Saturday, June 16, 2012

Do you have any kids of your own?

Do you have any kids of your own? 

I get this question often. I don't usually get too hung up on word choices. I try to listen to people's hearts and not the individual words. But this one really gets to me. I know what people are asking. They are trying to understand our story. Have you been pregnant before? Have you ever had an infant? Are there more kids in the picture? Do you have anyone to carry on your DNA? I'm not sure why any of these underlying questions matter enough to imply that my kids aren't real enough.

Just once I would like to answer by saying: "We walked through hell and back to be a family. What more would make them my own?"

I do realize that there is a difference. The fact is that I have no idea what it is like to have an infant or even a toddler. I have no idea what it is like to have just one kid, or even 2 or 3. I understand that. 

Thankfully so far, the kids haven't picked up on this... yet... I think... but they probably wouldn't let on if they did. They know that we are not the same color. Shocking, I know! Approximately 27 years of life occurred for them before we ever met. They know that they are different, that our family is different. Does it really need to be pointed out, clarified, and confirmed?

I promise you that I can't remember which people have asked thisIf you have said this before, please don't apologize. I realize that you probably meant no harm at all. But because you don't mean any harm, please, just promise me you won't ever use these words again. Would it be better to ask if we have biological children? No, not really. It just isn't worth risking making a child feel like less a part of the family. So what is okay to say? What if you want to show your support? What if you are interested in possibly adopting someday and you just want to get the conversation started? Try: I would love to hear more about your family and each of your kids.

Most adoptive families are willing to share their story if it can be done without negatively impacting their kids. So if someone declines to chat, just know that it probably has nothing to do with you personally.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Materialism in America

Our kids came to us with nothing. Absolutely nothing but they clothes on their backs. No keepsakes, no change of clothes, no pictures, no toys. They had lived with next to nothing for as long as they could remember. Now they have everything the need and much of what they want. The only way that I can think to understand what this might be like for them is with this analogy.

Imagine that tomorrow you are told that Donald Trump has chosen to adopt you as one of his own children. The assumption is made that this is something you want and overnight you are flown to New York City. You have never seen a private plane before so you jump up and down at the sight of the airplane sent just for you. And you have never eaten caviar before so you turn your nose up at it not wanting to even taste the expensive luxury.

You arrive and are picked up at the airport but you show no appreciation for the fact that Donald Trump himself made the time to come in person because you don't understand how valuable his time is and the sacrifice he made to be there. When you arrive at his penthouse, you are given a room but you had assumed you would have a suite with a separate living room and a balcony on which to enjoy some fabulous view of the city. Your disappointment is obvious when you realize that it is simply a very large bedroom with an adjoining bathroom. And while the furnishings are lavish, they are not to your taste and so you ask to redecorate.

You start to wonder if it is okay to ask for a car. Maybe a Mercedes CL? Would a Bentley be asking too much? And what you don't know is that there is an entire collection of ultra luxury cars down below in the parking garage and you can pick any that you can use at any time without even asking. It was just assumed that you would know such a thing.

You wear the same shoes all week because they are just so beautiful. You even wear them in your room and around the house for fear that the housekeeper might remove them for some reason. You don't know why she might do such a thing but so many things around you are beyond your understanding and, well, they're your favorite. Finally someone speaks up and explains that those shoes aren't suitable for this occasion.

You use your towels one time and then throw them on the floor, expecting someone to come pick up after you. You are told that while the staff will come clean your room once a week, you are expected to keep your room tidy and pick up after yourself. You are completely indignant. Even though you scrubbed your own toilet just 2 weeks ago, you feel like this request is completely unreasonable.

Dinner tends to be food that you aren't used to and you really crave a basic hamburger and your favorite beer in the bottle. So you ask for a custom dinner to be prepared for you, not realizing that the meals are planned out weeks in advance by one of the finest chefs in town and that you are appearing altogether ungrateful by asking for a hamburger when you are being presented with the finest steak that money can buy along with a 100 year old bottle of wine which you are entirely clueless as to how to enjoy.

You see bars of soap being thrown away after they start to lose their decorative shape. They are scented just slightly in the most delicate way. So you sneak around collecting them. You don't know what you are going to do with them but you know in your heart that such a lovely thing should not go to waste.

A big party is coming up. You are instructed to pick a dress from a selection that is delivered to your room. But you thought that something like this would merit a couture original. You become convinced that the other Trump kids have all of their clothing designed personally. Clearly this is a sign that you aren't a real member of the family. As a result you act bent out of shape for days. No one else knows why.

Are our kids grateful for the things they have? Yes... and no... But what kid is?

Monday, June 4, 2012

A Dance with the Devil

This isn't easy to write. Where on earth to start? Let me start by saying that I am only writing about my own experience and what I observed. This is my view from my view point. Every adoption is different. And every experience is different. I know nothing about domestic adoptions, or even adoptions from countries other than Uganda.

For a year and a half we jumped through hoops. We did a state background check and an FBI background check. We wrote about ourselves. We asked our friends to write references about us. We answered detailed and personal questions about ourselves. Our doctors answered questions about our physical and mental health. We laid our lives bare. We did everything but a DNA test (which I am convinced they will start doing within the next 10 years). We signed over money, lots of money; personal checks, cashier's checks, wire transfers. 

When we started all of this we didn't really understand what we were getting into. Oh, we had researched it. We had researched adoption for 11 years when we submitted that first application. But you can never really understand something until you have been there, done that. 

Naturally the questions get raised. Why is adoption so difficult? Why is it so expensive? If kids need homes and it costs money to raise them in foster care, group homes, or orphanages, why don't they just give them away when people want them? Well you see, it's a dance with the devil.

During the adoption process I heard a lot about the importance of ethics in adoption. But the stories are deeply personal, painful. So they aren't really told. Not publicly at least. Until you get to the other side. You become part of the club. Then you are admitted to conversations that just aren't open to the public. Why? Would you share your deepest pain with the world? Would you share your child's? And yet when you hear these stories you realize that all along you were locked in a dance with the devil. All those prayers you prayed for guidance were said in the shadow of the greatest enemy.

