Two Years Home!

Two years ago today Diva and Smiles stepped off of an airplane and into our lives.  They left behind everything they ever knew to enter a world that was completely unfamiliar.  I still can’t believe how brave they are!

We knew we would be in for a tough transition.  Back then, we often dreamed about how easy things would be 2 years in the future, when we didn’t have a newborn and all our kids could speak English- and now here we are.  I wouldn’t say things are easy, but they are most definitely without a doubt easier than they were back then!

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To celebrate adoption day, the kids brought an adoption book (I Wished For You– if you know someone who is adopting, give them this book as a present) and treats to school.  We knew this might spur some questions from their classmates, so we’ve spent the last few weeks role playing with them and telling them it’s okay to say “I don’t want to talk about that” if something uncomfortable comes up.  They both were able to talk and celebrate with their classes!  We had activities tonight so our family celebration was pretty low key. I actually got them presents this year, but I hid them several weeks ago and now I can’t find one of them, so we will have another adoption day celebration when it reappears! We did sugar them up, looked through their adoption books (I made them, similar to a baby book), and talked a lot about how far they’ve come.

And how far they’ve come!  Here’s a shake down of where they’re at these days:

Personalities:
Smiles:  Such a jokester!  He uses humor to diffuse situations, and if you laugh at his jokes you’ll be his friend forever.
Diva: This girl has the emotional maturity of an 85 year old wrapped up in her cute little 6-year-old body.  I’ve seriously never met another small person who is as compassionate, empathetic, and helpful as she is.  She is constantly thinking of other people and will sacrifice her own desires to make someone else’s life better.

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Activities:
Smiles:  His love for sports continues.   We wrapped up basketball season a few weeks ago and now have baseball practice twice a week.  He’s pretty dedicated; most day he does conditioning on his own at home and sometimes even turns down treats in an effort to be healthy.  He loves pitching and he’s pretty good!
Diva:  She did Tball last year, but apparently all the athletic genes in their biological family went to Smiles (I’m sort of a feminist and I really hate this).  She’s just not interested.  She’s not currently in any activities except Awana at the church, but we are looking into gymnastics, piano lessons, or art lessons.  I just can’t get very motivated to do anything because I really value down time at home.

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Interests:
Smiles:  Sports and friends.  We moved away from some great neighbors, but we keep in touch and see them regularly.  He’s just recently made new neighborhood friends, but tonight he called Wiggles an a**hole.  He had zero idea that was a bad word and told me he learned it from those friends, so now I’m questioning this friendship!  Friends are really important to him and he walks with a swagger when he feels loved. He likes playing basketball or practicing hitting out front.  He wants to go fishing more often, likes playing Minecraft and Temple Run on the iPad, and loves to put things like Legos together.
Diva:  Art and fashion.  She wants to be an art teacher when she grows up, except for the days she wants to be a fashion designer.  She’s always drawing; I can keep her entertained for hours with a notebook and a pencil.  She mostly draws princesses and pretty dresses.  She likes watching the YouTube instructional videos.  She’ll watch, pause it while she draws, then watch some more.  She’s young enough that she’s really into imaginative play.  Her and Wiggles pass lots of time building forts (they call them campers), mixing concoctions in the kitchen, or acting out Jake and the Neverland Pirates.

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School:
Smiles: You may remember how we decided to repeat the third grade, and I’m SO glad we did!! I never question this decision.  He was just so far behind, but this year has been really transformational for him.  He gets pulled out twice a day, once for reading and once for ESL support with all the other subjects.  The speed at which this kid is learning how to read is amazing.  If his progress continues, by the end of the school year he’ll be reading at a late 2nd grade level- so just one grade level behind.  Can you even imagine moving to a foreign country, not knowing a single letter of their language, and then being nearly caught up just 24 short months later?  He’s keeping up with the other subjects too. He’s multiplying and dividing, learning about the government, and can tell you the different parts of the water cycle.  Two years ago he knew literally nothing.  I remember practicing ABC flashcards for hours and repeating the spelling of his name hundreds of times until he memorized it.  When a kid starts off that far behind it is completely overwhelming, but he’s putting in the work and we couldn’t be prouder.  He does get graded now, but we don’t worry about that just yet.  I’m guessing he’ll be totally caught up to grade level by late elementary school.
Diva: Diva had a huge advantage in schooling- she started off in kindergarten, where everyone is learning such basic skills that a lack of prior schooling doesn’t make that huge of an impact.  That being said, she is most definitely behind her classmates but not to the degree Smiles is. She loves to write stories, but her spelling is so bad I need help reading most of them.  She’s a natural student and enjoys school.

