Monday, 25 February 2013

How did we get to here?

I. Am. Exhausted. 
I think most mothers of four would feel the same way. Or just most mothers in general. I have started this ridiculous habit of taking a 15 minute nap around 10:30pm. Then I wake up and have a little energy to read and do things on 'my time' that I am loath to give up. Then I go to sleep for real around 12:30. I barely register Steve leaving at 6, and when the alarm goes off at 7am, I am often surprised to find Fortune in bed with me. Did he just get there?  Was he there most of the night?  It is hard to reinforce him sleeping in his bed all night when I can't wake up to put him back!
My coffee intake has tripled. I have the disgusting habit of making a pot of coffee and drinking it all day. Although I admit that I still have a glimmer of the glamorous notion that artists subsist on coffee to fuel their creative fire. I am hoping to reawaken my creative fire one day!  
I swore I would never complain about laundry. Because after living for years and years lugging the laundry to a laundromat, it seems an absolute luxury to have your own washer and dryer. And there is the ease of being able to throw in a load of laundry at any time of the day. My only issue is now I am throwing in laundry at EVERY time of the day!  The Sisyphean task awaits me every moment I am home.  Obviously there is more to managing 4 kids than laundry and groceries.  So I wonder, why - in light of all the freaking work that having four ADJUSTED kids entails- did we ever wish to adopt an older child, one that would undoubtedly have issues and would rock our stable if busy little world?  
Steve and I grew up in big families- I grew up with five siblings and Steve is one of 8. And we loved it, though we never imagined having such a brood of our own. We always talked of adopting some day, but looking back, we spoke of it in the way you dream about owning a home- not really thinking about the realities of repairing the roof or replacing a furnace. But intellectually and emotionally it has always appealed to us. It just seemed like the RIGHT thing to do- we wanted children, and all those kids wanted parents. Then we started to see friends going through the process - the ongoing piles of paperwork, the endless waiting. Really?  Who wants to do all that WORK?  And the waiting lists for a young child made it seem so commercial. And no matter how you looked at it, adoption was expensive. 
Then life happened. I had a career as a singer & dancer, Steve was in the long road to become a doctor. Finally, we moved to Ohio for Steve to start his own medical practice and for us to have kids. We both wanted that, and the Midwest gave me the luxury to be a stay-at-home mom. I left my sometimes glamourous life in the theatre and traded the sequins for Cheerios.  We had things we never had before in our student/actor life. We had a new car, a house & extra cash.  Steve and I were both in our 30s, and we were ready for a family. Then in 17 months we had 3 children; a daughter and then boy-girl twins. It was overwhelming and exhausting and any thoughts of adoption were long gone. But time moves on, you forget your exhaustion and suddenly on New Years Eve 2009,  when the twins were 3, we brought it up again. We were both excited about the idea. Excited to research it and find a toddler- maybe a 2 year old who would be close in age to the twins. We would find where the need was- and look for a child that there wasn't a wait list for- any race, any place. Share the wealth and the love that we had. We had a loud, fun house, and we had finally gotten to the point where I could manage our kids plus a few extra. We were a social house & I loved having friends with their kids over for dinners, play dates or "lunch parties" - often 5-10 moms and their accompanying children.  I was tired of needing help from everyone and thrilled that I had gotten to the point where I could reciprocate. I had more to give. And adopting would do that in an extreme way. Little did I know how extreme. 
When I think about the path that we took to get where we are, how impossible that first year of twins was, and how difficult this first year of adopting is too, I am comforted by time. Time marches on. And while I feel the sleeplessness and the stress more, while I feel worn thinner, and older, I know "this too shall pass". I hope that this will balance out- that I'll give less and get more. And that once again, I'll have more to give. 

