Monday, February 2, 2015

Anniversary Poem

Home to Oregon
upon arriving in America with my adopted children, after a year in their country

It might be all a dream but the color has changed.

In Africa, our eyes were filled with gold.
The sky was so blue, that the light was sharp gold.
The dirt was so red, it was infused with sticky gold.
Hot green growth everywhere, bursting with the brightness of gold.
Our eyes half-lidded, our movements slow and languid, our skin damp.

Finally: we spent days in the sky, in airports, under fake light and above strange clouds.
We step outside; into January, into Oregon.
Our corneas have been exchanged.

Mist tangles the forest of dark evergreen.
The new grass in the pastures is pure gentle green,
Transient ponds in the low places, fog lines the fields, patient sheep in the distance.
The sky is close to us, gray clouds with soft edges
Nudging the river

There are hours of highway ahead
we stop at a bird sanctuary.
We put on so many clothes we don't know where our toes or elbows are.
The little one toddles again, hobbled by her boots, fascinated.
"My fingers are paining me!" you cry, shocked.
"That feeling is called 'cold,'" I answer.
You hold your fingers in front of your eyes, examine them carefully.

The ponds are blue, and gray.
The sedge is yellow, and gray.
The sky and the mist and the rain are soft and gray.

We watch ducks: sparkles of teal in their quiet plumage.
You have never seen plain ducks before: "Look, Mama, look!"
We watch the ripples on the water: the color of sleep, of peace.
We blink and blink, expecting ponds the rich color of tea
     watching for a crocodile, a hippo to surface.
The ducks paddle calmly together, bobbins of brown.

Three children: you run and run down the boardwalks, loud and happy
voices claim this new space.
Sedges, grasses, cattails; winter-faded, surrounding us like castle walls.
Pure colors of bark: maps of silver laced with black, brown woven with gray.
Architecture of branches overhead.  "Where are the leaves?"  They are
brown crinkles underfoot.

I thought I had remembered -- this is my home, isn't it? --
But even my memories became sun-drenched, rich oil pastels.
The birches, cottonwood, pond lilies, bulrushes, wrens,
are painted with watercolors on a wet canvas.  My throat does not
remember the cold breath.  You have never felt it.
Regardless, now we will dwell in the land of the watercolor-mist forever.
We must learn.  "Where are the people?" you ask, spinning slowly.

Getting off the plane.
We blink and blink.
We discover that we have new eyes to see with.
The rolling fields of pale green grass,
The rolling mountains of dark green forests,
Soft silver puddles.
I cannot stop looking.

"I am a little American girl now,"
you tell me, definitive.
You know you have finally arrived
Because the colors have changed.

Friday, November 14, 2014



It has been popular among some of my Facebook friends, especially at my church, to do a post about something they are thankful for each day of November, as a spiritual practice.  I believe deeply in the spiritual practice of thankfulness, and it's something that I try to incorporate into our daily family life.  I meant to do the "30 Days of Thankfulness" challenge, but clearly I am mildly organizationally challenged, and have not gotten to posting on Facebook each day.  But every time I see the posts it reminds me to say my own little prayer of joy, and I wanted to write down some of the things I think about.  Writing in general is about working through our challenges, and I hope by writing this blog I can tell stories that encourage others to work through their challenges as well.  But it is also important to stop and write down the words of strength, blessing, and power.

I am thankful to live in this place in the world.  I am thankful for the beauty that God creates around me each day.  God made beauty everywhere in the world, and I am thankful for that as well, but I am glad that fate set me down in this place.  I love watching the seasons change; I love that I don't know what the weather will be next; I love our long gardening season; I love the cool and rainy days as much as the sunny and inviting ones.  The differences make me more grateful for everything.  In this place in the world, I am thankful to be within a few hours' drive of the ocean, the mountains, and the high desert.  I love each of these places for their own reasons.  I am thankful that we can camp in the summer and explore more of our world.  I am thankful that there are so many places to explore and discover within driving distance of our home.  And this moment, I am thankful for the beauty of the leaves, and the yellow beech tree outside my bedroom window.  And the icicles that hung off each leaf, transforming the landscape, which we were blessed with yesterday.

I am thankful for the community where we live, as well.  I am thankful for my individual friends, and also our church home, where I feel involved and welcome.  I am thankful for all the ways and places that embrace my children and their needs: I feel incredibly blessed to have a school that fits their unique educational needs, and moreover is loving and supportive to them as human beings -- all of which, AND they are well organized!  I am thankful for our local support group for adoptive families.  I am thankful that we have options for classes and learning for our children: I am thankful that we can choose a dance studio based on positives, not just finding one that doesn't play skanky music for little girls; I am thankful that we have options to choose horse riding, gymnastics, and other opportunities for the children to exercise their bodies and minds.  I am also thankful for the professionals in our community.  I am thankful that we have a pediatrician who is respectful of my choices as a mother; I am thankful that we can find counseling and therapy solutions that are appropriate to help our children work through their challenges.

I am thankful for the nature all around us.  I am thankful that I can take the dogs out on the trails near our house, and that those trails are surrounded by trees, and mist, and the blooming and fading flowers of the different seasons.  I love the trilliums and trout lilies which appear for only a few weeks in the early spring; every year they are like a special treat from nowhere, and they remind me both that life is fleeting and precious, and also amaze me with how well they are adapted to live and thrive in such a specific environment.  I am thankful for the orchards and farms near our home, and that we can eat fresh produce grown from our own fertile land.  Nature truly is a place of calm that restores our souls.

I am thankful for the opportunity to have lived in different places in the world.  I have lived on different sides of America, and I have lived for at least some time on three different continents.  I have learned and grown with each new place, and the chance to live in other areas has given me a deeper appreciation and joy for being where I am now.

