When changes are coming around the pike, Selam gets sticky.

On the one hand, she needs the forewarning. She needs time to talk about the situation. She needs to come up with what will be fun and to plan for it, and to think through her worries and talk those out.  On the other hand, preparing for change is just hard for her.

She gets sticky.

She wants to sit on my lap all the time. She wants to snuggle right up next to my skin. She wants to sleep draped across my back, my breaths raising her little head in a predictable rhythm.

There is one week left of “regular” Pre-K.  After that half of her group is leaving. Most of them are staying right at the JCC, going up the hill for a summer day camp with the “big kids.” Selam isn’t 5 yet, so she isn’t eligible, and even if she were, I want her to stay in her little room with her wonderful teachers.  The summer program proves to be lots of fun and excitement as it is.  The kids will take swimming lessons 4 days a week, twice at the day camp outdoor pool, and twice indoors.  They’ll picnic at the day camp twice a week, and stay in their familiar classroom for the other three days.   With half the number of kids and the same three teachers, there will be lots of attention and lots of room.

But it’s a change, and changes come hard.  The kids that are moving to the big kid day camp are so excited they could burst. They talk about it all the time. And that gets Selam going.  Every night we have to review who is going to big kid camp and who is staying in her room. And every night we have to re-establish that none of the teachers are leaving.  Last night she held my face in her little hands and said, “promise me you won’t ever go to the big kid camp without me.”

It’s an attachment thing, maybe.  It’s just when she starts trusting the ground beneath her feet that it starts to move again, so she grabs out for the thing that seems the least likely to move.  I wish she trusted with all her heart that I would never leave, never go to the big kid camp, never die.  She’s not there yet. For now, she just hangs on to me, weighing me down so that if the winds of change were to blow, at least we’d fly away together.

I’m not going anywhere without you, baby. Never, never, never.


The day of a duck

It’s all in a day’s work, folks…..

Shavuot and Sand

Today is the Jewish holiday of Shavuout, which Selam describes as the day that Moses gave the people ten really good rules and then everybody ate cheesecake.

And you thought she wasn’t learning a thing at her Jewish pre-school.

The worst thing about being a non-Jewish family at a Jewish school is  the Jewish holidays, and the best thing about being a non-Jewish family at a Jewish school is the Jewish holidays. I spent most of September apologizing for missing 2/3rds of my committee meetings.  On the other hand, I was delighted to have a mid-week warm day off in June to celebrate Shavuot in the traditional Jewish way by going to the beach.  It was delightful to be able to actually park! in the parking lot! because everybody else was at work or school.  It’ll all change in a few weeks when the kids get out of school, but for now, the place was relatively empty.

Continue reading

Baptism: October 24, 2010

October 24 seems to be the day for Susan Olson to gently push the limits of Presbyterian polity. I was ordained on October 24, 1993. Back then, you were ordained and installed in one ceremony at your calling congregation. Since I was ordained to a specialized ministry there was no calling congregation, so I was ordained at my home church.  I didn’t follow many of the ordination customs at my ordination, pretty much because I’d never been to an ordination, so I sort of made it up as I went along. There were bagpipes and pumpkin muffins, and a sermon and some prayers. The weather sparkled apple-crisp and blue, and that funny little church was full of people and love and though it wasn’t a typical ceremony, it was all I wanted, all I could have wanted.


Selam’s baptism was similarly odd. In our denomination, pastors don’t belong to churches—we belong to presbyteries. And only members can present children for baptism—which leaves me with the Presbytery as the location for a baptism, if one were to read the polity strictly.  I was hoping to schedule it between the Committee on Ministry and the Council report. 😉


So, Selam ended up being baptized with her grandparents as sponsors instead of me. I had other options for her, but in the end, I felt like a Presbyterian minister ought to have a Presbyterian church make baptismal promises for her baby, I mean big girl. She was baptized in the congregation where I was a member from 6th grade until my sophomore year of college (I transferred to my college church then). The building has been gutted and rearranged, but my confirmation teacher was there, and the woman who rode with me to Presbytery when I was commissioned as a Youth Delegate.  My childhood pastor showed up for the party, too.


