"Every child deserves a home." --Harry Holt

Thursday, June 30, 2011

While We Wait: Part 2

As of 5 minutes ago (depending on when you are reading this), the nursery became something that I felt comfortable enough to show. There are still some tweaks to be made, but aren't there always? So, in a rare more, this will be more pictures than words. Enjoy that while it lasts!

We thought it would be best to show the entire "process." :)

It started as an office (obviously at some point it became a disaster area)
The room all cleaned out!
Not a great pic, but I had to document the old light fixture.
In the background, you can see the first yellow we tried out on the walls, but we didn't like it because it made the room glow in the dark. IN the foreground, we had a little paint meets carpet incident. I'm not going to name names, but it wasn't me or the dog. It's actually a really funny story (3 weeks after the fact). He wasn't appreciative of the photo... oh well!
The trusty, currently handicapable Diogee as he supervises the carpet cleaning process.
Building the crib after the carpet is cleaned and the proper color is on the walls!
Let me know your thoughts (but only if you really like it. Kidding! Kind of).
Happy 4th of July weekend to you and yours!

Monday, June 27, 2011

It Looks Like

We are headed back here:
 To pick up this: 

 Yes, we have travel clearance to pick up, "Cupcake!" We can hardly believe it! Thank you for your love, prayers, support and positive affirmations! We couldn't have come to this point without all of the wonderful people in our lives. We can't wait to introduce her to the world, because even though that cupcake picture looks good, she is even yummier!!!!!!!!!!


Friday, June 24, 2011

While We Wait: Part 1

So, summer vacation is here (and has been for a few weeks), which means that I have waaaaaay too much time on my hands. When you combine that with weather that isn't actually representative of summer, a dog that is suppose to have constant supervision when not in a kennel due to back surgery, and waiting for an e-mail that says you can FINALLY head back to Ethiopia and pick up your daughter, you get a restless heart. 

Again, I wish the pictures were of a finished nursery, but I tend to be fairly indecisive when it comes to a room that I want to be completely PERFECT. I'm waiting on a few pieces of furniture to arrive that I purchased, and then we should be able to finish organizing the closet and hanging things on the wall. THEN, I should have pictures...I'm still looking for the 'perfect chair' for the room too. Blah...

So, We have 2.5 bathrooms in this house. They all needed some updating with paint and some fixtures. I truthfully thought this 'project' for all 3 bathrooms would take a weekend. It ended up taking a little less than a week, and we only did 2 of the bathrooms instead. There were some surprise holes in the bathroom walls, hidden by different things, so we ended up doing some wall repairs. We also couldn't get 2 more of the mirrors we wanted right away, so that is another good reason to hold off on the 3 bathroom (it's the one connected to the master bedroom, so it isn't like anyone sees it besides us?)

I forgot to take good "before" pics, but all of the bathrooms had the same color and decor, so I just snapped one of the medicine cabinet of the master bedroom. Pic below:
Master bathroom with the old 'fixtures' and messy counter...

Main floor 1/2 bath. We kept all of the walls the same color, except that blue one! It got a fresh coat on the other walls, because the previous owners picked nice colors, but they thought they were the king and queen of one coat, and it bothered me that we could see the white behind it in many places...

New mirror and light fixture, plus towel holder (not that you can tell the towel ring is new?!)
Same new fixtures upstairs...plus some serious olive green paint! It looks different in the room than in this picture...I think.

New shower curtain and curtain rod (one that won't destroy the wall!)

It's kind of a weird bathroom setup...
So, hopefully my deliveries for the nursery arrive soon! I need to find some things to hang in the bathrooms to make them "homey" too! 

Still waiting on travel clearance, but I'm going to try to just have fun this weekend and keep working on a few things here and there! 

A quick update on Diogee... It took him about a week to really look like he could stand up (even though it was about 2.5 seconds). In week 2 of recovery, he could kind of walk on his own (but often fell over like he was drunk). We can tell that he slowly gets balance, stability and stamina back. He still falls over, but not as often, and yesterday, he tried really hard to run at full speed in the backyard (even though he isn't supposed to run, jump or attempt stairs for another 8+ weeks), so I had to get him to stop. He can still be found sleeping on his puppy bed throughout most of the day, but he also wants to get outside! In the morning, he can often be seen looking out the window (and I can just hear him thinking, "Man, I wish someone would take me for a WALK!" We can't even say the word, walk, because he gets way too excited and starts drunkenly throwing his body around. Here's hoping he just continues to get a little stronger each day, (although, if he is a little sluggish when Cupcake makes her debut in the house, that might not be a terrible thing for everyone's adjustment!)
Yay for standing (even if his back paws are bent funny!) He is preparing to bark at the neighbor kids...How dare they walk in front of his house!!!

 Happy weekend to everyone!!!!!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

I Was Getting Irritable

AND I was making some demands of my God. I think my prayers sounded something like, "Seriously, I am so sick of waiting. Just do something about this. I have to hear that our case was submitted to the US Embassy." Let's see, pretty sure I ended up in my room and in trouble when I made demands like that from my parents when I was a teenager. Why did I think that He would respond in the way I wanted needed, prayed for, when I sounded like an angsty teen? This wasn't the first time my 'prayers' (can it really be a prayer if I am just demanding things?) sounded like this. I stopped, and humbled myself. I finally fell asleep. 

I've managed to accomplish almost nothing this morning (because I even go to the bathroom with my phone in case an agency e-mail comes...shhhh...let's keep that between us). Well, regardless of my whines, we got the news we were hoping for! OUR CASE HAS BEEN SUBMITTED TO THE US EMBASSY. If I could write it bigger, I would. I'm that excited. I think He knows that Cupcake needs to begin her adjustment into family life, because I don't think He would honor my demands. 

