Thursday, April 29, 2010


I read through my last post and realized I was too vague. The post wasn't about being Yonas' mama specifically or even being a mama generally. Although of course when I'm having a crisis of any kind it does affect the relationships with the people in my life, including my children.

The last post was really just me trying to convey that Yonas is serving as a reminder to me to open up, to live in the present. Yonas is doing amazingly well. The layers of pain and grief are unfurling to reveal a joy of a boy with a sweet heart, a great sense of humor, a wicked short-temper, and an ear for music and language. He is affectionate and fierce, fiery and silly.

The last post was just about me and my physical health. And how it when it's not good, my brain starts monkeying around with a lot of "what ifs?". And then everything seems to go to hell really quickly.

So I'm trying to be patient. And I'm trying to get comfortable with the uncomfortable. And ask for help and speak what's on my heart to the people who love me. I'm trying to notice the sunlight and the breeze and my children's faces. And I'm trying to be kind and compassionate with myself when I can't do any of those things and self-pity sits on my lap and wants to be petted and indulged. I'm trying to remember that wherever I am, it's okay. That I can just sit with the ugliness and fear without trying to get away from it or feed it.

And that just like Yonas' grief and pain, my life unfurls it's layers to reveal what I need to get to the next place I need to go. Whether I like it or not.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Mindful Monday

Wouldn't it be amazing if we adults could show our true selves like toddlers do? They lay their emotional cards on the table, no bullshit, and say here I am. Take it or leave it. If a toddler is mad, you know it. If they are happy, you know it. I'm not saying they aren't multi-layered, complicated beasts. They are. And even though you can't always know what's behind their actions, you usually know what they are feeling.

I'm struggling right now. Physically, I'm a mess. I will address that in more detail at some point on this blog, but not until later, not right now. My brain is running in circles, I'm exhausted in body and spirit. But only handful of people in my life know it. Why? What am I saving myself, or them, from?

I like being strong. I also like being thought of as strong. I don't want to seem like a complainer, a whiner. I have so much.

But to be vulnerable enough to say here I am. Take it or leave it. (But please, please take it.) There's wisdom there, yes?

I watch Yonas opening himself up to us, trusting us enough to show us where he is, letting it all hang out, and I am reminded to open up. It's hard. It feels scary sometimes, to show your hand. But it's good.

So when my sister asks me how I'm doing I say, Not good.
And when I need to have the same conversation with Erik for the 100th time in a week, I don't stop myself or my tears. I open up, I feel the weight, and I am thankful for vulnerability in the face of pain and fear because it softens my heart.

And because the only way is through and there are no gold medals for doing it alone.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Mindful Monday

"I am somehow less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein's brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops."

~Stephen Jay Gould

Thursday, April 08, 2010


From the One Day Without Shoes website:

"In some developing nations, children must walk for miles to school, clean water and to seek medical help.
Cuts and sores on feet can lead to serious infection.
Often, children cannot attend school barefoot.
In Ethiopia, approximately one million people are suffering from Podoconiosis, a debilitating and disfiguring disease caused by walking barefoot in volcanic soil.
Podoconiosis is 100% preventable with basic foot hygiene and wearing shoes."

Shoes. Just a pair of shoes. I don't even know how many pairs of shoes we have in our house. What ignorant bliss.
When you purchase a pair of Tom's shoes, they will give a pair of shoes to a child in need. One for one.
And if you can't go shoeless all day, consider trying it for an hour. Or 30 minutes when you don't really want to. On your rocky sidewalk, or your cold kitchen floor while you prepare dinner. Go for a walk around the block. Or just spend 30 seconds imagining walking miles for your water shoeless. Then go kiss your shoes.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Mindful Monday

I thought I'd sit down to write a Mindful Monday post, since it had been so long since the last one. The problem is I have no idea what to write about. I'm flying by the seat of my pants. I'm doing a lot of that lately. My plan is to just see what comes...

If my children are my best mindfulness teachers, (and let's face it, nothing brings you face to face with all your Stuff and forces you to hang out with it like children do) then Yonas is my Professor. I have to stay open and aware of the ever changing tide of emotions this boy brings. Sometimes I can hardly bear it. Most of the time I see exactly what he needs from me and most of the time all I want to do is give it to him. And sometimes I really don't want to give at all, but I do it anyway. And then sometimes, I watch myself watch him, knowing what he needs, knowing what I'm feeling, aware of everything, mindful, and yet. And yet, it feels torturous and tedious and I struggle to not head out the door and walk the few blocks to sit under the highway bridge by the railroad tracks and take up a new life. And then sometimes mindfulness is nowhere to be found and all I want is chocolate or tequila.

