Posted by: elizabeth hunter | March 10, 2011

Celebrating the March Thaw: Adoption and Coming Alive

Hi, old friend (not ‘old’ as in ‘old,’ but ‘old’ as in ‘dear)

WE’VE MOVED TO OUR NEW HOME!

I’d LOVE to keep in touch with you!

BUT you have to make the first move…

THERE ARE THREE WAYS TO KEEP IN TOUCH WITH IMBABAZI:

1)COME ON OVER TO OUR NEW HOME AND READ THIS LATEST POST AND LEAVE A COMMENT AT THE BOTTOM...

http://www.adoptiongoddess.com/blog

2) SIGN UP TO RECEIVE ADOPTION TIPS & TOOLS PLUS BLOG POSTS

http://www.adoptiongoddess.com/sign-up-below/

OR

3) JUST GET THE BLOG POSTS! (IN YOUR EMAIL INBOX OR RSS) by clicking the ‘Subscribe’ button in the top right http://www.adoptiongoddess.com/blog

Now don’t be a stranger, okay? (I don’t know anyone in my new neighbourhood yet and it’s awkward talking to myself…)

xxoo Elizabeth

Posted by: elizabeth hunter | February 18, 2011

We’ve Moved! (oops, here’s the link!)

(to my dear subscribers, a big oops. The last post didn’t actually take you to the new blog site! Below is the link which spills all the details xxoo e)

Hey, Everyone,

Are you sitting down? I have some BIG news.

What if I were to tell you that we are expecting again. That four kids just wasn’t enough? Well…I do have a new ‘baby’…(I don’t mean to be coy) but you’re going to have to come over to my new blog site and read my latest post to find out all about her…

Once you get there, fill out your name and email in the upper right corner to make sure you receive new posts and are included in all the fun & celebrating… You’ll also get this free cool super quick quiz that I created to save adoptive families time, money and heartache. (It’s eye opening even if you’re just plain curious about adoption.) I based it on every single mistake I made in our four adoptions.

And please tell everyone you know who is even thinking about adopting to take this quiz before they fill out a single piece of paperwork. If they’ve already started their adoption, this will help them stay on track for a smooth adoption journey or course correct if they are headed down the road to problems.

Ok, come on over to my new blog site and find out what’s going on…I can’t wait to share the news with you!

Love,

Elizabeth

Posted by: elizabeth hunter | February 18, 2011

We Moved!

Hey, Everyone,

Are you sitting down? I have some BIG news.

What if I were to tell you that we are expecting again.  That four kids just wasn’t enough?   Well…I do have some news…(I don’t mean to be coy) but you’re going to have to come over to my new blog site and read my latest post to find out…

But before you do, fill our your name and email here to make sure you receive new posts and are included in all the fun & celebrating…  You’ll also get this free cool super quick quiz that I created to save adoptive families time, money and heartache. (It’s eye opening even if you’re just plain curious about adoption.) I  based it on every single mistake I made in our four adoptions.

And please tell everyone you know who is even thinking about adopting to take this quiz before they fill out a single piece of paperwork.  If they’ve already started their adoption, this will help them stay on track for a smooth adoption journey or course correct if they are headed down the road to problems.

Ok. Once you’ve done that, come on over to my new blog site and find out what’s going on…I can’t wait to share the news with you!

Love,

Elizabeth

Posted by: elizabeth hunter | December 29, 2010

A Big, Fat Happy New Year to You!

 

Turkey Trot 2010

I know many of you have been waiting to hear the conclusion to my happy little jaunt to the local Benedictine Monastery for a Mini Break/Sanity Saver from Mothering.

And it was quite the getaway, what with the Great Silence (I accidentally found myself in the middle of a two day silent retreat!), the bewitched set of Anglican prayer beads that literally fell into my lap (and came home with me), and an earful from St Martha (patron saint of servants and cooks. Ha!)) while laying on my pillow top bed for hours on end in a room named after her.

I long to tell you about it.  But the post, modestly entitled, ‘The Mother’s Manifesto,’  just  screams at me every day like a rebellious toddler and refuses to get itself written, dressed and out of the house.

Some weirdness is afoot in my life.  Things have been even wonkier & more intense than usual.  It started Thanksgiving morning, when we were so late for our town’s annual 5K Turkey Trot that we actually had to cheat this charity event (with the help of a policeman) and drive to the halfway point, joining friends & neighbours mid-race under false pretenses, all six of us looking far too fresh and non sweaty in our double strollers and ergo carriers.

Me singing a sober rendition of 'We Gather Together' at Thanksgiving. Why on earth didn't someone point out my unfortunate necklace choice (should we invite Hugh Hefner?)

This was followed by about a bjillion holiday events, including our very favorite, Tuba Christmas (You haven’t lived until you’ve heard all your favorite holiday songs played by 40 Tubas.)

It hit a crescendo last week when both me, Tim, the four kids and our babysitter got highly  feverishly sick. Tim and I pulled an almost all nighter trying to catch up and ‘make magic happen’ for the kids on Christmas morning.

Tuba Christmas

Friends have generously offered up the recent lunar eclipse and Mercury in Retrograde as possible mitigating factors.  But here’s how I see it: Looking back on 2010, I kind of can’t believe how BIG a year it has been for me and my family.  Doesn’t it kind of makes sense that it would end– like it began–in  a big bang of overwhelm?

Now it’s time for me to make a confession.  Without this blog, 2010 would have been a very lonely and often frightening journey into the great unknown of double Rwandan adoption and super expanded parenthood.

To all the wonderful, big hearted readers of this blog: do you know how seriously you have lifted me up and carried me through this year’s great adventures, with your warm & spirited comments, your emails, your high fives on the street?

W takes first trip to Lincoln Center to see Nutcracker Ballet.

From the adoption paper chase to the endless waiting for news of our children in Rwanda in the first half of the year; to our unforgettable trip to Rwanda mid year; to the  homecoming with Moses and Beatrice in May…

To the shock of having one’s greatest dream actually come true;  to the rude awakening that, in fact,  there’s no such thing as a  ‘happy ending’ in the imperfect day-to-day life of a mother of four kids five and under (but that’s okay, because, if you’re open, the good stuff is just beginning).

