Saturday, January 9, 2010


when i was a kid, my across the street friend had a barbie dream house. it was amazing. it had 3 floors and a working elevator. and you know the best part? for a good portion of it's life it lived at my house. i don't remember why or how it got there, but it made me so happy. my friend would come over and we would play with our barbies in that dream house for hours and hours. i remember my "main" barbie was blond (duh) but with short curly hair. i had others, but she was my go-to girl. between us, we only had one ken doll. he was mine and he was "boogie ken." his upper torso and legs were attached with some kind of rubber band that allowed his body to wiggle and groove. he also had a hole in his plastic hand where a ring with a big red jewel fit into one of his fingers. his outfit was a navy velour jumpsuit with a maroon collar.

ken played many roles. mailman, husband, boyfriend, plumber, cheater. and even though he was the same doll each time, my barbie greeted him according to his chosen role for the day. they made out. alot. especially when he was the mailman for some reason. the whole rubber band situation must have made him a fantastic lover. barbie thought so anyway.

my barbie had a dog named beauty which was some kind of afghan beast. it came with a little yellow dog bowl. sometimes, we'd boot beauty from the house and bring in scooter. he was my hamster. i'd put nuts and seeds in beauty's tiny bowl and scooter would go to town. barbie also occasionally had a baby. but mostly she smooched ken and changed her outfits. she was generally shoeless as keeping them on was difficult. barbie had and continues to have one hell of an arch.

that barbie dream house was huge in my life. i don't remember any adults being around when i played with it. just me, my neighbor and our imagination about what life was going to be like for us as grown ups. recently, at a toys r us visit, i saw the barbie dream house. it looked a little different. updated. slicker. but i was flooded with nostalgia. it took everything in me not to buy it. but like most things, when you try to go back, it's disappointing. not what you thought. not quite as great as you remember. so, i'm just hoping that one day my kid will want a barbie dream house, and i can watch her act out what she thinks life will be like when she's a grown up. and i can create a new memory through the eyes of my daughter. and who knows? maybe she'll invite me to play. i can dream, right? it's the barbie "dream house" after all...

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

in short

sometimes it's exhausting. i anticipated there would be may questions about my daughter. probably the most common question is, "where is she from?" i happily answer this one. i feel like this question is an opportunity to educate people about ethiopia -- a place i fell in love with while falling in love with my child. the next question i usually hear is, "what's her story? are her parents dead?" this is a trickier question to answer. my husband and i decided quite some time ago, way before we even got our referral, that our child's story would be just that. hers. when she gets older and begins to inevitably explore where she came from, we will share with her this story. we both firmly believe it is hers to hear first and hers to share if she chooses to do so. and basically, that's how i answer. probably the hardest people to say that to is family. because our families know so much about our biological children. my parents were there -- in the delivery room -- when they came into the world. but we stick by our decision. even if in the moment of delivering our explanation there's some tension and awkwardness.

i have also learned how difficult it is for people to let go of assumptions. "wow. she is thriving here! it is all because of your family providing her with the love she never had." this child was crazy loved. the care center she came from was beautiful, loving, nurturing. when we took our child the nannies cried. they were connected to our child. and then there was the life each child had before arriving at the care center -- although some children had been cared for there since birth. children in ethiopia are not put up for adoption because of any reason besides poverty. poverty is insidious. adoption -- giving up a child to be raised by strangers -- is entirely foreign to ethiopian culture. that little saying hillary clinton made about it taking a village? well, this is how children are raised in ethiopia. everyone is a part of creating the best possible life for the children. it is only in the face of impossibility -- of absolutely no other choice -- that any child is relinquished. there is no way to prepare for the depth of sorrow and angst that this reality brings to a place where family is everything.

i am greatful. i am honored. i am blessed. I am lucky.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

a little bit of what i know so far...

i think the strangest thing is how normal our life is after two years of waiting. of contemplating how this was all going to look, feel, be. her picture has been up on our refrigerator since we got our referral in july. this flat, bendable, shiny picture of this little person that would be joining our family in a matter of months. this picture was the closest thing we had to her. the updates that stated weight, height, social and physical growth served a purpose -- she was growing, feeding herself, etc. but looking into those ginormous eyes every morning made me feel connected. it made her feel real.

