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.