Sunday, January 31, 2010


My grandfather died on Sunday January 24th, on his 94th birthday. I spent most of last week in West Virginia. I will write about it some time, but not now. Now I'm back home and we leave in ten days. I will meet and touch Yonas in 12. Can that be right? Can it be that this journey to him is almost over? It doesn't seem possible.

It is 7:41 in the morning. I have printed off the registration form for the next school year. I have solidified plans for the girls while we are gone. I have worked on birthday plans for both Erik's 40th and Ava's 8th. I have added something to three of the five lists I have going. I will spend the day adding more to my lists than crossing off.

Erik and I will begin organizing and packing all the stuff we will take to Ethiopia. I need him to know where I've put things, because it would be just like me to need something and not remember that I actually packed it. Erik will probably work tonight, because he has so much to do before we leave. While he's working I will continue to catch up on the laundry that rose up and multiplied in my absence, compile all our Amharic references, and visit i-Tunes to gather pod casts that might help to keep us entertained during 26 hours of travel.

We will try daily to connect with the girls in a meaningful way because the days of "the girls" are almost over. We are in the transition phase of this metamorphosis. Together we are birthing a new version of this family. It's stretching and pulling and opening each of us in different ways. It's hard work to get to the next place. We are growing and that is not without it's challenges. It's full of uncomfortable stuff like grief, surrender, and fear. It's also full of impossible beauty and tenderness. We will push and work our way through together. And we will try to remember to carry each other as we go. When we emerge, we will be stronger and more beautiful than before. A family of six.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Mindful Monday: Mindful Parenting-Part One

This short mantra is the best and perhaps most succinct way I know to describe what mindful parenting looks like:

With each step I take,
My child's heart beats.

Mindfulness is a non-judgemental awareness of each moment. Not what happened an hour ago. Not where you need to be or what you want to get done. When we extend mindfulness to parenting, we aim to see our children and ourselves more clearly in any given moment.

The biggest goal I have on this lovely, chaotic path of motherhood is to be fully present, fully mindful with my children. I fail daily. But I remember and try daily too.

It means that I stop what I'm doing so I can hear what a child has to say about a leaf, even when they are interrupting me. It means that when they fall apart, I try to remember to stop and think about what's driving the behavior instead of reacting to the behavior. It means that I can stop and remember that for as ugly or wild as things can get, it will pass. More importantly, it means that I remember that the beauty is just as fleeting as the ugliness, and there will be a time when their small hands on my face or sweet whispers in my ear are no longer part of my daily life.

Mindful parenting means not only being gentle and compassionate with my children, but also with myself. It means aiming to be a witness to the anger or tumult or sadness in us without becoming too carried away by it or trying to change it. It means getting real comfortable with just the way things are in any given moment.

In other words, it's hard. But if we can relax into it, surrender a little beyond our comfort zone, it gets easier. Just be where you are. Don't overthink, get wrapped up in, or attached to any given moment. Make friends with it, sit down beside the anger, boredom, guilt or worry.

As Pema Chodron says, "Drop your story line."

Mindful parenting looks like this: If I can "drop the story line" of Ashley, whatever that is in any given moment, and just be with my children, then we're all better off. I'm better able to meet their needs, be the mother I want to be, and intuit what they really need.

It feels like this: connected.

And nothing I do as a mother means more to me than that. I once read that if you want to know what your relationship with your child will be like when they are adults, look at your relationship with them now. That's enough to keep me on my toes and working to bring mindfulness to my parenting. They are children but for a short time, they will be adults for far longer. I want them to like being around me when they are grown.

As the saying goes, with children, the days are long and the years short.

Mindful parenting helps me remember and honor this truth in the long, hard days, and will one day help carry me through when I look up and the years with my young children are over. I want to remember the way Eden's newborn peach-head felt in my hands, the way Ava looked at the bubbles like they were a special magic made just for her, the sound of Safa's voice in my ear.

The days are long and hard. I want to stay open to their magic too. I want to look up and see that I moved through these days with awareness. Because before I know it, they will have turned into years.

Friday, January 15, 2010


No more "tentative" are we. We will meet Yonas in 27 days.