I am going to tread lightly. To give you a glimpse of this secret world, all the while trying desperately to protect the innocent. My deepest hope is to bring understanding without losing trust and friendships. While the names aren't given, the stories are true. 

Adoption ethics.

We have all seen the made for TV movies where the desperate, childless couple hands over tens of thousands of dollars in exchange for a perfect little baby. And never once do our minds fathom the extent of this dark truth. We never think about the small children kidnapped from their loving parents. Parents too poor to protect their most valuable cargo. Too poor to fight back. Left to forever wonder about the fate of their precious babies. These little children are then sold to traffickers. Somewhere along the way the children are put in orphanages. And sob stories are sold to their unsuspecting, well meaning, adoptive parents.  

Or perhaps their new parents aren't as unsuspecting as they would like to think they are. Maybe they see a red flag or two but choose, against the intuition seeded deep in their hearts by the greatest Father of all, not to believe. Perhaps they justify this away with reasons like "even if they were kidnapped, they still need homes now.

While this might seem clear, what about the mother in extreme poverty who is told "if you really love your children you will give them away. Sure you feed them but you can barely pay their school fees. You can't do enough for them; give them to someone who can give them everything." Or maybe she is told "give your kids to us; they will go to school in America and come back when they are 18. You will see them again and they will bring you lots of money." If you were working 16 hours per day and sleeping on a dirt floor and feeding your kids nothing but empty starches, would your weary bones believe these lies?

Some people believe that all orphanages are bad. You see, many children in orphanages aren't orphans. Many have parents who simply can't feed them. Or maybe they can just barely feed them and they know that in the orphanage they will at least get some schooling, the only hope out of poverty. Some people believe that orphanages create orphans.

Now let me pause. When you think about poverty, do you think about the poverty line as defined by the U.S. government? Or do you think about a woman who makes actual mud pies and feeds them to her children in hopes of easing their tears of hunger pains for just a little while, all the while knowing that the parasites in the mud will only serve to kill them faster? Do you imagine a woman who used to make a living in prostitution who makes a choice to follow the Lord and forgo her only profession and watches her baby die, slowly, painfully, day over day, as a result of no longer having that money left for her after the deed was done? Do you imagine a child dropping out of school to care for her younger siblings while her own age still sits well in the single digits and the burns on her body show the results of an inexperienced child cooking over a real and open fire? Do you imagine young girls choosing to sell their own bodies to passing truckers in exchange for the school fees, thinking nothing of the morality of it, because the facts are that these choices promise the possibility of a better life?

I paint these pictures for you because I want to caution us all against the judgment of others that so freely flows from our privileged mouths. I do believe in right and wrong. I believe it is black and white... to God... but not to us. I am not saying that because we don't understand first hand, that we can just let these things happen. In fact quite the opposite. We do owe a duty to do our best as we are each responsible for our own actions.

Now if it's wrong to give money in exchange for a child, is it wrong to financially help a biological family after you have adopted the children that their poverty forced them to give up? What if that help later put the family in a position to now care for the children? Should you ever have adopted them? Should you have just helped them to begin with? Let's turn it around. Is it okay to adopt children and on your way out of the country say goodbye to the family saying "God bless you, I hope you are well" knowing full well that they have no food and no money and need for medical assistance which they can't possibly afford?

We met our kids' birth family. I received the blessing of their Grandmother who told me with her eyes that she trusted me, that she was thankful for me, that they were mine now. And even with that fear has filled my heart. What if they were paid? What if they lied? What if they forced our kids to tell lies upon threat of living in an orphanage forever? What if? What if? There is so much about my kids' past that I don't know. So I ask questions all the time. Open ended questions in hopes of a moment of sharing. I have hung on every word. And at times the words have frightened me. Did she just say that someone gave them money?!?! Who was it?!?! Why?!?! My additional questions have only served to conclude that my first reaction was a misunderstanding. I feel like my kids are finally at a point that they are now able to tell me about their history, when they want to, without much misunderstanding. And my fears have come to rest. Especially now that we have started calling "home" about once a month. I can't tell you the delight in their voices and their families' voices. It is the sound of love. We are truly fortunate to have this.

Countless families have learned questionable details and have elected to walk away from an adoption. Now it is a very real risk that the children could suffer from this. But I have no doubt that they did not take this action lightly. I can't imagine the pain that would have come with this choice. When we thought we had found our 4, only to find out that they had been split up already, I grieved. It was an adoption miscarriage. We were only 11 days along. Early term. But painful none the less.

Some parents have hired private investigators in Uganda to search out their kids' history. They have done this in hopes of being able to hand their kids a tangible piece of their past, their story. Often they have come up with more information about the family. But the sacrifice these families make when choosing to do this is immense! You see in doing this, they have to first decide that they were willing to deal with the truth if it turns out that their child was kidnapped and also belongs to someone else.

So what is right? And what is wrong? And so you see, you are in a dance with a devil. While my words are figurative, the subject matter is real. God adopted all of us. Some of us chose to refuse the love and shelter that He offers. But the offer is there... to all of us. And so while God did not create death and God did not create orphans, He did create adoption. And why wouldn't the devil want to mettle with all that is good?

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Not Orphans, Not Anymore

I've gone to Zumba classes at my church, off and on, for about a year now. I have always found it uplifting to be in a room full of 100+ women all moving together (sort of), having fun, and letting loose. A little while ago, I took the girls to a fundraising event called "Zumba for 1." About 10 Zumba instructors in our area came together to do a Zumba class to raise money for a family preparing to adopt internationally. A sweet friend provided us with 3 tickets so I could take my girls with me. She even had 3 jingle skirts for them to borrow so they could properly shake it. They had SO much fun. Sarah said it was the most fun she had ever had in her whole life.

When you finalize your adoption, the judge (in America) says "do you realize that from now on these kids will be yours just as if they were born to you?" While all of that is true on paper, I often wonder how long it will take for all of us to get to that point emotionally. It's a slow process, but we're getting there.

