Sunday, February 28, 2010

I Wear My Sunglasses at Church

"Mom me everyday drink. Me everyday bathroom, flush, wash  hands. Me everyday sleep." 
-quote of the day from Willa
"Mom, my shoes offing." 
-quote of the day from Saffron 

I'm blogging from my phone to try and trick myself into not thinking I'm blogging. Otherwise, it stresses me out. 

So, isn't it true that getting back into real life after a vacation is a lot like getting hit by all those gallons of cold water on the river rapid ride at Disneyworld? Except not as fun. We all got in late last night, and after a week of far too little sleep, church this morning and homework makeup tonight were pretty grumpy and grueling. In fact, because fatigue headaches always go to my eyes (because of previous eye disease) and make them very sensitive to light, and because I always have a pair on sunglasses with me, I couldn't resist sporting my white 'Hollywood-incognito' sunglasses all through Sacrament Meeting.  It was either that or leave. I hope everyone enjoyed speculating on whether I had a hangover or just bad taste. Either way, now that the girls are better behaved in church I figure I need to give the masses some new distraction.

Speaking of behavior, how do you discipline hyper eight-and-six-year-olds on a tiny airplane? Never considered that question? Neither had I until last night. All the things that used to work with little kids are no longer succesful. 

We were on our second leg of our flight home last night with Jasper finally getting his turn to sit by me, and Ruby sitting by Saffron (Steve and Willa flew separately).  Ruby and Saffron got a terrible case of the giggled which would have been acceptable on the bedroom floor, but not so much on a quiet cramped airplane. (Except that their giggling and my quiet but urgent reprimands provided entertainment for the bored, cramped passengers.  My calling in life, apparently.)
I calmly scolded, coaxed, threatened, and explained airplane danger and etiquette for about an hour before deciding I better get serious.  Jasper had already been feeling left out all week and missing me, because he is older and independent and kept getting sent off to ride rides with other people, so I wasn't willing to make him go sit by one of the girls. As happy as I was to see Saffron and Ruby having such fun together, it was really time to put a stop to it. This was bothering people. So, I said they had to separate and because Saffron is older, I sent her back to a seat two rows behind us for a couple minutes. Boy! That was a serious affront. She came back and proceeded to cry and pound and stomp in her seat. This was zero improvent over the giggling. This went on for a while and included the usuals, like refusing all food and crying pointedly at me, almost leaning over the aisle. But, then she just stopped. 

"Mom, you mad me sad?"
"No, I'm not mad," I said. 

And then she was fine. They all went to sleep. And it reminded me how amazing it is that they've come so far in four months. This vacation went better than I ever imagined--the girls got along, and took turns, and usually kept the pouting to a minimum (except for the time Saffron told me 'I want lost,' and and pouted away from us while we rode the Honey Pooh ride. I knew she wouldn't go far and we had a scout keep an eye on her.) 

Saffron is one complicated girl, and we'll never understand it all. Just yesterday she told me the reason she sulked for so long after I scolded her for not saying thank you to a brother-in-law who bought her dinner, was that her dad used to punish her for eating at neighbors' houses. 
"I know you not like my dad, Mom, but me scary. I don't know.". But Saffron is also one quick learner-- she pays attention, and adapts, and makes huge strides every week.  The women in my family are pretty tough cookies, and I think she'll fit right in. 

It was interesting to hear my family's impression of the girls. They said Saffron seemed very attached to me and always wanted to know where I was when she was off riding with other people. This was nice to hear, as I always feel like Willa would happily move in with anyone who would play with her and feed her unlimited bananas. I'm just the one who put her shirts in time out when she wouldn't put them away, and limits her daily banana intake.  But that's ok. We all need time to bond. 

So, all in all a good trip to the happiest place on earth. 

This post is brought to you by the letter M, as in 'moviestar.'. Saffron put my sunglasses on in church while I went up to sing with the choir. She was thrilled thst the woman behind us leaned forward and said "You look like a 'moviestar!" 

"What's a 'moviestar?" I asked.
"I don't know." 

