Monday, June 25, 2012

Monumental Milestone

I was standing at the counter and making dinner when I felt two little arms wrap around my leg.  Thinking it was Maliah, I looked down to see a head full of curly black hair.  Nestled up next to me, my sweet boy held on to my leg tight.  That could have been simply enough ... my heart felt so full

But the Lord gave me more.

Looking up, he muttered these sweet words ...

"Momma, I luf you" (all on his own, without prompting)

My eyes filled with tears.  I've waited 5 long months to believe and know that there was a space in his heart opening up for me.  He loves his Daddy - no doubt ... but Mommy often gets the "punishment" for being the one to make him tow the line.  I have been on the receiving end of some very opposite moments, including one where he shook his little finger at me and told me "Zebene no love Momma - Zebene love Daddy".  Even at 38, we want acceptance and to know we are loved.  We look for some sort of validation in our relationships and on that night, those words felt like a knife to my heart.  I remember putting him to bed - not even able to fight back my tears I told Zebene "You have made Momma's heart sad".  I walked out of the room, closed the door and sobbed.  I know he is 4 and what he said, he may have not even have understood.  But the reality is, his actions reflected on most days, those very spoken words.  To hear them expressed was more than I could handle.  I remember wondering if I'd ever find a way into that space in his heart.

So, June 24, 2012 will forever be a day etched into my heart.  On that day, I saw a piece of his heart open up for me.  I picked him up and hugged him tight.  I told Z that I loved him too ... and we squeezed "monkey hugs" we call it.   A simple exchange that so often parents take for granted ... but on this day, one that I will never forget.

"Love never fails".   1 Corinithians 13:8

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Truth be told ...

Standing at the register, I notice the young man behind the counter who is checking out my groceries, looking at the T-shirt I have on.   A shirt with the continent of Africa on it, scripture on the front and back about the orphan/adoption ... one of the many that adorn my closet (thank you adopting families!).  He comments that he thinks my shirt "was" an adoption shirt - as if since, he has changed his mind about what I might be promoting.    Responding, I tell him that his first reaction was correct ... that I have two adopted children, one from Ethiopia and one from China.

THEN ... it comes, the first of two questions that leave me pondering the depth of education within our country.

"oh, if you adopted from Africa then why do you have the shape of TEXAS on your shirt"? 

Feeling like I am not sure if I should laugh or cry, I choke back any fleshly response I'd like to give and sweetly tell the young African American boy that indeed, this is the continent of AFRICA on my shirt and the heart is where Ethiopia is (you know, as in one of the country's within the continent of AFRICA'S borders).

This isn't my first rodeo with someone struggling with Geography.  I can't even tell you how many people have not known that Ethiopia is a part of Africa.  I even had one sweet lady stick her foot in her mouth before Z came home when she was telling me in a rather judgmental tone that "her friend was adopting from Africa ... that her child would be black".  This, all the while, we had just had a conversation about my ETHIOPIAN adoption and son with great support and excitement.  I often wonder if she ever found her foot when she saw a globe and realized that Ethiopia was indeed - Africa.

Anyways ... following this interaction , comes the mother of all questions.

From a beautiful and well dressed woman standing behind me in line and listening in on the conversation we've just had, she leans in and asks ....

"So, which one of your children cost more ... the one from China or Ethiopia?  Because a friend of mine told me that the kids from Russia cost the most".

After picking up my jaw off the floor, taking a few deep breaths and counting back from 10 ... I look this sweet woman in the eyes and answer.

"Both of my children were free".

Briefly pausing, I notice a very bewildered look on her face.  I go on to explain my response ...

"Well, in fact, my children were orphans and like all adoptions ... it's not the child that you are paying for (since that would be actually called trafficking), but the process itself is a process full of travel, home studies, an agency that must do all the work and more, Immigration services/fingerprinting etc.  Those things can indeed be costly ... but so is daycare in the States."

She smiles and says "Oh, that makes sense".  But I wonder.  Really,  does it?  

I don't fault this sweet lady for her question or misinformation.  Yes, indeed, thank you to all those magazine articles and misreported news stories that tells of "Rich" white Americans spending thousands for children abroad (desiring to be like, perhaps Angelina and Brad) that most people are uneducated about the truth of International Adoption.  Most people do believe we are "buying them" and don't understand why it must cost so much.  Perhaps if "they" (PS - who are "they" anyways?) knew the reality of those expenses and where they went, the stories and their opinions would sound a little different.  So let's see if I can break down some of them for you (or rather them - since likely my reader is too on this road of "services").    I won't bore you with all of them ... but you will get the point.

