Saturday, 24 November 2012

What I've learned: home two months

That four kids is harder than 3. And much, much busier.  And louder. 
That 2 boys under 7 could eat so much. 
That I love the 45 minutes or so my husband and I have before we sleep, and how much I miss it with a small child in the bed. 
That Madeleine loved Fort before he was even here. 
That Ben really wanted a little brother who looked up to him. 
That Madeleine's attention to Ben means as much to him now as when he was a toddler. 
That Evie can break. 
That there is much to learn about the differences in black bodies and white bodies. 
That rubbing oil on Fort's body after bath would be so bonding. 
That Americans have such incredible sentiment tied to a birthday. 
That Fortune would be so different emotionally here than he was in Uganda. 
That I would feel so unprepared. 
That Fort would learn good habits (seatbelts) so quickly but also lose other habits (peeing alone) as quickly. 
That I would feel like I was doing it all on my own for so long. 
That my husband and I would grow closer, even with our struggles
That no matter how wonderful his orphanage was, he didn't love it and he never wants to go back. 
That I would be so emotionally wrung out from my experience in Uganda. 
That he would be so affectionate. 
That he would always feel like my son. 
That I would be so comforted by the support I felt from my friends, family, and community. 
That all my emotions need to coexist, and that love, fear, grief and joy do not cancel each other out. 
That I am too old to carry around a 40 pound boy. 
That most of what I took for granted in our biological kids was created by love and security. 
That I am so proud of myself as a mother, and of my relationship with my husband. 
That I will never cease to be amazed by the incredible resilience of children. 
That the child Fort is becoming is the child that I glanced at the orphanage, and anyone who only knew him 2 months ago would be amazed by him now. 
That every day I am tapped out and yet somehow I get renewed. 
That I thought I was so educated on what adoption would be and how blind I was in reality. 
That Fort is so strong. 
That I am so strong.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Therapy Becomes Me

I went to see a therapist twice. Othe first visit was right after hitting bottom at 3 weeks, when we didn't know some of Fort's distress was caused by scarlet fever and a double ear infection. That day, when he screamed for 7 hours straight- except for the 45 minutes when he was asleep, I promise you I made it through because I knew I had a psychologist appointment the next day.  She is a specialist for international adoption and child development, and just having the appointment made me feel better. I needed someone who could tell me that I wasn't crazy, that this was tough, and that I was not going to unwittingly scar him. 
Then I went back to see her 3 weeks later, and in many of the tough days I felt encouraged just by having her number handy in case I needed it. I never called her, but it was a great comfort. And I loved making a plan of attack, even if it was just an outline, and most of the time I still had to react and make spontaneous decisions. The plan gave me confidence, and helped me to be more decisive, which I know is good for Fort. One of the best things was at our second visit, when she asked me how a number of things were going, and with each question I could say, "that's getting better" and "yes, THAT is getting better!".  I had a gauge to look back and realize how far we had come. 
Fort's English is rapidly improving, as well as his basic ability to communicate. I can better anticipate his moods, and tell when he's hungry, tired or overwhelmed. My girlfriend who was adopted as a baby talked to me about her frustration that any troubles she had growing up almost always got pegged as an "adoption issue", and how everything was put together on that shelf. I think about this now, as I sort through Fort's issues. Is his fear of being alone part of an adoption issue?  Is it because he missed handling separation anxiety as a toddler?  Does he just have a fear of being alone like many kids?  We are finally at a point where his English and communication skills are better and he is able to express things like "me skerred" and "I don't like that". 
We can't discipline him in the same manner as we do our biological kids, but we can't let him get away with everything either.  Fort and Ben were in their room playing when I heard Fort screaming for me. They were clearly physically getting into it. I ran in, only to see Ben calmly playing with his back to me, and Fortune lying on the floor, crying hysterically. I was just about to begin on Ben, asking him what he did to make Fort cry, when Ben turned around. His face and neck had angry scratches all over. He was fine, but Fort had tried to take a toy from him and when he couldn't , he started to fight. So Ben pushed him to the ground, which is when he began to call for reinforcements. I was so grateful to be able to have evidence of what clearly happened. Fort was shocked when instead of going to him I went to console Ben. And told Fort his behaviour was not ok, and that Ben was allowed to push him over if Fort hurt him.   It was a learning moment for all of us, and something Ben sorely needed to hear from me. 

It is true that some things just work themselves out with time. 6 weeks into it, Fort knows our routine and what we expect. I know what how much he can handle, what battles are worth fighting over, and when I have to stop whatever I am doing to manage him. I know that he gets bored and anxious being with too many adults, that he opens up amidst other kids, and that he loves it when I take 10 minutes to be "silly mom". He loves going outside or on his bike, and will easily spend 20 minutes watching a man with a jackhammer or a dump truck. He loves having a job, and will wash dishes for an hour or vacuum the house. He won't go in the basement or outside without someone going with him, but is now able to "go susu" by himself like a big boy. He loves playing with the kids, misses them when they are at school, and thinks baths are no fun alone. But he hates sharing me with them, tries to push them out of my arms if I am snuggling with any of them, and cries if anyone rides "his" tricycle or plays with "his" toys.  It is a struggle on their side too, having to handle multiple layers of having a new brother all at once. There is the typical new baby feelings, jealousy of the attention he receives from others and the time he gets with me. The dynamic changes of having 4 kids who need something instead of 3. The way things are not "how they used to be" because now we have a little guy. And there are especially changes for Ben- going from the only boy to having a brother who is sharing his room and his toys;  having a brother who wants to do what Ben can do but is not yet capable. And his crying. We all are trying to deal with that. 
Is it getting better?  Absolutely. Enough so I can see it now. Is it still hard?  Yes, but we are not in the same fog of wondering what we had done to our family, to ourselves. Wondering if we'd ever sleep again, or if I'd ever have time to myself again.  Yes, the therapist helped. As did every single voice who has been supportive of me, and this crazy thing we did. So I thank you. 

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

One month home & still in the trenches

It is hard to look back and realize we have only been home a month. We have been through so many ups and downs already, it feels much longer. Fort is really making progress, but it has been with great effort and not without some cost.  I don't know if this will hold true, but it feels like we have turned a corner.  It makes me nervous just to think it, as if I will jinx it somehow. 