During the intro at the Zumba fundraiser, the mom got up and spoke. She talked about the many orphans in need of families. It was very emotional. My girls know the word "orphan." I pulled them close and whispered in their ears over and over again, "you are not orphans, not anymore, you are not orphans."

Monday, May 21, 2012

Hell Week

In college, the week before finals was called "hell week." During that week you sprint for the finish line. Presentations are due, papers are submitted, and a quarter's worth of notes are reviewed. I have now affectionately nicknamed our first week home after adoption as "hell week." But the reasons are the opposite. It's the start of the marathon but at a sprinting pace . There is no end in sight. The intensity is overwhelming. The emotions are so high that the pain can be felt physically. I remember literally looking at the ground because I could physically feel my soul collapsed to the ground but I didn't have a free minute to let my body join my heart. 

There we were in the Spokane airport parking lot. We were more fried from sleep deprivation than I had ever known possible. And I was trying to wrestle a 7 year old onto her booster chair. She had never worn a seatbelt before and she certainly had no idea what that doohickey was sitting in her seat. She kept moving the booster out of the way and I kept moving it back. Her English wasn't very good yet so naturally I just kept saying louder and slower "sit here, ssiitt  hheerree, SIT HERE, SSIITT HHEERREE." The poor girl wanted so badly to please me and no clue what I was talking about! Then I wrestled 4 sets of seat belts onto kids who didn't even know how to how to anticipate where that belt was going to go.

The jet lag wasn't helping. We weren't sleeping. We could barely get through the day. The children all wanted to go to school that Monday. We had been home for 36 hours... we had woken up at 2am... and we hadn't figured out who had pants and who had shoes that fit. 

I spent two days just trying to figure out what clothes belonged to which kid. At first I stacked all the hand-me-down clothes in the middle of the room and had them start trying things on to figure out what fit and what didn't. That turned into a mass free for all. Kids were grabbing clothes, throwing clothes in no sort of order as to what fit and what didn't, taking clothes that another kid had already claimed, and trying to defend their stash. It all ended in "stop stop STOP STOP EVERYbody STOP! Mommy messed up. It's not your fault but stop, put it down, just walk away, everyone downstairs." I spent the next 2 days, one at a time, having kids try on every item of clothing. They didn't know what fit. They tried to claim things that were ridiculously short or 3 sizes too big. They tried to throw things that did fit into the "no" pile. They argued with me about what fit. I was exhausted to the core and we were debating over whether or not capris were appropriate for snowy weather. 

In the end we got through all the clothes. Sarah and Ryan were so excited about their *new* shoes that they made Josh take a picture of them wearing each and every pair.

Our 3 bedroom townhouse had shrunk overnight. We had seen a house earlier that fall that we both liked that was much bigger. We knew that if we were going to move, that we needed to make the decision before enrolling the kids in school. So we made the decision and made an offer... on another house... because our lives had apparently gotten boring for a minute and a half so we had to tackle yet another hurdle.

We found out that in order to enroll in school, we would have to have the kids vaccinations in order. So on Monday I begged and pleaded and got us an appointment for all four kids together that Wednesday. We didn't warn them. Instead we ambushed them. We told them that we were going out to do what we needed to do in order to get them in school. The first step an eye test. The problem was that Sarah and Ryan couldn't do the letters. So they had pictures available for kids too young to do letters. But they didn't know the words for the pictures. Half the pictures were of objects they had never seen before in their lives. When Sarah couldn't complete the eye exam, I told the nurse that I wasn't sure it was really an eye issue but likely a language issue and that we would just keep an eye on it but that I wasn't too worried. Sarah didn't understand what we were saying. We had told her that we had to do this to get them in school. She was near tears. "No school Mommy? I no school?" When I realized that I had set her up for this misunderstanding, I felt horrible. I told her that she would go to school but I'm sure that she wasn't confident. I'm sure she questioned her understanding. She wanted so desperately to go to school for the first time. 

We went into the exam room and waited for the doctor. Each minute that passed was more torturous than the next. Their fear was real and consuming. When the doctor came in, they whimpered in unison every time he reached for something or turned slightly. With every movement, they assumed that he was getting ready to jab them with a needle. Then the dreaded vaccination time. They needed 8 shots... each! 4 in each leg. One at a time, I held them down. I laid across their chest, positioned my head to avoid a head butt, used my hands to hold their arms down, and repeated over and over "shhhh, its ok, I love you, I love you, its okay." One nurse held their legs down while a second nurse did the poking. They screamed like they were watching someone being murdered right in front of them. And I am not exaggerating. I have no idea how they screamed that loud because I was smashing all the air out of them by laying across them. 8 shots, one by one, then on to the next kid, 4 times. People tell me all the time "oh yes my kids cried too." Yeah! Let me tell you... this is NOT the same. 

Then we were told that we would need to re-do their HIV, HepA, HepB, etc, etc tests. As Josh and I discussed with the doctor in the lobby whether or not to do it that day and get it over with or stretch it out into another day, I started to cry. Either choice felt so horrible. Every part of me broke. We went home. The kids could barely move. They were in so much pain. I remember the kids all being around the table and Josh in the kitchen. And I just sat on the couch crying and crying. I couldn't stop. I must have sat there crying for 20 minutes or more.  

After a couple hours at home, we headed out to deal with the blood draw. We went to a local PAML location. Again, we ambushed the kids. As soon as they realized what was up, they all started crying. The technician was the most merciless person I have ever seen. She snarled "they will have to sit still, I can't do this if you can't control them." The kids were scared. Coming back another day wasn't going to change anything. We had to do this. I understand that you have to be able to hit a vein in order to be able to do the draw. And I understand that you have to avoid endangering the technician from a stick. But she never tried to help. She did nothing to calm them down. I pleaded with the kids, explaining that moving around would make it hurt more. JoAni and Sylvia did well. While they cried, they did hold still and we got it over with. Josh was out trying to console the other 3 while I did the restraining so I was so thankful that the older 2 did so well as I could not have restrained JoAni if she had chosen to truly fight me. She is just too strong. Sarah and Ryan didn't do as well. I needed Josh's help. He came and used one hand to lock their shoulder in place and the other to hold their wrist out, all while trying to position his grasp so as to allow the blood flow. While he did this, I did the full body wrap with my legs and arms wrapped around their little bodies.

