While sitting in a doctor's office, I read in one of those celebrity magazines that Angelina Jolie has decided to adopt a seventh child, from Africa, because Zahara said she wants a little sister who looks like her.
This New York Times article about Haiti's struggling orphanages is an eye-opener. It explains a lot about the daily challenges of caring for orphans in an impoverished country.
This quote from a Haitian mother is just plain heart-breaking:
"So many women do not have jobs. They do not have land to grow food for their children. If their choice is to watch their children starve or give then away, they are going to give them away, and hope that they have put them in good hands."
My own daughter's birth mother made that tough choice. I'm grateful to her. And today I'm incredibly sad for her.
Were those Americans who tried to take Haitian children out of the country abducting them or adopting them?
I'd say it was both.
Every international adoption is fundamentally abduction. The child adopts a new country and at the same time is abducted from her own country. The child wasn't consulted, didn't choose to leave her home. She was simply taken away. From the child's point of view, that's abduction. There's no way around that messy fact, no matter how many uplifting names we give to adoption agencies -- Wide Horizons and Children's Hope and in the case of the Idaho church group's unofficial one, New Life Children's Refuge.
And let's be even more honest: we're so accustomed to seeing starving African babies --I still remember those late-night infomercials showcasing "Biafran" children with flies swarming around their crusty eyes -- that we don't think of them as having extended families, let alone mothers and fathers who love them.
Of course I understand the impulse to help. I feel it too. I want to see young victims from the earthquake saved now, want to staunch the suffering and loss of such a magnitude that it's beyond anyone's comprehension: One hundred and seventy thousand dead. One million homeless. Unfathomable. And yet it happened.
Still, why do we first think about quickly air-lifting those children out of the country, rather than push our own government for more long-term solutions -- to waive Haiti's debts, for example, so that this tiny, exploited nation can devote more resources to those very children we want to save?
Here's a tough question: Are our middle-class American homes better places for these children than their impoverished Haitian ones, where they have their culture, their loved ones, their homeland?
That begs a tougher question: Could the money spent on international adoption be better spent providing a child's family with the resources to keep him or her at home? It's a question with no easy answer, but it's a question we have to ask.
Those Idaho missionaries were thinking two-fold: they'd save lives AND provide some U.S. families with children they might not otherwise have. And if those children could become evangelical Christians rather than Voodoo practitioners -- did that increase their zeal, their sense of "do-good"?
Altruism laced with self-interest and hubris: That's what landed those missionaries in jail. It's a cautionary tale and we who believe in the fraught world of international adoption should take heed.
THINGS I'VE LEARNED FROM A LIFETIME OF BLACK HAIR CARE AND A YEAR OF HAIR CARE ON A LITTLE TENDER-HEADED GIRL:
1. Don't use a comb. Use a wire-bristle brush. (combs really hurt,
believe me); hold her hair very tight near the root when you brush it,
so it won't pull on her scalp as much; take your time, and do a little
at a time; be VERY SENSITIVE to her protestations. She's not acting.
2. Untangle her hair ONLY on the day you wash it - leave in the
conditioner and then brush out the kinks with that wire bristle brush
3. Do "two strand twists" on wash day; (you don't even have to wash out the conditioner)... her hair can stay in those twists
for a few days, and then when you untwist it, she'll have beautiful
curls that she can wear a few more days, and then presto! it's
hair-washing day again
4. Gently finger comb her hair during the rest of the week; that way, it won't lock, and she'll look presentable
over the feeling that it can never look frizzy or kinky or nappy -- get
her an assortment of headbands, so that you can push it back off her
face and just let it be -- -if you think it's looking too frizzy,
quickly spritz her hair, put a creamy product (like
Carol's Daughter's Hair Milk) on it, twist it, leave it for an hour,
take the twists out
6. Use a lot of de-tangler spray on the days you decide to braid it or put it in "puffs" or ponytails (remember: no comb -- wire brush!)
feeling miserable. Relax, and on the days she doesn't want you messing
with her hair, don't. Make that a headband day, or part it down the
middle and give her puffs. Some days, you might just pick the lint out,
rub some Hair Milk into it and put a barrette or two in the front. Done.
8. Every day, tell her how beautiful her hair is -- when it's puffy,
when it's braided, when it's just being itself. Never act exhausted by
the process. Try not to be frustrated. Make hair-washing day fun: while
twisting my daughter's hair, I let her watch a favorite movie, or we
do a sing-along. It largely works. (Of course, she still complains; I
just try to distract her)
9. Remember that your goal is simple, just not easy: to make her feel good about
her hair even if she can clearly see that yours doesn't require the
same amount of pain and work.
