Friday, December 30, 2011

2012 Calendars!

I have written here before about my job working with elder immigrant and refugees from Africa. I really love this work; in fact, most days it doesn't even feel like work. Something that often happens with volunteers in the program happened this morning: a volunteer ESL teacher found out yesterday about a change in her work schedule and has to leave our program. At the end of her class today, her eyes got red and she stood quietly looking at the elders. I asked if she was okay, and she told me how much she's going to miss coming. I told her, "They are endearing, aren't they?" She nodded, told them all goodbye and promised to visit.

Part of the program for these elders is an art class every Friday morning. In order to raise some money for art supplies, I had some 2012 calendars printed that feature one elder's artwork each month. I sold most of them already but one person who told me she was going to sell a stack of them at her yoga class flaked out and brought them back to me this morning.

So. Lucky you! I'm now offering the last of them here if anyone might be interested. All proceeds from the calendar go to buying art supplies for our wonderful elders. If you are interested in buying one, please email me at ourownrooney at gmail dot com, and I can give you details on how to get one. I can ship them anywhere easily. They are $20, plus shipping.

They were printed at shutterfly and really are wonderful quality. Here is a peek at what they look like:

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Holidays 2011

They were busy. In an eagerness to introduce our daughter to all our community has to offer in terms of Christmas cheer and revelry, we participated in the following over the course of the last few weeks:

A cookie decorating party.

Taking the train to see Oregon Zoo's "Zoo Lights" holiday light show with neighbors (on a school night, dumb idea--everyone was completely zonked the next day).

The Grotto's Christmas lights display with nativity and concerts and petting zoo and wandering St. Nicholas who hands out candy-canes.

A trip downtown with friends to see The Nutcracker (which I cried off and on through, thanks to the memories of my mom taking my sister and me as kids).

Some Jewish friends let our kids help make matzo ball soup one night when they were babysitting.

Abe's holiday party at his school where he got to invite one guest: his sister.

A crowded stroll with three cousins through "Peacock Lane," a street known for its crazy light displays.

We hosted a caroling party with neighbors.

A friend's annual "fishmas" party, which had our kids doing the limbo and conga line until almost midnight.

A Somali wedding reception, females only, outrageously beautiful.

Christmas Eve church service.

Christmas Eve open house at a friend's house.

Christmas Eve extended family white elephant gathering.

Christmas morning stockings, presents, breakfast, reading of the Christmas story, dinner with friends.

Day-after Christmas pancake brunch at our house with all the family still in town followed by a "Boxing Day" party at a friend's house.

First conga line, very late at night, in a fancy dress.

Gorgeous Somali dresses.

Lights, lights, lights.

He liked the gift his sister picked out for him.

We gussied ourselves up to see The Nutcracker.

There is nothing not to love about big bowls of chocolate chips.

St. Nicholas

Adorableness: she had never seen humans dressed up as animals and wasn't sure what this was all about at first. More testimony to her bravery, that she snuggled right up to this polar bear.

Four year ago on this day, we saw our son's face for the first time.

I married him in part because of the way he moves:

We are lucky that Abe's old babysitter, now a college sophomore, still has connections to his high school glee club. For our night of caroling, they performed this rendition of Carol of the Bells with no practice at all.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Just because the word is the same does not make every part equal.

I'm just going to put this out there with little editing because by the time I figure out my thoughts about it, I may never get around to writing it down, and I think it's something worth discussing.

Someone told me today that her son, a friend of Abe's, asked her what adoption means. She answered him something about how it's what happens when a mom and dad have a child they can't take care of, so another family decides to make that child their family instead. Fair enough. I was impressed by the simplicity of the explanation.

But then. Oh, but then.

She followed it up with telling me that she talked to her son about how it's the same as what happens when people adopt dogs who don't have someone to take care of them. Her eyes lit up when she told me that this last bit about abandoned dogs is what really hit home for her son (as if a child in need of a family is less real to him?).

I knew that it hit a nerve with me but I'm still processing my thoughts about why I bristled at my children being compared to abandoned animals.

I put a query out there about it on fb and got some interesting responses, some people even telling me that I shouldn't be bothered by it because our kids are going to hear this kind of stuff and better to talk about it openly with them than get all upset about it. Again, fair enough. I agree. But it did bother me, and I'm torn about whether to talk to the woman about it or not. Is it worth it to try to explain to her that we don't compare our own children to dogs in animal shelters, and that this concept might be hurtful to our kids?

A friend of mine who hasn't adopted herself but who is a new mom and who has more sense and understanding than most anybody I know told me, "People have shitty dumb ideas about adoption and they’re going to keep passing them on without ever seeing their stupidity even if you point it out to them. If you do, in their minds, you’ll be oversensitive. The best thing you can do for her boy is to show him “adoption” by having him be around your family. He’ll know Abe isn’t the world’s saddest dog with a yeast infection and British teeth."

It made me laugh. I think she's probably right. It's just that in my protective yearning to keep my kids from ever experiencing pain of any kind makes it really hard not to say anything. Another plus to bringing it up with the other parent is that maybe she truly is unaware that this comparison is hurtful and she could actually learn something. Maybe bringing it up with the teacher is the right way? I'm really not sure.

I'd love to hear your thoughts, should anyone still read this blog.

Monday, December 5, 2011


There is an Ethiopian man in my program at work who is really too young to be in the program but comes anyway because he hasn't been able to find a job with enough hours to fill up his days. He comes to hang out with his older buddies in the program and to help me out. He's a saint of a person. I wrote about him earlier this year in this post.

My children had to get piggy banks to hold all the dollar bills and coins he has given them.

He grew the garden out back at my workplace and never ate a single bite; he gave it all away.

