Friday, August 23, 2013

Aug 18

We wonder how God could make such a perfect little creature as Saryn.  She reminds us of a little lap dog- she loves to just sit in our laps or be held, for hours at a time.  It is so precious!  And her little face is so innocent and sweet and… perfect. 
She doesn’t even crawl yet, at 11 months!  I think she’s been so coddled by all the caretakers and kids at the foster care center that she hasn’t had any need to crawl to get anything.  So Reece is giving her crawling lessons J sooo cute. She tries to get in position for crawling, then will move her hand forward for one “step”, then give up. She can’t figure out why her legs are tied up under her!  So Christian says we are putting her in Baby Boot Camp.  I have mixed feelings about it, because she’s pretty easy to take care of, being basically immobile- we don’t have to worry about her getting into things she shouldn’t- but we know she needs to learn to crawl for her body and brain development. But for now, we are enjoying having a baby who seems younger than she really is.
I had put her down for a nap, and fell asleep with her up in our room at the guest house.  Reece and Christian were downstairs, giving us some quiet time.  After I fell asleep, Reece came in and said “This is for you” and handed me three pieces of popcorn from his fist, then left. He is such a little angel. 
Today we visited Entoto mountain and enjoyed the view. Reece chased a goat, we toured the Ethiopian Orthodox church museum, and other buildings in the cloister.  At the end of the day, we all got to share our favorite thing of the day.
Ally: The little path that led to the monks’ quarters, with its fence made of sticks and living trees; it reminded me of The Secret Garden!
Christian: The view of the city on top of the mountain
Reece: the popcorn

Reece is sooooo sweet with Saryn. He will often anticipate her needs and say things like “shouldn’t we change her diaper?” He calls her “baby saster”, the same thing he’s been calling her since she was just an idea, back when he was 3 years old. He used to complain, “It’s taking for too long to get my baby saster!!!”  Now he keeps loving on her, and helping her sit up, and asking her what’s wrong each time she whimpers. He says his favorite thing about her is when she wakes up in the morning and tries to stand up in her crib, holding onto the bars.
Napping here is glorious.  It will often rain in the afternoon, and with the window open to our room we get a nice cool breeze. With baby girl angelically asleep by my side, it’s just so easy to sleep.
Christian’s favorite thing about Saryn is her “dive-bombing”. She will be sitting on your lap and then just suddenly collapse onto his chest. A few seconds later, she will gather her wits and sit back up, and take in more of the world. When that gets overwhelming (after about 10 seconds) she might dive bomb again. 

She is making little sounds including “mama” J but she doesn’t know that’s me yet.  It’s so cute when she cries, because she will say things like “yeah yeah yeah” between her little cries.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Reece Gehman, on poverty

We really wanted to bring Reece back to his homeland for a visit when he was, say, in middle school or later, so that he’d be sure and remember all that he saw, felt, and experienced.  However, circumstances dictated it differently, and we find ourselves here with him at age six.
I couldn’t be more delighted. He is absorbing his surroundings and commenting on many things he sees, and we all process it together. The first day he said, “Did this place used to be nice?” and “Why is everyone here homeless?” and a little later, “Why does that man have a huge hole in his shirt? It looks like he got attacked by a tiger and he shredded it to pieces.”  (All of this within earshot of our taxi driver, and I was a little embarrassed at the thought that those comments may have embarrassed our driver.)  I was trying to explain to him that in Ethiopia, there are not enough jobs for all the people. So a lot of people barely survive, and all the money they have gets used on food and shelter, and a hole in their shirt is not a high priority.  Reece said, “I know someone who can fix their shirts- you, Mama.”  And that’s exactly what I plan to do- I plan on going to the government orphanage and mending a lot of the tattered clothes there. I hope they will let me in, and let me do it.

