Saturday, July 18, 2015

Brittany's Back Biiiaaatch!

There's no easy way to say 'heeeeey' after such an aggressive hiatus, so I guess I'll jump right in. Besides, nobody reads blogs anymore, so here you are, audience of 7.

My name is Holly, I've had this blog for a loooong time but have not been super great about keeping it up.  We could blame it on a lot of things.  I'll start with the kids... because what is blaming for if you don't have kids? They are the alpha and omega, the brunt and the joy of every life... or at least mine.

Sometimes I try and remember myself before kids and it's so vivid, it's like I NEVER even had one and then I try and write another sentence and someone needs their butt wiped or my  husband passively vibes me for trying to take a few minutes to pour my heart out to the internets.  It's like a constant win/lose or lose/win depending on your perspective.

So with that said, I'm here. I have about 15 uninterrupted  minutes (conservatively).  If I'm really going to do this, I want to get a few things clear out of the gate.  I feel like the first time I attempted this whole blog/writing thing I didn't get what I wanted out there, so I'll start with what I hope is the obvious.  I love my life.  I really do. I wouldn't want anything different.  I never knew I wanted this life; I was the girl in high school who literally gagged at the girls who 'just wanted to get married and have 2.5 kids.' I wanted to smoke cigarettes up at the old junior high and steal my friends mom's tequila and listen to Rites of Passage while I experienced both.  But then I went to college and I fell super hard... for several boys, and then just one... and then I met the love of my life.  I never knew I was searching until I was truly found.   The thing is, I love Jesus, I really do. I look at the life I have and have no one to thank but Him.  I look at the incredible marriage I have and we have no one to thank for it but God.  That can be a hard thing to swallow at times.  If I'm honest, sometimes I want to take credit for something, or for all of it. But in my heart of hearts, I know. So with that said, I want you to know, despite my life I love and the God I love, I still struggle...

See, I'm at this weird place in life.  I'm 36- I have 4 kids. No babies. Who would have thought I loved babies so much???  Nobody who knew me when I had them, that's for sure.  See, the thing with time is it gives you perspective.  I look back on my 10 years of babies and I can't even believe how amazing that time was! If you are reading this, please heed my words... it's the best. It really is! Look at me, I'm like that old lady at the grocery store who says, 'oh boy, you sure have your hands full!'  You nod politely and say 'yeah, it's a lot' and she says, 'oh just you wait, they'll be grown before you know it!' and you think, oh hell no! this is the longest 18 months of my life!  Yes, that's me right now, all this wisdom with my 10, 8, 5, and 4 year old (insert sarcasm).  But seriously, it's crazy to me looking back on that time.... those babies were EVERYTHING. I wanted for nothing, I honestly can't remember being so fulfilled. Sure I was exhausted and tired and confused but I was SO IN LOVE! And the crazy thing is, I kept wanting more!

I grew up in a home where I was the center of my mom's world.  It was just me and her, so it wasn't like I was chosen or something... it was mostly circumstantial.  I was really, REALLY lucky to have such an incredibly dedicated and selfless mom.  She made what I wanted for dinner, she never missed a basketball game and she knew ALL of my friends, like really knew them.  Kind of like the time when she paid my friend $50 to find out if I was smoking cigarettes.   My friend was no fool, she took the money and narcked.  I'm just a tiny bit bitter.  But for reals , having a mom like that sets the bar really high.  I can't tell you  how thankful I am to have had her, and I really believe she made me into the mom I am today.

Yet, I'm not my mom.  You know how people are always like, 'I hope I don't turn into my mom!' and you're like 'it's inevitable, we all do!'  Well guess what, I actually really do hope I turn into my mom, but what I'm realizing is that I'm actually very different than her. I love working, I love my job, I love that my working job gets me out of the house! Which gets me back to this.  I'm 36, I have 4 kids.  I have no babies. See, I'm at this unique time in my life.  Those 4 kids need me, but not like they used to.  And I need them, but again, it's not what it used to be.  Remember that babies can't talk! They just coo and snuggle and cry but then they are so damn adorable because its YOUR baby you can't help but forgive them.  But now, the tides have turned.  I have 4 adorable kids, don't get me wrong, but they can often be tiny assholes.  They like to yell 'your're a butthole' and 'you're the worst'' and 'you're not my mom' and the dreaded... 'I hate you!'  Yes, they say it all, mostly the little guy, but none of them are exempt from their share of turdiness (new word).  I'm not saying I love them less because of the way they treat me and each other... it's just different.  I'm at this 'tween' like time... not totally all filled up with sweet baby buzz and not at that point where they are holed up in their room ignoring me or always out with their friends or going off to college.  I've got 4 live bodies ALL up in my grill, like all the time.  I can't leave them home alone yet (legally), I'm not a millionaire so I can't pay a babysitter to watch them on the regs, I'm just stuck!  I know, I know, enjoy this time... bigger the kid, bigger the problem.  I totally get it. I'm not trying to sound ungrateful or complain about the 4 kids I FULLY chose to have.  But with these 4 medium, mostly delightful problems, I have my own wants and desires..  like I've don't have a mouth attached to my nipple or massive guilt about not reading books to them every night.  It's like I've got these teeny tiny tastes of freedom and it tastes goooood! For the first time, I actually like being gone more than I like being home (within reason).  I kinda feel like a way toned down version of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (if you don't know this reference, you should probably stop reading now).  All that to say, I love my life, I love Jesus, but if you see me day drinking out and about a little more than normal, please know my heart is in the right place; I'm just trying to recapture a little bit of me again.

