I get to spend my summer at my favorite place on earth--Miracle Ranch!
This December my Dad generously gave me a bunch of his frequent flyer miles so that I could go back to Mexico for a week. It was an amazing, eventful trip. I was pretty ambitious and I decided that I would visit a friend of mine who is living in Chihuahua, MX and also spend some time with everybody at Miracle Ranch. So I flew into Chihuahua first, and then took a bus almost 1,000 miles across the country (by myself) to get to Miracle Ranch. I was supposed to get off the bus in Tecate, but the driver passed my stop and I ended up in Tijuana around 10:00 at night. As you can imagine, I was pretty terrified. Thankfully, the driver helped me get on another bus that took me back to Tecate, and I made it safely to the ranch. It was a valuable learning experience :)
Seeing the kids again was almost surreal. Nobody had told them that I was visiting that week, so they were pretty shocked to see me. When I saw Giovanni the first morning he got a really puzzled expression on his face and walked right past me. Then all of a sudden it clicked and he came running back to give me a HUGE hug. I kept thinking "I can't believe I'm really here!"
The entire week was beautiful. I remember at one point we had taken all twenty-one of the kids on a walk and I had Edwin holding one hand, Esteban holding the other, Hector on my back, and Victoria squeezed somewhere in between. At one point Edwin pulled us all into a little circle holding hands, and in perfect English he said "thank you for coming and sharing your love". With tears in my eyes I quickly said, no thank YOU ALL for sharing your love with me. It's one thing when a child who has known what it means to be valued all of their life loves you. It's even more amazing when a kid who has been abused, neglected, and let down time and time again chooses to love you. The kids at the ranch understand that it's a risk to love someone, yet they welcomed me with open arms anyways. I felt undeserving...
Saying good-bye was so hard. A bunch of the kids hid my suitcase on the last day, thinking that I wouldn't leave without it. Another little boy told me he was hoping my bus didn't work so that I would have to stay. Edwin made me pinky-promise that I would come back.
I take pinky promises very seriously. They can't be broken. So this summer, I am going to spend 3 months at Miracle Ranch! Saying I'm excited is an understatement.
My main goals for the summer are to:
1. Work on my Spanish (which is my minor in school) 2. Observe and learn as much as possible about the way Miracle Ranch operates. It is such a model of excellence and my dream is to do something similar one day. 3. Invest as much as I can into the kids--whether its academically through tutoring or just with love and attention 4. Do some writing for the ranch and help them communicate with current/potential supporters...(they are really in need of fundraising right now)
I'm going to need to raise some money for my plane ticket and living expenses for 3 months....any ideas???
This weekend Leah and I took Tekle and Aaron to the "injera mercado", aka, our favorite Ethiopian restaurant. Aaron displayed his true "Ethiopian Americaness" when he wrapped a french fry in injera and dipped it in doro wat. Leah has some cute videos of the night on her blog Tekle was crabby in the first one though because he was having trouble being patient as we waited for the food :)
My Mom is amazing. Every year she makes a really nice Valentines dinner for us complete with candles and heart shaped notes on each of our plates. This year Tekle made finger painted hearts for everyone in the family too. You would think that the atmostphere was set for a nice, peaceful dinner...however, somehow my mom's suggestion to "say something you love about the person sitting next to you", turned into an intense "Yo Mama" battle between Isaac, Janaya, and Lacy.
Here are some of their favorites:
"Yo mama is so fat she can't even jump to a conclusion" "Yo mama is so fat, your dad said it was chilly outside and she ran outside with a spoon" "Yo mama is so fat when the waiter brings her the menu, she looks at it and says 'yes'"
It was a pretty funny night. Isaac explained to my Mom that he didn't have a gift for her because for some reason they didn't make Valentines arts and crafts at school. He sincerely couldn't seem to figure out why that was... ---Isaac is a SOPHOMORE IN HIGH SCHOOL!
Earlier when we were going around the table reading the cards our Mom gave us, Aaron (3) insisted that he could read his own. His version went something like this "Dear Aaron, Thanks for being a Timberwolves basketball player and for getting cool jump shots Love, Mom"
Tekle is so fun to tease about Valentines Day. He is in first grade so he is at the stage where girls are gross and nothing disgusts him more then romance. He told me "How many times do I have to tell you? I hate girls!" Then he paused and thought for a second and added "Well I just like my family girls" aw... :)
Heart-warming, sad, funny-- these quotes are a little bit of everything!
Aaron is a sensitive little kid. He started crying the other day because there was a sad song on Spongebob. Later, my dad was relating what had happened to my mom in the car and Aaron chimed in from the back seat, "I have a BIG heart ". Yes he does :)
Tekle was looking through our agency's adoption magazine and asking where all the kids were adopted from. He was kind of in awe of all the different countries and then said "our family's not from lots of different places." I was like "Yeah, we kinda are". And he said "No, just Ethiopia". So I had to explain to him that we weren't ALL from Ethiopia. I told him where Lacy was from, and he asked "do they have shoes and socks there?" I told him yeah, and that her city is pretty similar to our city. He got really upset and said "That's not fair! The ground was really hot in Ethiopia and we needed shoes!"
Mom: "I'm pretty cool huh?" Aaron: "No, you have to be black to be cool!"
