Saturday, 30 January 2010

Woah, Cool

We have settled into a nice routine here, for a few weeks anyhow (Katie's wedding and a trip to CA fast approach). We have activities scheduled three days a week, a day at home for laundry, and a day that is flexible. Tommy has a very social nature, and thus I have to make sure to get him out of the house regularly. Judging from his reactions at the end of various activities, his favorite thing appears to be playing in the church nursery while I attend bible study. It is the only place he typically is reluctant to leave. I don't blame him- they have really good toys there.

The cold weather is hard on both of us. Tommy and I were made for moderate climates. On days that we stay home and stay in I have found a few games to get the wiggles out. I set up pillows for one of his new loves: dog-pile (pronounced Bog-pile). Yes, my child is in desperate need of siblings and has instead resorted to hurling himself on piles of pillows while yelling "bog-pile." Or worse, diving on me! He also got some neat tunnels to crawl through for Christmas, uses all of our furniture for climbing, and, unfortunately, diving, enjoys dancing around to his eclectic music collection, and loves a good game of horsey. Guess who is the horsey? He enjoys a few quite pursuits, such as reading, and playing with cars and animals.

You know that old theory about how women like to talk to their husbands more than their husbands like to talk to them because men have to talk at work all day and use up their word quota while women stay at home and don't? Whoever thought of that one did not stay at home with a toddler. I am pretty sure my word quota is used up by about 11am! I am talking constantly- and Tommy is listening. It seems like every day brings a new word or three, and more phrases. His vocabulary (words he can say on his own) is over a hundred words, and he has been putting together two word ideas, and copying three word phrases. He likes to use adjectives, especially "big," "icky," and colors (which may or may not be properly applied). "No" is out in full force. He has started figuring out what belongs to each of us and describes it as Tommy's, Muma's, or Daddy's. It can't be too much longer before we here the dreaded word "mine." He loves to repeat, and today we went through the alphabet and he was able to make all the sounds after I demonstrated them.

Some of our favorite "cute" things he has been doing:

In the bath he will stand up, then say sternly "sit down," and then follow his own instructions. Pretty handy. If only he wouldn't do it repeatedly!

He adores brushing his teeth, still. He will now say "eeeeee" with his teeth clenched together and hold the brush with both hands to make sure he gets his front teeth, then say "ahhhh" with his mouth wide open and make a hap-hazard attempt at his molars. We still get to take a turn.

His response to most everything lately is "Woah, cool."

Throwing away trash is big. That is handy when the junk mail arrives. The other day we were in the kitchen and he was playing with his magnets on the fridge, and then I noticed that he had stopped playing was was crawling under the table. He picked something up, took it to the trashcan, but instead of throwing it away, got the whisk broom and dustpan that I use to clean up food from the floor out from next to the trash and threw the thing in there. I looked, and it was a little hard crust of bread- and he put it in the appropriate place. He pays better attention than I realize.

He will try and hide a part of his body- hand, arm, foot, head, etc, then say "oh no" before revealing it. Today he came up to me with an envelop discarded from the mail, and put it over my hand until it covered it completely and, with a very serious expression, exclaimed "oh no!" Then grabbed the envelop off and gave me a big smile.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

She's Back....

Emily is home, safe and sound, from Uganda, and has been making me very jealous with all of her pictures and stories. I miss Uganda.

She had a fruitful trip. She visited fourteen orphanages, met with three legal guardianship lawyers, one Judge, and the registrar who schedules the court cases. She never made it out to Tommy's orphanage, but she did have a chance to meet with Sister Christine in Kampala and interviewed her about the challenges faced by rural orphanages. That should be enough for a great paper or two!

Best of all, she brought me home a Ugandan cookbook! I am really excited to try make something that is not matoke. If only I could figure out chapati!

I am excited to have another family member that understands exactly how incredible Uganda is, and look forward to her being able to tell Tommy stories about the land of his birth.

On a somewhat related note, Emily's advisor, Elizabeth Bartholet, participated in a debate on what should be done with Haiti's orphan situation. She makes some great points about working in the best interest of children. You can watch it here.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Minor Adjustments

Remember in that previous post on "being famous" how I mentioned that we rarely found ourselves in insulting situations? Well...

Right before we left for Christmas we attended a wedding in a very small town in Illinois. We went knowing very few people, and were one of a handful of people from out of town who were not relatives of the bride or groom. The bride and groom have very different heritages, so we felt safe assuming that although we were heading to a small town, no one who was overtly bigoted would be attending the wedding, because if you objected to inter-racial families, this was not the wedding for you.

