March 31, 2010


Growing up in MN the word kick meant just that, to kick, as in to forcefully move your foot backwards and forwards. It was a word usually reserved for use during soccer games or on occasions that eventually led to me being sent to my room. Then when I moved to Bozeman, MT for my university years it quickly evolved into an adjective used to describe the snowiest of days and the most rockin runs at Bridger Bowl, the mountain where we could usually be found whenever we were supposed to be in class. We regularly found ourselves giving proper thanks to the Snow Gods on kickin' snow days, usually in the form of the sacrificial Guinness and plate of nachos at the mid-mountain chalet. Then the word kick took a bit of a hiatus the year we spent living in Buenos Aires and traveling around South America, as we were slightly more preoccupied with phrases like "where's the nearest cheapest hostel" and entering pharmacies to make requests such as "we'll take 2 yellow fever shots, 2 rounds of anti-malarials, and a Hep B booster please". And then for what I thought would be the final stage in the evolution of a word, we moved to NY and I quickly developed a slight (aka: astronomical) kicks habit and a whole new meaning to the word was built. Wedge kicks, strappy kicks, brunch kicks (yes, Sunday brunch in NYC requires it's own breed of kicks...) and of course, kicks that were never meant for anything more than being taxied from place to place or suffer the bloody consequences if you actually tried to walk in the damn things.

Kicks. We've come a long way from the soccer field.

Today I still get some use of those old meanings of the word. Ash and I kick the ball around the yard, on occasion he kicks his toys in frustration, and I pretty much had to give up my kicks habit to support his. Who knew toddler boys shoes could be so freakin cute. But lately an even newer use has begun popping up with greater frequency. One with both literal and figurative meanings, I'm discovering.

Baby kicks.

Baby Helena is literally kicking my belly, though it feels comfortably similar to the months leading up to June, 2008 when thoughts of Baby Ashton Wondemu began (figuratively) kicking at my heart. Swift, sweet pangs of wonder that would prick me on the inside anytime I tried to picture who he was, who he would one day be, and how many loving souls would play intricate roles along the way. And each time I feel a little nudge from his sister Leni it makes me wonder if Serkalem, Ash's birth mom, has made the same sort of progression of the word only in reverse order. Starting with the physical kicks to her belly leading up to his birth back in 2007 to now 3 years later experiencing the occasional jab to her heart when thoughts of who he is, and who he has become wander to the forefront of her mind.

It was a day in March 2 years ago when she said goodbye to him and passed him from her arms to the nannies at the orphanage. I imagine the kicks she feels each year around this time are hardest most painful kicks of all.

March 22, 2010

Brown Like Me

Ash and I got to enjoy a beautiful Sunday in Central Park together last weekend, the kind that is so good that thoughts of a looming rainy Monday morning didn't even try to make an appearance. First day of Spring, sunny fresh air, street performers and dog walkers and ice cream sandwiches. You get the picture. Ash loves street performers, everything from the solo trumpeters belting swing tunes to acoustic guitarists in the subway tunnels to the kids in the subway cars doing flips down the isles while the train moves from station to station. We try to stop what we're doing and watch whenever we can, and Ash is well accustomed to the routine of dropping a dollar or two into the hat that's inevitably passed around. Just as we were about to leave the park for the day we came across a group of break dancers who's lead dancer was dressed in full-on MJ garb complete with the silver glove and black top hat. We stopped to watch for a while, and just when the lead was showing us his near-perfect moonwalk Ash turned to me and said, "Mommy! He's brown like me!"

Brown like me.

Now, keep in mind that we had spent the entire weekend in the city which Ash like's to refer to as his "Brookin (Brooklyn) House" where there is certainly no shortage of people who are "brown like him". According to the 2000 US Census approximately 45% of Brooklyn identifies themselves as Black. We have two African restaurants within eye shot of our apartment (one Ethiopian, one South African), a Carol's Daughter shop around the corner (for those unfamiliar, their hair/skin care products cater primarily to African Americans), and a significant portion of local shops are owned and operated by African Americans. Mike and I are the only white people in our building, and now that I think about it we may be the only white people if you include the buildings adjacent to us on either side as well. Long story short, there's no shortage of people who are brown like him in the area. So, I was intrigued as to why Ash would choose that moment, that particular African American MJ impersonator, to point out to me that they were brown like each other.