I especially am thankful for the chance to live in Uganda.  I never planned on it, and I might not have made the choice to spend so long there if I had known what it would entail.  But no amount of reading or spending time simply traveling or visiting can give you the same deep appreciation of a new place, than truly committing yourself to a new place.  It was difficult to be away from my own culture, but when my only associates were Ugandans, I learned a deeper level of friendship.  When I close my eyes, I can still feel the golden warmth on my skin, still taste the red dirt in the air, the constant smells and sounds that are so different from our polite and purifed life in America.  I am thankful to have made some part of Africa, into some part of me.

I am thankful for so many of the small things around my home, all the things of beauty and memory.  I am thankful for my bed which is both pleasant to look at and comfortable.  I am thankful for the antique *** in the dining room, which is useful, lovely, and gives a special feeling to our home.  I am thankful for the pictures of my family on the walls, and holding tight to each little memory.  I am thankful for the mementos of our travels and our special times together: a plate from Italy, boats and drums representing different cultures.  I am thankful for our painted walls, which are beautiful, and which I created in the time before I had children, when I was imagining a house full of children.

I am thankful for clothes to wear, which make me feel both pretty and confident.  I used to try to move beyond trying to be pretty, but as I have learned more honestly to assess myself, I have become a more complete person by accepting my face, my body, and my desire to feel good about myself.  I am thankful for friends and for systems that have helped me figure out what to wear to feel good about myself, and I am thankful for plenty of second-hand stores in town so I can have the fun of shopping without investing too much money in clothes!  I am also thankful for my children's clothes.  They are warm, comfortable, and help them feel attractive and joyful in their bodies -- also I am thankful for the big consignment sales in our community which allow me to do a season's worth of children's shopping at one time, and for a very reasonable price!  I hope that these tools, both the outer accoutrements and the inner wisdom that I am gaining, will help me to teach my children about loving and taking care of their bodies.  I hope to be able to teach my daughters to honor and respect their physical selves, and my son to be able to identify and be drawn to the way inner beauty reflects on the outside of a woman.  I am grateful for a community of women, both near and far, who are supporting my journey towards beauty; both those who advise me, and some wonderful women of color who have stepped up to offer special words of encouragement to my daughters.

I am thankful to be an American.  I spent many years disappointed in many things about my country, or envious of the history and culture of other countries.  I think much of that is youthful idealism, and that over-idealizing any country does not help to work to improve it.  But going through the process of adoption helped me to focus on what I really appreciate: our country is  made up of so many different kinds of people, from many backgrounds, many colors, many cultures, many thought processes.  Our country is still more welcoming than many to new immigrants who come to appreciate the opportunities we have to offer, and as they come they strengthen America and give so many opportunities to learn and grow to those of us who already live here.

I am thankful for our health.  Although each of us in our family has one or two weaknesses in our body, they do not interfere with our daily lives.  We are each strong enough to go hiking, to hug each other and run and create.  We have not been struck with any serious illness, and if one of us were, I am also deeply thankful for the medical care to which we have access.  There are serious problems and stressors with medical care (and the opportunity to access it) in America, but at least it is present.  And many doctors, nurses, and other people involved in medicine are truly helpful and doing their best to connect as human beings and help us be well.

And at this point, I could go on and on and on.... each time I think about something that I am thankful for, it reminds me of something else, and I look around and think of something else.  I am thankful the education and opportunities I have; I am thankful for the people who have raised me or who affected me in my youth; I am thankful for our warm home and running water; I am thankful for small things in life and ones so large I know I cannot fully comprehend them.  I don't think anyone will keep reading if I keep writing all night long!  But every single one of these items that I mentioned are things that I think about every day -- and I do mean every day.  Maybe on one day I won't think so hard about being an American and another day I might not think quite so hard about my furniture, but my daily litany of thankfulness is too long to write down.


So I will end with the bedrocks of thankfulness.

I am thankful that we have enough money to make choices.  I recognize that so many of the other blessings come from the power that power.  Yes, there are many blessings that are free -- but the space and mental freedom to enjoy them is directly related to having enough money to first enjoy security.  We still have to worry about where we are going to spend our money, or how to plan for things in the future, but I know it is such an incredible blessing, that we know for sure that we have the basics in our lives: food, shelter, transportation.  And that because we are secure in those things, all of us -- children and adults -- can dedicate our energy to higher mental and emotional processes.

I am thankful for my family.  Every single day, so many times a day, I look around at each of them and I am so thankful to have each of them around me.  I am thankful for my cat, KC, whose fur is so soft.  I am thankful for my dogs, their unwavering devotion and how they inspire me to be outside and active every day.  I would not take care of myself nearly so well if they weren't there to remind me, and I don't need to sigh about my babies growing up and away from me when my dogs are happy to fill that role for the rest of my life.

I am thankful for Sunflower, who made me into a mother.  I don't think I ever would have gone on the journey I have been through since, if it weren't for that love that has transformed me.

I am thankful for Buttercup, and her sweetness and gentle personality.  I am daily amazed how different she is from the other children, and she fills a unique role in our family.

I am thankful for Hibiscus.  Every day with her is full of challenges, but she shines with such a brilliant light.  It is my honor to be her mother, and have the chance to guide her through her life.

I am thankful for my husband.  We are similar and different enough to compliment and balance each other.  I am thankful for the times when he supports me and we work as a team to run our household and raise our family, and I am thankful for the times when we are able to sit down and talk, and we always have new things to say to each other.  And I look back and forward with thankfulness at the trips we have shared and the new experiences in our future!  As much as my children take my time, energy, and physical love, my marriage and my husband is the heart of my family.  I am thankful to have such a good life partner, and that our love keeps growing and deepening as the years pass.

