Saturday, May 26, 2012

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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

3 Weeks In.

I've been trying to get all our journalings in order, as both Patrick and I documented A LOT from our trip to bring Acacia home. However, at this point, the stories are better kept for our own memories, or to tell over cocktails at dinner parties. We've been home three weeks... and we know that, yeah, hearing about Africa is cool and all... but "How's Acacia doing?!" is the real topic everyone is interested in.

So, with due diligence to our travels, Click here for our (facebook) album of favorite pics from trip #2. For something that was not meant to be a vacation, it had some pretty great vaca-like moments.

Now for all things baby...

Acacia was freaking awesome for us in Addis. She rode around attached to me via baby carrier like a total pro. I even brought her (in a taxi) to the Embassy to pick up her visa, and then out shopping... and did this SOLO! Well, I had a translator, and a driver, but Patrick wasn't... able to accompany me. (I'd told him not to order that salad! FYI, do NOT under any circumstances, eat raw vegetables unless they are peeled when in 3rd world countries.)

It was the moment we entered the airport that this kid kinda lost her marbles. And I don't blame her- the Bole Int'l Airport is not a comfortable place, especially when your flight doesn't leave til 1AM and it's only 9. En route to London, and then to the States, she DID sleep a lot, but was an unhappy camper during waking hours. Our very last flight, a whopping 37 minutes from Newark to Boston, she must have sensed our relief, because she perked up and was pretty calm by the time we met up with my parents smiling faces outside the terminal. Strapping her into the car seat for her very first restrained car ride, I held my breath. But, shoveling her full of rice puffs seemed to keep her satisfied, and she was asleep by the time we made it home.

We put Acacia in our room for the first few days, then moved her into Zinnia's room (now, "The girls' room") with quick success. Minus that first night where her timeclock was all kinds of screwed up, she has slept approximately 12 hours a night ever since. I am SO afraid to jinx myself, but sleep has not been lacking in the least for any of us. Lately, Acacia's even been going down for naps and bedtime without crying... sometimes even giggling. Our secret? I do believe we've just been lucky enough to get a good egg when it comes to zzz's. However, my fostering her ability to self soothe hasn't hurt, either. Zinnia is the one having a tough time, now that she can't sing at the top of her lungs in the dark until she drifts off to sleep.

Zinnia has been having a rough time in general, as expected. Yet in just 3 weeks, we're starting to see the roles be established. Acacia now laughs and squeals JUST like Zinnia, to the point where I have to look to see who's making the noise. She copies her big sister pretty readily, so we have to constantly encourage Zinnia not to grab things, be pushy, etc. Zinnia is great at riling Acacia up, and we're still at a point where we appreciate the chaos as long as it's happy.

Food has not really been a struggle, just a learning experience. Acacia needs a constant reminder that there will always be enough food for her, and that she won't go hungry. We have to try to all eat together at all times, and she doesn't yet know how to stop eating when she feels full. Usually she has to get bored being in her highchair before she will stop. If a container of milk or a box of cheerios crosses her path of vision, laser beams shoot from her eyes. She used to scream, but now that she knows the sign for more, she's gotten comfortable in knowing she can communicate that she's still hungry. It's not that the orphanage starved her; they just followed their own schedule vs. taking a baby's hunger cues. Aka, she got fed when she could be, not when she needed to be. And, they fed those kids so fast, they didn't get a chance to even taste what they were eating (not that porridge or ground pasta had any flavor anyhow!) So far, Acacia will try anything, but definitely favors certain foods. Patrick has shifted his focus on Acacia when it comes to the eternal struggle to get our children to eat broccoli. Neither of them are giving him much satisfaction, but Acacia provides a glimmer of hope! And, considering that the other night she ate a plentiful helping of eggplant curry (filled with garlic!), I'm pretty sure we can say we have a good, healthy, non-picky eater on our hands.

