Friday, July 18, 2014

My Top 8 Take-Aways from Ethiopian Culture Camp this Year

We attended Ethiopian Culture Camp last weekend.  I wanted to share with you some of the things that really resonated with me this year.

1. Each of our beautiful, deeply loved Ethiopian children represents a loss.
Awful things brought our kids to us. Every kid represents a family that shattered in Ethiopia. Poverty, illness, death, have all played a role in making so many Ethiopian children in need of families.  And if that is not awful enough, we also now know that corruption and unethical adoption practices have also brought children into adoptive families.  We must never forget what our children lost to become ours.

2Our children are not just ours.
Known or unknown.  Living or dead.  We are not our children's only parents.  When we honor our children's first families, when we find ways to stay connected to Ethiopia, we show our children that we love every part of them.

3. Even when Ethiopia doesn't seem to matter to our kids it should matter to us.  
Many teens and young adults shared their hard earned wisdom with the parents at camp.  One huge take away for me was how being Ethiopian became increasingly important to them as they grew and began to form their own identities.   At younger ages, this was not always the case for many of them.  These fabulous young people encouraged us to keep Ethiopia important and alive in our families, even if our kids don't seem to really care about it.  Assume that at some point it will matter very much to them.  Show them not just that we are comfortable with this, but that it matters deeply to us, too.

4. It's not just for Ethiopians. 
Two of my favorite moms came to camp this year without their Ethiopian kids.  They each came with their non-Ethiopian kids.  They came because they value the connection they have with the other families.  Just because their Ethiopian kids couldn't be there didn't mean they had to miss out.  When we adopted our kids, we became Ethiopian families.  Camp is for all of us.

5. Listening to the wisdom of those who have gone through the journey ahead of our kids is invaluable.
When the teens and young adults share their experiences, parents listen.  And if they don't, they are crazy.  No one knows more about what it means to be an Ethiopian adoptee, than, well, an Ethiopian adoptee.  Listen and learn.  Take their advice to heart. When it comes to adoption, adoptees are the true experts.  I am not just saying that because I was adopted.

6.  It is impossible to overstate the value of spending time with 'your people' (and I'm not just talking about our kids).
There is no small talk at camp, it's only a weekend and there is a lot to talk about.  We get it.  We get each other.  There are things I wait all year to share with my camp friends.  It is concentrated group therapy. A trip to Paris could not compare to how valuable this weekend is.  Oh, and on a bonus note, the kids really, really love being with their Ethiopian friends and the siblings that come to with them.

7. The non-Ethiopian siblings are AWESOME.
Speaking of the siblings.  Not much is more delightful than seeing the non-Ethiopian siblings at camp.  They wear their traditional Ethiopian clothing, dance to the Ethiopian music, and play soccer in their Ethiopian team jerseys.  Ethiopian pride is not exclusive to the Ethiopian kids.

8. Relax, the kids take what they need from camp.
Our family has attended camp every year since 2007.  Mikias and Jemberu  have never gone to Amharic 101 or done an Ethiopian craft.  They seek out their friend as soon as they exit our minivan. They play soccer.  They play football.  They run.  They eat meals together.  They seek each other out as soon as they wake up in the morning. They have trouble separating when it is time for sleep. They truly can't get enough of being together.  I have never heard them talk about Ethiopia or adoption.  They don't need to.  Being together is all they need.  Being together is absolute gold.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Adoptees and Pageant Queens

I need to tell you that I lied.  I lied a lot and to many people.  In my own defense, I kind of believed my lie but still...

When asked about searching for my biological family, I always said I wanted to get my medical information.  You know I should have it, right?  I mean, God forbid there is an genetic medical condition I need to know about.  And what about the children I would give birth to one day, aren't they entitled to an accurate medical history?  This is very important.  It was really my main reason to search.  That is my lie.  I don't tell it anymore.

I actually really wanted to know who I looked like.  I wanted to see myself in another person.  I wanted to know that and so much more.  But my medical history?  Low on my list.  

It feels good to come clean.  

I grew up in a time that told adoptees to be grateful.  To not rock the boat.  To not wonder about our original families.  To actually want to know, was seen as a betrayal of our adoptive parents.  But medical information, come on, who can't get behind medical information?  You can't fault us for that.

When I began poking around in that forbidden territory of birth family, you know what people would ask me?  "How do your (adoptive) parents feel about you searching?"  Friends asked me.  A woman at Boston City Hall, where I once dared to ask for a copy of my original birth certificate (which I was denied) asked me. A judge that I asked permission to see my court adoption records (which I was granted) asked me.  

While I appreciate people caring about my parents, I think it is noteworthy that their feelings seemed to be more important than mine.  My parents had no idea how it felt to be adopted.  I was the one with the gaping hole of unknowing.  I loved my parents.  Tons.  My need to know had nothing to do with them and was never a reflection of my love for them.  I had every right to know my story.  I just didn't realize it.  So, medical information was my story, and I was sticking to it. 

I was watching a news story on CNN recently about a (gasp!) normal sized pageant contestant.  While I would argue that size 4 isn't the average size of a woman, it is bigger than the typical pageant contestant (bigger enough that it was a news story).  During the segment, the pageant contestant made a point of letting the interviewer know that most of the women that enter pageants do so for the scholarship opportunities.  It seemed very important to her that we knew this, because I am pretty sure the interviewer didn't ask.  I unexpectedly felt a sisterhood toward her.  It took me a minute for figure out why I was feeling a 'yeah girl' moment with a woman being praised for how she looked in a bikini.  

I don't know for sure, but I am guessing pageant contestants get a lot of crap from people outside of the pageant world.  But scholarship money?  Who doesn't support higher education? 

I don't doubt that there are women who enter pageants with the sole goal of paying for college.

I don't doubt that some adoptees search only because they want their medical histories.

But for those who participate in pageants because they enjoy it, that's great, that's your right.  Stand tall, pretty girl!

For those of us who search for our beginnings for more than our medical records, we have every right to fill in the blanks of our stories.  

We don't need to hide behind medical records or scholarships.  We have a right to shine in the spotlight.  We have a right to know where we came from.  No apologies.  No excuses.