Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Adventures in the life of parenting fraternal twins

So the other day I overheard Anna saying (to no one in particular; I think she was just playing):
"Yes, they are twins."

HA! I suppose it's no mystery that she has picked up on that phrase, since I find myself saying it all the time. I've had a lot of people, upon seeing the boys, ask if they're brothers, and most of the time they act incredulous when I tell them that (as Anna so eloquently stated) yes, they are twins.

In fact, I once had a lady (I'd never seen her before) at church argue with me about them being twins. She was walking by and pointed at them and asked something about it and I said that they're twins. She stopped, was still pointing and argued that no, Biniam is smaller than Yosef, and that they're not twins. No, I said, they're twins, fraternal twins. When she walked away I still don't think she believed me.

Another time at a church picnic someone (again, I'd never seen them before) stopped me to ask about the boys. We got to talking and she said something about Bin being Yosef's little brother. No, I said, they're actually twins. She then pointed at Bin and said, "But he's smaller." Yes, I said, they're fraternal twins, so they're no more genetically similar than any two siblings.

I've explained to people about what fraternal twins are many, many times. Not because I'm seeking these conversations out mind you, but because people ask. I've also had people TELL me, "They're not twins", while pointing. A lot of people also point out how Yosef is "darker" than Bin (which he is, but that doesn't mean they're not twins.)

Maybe it's just me but I've known fraternal twins before who looked nothing alike. I've known siblings before that didn't look alike. At any rate, it cracks me up that Anna has now picked up on the line I find myself saying quite often. I think I'm just going to have her say it from now on!

Saturday, July 22, 2006

The other side (of transracial adoption)

Over on Erin's blog, she posted a link to this article. It's about an African American woman who was adopted as a small child into a white family. It's not a feel-good, warm, fuzzy sort of adoption story. But it is her story, of finding her racial identity and the struggles she faced. Adult adoptees definitely have a story to tell, and by telling their stories--even (or especially) the sad ones--they offer adoptive parents a glimpse into the sorts of things to guard against and to do. This story was mostly "what not to do."

After I read the article I felt really sad. Sad that not all that long ago adoption was clouded in secrecy, things (like race and birth family) were considered too "taboo" to talk about, and that many people suffered as a result.

I am not naive enough to believe that our sons won't face challenges during their lifetime because of the fact that they were adopted transracially. There are inherent challenges in our country for minorities as it is; our sons will have two "worlds" that they are essentially a part of. I don't know what it's like to be black (or any other minority) in the United States first-hand. SO, it's important for me to do what I can to gain an understanding so I can best equip my kids.

Here are some things that Kevin and I are committed to, being that we are now a multi-racial family.

--Relocating to an area in the next few years that is more racially diverse (specifically a higher percentage of African Americans.) The town we live in is actually mostly Hispanic, and the town we attend church in and do most of our hanging out in is almost all Caucasian. We hope to move for other reasons as well (Kevin's tired of commuting!), but one of our prerequisites is a place where our boys won't always be "odd man out." We'd also love to live in somewhat close proximity to a city with an Ethiopian population so that our sons (and we) can be part of cultural events, eat Ethiopian food, etc.

--This goes along with the first one but we also hope to eventually be part of a church that is more racially mixed than our current one.

--Being open and honest with our sons about their beginning, their birth family, and their background. It's their story, they have a right to it, and it's beautiful because it's theirs.

--Educating ourselves about their birth country, and in turn educating them. This includes reading books/watching movies related to Ethiopia. Also, educating ourselves about African American culture as well. For example, it's important for our kids to see that we value so-and-so's music, because so-and-so looks like them.

--Being open and honest about race and racism. While I don't plan to scare my kids or set them up to always expect to be treated differently, I'm also not planning to sugarcoat anything. I've seen racism with my own eyes (both directed at them and not); they'll eventually see it too.

--Bringing them up to value their identity, which is made up of many things. We love the fact that they are Ethiopian, that they're black, that they're our sons, just like we love Anna's identity as our daughter. I hope that they grow to see that the core of their identity is that God loves them and created them to be the exact people they are today. That they're valuable because they're them.

--Kind of scary but I'm gearing up to learn how to cook Ethiopian food. I hope to incorporate it into our regular meals. My goal is to eat it twice a week. Eventually they'll go to Ethiopia and realize Mommy wasn't very good at it, but hey at least they can say I tried!

