Female friendships and the power they have at making you forget you’ve got broken ribs (and pneumonia).

Female friendships and the power they have at making you forget you’ve got broken ribs (and pneumonia).

There is currently a stranger in my house. This very sweet woman came with her husband to care for me while I’m on forced bedrest due to the very unpleasant combination of pneumonia/cracked ribs. I hear the woman scrubbing my toilet, God bless her, while her husband shovels our front steps. She’s singing to herself, undoubtedly to distract for the godforsaken things she has witnessed in and around our toilets (boys. Bless), and I’m stifling tears of gratitude.

These strangers are caring for me because a few of my friends sprang into action when they heard I was sick. They live in other parts of the country-Colorado, Seattle, Portland-and yet they managed to show me their love. This time in the form of an older woman who is not only cleaning and doing laundry but also brought over dinner.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been carried by women I love. I’m reminded of the text I sent just a few weeks prior, “It’s been 7 years, I don’t think he loves me. I’m so scared he never will.” And the immediate response, “Being taken for granted is not the same as not being loved. He loves you. He just doesn’t connect his actions to your feelings to the overall meaning of it all. Love continues to be work, every single day.” When you’re in the emotional isolation chamber sometimes it just takes an outstretched hand with similar scars beneath the door to remind you that you aren’t alone and that no matter what you’ve done or how badly you’ve messed up they will be there. Not with a hand to point fingers and judge but a hand to offer a cup of coffee and a kleenex instead.

Yesterday was a bit of a low day. I realized that, counting the time I was sick in Ethiopia-I’ve been mostly sick for 2 straight months. As a person who hasn’t really been sick for years I’ve been driven slightly mad by two months of foggy headedness, coughing, pain and lack of exercise. I’m sure I’m not the only one who when physically uncomfortable tends to devolve into some nightmarish emotional and spiritual discomforts as well. Feelings of ineptitude and unworthiness, reminder of all of my past mistakes. This all happens so much quicker when I’m metaphorically chained to the bed and allowed too much time in my own head.

And then a stranger shows up at my door reminding me of these women I love. And I can feel them prop me up on their shoulders, helping me place one foot in front of the other. Because they are both the most loving and sarcastic creatures, I can also hear their jokes about the ineffectiveness of my natural deodorant and the visible stains on my matching sweatpants/sweatshirt combination.

I don’t often feel brave but I’ve witnessed bravery in my friends who could choose to love a woman with more of her shit together but roll with me instead. It’s far safer to love me and encourage me from an emotional distance but these friends choose instead to jump all in and go with me, having my back in every failure and (sometimes more remarkably) every success. I don’t always feel like a good friend but I’ve witnessed true friendship in women who don’t just say they love me but show it every day in their texts, their random book recommendations, their scheduled dates to come visit or the stranger at the door with her cleaning supplies.

I think one of life’s true mercies is feeling so completely understood by someone else. The last handful of years since I stopped expecting Zach to meet all of my emotional needs and started opening up to fellow women for that have been some of the best. Zach is the greatest husband there ever was but he still will never be able to sympathize with my devastation at Alan Rickman’s death or make eye contact when the speaker in the room is saying something subliminally sexist.

I’ve no idea how I got so lucky to be friends with so many remarkable women who are moving mountains with their love but I’m so thankful I get to pick up my rock and join them. Even on days or weeks like today when I’m bedridden, the mountain gets moved because they are willing to carry one on my behalf no matter the cost to themselves.

It’s an amazing thing, to be loved as I am. If someone as busted and broken as I can be than you most certainly are. Hope you’re feeling that as strongly as I am today.

Much love,

Tesi

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2015, A Recap

2015, A Recap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tesi

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-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!

On Miscarriage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Him. I always knew it was a son.

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

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

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

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

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

I fall asleep. I dream of the baby.

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

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

I get to the room and then nothing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Preparations for the BIG trip to Ethiopia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So why do it if I could see this happening?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gulp.

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

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

Ready or not…

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