Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy Birthday, Levi!!!!

My precious Levi,
Today I can say that I am a 27-year old mother of a 15-year old. I can't believe it!!!!  It seems like just yesterday that I heard about a little boy with the biggest smile in the whole world. Just one simple line in a random message, an offhand comment, and yet I knew that instant that you were MY boy. I remember EVERYTHING about that moment....I was standing in a field at a festival that I was performing at, the sun was shining, and Daddy was with me. You filled up my whole heart that day. And I bawled my eyes out with happiness, because God told me that day that you were MINE. July 31st, 2011 baby boy, around 11am. Then after one year in hell fighting to get your paperwork done, we finally met you in August of 2012. You were thirteen. We brought you home in November and you immediately turned fourteen. And now suddenly, you're fifteen.
Yesterday you were a rail-thin little boy, who fit under my chin when standing up straight. You had a huge smile and a drive to survive and succeed that still makes me tear up with pride. You could only communicate through gesture and mime, but instead of letting that make you bitter, you tried to teach everyone around you the signs you had made up. You would hug me in public, and you were obsessed with riding your bike.  
Today, you are all muscle and are almost eye level with me. You have a little moustache and we can wear the same shoes. You still have a breathtaking smile that splits your face, and your drive to succeed and survive still amazes me. You sign so beautifully....and I don't think you stop from the moment you wake up, until the time I pass out watching your stories. You don't hug me in public anymore....now we fist-bump. At home though, you will walk up and kiss my cheek. You're obsessed with wanting to learn to drive and you want a red truck or a red porsche.  
You've grown up so much this past year, especially the past three months. You have no idea how proud Daddy and I are of you, even though I try to tell you every day. You have shown such maturity and responsibility, and you've become an incredible young man. I am so blessed to call you my son, and I love you so much that it hurts.  

This birthday is hard for me.......you've grown up in so many ways, and yet, you're still my baby boy. I fought so hard to bring you home.....waited three years to pull you into my arms and protect you. And now you're growing up and I am having to let you go. Trips with your youth group, Crossfit, basketball camps and soccer, biking and running around our neighborhood alone, being interested in girls, getting pre-hired for a JOB, getting a cell phone......(you haven't seen it yet, but I'm giving it to you today for your birthday and it is COOL! You're gonna FLIP!!!!!!!!)
Thank you for being my son. You are a blessing beyond words and you make every day incredible for us. You light up our lives and our hearts. I love you, my precious son. Happy Birthday!!!!!!!