And I am thankful for God and the divine, and that every day and every year offers the chance to deepen my understanding and faith.  I would not have enough strength or courage to continue every day without knowing that some One much deeper is sustaining me.  When I am worn out and frustrated, and yet still find patience and love for my children, it is because He is pouring it through me.  I can manage to see this difficult journey of motherhood -- and personhood -- with fulfillment and joy, because through God I see it as a journey and not a destination.  I do not expect myself to be perfect already, because I know my entire life is a journey towards the "me" that God has dreamed for me.  I can take a deep breath and forgive myself at the end of the day, because I know that God has forgiven me first.

While writing this, I keep thinking of more things for which I am thankful.  I remember them and am joyful in my life every single day.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

I am Published, and Hibiscus's Words

November is National Adoption Month, and our local adoption support group is hosting a conference this weekend.  They usually publish an op-ed in the newspaper to raise awareness about adoption in general and also the conference.  This year I was asked to write it, and I am honored to have my writing published with actual printing presses and things!  Today my writing was published in The Register Guard.

But before I share the link, I would like to broaden the discussion.  So much about adoption is written and talked about by one side of the adoption triad: the adoptive parents.  The voices of adoptees and birth parents are more difficult to hear.  When I think about adoption, and when I write, I try to imagine and share the perspectives of the less privileged parties in adoption.  My children are not yet able to think, write, or share with any broad perspective about what adoption means to them, but I can include a few words.

This morning, Daddy showed the paper with my article to the children and I.  They were excited to see Mama's name in print, and Hibiscus asked what the article was about.  She has sometimes been very upset to even hear the word "adoption," so I was a little cautious how to explain honestly without bringing up upsetting feelings.  "I wrote about going to Africa and bringing you into the family," I told her, "and how happy we were.  And about adoption, and that it is very happy, but it also has challenges."

She remained calm, and thought about that for a minute, and then gave me her perspective.  These are her thoughts about the challenges of adoption:
"It is challenging.  Because there are no mommies, and there are no daddies."

It took me a moment to follow her train of thought back to the orphanage.  "Oh, so that part is hard?" I asked.

"Yes," she replied, "and also there's no food.  That's really hard too."  And then she calmly finished up her breakfast and moved on with her day.

Now that I stop and contemplate her words, I am struck by how powerfully she summed up the experience in a few words.  Not adoption itself, which I had written about, but what leads to adoption.  The pain from which our families and our joy can be born.  As a mother, it is my job to think about how to heal her pain, and I do spend so much time and energy trying to do just that.  This conference will support my job to help support her grow through, beyond, and despite her pain.

But for this morning, here is the message from another side of the adoption triad.  It's not about the growing and the joy; it's the most salient words from a 7-year-old who sees and remembers both sides of life.  Many children are still living in the world she remembers:

It's really hard.

There are no mommies.

There are no daddies.

There is no food.

My perspective


This year for Halloween, we packed up the van, headed over the mountains, and spent the weekend hiking.  The kids were so busy exploring the canyon below our rented cabin, any thoughts of costumes or vague stories about trick-or-treating disappeared entirely from their minds.  My husband, mother, and I relaxed around the fake fireplace that evening, enjoying our peaceful and quiet Halloween night.

Our first Halloween with children was six years ago, and so far, we haven't done trick-or-treating or the mainstream cultural activities.  On different years we have chosen some different activities, and most of them have included a costume for Sunflower and something social.  This is first year with all three children, and the first year that any of the children could really absorb stories from their peers and figure out that they might be missing out on something.  So why did we choose this year to skip the holiday entirely?

I'm sure the kids would have had some joyful moments and happy memories, but I felt like they would be overshadowed by "yucky" feelings.  (As my kids so eloquently lump together all the feelings they don't want to discuss!)  I forsaw both positives and negatives for the younger kids, but I think it would have been the most difficult for Hibiscus.

First of all, anything out of the ordinary is difficult for Hibiscus.  She is a sensory and emotional seeker, always wanting bigger and stronger experiences and feelings, but although she craves them, they don't make her happy.  She is most calm, and therefore the most able to focus, accomplish something she can be proud of, and socially successful, in her very structured school environment.  She looks forward to family parties and celebrations, but once we actually get there, she gets revved up until she spends most of the time skittering from one person and activity to another; Daddy or I have to follow her with constant reminders to keep her within even loose parameters of socially acceptable behavior; and pretty much every special event ends with a toddler-style meltdown.  And these are family gatherings, where there are only ten people or so, most of whom are calm adults and familiar to Hibiscus!

With Halloween, we are now entering our first big season of American holidays.  October through January, major events follow each other in quick succession, each of which is full of things that children are supposed to do, and even supposed to feel.  Imagine how confusing this season would be to any immigrant!  Hibiscus is at a particularly difficult age, where she is old enough to be expected to participate fully and independently in all the activities, and yet young enough that she is unable to learn by abstracts: she needs the chance to experience the holiday, which she has never had.  She doesn't have the type of personality where she can stand off to the side, watch, and learn for a few minutes; she would need to be just as much in the middle as any second grader, but she doesn't know what's going on.  It's a difficult connundrum.

Add into that her sensory and planning issues -- she is constantly getting uneven and unusual stimulus from even normal events, missing some feelings and cues and being overwhelmed by other normal ones (sensory processing issues), and is unable to plan ahead, calm her own body, or put events in a larger context.  Every day life is constantly confusing for Hibiscus; special events must be a nightmare.  Except a nightmare that she wants to enjoy!

