Ahh, today . . . Let’s see. Right now we’re feeling exhausted. I just finished showering three girls, rubbing scabies cream all over two of them, sorting out pajamas and underwear, singing each child their separate lullaby, and getting them all in bed. Of course Jasper and Ruby are still awake and listening to The Graveyard Book with us, because they’ve never heard of going to bed at the silly hour of 7:00 PM. The other two were bushed. And now I hear the odd sound of a new child snoring in my room—a strange and funny feeling.
Today was discouraging, frustrating, sad then happy. At least we got them in the right order! Discrustradappy.
Discouragement came early as we had no where to be first thing in the morning, and Jasper and Ruby had cabin fever. This has been a long trip for them, and I don’t blame them. They picked at each other and fought constantly. They kept speaking to each other in a really rude tone of voice, which I’m sure they learned from their parents, but which we hate to hear them use with each other. I got impatient, and couldn’t seem to settle any of their issues. I felt discouraged by the onset of real life again, and real sibling fighting, and the fact that I can never be the magic problem-solving mother I want to be, and that I know life with our new daughters will turn into this at times, too. I also felt bad because I know I’m putting Jasper and Ruby through great emotional strain—it shows in their contrariness. I know they will benefit so much from this in the future, and I know they’re excited now, but I also know they’re scared of losing their own places in the family, no matter what I say. That was a badly running-on sentence, but I’m too tired to fix it. Anyway, it’s normal—the sibling fear, not the run-on sentence. OK, fine—maybe that is for me, too.
Frustration came next, when the embassy was much more crowded than yesterday. We had to wait in several different lines for long periods of time and the kids were LESS than happy about it. Jasper had refused to eat the yummy curry lunch which he insisted was too spicy, and had thus transformed into Hungrumpo Man. It was hot. Hot and crowded. We seemed to be getting nowhere. Finally, we found someone who seemed to understand our very unique predicament, and escorted us to our fingerprint appointment in another building. That was all nice and pleasant. But then we were told they can’t promise our fingerprints will be processed by Monday. AAARRRGGGGHHHHHJ!!!!! Are you KIDDING me??
Adoption interviews are only granted on Mondays, so if they aren’t ready by Monday we are toast. We cannot afford, nor will our children stand, to hand around here another week. This is not the fault of the embassy except in the fact that they are just too big and busy to give any case an individual schedule. It is squarely the fault of our agency—both the US and Ethiopian representatives. We could waste a lot of time getting upset about this, and we may yet. (Dad, get your letterhead ready!) But for now, we’re just hoping they rush it, as they said they would try, and everything works out for our appointment on Monday.
Please, if you don’t mind, pray that it will. We would really appreciate it.
I used to feel a bit awkward when other families said they had not had a good experience with their agency and wouldn’t use it again. But now I realize it’s just like saying you had a terrible natural labor, and want drugs next time. Or had a psychedelic drug-induced labor, and want to go natural next time. You’re still thrilled to have the baby, and have no regrets about going through the pain—you’d just do things differently next time.
Anywhat, we did have one prayer answered at the embassy. I had been getting concerned the past couple of days that we wouldn’t be able to find church and would miss the opportunity to go while we’re here. I had included this concern in my prayers. On the way to the embassy we had asked Ahki and Gaetcho, who’ve never heard of the church, to help us find it.
While walking through the crowd at the embassy, I suddenly saw two grey heads and two black tags. Yes!! It’s true! We ACTUALLY ran into some of the only Ethiopian missionaries at the US embassy! They have only been here a week and looked rather shell-shocked, but happy. They told us the name of the branch and the time it started. We thought we’d have to find it ourselves, but then ran into them again on our way out. This is really amazing if you consider how crowded and nuts the embassy was today. We walked out with them and they introduced us to their driver, a branch president in Addis Ababa (who looked about 16 but has already served a mission in Uganda). We promptly introduced him to Ahki our translator, to whom the branch president gave directions to the branch. Slick! We are all set for Sunday, and have introduced Ahki to a local member to boot. Things were looking up.
We then went to the orphanage to get the girls for good. We had them change into clothes we brought so they could leave the orphanage ones for other kids, and they took us to see their bedrooms. These were painted bright pink, and had about six bunkbed sets each. Tinsae slept with the older girls and Birhane the younger. This orphanage is very brightly-colored and pleasant. We saw Tinsae’s classroom, and met one of her nannies who told us Tinsae made her look through the whole photo album several times. She looked at Steve and said she had even seen his brother in the book. She again said that Tinsae had asked constantly when her family would come.
We met with the nurse, who gave us T and B’s medical records and went over them with us. I asked if all the tests were really definite, like HIV, and she looked insulted and pointed out to me that they even do the DNA test for HIV. She also got a bit uncomfortable when I asked about Tinsae’s age, pointing out that her teeth look large for baby teeth. She said the social worker who first investigated them in the countryside determined their age.
They gave us the girls’ schoolwork (both very clever, the nurse said), and a nice traditional dress for each of them, and we were off. I felt sad for them. How do you say goodbye to everything you know? Tinsae waved frantically at all the children she knew, on their way out of school. I had them stop the van so she could get out and give some hugs. She didn’t seem sad to be leaving them, rather it was more the look of “I’ve won the lottery! Here’s my family, and I’m leaving. Goodbye!” We signed two copies of one piece of paper, and that was it. We were off. After the year of paperwork, it was hard to believe.