Back home in Ethiopia, he worked for a religious high school starting out as a volunteer elementary school teacher and eventually becoming the guy in charge of the dairy farm, seed nursery, vegetable farm, and supply store. In the years he was there, he doubled the number of cows and increased revenue of the store so much that the college was able to hire new teachers to educate the growing student body. He did this. The headmaster of the college also now lives here in Oregon and told me that all this is true.

I know all of this because I'm trying to help him find a job. We wrote his resume several weeks ago and have been getting it to as many places as we can. He is beyond competent; as an employee, he surpasses expectations and becomes a servant leader. I have never known anyone like him.

Yet I have failed in finding him a job. Every place we go to together, we are greeted by surly managers who treat him as if his presence in their place of business is ruining their day. I am extremely discouraged about this today.

This morning, we met at a nation-wide thriftstore (whose name I will not mention, but if you are a regular reader of this blog, you know I shop here a lot....though not anymore after today) to drop off his application, resume, and letters of reference. The Ethiopian woman who had given me the application the week before was there and called her manager to the front so she could take the information from my client.

We waited and waited and waited. Finally, a very huffy woman appeared, staring us down as she came to us. I asked if she was the manager (since she didn't bother to introduce herself), and she corrected me, "Yes, I am the store supervisor. What do you need?"

She then complained to us about how she can't get her job done if the cashiers call her to the front "every ten minutes" to take another job application. We never asked her to come there; it was the cashier's idea, a point I didn't bother to tell her.

We thanked her for coming up to the front to take the information and she said she'd look at the application. My hopes are low. I felt embarrassed by this woman, by her surly attitude, by this city I live in that seems to be full of "supervisors" who refuse to treat people with even the tiniest shred of respect.

My client and I walked outside and I apologized to him for yet another disrespectful, rude potential employer. He faces this everywhere we go, and I'm tired of it. I have known what it's like to look for a job in a foreign country, but I never faced this level of rudeness that he has. Is it because he is African? Is that all they see? Is it because he is shy? I try to get him to take the initiative to introduce himself to these people, but he always makes me do it. Of course he's intimidated by these horrible people! I would be too! And every last one of them has been horrible, terrible, no-good, God-awful. Awful. Horrendous. Smelly.

So I have a hard time letting these things go. I'm going to stew over it the rest of today I'm sure. A pastor told me once that I have "an overdeveloped sense of justice." Over twenty years later, I'm still not sure what to think about that description of my personality. I just know that I get a knot in the pit of my stomach when I see someone like this angelic client of mine having door after door shut in his face. I feel it viscerally, in my core, an unease and sick feeling that this man is not getting the opportunity he deserves, that rude people who know nothing of the suffering he has endured and overcome have power over him.

He is the faithful servant who took the little he was given and multiplied it.

So why is he not being given the chance here?

The life of the immigrant, refugee, one seeking political or religious asylum is a life of endurance and hardship, and I am honored to work with them. Today I simply feel embarrassed by this city I live in and frustrated that a very deserving individual spends his days doing little when he could do so much.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Soucy Raffle!

During that very long period of time when we were waiting for B to get here, a huge box appeared on our front porch that felt like it weighed a ton. It was packed full of girl-things that Jess and her daughter had picked out for our daughter. Some of those things, including a baby doll with a pacifier, went with us to Ethiopia. That doll is sitting in Abe's car seat at the moment; Beti still loves it.

It's kind of amazing that I've never met Jess or anyone in her family in person. She is an incredibly generous person, both with her things and with her heart. As we were waiting for B, she also would email me just to check in and see how I was doing. She gave wonderful, compassionate advice, and I am so thankful for her.

They are now waiting to adopt their third and are auctioning off one of these beautiful dolls made by my local friend Autumn.

Go here to enter the drawing and help support this wonderful family.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A Little Sap for Your Thursday

The kids are sitting at either end of the long dining room table playing "rock, paper, scissors" while they're supposed to be eating their dinner. Leftover rice-krispy-treats go to those who finish. As I write this, they are recounting stories of what happened after school today on the playground. They had a lot of adventures with pine cones apparently.

We were all very tired today. It was the first time that Beti asked to go back to sleep when I woke her up this morning for school. Abe has been in his red footed-pajamas all day, even for trips to take and pick up his sister from school. He's wearing them now as he eats his dinner.

I forget how many things are still new for our daughter. People are amazed at how quickly she is adjusting to life, how much she's throwing herself into this new world of hers. Another parent at her school was telling me this week that a few of the parents in her class were talking about how remarkable it is that she's reading above the level of their kids who were born and raised here. Her teacher told us last week that she is a "teacher's dream" because of her intelligence and enthusiasm.

She read a whole 'level one' book to me this week. Three months ago, she knew about twenty spoken English words.

Last night we went to see the zoo all lit up for the holidays. This was her first time on the train. She seemed pretty nonplussed by the experience but she was entranced by the human-sized biped animals walking around greeting and hugging people at the zoo. Her eyes got huge when she saw the first, a tiger, waving at everyone as they entered. She stood back for a few beats and watched closely as our friends' kids went close to him. She decided it was okay, and with a huge smile, approached him, shook his hand, got a hug. She walked back to me and pulled on my arm. I leaned down and she whispered in my ear, "Mom, actually, it's a person in there."

A friend of mine with a one-year-old told me that her favorite thing is blowing her daughter's mind with stuff like aquariums and lights. I feel that way sometimes about Beti. Last night I got to watch her mind get blown by adults in animal costumes.

Abe, having grown up in a slightly different reality is fortunately still entranced by things like used earplugs on public transportation, which I realized he was snuggling next to his face as he was falling asleep in my arms on the train last night. He was so so so sad when I freaked out and threw it on the ground. His treasure! Gone! Just like that.