Selam was so excited. She wore her white traditional Ethiopian dress—a dress that Alex and I found (after much searching) in Addis on the day we left for the US. I gave her an Ethiopian cross that morning, and she wore the new shiny brown shoes that she loves so much they got mentioned in the same breath as Jesus.


The pastor met with us ahead of time, and told Selam that she was going to be asked a few questions, too. She was amenable to all of them (Do you want to be baptized and do you want to be a Jesus girl?). He also told her that she would be asked to say her whole name—but not her last name. “Your first names are your Christian name but Olson is your given name,” he explained.  I knew she’d struggle with that. She learned them all four together, and it would be hard to stop after Adane.


The baptism was at the beginning of the service. Selam bounced up there when it was time. She began swinging her leg back and forth, back and forth next to the font. I decided that she should be held! She watched through the questions of my parents and myself, and smiled when the congregation gave their consent.  Then she let the pastor pick her up and hold her. He asked her questions and she answered in her inimitable way. “Yes, I do,” she said, when he asked if she wanted to be a Jesus girl. Then he asked her name and she clearly said all four. He smiled at that, and baptized her.  She giggled at the water on her head. I imagine that’s a pretty good start to a life of faith: laughter.


Then, because I asked him to, he picked up the Ethiopian Liturgical Umbrella that Alex and I managed to wrangle back to the US, and with Selam on one hip and the umbrella over her, gave the charge to the congregation.


I thought about her insistence on giving all four names. Part of it is that it’s the way she memorized it. But part of it is that it’s who she is. She is Selam, named by the one who carried her and who cared for her as long as she could. She is Lanalee, a made up name mashing together a beloved friend who died too soon, and her grandmother’s middle name. She is Adane, the name of her grandfather—lacking a father, Adane was her last name in Ethiopia and is her tie to the family that loved her into being. And she is an Olson, forever merged with the mob of Swedish-ish Americans.  For Selam, I think all four are her Christian name.


After the sacrament, there was a song, one that I had requested, not because it had one thing to do with baptism but because it just makes Selam so happy. She requests this before bed, and sings it to herself in the car. And though it’s not a baptism song, I hope that with every child born, we imagine again that the world is about to turn.


My soul cries out with a joyful shout

that the God of my heart is great,

And my spirit sings of the wondrous things

that you bring to the ones who wait.

You fixed your sight on your servant’s plight,

and my weakness you did not spurn,

So from east to west shall my name be blest.

Could the world be about to turn?


RefrainMy heart shall sing of the day you bring.

Let the fires of your justice burn.

Wipe away all tears, for the dawn draws near,

and the world is about to turn!


2. Though I am small, my God, my all,

you work great things in me,

And your mercy will last from the depths of the past

to the end of the age to be.

Your very name puts the proud to shame,

and to those who would for you yearn,

You will show your might, put the strong to flight,

for the world is about to turn.


3. From the halls of power to the fortress tower,

not a stone will be left on stone.

Let the king beware for your justice tears

ev’ry tyrant from his throne.

The hungry poor shall weep no more,

for the food they can never earn;

There are tables spread,

ev’ry mouth be fed,

for the world is about to turn.


4. Though the nations rage from age to age,

we remember who holds us fast:

God’s mercy must deliver us

from the conqueror’s crushing grasp.

This saving word that our forebears heard

is the promise which holds us bound,

‘Til the spear and rod can be crushed by God,

who is turning the world around.


Tonight, at bedtime, Selam was talking about being baptized. “That rober put water on my head!” she giggled. “He did,” I said, “and now Jesus can always find me,” she added, “a cause of the water, and a cause of I’m his girl forever.”




Freedom is Coming

December 9, 2009
Last night was the YDS Advent Service. I put aside all sense of logic (a 90 minute service. at night. for adults…what in that description screams “bring your toddler”?) and brought her. She did rather well, all things considered. We sat in a back row behind the pulpit (in a round worship set up); we could see pretty well, but our escape route was also pretty clearly defined, too. Every ten minutes or so, the service shifted to something new, usually something sensory, which was just about right. Every time I’d get to the “okay, I can’t hold her together any longer, time to make our exit” point, something new would happen…a dancer, a drummer, a choir, candles, colored lights on the ceiling, a giant tree being formed before our very eyes.