So, at the beginning of October, I was feeling like if we were going to skip some of the holiday season, Halloween would be a good one, simply because I'm not that attached to it.  But as the month went on, it became apparent that Halloween would present even more challenges than usual.

Many children and adults enjoy the feeling of being slightly scared, and then overcoming their negative feelings and feeling even more powerful afterwords.  Halloween is a time to celebrate those feelings, and push ourselves to see how scared we can be and still feel good afterwords.  I admit that I myself am not one of those people, and I have never enjoyed scary movies or creepy pictures.  My children all seem to be following closely in my footsteps, and as we drove around town, even a smiling skelton decoration, passed at 30 mph, invoked strong "that's yucky! I don't like that! make it go away!"  We live in a college town, where a lot of people enjoy their gory decorations, and as the holiday gets closer, they become happy to supplement it with inappropriately sexy.  Well, the sexy is their own issue in their frat parties or wherever they end up, but when it's walking down the street at one in the afternoon, it is inappropriate regarding the conversations I need to have with my school-age children!  Gone is the age when I can distract them with singing a song about pumpkins while we pass a pack of vampires with their thong underwear showing.  My kids are really good at questions!

Short of thong underwear, the costumes and dressing up is something I'm willing to celebrate about Halloween.  I think that it is positive for children to have a chance to turn into something else, and dressing up as animals or story-book characters is an empowering experience for them.  However, as the holiday approached, it became clear this wasn't to go over smoothly, either.  My kids regularly don capes, blankets, and scarves to "turn into" different characters, and if everyone's costumes were at this playful level, they would have all had fun.  But many people enjoy the opportunity that Halloween provides to transform themselves more completely, which is wonderful.  Except my kids are still figuring out who people are in the first place!  It became clear as we saw various semi-costumes that Hibiscus was really upset by things and people turning into something else, and I would guess that Buttercup would have felt the same way.  And why wouldn't they?  Our entire culture is still less than a year old to them.  When you're just figuring out what someone's role is and how to treat them, wouldn't you get mad if they suddenly became something else -- especially something you have never seen before?

Furthermore, play-acting about scary things is much more fun when you don't believe they are really, truly, real.  For most of us, we might hear a weird sound in the woods or see shadows in a dark room, and our minds might jump to thoughts of monsters or spirits, but then our rational minds quickly say "ghosts aren't real."  This helps us to calm down, and American children as young as 5 or so use this self-calming process.  But in Uganda, like in much of Africa, this self-soothing technique doesn't exist: evil DOES walk the earth in bodily form.  Rather than parents comforting their children by turning on lights and reading cheering stories, Ugandan parents warn their children not to go out after dark so the witches don't grab them.  And children really ARE taken by witches!  Even I was warned about the common kidnapping grounds near our house.  Every single person I talked with, even the most educated and the most devout Christian, believed in witchcraft and took it seriously.  In fact, living in Uganda changed my own views about witchcraft and black magic as well.  All that probably works out to be another chapter in this blog, but it is probably a huge reason that although they have imported many of our traditions, there is no Ugandan equivalent to a day when you run around pretending to play with evil spirits.  They were accepted to be there in daily life, and that the main goal was to AVOID them.  All three of my children were immersed in this culture and these beliefs, Hibiscus to the greatest extent.  It only just occurs to me as I'm writing this, that this is probably why Sunflower was more upset by Halloween "decorations" this year than he was when he was only three.

The children's Waldorf school puts on a little Hallween/harvest festival celebration every year.  I hear that it is very sweet, and is along the lines of costumed children walking through a hay bale path, following the life cycle of wheat, and ending with a hot bun to eat.  I saw other second-grade parents preparing for their skit, which was amusing and involved flute music.  I was advised by many families that this was a fun and pleasant event, and my children would be fine there.  I agreed that something like that sounded relatively enjoyable, although there is still the problem of Hibiscus getting so over-excited.  For children who prefer to avoid the scary element of Halloween, festivals like that, and some of the Harvest festivals put on by the big churches, are probably a good alternative.  But for my children, who are truly terrified of the evil represented by the skeletons and witches, and have come too close to their own deaths and those of their loved ones which the coffins and skeletons recollect, I did not think even a distant brush with the mainstream celebration was going to be healthy or happy.

So we decided to just escape Halloween this year.  Out in the high desert, there were no scary skeletons and no adults expecting specific but unusual behavior.  We spent most of the weekend outside, which is the easiest place for intense little children to be successful.  There were still issues of which child got to be the hiking leader, and who was pushing whom, and whether or not it was a good idea to play in the rushing, frigid, river.  Our cabin had an usually steep ladder which just BEGGED to be climbed in unsafe ways, and one post-hike restaurant dinner was fraught with complications, like a spilled water glass and an unreasonable tantrum.  But these are ordinary trials, easily overcome, and overall everyone was active, lively, happy, and healthy.  We climbed the beautiful but most challenging trails at Smith Rock, and all three children were proud of themselves and the power in their little bodies.  I heard questions about Halloween and costumes before our trip, but they faded completely once we were doing something else, which shows that the concerns weren't rooted very deeply for my children.

Some day, we will do something to acknowledge the end of October.  Perhaps it will be with Waldorf School and Harvest Festivals.  Perhaps we will be invited to take part in an actual celebration of Dia de los Muertos or Samhain, which I think have the advantages of dealing honestly with the serious issues which are raised by the season.  Some day, I'm sure we'll go out trick-or-treating -- if for no other reason than to say we have done it!

But maybe in the meanwhile, we'll make it a family tradition to go climb a mountain on the last day of October.  The year is ending, the weather is cold, but we and our bodies are true to ourselves, and strong.  Being strong is good for little children!

