A friend alerted me to this fabulous Sesame Street video. You may have already heard the buzz: this little muppet singing about how she "loves her hair" is a sensation. All three of my girls absolutely love the song, and the message. And take it from me: it's a needed message.
This evening our little Charles would have turned 3. Three years on, the thing that probably surprises me most is how much the kids still talk about him. Just today at Jasper's football game Ruby said, "Mom, see the way that little girl is climbing all over her big brother on the ground? Do you think if Charles were alive he would be climbing on me like that right now?" I don't remember that my sisters or I talked quite as often about our sister, Kathryn, who died as a baby. Maybe it's because she came before all of us, so we didn't experience her death.
This feels like the first time we're truly experiencing what it will be like to have his birthday come and go every year in our busy lives. The first year his birthday meant a lot of other things besides a birthday--we had survived one year since that horrible day of our baby's death. I had anticipated the anniversary with fear, but then realized the anticipation was worse than the actual day. I thought of him on my own, and didn't need a certain day to remind me. My friend Charlotte, whose son Mason had just died a few months earlier, came over and helped me make a birthday cake for Charles. She was the perfect person to spend that day with.
That first birthday passed with little acknowledgement from friends and family and that hurt a bit, but only because I had been so afraid all along that people would forget Charles' existence. It sounds irrational, but that was a tremendous fear of mine while I was pregnant--I felt defensive of him, and how little his life might matter to people when it was over in the blink of an eye. That's why I made a point of letting people stream in to the delivery room and hold him right after he was born. I desperately wanted him all to myself for those short minutes--but I also wanted others to feel him. To love him as I did. So I tried to give him to them. It was really, really hard.
And now I'm crying. I'm quite surprised. I haven't cried about Charles in a long time: probably almost two years. I realized early after his death that there were two parts to my grieving process. There was the sadness over the son I would never know, and there was the trauma of what I had been through, anticipating a child's death, pushing him out to face it, and then holding him in my arms--powerless--as it happened.
After the first year, I felt my strongest feelings about the experience came from the trauma, not the loss. I felt peaceful about having Charles again someday, and about enjoying the children living at my feet. But it was still hard to think about that day, and that time in my life, and that time in my children's lives.
His second birthday we spent in Ethiopia, in the midst of our fingerprint troubles. And though we thought of him, the trauma felt pretty far removed, and the loss felt about-to-be-filled by the girls. I felt Charles' approval and happiness for us.
But today I've felt the loss. Now that we're settled in as a new family, and a mainly girl family even though I've actually birthed more boys than girls, I've felt the loss of my little boy. Today I've felt frustrated for the lack of a little three-year-old brother climbing on the girls, and running out on the football field after Jasper in his football gear. That would have been sensational. I can't say I miss you, Charles, because I don't really know you. But I can say--I can really, really say--that I wish you were here. I wish you were here.
Phew. I'm embarrassed to admit to being that emotional about this. But it's good to get that out. It's great, though, to remember that most of the time I don't feel sad about it at all. How marvelous that life, and joy, go on.
Thanks to those of you who remembered Charles today, and sent us messages. I really appreciate it--again, from that place inside that still fears sometimes that people forget he was born. But also to those who didn't (lest I get phone calls), don't worry about it! I've realized since that first year that just because people don't mark a specific day doesn't meant they don't think about or remember you. In fact, I myself am not good at marking specific days or places. I don't go to Charles' grave often, and we didn't do anything special today, because we've learned that we're just not special-place or special-day people: we think about Charles when we want to think about him, and visit him wherever we want to visit him.
Since I don't have any video to post of a Charles birthday party, here's a little video from a party I threw for the kids last week, to celebrate one year together as a new family.
Ethiopia Dad just called, out of the blue, to tell us he has sent a letter with family photos in it. We hurriedly woke the girls up to talk to him. Saffron cried in frustration because her native tongue would no longer come to her lips. She could understand much of what he said, but couldn't answer back at all, except the equivalent of "How are you?/I'm fine."
Willa can't understand or speak a word of Amharic. I had to prompt them with what little Amharic I know, and ended up talking to him myself, at least getting across that S is an amazing soccer player and W loves to dance.
Little Brother said "Selam." He sounds much older. Months ago, when we first called, he cried like a small child.
Recently I asked Saffron how often she thinks about her dad and especially brothers, and how often she misses them. "In the morning," she said. "And at school. And at night."
I have to remind myself that Ethiopia Dad relinquished the girls to an orphanage almost a year before the orphanage gave them to me. I'll never quite understand why. I didn't take them from their home--I gave them one when they had already lost theirs. But I'm not naive about the pain they will continue to go through. Contrary to what many people think, for me there is no jealousy. I am so grateful he loves them and they love him. Why would I begrudge my children the love of their first family?
When we first had the girls and many people said, "Oh, I've heard learning to do the hair is the hardest part!" I thought--"Are you kidding me?! I'll take hair over behavoral psychology!" But, it's true that there's quite a learning curve for Caucasians to learn the secrets of beautiful African hair. I love my girls hair, and have enjoyed learning to take care of it. The African American community has been absolutely wonderful in helping educate me. I completely disagree with white moms who say they don't feel welcome in African American salons. I have gone in admitting I needed help, and have been treated very well at a couple of different salons. I'd love to help dispel this myth that White mothers are resented. Yes, I know there are some groups in the African American community who do not support children of African descent being adopted into White families. But my personal experience has been great. I have been treated like a mom, by moms.