Week three was pretty hellacious. Fort turned into a tiny terror- I never knew when he would erupt. I basically got through it with the knowledge that at the end of the week he had appointments at the International Adoption Clinic in Columbus to see a gamut of professionals: including a pediatrician, speech therapist, nutritionist, developmental specialist, behaviour specialist, and last but most important to me- a psychologist. And even though I don't have another appointment with her until November, just knowing she is there and that I can call her or write down my questions, gives me an immense sense of support.  We found out he had a double ear infection and scarlet fever, and no doubt that was responsible for, or at least contributed to, his insane fluctuations in behaviors.  Of course, there is no knowing. 10 days later, he has finished his antibiotics and is doing so much better. Is it because he's well or because of what he's absorbed these past 10 days?  Will I ever know?  Does it matter?  Not really. 

That week, I told my husband I felt like Annie Sullivan, the teacher of Helen Keller. There is a famous scene where Helen is a child and eating with her hands like an animal. Annie puts a spoon in her hand and Helen throws it. Annie replaces the spoon in her hand and Helen throws it. This continues, and the teacher quietly asks Helen's parents to leave the room. When Helen realizes she is alone in a confined room with Annie she turns into a feral child. Annie never breaks, never tires, and eventually is successful. Helen eats with her spoon. But of course the real "win" is Helen learns to trust and listen to Annie. I retell this because I love that scene, but it was quite devastating to reenact.  I am not kidding, Fort seemed like a wild child- biting, kicking, pinching. He hit and grabbed during his sleep; he screamed when he was waking up- although I couldn't even tell if he were awake or asleep. I sat in his room with him the entire day my kids were at school and had to have a friend pick them up from school because I had not been able to calm him. I tried everything. Was he in pain?  I gave him Tylenol- you would've thought I was poisoning him. He spit it out, and it was all in his hair and on both of us. He had to get it washed out, so I started to get him ready for a bath. He fought like I was going to dip him in boiling oil. I brought him into the shower with me to try to reassure him, but there was no calming him. When I tried to get him dressed again, he screamed as loudly as the first time. I finally got him to calm enough to get in the car, and I drove around for 45 minutes - to give him a chance for him to fall asleep if he needed it, and to give myself a break so I could stop shaking. I felt like such a monster. I had to pull over while driving because I was crying too hard. I didn't want to talk to anyone and I didn't think I could get through another day like that. The psychologist appointment was like a handhold to sanity and I was clinging to it with all my might. 

And this week. What a difference. Have we turned the corner?  Or is the other shoe about to drop?  I don't dread the days like I did last week. I'm not snippy with my other kids, who are just so over me disappearing for hours to manage Fort's meltdowns.  I feel like Fort understands a lot of the rules, and has acquired enough English to talk about his temper tantrums. He now knows words for feelings, and he is proud when he has had a day with no crying and being "like a big boy". I know better how to manage and read Fort's moods- that there is silly and there is crazy but crazy silly is just a step away from losing it. The last full on tantrum that he had was a week ago today, and all other issues have been settled under an hour. Steve and I continue to have amazing support and communication since the whole thing began, unlike the way we lost it for a little bit after the twins were born. I feel like keeping honest keeps my friends closer to me and this experience- it helps me feel less like I exist in a bubble. I'm usually open and direct, but pretty damn private, and this has forced me to reach out, not just for me or for him, but for our whole family. And it helps. It really does. 

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Honest. Real.

I write for many reasons. First, for myself. To sort out my complicated feelings and to have a record of this journey for me and for Fort.  I write so that friends and family have an inkling of what we are going through, so no one thinks this is easy and that everything is hunky dory.  Lastly, but importantly, I write for anyone considering or going through adoption. When I was trying to educate myself, I read tons of books and blogs and found so much helpful information. Unfortunately for me, I did not connect with all of the very religious blogs, as I do not personally believe that I have been called by god to do this. And most adoption blogs are heavily religious. I wanted some answers for people like me, who need more than faith to lean on. Anyone who knows me knows that I am nothing if not direct, so I can only be forthright in my posts. And I found that honesty in the difficulties of adoption was lacking. 

So here it is folks. Honesty. Discussing the difficulty. It is difficult. Brutal. Infuriating. This child, who has seen so much, is a puzzle. He can understand English and I can understand him fairly well, when he communicates.  Which he often chooses not to.  I am not sure if he uses communication as a method of manipulation, or if it is just a terrible habit from years of neglect.  It is the silence, the pulling away, the lying prone on the floor, the sharp elbow jab that means go away, the spitting - all the ways he demonstrates that he is mad or unhappy- that leaves me baffled. I can see that he is upset, but at what? Why?  I can't help him if I put breakfast in front of him and seconds later he has melted to the floor and is kicking his sister's chair.  What just happened?  Did I miss something?

I keep reminding myself that he is 2 inside. Yet watching this preschool age child biting me and pulling out my earrings because he wanted toast instead of waffles (really??  That is what that was about?) or because I am holding Ben when he is crying (jealousy rears its ugly head) twists my mind. I know he is reacting to this new life in the way a toddler would- except he isn't a toddler. He is a strong smart boy who is hurting, but also has survived long enough on his own to have an array of behaviors to get what he wants. 

So with every day comes new and confusing tests. And I cannot decipher if they are purposeful or not. Sometimes it is clearly a test of limits - he is clearly wanting to see what I will do if he pushes that stool over, or throws not one or two but three things. And when I sit with him in his room, sometimes for more than an hour, I see him going back and forth on whether he wants to please me.  He will throw of all the pillows and blankets off his bed, and when I don't react he picks everything up and makes his bed better than my 7 year old. I never leave him alone in his room for naps or punishment, because I know that is scary to him. So I sit in his room as he screams "AI II EE" and comes and crawls onto my lap where he pinches me as he hugs me and pushes my arms away and I gently place him back on the rug where he flails and screams louder. And ultimately he calms down enough where his screaming turns to sobs and I hold him til he can calm down and hear me talk about what happens. Our only rule is he has to say "sorry mommy" for whatever he's done and give me a kiss. Sometimes after calming down he can't do all that and then the tantrum starts anew. And I worry that he will be mad at me or we are asking too much of him by disciplining him already. But afterwards he is more responsive, more loving, and sometimes even talks about "me cry lots. Me say sorry."  And then it all feels like a small step in the right direction. 