After 3 hours at the doctor's office and an hour doing blood draws, we went home for a post placement visit. That's right! Just an hour or two after it all, just 4 days after getting home, our social worker showed up to evaluate our new family. The kids could barely walk from all the shots. Their elbows were all wrapped up from the blood draws. Ryan would just stand up and then cry when he needed to go to the bathroom. They barely ate any dinner and I specifically remember it being something that they really liked. Ryan was the first to fall asleep, shortly after the social worker arrived. I picked him up and told her that I was putting him to bed. She needed to see their rooms so I told her to follow me. Clothes were scattered all around their rooms. It was a disaster area. And I didn't apologize. We were beaten down and weary. We were home. We were safe. 

This is the edited version because I don't even remember it all anymore. I think I have blocked it from my memory. But writing this has brought back little waves of those raw-rock-bottom-exhaustion, on-your-knees-pleading-for-God pain, sinking-in-the-middle-of-the-ocean feelings of fear and inadequacy. When those waves of emotional memory hit, I can barely breathe. It was only by the grace of God and the support of others (which I will write about later) that we made it through those first days.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Long Trek Home

It was finally time to head home. We flew home on our originally booked flight, 5 weeks and 6 days after we left the U.S. Our agency told us that leaving on your original flight, without having to change plans and re-book tickets, is rather rare. We bathed and packed up. The kids were so very excited.

We left our hotel at about 6pm. It took about 2 hours bumping along roads worn down by the torrential rains of the rainy season. The station wagon we were in was taking on roads that appeared to be straight out of a Jeep commercial. The back was full of our luggage so the back seat/bench was filled with me and all 4 kids while Josh rode up front. Ryan was on my lap and I quickly learned that you have to carefully position your head so as to avoid a headbutt with each giant natural speed bump. 

Our driver knew the streets of Kampala backwards and forwards. He took us on plenty of short cuts. We drove down roads lined with rows of small houses made from corregated tin. I kept seeing images of movies where people were being smuggled out of the country. Why did we get to jet away to a "better" life and all those people we drove past didn't? One day I was talking with one of our drivers about the U.S. vs Uganda. He said that he loved his country but if a plane landed tomorrow that would take anyone and everyone that wanted to go to the U.S., that no one would be left in Uganda. We talked about the fact that the U.S. is not perfect and there are poor people. But we agreed that the defining difference is opportunity. Not everyone who works hard in the U.S. achieves their dreams, but there is a lot more opportunity to do so.

When we got in the area of the airport, the kids asked every 2 minutes where the airplanes were. They had never seen one before. The driver finally promised, in Lugandan, to tell them when he saw one. We got to the airport with about 4 hours until departure (it's not too safe to travel after dark in Uganda and we didn't want to take any chances of missing our flight). We were so early that we couldn't even check in. So we waited in a waiting room for foreigners. We never saw the waiting room for Ugandans. I would have guessed that it was not as nice. Foreigners always got preferential treatment. We spent our last bit of shillings at the little cafe stand. 

Finally it was time to check in. We had 2 full carts of luggage to push. Thankfully we had opted to only do backpacks for carry-ons. We had planned ahead and brought a carry-on for each kid. They LOVED their backpacks. We gave them to them about 3 or so weeks early. Let's just say that we had to institute a "no backpacks at the dinner table" rule. The backpacks were a huge help as I had told the kids that they would be totally responsible for their own stuff. We purposely didn't pack much in them knowing that they would have coats they wanted to take off and other things that they would want us to carry for them that we would have to tell them "no put it in your backpack." We simply couldn't handle juggling junk on top of everything else. 

Thankfully I thought to keep a copy of the court decree with us. But I failed to make a copy. So I was allowed into the terminal in order to walk to the far end to make a copy. I was told that I owed 200 shillings. I told the guy that I would come back with the money. I returned, handed over the papers, and informed Josh that we owed 200 (about 8 cents) shillings for the copy. He reminded me that we had spent all of our shillings and didn't have any dollars with us. A very kind American man behind us tapped me on the shoulder and slipped me a 500 shilling note as we waited for our "all clear" to enter the terminal. Later we would cross paths with him at which point I gave him his 300 shillings change and thanked him. 

We went into the terminal and then into another secured area where our plane would board from. However there was no bathroom in that area. 4 kids, 0 bathrooms, you do the math! The security guard got annoyed with my frequent trips in and out and told us no more. Another American told us "he can't say that, you just do what you need to." My thought was that I wasn't going to test it and risk missing our flight, even if it was just a slim chance.

The kids were SO very excited. Looking out the window at the airplanes, they weren't even sure what they were looking at. I had to clarify what was part of the plane and what was the food cart unloading and what was the luggage ramp. They stood at the window looking at the airplane for over 1 hour. Sarah kept bouncing up and down, over and over and over and over. 

Our flight was scheduled to depart after midnight. At that point we had been awake for 18 hours! As the departure time got closer we realized they weren't going to have the traditional early boarding for parents with young children and those needing extra time. So we figured out where the front of the line was. By then at least 50 people had lined up. We walked to the front, cut in front of everyone, and sat down. We didn't explain ourselves, we were too exhausted. But I think our reason was pretty clear, even to perfect strangers. They didn't say a single word. In fact, they backed up and gave us room.

