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Sunday, December 28, 2014

Never, Ever, Ever Say Never :)

A little over 16 months ago, I wrote a blog post about the journey that led my husband and I to adopt our two older girls- now ages 11 and 12, home from Ethiopia for 5 months!  Prior to that, my husband and I never thought we would adopt older girls- and we did.  Never say never :)

Today, we're happy to say that we can never, ever, ever say never :)  We have started the wild and crazy adventure that is adoption to expand our family once more.  We have happily accepted the referral of a 12-year old boy who we have known for the past 2 year and are waiting on a referral of a baby girl, 0-2 years of age.  I still sometimes can't believe it- we will be a family of 7 with 5 kiddos in tow- but we truly are oh so excited to have our family together and build so many memories of love and adventure together!!!!

What?!?!  FIVE Kids?  Are you kind of crazy?
Crazy- I think we all are just a bit crazy, so yes :).  And yes, we'll have 5 kids- something I never thought I would say!  With every decision my husband and I make, no decision is made without much thought, research and talk.  This decision has been in the works for TWO years.  Before finally saying "Yes" to adopt 2 more kids, we looked at our finances, life schedule, dreams/goals, family stability, and daily life.  After ensuring that 2 more kids would fit into each and every one of those categories, we knew it was ok to let our brains follow our hearts and say "YES!" once more!

Who are your future kids?
We can't share pictures or too much information yet, but I know they're both amazing :)

S:  Our son is about 12 (so we think).  We met him on the first day we visited Aidan's original orphanage in 2012 and thought he was incredibly sweet (and a killer dancer)!  He knows some English, is bold, hilarious and kind.  Over the past 6 times we've visited the orphanage, he was always there- caring for the younger kids, being as sweet as could be, and pulling at our heart strings.  It was hard to have our girls walk away from their orphanage forever with him behind watching.  You want a scene that can rival any Hollywood drama- that would be it!  We advocated for him for a good year, thinking "there is a family for him out there!"  Of course, at the time, we didn't really consider it was us.  This spring, I started to realize maybe we were his family.  Maybe that's why all other doors were closing highlighting the fact that ours was WIDE open.  Six months of talking- including asking the girls and his friends if he would be a good fit in our family- we finally said "YES!"  Our kids are so excited "S" will be their older brother.  He's drawn on family trees, in family portraits and is part of our daily life already.  The girls lived with "S" for 2 years so they're already essentially siblings.

On a sunny day in February in 2012, the kids' orphanage director asked me take a 2nd picture of the ONLY older kids left waiting at this orphanage- or course it was Meskerem, Mebrate and "S."  It's really amazing to see family pictures of us all going back 2 years.  I have those 3 pictures etched in my mind, knowing now that all 3 are my kids!!!! :)

M: Little Miss. Makeda (Mak for short) will be 0-2 years of age.  We don't know who she is- we haven't seen her picture or know if she's even been born.  If she's anything like the women we've met in Ethiopia though, she'll be beautiful, graceful, witty, intelligent and fierce.  And I'm sure ridiculously cute with a personality that will have my husband wrapped around her finger within seconds!  I don't think he knows what he's in for!

How much longer until you have them home?
We don't know!   With our daughters, it took about a year to bring them home due to changes in the adoption procedures in Ethiopia.  We're thinking the same thing for this adoption.  However- first we have to wait for a referral of a baby girl.  We don't really know how long this will take, but we know our time will come and the perfect little girl is out there for us- so we will wait.  We're thinking we'll have both kids home in about a year and a half.  We won't be able to adopt "S" until Makeda's paperwork is ready to go as well.

As much as we want them home now, we respect the adoption process in Ethiopia and the changes that have been made to help ensure ethical adoptions.  We respect other families waiting before us, too!  As hard as the wait will be, it will give us more time with the girls and Aidan, making our family unit stronger by the day!

Are you still using the same agency?
Yep!  We're using Adoption Avenues again- for the third time.  At this point, there's no other agency we would use!