We leave on February 10th to go get him. The day Ava turns 8. Two days after Erik turns 40. We return on February 19th. Five days later, Safa will turn 4. For a long time, February has been a month of celebration. It has been, in many ways, a pain in the ass. (Love you Erik, Ava, and Safa!!) Six weeks after Christmas here come the birthdays, which for the mama, means party planning and cake making, and present buying for three. It makes weird sense that February would be the month we will forever celebrate the anniversary of Yonas joining our family. The only other choice would have been in May when we celebrate Eden's birthday, then Yonas' 9 days later. (Maybe Five will share a September birthday with me.)

In the next few days, we will buy our tickets. Soon, we will begin packing in earnest. We will figure out how to help a girl have a happy birthday without her parents. We will make lists and more lists. We will get the carpets cleaned. I will start stocking the freezer and buying birthday presents.

Soon, I will fly to West Virginia to mourn and remember my grandfather.

But tonight, we celebrate.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Because We're a Family

Last week in Ava's second grade class, they did a project where the kids had to make an acrostic with their names. She hadn't mentioned it and as I walking Eden to class, I saw them hung along the hallway. I looked for Ava's and found it:

A- adopting a brother from Ethiopia
V- vegetarian
A- awesome

I could have fallen to my knees. We have planned to adopt for so long, she's been hearing about it since she was 4. We began this process of adopting from Ethiopia in April of 2007, two months after her 4th birthday. This journey is in her like it's in us. So much that when she had to write a description of herself, it came up first, even before "awesome". I've wondered over the past almost-year since we were matched with Yonas, what the girls' internal experience of the process has been. Of course we talk about it a lot. We read books. They act out adoption and transracial families stories in their play.

I know what it means to wait for a child. But what does it mean to wait for a brother? What does it mean for the finish line to keep moving when you are 7, or 5, or 3?

I know the toll that it has had on me, all the ways I've been changed on this journey that has been so much harder and sweeter, so much more challenging and beautiful than I thought possible when we began. But I won't ever know all the ways it has changed my daughters.

I won't know who Ava would have been without this as part of her life's journey. I like to think that it has made her life richer and fuller. That it has lent a sweet expectancy to her middle childhood that it wouldn't have otherwise had. But I also know it has given them all a more distracted, irritable mother than they would have otherwise had.

We are all in it together. Including Yonas, 8000 miles away, who has borne more than all of us put together. We are all in it together, and have been from the start, because that's how families are. We drag each other along our paths, chosen and not chosen. We stand beside each other, we fight together, we make our clumsy way on this crazy ride together and hope we're all holding hands tightly enough to still be standing at the end.

Ava can't realize now how choosing to label herself through the lens of this adoption felt like an act of solidarity to me. How it opened my heart to her, how I wanted to cry, "Yes! Yes! I'm A- adopting a son from Ethiopia, Ashley!!". She doesn't know she reached across the cosmic thread to me, not as a daughter to her mother, but from one human to another struggling one. She doesn't know she reached across to Yonas that day too. Neither does he. But they will someday. Because we're a family.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Why We Couldn't Possibly Travel on the 27th. Even if They Begged.

It's become painfully clear that traveling on the 27th would have been a disaster. First of all, I'm quite certain we are going to have a stomach virus that day and you can't possibly fly while you're busy vomiting. And I now can see that for some insane reason Erik and I would have spent the longest leg of our journey seated apart, but both next to people who snore and wear too much perfume.

And I hate to say it, but I know now that at some point the plane would have crashed. AND they would have lost our luggage.

And most importantly of all, we would have missed the first episode of the new season of Lost.

We were saved by the skin of our teeth.

Monday, January 11, 2010


She picked me up. We drank aquamarine fishbowl margaritas and shared a fried avocado and queso. We talked. Some of it was dirty, most of it wasn't. We sped to Marshall's after, because that's where we go. We had an hour.
We looked at shoes, "I need boots.".
We looked at bras and panties, "Seriously?"
We split up. We lost and found each other. I called her in the store because that's what we do.
We didn't have much time.
That's what happens when you're ten years apart.
We tried on our finds. My left big toe poked out of my skull and cross bone socks. The purple shirt was too small. I looked in the mirror at my bloodshot eyes. My lips were so chapped they were the color of the lipstick our mother wears. I looked old, but not so tired. We agreed we need to find an eyebrow place.
We won't. She had the hiccups.
I bought pants I will wear to Ethiopia to pick up her nephew.
You can tell we're sisters. There isn't a doubt. It's all over our faces and the way we walk.
I feel better.
She is my sister.

