Saturday, May 28, 2016

Happy 8th Birthday to My Deep and Thoughtful Daughter



How have 7.5 years since our lovely Leyla joined our family flown by so fast?!?! I find myself as often the student as the teacher.  She want to understand and grapples with complex issues as they enter into her awareness.   She constantly strives to contribute to our family at the same level of her brothers who are 15 and 19, although we remind her our expectations are age specific. 
 
She wants to know what is happening so she can help. Recently, I had some professional challenges I was working through.  She could see my frustration and sadness.  I was walking her to school, always a fertile time for deep discussions. I asked her if her dad or brothers had shared anything about what was going on with me at work.  She answered back emphatically and the indignation came through in her tone, “No, Mama.  They won’t tell me anything because I am a little girl.  And I know if I knew what was going on, I would be able to comfort you.”   Hearing her complete confidence in her ability to heal reminded me of what children often have that adults lose.  The optimism that solutions are accessible to us individually.  And she was spot on; her simple words did effectively comfort me.  
"Look Mama, we made an "L" for "Love!""
She asks me questions for which I have no good answers.  On another walk, she asked me:  “Mama, what is the point of being grown up.”   I gave this a bit of thought but really couldn’t come up with anything I thought would actually address the inquiry.  So I responded candidly, “I really don’t have a good answer to that question.”  I expected that would be the end of the discussion.  But no, she added kindly, “Don’t worry, Mama, I am not ashamed of you that you don’t know the answer.  We can’t all know the answers to everything.”   I was not sure whether to feel amused or insulted.  But it was clear she was deadly serious and had added this comment to ensure I feel didn’t bad about my inability to provide an answer so I went with amused.

Then she asks me questions I know I have to answer.  We had an expected death in our family when our beloved Papillion Bella passed with no warning at the tender age of 4.5 years.  Bella joined our family when Leyla was three so she doesn’t remember a time when Bella wasn’t with us.  Leyla took the news very hard.  Her words to express her grief cut through me.  

“It feels like we are not a family any more.  We are just five people living in a house with a bird.”  

“Please, please tell me this is just a really bad dream.”  

“Our family lost its heart or at least most of it.”

 “Are you absolutely sure she is not coming back?”  

She then asked the deepest human question: “What is the point of life if we are all just going to die anyway?” 

I knew this was a question I couldn’t dodge and my response was super important.  I looked into her tear filled big black eyes and took a deep breath.  

“We had a wonderful 4 and half years with our Bella.  She traveled the world with us and gave each person in the family many special moments and memories.  Knowing she would leave us before she was five, would you rather we never brought Bella into our lives?”  

I waited anxiously for her answer.  

She responded emphatically, “Of course not, Mama!”  

“And that, my sweetheart, is the point of life.”  

We then “hugged it out” with her thin little arms wrapped tightly around my neck. 

As we celebrated her eighty birthday at a favorite Italian restaurant, Leyla leaned over and asked me to get everyone's attention. There was a spirited dialogue with her brothers and dad she couldn't quite break into.  She then told us in her most serious tone, "Thank you for a great birthday.  And the best part is being with my family.  You never know when family won't be with you any more, like Bella."

Thank you my beloved daughter for approaching life with unflinching introspection and for asking the truly tough questions for which I don’t always have any or adequate answers.  

You stretch, teach and comfort me more than you will ever know.  

Celebrating 8 with her new Beanie Boos from her Aunties and Purse from Oma
We are so blessed you joined our family. And I am so honored to be your “Mama” and guide as you navigate some deep waters. Happy Eighth Birthday Leyla Marie Fasika Angelidis!!

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Happy Birthday Happy Homecoming 2015: “You are grounded!!”



In October and early November, I had to travel a fair amount for work. Michael and I also planned a couple’s weekend to Vegas as well as me joining him for his first ever marathon in his home country of Athens, Greece.

When I had a couple trips under my belt, I was sitting down with Leyla to talk through the rest of my schedule. I could see she was not happy (she is pretty easy to read).  She looked me dead in the eyes and told me quite sternly, “Mama, you are grounded!!”  

I was speechless.  I wasn’t at all sure the right way to respond; this was completely new territory for me.  Should I start by telling her kids don’t get to ground their parents?  Or should I explain again why I thought it was important to take these trips?  Or run her through all the things we would do together when I was back?  