when a child is born to you, there is the counting of fingers and toes. noting of the hair, or lack thereof. the silly talk about who the child looks like at 2 minutes old. for me, our child coming thought the gift of adoption, i didn't look for 10 fingers and 10 toes (although i do admit i noted how neatly trimmed her nails were.) what i looked for was her spirit. who was this little person? what did the world look like through her eyes? what were her quirks? left-handed? right-handed? favorite food? what does she do when she's happy? sad? frightened? this little girl had 17 months of life already under her belt. i was a stranger to her. she was a stranger to me. and yet, i was her mother and she was my daughter. these were things i should know.

so far this is some of what i've learned in our two weeks together: she loves bananas. she eats 3, 4 sometimes 5 a day. she likes to feed herself. she believes hummus is a breakfast food. she's a lefty. she loves magnets. if you try to give her something she doesn't want, she makes this, "tssk, tssk" sound that i remember hearing adults in ethiopia make. if she's angry, she throws her hand in your direction several times dismissing you from her presence. this is accompanied by a wrinkled forehead and pouty mouth. she doesn't like to be dirty. and yet a poopy diaper doesn't phase her. she's not afraid of dogs. at all. she loves them. she likes to wear shoes in the house, breaking our no shoe rule. she is very dramatic. she like to throw herself down on her back, arms above her head, legs slightly bent and she starts off with a whiny, whimpery sound that escalates into full on yelling with possibly a tear or two. many times the tears just well in those big eyes, threatening to drop. we call them her alligator tears. and she sings in the car.

i'm happy to say this is a pathetically short list. i have so much more to learn about our little girl. that is why we have our forever life together in this moment and ahead of us. the journey to a child through adoption can feel like forever. but really, your forever begins the day you meet your child. and see those ginormous eyes in person.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

what's in a name?

i have an odd name. my mom wanted something unique that couldn't be nicknamed. she was probably none-too-pleased when my dad almost immediately started called me "niecy poo-poo." my parents had a friend who was an intern in a hospital and had access to all the name of patients who had been admitted. my mom asked him to make note of all the "original" names(read "weird") he came across. he made her a list. i have the list tucked away in some baby book of mine somewhere. i wish i could find it so i could share with you how much worse my name could have been. but needless to say, as a youngster, and as a young adult, i was not fond of my name.

there were a few problems with it. firstly, "annice the beast" rolled happily off many a school bully's tongue. and as we got older, "anus" was the cruder version that could bring red to my cheeks and a ringing in my ears. and it was embarrassing when one of my aunts would introduce me as "annice my neice" which always made people giggle. my best friend was "jenny." and my other friends were "michele", "sarah", "shelly", "allison", "kathy", "molly", "emily", "nicole"... nothing radical. just good, normal names. (apparently my parents felt being into organic foods, no sugar and limited TV watching before their time was not enough of a statement.)

so back to that list of names. mine was on it. or rather a version of it. it was spelled, "a-n-i-c-e". my grandfather "israel/isadore/izzy" took one look at the spelling and said, "you can't spell it like that! you need another 'n'. otherwise, she'll be called "a nice." and so, an "n" was added so everyone would call me annice. pronounced "ann-niece." but honestly, the only one in my youth that got it right was my mother. my dad called me the poo-poo thing and most other people called me "uh-niece." i didn't really care, but it set my mom off like crazy. her name is "renee" pronounced "re-knee" but she gets "renay" all the time. i think it brings up some issues for her.

anyway. to the point. the birth name of our daughter was difficult. it didn't help that we got two different spellings and no crystal clear pronunciation. by the time we thought we were pronouncing it correctly and my ethiopian friend provided an intervention, it was too late. at least it was too late for my husband. he had the wrong pronunciation seared into the depths of his engineer mind and he couldn't change it. he was very upset by this because i was making an impassioned push in the direction of keeping our daughter's birth name. my reasoning was that children of adoption, no matter how loving, wonderful, fabulous and good-looking their adoptive family might be, are suffering a huge loss. and with international adoption, EVERYTHING changes. the smells, the foods, the language, the topography, the faces. and often, names. this was one loss we could avoid. something that could stay the same.