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Struggles:
Smiles:  We had a really tough first year with Smiles.  He struggled for a long time with respecting authority, following rules, and just behaving normally.  But it’s like he grew up about 5 years over the past 18 months.  He’s a brand new kid!  He still pushes buttons, blames others when he’s irresponsible, has bad attitudes about certain things, and antagonizes his siblings, but hey- he’s a kid!
Diva:  Diva is without a doubt my easiest child.  I think I’d be able to say that if I had 1,000 children- she’s just very well behaved.  But, she is incredibly messy, totally forgetful, and would watch TV 23.5 hours a day if we let her.

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Moving night with some of our best friends from Ethiopia.  We’re so lucky to know them!

Transition:
Smiles:  Smiles hates to talk about his past.  It’s not something he’s proud of.  I think in his mind he says “this is over with, I’m going to lock it away and never think about it again.”  If you ask him questions about Ethiopia or look at old pictures he just completely shuts down; you can almost visibly see the wall go up.  I’m happy he’s so happy here, but I also think that most issues adults have stem from childhood problems that weren’t dealt with properly, so I am determined to help him acknowledge and accept his beginnings.  We do this in a couple of ways.  First, we talk about it all the time.  I know he hates it and he rolls his eyes every time I bring it up, but we keep doing it anyway.  And it’s working, because little by little he is starting to open up.  Second, we started him in play therapy recently.  We found a lady who specializes in adoption and she’s just fantastic.  It’s too early to tell what long term impacts this will have, but I want him to have a place outside the home that’s safe to talk about the feelings he’s having- and I also want to force him to feel and work though those feelings.  One of my greatest fears is that if we don’t get him to accept the past now, it will manifest in teenage or later years in ways I don’t want to deal with.  So, this is still an issue, but we’re working through it and seeing really positive strides.
Diva:  Diva is the opposite of Smiles.  I’m not a professional, but I think she deals with her past in a very healthy way.  She’ll tell anyone who asks about her life in Ethiopia.  She talks about her birth family often and is constantly giving me things to send to them.  Our beloved dog is dying and I’ve been really bummed about it.  The other day I was crying and she told me “Don’t worry Mommy.  Even when he dies he will still live in your heart, just like my Ethiopia family lives in my heart.”  Did I mention SHE’S SIX?!

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So there you have it.

We did a lot of research going into adoption and were prepared to face all sorts of issues. Honestly, our kids aren’t perfect, but considering the instability they faced for several years it’s really incredible how perfectly they’ve fit into our family.  I feel so lucky and blessed to call them son and daughter.

 

 

 

 

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Baby Girl is Two!

The next month brings a slew of milestones:  The Baby turned 2 yesterday, Wiggles and Diva have birthdays in April, and we celebrate 2 years post adoption in a couple weeks!  These types of posts are my favorite to write and my favorite to later look back on, so the blog is temporarily resumed for this busy season!

I was shopping at Hobby Lobby the other day and saw a sign that read “Though she may be little, she is FIERCE.”  It took every ounce of my being not to buy it for our fourth child.  She may be the smallest member of this family, but she doesn’t let that stop her from being heard!

Baby, you’re a sweet little fireball.  You drive us crazy and you make us laugh.  Here’s what I want to remember about right now:

  • You are pretty much the best sleeper in the whole wide world.  Every time I put you to bed, you immediately roll over, stick two fingers in your mouth to suck, and fall asleep in approximately 4.2 seconds.

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  • You’re a somewhat picky eater with a major sweet tooth.  You’ll barely let anything green (exception: peas) come within 3 feet of your body, but you will eat 12 marshmallows in 5 seconds flat.
  • Sometimes you eat six bananas in one day.