But those outbursts I at least feel I can understand - I know from raising other children what testing limits and independence is all about, even though this is at warp speed.  There are so many other times, throughout the day and night, when neither my husband nor I know what the behaviors are about, or how to begin to bridge to him.  He is clearly bonded to me, but less so to the rest of the family. It is so sad watching Ben try and try to be so nice to him, only to have Fort push him away, or cry "Mama! Mama!" like Ben was taking something instead of giving him something. I am constantly worried that I am approaching him in a way that is unhelpful, or possibly unhealthy. How much is too much?  What is reasonable to expect from him?  When can he start sleeping on his own?  Is it beneficial that he is regressing?  That he wants to be carried?  What happens when we ignore behaviour we don't like?  Will any of this hurt him in the long run?  

Questions, questions, questions. Fear and frustration and sadness. I think Fort has to be feeling the same confusion. That is a small relief- some way I can identify with him. 

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Because of the joy

This is most difficult thing I have ever done in my life, no question about it. And I have been so realistic about what we were doing, how it would make an impact on all of us, and how it would be a slow process. But there was no way to anticipate the feelings that I had in Uganda, that I had children who needed me in the States, and one who desperately needed me there. There is no way to explain what it is like to endure three flights with a child who has never even used a seatbelt. There is no way to prepare for the sheer exhaustion- both mentally and physically. I have been pregnant twice, and the second time had twins. This is harder in many ways. We chose this and changed our life to make this happen.  It has been and will continue to be amazing. But it has taken a toll - on me, mostly, but also on our "first" kids, my husband, and no doubt, Fort. 

The first week was overcoming the debilitating lack of sleep both on my part, and on Fort's.  then the layer of jet lag, strep throat, and finally the stress and anxiety of the move. There were big tantrums, long screaming fits and general meltdowns. This second week we are both recovered for the most part- although I am still sleep deprived, it is of a manageable sort, not the dense fog which keeps the words from reaching the tip of my tongue. Fort and I are doing a complex tug of war- pulling this way and that. On his side- If I hit you, will you stop me?  Will you still love me?  Will you leave me?  On my side- if I discipline you, am I teaching you?  Am I scaring you?  Will you pull away farther?  It is never ending and always tenuous. 

When I sit back and look at the whole picture, we have not yet been home 2 weeks. So much has been compacted into this time. Fort's temper tantrums are not only common, but neccesary. And he has made huge strides since he's been home. I forget that we are all going through this too- not just me and Fort. The kids are all doing amazingly well. They seem to hear me when I appeal to their sense of empathy- I am only one mom for four kids who all need me. I am getting used to it to. I am working hard, but you need to patient with me.   My husband is an incredible support, he appreciates that I'm bearing the brunt of Fort's adjustment, by the mere fact that he is at work and I spent so many weeks of bonding time already. The weight of managing all the needs of all the kids in the orphanage has been relieved, although not forgotten. Now I am succumbing to the inevitable fact that, yes, raising 4 kids is more difficult than raising 3. And I see that no matter how stable, secure & strong our biological children are- they are still children. They are 6, 6 & 7 years old and they need me too. They need me right now more than they used to, because they are still compensating for the weeks I was away. And they are themselves battling with the newness of sharing me with one more, and one so needy and demanding.  And that is wearing on me. Everyone needs me, and I am constantly balancing their demands. 

Hands down, the most uplifting part is the joy. There is an unbelievable sense of delight and happiness in Fort, that I never saw while he was in Uganda. He LOVES being part of our family. His eyes light up when I ask him who lives in this house or who is in his family.  He likes to list us all by name, to say that this is HiS house, HiS bed, HIS bike. Everyday he gets a little better, a little easier.  He is affectionate by nature, but continues to surprise me with "BIG KISS!" - taking my face between his hands and planting his pillow lips on mine. . He thrives on learning the limits and rules- each tantrum getting a little more manageable after each time we teach him a new rule.  He is the little sponge I had hoped he would be.  He had barely even noticed books before, and certainly didn't seem to have an interest or attention span. Books were more of a competition to sit on the lap or turn the page. Already in a week he is lined up on the couch with our other 3, book in his lap, just happily flipping the pages and really comprehending the stories when I read them. The other night, he was in the bathtub with Ben, and watched him dunk his head under the water. Suddenly I hear "I do it!" ringing in the air, and there is my other son, slippery and shiny, surfacing from putting his entire head underwater for the very first time. His eyes were lit with excitement and he was grinning from ear to ear - so proud. 

He says "pease" and "shamp pyou" when we prompt him, which is extra amazing since please and thank you don't exist in the Luganda language. He kisses the kids good night and asks them to come and play with him ("you come!"). He is able to understand better and communicate much more than before.  I have never had a child as fascinated by trucks and machinery than him- we watched the bulldozer/excavator thingamajig for twenty minutes from the sidewalk.  He is enthusiastic about trying almost everything new - food ("and me!"), mama's car, raking leaves, the kids' soccer practice and of course, toys.  I know I am in the thick of it, and I am trying to see beyond today's battle to the real growth underneath.   His life has changed about as drastically as one's life can, and as exhausting as it is, he is drinking it up. 

Thursday, 27 September 2012

3 days home

And then he slept. 
Not regularly, not all the way through the night. But what a difference. 

There is a sense that we have made it over a huge hump. Things have settled down so much, it is amazing. But it is so early, could it be?  I'm sure we will have many instances of two steps forward and one step back. And yet the traveling and first night here was SO intense- it must have amplified all his fears and worries. Now he is learning our house, learning that these toys are here every day, learning that he can have food when he asks for it, learning that I will always be there for him.  Maybe he really has begun to settle in.

He is already over the jet lag. Me, not so much. I know old people recover slower. I am no longer feverish, but I still have a sore & swollen throat. I know my body just shut down in reaction to the stress and also the relief of being home. I tend to be strong during the battle, and then collapse when it is over. I have been a jangle of nerves and emotions, almost like my skin is on inside out and I am so overly sensitive to everything.  I'm not yet sleeping well, but the few nightmares I was having have stopped. 