I don’t want to be that kind of Mom who rubs it in Reece’s face…so I have to handle all these poverty comments delicately.  We have told Reece from day one that his Mama Wagaye had to give him up because she was so poor, that she didn’t have enough money to buy food for them, and she was afraid he would die.  I know that later in life Reece might wrestle with the fear of abandonment, so I am glad that he is seeing now, firsthand, what true poverty really looks like. And how much his birth mother loves him, that she gave up a perfect, beautiful child so that he would have a better chance to live.  Speaking of Wagaye, we have asked our agency to try and locate her so that we can meet with her again.  It’s a very loaded idea: does she even want to see us/him? Would it be too painful for her? I know she loves him, but Christian pointed out that seeing him again may open many wounds afresh for her and she may prefer leaving them alone. How will Reece react?  Will it be incredibly awkward for him, being in a room with both Mamas? Will it stir up in him these rejection feelings that are probably latent within his little soul?  We don’t even know if the agency will be able to locate her.  But we have sought it out.  I personally would LOVE to see her again- I want her to see how happy, beautiful, and bright is this child she bore- and how incredibly blessed our lives have become with him in it. I also would LOVE to help her find a stable job- she may already have one- but I’d love to hook her up with Adera, the non-profit I have been working with in making diapers for kids and selling jewelry that the Ethiopian ladies make.
In other news, I love being here during rainy season. I took a nap yesterday with the door slightly open, and the sound of softly falling rain on the Eucalyptus trees lulled me into a nostalgic sleep that reminded me of innocent days of childhood. It’s hard to explain but it was just dreamy. I know most people don’t like rain but I do- it reminds me that God is up there, doing something. It cleans the air and brightens up everything. The sound is calming and I love the smell of rain.
One more juxtaposition- jet lag should be more aptly called “jet psychosis”. Someone in our family has been waking up anywhere from 1am to 5 am, every night, and not falling back to sleep.  Last night it was me. It’s quite dreadful wanting desperately to sleep but not being able to. And knowing you have a full day ahead, and could fall asleep in one second if it were in the afternoon rainy time… knowing I will have to push through all day feeling like a zombie with a massive headache.  I try to focus on the good (of which, there is an abundance) and I get frustrated at my own “flesh” and its weakness.
We go to the Gladney Foster care every day (that’s where Saryn is staying) but for all practical purposes it’s an orphanage, so that’s what we call it to Reece.  Reece made fast friends with several children there, even though they don’t speak any English. It gives me so much joy to see him happy and playing, and it’s amazing that kids can just play by chasing each other around, jumping on cushions, throwing balls, etc. I asked Reece his favorite thing about Ethiopia, and he said “Playing with my friends.”  Sad to say, these friends are being transferred to another orphanage far away next week, so Reece will need to make some new friends.  He is keeping a little journal about his trip, and today he wrote “my friends don’t have a mom and dad”.  They were having so much fun, I was a little worried that Reece would think that being an orphan was a wonderful thing, because you get to live in a big house with lots of other kids. I need to subtly remind him of the benefits of having parents J

I asked Reece the other day, “Did you notice everyone here has brown skin like you?” and he said, “No”.  (Parenting FAIL)  I was trying to get him in touch with some of his culture, letting him know that his skin looks like his birth mom’s.  He said, “I still love you guys, but it’s not really fun having white parents.”  OUCH. I wonder if my comment provoked that, or if was from his heart. I suppose this is all part of the wrestling that comes with inter-racial adoption.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Gotcha, Girl!

We arrived in Addis on Thursday, August 8th, around 1:30 pm local time (to be exact, it was 12/3/2005 at 7:30 am local time, as Ethiopia follows a calendar roughly seven years and 8 months behind the Gregorian calendar, as well has having decided to have the day roll over at what for the rest of the world is 6 am). The head of Gladney adoption here, Dereje, picked us up and took us to our guest house (Yeka Guest House, $55/night), where we quickly dumped our bags before heading to Gladney's foster care center to get our hands on our little princess-in-waiting.

Allyson had seen her three times already in June, but this was the first time for Reece and I to meet her. Reece was a bit shy at first and she a bit subdued suffering a cold. Still, we all got on splendidly as we loved on her and the other, older kids in the foster care center. Reece soon warmed up and was gleefully running around with them language barriers notwithstanding. There were two sibling groups (two sisters and then two sisters and a brother), which was encouraging as we know sibling adoptions have gone very slowly. They were fun-loving and sweet and we enjoyed being with Saryn and all of them. After a brief meeting with Dereje to discuss the details of our court date the next day, we headed to the guest house and were in bed by 8 or so, pretty exhausted.

Jet lag has been quite a hiccup to Reece's normally stellar sleeping. He's woken up at 1 am and 2 am on our first two nights overseas, so that's made for some tired mornings. Allyson was completely drained this morning after staying up with him from about 2 am onwards, all while fighting a cold. Suffice it to say that Christian gets tonight's shift!