Monday, October 6, 2014


Every parent wants to imagine that his or her children are going to grow up and still be close friends.  We imagine our children supporting each other through the hard times; working together when we are aging and frail; our daughters going on shopping trips together; the older ones passing their parenting knowledge along as their nieces and nephews come along.  Some siblings stay close, others drift apart; some buckle down and support each other when the going gets tough, and some hide their weaknesses from their siblings at all costs.  What makes the difference?  We have our ideas, but in the end, we never really know.

So I don't know what the future holds, but this is what I see: I look into my living room, and I see the three best friends that childhood could imagine.  If you asked about their friends, they would each name someone from their respective classes, and then maybe a couple other kids in the same breath.  At this age, "friendship" means "we had fun playing together yesterday."  What they have with each other, is something more real than they can even understand.

Of course, friendship IS having fun playing together.  Which is the first part of it.... how can any outside friendship match the hours and hours and hours Hibiscus, Sunflower and Buttercup spend engaged together?  They wake up in the morning and tumble into each other's beds; by the time we come along to try to goad them into ridiculous concepts like "putting clothes on," they are already deep in their fantasy world of the morning.  If the day is pleasantly unscheduled, they will glide through a few hours of intense play negotiation until we manage to herd them all in the direction of breakfast, and they tumble straight from their toast into their own world.  Lately, there have been a lot of forts in the living room.  If left alone, they will continue to play for the entire day.  The forts turn into reading books; then there is a pack of dogs who need to go to the vet; toy trucks are zooming around for some urgent reason; baby dolls are comforted, wrapped, and fed snacks.  They are interrupted by the occasional negotiation gone awry, which involves some screaming and hurt feelings; and, like a very small herd of buffalo, migrate from the living room to the bedroom, and then right out the door to the yard.  When I serve lunch or snack, it is immediately co-opted into their imagination -- Sunflower holds the round cracker above his head, and suddenly they are all in a cathedral serving communion, intoning something serious.  The cheese comes in very handy, because the girls are dogs and Sunflower is trying to train them, so the snack is distributed in bits, hand to mouth.

If they day is unscheduled, they can fill it with play.  But if there are other things going on, they still discover all these moments to squeeze in their games, imagination, contests, and ideas.  Daddy and I are not at all amused when bedtime involves running up and down the halls, feats of strength, making up new songs, hiding and popping out, and millions of other high-jinx -- but there is no doubt that the kids are having fun!

Some families, probably the ones with outgoing mothers, are always going to play dates and on multi-family adventures and all kinds of activities.  We do things a couple times a week, but I've never been able to manage an active social life, and doubt I ever will.  Therefore, the sheer amount of hours that the three of them spend playing together will never be equaled by more distant play mates!

Then there's the support that they offer each other.  When it comes to sibling bonding and making lasting friendships, it's hard to imagine anything more powerful than three book-loving children, only one of whom can decipher the actual words.  Sunflower is constantly engaged to "read me this one" or "read me that," and they all huddle together, heads close, all potential arguments forgotten as they are lost in the picture book.  I am quite sure that this arrangement means that the girls have had more books read to them than a busy parent could ever manage, and that early-reader Sunflower has had more inspiration to extend himself and read massive amounts of books... even when he wanted to give up or at first thought the words were too hard.

Besides enjoying having a reader in their midst, they appreciate taking care of themselves and helping each other.  Children of this age feel really good when they are able to be self-sufficient, and the next best thing is keeping the sufficiency within the children.  When they are turning into horses to pull their covered wagon up and down the hallways, they all are relieved that Hibiscus can tie the knots to connect everyone together, and that she's big enough to actually move the "wagon;" that's much better than having to bring a grown-up into the play!  And when they want something read, written, spelled, or figured out, it feels much more reasonable to get Sunflower to do it.  By combining their skills, their group is much stronger, which clearly gives them all a deep satisfaction.  Buttercup doesn't have many strengths she can contribute just yet, but it's perfectly clear that most games are more fun with a third party.  What fun is being the mom and dad if you don't have a baby (or a dog) to play with?

Then there is the sense of justice that they extend to each other.  Now, we must start by acknowledging that they are all in the black-and-white stage of childhood that appreciates justice and rules much more than mercy and individual circumstances.  So, at bedtime when Hibiscus breaks several family policies and then isn't ready when the timer goes off, the younger children are happy to get into bed with me and smug that they have finished their jobs and get to listen to books.  "Shall I shut the door?" asks Sunflower.  "Yes, she is TOO LOUD," Buttercup complains about her tantruming sister.  Mercy and pity is not in evidence in the literal early childhood stage!

But when Sunflower has earned a privilege that is more nebulous, he may gloat for just a moment.  (Especially when Hibiscus has been particularly obnoxious lately, which was probably why he earned something she didn't.)  But then he starts to worry.  And finally he decides to share what he has with her -- "maybe I can be the leader, but she can come along too."  Or "what about Hibiscus? I'll make an extra one for her."

And when Hibiscus enjoys one of the privileges that age grants her, like going to a birthday party, she doesn't forget her siblings.  At a party a couple weeks ago, the other girls scolded her for picking up multiples of the same item from the pinata, but she braved her peers' scorn in order to bring home the same prizes she got for her brother and sister.

As for Buttercup, there is little she can actually do to help out her faster, stronger, and wiser siblings, but she honors them with unfettered adoration.  Which is a pretty powerful gift.

Buttercup is also reaching the point where she is a genuine part of the play process.  Last fall, Buttercup was always the baby of the family, to be hauled around, or the patient with a busy doctor and nurse surrounding her.  She still isn't the leader of their play, and she probably never will be, but now she is acting under her own agency -- she's a dog busily learning tricks, and her voice is heard saying "let's pee-tend I'm da one doin' dat" and "let's play dat I'm da dog now, okay?"  And she does and she is.  She is contributing her own personality, which enriches the game for everyone.  The children do not say this in so many words, but it is clear that everyone appreciates it.