It is hard for me to reconcile my experience in Uganda with my reality in the US. I love being home, obviously for my family and friends.  And I like having my things, I don't wish to give it all up and move back there.   I feel wedded to that country though. My heart has changed - I have Uganda in my heart and in my family. I don't want to put blinders on and forget what and who I have seen. I have a sense of purpose, that I can be helpful from here.  I hope this proves to be true. 

I am still at odds with the ease of my life - with how much I have in excess. I could not get over my first shower- the strength of the water pouring over me, compared to the minuscule trickle that could barely get me wet, let alone rinse out shampoo. And I had a rather luxurious shower in Uganda, with a water heater and everything, mind you. I had to speak out loud: "This is Amazing".  I came into the kitchen where there was a bowl of sliced fruit sitting, and I realized I was shocked not to see black flies on it. I got ready for bed feeling so CLEAN. There was no red dirt all over my shoes and feet, blown onto my clothes from the boda boda. There was no sand from the sandbox, no dried food from multiple grubby hands.  The roads are smooth and wide and orderly, with cars stopping at red lights and stop signs. Even the less beautiful parts of town seem so well off. 

Coming from a first world, a third world is so cheap. Everything is affordable to me. The income that the average person makes there is so unfathomable. That mere cents can make a difference. One single mother was telling me that her monthly rent is 100,000 UGX (Ugandan shillings). This is about $40. It is for a tiny single room, where she cooks outside and has no toilet. For Fort's goodbye party, the care mothers requested ice cream. I found a tub of ice cream for 30,000 UGX. $12. Expensive ice cream, even for me. But unfathomable to compare it to things they have to pay for. To compare to an American rent, if you paid $1000 a month, that would be a comparable ice cream of $300. No wonder it was a luxury.  

If this is confusing to me after 6 weeks there, what is going on inside the brain of this little 3 1/2 year old?  What does he think of being away from his friends, his aunties, his food, his toys?  I can tell he is happy - he is more joyous than I have ever seen him. If you ask him if he wants to do something, he answers with a resounding "ye-EH-es!!". He has not shut down and turned inward since he has been here, something I was anticipating. He has not wet the bed every night, something he did in his first weeks at Kaja Nafasi. Nor has he stopped talking, which I know he also did for a time. He is testing his boundaries, testing his limits, testing ME. Which is good & healthy, albeit exhausting.  He eats almost everything (including an entire slice of red onion, which was promptly spit out, with a look to me of how could you serve that?). He loves jobs and responsibilities. He fights them first, but is learning our routine and loving it. He repeats things to me like "time for eating, then to bathe, then for sleeping". 

He absolutely adores his new siblings. They love him right back, in their own way. Madeleine loves him immediately & completely, like she has played out meeting him in her mind. Ben takes him in stride, wrestling with him to the on his very first day. They are very similar boys- affectionate, smart & sweet (and a tad crazy).  He also said my favorite -"we waited 2 years, and now he's crying??".  And Evie, perceptive to the end. She wanted to know why he didn't feel like a brother yet, just like we were babysitting him.   I'm so glad she could articulate this very normal feeling. 

There is a sense of home for him. Certainly of comfort. Going to bed, Fort counted the people of our family on his fingers. When we got to Fort, the pinky finger, he looked at me wide eyed. "This one is for Fort!!". Yes, I said, we are a family. "A family!  A family for Fortune. Ye-EH-es!!". 

Sunday, 23 September 2012

What have we done?

What have we done?  It is a question I would imagine goes through the heads of most adoptive parents at times, whether or not they share it with anyone. Adopting is not only a choice we made, but it is a tedious, pain-staking and emotionally exhausting journey just to get the child home. You put so much work and effort into it. And then, the real journey begins. 
For Fort, and for us.  And there are moments....oh there are moments when you just wonder, we chose this path, was it right?  Were we crazy? What have we done?
We finally arrived home after a brutally long and occasionally horrific trip of 32 hours. After an amazing reunion with our "first" kids, my husband, and my dear family friend - including Fort walking to the parking lot hand in hand between two new siblings- we arrived home around 10 pm. An overtired boy in a brand new house that is FULL of new toys does not like going to bed. There was much screaming and crying, a full on two year old temper tantrum with hitting and attempted biting. And it was only fair that I handled this- he needed to see that his mama would not leave him.  Steve put the other kids to bed, and I lay with Fort in his bed, picking him back up off the floor and putting him back in bed over & over. And over. Finally, I could see in his body that he wasn't as mad, only sad, and he let me take him in my arms and lay down. He sat up abruptly -"want brush"- and we went and brushed his teeth that he had refused to do an hour earlier. Then we lay back down, and whimpering, he fell asleep. 
After a bit, I got up and went to bed in my bed (oh yes, have I mentioned that I got strep throat and was entirely feverish and sick on the plane too?). Around 2am, my sweet daughter comes walking down the hall with Fort, hand in hand, leading him to me. He is awake. "Want toys". Big sigh. 
For the next 3 hours there is more screaming, some playing, some singing, some crying. There is no sleeping. This from a boy who maybe slept a total of 8 hours in 2 days. Around 5 am, Steve gets up for a minute. Fort starts screaming "Papa!  Papa!  PAPA!!". When Steve comes back, we agree that neither of us will leave the room without telling him where we are going. Sobbing, Fort climbs into Steve's arms. And sleeps. Until 8am. "Want toys!". Yes, Fort, now you may play. 
He has an amazingly great day. At 8pm, we are ready for bed. Fort is not done playing. He is crazy silly, laughing hysterically and barely able to get his pajamas on and teeth brushed. He does not want to sleep. I take him to bed and the crying begins- the loud screaming what-are-you-doing-to-me crying. he tries to take his pajamas off, testing me, trying to see what I will let him do. I put them back on, against his will. He is mad at me. "Papa!  Papa!  PAPA!!". Steve comes. He goes happily to Steve. They lay down. Fort sleeps. I cry. I sleep. 
At 2 am, I hear his door open and can see his lone figure walking wordlessly down the hall to our room. "Fort?". I go to him. He reaches up, and I carry him to our bed. He lays down on me, and without a sound, is asleep. 
What have we done?  Something, I think, I hope, good. 