Upon boarding the plane, I spotted a toothbrush and a teeny tiny toothpaste for each person. I almost cried! Oh to have a clean toothbrush! (For those who don't know me personally, I put my toothbrush(es) through the dishwasher every day. You wouldn't eat off the same fork for a week without washing it, would you?!) I was sitting in between Ryan and Sarah while Josh was directly in front of me with Sylvia and JoAni on either side of him. EVERYthing was new. We showed them how to put on their seatbelts. We tried to answer their 10,000 questions about everything they were seeing. We explained that they each had their very own remote AND they were allowed to press the buttons! I started hearing a sound. I was looking all around when I realized that Ryan was pressing the flight attendant button over and over. Ooops! Ok, not THAT button Ryan!

It was a 9 hour flight to London. It was EXHAUSTING! Going to the bathroom was a major ordeal. They didn't know how to walk on the airplane with the floor being angled and moving. The door to the bathroom kept shutting on them every time they tried to open it. I showed them to knock on the door when they wanted out. They didn't know how to flush. They didn't know how to turn on the water, get the soap, or get paper towels. Oh and did I mention that there are 4 of them?!? All the food had to be explained in terms they could understand. Mostly it consisted of us saying "meat! that meat! bread! that bread!" They wanted to eat the little sugar packets that were for the coffee... and we let them. EVERYone knew we were on that plane! At one point Josh was trying to explain the movie selection to Sylvia. He was trying to explain the Smurfs movie and I was yelling over the seats "little blue people! They're little blue people!" 

We had about 8 hours in London. We went in one elevator and they just looked at each other confused. Then we went in a glass elevator. WHEEEEE!!!!!  We took lots of rides up and down the escalators. About 4 hours in, we saw a sign that there was a play area. It was an area full of toys AND babysitters. We both sat 20 feet away, wished we could sleep, continually reassured the kids that we were right there, and just slumped over in our chairs. 

The second flight, from London to Seattle, didn't go too smoothly. Our tickets had 4 seats together and then 2 single middle seats. This made for an impossible equation. I approached the gate agent and asked if we could board early in order to get situated and asked if they could help us with the seat situation. They told us to ask a flight attendant once on board about the seats and to just come over when boarding. Next thing you know, boarding had started and we were out of luck. Once on board, I had the kids sit down in the 4 seats and asked a flight attendant for help. Right away the kids were on edge that we weren't immediately sitting with them. Now at this point we had been awake for about 34 hours. My fibromyalgia was definitely not helping. I could feel the pain throughout my body. The flight attendant responded to my request for assistance by saying "well this is going to be a little tricky because it would involve a person giving up a window or aisle seat." Looking back at it, I think he was going to continue by saying "but I'll see what I can do"... but he never got that far. That's right, I came unglued! ALL RIGHT THEN! YOU CAN TELL THAT PERSON THAT THEY CAN SHOW MY KID HOW TO BUCKLE THEIR SEAT BELT, HOW TO UNBUCKLE THEIR SEATBELT, HOW TO EAT THEIR FOOD, WHAT THEIR FOOD IS, HOW TO USE THE MOVIES, and on and on! He cut me off by agreeing to help. A very nice man agreed to give up his seat. When I said thank you he replied by saying "I have 4 grandkids, if you can adopt 4 I can change seats." So it ended well, but all of this stirred up my chronic pain. Hours later I ended up puking my guts out in a tiny airplane bathroom. 

For weeks we had been telling the kids that we would need to take 3 airplanes to get home. So it created mass confusion when we told the kids upon landing in Seattle that we were in America. For months they would refer to Seattle as America 1 and Spokane as America 2. At this point we had to pick up our luggage and re-check it in and pass through customs. This involved a bit of a distance and so we had 2 luggage carts piled up with no free hands to keep track of kids. The very last thing we wanted to do was lose track of someone, even if for a moment. So I instructed JoAni to hold onto my backpack and Sylvia to hold onto JoAni's backpack and Sarah to hold onto Sylvia's backpack and Ryan to hold onto Sarah's backpack. There we were inching along like ducklings. People literally stopped to watch. 

All along our voyage, people watched us. We were certainly a spectacle. None of the looks or questions were negative. People were just very curious. Every security checkpoint was an ordeal. JoAni's English was improving. Sylvia was understanding basic instructions. But we could barely communicate with Sarah and Ryan. They didn't understand what was happening. I would go through first. Then Josh would attempt to restrain the remaining kids, releasing one at a time, while I stood on the other side trying to wave them through. At one point either Sylvia or JoAni tripped one of the alarms so they wanded her. I wish they had waited just a moment so I could try to explain it to her. I just remember a very worried and confused look.

By the time we landed in Spokane we had been awake for about 58 hours. Once we got home and got the kids in bed it was late at night and 60 hours of being awake. We were nearly delirious with exhaustion... and we all woke up at 2am! Josh and I tried to force ourselves to sleep more but it didn't work. By 4am the whole house was up.

I had imagined our trip home a thousand times. I thought that when the first plane finally took off, that I would cry with joy that we had made it, but I didn't. We were too busy attending to 4 very overwhelmed kids. And it didn't feel safe to celebrate yet. I thought I would cry when we landed in the U.S., but I didn't. Too busy and not safe yet. I thought I would cry when we successfully passed through immigration in the U.S., but I didn't. I thought I would cry when we landed in Spokane, home sweet home, but I didn't. I thought I would cry when they were all tucked into their beds for the first time, but I didn't. It was such an extremely overwhelming trek home. I was and am so thankful that we made it. The entire travel experience, including the 6 weeks in Uganda, was extremely intense. And as extreme as it was, I am just glad that we made it through. We survived. 

Monday, May 7, 2012

Time to Say Goodbye

The day before we were to leave Uganda, we set out to say goodbye. We made the long, smog filled, trek from Kampala to Jinja. We were in the roach coach again. The vehicle that was infested with cockroaches. If a crumb hit the floor, the roaches came running. Per the kids' request, we brought 2 bunches of bananas to the orphanage with us. When I went to grab for them, I had forgotten about those nasty bugs until I saw one darting between the bananas. I'll admit, I was a weenie. I got one of our kids to grab them which they did without noticing my reason. Yuck!