So, what happens next? (besides an awkward happy dance performed by me) We WAIT! Hahahaha! Is my response ever different at any step of this process?
You:"Great, you finished you homestudy, now what?"
Me:"Oh, we wait for our USCIS fingerprint appointment."
You:"Oh, you got your I-171h? Now  what?"
Me:"We send in our dossier and wait for a referral."
You:"OMG, you got your referral, what happens next?"
Me:"We wait for a court date!"
You:"You got your court date, now what?"
Me:"We show up and pray we pass. Then, we come home and wait for our Embassy date."

You get the picture... You know when you are going to bake something, and you need to preheat the oven before (yes, this is a cooking analogy, and I'm the one saying it...just go with me). Sometimes I forget to preheat the oven while I am mixing ingredients, so I get the whole dish ready and then I have to wait for the oven to hit the proper temp. It takes, what, 5 minutes? I always end up cursing under my breath. Why? I HATE WAITING! I'm so freaking impatient. I hate getting gas because it takes 'too long.' I loathe waiting rooms. Although, I'm a little better with my smart phone. Angry Birds is NOT a waste of time. 

I think this is why I struggle with the "right" thing to say to the families that are STILL waiting beyond normal timelines. I want to be all wise and calming, but part of me just wants to flip out, on their behalf. I doubt that my ranting is helpful for them. 

So, seriously, what is our next step? It really is waiting. We are waiting for the US Embassy to e-mail us and our agency notifying us that we are cleared for travel. Based on what we know, our cases "issues" have been worked out. There is some medical testing (and we have no idea if it has been done or has yet to be done), that could potentially create issues (HIV and TB) if Cupcake were to test positive, but there is absolutely no reason to believe that she would (though surprises happen). The only other thing is that the US Embassy staff in Ethiopia has been said to typically cut back July appointments because many staff take vacation, and there are some personnel adjustments happening during July that could create a slowdown. Only TIME will tell. It was proven by a few families that were submitted last week that clearance can come within 2 days, but clearance can also come 4+ months from now. It just depends on the caseload the Embassy can handle and if there are any issues with the case. We are praying that clearance comes swiftly. We would need to rush out and buy a few things (ya know, like a carseat, guess I shouldn't have put off all of those people that offered to throw baby showers, oops.) I'm going to go and finish up Cupcake's room! Yippppeeee!!!!!!

A thank you from the heart for all of the prayers and well-wishes. You all have got us this far, we are FINALLY onto the last step of this process. Did I just say last step???? Wahoooo!!!!!!!!!!!

We still cannot show her face online, but we will be posting a bunch of pics as soon as we take custody! So, here is the back of her freaking cute head. Her daddy looks like he is about to explode with happiness to be holding her. She is probably making a funny face, she has so many cute expressions!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Happy 9 Months, Cupcake

Dear Cupcake,

We are coming. Not as fast as I would like, but we ARE coming. May you have a sense that you are loved by so many on your 9 month birthday. We pray that you feel safe and cared for. We have seen first-hand how well your nannies love on you, and feel confident that you are treated the same way in your new setting. Just one more transition to new caregivers to go, we promise. 

Mom and Dad

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Up and Down and All Around

That's how I've been feeling...Up and Down and All Around...

I was hoping my next post would be before and after nursery pictures, but we have had some interesting times with that little project. Stay tuned.

We are waiting for our case to be submitted to the US Embassy. The updates come on Tuesdays, and we weren't submitted this week. We were really hoping to hear we were submitted, but it sounds like we are still waiting for Cupcake's passport to be ready. Hoping, hoping, hoping that we hear good news next Tuesday. The next step will be the Embassy reviewing all of our paperwork to this point. They make sure that everything is on the "up and up" and will notify us that we are cleared for travel. We will have about 2 (maybe 1 or 3) weeks and then we head to pick Cupcake up, FOREVER. Working hard to not be a grumpystiltskin that we haven't been submitted, yet. 

We have become emotionally invested in other families bringing home their children, just as much as we want Cupcake here with us. It feels like a double blow to hear when other families have also hit roadblocks in the process (and so often for reasons that don't make logical sense to me, welcome to International Adoption...ta da!) If you are the praying type, please send a few up for all of the waiting children and families. I just wish there was something else I/we could *do* along with praying, but at some point, I have to realize that I AM NOT IN CONTROL. Maybe tomorrow?

I interrupt this melancholy whiny post to show you 2 pictures that I got from my SIL of 2 of our beautiful nieces (We have had 6 beautiful nieces born into our families, and Cupcake will have lots of strong, beautiful girlies to grow up with!) 

Behold this little miracle, born 16 weeks early (is 9 months old just like Cupcake, and is such a strong little girl...I can't even describe it in words!!!!)
We had our homestudy update visit tonight. It was nice to see and talk through things with our wonderful social worker. She is incredibly knowledgeable and reassuring. I told her we would see her in August for our 1 month post-placement visit. She liked my positive thinking! It is nice to know that she will continue to walk this process with us when we are home. She is such a warm and friendly force for us in this process.

Tomorrow, Cupcake will be 9 months old. I hope and pray that her day is acknowledged in her new care center. She deserves some extra snuggles! Love you, Cupcake!
Longing to put the new shoes on this cute little footie!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Blessings and Curses of My Procrastination

I purposefully procrastinated on things to get our house physically ready for a little Ethiopian to come home. I spent more time reading adoption and parenting books back in the days of waiting for a referral (because I didn't know gender/age). Then, I *knew* it was going to be so hard to wait between our court date and embassy date. I also knew that I would be on summer break from school in between those two dates, and I would need to keep myself busy (too much thinking makes more more impatient than normal). So, we didn't decorate the nursery, we didn't buy any clothes (even though that was REALLY hard). Well, I've been done with the school year for nearly 2 weeks, and I haven't accomplished what I meant to. Oops! I have a good reason though, promise!

