Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Thing of Beauty is a Joy Forever

A couple of months ago, a researcher from a local hospital came to talk to our seniors about aging, dementia, and Alzheimers. We had the rare luxury of a translator, and so the conversation veered all sorts of directions. Our seniors talked a lot about their needs, from reliable health care to employment. The number one issue they all agreed on was that they don't want hand-outs; they want to be productive and to contribute in some way to society. They want to give. They want to feel that they making their world better, not just coasting through their old age getting handouts from others. I cried several times in the conversation.

I love these people and want the same for them.
One of our seniors feels especially strong about wanting to be helpful. He stays late to clean up after every class. He won't let me or any of the teachers lift a finger to do anything. He delegates tasks to his friends in the class. He could probably run the program if anything happened to me. Every time he sees Abe, he slips him a dollar bill in his pocket. He never leaves for the day without asking if there is anything else that needs to be done.

This senior is an especially wonderful artist. His work is full of subdued color and rhythm. The man's name means "peaceful." The same is true of his art, so it was no surprise to us when a mother on the east coast bought through the etsy shop three of his pieces to hang in her 18-month-old son's nursery. She asked for a photo of the artist with the pieces she bought. I obliged her, asking if in return, she would send me a photo of her son with the art. I want to show the artist. I want him to see that he is making his world better. I want him to see that his artwork is bringing an authentic piece of Ethiopia to an Ethiopian adoptee's world. This is beauty.

The peaceful worker bee takes a much-deserved break to have some yogurt.

Last week, we got to take our seniors to see their art on display. It was an incredible moment to watch the faces of these artists see for the first time their art hung in frames in a public space. I couldn't stop smiling as I walked among these seniors, watching them 'behold' their creativity on display. I felt, once again, immeasurably proud to be a part of this beautiful community of African seniors.

Our seniors checking out their art on display

Not too long ago, this beautiful lady couldn't write her name; now she proudly autographs every work of art she creates.

Reading his bio, the creator of the popular "Ethiopian Wildflowers."

Their art continues to be on display through the month of November (we'd originally been told through October, but I think the owner is digging the happy vibes this art brings to his shop). You can visit it at YoChoice Yogurt on Northeast 50th Avenue and Fremont Street. You can also buy prints of the art online at

An Eritrean, a Somali, and a tiny Ethiopian enjoying some rare Portland sunshine at YoChoice.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Sweet Sickness

When the rain started in Portland last week, so did the snot. Abe got it first, with a hacking cough that lasted a week. We made sure the humidifier was plugged in and on every night. Vicks vapor-rub on his chest. He got better. For maybe twelve hours, all of us were well.

All weekend, Ted and I were sick. Ted kept working while I stayed home, foggy-brained from cold meds, bemoaning the distance between us and my mom or sister, both of whom would have taken Abe for me while I was sick. I sucked it up (literally. sometimes blowing it out too) and took the well-child to a movie. Then we made rice krispy treats. Then he watched another movie at home. He got a little spoiled because I didn't feel good.

Monday morning, I'm feeling a little more normal, and he wakes up sick again. The crud has moved north into his head, rivers of snot flowing. We use the bulb syringe the way we did when he was a baby. He never cried then. Now it's torture.

I carry him up to his bed, and he wants me to lay down with him. I do. We talk about the apple crisp we're going to make when he wakes up, which leads to many questions about Martha Stewart, who she is, who has met her, where she lives. He asks if we can pray. I say, "Okay. So thank you God for today, the sunshine, for Martha Stewart, and apples from our neighbor, and ... what are you thankful for, Abe?"


Being mom to this little boy is my most favorite thing I've ever done.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Tell Me This (part 1)

Check out the little guy featured in this video, made by the very talented journalist/writer/photographer/blogger/film-maker Casey Parks. Be sure to read this short piece, one of my favorites.

Questions: Who did you want to be when you grew up? from Casey Parks on Vimeo.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Our Own Rooney

Calling My Children Home

This lady last night posted on fb a song by Emmylou Harris. I'd just sat down with a glass and wine and hulu, hoping to unwind at the end of a long day. Instead, I ended up snotty and teary, so I called her a nasty name in thanks for ruining my down time.

Those lives were mine to love and cherish.
To guard and guide along life's way.
Oh God forbid that one should perish.
That one alas should go astray.

