rise and shine, Daniel

I’m writing this post as Daniel naps, hoping he’ll stay down long enough for me to finish, oh say, a paragraph. One of the questions we get the most is, “How is he sleeping?” Our honest answer is usually, “Depends on the day.” Sometimes he sleeps through the night, and sometimes he wakes us up four times. Sometimes he rocks a solid three and a half hours between his two naps, and sometimes we are lucky to get 45 minutes out of him. When he is out, though, he is OUT. Anyway, the question often leads me to a few of our favorite moments from Ethiopia.

Day one at the orphanage: We have just met our son after months of gazing longingly at photos, and years of preparation before that. At around 10:00 he gets drowsy, and as I hold him, he falls asleep on my shoulder. Of course, we think this is the most precious thing ever. Our new son has fallen asleep on Mama’s shoulder! However, it quickly becomes clear from the reaction of the nannies that this child is not supposed to nap until it is time for everyone to nap. Understandably, orphanages can’t accommodate multiple individual nap schedules. Daniel may be groggy, but by golly, he needs to be kept awake.

Having been snapped out of the sappy world of, “Awww, that’s so sweet,” Tim took Daniel and tried to wake him up. He gave him a little poke and said his name. Nothing. A little shake. Nada. We lightly tapped his cheeks. Zero. Beginning to laugh, I lifted his arm high above his head and dropped it. It fell back down like a sack of potatoes and the kid didn’t even shift. I did it again to the same effect. Finally, FINALLY, Tim began lifting him up and down like he was on an elevator, and Daniel came to. He was none too happy to be roused from his slumber, but luckily we were able to immediately offer him his favorite distraction: food. Looking back, I can’t even imagine how much the nannies were laughing at us on the inside. “Silly Americans let Dani go to sleep!”

Flash forward a few days to our appointment at the passport office, where each adopted child needed to sit for their passport photo. Along with the other families, we waited a long time in a crowded room lined with the kinds of cubicles you’d see at an American DMV and packed to the gills in the waiting area. Eventually the wait became too long and Daniel fell asleep on Tim’s lap. I knew we were in trouble. When they called his name, we used every trick we knew and got him to open his eyes. Then we sat him in the chair for his photo, something that should take less than a minute, and stepped back. Within a few seconds, while still sitting upright, his head dropped and he was asleep again. We woke him and told the official she might need to make it fast. Before we had finished the sentence, Daniel was asleep again, head hanging, and beginning to topple off the chair sideways. This repeated at least three times before we got a picture and were able to let him resume his nap. Strangers sitting on nearby benches were snickering or outright laughing, and Tim was giggling in the way that only Tim can. Like I said—when that kid is out, he is OUT.

But not now. Now I hear him declaring his awake-ness down the hall. End blog post 🙂

 

 

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birth certificates and farewell ceremonies

As I write this, a little boy is napping just down the hall. He’s walking now, learning to use a spoon, in love with dandelions. What a joy to have him home. And now, a few more memories from Ethiopia.

The day after court, we all had to go to the birth certificate office. Tim and I were the last in line among the adoptive families, just hoping we could get done in time to attend the farewell ceremony at the orphanage and take Daniel home with us. We watched Sena’s family fill out their paperwork and leave, then Biftu’s family, and so on. Hours passed in the small, simple room, where several locals also waited for documents. Finally, our adoption agent approached us, but it wasn’t to hand us our paperwork. “There is a problem with your court decree. We have to go back to the courthouse.” Our hearts sank. Were we going to get this far only to have it fall apart? Were we going to leave Ethiopia without our son?

The relief was incredible when the issue took only a minute at the courthouse and we headed back to the birth certificate office. Then…their entire system went down, as systems often do in the area, and our hearts sank again. Luckily, our agent told us that we would come back the next day, handed us our court decree and said, “This is all you need. You can go get your son.”

What a crazy sentence. “You can go get your son.” We got in the car with our driver, Yosef, and headed to the orphanage. That evening lives on in snapshots for me:

dressed to go…The sight of one of Daniel’s nannies lovingly dressing him in his nicest clothes, and her tears as she said goodbye to him. She didn’t speak English, but I knew that she understood “thank you.” Saying those words to her over and over again through my own tears is one of my most poignant memories from Ethiopia. How do you thank the women who made sure your son was healthy, and who loved him so well that he has had almost no attachment problems?