In the early afternoon, we headed to court, stopping at a pretty unassuming high-rise except for the machine-gunned-armed soldiers standing outside. Dereje met us there and accompanied us up a few floors to a waiting room packed with ferengi (foreigners). All of the men were carbon copies of each other: white, wearing business casual with a fleece or Gortex jacket and backpack. We had barely sat down when our name was called. We marched into the judge's office, answered a series of checkbox-style questions and literally three minutes later were declared Saryn's parents and marched right back out. WHHHHAAAT? Four years of waiting, yearning, striving conluded like that? It was a bit surreal and quite bewildering, enough to make Allyson upset with Christian for his apparent non-reaction to the whole affair during lunch.

Slowly, though, things sank in and we picked up some spring in our step as we headed back to the foster center to love on her some more. She is now officially ours and we could have taken her home tonight. For several reasons, we will keep her with the foster care for a few more days, but we finally, finally have got her. So thankful, so amazed. WOOHOO!

Friday, August 9, 2013

We Knew it Would be Short Notice, but wow...

When we first got matched with Saryn in May, we knew it would be a tight schedule for us to travel before the courts close in Ethiopia for six weeks in mid-August. We really wanted to travel before the court closure so as not to have two months pass without seeing her. Plus, if we can make that first court date, then the process can continue (after Ethiopian court, her case is passed for visa processing to the US Embassy, which does not close for Ethiopia's "rainy season.")

We've spent all summer scheduling only a few weeks at a time as we kept getting updates of our progress suggesting we MIGHT travel before August. We got the notice in late June that the Ethiopian court announced their last day of business as Tuesday, August 6th. We figured we'd have to hear by early July in order to travel in August. As we resigned ourselves to an October-November date in mid-July, our caseworker mentioned that we might still get squeezed in, after a last procedural on July 30th. July 30th came and went and we again prepared for a later travel date.

On our way to visit Christian's mom on Friday, August 2nd, our caseworker called to say that our court date was to be Friday, August 9th! We were elated, but didn't think they could make the window that short. Adding to our stress was that, contrary to what many families do, we would remain in Ethiopia for the 7-12 weeks between this court date and our US Embassy appointment, which grants Saryn the visa to travel to the US with us. In other words, we had about 3 days to plan for a 2-3 month trip, as we were headed the wrong way!

We actually continued on to Mom's in Springfield to see her and my sister and family, taking the long stretches in the car to make endless lists, book flights, and plan what we could. It was a quick but enjoyable 36 hours in Springfield, then a long haul back to Fort Worth via a very needed pit stop in Tulsa where Wes and Joan graciously hooked us up with a bunch of things we needed for the trip. Then it was basically non-stop packing from Mon morning on until we boarded the plane Tuesday afternoon.

We flew to Addis Ababa through Dubai on Emirates, highly recommended to anyone making a similar trek. Beyond Emirates' stellar service, they put us in a hotel for the 22-hour layover in Dubai, giving us the chance to arrive not completely exhausted (a shout out to Clayton and Margo Faulkner for telling us about traveling to Ethiopia with this airline). Ally used the afternoon for a fat nap, but Reece and I took the Metro to the Burj Khalifa, currently the tallest building in the world. The next day, it was a short 3-hr flight to land us in Addis on a Thursday afternoon.

Now to go get that girl!

Reece enjoying the hookup of kids goodies from Emirates.
Reece eating a cream-cheese laden bagel we got from DFW before taking off. The picture doesn't capture it, but he was basically a wreck waiting to happen, squirming constantly in his seat with that weaponized cream cheese!
Try as I might, I couldn't get a pic of the Burj Khalifa and Reece with light on his face. Well, there you go: the world's tallest building and Reece in silhouette.

Cruising through the palatial Dubai airport.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Epiphanies in Ethiopia