10. Remember that it's a process. Be both sensitive to her cries and patient with yourself.
There are ways that your donation, no
matter how small, can have a big impact. They are not via the huge
bureaucracies, but via the foundations who have long histories of
accompanying, trusting, and strengthening the grassroots groups which,
in Haiti, are the only ones who have ever made a sustained difference.
These are small foundations that know that the only thing that ever
works in Haiti is for people to have control over their own rebuilding,
over their own communities, and over their own needs and destinies.
These are the small foundations who understand that the best that they
can do is strengthen those groups' capacities and strength with
funding, infrastructure, and technical support.
The need today is of course enormous and overwhelming. Even the UN
and Red Cross have no idea how to respond to a calamity of this size.
Past the urgency of everyone now getting food and water (which will not
happen) and the wounded getting care (neither), what will be needed is
what the Lambi Fund called today "second reponders." That involves
rebuilding the efforts that were under way to move Haiti "from misery
to poverty with dignity," as it is known there.
That is the slow,
careful work of helping grassroots movements get back on their feet,
reclaim what they lost, and move forward - both individuallly, and as
organized movements working for change and justice. The two groups
listed below bring respect, trust, and integrity to that process.
Perhaps some of you who're still considering where to adopt from will choose Haiti....
When the walls of their suburban Port-au-Prince orphanage came crashing down, their caregivers counted their blessings that no one had died. But then their attention turned to the harsh reality faced by the dozens of owners of the orphanages that dot Haiti's capital -- finding food and shelter for the poorest of the poor, the children nobody wanted.
A. was so excited! She had her own ten dollars to spend at the school's book fair. Her teacher took the entire kindergarten class to the school's lobby and there each child got to choose whichever book she wanted to buy.
My daughter came home with a Barbie book, complete with a blond girl beaming out at me, and an actual comb glued to its front cover. A comb that A. wanted badly to use but couldn't get through her hair.
And there you have it: My Ethiopian daughter is in love with the American girl icon.
This is just week two of kindergarten and she already has a "best friend." Mind you, it's not the little girl she played with all summer and whom we requested be in her class. It's a brand-new friend, and it's all about her, all the time.
Of course I like that she's making new friends quickly, but I also feel more is going on here. I feel she grabs onto other children with desperation, as though she can't quite trust that her bond with them will form naturally, over time. That old friend she already has? Not enough. She needs a new one in place, her insurance policy against loneliness -- or being alone.
Whether she's on the playground or at the park, A. is always casing the joint, on the look-out for someone to play with. And it doesn't matter whether she knows the other person. "Mommy, can I play with that boy right there?" she asked me at the park yesterday, pointing to a child with his family. It's endearing -- up to a point. Honestly, her willingness, I'd say her need to go up to a stranger and say, "Will you play with me?" makes me uncomfortable. "Sweetie, we don't know them," I said in response to her plea.
Some of this is about my wanting to avoid the possibility of rejection, which she has already experienced. In her first year with us, little girls often said "no" to her requests to play with them. One even told her, "You're not a girl, you're a boy, so you can't play with us." Her hair was short at the time, and yes her feelings got hurt.
Lots of time, it work out fine, and she has fun with her new-found friends. But I also know I'm watching a little girl in desperate need of validation through another child's willingness to play with her. I want her to be okay playing alone sometime too.
Alas, for a child who has been taken away from her home twice in her young life, she needs to control what she can control. And I guess I need to accept that.
This story got to me the most -- the knowledge that every week, Ted Kennedy spent time with his reading buddy, Larenai Swann. Larenai could be my own daughter sitting there with the "lion of the Senate." It certainly personalizes him.
In so many of the tributes to Kennedy, there's a sense of wonderment that a man who'd endured so much tragedy could still have a zest for life, could still find joy and laughter and time to read with a little girl. Could still give so much of himself.
I don't understand why folks don't understand.
As someone who's endured far more than her share of tragedy, I understand completely. It's because of the adversity you've faced that you appreciate life's goodness with acuteness. It's as though loss is a disinfecting cleanser, splashing itself onto the remaining areas of your life, stripping away the debris to allow what's essential to reveal itself. You know firsthand how fleeting life can be, how indiscriminate death really is. And so, carpe diem, yes, but you want to do more. You want to enjoy your life and at the same time, be about something bigger than your own, brief life.
"The Kennedys counseled us for half a century to be optimistic and to strive harder, to find the resilience to overcome those inevitable moments of tragedy and desolation, and to move steadily toward our better selves, as individuals and as a nation."
That quest to move more steadily toward my better self is what made me, a woman who'd lost so much but been given even more, to adopt a girl from Ethiopia. I know loss; and I also know how much you get when you give.
In a way, I have Ted Kennedy and his family to thank for that knowledge.