But the fact just is that he did choose that moment and the moment was had. He may only be turning 3 in May, but he's already starting to see it, to get it, to ask questions about it, to want to identify it. It? Race. Of course he may not understand exactly what race means, but he's starting to. If Mr. Break Dancing MJ is brown like him, then what are mommy and daddy? Obviously not brown like him. So... He's started to point out similarities. "Mommy! Your eyes brown like ME!" or "Daddy and Ashton don't have bellies, only MOMMY has bellies!" (Seriously? That's the similarity you came up with? Thanks darling...) And in conjunction, we get to point out what makes us different, like daddy's eyes being green and mommy's toes being pink and the boo-boo on Ash's right knee that's finally starting to heal. It's a start.

I frequently tell Ash how beautiful his chocolate brown skin is, but till this recent evolution he'd usually just respond with, "chocolate mommy? Where's the chocolate mommy?" But now it's taken on new meaning for him. A meaning that is going to continue to evolve forever and ever and and, one day, mean something to him that I'm not going to be able to fully "get". I'll try, but it just wont be possible. His personal experiences with race will always be different than ours, and understanding that and embracing that is another step forward. For now he knows that he's brown like MLK, brown like the President of the United States, brown like man who runs the dry cleaners down the street, brown like the boys at the park, brown not like mommy.

Unfortunately there's also going to come a time when he knows that being brown can bring on some not so nice behaviors. Discrimination, judgment, bias, inequalities, racism. Based on reading and my conversations with other parents that time is likely going to come much sooner than I would ever imagine. Although my little boy is just turning the corner of his 3rd year he's incredibly perceptive, and soon the conversation is going to turn from "he's brown like me" to "why do I have to be brown like him". And I'll remind him of how ignorant some people can be, how beautiful he is, and how how happy we are that he is just the way he is because who he is means so many wonderful things. We're currently exploring this with him through our travels, picture books, conversations with friends and neighbors, and other bits of life that turn themselves into lessons on a regular basis. And we can't wait to expand the exploration to more developed conversations about art, history, music, culture, and the eventual trip back to Ethiopia. We just hope it's enough for when the time comes when it really needs to be enough.

We're doing our best to raise him as a proud, independent, passionate, Ethiopian African American with a humanitarian heart and his first mother's soul. And in the meantime he's doing his best to raise us to be informed proactive parents who will know what to say as the "brown like me" conversations continue to mature. Because these conversations need to be exciting, not stressful. There's a great article on talking to our children about race and racism in this month's Adoptive Families magazine (the actual article isn't available online, you'll need to buy the issue) that contains the subtitle "Racism exists, and it's our job as parents to talk about it with our kids." I couldn't agree more, and for my 2 year 10 month and 9 day old son those talks just took one giant leap to the next level.

March 17, 2010

Be Brilliant

Brilliant idea #1: If you must hire a babysitter to watch the tot post-daycare so that both parents can work a little later a little farther away, you may as well hire the babysitter for long enough to enjoy a nice dinner out post-working. It was such a civil evening. He picked me up from work, we spent time being social with friends in a bar (a portion of that time spent snickering at the mothers in the back rocking their strollers back and forth trying to calm their own tots, we may have even pointed and laughed at one point but didn't want to screw our karma too badly so quickly stopped), and then went on to a lovely dinner in Soho at one of our old favs. We haven't introduced Ash to Korean BBQ yet, (he has a slight fascination with candles on restaurant tables which could mean trouble in a Korean BBQ joint) so enjoying the open flames on the table was a nice treat we hadn't had for a while. Spicy spinach miso soup, table-grilled sliced rib-eye and scallops, a luscious shiraz to tie all of the flavors of spice and sweet together. Then on our way out we picked up a long espresso and headed home. Pure love.

