Saturday, May 15, 2010

what's in a name

Choosing a name for your child is usually a momentous and often challenging task. When you adopt a child you add a few additional dimensions. These dimensions increase further if your child is from another country and culture. When we choose our eldest son's name, we chose a name we both loved. Some of our original criteria were: 1) the name needed to be of a saint so my son could celebrate his nameday (a Greek tradition to celebrate rather than birthday), 2) the name should be unique but not strange, and 3) the name could not have an easy nickname. (Incidently, my husband has made the most of being a Greek in American and is the only one in the family who celebrates both his birthday and nameday.) We had to work through some cultural issues with my husband's family since Greeks generally name the first born son after the father's father. My father in law's name is Orestes which didn't seem quite right for a child who would be American by birth and Dutch and Greek by lineage. Also, in mythology Orestes kills his mother - not a plus from my perspective.

We chose Dimitri from Demeter, the goddess of nature and the earth. We gave him Orestes as a middle names which led to him having the rather unfortunate initials of DOA which he now embraces as a teenager. One of my best friends who lives in Holland called me when I was pregnant and told me she had the perfect name for me, Dimitri. I laughed and told her we already chose that very name but it gave me confidence we had chosen well. Dimitri is also the patron saint of my husband's hometown of Thessaloni and the name of his godfather's father. All convinced me Dimitri was the name of destiny for our first born pictured below communing with nature after he was told not to since he was recovering from a severely broken arm but apparently the call was too strong to resist.

With our second son, the name did not come as easily although the criteria was generally same except we decided we wanted another name that started with a "d". We settled on Damian Michael (his dad's name). You will see a theme with the middle names; they are all connected to my husband's family. No "drama" on the Greek side for this name since the second son "was supposed" to be named after my father. My folks, who are Dutch, have similar naming traditions (I am named after my pateral grandmother but ironically look like my materal grandmother's side of the family - go figure) but they did not express any opinion on how we named our children. Damian means to tame. And if you met him, you would not think "tame." He has boundless energy and curiosity and often combines the two. We feel like the ones being tamed in most instances. Below is a picture of the tamer dancing to the beat of his own drum - literally.

With our daughter Leyla, it was a family affair. We received her referral picture and had the advantage of seeing what she looked like before we named her. Our criteria varied a bit this time. My husband Michael wanted something that meant "a gift from god." Her birthmother gave her the name Fasika which means Easter and we wanted her to retain that gift. My husband also wanted to name her after his mother Maria. We all wanted an Amharic name to honor her Ethiopian heritage. The boys wanted a name that fit a princess which we all felt she looked like in that first photo. We faced a few challenges with the nameday but use her middle name for Greek holiday purposes. We worked through many possibilities before settling on a three name combination. Adding two opinionated brothers definitely lengthed the vetting process.

Although Dimitri and Damian's favorites didn't make the final cut, both threw themselves into the process and enjoyed learning more about the meaning of different names. We chose Leyla which means "dark haired beauty", Marie for Michael's mother (and a saint) and Fasika for her birthmother. We learned later that Leyla can also mean "change" which is fitting for many different reasons. We call her every combination from using all three, to Leyla Marie or Fasikie, or just Marie. She beams at all but has a hard time herself with saying Fasika. She often refers to herself in the third person as "is Leyla" or "Leyla did it," the later usually when she had done something she shouldn't. Here is a picture of our dark haired beauty from her early months home.

It is interesting to note the Greek connection to the naming of Leyla's homeland. The name "Ethiopia" derives from the Greek ethio, meaning "burned" and pia, meaning "face": the land of burned-faced peoples. Aeschylus described Ethiopia as a "land far off, a nation of black men." Homer depicted Ethiopians as pious and favored by the gods. In Ethiopia's naming tradition, the children take their father's first name as their last name. The first name is usually given by their parents and is significant in meaning to them. On Leyla's visa back to the states as well as her Ethiopian passport, her name was listed as Fasika Michael. My husband Michael enjoyed that quite a bit.