When we walked into the sanctuary I noticed that it was not a diverse crowd, but, we really hadn't expected one, nor did that matter. We just notice it more now, because now we stand out when it isn't. There was one woman whom I believed, based on her dress which looked very much like the church clothes we saw in Uganda, to be African. She also had a daughter, who was probably in late elementary school or early middle school. We were seated across the sanctuary from them. The distance between us grew greater as I ended up having to leave during the ceremony because Tommy had a little incident (think pee all over me because Target diapers are LAME) and needed to go outside. We managed to get cleaned up in time for the reception. The room was fairly crowded, and Tommy was a bit upset, so he spent most of it either trying to grab at the food (all chock full or sugar, gluten and lactose and therefore none of it allowed) or nuzzling on my neck and playing with my hair. We were never very near the African woman- separated by rows in the sanctuary, then crowds at the reception. At one point I got tired of holding Tommy, and went to the side of the room to sit down. The only open chair was next to the African woman, and she motioned for me to have a seat.

She turned to me and said, "A woman just came up to me and asked me why you were holding my baby. She said he must be happy because he probably never gets to touch a white woman's hair. I told her he wasn't my baby, and she said to me 'but you know him, right?' I told her I didn't. So since everyone thinks I know him, let me get to know him."

We ended up having a nice conversation. She was indeed from Africa, and, apparently my eye for fashion is good because she was an East African from Kenya. We talked about what brought Jeff and me to Uganda and Tommy, and her to Illinois, and jobs and faith. Eventually she asked how diverse of an area we were living in, and if we had had issues before with people's assumptions, bringing the conversation back to the comments that had been addressed to her earlier.

I know that she was more offended by the statement made about Tommy being hers than I was. Jeff and I chose to adopted across racial lines. In doing that, we made the decision to stand out, to endure questions and comments, and occasionally some ignorant assumptions. This woman did not. We were trained to expect people to not recognize us as Tommy's parents. She probably never took a class on what to do when people assume she is the mother of all the black kids in a room.

And, let's face, it, the comment about my hair was terrible. Happy to touch a white women's hair? Seriously? As if my hair was more desirable to touch than her hair. Yuck. And, what a weird thing to say randomly.

When Tommy and I are out and about it isn't uncommon for people to misunderstand our relationship, and when it happens it doesn't offend me at all. But I have never experienced that mistake along with such a rude comment, especially one directed at someone other than myself. It was uncomfortable.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Dad's Car

To be clear, for me "Dad's car" has always referred to the 1966 Porsche 912 my dad bought when he was 21 (in 1966). My brothers and I used to have a Hot Wheels car painted the same color, and we had song that we would sing (think two note melody) - "Dad's car, Dad's car."

Dad's car

The Porsche doesn't get driven all that much these days, which can make it hard to get the engine started if it has been sitting too long. During our recent extended California vacation I spent a few days working on the car as it had been a while since anyone had been able to get the engine to start. One of those days both Amy and my mom were gone from lunch until after Tommy went to bed. This is what happens when Dad gets left in charge all day:

I think he likes it

A buckle! Or, safety first

Beep, beep


I ended up getting the car started and it is now running great. Priming the carburetors a few times and trying, trying, trying did the trick. Don't worry, I didn't leave the driveway with Tommy in the car...but next time we are totally strapping in the car seat and going for a ride.

We both enjoyed hearing the engine roar.

No offense to our trusty Corolla, but Tommy, that's how a car should sound.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Irrevocably Ours

"IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED, ADJUDGED AND DECREED that from this date the minor shall, to all legal intents and purposes, be the child of the petitioners and, for the purpose of inheritance and all other legal incidents and consequences, the same as if born to them in wedlock;

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the name of the minor be, and it is hereby changed to THOMAS ANTHONY OWOMUGISHA KLUG"

He's irrevocably ours.

Monday, 18 January 2010

The First Day of The Rest of Our Lives

Or something.

Today marks a big turning point for us. Today Jeff (aka Dr. Physics) started his first "real" job. He is now working at Argonne National Lab as a post-doc, and since they apparently don't observe MLK day (pretty awesome that a government funded lab doesn't observe a federal holiday), Jeff spent his morning in orientations and his afternoon in meetings about his new project. I would explain that new project to you, but, as with his previous work, it makes little sense to me. He is now learning a technique called Atomic Layer Deposition (ALD). It is totally different from what he did before, so- NO MORE BEAMTIMES!!! I am thrilled.

