Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Birthday, Happy Homecoming, Happy Thanksgiving 2013!

Another year passing makes me feel, down to my bones, the winds of change and time blowing faster and faster.  I see clearly the power of what is possible in 365 days.  And equally clearly how easily I can let those precious, fleeting opportunities slip through my fingers.  With my little daughter growing up quickly into a “fierce” young lady – unwilling to take cr*p from anyone but willing to lend hand to all, I see the power of the woman she will one day become.  I see the power in supporting the women, the girls around the world, should become.  There are girl heroes like Malala who inspire me to try to do more.  And girls, taken from us too soon, who leave my heart heavy wondering what they could have done – like Hana or Marra Freh -- yet amazed at their legacy for ones so young.
I also feel a growing weight of responsibility as a woman, a mother and a person who has benefited from many wonderful opportunities.  I want to raise my girl to be everything she can be while simultaneously helping her navigate the tricky waters she has ahead as a transracial, international adoptee.  Looking at her makes my heart melt – EVERY TIME.  When her black eyes gaze lovingly and says, “Mama” and her tinkling voice then tells me whatever is on her mind, she pierces my soul. And I can see her beautiful depth when I stare into her inky orbs as I tell her all the reasons she is special and why I love her with my whole being.  She is so strong when she stands up for what she believes in and yet so fragile when she is truly frightened. She is my warrior princess.  I see the vast possibilities of the next generation represented in her.   And so, I can envision a better world with more equality and opportunity through education and empowerment. 

I read an article about the key difference between kids who excel at math and those that don’t.  Surprisingly, it is that those who excel believe it can be learned; while those who don’t, believe it is an innate ability.  I want my daughter to believe everything can be learned and anything is possible.  As a grown woman, I still need to repeatedly, remind myself of both those things.  As the passage of another year brings reflection, I look back on the past five with my darling daughter and can hardly remember life before she joined our family.  Our eldest son made a similar remark recently.  Leyla is always annoyed to hear of happenings that pre-dated her arrival.  She too finds it hard to contemplate our family without her there.
Below are a few of my favorite pictures of us over the years.  Watch out world; this little one is going to make her mark!  And I will be supporting and cheering for her on, each step of whatever path she chooses. 

Happy Thanksgiving to all and Happy Homecoming to my beautiful daughter.  Coming home on the day of my birth five year ago made it  indescribably more special .  You changed me for the better in so many ways, and for that I am most thankful, my sweet, funny girl.


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Long Overdue Thank You Letter to My Yoga Teacher

My friend sent me a note recently letting me know that my favorite Yoga Studio, Terra Yoga, and a supporter of our event since year one, was going out of business.  I thought, “Surely, this can’t be.”  So I went on-line and confirmed to my great dismay that sadly it was true.  My instructor and the studio owner wrote a deep and thoughtful letter about her reasons and her journey to accept this loss and embrace a new and unexpected path.  To be honest, I haven’t been to the studio for years but for an occasional practice.  Life had a way of filling all the minutes.  And as a working mom, taking 2 hours on the weekend was very challenging. 

I learned of the studio when I first moved to Seattle alone with my two boys.  After battling cancer, I no longer wanted to work out at a gym. I wanted something richer and more fulfilling, a mind and body experience.  I started yoga while still in Chicago and enjoyed the relaxation of my mind which was battered with fear and doubts; it raced without abatement most days and I needed it to stop.  I also enjoyed the physical results on my body which needed gentle healing and to adjust to a new state.  The experience with Carina was at another level entirely.  I have taken her instruction with me.  She taught me some very important lessons I really needed to learn:
First, be kind to myself.  I demand much of my mind and body and am often disappointed in one or both.  Working to accept my limitations while still pushing myself to grow and learn was a revolutionary approach for me.
Second, my life is a journey.  The fact each class is studiously called a practice helps reinforce this message.  Everything I do or think or learn is part of my path.  Embracing the journey helps me to put many things in better perspective and allows me to enjoy and laugh where previously I may have pushed or despaired.