First, what you often hear is "that agency charges $30,000 for an adoption".  Being on the Board of one very strong agency  ... I can assure you, this couldn't be further from the case.  On the contrary, most agencies spend a great deal of finances to even open an adoption program, to keep the program running in a country, to promote adoption and to service families through the process.   A little misnomer is that these agencies are charging families hefty fees and making all sorts of income/profits doing it  ...
The truth be told, while an agency has to often run like a business, Adoption is actually a ministry - the ultimate calling of a "missionary", only this time the field is coming home!

Here's a little explanation of some of those costly fees
  1. The "program" fees for our agency currently is broken into 3 parts and paid at 3 points in the process.  Realize that most IA adoptions are 2 plus years and each family is assigned a family coordinator to carry their case, help with building the Dossier, review for errors, take our calls/concerns, book our travel, have an entire in country staff doing all the background investigations on our child's paperwork, in country attorney's, embassy submissions, court appointments and more.  Many times, a family does not even know the extent an agency worked to prepare their child's identity/paperwork to be eligible for adoption.  That fee is currently - $6,000.  Since many adoptions are 2 plus years, that's about $3,000 per year to process your entire adoption.  This is the only fee that gets paid directly to the agency.  I've paid more than that for carpet/flooring installation in my home - a much less eternal and meaningful task, I might add.   
  2. Orphanage Donation - currently $9,000 (broken into 2 payments).  While this sounds like a lot.  Let's do a little thinking.  I have friends who pay $1,000 plus a month for their children(s) childcare each month.  I don't seem to question that.  That is care given just during the day, does not provide food/bottles or diapers.  This donation goes back to the orphanages/transitional homes ... think of it as the payment for your child's stay ... night/day until we/you arrive and bring them home.  In Ethiopia, each child stays in our agencies Transitional home until they are able to finally make their way home.  Their are many Nanny's, a doctor, and a child's psychologist on staff.   The children eat 3 meals a day, receive bottles, changes of diapers and more.  They are also prescribed antibiotics as needed.  While that sounds like a hefty bill, my child was in an orphanage and or this Transitional Home for 1.5 years ... that payment is nothing - considering.   
  3. Home Study - $3,400 plus another $600 when we did an update.  Yes, a social worker spent 4 lengthy visits interviewing us, reading through mountains of paperwork and writing the home study that will go to our sending country.  It's a necessary fee and from my knowledge, Social Worker's aren't the highest paid job in the country.  You can't adopt without a home study as this is the portion of the process that ensures that a family is ready to bring a child into their home.   Just as with any service, a fee is charged for the labor and materials of that service.  To add, most home study fees are not set by the adoption agency - but the state and area that a family is adopting through.   The price of a home study can vary depending on the area of the country you live so your price might look different than mine.
  4. Filing my I-600 paperwork with our country's USCIS/Immigration - $830.   That fee allows a family/child's paperwork to be processed with immigration services.  This process not only gives permission for a family to bring an orphan into the borders of our country, but allows the child to arrive home a United States Citizen on the appropriate Visa.  What an honor!  
  5. Health Inspections on my home (required for home study) - $46 
  6. Birth Certificates (certified) - $76.50 for both of us
  7. Marriage license - $9.97
  8. Police Reports for our Home study (to show clearance that we aren't sex offenders - you get the point) -$30
  9. TB tests and physicals for Doug and Cristie - $338 (required for home study)
  10. Physical for Canyon (my oldest son who does not meet the insurance requirement for physicals) - $110 (required for home study)
  11. Blood work (required for home study and prove we are healthy) - $800 (yes, our insurance STINKS - but that is another debate!)
  12. Our first set of flights for our court trip - $5,238 ... uh huh, that 30K "they" like to throw out includes traveling to a foreign country.    We traveled twice and brought our oldest two children.   Legally, this is a requirement trip made by the sending country and is not a requirement by the agency facilitating the adoption.   On this trip, we stood before a Ethiopian judge and went to court.  On this day, Zebene was declared legally a "Martine".   For Maliah, we spent two weeks in China and not only facilitated the adoption, but took in the culture/sights/sounds and beauty of this country (one in which we might have never traveled - the ultimate vacation!)
  13. In country travel package for 4 people - two weeks - $3,600 (trip one).  This included our guest house stay (with breakfast each day), guides, translators, and various meals including a traditional Ethiopian Meal.   For Ethiopia, families are not required to stay for two weeks - however - we took this opportunity to love on our sweet boy and immerse ourself/children in the culture of his birth.  While the trip was costly, the experience was priceless!  
  14. Trip 2 - two flights there, 3 tickets home (1.5 weeks notice to book = expensive flights) - $5,000. Once the US Embassy cleared our son for a visa, we traveled again to bring him home.  There is little notice to travel once the Embassy clears a family so short notice booking of flights can be costly.  
  15. Trip 3 - $1,500 - in country fee's.  Once again, this included breakfast each day, our stay at the guest house, in country guides and staff that met us at the airport and were with us the ENTIRE stay in Ethiopia - assuring that all the paperwork was process correctly and we enjoyed the visit of our child's birth country.  
I could go on and on with all the little fees along the way.   The fees to mail off your documents.  The fees to authenticate all your documents with the state department ($10 per page in that HUGE dossier).  
But do you get the point?  My "child"/children didn't cost anything.  They are not a commodity.  I did not hand over $30,000 to my agency or his/her families in exchange for them!  I paid for services and expenses to complete the necessary and appropriate legal paperwork that allowed me to adopt each of them - and I'd do it again!!  Yes, some countries are more costly.  Some countries you are required to travel twice and some once.  It's more expensive to stay in Russia than in Ethiopia.  China only asks you to come once but the stay is lengthier.   Kenya requires families to foster their child within the country and that stay can be a lengthy one.  Haiti's flights are cheaper than say, Africa.  Ukraine and Russia require lengthier stays and often multiple trips.   You see the point.  My agency is a "non-profit" agency and I can assure you, that they are not becoming "wealthy, rich American's" by charging me $6,000 to help me complete my adoption - one that took two years to do.  That agency, or any other has employees that must be paid too, to make this all happen.   Without their facilitations and their relationships with the sending country, most of these children and families would never be united.  