When we arrived at the orphanage, it was too early and our kids' friends were still at school. So we went to lunch and came back. We took lots of pictures. Finally we told our kids that it was time to say goodbye. Our kids especially miss their oldest friend. She showed them the ropes about life at the orphanage. They played games with her and teased her with games of keep-away. After our girls, the next child in age would be about 5+ years younger than her. They worry about how she is doing.

Then we headed to Mukono, the town that their grandmother lives in. Throughout Uganda we saw people walking between cars in traffic with buckets of fried grasshoppers. Our kids were always drooling over them. At a stop on the way to Mukono, a man went by the car with his bucket of grasshoppers for sale. The kids asked if they could take some to their Grandmother. I motioned to the guy that we would buy a little tin of them. Now let me say, at that point I had a splitting headache and felt pretty sick. I looked away, probably talking to one of the kids, and when I looked back, he had reached through the window to deliver my purchase. There, about 8 inches from my face, was an open tin of about 50 or so grasshoppers. I started furiously shaking my head "no" and making "mmmm-mm-mm-MMMM" noises. The poor guy was standing there looking so confused! He had a look on his face like "you crazy American, you just asked for these." I motioned for one of the kids to grab the tray and I think he figured it out at that point. Not trusting the kids not to dump them, he pulled his arm back, put a lid on the tray, and handed it back to one of the kids. 

We spent time together as one family. We all plopped down on the floor along side Grandmother's mattress on the floor. That white sheet looking thing is her mosquito net (critical to the defense of malaria) which was attached to the wall and rigged to make a tent  like structure at night. The kids showed us all around the house, the rabbit hutch, and the (outdoor) kitchen. There was one moment that took place that was especially important to me. I was interacting with Grandmother. She was particularly focused in on me. My theory is that in Uganda, having a mother is critical to your survival while having a father is less central to the family structure (due to so many Dads not being present). There was a moment when I was holding her hand and there was no one to translate. I didn't really think much before doing so, but I kissed her hand. I wanted to show her our love and respect. And I wanted to make a promise to her that we would take good care of her beloved little ones. That was the only way I could show her without words. And then she kissed my hand. It felt like a hand off, like she was saying "they're yours now, you have my blessing." And as quickly as it happened, it was over.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Hospitals in Uganda

Round 1: On the first full day of custody, Ryan came down with malaria. I already told you about that little welcome to parenthood.

Round 2: Soon after court, Sarah got really sick. She was running a fever and, given the constant fear of malaria, we went to a nearby hospital. Our agency arranged for a driver to pick me up. This driver and I were talking about how in America, parents would just give a child Tylenol. He then shared with me that he lost his own daughter to malaria. He helped me carry Sarah as I registered at the desk, went down a ways to the cashier's office to pay, came back to registration, and then to the waiting room. The hospital, IHK, was a private hospital that was very different from our first round. They determined it was a bacterial infection (no idea what kind). I went to the pharmacy on site, then to the cashier, then back to the pharmacy. 

That night I posted this on facebook: I have 1 sick kid sleeping in my bed, Josh has been kicked out and will be sleeping in the other bed in the same room, and 3 jealous kids sleeping in the other room. This can't possibly be a good thing... I think I just failed a parenting pop quiz. :( October 29, 2011 at 11:27am 

From the other side of the world, 11 time zones away, my friends encouraged me. They told me I was doing the right thing and not to second guess myself. As a brand new, rookie, green as can be parent, this really did help. My connection can't keep up with me trying to "like" all of your comments. Thank you for the encouragement. October 30, 2011 at 1:30am

Round 3: A day or two after round 2, Sarah was still sleeping in my bed where I could keep an eye on her. I had given her antibiotics and Tylenol to control the fever and put her in bed that night with faith that the medication would do the trick. When I came to bed at about 10pm, Sarah was burning up. Her fever was no longer under control. I called our contact, but he lives in Jinja, which is easily a 2 hour drive away from Kampala where we were. He called me back and told me that he was unable to arrange a driver for us. He suggested that we go down the street to the Italian Market and hire a driver as they tend to gather in the parking lot there. This was a good 1/2 mile walk, in the dark, carrying a sick child. Now this is the kind of situation that Ugandan's face. Walking much longer distances trying to get help for their ill, potentially dying of malaria, children. This prospect was overwhelming to me and felt impossible. 

We were staying at a guest house that had multiple houses and cottages within the compound. I went down the hill looking for a woman I had briefly met for only a moment. There was no answer at her door. So I went back up the hill and spotted a light in the small cottage. I knocked on the door not knowing who was staying there. An American woman answered the door and I explained that I needed to get to the hospital with Sarah. She and her husband pulled out their phones and started calling multiple people. On the third try, they were able to arrange a driver. I was confused by how they had so many contacts but didn't think too much of it. And then the woman offered to go with us to the hospital. I stammered. At first I was about to decline the offer given that I had just met her and it was 10pm and it just seemed like to much to ask. Thankfully I agreed. She came with us and sat through the full 2 hour process. 

Sarah did not take well to the hospital. She screamed bloody murder when they pricked her finger for a few drops of blood. She fought against me. I had to use all my strength to hold her down. She went into a rage. This wasn't the first time and it wasn't the last. From a comical perspective, I did meet my first Ugandan rat while waiting for the blood draw. We were sitting in a chair and I was watching a rat outside running up and down a railing. Then it disappeared. A minute later that same rat came around the corner and into the door of where I was sitting. I jumped and it started and ran away. I was so thankful it didn't want to hang out! 

We returned to the compound at midnight. This woman who so kindly accompanied us was and is, our Auntie Sara. She gave Sarah a little plastic turtle from her purse and a piece of gum. While waiting she shared a bit of her story with me. She had been in Uganda for 8 months at that time. They had been denied guardianship of their daughter. So they stayed. At that time I felt like I was drowning, all day, every day. It was taking all of our strength to stay afloat. We felt like we were hanging on by a thread. We had been in Uganda for just over 2 weeks. It took my breath away. I couldn't even fathom how they could survive this. In the end, they came home with all of their kids. But not before spending a full year in Uganda. We prayed every night for Auntie Sara. Sometimes my Sarah still prays "Auntie Sara babies go to America soon" and I remind her that Auntie Sara is already in America with all of her babies.

