Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Holiday Weekend Work

Wow, did we keep busy this holiday weekend! The kids and I were hard at work on our family vegetable garden. To date, we have in 8 tomato plants of different varieties, bell peppers in red, yellow, orange, green, purple and "chocolate" varieties, 4 varieties of hot peppers, 5 kinds of beans, tri-color sweet corn, and 1 Spanish peanut bush. Varieties of squash, eggplant, lettuce, radish and onion are patiently waiting to be placed in the garden.

Cliff and Boppa got to work on one MAJOR project: our flagstone front patio/walkway. Nearly done and the result will be gorgeous! I'm looking forward to having a morning cup of coffee on my patio's little bistro set while watching the kids play about.

My mom kept busy working on my sideyard shade garden. She was even treated to a visit by Toots, the delightful cat who lives next door. The results are nothing short of her Martha Stewartesque talents; it's one of my favorite spots in the yard:

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Saturday Morning in Haiti

My first Saturday in Haiti began on the rough side. I woke up, in a hot room in a hot land, and was alone. No listening for Paloma's call, no thoughts as to whether I would get a jump start on the laundry or dusting first, no needing to let the dog out. Just 5 am and nothing to do. The Haitian turbo-charged roosters not willing to let anyone fall back asleep. In all reality, my first morning in nearly 9 years where I had absolutely nothing to do, and I knew that I should be revelling in it. Instead I felt antsy and miserable.

At breakfast time a mom announced that she had already gone over to see the kids and was sent back to the Guesthouse until later, once the kids were fed, bathed and "ready." So more time to kill, in a place behind a locked gate with an armed guard and nowhere to go. Time in Haiti can move very slooowwwlly.

Finally a "reasonable" time (meaning 8:30 am) came about and we raced across the street to PAC. I could already here the kids laughing and playing from behind the wall. I felt a bit nervous, not certain how my boys would react.

As I walked up to the wrought iron door, Merisier caught sight of me and yelled, "Mama!" and ran over to me, hugely grinning. Joel followed, and my two boys were jumping up and down, yelling my name and grabbing me through the bars as I fumbled with the door. I walked in and they bowled me over, not wanting to leave my side.

As I took a seat in the indoor porch, I became aware at just how packed full of adults and children the room was. Looking around, I realized that I didn't recognize anyone except for the other adoptive mothers and their kids. "What's going on?"

It turned out that all of the children in the room were brought to the orphanage by the adults to be placed for adoption. The children were dressed to the nines: clean clothing, hair perfectly coiffed, shiny scrubbed faces. All except one little boy, who was wearing well-worn hand-me-downs and no shoes. I thought about the street outside with garbage and dead chickens, and felt distressed that in all of my donations, I didn't have a single pair of shoes that would fit him. The adults looked weary, thin, old probably well beyond their years and quietly resigned. The children were there to have their photos taken, their life histories to be taken by Marie. The orphanage is near full, so none of them were allowed to stay. Their photos are then posted on the orphanage website (www.littleangelshaiti.org). When a family commits to their adoption, the children will be fetched and brought to the orphanage to live until the adoption is complete.

At that moment I felt every emotional wall I could possibly construct go up quickly. Looking at the scared faces was absolutely painful. All the children were in groups of sibling sets, except one sweet, overwhelmed little girl in a darling pink dress (Cindy).

We went around giving the children hugs and candy. I made a very special point to tell all of them how beautiful they are and how precious they are. I have no idea if they have ever been close to a white person, but if they are typical of most of the children, the answer is no.

I played with my boys, and visited with the other parents, all while the children sit nearby. I felt sad and guilty, for being so happy and for having so much in this life. I hope that watching me smile and play with and love on my boys somehow eases their minds of being adopted, and maybe they'll then think that really nice people adopt Haitian kids.

That Saturday morning was a hard one, and the day actually got harder before it got better, but I'll get to that later. I think about these children that were at the orphanage all the time. That's just one "set" of the kids. This happens often. There are dozens of children who are waiting, just waiting, for someone to connect to their photos, to see their face and say, "There they are! That's my child(ren)!"

How to Be the Coolest Guy on Your Block

1. Have a really ugly, cracked front walkway.
2. Have a couple of sledgehammers lying around.

3. Have a radio cranked up with '80s metal music playing
4. Have a cooler full of cold beer.
5. Have a pan of your wife's Banana Creme Brownies waiting nearby.
6. Have a relaxed understanding of the term "Child Labor Laws."

We personally guarantee that every man on your street will come a running, practically begging to get a couple of good swings with the sledgehammer. The older ones will shake their heads, lamenting, "I'm no longer the young buck on the block." The younger ones will have a warrior contest trying to outdo one another.

