The problem with…. June 1, 2011Posted by susan in 2011.
Tags: her world
There is a boy in Selam’s class. Let’s call him Bob. He has a shock of hair, freckles and a smile that God painted to demonstrate delight. Seriously, this kid is full of delight. Sand moving from one hand to another? delight. Water and a red boat in the water table? delight. Selam liking his shoes? delight. It is an exquisite smile. It’s one you just want to mirror.
The problem with Bob is, well, he has problems. He has a hard time sitting still and following directions. He gets excited and pushes kids. He destroys materials, just to see what might happen if, say, you were to snip the tips off the markers. He gets angry and hits.
All year, I’ve heard people talk about this child (this child that honestly I find so exquisite that I feel defensive on his behalf even though he’s not my kid). The problem with Bob is that he’s the only boy in the family. The problem with Bob is that he has no discipline. The problem with Bob is he must have ADD and needs medicine. The problem with Bob is that he has no respect. The problem with Bob is….
The thing is Selam loves Bob as much as I do. More, actually. Truth be told, she breaks into a big goofy smile every time she sees him, and will run full out across the room for the chance to share the listening table with him.
As pure as her love for him is, she’s also the self-appointed class reporter. Everyone who gets in trouble with the teachers goes on Selam’s daily report. Today, she was telling me what Bob did, and then I heard her say the phrase that I’ve come to hate from parents and teachers…..
“The problem with Bob is……he has a good heart inside and he just can’t let everybody see it yet. He needs help getting it outside.”
I’d like to say that Selam has some concrete ideas for how to help her friend. She doesn’t. It’s really not her job. That’s the job of the grownups–of all of us, really–to help all the kids get their good hearts outside.
Family May 19, 2011Posted by susan in 2011.
Tags: adoption, her world
My car pulls into the lot and as I exit it, I see Debra, her hand to her brow, scanning the horizon. She is the self-appointed herald of the pre-K class. From her perch atop the jungle gym she shouts, “Selam! Mom!” Assured that Selam has heard her, she resumes her post.
Light May 17, 2011Posted by susan in 2011.
Tags: her world
Last night was the ballet recital rehearsal. Little girls in ridiculous costumes paraded around the auditorium of the JCC. There were white tutus–stiff and swanlike. There were long flowing red skirts with matching ribbons in the hair. There were big girls in shimmery yellow, green and blue. Tap shoes clicked,left ballet shoes went missing, big girls applied lipstick. The air was pregnant with hairspray and sequins and hope.
Hip shake April 4, 2011Posted by susan in 2011.
Tags: camp, her world
We went to camp last weekend. It was 20 kinds of wonderful with whipped cream and sprinkles.
Something happens to Selam when she’s there. She is just home, in a way that no other place (except for our home) is home for her. We were in the dining hall a mere two minutes when she left my side, and began making the rounds, greeting all the adults that she knew, and a few that she didn’t. I was still talking with another adult when they started serving dinner. I turned around, and there was Selam, standing in line with a yellow plate and confident air. After the meal, she jumped into the center of the dining hall floor and alternately danced alone and played trucks with Will. A familiar counselor picked her up to twirl her around the floor (is there anything more delicious than being pulled up off your feet?) and she squealed with delight. I was catching some photos of this when a different counselor–one I’ve never seen did the same, and she just as happily leaped into his arms. At the campfire, she broke free and wiggled to the front row, making frequent excursions to the back for snuggles from me. She is just home there; comfortable. Is it because I’ve been there so often? Because her grandfather is a beloved volunteer (there’s even a sign up in his honor)? Is it the common ground that families share? I don’t know. Whatever it is, she’s moved in, rearranged the furniture, picked some curtains, and forwarded her mail there. She’s home. (more…)
Flag of America Day February 24, 2011Posted by susan in 2011.
Tags: adoption, her world
We need to start with this truth: when I tell Selam we’re going to do something special, she always has the same question: “what can I wear?” So when I told her we were going to go to Hartford to get her American flag, what she really wanted to know is whether or not she could wear her Sunday School shoes.
I can understand. They are very special shoes—brown patent leather (I looked long and hard for those) Mary-Janes with a buckle that has both gold and silver–and a few rhinestones, too! They never go to school (all shoes must have rubber soles for the gym) and we don’t play in them either (might get scratched up.) So we wait all week for their shiny, glossy goodness.