So there you have it.  A little glimpse into my tween years.  Next up,apparently I'm going to France like tomorrow.

Monday, November 11, 2013

an update of sorts

'a child born to another woman calls me mommy.
the magnitude of that tragedy 
the depth of that privilege are 
not lost on me.'
                                  -jody landers

i have this boy.

this tiny boy.

this tiny boy who turns 3 today.

some days it can feel like the hardest thing in the world.  not so much him, but just 4 kids and sometimes he gets the brunt of it.  do i expect more from him?
i do.
i do only because he is so perfect.  so mild mannered, mostly cooperative, and very sweet and tender.  this lends to the most sensitive boy i've ever known.  and let me tell you, oz was sensitive.  we couldn't even whisper, or sing, or spell the word 'NO' without him having a nervous breakdown.  teg is not far behind. the simplest reproach leaves me with an angry shout, 'you are not my friend!'  sometimes i want to stress about this but then someone else pulls me away and i just get over it.  and you know what?  so does he.  that's part of the awesomeness of tegeny. he gets over things VERY quickly.  and for that, i am eternally thankful.

when i began this process, nothing terrified me more than realizing i would have to meet or see my future child's family.  especially his mom.  i really didn't think i could survive such a meeting.  and maybe God knew that.  when we got our referral, he was one of those cases where not much was known.  i'll leave it at that, because that's our story, his story, and not yours.

but i can tell you this.  not a day goes by that i don't think about his mom, his brothers, his sisters... anyone at all that new this perfect child.  i have these crazy fantasies about him having a sibling and me tearing through heaven and earth to bring that child to me.  to him.
i think about his mom.  all.the.time.  like, i literally can't stop. like everything in me wants to tell her and show her and yell to her about this perfect boy that she made.  that i have.
and i think that is so much of it.

a couple weeks back my baby girl turned 4.  i've never had such an emotional reaction to ANY of my kids turning a year older.  i told her her birth story (standard in some households, not so much mine).  and then i cried as i lay next to her while she slept. i mean, tali is pretty ding dang special, but don't even get me started on the others.  those feelings exist for all of them.  but for her, this time, it felt SO different.  so foreign.

'tegeny turns 3 today.'  i put that in quotes because we have no idea when his birthday is or how old he is.  this was based on a physical by our amazing pediatrician, and some basic info from the orphanage.  i know teg expects nothing on nov 11, but it won't be long until he does.  and what do i have?  i can tell him the same ol story... you were born from my heart,  not my tummy.  Jesus gave you to me.  my perfect baby boy.  you completed our family tegeny.  you were what we hoped and prayed for for years...

yet not a day goes by that i look at our son, and want so badly to just piece together all that makes up his 29 pounds... his big brown eyes, his luscious lips, his tiny booty and worlds skinniest legs and just lay claim to all of it.  and yet, i've got nothing.  i know nothing.  and to think i have these feelings of incompleteness-- i can't even fathom what it will feel like for him someday.
i know i should just be thankful that i have him and he has us, and that he declares his love without abandon (something i know he doesn't get from me).  i want that to be enough.  but it's not.  i want him to know.  i want his mom to know.
and if i really boil it down, i think in a lot of ways, i want a little credit.  i want credit for all his amazing attributes.  i want credit for lily's skinny legs, and ozzy's big brown eyes, and tali's winning personality and on a good day, i might just take a little.  but the real truth is, i'm searching and found wanting.  all of the BEST qualities and features of my biological kids are, and will always be Jesus. and as for teg, if i could i would just squeeze, and kiss, and adore his mama if i found her, if she's even still alive, and then i would fall to my knees and thank our king that he appointed me to love and adore this boy forever.  because he, like all children are worthy.
so on those days when i stare awkwardly at him and try to peel away all that makes up my amazing son, my perfect last born, i'm once again searching and looking towards my king.  my alpha and omega.  and i'm saying thank you.  thank you for this boy and god bless his mom.  and please lord, let me do the very best i can.  with him.  with all of them.

how's that for a 8 month update?  i don't know what else to say.... he undoubtedly has his issues and i struggle mightily to always have the compassion i know i should, but really, the boy is perfect.  perfect for me, perfect for us.

Monday, March 18, 2013

2 (ish) weeks in...

Call it the honeymoon phase, or what you want, but these last 3 weeks have been better than I ever could have dreamed...
I promise I've really been trying to find the time to update you all (and myself years from now) on these first couple weeks with our boy... but it appears that 4 children is a lot more work than I thought.
B was just saying last night, 'I feel like going from 3 to 4 kids is really like going from 3 to 6 kids.'  It is just so much work!  It feels like the cleanup, the dishes, the mess, the cooking, the laundry... lord have mercy, the laundry alone, has seriously multiplied.  We realized its because we went from 3 to a whole 4.  Not 3 to a baby infant nursing sleeping thing, but a real live body, running around like crazy person yelling at the top of his lungs 'on your bed' to the dog (more on that milestone later).  Not to mention, the whole getting to know you aspect.  Like getting to know if you really will run into the street (yes), if you will yell and pull books off the shelves at the library (yes), if you will fall off the ladder of the bunk beds (yes), if you will have more diarrhea blowouts than all my other kids combined (yes).  Its a steep learning curve over here...   and not without many bumps and bruises (literally).