That's how it is, this parenting gig. Or at least, that's how it is for me. That's how it has been from the beginning, when Ava was an infant, or Eden a toddler, Safa right now. But because they've been with us from the beginning, the stakes aren't as high if I check out from time to time. If I don't respond in the most open-hearted, mindful way, we have a history of learned love and attachment and trust to carry us to the next moment. They know I will listen, come, comfort, tend, and care. They know in the deepest parts of who they are that we are a we.

Yonas has no baseline knowledge of this we-ness. So those moments when I can't seem to open my heart enough to engage the way I know I should, those carry far more weight with him than they do with the girls. Those pitiful moments like the one we had today where even though he could have absolutely gotten up from his seated position on his own, for some reason he needed me to help him. And for some reason in that moment this admittedly pull-yourself-up-by-the-boot-straps kind of mama just couldn't do it. So we sat in some kind of ridiculous stalemate, his needs bumping up against mine, the oldest of human dances. And he cried. And I sat by him. I said, "You can do it." (Which I should have probably just been saying to myself.) I offered him a hand to reach for. But he wouldn't take it. So I pointed out a roly-poly instead. And I broke a stick. I looked at his fat belly, the swollen mosquito bites on the back of his neck. We watched the roly-poly together. The wind blew. I noticed the yellow dusting of pollen over my arms. I heard the girls playing. I saw how I wanted to be somewhere, anywhere else. I noticed how I wanted a glass of wine. How I still wasn't just helping this kid up. He said roly-poly. We laughed about it, this crazy gray bug that becomes a ball.

And then it happened. At the same moment he began to stand, I reached for him. And I picked him up and we went inside, a mama and her boy, both doing the best we can.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Six Weeks Out

(last week)

(in Ethiopia)

We've been home with Yonas six weeks today. In that time, we've had lice, pneumonia, fierce tantrums, food issues, screaming, crying, fights, lost sleep, homework, laundry, and colds.
We've also had a birthday, dancing, laughter, joy, sunshine, silliness, flowers, singing, long walks, and love.

When I think about how far we've come as individuals and as a family in this short six weeks, I'm astounded. The six of us have worked hard.

Yonas is becoming himself. The person he is outside of institutional life. A boy with a family. He's beginning to lose his orphanage persona. He is sleeping. He has outgrown many of the clothes that fit him when we first got home. The shoes we brought to Ethiopia that were too big for him are now too small. His hair is softer, longer. He looks healthier, more vibrant.

The food issues are abating. He is no longer eating so much he vomits. Many meals come and go with no problems at all. And although he still eats much more than he needs, we are seeing the beginnings of self-regulation. Some milk leftover in his cup. Not asking for thirds. Getting down from the table while the girls are still eating. We have begun introducing the notion of "all gone".

We are communicating through a nice mix of Amharic, English, and some signs. He's learning several new words a day. When he first came home he constantly babbled in a loud, sing-song voice the same syllables repeatedly. This is called "Excessive Chattering" and some post-institutionalized kids do it to block out fear and grief. He doesn't do it at all anymore.

The tantrums are lessening in both intensity and length. When I had pneumonia, Erik wisely implemented a plan where every time Yonas began to tantrum, he picked him up. No matter what. Even if he had to chase him down because he didn't want anything to do with him. It worked. So that's what we do. We pick him up. This has not always been easy for me. This has taken real work on my part and I struggled with it. Sometimes the last thing I want to do is pick him up. But I do it anyway. Most of Yonas' tantrums are born out of being told "no" in some form. There's this idea that adoptees have experienced the "Primal No". Their birth families said, "no", the orphanage said, "no". For many adopted children being told "no" feels like rejection. It feels like, "You are unlovable. You are not good enough. You are unworthy." As we work to earn his trust, he softens. He begins to accept a "no" for what it is.

He is funny, affectionate, loud, daring, short-tempered, and generally at his core, I think, happy. He loves his sisters and they love him. He has begun to understand when Erik leaves for work in the morning it won't be the last time he sees him. In the first weeks we went to the school to pick up Ava and Eden, he was friends with everyone. Indiscriminate with his interactions and play. Now he's more wary. He checks in with me, asks for help, comes back to the safety of my lap when he needs a break.

It has not been easy. I still have moments of dread and fear and sadness. I wake up some mornings, think of the day that lies ahead, how much emotional and physical energy I need to usher us all through the day, and I take a deep breath and think shit, here we go again.

But we are getting there. We are doing it together. And when Yonas says, "Nah, Mama. Nah." (come, Mama), I know I want to follow.