Round 4: Then I began to feel ill. I posted on facebook: Want a laugh? I was trying to explain to JoAni that I was really too sick (this was a few days ago, now I am really sick) so I told her that I had boogers and pointed to my nose. I said that "I just feel boogery." Not long later, she scolded Sarah by saying "SARAH you put the boogery on Mommy!" I couldn't stop laughing. She was so confused by why I found that so funny. November 2, 2011 at 12:59pm

During the time that Sarah was so very sick and was sleeping in my bed. She would cuddle up to me and grab my face and put us nose to nose. There we would sleep (sort of, she is a pretty wild sleeper). Soon I became very ill. It got to the point that I was of no help at all to Josh. I just slept all day. Finally I went to the hospital where I was also diagnosed with a bacterial infection. 

It was approaching Thanksgiving and I wrote on facebook: TODAY I AM THANKFUL for access to medical care. Today was my 4th visit to a hospital in Uganda, although it was the first time that a trip was for me and not one of the kids. I am thankful to have the option, to be able to afford it, to not have to choose between medicine and food (not that I have an appetite right now). We tend to take these things for granted but they are not accessible to everyone in this world. Everyone gets sick but not everyone can afford a doctor. November 4, 2011 at 5:00am

Round 5: Then Ryan got sick. The germs were all being shared between Sarah, Ryan, and myself. I was still very sick and carrying Ryan around was so, so difficult. But it had to be done. TODAY I AM THANKFUL for a little bit of cake. Actually it was more like a small muffin. Purchased from the hospital cafe, it was just the right thing to bring a twinkle back into Ryan's eye. The crumbs covered his face (which was still tear stained from having his finger poked for a little blood testing), his shirt, his shorts, my shirt, and my lap. I think he lost 1/3 of it to crumbs but he enjoyed it SO much. It was the most fun to watch and I am thankful for that. November 5, 2011 at 10:34am

Round 6: Ok, I don't mean to be all negative, but I am still pretty sick. I'm not sure if I am getting better or worse. Based on some googling that I did last night, I think I had (hopefully had and not have) bacterial pneumonia or acute bronchitis. At this point Josh is saying that he wants to ship me home if this doesn't get better soon. It feels like a no win situation. Please pray that I get better and soon. It really is the only good scenario. November 6, 2011 at 12:41am

I went back in to the hospital to make sure that it wasn't getting worse. I was still so very tired. I couldn't allow myself to get any worse given that we had 4 kids to take care of and more severe symptoms could become life threatening due to the status of available healthcare.

I am feeling much better today. I am still tired easily but am able to help out with kids and life. :) Thank you for all your prayers. But still no passports. We are starting to feel very anxious and are struggling to be patient knowing that if we do not get them by noon tomorrow, I will likely have to fly home to the States alone on 11/19 in order to get back to work and earn money to cover the cost of a longer stay. But that would leave Josh alone with 4 kids in Uganda. Not ideal to say the least. November 8, 2011 at 2:15am

The whole process was very overwhelming. Adopting 4 kids all at once, having an "instant family", going 0 to 4, would have been overwhelming enough. The medical stuff piled on top stretched us to our very limit. We were giving every ounce of ourselves. We were beaten down and all out of steam. I am so very thankful that the in country process didn't take more than 6 weeks as I just don't know that we could have handled it. Which brings me back to thinking about Auntie Sara. 1 year! 1 year! While I barely knew her, my heart was tied to hers.

Monday, April 16, 2012


On Easter we did church and family. We saved the candy and gifts for this past weekend, explaining that while the eggs and candy and gifts are fun we don't want to forget that Easter is about so much more. The kids were okay with this as long as they got their share of candy in the end too. We did do a small bit of candy. And then we explained that this is not normal but because this was their first Easter, we had a special gift for them... 

Bicycles! They have been hoping and wishing and praying for bicycles! They dreamed about them. They longed for them. Oh to have a bicycle!

Now at an average of at least $80 plus another $20 for a helmet, we were looking at $400 at least. While we do have that much in our savings account, we would actually like to retire someday and there is an endless amount of kiddie gear that could stand between us and that goal. So as a compromise, I did some checking around on Craigslist. There I found a guy a half hour away that buys old bikes and gets them back in full working order to then sell them again. Upon arrival at this guys' house, JoAni asked why we were buying used bikes (she had been drooling over the ones at WalMart). I explained that we could buy them used now or wait another year or so and buy them new then. She quickly agreed that this was a good thing and even gave the other kids the same speech when the conversation came up again later. This guy probably had 60-80 bicycles in his yard, most of which were children's sizes. Before we arrived, I told the kids that they would have to be patient as we tried to find the right size for each of them. But the allure was just too much. They were overwhelmed with excitement. Sarah kept telling the guy "I'm Sarah! I'm 6 1/2 years old!" For $140 we purchased 4 very usable, good quality, just what we needed bikes.

Then we needed helmets. For that we did go to Walmart. We let them pick out whatever they wanted (almost). They were so excited that they put the helmets on and wore them up to the counter.

Yes, that is the cardboard still attached to the helmets. They wore them that way all the way through WalMart, the 20 minute ride home, and around the driveway until we could cut them loose.

Isn't my daughter beautiful with that big smile? She is 100% happy to the core in this picture! 

For well over an hour, I ran back and forth and up and down the driveway propping up a kid and trying to explain the basics of bike riding. JoAni and Sylvia are learning quickly. And Sarah and Ryan are determined to figure this out too. And when all else fails, they just walk their bikes around the driveway. Sylvia even talked Ryan into helping prop her up when I got too tired. But she returned the favor, running along side him and holding onto his bike while he tried to figure out how to turn those pedals.

