with Solomon for around 12 hours a day for 7 days straight, often in close proximity in his van. He ended up feeling more like a fun uncle than a driver by just the second day. That said, he never ate meals with us or stayed in the hotels with us. Solomon told us it was a “Driver’s Code” and there always had to be that small separation between the family and the driver. So in terms of budgeting, plan on budgeting for the driver (the ones I researched were always somewhere between the $80-100/day) and the gas but you will not pay for their food or lodging.

I can’t stress enough that the driver should be the number one place to splurge. Solomon was fantastic with our special people, was attentive to all of my kids (Trysten had a rumbling belly at the fish market so Solomon dashed off to get him a lime. He taught him to bite it and suck out the juice, hailing it as the cure all for any upset tummy. Trysten said it worked so suddenly the other 4 had upset stomachs. Off Solomon went to get 4 more limes. 😉 ) I have no doubt Solomon isn’t the only truly wonderful driver in Ethiopia but make sure you get recommendations before booking with one-you’ll spend far too much time with this person to not get along with him or her. *Notice Dailah crying in the picture below-she was so sad to be leaving Ethiopia and Solomon in particular.

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I know it’s a little uncouth to talk about money so openly but I don’t want any unknowns to deter you from planning a trip like this. The unknowns of the financial cost is what took us so long to bite the bullet and I know had I had a better idea of the cost we would’ve went so much sooner.

We spent approximately $500 for our 7 days in country on food for the 7 of us.

We spent approximately $800 in hotels for our 7 nights in country.

We spent around $100 just buying a few things at the Post Office Shopping center and Tomoca coffee shop.

We spent nearly $100 on trips to museums, zoos, markets, etc.

The cost of translators and drivers vary but those will need to be worked into your budget as well. I can give you a better idea what we spent if you leave a comment or send an email as those two will be your biggest financial cost by far.

Be aware that most hotels will not accept reservations ahead of time. Even the guesthouses in Ethiopia wouldn’t let me book rooms until about 2 weeks before our trip so try really hard not to freak out about that (I failed miserably at staying relaxed on that account). The Lemma didn’t take reservations and I could never get the Lewi to confirm my reservations via their website or email ahead of time. No worries, there was plenty of open rooms at both places. Even if worst case scenario happens and all the rooms are booked, there are now multiple hotels in both areas so you’ll always have a back up.

If planning a trip like this makes you nervous there are plenty of travel agencies who will plan it for you. The cost is steep but it’s totally understandable if you don’t want to put up with the hassle. Zach and I have far too much German blood to spend on such luxuries so instead I just bombarded my friends with questions for 6 months straight. I think most of them still love me. 🙂

I hope after this post you’re feeling empowered and ready to plan a trip for your family. Obviously I can’t answer whether or not your kids are emotionally or mentally ready for a trip like this but if you’re dragging your feet let that be the reason rather than the overwhelming nature of the logistics.

If you have any more specific questions please feel free to reach out. I think it’s become pretty obvious that I’m a bit of an open book so get in touch-your kids will thank you for it!

Much love,
Tesi

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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On Raising Children of Color

Last night during Trysten’s basketball game I received a phone call from one of my babe’s teachers. I didn’t answer it as I didn’t recognize the number but she went on to leave a lengthy voice message about how bad of a day this babe of mine had had. She sounded frustrated and over him. The message was left at 6pm, it had been a long day for her.

Normally I get angry, we have consequences at home and it’s kind of over. But with this situation in particular the phone call hit me hard because there’s been a subtle boiling of rage within my cherub lately. I wasn’t sure if it was his way of dealing with impending puberty, his wrestling with the independence he feels a right to and the dependence on us that comes with being his young age-a fact for which he really dislikes-but I knew it was a matter of time before the bubbling brook became a river of rage. I could feel it more succinctly than Zach because often the rage that presents itself in signs of disrespect is directed at me. Women. It’s a thing for my guy. It was no surprise that the teacher calling was the female teacher and not the male teacher who takes up the other 50% of his day.

The truth is there was no big thing he did yesterday that warranted the phone call. I could hear in her voice that yesterday was the proverbial straw that broke her back. That 3 months of letting the small things go had led to this moment wherein she undoubtedly felt like she would do anything to get him out of her class and he felt like she hated him. I could feel the tension between the two of them at conferences and I did my best to build a bridge but the bridge was burning in my babe’s eyes and I had a feeling it was too late. When this sweet child of mine has decided he’s done with you there is no possible way to come back from that.

The male teacher of his ended up calling us last night to touch base and reassure us that we can all work together to get him back on the right track. This morning he sent a follow up text, “I just want to encourage you as well that I really do love having x in class. He has such a great sense of humor, he is so bright and does so well academically and his peers look at him as a leader. He has all the potential in the world. I know some of this can be discouraging but there is so much good here too.”

