Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Why I Love My Job

Watching our African elders discover the challenge and fun of bingo

A sudden, unexpected outburst of Oromo singing in my car, on a Wednesday morning, that had me grabbing my camera at a stoplight.

Don't you love the short chuckle at the end?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Middle-Age Lament

Remember when you were young? Maybe you are reading this and still are. If you are, please, for me, be aware of your youth. I think because I've always had a pessimistic, half-empty natural bent, I was always aware of my impending death (hopefully later than sooner), so even when I was young and spry, I was aware of being young and spry. I was pretty good at keeping my eyes open and appreciative of young skin and energy and being free to travel and roam and stay up late and drink too much caffeine.

One of my oldest friends posted this morning on facebook a photo of us taken more than ten years ago. We were sitting in a 'krcma' (pub) in Slovakia, leaning on each other, pretending to be tipsy. We rarely ever really were. Except that one time when this same friend had me and another friend over to show us the video of his trip to China and kept refilling my glass of 'beton' when I wasn't watching. I was kind of drunk by the end of that night, not even sure how it happened. I was only 24. Twenty-four. Twenty and four years.
I woke up this morning in a funk, despite the warm, bright day. Everything was bristly and irritating to me. The boys left the house to run errands, and I'm drinking too much coffee and listening to old CDs from college, mix-CDs made by friends. Last night Ted took a photo of me and Abe, and I was just a little bit aghast at how old I looked. I feel so middle-aged. I suppose I am. I really am. I'm almost the age my mom was when she married my stepfather. That realization this week made me feel oh so old.

I'm not exactly sure why I'm putting these laments about aging out there. This morning, I simply feel sad, not about aging but about the loss of the lives I've left behind. Maybe it's just that I miss my friends. I've always been quick to make space in my heart for new people. The result is that I have a trail of loved ones behind me. I've never left a place without tears.
It's jarring that realization that you'll never again be as beautiful, as thin, as free to roam. Wouldn't it be nice to go back to relive just one day?

Please don't take this as meaning I don't love my current life. I do. I just might think you're crazy if you never look back without even a twinge of longing every now and then.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

My advice to a new college student

One of my oldest friends has a daughter who just started college. I am mailing her a care package this week, with this letter included.

Happy graduation!
Welcome to college!

When I was 18, you were born, and I remember feeling you kick around in your mom's belly. That's a long time to know someone, and I'll tell you something--all that stuff about youth being wasted on the young and time flying and so on? Well, it's true. It just is. When you hit about mid-20's, life speeds up. Let your life tell a good story. Be aware of every day. "Live with a healthy appreciation of death," Rich Mullins once said. We're not gonna be here forever. What story are you going to tell? Keep your eyes open. Be sure to travel as much as possible. Learn another language and not from a textbook but by getting to know speakers of that language. Be fearless but careful. Turn off technology for thirty minutes (at least) every day and stare at the sky. Or trees. Or rain. Or a face of someone you love. Let generosity and compassion lead you. Be moved by poetry, by beauty. Lady Gaga is awesome but never wear a meat-dress or gun-bra. Read these two books. Both changed me. Eat lots of whole grain, nuts, and veggies. Don't shop at Wal-mart because they are evil-doers. Come visit us in Oregon. It's real purty up here. I love you.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Ethiopian New Year 2003

He is three. In year 2003.

Gentle Alemu

One of our favorite Portlanders, giver of incredible hugs. If you meet her, ask for one. Really.

One a beautiful fall day, a little bit of beautiful Ethiopia. We are so lucky to live in a city with such a thriving community of Ethiopians who welcome us so openly. I feel a little like a hanger-on but am so grateful for this hospitality and kindness.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

We Love Fire Fighters

Yesterday on our walk to a friend's house, we came upon two firetrucks parked in the middle of the street. Turns out it was only a small kitchen fire, and no one was hurt, so we hung around and watched the action. One of the fire fighters gave Abe a junior fire fighter sticker. Then another let him wear her hat and then invited him onto the truck, which was still idling and rumbling loudly. Abe wasn't so sure about it. Lady fire fighters are the coolest.
See Mom? Here I am on the truck, being brave even though it's really loud and rumbly which is sorta freaking me out.
Seriously, not joking. Get me off this thing. Enough.