An older boy?  Really?
This is a topic at first I felt I shouldn't discuss, but then realized I needed to.  There are so many questions, concerns and hesitations about adopting older children- especially boys.  Families worry about the safety of their kids, the impact of the adoptee's history, education, medical history and socioeconomic background and influence.  There are countless questions and concerns- causing many families to say "No" and look to adopt younger children instead.  To be honest, I can't blame them- adopting isn't for everyone.  Adopting older children isn't for everyone.  And I'm a firm believer unless you're 1,000% in it, you shouldn't do it- for you, but especially for that child.  Adoption can be hard and you need to get through the multiple storms!

That said, we had all of the same questions.  With older boys- there are more questions of their backgrounds- how are they in family relationships?  Are they violent?  What about drugs and alcohol?  What about sex?  The list goes on.  We had those questions, but many were quickly silenced because we had met our son multiple times before.  We also deferred to our daughters and his best friend for information.  Going into this, we knew our family of 5 was our priority- Aidan and our girls.  If we brought other children into our family, we wanted to ensure (as much as possible) that it wouldn't be disruptive or harmful to our family.  We promised the government of Ethiopia we would love and provide the best care possible for our kids- and we always want to ensure we do!

After our research, we knew adopting "S" was very feasible and could be very beneficial for our family.  The girls would have a brother their age and he speaks great English.  Plus, his personality and heart would be an amazing addition to any family.  But we needed to research first.

Now, we don't have any concerns.  We know adopting older kids is hard.  We know language will be an issue, as will academics.  We know we will hit walls and deal with things most biological parents don't face.  But that's ok.  We've always thought that just because it is hard for us doesn't mean we shouldn't do it.  What's hard for us can be impossible and unfair to a child- so we're willing to do the hard so that a child has a life full of family, love, laughter, friendship, belonging, confidence and hope.  After having our girls home 5 months, I couldn't agree with this more as the beauty is so much stronger than the hard!

Why a baby girl?
I know many will probably think, "If you're such a proponent of older child adoption, why are you adopting a baby girl?"  The answer is Aidan.  Right now, Aidan is 8, 9 and 10 years younger than his siblings.  He'll be 10 when Meskerem graduates high school.  He'll have 8 years at home essentially as an only child- there's a huge gap in age.  Ron and I both value and appreciate siblings.  We think they teach important life lessons about compromise, getting along with those different than you, relationships and family.  We want Aidan to have a little buddy and a sibling close to his age.  We've known for about a year now we would be adopting another little one, and we're so excited for the opportunity to parent a little girl.

There are beautiful things about adopting younger children that you don't get with older children.  And there are beautiful things about adopting older children that you don't get with younger children.  The experiences are very similar, yet so different.  Both are so special in our lives and I cherish both of the triumphs and struggles.  We've been very blessed to have had the opportunity to experience both, and are even more blessed we will be able to experience both again!

I'll always be a proponent of adoption.  I can never, every fault or criticize a family for adopting a baby and not an older child- both need families, love and support.  I love when families choose the path that is best for them!  I'll always be a strong advocate for older child adoption.  I have learned so much, have been challenged and pushed beyond belief, and have been amazed at the process.

Do you think you'll adopt again after this?
Honestly, I don't want to say "No" but I do know we won't be expanding our family any more in the near future.  IF we ever adopted agin, it would be when Aidan and Mak are in middle school/high school- at least- and it would be an older child domestic adoption.  Right now, we're going to be very happy with 5 kids and have no plans for more children in the future.  I think 5 kids in the house will be the limit :)

How is it all going to work?
We don't really know, expcet we know it will!  Ron and I will both work.  We'll use daycare and maybe a nanny in the summer.  We'll be busy, active, loud and moving at all times- I'm sure!  But I know it does!  We've talked to so many large families through adoption groups and I know it works!