In addition to the shoes, Selam thought she should look like a “flag of America.” A blue and white polka dotted dress (“They look like stars!”) was paired with red tights and a red sweater. She wanted a red striped sweater, but none was to be found. She thought perhaps we could go to the store before school and get one but alas, not only are there no stores open at 7 a.m. that sell red and white striped sweaters in size 4/5, but there’s also the fact that her mother is mean. And cheap.
She was consoled when we found a hair clip that her cousins gave her last Fourth of July that was resplendent with red, white, blue and sparkles.
I sent her to school for a half day, and picked her up at noon for the hour-long drive North. After a few bites of nuggets (special!treat!), she slept for the duration of the ride.
She was still audibly snoring as we pulled onto Main Street. I’d been to USCIS twice before today. The first time I was the crazy lady wearing the collar and bearing 8.5×11 photos of the saddest looking Selam you’ve ever seen. It was Good Friday. My clearance to adopt was extremely overdue. The courts in Ethiopia were rumored to close in June or July and I was desperate to have my application read before closing. I chose the sad photos and held them up to the glass partition as I begged, begged, begged someone to look into my case. Personally, I think I scared them because a week later I got a call that my form had been expedited and was done. Would I like them to mail it to me? Um, no. I left work, got in my car and drove like the proverbial bat up to the state capitol, and waited, trembling, for that precious piece of paper. When it was in hand,I drove directly to the first Staples I could find, and faxed it to Washington state.
Those were crazy days. I spent a lot of time faxing and overnight mailing and getting everything notarized. They recognized me at the local UPS/notarypublic/faxforafee place. Everything was so frantic and rushed and quadrupled back then. All I did was work and adopt.
I had almost forgotten that time period. But as a different Subaru edged its nose to the good parking in the back, my heart started racing again. There was no rush, though; no race to be won, no fax machine to locate. Selam is a citizen already. This was just the very expensive receipt.
My friend had already gone through the Certificate of Citizenship drill last week, so I knew it was going to be a short and painless process. I signed her name four times: Selam Lanalee Adane Olson, by Susan K. Olson, mother. Her name looked funny in my writing. I’ve only ever printed it before. She won’t need this form until she’s an adult. I wonder what she’ll think, then, seeing my signature where hers should go? On her behalf, I signed the Oath of Citizenship, as well. Selam received a handshake and an American flag, which is really all that she wanted. I hesitated on the oath, to be sure. Was it right to renounce her fidelities and allegiances to Ethiopia? I mentally added the words “government of” and let it go. Who knows what allegiances she will truly hold when she’s an adult? For now she’s American, for better or for worse.
I left that building, past the metal detectors and the white haired men with their guns. I turned left to follow the path to the good parking, holding hands with my daughter, the one with the small American flag in her hand. I retraced the path I’d followed with the sad photos, the path I’d run with the single sheet of paper. “We’re done, Selami, no more courthouses. Should we get a treat?” “I want to get a treat.” “What do you want?” “I want to wear my shiny shoes all day.”
I smiled at my fully American, fully habesha daughter. Her shiny shoes flashed on dingy sidewalks as she half-skipped to the car.
At the last minute that morning, she had asked to wear her cross, an Ethiopian cross carried back from her home country by a colleague. We had to run back into the apartment to get it, the cross we wore on special occasions—her baptism, Christmas, church. I was nervous to let her wear it at school, afraid it would end up buried in the sand table, but she was careful. When I got her at school, she loudly announced that “my meskel is still on my heart, Mommy.”
The brilliant silver of that necklace caught the afternoon light . It bounced on her ski jacket, sending flashes of memory and tomorrow upward, toward her face, toward my heart, toward the wide new sky, toward allegiances and fidelities that she will never renounce or abjure.
The Last Minute Angel: December 19, 2010 February 20, 2011Posted by susan in 2010.
Tags: church, her world
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There’s a church where Selam and I attend when I’m not supplying somewhere, and we’re not traveling. Unfortunately, this means we’re only there about half the time. It’s a church where people have belonged for generations and a lot of things aren’t put in writing, so we’re always a step behind, even if we are there.
So it was with the Christmas pageant. In the church newsletter, I read that kids who wanted speaking parts should sign up with the Sunday School Superintendent, and everyone else who wanted a non-speaking part should just come to a rehearsal. Since no ages were associated with the pageant, I assumed that Selam was too young. I wasn’t sure she’d do it even if she was old enough, anyway.
