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.

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Ethiopia Trip-Hopes

This was written our first full day in Ethiopia-Monday the 9th. I love reading what I was hoping before it all went down, particularly because even though I clearly had high hopes-it turns out I wasn’t shooting high enough. Tariku specifically was a changed boyman almost immediately. Hallelu.

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It’s 2:30am in Ethiopia and I’m hiding in the bathroom of our guesthouse so as not to wake up the rest of my family. Tariku has been in and out to use the restroom a few times already but in his sleepy state he hasn’t noticed me in the corner. I’ve apparently become even creepier while in Ethiopia.

Zach too woke up around 1am. As the dogs barked and fought outside and a mosquito buzzed around us we got to talk about the kids we love so much, now snoring loudly around us, and this country we also love.

When we were waiting at the gate for our final flight from Qatar to Addis Ababa, Zach, Trysten, Dailah and I were the only Caucasians at the gate. I couldn’t help but feel so grateful my boys get to experience what it’s like to be a majority for the next week and half. I know it’s something I take for granted often, being a majority in the country in which I live, but because they don’t experience it as part of every day life in America, I’m grateful beyond reason they get to now-even just for a few weeks.

When you’re parenting kids who have experienced trauma it’s insanely difficult not to want a quick fix. I would be absolutely lying if I said booking the flights to Ethiopia wasn’t, in some way at least, doubling down on the hopes that this trip can fix some of the pain my boys have been through. In my head I know it’s not that easy, that’s like taking an antibiotic and expecting it to work immediately on a chronic condition that is roughly as old as you are, but in my heart I just hoped the boys would see how much they are loved.

It doesn’t work that way, I’m aware, and yet already I see the small signs of the antibiotic taking effect. Tariku grabbing my hand in the van without any discussion from me, for instance. Tomas eating plate after plate of Ethiopian food not because he’s scared there won’t be more but because he so appreciates how much it tastes like home. Though Binyam is quieter and more reserved in nature than the other two, he has yet to shut down completely-his go to coping mechanism when things get intense-which is a really big freaking deal.

I don’t think I can pinpoint what exactly I’m hoping to come from the trip other than an appreciation for the country in which some of my sons were born, a chance to see their special people and get to know them as much as possible over the course of a few days and to reconnect as a family. These aren’t specific hopes, obviously, but ambiguous ones that acknowledge the fact that it could take weeks, months or years for us to see just how much this trip has meant for our family.

It’s a big day for Tariku today. We will be heading south in a matter of hours, which explains the tossing and turning I hear coming from his bunk. I tried to engage him on his hopes and fears regarding these next few days before we left for Ethiopia but he was really closed off. I didn’t blame him, of course, but I was so frustrated when I thought about the 7.5 years he’s been with us and yet his inability to reach out when he’s feeling anxious remains.

Tariku still hasn’t voiced any questions or concerns he might have for the most part but as I bring up what the next few days will look like he’s more interested now than he was in the last months when the subject came up. Last night before bed he folded and placed beneath his bed the outfit he will wear today (he said it was his nice outfit) and as he crawled under the covers he asked Zach and me specific details about when we would leave for Hosanna and what we would do when we got there. Marking that as at least the 5th time we’ve told him.

I often think if there was a way for me to take my heart from my chest and show Tariku just how much of it is dedicated just to him he might never for a minute doubt he is beyond beloved. Maybe then he could see that I would never hurt him on purpose because it would be hurting me so deeply too. It might not be enough for him to let me in but if there’s one thing my Tariku has in spades it’s self preservation instincts so at the very least maybe he can understand that I would never willingly hurt such a big part of my own heart.

Since that can’t be done I suppose I’ll just continue to lie awake at 2am in Ethiopia, talking to Zach about the extent with which we would do anything to make our kids feel as loved as they truly are, praying constantly that this trip allows even the slow drip of that truth to settle into their hearts.

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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!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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National Bridge State Park/ Red River Gorge

National Bridge State Park/ Red River Gorge

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Vegan Fajitas

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Zach and Dailah chatting in the hammock during chill time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dailah is 9!