Zinnia was probably the most cautious one year old on the planet. I remember hearing all my friends with children of the same age woefully telling tales of split lips and concussions and countless other scares as a result of the fearless pre-toddler. I just didn't have that problem with the now-three-year-old who will still opt to go down the stairs on her bum.

Not Acacia. She'd have taken ten flying leaps off the top stair by now if I'd let her. She's gotten two eggs on her little forehead from diving head first off the couch without reserve. When she falls on her face on our tile floor, which occurs at least a dozen times a day, there is no dramatic ado for an icepack or a band-aid (and not a plain one, a Dora one. Even though we only buy the plain ones). She gets back up without one tear shed. The funniest thing about Acacia is how much she loves water. She must get that from my dad. ;) She practically dunks her head into the bathtub, and purposely "gets water in her eyes," something we'd grown to learn was an all-time parental sin with our first born.

All in all, for only 3 weeks being home, we've had it pretty good. Acacia is turning into a very well adjusted kid, and the sisterly bond, though in progress, is starting to adhere. We are very excited and ready for Christmas, and gearing up for the first Kwanzaa celebration. (Kwanzaa runs from 12/26 to 1/1.) More on that endeavor in the coming week!

Happy holidays, everyone.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Africa, Day 3.

How is it that Acacia could so perfectly sleep through the night, but I couldn't manage? Maybe it was because I had so confidently announced that I'd conquered jetlag.

We started the day with a trip to the AHope Orphanage with the Gourley's (another adopting family). They were bringing donations to this home for children who are HIV+. Many of these children will never be placed in homes, which is a shame because they were all lovely. Two girls in particular captivated us. I would take turns holding each one of them as I could feel their silent hopes that I was coming to save them. After this experience, I can now understand why families return to Ethiopia to adopt more children after their first.

We arrived at the US Embassy after lunch. The 2 1/2 hour wait was well representing of the entire process. The visa interview took less than one minute, and was a clear case of much ado about nothing. On Thursday, Acacia's visa will be ready, and then she's only a plane ride away from US Citizenship.

We finished the day with dinner at a traditional Ethiopian restaurant. Our translator, Abraham (Ahh-Bee for short) reserved us a table that was front and center to the entertainment stage. A band was playing when we arrived, with instruments that were ancestors to our familiar ones. They were joined by an ensemble of performers that sang and danced. Acacia was such a trooper. After being dragged all over Addis by day, she still found the energy to dance in Killeen's lap at night. Four adoptive families tore injera bread together and drank honey wine. Some, like us, were finishing their journey, while others still had some road to travel. That night, we were family. Oh, and Killeen and I discovered that a few jars full of honey wine is the key to a good, African night's sleep.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

We got her! Ethiopia, day 2.

Outside our Guest House:

Getting into Addis was quite a blur. The plane ride here was nothing short of perfect, for when we departed DC for London, we had a free seat in our row. I think I slept at least 5 hours- awesome. When we changed planes in London? Free seat score #2! We can only hope this will happen on the way back, but I bet Murphy's law will prevent that bonus from happening when we need it most. The bummer about London -> Ethiopia as that it was a smaller plane, thus the giant movie library we enjoyed on previous flights was replaced by a movie schedule, and I can't say I was enticed by the provided documentary about the olympics in China. Regardless, the extra space was delightful. Our driver was ready and waiting when we past through the long customs lines, and we got to our Guest House around midnight. The accommodations are significantly better than those of the last trip, and that said, we slept like babies on the first night in.

At breakfast on Sunday, we were greeted by Niki Gourley, whom I'd met a few weeks back on my excursion to Baltimore. We met her husband Steve, and newly acquired baby Yoseph, who has the biggest, widest eyes, toothy grin, and affinity for drumming on anything his hands can thump against.