…A room filled with orphans and nannies, gathered before cake and cookies and a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony. The nannies and one of the boys got up and offered blessings to Daniel. They also allowed Tim and I the opportunity to speak our thanks. I barely made it through my two sentences before I was in tears: “Thank you for loving our son. We will tell him all about you.” Tim was more eloquent, sharing about how we had prayed that Daniel would be loved and well-fed, and that he couldn’t thank them enough for the ways they had made that prayer a reality.

…The eerie walk out of the orphanage after many more goodbyes and kisses for “Dani” from his nannies. Just Daniel and the clothes on his back, all he owned in the world. We got in the car, the engine started, and we pulled away. It was the last time Daniel or we would see that orphanage until we take him back someday. He was ours. The next dirty diaper was ours to change. The next meal was our responsibility. The next bedtime was ours to figure out.

…And Daniel’s eyes, darting around in confusion each time he woke up that night, not knowing where he was. It was so hard to see, and it brought home the reality of what this transition meant for him. He had been ripped away from everything familiar, from those same nannies who wept when he left. It wasn’t just the next diaper, meal, bath, bedtime that was on us. It was the next days and months of helping Daniel process that kind of tremendous loss.

borth cert officeThe following morning, we went back to the birth certificate office and waited for several more hours as our new son played and then napped on our laps. While we did get his birth certificate, it wasn’t before the system went down again. Our agent’s words when he came out to tell us ended up being one of my favorite lines from the trip. “So, the system is down again,” he said. Knowing that we ultimately understood there was nothing to be done, he followed with a smile: “This is Africa. We wait.”

I may just have to use that line to sum up our entire experience adopting from Ethiopia. This is Africa. We wait.

 

looking back on the judgment day

Well, we are home. I would apologize for the gap in postings, but instead I will offer the same explanation we give for the state of our house or the bags under our eyes: we are new parents, riding the struggle bus. The scenery from this bus is amazing, but we’re not used to driving what feels like an unwieldy vehicle most of the time and half the time we can’t remember what kind of gas it takes.

Having been home for three weeks and attempting to adjust to parenthood, Ethiopia sometimes feels like a lifetime ago now. All the same, we want to share some of the memories we made there, so we’ll just do it all in retrospect, bit by bit as we can pause from entertaining a busy toddler.

As Tim mentioned in his last post, we passed court on April 17th. The actual event was not at all what we expected, and the group of families that made our way through all the appointments together remarked at the irony of it. We had all waited for years to get this court date. One family had been waiting for seven years, having been matched with their son for almost three of those years. The days and weeks and months leading up to this had felt unbearably long at times, yet here we were, all gathered together outside the door to the family court, dressed in the nicest clothes we had brought to Ethiopia, talking about how nervous we were. Finally, a name was called, the name of one of the children being adopted, signaling her family’s turn before the judge.

Less than two minutes later, they reemerged. “You’re done?” “Yeah, we’re done. He asked us like four questions, and that was it.”

And so it was that each family, all having waited years for the moment, spent less than two minutes at a conference table with a very young judge, answering 4-5 questions, and hearing him declare that our adoptions were approved. What I remember most from our own appearance was the moment when the judge asked us, “Do you love the child?” Every tone of formality left both our voices as we instinctively answered with an emphatic, please-hear-how-much-I-mean-this, “Yes!”

As Tim and I worked out together at the hotel gym that night, knowing we would be making our final trip to the orphanage the following day, I remember thinking, “This is the last time we’ll be in this gym at the same time. And probably the last time we’ll be in any gym or on any bike ride at the same time for a long while.” It was one of many small and odd moments of realization about how different life was about to become.

The following days were filled with government appointment after government appointment, each offering up their own taste of frustration or hilarity. More on those soon….

 

 

Visits with Daniel

I first started writing this blog post on Wednesday morning. A lot has happened since then. I say that for two reasons: First, to explain why it has taken a while to get this post published. Second, to explain why it is so truncated at the end. In the last few days we’ve gone to court (and passed!), picked up our son, and gotten his birth certificate. More on that soon.

For the last 10 months – ever since we’ve been matched with Daniel – Katie and I have prayed for Daniel. The prayers were slightly different each time, but they always included two things: that Daniel would be well-loved; that Daniel would be well-fed.