Then came the really sad part. When we got to the guest home, we decided we should do the interview right away. We have always felt that we should record Tinsae answering questions about her life before the orphanage before she got too absorbed in her new life. We felt, and some of our research showed, that this would be very important to her when she grows up—to have some tiny insight into a forgotten childhood. We knew the questions might be hard for her, and we asked the nurse what she thought before we left the orphanage. She said it was important for Tinsae to talk about the past, and that they encourage it at the orphanage all the time. That openness is one of the reasons we felt great about adopting children from this culture.
We grabbed Ahki to translate, and figured we better get it over with right away. We put a mic on Tinsae, knowing she speaks very softly when nervous. I started by asking about the kind of house she lived in, and then moved on to her family. I don’t know how much to share here, because it is her story. Basically we learned that she loved her mother, who got sick when Birhane was born and died about a year later. At that time she had to quit school and stay home to take care of Birhane and her brother while her dad worked. Her dad was kind, she said. She loved her two brothers, and misses them. The part we really didn’t know before is that her father remarried. The stepmother was not happy and was the reason for the relinquishing of the girls. As Tinsae told this, I could see her eyes get very glassy. I could see the sadness in them. I asked one last question—was she sad to come to the orphanage. No, she said, she was very happy. It was better than home at that point. I stopped the camera after that. Tinsae started to cry. I went over and sat by her and hugged her, and had Ahki tell her how grateful we were for her sharing this, though it was hard. She started to sob harder. Birhane started to sob, too, seeing her sister cry. I started to cry too, of course. I felt inspired to tell Tinsae, through Ahki, about how we made the decision to take them. I hugged her and cried, and told her how the email came, and we thought and prayed all day. I told her how at the end of the day I had suddenly had a feeling that her mother in heaven was asking us to take her girls, telling us they would make our family happy. Then we called and accepted them right away. This is all very personal. I hope Tinsae, someday, won’t mind me sharing.
The room was sad and pretty quickly we decided we better get outside and have some serious play. I thanked Tinsae again for her five minutes of difficult remembering, and we went out the door. This is where the happy really began. We played ball and jump-roped for an hour. We had many really hard laughs, like when Steve was filming Birhane playing with one ball, and the other kids’ soccer ball came flying over and gave him a perfect header. We had a genuine, great time. We discovered that Tinsae knows a lot more English than we thought. She can be a bit of a translator herself. We had a good dinner—Orange Fanta familiar, Sprite quite a shocker!—and then it was shower time. I had had Ahki warn them about this because I didn’t want them to feel scared. I also had him tell them I would have to rub scabies cream all over them. They loved the shower. Lot’s of screams, which I think came from the warm water, believe it or not. After I washed them all, head to toe, they then proceeded to re-wash themselves several times—funny. At this rate we’ll go through a lot of body wash! I still have a lot to learn about hair—and so do the girls. I had a new experience washing theirs, and they both wanted to experiment with mine.
One of the best parts of the night was that I finally got to sing that favorite lullaby to them, the one that is only for adopted children and that I’ve been saving all my life. Yes, (Emily R), from The Rescuers. The gist of it is something like:
Be brave, little one. Make a wish for each sad, little tear. Hold your head up, though no one is near. Someone’s waiting for you. Don’t cry little one. Make a smile where a frown used to be. You’ll be part of the love that you see. Someone’s waiting for you.
Always keep a little prayer in your pocket, and you’re sure to see it start. Soon there’ll be joy and happiness and you, little one, will be part.
Be brave, little one. Till your hopes, and your wishes come true. You must try to be brave, little one. Someone’s waiting to love you.
Choosing laughter and hope in the face of sadness and loneliness seems, to me, to be true bravery. How lucky am I to have such brave little girls. And, such bravery from Jasper and Ruby for welcoming them.
Gosh, I’m sappy tonight. These are the things that, for me as a writer, are much easier to share in words than in person. Allow me, just once in a while.
Lest you think I’m being selfish: I asked if Steve wanted to add his own post and he declined. He did say,
“I agree with everything you said. I would add that, although the experience has been very calm and surprisingly easy with the girls, I felt a surprising flood of emotion at the orphanage today which I was not expecting. I suddenly felt overwhelming gratitude to the nurses and doctors and teachers, and even the housekeepers and guards, at the orphanage for how well them seemed to know and care about these two little orphan girls. As we thanked them, both in their language and ours, I wanted it to feel like the most heartfelt thanks I could give. The only way I could do that was to offer their traditional greeting of touching cheek to cheek, hoping that would communicate my sincerity. While I thought I would feel those kind of emotions sooner—say, the first time we met the girls—it was realizing they were saying goodbye to the people who had shown them true love that they needed it most that brought the lump to my throat. It was so thrilling to see Tinsae continuing to look out the window for anyone she knew so she could wave excitedly at them. As we looked through the photo album in the car, the one we had sent the girls a few weeks ago, it was clear they had every photo memorized. Birhane pointed at the picture of herself and said, ‘Good photo. Good photo.’ Speaking of other funny things Birhane has said so far, when we were outside an airplane flew overhead. We pointed and said, ‘airplane.’ But Birhane needed no help. She was already yelling, ‘Ethiopian Airlines! Ethiopian Airlines!’ Bottom line, I was struck with wondering how do you help them understand how much we want to help them. Especially during the brief interview today, when I got back from getting another camera battery and found the mood in the room heavy and everyone crying, including Birhane, I just wanted them to know we would comfort them. I hope they see that, just like we hug Jasper and Ruby when they cry, we’ll hug Tinsae and Birhane when they cry.
Like I said, I don’t have anything to add.”