Tuesday morning

My eyes popped opened at 4:30 this morning and there was no going back. Normally, if I wake up early, I can roll over and fall back asleep. For instance, night before last I was awoken by Brent combing through my hair like a monkey hunting for bugs in his lady monkey’s fur. I said, “What are you doing?” He didn’t answer. Instead, he pinched an invisible bug between his index finger and thumb and rolled away from me. I just shrugged my shoulders and went back to sleep. But not today.

 

This morning is different because we have a 3-year old sleeping in our room with us. He fell asleep last night around 7:00 and is still going strong. (My fur groomer is still sleeping, too.) The hotel loaned us a toddler bed and camo sheets. It’s just like a pack-n-play but big enough to hold a toddler mattress. We wondered how he’d adapt to sleeping without other kids and in a strange place but he’s done beautifully so far.

 

Part of the reason I think I woke up is because there are REALLY LOUD African birds outside our window. One feathery fellow has a mutli-note, repetitive call akin to the whippoorwill. (Disclaimer: Not much of an ornithologist, I have no idea what I’m talking about here.) Instead of calling “whip-poor-will” this African bird sounds like it’s saying “Can-we-just-skype?” If I were going to write the call musically, it would be half note, half note, quarter note, half note. I know it sounds crazy but I’ve been lying here in the growing light of morning trying to figure out what it’s saying and that’s what I’ve decided.

 

I don’t know why I’m compelled to tell you this. For some reason, I’m afraid I’ll try to remember what the bird said later on and I’ll draw a blank. In fact, I’m afraid all of this week will be lost in my memory bank once we get back to the U.S. Sure, we’ll have pictures and videos. I can look back at my journal and read what we did and how we felt. But what I don’t want to lose is the realness of being Ezra’s mom. I won’t be able to accurately recall how smooth his skin feels or the warmth of his body as he snuggles into my chest. I’ll still be his mom even when he’s thousands of miles away from me but it won’t be the same.

 

My fellas are starting to stir so I’ll sign off until I can write again tonight. Until then, pray for us.

Meet You Day

If you’re at all familiar with adoption stories, you’ve heard of “Gotcha Day.” Many families mark the day the parents brought their adopted child home and continue to celebrate it every year. In some cases like ours, the “Gotcha Day” comes after a visiting trip so the parents add the “Meet You Day” to their list of celebrations. For us, that day was today, October 6.

 

I started off the morning with my Daily Bible reading. I like to use the Bible set up in chronological order with 365 daily readings. For today, the reading was from—get this—Ezra 7-8. Today…of all days… When I got to the part in Ezra 8:21-23 where Ezra says, “I proclaim a fast, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask Him for a safe journey for us and our children,” I was floored. I’m trying not to read too much in this passage about Ezra, the great teacher, leading the Jews out of Babylon…but come on. Brothers and sisters, can I get a witness?

 

A driver from our hotel and a social worker rode with us to the orphanage. If you haven’t had a chance to ride in a car on the streets of Kinshasa during rush hour, you should really look into it. It will make you pray like a saint and poop in your pants like a toddler. There’s lots of honking and careless pedestrians and driving on the sidewalk and many, many near misses. (Last night, we also saw a robot traffic light.) Our soundtrack for today’s adventure was tape mix with five or six Michael Jackson songs played on a loop. Seeing that it’s an hour-long ride, we got to hear the profoundly relevant lyric, “it don’t matter if you’re black or white” several times.

 

As soon as we got to the orphanage, I started scanning the yard for Ezra. I didn’t see him but I saw several adorable kiddos, younger than our fellow. We were shown into an office for a chat with the director. We stepped outside for a few minutes and when we returned to the office, he was there. I recognized him immediately. I scooped him up and held him in my lap. He snuggled in like it was something he does every day. He smiled and let me kiss his cheek. I had brought a teddy bear and a toy car, so I got those out of my bag to play with him while the adults around us chatted. Because I’m good at sharing, I let Brent take a turn holding him, too. He responded to both of us with warmth and affection. When it was time to leave, we buckled him in between us in the back seat and he fell asleep in about fifteen minutes. As he rested his head on Brent’s arm, I stared at him like I used to do with my other babies while they slept. In just the same way, I was amazed by his existence and my good fortune.