Third, it’s only about me.  I don’t need to compare myself to others, either in the class, or in life.  I find this one harder as I envy those whose practice allows them to do yogic feats that still elude me.  I also look at those in the world who left a positive mark of great significance and wish I could accomplish similar achievements.  But now, I make every effort to view those individuals as inspiration.
Fourth, shortcuts only cheat me.  In the early days, I wanted to do poses my body wasn’t ready for.  I would sacrifice form to achieve something that meant more to me at the time, the appearance of proficiency.  Now, I understand the importance of taking each step so I gain the learning through the development.

Fifth, my mind and body are fully connected.  The more I understand and respect this fact, the more peace I find in my life and in my relationships.  Once I accepted this basic connection, I began to see all the interconnectivity in the world including many connections I discussed here.
I remember those early days when the 90 minutes in Carina’s class was the only time where I could quiet my mind and just be.  Laying in the corpse pose at the end of class was a respite I desperately needed.  It was also a wonderful experience I could share with my kids, one of whom joined me on occasion for a class, and another for family yoga.  Now I can achieve a state of peace with focus in many places outside of the studio.  I also practice yoga most days with Carina’s voice, which is a most melodic, beautiful one, in my head.  I encourage the lessons I learned with my children and they all practice yoga with me, when the spirit moves them, too.  I also share the profound effect yoga had on my life with my friends and other family.  Apparently so often, my teenage son laughingly told me, “No matter what the problem, Mom, your answer is always ‘Yoga.’” 

I owe a huge debt of gratitude I don’t know how I adequately begin to repay. And I regret it took this dramatic turn of events for me to take the time to start.

 Thank you, Carina for putting me on a better path with your patience, your teaching and your example.  Thank you for helping me heal and experience peace and joy I was missing.  Thank you for supporting our efforts in Ethiopia even when I was no longer attending your classes regularly; it means more than you know.  And thank you for sharing your most recent struggle and learning as you begin this next phase of your journey.  I needed that reminder very much at the time I read your letter.  So I wish you all the best and look forward to hearing more.  And I hope to practice with you again soon or see you at our next event in December – or better yet, BOTH!  

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Happy Fifth Birthday to my little daughter who gave the word "family" a much richer meaning

I am late this this post.  I try to get it published on her actual birthday but time slipped.   At least we managed to keep her party on the day she entered this world and made it a little brighter (pictured with her brother Damian). 

We are at Euro Disney celebrating, her gift.  It is special in so many ways. I remember going to Disney in Florida at the same age as my eldest, who is 16, when my little sister was five, same as Leyla. It brings back poignant memories.  Seeing Leyla's suddenly shy deameanor around some classics, who moments earlier made her squeal with delight when she spotted them, was a sweet surprise.
At five, Leyla is beginning to show signs of the lady she will become.  She has opinions about fashion, fairness and speaks basic French perfecting rolling her “r”s  -- something I have never managed which greatly amuses her.  She sings and dances to her own music and can make people smile just by entering a room.  She is inclusive and giving as well as stubborn and sassy.  Her brothers joke she has more friends in their grades than they do.  She is thrilled to be at the same school as they are which, other than the fact they are at a small International School now, would never have been possible. 
All the early worries of adoption are gone; although thoughts of its complexity linger.  We know we will journey through uncharted territory at each phase.  But we feel better equipped and know she will help lead us too.  As I contemplated this significant milestone that too many in her birth country don't reach, I heard about two other little girls; each left an indelible impression, as I celebrated with mine. 

