Saturday, November 28, 2009

Happy Birthday - Happy Homecoming

Today is my birthday. It is also the day we brought Leyla home from Ethiopia last year. I can’t imagine a better birthday present. Thinking back on that day and the days that led up to it, there were both feelings of joy and expectation for us and bittersweet feelings for those she left behind. We visited Leyla each day while we were in Addis. The day before we needed to return to the states, we were able to take her back to our hotel with us. (It was a wonderful hotel recommended by the Greek Embassy in Addis – you can find a link on the side of the blog. We would highly recommend it.) Going to pick her up that last time, we were filled with excitement. It had been hard to leave her each day although we knew that was best for her transition. Leyla had a regular caregiver who we did not immediately see when she arrived. She was also surrounded by children of all ages who were waiting for their parents to come and take them home. Two other little girls were going with their families on that day.

We were greeted by the director who is an amazing man. He is an Ethiopian lawyer that has focused his considerable talents and energies toward helping the children in his country. He is an inspiration. It is clear he loves each of those children he is charged with and they him. Leyla was dressed beautifully for the occasion. When it came time to take our leave, I felt a knot in the pit of my stomach. Leyla’s regular caregiver came out and it was clear she had been crying. She kissed us all and retreated to her room. It broke my heart. But I reminded myself that is was wonderful that our daughter had been surrounded by such love.

Then it was the children’s turn to say good bye. We had enjoyed playing with the older kids during our visits. There was one little boy of 4 that we were particularly drawn to. He had a smile that lit up a room and was a fierce little soccer player even though the only place to play was the cement drive into the courtyard. He came and hugged Leyla with tears streaming down his face. He them went back to the other children only to come back and hug Leyla tightly a second time and shower her with kisses on her little round face. I felt the tears welling up in my eyes as I watched. I took comfort in knowing that some wonderful family was coming for that sweet little boy soon.

We were subdued in the ride back to our hotel as we were faced with the reality of the loss that is part of every adoption. We loved our daughter already so much but her journey to us was not a simple nor an easy one. We then needed to shift our focus to the preparation for the 33 hour trip back home although the thoughts of the intertwined joy and loss remained. Traveling with an infant who has never traveled that type of distance without knowing their routines or how to comfort them is a daunting task. We worried needlessly. Leyla was a trouper. She wanted to look at everything and seemed to enjoy making eye contact with as many folks as possible.

We arrived on my birthday. Our boys met us at the airport with our friend Jon and flowers. When we came up to our house, Jon was kind enough to take our first picture as a family of five – it is the one above. You will notice that Leyla has her hands firmly in her brother’s hair with a twinkle in her eye. That moment was the first indication of many how well and easily Leyla became part of our crazy family.

After I got home, I couldn’t stop thinking about the 4 year old boy who had been so sad when we left with Leyla. I told the story to my adoption coordinator and asked if she could reach out to his family and see if they would be willing to stay in contact. What I found out amazed me, the little boy was adopted by a family about one hour from our home. We were able to visit them all over the summer. He is doing great and his story is in the blog “Another Markquart” linked on the side. He shares a birthday with his mother – another beautiful connection.

There have been so many on this journey. Another amazing year has passed. I feel so blessed . . which takes me full circle to why I feel compelled to share through this blog and give back. My birthday wish is that everyone find the joy and peace that comes through being part of something bigger than yourself and doing what you can to leave this world a little better place than you found it. Happy Birthday to me!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Out of the mouths of babes

When you choose to adopt a child of another race, you know that your family will be conspicuous. You also know that you will have to address prejudice and ignorance at some point. What surprised me was how quickly we had our first chance to address it with one of our sons. One night I was tucking in my seven year old son and I asked him about his day at school. (He is pictured here with his beloved little sister on Halloween). My boys and I have great conversations as they wind down for the day. I know part of it is stalling but I also believe part of it is their brains processing the events and impressions of the day. He seemed quite upset and said one of his classmates had said something to him that really bothered him. He said, "M told me that I should not have a sister that is a different color than me. I was so happy about the adoption (we were still waiting for his sister at that time) and his comment took some of my joy away." I then braced myself as I asked him to explain that a bit. In the back of mind, I worried that he might ask why did we choose to adopt from another race or that he wished his sister would be the same color.

I was uplifted by his answer, "I wish he could be happy about it like me." I then did what mothers often do. I offered to "help" or "fix." I said, "Why don't I talk to your teacher so she can discuss this with M." He looked me straight in the eye and said very matter of factly, "Mom, he is just a little kid; he doesn't know any better." Humbled by that answer but still in mommy help mode, I asked, "Maybe I could explain to M how his comment made you feel." This offer was also rebuffed with a "Mommy, he is my friend and I should be the one to talk to him." I tucked him in and left struck by the wisdom of his seven year old words. I checked in with him a few days later to see how the conversation had gone. He said, "We had a good talk; now he wants to have a sister of another color too but his mom said no because he already has three sisters."