After seven months of Jeff working 50 to 70 hours a week for little to no pay, depending on the month and the whims of his advisers, we are so thankful that he is in a contracted position with a steady salary and benefits. God is good. And, best of all, Argonne offers a sweet adoption benefit. To take advantage of it we would have to finalize an adoption while Jeff is working there, so we are starting to pray about the if, where, and when of our next adoption. That makes me happy.

After a very extended Christmas break spent in California, we have returned to Illinois and are attempting to get back into a routine. So far, so good. Monday is laundry day and I am done! The real test will come tomorrow, as Tuesday is "bathroom cleaning day"- not my favorite in general, and tomorrow the while house requires cleaning because our social worker comes Wednesday for our final post-placement before finalization.

Tommy has taken all of our movements in the past month in stride, for the most part. He has had some sleep issues since getting home. Saturday night he decided to wake up and play between 3 and 5, and then not nap on Sunday. Every time we get out the suitcases he gets a little nervous. Since he actually enjoys airports and airplanes (if I had a nickel for everytime he said "cool" during our flights...), I am concerned about the aspects of travel worries him. He has a good memory, so I do wonder if remembers his first flight and what came before it. I can't wait until he can understand what it means when we tell him we are a family.

Speaking of which, I can't let today go by without acknowledging the debt that our family owes to all those who have fought for racial equality, and who continue to do so. To those black and white, slave and free, oppressed and privileged, famous and unknown, who gave their time, health, talent, and lives, fighting first for freedom and later for justice; we thank you for your sacrifice. Without these efforts our family could not exist. May the Lord who made us all, who does not favor one skin color over another, continue to shape us in His image so that we may all judge each other by the content of character and not the color of skin.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Bodfish Fun

For as long as I can remember my Grandparents have had a place that we fondly refer to as "the Lake." Now, that may conjure up images of luxury, but let me beat those thoughts down by assuring you that "the Lake" is a mobile home in Bodfish that has been rapidly deteriorating for the past few years. It has a view of Lake Isabella from one window, and a view of a bunch of trailers from the other. Bodfish may not be an ideal vacation destination, but for us it has been a place of retreat, relaxation, and family time.

A few years back my grandparents decided to sell their place. At that time we took our "last trip" and stopped using it as a family. Given the down real estate market and my grandpa's belief that his mobile is worth at least twice as much as its actual value it has not sold, so I asked if we could take a trip up so that Tommy could experience the Lake.

We had a great weekend, but there were a few hiccups along the way.

On Thursday we got together as a family to eat Mexican food and remember Ally Dewart, because that is what we do on January 7th. We intended to leave right after dinner, as soon as my brother Kevin got home from school. His class ended at 7:50, so we figured we could be on the road at 8:30, since he was coming straight home. Or so we thought. When 8:30 rolled around with still no sign of Kev, we called and found out that we had different definitions of "straight home." He meant straight home by way of his apartment where he had to pack all of his stuff. So we didn't get the drive started until 9:30, add the fog, and we didn't pull into the driveway until well after midnight.

Grandpa, Jeff, and Kev went in to turn on the heater. Apparently the pilot blew out, and in the process of relighting Grandpa came this close to lighting himself on fire before figuring out that his methods were not working. Kev and Jeff read the manual and figured it out. They also had to turn on the electricity, because Kevin thoughtfully decided to turn off all the circuit breakers when he was up there wit his friends in November. Easiest way to avoid an electric bill. Meanwhile, the rest of us slept in the car, where we had at least the residual heat from our ride up.

Finally the mobile warmed up and we all unloaded ourselves and our stuff. I immediately unpacked Tommy's cooler of special food (for his crazy dietary needs) and went to put some of it in the freezer. When I opened the door I noticed an odd smell. The food looked curiously defrosted. Streaks of oozes dripped from the shelves. Great green and black fuzzy circles dotted the freezer bottom. Hmmmm. Power outage? No. It turns out that when you shut off all the circuit breakers, that includes power to the fridge. So at about 1:30 we realized we needed to clean up a bunch of food that had been rotting away since mid-November. Grandpa is a bit of a hoarder, so he actually has two fridges for one tiny mobile. Two fridges filled with rotting food that needed to be tossed out pronto. On the bright side, we were able to get rid of a bunch of three year old junk, which we would have had to do anyway, and Grandpa couldn't complain about it too much.

At last, bed time rolled around. We go to our respective rooms and sheets on the beds. Apparently when a bunch of college-aged guys hang out they don't really check for things like that. Better still, we couldn't find enough sheets period. And the lake has maybe two sleeping bags. Thankfully, a little digging produced just enough sheets and almost enough towels for all of us.