Christmas stockings

So I stand here before you at year’s end in my pajamas (Which I have pretty much worn straight for the entire past week, and, let’s be honest, because they double as sweatpants, for about  3/4 of 2010), serving up endless rounds of frozen pizza and mac n cheese, without even the energy to steam a bag of frozen organic vegetables to make it  ‘healthy.’ (the kids could care less, btw. This is all they ever want to eat anyway), watching really bad Lifetime Christmas movies on Hulu at night. And I am SO grateful…

There are some exciting changes happening soon with this blog, in a large part due to your overhwhelming support & enthusiasm. I think you’ll be surprised and entertained.  Please stay tuned!

From my family to you...We wish you A BIG, FAT 2011 brimming with life & adventure!!

Posted by: elizabeth hunter | December 6, 2010

The Mother’s Rebellion

The Set Up


This woman is hanging on by a very thin thread.  And I dig that about her.  But seriously,  she is about to blow.

That’s what I thought when I stumbled upon last week’s post on my desktop accidentally. Randomly reading the words out of context, with the eye of a stranger, I had the kindly urge to scoop this poor mom’s children away for the weekend and drive them to my house so she could rest.

But then I remembered:  I wrote this!  This woman is…me?

Is it possible I am having a breakdown and don’t know it?  No, of course not, I tell myself.  Can’t be. Didn’t I just make homemade granola with the kids?  Would a person having a breakdown voluntarily make granola with her four children five and under?  Not possible.

I run through a list of things I did in the past day–drive Wynne to school, sort & organize winter clothes for four, write blog post, make meals, put kids to bed, get them dressed, read stories, go to parent teacher conference, and think, of course not.  You’re fine.  It’s really not that bad. I go on with my day doing more of the same.

Classic mom trick: Looking good while losing it.

But the seed of doubt has been planted. I’m busted.  And by my own blog writing self.

The weird thing about being a mother is that you can go silently, invisibly crazy and be supported in doing this by other well meaning mothers. There is an honor code of suffering among mothers.  There is something nice about the fellowship of mothers, the ‘it’s hard but we are all in this together’ thing.

Plus everybody keeps telling you, “it goes so fast. Your kids are really young only once.   it will get easier.”  Hell, I keep telling myself that.

But reading my own exhausted words rouses some small part of me out of the sleep deprived, adrenaline rushing stupor I’ve been living in for the past eight months.  Truly, something is not right.

I’ve always had a lot of energy and enthusiasm. Now, come to think of it, I’m complaining a lot. I am snarky and ungenerous. I hear a mother of one moaning about how hard it is to be a parent and think to myself, ‘Only one child? Give me that child! I’ll take care of them while doing a jig on my roof with one hand tied behind my back.’

There’s also  a new, slightly scary carelessness about my child rearing. Climb on top of the sofa by the huge plate glass picture window and drop down onto the rock hard wood floor?  Sure, no problem, kids.  Just keep the noise down, would you honey?

Wait, now that you mention it, I don’t sing with the kids as much, either, which is my very favorite thing in the world to do.

My littlest cherub eating apple.

And then I remember the worst part.  I have started yelling.  I was never a yeller. I didn’t understand how people could yell at kids.  Now, I don’t mean to yell, but I am so exhausted I can’t rally myself to slow down and rationally reason out a calm solution.  I just want the noise to go away. I want the kids to stop fighting. Or breaking stuff. Or spilling stuff.

This is the final bucket of cold water on my unshowered head.  Somewhere I’ve crossed a silent barrier. I think I’m starting to lose what makes me ‘me.’

Now I’m fully awake.  I vow to take action.  And fast.

The Rebellion

And that’s how it happened that  last weekend, without actually meaning to, I staged my very own personal Mother’s Rebellion.

Like all things maternal, this rebellion was a quiet one.  It did not involve weapons or threats or ultimatums. I imagine if one day all the mothers of the world were to rise up, it would happen in much the same way.  The men, used to looking for fighting and conflict as signs of trouble, would probably not even realize at first that anything unusual had happened.

I place my bombshell  (I’m not ‘me’ anymore!) in my husband’s lap one night after putting the kids to bed (Helpful relationship tip: husbands love nothing more than a long, non linear, non concrete, emotion-based conversation after putting in a twelve hour day). After Tim tries several excellent (lame) suggestions for my predicament, exasperated, he asks, ‘what do you want?  what do you need?’

Huh?  What do I need?  What kind of crazy question is that! How am I supposed to know?  You might as well ask me how many  stained glass windows there are in the late medieval Cathedral at Chartres, France (170).  It’s been so long since I thought about my own needs, I find this question shocking. I blurt out the first nutty idea that comes to mind: I need to go away and sleep.  I need to be left alone.  I need to stop.  And then Tim says, “so do it.”

Kids love when their 'big' Hunter cousins visit.

Ha ha ha, I laugh cynically.   Right.  And who’s going to… (insert here any one of 75 mundane mindless tasks, such as:  know whose shoes are whose? make sure we don’t eat cheddar bunnies for dinner and cookie samples at the Hannafords for lunch (happens)? brush the kids hair (when Tim brushes, everyone runs)?  keep the wood floor of the house visible under all the clutter? remember meetings and classes?)?

But I look across the couch and realize I’m not going to get a fight from Tim.  And at that moment, a closed door inside me that I didn’t  even know was locked, opens.  And a small, raspy, little used inner voice screams:  Hell Yes! This is exactly what I need!!!!!!

No, if the mothers of the world staged their own authentic rebellion, the first thing they would do, before tackling any of the big issues of the world, would be the most radical thing of all, kind of the opposite of a rebellion.

They would just….stop…doing…EVERYTHING. Stop taking care of everyone else. Let everyone manage without them for a bit.