I don't know how each of our sons will view their race, heritage, or identity as they grow. It is intimidating in certain ways because I love Yosef and Biniam so much and want to give them a good, solid foundation--life's tough enough as it is! I pray every day that God will give me the right words and actions to love these precious boys.

Finally, for adoptive parents of black children, someone gave us as a gift a WONDERFUL children's book called Colors Come from God...Just Like Me! Also, my favorite book on transracial issues is I'm Chocolate, You're Vanilla: Raising Healthy Black and Biracial Children in a Race Conscious World. Read it!

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Like sand though the hourglass...

So the other day I had "Days of Our Lives" on (shhh, don't tell but I watch it occasionally), and the kids weren't quite down for their naps yet (they usually nap from noon to two, and Days comes on at noon.) Yosef walked up to the TV and started pushing the buttons, as usual, and turned it off.

Which prompted Anna to say in a loud voice, "Yosef, turn the news back on!"

Ah yes, apparently my young, impressionable daughter is now equating a soap opera with the news. Life doesn't get much better than this. (If you don't get the title of this post, clearly you are not a Days fan. Kristen, I hope you enjoyed this story, it's for you!)

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Random Heldt updates

If you know us in real life, you probably haven't seen us in a long time. Anna, for just about a month now, has had some sort of tummy/intestinal issue. We haven't been to church in three weeks or really seen any of our friends, which has been totally weird since our weekends are usually spent doing at least one social thing. As for Anna, she feels just fine, but is still sick. Some of her lab results have come back and they're negative, but we're waiting on the rest of them.

We got a referral for a pediatric gastroenterologist finally, for Biniam, to determine if there's a reason for his slow/low weight gain. I'm so thrilled because the specialist is at UCLA! Our insurance approved it and everything, so for a small co-pay our son gets to go to one of the best of these specialists in the Western US. We will be SO happy to get a definitive answer about him. At his weight check earlier this month, he had gained as usual, but not as much as one would expect (again, as usual.) I took in an Ethiopian growth chart as well as his past weights that we have record of. Our doctor, based on everything (espeically the fact that Bin has an appetite and is meeting his milestones, and has tons of energy), doesn't feel anything's wrong, but says it's better to find out sooner than later if something IS wrong. SO at some point we'll be taking Biniam down to Los Angeles (I'll be making the appointment as soon as we figure out Anna's issue. One thing at a time!) We plan to go to Little Ethiopia while we're down there, which we're really looking forward to.

Some of our very dear friends, Darin and Lara Laity, are moving to Mississippi in a few weeks. Sad! We've been friends since college and will greatly miss our Sunday lunches and hanging out. Because Anna's been sick and we've been in isolation for the last few weeks, we haven't gotten to see them. We're hoping to do dinner before they leave (Troy and Becky, are you in?).

I really miss our friends from our small group biblestudy! I guess I got spoiled seeing them every week. It broke for the summer, and again because of our isolation we haven't gotten to see the Gibsons or the Hawkins'. Troy and Becky, if you're reading this, any Kathy news yet??

Other than the medical issues, our kids are doing well. Biniam has really "come into his own" lately. It took him awhile to truly feel secure with us, and to mourn the losses in his life, but now, his personality has just really blossomed and taken off. He is so not the same kid he was when we met him! I think he and Anna have recently grown closer as a result.

Yosef is just now coming out of a tough time I think. He seems to have been doing some "testing" (extra aggressive, not minding, more than just the usual toddler stuff), hasn't been his usual happy-go-lucky self. But he's had a couple of good days now which is great. Grieving and loss in children is fascinating. It comes and goes, you think maybe they're done, then it comes back. I praise God for these kids and that we get to be the ones to love them through it! (Side-note: I REALLY recommend the book "Attaching in Adoption" for adoptive parents. It is a must-read!)

I think that's it. Not too exciting, but that's what happens when you're a complete shut-in for four weeks. :)

Thursday, July 13, 2006

I won!

Mary from the blog Owlhaven (fellow adoptive mom of kids from Ethiopia--this is one of my favorite blogs!), recently had a contest where she asked for anniversary ideas, wanting to know the best anniversary celebration people had. Well, I just HAD to share our one-year anniversary story--and it won! (Even though for the most part it was more of a "what-not-to-do!" until the end, when the day redeemed itself in a major way.) So here it is: I am the Golden Keyboard winner of the week!

If you want to read the unfortunate account, go here. (Then scroll down.) At least it has a happy ending!

Open your wallets, we want your money!