The other family here, the Lains, are a fun, friendly, adventurous clan of 4, soon to be 5 when their Ethiopian daughter's adoption goes through. They are from the states, but have been living in Mongolia the past few years. Need I say more to prove they are super interesting to talk to? :)

Patrick's last post covers the events of our Sunday, with church and a trip to the mountain tops. I have to add here how cool it is to be in this country again and be able to experience a little more of the land and the culture. The last trip didn't lend itself to hardly any sightseeing or the like - it was: Get in. Go to court. Get out.

Monday: THE DAY we've been waiting for. It was really hard to arrive on Saturday night, knowing we wouldn't get to see Acacia until Monday morning. So, when the moment finally came, we found ourselves back in the same room we'd said our goodbyes 4 months prior. It had been repainted, and along with some new furniture, it was now a much more pleasant environment (although my happier sentiments may also have helped). When a nanny rounded the corner with our daughter, she burst into tears at the handoff. Perhaps she'd been holding a grudge since our last visit. (Where did those fun people go, and why did they leave behind all these pictures of themselves?!?) I took it as a good sign that she had some attachment to her caregivers.

We made our peace over a bowl of porridge, followed by a short nap. The feeling of her little body and soft belly snuggled against my chest was something I'd missed beyond belief. By lunch time, we'd packed her up (which was easy, she only owned the two things we'd given her), and poof! she was our responsibility. Upon leaving, the director told us that she truly enjoyed our daughter, that she has her own unique way of communicating, and that she needs someone to unlock her smile.

Well, I'd say it took about an hour. I thought she'd be a major challenge when it came to the expression department, but that little girl was ready to be done with institutionalized life. She smiles, and smirks, and giggles amongst all the frowns. She blows lots of raspberries. She shows clear and incredible pride when she accomplishes a small goal, like bending down to pick up a small object without falling on her bum. When something drops to the floor, she makes a huge deal about it, gasping and pointing even if it's a practically invisible crumb of food. She despises the beginning of a diaper change, but cooperates considerably by lifting her legs to help me.

Our first night, when I put her to bed, I found that she rocks herself side to side to fall asleep. It was both the cutest and saddest thing I've ever seen. When she was officially out, still sitting up and slumped over, I leaned her back and she settled onto her tummy, wiggling her bottom like a happy puppy. She only made one squeak all night long.

When we rose in the AM, she looked a little surprised, but broke into a huge grin. No baby, it's not a dream... you really do have a family! I will remember this moment when I'm stuck in an airplane over the Atlantic, and she's clearly not so happy with me. I know this is the "honeymoon phase," but I am currently intent on enjoying this African honeymoon.

First night with Mom and Dad!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Back in Ethiopia by Patrick

Back in Ethiopia. The familiar smells of burning diesel and rich coffee are uncanny. New friends include the Africa sun and mosquitos. This morning we attended a non-denominational church with other adoptive families that were staying at our guest house. While not my path, I was inspired by the congregation and reminded of the passion that can exist in one's life.

Later we drove 45 minutes to the first break in the treeline that overlooked Addis Ababa. A small path diverged from the road, and invitingly wrapped around a corner into the woods. Our teenage driver stopped and our montley crew of four adults and two kids exited the vehicle. The driver was nervous and began asking us what we were doing in his native tongue. Maybe telling the guest house that we didn't need a translator wasn't the greatest idea. He started pointing at the path and saying "No road!" He was adiment. He started pulling in expert witneses to build his "No road" arguement. We were convinced. I would be sure to even tell my friends and family that this path into the woods, should indeed, never be classified as a road. While the belief that our friends' particular concern was proper geographic classification, even I am not that void of common sense. Then it clicked, he thought we were going to walk back to the guest house on this road, I mean, whatever. We were able then to calm him down and let him know not to leave us behind while walked down, uhm, the path?

The walk was invigorating. Full of unique vegetation, and impressive views of the capital. As we continued our surroudings became more remote. Since the road was no longer visable, we decided not to assume that our driver was going to wait for us long.

Back at the van, we were mobbed by a group of kids looking for candy. We were reduced to handing out vitamin c drops. At least we did our part for the day to battle scurvy.