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Is It Really Disney?

"Is this really? Is it play??"

This is the question asked over and over by Saffron throughout our past two days in Disneyworld. When it's been less than three months since you saw your very first movie, rode on your very first airplane, saw your very first Christmas lights and discovered your very first talking toy, how do you even begin to get your mind around Disneyworld?

From the lights, speed, water-soaking special effects, and sheer fear of the rides, to the colors, music and animatronics of the shows, Saffron's imagination is on absolute sensory overload. She can't process it all, yet she is loving it and drinking it up. The thrill rides are the perfect example: yesterday at Animal Kingdom we began the day by riding the Mt. Everest coaster, where you speed through the dark only to find that a Yeti has broken your train's tracks, and you then slide backward down the hill at perilous speed--still in the dark. When we came out of the ride, Saffron and Ruby both burst into tears. And they continued bawling for about 10 minutes! The funny thing was, Ruby was crying because she was scared, but as an American girl knew all along that the monkey wasn't real. She was just afraid of the dark. Saffron, on the other hand, was sobbing because she was convinced a real "monkey" had broken the track, and we had fallen almost to our death. I kept telling her it was all part of Disney's plan, but she just wouldn't believe me. She was mad at me for taking her on the ride, and kept asking why we would think scary was fun--in her mind they were two completely different things. But how could we have prepared her? We tried to explain a rollercoaster, but quickly saw it wasn't computing and so decided to let her discover it for herself. I'll never forget the picture of Saffron and Ruby sobbing on their way out of the ride--hilarious, and very telling about each of their current grasps of the world around them.

Fast forward to today at Disney Hollywood Studios, and Saffron GOT it. It only took her a day to figure out that fear and fun CAN go together, and she ate it up. You couldn't drag that girl off the Tower of Terror. She was very disappointed not to have a chance to try the Aerosmith upside-down-in-the-dark coaster. She has loved every show, but is confused and constantly asks if the actors mixed with animatronics mixed with film and music are "really" or "play?"

So, one of our two new favorite Saffron quotes is "Is it really??"

Our other favorite new quote came from both Saffron and Willa last night. As we walked to the car, they kept saying to me, "Mom, Me have lot hangups." We laughed so hard. "Yes, you do have a lot of hangups," I said, "but I think right now you have a lot of hiccups, too.'"

As for Willa? Oh, she's eating it all up. Except she's not sure what she's eating up. "Where Disney? This Disney?" She keeps asking. "This is all Disney!" Steve keeps answering. "No," she shakes her head. "This not Disney!" Her favorite was definitely the Kali river rapids ride. Any four year old with any background can appreciate how funny it is to be sitting in a boat with a bunch of adults, fully clothed, and be doused with gallons of water. Now that's fun in any language.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

"Neither Cast Ye Your Pearls Before Swine, Lest They Trample Them Under Their Feet," Or, Don't Read This if You're Not Going to Be Nice

Don't you dare tell my mom and dad I am blogging. We all have to catch a plane in about three hours and I'm sure they're already sitting next to their suitcases with their jackets on saying, "I bet Emily and her kids are going to make us late."

From the comments I've been getting from people, it's clear I'm not going to be able to let our little "Walk to Ethiopia" go without a wee bit more explanation. Why were they attempting the 'long road home?' Well, let's just say negotiations at the Swensen Summit were falling apart on both sides.

1. Saffron's camp had fallen back to trying to force the I-am-Willa's-mom agenda, the I-roll-my-eyes-and complain-about-every-request agenda, the I-do-things-myself-without-asking agenda, and the Superior Sulking agenda.

Don't get me wrong--things are fabulously improved and quite smooth overall these days. We have very few tantrums or long periods of pouting, and many good times. It's just that after almost four months, I have lost my patience with the kind of behavior I could take in the beginning, and so I was having a really hard time dealing with this backward slide. I was struggling with the fact that I've already ruined my streak with these kids. I remember when I ruined Jasper: I had been a perfect mother for about 5 days, and then when he was still less than a week old, Steve and I had an exhaustion-driven argument in front of him. "Great." I thought. I've already ruined my streak of perfect parenthood. At least I got to let go of the gold early, and be content with the consolation round.