Saturday, December 21, 2013

A Small Piece of Understanding

I always knew I couldn't understand (not even remotely) the trauma and pain my kids went through when they left Ethiopia. My kids were forced (they had no say) to leave everything they'd ever known, and travel with two strangers 18 hours across the ocean to a completely different and shocking world. Permanently. They lost everything in an instant. Friends, culture, language, history, familiarity, traditions, beliefs. Gone. 
Don't get me wrong, my kids are happy to be in America. They love it here. But they love Ethiopia too. And a huge part of who they are has been lost forever, slowly disintegrating and fading into fuzzy memories, which are kept in the corners of their minds, collecting cobwebs and slowly being forgotten. No matter how hard I try, it's impossible to give them both worlds, and slowly but surely, their previous life is orbiting away from their current one, fading into the distance. And I can't stop it. Because gravity is too strong. And Ethiopia is too far away. 
My children are happy. We love them more than anything. We'd do anything for them. But we can't protect them from pain; can't protect them from their loss. We can't ease the hurt. We can't even begin to understand it. 
Until yesterday. 
Yesterday I was shown what an idiot I am. I was shown how much I CAN'T understand my kids' loss and pain. I was shown how attached I am to meaningless, material things. I was shown a TINY piece of what they lost. 
As you may know, I was in the emergency room in September for my hands. Without getting too graphic, they were bleeding, swollen beyond recognition and splitting. The pain was HORRENDOUS. I was using two boxes of bandaids a DAY. I had terrible eczema as a kid (and through allergy shots found out I am allergic to things like cats, horses, dust, some dog dander and multiple other things), but since moving here, it hadn't bothered me. It was only really last year in January....right when I started really doing Z's hair. I went to my doctor and got a prescription. It didn't clear up. I went back. It still didn't clear up. Long story short, in June I called for a dermatologist. I was given an appointment--for the beginning of October. Basically, I toughed it out as it got worse and worse all summer and fall. By September, I was beyond miserable. My fingers were feeling numb. Then one night I woke up and had lost all feeling in four fingers. My hands were hurting so bad I started crying and I woke Abe up and left for the ER. For $2,000, I was seen for 5 minutes and given a prescription for prednisone. Because I'd been in the ER, Abe called every dermatologist in the city and found a place that would also see me. I went in. The staff and doctor were incredibly rude and insensitive and told me I was allergic to my fiddle. (I later proved them wrong on that.) They gave me a higher dosage of prednisone scheduled to be taken for fifteen days. I followed their plan, and also went to my original appointment, where the doctor was also BEYOND rude and who also prescribed prednisone. 
As soon as the prednisone taper started, my hands started flaring up again. I went back to the dermatologist I'd seen after my ER visit. He told me he couldn't keep me on prednisone because it was too dangerous and asked how bad the side effects had been. I asked, "What side effects?" Without explaining any of the dangers to me, they'd had me on an incredibly high (60 mg) of prednisone and I had been too sick and in pain to even consider looking it up. Just to give you an example of prednisone side effects:
-blurred vision
-numbness or tingling
-weight gain
-trouble breathing at rest
-trouble thinking, speaking ,or walking
-abdominal or stomach pain
-eye pain
-facial hair growth in females
-fever or chills
-trouble sleeping
There are actually like 20-30 more symptoms that are "common".........I was LIVID. Thankfully, God was gracious and I experienced none of the above. Small mercies for what was to come. I was told that between the prednisone and steroid cream, my hands should have cleared up. Since they hadn't, I would need patch testing. HUH??? Okay, patch testing is a torture test: they take 100 of the most commonly known allergens (chemicals or products) and put them on your back and they stay that way for two days (you can't shower or sweat) and then they remove them and read them, and then you go back again two days after that and get them read again. This test costs $1,000. I almost didn't do it. But being so miserable and knowing my hands would just get worse again, I agreed to it.
My patch testing was this past week. 
Monday I went and got the patches put on. The lady who did them for me was awesome. Super cool. I promised to bring her a coffee on Wednesday when I went back. 
Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday morning. The patches made me sick. And they hurt. And itched. And I had them on for about 48 hours. The kids were awesome and took care of me and let me nap and nap and nap. Which helped time to pass and took my mind off the pain and how uncomfortable the patches were. 
Wednesday morning: I bring my lady some coffee. I get the patches off. I get some bad news about the reactions on my back from a girl removing them ("Girl, yo back is ALL lit up!") but they tell me to wait till Friday to see what's definitely going to happen, versus a possible sensitivity reaction. Because they start measuring reactions after a .5 and mine were all above 1.0+ and I had a 2.0 as well.   
Friday (yesterday). Go in. Get the reactions read again. Even though the patches had been OFF for two days and I'd been able to shower twice, many of them had gotten WORSE. And gone above a 2.0. Apparently I am deathly allergic to a TON of things. Like nickel, formaldehyde, lanolin, fragrances, and MethyChloro-2-methyl-4-isothiazolin-3-one. (I actually asked the doctor to repeat that just because it was funny. Then I jokingly told her I wanted to hear it again so that I could record it and put it on YouTube. She wasn't of my generation and didn't think it was funny. :)) Oh, AND I'm allergic Bacitracin. Which I was putting on my hands a million times a day pre my ER visit. AWESOME.