At a coffeeshop in our neighborhood that we go to sometimes, a group of fire fighters come in pretty regularly for drinks. They are almost always in the truck when they come. It makes me happy. They always give all the kids stickers and then stand around looking heroic and manly. Fire fighters rule.

One of our favorite books is New York's Bravest, about Mose the legendary fire fighter in New York City. We got it from the library a while back, and I couldn't stop crying the first time we read it. And then every time we read it. It always makes me cry. This winter when we were in New York, meeting the mother of one of the fire fighters who died at Ground Zero left me wrecked for the whole day. I wrote about it here.

On facebook today, as a lot of people are posting their memories and tributes of what happened 9 years ago, two posts stood out to me. The first is by a friend who is now living in Ethiopia:

To me, the most beautiful photos from 9/11 are those of NYC firefighters and citizens running INTO the World Trade Centers. ♥

The second is by my old high school friend from Pakistan:

Two things happened on 9/11-- Thousands of innocent victims lost their lives and thousands of family members were affected by the loss.... and second, the image of Islam/Muslims everywhere was ruined by crazy terrorists who were far from being muslim in the first place :(

At some point today, I hope to read this book with Abe. If you're looking for a good children's book about this day, I recommend this one. Highly.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Parent Fail

I'm in the basement watching a video that I got at work. Most of it is has subtitles which are in yellow print, which was probably not the best choice. I'm sitting on the couch squinting to read the print and concentrating pretty hard. One of the clients who comes to our program is being featured, and I'm working hard to focus on the video of her.

I hear footsteps coming my direction. I tense up even more in my focus on this video. The footsteps get closer and I see Abe's legs coming down the stairs. He's holding a small pink bowl with a fork. He says, "Hey Mom! Look what I have for you! Do you want to share?" I'm irritated, not so much with Abe as with Ted for sending him down when I'm trying to focus on something (I hadn't even told Ted what I was watching and my need for focus, so yeah, I was being especially difficult).

Abe is excited to show me what he's brought down. He sets the bowl next to me on the couch and starts to climb up. Because I'm so focused on trying to decipher difficult-to-read subtitles, I barely look his direction. The bowl tips over spilling watermelon all over the couch and my leg. Abe has climbed up on the couch by now. I quickly stand up and call upstairs, "Hey Ted! Why did you send...." but I'm interrupted by Abe's wailing. And I mean: monster, heart-broken wailing with rivers of tears.

The second I yelled out Ted's name, Abe started crying. He laid on the couch, covered his face, and sobbed. It turns out that before he'd come downstairs, he'd been in the kitchen with Ted, determined to share with me, his ogre-mother. Ted even told him that he could offer me his watermelon but "Mom might not want any so don't be sad if she doesn't." He came down anyway, so excited to share with me.

Yes, that soul-crushing experience for our son was a special gift from me. Major parent fail. In that moment, I so hated myself.

I couldn't have felt worse. I sat down on the couch and put him on my lap where he snuggled his head into my chest and continued to cry, getting the front of my shirt wet. It took him several minutes to calm down. I just kept apologizing. I turned the video off and rocked him and said "I'm sorry" over and over.

I told him I'd love to have some watermelon. Through sniffles and straggler tears, he nodded. I sat him next to me on the couch. He took the fork, speared a piece, and fed me. Then he took a piece for himself. We ate the whole bowl this way. One for me, one for him. When it was down to two last pieces, he gave me the small one and said, "I like the big pieces, okay?" Abe, no problem, little man. You take the big pieces.