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Almost Mine

We are so close.  So crazy close.  One step (one visa) and one flight (well, 3 planes) away from Fortunate coming home with me to the States.  Wow.  I am a strange combination of confident and stressed about the exit interview at the US Embassy.  On the one hand, I have turned in my papers (which actually doesn't consist of just dropping them off, no - it is a long wait and then a thorough review of the papers) with this fabulous woman at the Embassy.  She answers my emails and other crazy things like that.  She says I'm ready to go, and I believe her.  On the other hand, our appointment time has been postponed two times so far, not to mention the 4 times I have changed my flight due to delays.  Another delay would really be horrible at this point.  I am doing well mainly because I have my eye on my Thursday departure.
 I am really exhausted and worn out of trying to do and be so much for so many people.  I cannot yet be the mother I want to be with Fort, because he is still at the orphanage, and still needs to follow their rules.  Simple requests ("can I have water?") turn into a line of children following me Pied Piper-style into the small kitchen (where they really aren't allowed) and using half of the boiled and cooled water the caremothers have prepared for the next meal.  It is my job to give Fort special attention - to teach him that we are special to each other - and in doing so I acutely feel the other children's pain because of their awareness that they have been left out. Sometimes I forget that these kids have all been abandoned, have suffered from the disillusionment of that fundamental trust.  The family home is so lively, and so generally happy that people often stop by to inquire if it is a school.  There is such a fantastic ratio of adults to children - there are the caremothers, who rotate; the guard who also kicks the ball with them or picks them up when they fall; a Dutch volunteer, staying for 7 weeks; the 2 social worker and the manager, whose office is adjacent to the home; the workers who come and go but are Ugandans working on the continual construction of a the home - now working on a volunteer room; "mzungus" from other projects who stop in to converse with the organization leaders; and me.  It's not a quiet or forsaken place.  So you can forget that these children have holes in their hearts. 
But then you see it - and it comes whizzing back at you - and you are sick for a moment.  Every little choice you make throughout the day is weighed and measured by the children, consciously or not.  If they all want to swing and I let Winnie have the first turn, the other children feel that she is my favorite.  There is immediate collapsing to the ground and screaming by those not chosen.  There is difficulty in sharing, and little comprehension of taking turns.  When Maria is sitting in my lap, and Fort gets jealous, I am proud that he can now say "no Maria in lap.  Mama for Fortunate".  And then I have to manage Maria's meltdown when I put her right next to me - because clearly to her, I have rejected her.  When James asked me if I could be his mother "You Mama for Jamesy?", Fortunate went into full toddler tantrum land.  Simultaneously I had to calm him and convince him I was not picking James over him ("Mama is for Fortunate, only Fortunate") I was keenly aware that James was hanging on every word.  I could literally see him caving in on himself. 
I have some guilt that I do not spend every waking moment with Fort.  I see him every single day.  I promised him I would, and unless I had to fly back to the States, I would be sure to keep my word.  Some days I come later in the morning, depending on my ride situation, the weather (boda in the rain? no thank you), the appointments I have for the process.  I always leave by 6pm at the latest - to ensure I am off the road by dark (I know it can be unsafe, and I don't need to tempt fate) and also be back to the home where I am staying for dinner time.  Some days I am there 10 hours, once in a while only 2.  If I am later than lunchtime, Fort is clearly distraught - worried, sad and angry.  I have to manage his moods, and now I come prepared for that.  But it is so completely draining to be there - every time Fort goes off playing happily, I take a moment to cuddle with one of the children who are always clambering to sit with me.  There is someone who needs something at every minute.  The caremothers want to talk about their difficult lives.  Even the dog needs attention.
And me, I come back to this quiet room at the end of each day, where I sit and process and hurt and heal and get ready to do it again.  I will absolutely hate leaving these other children- I have come to know and love them.  But I am ready.  More than ready.  I want to take my son and go home. 

Monday, 17 September 2012

Coming Home

Back when the Family Home emailed Steve and I to see if we were interested in going forward with the adoption for Fort (a big YES),  they recommended for both or one of us to spend 6 weeks in country . Steve and I laughed- there was absolutely no way either of us could do that!  He can barely leave his medical practice for a week at a time, and I stay at home with 3 kids and basically all the household duties!  Originally, one of the logistical things we liked about Ethiopia and Uganda was that 2 short trips was possible. Because the flights are expensive, it can be prohibitive to some families, but for our lives, it was much more practical. I did read many adoption blogs, and tried to educate myself on all the ins and outs of adoption and Africa. So I knew that many families encounter setbacks and find themselves waiting for weeks or months for papers to clear. 

But of course, that was not going to be us. Fort was abandoned when he was younger, and there were no parents involved in the case to bribe money or threaten the outcome of the case. Ours was a straight forward case. And so how is it, that I am sitting on my bed in a guest house in Kampala, going into my sixth week?

The reasons remain twisted around the slow and unpredictable whims of the Ugandan court system and government. Although truly- it all happened rather quickly, which is also why I postponed my initial flight 4 weeks ago. The court (after our brief scare) went well, and the judge scheduled our court ruling for the very next Friday. This was where the "long wait" was expected - where I would fly home until notice that the ruling was scheduled. So instead Steve left, and I stayed. And I was there for the court ruling in week 3. 
And then the passport drama. Who knew I'd be waiting over 2 weeks?  Well, possibly the lawyer, I guess - there was such confusion and bad communication. I only wish he had been more straight forward. If I had known it would take over a week, I could have made a decision to go home. Or not. Who knows if I would've made a different choice, but at least I would have been able to decide for myself.  

And now, I am really (really!) on the home stretch. One last penultimate step (the visa interview) to finish up, for once I have that visa in my hands, Fort and I are on our way home.
I have never felt the idiom "it takes a village" more acutely than this past month and a half. My mother, sister and dear friend have each spent 2 weeks being "mommy" to my kids. I could not have even begun to do this without their help, or the love and support from all of my family & friends back home. 

Home. Oh, how I've missed it. Never did I think I would be away from home this long. But the further we got in the process, the harder it was to think about leaving Uganda.  Leaving and definitely hurting Fort. It has been incredibly hard knowing that our 3 kids back home have been struggling- occasionally acting out, being moody or sad. But I have also come to recognize our children's strengths. Of course, I have long thought them amazing kiddos (I am their mother, after all!), but here where I am meeting damaged children, I see my own kids more clearly. They are so confident, smart and secure. They may miss me, but they do not question my love. Or that I am coming back.  It is their sense of belonging in my world that has sharpened in my awareness.  The words of ee cummings are rattling around in my head tonight, which I have always thought of as the most beautiful description of what love feels like:

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;...

think of what a gift this will be if we can teach this love to Fort.   For him to know so deeply his place in this world and in my heart. 