Dailah is 9!

As July 26th neared, I asked Dailah what she wanted to do for her birthday. In our house the birthday person gets to choose everything we do and eat as a family, which is often the most exciting part for them. We rarely go out to eat as a family so birthdays are their one chance to choose wherever they want to go. Dailah, though, decided she wanted homemade spaghetti instead because “It’s too hard to have a quality conversation in a restaurant, it’s so loud and there are TVs everywhere.”

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Dailah’s first reaction for virtually everything is hesitation. “Hey Dailah, here’s a young lady your age, why don’t you introduce yourself and play for awhile?” Hesitation. “Dailah, why don’t you try doing a cartwheel on that trampoline?” Hesitation. She definitely tends towards a fixed mindset-if she doesn’t succeed at something initially then she believes she will never be successful at it. But after the initial hesitation she usually goes all in. So it was the case with her friend Kenna, who was the sister of one of the boys on our baseball team. Hesitation and then, best friends. (Image from Snapchat, find me there: tesileagh).

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Once she’s all in you simply won’t find anyone as hard working or passionate as Dailah. She’s open to new experiences for sure, but doing something in her wheelhouse? That’s her jam. And if it includes snuggling babies or pets, fuggetaboutit.

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She’s beautiful, to be sure, but I genuinely believe God saw what was on the inside and decided he would have to attempt to make the outside be just as wonderful. He failed, because there’s just no way to encompass all the joy and life that lives inside this one in just one suit of skin. (Those eyelashes are her real eyelashes. I believe the kids refer to this phenomenon as “I can’t even”)

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We’re not a big present family. The kids get to open a few small things that are usually picked up within the checkout aisles of our local Meijer but they never complain. Dailah was rather ecstatic with her fake nails and crossword puzzles.

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She’s currently obsessed with cheetahs. Obsessed. Dailah takes after her dad with regards to obsessions-they tend to come and go with the tide. As someone who doesn’t really obsesses over anything, I used to get swept up in each obsession buying Zach or Dailah whatever they needed to show that I supported each one only to-2 weeks later-see those same things collecting dust or in the Goodwill pile. It used to be maddening but now I secretly find it charming, who doesn’t love seeing someone so excited and passionate about something? I get that all the time with these two, I’m pretty lucky in that way. (Notice the cheetah print fake nails-$4 to show I support the obsession? #worthit)

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After her week at camp the counselors gave her the “trendsetter” award. They said if she wore her hair one way one day, all the girls would wear it that way the next day. That she came up with some odd combinations of outfits but every time she walked out of the door like she owned the world in that crazy outfit and it somehow looked like the most stylish combination they’d ever seen. They talked about her willingness to help out campers who were struggling and to never leave anyone out. It’s like she sought out the kids who were feeling left out and brought them into the fold, they said.

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Dailah has grown so much both physically and emotionally in the last year. It’s been so awesome to have deep conversations about what it means to be a girl/woman in our culture. I sometimes forget that we are as open of a family as we are until we are in public. After her cheer competition standing in line with hundreds of people she turned to me and yelled, “These bloomers are going right up my vagina!” Heads turned and one woman said to me, “I’m not even sure my daughter knows the word vagina.” Dailah was shocked to hear this. Doesn’t everyone speak openly about vaginas she wondered?

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Perhaps I’m most proud of her developing sense of humor. It’s no secret I love comedy and it could be said our family’s love language is sarcasm. Dailah has always been funny but this year she’s started learning when it’s appropriate to use it and when it’s not. As her timing has gotten better so have her witty remarks (and notes).

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Or this one, after she helped babysit my nephew Julius (JuJu) while the adults went out for a bit.

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Being a mother to Dailah has always been and remains to be a delight every single day. She is uninhibited joy, laughter uncontrolled all mixed with the intensity of her favorite animal. She is the best snuggler the world has ever seen and the conductor of so much life. I still can’t believe my good fortune at calling her mine.

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Love you so much Dailah Leagh. Happy birthday baby girl.

On Baltimore

On Baltimore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace and love,

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