Later in the night, he needed some time on the step for some act of disobedience (can't even remember what it was), and when I went to get him off the step, he said to me, "Mom, sitting on the step was a good idea, right?"

Who is this kid? How can he be able to so quickly forgive and so quick to understand the need for discipline? I wish I were the kind of mother who never showed her impatience, who was always willing to turn from what she's doing to give attention to her child, who is tuned in to her child's spirit more often. I'm not though. I just hope that my willingness to ask forgiveness when I mess up will truly make up for my mistakes as a parent.

For the rest of the night and now this morning, this song has been going through my head.

Teach your parents well,
Their children's hell will slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams
The one they picked, the one you'll know by.

Don't you ever ask them why, if they told you, you would cry,
So just look at them and sigh and know they love you.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Preschool Cowboy

Abe has been wearing cowboy boots for about a month now. I found in our attic a cowboy hat to go with it, so Abe spent all day Labor Day as a cowboy. His friend down the street wore hers too, and they both rode horses up and down the street. It was sunny and warm. Another neighbor waters their horses from her recycling bin. Hot days make a man parched.

Thirsty horses need a drink.

Later in the evening before everyone went in for the night, two of the girls started yelling, "Ladies and gentlemen! Ladies and gentlemen! We have an announcement! Abe saved the day! He rescued us from the monsters by shooting them all! Abe saved the day!" Abe was listening to this while standing a few feet behind them in the shade of a tree. We all looked his way and cheered. With a straight face, he nodded once, then tipped his cowboy hat. He just barely smiled.

The cowboy had a bath and chamomile tea. He was asleep an hour earlier than normal. He fell asleep to his dad singing softly to him, "Well, we got trouble, right here in River City, with a capital C that rhyme
s with P and that stands for 'pool'..." Ted came downstairs shocked that he'd fallen asleep so easily. It's usually "one more song" or "one more book."

Morning. My alarm goes off, waking me up from a dream where I was sulking about yard sales in London, upset because my camera had been stolen. I get myself ready and then make french toa
st. I wake Abe up. I ask him if he remembers where he's going today. He doesn't. Sleepy face is trying to remember, in my arms, staring out the window, and then he turns towards me and only inches from my face, he whispers so softly I can barely hear it, through a puffy-faced smile, "to school." He is happy.

We pull up to the school in the rain. He jumps out of the car. He puts on his backpack (bearing only one small cup and a pair of underwear) and runs down the sidewalk. He sees the door to t
he preschool and points. I tell him to slow down. He does. I catch up to him, and another parent opens the locked door for us. I motion to him to go on inside. He hesitates, looks up at me with just the slightest bit of worry on his face, holds out his hand for me to take it, and says, "Are you coming Mom?" I take his hand and we go in together.

This image: maybe the cutest thing I've seen in my life.

The teacher welcomes us in. I help him hang up his backpack, and as I pin his nametag to the back of his shirt, the tears start to well up. For me, not him. This is a
big day. It just is. I walk around the room wishing this drop-off weren't so fast. He's already settled in to the play-dough table but I call him over to me to show him the pet snake. I'm not ready to leave. I hesitate and want to hold my hand out to him with the slightest bit of worry on my face and ask him, "Are you coming, Abe?"

One little girl in the class is sobbing, sitting on the teacher's lap, having a hard time on this first day. Abe sits across from her and looks. He rolls his play-dough. I snap his photo. He waves at me and cheerily says, "Bye, Mom."

I turn to leave. I walk out the door and back through the rain to the car. I'm not sure what I feel. Part of me is wondering what to do with myself since I'm not usually out and about this early and it's over an hour before I need to be at work. I sit in the car watching the rain on the windshield and look towards the school. I'm not sad. Only the briefest twinge of tears in the classroom. I suppose what I feel is confidence in who our boy is and how he'll handle this next adventure. And why shouldn't I? Our son is a monster-killing cowboy who has the sense to drink chamomile tea before bed. Rain or shine, he saves the day.