This exchange has come back to me as I see folks study our family - we range from white, shades of olive brown, and dark brown. I know some of this attention is just innocent curiosity. We have found also that much of this attention is very positive and encouraging. We have gotten support from many we meet. However, there is a small portion of that attention that is negative or disapproving in some form. I believe prejudice is generally learned behavior or comes from not being well informed. I also believe taking the time to reach and educate in a positive way can change someone's perspective. I was very proud of my little boy and he taught me a lot by his approach.

He said he wants to do his part to help the people of Ethiopia. We are planning on putting on a bake sale together to raise money. He is my baking buddy (mostly he likes the tasting part). I think it is never too early to get my kids involved with helping other less fortunate or talking about tough issue. And as I found out, the student can become the teacher too in the process

Friday, November 13, 2009

First Meeting

This time last year we were preparing for our trip to Ethiopia to pick up our daughter. I am finding myself remembering how I felt during those anxious and uncertain months. They were filled with expectant joy but also with so many questions and fears. We first thought we might take our sons with us. We were served with a healthy dose of reality when we found out all the shots we needed to get to protect us from communicable diseases. It was a vivid reminder that much of the world has many more challenges and many fewer opportunties than we have here. We decided that taking the boys at this stage with all the other stresses was probably not the right decision for our family. A family friend, who we found out was also adopted, volunteered to take our boys for the time we were away which was an amazing gift to us. They told us it gave them a way to be a part of what we were doing.

The long flight to Ethiopia by way of Amsterdam gave my husband and I lots of time to think and talk about this journey we had embarked on both literally and the longer path ahead. It is hard to wrap your mind around that your child was born and lives half a world away with a reality so different from our own. Meeting Leyla for the first time was a life altering experience in some ways very similar to the experience with the births of our two sons and in some ways very different. The memory that is most vivid for me was watching my husband’s eyes fill with happy tears when he saw our little girl for the first time. These are some of the photos from our first meeting.

As part of that first meeting, we were treated to a traditional coffee ceremony. It was a wonderful way to meet our daughter and be introduced to a part of her culture. The women wore beautifully embroidered dresses and the floors was decorated with reeds. The smell of fresh coffee roasting filled the air and there was a true sense of celebration.

Legend has it that more than 1,000 years ago, a goatherd in Ethiopia’s south-western highlands plucked a few red berries from some young green trees growing there in the forest and tasted them. He liked the flavour – and the feel-good effect that followed and the rest, as they say, is history. The Ethiopian province where they first blossomed – Kaffa – gave its name to coffee. Ethiopia is the original home of the coffee plant which still grows wild in the forest of the highlands. While nobody is sure exactly how coffee was originally discovered as a beverage, it is believed that its cultivation and use began as early as the 9th century.

The Blue Nile Children’s organization arranges traditional coffee ceremonies as part of their fund raising efforts on behalf of Ethiopian children. It is something I would like to do to share this amazing experience with my friends and family while helping this great organization. Their link is on the side of my blog. If you don't have an opportunity to sponsor a coffee ceremony, consider buying Ethiopian coffee - I have highlighted a few of my favorites. Their economy is very dependent on their coffee exports and it is a small way you can contribute.

Friday, November 6, 2009


My elder son was always excited about adopting a little sister. He adores his little brother and wanted to have a little sister too. When we were getting closer to the time we needed to travel to Ethiopia to get his sister, he started to worry. He asked me, “What if I don’t love her like I love my brother?” This is one of the big questions many have in adoption although not all are able to ask it aloud. I assured him that he would love her although it might take time. He persisted, “But how do you know?” Truth was I didn’t. The process of becoming a parent and particularly becoming a parent through adoption is a leap of faith. With our boys being old enough to understand the process, they needed to take the leap with us. After his sister arrived, he no longer worried about loving her. He was completely smitten. But he had a new worry, “What if she doesn’t love me? My brother has to love me. She doesn’t.” Over the months she has been with us, she has shown him that she loves him too – very much. You can see the love they share in this recent Halloween picture. Taking our sons consciously with us has been one of the many amazing gifts of this journey. When you start this process, you have no guarantees about the outcome but you leap anyway.

This same son asked me if a lot of folks followed my blog. I told him honestly that I did not think so but that was not why I was doing it. I did find myself a little disppointed that not many people choose to follow at least publicly. I was at my yoga class recently and the instructor read a poem to the class which was found in Mother Theresa's room. It made me think again about why I was doing this blog. This blog was something I felt compelled to do. I had the same feeling about adopting our daughter. This might just be my journey of discovery and something that I can share with my family. That is enough. I hope you all will "do something anyway." There was real peace for me in the approach to life advocated by this poem.


People are often unreasonable, illogical, and self centered.
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.
Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies.
Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you.
Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight.
Build anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous.
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow.
Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough.
Give the world the best you've got anyway.
You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God.
It was never between you and them...anyway.