Back in the years with all together,
Around the place we'd romp and play.
So lonely now and oft' times wonder,
Oh will they come back home some day.

I'm lonesome for my precious children,
They live so far away.
Oh may they hear my calling...calling..
and come back home some day.

I gave my all for my dear children,
Their problems still with love I share,
I'd brave life's storm, defy the tempest
To bring them home from anywhere.

I lived my life my love I gave them,
to guide them through this world of strife,
I hope and pray we'll live together,
In that great glad here after life.

I'm lonesome for my precious children,
They live so far away.
Oh may they hear my calling...calling.. and come back home some day.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

"Sweet Little Black Boy," part 3: Snark

I appreciate snark. One of my favorite friends in Los Angeles wrote a book with the word "snarky" in the title. My experience with those people who have been blessed with snark is that they are also deeply compassionate people, which I found true with the two snarkiest responses I got to our "Sweet Little Black Boy" experience.

1. "I think I would have said something like 'Oh your son is the cutest little white boy!' Nice like, with a smile." (Kristine, who I got the privilege of spending time with last year during our dreamy month in New York. The thoughts she shared with me one day over a long lunch in Hell's Kitchen rocked my world. I love this woman).

2. On the phone tonight with a new friend, an artistic and wet-your-pants funny woman with the two cutest little white kids you've ever laid eyes on, had this response to the lady in the park, "I would have said, 'Well, we are hoping he grows up to be the ambassador of his race'."

If only my brain worked so quickly...

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Something to Read: "Blissfully Unaware"

In light of the conversation going on this week (and really, it is a conversation: if you haven't already, I recommend taking time to read all the comments on my last two posts), please read this post.

Also, in case you missed the comments section, here is one that stood out. I always listen extra close to adult adoptees. Thank you for your thoughts Kimberly. If I had a way to thank you privately, I would, so instead, here it is on my blog: thank you.

I grew up in a transracial adoptive family and I hated being called "the pretty black girl" it was meant as a compliment but it bothered, and no one understood how a "compliment" could hurt my feelings.
As one who has been the only black child in the school/neighborhood/etc I would say watch your son for signs not just acting out but different behavior. I sometimes felt like I had to be good all the time because people thought black people were bad I had to be good so they could see that I was "different, good, not like those others. It was exhausting and I put up with a lot of nonsense that I probably shouldn't have.
Parents take care of children but remember that children also take of parents. I told my parents, especially my Mom what she wanted to hear because I didn't want to get her upset.
Anyway I just wanted to add my two cents, I hope everything works out fine."

Monday, October 18, 2010

"Sweet Little Black Boy," part 2

At work this morning, I asked a favorite coworker if I could tell her about what happened in the park this weekend. I relayed the story in a "just the facts, ma'am" style so that I could see her honest response. She is African, as is nearly everyone else at this office.

When I got to the "sweet little black boy" line, she sighed and rolled her eyes, exasperated. Apparently she's familiar with the experience.

We had an amazing conversation about it. She told me about a few incidences her children experienced in their mostly-white school in their mostly-white neighborhood. She gave wonderful advice on how to deal with it with grace. She doesn't let it go. If it affects her children, it affects her.

I so needed her to help me articulate what it was exactly about the seemingly well-meaning comment by the lady in the park that so rubbed me the wrong way. I told her what Stephanie and Joy wrote in a comment to my last post, that what bothered me is that she seemed to be putting my son into an unnecessary box or a category. Children don't do this. At least not at age three. They are all each other's friends. Period. It's the adults who need to start putting people in categories, not the children. And I know it's going to happen at some point in our childrens' lives; I just wasn't expecting it to happen at age three.

My coworker said that this is exactly why it rubbed me the wrong way. When I asked her to explain why I wouldn't feel bothered if people at work called me "the sweet white lady," she brought up the history in this country with "black boys." It's not a good history. Sweet white ladies have had it pretty good. Sweet black boys haven't. As she said, that history is there. It just is, and maybe with enough time and generations to pass, that dark history might fade, but now, it hasn't. Referring to a child as "black boy" brings connotations of a darker time, whether the lady in the park realized it or not.

My coworker also told me about how she teaches her children never to act in violence, no matter the situation because, as she said, "That's how society expects you to react" as black youth.

