Tuesday, January 26, 2010

What next??

Readers of this blog know that Marin periodically has episodes of badly missing her Ethiopian mother, and these episodes have become more frequent recently. We comfort Marin by reminding her that a Mother's love for her child never ends, and her mother is loving her from heaven right now and forever, and some day Marin will see her mother again in heaven, and she has to be patient for that day.

Saturday evening we entertained an Ethiopian immigrant family at our house. The husband began speaking Amharic to Marin to see what she remembered. Marin remembered a little, but not much. She went back to playing with the other children and we all enjoyed a very nice evening.

Sunday morning, Marin awoke in a bad state of distress. After getting her calmed down, she explained she is upset because she forgot her Amharic, and how will she speak to her mother in heaven if the mother speaks Amharic and Marin speaks English? OK, I'll admit, I am not fast enough on my feet to come up with a credible answer to that question.

Friday, January 15, 2010


It occurred to me that Marins' class might discuss race issues next week, so I thought I better get a preview. Marins' teacher was great. She said "I'm really glad you called, because I have been a little anxious about this, too. Will you come in Friday AM before school and review the lesson with me?" Boy, am I glad I did.

First, a little context. Ethiopia is the only African country that was never colonized and one of the few regions that was not involved in slave trade. Marin saw brown skinned people in all positions of power, wealth, and poverty. There was no marginalization based on skin color.

Back to the classroom. There were two basic books. One was a biography of MLK that spent a fair amount of time describing the isolation and discrimination he endured as a child. It is so different to read these stories know as the parent of an African child. All I think about is how she is going to feel being the only black kid in the room when they talk about black kids being picked on. I asked the teacher how she is going to teach this. She said she is going to focus on respect. That people in the past were not respectful but now we spend a lot of time teaching respect. Be respectful is one of the key precepts in our primary school.

I decided I was OK with that, as long as she kept an eye on Marin and Marin did not show any visible signs of distress.

The second book was the story of Ruby Bridges, one of the first black girls to attend a white school during the school integration movement. This book was pretty intense. It told about courtroom battles where lawyers argued to keep blacks out of white schools. It had photos of riots and protests. The upshot was a real newsphoto of Ruby climbing the steps of the white school escorted by armed soldiers. Ruby looked like Marin. The teacher turned to me and said "I am not at all comfortable with this one. That little girl looks so much like Marin." I'm thinking to myself "Holy cow, that IS Marin." So we agreed she would not teach the Ruby Bridges book.

This is the conflict. On the one hand, you can't hide from history and all these kids are going to learn about these events some day. On the other hand, Marin is the only black kid in her class and she is really sociable and well liked. Do we want to risk upsetting that supportive environment by introducing all the hatred and unfairness of past generations?

I'll tell you, America's history takes on a whole different hue when viewed from the perspective of what it could do to your child's self esteem and relationships with classmates when she is sitting in a room full of whites learning about all the past crimes and injustices committed against her people only because of their skin color. It is painful.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Baby Einstein????

OK, we all know parents who think their kids are genuises, but Emmy (just turned 5) is doing things that flabbergast us. Three examples.

First, she recently beat me in checkers, and I was trying to win. I showed her the basic rules and she intuitively figured out how to split defenses, set traps and lures, and prevent me from battling to a draw.

Second, last night she was lying in bed counting her fingers when she asked me how to know when to stop.
Me: What?
Emmy: What is the biggest number? How do I know when I am at the end?
Me: Google. Google is the biggest number.
Emmy: Daddy, you're wrong. (staring at her fingers) Google and one, google and two, google and three. See Daddy, whatever number you say, I will just add one to it and make you wrong.

Is it common to self-discovered the concept of infinity at age 5?

Finally, when we are driving on the highway, Emmy will stare at the oncoming traffic and have a dialog with herself.
- We're gonna beat that car to the sign
- That car is speeding, it's gonna beat us to the tollbooth
- That truck will beat that car before it goes under the bridge
- When I look out my window, the trees that are close to me are speeding but the trees far away are moving slow.