He is the kid at school that some of the boys fight over sitting next to during snack. Yes, and even that made me proud, that moment when I explained to the fighting boys that my son has two sides and that they can sit one to his left and the other to his right. He has also already made friends with the 'big kids' at his sister's school. I find it hilarious and funny when these first and second graders I've never laid eyes on before pass us in the hallway or on the playground and say, "Hey Abe." How does he know these people?

He still, when I lean down and hug him from behind, says "hi, Mom" and kisses my cheek. This morning, after the late night and early wake-up to take his sister to school, he snuggled next to me on the couch and fell asleep, his reindeer next to his face. I fell asleep too, and when he woke up, he was very interested in hearing about the dream I'd had about Lando Calrissian from Star Wars. Through puffy-eyed, pouffy-lipped sleepy-face, his eyes brightened as he thought about light-saber fights.

Tonight, as I went through the millions of papers Beti brings home from school, I found this one, and the swell, the swell, the swell of my heart.

I am not proud of the number of times I get impatient with them and whine about "needing a break." I should know better.

I got teary-eyed a few days ago as I nodded in sincere agreement with the Ethiopian woman working at Goodwill who, upon seeing one of my children in the flesh and the other in a photo, locked eyes with me to tell me, "You are so lucky." I am. Completely.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Why I Hardly Blog Anymore

Our kids exasperate us sometimes, which I'm pretty much over with. Parents shouldn't be as exasperated as we are. That's why my son is upstairs asleep right now: he wouldn't eat his lunch and rather than get exasperated with him, after giving him the choice (twice) between a nap and lunch, I just made the choice for him.

Okay, nevermind, he's up. Maybe that didn't work so well.

Our kids also get along really well these days, so well that Thanksgiving week flew by with the two of them out of school the whole time. They create these little worlds now with each other using a few random items like a long string and laundry basket. They'll be swimming away from sharks or something, for hours.

Our daughter was described at parent-teacher conferences as a "teacher's dream." She's also well above every single benchmark that kids in her grade are supposed to have reached by this point in the year. She's so well above that we wonder if she should be in a higher grade. She won an award for "enthusiasm" last month. She now refers to most females, no matter the age, "that young lady," which is really all kinds of wonderful.

We have our Christmas tree up now. We hosted Thanksgiving with a brined turkey that was the best one ever. We are trying to explain to our daughter the difference between the holiday season and Christmas day. It's a lot to take in for her.

Vivid dreams lately, things like being held hostage and plane crashes and eating big bowls of sugary cereal with famous rappers.

This is why I don't blog as much anymore. These are the sorts of things I have to say at the moment.

Sunday, November 27, 2011


Thursday, November 17, 2011

"The Holy"

If I would follow this advice, I would most likely have a stronger urge to write. This is a very inspiring read, from my oldest friend in the world.

Click here for the original post/blog.

The Holy

When I was a kid, the family tendency, as soon as we got home from church, was to strip off all our dressy church clothes, put on shorts and T-shirts, and watch TV the rest of the night. But I resisted this tendency. I don't blame the family for doing it (as I got older, I did it too), but something in me wanted to go into my room by myself, keep my church clothes on, do some quiet activity or do nothing at all (maybe even just go to bed and think), and above all avoid the TV. Something about immediately going back to "normal" just felt wrong to me, made me feel a little sick. I realize now that feeling has to do with the concept of the holy, which I'll attempt to describe here.

The experience of going to church -- if the church does it right -- puts you in another frame of mind, to allow you to think a different way, feel a different way, talk a different way, etc. That's what the stained-glass windows and candles and architecture is all about (not that my church had any of that). When the Bible tells you to separate yourself from this world, it's addressing this concept. As a boy (about age six to about age fourteen), I wanted to retain that different feeling. I didn't want to kill it as soon as I had the opportunity, especially since it would be gone by morning. It's not that the more comfy clothes and television were evil. They just weren't holy.

A lot of people say they get their best ideas in the bathroom: either taking a shower or taking a long dump. They might also get their best ideas while walking or jogging. Why is this? Easy. Because these are the times that you are by yourself, alone with your mind, away from what I'm going to call the glut.

When I was young, TV was the primary glut. It was the thing that best allowed you to do what you most wanted to do (whether you realized it or not): to be as far away from your inner life as possible. In the past decade, the glut has become more attainable than ever. As useful as cellular telephones can be, their primary function seems to be the twenty-four hour a day ability to disconnect yourself from the life of your thoughts. The main reason I don't use one (and I promise that this is not simply going to be a complaint about cell phones) is that I don't want people to be able to reach me at all times of the day. This isn't selfish. This is mental and spiritual health. I don't want to be the guy at the airport who sits down in his chair, nothing to do for thirty minutes, who looks around anxiously until he finally (and eventually this happens quickly, becomes second nature) realizes (oh!) he can call someone. And what does he say? "Hey, I'm at the airport. Yeah, I've got about thirty minutes till we board." Translated to: "I'm using you to avoid meditation."

If he were forced to sit there for that thirty minutes -- no cell phone, no laptop, no magazine -- he would be forced to have a holy moment. Maybe he'd look at people. Maybe he'd have thoughts about them: they look different, they look the same, they are moving while he is still, they have similar destinies, some tend to radiate more than others. Maybe he'd think of himself, at various stages of his life and of his future. Maybe he'd think of other people, which would connect him more to them than if he called them to talk glut, because he needed to kill time (and is now killing them and their own inner world). He'd, for that thirty minutes, be forced to become part of the eternal life that he's so afraid of.