I am bracing myself for some rough seas when I return. Fort will be finding his way in an unfamiliar world- one where he, and not I, is the other color. A world where sounds, smells, and sights are all new. His bed, his food, and familiar faces are all gone and replaced by new ones. And at the same time, Madeleine, Ben & Evie will not have seen me in six weeks. They will be far needier than usual, and needy for me. They all may be jealous of each other.  The stage where they think everything Fort does is so "cute" may be short lived.  But I have a strong feeling that these children will open their hearts to each other so quickly, and that I cannot begin to know what they will give to each other.  

Sometimes you have to be grateful for things yet to be known. 

Here is the poem by ee cummings in its entirety, just because it's so beautiful. 
i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
                                                      i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

Thursday, 13 September 2012

The beauty within

I want Fort to have pride in Uganda- not just a sense of a country that failed him.  Since I have been here, I am seeing a side of Uganda that is tough, and I am watching it through these orphans' eyes, which in turn skews my impression of this country. It's not the people or the country that hurts my heart, but the need. I am inspired daily by the strength and beauty here, and want to be sure to share it and remember it so, as my sister mentioned, I can teach Fort that there is more to this country than heartbreak. 

Uganda is called "the Pearl of Africa". It is a country about the size of Oregon, and has some of the most varied and beautiful landscapes. To the south is Lake Victoria, the largest lake in Africa and the second largest freshwater lake in the world. To the west are the "mountains to the moon" or the Rwenzori mountains, which continue past Uganda to include Kilamonjaro. The equator cuts across its southern region, and temperatures are mild year round. It has so many beautiful and "unspoilt" areas, that it is rather easy to make a safari and see tons of animals in their natural habitats, including elephants, rhinos, hippos, giraffes, zebras. It is one of the premiere bird watching places in the world. It is also one of the few places in the world where you are able to track gorillas in the wild. 

Most of this amazing countryside is quite easy to explore. There are many touring ventures, yet the tide has not turned for tourism, and it is happily still reasonably wild.  I do not want to give up my time at the orphanage to go on any of these safaris, and I know Fort has not yet experienced the beauty in his country, so this is something we would love to do as a family when the kids are older. We plan to make at least one family trip back to Uganda- for the kids to see Fort's country. 

What I have experienced most are the beautiful people of this country. Yes,  there are those who baffle me and infuriate me, but the majority of Ugandans that I have met have been amazing. There is a kindness of spirit, a generosity of heart, and a warmth for fellow humans. This country has gone through such upheaval since its independence just 50 years ago, and still the citizens love her. They have been exposed to poverty and pain, but they are resilient. 

When Steve came over to meet me, I told him my interpretation of the people. As you walk down the road-the rare mzungu- the people passing you by look sternly at you. You almost have a sense of their disapproval. But then if you smile first, and say hello, their faces change so radically, so instantly. Immediately their mouths break onto a wide grin, their eyes crinkle up, and with utmost politeness, they greet you in English.

There was a man on the corner down from the orphanage who has a little stand where he makes chapatis. Chapatis are flat pan fried dough circles, almost like a puffed up tortilla or scallion pancake. The kids (and me!) love them. Most days I take Fort for a little walk down the road, and we watch the chapati man rolling dough into circles, then stretching them flat and spinning them around the burner.  Finally, the other day, I asked how much one was, thinking I'd finally get one for Fort the next day. The man insisted we take 2 even though I had no money on me ( I later paid him). 

I was walking down the road, when I slipped in the wet mud in my flip flops and fell down into the canals dug for runoff water. There were 2 men heading my way, and they both ran to me to assist me, in the ever-Ugandan way of apology. Sorry, sorry, our roads are not good for you. 

Another time, going for a walk with Fort, a young man came up to us, asking how we were doing. He looked Fort in the eyes and said, you are a good boy, eh?  And though this man seemed not to have much money, he took a small coin and gave it to Fort. 

Those who have little, still share. 

Monday, 10 September 2012


Kampala. Uganda. Africa. The world. 
It doesn't really matter where you are, suffering is suffering. But here you face it on a daily basis. I think that is the difference. The people who live with such suffering have ways to accept and live with it.  Much in the way that Steve handles death more often as a doctor than most Americans - he has developed skills to cope, and indeed accepts death as a part of life in a way that Americans have forgotten. Here, in Africa, to say people are touched by death is an understatement.  The median age in Uganda is 15 years of age, with a life expectancy at birth of 53 years old. HIV and AIDS are still an epidemic, and poverty is rampant. 

Living here these many weeks, I am stuck by how many conversations have traumatic events casually thrown in. "My mother died of AIDS when I was 15...", " father beat me..." , "...I left school at 10 to care for my younger siblings...". It is not just the stories that are shocking- more so the fact that these stories are normal circumstances here.  I don't know how Ugandans cope with the realities of life here, but each day I hear something that strikes me across the face anew. 

I am unaccustomed to such pain. I am knocked to the ground by the individual stories of abandonment, rape and abuse, but I am more offended by the way these horrible things are common occurrences. I know that i am compassionate, probably to a fault, but I am also well aware of my sheltered life. The things I empathize with are things that have happened to others, that I have learned about in books, newspapers, movies. To rub up against them in such a personal manner is to rub myself raw. But I think I like it that way. 

I need to walk through Uganda with such a blistered exterior, because even so, it is just a glimmer of what these people have experienced. I don't think I need to put myself through the exercise of living in poverty or hardship to feel their pain. But I do think in order to live here for an extended time, you have to harden your heart to survive. And I think change comes when those of us who can afford to be affected can do that, and share the stories. 

I need to be affected. It is how I go through life, how I vibrate in this world. How I feel alive.  I am no pioneer- I am not changing my life to move here and dedicate my time to raising up the poor.  It matters though, what I am doing. Helping one boy. Changing his life so drastically, and ours too in turn. Contributing to the ongoing efforts of this home that has sheltered him for nearly a year. This safe haven, where children can begin to heal even before they are adopted or resettled. And sharing the stories by writing about it, so others can be affected in that 3rd person way we Westerners usually are. 