Take a little break. Stop trudging on (I’m really not that tired).Maybe slip out in the dark of night. With no hidden multi tasking purpose (‘food shopping by myself is like a mini vacation.’ I have said this).  Just to remember what it feels like to be alone…

The Escape

We agree that I will leave late on a Friday afternoon and be back early Sunday morning. Where to go?  I want someplace close to home.  I want no distractions.  I don’t want to waste time driving.  I have a budget.  I google around.

I somehow remember hearing about a guesthouse of an old Monastery along the Hudson River.  I feel a little weird at the thought of staying with monastic brothers. Will I have to talk to them? I hope not. I want to be anonymous. I want to blend.

I send the email to the Monastery. Yes, they have a room.  I feel like a crazy person. Why not be a normal mother and just go to a spa? But I was a Renaissance Studies major in college.  I feel totally at home anyplace where it feels like time stopped in 1387.

The morning of my escape, I am wracked with guilt. I try to spend extra time with the kids, but they are busy digging something on the back hill and have no time for me.  I clean the kitchen.  I get Bea down for her nap.  I make sure there is dinner for tonight (I do not make meals for the whole time I am away. Who do you think I am? Martha Stewart?)  I am so tired I can barely find clean clothes to throw in a bag.

I waver back and forth as to whether or not I will actually go until I’m almost out the door  I do not post my departure on Facebook.  I think no one will understand  (who does she think she is?”).

When I’ve delayed as long as possible and it is getting dark, I put my bags in the car.  Theo says heartbreakingly, ‘Can I come?  Just me, Mommy?’  He is near tears. The kids all  cling to me.  Oh, It would just be so much easier if I stayed home.

But I do it.  I get in the car. It’s ironic. I love and appreciate my kids more than I have in weeks the moment I am driving away from them.

I stop at the health food store for provisions (in case I want to eat green bars and stay in my room the whole time).    In those fifteen minutes of alone time between house and store,  all desire for caffeine, chocolate and junky foods, which has plagued me since we got home from Rwanda, disappears completely.

The Monastery

Back in the car, it is minutes before I see the sign for the Monastery.  In full darkness, with a cloud covered gibbous moon. I pull off the main road and drive down a winding path under the dark shadows of a huge avenue of spooky, ancient trees.  And then I see it. Suddenly I am not in 2010 New York, but some scary old Jane Eyre English mansion in 1847.

I pull up in front of the imposing building.  It glows with a strange subtle light.  Could that actually be candlelight?  I get a little chill. I see no sign for a guesthouse. There is not a soul around to ask.  Maybe this is the wrong road entirely.  I think this whole thing might just be a big mistake.

The only alternative is to turn around and go home in defeat, and I just can’t bring myself to do that. I have to go inside and ask.

But what if I walk in–my fallen, Eve-woman self– and the monastic brothers are deep in some purifying ancient Christian prayer rite?  How totally embarrasing!

Capitalizing on the spiritual setting,  I pray:  ‘God, please don’t let me make an ass of myself.’  I get out of my car and walk in…

(Sorry. I’ve got to go do the school pickup now. Click through next week for the rest of the story…)


Posted by: elizabeth hunter | November 17, 2010

Raking Leaves Six Month Home

This week, while raking my lawn, something brittle inside me cracked open and got all mixed up with the crinkling sounds, sweet cidery smells & searing colors of late fall in New York.

Fall comes to the Gunks...

We marked six months home from Rwanda on November 1.   And like a message sent down just for me on hundreds of swirling leaves, the wind seemed to scream, ‘slow down!’

The fall is supposed to be a time of harvesting.  Of reaping all the fruits of your labors. I don’t know anything about that. I love fall in a wildly impractical way. I love it like crazy. I laugh out loud at the silliness of 50 different shades of orange, the absurdity of the iridescent red on one sunlit Japanese maple, each leaf surely handpainted by a young child.  All these ridiculous colors screaming from trees, showing off shamelessly.

I look around to share the joke with someone else and am stunned to find people going about their business, that the world itself hasn’t stopped spinning from shock at how well this fall idea has turned out.

Each year I can’t wait to begin raking. I love the physical labor of it, the crisp air, the loud satisfying whoosh the leaves make against the rake, the sense of accomplishment as those big piles go in the compost or off to the woods to decompose.

Kids in leaf pile.

We have a lot to rake, about an acre and a half of flat lawn with many big trees. Each  year  I vow to complete the job.  I promise myself  I will be practical. I visualize myself looking out during the cold winter months onto a beautiful neat, leafless lawn.  And each year, like clockwork, I fail miserably.  I give up before I am halfway through.

But this year is the worst ever. I don’t even make it raking half an hour  One particular oak leaf, a deep burgundy red on top and a healthy pea green underneath, sightly wet, just undoes me. I stop raking. I feel like it would take me a long time to understand this leaf. But I have no time. Since we came home from Rwanda with Moses and Bea in May, there is no time at all for me.  I haven’t even taken my winter clothes out of their boxes. I forget to buy myself shampoo.  I hardly shower. My eyes fill with tears. There will never be enough time for me to look at this leaf.

Suddenly I feel the tiredness of the past months come flooding into my body.  I am so very, very tired.  I want to lay down right here in the leaves. It is the only sane response.

But I don’t lay down.  I come from a long line of self denying women.  I tuck the leaf in my pocket to look at later.  I go back to raking.

I distract myself by watching my four children, with their little rakes and wheelbarrows and their whimsy. Wynne has always loved nothing more than jumping in a big pile of leaves and getting completely buried.  Before long Moses, Bea and I are covering her, while Theo is off to the side industriously filling dumptrucks and wheelbarrows with leaves to bring to the compost. Then we all count to three. And even though we know she is under there, we scream when Wynne emerges from the giant pile as the ‘leaf monster.’

Beware the Leaf Monster!

By the time I have a chance to look at the red/green oak leaf after the kids are in bed, the color that took my breath away earlier has vanished, the wetness having evaporated in the dying sun. I feel like I have missed something important  The truth is, I knew this would happen. I’ve done it before with leaves. It’s never the same when you look at it later.  It’s never the same when you take something out of context.  It’s never a good idea to put off happiness.