So are the children best friends?  They wouldn't say they are, because they also make each other so intensely mad.

When Hibiscus is frustrated with the world, she is defiant to me, and goads Sunflower.  She especially goads Sunflower when being defiant to me isn't getting her anywhere interesting, which is always.  And she's very good at it -- perhaps he's exceptionally teaseable or trustworthy, but she can pretty much always make him crying mad, which is a good enough reward for her.  It's more likely that big sisters can always make their little brothers and sisters crying mad; it's just Nature's gift to big sisters!

Hibiscus is also excellent at telling her brother and sister what to do in exactly the way that frustrates them the most; the kind of advice they don't want to hear from a parent, but gently phrased they would understand that maybe the parent was right.  From Hibiscus it is never anything less than a grave insult, resulting in times when Buttercup screams "sto-AAAAAH-p, Hibiscus you not da PEEE-rent!" when Hibiscus even tries to speak to her.

And Buttercup is always being awkward and touching someone who doesn't want to be touched, or saying something when it stopped being funny any more, or copying when it's annoying or appreciative.  And Sunflower is not always graceful about defending his personal space, or using his words before he starts screaming.  He is busily capitalizing Nature's Gift to middle children, which is always presenting himself as the injured party in the eyes of the parents.  In short, they all drive each other crazy at times.

Because the friendship is so easy and always-present, and being mad is so very maddening, the negative feelings probably play a large role in how they think of each other.  They will compare their relationship with each to their relationships with their friends, and one day they will each say to themselves, "I'm so glad I have x friends, because we never shout at each other and x is always so friendly and supportive."  And then will start the age when they love to be with their friends, and they roll their eyes at the thought of their family and look forward to moving out and moving in with these wonderful people who are always supportive and never yell.

And then one day, they will move into a house with their best friends, or even find the very best of the friends and marry that person.  They will be so happy, because now they have found something so much better than their family of origin, who teased and yelled too quickly and touched when touching wasn't wanted.  Those siblings scolded them when their feelings were hurt, and always knew when they were trying to tell white lies and get away with something, and laughed at them when their outfit looked silly that day.  And those siblings yelled at them when the sibling was having a bad day, and acted grumpy, and they looked messy and were occasionally rude at the dinner table.  Unlike the wonderful friends, who never tease and never act like they have hurt feelings, and accept what you tell to them, and always appreciate your outfit.  And these much-improved friends always act polite, even when they're having a hard day, and having dinner together is a constant joy.

So they move in together.  And then the next step in this story is clear to anyone who has gone through adulthood, but blissfully concealed from the optimistic teen and young adult: the boundaries gradually come down, and everyday life settles in.  When the friends are comfortable with each other, they take out their bad days on each other; and when they're frustrated with each, angry feelings burst out instead of being put on an internal shelf.  Dinners are half-hearted or messy or something there's nothing to say to each other.  Compliments fade away, and the occasional sigh or rolled eyes sneaks in.  Some of those friendships weather the difficulties of being truly open and honest with each other, and some of them unravel.

But at that point, I think that grown-up child will look back.  And he or she will look on those hours and years of playing and talking and being joyful with his or her siblings.  And suddenly, all the frustrations and ugly edges of one's brothers and sisters seem a lot less important, because one realizes that everyone has ugly edges inside.  Instead, the grown-up child remembers how the siblings didn't let him look stupid in public; or shielded her from outside anger.  Or simply, they remember the hours and years of pure, simple joy in being together; the joy of escaping into a fantasy world, accompanied by people who truly and completely understand and accept you.

And all of a sudden, those brothers and sisters start looking an awful lot like true friends.

Saturday, October 4, 2014


I have many beautiful thoughts and ideas that have been mulling around in my head to share with you, but today, I'm going to write a very different post.  I have tried to write this blog envisioning that each post could stand as its own story or chapter in a book, but today I'm going to write some catch-up and descriptions of some changes, so the readers who have been keeping up with me can follow some things.

First of all, names and pictures.  When I started writing I used the names of our family members, and the day I went to the orphanage I knew I needed to protect the identity of the children, so I used what were obvious pseudonyms, as flower names.  However, as I continue to write, it seems odd that I am calling one of my children by his given name and the other children by a flower name.  I kind of like the image of my children as my garden of flowers, so I am switching all to flower names, and they also like the idea of having their own flower names.  So from here on out, I'm calling Emerson "Sunflower."

When the girls were partly or officially wards of the Ugandan state, sharing their pictures was prohibited.  Now that they are our daughters, I am not so worried about privacy and I do share pictures in some places on the internet.  However, I think that mostly stories in words fits the intended purpose of this blog, which is sharing ideas, stories and experiences of parenting, especially as it applies to adoption.  So there may be the occasional picture, but this will not turn into a picture-based blog.

There have been some significant logistical events this summer.  The biggest one: our paperwork has gone through the American courts, and my husband and I have officially adopted Hibiscus and Buttercup, granting us all the privileges of parenthood and the girls all the privileges of American citizenship.  This is both exciting and anti-climactic; we just got a letter in the mail with some judicial stamps on it.  After all the drama for every single little bit of official-ness we had to fight for in Uganda, it is either refreshing or astoundingly disappointing that it's so easy in this country!

