Thursday, June 23, 2011

Wavin' Flag

When I get older 
I will be stronger 
They'll call me freedom, just like a wavin' flag  

These lyrics permeated the diesel fumes and stale sweat that clogged the air while their van dawdled in typical Addis Ababa traffic.  They were taking Tariku for a CT scan of his brain.  Tariku was expressionless, slumped against Jessica's chest.  Per agency rules, Morgan was not allowed to hold him.  Steven had just landed in Addis and would meet Tariku for the first time minutes later on the outdoor steps of the one-room clinic.  The 2010 World Cup was still several months away.  This song would become its anthem.  And Tariku's.

I am not trying to be a drama queen.  Nor am I suggesting that K'naan's esoteric lyrics somehow resonate with my not yet two-year-old son.  His taste in music is not that refined.  I do find it befitting, though, that the World Cup video that accompanies the Coca Cola remix of Wavin' Flag has the same hypnotic effect upon Tariku that  Sesame Street has upon most toddlers.   Quite simply, Tariku is entranced by the colorful images of men and boys playing soccer.  

Let me back up a couple of years and share part of our morning routine with y'all.  (Amanda - that one's for you.)  I crave sleep the way most women crave ... shoes?  I do not want to forego a single minute.  It is no secret that my kids are usually awake and out of bed before I am.  Big whoop.  They entertain themselves by reading quietly in their rooms and completing puzzles.  NOT!  Their notion of "playing quietly" involves racing each other down the upstairs hallway, slamming doors, cackling (probably just giggling, but at that hour it sounds like cackling), singing, and whispering very loudly.  It is my least favorite part of the day.  I usually admit defeat within minutes, round up the troops, and tuck them into my bed to watch Sesame Street, Caiilou, Zooboomafoo, or whatever Sprout is showing at that god-forsaken-hour.  Not all that innovative, but it works worked.  And I got to brush my teeth and sometimes my hair.

Taki did not get that memo.  He has zero interest in the fuzzy (or bald)  friends that had my other kids at hello.  Quite frankly, he has little interest in TV in general.  Except, and this is quite an exception, if we are watching sports.  Football, soccer, basketball, hockey -- even baseball.  He stands still, which is a feat in itself, and stares.  Until something happens.  A goal is scored.  A touchdown.  A home run.  And then he hoots and hollers, arms thrown overhead, trying to create space between his feet and the ground, as he soaks up the moment.  It is a sight to behold and I'm willing to bet that his unchecked animation would make a sports fan out of the most bookish of you.  I have speculated, as mothers do, as to why he is so taken with sports.  Both watching and playing them.   I am conscious of stereotypes and want to state unequivocally that my suggestion that Taki loves sports is in no way tied, subconsciously or not, to the color of his skin.  His passion is tangible and comes from somewhere deep within.  It is not something that can be taught.  Nor is it something that can be learned.  It is one of many gifts that I did not bestow upon him.  Yet, it is a gift to me, to all of us frankly, to watch him do his thing.   Cuz' the boy knows what he's doing.  

But, in case you are prone to stereotypes, rest assured we are not raising "some dumb jock."  


And here is the Wavin' Flag remix that allows me just enough time to brush my teeth in the morning.   If we had to move on from Sesame Street, K'naan ain't so bad....

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Call me a hypocrite.

Every time I think this blog has been reduced to a few trite words and a smattering of cute kid pics, I find myself internally wrestling with a bigger issue and feel the need to spew my thoughts.

I thought I was done with all of the adoption talk.  After all, Tariku has been a part of our family for over a year, and it feels like even longer.  I have talked in circles regarding issues of privacy, trauma, attachment, development and so on.  Yes, I recognize that these are, in many ways, lifelong conversations, but I felt a contentedness that did not warrant further dialogue.  That is, until I started thinking about my Father's Day gift for my dad.

My dad used to ask each of his kids to choose a book for him for Father's Day.  As I've mentioned before, this was my not-so-subtle way to get my father to read books on subjects that were close to my heart.  Two years ago, however, he bought a Kindle Reader, so we needed to devise an alternate gift plan.  So instead of a book, he asked each of us to make a donation to a charity in his honor.  Again, this was a convenient way to kill two birds with one stone -- I'd get to support a charity of my choosing, all the while honoring my dad.

It's no secret that orphan care is an issue at the top of my list, so I started to wade through the many, many, many, many websites of NPOs providing "quality" care to orphans.  There are too many organizations with this mission (which should have been my first clue) and I was at a loss as to how I'd choose among them.  I perused cliche' ridden prose and glossy photographs of fly-covered orphans transformed by the care they received from such and such organization.  Tariku was in institutional care for five months -- I was not fooled.