I'll be 31 years old with 5 kids- ages 2, 4, 12, 12 and 13.  My family and I don't fit into any cookie cutter or mold.  We created our own shape in our own way, and it's beautiful and perfect!

As hard as it is to write sometimes, I hope to continue this blog for the next adoption.  We by no means adopt to inspire- we do it because it's what we were called to do.  It's what we want and need to do.  However, if our journey encourages or inspires anyone along the way- then I guess it's an added bonus.  If our journey helps at least one more child find their forever home either through domestic or international adoption- then that's an added bonus.  And if our journey helps to educate others on issues of adoption, the process and adoptive families, then that's an even better bonus!

A Christmas Prayer

On Christmas Eve, my family and I were headed to church in Chiang Mai, Thailand- where we live.  On the way to church, we drove down the main road in town that has "karaoke bars" where women, wearing tight, skimpy clothing, sit outside on bar stools as a means to recruit "business."  Driving by, our daughters (from conservative Ethiopian culture) saw a girl wearing an itty bitty red dress walk outside, and the following conversation occurred:

Daughter: "Mom, why she?  Why she wear?"
Me:  "You saw her?  What was she wearing?"
Daughter:  "Small clothes.  Mom, why?"

Me (thinking, "Ok, how mature are my girls and can they handle this?"  Then thinking, "yes, as females they need to - for the sake of the girl in the red dress, my girls need to hear this"):  "Well, there are many girls who wear small dresses in Thailand and around the world.  They wear those dresses because men pay them to.  Many of those women are very poor, and many have not been to school.  Many have had very hard lives and are actually very good people, just without many options or choices."

My daughters began to nod- they understood.  So I continued.

Me: "The men who pay these girls aren't good.  They don't treat girls as they should.  Many are not nice.  From now on, when you see girls like that, know they are good people with hard lives.  It's the men who look nice and normal and pay for the girls who are actually the bad ones."

My daughters nodded again- they got it.  No more questions...but this wasn't the conversation I wanted to have with my daughters on Christmas Eve.  In fact, this isn't a conversation I ever want to have to have with my daughters- it's a situation as a woman I wish we as humans could change.

I want nothing more than my daughters to grow up to be fierce: intelligent and brave.  I want them to be graceful, kind and loving.  I want them to feel beautiful but NEVER value that in themselves or in others.  I want them to be strong, confident and independent.  I want them to demand others see them for who they really are- not for their race, gender, or looks.  I think deep down this is every mother's wish.

To the girls sitting outside on Christmas Eve (keep in mind Thailand is a Buddhist country), my heart ached.  I'm sure once somewhere, their mothers wanted the same thing for their daughters.  But society failed these girls- we failed.  We didn't provide enough education, equality or opportunity.  We created dark holes that take advantage of such girls and fostered men who are willing to fuel this.

Studies have shown that at least 70% of girls in the sex industry do not "actively" choose that life.  Their lives have led them to it...they are often impoverished, orphaned/abandoned/trafficked, have little education, and come from cultures that do not completely value women or from broken families where love and belonging never fully existed.  Society preys upon these women (and men)- the most vulnerable, and provides an "opportunity" to feel love, belonging or self-worth, even if in the most derogatory way.  Can we blame these men and women?  I know I can't!

As an adoptive mother, this bothers me even more because I know this could have been the path my daughters would have been drawn into if they hadn't been adopted.  I know it potentially is the path their mothers, sisters, aunts, cousins or friends might have been drawn to as well.  As a female, this infuriates me that we, as a society, who theoretically believe men and women are equal, still objectify women.  As a human, this breaks my heart because I know society is failing so many.

On Christmas Eve, I had a realization.  I looked at my husband and I looked at my son.  As a mother, things for me changed.  Yes, I want my girls to be fierce, intelligent, bold, kind, strong, compassionate and brave.  I want the same things for my son.  But something clicked even more- I want my son to respect women- respect them in a way he doesn't view them as objects, bodies, or things to be lusted for.  I want him to respect who they are.