The whole situation has reminded me of a conversation some relatives and I had this summer about the state of racism in our city. One relative thought there was no more racism (bah!) and even told me that I was going to raise our son to have a "chip on his shoulder" because of my "oversensitivity." Well, the facts are that in our city, young black males get pulled over by the police exponentially more than young white males. The fact is that just this year, a few of these young black, unarmed males have been fired at by the police. The fact is that an old lady in our part of town sent out a neighborhood alert a couple of years ago because she saw a young man who she described as looking black or latino "casing" the neighborhood; she added, "he definitely looked like he did not belong here." The only thing this old lady had to go on was the man's dark skin. Nothing else. He was probably just walking to his bus stop, minding his own business.

In ten years, when our son is walking to middle school, is he going to have the police called on him because he looks like he doesn't belong? Call me oversensitive. That's fine. But I know the facts of our city, and my job as a parent is to protect my child from harm and prepare him to be a responsible citizen. The fact is that the standard for young black males is higher. My African coworker this morning affirmed this to be true.

I am digressing. These are the thoughts that occupy my mind a lot of the time. As a parent in a transracial family, I would be negligent not to consider these things seriously.

As my coworker said this morning, it's our job to educate those who use disrespectful, hurtful or patronizing language. We should assume the best about people who say such things, while letting them know how their choice of words makes the person-of-color feel. As the parent of an African child, I've known that this day would come. I guess I just wasn't expecting it to begin so soon.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

"Sweet Little Black Boy"

So how would you respond to the following situation?

One of your son's new preschool friends sees him in a park and says, "Hey! It's {insert name here}! Hi!"

You walk his direction. The lady you assume is the boy's mother says, "Oh, this must be {insert name here}! I've heard all about {insert name here}."

You raise your eyebrows and smile, assuming she's heard of your son because he's so cute or articulate for his age or can sing perfectly.

The lady says with a huge smile, "I heard that there was a sweet little black boy in the class this year!"

You are a little stunned. The lady then follows this with, "Yes, and I heard he is just so well-behaved! The other boys are so rough, but {insert name here} is just so sweet and polite!"

You don't know what to say, so you walk away with an uncomfortable smile, say goodbye to the preschool friend, and take {insert name here} by the hand to go watch a soccer game, convinced your child is in the wrong school and wondering if all the parents in the place refer to your child as "that sweet little black boy."


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Tin Woodman.

"Why, as for that," answered Oz, "I think you are wrong to want a heart. It makes most people unhappy. If you only knew it, you are in luck not to have a heart."

"That must be a matter of opinion," said the Tin Woodman. "For my part, I will bear all the unhappiness without a murmur, if you will give me a heart."

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

No Call Yet, part 2

No call yet. No call. The office in Texas closes in 11 minutes.

One of our seniors, S, got back last week from Shashamene, Ethiopia. She'd been gone a few months. When we saw each other this morning, the hug she gave me was like...I don't know how to describe it. It was great. Yeah, great. Like, amazingly warm and maternal and great and amazing. She grabbed my hand in hers, pulled me to her chest, pressed my cheek with her cheek, then the other cheek, then the first cheek again, and then just another hug. Then she looked me right in the eyes and smiled, and I just wanted to cry. It was great. I am so glad she is back.

Last night before I went to bed, I stared at the closet in the hallway at all of the little girl clothes. There aren't many, but enough for me to stand there for fifteen minutes or so pulling each item out and looking at it, smelling it, wondering if the pink polka dotted down-filled vest will be too big or if the white eyelet dress will be too short or if I can find a pair of boots to go with the pink sweater dress with the cute button on the front.

I'm ready for our referral call but last night may have been that first pull of longing that I've felt so far this time round. With our first adoption, the longing was constant. It's why I couldn't sleep at night. Maybe one of the good things about our referral call taking so long is that my heart is starting acutely to feel the absence of this child in our life. Maybe another good thing about this long wait is that I get to practice giving hugs like S does. I hope our daughter feels from me what I felt this morning from S from Shashamene.

Office closes is 1 minute. I think it's safe to call it a day.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Art by African Elders of PDX

This spring, the elders at Africa House started taking an art class every Friday provided by Portland Parks and Recreation. It turned out to be a huge hit. The room would be packed every week. The teacher would model what they were to do, and they would then quietly set to work, hunched over their papers, almost complete silence in the classroom. But then W showed back up from her several months back home in Ethiopia, and she started singing during the quiet. And then T would join her, and others would hum along. It was lovely.