Brilliant idea #2: Babysitter sisters. We got lucky and just fell into this one. Two of Ash's favorite teachers at school happen to be sisters, happen to really like Ash, and happen to babysit on the side outside of school and work. What does that mean for us? TWO yes TWO wonderful reliable options to contact whenever we need a sitter, TWO lovely souls who Ash adores spending time with who make it so that we can enjoy our evenings out sans worries. And he always wakes up the next morning after having been babysat by one of them asking where she is, is she downstairs, will she play more trains with him this morning, you could say he pretty much digs spending time both of them. More pure love.

Brilliant idea #3: Housekeepers. My grandmother is rolling over in her grave while my best friend is looking at me like "what took you so long?" For Valentines Day this year my husband gifted me the absolutely fabulous biweekly services of a woman named Joyce. Not only does she have the amazing powers of seeking out and zapping all of the dirt and grime that tend to accumulate in a home, but she's a member of an all girl rock band which is just icing on the personality cake. She's going to be my new best friend, and I'm sure will bring much more pure love to this journey of ours.

And last but not least, Brilliant idea #4: Airplanes. In about a month we'll be on our way to the Galapagos Islands for a few days swimming with turtles and sharks and penguins, then on to a few days in the Ecuadorian highlands to do some hiking and swinging from vines (well, maybe). This trip was originally booked with Thailand as the destination, but given the current belly situation we decided to forgo Thai beer and the temptation of endless quantities of spicy seafood (and 25 hours in transit) for Ecuadorian tea and roasted chicken and rice (and 7 hours in transit). Unfortunately due to the last minute change in booking this required pushing the trip from March to April, so we'll try to stay busy over here for another month by staring longingly at every plane that flies overhead and jumping in as many mud puddles as possible. Ash is a MASTER at that second one.

So, whether your idea of brilliance involves babysitters, romantic evenings out, girl rock band housekeepers, airplanes, or any combination of a plethora of other surely brilliant ways to pass the days, may all your days be brilliantly lived. And...
May the Irish hills caress you.
May her lakes and rivers bless you.
May the luck of the Irish enfold you.
May the blessings of Saint Patrick behold you.
~Irish Blessing

March 10, 2010

Wordless'ish Wednesday

Ashton's response to "are you excited to be an older brother?" clearly demonstrates his ambition towards building a healthy, well balanced relationship with his little sister.

Baby Helena at 20 weeks, which is approximately 1 week farther along than we had originally thought. New pop date = July 27th.

March 8, 2010


Yup, I made those. The fluffy looking golden crusted salty treats you see above started with a bag of flour and within moments of being taken out of the oven found themselves being dipped in butter and mustard sauce. Trust me, nothing in this house has ever come out of the oven with a golden crusted top unless it came paired with a burnt to a crisp bottom. That is, until the new oven arrived. Two days and I'm absolutely smitten. Give me 5 days and we'll all be 10 pounds heavier. Thank goodness the recent Springly weather also means the sun is staying out past 4:30PM leaving us with a bit of time to chase the ball and bikes around the yard after school/work. Those few blissful post-work pre-dinner moments spent outside, just the 3 of us, should help balance the new oven induced calorie intake. And if not then the glass of sparkling rose should help do the trick - I hear there's a recent study out from across the pond linking sparkling rose to increased metabolism... Ahhh, Spring.

Just one more week until "spring ahead" when sunrise gets pushed to after 7AM and sunset doesn't come around till well after 6PM. Love it.

March 3, 2010

Car Talk

Mom: Ash, you know the baby in mommy's belly? It's definitely a girl! Are you excited to have a baby sister?
Ash: Brother?
Mom: No, sister. Are you excited to be a big brother to baby Helena?
Ash: Helena Boy?
Mom: No, Helena is a girl. Your baby sister.
Ash: Baby booty head?
Mom: Ash, you know we don't like you saying booty head.
Ash: Oh. Sorry.