As a kid going to a church that affected me in a positive way (and I plan to write about those days in a later post), the arrival home was part of the experience. The clothes, too, were part of the experience. Why? Because they were different. They weren't my daily clothes: the clothes I wore while watching a rerun of The Munsters for the fiftieth time. I remember thinking once, "This is why they say cleanliness is next to godliness." This is what dressing up is all about, to remove yourself, through clothing, from the everyday. And I felt I had to run away from the TV. It immediately came on (it was pretty much always on in the house) and I had to close myself off to avoid it. Certain religious groups preach against the television. They exaggerate, as always ("You're going to hell if you get one," "There's nothing but pornographic filth on it," etc.), but in a way they're on to something. Television's number one function is to distract you from anything real.

When I was older, I sometimes got those sick feelings too, when moments of holiness were juxtaposed with moments of glut. When I was seventeen, I saw David Lynch's Fire Walk With Me and the effect on me was profound. (Holiness, by the way, doesn't have to be a religious concept; it can come in different forms, in this case a movie.) Eventually after seeing this film, I had to creep back into the real world, and later that night, still feeling the holy feelings, I walked into a room where someone was watching television. The screen looked like it was covered with moving vomit, literal vomit. I couldn't make out anything on the screen: just smears of someone else's sick. My inner world was filled with art and my visual world was suddenly filled with the opposite, and that was the moment I first truly realized the destructive power of television for the mind and spirit. I had a lesser version of that experience a day or two ago when I was reading Joseph Campbell. I put the book down and (apparently too quickly) went to my computer and loaded up Facebook. Everyone's little posts -- "I'm about to eat some dinner, " "I'm ready for 5:00 to get here" -- and just the mundane look of the site made me a little pukey. (I hesitate to even write about that experience here, because I want this God Blog to be somewhat holy, separate from those kinds of places on the internet.)

I again promise you that I'm not just picking on certain kinds of technology (cell phones, television, laptops, social network sites, etc.). I'm not just being the old grumpy man. It just so happens that TV and cell phones seem to be primarily used for glut (while books are often not). I've seen true art on TV and had holy moments while watching it. The relaxation that television (even bad television) affords can even be therapeutic for your soul to a point, but after a while (once you've properly relaxed), it transforms and all you're left with is the crappy TV. It becomes glut. (The food analogies are obvious here: over-eating, "comfort food," etc. This kind of eating, of course, is usually paired with TV viewing.)

I also don't want you to think that because I'm talking about the inner life that my idea of holiness is only arrived at through solitude. The only reason I escaped my family those post-church nights was because they were returning to a place that I wasn't ready to go back to. My favorite nights after church, in fact, were the ones where we came home and sat together a little more and talked. We would talk about the Bible or about other things that may have happened, or maybe we just talked about something non-church related, just enjoyed each other--no television. Or we would have friends follow us home and we'd play the piano and sing. Times like those allow you not only to have a fun time together, but (if you're thoughtful enough) it also makes you aware, within the moment, that you are experiencing something special and gives you those special feelings. (If this doesn't happen, these moments can just turn into common noise: fun, but not holy.) Christmas can be a good time for that communal holiness. If you allow the magic of the tree lights, weird food, strange music you only hear one month out of the year, etc. to sweep over you, it can be amazing. This is that "special feeling" the songs are about, the "spirit of Christmas." You're removed from the normality of the rest of the year and enter this special zone. (Alternately, Christmas can be the noisiest, most depressing, spirit-killing glut-fest.)

I realize I'm not saying anything entirely new here (I never do), but I do think I'm saying something beyond just "Stop and smell the roses." I'm not just talking about getting away from the business of everyday life every now and then to have a quiet moment (though that's a start). I'm talking about attempting to go beyond the almost irresistible comfort of glut, so irresistible and comfortable that -- to some -- they don't know they're in it. For some, glut is life and the holy is merely boredom. (For me too, often, unfortunately.) This is why reincarnation (as a metaphor) is seen as a bad thing: it's just the same shit over and over again.

So -- to attempt a definition -- the holy is anything beyond the everyday that can alter or increase your consciousness in some way, anything that makes you thoughtful instead of thoughtless, anything that allows you to delve down to your inner life, anything that makes you feel that which is beyond words. And the glut is anything that is so mundane, artless, or noisy that it hinders the above.

For me, solitude does seem to work best for arriving at this holy state. Sitting outside with trees arching over me, birds talking, squirrels nibbling everywhere, insects crawling through the leaves at my feet like blood. A quiet room and a sheet of paper. An art museum--all that white space, all those echoed footsteps, all those pieces on display that wouldn't have as much power somewhere else. Staring at any given space and meditating on whatever happens to be there: a stack of CDs, two shoes arranged in that particular way on the floor, the base of a microphone stand, the top left corner of a window pane. All of this is holy, all of this is God.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


On November 10th last year, while visiting family in Mississippi, we heard for the first time about our daughter. I was with my parents, and we printed these photos.

One year later:

That's kind of cool, right?

I would write more about this day except that two kids is a kick-in-the-pants that leaves little time for reflection, at least for me.

Sunday, November 6, 2011


Pappy arrived, and we promptly went for a walk in the woods.

Saturday, November 5, 2011


My dad arrives today for a week-long visit. Why did he choose a random week in rainy and cold November to come see the grandchildren (one of whom he'll be meeting for the first time)? Well, it's because Ted is working in Canada for two weeks, you see. He's been gone for eight days now, and his absence has made me realize how spoiled I am by being married to a man who believes so heartily in the sharing of all household responsibilities. Since every last one of them has fallen on me in the last week, I've gotten...frayed around the edges.

I didn't get around to taking out the garbage this week (it was Halloween night and who has time?). I only managed one simple hairstyle for Beti for the whole week. I snapped at the kids more than usual. When the kids were in school, I was 100% of the time at the office trying to squeeze in work. I haven't slept enough (I could relate to so much in this article).