Pictures and video are proving to be harder to upload. They will come, but may be another day or two. Tomorrow we reunite with Acacia. From that point forward we take the next step in our path to Acacia. Thank goodness, we didn't choose the name "Road to Acacia."

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Ethiopia, Trip #2

3 days 'til takeoff! ...Help!

We have been non-stop for the last week. I watched other cleared families get on a plane the VERY next day, and still have no idea how they did it! We could have flown out over this past weekend (which is what our agency was expecting us to do) but we felt it best to have a full week to prep, and to leave just after the holiday.

Amongst the packing, booking, planning and cleaning, we have also been doing our best to revel in the last few days with our firstborn, as our family is about to change forever. Sunday morning we all snuggled in bed, reading and tickling and laughing like crazy before going out to breakfast with some of our best buds on the planet. It was a great pause in the hectic weekend to truly enjoy life just as it is in the present, while finally having the peace that Acacia is about to assume her rightful place within her forever family.

The day after a very thankful Thanksgiving dinner at my aunt and uncle's house, we'll leave Manchester and fly to Dulles in DC. From there, we stop in London for a few hours (meet us for tea, MJ???) and then continue on to Addis with a 10pm arrival (which is 2pm on Saturday, our time).

We're staying at the Ethiopian Guest Home , and will be driven there upon arrival. I wish I could say we'd wake up Sunday and have our long awaited moment of taking her in our arms forever... but the transition home where she lives is closed on Sundays! Our entire first day in Ethiopia, we'll be ten minutes away from her, and unable to see her. Irony at it's finest. The nannies are there with the children of course, but other supporting staff gets the day off, and well they should. We will spend Sunday drinking the best coffee on earth, and shopping at Merkato. Merkato is the largest open air market in Africa, covering several square miles and employing an estimated 13,000 people.

Monday will be the day we've been waiting for since we first saw that little face in a photograph on April 27th. When we met Acacia for the first time, I marveled and delighted and all that, but always in the back of my mind was that I'd have to leave her. This is the trip I've been dreaming of.

When Acacia comes into our custody, she's ours, and ours to care for. It will be a wake up call! The guest house will be filled with other adoptive families, so I'm sure we'll all be swapping hair care tips, asking feeding questions and trading too-small and too-big clothing.

Tuesday is our Visa appointment at the Embassy. So far, every family has made it through the appointment smoothly.

Wednesday, we will go visit Numan orphanage (and leave Acacia with the Nannies at the Guest House). It's a three hour drive south to rural Assela Town, and I hope our van has a huge "oh-shit" handle - Ethiopians drive fast, and there aren't any lines on the roads. We will be bringing all your donations with us, and spending some time around Acacia's home turf. I can't wait.

Thursday is wide open for whatever the week brings us, and I'm hoping we can travel somewhere noteworthy with another family or two. We depart Thursday night, again crossing through London, then to Newark and into Manchester at 3:53 pm on Friday afternoon.

If you've made it to this point, then you've read a LOT about this adoption. Thank you! Though we will be laying low for the next few months, I do want to invite anyone who so desires to meet us at the airport when we arrive home. I am not one to enjoy a lot of fanfare, but the moment that my two daughters meet for the first time as sisters chalks up there with the most important moment in my life to date. I keep imagining that moment much like a bride imagines her walk down the aisle. Even if both kids are screaming, it will be the happiest moment of my life! So, naturally, anyone who wants to share in it is invited. No need for rsvp's or anything... just show up to Manchester Airport before 3:53pm on Friday, 12/2.

Next update coming at you from Africa!

XXOO, Killeen

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The post I've been waiting 2 years to write.

November 21st, 2009, we attended a Q & A adoption meeting. A darling set of parents, with a twice-as-darling daughter from China, sat with us and a few other couples in the community room of a little church. They showed us a video, talked about the agency they represented, and spent about 10 minutes covering each country with an open adoption program. We left, saying "seems pretty cool." A few weeks later, we were plopping our initial paperwork in the mail with a non-refundable $100 deposit.