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  • When you’re not happy with your food selection you let us know by chucking it halfway across the room.  Our dogs love you.
  • When you have food not at the table the dogs follow you around, which makes you go berserk.  You scream “NO” and slap the poor dogs across the room.  You ain’t afraid of a 13 pound dog.
  • You really like to sing songs, but mostly just “Row row” and “Down by the Bay” with the occasional “ABC” thrown in.  Sometimes you tell me what to sing, I start singing it, and then you yell at me. This is really confusing.
  • You constantly take your shoes off.  I don’t think we’ve ever arrived at a destination with your shoes still on.
  • But you love to put other peoples shoes on.
  • And clothes.  If there are clothes in your eyesight you are going to layer them on until you can’t walk anymore.  None of them will be put on correctly but you will refuse all help.

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  • When you’re not layering you are very opinionated about what you wear, and just like with song selections you often yell at me for putting on what you just told me to put on you.
  • You have an awesome mullet with bangs so long they cover your eyes, but you don’t like to wear bows, headbands, or hair ties.
  • You also don’t like to brush your teeth, and with all the other kids I don’t have the energy to fight you on this one.  Every night I try, and every night you swat my hand away and brush your nose or hair instead.  Then you throw your toothbrush on the floor.  If you grow up and have bad teeth I want the record to show this is your fault, not mine.
  • Your eye twinkle.
  • We have to keep the doors to the bathrooms closed because you like to take the rolls of extra toilet paper and throw them in the toilet.  The next time you do this it’s coming out of your college fund.
  • While we’re speaking about potty behavior, every time you go to the bathroom you bring us the wipes, a fresh diaper, and tell us “I pooped.”  We still have PTSD from trying to train your brother so we haven’t tried with you yet, but hopefully you’ll be easier.
  • What’s up with you taking a wipe and wiping yourself for 15 minutes?
  • You don’t like to lay down for diaper changes.  You prefer to stand up, spreading your legs almost to a full split.
  • For the first 22 months of your life you pooped 95% of the time you were in the water, including baths (which meant you were rarely bathed), but I think you finally have this habit kicked.
  • Every time you give us a kiss you suck your cheeks in like a fish face instead of puckering your lips out.  They’re the best kisses ever.
  • You know all your uppercase and lower case letters and can name all your colors.
  • You’re talking a lot.  Me and Daddy can understand a fair amount of what you say, but I don’t think the average joe could.  Your most frequently used words, beside “no”, is “please help” or “me help!”
  • You love being goofy with your big siblings and have no trouble keeping up with them!

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Baby girl, thanks for 2 great years- can’t wait to see how you’ll grow this year!

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Swan Song

It is with mixed emotions that I tell you this will be my last regular blog post.

I didn’t plan on it working out this way. Quite the opposite, in fact.  One of my New Year’s goals was to post more often;  my eventual goal was to make the blog profitable. After six years I’ve established a solid following, and I thought with a little extra effort I could gain the readership that would appeal to advertisers and affiliates.  So I’ve spent the last few weeks studying just how to do that.  Now I know…but with that knowledge came a realization- I just don’t have the time it takes to do it right.

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You see, our last six years have been JAM PACKED with life stuff.  Infertility.  The decision to adopt.  Opening our hearts to older kids.  A surprise pregnancy.  A revoked referral.  A precious baby boy.  Another surprise pregnancy.  Our referral call just two days later.  Convincing the adoption agency to let us continue our journey.  Our trip to Ethiopia.  Our adoption delays.  A beautiful baby girl.  And finally, bringing our kids home.  (Actually, all of that was over the course of just 4 years…the last 2 have been spent adjusting from our normal lives to our crazy lives).

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It’s been quite the journey, and I’ve really enjoyed documenting it via the blog.  So much happened that it was EASY to fill the blog with updates. The blog has been a great outlet for my emotions, it serves as a solid reference when we look backwards, but mostly it’s been a fabulous connection tool.  It’s allowed me to share our story with family and friends, even at the times it was too difficult to talk about in person.  It’s connected me with strangers who are going through similar things.  And it’s allowed me to form friendships with people I would not have otherwise known.  I love it.  I feel an emotional connection to this blog- to my diary- and I’m sad to call it quits.

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But the blog was started to document building our family- and our family is now built.  It has served its purpose.  As we have progressed from an unknown future to the daily humdrum of family life, I have found that updating my blog is not nearly as enjoyable as it once was.  In fact, it has become another chore- right up there with laundry, walking the dog, and working out.  When you have 4 young children there are a LOT of daily chores, and it is just no longer worthwhile for me to spend the time and energy on something that doesn’t bring me joy…or at least leave me with a clean house/happy family/someday-gonna-be-hot body.