This want for my son goes beyond how he will treat women in relationships.  It will spread to my discussions regarding porn, strip clubs and magazines.  It will be recognizing that each time those are looked at or valued, women are undermined.  I hope to raise a son that can do better than that!

I know some critics will say that so many of these things are "natural."  Porn, strip clubs, prostitution.  I'm by no means prude, and I'm very realistic in this world.  But I also know we as humans are the most intelligent creatures on the planet and have a conscience, the ability to critically think and control our actions.  With those three things combined, I don't think recognizing the need to fully respect women is too difficult to do.

I've always thought girls are pretty special.  We have an extra bit of chromosome that men don't (we have 2 X-chromosomes whereas men have an X and a Y).  I know that little bit of extra chromosome makes us as women all a bit special- which should be recognized and respected- not objectified and preyed upon.

I hope you all join me in raising daughters to recognize their self-worth, and raising sons to value women as people, not objects.

And to the sweet girls sitting outside on Christmas Eve- Merry Christmas!  I said an extra prayer for you that night for strength, courage and understanding of self-worth.  And for the men who may have visited you that night- I prayed for conscience, knowledge and change.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Reflections

It's been awhile since my last update, despite so, soo, soooooo much going on with our adoption.  I wish I could provide updates as things happen and explain the process and all emotions involved as they happen, but I can't.  Especially over the past 6 weeks.  I feel like my heart and mind are finally at a point where I can write and share- I needed time to digest, think and reflect.

As many of you know, Ron, Aidan and I returned to Ethiopia in January to see our girls.  This wasn't a required trip for our adoption, but as we were flying back to the U.S. for Christmas, we decided to make a long layover on the way home to Thailand in Addis Ababa to spend Genna (the Ethiopian Christmas) with our girls and to do our best to trust everything about the adoption.  It will take several posts to get everything out, but keep in mind there are some things right now I can't share- for example, pictures of the girls and us as a family- not until we pass court.  However, there are some things we won't share, such as the girls' histories.  Those are incredibly personal, tough and raw- and things we don't have the right to share- our girls do.  As such, we'll be letting them share their whole story when the time comes, if it ever does.  Until then, we appreciate everyone's understanding of that aspect of adoption and the privacy needed for the sake of our girls.

So how can I describe our trip?  Amazing?  Fantastic?  UNBELIEVABLE?  Love?  Excitement?  Tough?  Frustrating?  Hard?  Scary?  How about all of the above?  All of those emotions were involved at almost any given moment, but I have to say- the most prevalent emotions- the ones we all felt the most were LOVE and HOPE!

This was our third trip to Ethiopia, and although we were there for the shortest amount of time, it was the most difficult trip.  The first trip- our court trip for Aidan last Christmas and when we traveled around Ethiopia for 2 weeks, was amazing.  That trip was sheer amazement at the country of Ethiopia, her people and her cultures.  I fell in love and saw beauty.  The second trip- the trip we traveled to pick-up Aidan, I felt excitement and overwhelming love- this was my son's country and I had my son.  But it also was bittersweet in that I saw the aspects of Ethiopia that led to orphans, as I was holding a child, whose life was dictated by these events and circumstances, in my arms, forever. 

This past trip was different.  I felt love, so much love.  But I also saw the parts of Ethiopia (or any developing country) that really tears at one's soul and makes you ask, "WHY!?!??!?"  It's not like I never noticed these things before- I did, it's just they really stood out for me this time.  Keep in mind, I have traveled extensively throughout the developing world, and live in Thailand- a developing country.  Poverty, disease, hunger, thirst, etc...those are not new to me.  In fact, seeing some of those things are part of my daily life.  I guess at times I may forget what they truly are...and maybe that's why parts of this trip were so tough- my eyes were FLUNG open again, as well as my heart. 

I don't want to lecture, or sound anti-American.  I love the U.S. of A. and am beyond proud and grateful I'm an American.  I'm grateful for my education, my freedoms, my health, my choices and my living situation- almost all of which I can attribute to being from America.  But man, things are night and day between the U.S. and other parts of this world.