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Those I left behind

The director of the orphanage told me that I would never forget the ones I left behind. And now I am realizing the full extent of what that means. I haven't really been in very close contact with anyone in Uganda since I left. Mainly because I am overwhelmed and exhausted and it's somewhere on my list of the many things I need to do. But also because I am wary. I am wary to add a layer of emotions onto what I am already trying to manage. Even as I write this and just let my mind wander to those kids, my eyes are welling up. Not all the kids at Nafasi were able to be adopted. They have to go through a fairly intense investigation, and those who have complications or family members they have tracked down are clearly not eligible to be, nor should they be, adopted by a new family.

And each kid has his own story, and his own chances of being reunited with some form of family. 
I have heard about a few of the stories that have happened since we left - the baby whose grandmother came to visit weekly finally took him back to her home after 3 months. The 6 month old whose father also came to visit every week also took him back. But I wonder about this one boy, probably 1 1/2 years old, who was just learning to walk on his spindly legs when I was there. His mother went to jail for abandoning him, but the orphanage helped to get her out, with several stipulations. She came to visit her son, but she has given up. On him, on herself, on life. We wonder if she has AIDS. I was there the day she came to see her son. She had him in her lap, after much coaxing, but she did not even try to hold him. Her arms dangled by her sides, and the boy seemed to balance as precariously on her lap as he did when he was first abandoned. It was not good for the mom, but way more importantly, not good for the child. So what do you do in this case?  It would be horrible for this boy, once abandoned, to be reunited with his mother who does not want him, and who would probably neglect him again. The social worker is talking with her about giving up her parental rights, and then he could be adopted. 
I am still conflicted about one little girl's story. She came to the orphanage with Fort. They were close buddies. Whenever Fort sees a picture of her, he says "dat's my friend!".  She came after her father was arrested. She was with him as he tried to steal a boda boda, but it went awry and the "mob" was starting to go after him. The police saved his life by arresting him. When they interviewed the father to try to find a family for her, it turned out that the father had taken her from the mother when she was small, and she had lived with him, and been party to his many crimes. Processing all of this takes time, which in Uganda translates to years. So 4 years after she was taken from her mother, and after being in the orphanage for over a year, they were reunited.  She was at a very tough orphanage for a while, then transferred to the Dutch orphanage with Fort, which was well staffed and well run. When she finally made it back to her mother, they were strangers. The mom had thought she was dead. There were brothers and sisters she has never known. The mother held a job at a flower farm, but didn't have enough money to send them to school, although the orphanage was trying to raise money for her to go. The kids were watched by a neighbor while the mom worked. Then she lost her job. I am not clear on what the latest is, although I know they got the money to send the girl to school. We went to visit her while I was there. To me, she lived in squalor. Yes, she was with family, but there was not much- they had a one room shack with a dirt floor. They wore rags. They ran around without any supervision. I can't imagine there was much food. And so, is this the best situation for her?  I do not know.  It could have easily been a loving and wonderful home. It also might have been going back to a life of hardship. Most likely, both. To my western eye, it seemed like she was still in need. 
Now I have started to think about the ones still in Uganda. Especially the few that I really grew close to- and the ones who had no idea that I wasn't coming back. How did that affect them?  Have they gotten used to that?  So many people come and go. How does it feel to see their friends being adopted and nothing  changes in their life?  I also have unresolved issues with people from groups, mostly churches, who show up at orphanages like Nafasi on "mission trips". Who is getting served here?  What long term needs are being filled?  Is it a selfish trip- feeling like they have done some good by seeing first hand what devastation people live in?  Do they do more harm with the hope they instill?  Many of these kids will grow up in the system, always alone, never adopted. 
It is hard to compare their lives to our life now, and all the things Fort is doing and the ways he is changing. What will happen to those kids?  I am as overwhelmed living back in a first world country, thinking of them, as I was in a third world country thinking back on my kids in the US.   It is so extreme, the differences in our lives. I look at Fort and I wonder if he sees this world the way I see it, or if he is just more malleable and more accepting.  He takes everything in and hasn't seemed to struggle to reconcile the stuff we have access to here.  And the waste. 
What I want is ...
I can't seem to finish that sentence. What do I want?  How can I come to peace with what I left behind?  And who I left behind?