This is a girl who knows how to do joy. She smiles wider than wide, sucks in her breath with delight, and has been known to stage whisper whatever she is thinking at the moment.

“Oh, mommy, oh!” marked the stars illuminated on the ceiling.

“Special” when the candles came out.

While it was stressful to try to keep her exuberance and commentary contained enough that the others present could worship, it was delightful to see it new through her eyes. This was my 9th advent service at YDS. It was also my first.

The highlight of the service was the construction of the big tree in the center of the chapel. The trunk and branches were there from the beginning, (Selam thought they were arms—she put my arm next to hers to show me–“arms, Mommy, arms.”) and they added green leaves that had been written on by members of the congregation. Pulleys set these leaves flying toward the fingertips of the branches. While this happened, we sang.

“Freedom is coming. Freedom is coming. Freedom is Coming, Oh yes, I know.”

She liked seeing Ato Patrick lead the singing. She liked bobbing her head and shaking her thin shoulders to the beat. She learned the words and tune quickly and her sweet voice found my ears. But we sang the song many times. And it was toward the end of the service, and bedtime had come and gone.

“We’re almost there, Mommy,” she said, mimicking the words I say when she is tired in the car, words I didn’t realize she’d learned.

“Freedom is coming, freedom is coming, freedom is coming, oh yes, I know.”

“Almost there, Mommy.”

“Freedom is coming, freedom is coming, freedom is coming, oh yes, I know.”

“Just a little longer.”

“Freedom is coming, freedom is coming, freedom is coming, oh yes, I know.”

“Pretty soon, Mommy”

“Freedom is coming, freedom is coming, freedom is coming, oh yes, I know.”

“Almost there, Mommy. Almost there.”

Amen, child. May it be so.

The day I met her

first published on October 6, 2009 on facebook

We got into Bole Airport at about 11:30 am. Customs, security, and the ride home are all a blur to me. We checked into the guest house, brought our bags up and called Ato Teklu. He agreed that we would come to the orphanage at 4 p.m….after naptime, for those not in the toddler set. There was some confusion about how we were to arrive, but once that was resolved, we were on our way. The whole ride over all I could think of was whether or not I would be any good at this.


The car pulled in and we parked behind a large van. As we were parking, I saw her. She was wearing brown knit pants and a pink sweatshirt, and was playing with some older boys. I grabbed Alex’s hand–“that’s her.” I didn’t cry. I wanted to. As I got out of the car, all the boys were yelling, “Selam’s mama. Selam’s mama!” The sea of children opened, and Selam walked through, and right past me. She went up to Zee, the interpreter that rode with us, and asked him (I’m told) why he didn’t drive in a bigger car–she pointed to the big van for emphasis. I’m not sure how he answered her. All I know is that for a brief second after that, things went very quickly. Ato Teklu greeted me, and someone pushed her forward–the children, a staff member, Ato Teklu– I don’t know. And there she was. I picked her up and said, “There you are.”


Of all the things to say, “there you are,” like she was a puppy that had been hiding in the closet, my spare sunglasses under the couch, the winter scarf I thought I lost. “There you are.”


But there she was. She liked my necklace, and played with it, while I checked her out. Her braids were fuzzy, and lunch was still on her chin. Her eyes were full moons of light and mischief and tomorrow. Around us children swirled, demanded “photos” from Alex, and wanted both of us to pick them up. They examined the car, the driver, the interpreter, asked us for cookies and stickers and rides on empty hips. We waded through the crowd. Maybe Alex stopped to play; I can’t remember. We followed Ato Teklu into the nurse’s office where they told me things about her health that I can no longer remember. She sat on my lap like she had making payments on it for months and finally owned it.


We had about an hour together that day. I gave Alex a lot of stickers, and she got sort of bum-rushed by the children in distributing them, though it bought me some minutes.


She called me mama that day. She also called me gewadegna, which means friend.


I thought.


A few days later, a guest house staff member told me that gewadegna is one of a few different words for friend. Literally, though, he said it means someone who was lost and is now found. “It makes it all together,” he said.


So there you are.


There you are.