Also, as Steve pointed out, now that the major behavioral issues had all calmed down--now that survival mode was over--I had enough time to face all my feelings about the past few months, and to re-realize that this is going to take a long time. Yes, their English has come an amazingly long way, but it still has much much further to go before we can communicate purely. This struck me when we went skiing and I said to the instructor "their English is pretty good." My nice, soft-spoken dad then turned to him and corrected, "Their English is lousy. You'll have to show them everything." Gees, I thought. I guess that's how it looks to someone who hasn't seen every tiny progression. So, I was tired, and discouraged. This led to . . .

2. Mom's camp had degenerated to the shape-up-or-ship-out-because-I-can't-hold-my-tongue-anymore agenda. ******MIND YOU*****I did NOT mean ship out to Ethiopia--just out of the room. In other words, if Saffron grunted and rolled her eyes when I put her dinner in front of her, I would say, "That's it. You can go to your room." Period. No arguments. I knew she knew the food rules by this time. I was having a hard time not taking things personally.

And then, I broke the cardinal rule. When she complained that there was nothing to do because I wouldn't let her play computer games or watch any more TV, I said a few things like, "Well, I don't know what you did for entertainment in Ethiopia but it must have been pretty awesome because we sure can't keep you happy here in America. You always want more more more, and better better better, and maybe you just liked life better in Ethiopia. I know you wish you were back there with Etalem, but you're stuck here, with me as your mom."

Is this a little too "frank" and "honest" for the World Wide Web? I'm guessing that yes, frankly, it honestly is. But there it is. This is hard. I've been a grown-up through most of it, but recently I had degenerated into a child, saying petty things about Ethiopia vs. America-which is never, ever fair--and about their perfect biological mom vs. me. As Belinda would say, "I was so junior high."

And I knew it. I knew I was out of line. I knew I needed a change of heart, and a whoopin', which I am always good at giving myself in my mind and did continually.

Saffron, it must be said, also knew that I had NOT said I wanted her to leave. She understood that I kept saying she was stuck with us for good, but she wanted to punish me, understandably. So, she embarked on her epic journey.

I have a fear of "casting my pearls before swine" (not that y'all are swine) on the internet, so I often don't share the tender moments that get me through. But lest ye all think I'm a crazy women, I do have those moments. We all turn somewhere for comfort and inspiration--I turn to my faith. Monday night, after the runaways returned and were in bed, I asked Steve to give me a blessing. In our religion this is like a prayer, but a bit stronger, where another person, a Priesthood holder, basically prays and asks the Lord for a personal message for you.

The gist of what I felt in that prayer was reassurance that we are on the path that is right for our lives and our family, that I am doing just fine as a mother to all my children, that the Lord loves me, and that many people around me are standing ready to support me, and everything will be OK. And during that blessing I was also reminded of another major tender moment that got me through, around Thanksgiving. I never shared it here, but will now. Hopefully those readers who might not appreciate it have already gotten bored and stopped reading.

Remember the day I took Saffron to my friend Emily's house, pulled her from the car screaming and left her there so I could cool off? When I went home to take a nap, I first opened my scriptures. The fell open--literally--to the following passages:

Verily I say unto you, concerning your brethren who have been afflicted, and persecuted and cast out from the land of their inheritance--yet I own them, and they shall be mine in that day when they shall come to make up my jewels.

My bowels are filled with compassion towards them. I will not utterly cast them off; and in the day of wrath, I will remember mercy.

Therefore, let your hearts be comforted . . . for all flesh is in mine hands; be still and know that I am God.

And in that day the enmity of man, and the enmity of beasts, yea, the enmity of all flesh, shall cease from before my face.

And so I was comforted, and reinvigorated, and rose to parent another day. That got me through another 10 weeks, and I guess on Monday I just needed my own message again.