But before you go calling CPS on us, please know all of this work is far outweighed by this boy's smile.  I mean, for the love.... his smile just lights up our whole house.  And its not like he's rationing those things, its one big smile and laugh coming out of his tiny 22lb body.  

So where to start... well those first couple days home we were all on edge.. and our best behavior.  We tiptoed around each other, waited cautiously to see how he would react to anything and everything.  He was absolutely terrified of the dog.  Like super scared.  We kept her outside or yelled at her a ton to get on her bed.  Slowly, but surely he got more comfortable   Thankfully emma lou is so good with kids and used to being abused (lovingly) by Tali.  Once Elliot realized lou could care less about him, he took it upon himself to yell at the top of his lungs, 'get on your bed,' EVERY time she got off of it.  It didn't stop there, just this last saturday at the beach he spent the better part of it yelling furiously at every dog that went by, 'get on your bed!'  We have some pretty rad video of him yelling a string of amharic words at him. If only we had a translator...
Anyway, aside from yelling at the dog in those first days, he was sleeping a lot. He would wake up from his naps in bad mood which consisted of  'i will cry if you don't hold me for hours.'  I realized a lot of that was the jet lag and by day 5 he was pretty well regulated in the sleep department.  I wasn't totally sure how to do the sleep thing.  As parents of 3 kids, sleep is the ONE thing I feel totally confident bragging about.  Our 3 kids are great sleepers and have been since they were wee ones.  We did the whole 'cry it out' thing as infants with them (some earlier than others), and so every night we have all 3 kids in bed asleep without any laying or whining or any disruptions until 7 the next morning.  Its been a huge part of how and why B and I have been able to stay happily married-- that time we have together alone from 8-10 every night is so huge (even if we do spend it watching breaking bad).  
I knew that Elliot's sleep situation at the orphanage was in some ways very similar to what takes place at our place, but for attachment purposes I wanted to spend some time with him alone, quiet, dark, letting him know how much he is loved.  And I can honestly say that even though in some ways it feels like I am un-training is his stellar sleep habits, the time I get holding and rocking him every night has been some of our richest moments.  As most of you know, he learned 'I love you mama' on our second day together... don't think I haven't totally exploited that-- I'm practically begging him to say it to me every minute:)  So every night I take him upstairs after he gets a kiss from Daddo, brother and sisters and its our time to cuddle.  As soon as we get in our room, he melts into my body and lays his head on my shoulder.  We walk and rock and I start by saying, 'I love you Tegegne,' and he whispers back, 'I love you,'  then I say, 'daddo loves you,' and he replies 'daddo loves you' I say, 'Sissy loves you, 'to which he says, 'sissy loves you,'  then I say 'Ozzy loves you,' he says, 'Ozzy loves you,' and then I say, 'Tali loves you,' and he whispers again, 'Tali loves you.'  Lastly I say, 'Jesus loves you more than anything and anyone Tegegne... I will always love you Tegegne, I will never leave you. It's bedtime now, but when you wake up, I'll be right by your side.  I will always be with you Tegegne.  Forever.'  Of course he doesn't understand a word of it, but something in me has to believe he's getting it... after all-- deep cries out to deep.
So the sleep thing is going pretty good.  Once he falls asleep, he sleeps through the night.  The night however is not without its foes.  He wakes up more than I would like, his disruptions range from a whimper, to some string of Amharic words, to a full blown cry.  He's comforted by my voice and touch and quickly falls back to sleep, but it does break my heart to see how vulnerable he is in his slumber. We've also been working trying to get B in the bedtime mix.  We've been making some progress on that front, but we are nowhere near me being totally out of the picture.  

So that's sleep.  Food has been rather interesting.   As many of you know, my 3 bio kids are probably the worst eaters in the world.  No joke.  It could be pages of pages of a blog entry.  Lil, Oz and T straight up blow at eating.  I've tried almost everything, but no matter what I do, I'm a short order cook.  Its mac and cheese, chicken dinosaurs, pizza, or quesadillas every night around here.  Not only are they picky, but they are also very light eaters.  We're talking like its a struggle to get them to eat two chicken dinosaurs, and 1 box of mac and cheese easily feeds all 3.  I'm sure it has nothing to do with all the crackers they eat throughout the day, but I learned early on-- choose your battles-- and this one was one I clearly kept losing.  I'd heard a lot of things about ET kids appetites and I was excited to finally get an 'eater.'  And I will say, I definitely have an eater, but the eating that is going on is exactly what my crazy picky kids eat!  All he ever wants is bread, crackers, milk... forget any meat, fruits or veggies, he acts like they are an abomination in his mouth!  I had brought a couple sippy cups when I went to ET and he majorly attached to a yellow one.  By attach  I mean he held it all day long no matter what he was doing.  He's gotten a bit better at home, he doesn't need to always have one, but every so often he'll remember they exist and get them out of the drawer.  He'll try almost everything, but is very clear if he doesn't like it.  We are working hard to get as much protein in him as possible per Dr. B's instructions.