 

When we got to the hotel, reality set in for our little buddy. I was looking at a book with him when I suddenly saw a giant tear tumbling down his cheek. He started to whimper a bit and then, a few minutes later, he began to come undone. He struggled to be free from my arms. He cried “Mama!” and stamped his feet. His wailing and my failed attempts at consoling went on for about an hour (or a month, I can’t be sure). Not wanting him to cry alone, I joined in. I wondered: What have we done? Who are we to turn his life upside-down? Eventually, Brent held him and Ezra allowed it. His crying stopped.

 

We spent the rest of the evening tiptoeing around him like we had a deer in our hotel room. No sudden movements. Everybody stay calm. We took him outside and he kicked the soccer ball like a pro. (Knox’s prayers are apparently getting through.) We played cars on the floor and watched Finding Nemo. He ate the rice and a little of the fried plantains I made for supper. We gave him a shower and slathered him up with the crème my friend Lavy told us to use. We put his jammies on him and brushed his teeth. Then, I held him again. This time, he didn’t fight me. He fell sleep in my arms while I rubbed his head.

 

As I type this, both of my roommates are asleep. I can hear them breathing the steady, even exhales of deep sleep. Tires are crunching the gravel in the parking lot outside our hotel room and the mini refrigerator is humming. I hear low voices speaking Lingala and French. This is a good moment, but like a pendulum swinging from one extreme to the other, Ezra’s behavior has caused me to have doubts. I have gone back and forth about the prudence of this trip. It’s as if I’m plucking the petals from a daisy: He likes us. He likes us not… I don’t know what I’ll be thinking tomorrow morning or the next day. I’m pretty sure I know what I’ll be thinking Friday when we pull out and head home. What I can say is that this moment is magic. This child is loved. This prayer is answered. This moment is a gift.

Thank you, Lord. Amen.

‘Twas the night before traveling

I’ve been singing songs from the movie Annie all week and I couldn’t figure out why. I wondered if it was because I had seen the previews for the remake but that was a month ago. Then it dawned on me—we’re heading to the Congo to visit our son in the orphanage and Annie is my messed-up idea of an orphan.

Don’t get me wrong; I love that spunky, little girl with the red afro. She’s all grit and gumption. She stands up for the small (whiny friend Molly) and helpless (filthy mutt Sandy). She’s taken to Daddy Warbucks’ mansion and immediately starts to roll up her sleeves. She assumes she’s there to clean, not to take tennis lessons and lounge around in the swimming pool. She eventually scratches through Daddy Warbucks’ gruff exterior to help him realize how much he loves her and would do anything for her.

She’s an uncomplicated kid. Becoming an orphan has had very little effect on her self-esteem. In spite of Mrs. Hannigan’s seemingly lax care for the girls in the Home, she apparently fit tap dancing and singing into their curriculum so Annie is able to express herself in dance and song. It all looks so easy. That is, except for the whole ex-con Rooster chasing her up a construction crane or a railway bridge…something high and scary with blinking lights…where she dangles until Punjab, the guy from the 7-Up commercials, rescues her with his turban. (When I was a kid and Annie came on TV, I always watched that part through the holes in the brown and orange crocheted throw so I can’t be sure exactly what happened. I watched The Wizard of Oz the same way. I still haven’t watched the Wicked Witch of the West scenes in their entirety.) Other than that, it’s just meeting FDR, being on the radio, and a big, carnival, dance number finale.

What is waiting for us in the Congo will not be that simple. Living in an orphanage on the other side of the world is a 3-year old boy who knows very little about us or about the outside world. He never knew his parents or extended family. He doesn’t know about birthday cakes or Christmas trees or bedtime stories. We pray he knows what it feels to be hugged and cradled and praised. But we can be sure he knows hunger and he knows fear.

Our plan is to meet him and take him to our hotel to spend a week together. “Hey little boy who speaks no English. We’re a couple of white Americans who don’t speak Lingala and we are…brace yourself…your parents. So why don’t you jump in our van and leave behind everyone and everything you know for a few days. It’ll be cool. I promise.”