Let's start with the positive...what have I managed to accomplish????

I made a tutu for Cupcake!!!!! I'm still working on a cute bow, and matching headband.
This was actually the first tutu I made her, but upon further inspection...it is WAY TOO BIG for her. I don't know what I was thinking! It is hard tell the size in the photo, but it is enormous!
We bought her, her FIRST PAIR OF SHOES!!!! er, Nana bought her the shoes, but I got to pick them out :)
We HAD to get a dress, too!
We couldn't stop at just one dress, duh! Thanks for the shopping fun, momma/Nana! (I'm still gun-shy on how many clothes to buy. I've been buying big, because I don't know what size will fit exactly, and I don't know how much of summer will be left when she gets here (here's hoping there is LOTS of summer left).
The nursery is not done... We painted the room, and then I decided I HATED the color. We bought the second color but have since been interrupted... 

Our beloved pug-a-poo (also known as the dog that is so ugly he is cute), Diogee, broke his back :(. He suffered 2 ruptured discs in his spine over Memorial weekend (and we have NO idea how it happened). He woke up on a Sunday morning and didn't really want to move, and by Sunday night his hind legs were paralyzed. Nothing to make us feel like we are going to make great parents when we made our 13lb. dog suffer an entire day. Needless to say, Diogee ended up having emergency surgery. He still can't walk (and he may never walk, but we are hopeful that he is showing us his determination with the way he scoots around the living room). We haven't been able to leave him in a kennel or unsupervised (but that should get better once his stitches are out today (Thursday). So, it has been a lot of keeping him comfortable and helping him eat and go potty (we get to squeeze on his bladder every few hours to help him pee, fun, huh?!) We finally got some things under control for him, and he is scooting around, so we are hoping to have the nursery finished this weekend! I'll be posting some pre and post pictures! :)
Got his whole back shaved? That hind leg is in a weird position too...
The actual incision is only about 4 inches toward the top, but his whole back had to be shaved because he had to have some sort of dye test done before surgery, and the needles for that apparently went in toward the back of the spine. Poor baby! His front right leg is shaved too, because that is where the IV went. Sheesh... Hoping he can walk by the time Cupcake is here!
 So, my original thinking of waiting until summer was a good kind of procrastination, but now while I'm playing dog-nurse, I wish it had been completed already. Oh well, it is a blessing to not be at work so that the pup could recover at home and not at the vet!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

He Needs A Family...

***I'm Re-re-posting this. "Adam" is still in need of a family. Feel free to pass this along. Never know who might see this face and realize that "Adam" is THEIR SON. Crazier things have happened!***
I wrote about "Adam" here. 3 weeks months later, and I still can't get him off of my mind. Our agency is actively seeking a family for this little guy. We would LOVE to see him end up in a loving HOME soon! Just take a look and maybe pass this along. You never know how has adoption on their heart, and I personally testify that he has a loving and warm heart (and you can see his brilliant smile in the pictures!)

We aren't the only family that want him to find a family. See that here.

A Story for Adam

DOB: 2/27/2006, Africa
by Ashli Keyser, Managing Editor
A glimpse……
A woman and her husband wake up early on a Saturday.  They brush their teeth, eat breakfast and do some last-minute packing. Once they are confident they have everything they need, they smile at one another in nervous anticipation, grabbing their plane tickets and suitcases. As they head toward the front door, they pass a bedroom and briefly glance inside. The room is filled with a small bed, books, footballs, clothes and toys. Today marks the beginning of the next chapter in this couple’s journey – a journey that will lead to filling their vacant room — and their lives —with happiness and love. The journey to their new son.
The journey to Adam began unexpectedly. The couple first fell in love with the cheerful and happy 5-year-old when they saw his picture and story on the Holt International blog. They had seen stories like his on the blog before, but something about this child spoke to them.
Maybe it was his photo – his glowing eyes, or his friendly grin. Maybe they fell in love with his personality traits as they read his story…..
“Adam loves to play football with his friends,” they read. “Very curious and outgoing, Adam loves trying new things. He likes pressing keys on the computer keyboard and dialing numbers on cell phones, often playfully imitating adults in the process.
The husband stopped reading for a moment and thought about playing football with Adam in the backyard. The wife dreamed about helping Adam with his homework and one day teaching him how to drive a car.
What may have sealed the deal for this couple, though, was when they read about Adam’s helpful and kind nature. “Adam can often be observed helping the other children put their shoes on or helping children find their toys.”
“This is our son!” The couple said, tears filling their eyes. “We are sure of it!” They knew it wouldn’t always be easy, but they also knew that they didn’t want to spend another moment without this child in their lives.
And in a care center half way around the world, Adam waited for his family to arrive. He had seen photos of them and had received their letters in the mail. He was excited to meet them and have a forever family at last.
Adam’s father died when he was very young, and his mother, who was disabled, was unable to provide the care he needed. He arrived into Holt’s care in July of 2010 and was later found to be a carrier of Hepatitis B and C. Although he did not have an active illness, he needed a family who was comfortable with his diagnosis, and who would love him forever.
And now, that family was on their way to him…….
When the couple arrived at Adam’s care center, after a long flight, they breathed a sigh of relief and stood in a room, waiting in anticipation. And then, the wait was over. There he was – their Adam. They embraced their son for the first time, and at that moment two stories — two lives — became one.
This family’s story was just beginning. Adam was home.
But this is just a story. Just a glimpse of what could be but, for Adam, hasn’t happened yet.
Right now, Adam, the beautiful boy to your left, continues to wait in a care center in Ethiopia. A family hasn’t come for him yet. He waits for one family to see his photo, read his story and to know without a doubt that he’s the one for them. He waits for a father to play football with, a mother to help him with his homework. He waits for a story of his own – a story that ends with him in the arms of a loving family.
Adam doesn’t have a family yet, but he hopes for one every day.
Will you be the family in Adam’s story?