So how do I cope?  I suppose my answer is I don't. But I can afford it. I can afford my heart to be singed by the heartbreak. I will carry it with me forever, and I will relay it to my son one day. Maybe he will in turn do more than I ever will at helping his country, his people. Maybe he won't, and that would be fine too. I am not adopting him so that he will rescue Africa. I am adopting him to make him whole, and I think in turn he will do the same for me. 

Friday, 7 September 2012

Bikes, broccoli and bed

Last night, Fort spent the night with me for the first time.  I wasn't sure either of us was ready yet- but only because I knew that he would have to go back to spending nights at the orphanage. Would it be terribly disruptive?  Either staying with me or going back - or both?  But, we had an early morning interview for his passport, and both of us need to be there. Since Jurjanne was driving us, she kind of made the decision for us. 

Fort was very excited to come. He knows Jurjanne and her husband well, and their 2 Ugandan boys, Chris(6) and Seth(2).  We packed pajamas, his toothbrush, a change of clothes, and the blanket I brought him from the States.  He rode in Jurjanne's car back to her house. He saw the guest house where I sleep and nosed through some of my things. But his friends had more fun stuff to do and quickly he was outside, begging me to help him go around on Chris' slightly-too-big bike with training wheels. 
I had to use my hands to teach him how to keep his feet circling around the pedals. My mind flashed back to the States, and Ben's old spiderman bike that will be just a perfect size. 

After a day of playing in the red dirt of Africa, the children get bathed nightly- here before dinner. Fort easily stripped down like the other 2 boys & followed them to the tub.  His eyes grew wide at the tub filling with water- at Nafasi they sit in an empty tub, with a small bucket of clean water next to them in the tub. There is a little sponge and a bar of soap, and baths are quick & efficient & done by the caregivers. In the steaming bath, the boys lowered their bodies down, and Fort had his first "western" bath. 
Then we were called in for dinner. Unlike the prepared plates of food that he gets at the family home, here dinner was piled onto dishes in the middle of the table. There was no point in asking what he wanted to eat- he has never had that choice before. So I gave him a little of everything- chicken, French fries, cucumbers, broccoli, bread. We found the first thing I've ever known him not to like- Broccoli.   He took one bite and promptly put the remaining stump on my plate, saying simply "no". I believe it's his first broccoli. I like broccoli, so it won't be his last!
But like his fellow Ugandans, he likes his chicken. These were chicken wings, and though they are not my favorite, I know meat is a nice treat here. These people are serious about their meat. They do not just chew daintily on the juicy middle meat around the bone, or gnaw the skin away from the ends. Nope.  Ugandans, and my son, eat every non-bone part of that chicken including any cartilage, fat, or gristle. Wow. 

After cleaning his plate, and then his hands and face, Fort went back outside while I completed my now daily ritual of doing the dinner dishes. (A small task for a nice meal each night).  I was happy he was able to feel secure that I was in the house while he played outside. A little checkmark registered in my mind -*incremental step forward!*.  Seth and Chris go to sleep at 7pm, but at the home the children don't sleep until 8. I wanted to keep his routine, plus I anticipated a bedtime battle of sorts.  So we said goodnight and went to the guest house. We brushed teeth, and since I didn't have any toys, we looked at pictures on my iPad, and then a few games and stories. Around 8pm, I started moving him to my bed. Even when they don't know much English, kids know how to make their wishes clear. "No  bed!  No go sleep!". I bribed him into the mosquito netted double bed by letting him play with my flashlight (for power outages and to seek out cockroaches if I have to pee in the night).   Finally, I gently took away the flashlight, fully expecting the tears that quickly came. I had a sense he would almost need to cry in order to settle down.  First it was an angry cry- about the unfairness that was the taking of the flashlight. Then came the sobbing of "I don't want to sleep" and then finally we got to the real issue: "want to go". 

"I know, baby. I know you want to go back to your regular bed at Nafasi. But we are going to sleep here and Mama is going to stay with you". He crawled on top of me, chest to chest, and slowed his crying to what I call his 'keening'- his low, repetitive moaning, seemingly meant to block out the world and block himself from his own hurting heart. He let me hold him, kiss him, console him. He listened when I named all the kids back at the family home. "Jose is sleeping.  James is sleeping. John is sleeping". Rhythmic and slow. "Winnie is sleeping. Emily is sleeping. Maria is sleeping". We went though all of the kids and caregivers. He quieted down, moved away and rearranged into sleeping position. After 10 quiet minutes, when I was sure he was sleeping, he murmured "Rebel is for sleeping". Rebel, the dog at Nafasi. "Yes, Fort. Rebel is sleeping". Another ten minutes.  "Jemiro is for sleeping". I guess we forgot Jamiro. "Yes, Fort. Jamiro is sleeping". I looked across the pillows. His eyes flickered open. I could see the whites of his enormous eyes against the brown that made his sweet face and deep irises. We looked at each other silently. This boy and me. This boy and his mother. My son. He closed his eyes