We always wanted to adopt, but honestly, we hadn't put a lot of intense thought into it. It just seemed right, we simply both agreed it would be a great way to grow the family we wanted. We knew there were all sorts of challenges that came with adoption, but we didn't really know what they were. No risk, no reward, right?

Never in a million, trillion years did I think I'd find myself, almost exactly 2 years later, on my knees on my kitchen floor, crying "Thank you... Thank you... Thank you..." after four months of pure uncertainty that my baby girl would ever come home.

As covered in my last post, on Oct. 11th, our case was deemed "not clearly approvable," and forwarded to Nairobi, Kenya's Central Immigration Office (CIS) for further review. When we found out that CIS was instead coming to Ethiopia to address the problem in country, there was a glimmer of hope. 11/7 - 11/18 was the slated length of their stay, and they committed to reviewing all of the cases that had been flagged for Kenya.

I went to Baltimore on the weekend of 11/5, to be with 4 other adoptive mamas stuck in the same mess. Out at lunch, only having met each other in person the hour before, you'd have thought we'd been friends for 10 years. We dissected and analyzed and ruminated over our cases and our predicament. We flip-flopped between hope and fear and back again. It was so amazing to be able to talk so freely about something so complicated, because all 5 of us knew exactly how each other felt, without having to explain one word of the story. I sat there, rather impressed that I'd just put myself on a plane to spend the weekend with strangers. I don't do that! But then it hit me: No, I don't do that. But Acacia's Mom does.

It was a really powerful realization. I sat in the airport waiting for my departure flight back to NH on Sunday eve, and I wrote the kid a letter to give to her when she's ready to hear her story. It was the first time I'd really let her back into my heart since I left her, versus trying to block her out of it because it hurt too much to be so far away. Then, it occurred to me that this, that all of this, was preparing me for what I'd naively set myself up for two years ago. If this had been easy, my perception of adoption would remain inaccurate, and I probably would have floundered when it came time to step up to the challenge of being an adoptive parent. Instead, I've had to reach deep to get through feelings of loss and grief; the very things I will have to help Acacia get through in the future.

News from USCIS has been filtering in this last week and a half. I've cheered for the families who cleared, and cried for the families who got unfavorable news regarding the need for more lengthy investigation. Each day that passed without news of my own wore me down a little more. Yesterday, the new friend I stayed with in Baltimore received the dreaded, not-so-good email. As soon as I got that word, I fled work, devastated for her, and knowing I couldn't just sit at my desk and await the formidable email myself. I knew it was coming; we'd had a hunch that our cases were grouped together.

So when it came, not 20 minutes after I'd reached home, I called Patrick before opening it. (His email is blocked at work, thus I was appointed messenger.) It was a password protected PDF, and though it was only 5 characters, I managed to mess it up twice. Poor Patrick just sat there on the other end of the line, shouting "What is it, what is it??!!"

There is nothing like opening an email that changes the course of your life. When I saw the clearance, it knocked the wind out of me. A four month question had just been answered.

There's so much more I could say, but I haven't slept in a week. :) Regardless, I HAD to write something tonight, because I know how many of you have been admittedly stalking my facebook page (which means there's plenty of you that I don't know about!) This has been hard for those of you who care about us, too. We recognize that, and are so, so thankful to be able to give you the good news I believe we've ALL been waiting for. Followers, your investment in our lives is clear, and held dear.

We plan to leave the day after Thanksgiving, and will come back the first weekend in December. I will post official travel dates when the flight is booked.

In closing, the picture at the top of this post seemed a little silly at the time, but in essence, that's me holding up my positive pregnancy test. Two years later, I am being rewarded for the risk I hardly even knew I was taking.

Oh, and Happy National Adoption Month. :) May you be encouraged, not discouraged, by our story, should you ever find adoption to call to you. I can assure you, it's the most meaningful choice I will ever make.