Also lovely was the art these elders created. Nearly every page is filled to the edges with color and shape and pattern. No one asks them to fill the whole space; color and vibrancy just seems to be something reflective of what's going on inside them. One of our ladies proudly writes her name on each thing she creates. A man in our class has become so prolific that he continues his work at home, bringing in what he finished to show the teacher and his friends.

As these things so often seem to go, money is running out for this art class, so we have decided to display the artists' work and sell them in order to raise money for tuition and supplies. There are two ways you can buy:

1. Go to YoChoice Yogurt at 4941 NE Fremont St., Portland, OR 97213 and check out the art hanging there. If you find one you'd like to buy, email me at ourownrooney at gmail dot com, and I'll meet you down there to make the purchase. While you're there, be sure to try the deliciousness that is YoChoice yogurt. The owner, Andre, is a fantastic person.

The display at YoChoice. It will be up until the end of October.

2. Go to and buy a print online. Don't worry if a print you want says it's sold out. We can easily make more! Autumn put this shop together and helped me hang the prints at YoChoice. I could not have done this without her. Thank you, Autumn!

Along with every print you buy, you will receive a photo and short bio of the artist. The artists are all from Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia. I know and love them all. These art classes are a true bright spot in their lives, and I find their art to be gorgeous. I hope you do too.

Just a few of the artists in the class, along with their teacher.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

No Call Yet

Our neighbor who leaves for Ethiopia October 29th was out in front of our house while our kids played. Several of the neighbors were out. Chatting about whatever. As she starts to walk away to go home, a thought occurs to me. I call her name and she turns around. Her daughter is running towards the street so I run with them. I tell her I have an idea.

I ask how long she'll be in Addis Ababa on her trip. She goes through what she can remember of her itinerary , and it's only a day or so that she thinks she'll be there. I tell her that I'm asking because if we know who our little girl is by then, she might be able to meet her. As soon as I said the words, I burst into tears.

Images of our neighbor meeting this little girl and giving her our picture and maybe a small stuffed animal from Abe and simply hugging her and telling her that she lives down the street from a family who is waiting for her--it's all too much. I was choking back sobs. I love my neighborhood. I love that I am surrounded by people who are going on trips to rural Ethiopia to do pelvic floor surgeries, people who would take the time to hug a little girl who might be her new neighbor through a fog of jetlag and tight schedules.

The image came to my mind of our little girl getting to our home in Oregon and seeing our neighbor again, just down the street. I want to see the look of recognition in our daughter's eyes when she sees this neighbor, when she meets our neighbor's daughter, perhaps the same age as she. Perhaps it's a comfort to her that she is surrounded by kind people who share their time and toys and energy.

Early this morning, my friend Julie called me while I was at work getting ready for a meeting. We hadn't talked on the phone in a few months, so I asked her what was up. She reminded me that I'd called her one morning and then her referral call came later that day, so she just wanted to test to see if the magic would happen this time again. She said, "Isn't it time by now?"

It feels like it. It really does. No call came today. That's fine. It really is. And I'm trying not to get my heart set on it, but come on, to know who this little girl is before our neighbor leaves for Addis? To be able to send something to her through our friend and neighbor? Yes, please. Please?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Footsteps to Healing Event

One of my neighbors came by a few weeks ago to tell me that she'd just signed on to go on a trip to Ethiopia this November. She's an RN at OHSU. I wanted to pass along some information about an event you might be interested in if you live in the Portland area:

The problem: Women in rural Ethiopia experience one of the world’s highest rates of maternal mortality and morbidity due to lack of access to basic obstetric care. As a result, women in these areas suffer from long-term complications such as obstetric fistula and pelvic organ prolapse.

The goal:
To alleviate this dire situation, a group of health care providers from OHSU will be travelling to Gimbie Adventist Hospital in Western Ethiopia in November 2010. The team will perform over 40-50 life-altering surgeries while providing training to the two local Ethiopian surgeons to build the capacity to perform these services in perpetuity. Additionally, a partnership will be created between OHSU midwives and nurses and the nursing school at Gimbie en route to a long-term family planning and midwifery training collaboration