Interested in adopting Adam, contact Erin Mower at erinm@holtinternational.org

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Ethiopia Travel Memoir: Day 7 (Travel Home) 5/20-5/21

**These are based on my thoughts and feelings while on our trip. Some events may come across clouded and foggy due to our high emotional state while encountering each event.**
We arrived at Bole International Airport at 10:15pm. The place was rocking! We headed into the terminal and through our first security checkpoint. Next, to ticketing (yes, that does sound backwards...it usually goes ticketing then security, but don't worry it gets better). Once we were done with ticketing we filled out our exit forms and headed through customs. We looked around in a couple of shops and then went through security (again) to get to our gate. The airport had wifi (it had been down at the guest house for a couple of days) so I was finally able to tell family we passed court! My FB status: "We adopted the cutest 8 month old Ethiopian baby girl today! What did you do?!" Clever, I know... :)
 Our plane left from Addis at 1:10am. I had been feeling mixed emotion about leaving all evening/night. I was anxious to be home and talk to family and friends, play with Diogee and finish up my last 4 days of the school year. I felt like I could finally decorate Cupcake's bedroom and fill her closet with frills. I knew my first purchase would be shoes (and it was, in case you were wondering). On the other hand, leaving meant leaving Cupcake behind. There is a hole in my heart. I used to get slightly annoyed when families further along in the process or already home would say, "Once you have a referral, it is so much harder to wait for court," or "once you have been to court, it is so much harder to wait for embassy." I never doubted the truth to those words, but it was probably jealousy, like "Ugh...I only wish I was at that stage by now." Well, let me tell you...I thought this journey was difficult before, pfffft. What a naive little thing I was. So, taxiing to the runway, in typical fashion, I cried for at least the first hour of the flight until I fell asleep.
Sleep didn't last long. Maybe an hour (and that is being generous), and then I was awake the rest of the flight to Istanbul, Turkey. Unfortunately, we had about a 4.5 hour layover. We couldn't connect to wi-fi (but figured it out literally as we were walking to our gate to board the next plane...hint: you have to sit in a restaurant and pay or something along those lines). No internet gave me an excuse to journal my thoughts about court day. Even if you aren't someone who keeps a journal, I recommend it in high emotional situations just to process thoughts and feelings. It has been fun to look back on everything I wrote (and if you think my blog posts have been long, you should see what I actually wrote!) As we approached our gate, we went though a security checkpoint. We had to pass through the standard metal detector and carry-ons through x-ray. Then, show our complete itinerary, and be questioned about who packed our bags, and were they left unattended at any point? I almost giggled when the lady asked me if I was carrying any weapons (thankfully, I didn't...I fear I would have been subjected to a strip search if they thought I was lying), but do people wanting to do harm actually admit right out to that question? Honestly, I don't mind the security precautions. They are meant to keep everyone safe, but I just wish things made a little more sense. We had to have our boarding passes and passports scrutinized and stamped, then they were checked again and we got stickers this time! :) Then, our bags were physically searched and we were patted down. Our passports and boarding passes were checked, again, this time to make sure our stuff was properly stamped and stickered (I need to use this example with middle school students about how important it is to follow directions...) I felt confident that everyone getting on our plane was on the up and up, which is nice. :) K is a little more accustomed to international airports, so I think I was the only one amazed at all of this...
My Turkish bagel

3 Mama Odi Bah Grogo Bah 3rd, King of Ashanti regions of Ghana apparently missed his plane from Istandbul to Denmark and we saw him and his 'servants' so we snapped a couple of pictures. We had to look up who it was when we got home. ..

A better photo of him.

We left Istanbul late, with no explanation, unless the explanation was in Turkish. However, I am one of those stupid Americans that speaks English and 5 words of a couple of other languages (El burro sabe mas que tu). I really ought to put at least one other language on my bucket list! (Eat, Pray, Love, anyone?) 
I cried on the plane to leave Istanbul (weeping is a pattern in my life...I cry when other people cry. Can't help it). It just felt like another step to leaving Cupcake behind. Again, I zonked out from the tears for about an hour. The flight attendant woke me for icky airplane fare. The in-flight food for the most part has been doable, but this particular meal contained items that I couldn't really identify without reading them on the 'menu.' I hope nobody actually tried the smoked salmon (does it always look raw, and should you eat that kind of thing on an airplane???) It looked like a good way to test out the barf bag or more subtly named, "bag for your waste." I just wasn't up for the challenge, I guess.
The rest of our flight was uneventful, but we had a tight connection in Chicago to begin with, and it was made even tighter when our flight left an hour late. We were really hoping to not miss our connection, because we knew it was probably one of the last ones leaving for home for the day. I REALLY needed a shower (and a Diet Coke with ice). Customs was fairly quick, and thankfully our luggage was fairly quick too. We transferred our luggage to the domestic terminal, and headed there ourselves. We asked if we needed another boarding pass printed (since ours was printed in Istanbul), and we were told no, but when we went through domestic security, our pass was rejected. I pleaded with the security agent to let us cut back in line after getting a new boarding pass because our flight was already boarding. Thankfully, she took pity and said yes. We got our new boarding passes and back through security in record time. Our gate was literally feet from security, so we made it onto the plane just before the doors were closing (after having 2 more sets of boarding passes printed by the gate agent...don't ask). The plane pulled away from the gate on time, but we sat on the tarmac for quite a while. I could see a ridiculous # of planes in line to get to the runway (I counted 12). Have I ever mentioned that I'm not much of an O'Hare fan? This time, it wasn't worry about making a connection, I just wanted to get home. 
While we were standing in line at customs, I turned on my phone and we had an e-mail update from our agency. I was working hard to choose to have a positive and hopeful attitude about it, but it was hard not to be a little down. The current US Embassy Director of the adoptions unit in Ethiopia (can't remember the official title) is leaving the post (which we found out while in country), and the replacement is being trained in July. The bummer was that, submissions of adoption cases to the US Embassy are expected to be slowed (some have speculated they will be cut in half, and others have heard there may be no visa interviews in July), and then resume at a normal pace in August. We are still hopeful that we can return to Ethiopia in July. I believe in miracles! I have witnessed many in this year alone, meeting Cupcake (she is truly a little miracle), our niece Kailey growing and thriving. HE will always guide and protect this journey, HE always has. Even when I wasn't sure...HE was.