Do you see the point?  My answer has always been that my children are "priceless" to which is still a very true answer.  However,  I know people who pay far more for their cars than I did for an adoption and amazingly, no one at the check counter comments on the expense of my vehicle nor questions it's validity to make that happen.  No one asks about where the $30,000 on that new car is spent.  The labor, the materials or the "profit".  We blindly pay the cost on an item that will one day depreciate and fall to pieces and yet, their seems to be much criticism in the world about the "cost" of adoption.  But, you are right.  The reality is, adoption is an expensive process ... because it is a PROCESS ... one that has to be paid for to make happen.   The education needs to be the perspective of the adoption itself.  Adoption is a ministry - a calling.  Those families are missionaries.  The Lord says "Go and make disciples of all nations".  How beautiful is the calling of International Adoption.  First, the Lord is creating families and second, as families, we get to make disciples of all the nations - right within our own homes!   Indeed, their is a price to be paid!  

So I hope that a little education can begin to set the record straight once and for all.   Though my children are PRICELESS ... I did not buy THEM!   I hope that you will look differently at a family adopting.  Perhaps you will see the bigger story the Lord is writing in that calling - one that isn't set by the boundaries of money and join them - and support them along the way.  

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

A boy and his bug!

I love these photos.  These were taken on my phone at church on Sunday.  Z had discovered a cicada bug and was deep into observation - true Zebene fashion.  Without a care in the world, he had no clue that a crowd had gathered and were watching as he sweetly observed each part and movement of it.  He was on his own stage - and hadn't a clue or care.  As he got closer he told me "eating fingewls" - motioning with his fingers and mouth what the bug was doing as he got right down in it's face to take it all in.

Most think that because he arrived from Africa that creatures, insects and more were common place to him.  In reality, Addis Ababa is at a very high elevation.  While we saw lots of wildlife - goats, donkey's, monkeys and such ... I recall on my 3 trips this year, very few bugs and insects. But Welcome to Texas - land of BIG bugs and LOTS of insects!  Z was not so sure of creepy crawly things upon arrival home.  So, these moments below were one more proof that Z is acclimating and becoming "All Texan".

Just a boy and his bug!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Deeper than words

One of our most frequently asked questions when it comes to Z's transition is "How is his language coming along" or "Does he speak English"?

It's funny to me that this is the most asked question.  Language was one of the last concerns I had during this adoption process.  I mean, he's 4 - I was most certain that he'd learn fairly quickly.  I had also heard from others that it was something to not be concerned about as they pretty quickly will pick up words.    And it is true, we can communicate for the most part.  Zebene can most assuredly tell us his needs, initiate conversation, play with his siblings, point out pictures in books, sing songs and more.    We are on the right track and I am amazed at his progress he has made.

Yep, for all your wondering minds -  here we are - 17 weeks later ...and that darn kid can't keep quiet.  Most days, I breathe a great sigh of relief as I close his door for bedtime.  Not because of any other reason than my ears need a break.   Literally, this kid asks questions and talks ALL. DAY. LONG and yet calling it a "question" might be a stretch.  More like, a continual barrage of "Ken I's" (can I's) ... followed always by the funniest "O-KAY".   And one might think that an "O-KAY" would mean an understanding of what that parent/child just said, or perhaps an agreement of understanding ... but that is not the case.  Nope, "O-KAY" is just well, something he's heard everyone else say and gets a Mom or a Dad to stop "talking" so someone can go back to playing so someone says it - LOTS! 