So, I go to our room, the yellow room. This is a considerable upgrade from the couch bed- thanks Tommy! I dig through our clothes and pull out pajamas, and in the process I unloaded my clothes into the dresser. Pajamas, check. Sweatshirts, check. Pants, check. Shirts, check. Shoes, check. Underwear? Not so much.

Stuck in Bodfish with no clean underwear. Not ideal. Now, you may ask, "why wouldn't you head to the nearest Target and pick some up?" Well, there isn't a Target in Bodfish. Or a Wal-Mart, or any kind of mall, or normal clothing store. The worst part of me not having any underwear, is that I vividly remembered picking some out and placing it with the clothes I was going to pack. It just didn't make the jump into my suitcase.

You might be wondering if Tommy had all of his clothes. Of course he did. He had everything he needed and then some.

There have been a number of shocks to my system since starting this whole mom thing. One of them is the excessive amount of work it takes to cope with two schedules, and to keep track of two lives. Before Tommy I barely needed to look at my calendar because I could keep track of my schedule quite easily without it. Now, when I don't check it, I find myself missing his doctor's appointments (admittedly he had quite a few for a while there). And apparently, I can't even remember my own underwear!

On Friday I managed to make it to "Home Goods," which holds the only clothing options available within an hour's drive. I got to sort between thongs covered in footballs with the slogan "hands off" and ones covered with billiard balls labeled "kiss" (um, ewwww and what on earth is the connection there?). I decided to look for something a bit different, and ended up with a kid's pack for only $3.99. Thank goodness I'm small, or I would have been in trouble.

Saturday we had a blast going into Kernville to show Tommy and Colleen around. We cruised through the museum and the many "antique" shops. Colleen found a great deal on a beer can wind-chime, which pretty much made her trip. Then Jeff and I had the chance to stop by and see his Uncle and Aunt and introduce them to Tommy.

If only Sunday could have been so uneventful. We hoped to get out early. I questioned whether that would happen, but still, I hoped. We organized, we cleaned, we packed the car, we cleaned some more. Apparently certain college-aged males who have been using the cabin in the recent past don't know how to vacuum (yeah brother, I'm calling you out :-) ). Finally at 2:30 we loaded into the car. And sat, and sat. Jeff came to tell me that the toilet was clogged. The joys of septic tanks. Apparently mom and dad were plunging, and getting bucket of water to force flush, and plunging some more. Eventually they cleared it up, and did the septic tank treatment. Finally we got on the road. No fog this time, barely any traffic, and about 30 minutes from home I heard some strange grunts from the back seat. I look back and see Tommy squirming and kicking his legs, first one then the other. It was impressively gymnastic.

I ended up having to clean his sneakers.

But let me assure you, the poop, the mold, the cleaning, having to wear kid's underwear, all of it was entirely worth it. Tommy got to go to the Lake.

Here are a few highlights:

Reading Milton with Mum

Jeff does a puzzle

Bummin' around

Grandpa making his signature apple pancakes

A trip to the Kernville museum is a hair-raising experience

Tommy, meet science

Giddy up

Family portrait

Dancing at dinner on the way home

Monday, 11 January 2010

That Place

Yesterday we returned from a relaxing weekend at Lake Isabella, and I was all fired up to write a funny post about the weekend (it was eventful), but I returned to some terrible news about some friends and lost my interest in posting a light story right now.

When we went to the High Court in Uganda, we went with another family, the Kehns, who were also adopting a little boy from Holy Innocent. The Kehns are missionaries in Uganda, living in the same general region that Tommy did. In fact, I don't have the time or energy to type up the whole story now, but God used them in Tommy's life long before we met him, and it is because of their actions that Tommy found a place at the babies home, and that we were later able to adopt him.

The Kehn's recently began the process of adopting another child, a beautiful little girl named Jerusalem. Last week she became dangerously ill, and after days of struggling for her life, she died in their arms.

They created a touching tribute to her life with them. It takes a great deal to love so freely and fiercely in the face of imminent death. Please take a few minutes to watch it, and pray for them as they struggle to continue their ministry concurrent with grief and the many hardships of living in Uganda. Jerusalem rests peacefully in the arms of her heavenly Father, as does Leah. Pray that the Kehns can find His peace in the midst of the darkness of death.

We are heartbroken for them. Last week when I first heard that Jerusalem was very ill, I felt sick. I know in my head that people lose their babies all the time, especially in developing countries, but every time it happens it still seems so, I don't know, incorrect.