We met our daughter exactly 3 weeks ago...but, who is counting? (ME!)

**Whew, did you think I was ever going to run out of words for this trip? Me neither!**

Monday, June 6, 2011

Ethiopia Travel Memoir: Day 6 In Country 5/20 (COURT DAY!)

 **These are based on my thoughts and feelings while on our trip. Some events may come across clouded and foggy due to our high emotional state while encountering each event.**
We did end up taking Tylenol PM, but I was awake at 4am anyway. I tried to go back to sleep, but it was useless so I decided to just get ready for court. We were both so nervous, so breakfast was a lost cause. At this point, K was feeling yucky enough to warrant Cipro. Immodium wasn't cutting it (TMI?), but the Cipro definitely seemed to be helping. We didn't eat anything we "shouldn't have" or drink any non-bottled water. I think it was just a combination of stress, excitement, being off schedule and spices we just weren't used to. At home, we stick to a pretty regular schedule just because we both have routine oriented lives with work. Even when we travel for a weekend, one of us always seems to feel a little "off" from being off schedule and normal diet. (Am I the only one that believes calories don't count when you are on a weekend getaway or vacation? That always gets me into trouble...)
Mmmm. Warm 'Coke Light'
This wasn't my 'exact' court outfit, I wore dress pants (I had a heckuva time trying to find a skirt or dress this time of year that covered enough leg). Can I just ask, what happened to my pants? We took the pic, because I wasn't sure if it was a lighting problem, but the pic showed there is definitely something making it look like I possibly peed my pants...I did not, it just looks that way, I swear.
I wasn't necessarily nervous for the actual court appearance. We had been told by so many that had gone before us that it was a 5 minute or less ordeal with the judge. We had also been told that the judge may speak softly (obviously with an accent, too). Low-talking seems to be fairly common among Ethiopians. We knew a soft voice would be extremely difficult for me, even with my hearing aids, so K was going to repeat everything or answer for me. 
We were picked up by our driver at 7:30 sharp and headed to the office of our agency. We were allowed the opportunity to go through our entire file. So.much.paperwork. We were able to see all of our dossier documents translated (there were more pages than I even remember). It was fun to see all of that labor of love together, again. We also saw Cupcake's birth certificate (and incidentally have a different birthday for her than we originally thought). She is 7 days older than we thought (this tends to be a common occurrence due to the calendar conversion...remember it is currently the year 2003 there. It was exciting for me to "be" so much younger while we were in country ;). The birth certificate had a photo attached of Cupcake that we had never seen before. She was a newborn! So.darn.precious. I was grateful to see that. We couldn't take it with us, but we did get a picture of her picture! It will do... Along with all of Cupcake's paperwork was a thumbnail size, black and white photo copy picture of her first mother. K's first response was, "Wow, she is beautiful." I whole-heartedly agree. She has so many striking features. We will never have to wonder where Cupcake got her looks! What a blessing in disguise this photo turned out to be.
Holt Ethiopia office, just in case you weren't sure :)
The lawyer came in when we finished reviewing our files (2 other families had court with us). He gave us a list of questions the judge was likely to ask us. His only real tip(s) were to be straightforward, honest and speak from the heart. Can do! He also wanted us to let him know before court if any of us wanted to back out. 'Ummmm, no. I'm good!' If you've met Cupcake, you would understand the certainty in my heart. I was 110% sure she was meant to be our daughter the second I saw her photo. I was 10,000% sure the moment we met her. She is such a blessing! The lawyer didn't attend court with us. A social worker came instead. Which truthfully, seemed a little odd, but for us, it was no big deal.  

We arrived at the Ethiopia Federal First Instance Courthouse. It seemed like a busy place. There was a large group of people waiting outside, and we went right in. There was another group of people waiting in line to use the elevator. Our driver asked if we would mind walking up the stairs. It was 4 flights. Normally, this is fine, but have I mentioned the elevation in Addis? I'm not making this up, it made walking stairs a challenge, and by challenge, I mean I was always huffing and puffing by after the first flight. My 3rd floor office at school gives me a lot of stair climbing practice, too. Anyway, I'm just saying, I'm not THAT out of shape... :)

So, picture me in my business casual outfit (with specified quiet shoes) and I've just hustled up 4 flights of stairs. We came to this narrow, somewhat crowded hallway. Our driver lead us through the people, but he turned us around because their was actually more room for us to stand at the other end of the hallway. When he moved past me, I saw her. Our daughter's first mother (me being the 2nd, in case their is any confusion). I knew the instant I laid eyes on her even though the picture we saw of her in Cupcake's file was literally a thumbnail, black and white photocopy. I knew. instantly. 