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So this is it, friends.  I’ll likely do an occasional post on special occasions, milestones, or when something happens that’s just too long for a Facebook post…but I expect those to be few and far between.  Thank you for reading all these years.  Thank you for reaching out.  Thank you for encouraging us.  Thank you for stopping me in public to share that you like my writing.  Thank you for not judging us, even when we deserved it (remember when we locked 4 year old Diva, 1 week after she was adopted, in her room when she was terrified?  Major parenting fail but you guys loved us anyway).  It’s been a great joy to share with you. Thanks for allowing me to fill your computer screens for so many years.  Friend me on Facebook if we’re not already buds.

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There were many times I thought I’d never be here- living in our forever house, working at a job that I love, with a toddler napping upstairs while there are 5 kids (friends are over) playing Wii  (very loudly) in the basement.  But here I am.  Thanks for seeing me here.

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Highs and Lows

Another week, another rounds of highs and lows.

Highs:  Family visit

The Husband has some family that we don’t get to see very often at all- it’s been at least 3 years.  They came to visit last weekend and it was great to see them!  They got to watch Smiles score a basket that turned the game around, took us out to eat at Pizza Street (every kid’s dream) and spoiled us all with presents!  We had a really fun day with them.

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Low:  Date Night

The Husband and I were gifted some tickets to a dinner theater and couldn’t have been more excited- who doesn’t love date night when you have 4 kids at home?  Me, apparently.  The show was great, the food was good, but I just wasn’t feeling it that day.  The kids had driven me crazy that morning and I never recovered.  I was bummed I didn’t enjoy myself more and bummed to waste a somewhat rare opportunity.

High:  Last Basketball Practice

Look, I love putting my kids in sports.  Smiles specifically has a fondness for them.  They are teaching him discipline, teamwork, and dedication- all lessons he really needs!  I’m happy he plays on teams, and plan to keep him enrolled in whatever sports interest him for years to come.  That being said….I LOVE THE TIME IN BETWEEN SEASONS!   I hate having plans on weekdays and am so excited to have Monday nights free again.  (Mostly because, The Bachelor).

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Low:  Dog Bath, Laundry, Nasty Bathroom, etc

I usually try to keep our weekends relatively low key, because weekends are when I get all my stuff around the house done.  But we’ve had a couple of busy ones in a row which means my dog smells like he rolled in a pile of poop (he probably did), my pile of laundry is taller than my toddler, my bath tub has had a ring around it for a week, my dining room table has been covered in Valentine’s Day craft stuff for a week…I feel perpetually behind. But hey, if you’re caught up with housework then you probably need to reexamine your life priorities (this is what I tell myself to make me feel better).

High:  Fireplace Cuddles

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Since my big kids just learned their alphabet less than 2 years ago, they’re not exactly at the stage where they cuddle up with a good book for hours.  I try to do everything in my power to encourage them to get there someday, and most recently it was story time in front of the fire place.  I hope these little moments are the ones I remember years from now when the decibel level of our house is back in the normal range and I don’t need a hazmat suit to clean.

That was my week…how was yours?

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My Thoughts on MO 1599, Missouri Adoptee Rights Bill

This is a big week for adoption in Missouri.  This week lawmakers are hearing arguments for and against MO 1599, commonly known as the Missouri Adoptee Rights Bill.  A decision will be made in the coming weeks.  So just what is this bill?

In Missouri, as in most other states, adoptees have no right to their original birth certificates  (OBCs). (Our friends in Kansas are just one of six states that allow adoptees over the age of 18 full unrestricted access to their OBCs. A handful of others allow access with several restrictions).  Adoptees are issued alternative birth certificates, but these can be confusing as they often list the adoptive parents as the birth parents, and often list the city the adoptive parents live in as the place of the birth.  In other words, they’re not really certificates of birth at all.

This is a problem.  Not only is it denying adult adoptees a basic document about their lives, but it can also make it harder for them to get things like passports, drivers licenses, or insurance coverage for genetic testing.  It can be another reminder that they’re not like most people.

 

Currently an adult adoptee in Missouri who wants information about their OBC must get permission from their biological parent(s). This can be a problem if they don’t know who those parents are.  Many hire searchers- just like we’re doing in Ethiopia.  Sometimes, the birth parents don’t want any contact and deny the request.