Now that we've covered the food... we can move on to the radical diarrhea we are battling.  I suppose battling is a inaccurate term since we loosing pretty bad.  Not much to say on that front, except it smells so incredibly wrong-- and the smell just lingers and lingers.  Febreeze, candles, scentsy- they are no match for the big D.  We are awaiting the lab results- but likely its giardia or some other type of intestinal parasite.
Homie loves water --especially dog bowl water
Mastering the slide in our backyard
Baby Ce-Lo

Probably the most frequent question we get is, 'how are the other kids doing?'  And to that I say, 'I couldn't be more proud of them.'  They really haven't missed a beat.  I know its still very early on, but they've been so great about it all- by all, I mean way less attention:)  Its definitely the most hard for Tali.  It's never easy getting bumped from baby status.  However she continues to amaze me.  In so many ways, she's the perfect kid to have this happen to.  She's my most social, cuddly, loving, accepting child of the 3.  She definitely has her moments-- telling me I always hold Elliot and not her.  It makes my heart sad for sure, but then the next minute she's begging me to wake him up cuz she wants to play with him.  It will be much easier when he can communicate, for now they just spend a lot of time tormenting the dog, or hoarding paper, bread, or canned goods and hiding them in various cupboards.  Most of the time they are outside sitting in the barbie jeep together, or making 'soup' out of mud, dog bowl water, and rocks.  It's really neat to see their love for each other grow.  I see it in little things every day.  Elliot bringing Tali her purse in the morning, or Tali giving him bites of her dinner.  Oz is still waiting patiently for Elliot to be ready to play guys, but in the meantime will settle with some hide and seek.  Lily and Elliot has been really special as well.  He seems to be the most enamored with her out of all the kids.  She loves to pick out his outfit and shoes, give him snacks and plays with him outside.  He in turn tries to get in her bed every night and pretend sleep, or sit next to her on the couch.  Just this last Saturday night, Lil was at a friends for a sleepover and as we were getting ready for bed, we were having the kids all take turns giving him a kiss like we do every night.  This is one of his (and their) favorite activities.  It's really cute to see him respond to their affection.  After tali and oz's kiss, he started looking around and asking for Lily.  It was super cute.
Besties (or at least working towards it)
Brother love
LOVES the beach

About a month before we brought Elliot home I was having all kinds of dreams about him. Crazy things, like he was able to totally speak English  or he just loved me so much, or he could be around other people no problem.  All of the dreams were REALLY good.  I'm not a crazy dream person, but every time I would have one I would wake up feeling so hopeful.  Even though life isn't exactly like what happened in those dreams, the feelings are the same.  I've had my ups and downs and struggles and fears of inadequacy these last few weeks, but all in all, I'm so overwhelmed with gratitude and awe at God's grace on all of us in this time.  When I tell people how well its going, a common response I get is, 'he must be so thankful.'  Those statements used to sit uneasily with me, but after further thought and time, I'm realizing that there are elements of gratitude.  I think mostly due to the freedom alone he now experiences- but really it just comes down to feeling so much love.  Elliot is SO loved by us and everyone he meets.  And so as I spend my days getting to know my new son, memorizing every inch of his body- a luxury from birth I didn't have with him... I marvel at his hands, his feet, his tummy... I see his little moles, and I see his scars.  It's hard not knowing why or where they came from, but I love knowing that every little pain he feels from now and forevermore I will know about and I WILL be there to kiss it and make it better.  As I watch him begin to grow into a healthy, confident little boy and beam at his infectious smile bringing so much joy into my heart and my home, my heart breaks knowing his birth mom (wherever she may be), will never know this boy born of her body. Yet in that same sadness, I'm overwhelmed with thankfulness knowing that God knew that the moment Elliot was born, that I would be his forever mom.  And I'm here to say as I do to him every night before bed, 'I will never leave you Tegegne, I will always be here for you.  Everyday, when you wake up, I will be here for you, because I am your mom and I love you.
One of many  semi- failed attempts at all 4

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Day 5

Even though we had a really special time at the goodbye ceremony on Tuesday  I came back to the guesthouse that day overcome with a lot of emotions.  After our nap, I started to feel super restless and kind of depressed.  I was feeling SO done being at the guesthouse.  We were the only people staying there and although it was 'kid friendly' in the ethiopian sense, it was far from easy having a toddler there.  The whole area was gated, so it wasn't unsafe, but the way it was laid out made it difficult to keep track of Elliot.  He couln't just run around free because there were many steps and drop offs at random places.  We literally had to follow him around the whole time he was outside, and HE was (and still is) totally obsessed with being outside.  On top of all that, I was just desperate to get home and see the rest of my family.  Having my mom there was so huge for so many reasons, one of which was she really helped keep my spirits up.

Waking up Wednesday morning, I was SO happy thinking that it was my last day there.  Unfortunately our flight wasn't out until 10:15 that evening, so we had the whole day with nothing to do.  There are no parks, or kid things, and we had no car even if there was somewhere we wanted to go.  The guesthouse that we were staying at has a ministry that they founded in in Addis  They encourage their guests to go tour the grounds of the ministry when they stay at the guesthouse.  Since we really had nothing else going, we decided to go check it out.  We had arranged to go the day before at 10, but in true ET fashion, when we arrived at 10 in the lobby, they were far from ready.  At about 10:30 they finally enlightened us that they were having a hard time finding a car to take us.  No problem, we'd just keep chasing Elliot around until they got there.  At about 11:15, a van pulled up.  In some of the reading I've been doing, they say it's important to really study your child, to find the things that can be fear triggers for your adopted child. I noticed on our drive from the orphanage that first day to our embassy appointment that Elliot's body kind of just went limp.  Sure he was holding on to me, but his overall disposition was extremely passive (not the boy we've come to know).  He barely moved, spoke or smiled-- he just fell limp in my arms.  When we got in the van to go to Mission Ethiopia, he started to do the same thing.  I felt so bad thinking that he was scared that we were going somewhere that wasn't safe.  I tried to comfort him and even asked the girl we were with to explain where we were going.  He loosened up a bit once we arrived, but still I felt sad.

We drove through the city for about 10 minutes then kind of pulled off the road onto a dirt road.  Houses and buildings were replaced by shacks and shanties.  We were in the slum.  It's hard enough being in the city, but being in the slum is a whole other experience.  The poverty and depravity is just staggering.  It pierces through your heart and steals the breath right from your chest.  To think this is the only reality these people have ever and will ever know is so defeating.  The girl began explaining what the Mission was as we pulled into the gates.  They are ministry that serves HIV positive women, widows, single mothers and their children.  They provide jobs for them.  They make necklaces that they call 'chunky beads'-- they are essentially necklaces with beads made of compressed paper- very common in certain parts of Africa, though called different names.  They then sell these necklaces at the guesthouses.  It's pretty rad, and I really commend the guy that started it all.  Like so many of us, his heart broke for the people of Ethiopia when he adopted his 2 kids a few years back, so he started this all up.  While touring the grounds we met many of the workers.  One guy with leprosy weaving door mats.  His fingers were pretty much non existent from the leprosy, but he smiled continually at us and you could tell that he had a real pride in his craft.  While the mom's are at work, there is a room for their non school age children to play and learn.  The kids were so excited to see us and kept yelling 'ferenge' (ET word for white people).  For some reason, seeing all this was incredibly overwhelming for me and I fought to keep my tears under control.  I was thankful that these kids had their mom so close by, but heartbroken for the poverty they had to face day in and day out.
Goodbye Addis

After our visit, we faced a long afternoon waiting for our flights.  I packed and re-packed and organized.  Finally it was time for dinner and before I knew it, Abe poked his head in and said it was time!  I was so happy to finally be beginning our journey home, but also incredibly overwhelmed at the first flight being 17 hours!!! Abe's fiance met us at the airport to say goodbye. They were so cute and gracious-- I can't wait for them to get married in a couple months!  After our goodbye we made our way into the airport.  I tried putting Elliot in the ergo, but after a few minutes he was pretty over it.  He wanted to run around.  We checked in with no problems and made our way to our gate.  Elliot didn't seem to concerned about the airplane once we made our way on.  He sat in his seat, then my lap, then back in his seat.  He hadn't napped that day, and it was 10:15 his time, so I was anticipating some good sleeping in his future.  I can't tell you how incredibly thankful I was that we flew Ethiopian Air this trip.  The whole staff from airport to flight attendants are so kid friendly and just generally awesome.  Once it was time to buckle up, Elliot started to get restless-- it was clear he did NOT like being restrained.  I asked the flight attendant to please explain in Amharic what was going on.  She did and he relaxed considerably.  But after about 5 mins more of this he was getting antsy again.  After crying for about 2 minutes, he fell asleep, and slept for.... 6 HOURS STRAIGHT!!! I was so relieved and happy.  I took advantage of sleeping as best I could with his head on my lap.  Part of the reason the flight home was 3 hours longer than flight there was because we had to stop in Rome to refuel.  By the time we landed in Rome, lights were on and people moving around made it so Elliot began to wake up.  He had a little snack as we waited to take off again.  The whole stop from touchdown to takeoff was about 2 hours.  Once the seat-belt had to come on again, he started to cry again.  I tried to comfort him from my seat, but again without the language I was feeling very inadequate.  Next thing I know, the angel flight attendant leans over me and starts rubbing his back and whispering to him in Amharic   As a mother of three, I feel like I know a thing or two about parenting, but I can't tell you how incredibly humbled I was in that moment. Humbled and overcome with gratitude.  It's never easy to see your kids suffer-- especially when there is a way to alleviate it.  Not being able to be the mom I wanted in that moment was just another reminder of just how little control I have over anything-- big or small.  Next thing I know, his little body gave way to sleep and he slept for another 2 hours.

So that made for 8 hours of sleep!  YES!  However, this led to a wake time of 7 hours.  On an airplane.  With a two year old.  I barely know.  Let's just say we did a lot of 'laps.'  We walked and walked and walked around that plane.  He just about won the heart of every soul on that plane.  And the flight attendants .. have mercy!  They scooped him up more than I could ever ask and just took him to their little hangout spot and loved on him.  It was so RAD! When we weren't walking around, we were trying to entertain him with play-doh, markers, and food. We had some success, but it always came back to the walking. Finally after 7 hours of this, he fell back asleep and slept the next 2 hours until we landed in DC.  As we deplaned in DC, I started to feel sad thinking this was the last time he would hear his language for a long time... The next few days and weeks would be incredibly lonely for him.  Again, I began feeling inadequate and sad that I couldn't fix this for him...
Sweet angel of a flight attendent

As many of you know, I'm not the most patriotic gal.  But landing on American soil that day was one of the best feelings ever.  I wasn't sure how it would work with customs and immigration, but the officer handled our paperwork in about 2 mins and passed us through-- like it was NO big deal to bring an Ethiopian toddler to America as your own.  As we walked through the airport to our next gate, I was holding Elliot and looking around the unusually quiet airport.  I suddenly became so overwhelmed looking at him taking it all in.  To think that walking through that gate, Elliot's life was changed forever.  He could BE anything now, he could GO anywhere.  EVERY opportunity is at his fingertips.  He could BE any kind of man he wants to.  At the risk of sounding totally cliche, this new world was his oyster.  If nothing else, I'm so thankful for the great opportunity this land will give him. (To clairfy- I'm not saying he couldn't do all this growing up as an orphan in Ethiopia- our God is very big and can do what He wants, yet I'm not totally ignorant and recognize the opportunities America affords all its people is incredibly unique and wonderful- and for that I am very thankful).

We stopped off at the food court to refuel before our last flight home-- a mere 5 hour jaunt across the states.  My mom took him on a little walk while I caught up on some texts and calls and generally just sat down feeling more exhausted (physically, spirituality, emotionally) than I had in long time.  My mom and him stumbled upon pretzel annie's where it turned out the girl working could speak Amharic   Elliot just lit up as she asked him his name (Tegegn), his age (2) and where he was from (Addis)-. He answered all of them.   (Side note, apparently he told one of the flight attendants that he was from Addis, but he wasn't going back!)  The pretzel girl then asked  him who his mom was, and he totally turned and hugged me! It just melted my heart.

Finally it was time to board our last flight...I love flying Virgin, but not with a 2 year old.  We were surrounded by a bunch of young career types all dressed in biz cas doing a lot of talk about re-branding, public radio, and ski trip to aspen with colleagues.  The irony was so thick to me as I sat there with my 1 day old adopted son coming off a 17 hour flight from a third world country.  Irony lost on them, but I was cracking up inside... they have nooooooo idea.  Probably about anything.  Harsh I know, but you know I couldn't resist.  After about 2 hours of fidgeting, Elliot finally fell asleep and slept the last 3 hours home.

When the captain finally uttered those sweet words, 'Folks we will be landing in San Francisco in about 20 minutes, please fasten your seat belts,' I just about died of relief.  It was finally ALL over.  I honestly can't think of a time in my life I was more thankful.

As we turned the corner to baggage claim, I laid eyes on the sweetest thing... there was my man.  My partner, my besty.  We hugged and rejoiced-- grabbed our stuff and began the drive home.

The care ride was relatively uneventful- Elliot struggled a bit with the car seat, but eventually sleep won him (and me) again.  Pulling up to Fearn ave, our new life officially began....

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Day 4

So after my good morning cuddles, we made our way down to breakfast.  I brought down some plain instant oatmeal I had packed from home.  While we were waiting for our breakfast I made the oatmeal for him and he ate the whole bowl. Then the eggs and toast came out. He ate at least 2 maybe 3 scrambled eggs and 2 pieces of toast!  It was so awesome.  After breakfast, he discovered outside.  Once that slider was open, he was gone baby gone.  The guesthouse is completely gated, so he just roamed around, coming in and out.  Laughing, running, smiling… not a care in the world.  I loved seeing him so happy and carefree.
Abe arrived at 9:30 and took us over to Hilawe.  I was a little nervous to return there after the amazing 24 hours we had together, but I knew how important this goodbye ceremony was for the orphanage, as well as for Elliot.  They sat us down and asked if they could take Elliot up to change him into his clothes for the ceremony.  While E was getting ready, we chatted with the director of the orphanage.  It was really interesting talking to him about adoption, the future, and just the process in general. He was a very neat man, and you could tell his best interests truly were with the children.  I came away from our conversation feeling really thankful that Elliot got to spend so much time at that particular orphanage. 

As we were talking, the nannies began bringing down all of Elliot's friends one by one.  They all get to sit on the rug and be a part of the ceremony.  Elliot was no stranger to these goodbye parties, they said he had been to dozens. 
My mom with the sweet babies

Next thing I know, baby boy comes marching down the stairs being held by one of the nannies in his ceremony clothes.  He had the biggest grin on his face, it was so adorable.

Once downstairs, we huddled together in a circle.  They told me we would all lay hands on Elliot and they would pray in Amharic and then I could pray in English if I wanted.  As soon as my fingers touched his nannies, I was  a goner.  I had no idea what they said in Amharic but when it was over I jumped at the chance to pray for my boy with his people.  I wanted to be sure and give all honor to them for the care and love they gave him before I got him. I mentioned how crazy it was to be in eye of the past and future.  I had to cut it short because the tears were winning and I would be a blubbering mess if I didn't wrap it up.  After the prayer, we sat down.  With Elliot on my lap, we cut the huge loaf of bread and partook in the traditional coffee ceremony.  Always awkward since I don’t ever drink coffee and don’t like it one bit, but thankfully the cups are tiny.  They gave me a few little gifts, and expressed how bittersweet this day was for them.  On one hand they are so happy that he has a family now, but they will miss him tremendously. 

Handprint for the orphanage

Elliot has been with this girl for the last year.  Staff said they were very close.