My heart nearly blew out of my chest it was pounding so hard, and this time I don't think it was the stairs. Did she see me, I wonder? Has someone shown her the file or our picture? I know our pictures are in the file, I saw them. They are passport size, I remember having them taken at Walgreen's because they had to be all official-like and we didn't want to mess with getting all of the specifications right. At least that photo is a slight improvement over my original, actual passport. I stopped obsessing over the photo, and decided she probably does know what we look like. Then, I started obsessing over, 'what does she think of what I'm wearing?' Do I look like a kind-hearted, nurturing person? Am I allowed to give her a hug? Can I just explain who I am? Wow, this is so much more nuanced than one can prepare for. Is someone around that could translate if I wanted to speak with her? Does she speak Amharic? Would the court frown on me speaking to her, and look at it as trying to coerce her testimony, even though she has already given it in the lower court? Suddenly, I stop being so cotton-picking-selfish and think about her instead of me. After all, she came first in this process. 

By this time, we have all been escorted into a waiting room together. It is so full, there is even limited standing room. SHE is seated on a small, wooden stage and is literally close enough for me to touch. I don't want to stare, but she is so beautiful and we are forever linked through our daughter, so I find myself magnetically drawn to her. Still, I say nothing, but I can't help but get choked up. I can't imagine how she feels in this moment. How is that that she is so young, but so brave? She is holding it together and quietly glancing around while I sniffle and fight tears back. I feel awful that I have been longing for this day to come with excited anticipation, and she has most likely been dreading it. I think about how beauty and loss are intertwined in this process, constantly. We pray for this woman by name every night, but until now, I have never been faced directly with it. It has been more of an abstract concept, but now, I have looked into her eyes. There is nothing abstract about that. 

I couldn't fight the tears off any longer, and I didn't want to make a scene in front of all of the people crowded into the waiting room (even the Italian couple next to me, dressed as if they are 15 instead of 40, and pawing at each other right next to me (ummm, hello? You don't see the group of women and men in the room about to complete the relinquishment process? Please. let's all have a little respect.) I stood up from my chair and went to the window. I look out for a long time, so that nobody notices me crying. I pull it together, and our group was still waiting, and so is SHE. Can't they have some mercy on her and let her get through this quickly? Does she really need to watch adoptive families exit the judges chamber with tears of joy, hugging and kissing? She is here alone, except for who I assume is another social worker with our agency. I turn to face all of the people, and such a kind soul from our group noticed I'd been crying (I forget that my face stays all blotchy when I cry). She mouthed, "Is everything ok?" Her kindness brings tears again. It isn't me we should be worried about. I feel sick for the beautiful woman in the long black skirt, white shirt, hair braided, and put up so carefully. I explain why I'm upset in less than a sentence. C gets it, immediately. This is what I love so deeply about the connections with other adoptive families. They know. I have no problem explaining or talking about our journey with them. In fact, I love it. Sometimes, I just don't have the words to explain it all. Adoptive families...they just know.

2 hours passed and we were still waiting (along with 3 or 4 other groups). SHE is the only birth parent still waiting. COME.ON.PEOPLE. Finally, finally they call her into the judge's chambers. My heart sinks for her. I whisper a prayer for her that is familiar to both God and I from the last few months. "Please gran her the serenity and strength to get through this. Please." 

SHE was only in chambers for 2 minutes. I have no idea what they asked her, or her exact response. We asked a social worker later, and they basically asked her to state one more time, "for the record" that her intent is to let her daughter be adopted. Forever. She answered, "yes."

Our 3 family group was called next. First thought as we entered the chambers, "This looks NOTHING like judge's chambers from Law & Order." My crumbling, school counseling office looks like it has more life. 2nd thought, "Which one of you is the judge?" It is the older one behind the desk, further away, surrounded by all of the files. We handed over our passports and got started. As predicted, I don't hear a single word the judge says. When K says, "yes," so do I. I asked later what we were asked, and the questions were things like, " Have we met our child?" Do we want to go through with this?" Yes and yes. "Do we have kids already?" Nope, but I may have accidentally nodded a yes. "After 6 or 7 questions (I can't be sure how many), the judge announced, "She.is.yours." Except, she didn't get all bold and shout-y about it, but that was just how I felt. I wanted to hear it again, but unfortunately, the judge was busy explaining to the other 2 families that they did not pass court at this time. Heart-breaking. Neither of the birth family members appeared for their court appointment. In fact, a letter had been submitted that both birth family members in question were missing. Missing. The judge wanted the police to further investigate and submit another letter by June 6 (or more hopefully, produce the birth family members). 

Both families, like us, assumed they would be given the opportunity to meet and converse with birth family members after court. Due to miscommunication, neither family was aware that these people were missing. They sat for 2 hours in the waiting room, wondering which woman it might be. Needless to say, both families were extremely disappointed and worried, not for their case, but for their children and birth family members.