For the past seven years, I have woken up every morning with the goal of bringing my children home and  completing our family. It has been my driving force.   It’s weird to have a goal.  When you get what you want, it’s not so easy to shift gears.

Lately I find myself approaching motherhood in the same goal oriented way I approached our four adoptions.  But with being a mother there is no goal.  At least not for me. Of course there are the usual job description ideas of being a mother: “to nurture and support my child to become the very best they can be, blah blah etc…”

Wynne's fairy house on a hill of bright green moss.

But really, isn’t the juicy stuff of motherhood all about  process?  About soaking in the magic moments, about standing witness to all the crappy moments, about being totally and completely there with your children, giving them that invisible soul nourishment that they so desperately need, more than food?   Cause that’s what I think it is.

Lately, I feel like I am standing outside myself watching my life.  I have been wound up and going so fast for so long I don’t even know what ‘slow’ feels like anymore, if I ever did.  Sleep deprivation, too little silence, too much speed have left me slightly brittle.

Theo's fall fairy house under white pine (conveniently located outside my office door).

The other day I completely forgot that Tim was going to the city for business in the early morning, and that I would not have my precious early morning writing time.  I stood at the dining room table over the sticky breakfast dishes and screamed into a napkin.  I cried in frustration.

A little later, Moses said “why are you crying Mommy?”  I couldn’t believe it.  I asked him to repeat it.  He said it again. “Why are you crying Mommy?”  I told him because I was sad.  Then he said:  “Do you need a hug?”  This was huge.  This is the first time he’s expressed empathy towards me.  Such a good sign.  Plus it was darn sweet.

In the past I would have felt a huge welling up of love in my whole body.  This time I felt a hollow happiness.  I felt happy underwater. Like the words were garbled. I couldn’t really feel it in my cells.

 

Gift of the fall season: Theo & Moses finallly become friends.

There is still so much to rake.   My new life as the mother of four very young children has worn me down, maybe not all in a bad way.  I don’t have much patience for doing things because I think I ‘should’ do them.  Like finishingthe leaves.  I consider my leaf options.

In another life I can hardly remember, I might have muscled my way through the raking.  Just focus on the goal and get it done.  But I’m having none of that right now.

Or maybe I am just a person who doesn’t rake her leaves. Who doesn’t really care. Is that so bad?  But in reality, I am a bit of a neat freak, at least in theory.  I don’t like clutter.

Maybe, my logical mind goes, I could be practical and whimsical at the same time and just “outsource” the whole leaf thing. Have someone else rake my leaves. But even if I could stand the horrrible roar of the leaf blower, the truth is, I don’t want someone putting my leaves in bags and carting them away.  I don’t want them to go away.  I need to interact with them. There’s something empty about that. They are my leaves, after all.

Colder weather means...footy pajamas.

This is when I start to get impatient with myself and think, what is wrong with me?    Do other people cry over dried oak leaves?  And for that matter, do they laugh out loud and fantasize only about laying down alone in the leaves, weary and exhausted?

Lately Theo tells me, after being in a group of people who aren’t immediate family or after I’ve been away from him for a few hours, “I have no love in my heart, it got empty. It got lost.”

I ask him to tell me about this. Sometimes he says, “It was too loud.”  Other times he says, “It was too long (that I was away).”  So we pretend his heart is like the tank of Daddy’s car and I fill it with (diesel) fuel by touching my heart with one hand and his with another.  We both close our eyes and I ask him to tell me when he’s filled up with love again.  Sometimes it only takes a second.  Sometimes it takes some concentration and effort for me to fill it. But we don’t stop until it is filled.

As of today, the leaves still sit there on the lawn. They  blow around and resettle. I let myself shift and change with them. I will not force solutions.


Posted by: elizabeth hunter | October 20, 2010

First Kindergarten Parents’ Meeting, 10/4/10

The Assignment

 

Big Truck Day, 2010. Kerhonkson, New York.

The email announcing the first monthly parents’ meeting for Wynne’s kindergarten class arrived with a loud bang in my inbox .

Up to this point, I had imagined my participation in my daughter’s first school experience would involve some non committal  “whenever-the-mood-strikes-me”  kind of classroom volunteering.

We are asked to bring something to the meeting from nature that speaks to us of our child.

It takes a full moment to absorb the shock that this meeting will 1) happen every month (yet one more reason not to go to yoga class) and 2) Involve a homework assignment (I am still getting up to speed with all the other ‘homework’ I have as a parent: making lunches; buying odd seasonal items like rainpants & leg warmers;  emptying & refilling the backpack; keeping track that every mitten, boot & sock going in comes home–kind of like the ‘carry in/carry out’ policy at state parks; plus my own personal daily pop quiz: can I deliver her on time to the school door?).

But after doing a quick mental recalculation of my free time (0 hours), I begin to see some advantages to this meeting.  First, I get to skip bedtime, which since the four kids has become an intricate, lengthy,  ritualistic dance starting at 6 pm and ending sometime after 8.  And second, it is a rare chance to be out amongst my fellow adults.

 

All four kids giddy with lollipops in hand.

What to bring to school to describe my darling oldest girl?  Flowers, stars, her collection of shells, nests, anything to do with water.  All things she loves.  Then I remember the polished stones.

The  Homework

Once while shopping at the local Agway when she was about two, I found her standing totally still in front of a huge barrelfull of colorful polished stones. She didn’t touch them but stood silently, taking in the enormous variety of colors and shapes. After a few moments she started to pick up individual stones.  And that was it. It seemed like she wanted to live forever in that vat of stones.  She could not be drawn away. I literally did not finish my errands that morning.

Thankfully, for like $5.95 we eventually filled up a small velvet bag and were able to go home. Since then, she has spent hours deeply involved in playing with these stones.

 

Polished stones from Agway.

How perfectly these stones describe her!  First off, the  ‘polish,’ Wynne’s  natural smoothness.  An inner poise. Like she is not searching for anything. Like she is complete within herself. Her smile, her movements, her speech seem to flow gracefully from some deep hidden place. There aren’t a lot of rough edges.