Last night the phone rang. I asked Kevin to get it, but he complained that it probably wasn't for him anyway. PLEASE pick it up, I begged. Well, he did, and it turned out it WAS for him. It was someone from Cal Poly SLO calling, which is the college where we both went to school and where he graduated from. They told him they wanted to update his contact information. Sure, sure, Kevin said, and gave out his email address. (Why, I'm not sure. It's bad enough that they call us at 6:30 p.m.!) THEN, at the end of the phone call, the person said they were "also" wanting to know if he'd be interested in making a contribution to the university. (Clearly the main reason for the call!) And THEN, they proceeded to say, "We are wondering if you can make a minimum donation of $1,000." ONE THOUSAND DOLLARS?! Oh, what a good laugh we shared when he got off the phone and told me about it. I am wondering, with all of the pain and suffering and no-lack-of-good-causes-to-give-money-to in the world today, who on EARTH is going to give $1,000 to a university that made you pay tuition and buy books in the first place?! Are there people out there who feel so strongly for their alma mater that they will shell out a MINIMUM of $1,000 on a whim? To a COLLEGE? (If anyone out there reading this has done that, I apologize! Maybe there is more to this than meets the eye, I don't know.)

A few months ago I got a phone call from a Christian organization called Family Life. Somehow we are on their contact list. They have this radio show which I've heard once or twice. Sometimes there's something good on there but most of the time I think it's kind of cheesy (again, I'm sorry if you like the show. Like I said I HAVE heard decent things on there.) Anyway, a woman called and started telling me (via a script she was reading) about how the family in America is "under attack." She said that babies born out of wedlock are on the rise, homosexuality is widespread, etc. She then went on to say that Family Life is combatting this, so would I please consider giving a minimum donation of $50 to Family Life.

Hee, hee. First of all, my little family unit is doing just fine. I don't feel like my family is personally threatened by teen pregnancy or by gay people. (And anyway I'm wondering if maybe the higher rate of babies born outside of marriage has to do with a declining abortion rate. Fewer abortions means more babies actually being born.) Second of all, sin is sin--in a sense, the family has been under attack since the beginning of time (the snake tempted Eve in the garden, right?) The woman's script mentioned the gay marriage legislation that's always being talked about. Personal convictions/opinions on that aside, let's say that was to pass and they were able to get married. When it comes right down to it, my own marriage will not be affected, so I am not "scared" enough about it to shell out money to Family Life, who was implying that they would somehow be able to stop it. And finally, I am wondering how their half-hour weekly Christian radio show, which to my knowledge only airs on Christian radio stations, is going to help fewer unmarried women become pregnant, or how it is going to stop people from being gay.

So, of course I told the woman I was not interested in giving at this (read: any) time. But it didn't end there. She launched into another section of the script. The family-attack scare tactics hadn't worked, so now she was using what I will call the guilt angle. She told me another set of things about our country, then said how hard Family Life was working to combat them, concluding with, "Sadly, Family Life cannot do this without donations. Will you please consider making a contribution of $30 today?" Yet again, I said no, I was not interested. AND, she replied with something to the effect of (man I wish I could remember the exact words), "Okay, I understand you don't have money to give today." It may not have been exactly that, but the sentiment was the same: you're too broke to give us $30. Because of course NO ONE who actually HAD the money would keep from giving it to Family Life.

The truth is, we have $30 we could give. We have $50 we could give. But I'm sorry, from my vantage point, there are bigger fish to fry, so to speak. I'm sure God uses Family Life to do good things. But in being a good steward of my money, I feel like I should give it away to those who truly need it. I think there are some fundamental, root-issues here that come into play. I won't go into them, but I will say that I truly wish I would have had the guts to press this woman from Family Life for how exactly my $50 or $30 is going to reduce teen pregnancies. If that's a cause I'm passionate about, wouldn't that money be better donated to a crisis pregnancy center, or to Big Brothers/Big Sisters, or some other organization that is actually in the field helping at-risk women and men? Aren't most of the Family Life listeners other Christians?

Anyway, I had to share the story about the call from last night, and decided to throw the Family Life one in there too. Am I the only one who thinks about these things? Life never ceases to amuse me. It is always an adventure!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Sister and brothers

One of the things I get asked the most is how Anna likes being a sister and how do the kids get along. I think these pictures speak for themselves, but I will say that one of my greatest joys is seeing the kids interact and enjoy each other's company. The pictures below are of Anna and Biniam on the couch eating snacks and watching "Little Joe," one of their favorite Veggie Tales videos.