I think a lot of the struggle for me and Steve and the kids has simply been a result of readjusting expectations. When you think you're getting two very tiny girls, and end up with one small but one very big girl (especially big in presence, and attitude, and life experience), you have to travel a long way to come to terms with it. I'm sure this is also one of the biggest struggles for the girls: I can't even imagine what their expectations of life in America with a family might have been, but no doubt the reality is nothing like what they thought.

But then, most of life's challenges can be boiled down to readjusted expectations. When we got pregnant with Charles, we thought we would have a healthy baby boy. We didn't. That expectation was not fulfilled. When my friend got married, she thought she would live married forever with a loving husband. They are now divorced. Her expectation was not fulfilled. When you take a job, you assume you'll have it for years. When you're let go, that expectation is not fulfilled. When you start reading this blog post, you expect to be finished before now. Your expectation has not been fulfilled.

Now that you've fallen victim to another bout of "Emily's TMI," let me put your mind at ease before you go. I have no regrets. I am so grateful and happy to have these girls in our family. I have no doubt that in a year or two this family will run like a well-oiled machine and we won't be able to imagine it any other way. If you're thinking about it, do it! Whether it's international or older child adoption, or a risk you've always wanted to take, go for it! Here I sit right in the midst of the hard part, and I can still say Hooray! We did it! We ARE doing it. SO GRATEFUL to be doing it. So go for it.

And now we're off!! Disneyworld with all the cousins, here we come. The girls have no idea what they're in for, but they're excited anyway.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Runaway Mothers Club

The worst part about having your kids run away is that people suddenly get very concerned about them. Yes, of course, we all want people to care about our kids, yada yada yada, etc., with sugar on top. But let’s be honest, people—meaning MOTHERS—don’t we want people to care about us, too, just a little? Since you all have appointed me the Queen of “frank” and “honest,” I’m happy to admit that on behalf of all of us.

(And that I have been to a therapist, and that I have taken anti-depressants, and that I feed my children processed sugar—spooned straight from the bag ala Mary Poppins, six times a day. Anything else?)

That’s why I have to say Thank You, Big Bahama Mama, for throwing me a line in your comment and noting that I may want to run away, too. But since I was already at the edge of my rope on Monday, I wasn’t sure where to run.

We all have memories of running away as children—it’s pretty hard to get anywhere. But I think it’s even harder for adults. Just a couple days before the girls ran away, I heard the best “mom runaway” story yet from my good friend, K.

K is pretty amazing. She’s one of those people who faces such difficultly in her life that you might wonder how she gets through the day, and yet each time you worry about her you run smack into her worrying about you.

K has Huntington’s Disease. This genetic disease has many heartbreaking symptoms, but the most noticeable to others, and to K in this stage of her life, is the chorea, or jerky movements. These make things like driving difficult, so K voluntarily gave up her license over a year ago. For a mother of three active teenagers, this is just a teeny tiny bit of a challenge. K is used to requiring help from others, and accepts that help with grace and dignity. But sometimes even she gets sick of it.

Recently her husband was out of town for the week, so he and K planned ahead by arranging rides for all the kids to their various sports and other activities. K ran the show from home, making sure the kids’ lives got off without a hitch, and being there to welcome them with a hug when they got home. Everything went fine except one thing: at the end of the week, K realized she hadn’t left the house once. She had been stuck there, stir crazy in the middle of winter. Suddenly all her frustrations and difficulties came crashing down on her, and she stomped out of the house. She told the kids she was going for a walk and they offered, as they’ve been directed by their kind father, to escort her.

“No!” K said. “I’m going by myself.”

As K tells it, she marched up the hill in a fury, dragging and stomping her feet like a little kid.

“I can’t even get in the car and go anywhere!” She fumed. “I can’t even run away like an independent adult.”

You can guess what I said to K. “Oh, K, why didn’t you call me?! You know I would have come in a heartbeat.”

“But I didn’t really need any help,” she said. “The kids were all taken care of, everything was under control, and I wouldn’t even have known what to ask you to do.”