First, I was looking at my adoption agencies website at children who are waiting – these are the hardest to place because of health, age or sibling status.  I saw one pre-teen girl with an uncanny resemblance, and thought, "She could be Leyla’s older sister." which was unnerving since we don’t know much about her Ethiopian family.  Leyla snuck up behind me silently on kitten’s toes as she often does and saw me looking at this picture.  She asked, “Is she from Ethiopia?  She looks like me.” I told her, “Yes. She is and she is waiting to find her family.”  Leyla emphatically said, “I have a family!” and wandered off to play. I inquired about the girl and found parents had come forward for her who are equipped to deal with her complicated health issues; my heart soared!  I shared with Leyla that the girl who looked like her found a family and I had asked if we could be in touch.  She replied without hesitation, “Great, maybe we can be friends,” for her so simple; for me so beautiful -- family and friendship.
The second girl was an adorable two year old adopted from Ethiopia.  She escaped from her father for a moment , was struck by a car and tragically killed.  From the photos and postings I could feel the grief like a gaping wound of her family and community who couldn't imagine life without her it in.  I also felt the incredible joy and laughter she had spread in her short life .  I found I could not keep her lovely little face out of my thoughts.  I was taken back to when Leyla was two and recalled how much she changed all of our lives even after just her second trip around the sun.  Now three years later, her influence and reach are even greater.    I look forward to seeing her life unfold, and I hope it is a long one.  But even in this first phase, she has left a huge footprint on our hearts with her tiny feet.  Each day is a gift and one I don't take for granted.
I love reading Leyla stories at night before she goes to bed and then tucking her in.  She often wants to comb my hair while I read aloud.  She also frequently asks me to lie down next to her while she begins to slumber.  She knows I often just fall asleep too right there after particularly exhausting days .  As I was laying next to her recently, her little cartoon character voice, with its high pitch but perfect enunciation, cut through the silence with the sweetest words. “You are the bestest mommy ever.  You are always in my dreams.”
Happy Fifth Birthday my bestest daughter!!  You gave the word "family" a bigger, better meaning for us all!  And you are always in my dreams too.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Indonesia, Australia, The Netherlands, The United States, Ethiopia. What Drives Us Across Continents. Cultures and Generations?

My kids, and my daughter in particular, drive me in many respects.  Her arrival into our lives and hearts opened a window into the inequities in the world that I can’t easily close.  I feel guilty; I feel responsible; I feel moved to act.  I can’t even fully explain it.  I just need to do something. 

When I was getting ready for our Open Hearts Big Dreams event supporting Ethiopia Reads, I reviewed my friend Yadesa’s blog for potential biographical information for the program.  He created another amazing piece we featured in the live auction.  He was an important catalyst in making the event a reality as well as its evolution into something bigger than either of us initially imagined.  I came across an interview after he won the contest where he told how he was robbed his father and older brother early in his life.  He found, through his accomplishment, a way to share it with them and honor them .  I realized, this is likely part of what drives him. 
The African Union Flag flying at an Ethiopia Reads School
When I was visiting my sisters and parents later that same month, my father wanted to make a family announcement. He stepped up to a table as a hush fell over the room. He had packets in front of him meticulously organized. In them, I learned, were photos and descriptions of two medals of Honor posthumously awarded to my grandfather. My father was seven when his father was faced with a choice: stand up for freedom and country, and risk almost certain capture, or escape. He as not a soldier; he was an engineer.  He chose to stand up on condition that his wife and his five children and the families of those he worked with were flown to safety from Indonesia to Australia. My grandfather stayed behind and blew up the radio station where he worked before the arrival of Japanese troupes. I get chill bumps on my arms and tears in my eyes every time I describe it. I can’t imagine what he or my grandmother (who flew with her 5 children on a cargo plane) went through. As he anticipated, he was captured and spent four long years in a Japanese concentration camp. His diaries, written on the back of soldiers’match book covers, detail a harrowing, soul sucking experience.
My grandparents
My father was young. I don’t think he comprehended the full magnitude of the war time events, unlike his mother and two older brothers.  He relayed how he played with parrots and wandered the countryside.  He enjoyed what little boys do when faced with a beautiful country with amazing animals and sights.  However, he often brought up his father as we were growing up.  I recall being shown the journals my grandfather maintained.  They were heartbreaking and also uplifting as he remembered his beloved wife and children as well as chronicled his dark existence and his efforts to survive – both physically and mentally.  
My Oma (grandmother) tooks pictures each year with their children until they were re-united.