Friday morning at work, the art lesson was to draw/paint your home in Africa (the art teacher was absent, and this is what I came up with on my own). One of our newer seniors, a woman from Somalia, started telling me about her family and her home. It was bright pink and had a coconut tree beside it that they would use in most of their cooking. Then I asked about her children, and I always forget what a painful question this can be for our seniors.

She told me that when fighting broke out in Mogadishu when her nine children were all at home, she only had time to grab and gather to her the youngest five. The four oldest, all teenage boys, she had to leave to fend for themselves, hoping they were meet up later in a safe place. They were capable and strong, and it was the choice she had to make in that moment.

She hasn't seen them since then.

Four of her children now live in Minnesota, but she chooses to live in Oregon because she can't stand the cold over there. She sees them regularly though. She has a Somali roommate she takes care of. She works at a hotel, cleaning the rooms. She comes to our art classes and creates beautiful pictures. She wears gorgeous robes, sometimes with sequins in intricate designs. It's easy to make her laugh. I love having her in the program.

I still feel a bit ragged. As I write this, it's Saturday morning, and my kids didn't really take too much to heed my directive last night, "Tomorrow is Saturday, so when you wake up, close your eyes and go back to sleep." They both woke me up way too early (as in, school-day early!) despite being allowed to stay up last night to watch a movie from start to finish. It's only 9am, and I've already felt frazzled by their neediness.

So really what I think is that I need to get over myself. My kids are here with me, alive and strong, and what do I really have to complain about. Nothing.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Thankful 1 (which should be 2)

A good night's sleep and waking up fully rested an hour before the kids.

My library, which I know belongs to everyone in our county but that I still think of as only mine.

True-blue friends, the kind who never judge, who swear and let me swear, who make me and my children wonderful things by hand and love, who I can call at a moment's notice and who ask for help from me too.

Sunny fall days that start out right above freezing but warm up by afternoon.

The people of Ireland for creating and selling Barry's black tea.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Old Friends

These two were born one year apart in the same city in Ethiopia. They traveled together to Addis Ababa.

Now they both live in the Pacific Northwest.

Now they have brothers and sisters.

And they'll always have each other.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

School Meeting

Tonight, we went to a meeting at B's school about changes that will be happening next school year. There was a fair amount of complex drama that happened last year about district lines and such. With no kids in the system at that point, we just listened from the sidelines; this year though, we are going to these meetings to educate ourselves about all the ins-and-outs. It's interesting.

At one point in the meeting, we were to join up in small groups to discuss the proposed changes and to clarify what our values are as a community. I ended up in a group with a four other parents, two of whom were African-American mothers. One of these women brought up the issue of diversity in schools, and how important it is for her kids to have some faces that look like theirs in the class.

I'm pretty sure at this point she didn't realize I was an adoptive mother of a black child, which I'm sort of glad about since I then got to hear her unfiltered opinions about white parents who adopt black children. She joked about how she and her friend sit on the soccer field and try to pick out which of the black children are either "mixed" or "adopted." She pointed her finger saying "Yep, look at that messy hair. Adopted. Mixed. Adopted, adopted, mixed." Then she started laughing.

She went on for a while about how these parents think that "love is enough" all while not preparing their kids for the "different reality" that their kids will grow up in, simply by having darker skin. She's exactly right. Turns out she's a therapist and that some black adult adoptees have come to her to talk about how they don't know where they fit in, how their white parents didn't expose them to black culture so they have no way to judge character. She said that these kids end up in wrong crowds sometimes because they don't have positive black role models who show them how to judge character and help them know their place in the world. She even said that some white parents don't listen when their kids tell them instances where they were discriminated against.

I also found it interesting that she makes sure when her children are placed in their classes each year that "if there is only one other black child in that grade, they better be in my child's class." I was also thrilled to hear that one of her children was taught by B's kindergarten teacher, and that she loved her. I mean, she gushed about how wonderful she is.

She does "curly hair parties" for moms like me who are just learning. She is a bright, shining light of a person.

I also got her card before I left for the night.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

As Long as One and One is Two

Today on the playground, I noticed Abe standing at the bottom of a slide screaming up at some bigger boys at the top. I called him over to me. He trudged my way with shoulders down, Charlie-Brown-style. He said they'd been making fun of him for sucking his thumb.

So it begins.

I guess I sort of liked that his response was to yell back at them, despite their being older than him, bigger than him, and at the top of the slide with him at the bottom. I also admit to liking that he let me pick him up and walk with him out of sight of the big boys while he rested his face against my face with his thumb back in his mouth. I told him about how this is one of the reasons we've been telling him that he should reserve the thumb for the bed. As I'm telling him this, he looks at me sort of googly-eyed, leans forward and kisses my nose.

Substitute "father" for "mother" and "daughter" for "son," and you've got my feelings for my son. Sometimes, it's a literal ache in my chest, my love for this boy.

Saturday, October 22, 2011


Life has sort of gotten in the way of writing. There are a lot of things going around in my brain that I think I should take time to write about, but then something comes up like needing to get the girl who has fallen asleep on the bathroom floor to put on pajamas.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

We Love Our School

A few things we love about our daughter's school this year:

1. Every month, the principal hosts a coffee hour right after the start of school. The parents sit in an empty classroom with chairs in a circle, drink really good coffee (we're in Oregon, you know), and talk about whatever needs to be discussed.

2. After school, the kids play outside (if it's not too rainy) and the parents stand around talking, sometimes for over an hour like last Friday afternoon.

3. The "community" feel of this school is really amazing. We have yet to meet a parent who is not friendly and helpful.

4. Parents are very involved but not obsessively-involved in that "granola stepford-wife" way that results in quiet judgment and competitiveness among the parents. Yuck. Can't stand that.