For example;
Zebene "Mommy, Ken I, Zebene jump"?  (pointing to a trampoline at a home we were at)?
Mommy "Oh, no Zebene ... no jump (a trampoline without a net + 4 children = catastrophe - no thanks)
Zebene "O-KAY"

a few seconds (not minutes - seconds) pass.  I look over and see - who - why yes, Zebene - JUMPING!

So you ask yourself, did he not get that conversation like I though he did ... or was that just simply 4 year old defiance???  This is my perpetual question.  Daily.  Minute to Minute!   Defiance or understanding?

It's like that all day.  "Zebene come to Mommy ... it's time to go" (as Z hides under the dining room table).  - a few minutes pass - "Zebene, Mommy said come (feeling like I'm calling a dog), please come to Mommy".  Still no movement (though I can see him under the table).   More time lapses - "Zebene, COME ... we are going bye bye".  - Wait, Wait, and Wait some more -
Leaning forward, I grab two little arms and drag him from under the table.  Looking into his huge brown eyes and his mischeivious smile I say (sternly) "Zebene, when Mommy says come ... you come ... do you understand"?  Zebene responds "O-KAY".
AAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!  UGH!   Yes, we've had that conversation before - in the last 20 minutes!!

Or how about this - Zebene kicks someone and I say "Zebene, we don't kick".  Looking at me and repeating one of his most favorite phrases he has picked up on, he says "I didn't". (while shaking his head no and making this expression on his face that says "who me ... how dare you?")
Feeling like my head might pop off, I say "Zebene, you did ... I saw you kick!  Did Zebene kick"?  Zebene looks at me again with those same big ol' brown eyes and responds "Des" (shaking his head).  "Then Zebene, you DID kick ... and you can't say "I didn't".  Do you understand?
Repeat this one - 10 plus times per hour.  Seriously!

So yes, Zebene can communicate his needs.  He's learned lots of words and some of them blow me away.  I mean, the fact that he can call the "Chinchilla" a "Chinchilla" in the animal book is pretty darn impressive.  Seeing as how I didn't have a clue what a Chinchilla was until - oh - 17 weeks ago, I am pretty impressed.  But it's these things ... the times where you are trying to discipline.  The times you put him in a "time in" and after a few moments you go back and try to have a "conversation" with him about what has happened and you say at the end "Do you understand" and he looks at you with this wildly blank look on his face and then smiles and says "O-KAY" - only to repeat the same action not 5 minutes later.

YES YES YES, I know you will tell me - he's four.  That's not it peeps.   Nope, while my kid has many words and can say them - often in the right context - I don't think he often understands them at depth.  THIS is the one thing I hadn't considered when I thought language.  But true, deciding when something is defiance vs. understanding is super hard.

Having words - doesn't mean understanding!

Most folks think "language, conversation, meeting needs", those are the big concerns.  But the reality is, it's the things that go deeper ... Discipline, explaining what will happen next, what "summer" is and why his brother's and sisters aren't going to school, what a "Break" means or yes, "I didn't".  Man, that one has stumped me and made me crazy.  If I hear "I didn't" in response to one more correction - I might blow a gasket.   Think about it though.  If you were to tell someone, don't say I didn't when you "did" - "I didn't" means "you didn't" do something.  WHAT!!    Ummmm ... and well, what is "Did" anyways?  So confusing!

I could rattle on and on.  But then, I might sound like Zebene ... filling the walls of this room with all sorts of words - sometimes needed - but most often, just spoken to be heard.
So, I'll stop mumbling and sum this one up by saying that Zebene has words - lots of them.  He uses them all day long.  And we can communicate our needs and all the basics throughout the day.  He's super cute to listen to ... but now, we are praying we can communicate to a deeper understanding.

O-KAY?  "O-KAY"!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Pressing fast forward

The past month has been a whirlwind.  I don't foresee the next months looking much different.  My time to post/blog has become overshadowed by a list of to do's that is growing longer by the day.
I think, somewhere between the last mid May and today (June 17), someone placed their finger on my fast forward button and didn't let go.

Dakota's 10th Birthday - May 20, 2012 (celebrated May 19)
An All girl's day with her bestie

Last week of school - Awards, Carnival, Programs, Showcases 
and more - May 21-25

The hours of coloring, cutting, and pasting at home with Big Sister has paid off.  

Maliah was the star of her program.  Just check out this one picture ... watch out Broadway, their is a new Drama Queen.

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