This custom is used to make it easier to identify family groups. Our family group shares a last name, an adverturous spirit while each is a unique and quirky individual. A family friend who had not seen Leyla for bit recently ran into the five of us at one of the boy's many soccer games. She commented as she watched Leyla run, play and laugh out loud as she amused herself (see below), "She is such an Angelidis!!" Well said.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Love - the same but different

We were recently invited to come to answer questions about our experience for a group of prospective adoptive parents. The agency provides a list of likely questions which reminded me of all the ones we had when we were going through the process. As we sat with the five of us in front of the group, there was an awkward silence. .where to start. The facilitator asked us, “Did your daughter have any issues when you first brought her home.” As I was responding that our daughter did indeed have a common Ethiopia digestive issue, Leyla, who was sitting on my lap studying those studying her, passed gas very loudly. Her facial expression never changed. I paused and then added, she still has the occasional digestive issue and the room laughed. Leyla then proceeded to show off her lovely belly by lifting her dress and then moving to stick her hands inside her cute little matching bloomers. My thirteen year old son sitting next to me looked a bit mortified but it definitely lightened the mood.

The parents asked a number of great questions. Then one gentleman asked a series of questions that were a bit unexpected given the fact that our three kids – the two oldest - 9 and 13, were in the room and listening to what was said. He asked, “Do you love your biological and adoptive children the same? Do you pay more attention to the adoptive child? Do your other children get jealous or resent that?” He continue on in that vein for a while. It was interesting to watch many of the other parents squirm uncomfortably in their seats or even seem to tilt their bodies away from this man as if to distance themselves from his questions. I also felt my son sitting next to me sit up a little straighter. I knew he was listening very intently.

When the gentlemen finished, my husband responded with a laugh, “Oh I can answer for me and it’s an easy answer. I love her more and I have already told my sons that!” Half the room laughed and the other looked slightly horrified. My husband is from Greece and is not shy to speak his mind or make a joke. As I explained to this room, in the Greek culture or at least in my husband’s family, I have observed that there was a little truth in what he said but it had nothing to do with adoptive versus biological. In my husband’s family, his sister is his father’s favorite and my husband is his mother’s. And they freely joke about it.

These questions are difficult ones but go to the heart of what makes a family through adoption or biology. I mentioned I read a blog that tried to describe the love you feel if you have both biological and adoptive children. This woman had one of each and said her love for them was both the same and yet different. I agree with that assessment although since I have two biological, I will add it is the same but different for each child. One difference with your adoptive child is you want to make up for what wasn’t right in their past even though at an intellectual level you know that is not possible. But the love you have for them still includes that fierce desire.

I also spoke to the the attention question. My youngest son, who was our baby before his sister came, did mention early on when she was home, “She gets all the good attention and I get the bad.” We talked to him about it then and explained that she was a baby and he had gotten that same type of attention when he was a baby. It didn’t come up again so I asked him some months later if he still felt that way. He looked at me like it was a particularly dumb question as only your kids can, “Oh no, mom,” he said. “I may get a little less attention from you and dad. But I get A LOT of attention from Leyla so it is all good.” His little sister adores him and finds just about anything he does hysterically funny. They share a special bond that includes lots of laughter.

As I am speaking, this son has sat down on the other side of me and is poking me – increasingly harder as I try to ignore him. Finally, I say to the parents, “And as you can see, my kids know how to get attention." As I turned to him and asked him what he wanted to share, I waited with trepidation. This son can say the craziest things and they are not always appropriate for the situation. He started, “I was reading a book about a mother who had a biology –ical and adopted kid. She said that she loved them both the same amount but that the love was different for each of them so I agree with my mom.” Wow – I was humbled and proud. I don’t always know what goes on in his head but he had clearly been thinking about this at some point and found his answer through that book.

As we were driving home, my husband and I talked about what a great experience this had been to go back to talk to parents like us. We were reminded of how terrific our boys have been through this whole process and how much choosing this path has made our family learn and grow in beautiful but sometimes unexpected ways. We also felt we were in a small way paying it forward since our experience has been so amazingly positive.