5. In Beti's class, there are several other children of color, and the "room mother," is part of a transracial family. It's comforting to know I am not the only pink-skinned parent of a brown-skinned child.

6. The teacher this morning sent the kids to hang up their coats according to their skin color. She had a poster with about ten different colors of construction paper taped to it that she would point to and say "Whoever has beautiful skin this color can go hang up their coat." Diversity, diversity, diversity, understanding, understanding, understanding.

7. On the playground after school, we see the mom with the long salt-and-pepper hair who wears a "Peace" armband every day. The gawky, awkward, lumbering dad with the red-headed boy in clunky glasses who always is there every day for pick-up and drop-off. The adorable chubby boy and his spitting-image father who is the spitting image of this kid, my favorite character from Hook. The wasp-y looking mom whose hard exterior hides kind pragmatism (she rushed to help me one day when I lost Abe on the playground at a crowded event). The sprite of a black-haired, blue-eyed adoptee with artistic parents. On and on and on. Wonderful characters.

8. One morning this week, Beti's teacher had calmly brought an older kid into her classroom to have him write an essay for her about "What you did wrong out there and how you plan to do things differently next time." It was awesome, funny, and a little scary.

9. As soon as you walk into the classroom, you see a sign that says, "Rosa sat so Martin could walk. Martin walked so Barack could run. Barack ran so our children can fly." Even typing that, I get choked up, as I do every time I read it.

10. This one is the biggest of all. About two weeks into the school year, I sent a short email to all the parents in the class saying basically that Beti is new here, is still learning English, so if they or their kids notice any odd behavior, it's because she's getting used to things.

I've gotten nothing but support in response. It is blowing my mind. I haven't gotten even one bone-headed or intrusive question. I mean, seriously. Not one. Parents have written me emailed responses and have stopped me at the school to thank me for the email and tell me that they have talked to their kids about how they should be welcoming and patient with our daughter. Another one of the transracial moms wrote to tell me her daughter's story, and we emailed off and on all afternoon (turns out we know some of the same people in the immigrant community). They tell me how amazing they think Beti is, how they can't believe she's only been here two months, how she keeps up with every little thing in the class. They've been inviting her over to play after school. I get a happy tightness in my chest when I think about this supportive place we have found for her, for us, eventually for our son.

At the principal's coffee this week, as he was wrapping up, he asked if anyone had any last thing to add. Ted raised his hand and said, "My wife and I transferred in from another school, and we love the vibe here. For us, it's about the vibe, and we feel so supported..." Then he got choked up, eyes turning red and welling up with tears.

We feel so lucky to have founded another soft landing spot for our daughter.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Two Unrelated Things

Our children have reached that magical phase of not wanting to hurt each other most of the times. They moved from that to ignoring each other to finally playing more than fighting. They make each other crack up belly-laughing, and every time I hear them doing this, I sigh in relief. Every belly-laugh means one more strand tying them together. The chord is getting tighter every day.

Listening to NPR the other day about the debt crisis in Greece, I heard someone talk about how difficult life has become for the average Greek. Three examples were given: 1. Families rarely eat out in restaurants anymore. 2. Parents are buying less high quality food for their children. 3. Multi-generational households are happening more often because the adult children and grandparents can't afford to live on their own.

I then thought about how relative the term "difficult" is. These three examples were even referred to as "suffering." What? Really? I don't mean to be unsympathetic to the crisis to those living in the EU now, but have they not read stories like this one?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

What Daddy Does For a Living

We have had a hard time explaining to Beti what her daddy does for a living. He leaves the house at pretty random times (excluding the twice a week college class he teaches), sometimes for half an hour and other times for a few days. He also does his work at home too, so the whole thing was confusing.

Today, all that changed. We think she got it.

When we visit Daddy at work, we sometimes get to eat from the craft food service trucks. That is really fun and delicious.

We watched Daddy hanging around outside waiting for his cue to go inside, and then we watched him on the monitors. We giggled a lot when he looked into the camera and waved right at us and made goofy faces.

The nice sound mixer gave us headphones to hear the action. We listened very intently.

The main face we kept seeing in the monitor played with us for a while before we went home.

We are so over the paparazzi.

Hopefully this afternoon's excursion to a television show set will have put an end to the befuddled look on her face when we say that Daddy is working (and hopefully there will be many many many more sets to visit...).

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Why is our daughter laughing so hard?

Because my oldest friend, the famous Uncle Rusty (friends since we were 13), sent her a package in the mail full of They Might Be Giants magical goodness.

I highly recommend all three: Here Come the ABC's, Here Comes Science, and Here Come the 123's. We can't wait to scour all three over and over and over.

Here is Beti watching her favorite one (so far). This is the second time watching it; the first time, she nearly fell off her chair belly laughing. Thank you, Uncle Rusty!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Golden Child

We sit down to dinner and one child is dawdling instead of eating. This is an ongoing thing for us. We tell the dawdling child to eat or nothing until breakfast. Sometimes this child will eat; sometimes, not.

But inevitably, this is what happens if the dawdling child doesn't eat. The child who is eating makes some easy-breezy remark about how clean his/her plate is already. My response is always the same: "Yep. You're the golden child."

"The golden child" isn't reserved just for who is eating. Anything can prompt his/her appearance. The golden child appears when getting dressed before school, brushing teeth at night, helping out with dishes, etc.

It's never too early to teach sarcasm, right?

The sibling rivalry stuff is still going on for sure, though maybe lessening. It comes in waves, a lot like nausea. The kids have their moments. One of my favorite things lately is hearing them crack each other up. Both of them have definite fake laughs but they have recently been doing things to make each other genuinely belly laugh. Tonight on the way home, it was karate moves in the backseat of the car. I could giggle because I knew they were strapped in and unable to really hurt me or each other.