But requesting an OBC is NOT the same as requesting a relationship with a birth parent.  A relationship is a two way street.  If the birth parent doesn’t want to participate in a relationship, they are within their rights not to do so.  A certificate is a piece of paper about a person.  It’s not right for someone else to control that piece of paper.

What does the other side say?  The other side says that birth parents make the decision to give their child up under the promise of privacy.  But if this is happening, it’s only an implied promise.  Agencies need to carefully choose how they represent adoption.  Until the adoption is finalized- which often takes months- the OBC is public record.  If the adoptive parents have great foresight, they can request the OBC then.  It’s only after the adoption is complete that the record is sealed.  I do understand that women who make the decision for adoption- often poor, young, scared women- want it kept private.  And I feel for that; I truly do.  But I don’t believe their “right” to privacy is greater than an adoptees right to documents about themselves.

One of my fears when I first started researching this is that if there is no hope for privacy, these birth mothers- again, often poor, young, and scared- may choose abortion instead of adoption.  But data shows that that’s not the case.  The states that have always allowed unrestricted access to OBCs have lower abortion rates than surrounding states, and the states that have recently opened up OBCs have seen abortion rates drop.  Here’s an article that goes into more detail and provides sources.

I don’t like secrets.  I think the world would be a better place if we were all a little more honest with each other.  And adoptees deserve honesty about their beginnings.

 

 

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Highs and Lows

Does anyone else feel like the weeks just fly by before you’ve even had a chance to blink?  Sometimes I feel like I’m in a race car and life is just whizzing by.  It’s all I can do to buckle up and hold on.

Sometimes at dinner we’ll talk about the best and the worst parts of our days.  In an effort to slow down, think, and reflect on my weeks I’m going to try blogging weekly about the highs and lows I’ve experienced over the past 7 days (ish…because let’s be honest, it won’t be exactly every 7 days).

High:  Closing my first big deal!

I made a complete career switch a year ago, leaving the corporate world for commercial real estate.  I love what I do now, but starting anything new is hard. There were times I struggled with insecurity over being the new girl, but  I think I had a good first year overall.  I closed 7 deals, most of which I dug up myself.  However, most were pretty small.  I leased a 545 SF retail space.  I leased a 1200 SF office.  I even leased a storage closet!  I’m fine with the small deals as they’re a great way for me to learn, but on Friday I landed my first sizeable deal- The commission from that one deal is 20% of my annual goal.  The adrenaline rush was awesome; I was smiling all day!  Hope I get a few more of those this year 🙂

Low:  Losing a deal.

I’ve been working with a local business man for many months trying to find him a perfect retail space, and we finally did!  We went back and forth on terms, defined the scope of construction, drew up a contract, had the attorneys review the contract, submitted the changes to the owner….and then he put the brakes on the deal.  It was a reminder that no deal is complete until the papers are signed.  I understood his reasoning and respected his decision, but it stunk to put time and energy into a deal that ultimately didn’t go anywhere.

High:  Meeting other adoptive parents!

In March I’m going to an adoption conference.  What do you do at an adoption conference, you ask?  Well, friends, it should be quite fun.  It’s a faith based conference so there will be prayer and worship time.  There will be a panel of adult adoptees.  There will be keynote speeches by experts in the field, and there will be break out sessions over things like attachment, discipline, ways to support orphan care, etc.  I’m excited for many things about this conference, but most of all I’m excited to meet other families like ours.  THESE WOMEN ARE JUST AS CRAZY OR MORE SO THAN I AM!  There’s a Facebook group for the conference and all these women are doing introductions like “Hey, I adopted 4,313 kids from foster care” or “Hi there, I had 3 biological kids and then we adopted 1 internationally and then a few years later their 4 siblings were relinquished so we adopted them too!”  I love it. I don’t know anyone else going.   Earlier this week there was a dinner for moms from the KC area attending the conference, and it was so great to meet them!

Low:  The Baby.

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You guys.  The Baby (I really need to figure out a new blog name for her since she’s nearly 2) may be possessed.  By demons.  For real.  She is cray cray right now.  She’s happy, she screams.  She’s sad, she screams.  She’s hurt, she screams.  She’s excited, she screams.  She’s angry, she screams.  She’s frustrated, she screams.  THERE IS SO MUCH SCREAMING.