 

Wynne and Theo playing 'diving boards' on Wynne's old crib.

I start to run with the ‘polishing’ metaphor.  How these days, with her three boisterous, unruly siblings and two stressed out parents, Wynne is surrounded by a lot of ‘rough stones.’

How although she has her own crazy five-year-old moments, she also has this uncanny knack for describing & appreciating our irregularities and quirks.

When my three year old is driving me mad, blissfully ignoring me and walking away, she says, “When Theo is happy he walks like a penguin.”  When it is so loud at the dinner table that I am ready to join in and start screaming myself (and sometimes do), Wynne points out how Beatrice raises both hands up in the air and waves them slowly from side to side in solidarity with all the other kids’ screaming (kind of like she’s testifying at church).

When Moses is crying for what seems to me no apparent reason, she will whisper in my ear, “I think he’s scared, Mom.”  Oh yeah, I think to myself.  Oh yeah.  She noticed a song Moses sang in the days when he first came home from Rwanda and she taught it to me (“Al la pa poo yay, ). Now we all sing it.

She met a girl her age recently and told me  “She has worried eyes even when she smiles.”

She expresses these details with absolutely no judgment.  In these moments, I stop and see what Wynne sees: the person she is talking about sparkling in their own uniqueness.

The fact that it is a collection of stones also is perfect.  With Wynne it’s never one favorite stone, shell, person,  She is a born collector.  She cherishes her collection of stories above all else, picking just the right story for every occasion,  always on the lookout for new ones.

 

Braided bread that Wynne made in school to look like a rose.

The first thing she says when I pick her up from school is often something like, “tell me the story about how a bear got into your food when you hung it from a tree when you were camping.” I hear her explaining to Theo when looking at a drawing of Africa, “You see Theo, in Africa, they have houses like this, with no sinks, and when Moses was little…”  She keeps Nana  on the phone endlessly asking to hear stories from my mother’s childhood or mine, or the plots of the ballets my mother loves.

I explain to Wynne about the parents meeting and show her the Agway stones and ask her what she’d like me to carry them in.  She chooses the smallest nest of several that seem to have found us this past spring and summer. The one we found right after we got home from Rwanda, with the woven piece of a straw wrapper in it.

And this, too, feels right. I worried about Wynne when we first got home. So many changes, so early in her life.  The day she was born she was placed with Ingrid, her foster mother for two and a half months. Then she and I were in Guatemala together for several months. Then home to New York. Then we all went back to Guatemala when she was two and lived there for half a year while at the same time adding Theo to our family.  And more recently, our time away from her in Africa, then the intrusion of Moses and Beatrice into her life.

 

Wynne pretends to be the baby while Beatrice pretends to be her big sister.

But through it all she always seems very much at home.  She takes whatever comes and makes it her own.  Just the way a  bird weaves its nest with whatever suits.  As if she knows her place in the world, as if  she carries her home with her wherever she goes.

I’m not trying to make light of any of these early experiences, or predict how she will integrate them later on in her life. But I know this: my daughter is  well within.  Solid, whole and intact.

Then I realize what it is.  She has the one thing I have always admired most in others, and the thing that has eluded me my entire life: that intangible and mysterious quality of being comfortable in her own skin.

The Meeting

Arriving at the meeting to the smell of chai tea and beeswax candles, I immediately forget everything I want to say. I shove the box I am carrying with the stones in their nest hastily under a chair.

As the parents sit in a circle and a candle is lit, I start to feel edgy.  Each parent takes their turn to describe their child: a piece of bright green moss to show pure joy, a sunflower to show vulnerability behind a bright face, a walnut hidden inside its shell, some fur from a special dog who loves to work.

I am listening. But I am also restless. I am so tense these days, often railing against the demands on my time and energy of this season in my life. Raising four young children.  This meeting is forcing me to stop and pay attention. First out of politeness, then out of curiousity, and finally out of admiration and solidarity with these parents who care so deeply.  i want to look each one in the eye.  I want to be still.  I want to surrender.

 

Wynne in the backyard. Summer 2010.

At the same time, part of me fights slowing down.  Like someone is trying to trap me and cage me in.  Like I will lose some vital part of myself if I don’t keep  my eye always on the horizon, looking towards the things I have yet to do or be or have.

In the end, the group is too powerful for me. I feel the weepiness that comes from slowing down when you have been moving too fast come over me.

As I  am handed a candle and stand to take my turn, I start crying (always such a bummer in a roomful of people you don’t know well). I try to say all the things I mean to say about Wynne..  But of course, I  am crying and I can’t really say much at all.  So I light a candle for my daughter and am  anxious to get out of the spotlight.

But sometime before the lights go on, I offer up a silent prayer.  Please help me remember this first precious kindergarten meeting.   How I stood in front of all these witnesses and spoke imperfectly of who I know my daughter to be.

Not who I need her to be, not who I want her to be.  With no agenda  but to communicate my love of who she is. May she  hold onto this essence, this undiluted self who she is right now, forever.  Help me to raise her to be herself always. No matter what.

And for myself, a second prayer,   Help me to let go, to enjoy where I am in my life right now, to stop rushing towards the next thing.  Let it be enough. Being a mother, slowing down, writing it down. Reclaiming pieces of  my own essential self.

Posted by: elizabeth hunter | September 21, 2010

Adoption and Vulnerability: First days in Rwanda

The red dirt road leading to the orphanage.

The moment we land in Rwanda. everything feels strange and off kilter. Tim struggles to hoist  four enormous green backpack/rolling cart suitcases–each a good ten pounds over the maximum allowable weight–onto the small airport luggage cart.  No matter how he rearranges them, one bag always threatens to topple over.

After the noise and crowds of the past twenty three hours in New York, Dubai, and Nairobi, the silence of the near empty single terminal Kigali airport is almost jarring; at  8 pm we are the only flight arriving or departing

As we make our way awkwardly towards customs, I become aware of subtle stares through hooded lids. Our luggage suddenly feels ridiculous (it is three quarters filled with orphanage donations! I want to yell to no one in particular).

A representative from our hotel spots us instantly–no line of airport drivers with cardboard signs here. It’s kind of obvious.  This is not a tourist destination. Our flight is filled with lots of NGO workers with duffle bags. There aren’t many people walking around who don’t know where they’re going.

As we step outside the terminal, I take a moment to bask in the balmy Rwandan evening air (like one of those perfectly comfortable Florida nights where you don’t need a jacket).

Like any other airport, there are many people waiting around when a flight comes in.  But here, everyone seems to know one another.  Every greeting is the casual but intimate greeting you give a family member.  Our driver takes a moment to hug several people, wave to several others.  I can’t properly explain it, but there is a hush even in the midst of all these people; I think they can hear my breathing.

I am jolted out of my reverie by the rumbling sound of wheels.  I look over just in time to see Tim desperately attempting to hold onto the overstuffed luggage cart as it picks up speed down a too steep, too small ramp. The ramp is so small and steep it’s as if no one has ever before brought this much luggage into Rwanda.  They are not prepared for us.

Suddenly, the cart gets away from Tim, and I see him running after the wheeled monstrosity as it spins and turns wildly out of control into a dimly lit parking light.

Our trip to Rwanda, Day 1. Comforting Moses at the orphanage.

The cart looks so ridiculous, moving in almost slow motion, I have to laugh out loud. But nobody else is laughing or running to help us, even our driver. People have pleasant expressions on their faces. They don’t appear to be disdainful or judgmental.  But they do not jump in and start helping like they would in America.  There is a natural caution  (I later find out that Rwandans will go out of their way to help you once the proper introductions have been made and they understand clearly what it is you desire.).

Tim eventually manages to catch up to the luggage.  We then spend ten minutes strategically jamming it all into the hotel’s sub sub compact car so that the trunk will close.

Even the conversation in the cab is completely unexpected.  The driver, a tall man who greeted us politely but not effusively at baggage claims, asks us where we are from. After finding out we live in New York, he says, “I am so very sorry for your September 11th,”  as if he or even his country had anything in the world to do with it. There is an unguardedness and an innocence to this comment that touches me deeply.

I am taken aback when he then volunteers, while we are still practically on the grounds of the airport, his story of us how he fled to Uganda during the 1994 Rwandan genocide, how Hutus who he had grown up with came to his house looking for him.  How he would be dead if he had been home and how most of his family was murdered while he was away.  How he came back to no one but his sister and mother.

I don’t know what to say. What are the rules here? That you talk so openly and honestly to complete strangers about such deeply personal things, yet stand aside and observe when someone needs help with something so mundane as runaway luggage?

Over the next twenty four hours we are immersed in dozens of conversations and transactions like this one, that we do not fully understand. Each time, it is impossible to know how to make an appropriate response.

Sam the Philosopher with his cab. He made us laugh in the most stressful moments.

Go with the flow, I keep telling myself. The next morning we find ourselves sitting in the Minister in charge of adoption’s office for hours, waiting. Our power of attorney, Peter seems happy & relaxed to sit in these low armchairs indefinitely.  We follow his lead.

But there are so many questions I have to stifle. Is the Minister really in her office?  Are we waiting all this time out of protocol or are they actually busy? Are they promising to give us the signed travel letter on Monday just to avoid saying no face to face? Will we completely offend if we insist we have to have it by 9 am or is this the only way to have any hope of getting the letter on Monday at all?

All the guidebooks and maps I have read over the past months are completely useless to me now.  I find myself just as amazed as I was the very first time I travelled to a foreign country-Romania as a teenager–at  how long it takes (months if not years) to begin to understand a foreign culture, to make sense of all the unspoken communication flowing automatically among people within that culture.

We arrive at the passport office six minutes before closing, Day 1.

It’s like looking through plate glass at a beautiful, locked store.  We are outsiders. (The last time I had learned this was on two extended stays in Guatemala in 2005 and 2007, in the course of our first two adoptions (see Chocolate Cake Incident).

It can be a beautiful experience to find your way slowly into a culture when travelling. But not if you are trying to complete the adoption of your two Rwandan children while your other two children,  five  and three, sit anxiously at home with relatives, away from their parents for the very first time.

The cold facts are these: we are in Central Africa for a maximum of two weeks, in a country where we know not a soul, where there were a total of seventeen adoptions completed by Americans the previous year, and where everyone has told us two weeks is optimistic, to say the least.

A Sister from Home of Hope holds Bea, First meeting, Day 1.

We arrive in Rwanda with two contact names, both people we have never met and one of whom we’ve  talked to once over a horribly distorted phone line. But there is no choice.  We must trust them.  There is nothing to do but surrender.

We take long comical car rides with Peter and his Seventh Day Adventist philosopher friend Sam (“If God wants us to get to the passport office by 11 am, he will show us the way!” Sam says, while he helps God out by driving maniacally, practically running over a dozen pedestrians, getting us there a full six minutes before closing time) racing around town–the Embassy, the orphanage,the photo developing place–unsure if we are making any progress at all in moving our paperwork along or if people are just politely saying yes yes yes to us (which we were told happens often in Rwanda) and in the end doing exactly as they please.

Our new friend Peter arrives at our hotel for another full day cab ride ferrying our paperwork around Kigali

Just let go and enjoy the ride, I say.  You are in Rwanda.  You are bringing home your children.  This is a once in a lifetime adventure. Do you want to look back and remember worrying through the entire experience?  Well, no, I answer.

But the truth is, I am uncomfortable. There is a lot at stake here.  And I guess I am no different from most Americans.  We are, as a people, used to controlling things.  We don’t like feeling utterly defenseless and at the mercy of powerful people who are NOT us. We don’t have lots of experience feeling this kind of vulnerable on a daily basis. Where the most routine task amounts to an act of faith.

On one of the endless cab rides it comes to me where I have felt these feelings before    And it’s not really about being an American at all.  It’s about being an adoptive parent or an adoptive parent to-be.  We who choose this path to our children are all too familiar with feeling vulnerable, sometimes even before we fill out the first piece of  paperwork.

Maybe  we have waited for a child so long our whole body aches. Or we have lost a child.  Our faith has been shattered by failed fertility treatments.  Or we are terrified by the adoption horror stories we’ve heard.  We are shaky and unsure.  We are afraid to hope.  Afraid to try again.

By the time we start our adoption, we may have already begun to build up walls to protect ourselves. We pray that if we can just hire the right agency, they will tell us what to do;  they will take care of everything,  and we will not have to put our hearts on the line again.

But honestly, in my experience as someone who has done  both agency and independent adoptions,  there is no way around it.  If you want to bring home your child & complete your adoption, the walls have to come down.  Adoption– domestic, international whatever–is an act of faith of the greatest magnitude.

Moses' first breakfast at the hotel, Day 2.

You have got to learn to feel vulnerable all over again. To trust after disappointments. To trust other people with the most sacred aspects of your life .   You have to trust in a process you cannot see unfolding inside your own body.  You have to trust when everything in you wants to run away.

As I sit with sullen Moses in my lap, who at the end of our first full day in Rwanda has yet to crack a real smile, I have a thought:  maybe the reason why we adoptive parents go through all the drama that we do to bring our children home, those feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and edginess that are a near unavoidable aspect of adoption, is so that we will have the tiniest inkling of what our adoptive children are experiencing.  How very big and scary the world looks when you are small.  And lost.  And alone.

To be continued…

Posted by: elizabeth hunter | September 12, 2010

First Day of School

I was two thirds through writing this week’s blog post when it hit…

The first day of kindergarten and nursery school!

I am more surprised than most to find this day has arrived in my household.  And not for the usual reasons (they grow up so quickly!  it goes so fast!).

No, I mean literally ‘surprised.’ As of July my plan was to homeschool my four kids this year.

After some gentle lobbying from my mother (are you crazy?) and everyone else I mentioned it to, I allowed myself to entertain the idea of sending my kids to  ‘real’ school,  in order to humor everyone else.  Slowly I became enchanted with the idea. By ‘opening day‘ I was pretty darn psyched.

By the time I was fully onboard with the whole school thing it was practically the first day. There wasn’t time to get organized. I also did not ponder the emotional adjustments that might go along with this milestone.

Truthfully, I was so clueless I didn’t even realize I needed to get organized or emotionally prepared..

Here is just a short list of a few things that caught me off guard on the first day of school (in addition to the fact that yesterday I found myself running around buying backpacks and labeling clothes with permanent clothing marker):

1. It’s hard  to get out of the house in the morning. And arrive on time. At least it is for me (why did I not plan for this? anyone who has ever had an appointment with me before 10am could have seen this one  coming).  My stomach filled with terror when, at our first kindergarten parent meeting, Wynne’s  teacher gave us a gently worded but clear lecture on “how much it ‘helps’ when you arrive on time.”

Let’s just say, to put it mildly, I am not an efficiency expert type mother.  My strengths as a mother  are in giving my children larges doses of love and permission to dream and create.  I am the first to admit I am no role model for punctuality.  And it’s not for lack of trying.  It’s like the whole idea that I HAVE to be somewhere at an EXACT time makes me so anxious that I freeze up and it takes even more time to get ready.

I’ve read all the articles that say lay out the clothes the night before etc.. But if anyone has any good, idiot proof  tips for  the punctuality challenged, I would appreciate them.

For instance, how do you stop tooth brushing from turning into water play? How can you get a child to eat a pancake in under a half hour? By my reckoning, I need to get up at 4am to make this thing work.

2. You need school clothes.  Theo can’t wear baby Bea’s ruffled fuschia Hanna Anderson cotton pants any time he pleases anymore (must sort kids clothes this week).

3. It’s pretty stressful when your three year old is the only one in his class throwing wood blocks across the room and dismantling the teepee in the corner while screeching in a kind of Indian war cry to break the sound barrier on the very first day (The teacher seems unfazed.   Mommy needs a time out with glass of wine.).

4.Two hours of simultaneous nursery & kindergarten orientation will feel like two weeks of hard labour, especially if your 5 and 3 year old have never been in any sort of school program before (and one of them needs to eat every hour on the hour and you forgot snacks and you had to give him your own green bar breakfast & so now your blood sugar has plummeted.).

4. Sending your kids off to school for the first time will bring up all the emotions you have not had time or inclination to deal with lately.  You may find yourself crying through the first meeting with your child’s nursery school teacher, for example. So much has happened to our family in the past four months (just read the rest of this blog), I suppose it makes sense.

I just had no idea all the pent up emotion of our two recent adoptions would decide to come out while passing apple slices around the table in Señora Elsa’s class!

Please forgive this week’s short post. I am going to collapse in my car now (where no one will think to look for me. So please don’t tell.) until my babysitter leaves….

Posted by: elizabeth hunter | September 3, 2010

Overcoming Adoption Inertia: En Route to Kigali, April, 2010

Easter Egg Hunt, days before leaving for Rwanda

The problem with adopting four times is that when you hit a roadblock in your own adoption process, you think you should have seen it coming.  But if there’s one thing I have learned in my four adoptions, it’s that it doesn’t really matter how many times you adopt, you never see it coming.

Each time we’ve  adopted, something totally unexpected (or several things) has  come up to freak us out.  The only difference with experience is that you don’t freak out quite as much. And you begin to see patterns

There are two big categories of setbacks that can come up during an adoption: external setbacks, the concrete things such as (and you can  fill-in-the-blank with the particulars of your situation): problems with U.S. government related paperwork–homestudy person a nightmare, agency slow to process paperwork, some official marriage/birth/financial document takes a ridiculous amount of time to arrive, mistakes on the documentation (wrong seal, wrong signature, notary license expired); problems with foreign country bureaucracy, problems with foreign country corruption, problems with foreign country communication style, problems with foreign country timeline, etc. etc. etc.(strange aside: I’m really enjoying making this list).

Tea party with teddy bears, the week before flying to Rwanda.

The second category of bumps in the road are the internal setbacks, the purely emotional challenges that come up seemingly out of nowhere during the adoption process that can make you want to give up and can  cause just as much delay as the external ones.