And right there K and I decided she’d hit the nail on the head. That’s the problem with mothers. It’s not that we won’t ask for help—it’s that we only know how to ask for task help.

When it comes to our children, we’ll ask anyone to do any task to help them. We’ll make sure they’re taken care of. But once we’ve either performed or assigned out every task, sometimes we still find ourselves out of sorts, as K did. We don’t ask for help for ourselves, because what would we ask for? There’s food in the fridge, the kids have rides, their homework is done, and there’s a load of laundry in the dryer. We may still feel crumby, like we need someone for something, but there are no tasks left on the list.

We don’t know how to ask for the kind of help we really need, and sometimes even if we try our friends only offer to do tasks for us. It’s not their fault—they’re mothers, too, and like us they only speak task language. We’ve all forgotten to think outside the task.

And so, that’s why we need a Runaway Mothers Club. There should be a clubhouse where we can runaway and hide, with one sign that says “No Children Allowed” and another that says “No Tasks Allowed,” and ice cream, as Big Mama said, and a white flag to raise when you need some kind of something from someone but you don’t know what and you don’t know how to ask for it.


This post is brought to you by the letter S, as in ‘sense,’ of which this post probably makes NONE because I have been constantly interrupted by CHILDREN while writing it. YES you can have some chips and NO you can’t play computer games and YES it was just an accident and No I didn’t know there was a song about Cornflakes and YES YOU SHOULD STOP YELLING AT EACH OTHER!!!!!!!!!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Walking to Ethiopia

Saffron and Willa have run away to Ethiopia. I suggested they take some food for the journey, but they refused.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Bored, Nothing to Post

It's official: it has been over a week since I posted. In fact, this is not a real post so the clock is still running. Either I'm really really tired, or I just have nothing to say. Let's look at a few post options I'm considering:

1. If you like me, check this box.

2. "Roses are red, Violets are Blue, I love the Olympics and"
"Valentine's too?"
Not really--used to, but now it's too much work to be Cupid for the kids, make pink rice krispie treats for school, and try to be nice enough to deserve my own Valentine.

"So should you?"
Of course you should, and I'm sure you already know that by now. As my friend Brooker said, park yourself. For 17 days. Don't let anyone beg you to do otherwise. The winter games only come every 4 years. Right now I'm watching the opening ceremony on tivo and the real red people are skiing straight down out of the ski. Cool. That's all I'm saying.

"Corn Pops too?"
OK, TMI about what I just ate. (Two bowls.)

3. When in doubt, give a boring, straightforward picture of your current situation:

As we are all parked on the couch in front of said Olympic ceremonies and red skiiers,

Saffron is braiding Willa's hair as Willa cries and Saffron says things like, "Willa, no hurt. Willa, mom said finish braid or bed, right Mom?" and gives a running commentary on the Olympics with details like "I don't understand, it's Canada? US? I no know. OH! Black change! And necklace. First, and necklace? Oh my goodness! It's computer, what? That is very cool."

Steve is holding Ruby, who is holding the dog, and who is giving her own commentary: "That's amazing! Oh, I can see that they're really on wheels but it looks like skates. I can do that."

Jasper, having been forced to join us for this family bonding, is watching his iPod. Of course, his mom is on the computer so what can I say. GRRROOOOSSSSSSS!!!! That's what I can say--Saffron just brought a huge pile of hair full of scabs, which she pulled out of Willa's head. TMI?

Saturday, February 06, 2010

"How to Raise an Inclusive Child," Or, Who Will Sit By Saffron the Lonely Girl?

Sometimes growing up with my mom was a real drag. She had pretty high expectations for her girls (four of us, no brothers), and I was reminded of them exactly 29 gazillion times a week. These were the kind of ridiculous things she expected of us:

Be a giver, not a taker.

Be a doer, not a whiner.

Let it out, or let it go.

Look for the fault in yourself first.

(“If one finger is pointing at your friend, three are pointing back at you.”)

And always—always—be an includer.