I am NOT a hair person, but between me and Saffron we've figured out some cute hairstyles. I do the designing and parting, and we take turns at the braiding. This style, below, I love because it evokes the look of an African hair wrap swirling around the head. Her bangs are created with twists shown me by a woman at Disneyworld. They relax after that first day and look really adorable. They can be left in for about two weeks. Don't worry that she looks sad--she's just exhausted because it took four hours and was midnight when we finished.
Saffron's Wrap Hairstyle:
This style, Willa's fauxhawk, actually came about because Willa was bawling and refused to have any more braids. Saffron was braiding her hair, and always starts with a few braids on each side. So, we ended up with a Grace Jones-esque fauxhawk which we thought was actually very cute. She wanted me to leave the braids and cut the top, but I didn't think that was too great of an idea.
Oops--just found this photo post that never got posted. Saffron's beautiful dress was ordered online from a charming woman at Ethiopia Design in California. She rushed it for us because it was for Saffron's baptism (last June), and even included some Amharic words to remind Saffron how to say them. Willa's dress is one of the ones we bought for the girls at the Leprosy Hospital in Addis Ababa. Interestingly, the girls hated and wouldn't wear their Ethiopian dresses the first few months in America. But now they actually choose them for church many Sundays, even over their foofy American dresses.
Tomorrow we are headed on an RV trip to Zions National Park with Steve's parents. They have enjoyed getting to know the girls and, in honor of their efforts at being "new" grandparents again this year, I thought I'd post this guest post. This was written by Steve's dad, Grandpa Karl, about his experience with the girls this summer at their first baseball game. They were glued to him through the whole, long game. (I SO appreciated not having them glued to me. I am a HUGE baseball fan and I like to watch every pitch.) Here is his report:
(As Emily watched me talking with Saffron, Ruby and Willa last night, she asked me to be a “Guest Blogger” for SwensenSays. So here’s my story of our family get together.)
It was a perfect evening for a baseball game. Because we knew that Steve and his family loved baseball, Virginia and I wanted to take them to a Salt Lake Bees game.
We had perfect seats for the game. We stretched along the first row of the balcony right behind home plate. We could see everything. The seats were in the shade and the temperature was perfect.
Both teams scored in the first couple of innings. The score was tied – three to three. Then we waited through a long six-inning drought.
I asked Saffron and Willa what they knew about baseball. My first question was: How many teams are out on the field playing baseball? With an apprehensive tone, Saffron answered, “Five?”
“No, there are only two teams playing tonight,” I confidently responded. “Our team, the Salt Lake Bees, is wearing black shirts and the other team, the New Orleans Zephyrs is wearing blue.”
I could tell I was in good company to explain baseball action. Saffron and Willa knew little if anything about the game. After a few more questions and the girls providing me with guesses, I decided to just explain what happens in the game as it progressed.
I enjoyed having the opportunity of telling the girls about the events occurring on the field. And I was pleased that they thought I was so knowledgeable! I believe they thought Grandpa Swensen knew everything.
I didn’t know that the game would drag on and on for six more innings without a run. There were several hits and a couple of times men were left on base as the teams finished their innings. But the score remained tied.
It was enjoyable to sit with Saffron and Willa. We ate M&Ms like we’d never seen candy before. Ruby occasionally would reach over for some candy when it seemed her parent’s bag was full of grown-up hands. I reminded Saffron and Willa that I remember when they said they didn’t like candy (last Christmas time when they came to our home to make ginger bread houses and decorate them with frosting and candy.) Saffron smiled as if to say, I’ve changed my tastes and I like candy, now.
I suppose Willa got tired of my questions and my not answering her “Why” questions after I would explain what had just happened. She moved to the other end of the row and sat next to Virginia. Today, Virginia told me that Willa asked “Why” after almost everything Virginia told her about the game or any other topic.
The game was tied when we went into the tenth inning. The New Orleans Zephyrs scored two runs. When the Bees came to bat in the bottom of the tenth inning, it appeared the Bees had lost the game. People were leaving but the Swensen family continued to watch.
Two players walked to first. A couple of fly balls were caught. One out, then another. Then Luis Figueroa, a light hitter, came to the plate. With two strikes against him, he connected with a fast ball which skyrocketed out of the park. The crowd went wild with enthusiastic cheering. It was loud and Saffron, Ruby and Willa were asking what happened as the crowd continued to cheer. Figueroa’s home run brought in the two runners who had been walked with the final score now, six to five. The Bees won the game! The coach was quoted in the newspaper this morning, saying, “It was almost divine.”
Monday night was terrific! It was a perfect evening to attend a baseball game and a perfect ending of the game. Together we walked slowly toward our cars not wanting the event and family activity to be finished.
We missed Jasper, but he told Steve on the phone that he had a great time at his first football practice. He said he enjoyed learning about and practicing tackling. Perhaps our next outing could be to a football game.
Jasper and Ruby and Saffron are having a giggle-fest in the kitchen. Saffron has learned to love our teasing ways, and laughs her head off when teased (nice teasing, of course). She's fun to tease, because she's still not sure when it's teasing and when it's truth, or quite how to tease successfully herself.
Just now we were talking about diapers for some reason, and whether we had any. I said, "Well, there are those ones left over from when you first came. I thought you and Willa were babies, so the first couple of weeks I put you in diapers and rocked you in the cradle. But then we noticed you were a little big for a baby. You weren't fitting very well in the baby clothes, and you seemed to be trying to talk to us."
"You also seemed a little too smart for a baby," Jasper added.
Saffron looked at me quizzically at first, searching her memory and asking me if we really did this when she first came. When I grinned she burst into giggles and said. "No you did not! I don't remember that!"
Then amid her giggles, clearly with diapers on the brain, she started telling us a story about her first experience with a western-style toilet. I was about to try to write it the way she said it, but then I thought why not just film it? So here goes: