Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Ethiopian Market

Every time I step in the the little Ethiopian market in my city, I have an amazing experience. The nearest Ethiopian restaurant is about an hour and a half away, so we rarely go. Actually, I don't think we've been to one since Amani came home. Since it's so far away, I really made an effort to learn to cook Ethiopian foods before and since Amani came home so that he can have a taste of his homeland regularly. I think food is SUCH an important part of culture - I didn't want him to lose that part entirely. And it just so happens to be a major bonus that the rest of us LOVE Ethiopian food too!

Al Iman, our Halal market in town, is a huge blessing!  It's owned by a couple from Addis Ababa and many of the employees there are from Ethiopia or Sudan.  The very first time I walked in, I was with an Ethiopian friend. She introduced me to the owners, who have remembered me every time ever since! And many of my Ethiopian recipes have come from Shita describing each step as she leads me around the tiny shop, with the narrowest of aisles, grabbing what I need and explaining to me how to cook the dish to perfection.

Today, the kids had an end of the year party at the bouncy-house place just down the street from Al Iman. I know they always have fresh injera after noon there. So when the party ended at 12:30, I just HAD to drive over to stop in.

We started to order just one package of injera, thinking I'd just make shiro and maybe one other simple dish for dinner, but then the kids said "No! Two two!" So I asked for a second one, which led to Shita asking me what I can cook. I listed off the five Ethiopian dishes I've learned but told her I just can't quite get the Tibs right. Before I knew it, she was leading me and the kids all over the store, talking to the meat man in the back, heading down each aisle, handing spices to Riley, showing Allyn the rice and dried beans mixture (for a different dish she decided to tell me about too). And beaming at Amani all the while.

She stopped the only other two customers in the shop to tell them that I brought Amani home from Ethiopia to raise him. She tells me he is lucky and I tell her that we are the lucky ones, which makes her smile even brighter. She tells me Allah blesses me, that he sees what we do, even when it doesn't bring us fortune or money. She says it's what we do with our lives that makes the difference (and made a funny reference to Michael Jackson).

And as I give each of my children a package to carry to the car, she sneaks down another narrow aisle and comes back with a package of cookies, telling me, "This is for all your children." And she beamed even more when Riley and Allyn were able to say (with some prompting) "Ama se ganalo!" (thank you in Amharic). Amani said, "Nal-lo!"

This would never happen in my weekly grocery trip to Harris Teeter, where an entire store full of food smells like nothing and asking an employee for a recipe would be considered extremely bizarre behavior.

Amani has no idea, but this tiny connection to Ethiopia means so much to me. It smells like Ethiopia in there, we hear Amharic, get to connect with people who are from where he's from. It is wonderful.

All this because I wanted to learn to cook a few Ethiopian dishes. We got much more in the bargain.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Why We Aren't Homeschooling

Before I start... this is NOT a slam on homeschooling! Not at all! Some families I love and respect have chosen to homeschool. It is a good fit for some families. I firmly believe there is not just one right way to raise children!

But I've been in a lot of conversations lately about homeschooling vs. private schooling vs. public schooling. Sadly, some folks seem to imply that those who don't choose to homeschool must not be very good Christians and those who don't choose private school only do so because they can't afford it. Actually, I've been in quite a few of those conversations about those things over the past several years. sigh.

We are a proud public school family. And here's why it works for us:

1. I want my kids to encounter children from all walks of life. I want them to sit in classrooms next to children with single parents, two mommies/daddies, foster children, and those who have a mom and a dad at home. I want them to share paintbrushes in art class with kids who are Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, and kids who are Christian.  I want them to pass the basketball in PE to kids who look just like them and kids who look completely different from them.  I want them to see difference and know the beauty of it. I want them to see the value in ALL of those kids. Jesus shows us very clearly that there is no specific group of folks that he loves most. For me, there is less value in keeping my children in an environment where everyone looks like us, thinks like us, and believes like us when they could have the rich experience of difference.

2. I value the potential for conflict that comes from #1! Education, to me, is a lot more than what the teachers teach. My kids will learn from their peers, from their friends' parents. I hope they will come home with some struggles, some conflicts that they've encountered from being around people who aren't just like us. Working through those moments, learning to celebrate the value in others, seeing the beauty God has placed in each family - that's what I love about my kids' school experience. Does sending them to public school mean they may come home questioning what we've taught them? Probably. I welcome that. Their questioning can lead to some wonderful conversations at home.

3. Although I think education is more than just academics, I certainly don't know how to teach! For me, it is important that my kids' teachers have an education in teaching. I'm a social worker. Their dad is a pastor. We don't know how to teach. I do not consider myself qualified to teach them fourth grade math (um, actually, I'm quite certain I can no longer do fourth grade math!) or second grade social studies and, right now, I'm not motivated to learn to be their teacher when I see some great ones in our schools!