Here are Yosef and Biniam sitting watching Baby Einstein together. (Though they aren't sitting for long, as you can see in the next picture. They are always trying to push the buttons on the TV! I think in the bottom picture Biniam is praying that Yosef won't get a time out!)

Anna LOVES cuddling with her brothers. And they like it too!

All of that to say, it is so neat getting to see the joy that the kids take in being with each other. I don't know what Anna would do without Yosef and Biniam. She wants to see them right when she wakes up, wants to tuck them in at night, and loves playing with them. I don't know what Yosef would do without Anna--he adores her, is always trailing after her, wanting to play with her. Biniam and Anna love to sit and laugh together--they get going and end up laughing hysterically. And Yosef and Biniam share a sweet background and have been there for each other since birth.

I have to admit I worried, before we went to Ethiopia, what it would be like for Anna to have two new brothers. Going from being the only child to having two brothers only eight months younger than you seemed like a big deal. I even felt a little guilty. But what a blessing these kids are to each other! It's fun getting to know Anna not only as a daughter, but in the role of sister.

It's crazy to think about all of the things society tells us are important. Having a lot of stuff, being able to do exactly what you want when you want, taking fancy vacations every year, etc. I find myself buying into that line of thinking sometimes. But then I look at these pictures of my kids and think, man, THIS is what life's about. I don't see us taking many trips to Hawaii, but hopefully we will be able to continue financing more Ethiopian adoptions. It takes me forever to get anywhere because I've got three toddlers to get out the door, but the way they all instantly clap, kick their feet, and squeal with delight when the Tracy Chapman song "Revolution" comes on in the car easily becomes the highlight of my day. I love our crazy life and the fact that our kids have each other!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Good times

A few weeks ago, Kevin's brother Mike, Mike's wife Rachel, and their daughter Aubrey came and spent a couple of days with us. About a year ago they moved from Orange County to Colorado, and we haven't seen them in several months. It was so fun to get to hang out and catch up! Aubrey has grown so much over the last year, and it was funny having four kids running around the house.

Anyway, here are some pictures from their visit. (Above from left to right is Kevin holding Anna, me holding Yosef, Mike holding Biniam, and Rachel with Aubrey. Whew, that's eight people!)
Us eating dinner. Check out the four kids lined up in their highchairs!
Anna, Biniam, Yosef and cousin Aubrey eating cheerios off the table. (Poor Aubrey was continually having to share her snacks!)

And here is the token "outtake." Right as the camera was about to take the picture, Yosef took the toy in his hand and smacked Kevin right in the face! Look at the face Kevin's making! And look at the expression on my face! Ha, ha, ha!

Monday, July 10, 2006

Lazy summer days

For the last few weeks our little family has really been enjoying our backyard and being outdoors. One of the things the kids have been loving is eating breakfast out on a blanket on the grass. They get such a kick out of it and the minute I lay the blanket down they make a beeline for it and sit there nicely until their breakfast is done!

Then, oftentimes on the weekends (and on the occasional weekday), we'll get the pool set up. All three of our kids LOVE swimming now, especially Yosef. Check out our three little fish:

We've also spent a fair amount of time up at the Creston Pool with my parents, which is where I spent every single summer growing up. It's fun taking my own kids there now! The pool is free, which is sweet, and they have a two-foot deep kiddie pool that we spend the bulk of our time in. Again, Yosef outswims Anna and Bin by far. He just LOVES the pool!

So that's what we've been up to. One of the greatest things about having kids is getting to experience certain things all over again. Summertime gets to feel magical and exciting again (and there's nothing like seeing your children jumping up and down and screeching with delight when you pull out the inflatable pool!)

Friday, July 07, 2006

Two cool families

I have been so personally challenged lately by two families that I don't even know! I wanted to share about these people and let you go check out their blogs. I've been thinking a lot recently about our own little family, about adoption, about our family's future. Once we had Anna we decided that we wanted a large family. Then our hearts were moved to adopt and we decided we wanted an even larger family that would include children from far away places that truly needed families.

Enat comments sometimes here on this blog. She has a blog called Bringing Desta Home. Enat and her husband just adopted a beautiful girl from Ethiopia, who happens to be HIV+. I don't remember how I came across the blog in the first place several months ago, but I was floored by this family and their amazing hearts. While pursuing the adoption of a boy from Ethiopia, they began sponsoring a girl at AHOPE, Desta. When they traveled to pick up their son, they visited Desta at AHOPE. And decided that they wanted to adopt her. I've learned a lot reading this blog: about what HIV is and isn't, about the public perception of HIV and AIDS, and what it means to live out your beliefs. Go read their blog!

