Some of these were taken a few weeks ago when we went to the Exotic Zoo in Johnson City. We spent the night there, we fed a camel AND a buffalo, we saw a joey in its mama's pouch, and had a 6 week old llama follow us around. All in all, a fun trip...
On the15th we found out that our homestudy was approved! This is a pretty big step, the one that takes the longest, the one that says-- after picking over your life with a fined-toothed comb, we believe you to be capable of adopting from Ethiopia. It is very exciting. We are now waiting for CIS (immigration services) to tell us when we are to drive to San Antonio to be fingerprinted. We have several other official documents that need to be gathered to complete our dossier, which is a packet of information that includes things like, birth and marriage certificates, doctor statements, homestudy, etc. that will be sent to our agency, translated, then sent on to Ethiopia for their governments' approval.
When I was a little girl, orphans were fascinating to me. So many fairy tales and stories feature orphans it is impossible to not consider the notion of a child living apart from their parents when you are still quite small. I don't know the moment that adopting a child entered my mind as a possibility for my future. My guess is when I was still a child myself. But I do know when it became concrete and something I knew for certain I wanted to do. When I was 21, I provided childcare for a family with two small children. Melissa, the mom, had a booklet from an adoption agency that was full of pictures of waiting children from the States and from other countries. Halfway through the booklet near the bottom was a picture of a brother and sister from Haiti. They were three-year old twins. And they were so beautiful and so in need of a family. I couldn't stop thinking about them for a long time. I ached that I was too young to claim them. So I tucked it away for a long time--- A child in Haiti will someday need me and someday I will be ready. When I began to first do the real research, I learned about Haiti's children. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western world. Many, many children there are in need. But I was eventually led (pulled) toward Ethiopia and it landed on my heart and just sat there, unwavering. It is amazing how a seemingly small event, like Melissa having that booklet in her house, could affect the course of my life, and then by default Erik's, and the shape and growth of our family. And the lives of my future children.
I had a dry spell with the posting here. Partly because we've been so busy with the work of preparing for a move with three small children. But mostly because this summer I spent a good deal of time questioning whether or not we could do this. Not just do this, but do this well. Many Questions arise when one pursues international adoption. The furthur we get down the road, the more Questions there are. And I have tried to face them all with an open, clear mind and heart. Questions of race, culture, racism, adoption ethics, family dynamics, birth families, white privledge, United States policies, corrupt governments, poverty... This process is rife with opportunity for self-exploration and unfortunately, self-doubt. But with every question, even the most ugly and complicated ones, we come back to the soul of a child who needs a home right now and two people who want to parent more children. And it has to be the answer that matters the most.
At the parent orientation a week before school started we were to check our numbered mailboxes for all important literature about policies, homework, don't let the pedophile through the door behind you, etc. Well, I stood in front of the mailboxes for awhile convinced that someone else raided the Romberg family mailbox. I looked in number 19. There was nothing there. So Ava's lead teacher comes over to check her box and I say something slightly accusing and pitiful about there not being anything in mine. That's when she points out that I'm looking in number 18. Number 19 is the one RIGHT NEXT TO IT. Now I'd like to think I could figure out a mailbox grid system. But apparently given the right circumstances this is well above my current intelligence level. So then later as we are sitting in the tiny chairs and the clipboard comes our way with the volunteer sign up sheet, the only thing left (we are last to receive it) is Room Parent. I try to discreetly show Erik our misfortune and ascertain whether this will result in disaster. He assures me, in a decidedly unassured way, that it will be fine. So I write our names down and hope I haven't screwed us for the entire year. I imagine Ava's teacher Leslie seeing the list later and thinking, "What?? The lady who couldn't find number 19!?! SHE'S the Room Parent?!?"
But wait there's more...
Yesterday I was early to pick up Ava from school. We are hanging around and then Eden tells me she needs to pee. So we walk down the hall and I realize quickly that the bathroom door is directly opposite one of Ava's classroom doors. And it is open. Now I'm not sure how I knew this was going to prove fatal, but I knew. So I try to get the three of us into the bathroom quickly and quietly. And I succeed. Eden pees, then Safa, who is OBSESSED with sitting on the potty "pees", we wash our hands, and begin to exit. I swear I barely open the door and damn if those two don't bolt right for Ava's classroom. They pass Leslie standing at the door and enter with an air of comfortable entitlement. The entire class is sitting in a semi-circle listening to Paulo's dad read "Are You My Mother?" in Spanish. Ava is, of course, the child farthest from the door. Leslie whispers, "Do they want to sit down and listen to the story?" I look into the class, and Safa has crossed in front of the children and Paulo's dad to tackle Ava. Eden is walking right in front of Paulo's dad and is talking in a loud voice asking me questions. Then Leslie says, "You guys can leave whenever you want to" It is not rude at all. It is filled with pity for the dumb lady who can't find number 19 AND can't control her kids. I'm trying to reach Eden and I can't. Safa is a lost cause way across the expanse of now staring children. She and Ava are now laying on the floor and Ava is saying "Safa!!" in a loud, annoyed voice. So I realize if I go around to the other door I can grab Safa and get out of there. So I tell Eden to wait in the hall for me while I go get Safa. She immediately wanders back into the classroom. I go down the hall just a bit and quietly open the door. Safa is now within 4 feet of me. As I reach out to grab her, I slip on the wet floor and FALL ON MY ASS in front of three teachers, 17 children and Paulo's dad. (Who, to his credit, keeps reading the entire time). ON MY ASS... I'm laughing and trying to reach Safa and Eden and Ava wants to stay, and the other teacher is cleaning up the mess and the other teacher is red-faced and laughing. Meanwhile Leslie is thinking, "HER?!?!?!?!?!"
We get outside. There is more to this story but it gets less funny and more pitiful and ends in me trying not to yell at my children in the alternative school parking lot.
One of my dearest friends has moved to Boulder. Her leaving is sadder then to me than I was able to express to her and reminds me of how quickly time passes. One of the saddest parts is that pictures will have to be enough. These are for her...
Eden fell asleep on the couch on a particularly tired afternoon. I walked by and saw paper piled over her face while Safa attacked her toes and eyes. Ava had been drawing pictures and putting them on her while Safa poked and prodded her. She slept through the whole thing.
On Tuesday we sent out the paperwork and a giant check to Citizenship and Immigration Services. Actually, we were told to make the check out to Department of Homeland Security. It chapped my ass. Erik said perhaps we should make it out to Haliburton directly. But it is afterall for a good cause. And it gets us one step closer to our next child. You know what is so weird? Everytime I need to say or type baby/child, it feels wrong not to say the plural. Or at least "child(ren)". How strange and exciting to not know what is coming our way.
Every paper we sign, every phone call, email, notarization gets us closer. But what I can not deny or shake is that whatever is happening now in our future child's life (or children's lives) is tragic. Right now they are struggling. Right now, wherever they are, whoever is caring for them--- they are hungry. And they don't have enough clean water. The people who love them, the people whom they love, don't have the medication they need. It is hard to watch the crust of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich go down the disposal when my Ethiopian children are hungry. It is hard to water plants without thinking of them. If I let it all in, it could immobilize me. So the only thing to do is let it remind me of how blessed I am and how thankful I am that eventually they will be here with us.
Or perhaps I should say, "wink". Usually one eye is a little more open than the other. But her mouth always does what it is doing in the picture. The first time she did it, Erik was putting her to bed and it was kind of dark and he thought she was having some kind of seizure. What I can't understand is why she somehow has never looked more like me in her life than in this picture...
Ava's school had a Crossing Over ceremony for all the children that will be leaving Starbright to enter kindergarten. When we entered, I saw parents with Kleenex and I thought, "How stupid". Yeah, well... by the time it was over I felt like I needed to crawl into a hole and cry for about ten years. It was so sweet and lovely. Each child wore a crown and one teacher lit their candle, then they walked over a bridge, then blew the candle out. A version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" was playing. They were all given necklaces to wear. And afterwards, they gave them tooth pillows since they would all be loosing their first tooth soon. Inside each pillow was a small, handpainted note. Each children's note said something special about who they are. One little girl's said, "I am a golden star." Ava's said, "I am a tender bud soon to open." I seriously feel like I need the hole just writing about it now. She was so beautiful and grown that day.
Today I went to Costco for the first time in three weeks. I'm not going to tell you how much I spent because I think it might make your stomach hurt. After two Costco employees managed to get all my groceries into my cart using some awesome Tetris-like packing I had to carry Safa and pull the loaded cart behind me. This is nothing new, but it was much heavier than I'm used to. And as I was doing it I quite seriously thought, "This would be a thousand times easier if I had some kind of donkey-like harness to strap to myself and then to the cart." I told Erik I might have to market it. He suggested I call it, "Big Family Donkey Harness". I think the name needs work. But I swear I would buy one.
Every once in awhile, when I'm feeling particularly generous and ready to handle cranky children in the afternoon, I let Eden skip her nap and have rest time with Ava. Yesterday after I got them, Ava told me that they got tired during rest time and so she turned off the light and they got into her bed together to try to sleep. Then she said, "But we couldn't go to sleep, I think, because we loved each other so much." My knees buckled at the sweetness. Of course an hour later there was a dispute over a few inches of space on the couch and who claimed said inches first, who touched who first and who used a ruder voice while doing the touching...
Yesterday as I was cleaning up from dinner I heard a cry that I knew came from pain but I couldn't tell who it was coming from. (They are all starting to sound the same). So I walked into the living room to see Ava wrapped in a blanket crying. Hard. I asked her what happened but she was crying too hard for me to understand. I asked her to tell me again and I figured out that she hit her nose on the doorknob. Yes, that was my first thought as well. So I said, " What happened????" And now as you read her response to me I want you to hear it in a loud, drama-filled crying voice, "I was walking with my eyes closed because I was pretending to be an England gnome and I bumped into it!!" So I pulled her close so she wouldn't see me laugh.
Being a parent is sometimes gross. All parents, anyone who takes care of children for that matter, knows this. Poop and vomit stories abound. I won't bore you with those. In the past month the following things have happened:
I discovered a jet black long-dead banana behind the cannon. It was bleeding some sort of nasty banana-funk ooze.
I had to fish a ketchup packet out of the toilet that Safa managed to shove between my legs while I was peeing.
I discovered Ava's lunch box in the car after about a week and a half. Her uneaten sandwich--I kid you not--had turned into toxic soup. I swear I can still smell it.
I saw Safa feed Miles from her fork, then put in back into her mouth.
We had the first visit of our homestudy yesterday. A homestudy is a mandatory part of every adoption and is completed by a social worker. The process takes several weeks to complete. And although everything you read tells you that the home visit portion is not meant to be a white glove inspection, it can still be a little unnerving. It did help a bit that I'd met our social worker before and she happens to be the sister of one of my favorite people on the planet. But it can make you a bit jittery and crazy knowing someone is coming to check out your house and ask you somewhat personal questions. By "somewhat personal questions" I mean things like "How many times do you poop each year?" and "How often, on average, do you mutter foul cursings in any given day?" Just kidding. I actually have much dirtier, and therefore in my opinion, much funnier versions of these fake questions, but my internal censor suggests I keep them to myself. So I will. But I suggest you come up with a few of your own.
Anyway, we spent the weekend cleaning and doing all the things we should have done before Ava was born, like tearing down the meth lab and clearing out the broken glass in the living room. We also put up a stair gate. I also will confess to a crazy moment of spraying air freshener in the garage---was I losing my mind? I mean I hadn't even vacuumed in there yet. And despite the knowledge that the process is not meant to be stressful, this is also not the time to be cool and nonchalant either. You don't really want to look like you didn't do anything to prepare, but you don't want to come off as obsessed neat freaks either. So you have to strike the balance. In the end, it was fine. More than fine. Our social worker put us immediately at ease and it was like talking to a friend. And she didn't even set foot in the garage.