After a night tossing and turning and being equal parts overwhelmed and scared about my babe’s future that text was a salve to my soul. It still makes me cry just reading it.

The truth is I’m scared for my babe. I’m so scared that the parts in him that need to be right all of the time, that gets so personally offended when confronted with any reminder to behave better will get him killed. I’ve written before about how terrifying it can be to raise black sons and I wasn’t exaggerating. When raising a defiant, young, black man there are nights where you’ll lose sleep thinking about the ways in which he might use his obstinate nature on the wrong kind of person and the lights will be out. This is a very real possibility for my son and it sends me into a cold sweat every time I think about it.

There’s a phrase “School to prison pipeline” that surely haunts the night hours of anyone raising black youth. Children of color face harsher discipline than white children in schools and are more likely to be pushed out of school than their white peers. There is no doubt in my mind that my son did exactly what the teachers said he did, my fear is that when he gets into middle school and high school the teachers won’t know him as well as these teachers do and will punish him more harshly for doing exactly what he did yesterday-something his white peers have also done. (Go here for more information on the school to prison pipeline-the graph is all you need to see to understand the epidemic.) Though he has 2 parents who will have his back no matter what, the fact that he’s not as free to make mistakes as his oldest brother is infuriating.

Then there’s a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of our “great” country spouting lies and racist rhetoric about African-Americans. The educational system is a petri dish full of ways in which it will be a tougher road for 3 of my boys, there is no denying that. When I add one of my son’s inclination to disrespect in moments of tense conversation to the petri dish the narrow window for him to get into a great college and land a great job gets narrower. Land of opportunity my ass.

I am overwhelmed at raising my young, black sons because I have never been a boy and have never been black. Though I’m a woman, which can feel “other” in certain circles, there is no denying a good percentage of our country sees black not just as “other” but as a specific kind of threatening “other” so I’ve never felt the same weight my boys do/will. I don’t know if some of my son’s anger has to do with the heaviness of adoption related trauma or the burden of this country’s claim on his black body. Maybe it’s just pre-teen hormones or anger at a girl choosing a different boy. Odds are there’s a little bit of all of that pulsing through his beautiful veins.

What I do know is that though I can be immeasurably frustrated when he’s being disrespectful to me, his transgressions are not what I think of when I picture this boy in my mind. Because he’s also light and love. That teacher was right about all the ways in which he holds in his small body the ability to do big, beautiful things with his one big life. Even though he and I both went to bed crying last night, this morning he asked me if I needed help with anything before he went to get in the car before school. The way he treats his younger cousins is the sweetest thing I’ve ever seen from a boy his age and his tenderness with animals is truly something to behold. The list continues ad infinitum and yet…

I know if the worst happens and his disrespect gets him killed the news will focus on that time in elementary when he threw a paper at his teacher and not the time that he brought in a stray cat during winter and tried to hide it in the garage to nurse it back to health. They might focus on all of the pictures I have of him half frowning-a head full of emotion swirling behind his dark eyes rather than the ones I have of him in moments uninhibited where his head is cocked to the side and his eyes are almost closed because he’s laughing so hard.

I know for those not raising brown or black sons this may sound alarmist but it’s a reality for so many people in our country. Tamir Rice wasn’t just a 12-year-old boy gunned down in his youth, he represented how easily my boys could do everything right and still die at the hands of those meant to protect him. Just as the mass shooting at Sandy Hook had all of my white friends raising white babies terrified at the thought that it could’ve been their child; the names of Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Laquan McDonald and Michael Brown haunt our nightmares because they represent a daily occurrence of black bodies being taken for no reason and with no justice. I’m just getting around to feeling it now that my sons have turned from chubby cheeked little brown boys to man-boys with facial hair and sculpted deltoids.

I didn’t sleep last night because as I was washing his bedding yesterday I was overcome with love for my son. When I pushed his sheets into the wash the smell of his hair and stale coconut oil washed over me and I just sat and cried. We’ve come a long way he and I and I’m proud in so many ways of where we are. I just don’t want my failings as a mom to get in the way of his future. I don’t want our failings as a country to handicap him in any way and I don’t want his own personal failings to be anything other than what they are for the rest of us-a stepping stone to be better and do better the next day.

I don’t know what it’s like to be a person of color but I do know what it feels like to be a mom. I know there is no limit to what I will do to encourage him to be a better man and take ownership for the times in which he really messes up. But today the realization that it might not be enough is hitting just a little too hard. Raising a black son amidst so much fear mongering and anti-everything means that no matter how great of a kid he is-and dammit he’s one of the best-it just might not be enough. What a heartbreaking reality.

Ethiopia Trip-Our Second Day in the Villages

This post was written on Wednesday, November 11.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ethiopia Trip-On Water

Ethiopia Trip-On Water

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Much love.

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