The Binky Store

Paloma loves her binkies, and typically you never know where one might pop up in our house (shoes, the washing machine, recycling bin, mixing bowls). Until now.

Yes, she's almost 2, but trust me, the binky will not be going to college with her. Hopefully her organizational skills and entrepreneurial spirit will.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


One would think that since I have known about our boys since February, bought my airfare in March, purchased their gifts in April, listened to nothing but Kreyol cd's for days on end, and travelled 1900 miles to meet them, I would have been prepared when the moment actually arrived! Nope, I was caught off-guard. So off-guard.

As in my last post, I returned to my room to putz through my bags while I waited. Within moments, a beautiful lady named Addie, an adopting mother from Colorado, burst through the doors. "Sarah, your boys are here! And they're beautiful!" I now know what it feels like to be that expectant father from yesteryear, frantically pacing in the waiting room, when the doctor bursts in and declares, "It's a boy!" I felt so overcome that I burst into tears, just for a moment. Then I realized that this was it! and the excitement hit me. I grabbed my purse and rushed out to the courtyard to meet them.

A real fear of mine was that the boys would somehow be grown up--that during my wait I would discover that I had missed all the "littleness" about them. I was so wrong! I remember how shiny their eyes were, and how little they seemed to me! My boys were still little, and I felt overjoyed at the realization that I wasn't missing everything.

Thinking about it now is so very hard---here are these two precious LITTLE, little boys, all alone in this BIG world! Brought over to a hotel where they've never been to meet some white lady they've never seen who is now going to care for them?!? What strength, what survival these two little boys possess.

The boys came right to me, cautiously, but obediently. I grabbed my purse and took out two Pediasure "candy" granola bars (so ridiculously priced here that I would never buy them for my own healthy bio kids, but my goal in Haiti was to pack as much nutrition as I possibly could into those little bodies :) They eagerly accepted them. Joel licked his like a lollipop, letting the chocolate melting everywhere. Merisier was more cautious, just holding onto it, watching all the commotion around him, the people watching and crying and taking photos.

Here is the first photo ever of me with my two new sons:

Shortly afterwards, I took the boys into the lounge and gave them their special backpacks. Hattie and Atticus took so much time preparing them: deciding what types of toys and treats to put into it. My boys LOVED them! The Bob the Builder phones were a huge hit.

We spent the rest of the morning playing, taking a break for lunch and milk. Afterwards, I realized that they were looking tired and rubbing their eyes. "Tikabisha?" I asked them. They nodded. I took their hands and led them to my room. So obediently, they laid down on the bed, closed their eyes and fell asleep. I laid next to them, watching. Joel sleeps heavily and soundly, just like Atticus. Merisier sleeps with his eyes partially open, just like Hattie. I watched and cried and laughed at the way they'd give these little smiles while sleeping. No two ways about it, I was in love.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

First Glimpes of Haiti

Our plane arrives in Port au Prince at 8 am. Prior to landing we fly low over the coastal city of Port au Prince, and the tin roofs of the endless shantytowns reflect the sunlight. Even from afar the poverty is glaring. My stomach tightens a bit because for months now I have read only horror stories about the airport experience. We deplane by the outdoor staircase and walk across the tarmac. At only 8 am, the humidity and heat hit hard.

The inside baggage claim area is eerily calm. Silent. The room itself is one that seems to suppress noise, and it’s very white. It somewhat reminds me of the TV Room on the original Charlie and the Chocolate Factory film. We get luggage carts and only one man politely asks if we would like assistance. We shake our heads no and he moves on. I begin to think the stories of the chaos and mob-like group at the airport was urban legend.

For every decibel of quiet inside the terminal, the commotion is a thousandfold outside. People are everywhere, cars are everywhere, haphazard and honking, and thank the Lord that the second person I lay my eyes on is the man holding the Walls International Guesthouse sign.

He takes my luggage cart and begins racing through the crowd, yelling at people to move (including a man in a wheelchair). I grab onto his shirt and race through the crowd with him. Everyone is yelling, bags are everywhere, cars are everywhere and all I can do is laugh. It’s nearly comical, and I am soooo relieved that we found our ride immediately and that Bruce was there with me. I can’t believe all the women who do it on their own, on their first trips to Haiti.

We throw our baggage into the back of an old pickup and climb on into the cab. Our driver is a kind man who doesn’t speak a lick of English. We leave the airport property.

The first two vehicles I see off the property are two UN tanks. I mean real, honest-to-God tanks with canons and adorned with UN soldiers holding machine guns. Crazy. The next cars I see are driving at alarming speeds, on all sides of the road, some coming straight at us. Surprisingly, I remain calm and feel eerily detached watching it all. I wonder briefly if Cliff paid my stepdad to slip me a sedative in my morning coffee.