I came up as allergic (all over 1.0+) to about ten things on Friday, but the four listed above were at 2.0 on Friday. The doctor explained that I would have to eliminate those elements from my daily life. Then she broke some of the bad news. She told me that those four allergens.....are in EVERYTHING. Literally, EVERYTHING. And worse yet, lots of those allergens have multiple combinations in a single product. Like PLASTIC. WOOD. FOOD. She did a cross reference in a data base and got me a personal list of what I need to get rid of/avoid. Then she said, "You HAVE to follow this list exactly. You can't buy products NOT on this list because you have some unusual and very strong reactions to allergens that are commonly mixed in products so you are going to be VERY limited. Any contact you have with any of these specific four can cause your hands to break out again. Like if you touch plastic that has one or more of the allergens in it." 
Oooooooooooooookayyyyyyyyyy.............so, do I walk around in a hazmat suit and eat only organic free-range chicken for the rest of my life?  
Here's where it gets extra tricky. the list of what I cannot have is SO huge (and this is just for basic products, like toothpaste, soap, and detergent) that she had to give me a list of what I CAN have. She told me I need to throw out or give away every liquid or gel product in my house and replace them. I was like, "Okay, I've got this. It's okay. It's life, right? it's not that bad."
So I went home. The kids and I started looking through the list of "cans".  And this list is TINY. And I've never heard of any of the brands. For example: out of the 267 brands of shampoo in the world.......I can have six. Because it can't contain ANY of the four allergens. And they all cost $12-$32 a BOTTLE. Ever heard of them? Cleure? VMV? Magick Botanicals? Me either. I love me some Biolage and Herbal Essence and other cool brands. ;) Out of every toothpaste in the world....I can have three. And one is Tom's of Maine Silly Strawberry Children's Fluoride Free Toothpaste. I bought some last night. It tastes like vomit. Out of every razor ever made, I can use ONE brand. And on and on the rules and restrictions go. For 70 pages. Not even exaggerating to be funny.
I'm going to help you understand what I am facing. Let me give you some examples. Here are my four main allergens and products they are used in: 
-Nickel: chocolate, cocoa powder (thank goodness I don't even like chocolate, right???), spinach, cashews, almonds, lettuce, peas, pineapples, bananas, raspberries, grains, oats,  tea, shellfish, corn, beans, soy, belt buckles, bra hooks, cell phones, "hypoallergenic jewelry", scissors, jean studs, gold, eye glasses frames, coins, jewelry, etc., etc.   
-Formaldehyde: cosmetics, nail polish, furniture, hair products (dye, gel, mousse, hairspray, shampoo, conditioner), almost every kind of fruit and vegetable (it is naturally occurring in those), textiles, paper, glue, cleaning products, polishes, medication, and smoke (wood, coal, tobacco), etc., etc. 
-Lanolin: cosmetics, nail polish and nail polish remover, ointments, moisturizers, creams, polishes, waxes, textiles, leather goods, baby oils, hairspray, shaving cream/gel, shampoo, and veterinary products, etc., etc. 
-Fragrances: I can't have any fragrances. No Victoria Secret Love Spell. No soaps or scents or candles or sprays or deodorants or hair stuff that has ANY scent. (Because I have used Love Spell FOREVER, we are doing the "cleanse" of everything but after three months we are self testing by bringing stuff back into my life one at a time and this will be the first.
-MethyChloro-2-methyl-4-isothiazolin-3-one: textiles (people, do you realize that textiles include things like tissues, toilet paper and paper towels? Not just paper itself?), printing ink, detergents, shampoos, hair conditioners, other hair prducts, medicated creams and sunscreen. 
Are you overwhelmed yet? Because I was/am. But I was still doing okay at that point. Then I started checking to see where stuff could be purchased (food was the smallest concern overall because I HAVE to eat and those products are in almost everything. So I need to do gluten free and as vegan as possible but that's about all I can do. And since it is impossible to avoid, I can try keeping with my almond milk or coconut milk and see what happens.) And as I was trying to figure out where I could buy my stuff, I realized that almost all my household products have to be purchased online. And they're super expensive. 
I was still holding it together. 
Then I started gathering my stuff to put away. I grabbed my nailpolish and looked at the list of what was permitted. I have maybe 25 bottles of nail polish, half professional tans and creams and grays, and half crazy and glittery. If you know anything about interpreting, you will know that interpreters LOVE nail polish (because we can never wear color....always want what you don't have, right?) and that any time we have a little break, our nails become psychadelic colors. Anyway, lots of my polishes are special to me, because Abe bought them for me, knowing the crazy sparkling midnight blues and tangerine oranges would make me happy. Looking at the list and the few brands listed, I realized none of my polishes passed inspection. Not one. Even my $8 Essie nail polish and a gold sparkly Gems Crush that Zahria bought herself for me for $6. The few listed polishes were all clear (no color). A tear slipped down my cheek. Then another. I started crying at the kitchen table. I tried not to because my kids were there, and it was so stupid.....I mean, it's NAIL POLISH, right??? But I kept on crying. 
Zahria ran away from the table and up the stairs. A minute later she came back with all of HER nail polishes, some that she had just been given the week before by my friend as an early Christmas gift. She said, "Mommy, if you can't wear them, I won't either!" And then I started crying harder. She began scrubbing nail polish remover on her nails to get rid of her current polish.
Levi was trying to hold my hand and asking if he could do anything. He kept signing, "I'm sorry, Mom. I'm sorry!!!"
Then, as I was crying, I started to feel like an idiot. And a jerk. An "idierk". Because here I was, crying about nail polish and stupid material things, and yet my KIDS had to leave everything they'd ever known and come with strangers to a new place. They can never go back. They lost EVERYTHING they had and they came to a place where they are looked down upon for their skin color, and all they had were memories and some old, borrowed clothes on their backs. They came and they persevered and they were BRAVE. And here I was, crying about fricking nail polish. At least I live in a country where there is medical help and I DO have access to products that I need, even if they are ugly and not very good quality. But my kids lost EVERYTHING. And it really hit me yesterday. A small, SMALL understanding.... an inkling of the pain and loss that they had experienced. And my heart broke for them again. 
Z hugged me tight. "Mommy, it's okay! God knows you are sad but you don't have to be sad because He gave us Jesus and He loves us and He is with us. And Jesus is the most important thing. God didn't want to give up His son Jesus but He did and it's okay!!! Cause He loves us and He takes care of us."
OWNED. By my precious nine-year old daughter. Who is SO much wiser and stronger than I will ever be. 
P.S. I'll be bringing my nail polish to Ethiopia with me and giving it to the kids at the orphanages or on the streets. Whaddup now, Satan?