Sometimes they drag each other around the house by the clothes just cracking up as they do so. They are like two puppies they way they wrestle and roll around.

Then there are the times that they do or say something that cracks us up. Like last night at dinner when Abe was called back to the table after a time-out. He came to the table completely straight-faced and wearing a ridiculous infant sun hat from the dress-up bin. He did it to make us laugh.
Beti has taken to repeating whatever we say, which sounds more annoying than it is. Sometimes it's actually very funny. She will also spaz out at times, falling over laughing at herself or I'm not sure really. But it's funny.

Abe, in another time-out recently, looked up at me as I came to him and said, "Mom, did you know I farted two times sitting here on the step?"

I couldn't help giggling. It's gross, I know. It is. I should have been more stern, but I had to laugh.

Considering the stress we've been under lately, I don't mind fart jokes. I also don't mind the frequent appearance of a golden child. It means that at least one of them is behaving.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

She's like the wind.

See the tall, gangly girl in the shirt with an Ethiopian flag? The girl with the adorable headband and a huge smile? She girl with perfect posture, shoulders back, head up, swinging arms, long stride that makes it look so easy as she passes every other runner on the track?

That's my daughter. I am proud. I have never seen a child run like this, so effortlessly fast.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Every Little Thing

My favorite part of today was being woken up by our four-year-old. I told him it wasn't time to get up, thinking it was two hours earlier. I looked at my phone and saw that it was 9am. I had just slept 10 hours straight. I opened the window, and we got back into bed. The other two were off playing tennis. The rockstar and the princess cuddled in bed for the next 45 minutes, until the athletes in the family got back home. Then we ate their leftover donuts.

But maybe my favorite part of today was when I sat down with a plate of injera, greens, chicken, salad, and doro wot. I was very hungry. I ate my fill. I had just listened to a 17-year-old Ethiopian immigrant tell me "If you don't know how to fall down, you will never know how to get back up." He is a junior in high school and probably the most mature teenager I've ever met. He wants to be a doctor. I have no doubts about his future.

But actually, here it is. My favorite part about today: We were driving on the freeway with a song I like playing. Our daughter asked me to turn it down but instead I turned it up. Then I turned it up again. She realized what a good song it was. We exited the freeway. The next song was Bob Marley "Three Little Birds." I reached behind me and put my hand on the rockstar's leg. The athlete's hand then covered mine. It was a long light. I turned behind me and we all sang.

"Don't worry, about a thing. Cause every little thing is gonna be alright."

Tomorrow morning I board a very early flight to a funeral in my home state in the South. It will be my daughter's first time without me. I've prepped her the best I can. She says she doesn't want me to go, that she has a ticket so she can come too. But I know she'll be okay. I know she will.

Tomorrow, I get to smile at the rising sun. The three birds at home reminding me of their message, a melody pure and true.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Disarming Fear

We have gotten so much good advice from other parents who have adopted older children. One of the best things we've heard was this:

"Playfulness disarms fear."

One night this week, Ted was teaching a night class, so I was the one putting the kids to bed. We did our usual routine of bath, pajamas on, video, snack, teeth-brushing, bathroom, upstairs, in bed, tell a story, sing a song, kisses, goodnight.

All was well right until the end. Beti didn't want me to leave. She is getting more and more comfortable with falling asleep quickly and on her own but this night, maybe because Ted is usually the one who does this part of the night-time ritual, she tried to cling to me. She poked out the bottom lip (oh, she is so good at this) and looked like she was going to start the tears.

As true of most six-year-olds, she has some drama-queen tendencies, so we're still learning which tears are real and which are the ones pulled out in a power struggle. I sensed that these were the real ones. I hugged her tight, kissed her forehead, told her I loved her, that all was well.

The just clung tighter, asking me not to leave. I crouched down near her, snuggled her, and told her how important it is for her to go right to sleep since it was a school day for everyone the next day: for her, for her brother, and for Bang Bang.

She immediately stopped whimpering. She stared at me blankly.

"You didn't know that our cats go to kitty-school after you leave for kindergarten every day?"

She smiled hugely.

"Yep, they love kitty-school as much as you love school."

She started laughing, real giggles (not the fake kind she also uses in power struggles).

"Mom, Chitty and Buddy go to school too?"

"Oh yeah, they've both been going for a long time."

At this, I kissed her head again, told her goodnight, and as I walked out of the room, she was still smiling. She was asleep within a couple of minutes, hopefully dreaming about our cats wearing backpacks and doing math problems.

Bang-Bang, our therapy-cat.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Us Two

"Let's frighten the dragons," I said to Pooh,
"That's right," said Pooh to Me.

"I'm not afraid," I said to Pooh.
And I held his paw and I shouted "Shoo!
Silly old dragons!"--and off they flew.

"I wasn't afraid," said Pooh, said he,
"I'm never afraid with you."

It isn't much fun for One, but Two
Can stick together," says Pooh, says he.

"That's how it is," says Pooh.

--A. A. Milne

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Ethiopian New Year

What we'll be doing tomorrow, just on a smaller scale. On a hot Oregon day. Shoulder-shimmy, anyone? Maybe it's the late night, but this video just made me want to cry.

Thursday, September 8, 2011


Tomorrow is our daughter's first full day of school. We agonized over where to put her and the short story is that we pushed to get her out of our local school (one of the best in the city) into one that is more diverse. There was a lot of thought that went into this decision, many conversations with parents with families like ours, lots of reading and research, and when we finally decided, we felt relief.