After the formalities were over, we were stuck waiting for our driver to come back to get us.  We hung out around the orphanage, chatting with the staff and watching Elliot run around like the king of the castle.  He was loving the special privilege of being downstairs for so long.  I watched him play soccer with the guard, pray for more people, and steal snacks from the kitchen.  It really was neat to see his true self come out. Next thing I know, he comes around the corner with diarrhea all the way up his back—all over his ceremonial wear!  I didn't know how to deal with it, I only had so many wipes, and it was everywhere!.  One of the staff told me the nannies would take care of it upstairs because they had a shower where they could rinse him off.  She started to bring him up the stairs and he looked back at me with big tears, and started leaning for me and crying.  I of course came to his rescue and walked up there with him. While the nannies changed him, I waited in the room where he used to be.  It was naptime so the babies/toddlers were in various stages of napping.  Some were asleep, some were being changed.   I looked over where I had seen Elliot sleep a few times and saw a little guy probably about 18 months old sitting up, clutching a blanket, and making that nursing suckling sound.  He kept taking the blanket up to his mouth and trying to nurse it while he dozed off.  It just about broke my heart in two.  On one hand, I was thankful he actually was able to nurse for a time, but on the other so heartbroken knowing that was no longer a reality for him.  Who knows what his story is, or how long he had his mom, but regardless it got a hold of me in way I wasn't expecting.  My heart was just breaking for all of these babies…

Back downstairs, we spent a lot of time talking with the head social worker who had told me about Elliot’s praying.  Her heart for the kids was on her sleeve, and it was really special to hear her share about her faith and thoughts about everything.  She shared with us her great dream for her daughter to be able to go to university in America.  Before we left, I really felt like God was telling me to give her my necklace.  The necklace was incredibly special to me, as it was given to me by my girls before I left for my first trip.  It said ‘miracles happen every day.’  I wore it every day my first trip and Elliot clung to it many times.  At the guesthouse the last 24 hours, he would find it and give it to me all the time.  Not only did the necklace play a large part in our initial bonding, it was also a special gift from my best friends.  Yet looking at the passion in this woman’s eyes, I knew my time with it was over.  So before we left, I took it off my neck and placed it around hers.  I said, ‘this necklace has been such a blessing to me for my time in Ethiopia, it was a gift from my dearest friends, it says, ‘miracles happen every day,’ and it just so turns out I already got my miracle. He’s in the car waiting for me.  Its your turn now.  I pray it brings you many miracles now.  I promise to raise this boy in the way of the Lord.  Thank you for taking him this far.’ It was incredibly special to share that time with her.

Back in the car, we made our way to the guesthouse and left Hilawe for the last time. It was bittersweet for sure.  But for the most part, it was so incredibly freeing--  He was all mine now.  Back at the guesthouse, we napped again, had dinner and went to sleep with the great joy that we were leaving the very next day.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Day 3

It was pretty trippy to go to sleep as a mother of 3 on sunday night and know when I woke up that I would physically have 4 children.  Elliot has legally been ours since court, but since he wasn't in our possession I really didn't feel like I had 4 kids.  As I wrote on day 1, I was pretty nervous about seeing him again. The way it worked was that even though we flew in Sunday, we couldn't go see him til Monday morning.  And the Monday morning visit would be only 10 minutes to reconnect before I had to whisk him away to our embassy appointment.  I woke up early, had some tea, got to pray and read a bit.  I had a lot of peace and was thankful that God has really allowed me to be in the moment this whole trip.  Every time I started to try and predict what it would be like with him these next couple days, God would just shut it down.  So when Abrehem poked his head through the gate, I knew it was time.

When we pulled up to the gates of the orphanage, we saw a lot of the little guys were outside.  It was neat to see them playing outside, because during our court trip I didn't see the nannies take them outside at all.  I thought maybe Elliot would be out there, but he wasn't.  They told me he was upstairs getting dressed and to wait outside.  I sat on the ground and played with all the little ones.  They were so cute and friendly, it was hard not to want to scoop them all up.  One of the nannies popped her head out and said he was ready.  I walked up the 3 flights and saw his little face over the gate of one of the rooms.  I immediately crouched low and crawled over to him.  I started talking low and whispering to him that his mom was back and we were going to go home now.  Of course he didn't understand a word, but I wanted to give him some space but also try and comfort him.  Then I got out my phone and started showing him pictures of the last time I saw him.  I showed him a video of him and I and several pictures.  He started showing some interest, and then once I let him hold my phone, I was inJ 

I carried him downstairs.  He was  bit hesitant, but wasn't reaching for the nannies.  We walked out and got in the car and he let out a couple little cries.  I held him close and tried to reassure him.  By the time we were down the road he had wrapped his body around mine and was gripping my shirt.  I held him tight and scratched his back.  As usual there was massive traffic getting to the US embassy, and before I knew it he had fallen right asleep on me.  It was the best feeling ever.

Embassy was incredibly anti-climatic.  We showed them our passports, waited in a room for about 5 mins, then they called our name.  I walked up to a window and a man asked me a couple questions, then said, 'congratulations, your adoption is complete.'  We left and headed back to the guesthouse.

I had asked the social worker prior to our arrival to have the going away party right after embassy.  They assured me this would be no problem.  I wanted to make a clean break from the orphanage, I didn't want to have to take him back after he had been away.  So when we got back and they told me the party now wouldn't be until Tuesday, I was pretty bummed.  Knowing there was nothing I could do, I just accepted that was the way it would be.  The head social worker of the orphanage called me into the office so they could tell me a bit about Elliot’s schedule.   We went over some basics about what he eats, when he sleeps, personality etc.  It was neat to hear more about his personality.  They told me he is the leader of the toddlers, very outgoing, and a happy boy.  Since all I had witnessed up until that point was a quiet little guy, it was fun to hear about his real self.  After everyone had left the office, it was just me and Elliot and the social worker.  I started to get up to leave, but she stopped me.  She said, ‘can I ask you a small question?’  I said, ‘yes, of course- anything.’  She looked up and said, ‘are you a Christian?’ I said, ‘I am.’  With much relief she said, ‘oh good, that is of the most importance.’ I went on to tell her about our faith, community and that we are praying that a life following Jesus was in Elliot’s future.  She said, ‘that’s good, because he is going to be a pastor.  Watch this.’  Then the boy, who I've heard utter only one or two words, places his hand on her head and says something in Amharic and then a big amen!  It was so crazy.  She went on to tell me how he prays for everyone.  It was pretty special to say the least.
Elliot with nannies and staff at Hilawe