The other major thing that could keep an adopting family from passing court (that I know of) is whether the MOWCYA letter is in the file.  MOWCYA stands for Ministry of Women, Children and Youth Affairs (formerly MOWA). This is the branch of the Ethiopian government that is in a sense "responsible" for adoptions. MOWCYA was given our file (our paperwork and Cupcake's paperwork), and they review the file. Once the file has been reviewed and MOWCYA determines that everything on our part and on the part of our agency and Cupcake's orphanage was done ethically and legally, they write a letter of opinion to the Ethiopian court giving their approval of the adoption. To my knowledge, MOWCYA comes in contact with every.single.international.adoption, and no adoption can be approved without a "green light" from MOWCYA. Unfortunately, not all agencies follow an ethical or moral code in every case. When the more questionable cases "slip through the cracks" it is in some ways MOWCYA that is held responsible (even though it would be the agency or wrongdoing individual that should be held responsible), and the birth family, child and adoptive family are victimized. In an effort to improve checks and balances, MOWCYA "announced" in March 2011 that they would only write 5 letters/day when in some cases, they were writing 40-50. This would give them more time to comb though every file. I feel caught between a rock and a hard place here. I want ALL adoptions to be ethical (which would make going through all cases more closely a necessary), and I can now say with certainty after meeting Cupcake's first mother that this adoption is expressly what she intended for her daughter (not her wish, but a necessary for survival). So, I feel sad at the thought of cases like Cupcake's where the child would spend more time in an orphanage than necessary. None of this is easy, but I've never seen an ethical dilemma that wasn't fraught with grey area. So far, it doesn't appear that every case has been slowed due to MOWCYA's announcement, but that hold-up may remain to be seen for a few more weeks.

Due to the importance of the MOWCYA letter to our case moving forward, I NEEDED to hear the judge say it was in the file. Previously, I have heard of families appearing in court and the judge told them, "He/She is yours!" which meant, 'your part is done, but we are still waiting on the MOWCYA letter,' but they weren't told that in court. In some cases, these families returned home only to find out a few weeks later that there would be a delay. We were so sad for the 2 families with us, and the birth family members and children involved. I was not about to question the social worker with us about the MOWCYA letter until those families had a chance to process and ask questions and provide feedback. Instead, I talked K into beain sneaky and working on getting more confirmation a little later in the afternoon. Somehow, he talked the social worker into going back to the court house and checking it out in person. Have I mentioned how much I love the man that puts up with my neurotics?! I knew that it was a perfect example of being a pushy American, but if it could be helped, I didn't want to get on that plane in the evening without a little more peace of mind.

After court, we went to lunch with one of the other families, the social worker and driver. We returned to Yod Absynnia, but this time without the cultural music an dance, so it was much quieter and more subdued. The lunch conversation could have been melancholy with 2/3 of our group not passing court, but we were all able to enjoy each other and try to find 'M' a girlfriend. I *think* he got a kick out of my tactics (at least I hope!) I know 'S' was enjoying it as he couldn't stop laughing!

After lunch we headed to the Holt office to meet Cupcake's first mother. I felt so nervous and unprepared for this meeting. I had no idea how I was going to find the words to express my love and gratitude for both she and Cupcake in our lives (and I'd spent months trying to figure this out). We had 2 translators. One to translate English to Amharic and the other to translate Amharic to Kembatissa as that is what SHE speaks. Wowsa. We will be keeping the majority of the details from this meeting private. We want to be transparent in as many ways as possible about our journey to Cupcake, but these details are for her to hear when she is old enough to hear them. I will say, it only took a few moments to feel completely at ease with this beautiful woman. She is an amazing and courageous woman. I am forever grateful for the chance to meet and speak with her. I wanted so badly to put her at ease at our meeting, and instead, she gave me words that I will forever find beauty and comfort in. We will always be linked with her, and we loved her in an instant. The three parents of Cupcake made some beautiful promises on that day, and I want never to forget what I vowed (and I don't know how I could). Let's just say, we all ended the meeting in tears and long hugs. I couldn't have asked for more. I will forever cherish our photo together (which will not be shared on the blog), and the more I look at it, the more I hope that it isn't the only one we ever take together.

We were extremely emotional after the meeting but a sense of peace also came over me. It was the thought of Cupcake's first mother's bright smile that induced (and still does) the feeling of serenity. I pray that she walked away with a similar feeling as well.

We were taken to do a little more shopping, but I was feeling so grained from  the day that I was feeling a little "shopped out" (I know, me not having my heart into shopping?! I must have been worn out). We did grab a couple more items from our list and headed back to the Guest House. We packed, had dinner, packed some more. At 10pm, we were picked up and taken to the airport. It seemed like Day 6 never ended with the marathon travel beginning...
Maybe it was this maneuver that actually broke my traditional coffee pot?

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Ethiopia Travel Memoir: Day 5 In Country 5/19

** These are based on my thoughts and feelings while on our trip. Some events may come across clouded and foggy due to our high emotional state while encountering each event.**
We had a difficult time falling asleep (again) this night. I was thinking I was tired enough not to need Tylenol PM, and we didn't have to get up early for anything. At some point, I dozed off, but I was up at about 6am. This was a day of no set schedule for us. One of the families we traveled to Durame with (and another family that didn't need to make the trip) had court, and our court day is the following day. We made the trip to Durame a day earlier than we would have needed, except we needed to travel with the family that had court on 5/19. Does this make sense to anyone besides me?
It rained both on our way back from Durame and in Addis. It was hard to watch people scavenge for shelter like this guy outside of our Guest House.
With no set schedule, we decided to just laze around in bed until about 7:40. It was nice to take our time getting up and getting ready, but I wouldn't have minded rushing around for our court appointment! We had made arrangements to go out on an 'adventure' with a couple of people. We ventured to the Merkato, which is the largest open-air marketplace in Africa. It covers several square miles and it is pretty packed! When I pictured it, my only reference point must have been Midwestern Farmers' Markets. Ummmmm, no. Instead, there were vehicles (including ours) driving right down the streets that were barely big enough for vehicles because the merchandise and people were EVERYWHERE. One of our travel mates made the comment that the Merkato sold literally everything. You could buy what you needed to furnish AND build your house (this rang true as we were nearly beheaded by  a guy carrying sheet rock on his head). When we parked the van (in a spot that shouldn't have allowed us to fit according to physics, but somehow did), there was a gentleman waiting to escort us around. I have no idea if this was pre-arranged or not. We had heard that the Merkato is not necessarily the safest for 'ferenji' (foreigners), mostly due to risk of pick-pocketing. Our driver said to me right away that we were to stay close to him. MmmmmmmK. No problem! At first, I thought our other escort was excited to just show us around. It hit me after 5 minutes that we would need to tip him for his services. I don't have an explanation for why I tend to be so dense sometimes. At any rate, his English was pretty good, and he was friendly. 
If I could describe Merkato in one word, chaos would have to be that word. It was an experience I was glad to have and share with others. I purchased another traditional dress for Cupcake as she gets older. We also purchased Berbere spice ( and we definitely overpaid for it). We wanted an injera mat, but our driver was adamant that we were being overcharged tremendously, so we didn't purchase it. That's on my list for the next trip! I spoke with our escort on the way back to our vehicle. I asked him where he learned English, and he explained that he learned it in Kenya, as he was a refugee. I would have LOVED the opportunity to hear more about his story. 
I didn't get great pictures of our time at Merkato, because I didn't even think to snap photos until we were leaving. This was our Kenyan Escort, Jeremiah.