The paperwork also confirms Buttercup's birthday: August 10th, 2010.  Her original Ugandan paperwork, which was filled out when we began the adoption process, had put a random birthday, and since clearly the parents had just filled out Hibiscus's paperwork, they just repeated the same date a few years later.  We felt strongly that she was older than that date, and after observing her progress and her development for a while, we asked for her birthday to be changed about six months earlier.  I feel this is the absolute youngest that she could be, and based on how several of her developmental categories are still above this age, it's quite likely that she is actually several months older.  However, we didn't want her to be bumped up a grade in school, so we aimed for summer.  We chose August 10th because that is the first day that the girls started to live with us.  I figured that if Buttercup would one day have to face the sad reality that no one had cared enough about her to even remember when she was born, and thus her "birth" day was in some ways meaningless, at least the memory could be paired with the date being a special and meaningful one, and a time when people did care about every aspect of her being.

So, Buttercup just turned four years old.  She will have three years of mixed-age kindergarten, and enter first grade right after she turns seven.  We are in the middle of switching stair steps in my two-years-apart stair-step children: Sunflower will be six in December, and is in his final and "real" kindergarten year,  and Hibiscus is still solidly seven, with her birthday in the middle of winter, and starting second grade.  They are each two years apart in school, and a little less than two years apart in birthdays.

In related news, do you want to know how big they are?  I don't know exactly how big they were when we got them, but Hibiscus was slightly taller and definitely lighter than Sunflower when we first met, which would have put her around 35 pounds.  Just over a year later, she weighs 58 pounds!  Buttercup gained a pound a month for a while, but just when I worried that at this rate she was going to be bigger than I was, she started eating like a toddler and is hanging out around 32 pounds.... almost double what I imagine was around 17 when we got her.  But that was a total guess; the local scales started at 10 kilos (22 pounds), so the doctors just wrote that on her cards, because it was the closest number to the barely-moving little red line.  I guess there are a lot of 10-kilo toddlers in Uganda!

Sadly, this spring the girls' biological mother passed away.  This was not unexpected, and she was so ill she was probably relieved to go.  She also had not been active or present in the girls' lives for several years, and I didn't see either of them choosing to interact with her during the times that we saw her.  I am very sad for the girls, insofar that one day when they might want to understand what happened that led to their adoption, or understand the complexities of their birth family, they will not be able to reconnect with their birth mother and learn her story.

Everything that I write about the girls, I did it with the consciousness of what they would be willing to share or have known about them.  One of the parts of their story that I carefully omitted is that they have an older sister, whom the parents did not place for adoption.  Her name is Patricia, she is only a little bit older than Hibiscus, and the father wanted to keep one child near him, although we believe that she lives most of the time with an auntie.  I chose to not write about her in the blog, because I knew this was precious information to Hibiscus (and Buttercup, although she was not so cognizant about it), and I wanted to follow her lead.  Well, by this point she has made very clear that she wants to talk about Patricia.  So I am choosing to put her name here, so that all of you can remember Patricia and pray for her if it moves your heart.

And I hope this also clarifies the tragedy that is adoption, which is part of which I want to help people understand.  It is so easy to see that our girls have gained so much when gaining a family by adoption, but we never forget they have also lost a family by adoption.  And the birth parents' difficult decision to send two of their children to "a better life," and keep one of them close, in the misery and squalor of their current existence, also highlights some of the pain and difficult decisions that the entire family suffered through.

On a practical note, we are still in touch with people in Kampala who are in touch with the birth family, but that's as far as it goes.  The birth family is too poor (and too sick) to have the links of communication that we take for granted, such as being able to receive a cell phone call or access email.  So at this point I have confidence that if anything major happens to the birth family, we will hear about it.  And we can send pictures or news bits through the people that we know.  But sadly, there is no practical way for Patricia to have any kind of back-and-forth with her sisters at this point.

And now, on to some interesting stories!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A Season for Quiet

It's cool and has been raining all morning.  The children are in school -- all three of them.  The house is quiet, but I put on the classical radio and the tea kettle is starting to gurgle and boil.  Autumn is here.

When I lived in Africa, there was so much that I was able to learn about and take into my self-hood that I never would have experienced here.  I can still close my inner eyes and feel that certain heat of the equatorial sun; feel the air that is full of red dust, and always infused with scents and smells.  And while I lived in Africa, there was a pain inside from missing what I have always known, what has gone into the making of me for so many years.  The pain of missing my husband, my dogs, and my friends, was sharper and more towards the outside of my being.  The pain of missing the air, the green, the peacefulness of gray, was deep inside, in the places you don't even fully realize you are existing.  And the strongest of all those pains was that of missing seasons.  And as much as I wished I were home to appreciate the snowy pictures my local friends posted on Facebook, the worst seasonal pain was missing autumn.

So perhaps that means autumn is my favorite season, although I think actually my favorite part about seasons is how they change.  As someone who has been either a student, a teacher, or a mother of students, for all of my life, fall also feels like the beginning of the new year to me.  And fall means fresh apples, and I really like apples -- the entire experience of apples.  Living in Africa, I also learned that I have very deep feelings about apples.  At any rate, between all these different aspects, school has started, the weather is changing, and the apples are ripe on the trees.... and I feel like a new door has opened in my life and our family's lives.

Part of that new door is our new adventures in school.  Buttercup has started school for the first time, and is attending mixed-age kindergarten with Sunflower three mornings a week.  Sunflower has the same schedule at Waldorf school as he has had for (at least part of) the last three years, but we are also starting a more deliberate home-schooling pattern, and he is deeply invested in that work.  And part of that door is opening something within me.  I have determined to celebrate the autumn by preserving so much of its beautiful produce into something we can enjoy all year long; and I have made a schedule where I can preserve some time for the things that nurture me as a human being.  Part of which is that I will come back and write this blog on a regular basis, which allows me to create something, and also gives me time to reflect and contemplate on my daily thoughts and experiences as a mother.  Furthermore, I think that these writings have touched people in different ways.  I have heard that people feel closer to my family, that they have new understanding about adoption or emotional special needs, or new ideas for their own parenting, or a more realistic expectation about living abroad or in Uganda, or simply have the time and space to appreciate standing in someone else's shoes.  So perhaps these writings are part of "the work God has given (me) to do," as we pray every Sunday after communion.  Thank you for sharing if you have found this writing to be meaningful to you, and I will now work to continue it.