Is it common to ponder concepts of relative position and relative motion (differential calculus) at age 5?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Sen Harry Reid

This is typically an apolitical blog, but Harry's comments are so insidious that I feel he needs to be called out. For those not familiar, Sen Reid's comments about Obama during the 2008 primary process were recently exposed. Reid said (paraphrasing) " Obama is electable because he is light skinned and he doesn't speak with Negro accent, unless he wants to."

So why is this political analysis objectionable? Aside from being brazenly calculating and showing how ugly the depths of his mind truly is; to understand, you must understand the history of light brown vs dark brown.

In the colonial south, the light skinned blacks were usually the offspring of a male master and a female slave. As the masters' offspring, the light skinned blacks were afforded preferential treatment - usually given light duty, were given proper nutrition and medical attention, often received an education and taught to speak proper English, and basically had all the priveleges and liberties of a white. This is where the expression "raised white" originated. On the other hand, dark browns had the hard labor in the fields and barns, were beaten and fed poorly, kept uneducated, and really lived the hard core life of a hard core slave. This is where expressions such as "black list, black ball, black mark, etc" originated.

Even today, when you look at female black models, the more successful ones (Tyra Banks, Iman, etc.) have light complexions, straighter hair, and anglo facial features. When you look at a criminal suspect lineup, the blackest faces with the blackest facial features are perceived as the most menacing.

So Sen Reid, as a Senate Majority Leader, and in all his clumsiness, basically validated the racist perception that lighter skinned blacks are more 'acceptable' than darker skinned blacks because lighter skinned blacks may have caucasian genes (as Obama does) and may have been 'raised white.' His ham fisted statement of fact, that these unfair perceptions dating from 200 years ago, are still valid today, makes him unsuitable for a leadership position in he US government.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Amharic Yenta Sisterhood

Yenta - Yiddish - Meddler, gossiper, meddlesome, busybody, nuisance. Mostly Judaic and female. (from the Urban Dictionary)

Back to this Ethiopian Party, there was a group of about six mature Eth women and they wanted to meet all the adopted children and their parents. Out of respect, and believing we may learn some important cultural things, we parents complied.

Two of the women stroked and stroked and stroked the hair on Marin's and Emmy's head.
Yenta (frown on her face): Who does this hair?
Colleen: I have it done professionally about every second month and I do the daily routine.
Yenta (still frowning): Hmmmmmm.........this is not a good job.
Colleen: What do you mean?
Yenta (now smug): It is not how I would do it.
Yenta (asking another Yenta): What do you think of this hair?
Other Yenta (shakes head and clucks tongue): Such a shame because her hair could be so beautiful if the mother did it correctly.

Holy Cow! I really wish Seinfeld were still airing because I would submit this script! Anyone who knows Colleen knows she spends way way way too much time and money on our girls hair. I didn't know whether to laugh my butt off at the ridiculousness or cry for Colleen because I knew it must be killing her to hear this nonsense.

So the next day, Colleen was on the phone comparing notes with the other adoptive mothers.

One mother was scolded for picking her daughter up to hold her too often (remember these are orphans who often suffer abandonment anxieties).
Yentas: What are you doing? You should not hold her so much. You will ruin that child. Let her cry. Let her learn to do by herself. She does not need you hovering over her all the time. You are a smother mother. Go relax somewhere, drink your wine, and nothing will happen to your child.

Another mother was lectured because her daughter was not particularly eager to return to Ethiopia for a homeland visit.
Mother: Well, my daughter was very hungry in Ethiopia and she was worked very hard. Her memories of Eth are not that pleasant.
Yentas: She is playing you. African children are very clever. Do not believe her. Somebody was whispering in her ear before she came here. She was coached what to say and what not to say. You must get to the bottom of these lies or you are not a good mother. You come see us in a few months and tell us what you have learned. If you have learned nothing, then we will figure this out for you.

So, fair warning to all you adoptive parents, if you encounter the Amharic Yenta Sisterhood, make sure you have taken your self- esteem supplements beforehand. And before you take even one work of their advice, post on your adoption yahoo group or chatroom to make sure you get the reall skinny from other adoptive parents. Good luck to all.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Homesick, Part 2

Saturday we were at an Ethiopian Christmas (Feast of the Epiphany) party. There must have been at least 60 ethiopians there spanning all generations from toddlers to grandparents. It was pretty cool and our kids had a ball.