When my father retired, he made it his mission to research the details of the period leading up, to as well as those most difficult years.  He interviewed family members and friends as he endeavored to learn.  He scoured archives and little known accounts of that theatre of WWII.  The culmination was a book reflecting his family’s personal journey.  At his eldest brother’s funeral last year, he shared some of this story in his eulogy since this brother had become part father then.  Afterwards, one of my cousins, a career Dutch military man,  shared how the story moved him and requested a copy.  He then submitted it, along with other supporting materials, to the decision makers for recipients of Medals of Honor.
My mother relayed to me that my normally, unemotional , mathematician dad’s eyes filled with tears when he received word that his work had led to this wonderful and well-earned honor being bestowed on my grandfather.  I didn’t get the chance to know my grandfather personally since he died when I was three.  However, I felt like I knew him through my father’s tireless efforts over the years.  Wanting to do fully understand and tell his father's story drove him until he achieved his goal, which was beyond anything he original contemplated.  I think my "Opa" would be proud and I know I am.   What drives us is a powerful thing and connects us across continents, cultures and generations. 

Opa (my dad) enjoying time with three of his grandkids.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Open Hearts Big Dreams -- We do it for her . . . and for them.

We do it for her.  We do it for our amazing daughter.  I didn’t have any meaningful link to Ethiopia before she joined us.  Now it is unimaginable to think our family would not be connected to her birth country.  Last December, we had our second annual event supporting Ethiopia Reads educational and literacy efforts.  The family flew in from Europe, where we now temporarily reside, the day before.  Our second son shows the effects of jet lag at the end of the evening after doing a great job as one of the photographers.  

This year for the first time, Leyla said a few words during the appeal after her father spoke.  Her beautiful little voice, often described as sounding like a cartoon character, was clear as a bell.  Her liquid black eyes looked straight into the sea of faces, and she spoke directly into the microphone, “Hi, my name is Leyla Marie Fasika. Please help us build libraries in Ethiopia . . . and schools.  Thank you very much!”  My eyes filled as I held her.  She had one arm wrapped tightly around my neck but her body was otherwise relaxed.  She was not afraid to speak to a crowd of a few hundred.  She knows she was born in Ethiopia and is proud of that fact.  She knows we are working to help kids there and she is starting to appreciate what that really means.  She even refers to this effort as “her event.”

In the frenzy of making it all happen in the months and weeks leading up, I found little time for reflection and contemplation.  Too often I needed to focus on the act of doing – list making, following up, problem solving – trying not to miss anything.  I volunteer on the side while my a full time job and my roles as wife and mother of three taking up most of my time.  Hearing her speak and play a real part this year was indescribably beautiful.  And it provided me a priceless reminder of the “why.” 

A few weeks earlier, I was working on videos we were to show.  One was to share what we had accomplished the previous year with the funds raised in our first event:

And one was to illustrate what we wanted to make possible this year:  

I found myself with tears streaming down my cheeks each time I reviewed them.  Something about the perfect soundtrack and the joy and resilience of those children against the backdrop of what they were up against broke my heart and inspired my soul simultaneously and inexplicably.  Joy shining through the hardship; hope found despite deprivation; dreams growing out of gaping need.   I have no words to explain it but I could see my daughter in each of their faces.  And their futures, which deserved the opportunity to blossom, were no less precious than hers.

When toward the end of the evening, our guests gave me a standing ovation. I was completely shocked and overwhelmed.  I am a shy, private person by nature and quite comfortable in the background.  To see hundreds of faces from many parts of the Seattle community and beyond standing gave me an inkling I was not alone in feeling moved by what we were accomplishing by coming together. 

A terrific group of supporters and volunteers, some at the event and many more who helped in so many diverse ways, enabled us to again exceed our ambitious goals -- 3X our first time.  In the process, our family and friends and community celebrated being a part of something bigger . . . something global.  And I came away with many new or deeper Ethiopian Ties and a renewed sense of the promise for the future the bright eyes of inquisitive, intelligent youngsters of this East African nation represent. 

Yaddi and I (taken here by my son in front of his amazing painting for this year's event) came up with the event name Open Hearts, BigDreams in 2011. The name continues to be as fitting now as it was when we began.  Thank you to everyone who helped make it a success again.  The standing ovation is for all of you.

As Federick B. Douglass said so well."Once you learn to read, you will be forever free."