Best case scenario, at the end of the week we get to take him home to America. That’s the way it would work if not for the suspension of orphans leaving the Congo that’s been in place for over a year. Instead, we’ll bond with him, no doubt fall in love with him, and then leave a giant, bleeding chunk of our hearts in the Congo with him. We’ll board the plane like blubbering babies and cry for 24 hours. It’s not quite the Hollywood ending we’d prefer.

Maybe the “Daddy Warbucks Plan” is the best idea for us for this upcoming week after all. Maybe the best we can hope for is to take an amazing, deserving kid from a bleak situation and give him five days of fun and hugs and good food. At the end of the week, if we have to say good-bye to him, we hope there will be smiles all around, a genuine one on his face and reasonably fake ones on ours.

Heavy sigh.

Pray for us, friends. I’ll update more as the week unfolds. Until then, I’ll keep practicing my introductory greeting to my son: “Nazali mama. Nalingi yo.”

I am your mom. I love you.

To my daughter on the occasion of her first period

Dear daughter,

 

I feel like I should explain a few things about the ridiculous way your body is acting right now. As you may remember from our past conversations, thanks to Eve, we women are designed from the get-go for childbirth. Even if you never have a baby, there are parts of you—pretty much everything neck to crotch—that have been designed for baby making, carrying, delivering, and feeding.

 

Though you were born with all the eggs you’ll ever have, at twelve years old you’ve just entered into a cycle that could possibly continue into your grandma years. Remember that time when you got on the merry-go-round at the park and the big kids started pushing it really fast and you wanted to get off but you couldn’t? Well, get ready for the menstruation version of that.

 

Before today’s monumental discovery, I had described the purpose for the wings on maxi pads and for the string on tampons. You know where we keep the heating pad and the appropriate dosing of ibuprofen. We had put together a discreet cosmetic bag with emergency supplies to keep in your backpack. I thought we were ready. As it turns out, nothing can fully prepare you for the icky, crampy, and just plain weird experience of your first period. But this too shall pass.

 

In the meantime, I will do what moms do best—help you look on the bright side. For instance, I’ll offer some of the following observations:

 

“Be glad you aren’t alive during ancient times! In some cultures, menstruating women had to sit on a filthy rag in a stinking tent. Gross! When they were unable to depend on handy boxes of pads and tampons under the bathroom sink, some women had to use absorbent materials such as animal pelts, mosses, and seaweed. I’ve even heard of ‘menstrual aprons’ and ‘belted napkins’. This could definitely be worse!”

 

“Enjoy having the excuse to curl up on your bed with the heating pad and take a nap every four weeks.”

 

“Think of the camaraderie you’ll experience with your ‘blood sisters’! Nothing grows a friendship like shared pain.”

 

It may seem cruel to post this letter in such a public forum, but there is method to my madness, Dear Daughter. I want you to know that your body is amazing. It is precious and worthy of your care and keeping. And it’s too special to be mistreated or neglected or discarded. Things are happening inside of you that though unseen they are wondrous and must still be known. While this cycle of egg and blood and water retention and acne flare-ups and irritability is private, it’s still information you can choose to share. You can always talk to me or your dad (He’ll do his best—remember the man has no fallopian tubes or ovaries but his sympathy is real!) or your three loving aunts or the many moms of your best friends. You have middle school teachers who deal with girls needing a hall pass and they will understand. YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

 

Discussions involving moms and daughters and this new phase have been happening for thousands of years. Your grandmothers may have watched a helpful video like this:

The Story of Menstruation

 

The important thing is for us to be open and honest. I will do my best to help you through this without embarrassing you. And please know it’s nearly impossible for you to ask a question that will embarrass me.

 

To demonstrate how difficult it is for me to be embarrassed, let me offer this anecdote: I didn’t start using tampons until I was in college. After a friend talked me through the steps and I was successful, she invited me to her apartment to eat supper with some friends. I thought it was just an impromptu get-together until she came out of the kitchen with the dessert. She had made a large pan of banana pudding. Sticking out of the middle of the pan was a tampon. She lit the string and my friends applauded. It was a moment I’ll always remember.

 

This is just another step toward making you who you will be as an adult. It’s a big deal but I PROMISE not to do this to you:

 New Moon Party

 

I’m here to help. You know where to find me.

 

Love,

Mom