I decided none of those responses were the right ones looking into her deadly serious face with tears threatening.  I could see she felt powerless in that moment.  So instead, I sat down with her and created a calendar so she could mark off each day and see how many were remaining until I returned, my heart aching as we did it.  And I was rewarded with a trademark Leyla grin.

I thought a lot about her surprising words in the following days and weeks.  They had a variety of different meanings for me than those originally intended.  She has grounded me in so many ways since she joined us our family on my birthday seven years ago.

1.      She grounded me in what family really means; an intense connection and acceptance that transcends time and circumstance.

2.      She grounded me on actively addressing inequity in the world because to her it is simply unfair and mama can and should do something.  And she is someone I can't bear to disappoint.

3.      She grounded me in the power of love to multiple.  My love for her, hers for me; the love between her and her brothers and the special place she carved out as daddy’s little girl.

4.      She grounded me in how inexplicably pain and joy can simultaneously coexist as she has cried in my arms for her first mom.

5.      She grounded me in committing to being the best version of myself because I want to be the person she thinks I already am.


This little girl with the crazy awesome hair, the tinkling laughter of an angel, the squeezy hugs which warm from the inside out and those pointed questions that probe gently, and sometime not so, into the heart of things.  Every bit of her complex and beautiful soul has grounded me in important ways; giving me priceless gifts I am just beginning to fully appreciate.  


Thank you my sweet daughter.  I am looking forward to spending this birthday, and hopefully many, many more, with you, your big brothers and your dad, celebrating the day of my birth but more importantly the day you joined our family!  I am happy to be grounded.


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

OHBD 2015: Education is a right and shouldn’t be dependent on where you are born



As I was preparing to speak with my daughter at our 2015 OHBD event, I reflected on where it all started for us.  In 2008, I was sitting at my desk at Amazon in the Pacific Medical building waiting to see a picture of our daughter.  My husband Michael was doing the same Kentwood High School.  The little girl who joined our family put us on a completely different path.

When she was two, we were searching for ways to connect her to her birth country and for ways to equalize opportunities for children there.  We firmly believe access to education and the doors it opens is a right and shouldn’t be dependent on where in the world you are born.

We learned about Ethiopia Reads and it spoke to us.  Ordinary people, a writer and librarian, started this effort and were having a tremendous impact by drawing in people with a heart for kids from all corners, teachers and students and artists, and the list goes on.  We started by asking all our friends and family and even strangers to help us plant a library in Leyla’s birthtown of Bahir Dar, home to the thundering Blue Nile Falls.  

In 2011, we visited a number of Ethiopia Reads efforts including the site of the library. We were amazed and entranced by the natural beauty, the culture and the people of that ancient land.  And we were also educated on the significant gap that still exists related to literacy and educational opportunities. 

We knew for Ethiopia Reads to continue to help close this gap it needed a sustainable, stable source of funding, which it didn’t have at that time.  We decided, with help and encouragement from people like our art director Yadesa Bojia, to start Open Hearts Big Dreams later that year. We tapped into our communities.  Many from Amazon then and now were part of building the event.  Kentwood High School National Honor Society volunteers helped us the first year and every year since.  And neighbors, friends, friends of friends, and people we never met before all joined with us to do what truly seemed impossible when we started.  We were blown away by the support and success and were emboldened to think bigger.

Each year we have grown the attendees, the people and organizations who contribute in so many ways both big and small, and as a result greatly increased the support we can provide to Ethiopia Reads to enables big dreams for over 130,000 kids.  Leyla has also grown and since she was 4 participated in what she describes as “her event.”  

When we returned to the fully functioning library in Bahir Dar in 2014, she got to see what this meant to kids who didn’t have a library before.  And we also learned the need continues as that small library is supporting 2000 children from grade school through high school, many of whom are hearing impaired.  We are working to complete an expansion so there can be a place for both the small and large children to connect with books in an age appropriate environment.  

Watching Leyla and her brothers, join her dad and me and an amazing global community, to allow deserving kids to dare to dream takes my breath away, every year.


But there are still more kids who need our assistance, please consider contributing, truly no amount is too small to have a real, positive impact. THANK YOU!