Let me tell you that it is simply no fun at all to come down the stairs with a long list of completely valid complaints about your sister, which you have very clearly been indicating to her through your huffing and puffing around only to have your mom say,

Well, did you tell her you’re mad at her? Did you tell her why?

“Of course not! I’m not speaking to her. What do you expect me to say—‘I am mad at you because . . .?!’”

Yep. If you don’t tell her you’re mad at her, and give her a chance to fix it, then you have no right to go on being mad.

RRRGGGGGG! I hated that. “Mom, you are so—RRRRGGG.”

And it is really supremely stinky when you come home from school wounded to the point of spilling emotional blood by a supposed ‘best’ friend, when you did absolutely nothing to deserve it. You get a word of sympathy and then, before you can even stick out your bottom lip and enjoy it, here it comes . . .

“Do you think you might have done something to make her feel bad? People don’t usually get mad for no reason. It takes two to tango.”

Tango Schmango. “Mom, you are so—RRRGGGGGG!”

And the final insult, the message that seemed to be my mom’s credo:

The more the merrier.

You can find something to like about everyone.

Some people are happy as long as their kid has one friend. Well, it’s not enough just to know you have a friend. I expect my girls to look around and see who needs a friend. Who is sitting alone in the lunchroom? Who is being left out? If you sit by and watch it happen, you’re just as guilty as the ones doing the excluding.

“OKKKKKK, Mom! Leave me alone! Why does it always have to be me? Why do I always have to be the one reaching out? You KNOW that’s why I end up having all the weird loner boys like me.”

Seriously, my mom really put a damper on my childhood. Just when I would be enjoying myself with my friends, I would think “Uh oh, why is that girl sitting over by herself?” And when I passed that totally gross Derek kid in the hall, I would suddenly hear my mom’s voice in my head droning, “You can find something to like about everyone—even him.”


These days my friend Belinda, with whom I love to throw parties, likes to joke that if we just want our fun friends to come, she should do the inviting. If I do it, she laughs, we’ll have to invite everyone or else feel guilty about it.

I didn’t always live up to my mom’s expectations, and still don’t. But I find I want to. Some of my most positive young experiences came when I saw that with a tiny effort I could lift somebody’s spirits—it bounced back and lifted mine. And some of my best friendships have developed with people I first sought out grudgingly. I start out thinking I have something to offer them, and they end up returning the favor tenfold.

Now, just like all moms, I find myself saying the very same things to my kids that my mom said to me. Some things I repeat out of habit, because I’m exhausted and the words leak out from somewhere deep in my brain, without thought. But these expectations I repeat on purpose.

Now that I’ve lived through some good and bad in life, and see my kids doing the same, I want so much for them to be the doers, the givers, the includers. I know they are sick to death of hearing it from me, and I know they don’t always do it. But I hope at some point, my thoroughly annoying voice begins to ring true in their heads. The best news I’ve received in weeks was when a parent told me he liked having Jasper over to play with his son, because Jasper was one of the few who included the little brother.

So you see why it’s hard for me to hear that Saffron is eating lunch alone—this time I can’t tell my kid to go over and sit by her. I’ve already told her over and over to go join another table, or ask someone to be with her, and she’s tried—a little. But there’s only so much she can do. Her English is only so good. She’s already lightyears out of her comfort zone. She’s scared. So now I’m hoping for those other kids, whose parents are also ruining their childhoods, to notice, and roll their eyes, and say to themselves, “Fine, Mom! I’ll go sit by the lonely girl.”

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Traditional Remedies: Mom and Saffron Square Off


Problem: Saffron is screaming in her room, because she got sent to bed (it's bedtime anyway), because she got mad at Mom for not buying her dinner at Wendy's, even though the reason she wasn't at Wendy's with the family was that she was eating dinner at a friend's house. Willa is screaming in the bath because Mom is combing her hair out while the conditioner's in it, because that's the only way to get the snarls out, and because Willa screams whenever anyone touches her hair. Ruby and Jasper are yelling from the kitchen for help finishing their homework because they're tired and want to go to bed.