4. Our parenting style doesn't include sheltering our children. Some families don't want their kids to know about the tough stuff out there in the world. I understand that and I respect that. I feel the opposite. I want my children to know there are kids who can't afford new shoes, who don't have loving families, kids who are struggling. I want them to have a chance to befriend those children. I know my kids can be the best example of Jesus to others by loving those around them. I want them to learn early how to love those who need it.

5. I want the chance to meet people who are different, too! I love meeting the parents of my kids' school-friends. I've developed a few very sweet friendships this year with parents of kids in Riley's class. Some of those moms are a lot like me, some aren't. I really find joy in connecting with people who are different (and finding the ways we are the same) and in the chance to be a blessing to those who cross my path. At least I hope to be!

6. I believe the best place for kids to learn to love Jesus is right at home. I'm very comfortable with my children's school teachers not having much of a role in their religion. We try our best to show our kids what a life filled with the love of Jesus looks like. I pray they fall in love with him on their own, not because I haven't given them any other choices. For our family, the best teachers of those kinds of things are me and my husband. I think too often parents turn to other places for that - they rely wholly on church or on a Christian school. Those supports can be wonderful! But in the end, we are responsible for teaching our kids about God.

We go to a charter school (which is public school but run separately from our county schools). I have to admit I still struggle with the fact that we chose it over our county school. It is not as diverse racially as I would like, but it is wonderfully diverse in a lot of other ways.

Why do I struggle with having chosen a charter school? Because I fear if all the stable families leave our county public schools, where does that leave the kids who come from really hard places? While our charter school is public, it is still a step removed from the regular public school so part of me feels a little guilty for having chosen it, honestly. I am not 100% sure how long we'll stay there, although for now, I think it's where we're supposed to be.

And at the end of the day, I applaud all families who make a heartfelt choice regarding their kids' education. We all have valid reasons for why we choose the path for our children. I'd rather spend my time enjoying my choices and validating yours than comparing and judging.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Adoption isn't pretty, but it is beautiful.

Two years ago today, I was goofing around on facebook and my phone rang. I saw an 817 area code pop up on my caller ID and my heart stopped.

It was our referral call.

The next 30 minutes were frantic. I was crying, trying to call Rob to get him to come home, and rushing around the house, putting on a movie for the kids, setting up the video camera so we could record the moment we first saw this sweet face.

Here's a screen shot from the video of our very first look at Amani:
Holy puffy eyes, Batman. I cried tons before I even saw his picture!

 And later, of the kids seeing the pictures:
Riley was really focused on what he was wearing in every picture... particularly the one in which
Amani was wearing NOTHING! :)

And now, two years later, our family has been all together for 19 months. And these three crazies fill my days with light:
I cropped this picture, but this was the celebration of Amani wearing big-boy underpants.
Clearly his sibs understand what a big deal this was! I just love how proud he looks here.

But in the midst of the joy of seeing the face of the child you hope to adopt, there is intense grief. I thought I was prepared; I had read tons of "The Call" blog posts, but I had no idea the depth of grief I would feel for Amani's birth parents. Or the depth of my sadness over what he had already lost, and for what he would lose by moving halfway across the world to join our family.

Some of my adoptive mama friends posted this quote on Mother's Day:

Children born to another woman call me "Mom." 
The depth of that tragedy and the magnitude of that privilege are not lost on me." 
(Jody Landers)

Adoption isn't pretty. It's messy, emotional, full of ups and downs. It is wonderful that children can join families and leave orphanages behind, but they have to go through so much loss to get there.  I think of Amani's birth mother nearly every day. Every time my heart fills with joy over my youngest, there is a shadow of sadness, always followed by a wave of gratitude for what his birth mother has relinquished. She is my silent partner in raising him; I imagine her beside me. I send a message out to the universe to her sometimes, a murmur of thanks, telling her about the sparkle in his eye, the joyful ring of his laughter, how silly he can be sometimes. A whisper of reassurance - we are doing right by him, doing the best that we know how. He is flourishing.

Referral day for us is so close to Mother's Day. Amani's adoption has made my Mother's Days so sweet. I can't get over how incredibly blessed I am to have three children. I weep at the joy of it. But Mother's Day and Referral Day aren't just days of celebration for me. I always need a moment of silence. A moment to reflect on how much my joy is intertwined in someone else's pain. And on the honor and privilege of raising a son of Ethiopia, a precious boy born to another woman. Last night, I sat in my bed and sobbed, overwhelmed by all of the emotion.

Adoption isn't pretty. But it is beautiful. God makes beauty from ashes and I see it in my family. God has pruned my heart through the process; it was painful sometimes, but my heart is more like His because of it. And I'm overwhelmed with gratitude.

Happy Referral Day, my sweet Amanuel. What a blessing you are to our family. We love you so!