Watching the video and seeing them lose their precious girl - her last moments, the handprints and footprints, the little fingers curled around their big ones - reminded me so much of our time with Leah. It struck me how similar the death of a little girl all the way across the globe looked - how death levels the distance and differences between us. Sometimes I forget how hard it was to be in that place, the death place. Dimples, chubby thighs, giggles, and sweet kisses accompanied by a big "mmmmmwwwwwaaaaaahhhh" push that aside. But things like this always remind me.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

3 for 6

Tommy loves his Auntie Emily.

My Sister Emily is heading to Uganda as I type this. She and her friend Alexis will spend a few weeks there doing research for a paper on Ugandan adoption. They will be interviewing lawyers, visiting both pro- and anti-adoption orphanages, and hopefully meeting with some government officials.

Emily and Alexis began planning this trip a few months back. Alexis had been taking classes taught by Elizabeth Bartholet, and wanted to do a research paper on international adoption under her direction. She asked Emily if she would be interested in doing something like that, and Emily suggested that they go to Uganda.

After weeks of planning, they are off! Please join me in praying for their safety, and that their work will benefit the many orphans of Uganda.

In Evanston during Emily's August visit

For my part, I love that God has called Emily to Uganda. I never could have imagined the impact that spending time in Uganda has had on me and Jeff, how it has altered our view of the world and our sense of mission. I hope that her time there will be equally fruitful, and I am so proud of her for taking the risk.

Once Emily lands in Entebbe, three of my six immediate family members will have visited Uganda (Me, Mom, and Em). Three more to go!

Tommy is wearing his Christmas present today in honor of his Auntie.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

The One in Our Arms

In Uganda we had the honor of meeting and spending a great deal of time with Sister Christine, who runs the orphanage in which Tommy spent the first part of his life. During this time we were able to ask as many questions as we wanted about Tommy's life and habits.

There were plenty of things that we wanted to know that she couldn't answer, because no one keeps track of milestones, first words, or favorites in over-crowded babies homes. However, she was able to tell us about picking Tommy for us.

This is the story as she told it to us:

One day, Isaac called and said, "Sister, please, can you give me a baby." And I responded, "Yes, you can have the one in my arms."


We came to find out that Tommy being in Sister's arms at the time Isaac called was probably no coincidence. It seemed to us that he lived in her arms. When we visited Ibanda the other sisters confirmed our suspicions. Sister Christine may have spoiled him more than a little. Later she told us that she was anxious to get Tommy out of the babies home and to the United States because she loved him and wanted him to have a future. She wanted him to have a support system for the rest of his life, in her words, "someone to have his back."

While the very best orphanages can provide excellent medical care, adequate food, high caregiver to child ratios, and good educations, at some point the children have to leave, and they rarely have formed strong enough bonds with others who can support them if something goes wrong. If they lose a job, get sick, or face a financial setback they have no one to turn to, unless they are able to get married and join a family in that way. Since so few children from the babies home get adopted, Sister has a great burden of picking who will go to families, and who will stay, likely for the rest of their lives, in institutional care. She chooses who will have families to remember their birthday, celebrate the holidays with, and support them in good times and bad, and who will not. I do not envy her burden.

Sister chose Tommy for us because she loved him, but in making that choice, she also had to let him go. I know that it was not easy for her. She knew when she took her vows as a nun that she would never bear children. She knew when she took over the orphanage that she would watch children come in and go out, grow up and move on. I wonder if she knew how that would feel, to love and let go over and over again. I wonder if any of the sisters knew. They have chosen a painful path of raising children for only a brief period of their lives. Knowing that, the wise thing to do would be to hold back. Instead, they love their kids in a self-sacrificing way.

While we were in Uganda I struggled a great deal with Sister's desire to spend time with Tommy. It confused him to go back and forth between us. At one point while we were in Uganda I blogged asking for prayer about a situation that made me uncomfortable. The issue was that Sister wanted to come see Tommy one last time before we left, and I was nervous about what it would do to him. The time we had seen her just before that, Tommy spent days following the visit acting out and grinding his teeth. The look on his face broke our hearts. Having her and then watching her go produced a great deal of anxiety in him. In the end, we did not have a choice. I couldn't say no to Sister. If she wanted to see the boy she lavished so much love and attention on, then worked so hard to give to us, I could not stand in her way.

I had a difficult time during the visit. In retrospect, I am so thankful that Sister came by. For one, that visit marked the first time that Tommy ever chose spending time with me over spending time with Sister. All of us were able to witness the beginning of his transition from her to us. I think it comforted her to see that he loved us, and I know it comforted me. I am thankful that Tommy spent so much time in Sister's arms. If not for that, he might not have had much interest in spending so much time in mine.