You want this gun-slinger on your side. He'll brew you some tea.

Monday, September 6, 2010

End of Summer

I know the last official day is not until the 21st of September (right?) but with jobs and school and wearing down vests last night at a block party, it certainly feels like the end of summer.

Just a few of the piles of books around here that I try to read but then end up feeling depressed about because there simply isn't time in this life for all the books, the piles and piles of books.

The last of the basil from the garden, planted by our nephew who is now living in Mexico.

Rides in a recycling bin at the block party

Abe was most excited about finding this tiny sword in the pinata. Block parties are also for wearing your pajamas and bike helmet all day.

There is nothing like sitting in the middle of the street roasting marshmallows with your neighbors.

Cold enough by the end of the night for thick socks, fleeces, hats and down vests. Summer is done.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


Last night at preschool orientation, I spotted the little basket assigned to our son. His name is taped to the front. It made me want to cry. I smiled and pointed it out to Ted, just like all the other parents in the room who are charmed and a little saddened by seeing their child's name looking all official on a tiny little preschool cubby.

The teacher is making a photo album for the kids to look at during the school year. She asked everyone to bring in photos of their kids, especially ones with their extended families and early baby photos. She likes to let the kids tell stories about their homes and families and even baby stories they've heard about themselves. At this point, she nodded in our direction and said that kids love to hear about how they joined their family, whether by birth or adoption. I had good feelings about this school already but this confirmed it, the awareness of this teacher to remember to include different types of families.

I also got a little choked up at the mention of baby photos for our kids. We have plenty of baby pictures of Abe. But we probably won't of our next one. What if she's four when she comes to us and is able to start preschool but doesn't have baby photos to add to the class photo album? Will this make her feel sad? Will this be her first lesson in how she's not like everyone else and that the loss in her life is sometimes glaring, not just to her but also to others?

I know I'm worrying about things I have no control over. As we've approached the "window" of time when we could receive a referral and now as we sit smack dab in the middle of it, I've been thinking about these things a lot more. I've been thinking of her a lot more. This child is not a theoretical child anymore. It's possible and maybe even likely that someone already knows who she is, that we've already been matched and are just waiting for all the paperwork to fall into place before that life-changing phone call is made. I can't stop thinking about that.

The other day, I was out by myself shopping for a baby gift for a shower I went to on Sunday. I wasn't intending to buy them, but when I found matching girl and boy Halloween pajamas, I had to get them. The boy's are black with glow-in-the-dark skeleton print with a pumpkin where the heart should be. The girl's are pink but with an actual heart where the heart should be. I could try to figure out some metaphor for the girl having a real heart and the boy having a pumpkin, but that makes my head hurt, and I think it was just a weird design choice. But they are cute nonetheless, and I got all kinds of emotional when I walked out of the store with them.

I came home and showed them to Ted who reminded me that the chances are that our kids won't be wearing them this Halloween. There's next year though. I tucked them away with the rest of the things I've been collecting and squirreling away for our little girl. A little girl I now think about all the time. She's becoming less and less the theoretical girl we are hoping to adopt. She's real. She has a little heart beneath her rib cage and a dollhouse with hard-won furniture that her brother doesn't really like to play with. She has a string of lights to be hung over her bed to make it cozy. She has a huge bag of hand-me-downs from the two neighbor girls down the block. She has a pink down-filled vest for the winter and a pair of pajamas with cherries on them that match the ones I'm wearing as I type this. She has a full set of Ethiopian, Eritrean, and Somali grandparents in Oregon who are going to cover her in kisses and dollar bills stuck in her pockets, the same way they do her brother every week. She has a dad whose eyes turn red and fill with tears at the mere mention of her. She has a mom who is reading many books to prepare to love her well. She has a family here with hearts beneath their rib cages too, a family who will honor her loss, will try to love her well, and who can't wait to meet her.