But, it was still a battering to my ego to realize that my attention and efforts were completely misguided.  That these organizations that I have long supported all enter the game too late.  The children they claim to support are already orphans.  They have already lost their birth families to disease, poverty, or any combination thereof.  These organizations are merely putting band-aids on an often preventable injury that has already occurred.  Although nothing tugs at the heart-strings more so than the plight of the orphan, would it not be better to support an organization that prevents the injury from occurring in the first place?  An organization that works to improve maternal health?  Or one that focuses on the education and rights of girls?  Or an organization that specifically works to maintain families in developing countries?

We specifically chose AAI as our placement agency because of its reputation for conducting ethical adoptions.  In addition, AAI is reputed for it commitment to humanitarian projects within Ethiopia.  But, at the end of the day, AAI is in the business of placing children for adoption.  Not only do they have zero incentive to stanch the flow of orphans into their care, but to do so would put them out of business.  That said, there were orphans in Ethiopia long before the rush of international adoption, and there will be orphans remaining long after it winds down.

But, how many of these so-called orphans are being placed for adoption as an absolute last resort?

How many of them may have been able to remain with their birth families* if there were fewer organizations focusing on orphan care, and more resources directed to organizations that have education, economic empowerment, reproductive rights, and gender equality as their primary objective?

Then again, how many of these same kids would be dead?

I have an adopted son from Ethiopia.  My cynicism must make me sound like a hypocrite, or worse.  But, I am not content to look at him and be complacent.  Nor, am I wiling to cut the check and pat myself on the back.  

*As of April 2011, USCIS reports that in Ethiopia, mothers relinquish in 45% of cases, fathers relinquish in 18% of cases, 19% of cases are abandonments, and more distant relatives relinquish in 18% of cases.

Saturday, June 4, 2011


Revenge is even sweeter when you are a six-year old pixie with a ruffle-bottom, periwinkle bathing suit and your big-shot brother is a mere seven-years-old.  And he is outside in his skivvies, swinging a hose, ankle deep in a $10 inflatable pool.  My big hearted boy got what was coming to him.  But, not before showing his little brother how it's done.  Next time, I will try to bribe Sylvie and Taki into wearing something other than their birthday suits, so that I may publicly post photos of their hose slinging rivalry. 


Friday, May 27, 2011


Steven managed to convince Benjamin that he could run faster while playing soccer if he wore a mouth-guard.  I was late to join the conversation, but Steve's explanation had something to do with the fact that he could "run faster if he clenched his teeth -- which he could do if wearing a mouth-guard."  Benj seemed to buy into it, so I thought it best to suppress my guffaw.  I reasoned that if he was willing to wear a mouth-guard to "run faster," the protection it afforded his teeth was gravy.   It is still not obvious to me, however, why he chose a black mouth guard.  Not transparent.  Not white.  Black.  It looks to me like he has a wad of tar pressed up against his teeth.  To Tariku, it must look like a camera lens cover.  

Game face on.
Trying to look tough.
Does it look like he is running faster?

The mouth guard must be working.
Don't let his preoccupation with my sweater fool you...  When he is not watching Ben play, he is playing with him.  Sylvia, on the other hand, is truly more interested in her shoe than the soccer game.
Fast forward to today.  Taki wanted to play baseball.  He retrieved the gray plastic bat from the shelf in the garage and managed to knock down a tennis ball in the process.  It's all the same to him.  (Or so I thought.)  He proceeded to toss the tennis ball in the air and try to hit it with the plastic bat.  He was not having much success.  

Retrieving the tennis ball from the over-grown grass.
Got it.  Ready to try again.
Game face on.  
You can say you knew him when....
Getting in position.
Recognizing that things were not going well, and refusing to believe that he had lost his mojo, Taki attributed his lack of success to two things:  1)  the tennis ball; and 2) the lack of mouth-guard.  He quickly retreated to the garage to retrieve the wiffle-ball, which had rolled under my car earlier in the afternoon.   I cringed as he hunched down on his forearms on the crumbling, cement garage floor, derriere seemingly suspended in mid-air, and masterfully maneuvered a hockey stick to retrieve the errant wiffle-ball.  Wiffle-ball in hand, he detoured to the rear bumper of my mini-van -- where I had carefully placed my camera lens cover.  He picked it up.  Looked at it.  And popped it in his mouth.   When I "gently" yanked it out of his mouth and asked him what the @#$@#% he was doing, he replied simply, "Ben-min" (his nickname for Benjamin).  I gave the lens cover back to him.  Wouldn't you? 

Not sure if it was the ball change or the gear in his mouth, but suddenly he was a boy wonder -- making contact and running the imaginary bases.
This is how he runs.  All the while, he is chanting "run, run, run, run."
Until he stops to catch his breath.

Meanwhile, not to be outdone by Ben's and Taki's getups, Ellie sprouted ears, whiskers, and a tail to play a lion in the kindergarten play, Anansi and the Moss Covered Rock.  To say she was excited, would be like saying Madonna is a good dancer.  She was awake at 5:00am, in her costume by 5:07am, and standing at my bedside asking me to do her make-up by 5:15am.  I must say, the finished product was a sight to behold.  And, although she was cursed with my nasal voice, she was spared the misfortune of being tone deaf.  She owned the stage on Wednesday morning.  My fierce and fancy lioness sang to her heart's content and we roared in delight.