When we arrived back in the States from Thailand, Costco and Kroger were culture shocks...It took awhile for the vast amount of EVERYTHING to sink in...we have access to EVERYTHING and ANYTHING, and take advantage of it all- and want it as cheap and perfect as possible.  We complain about our healthcare, our water quality, etc.  Heck, so many Americans don't even drink the potable water from the faucet by choice- they choose bottled water instead because it tastes better.  We have access to every kind of food imaginable.  So much so that we can choose to go on crazy diets by choice to loose weight or for perceived health benefits (I'm not talking about food allergies here) Adkins, gluten-free, etc.  It kills me that people in America can actually make the choice to do these things when well over 1/2 of the world's population is struggling to even consume enough energy a day to survive- never mind you what kind of nutrient value is involved, the source of the food, how "organic" it is, or how it was processed.  Most people in this world still want food- and water, no matter where it comes from, or how it tastes.  I'm still amazed that people in the West are dying of diseases from eating too much whereas people in the developing world are still dying from eating too little- ok, I know...rambling rant!

So imagine how we felt when we landed in Ethiopia- where Thialand looks like a developed country in comparison.  Imagine how we feel when the kids at our girls' orphanage wanted us to bring fruit for their Genna treat- not soda, not candy, not cookies- as they don't have the luxury of eating a lot of fruit due to the cost, variety available and variety?  Imagine how we felt when we saw every child eating EVERY. LAST. PIECE. OF. FOOD. on their plate because they don't know if, or when the next meal will be coming?  Culture shock galore.

And it hit me.  This is the life my girls know.  This is where they come from, and this is what they had to endure.  Hunger, thirst, abuse, abandonment, loss, death, neglect, disease, poverty, fear...the list goes one.  I'm pretty sure most of my fellow moms in the West reading this don't identify any one of those items with their children.  Sadly, for us, all of those terms fit our children in one way or another.  I'm not saying that for pity or sympathy.  I'm saying it because it's real.  It's the "real world" as I'm beginning to see, and it's closer to my heart than I ever thought I would know.

While in Ethiopia, we learned the whole story of our girls' paths.  I cried, they cried- heck, we all cried.  I tried being strong, but I was crumbling.  To be honest, I still am...and I'm still trying to put the pieces together.  I'm getting better, but I'm not sure if I'll ever be back to the way I was- not after hearing certain things about my daughters- I don't know how anyone can be.  I'm still building, and still processing.  And I can only imagine how our girls feel- and I can't even imagine how they cope.

Despite all I saw, heard and felt over the 6 days in Ethiopia- despite all of the pain, hunger, poverty, lack of opportunity, excessive need and pain- something prevailed...HOPE!  Hope was everywhere- in the smiles of the children, in the eyes of women carrying wood for fuel on their backs, and in our girls' giggles and squeals while playing soccer as a family.  And that gives me hope.  I have immense hope that despite everything our girls' have experienced, we can mold ourselves together as a family and live out our girls' Cinderella stories.  I have immense hope that despite all of the need, things are improving, and things can get better.  And I have hope in myself- hope that I can strive to find and focus on the important things in life- family, friends, those in need, and my health- not the petty things that consumes me daily.  And I have hope that I won't take as many things for granted...that's my New Year's Resolution- to be happier with what I have.  After all, I have more than one could ever want, let alone ever need.

I know in the U.S., we have plenty to complain about- our educational system, health care, taxes, etc (you know, "First World Problems" :)  ).  But there's BEYOND enough to be grateful for.  After reading this, I hope you take one minute and look around- look at all that there is that we can be truly grateful for- I can guarantee you it's more than most could ever imagine.  And then I ask that you have hope.  Hope that things can improve for the better, and that tomorrow will be better than today.  After all, if my girls can maintain hope, I'm pretty sure that most of us can! :)