After we returned to the hotel from our first visit with Daniel on Saturday morning we had to laugh: Daniel was so obviously well-loved at his orphanage – he seems to be a favorite among the staff and volunteers. When we walk around the orphanage with him, all of the adults call his name and smile at him (and most want to hold him). On Monday, when one volunteer learned that Daniel would be leaving soon, he got on his phone and called someone (I assume to let them know, so they could visit him one last time). On Tuesday, one of the directors of the orphanage was showing a couple of official-looking people around. When they got to our room, he asked, “Are you Danny’s family?” When we said yes, he replied, “I think you are among the luckiest families.” I couldn’t agree more. Yes, he has been well-loved.

It is also quite clear that Daniel has been well-fed. Everything about him – from his cheeks to his toes – is chubby. We brought a wide range of clothing sizes with us (since the last medical update we had was from November), but I think most of it will be too small. When we checked the shirt he was wearing yesterday – which was only just slightly too big – we discovered that it was a 2T… and he’s only 14 months old. Yes, he has been well-fed.

We’ve made four visits to Daniel at his orphanage now. Here are a couple stories:

On our first visit Katie was holding Daniel as he was beginning to fall asleep. She gently held him and rocked him until he dozed off. It was adorable. …until we learned that we were supposed to keep him awake (so that all of the kids nap at the same time). At about the same time, one of the nannies brought his snack – a mashed-up avocado. So, we had to wake poor Daniel up. …which, we quickly discovered, is not an easy thing to do. We called his name. We tapped his cheeks. We bumped his back. We put avocado mash on his lips. We tried making him stand. We raised his arm and dropped it. …nothing. Only when I lifted him from the floor to as high as I could reach – 3 or 4 times – did he begin to open his eyes. That’s good news – when this kid is out, he’s out.

Later that day we had the fantastic opportunity to feed Daniel a meal for the first time. The meal was some sort of stew that looked like it had been put through a blender. (It actually smelled delicious and made me a bit jealous). Like I said – we had the opportunity to feed Daniel… and we tried to feed him, it just turned out that the majority of it ended up on Katie, the floor, and the toys. After fifteen minutes of trying, one of his nannies relieved us.

When I started this blog post we were still waiting for our court decree, officially giving us custody of Daniel. Now, there is a little boy crawling around our hotel room.

We Are Here

We are here.

After a twelve and a half hour flight across the Atlantic Ocean (and having watched “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”, “Casablanca”, and “Beetlejuice”), we landed in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on Friday morning (local time). We got only a few hours of sleep Wednesday night in Washington D.C. …and then only a few hours of really poor sleep Thursday night on the plane. So, we’re exhausted. But – more importantly – we are here.

We spent most of Friday mostly trying to stay awake. We want to get our bodies on Ethiopian time as quickly as possible (it’s 9 hours ahead of Colorado time). We unpacked. We tried to stay awake. We ate lunch (mmm…. Ethiopian food). We tried to stay awake. We called one of the local staff for our adoption agency. We called our driver. We tried to stay awake. We made it until about 5:30pm until we couldn’t keep our eyes open any longer. So we pulled the blackout curtains, took sleeping pills, set our alarms, and happily crawled into bed.

At about 12:30am I woke up. This isn’t good, I thought.

I tried, rather unsuccessfully, to fall back asleep. About an hour later Katie started tossing and turning. “What time is it?” she asked. “About 1:30,” I said. “This isn’t good,” she replied.  …but we are here – and that is good.

After reading Bill Bryson’s “African Diary” I was able to fall asleep again until 5am. (Please note, that is not a statement on Bryson’s diary, but on my exhausted-ness). Katie and I ate breakfast at 6 – something normally unthinkable for us – and prepared to meet our driver, Yoseph, for the first time at 8:30.

Because we are here.. and he was coming to take us to meet our son-to-be for the first time.

We arrived at the orphanage at about 9:00am on Saturday morning. Yoseph parked the car and walked us into the colorful orphanage courtyard. The beautiful Ethiopian women asked us the name of the child we were visiting. “Daniel,” we said. “Ah, Danny,” they replied.

We started walking toward one end of the small courtyard toward a specific building. There in the window was a familiar, chubby little face looking out at us. There’s no way that’s him, I thought. There’s no way he’s the one child that happens to be looking out the window at this moment.

But it was.

Because we are here. In this place. At this moment. With the beautiful little boy that will, God-willing, officially be our son very soon.

We got to sit with him… and hold him… and play with him… and feed him (and make a mess all over Katie) for three hours.

It was pure joy.

More about that next time. But, just so you know, we are here.

Thank you. We love you.