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Second day at court

Needless to say, our first day at court was a hard day. It was horrible being dismissed from court and knowing we had only 1 day with Steve still in Uganda to finalize everything. I was upset with the lawyer, and baffled by the expectations of the judge. The people he wanted to see - the probation officer and the director of Fort's first orphanage- were obviously relevant people to our case, but it seemed like a crazy bone to pick since there were sworn affidavits. 
And of course, getting people to one place is not easy in Uganda. I heard most of this story later- the probation officer did not spend the night with the lawyer. He instead "borrowed" 40,000 shillings (about $16) to go get a few drinks. At 5am, our lawyer began driving around to find him. He did find him, and got him some breakfast and had him ready to go at 8:30am. It sounds like the sleazy guy that you pay to impersonate a probation officer, but no- this was the real guy. He was no longer working (because all probation officers have been fired-????- what???) so just mainly got drunk. But he was the guy who did the report and follow ups when Fort was found. Just couldn't remember a damn thing. 
And we also brought the woman who runs the government home. She was scared to come before the judge and not a fan of international adoptions. But she was very warm when we met her at breakfast, and remembered Fort well. He really is so comfortable with me, and was sitting in my lap. Whether or not that was the reason, she seemed to take a liking to us. 
So our meeting with the judge was to be at 9:30am, and I was shocked and thrilled beyond belief that we actually managed to get all these people to court. And then I was horrified when they told us he had to reschedule to midday because of an emergency. How can we keep tabs on these people??  We were outside, exchanging phone numbers to find everyone again, when the clerk came out and said he was able to see us now.  Ok, that was crazy close. It almost slipped through our fingers. 
So we went back in, and truly, my heart was pounding and I was sweating. First, after chastising our lawyer for wasting his time the day before, the judge called up Drunk Probation Officer.  It didn't go so well. He was nervous (and maybe in withdrawal?) and had trouble recalling any of the circumstances. At one point the judge asked, "Do I look stupid to you?". I kept looking at Steve. Then there was a complication of the birth certificate, which was made up after he was found as is required, with an estimated date based on his apparent age. That was called into question. Then came the other center's director,  and low and behold, she tells the judge he needed to be in a family. I think he was moved when he asked how many kids in the home right now. Unimaginably over crowded.
Then he called me up and I was ready to be grilled. He asked me to tell how we came into being interested in adopting Fort. So I told him, slowly, and without going into too much unnecessary detail. It seemed good. Then he said see you next Friday for the ruling and we were done. Jurjanne & Chris definitely were feeling that it went well & we should celebrate. I suppose it is possible that it will not be a favorable ruling, but I cannot figure why that would be. He said he'd let the birth certificate slide, and he could've asked for another court date- more papers, more people. But he 
didn't - so case closed.  I think. I hope?
Steve goes home now, and if something else comes up, it will be exponentially more difficult to solve. So here's for a straight forward ruling next week. 

Tuesday, 4 September 2012


I sit awake. 
Knowing trouble is sleeping
And wondering how the morning will go. 

His little aching heart
Is finally resting in the night,
Enveloped by a fortress
Made like the buildings of this country. 
Scaffolding made from long wooden poles, filled in by
Bricks baked in clay ovens, and
Covered with cement made by crushed stones. 
Smoothed by hands to make it seem like all is strong and resilient. 

But unlike the buildings that will stand for years,
His walls are made by patchwork,
And bit by bit I will endeavor to dismantle
His fear
Of being hurt
Because he loves. 

Tomorrow we begin again,
He and I,
This demolition and reconstruction.

Monday, 3 September 2012

How to get about town

When in Kampala, it can be overwhelming when you think about how to get around. 
If you know someone "rich", they may be able to drive you in their car, or you can hire a car & driver. But gas is expensive and there is "jam" in the traffic everywhere. It takes a long time to travel via car. Of course you can walk- most people do. There are no sidewalks, but you can walk along the side of the road. Be alert- the boda bodas and cars will zip by you, and narrowly miss you. Or if you're not lucky, won't miss you. Accidents are a part of life here. Daily I see pedestrians jump out of the path of a car or motorbike. The other hazard is the red dirt all along the roads, or sides (if the road is not a major one it will not be paved). After the rain, the dirt turns into a slick mud. I have taken a few spills- not been hit, but just a wipeout in a mud slalom. On the sides of most roads are deep ditches, to carry the water off the roads during the rainy season. It's not so fun to fall into one of those, plus you kind of feel like an idiot. 
So for me, walking is my least favorite and most nerve-wracking way to travel. Many people take the matatus, or taxi buses. They are a cheap way to travel- usually under 1000 shillings, or less than half a dollar.  There is a driver and a "conductor" who opens the sliding side door, and takes the fares for the passengers. They stop periodically at matatu "stands" and cram about 14-20 persons in at a time. Usually there is some walking to and from matatu stands. Plus, these usually take double the time- or more- than a direct car ride.  Give yourself a few hours to get across town. 
So this leaves the boda boda. Which is more like a moped than a motorcycle. If you are a mzungu, you just need to begin walking for one to find you. Apparently, most white people don't travel "on feet". Alternately, you can walk down to the nearest intersection to the gang of guys on bikes waiting for riders.  First, you see if they know where you want to go. Some drivers don't know the areas farther than 5 miles. Each neighborhood has its own name -and usually the road changes names within each neighborhood too, so you can't direct them by road names. If they know the neighborhood and can understand your English " do you know Namirembe?" then you ask how much. They will say 10,000 shillings (or whatever) and you will laugh, because they have doubled the price for you, mzungu!  You say, no, no- 5000 shillings. And they will counter with 7000 and you will say fine, and they will pat the seat of the bike or say "on" - for let's go.  I have yet to have the nerve to respond with "kyabike!" (pronounced chia-bee-kay) which is my new favorite phrase meaning "let's get this party started"!!  I learned this from the large poster boards around (but what they advertise I can't recall- airtime for your phone, perhaps?).  You are still overpaying, but now you are paying under $3 instead of $4. Such an accomplishment. 
You get on behind the driver, but beware. On the right side of the bike is the exhaust pipe, and even if you know about it, you may forget one day and get the infamous burn on the inside of your right calf. I will call it my tattoo from Africa.  So try to remember to get on from the left. Your driver may or may not have a helmet- I haven't decided if this means he is a driver concerned with safety, or he is going to be flying up & down the steep hills. In any case, you - the passenger- will not have a helmet. Most men straddle the bike- the local women ride side saddle. But one good pothole or speed bump...I prefer the ability to grab the jacket of my driver in fear and in warning, so I straddle the seat, like the other mzungus who dare this form of travel.  If your driver takes 2 of you, it will cost more, but not as much as 2 bodas. If he takes 3 or more, I advise you to take a different one, or you may find yourself in the side of the road!  If you have a choice of boda boda- look for the bike with a wide seat, and if you see one with the luxurious padded back, grab it!  Most have a metal handle behind, which is a convenient place to hold on, but also can grate up & down your tailbone. If all this seems too crazy, try to enjoy the fresh air as you travel, passing the cars in "jam", and try not to get dirt in your eyes. 
When you get close to your location, It will be nice if you know where you are going and can point.  Directions in Uganda can go like this:  go to the end of the road, take a left at the mango tree. Go until you see the old man with the bike. Do not greet this man, but continue until the very large anthill. Turn down that road until you see the newly plastered boundary wall, and you are there.  Or just point. If you don't know where you are going, be sure to carry a cell phone!  Or ask another boda driver in the area. Or maybe you should just hire the car with driver after all.