We left Hilawe and headed back to the guesthouse.  He seemed pretty tired, so I just laid him down in the bed next to me and we fell asleep within minutes.  Four hours later, there was a knock at the door telling us it was time for dinner.  Elliot sat down and ate a whole plate of spaghetti and then about half of mine.  The boy can put it back.  It was awesome!  After dinner we got our best glimpse of his true self. He started smiling and laughing and playing with toys and just being generally adorable.  We finally made our way up to our room to get ready for bed, but he was still wide awake from that crazy nap.  So for the next hour he opened and closed these Tupperware tubs my mom brought.  He filled them with stuff from around the room then jammed it all in the cupboard in our room.  He organized and rearranged the shoes and toys.  He was totally entertained for a good hour.  I started to get tired, so I turned out one of the lights and tried to lay him down next to me.  He got right up and kept playing.  After 10 mins more of playing, I finally put him in the bed and turned out the light.  He was asleep within minutes!  He slept the entire night without waking.  It was crazy to wake up every so often and here his little breath. Occasionally he would let out a little whimper or sigh and I would take my hand and place it on his chest.  He finally woke up around  7… I was a little nervous to see how he would be in the morning.  But lo and behold he rolled right over and gave me a big ol smile.  Perfect end to a perfect beginning.


Sunday, February 24, 2013

Day 2

I’m about an hour from touching down in Addis.  The plane ride has, for the most part, been pretty uneventful which I’m super thankful for… however I’m a little concerned about getting the chainsaw in my checked bag through customs!  I’m even more thankful to have my mom by my side on this trip.  As I have mentioned more than once, the first trip we (Brandon and I) took to Ethiopia back in October was the hardest thing I’ve done in my adult life.  Many factors contributed to my anxiety—from stress about how the kids back home would fare without us, to the unthinkable – some type of accident while traveling.  Add those to the stress of being in a new country and meeting your two year old son for the first time.  Yet as I should know by now, God’s grace came in such abundance, that my every little concern was covered in multitudes. 

It was always our intention to travel back the second time together. Since it is not a requirement for both parents to come for the second visit, many adoptive families chose to have only one parent come.  Since the second trip is so short, having only one parent (the primary caregiver) come is a great way to offset the overall adoption cost.  For us it was only about 6 weeks ago that we decided maybe both of us wouldn't come.  Many people were surprised that Brandon was okay with staying back this time.  Once we began throwing the idea around of having my mom come,  I was amazed at the peace God gave me about the trip.  Brandon graciously told me he wanted to do whatever was best for our entire family.  Being able to be totally focused on Elliot this trip was my top priority.  As amazing as it would be having B here, I know that the stress of how the kids back home were doing would make me lose focus. Knowing B is home caring for our babies makes all of this so much easier.   Having a mom whose heart is so inclined for the impoverished, and a heart so full of love for Jesus and all children was the best traveling companion I could have asked for.  Not to mention, I can be my WHOLE self around her, and much like labor, feeling safe in this journey is of paramount importance.

The weeks leading up to this trip have been some of the busiest of my life.  As if juggling 3 kids, a husband, and many extracurricular events wasn’t enough, I suddenly was hit with a massive wave of work.  I’ve been a real estate broker for almost 8 years, yet about 6 months ago I made the decision to go work for a local company.  Previously I just worked from home, mostly with friends and family, and averaged about 2-3 deals a year.  I’m on track to close more escrows in 1 year with SLO realty than all the deals I did as a broker for myself the last 7 years .  I wasn’t sure how well I would transition in to being a working mom, but without even knowing I went from very part time to almost full time.  Thankfully, I really love what I do, so I didn't even realize how consumed I became.  Instead of being super stressed about leaving the kids this go around, I became super stressed about leaving my open escrows.  Yet, like my first trip, my amazing community rallied around me and is standing in the gaps for me.  As I have some time to finally reflect, I’m really realizing how much God used all the work these last couple weeks to totally curb my anxiety about traveling.  I was actually to busy to worry about anything but work!
I found myself saying things like the ‘storm before the calm’ these last few weeks.  I know I can’t fully comprehend just how much my life will change in 1 week.  To go from working my booty off, to girls nights, solo trail runs, date nights with my husband, pedicures with lily, to being a true blue stay at home mom is going to be a very interesting transition.  It’s not easy for me to have to think about saying no to things, but I have to keep reminding myself that these next few months with Elliot are so critical.  That establishing his trust and confidence in me has to outweigh everything. I know it will be such a battle with my flesh, yet as He continues to do, I’m trusting my God will give me everything I need to walk this out.  Please be praying for me in this.

As many of you know, international adoption is quite costly.  B and I were fully prepared to incur any debt for this adoption.  There were times our credit cards got to high, and we had to wait to take the next step, yet either through gifts, an AMAZING fundraiser, or a closed escrow, I am so proud to say that we will walk away from this adoption 100% debt free.  For all of you who have contributed either monetarily, or by watching my kids so I could work, or by having me be your realtor, my heart is so full of thanks and gratitude.  I love seeing God in the details….