For me, the most faithful & loyal of these challenges, the  one that has dogged me at every stage of my adoption journey, is inertia.

There’s lots and lots of legitimate waiting in the course of adopting a child. Times when there is nothing to do but wait for things outside your control to move through the proper channels.

But there’s this other weird, self imposed kind of waiting I’ve experienced.  When for periods of time, for no reason, you simply stop taking action.

You tell yourself you are too busy to do the next step in your adoption.  You tell yourself it just doesn’t “feel” right to make that call, fill out that form. And sometimes, that’s genuinely true. But inertia is different. It’s when you are not making the choice to stop. It’s a knee jerk reaction. You are just too scared to keep going.

A family of baby raccoons, sensing an opportunity, takes up residence in our laundry room two days before we leave.

I didn’t always admit this to myself.  It looked like a lot of other things: I was  overwhelmed & didn’t know where to start; I was waiting to get every tiny detail lined up perfectly. Or after getting really clear that I was passionate about pursuing adoption, it suddenly became time to work on my inner growth, get calmer, feel safer, have more faith, feel more confident before taking action. Or I needed to get every friend and member of my family to agree with my decision to adopt.  Or, and here’s a favorite of mine,  with every tiny step I was waiting for yet another “sign” that I should keep going (how many “signs” does one person actually need?).

But deep down, I was scared. I was waiting for the fear to go away.  Waiting to feel safe before acting. Waiting for someone else to give me the all clear to move forward.

Taking continuous action, especially early in the adoption process, is just plain  scary and uncomfortable.  And who wants to be scared? For many people it stops them from ever adopting. It always surprises me how many people who contact me about adoption, who express a genuine calling to adopt, never end up following through. They miss the chance of a lifetime.  It’s the fear.

It took me four adoptions to finally put this one to rest.  Maybe I can save you some time…

Imagine how completely annoyed I got with myself when, at the eleventh hour of our  third and fourth adoptions this past April, after navigating the entire process fairly steadily, inertia caught me by surprise, like a smelly garbage truck at a red light,  the week before we were supposed to leave for Rwanda.

“Why now?”  I asked myself impatiently.  It’s too late to turn back.  It’s a done deal.

But fear has a logic all its own. “What if I just don’t get on that plane?” a little voice whispered.   “Maybe we could just quietly NOT go, forget the whole thing and no one will notice?”  These were the thoughts in my head. You might not believe me but in the moment they seemed almost possible.

Wynne picks Mom first Spring daffodils (ok, now I really can't leave), 4/10.

In both of our adoptions from Guatemala, at any given time, there were always a hundred good reasons not to take the next step.  This time around I could think of a thousand. For one thing,  our go ahead to fly came just as Memorial Week was happening in Rwanda, a week of mourning for the 1994 genocide.  Did Kigali really need two Americans running around pushing paperwork?  In addition,  we thought Moses had tuberculosis, which worried us for all kinds of health reasons,  but there was also the possibility that it could cause him to be quarantined for weeks in Kenya and one or both of us stuck there with him.

We also could not get an appointment at the US Embassy in Kenya which was required to get the kids’ visas to fly home. How long would that take? Then there was the possibility of getting tripped up by the blasted Adam Walsh clearance, a completely redundant criminal records clearance that was holding some adoptive families up for weeks.

Even if everything went smoothly, according to our best case scenario,  we would be leaving Wynne and Theo for two weeks, the first time ever for more than a night. This more than anything else made me out of my mind with fear.

I played out delay and inaction as long as possible, pretending to myself we weren’t going.  I put off packing.  I put off doing fundraising for the orphanage.  We didn’t book our tickets till five days before. I put off researching travel details.

If I hadn’t already been the mother of a five and three year old, who were counting on me to be calm and steady, I probably would have created even more drama.  But the kids were  scared enough about us leaving, and it was a godsend to have that motivation to pull it together.

I was a list making machine in the days before we flew to Rwanda.

I made great lists of things to calm myself down:  travel instructions, embassy appointment lists, visa info lists , meal ideas for Wynne and Theo while we were away, Wynne & Theo’s daily routine, a master packing list, with smaller lists for each family member, a contact list, calendar, a local resources list, a list of additional notes & contacts, etc, etc…

But all the lists in the world couldn’t keep away my old friends, fear and inertia, and their  good buddy, hopelessness (this guy’s a total snooze, btw. All he ever says is, ‘this isn’t going to work, this isn’t going to work.’).

We're packed & ready to go. Except I can't stop hugging the kids.

Luckily, by the time we were packed and ready to go, and I had checked off all the items on all the lists, I was so exhausted I was numb. Which was an improvement.

But it wasn’t only numbness.  After a sleepless night at my sister-in-laws, we hugged the kids goodbye (the hardest moment of the entire journey) and I allowed myself a little cry as soon as the cab to the airport pulled out of sight.

After the cab driver made the usual adoption faux pas (“Do you have any kids of your own?), Tim and I sat in companionable  silence in the cab, each of us quiet with our own thoughts.

That’s when I noticed it.  Somewhere in the early morning light the fear had evaporated. All of a sudden I could hardly understand the inertia of the past weeks.  And that’s also  when  I remembered something I always forget when I’m stuck in fear:  you can wait on the sidelines of your life forever for your fear to subside.  it never does. It’s only in the doing of the things you are most scared of, the action taking, that you feel any relief at all.

En route to Rwanda.

And taking action is also what allows forces outside yourself to rally to help you fulfill your dreams.  I had asked to play bigger in life, I had prayed to be released from a lifetime habit of worrying (see My Big Fat New Life, Part I).

At the time I thought I was just getting on a plane to Rwanda, with connections through Dubai and Kenya.

Although it seems obvious in hindsight, I was actually heading towards Rwanda, the country on Earth that knows better than perhaps any other the massive destructiveness of fear, the home of one of the greatest genocides in human history.

But maybe even more importantly,  Rwanda in 2010 is one of the best places on earth to learn how to heal from fear and restore hope and faith.

To be continued…


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