Aaron, Tekle and I were playing Sorry (the boardgame) and were counting the spaces we moved ahead in Amharic. Aaron got eight so we counted, ahnd, hulet, sost, arat, amist, sidist, sabbat, semment--and then he shouted, "SEMMENT! Some mints are what you eat!"
Ok, so I'm not sure if this stuff is actually as adorable as I think it is. I may be blinded because I'm their big sister and I think almost everything they say is cute...
I thought I would share an article about our family (Waiting International Children specifically) that was in our agency's latest "Heart to Home" publication:
Cindy and Mark have eight children spanning two decades. Peter is 23, and his brother Jesse is 22; daughter Kelsey is 18. Isaac, Janaya, and Lacy are 15, 14, and 10; they were adopted domestically as infants. Tekle, 6 and Aaron, 3, were adopted from Ethiopia. "When you hear how many children are waiting and what the need is, I think the question should be 'why aren't you adopting' as opposed to 'why are you adopting,'" says Cindy.
Cindy was especially moved by the need in Africa, which led her to CHSFS' Ethiopia program, and from there, to Waiting International Children. "It made good sense for us to look at the Waiting International Children program, because we weren't looking to adopt an infant. We didn't know if we were going to adopt a boy or girl or what age."
The whole family was involved in the decision to adopt. "We prayed about it and tried to figure out who was supposed to be in our family." Aaron was five or six months and severely malnourished when he was brought to the care center in Hossana, Ethiopia. By the time Cindy went to Ethiopia for the adoption, he was eight months old and had come a long way from the dangerously thin baby in the photo. "We knew he's been severely malnourished and there could be all sorts of complications because of that. We're very aware that love doesn't fix things that are unfixable, but family can make those things easier."
"When I was in Ethiopia, Aaron slept a lot. I'm a preschool teacher, so I would go hang out with the kids at the care center." She played with a group of little boys who had a stuffed raccoon that spoke Spanish when you squeezed it. "I squeezed it and all the boys dove behind chairs, laughing." One boy in particular caught her attention--something in his impish eyes. Even after returning to MN, Cindy's thoughts returned to the boy, and they all prayed that he would find a good home and have a happy future.
They considered adopting him, but thought it was impossible, just three months after adopting Aaron. "We had used every resource, every friend. Our church had provided money. There was just no way we could afford it." Still, she'd called Peg Studaker, her social worker at CHSFS and asked about the boy. From Peg, the family learned that they were eligible for Adoption Assistance Grants. In December 2005, Cindy and her then 17-year-old daughter traveled to Ethiopia to bring Tekle to the U.S.
With a degree in child psychology, Cindy knew attachment was a big issue in adoption, especially for an older child. She might not have adopted an older child if she hadn't seen how children were treated in the care center. "I was impressed at the way the nannies, the housekeepers, the administration, the cooking staff--everyone took time with the children. They knew their names. Even on the street, people saw how worthwhile children are. The kids could feel that, and were expecting to continue to be valued. They were ready to attach again. There are no guarantees, but it took a lot of the fear out of it."
At home a year later, the siblings are growing more comfortable with each other and themselves. "Aaron is what we like to call well nurtured," says Cindy. "He's an easy-going, adorable little guy. Even Tekle, whom you would think would be jealous, just puts his arm around him." Kelsey is learning Amharic so she can teach it to Aaron and Tekle, and because she wants to return to Ethiopia to study abroad. She and Jesse are college students, and he's spending the Spring semester in Africa. The younger teens struggled a bit with the new family dynamic. "When you're adopting an older child, you can't assume they are going to like each other right away," says Cindy. "And the older children don't necessarily want to give the younger ones grace for so long. We had to work with them."
On her blog, Kelsey wrote about her siblings: "Some of us were born in different decades, different countries, and different circumstances, but together we make a complete family unit. Every single one of us belongs."
Leah has become such a huge part of our family's life over the last year. We met her through Dinomights when she was matched with Lacy as a tutor, and since then she has really become an extended member of the family. She even has a spot at the dinner table! It's funny because a lot of people are intimidated by our loud, animated mealtimes, but Leah just fits right in.
Leah now coordinates Dinomight tutoring on Tuedays, but still meets with Lacy once a week to work on homework. They usually go to a coffee shop which of course Lacy thinks is really cool. That time is so special to her and has made a big impact academically. She has always struggled with reading, but after her most recent placement test we were thrilled to find out that she has reached her grade level! There is no doubt in my mind that her improvement is correlated with Leah's dedication over the last year.
As if that wasn't enough, Leah also finds time in her busy schedule of work, school, and volunteering, to mentor me! It's hard to even explain what a gift her mentorship has been. I remember she took me out for lunch a few weeks ago, and we were talking about a friend of hers that had died. She was telling me about what an incredible person this friend was, and about the legacy she had left behind. Then Leah started wondering outloud what kind of legacy she would leave behind if anything happened to her. I can tell you, it would be an amazing legacy! There is this this undeniable, genuine LOVE that seems to define Leah. She invests so much of herself into everyone around her, and is constantly thinking about others. She cares deeply about social justice and it's evident not only by her words, but by her ACTIONS. She has taught me so much about community, friendship, and life in general. I always feel more secure in myself and more prepared to face the world after we talk. Sometimes she just listens, other times she gives me advice (she has a way of gently holding me accountable for things, which I think is really important), but I always leave feeling loved. Mentorship is such an incredible thing...life is hard and to have someone navigating it alongside you is invaluable. Especially someone like Leah.