Safa, or as I like to call her Tyrant Sister Queen (TSQ for short), has entered toddlerhood. How do I know this? Because within a ten minute period the following two things happened: She laid down a nasty 6 inch scratch on Eden's thigh for absolutely no reason accompanied by some sort of shrieking that scared us all, and as I finished biting off the last fingernail while she struggled to get free (I couldn't find the nailclippers plus I was just in the mood) I said, "Here, have this" and tossed her some unimportant toiletry item, then, "I'm about to give your ass some Benadryl." I didn't. But I might.
Today we sent the application to Children's Home and Family Services (CHSFS) along with proof of medical insurance and two pictures--one of our house and one of the five of us. Meghan took about ten pictures of us right before Ava and Eden were about to go to school. We found one that worked. One that we hoped said "We can do this. We are ready."
I think of you a lot. I've been thinking of you for years. But who is this "you"? Maybe it's not even "you", but "both of you". Are you a resilient four-year-old? A tiny infant? Perhaps you've not even been born yet. Boy or girl? It's an interesting thing to love someone you don't know. Someone you've never met. But this is what we humans do isn't it? We fall in love with the baby long before we hold them in our arms. We daydream about what they will look like and how their skin will feel touching ours. Adoption is just a gestation of another kind. Today wasn't a very big step in the overall process of adopting internationally. But it feels big to us. Because with it we are saying, "We are coming for you."
The purpose of this blog will be to chronicle our process of adopting from Ethiopia. We are so thrilled to be finally beginning the journey after years of waiting! I have known that I wanted to adopt since I was a teenager. Erik and I have been discussing it for over a decade. We cannot wait to meet the next member of our seemingly ever-expanding family.
Why Ethiopia? I will someday soon write a bit about the amazingly rich culture of Ethiopia and its history. For now I will answer this question on a personal level. There are some practical reasons---the length of time required to stay is shorter than many other countries' programs, the fee's are more reasonable than other programs, the children are not generally exposed to prenatal substance abuse, the level of care they receive in our agency's care center is high (although it is still institutional living in a Third World country). Ethiopian children rarely have attachment issues because children are so highly regarded in their culture. What this means is that most often they have been loved and have loved. And children who have loved and been loved, can love and accept love once again.
Most of it I feel in my heart though. After deciding years ago on Ethiopia, I forced myself to consider adopting domestically. Then other countries---India? What about Guatemala? But my heart kept leading me back to Ethiopia until finally it became impossible to ignore. I even said out loud on more than one occasion, " If we don't do it from there, I can't see doing it at all." My mind literally couldn't create the image of another path. The truth is the best answer I have to "Why Ethiopia?" is this one that I read from another adoptive mama---Because that is where my children are.
screamer in delight and anger down dog peek-a-boo, tummy patting sing along, clap along, big sister tag along trying to keep up, abandoned cup scavenger, climber cuddles, pointing, and "uh-ooohhh" looter of pens, eater of crayons, opportunistic raider tough, no b.s taking, knows karate and ka-razy joker, animal lover, book fanatic bath splasher, happy riser, sweet baby breath loud, lunchbox lover, dog follower long tongue, holly hunter mouth slow teether, fast walker, sisters' biggest fan
sunshine, charm, and fish kisses world's messiest and pickiest eater "stinky tower" building with blocks, vigorous waterplay, happy face drawing web worms, sticks, acorns thirsty, hot, red-cheeked flighty, spacey, in one ear and out the other leads ava without awareness, brave without thinking laughter, in-tune singing, music in the car at all costs former fruit bat, lover and hater of safa, bottom lip out pouter "i wish...", lollipops, and deep sleep ready to laugh, storyteller, hair-twirler solid bodied and light-hearted "what's your name?", sweetness personified, shy at school lovely and loving
curiousity, kindness, and everything "right" dirty hair, muddy fingernails, and sweat question asker, seeker of knowledge, her sisters' keeper tattle-tell, crying over spilled milk, reluctant fighter pronunciator of "pachycephalosaurus" without blinking or pride belly rubs, skipper of naps, dreading the night, wishes for more chocolate milk, more chapter books, more siblings kindergarten fantasizer, baby-lover (doll and human) brave because she is often fearful, loner, good companion swings, dinosaurs, running thinking and thoughtful, suprisingly silly indian food lover, windows down in the car no matter the weather