Back to February 11th

It didn't work. Even though the NVC electronically forwarded our paperwork onto Ethiopia on Friday, when our agency checked, we were not in the system. So our tentative travel date is now February 11th again. We thought for sure we'd make it. As Erik said, we needed a win.

Yesterday evening, another traveling mama that promised to check on Yonas for us emailed me. She said he was sweet. That when she asked the nannies where Yonas was, he recognized his name and looked up. They were outside for sunbathing time and Yonas was sucking his thumb. She said his hair was long and curly and that he was wearing a Green Bay Packers shirt. She rubbed his back and he smiled at her without taking his thumb out of his mouth.

I hardly slept at all last night. But I did dream of Yonas. Erik put him on the changing pad in our room, the place I changed Safa's diapers, and I took over. It was a giant, messy poop diaper and I kept needing more and more wipes. It was everywhere. He did that thing toddlers do sometimes and kind of kicked a little and poop got on my hands, and I dropped the poopy wipe on the floor. Then I woke up.

It was heaven.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Wednesday, January 06, 2010


In order for our tentative travel date to become a confirmed one, our paperwork needs to be received in Ethiopia by Sunday night. Which really means that the National Visa Center in Vermont needs to have mercy on us and send it electronically to Ethiopia by the end of day Friday. Our agency will email Ethiopia Sunday night and ask if they have received it.

Yesterday I was very close to writing an ugly post about all the ways I hate the CIS officer in charge of our case. I'm a relatively mild-mannered gal (although I'm sure you could find some who'd disagree) and I was fantasizing about hurting this woman because she was single-handedly making it so that my son has to stay in an orphanage longer than he has to. But. Miracle of miracles---and it does feel this way because she has consistently flat out ignored all emails and phone calls---she emailed Erik to say that she has overnighted our approval to the NVC. Which means we have a shot at traveling on January 27th. Which means we would meet Yonas on January 29th.

Which means my stomach would stop hurting and I could sleep again. With a chubby toddler boy next to me.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Wouldn't It Be Good

My grandfather is dying. My Papaw. I'm sitting at my computer in some sort of depressed trance, repeatedly listening to the self-pitying "Wouldn't It Be Good?" by Nik Kershaw and mindlessly looking at giant area rugs on ebay without seeing them at all.

When I was a little girl, he would rub my back with his rough hands, calloused and dry from years of gardening and not sitting still. Before we got into the pool he would say, "Just don't you get wet!" and laugh. Every time.

My heart is breaking wide open into this cheap, stupid candy wine I can't finish because I feel too sad to even pick up the glass.

I wish I was 11. Up in that house on the hill that Christmas when baby Meghan wore Santa pyjamas and matching hat and I carried her around on my hip like she was my daughter instead of my sister and my Mamaw was still alive and my Papaw wasn't dying in a hospital 1100 miles away.

Friday, January 01, 2010


In 2010, I will celebrate 11 years of marriage to Erik.

I will travel to Ethiopia with him and bring home our son.

In 2010, my grandmother will not only fight the aggressive lobular breast cancer she was diagnosed with just two weeks ago, she will kick its ass, because if anyone can, it's her.

In 2010, my grandfather will either come out of the hospital to continue a life built on hard work, generosity, and making people laugh. Or he won't.

In 2010 I will write more, or be restless and unhappy and a pain to live with.

I will be a better neighbor to Mrs. Cobb.

In 2010 we will leap and hope the net appears as we once again begin the roller coaster of international adoption to bring home number 5.

In 2010 I will help a toddler heal from a loss that will never leave him.

I will help three sisters weather changing family dynamics and welcome a brother.

In 2010 I will live a big life, because the years pass quickly and I'm wasting time.