Mom's Solution: Drag screaming Saffron from the bedroom into the bathroom so she can comb screaming Willa's hair, so they can scream together and Mom can go get the dang homework finished and get all the vocal chords in bed.


Problem: Willa's perpetual stomach aches, even after giardia treatment (which had been Mom and the doctor's solution).

Saffron's Solution: Follow Ethiopia Dad's treatment regimen: First dig your thumbs into Willa's tummy really hard until it hurts. Then massage the tummy with thumbs. Then tie a scarf as tight as possible around the tummy right where it hurts, and use scarf and Willa's ankles to hold her upside down. Run around with her upside down like this for 10 minutes. Put her down and the tummy will supposedly feel better. (Haven't tried it yet.)

Problem: Willa's ever-present head sores, which she's apparently had on-and-off her whole life, which ooze and bleed, and which confound the dermatologist.

Saffron's Solution: Follow the Orphanage's treatment regimen: First put some unknown red medicine all over Willa's head, put gloves on, dig your fingers in and scrub her head so hard all the scabs break and bleed (and, presumably, she screams bloody murder). Then, braid her hair in large braids: leave for one day. Then, take braids out and blow all over her scalp. Then rub oil all over it. Sores should be cured.
(Haven't tried it yet--still plugging away with the derm's medicine, and seriously considering cutting the hair.)

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

In Other News . . .

After a couple of serious posts--dun dun dunnnnn--I couldn't resist posting this very serious and profound video clip. It's an old favorite that brings me to tears every time. Pay close attention . . .

For a higher quality view of the same video, visit this previous post.

Emily, this post is brought to you by the letters D and C. D is for 'Dis!', which Willa exclaims as she points out that in this video that Ruby suddenly has some new, larger body parts. C is for Cheesy, because Jasper's cheesy grin was born for Disco.

"Dis America dance?" Willa asks in wide-eyed admiration.

Adoption in Haiti and Little Brother

There’s a delicate issue that gets to the heart of the situation Haiti faces with its children. I think about it in terms of Little Brother:

I wrote a couple days ago about Little Brother, Willa and Saffron's brother who remains in Ethiopia with their father. (In answer to questions, Yes, we do know his name but I don't feel I can share it online, as he is not mine.) Thinking of Little Brother helps me keep in perspective the plight of many children in Haiti.

Of course, we are sad that the girls are separated from both Big Brother and Little Brother. We worry less about Big Brother, because he has long since lived with their kind auntie, and been able to go to school. He is almost a man, in Ethiopian terms. But in our many conversations with the girls about Little Brother, I have thought of whether it would be possible for us to have him in our family. Now that the girls see there is enough room in the house, they'd like to call "Red Rover" to their dad and have Little Brother sent right over to America. To them it seems simple.

But it's not simple. I did leave word with the orphanage that we would be interested in either brother if they were ever placed for adoption, and most orphanages give families with other biological siblings the first chance to take new siblings. But it is illegal for us to contact the girls' father and ask him for Little Brother. And it absolutely should be illegal.

First, if we asked if Ethiopia Dad would like to send LB to America to live with us, almost surely he would say yes. Few parents in a third world country wouldn't. He knows we could provide opportunities and security for his child that he cannot. But that does not mean it is fair ever to ask the question. It doesn't mean that America is best for LB.

We know LB has a living father who loves him. We know he has a vocation (caring for cattle) that he enjoys and is proud of. We know Wicked Stepmother always treated LB better than the girls. And if the dire situation did, indeed, improve after the girls left, as Ethiopia Dad hoped, then it may be that Little Brother is now experiencing a happy Ethiopian childhood. It is true that he doesn't go to school. It is true that his father is old, and his mother is dead. It is true that his family is extremely poor. But these are not reasons to strip him away from his family, or his culture.