We fly through the streets and I am amazed at the old, shabby buildings bearing the signs of modern business: cell phone companies, rental cars. There is no apparent rhyme-or-reason to driving law, but everyone honks to communicate and it’s obvious they understand one another because I don’t see a single accident my entire time there.

We arrive at the guesthouse. The rifle-clad guard opens the gate. The guesthouse property is beautiful with lush, tropical foliage. The buildings are old but the floors and walls gleam, the beds lumpy and sheets threadbare but spotless.

We meet Michelle, an adopting mom from Arkansas, who arrived the night and whose children were just brought to her for the first time by a nanny. Her son and daughter are beautiful and Paloma’s age. Another mom from Quebec talks to the nanny and translates for me: the boys are being readied and will be brought over later. Michelle says to settle in and relax because that could be quite awhile. I decide to head back to our room to unpack.

The Road to Haiti

I had never left my children before, and leaving Thursday morning was tough. I drove away at the same time as Mama Cliff (love the new tag, Shelly!) loaded up the kids in my minivan for school drop-off. Hattie was sobbing—I mean sobbing. She and I are so connected.

Bruce and I threw his stuff in the back and we began the drive to O’Hare. The drive goes smoothly, and we manage to haul all four bags, plus 2 carryons, through economy parking, on the cta train, to the check-in. The bags suck to carry and everyone comments on them to us. Bruce’s first reply is always, “I told her that she didn’t need 20 pairs of shoes!”

I do always go onto explain that we are carrying formula for Haitian orphans, and everyone is suddenly willing to lend a hand and help us haul the suitcases. Everyone except the check-in agents at American Airlines. They couldn’t have cared less, and politely waited for me to cough up the $50 bucks I owed in overweight baggage charges.

Once we get through check in and security, we travel to our gate and find it already delayed a full two hours. It finally hits me what I’m about to do. I realize that I’m about to travel to one of the world’s scariest and most dangerous countries, one where the US government doesn’t want me to travel to, and I’m leaving my 3 kids at home to do it. I find the nearest ladies room and cry.

Preparing for the Journey

We lead a very blessed life. Nearly everyone I tell about our adoption and the orphanage and the conditions of life in Haiti wants to help in some way--family, friends, even people I don't know very well were kind and generously donated goods for the orphanage. Bruce and I took down FOUR overpacked, HEAVY suitcases stocked with formula, medicines, diapers, clothing, food, toys, baby supplies, shoes. I am absolutely overwhelmed by the love and kindness and generousity.

Many other families are visiting their children in Haiti at the same time as I am. We adopting mothers decide to put together 20 Mother's Day gift bags for the women in Haiti who work at the orphanage and the guesthouse. We all divide up the list and purchase toothpastes, lotions, underwear, umbrellas, flip flops, medicines for the bags.

In Haiti, sometimes food is hard enough to obtain, let alone anything pretty or feminine, so my mom kindly offers to throw a beading party so that we can make pretty bracelets and earrings for the women's gift bags. Our longtime family friends: Lynn, Carrie and Carrie's daughter Karson attend and together we made over 30 bracelets and pairs of earrings!

Hattie and Karson are artistically gifted and create beautiful jewelry.
I struggle greatly, and soon find that I am far better at soothing my pre-travel jitters by drinking white wine and eating cheesecake than I am trying to thread impossibly tiny beads on wiggly, tiny elastic thread.

Safe and Sound

What a whirlwind of a week. I am now back home, safe and sound, from my time in Haiti. I MET MY BOYS!!! And fell in deep, hard love with them. And them with me. And now I'm here, and they're there, and life is trying to go on.

The trip was incredible. It's still hard to wrap my mind around everything I saw. Time is at a premium here--days go by in a blink of an eye--so I'm going to make each day of the trip it's own blog entry, to cut down on the chance of me having one long forever unfinished blog entry.

This will be my first time writing about my time in Haiti. I tried to journal while there, but it was too difficult. So much of what I saw was painful enough that I didn't even want to begin to process it, and the act of journaling made it all too real while I was there.

Monday, May 07, 2007

The Latest Diet

Yes, that's right: Dirt. D-I-R-T. Paloma eats it by the mouthful.
After mouthful.
After mouthful.
Boy what fun diaper changes have been these days.

Busy Bees

Whew! The past month has been a blur! My first digital camera died, we tore up the front yard, and we finished our adoption paperwork-- whooooooohooooo! Good parents that we are, we put our kids hard to work:

Heck, we even put our friends' kid to work!

One question worth asking: Working hard? or Hardly Working?