We were at church this morning and when I came downstairs to get her from Sunday School, she rushed up to me with a nativity that they had cut and pasted together. “There’s a BROWN angel, Mommy, just like me!!!!” She was exuberant. One of the other little girls told me that she was going to be an angel in the pageant. The teacher asked me if Selam was going to be in it, and I told her that I didn’t realize she was old enough, so we had not signed up. “Next year, we’ll be sure to do that,” I said as Selam spoke over me. “I’m going to be an angel, too. We NEED a brown angel and that’s me!!!”
The teachers encouraged me to ask the Sunday School Superintendent to let her participate. Mrs. Z. had, in fact, made an announcement in church that morning about there being room for some last minute additions, but again, I had assumed Selam was too young.
So we went to coffee hour and Selam was still quite insistent that she was going to be the brown angel in the pageant. I pointed out the superintendent and before I knew it, Selam had run over to her and told her that she wanted to be an angel. Mrs. Z. came over to me and asked if it was okay for Selam to be an angel, “the brown angel,” Selam corrected. I agreed and we ran upstairs to get a costume and a copy of the music—a little 4 line song. I agreed to iron the dress and teach her the song and the Last Minute Angel was born.
I should explain that this is not a church I would have chosen for our family. It’s way too white for my conscience, and a little more conservative than is my preference. Selam and I visited about 10 churches, seeking one that met my minimum requirements (reformed, less than a half hour away and no YDS interns) and hers (good coffee hour snacks). Selam picked this church, though. She called it the scissors church because it was the only one that we visited that had actual Sunday School for the 3 year olds, instead of just nursery. Mostly they were just cutting and pasting things and hearing stories, but it mattered to her. It still matters to her. She wants to feel like she’s doing something important. So we go there because Selam chose it. I figure with how many churches I drag her to for pulpit supply, she gets to choose our “home church,” even if she chooses a complexion that’s paler than hers. I appreciate the care with which they undertake Sunday School, and am overwhelmed at how a photo of three angels including one little brown one allowed my daughter to feel not just welcome but NECESSARY to the pageant.
So the last minute angel came home from church with a wrinkled dress and a song in her head. I tried to explain to her what would happen…about the shepherds and the kings and the baby Jesus. “I have the most important job, Mommy, I tell everybody that Jesus is born.”
When it was time for the pageant, we drove to the church and got her wings, halo and belt. She was RADIANT—so excited about her costume. She practiced flapping her wings for a while, then sat quietly in the pew and waited.
The pageant was hilarious and touching and wonderful, as they always are. There was a shepherd who was carrying a contraband legos toy, and another who tried to blow out the advent candles a dozen times at least. There were awkward adolescents reading the scripture, and blond angels twirling in circles. When Mary put the baby Jesus in the manger, a flock of angels sort of bum-rushed the child and nearly tipped over the manger. (Selam soberly reported afterward that she did not touch the manger or the baby. ) There was lots of waving at Mommy (including the Last Minute Angel). It was controlled chaos.
But there is a sweetness there, too, and something so profoundly moving about this tender and really rough story in the hands of bright eyed children with their legos and their shiny shoes. I know there are those that abhor the infantilizing of the story in pageants. I think it’s the most profound way that we can tell the children that “this is your story, too.” I particularly liked this church’s decision to hold it on a Sunday afternoon—not during morning worship, but at night for just the kids, their parents and handful of interested church members. It actually felt more worshipful this way.
After the pictures were taken and the halos and wings returned to their shelves, Selam and I walked hand-in-hand to the car. “You know how I was the angel, Mommy? I was very, very important. Because the angels have to tell everybody about the baby Jesus. And you NEED a brown angel, Mommy, and I’m the brown girl so I was the brown angel telling everybody about Jesus, Mommy. And I said, ‘Glory to God in the highest. Glory to God in the highest, Glory to God in the highest’ and all the people heard me singing and the shepherds fell down.”
As I strapped the Last Minute Angel into her carseat, she beckoned me close. Lately she loves whispering secrets. “Next year, when I am the angel, I’m going to really fly….”
We drove into the cold night, the white New England colonial spire rising behind us, Selam still singing sotto voce “Glory to God in the highest…”