Sunday morning, all Marin wanted to talk about was Ethiopia, her adoption, and how we found each other.

Marin: "Daddy, tell me the whole story, from the very beginning, about how you met me."

Me: "Well, we flew on the airplane.........

Marin: "No, before that. All the way from the first time you thought you wanted to adopt a kid."

Me: (tells the entire story a to z)

Marin: Tell me everything you know about my Africa Mom and Dad.

Me: (tells the entire story, which isn't much)

Marin: And when can I see them again.

Me: Sweetheart, you know what happened to your Africa Mom and Dad, right?

Marin: Yes.

Me: Were you there and do you remember?

Marin: Yes (getting choked up)

Colleen: Marin, we will see them again in heaven. Just be patient. They are watching out for you from heaven and they will be excited to see you.

Marin: OK, Now tell me about my brothers.

Me: Marin, I don't know of any brothers. Do you remember any brothers?

Marin: No, but just checking, you know, in case you forgot to tell me. Tell me about my sister Genet.

Me: (tells all I know, again, not much)

Marin: But Genet is your daughter, too, right?

Me: No, Marin, we did not adopt Genet.

Marin: (tears welling up) What? Why, Daddy?

Me: (caught totally offguard) Well, Genet, is a teenager. She could take care of herself. You and Emmy were just little kids and you needed someone to take care of you.

Marin: (falls into my arms, full blown bawling her eyes out) But Daddy, how do we know Genet is OK? We need to find her. If we find her will you adopt her, too, so we can be all sisters again?

Anyway, now Colleen and I are discussing whether I should take a fact finding trip to Eth this year. Just to see if I can locate Genet, take some photos and video, and set the stage for a visit with Marin and Emmy. I think it's a bad idea to take the kids over there and conduct the search with them in tow. We need to know beforehand whether Genet is still alive and where she can be found.

Brown skin girls

I had womens basketball on TV, UConn vs. Carolina, but no one was really watching it. It was background noise to all the stuff we were doing around the house. Suddenly Marin perks up.

"Daddy, on the TV is all brown skin girls."

"Yes, Marin, sometimes in college the brown skin girls are the best basketball players."

"Daddy, brown skin girls rule."

Monday, January 4, 2010

Eighty Eight

Continuing on this homesick theme the next morning, Marin asked a lot of questions about death and heaven, and whether I promised to take care of her the rest of her life.

I told Marin I promised to take care of her for as long as I live, which then prompted questions about how long I will live (Marin is very alert to possible double talk and digs for the truth). Unbeknownst to Marin, longevity is something I obsess about because it is linked to my determination that we not outlive our wealth. I have gone so far as to have my life expectancy scientifically projected using data points like my health and safety habits, blood and urine test results, family history, and genetics. So, I have a very good idea about how long I will live and a financial plan for supporting that life span.

So then I ask Marin "How old do you think you will be when you die?" Without missing a beat, she shoots right back "88" (which happens to be my number) . I looked up at her, to see if she was smirking or laughing - you know - anything to signal that she had overheard me saying that number to someone and was trying to push my buttons - but she was dead serious. That was her real answer.

It's creepy. Marin is not that good at math (yet), and of all the numbers she could have said, she just pulls that one out of thin air.


We had a great New Years Eve celebration with two other adoptive families and one waiting family - a total of ten Ethiopians in the house - with Injera bread on the buffet and Ethiopian pop dance music on the CD player. The waiting family, naturally, talked a lot about their prospective visit to Addis and asked the kids what they remembered about Eth.

During our ride home, Marin was very quiet, with a pensive look on her face, then she started asking a lot of questions.

When will she go to Ethiopia again?
Can we find her sister?
How will we know where to find her?
If her sister wants to come to America will we take her?

Then Marin started talking about all the people in Eth she missed, which brought the discussion around to her mother. I asked Marin if she remembered when her mother died and to tell me about it. Marin said she remembered all the family standing in a circle holding hands, saying prayers to her mother and telling stories about her mother.

We are starting to realize this wound may never heal, it can only be managed, as positively and constructively as possible.