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The (Frustrating) Things People Say

I was rude the other day. And I'm not sorry.

People are constantly saying stupid stuff to me about adoption/my kids. Hurtful, stupid things. And often these comments are spoken in front of my children. As if they aren't there, or can't understand the rude, prying, and hurtful things being said about them.

Usually, I try to have grace. I know that often, people are asking out of curiosity and ignorance. I know they usually do not mean harm. I know they haven't been educated on proper adoption terms like, "biological" versus "real". And I feel like if I respond to their questions with snippy answers or retaliate by embarrassing them, that does nothing positive for the adoption world, or for my battle to follow Jesus and love as He loves. I also understand that my family looks like a walking circus to most people, and they are usually fascinated by us. We are a triple-race family, Abe and I are super young (I mean, Abe had the monumental birthday of being able to borrow a used car...woot woot for 25!........ .....wait, we can adopt a teen and middle-schooler internationally but he couldn't rent a car till this year????.......), our kids are older, and we use our hands to talk. We stick out everywhere. So I understand the looks. The questions. They don't even usually bother me. I accepted it a long time ago. I try to be kind and friendly and help educate people on how to approach adoptive parents. Now we've been approached and questioned TONS of times. Abe and I had a talk BEFORE the kids came home about how we would handle these questions that everyone seems to feel like they have a right to ask.  Here are some examples of real conversations we have faced:

"Babysitting huh?"

"Where's her REAL mom???"

"DO you want kids of your own?"

"Ooohhhhh, so you can't have kids of your own?"

"Why didn't you get babies?"

"Wow, your kids are SO lucky!!! You're a saint."

"Did you get to meet their real parents?"

"Are they brother and sister?"

"Why can't their real mom take care of them?"

"How much did you pay for them?"

"I have a friend who adopted.... (insert horror story)."

"Why didn't you adopt from the United States?"

"Where did you get them from?"

"OMG, LOOOOOOK at her hair!" (While trying to touch Z's hair.)

"Why don't you put a relaxer in her hair?"

"Why don't you straighten her hair? Doesn't she like it straightened?"

"I LOVE LOVE LOVE the extensions." (Not giving the whole scenario, but they were implying that "long" "straight" hair was better than cornrows or a fro.)

"That must be really tough having older kids."

"Well, at least you don't have to change diapers!"

"Are they happy here?"

"Extensions are terrible and you are ruining her hair and her identity. You're trying to make her feel white and you are teaching her not to be proud of her natural hair." (From a BLACK woman. With chemically STRAIGHTENED hair. With a daughter whose dried out and STRAIGHTENED hair looked like one of those  toy trolls from my childhood. Excuse me, I'M teaching my daughter not to be proud of her hair? You don't know me from Jack and you have no idea how I care for my daughter's hair. I actually have her in cornrows and fros 95% of the time. And I LOVE it and tell her how beautiful it is.

Anyway as I said, I usually respond with grace and try to be polite, and educate the person as kindly as possible. I want them to draw a peace line between us, and not a battle line. I KNOW in my heart, they aren't trying to be cruel.


The other day I broke.

We were somewhere in a group setting; a mixture of kids and their mothers. Z was sitting next to me. Someone inferred that it was strange that I had a child as old as Z. I looked them in the eye, smiled, and mentioned I had a son turning 15 (it's always fun to see their reaction). This immediately brought the questions and of course the conversation led to adoption, Ethiopia, and Natalie. But then, in the middle of the conversation, the leader of the group paused and and loudly asked, "So wait, three adopted, or three of your OWN?"

I just stared at her for a second. Seriously? Asking something SO personal and in such a rude and derogatory way, IN FRONT OF my daughter? An ignorant and irrelevant question putting me on the spot defending legitimacy of my family to a group of people I didn't know? 
I looked her straight in the eye. "They're all adopted. And they're ALL my own."
DEAD silence. The woman went brick red and averted her eyes.
We left fifteen minutes later.
By the way, it's not just me that's being questioned daily about my family....people approach and ask my kids. Without my permission. And other kids ask my kids. Zahria told me that at her girls group, some little girls kept pestering her asking why her mommy wasn't brown. I was super proud when she told me her response. "My mama is the most beautiful mama here. And when she was pregnant, she drank too much chocolate milk." I loved her answer, but it still doesn't change the fact that she and Levi are constantly barraged with insensitive questions which bring attention to their skin color and cause them to wonder why there is an implication that our family is not "real". And then my kids start to question why God made them the way He did, and they beg to look like us, so that they fit in, and so that the four of us look like fit together, so that people leave us alone. PARENTS: Please teach your kids about adoption. And go and read this great blog post:  http://www.rageagainsttheminivan.com/2012/07/parents-please-educate-your-kids-about.html