there was tons of back and forth. my husband kept saying the same thing over and over. "i am her dad. i can't pronounce her name!" good point. so after much back and forth, we decided to sit down with the boys and go through a long list of ethiopian names. they glommed on to "uniqua" which is the hippo character in the backyardigans. and although i love, love, love! their opening theme song, we gave them a big fat, "NO." then we saw the name "kiya" which means "mine." and everyone agreed. the name, the sentiment, it all fit.

my husband had a lamb stuffed in his suitcase with the name "kiya" sewn in hot pink lettering on the lamb's chest. i had a softie light pink blanket in mine with a satin "k" on it. we arrived in ethiopia with her name frequently on our lips. phone calls home were peppered with her name. and then we met her. we watched as she was kissed and held by the nannies. her name called lovingly and excitedly. her birth name. over and over and over. i started to have terrible regret and doubt. this became cemented when we met with our adoption team privately and i asked, "how do you change a child's name? how do you introduce a new name?" the case worker looked at me and said, "in ethiopia, our names are very important to us." she then had everyone in the room go around and share the significance of their names. she continued. "i love my name. do you all love your names?" everyone in the room nodded. oh boy.

we left that meeting and i was in tears. we HAD to keep her name. i tried steamrolling the husband. i told him how insensitive he was being. he could learn to pronounce her name. how would he like it if his name was suddenly changed?! he said we'd talk about it later that evening. but i was a mess. and when i'm a mess i can be, um, grumpy. there was much grumpiness i tell you.

that evening discussion stretched into three evenings. i kept apologizing to the couple whose room shared a plywood wall with us. i was passionate and emotional and the husband was practical. normally a trait of his i appreciate, but not in this case. i felt like i couldn't get him to understand. we were at a stand off. this in addition to all that was happening was incredibly stressful. we needed help.

help appeared innocently enough. the man accompanying all the families was on the bus waiting for everyone to board. i got on the bus and said, "i'm having a problem." this man is used to fielding all sorts of stuff. i was hoping he could guide us somehow. i explained the situation. in way too much detail. he looked at me. he shrugged. he said,"so? call her..." and he uttered her name. a shortened version that we had overheard her nannies calling her. and the social workers. and the cooks. and the guy i was talking to! but it had never clicked until now. this name WAS her name! and so there it was.

i call her by both names. so do the boys. it's natural. her birth certificate will have the shortened version to avoid mispronunciation. i like that we have the lamb and the blanket so our daughter can know the process we went through to get to where we did with her name. it's unique (but not uniqua) and beautiful. and her. and for the record, if i had been a boy, my name would have been seth.

Monday, October 19, 2009

the beginning of reflection

this is just a snippet. i can't write it all at once. a tiny sliver of a chapter to be continued...

it has been an amazing journey. and it's incredible how after so much paperwork and anticipation and ups and downs, you get home and everything just becomes normal. she's our kid and it's as simple as that. she doesn't want to share toys, she cries when she doesn't get her way, she poops she pees... nothing out of the ordinary. and yet her journey to us has forever changed us.

ethiopia was incredible. i went a few days early to have a more authentic and unscheduled experience. my friend and guide who is from ethiopia went with me as i left my husband to meet me a few days later at the addis airport. i am so glad i decided to do this. it was a hard decision to leave the boys for any extra amount of time. and the fact that they cried tears of sadness -- not motivated by anger, frustration, fear or greed -- for the first time in their lives, broke my heart and made me second guess myself. however, their dad was there to dry the tears and a quick pop in of a national geographic DVD seemed to divert the upset.