And, of course, Sylvie had to get in on the action.  But, the dear child was confused.  She perfectly coordinated her Dora pajamas with her hot-pink hair-bow and the neon flower painted on her cheek, but the lady-bug-balloon-bracelet just didn't cut it.  Red with pink?  C'mon.  Even this tomboy knows better.  I'll blame the transgression on Fancy Nancy, which I can recite in my sleep.  In Sylvia's world, like in Nancy's, there is no such thing as over-accessorizing.  

Can you see the "diamond" necklace she chose to complement the rhinestones on her dress for our morning at the zoo?

Friday, May 20, 2011

One year later.

Over the course of 365 days, Tariku has morphed into Taki (rhymes with "hockey") and has planted his flag as the heart and soul of our family.  The passive, weak, and exhausted baby we brought home one year ago is barely recognizable.  In his place, is a not-so-little guy who is as "strong as bull" in heart, mind and body.  His sense of humor is second to none, and his mimicking ability is uncanny -- not to mention his coordination with a ball and a stick. He loves his sisters and brother FIERCELY and is extremely possessive and protective of them -- as they are of him.  He is also quite protective of his personal space -- if someone gets too close, they are treated as foe until proven otherwise.  He has a wicked fast right hook and has clocked more kids than I care to admit.  We are working on it....   He walks, runs, skips, tries to jump, dribbles a soccer ball, and is working on dribbling a basketball.  He hugs with all his heart (and all his might) and adds a "mwah" at the end of his kisses for emphasis.  

Although many of his gifts are certainly "nature," I am quite certain that his skills with a cupcake are all "nurture" -- and it only took me two months to realize that he was not in fact cursing at me when he screamed uncomfortably loudly-- "mommy, aw-shits."   I was admittedly slightly impressed when I realized that he was merely asking for more "chocolate chips."  

So, without further adieu, I wish you a "Happy Home Day," beautiful boy. You have completed our family and have brought all of us home. (**should have posted this on 4/10/11)

Tariku's referral picture -- taken on December 8, 2009.  
This is the first photo we ever saw of Tariku.  
He was 4 months old.

These were taken at Layla House, AAI's orphanage in Addis Ababa, on April 5, 2010 -- the day I met Tariku for the very first time.  He was 8 months old.

The right side of his head had been shaven a month earlier and he was wearing pink pants....

And this is Tariku now.  One year later....

Lazy Sunday morning. 
Showing off his traditional Sidama outfit.
Walking the streets of the South End of Boston with his boys.
Tackle football in the North End of Boston.
  "The Snowy Day" is now merely "Peter."
Rocks are "baby balls."
Recognize the LaYlA HoWs gang sign?
Deep in thought about either the airplane or how he is going to snag Ben's basketball.
His nickname is Taki -- appropriately rhymes with "hockey."
Got sag? 
Even this pathetic stick was transformed into a "bat." 
Our neighbor's boardwalk bike.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Eye Candy.

Exercising my new motto, "less plan, more play."

Although the concierge at our Embassy Row hotel assured me that everything in Georgetown would be open by 10:00am, nothing was.

It was 10:05 on Sunday morning and we were cold. Our only options for warming little fingers and toes were Starbucks and Urban Outfitters. We knew that if we went into Starbucks, we'd be besieged with requests for old-fashioned donuts, hot cocoa, and blueberry muffins. So, we chose Urban Outfitters. Mind you, Urban Outfitters is a five-year-old girl's paradise. Fuchsia sequined headbands, faux crystal lamps draped with silvery sparkly stuff, over-sized hot-pink and black coffee mugs, teal and lavender big print floral quilts, tangerine shag bathroom rugs, and rack upon rack of dresses, jeans, and skirts adorned with bling, lace, or animal prints. I had no doubt that this haphazard pop-in would be the highlight of Ellie's trip to Washington, DC.

Well, if Urban Outfitters is a five-year-old girl's paradise, then it is an 18-month-old, newly-walking, toddler's very own Garden of Eden. Everything is at eye-level. Ripe for the picking. Readily available to his trolling hand. So, it should come as no surprise that I lost sight of Benj, Ellie and Sylvie for a brief moment while I peeled Tariku's fingers from around the rump of a small porcelain bunny. When I looked up, I saw the three of them across the store, hunched over a large book. Ben's eyes were wide and his hands were gesturing wildly. Sylvie was giggling. And Ellie was holding the book in the air, tilting it so that she could explore the over-sized photographs from various angles.

I got nervous. They were a little too interested, if you know what I mean. What if the book contained (gasp) obscene images?

Well, it turns out it did.

227 pages of full-frontal, full-color photographs of cupcake after delicious cupcake.

We bought the book. (What's New, Cupcake? by Karen Tack and Alan Richardson.) Scandalous. And made these cupcakes together. Piece of cake. Literally.