Our next stop was the coffee shop, Tomoca. We had been there the day before, but one of the couples we were with hadn't been there yet and obviously needed to buy some Ethiopian coffee (the birthplace of coffee is Ethiopia). I ended up buying a 2nd (larger) traditional coffee pot (so sad that the smaller one broke on our trip home! Another thing on my list for next trip...I'm bringing bubble wrap this time!). I was amazed that the group of people that gathered around us at Tomoca asking for $ or food, was recognizable from our stop there the day before. One of our travel mates tried to offer one of the gentleman some crackers, but he only wanted money. That struck me as interesting because that was the first time that had been the case in my experience in ET. I was running out of snacks, so I ended up giving the few birr that I had on me. We also realized that our driver paid change to a gentleman to watch the van (we recognized him from the day before, as well). We tipped him for his good work. When he felt people were getting too pushy, he would kind of fend them off. Definitely, the most interesting addition to the crowd of people was the gentleman trying to sell us pills. It could have been Immodium for all I know, maybe he thought we looked bloated? Buying pills was where I had to draw a line. I think it was the first time someone tried to sell me drugs.
Inside Tomoca
Next stop was an Ethio-Supermarket. It was here that we realized we had overpaid for the Berbere that we purchased at Merkato. Oh, well. Hopefully the spice salesguy got a good laugh (and handsome profit) at the expense of the stupid Americans! The supermarket didn't have teff flour (used in injera) or Bebelac formula, so that was a bust for our fellow shoppers, but K was satisfied with his "Ethiopian Oreo" and "Teddy Grams" purchase. He grew a little alarmed that I gave away all of our snacks (which is what they were for, but he wanted a couple for the plane ride home). The difference is, we had the resources to pop into a market to buy more snacks. 

We moved into our current home about a year ago (yes, this applies to our trip). I've done fairly well getting it decorated, but have purposefully left a few spots, "naked." I think our home should represent our family, and now we are an Ethio-American family. I had asked around about Ethiopian Art, and I heard from a handful of people about Makush which is both an Italian restaurant and Ethiopian Art Gallery. One of the families that we traveled to Durame with had been there the day before and picked 2 pieces that they raved about. Not everyone in our shopping group wanted to go (I think because they had heard it was expensive), but it was super close to the Ethio-supermarket (2 doors down), so everyone relented and came in. The pieces were beautiful. I was able to narrow it down to 2 pieces (but I wasn't sure I could afford both...) In the end, we purchased both, and they were worth every penny. Life has been crazy since getting home, so I'm excited to get them re-stretched and hung up! We had a couple of great moments at Makush. One of the ladies with us wasn't planning on buying anything. She saw a particular piece, and just started crying. At first, I was worried there was something horribly wrong. She explained that the piece of a beautiful Ethiopian woman in a wheat field just broke her down. She was in Ethiopia on her 2nd trip (Embassy trip), and they had taken custody of their beautiful daughter. They had the opportunity to meet a member of the birth family a few days earlier. Their daughter's first mother lived in a village where the family grew wheat. She and her husband also grow wheat. What a powerful connection. The piece was meant to be hanging in their home. I love living vicariously through others! The second moment was with the owner of Makush, and he was incredibly kind. He asked our group if we were adopting. We all said yes, and he told us that any family adopting Ethiopian children was entitled to a discount from him. Admittedly, I was a little taken aback. The Ethiopian people are somewhat divided on international adoption. From what I've been told and read, some people feel that we are coming in and "taking" their children (which in a sense is true). Others may disagree with parenting methods. Others, see it and feel it is a stark image of how Ethiopia has failed. Every Ethiopian that I met was kind, caring and wonderful. They want nothing more than to take care of others, including their people. It is an unfair world where international adoption is needed, at all. I think Harry Holt said it best when he said, "Every child deserves a home." Adoption will not solve the need for all of the children, but we really do feel like it is at least one small piece to the puzzle. The Makush owner made it clear that his belief is that it is a good thing that the children that we DO adopt will be offered opportunities that Ethiopia cannot currently provide. He said the problem for families is currently greater than Ethiopia's resources. Hopefully that won't always be true.
Inside Makush (taken from Google Images)
We spent the majority of the rest of the day at the Guest House. We spent time swapping stories and getting to know other families. It was relaxing, but I was definitely anxious to head to court, in the morning. Did sleep elude me once again??


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