Then we had to push to make it happen. The school we got her into had a waitlist of 21 kids just for kindergarten. While not the best in the city, it's still good enough that 21 families want their kids there. We found a sympathetic secretary who made a call. I wrote a letter and then hand-delivered it to the central office. Two days later, we got a letter saying she was in.

We gave that secretary today a thank-you note and gift certificate to our local coffee joint.

This morning was B's half-hour assessment with her new teacher. It went fine. She could do everything the teacher asked of her, including addition and subtraction. Afterward, I let the kids play for a pretty long while on the school playground. We walked to our car to leave with Beti running ahead on the sidewalk.

She stopped in her tracks and gasped, then yelled for me. Our girl has some drama queen tendencies, so I shrugged it off. Then I got closer and saw for myself: in the hour and a half we'd been in the school, our car had been broken into, the passenger side window completely smashed and our gps stolen. Glass was everywhere. I had no idea what to do.

I was at first worried about the glass. Then I was worried about our daughter being freaked out by this and maybe deciding she was better off in Addis. Turns out she quickly got over the shock of our car being "broken" and was really worried about the bag of lipgloss and nail polish she got for her birthday that she'd left in the car.

Of course, the irony hit me. We'd agonized over and then pushed to get her out of the "good" school (that is 99% white) and into the school in the "sketchy" neighborhood, only to have our car broken into on her first day at school. Had we made the wrong choice? Should we have stayed in the "safe" district where most of the kids show up on their first day wearing brand-new Hannah Anderson dresses instead of hand-me-down and yard-sale purchased clothes (like some families we know, cough, cough)?

The break-in experience certainly left a feeling of yuck about today, but you know, we're still excited about this school year. Her teacher told us there are four other kids of color in her class. For the city we're in, that's that bad. People want to be in this school. We are still committed. I've filled out the PTA membership form. We know that this break-in could have happened anywhere.

So tonight, her clothes are laid out ready to be put on in the morning (capris a hand-me-down from friends and the pink top bought by me and Goodwill over a year ago). Her hair is done, only needing to be retouched in the morning. Both kids are asleep, probably the earliest bedtime ever, and I've got this stuck in my head.

Good days ahead. No need to worry, my girl. I will always guard your lipgloss.

while you slumber
in case you ever wonder
if a summer breeze just brushed your cheek
know its me

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Now We Are Six

Now we are six.

Our daughter is six years old.

She got a tiara from her grandmother, my mother. She wore it all day, with one short break because the combs were hurting her head.

Ballet flats until hopscotch.

The feather boa came on for the short walk from the front door to the car, then off since no one could see her inside the tinted windows.

She pouted because she couldn't sleep with her make-up bag of nail polish and flavored lip smackers, a gift from a sweet neighbor.

She jumps into rivers.

She teases and antagonizes her little brother.

She pushes the cart around the grocery store and asks nonstop for items but never complains much when she hears 'no'.

Sometimes she hears 'yes' if it is a pack of birthday balloons, balloons which she blew up and tied curly string on to give to friends at her party.

A friend watched her today for a couple of hours while we went to work. The last half hour, she was asking about us, when we were coming back, anxious. I was glad. Maybe she is now expecting us to always come for her.

For her birthday, she requested hotdogs and strawberries, so we had both, along with strawberry cupcakes. We played pandora's Michael Jackson station (her favorite artist) and got "Let's Get it On" and "Sexual Healing" during that hotdog dinner.

During her short party, towards the end, she came to me with outstretched arms, asking "up please." She clung to me. She wanted kisses. She didn't want down so I held her.

Then she played hopscotch with friends. It was her first time to play.

She jumped into it. With gusto. Shoes off but her tiara back on her head.

Friday, September 2, 2011


Our kids are both moving up to the next level of swim lessons.

(Ted cringes at his "blah-blah-blahing" in the background)

Thursday, September 1, 2011


Being in the thick of things, I have little to say.

Life right now is a roller coaster. More accurately, our daughter is a roller coaster. This is to be expected, and we are, of course, letting her have her emotions. But it leaves me at the end of every day with few brainwaves for writing things down.

There is one incident I could try to recount, though I think I'd rather forget it. It involves a woman at a park who was letting her unleashed dog run in the kids' play area, though this is clearly against park rules. My daughter is terrified of dogs and won't play as long as this dog was running around.

After half an hour of my child clinging to me on my lap, I politely and apologetically asked the woman to keep her dog in the off-leash area of the park since my daughter was so afraid. I even let her know how nice I'm sure her dog is.

"Well, you know the best way to let your kid get over her fear is to let her be around nice dogs."

(Never mind that this woman is breaking the rules of the park by letting her dog run free. And don't you love unsolicited parenting advice from rule-breaking park goers?)

"Yes, I know this, and we plan on doing this but she is from Ethiopia where dogs are often used as guard dogs and not pets per se, so if you please wouldn't mind keeping your dog in the off-leash area..."

At this point, the woman got, shall we say, huffy. She told me that she was trying to watch her kid and her dog and couldn't really go to the dog-area without her kid.

"Oh, I know, that's hard. I totally understand, but see, my daughter can't play as long as your dog is running around. And honestly, you're breaking the rules of the park by letting your dog go free."

"See? You're not asking me, you've been telling me this whole time."

"My daughter has been here only three weeks. You could try to be a little understanding."

At this point I walked away, shaking in anger and sat down next to my friend who proceeded to take up the cause, raising her voice at the lady, telling her how she has a kid and a dog she takes to the park all the time and how she respects the rules of the park by tying her dog up in the kids' area.

It was nice to have my friend there to yell at the woman.

She kept her dog there unleashed for a few minutes ("out of spite" as my friend said) and then got lost. Sometimes, people act like jerks. That's about as deep as this post gets.

Serenity now.