And so it begins…

After days of looking like a tornado hit, our living room floor has started to clear and suitcases are mostly packed. We’re sitting here, fairly bleary-eyed after a crazy week of preparations, shoving a few final items into carry-on bags. Obviously this is the first time we’ve had to pack for a kiddo, and in this case that includes almost three weeks worth of diapers, so that was a learning experience of its own. I feel like this first entree into parenthood could be called, “An Introduction to Schlepping.” Car seat, stroller, diapers, toys. No actual kid yet, mind you, but plenty of schlepping to be done nonetheless. Adoptive parents schlep preemptively.

I was reading something recently that said, “When I can laugh a little, I feel less afraid.” That has become one of my goals in these coming weeks. To find the humor as we enter into this crazy new phase and discover all the ways we have no idea what we’re doing. To laugh a little, or a lot. Then perhaps some of the fears can dissipate as well, because let’s be honest, this is both exciting AND completely terrifying (as many truly good things are).

And so, we are off. We fly to D.C. Wednesday evening, stay a night there, and then fly direct to Addis Ababa the following day. We’re coming for you, buddy, held up by a small army of people who can’t wait to meet you. Let the adventure begin….

 

Postcards and Giggles

One of my goals for 2018 was to send a postcard to Katie every week – because it’s fun to receive actual mail, right? I usually get my postcards from a local bookstore, and the postcards tend to be funny images – a man in a canoe trying to paddle away from his island, but his canoe is tied to a tree; a lion wearing glasses, eating a banana; a giraffe on a unicycle crossing a high wire; a snail with a city on its back. On the blank side of the postcard I write my commentary of the picture… which usually has something to do with our adoption process.

For the snail, I wrote: “Ever feel like you’re carrying the weight of the world on your back? Or like you’re moving at a snail’s pace? Me too. Here’s to hoping we can see the beauty in those moments.”

For the lion: “The lion is in its den… just waiting for Daniel. Maybe we need to publish a royal decree?” (That’s a bad Bible joke).

For the man in the canoe: “This feels about right, doesn’t it? No matter how hard we paddle, we don’t seem to get anywhere, because our canoe is tied to a tree. Please!!! Someone – cut the rope!”

This past week I had this postcard of a rhino playing a trumpet:

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On the blank side of the postcard I wrote: “Hear ye! Hear ye! The animals of Africa are preparing a parade to send Daniel off! (Now if only the humans would get their act together…)”

I usually put my postcards in the mail on Fridays, but last week was Holy Week (leading up to Easter) and our office was closed for Good Friday. We were heading out of town for the weekend, so before leaving work on Thursday I walked across the street and placed the postcard in one of those blue USPS mailboxes. (There’s something about the creak and clang of using those blue boxes).

Not long after getting home from work on Thursday we loaded the car, said goodbye to Bonhoeffer and headed for Katie’s parents’ house (about 4 hours away). By the time we got there we were pretty exhausted – so, after saying a few hellos and meeting the new puppy, we headed to bed. …where I laid, but couldn’t sleep (which isn’t uncommon these days). At one point I checked the clock; it was 4:00 a.m. and I was wide awake. Did I mention I was also exhausted?

Sometime after 4:30 I fell asleep. …and I slept pretty well, for a few hours. I woke up after what seemed like several hours, and checked my phone for the time. It was 8:15. …and I had a new email.

The subject: “Ethiopia”

I opened the email and began reading: “Hi! I have some great news for you!”

Then, apparently, I started giggling. Because I guess that’s what I do when I learn that we have a court date in Ethiopia… when I learn that we actually get to travel to Ethiopia to meet our son… and when I learn that – barring any last minute tragedy – I get to be his father.

I giggle.

It has been a long journey, just to get to this point (to the start of the actual journey). It has been painful and confusing and exhausting and stressful.

And I’ve cried. A lot.

But next week – on April 11th – we board a plane for Ethiopia. On April 13th we will meet our son for the very first time. On April 17th we’ll stand before a judge and answer a few questions. Then, shortly afterwards, assuming everything goes well, we will take custody of our son. Daniel Founds.

So now, I giggle.

A huge thank you to all of you that have been with us on this journey. Thank you for all the ways you’ve showered us with love. For waiting patiently with us. For screaming with us. For hoping with us. For getting angry with us. For praying with us. For crying with us. For just being with us (whether across the table or from a thousand miles away).

The journey is just starting. We don’t have Daniel quite yet – so please: keep praying and thinking good thoughts to the universe. (For all of our preparations, flights, meeting Daniel, standing before the judge, etc.).

But this is also an invitation: won’t you giggle with me? Dance and shout for joy with us?