High: Friends.

When I first moved to Kansas City in 2006 I had almost no friends.  The husband had some from high school; but we were settling down and they were still pretty rowdy at the time.  We eventually joined a small group at our church and ended up meeting some of our very best friends.  Everyone’s lives have changed significantly since we first met, but we’ve been diligent about getting together regularly even as we’ve had kids, changed jobs, left the church, etc.  I can’t really explain how much these people mean to me, and how lucky I feel that we’ve maintained our friendships over all these years.  We had an impromptu get together this week and I just loved enjoying a drink while watching each others kids and talking about our lives.  Good stuff.

Low:  The Refrigerator

We inherited our refrigerator when we moved to this house in May.  Although it was built in 1927, I have a certain fondness for it.  Mostly because of this:

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This nifty little door allows us to get milk, or whatever else, without opening the fridge.  It’s awesome and retro and practical and I just love it.  But our poor fridge has been leaking over the past several weeks.  We (okay, The Husband) has tried his very hardest to fix it, but it’s just time.  We had to buy a new fridge this week.  Bye bye, nifty little door.  And bye bye, savings.

So, those are my highs and lows from the past week- what are yours?

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Updating Our Birth Family

Here’s a great thing about living in America:  Things work.

Cars go where they are supposed to go.  Packages get delivered where they’re supposed to get delivered.  Water comes out when you turn the faucet, electricity doesn’t randomly go out, and when you order a Sprite they don’t bring you a Coke.

This is not true in many developing countries, Ethiopia included.  I LOVE my children’s birth country, but goodness it’s frustrating when things don’t work as they’re supposed to.

You have to do updates several times during the first year after you adopt from Ethiopia.  The social worker comes over, we hang out, and then she goes home and writes about how wonderful the kids are.  While she’s writing we have to gather pictures of the kids, tape them to a piece of paper just so, and then send 3 copies back to our adoption agency.  The agency keeps one, one goes to the Ministry of Women’s Affairs that oversees adoption in Ethiopia, and one goes back to the orphanage so the birth family can access it.  Every time we’ve sent one of these reports, I’ve included printed pictures that our kids’ families can take back with them, along with some drawings and writings from the kids.

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You might remember our adoption was a bit messy.  Our kids’ birth mom loves her kids and although she willingly relinquished them- something we had to make very sure of- it was a hard decision for her.  When we met her I looked into her tear-stained eyes and promised myself that I would take good care of her kids and that I would keep her updated on them.  This is a promise I was, and am, serious about.

A couple of months ago I came across the direct contact info for their orphanage.  I emailed the director and, long story short, realized HE HAD NEVER RECEIVED OUR PACKAGES!

Here’s what went down from there:

  1. I’M SO MAD I’M GOING TO MURDER OUR AGENCY!
  2. It’s probably not our agency’s fault, you know how the mail system works there.
  3. Let’s ask him for the address so I can send him packages directly
  4. Found out that the area he’s from literally has no street addresses.
  5. Call our local DSL to see if they can deliver to a small village in Ethiopia with just a name and contact number.  Sounds odd, but things work differently there.
  6. Nope.
  7. Cry thinking about this poor birth mom who has heard zero from us in nearly two years.
  8. Become DETERMINED to get her some sort of update, asap

So I start connecting with my adoption network and find out that many of them have dealt with this too.  Their solution?  They hire a searcher.  Although Ethiopia’s system seems foreign and complicated to me, there are plenty of people who get it and they make a living for themselves by tracking people down.

We already had experience with a searcher.  You might remember we had to hire one back when our case got complicated.  I emailed her immediately to see if she could help us with this case.  This would be ideal because she has already tracked down our birth family once, so it’s easier (and cheaper) for her to simply deliver things and take pictures now.  Simple solution, right?

Except that after replying to my first couple of emails she’s went cold.  I haven’t heard from her in days and I can’t get these pictures sent over quick enough.  I just keep thinking about their poor birth mother, wondering what on Earth happened to her babies.  If she could only see how tall they are, how long Diva’s hair is, how bright Smiles’s smile is.  If she could only know they’re both reading, that Smiles knows how to multiply, that Diva spends hours drawing princess pictures.  If she could only know that they are happy and healthy.  I have failed by this measure.  I must figure this out asap!

 

 

 

 

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