I fell in love with Ethiopia in my two weeks there. I saw the overwhelming pride its people take in their ancient heritage, their flowing green hills, and their diverse and rich tribal cultures. I saw an openness and love and generosity from which we Americans could take a lesson. I felt and still feel sad in the knowledge that our girls will lose most of this heritage. I'm grateful for the sacrifice they've made to join our family. I have no doubt their situation was bad and it was right for them to come here. But I also understand why international adoption is the choice of last resort for countries. I understand why Haiti must be so very careful. Children are a country's greatest resource. Two beautiful, talented and smart Ethiopian girls have joined our family because they were in a terrible situation. They will no longer grow up to contribute to Ethiopia, but will instead contribute to the United States.

If children are not in dire straits--if they are only poor, with limited resources, but have parents or relatives who love them and a country who needs and will cherish them, they shouldn’t leave their homelands. To pillage a hurting country like Haiti of its children in a time of crisis would be akin to stealing a nation's natural resources, their oil or their minerals, while they're down. The world stopped condoning that practice a long time ago.

There will be tens of thousands of children in Haiti for whom no family or resources will be found. The limping nation will not be able to absorb them, and it will need the citizens of other nations to adopt these children. But only slowly, and carefully, after every effort has been made to verify their situations.

I would love to have Little Brother join my family. We wanted a boy, and sometimes I wonder if he is the long lost brother we seek. If his father dies, or decides to take him to Toukoul Orphanage for some reason, we will be waiting with open arms. But we recognize the sacrifice he and his nation would make to let him become an American boy. We would not want either to make that sacrifice unless his opportunities of thriving in his original, marvelous, ancient, Ethiopian and Amhara (tribal) heritage had been exhausted.

In international adoption, a birth country reluctantly gives up its most valuable and precious resource. It gives up future mothers, fathers, wage earners, indigenous language speakers, and cultural flag bearers. In return, its load is lightened and it is, we hope, rendered better able to care for the rest of its citizens. But its sacrifice is great, and it must never be undertaken lightly.

Thank you, Majestic Ethiopia, for giving me two of your gems. Thank you, girls, and Ethiopia Dad, and Little Brother, and Big Brother, and Kind Auntie, for trusting me, a stranger in an incomprehensibly foreign world, with your most precious possessions.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Haiti and Adoption

As the world turns its heart to Haiti's horrible plight, much attention has turned to international adoption.  This is mostly good, as any attention opens a door for more people throughout the world to consider international adoption.  However, much of the media coverage and resulting discussion by people around me and on the web has made me cringe.  I must address a couple of the things I've heard.

First, for today:  It is completely UNTRUE that Haiti bars LDS families from adopting its children.  

This is the policy of one adoption agency, only concerning their Haiti program and most likely based on the religious policies of the particular orphanage with which the agency affiliates in Haiti.  This idea has been spread around the web as some kind of regulatory truth.  It is FALSE.  One of the many misunderstandings about international adoption is that all agencies have the same policies about each country.  This is not true:  as long as they are within the policies set by the US State Department and that country for international adoption, they can add some of their own specific policies.  For example, many agencies will add that families can only adopt children younger than their youngest child in the home, because they believe it is best not to disrupt birth order.  Other agencies will limit the number of previous children a family may have, even if the country doesn't limit it.  

Also, in most countries each agency must partner with an individual orphanage system, or sponsor its own. These orphanages are mostly privately run, and can institute their own policies about how their orphans can be placed--again, within the bounds of government regulation.  

It is also completely UNTRUE that the LDS church has any policy which demeans people of color.  On the contrary:  the church and its scriptures preach love and equality for all, including women and people of color--take it from a strong LDS woman who has experienced full support in adopting interracially.  As many American institutions in the 1960's, the LDS church did once have a policy that restricted members of color from holding certain positions.  Church leaders ended this policy in 1978, immediately and completely.  In the 30 years since, the LDS church has grown throughout the world, including millions of members in South and Central America, Africa, and the Pacific Islands  People of color in those nations and in the US leadership can and do hold the highest and most sacred positions.  There are now more LDS church members outside the US than inside the US--mostly in multiracial countries.  In fact, I imagine the LDS church has more non-white members than many of the churches who regularly attack it.

Click this link for Haiti's official adoption requirements, as published by the US State Department.