And more recently, I've been learning about Erin. She and her husband have nine children, some biological and some adopted. On their recent adoption trip to Ethiopia to pick up their new son, they visited AHOPE. Erin fell in love with a little girl there, also HIV+, and now they are adopting her! Erin has a blog where she has been sharing their journey of deciding to adopt this beautiful girl. I read the entries yesterday and they brought tears to my eyes (scroll down and read the entries titled "Deciding to adopt Belane.") I am totally challenged by this family's faith and their hearts. Talk about living out the gospel of Jesus. I found myself feeling so completely convicted reading these journal entries, and memories of the children at AHOPE flooded my mind. One of the things that struck me in visiting AHOPE was that here were kids, active, healthy, that look and play just like any other children, and yet because of a health condition there is a good chance that many of them will never have a mom or a dad and will possibly live an abbreviated life as the ARV's are harder to come by in Ethiopia. Now, reading Erin's blog, I remember those kids and remember feeling frustrated that they will have a harder time finding families. Yet utterly convicted because until pursuing Ethiopian adoption, I myself believed all sorts of false myths about HIV and would never have remotely considered adopting an HIV + child.

Did you know that Yosef and Biniam have a biological sister? She's about a year older than Anna, so she's probably about three and half years old now. As far as we know, she is still with their birth mother. We hope to make contact with them soon, through our agency. Something Kevin and I have talked about is eventually, if their mother were to become unable to care for the little girl (which of course we hope doesn't happen), we would love her to join our family as well. Maybe it's a longshot, maybe it's already too late to locate them, I don't know. We obviously don't know anything about this little girl, her health, etc., it's totally hypothetical. There is of course always the chance that she herself could be HIV+. But she's family. Even though we've never met her, she is part of our family, our sons' sister.

I'm not sure how any of these jumbled thoughts will play out in the future. I find myself totally uncomfortable reading some of these blog entries I've read. Why, you ask? Well, because I sit and read and think, more people ought to think like this, and be open to this. God loves these children, has a plan for their life, and He created children to be raised in families who love them. I read about HIV and think, wow, it is very manageable, many people go on to live full, long lives when they have access to the proper drugs. But of course I'm not doing it. I don't just mean HIV either. Special needs in general. Like most other people I want healthy, "easy" kids. I want a family that "fits in" (too late for that, I realize) and to be honest I'm not a big risk taker. I fear change, care too much about what others think of me, and am a control freak. Not a good candidate for any sort of special needs adoption, right?

Ah, if only it were that simple. God's ideas about things are so different from mine. Like I said I don't know if/how any of this will ever play out. We know we want to continue adopting from Ethiopia, we've talked about special needs, older children, and HIV+ kids. One thing I have discovered on our own adoption journey is that I don't want to live a "safe" life. I don't want to shy away from things that seem daunting (well obviously part of me does) and I don't want to get to the end of my life feeling like I only lived for myself. I want to die a person who spent every last part of themselves.

What a long post! Whew! So now it's your turn, you tell me what moves you, what makes you "uncomfortable," what have you read/seen lately that has you thinking???

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Worth watching

Last night Kevin and I watched a movie that was so good I had to tell you about it. "Emmanuel's Gift" is a documentary about a man born physically disabled (essentially born with only one leg) in Ghana. Hoping to break through the stigma of being disabled in Ghana (it is believed that if you're born with any sort of disability, you are cursed, and most likely will live out your days as a beggar), he plans to ride a bicycle 500 km across the country. The movie is AMAZING, offers a look into life in Ghana, and is truly inspiring. It's rated G, so definitely family friendly.

Isn't it great that our life's worth is not based upon what we can do, how we look, or how we measure up compared to other people? I was reminded watching the film that we are all born with different strengths, struggles, and obstacles. Some are more pronounced or visible than others. Some are more socially acceptable than others. But no matter what our own personal "disability" is, we can make a difference and live a beautiful life.

I was also reminded of the great need to go against the grain of society and advocate on behalf of the disabled, or the outcasts, here and abroad. While people in America don't come right out and say that having a particular disease or missing a limb is a curse, we certainly act that way much of the time.

Honestly, please go rent this movie. We found it at Albertson's in the new release section. We both were so touched by this young man's story, and by the many lives he touched in both Ghana and the United States as the result of his perseverance and courage.

Blog Template by YummyLolly.com