when i got back back, my oldest asked if ethiopia was beautiful. this question caused pause in my mind. i did not see all of ethiopia. i saw addis ababa and hosanna. two vastly different looking a feeling places. addis is the main city. busy, brown, dusty, bustling with people, goats, dogs, the tooting of car horns (not honking, but tooting about every 30 seconds) -- a city energy minus stoplights and skyscrapers. hosanna is green, quiet, peppered with tin roofed houses and acorn shaped mud huts with stick roofs. people walk on the side of the road because there are no sidewalks. it's misty and cool. and you know what? if you went to either of these places, in a different season, at a different time of day, i believe you would have a different experience. i was only there for 10 days and i am no expert. i just had my own experience with my own set of eyes being there at a frozen moment in time. would i generally describe ethiopia as beautiful? this is the country that gave me, from their arms to mine, our daughter. i don't think it can get any more beautiful than that.

the people i met in ethiopia were warm. open. welcoming. my friend's mom lives in a small space. smaller than many of you can imagine. but you know what? the door to her small home is literally aways open and i sat for hours, (literally as well) on her couch facing the door as at least 40 people filtered in and out to greet us. all sat for at least a few minutes. many stayed much longer. they drank tea and excitedly chatted in amharic, catching up on my friend's life and pictures. the last time she had been home was 8 years ago. something i found fascinating was as she passed her pictures around (we're talking a stack of 200 or more) many of her family and friends took each photo and kissed the faces of her children. each face. it was such a huge contrast to me of how we handle our photos in the states. fingers on the edges only! don't bend! it made me think about the purpose of pictures. to connect. to illicit a feeling. to feel closer and to forever etch a moment in time. i gladly passed my photos of my boys and tears filled my eyes as their faces were pressed to the lips of strangers who loved them just because...

Friday, October 9, 2009

short and sweet for now with more to come...

i'm here. this is real. and this morning we met our little girl. it was surreal. they called families upstairs one at a time to meet their children. i was doing the ugly cry and they filmed the whole thing. her eyes are the biggest eyes i've ever seen. at first she just looked and looked at us. and we looked and looked at her. but when i crouched down, opened my arms and said, "nay" - "come here" in amaharic - she came right to me in her pink sparkley shoes and i hugged her. and with that, we became a forever family.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

"i don't know"

i am so excited. packing has been crazy. i've been painting the house trying to fill in every last ding (to no avail of course) and i can just feel all the years of yearning for this baby coming to an end. but really, it's a beginning. the end of the wait, the start of our new life together as a family.

i keep imagining seeing her for the first time. the big doe eyes in person. i have silly fantasies she recognizes us from the pictures we sent and she runs up to us with open arms. no hesitation, no fear. just glee. but i think i do this little story in my head so i can get that expectation out of my system. sometimes the kids i've had since birth aren't even that happy to see me. and she doesn't know us. other than a few pictures she doesn't know anything about us at all.

it's also presumptuous to think that we as her waiting family know her. we know ABOUT her. we know what she looks like. we know what she eats. we know her nap schedule. we know what has been described as her "usual temperament." but we don't know her smell, or what it's like to touch her skin. we don't know the sound of her laugh or the pitch of her cry. we don't know if she's a messy eater. we don't know her favorite book. there are so many things to catch up on. it's meeting our daughter for the first time when she's already had her whole life up until this point without us. bizarre concept.

the boys are excited. they too have fantasies about what having a little sister is going to be like. my youngest is excited about being a big brother finally. the middle is excited to get out of the middle. the oldest is excited to have yet another younger sibling admire him. sometimes they gather in the pinkness of her room and wrestle. i look at it kind of like a dog peeing on a favorite tree.

i asked my oldest what he thought the best part would be. he asked, "are we going to have barbies?" yes. (i know, after my bathing suit dilemma maybe there is a tinge of hypocrisy. but i loved barbies and i never cared as a girl, teen or woman that i didn't have that waist, those boobs or that perky behind.) "are we going to have pink things?" yes. "are there going to be poopy diapers?" yes. he thought for a minute and then answered, "then i don't know." and then we both laughed. i don't know either but i am wholeheartedly looking forward to finding out.