We have now been home almost exactly eight months, which coincidentally is the same amount of time that we lived in Uganda.  I feel like most of that time has been some kind of dream state, or transition period -- in my inner world, as well as the outer one.  There has been so much in this outer world to get "done," and yet it has seemed impossible to do it.  I have taken care of the children, and kept up with the necessary basics, but I have not been a "do-er" for the last eight months.  I know both my husband and my mother have been frustrated with me or worried about me at times.  Although I occasionally have been frustrated with myself, there has been a certain necessary depth to the feeling of floating through life.

Part of it, I know, is habit.  At home, I have always had projects and things I'm involved in, and like many people of my class and generation, I am usually over-committed.  But in Uganda, what I really learned to do was wait.  Ugandans are experts at waiting, and perhaps there is something in that particular, sultry equatorial air that lends itself to slowness of body and quietness of mind.  The simple chores of existence -- buying groceries, doing laundry, bathing -- took up so much mental and physical energy there was not enough left to think of larger projects.  And of course, the children themselves took up everything that was left, and more!  Yes, there were long periods when I was simply sitting... writing or reading or something else  But even then, I think my internal energy, something about my soul, was required to throw over our household, keep our fragile lives intertwined.  The children's chaotic energy required a balance of quiet and calm to hold them together.  If you could have seen into the room, it would have seemed like I was doing nothing or wasting time, and yet my internal energy was deeply engaged.

And then when one gets home from almost a year of learning to wait, and listen, and be quiet, one can't just jump back into being active all the time.  When every evening after the children are in bed, one restores their soul by enjoying the absolute quiet of the house, it's hard to switch to rejuvenating oneself by talking.  Maybe an extrovert would have relished it, but I have always been introverted, and spending almost eight entire months with never ever having an open and emotional conversation (except for a few brief visits), strengthened the introversion and self-sufficiency within me.  Once home, I appreciated so much being able to connect with the people I love, but the daily availability of connection seemed almost too much.  By the end of the day, it felt like I was out of spoken words and didn't know where to find them to chat with my husband.  When my mother visited, it was like I didn't remember how to be together and interact with an adult all day long.  I had to ease into it from the inside, which looked like quiet or passivity from the outside

I haven't been depressed, although all this quietness seems like depression.  I have never been more deeply and fully grateful for what my life is filled with, and never has it been easier to feel like my life itself is a prayer of thanksgiving and joy.  But on the surface, I have run out of energy quickly.  It has been easier to be calm and passive.  Unlike my husband and mother, this hasn't bothered me.  I have felt like this, too, was a season.  Perhaps a season of re-learning what energy and activity is, or perhaps a season where I knew that stillness was what my children needed the most.  When I have plenty of "quiet time" alongside them, instead of folding the sheets and mowing the lawn, I do have a lot more energy left for the giant and improbable meltdown that pops up later that afternoon.  They have needed my reserves of energy, and creating an actual balance has not looked balanced.

And now, the season has just seemed to pass away from me.  I have a schedule for the children and myself, and it feels good to get out and DO the next thing.  I've been doing homeschool with Sunflower, and deeply enjoying the chance to work intimately together with him.  It's been easy and enjoyable to get out for a walk with the dogs in the woods almost every day, even when I need to bring children along with us.  After I put the children in bed, instead of feeling completely depleted and unable to stand, I've enjoyed working on fruit or canning in the evening, and other nights I've gotten housecleaning done.  I've also given myself a rhythm for kitchen work and house work, and our house suddenly feels manageable now.  I have not girded my loins and forced myself to be different; it feels like the door has opened and we have simply passed into a new place.  As the seasons change and the apples ripen, so suddenly we are ripe for something new.

It feels to me like the children are ripe to their new phase of life, as well.  Well-meaning friends suggest how "the transition" of moving or new siblings might be so hard on them, but they have not been here for every day of the last eight months in Uganda and eight months in Eugene, as I have.  I am feeling like we are finally out of transitioning, that this is real life.  What is bubbling out of them isn't in response to all the transitioning, it's what has been bubbling all along below the transitions.  When they're tired or angry or whiney as they get used to their new school schedule, it isn't because it's a new language or their home routine isn't what they expect or everything is new.  It's because everything else no longer requires their extra energy, and they are simply responding to starting a new school year which is harder than they wish it would be.  When Sunflower and Hibiscus are so deeply involved in their play they don't notice the passage of time, their words and actions tumbling over each other as they create a world that only they see; and then minutes later they irritate each other so much that they both end up screaming until they turn red.... it's no longer because they're getting used to each other as siblings.  It's because they ARE siblings.  We are off and running, and this is the path we are on.

"To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven."  When God made me, He made me capable of action and activity, but He did not make me an active person.  He made me a person capable of deep calm and quiet.  Which I admit freely can lead to a messy house, but I also believe that it's a powerful and meaningful gift, and as I have grown into myself I have learned to appreciate and value my own inner gifts.  And I believe that by giving this gift to me, He is also giving the gift of peace, of a quiet space of acceptance, of an aura of freedom from anxiety; into my home, for my husband and children.  The last few months apparently my energy has been needed for quiet.  Now it is time for a new purpose under heaven, and our season can change to more energy and activity on top of the quiet.