Today on the other hand is a different story. The kids, Ryan especially, were very disappointed that their bike time got rained out. 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

New Things

I do have a heavy heart about the significant amount of things my kids face and have faced that children just shouldn't have to deal with. But I was a little surprised by the comments I got regarding what I posted yesterday as it didn't really stand out to me as unusually heavy. That's just our life these days. So today I thought it would be good to reflect on something a little less serious.

Now days it is less so, but in the beginning it seemed like we and the kids were encountering new things every day. Here is just a very small sampling:

Lights - Ryan was fascinated with light switches at first. We would be sitting in our guest house and we would see a light going on off, on off, on off. Usually this would be coming from a different room and we would just be able to see the glow going on and off. Without even looking we would yell out "Ryan stop playing with the lights!" I'm not sure why we didn't just let him have his fun. They had experience with electricity. But this was the first time that they had direct access to something like this.

Baths - They had always bathed in a basin. This means a little plastic tub of cold water which you would squat in and splash water on yourself. Bathing time in Uganda took a full hour for me. They had so much fun! It was a few months before they learned how to change the temperature by themselves. I can't tell you how many times I told the kids to get in the bath only to turn my back or go into the next room for a moment as they got undressed and into the tub only to come in to see them standing at the far end of the tub saying "guy-O-chye!!," meaning hot, at which point I would start commanding "get out! get out!." Given that hot water was a new thing for them, their idea of a warm bath was a little different than mine.

Enclosed Shoes - As soon as we got home to the cold of Spokane, we had to teach our kids how to shove their feet into tennis shoes. 

Tying Shoes - Every parent goes through teaching their kids how to tie their shoes. But not every parent does this within 1 week of their child ever seeing shoes that lace.

Zipping up a Coat - This was pretty tricky. Coats are especially difficult because you have to line up the start just right. Do you know how much time it takes to help 4 kids all put on enclosed shoes, tie shoes, and coats.

Booster Seats - We had been awake for 48 hours. We were in the parking lot at the airport. I was crawling into the 3rd row, trying to get Sarah and Sylvia situated so we could finally go home! Sylvia kept moving her booster seat out of the way. I kept putting it back trying to get her to sit on it. Her English still wasn't so good and instructions about sitting on a booster seat are full of prepositions. We went round and round and round. She couldn't figure out why on earth I wanted her to sit on this weird thing.

Seat Belts - They had never used seat belts before. They had only ridden in cars a handful of times ever. It took a good month or more to get all the girls to be able to buckle themselves. Prior to that I had to crawl in the back and buckle each kid. Then we got to a point that Sylvia and JoAni could do it and Sylvia would then help Sarah. About a month ago, Ryan learned how to buckle his own 5 point harness. I can't tell you how good it felt when just the girls learned how. Recently Ryan learned how to buckle and unbuckle his 5 point harness. It took so much time and effort to buckle 4 kids every time we wanted to go any where.

Forks - The first time they had ever used spoons before was when they came to the orphanage. The first time they ever used forks was with us. We still use spoons a lot.

Biting into Food - The kids were used to food like rice and beans. They were used to biting into food like bananas. But when it came to sandwiches or pizza, they did not like it at all. One time we made sandwiches that we knew the kids liked but Ryan refused to eat his. He was willing to go hungry. I went and got a knife and cut it up into little bite sized pieces and he quickly ate the whole thing. Same thing went for pizza. The first time we had it, it was in slices and they hated it. The second time, Josh and I were desperate. We were exhausted and pizza was the only food we could have delivered. So we made the call. The motorbike arrived with the pizza bungee corded to the back. I distracted the kids while Josh snuck it into the kitchen where he chopped up and entire pizza into little bits. And they liked it! Towards the end of the meal they realized that it was the same food they had before but they were okay with it.

Turning on different faucets, flushing different toilets, what different kinds of soap look like, opening a zip lock bag, using the ice/water dispenser in the fridge door, putting dishes in the dishwasher, what IS a dishwasher, how much soap to use, how much toothpaste to use, how much toilet paper to use, when to flush (yes, at night too), and where clothes go (we had underwear in the closet and shirts under the bed and a backpack in the dresser).

Again, this is just a small sampling of the full list! Lest you think that all of this is normal with any parenting which is true, keep in mind that this all took place over just a few months and times 4 kidse. :) It's been intense. Often funny. Often not. 

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Things We Didn't Know

There were 10,000 things that we didn't know when when we started all of this. But more specifically, I am thinking about the things that were going on in our kid's heads.

I shared before that we didn't know that all the prior parents had taken the kids on the first day. The kids had to have been so confused when we left without them that first day. 

A week or so into things in Uganda, Josh told me that he heard JoAni telling the other kids that they better be good or we would send them back to the orphanage. I was so angry with her. I assumed that she was manipulating the other kids. Thankfully there was some reason that I didn't have a chance to talk with them about this for a little while. So when I finally had time, I sat them all down. At this point their English was still very limited and I had to keep it super basic if I wanted Sylvia to understand me so that she could translate for Sarah and Ryan given that at that moment I was not trusting JoAni to translate properly. I told them "if you have good manners, I love you, and if you have bad manners, I love you, no orphanage, no more." Much later, I learned that a pair of siblings had been picked up from the orphanage by a muzungu (white) mommy and daddy. Later those kids were returned to the orphanage without an explanation. Our kids had reason to be afraid of this happening to them. They had seen it happen. JoAni was trying to protect her siblings and herself when she told them that "bad manners" would get them sent back to the orphanage. 

Just recently Sylvia told me that those parents packed up in the night and left without saying goodbye. I have no idea what their reason was. Maybe there was a good reason. The information I have is all through the eyes of children. When Sylvia gave me this extra detail I suddenly realized, we had moved hotels multiple times while with the kids while in Uganda. I asked her what she thought the first time we packed up all of our stuff to change hotels. I asked if she thought they were going back, she said a rather firm "yes." Remember when I told you about Sarah going into meltdown after the first time that we packed up and changed hotels? She cried herself to sleep. I thought she was just stressed out. I had no idea that she was completely utterly and totally terrified. 

I often wonder what I will learn months from now about what we are dealing with today.