I just returned from the most amazing trip to Ethiopia.  I went with several wonderful ladies through the Adera Foundation. Check out all their projects at
I really struggled in my decision to go on this trip... not for lack of desire.  I very much wanted to go; it was the cost that I struggled with. I was telling Christian "the money for the plane ticket alone could pay several months' salary for the orphanage could feed hundreds of kids a meal...I just think the money could be much-better used elsewhere."  And he replied, "We have already been giving money to those causes for years. YOU really want to go, and I think you should do it!"  The conversation wasn't actually that short :) but that was the gist of it.  I haven't been on a mission trip in 10 years; I have been on several throughout my life, serving as a nurse on many of them... yet this gnawing thing inside me kept saying that the money could be better spent elsewhere.  And while there's truth in that statement, I think he knew that it would do my heart an abundance of good to travel to the place and work with the foundation that I have been making diapers for and sending money to.
I work as a school nurse in a Title 1 elementary school-meaning more than 75% of our kids are on free/reduced lunch.  It's one of the poorer areas of the DFW metroplex. I have found myself continually drawn to the "underdogs" for my entire life, and have sought to help the poor as a general life-aim. Yet I have found myself increasingly put-out and kind of disgusted with American "poverty", since I have seen third-world poverty first-hand.  I have done many things throughout the years to help the kids at my school (as anyone would, who had my job), and have been repeatedly frustrated with parents who tell me things like, "We can't afford glasses for our son- can you help us?"  And I round up my resources and give the parent a free eyeglasses voucher- then she reaches into her purse for her iPhone with her manicured hands.  I mention all of this as a preface to my biggest revelation while in Ethiopia...
I was working at the day care helping to give the kids a bath.  They were a bunch of squirming, giggling 4 year old I rubbed lotion on one little boy's legs, I was thinking, "this feels just the same as when I'm putting a band-aid on a kid in Texas..." I had thought I might have a Mother Teresa-like beatific moment where the clouds parted, and glory of heaven would shine down on me.  I had even made sure that these were the POOREST of all the kids in Ethiopia- I knew they were the poorest in Addis, the capital city- but I asked our Ethiopian driver Solomon if they were the poorest in the whole country, and he said they were. He said people in the countryside have land, and they can farm and sustain themselves- but these people, have barely anything.  I was honestly expecting to feel something like "my life is now complete, I have helped the poorest of the poor."  But I had nothing like that. I had the feeling of how SIMILAR it was to when I help someone, just a regular person, not someone in great "need"... honestly it was kind of disappointing.  Yet in the long run, I think it's quite encouraging.  To help ANYONE, even if I don't determine that their need is that great, is a blessed thing to do.  I think Aesop wrote, "No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted."
I think the best thing to happen overall on my trip, was that it renewed my desire to give to these people. It gave faces and personalities to the statistics. I found out that Ethiopia's greatest need seems to be employment opportunities- the official statistic says 30% are unemployed- but I heard from a well-educated man there, who says that it's actually much higher than that- the government is embarrassed to release a more accurate statistic.  I took over a sewing machine, and hoped to teach a woman there how to do some basic mending- and I found that one of the caregivers at the daycare had been through a complete sewing course. I asked her why she didn't work in that area, and she says there are no jobs.
And to my great distress, I heard several first-hand stories of women who were lured to Arab countries to serve as maids- yet when they arrived, the man of the house raped them and treated them as slaves.  Their passports were taken by the man of  the house, and when the wife found out that the man and the "maid" were having sex, then the wife hated the maid as well.  The "lucky" ones get out alive, if they can find someone in the Arab country who is kind enough to help them get back to Ethiopia.  One story is that the family sold their only cow, to pay for their daughter's plane ticket to the Arab country- and then when she finally returned, she had been traumatized, and the family had nothing. It's a horrible story that I heard over and over again, in my short 10 days there.
So my brain is in constant motion. I am trying to figure out how to help these women, these people. I know nothing about economics...I was trying to figure out how we could get an au pair service started for some of these young women- it would be a wonderful opportunity- but the logistics would be insane.  The flight from Ethipia to the US is about 28 hours total, on average, including layovers.
So for now, I am going to support Adera's IGA (Income Generating Activity) initiative. They have hired 4 ladies to work full time making beads from paper, and then making necklaces out of them. I plan on starting an Etsy shop soon so that we can sell the beads and reroute the money back to the ladies, in hopes that they can hire even more women and give them a job, and dignity.  Even though they don't make much money by our standards, the money they make can help them get fresh food for their children instead of digging for waste food from the local dump.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Yearly Update!

Our big boy is a kindergartner now!!!

He's still full of life- I don't need to tell you that.

Nana and Papa and Reece have a mutual admiration society.

Waffle House date with Mama

He painted this picture and mailed it to Nana with a kiss!

He looks so big!!!!!

a little family photo

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

This is our favorite kid!

 OH Reece, your eyes continue to amaze me on a daily basis.

Soccer socks pulled way up, with Mama's boots on the wrong feet, make for quite the fashion statement.

He's just so big!

 We couldn't wait for Christmas, so we decorated this Halloween haunted house!

 Spring Break hiking at Robber's Cave state park in Oklahoma!

 I am now playing soccer at the YMCA!

Here's an attempt for a family photo Christmas 2011.