Friday, November 28, 2014

Happy Birthday Happy Homecoming -- learning and growing TOGETHER

I never really liked my birthday although I don’t have any good reason.  Most years, it was just another day.  But my birthday six years ago was different.  We were traveling back from Ethiopia to Seattle with our little girl.  She would arrive at our home and meet her new brothers on the date of my birth.  That made this day take on special meaning for me.  I love that our sweet daughter officially entered our family on the same day I entered the world.  It wasn’t planned but gives us a connection I treasure.  As Leyla was working on her talk for our event this year, she included this connection without any prompting.  “I came home on my mom’s birthday and she said it was the best birthday ever.”  

This startlingly beautiful and deeply empathic child continues to challenge and stretch me in ways I never expected just as she surprisingly provided healing through just being.  As she gains awareness of both our similarities and our differences, our connections and our challenges, she forces me, through her gentle but persistent probing, to keep digging deeper into what matters and what is real.  Her questions carry so much weight but yet no judgment – a combination I strive for but don’t always achieve.  Her mind is open to taking it all in whether it makes sense or not.  She doesn’t shy away from the complex or the painful; setting an example I try to follow.  

Through our conversations which often occur in quiet spaces where it is just the two of us, I gained a number of valuable insights:

I have said to my kids I have enough love for all three of them; so too I learned my child has enough love for all her parents.  My daughter’s feelings for her first mom are beautiful and special and give me a glimpse into a woman I have never met but love dearly.

Differences matter.  Not because they have to divide us but because they impact our experience and path.  Seeing something from my daughter’s vantage point gives me a chance to look at the world from another angle and often can see things I missed.  For example, my daughter’s view of her brown skin and my peach tone which “don’t match but that’s okay” gave me a peak into her reality as part of a trans-racial family.

Working through challenging situations honestly and openly builds trust and also greater understanding on both sides.  Answering my daughter’s direct “why” questions as she seeks to wrap her mind around how there such gulfs in resources and opportunity illuminate for me that there are no satisfactory answers. I need to continue to work on being part of the solution even for issues that seem not solvable in our lifetime.

I have to meet my daughter where she is, not where I want her to be.  Her reality is different than mine and different from my boys.  I can’t and shouldn’t pretend otherwise.  I have to accept her pain and loss as well as her amazing joy for life because it is all her.  She needs me to help her navigate her path while acknowledging where I cannot provide her everything she needs and make sure I surround her with the support she needs.
Welcoming a child from another land into my heart was welcoming an entire culture with her.  And doing so added richness to my human experience.  This blog was started when my daughter was a toddler and I wanted a tangible way to express a connection to her birth country.  What happened since has been eye-opening. The ties I now have are real and breathtaking and ever expanding as is my understanding of my daughter and my commitment to making a positive contribution in her country.

Once I opened my life to a variety of cultures, some by birth and experience and some by choice – Dutch, Greek, American and Ethiopian directly and so many more indirectly through dear friends, I truly began to evolve into a citizen of the world.  And I see the opportunities for mankind, if we all moved that direction, as limitless.

Happy Homecoming my little princess; I can’t imagine my life without you; I know your dad and brothers feel exactly the same way.  And each year, I look forward to what you will teach me and how you will stretch me as you grow.  I am honored to be your mom. And humbled to now count Ethiopian as one of my cultures.

Here are some pictures of this amazing year – Happy Birthday to me.



Friday, August 8, 2014

Thank You! You Kept Your Promises: Ethiopia Reads, Bahir Dar and a Special Little Girl

Returning to Bahir Dar the summer of 2014 was a special event.  This is our daughter’s birthplace, and at six, she is becoming more and more interested in the facts and circumstances of her joining our family as well as her life before.  Even when she was younger, we wanted her to feel connected to this place so we raised funds to put an Ethiopia Reads library in a school there.  When we went in 2011 on the first of what we hope are many trips to Ethiopia, the building was dedicated but the library was far from a reality.  Leyla was three years and enjoyed her time there but kept no memories.  So this was her first chance to make the connection we hoped for her.


When we asked our guide about going back to library and what arrangement had been made, he replied we would just stop by while in Bahir Dar.  Michael and I glanced at each other nervously; dropping by a school unannounced didn’t seem like a very good idea.  And we had made it clear this was an important visit for us.
But we said nothing and hoped for the best.We walked into the school entrance and immediately became the center of attention of throngs of school children.  The kids enthusiastically directed us to another area in the back of the school. A number of them then followed us, bounding with energy as we walked there.  Laughter and silliness filled the air as many pairs of bright brown eyes watched our progress intently.

We found the school administrator in a small room.  He was leading a meeting with a large number of the teaching staff.  Our guide gave him a brief explanation for our appearance.  The school principal in turn introduced our family to his teachers.  It was so inspiring to see a room full of educators that likely would have taught Leyla had she remained.  They called out greetings to us for a moment and then, all but one, turned their attention back to the meeting.

A lovely older woman teacher was tasked with showing us the library.  We didn’t know what to expect.  Three years had passed. We knew it was possible the library had not been maintained.  Where there are bigger priorities, sometimes libraries become victim to neglect.   We were thrilled to find a working library being used by kids and adults.  It was vibrant and alive; unlike the virtually empty space we saw previously. 

We saw the plague we had brought  dedicating the library sitting high on a book shelf as we entered.  I took it down to have closer look.  Reading the words again with the library now a reality and Leyla able to appreciate what meant for these kids was a moving experience. 

This library is for the children of Bahir Dar,
birthplace of Leyla Marie Fasika
beloved daughter of Ellenore and Michael Angelidis
cherished sister of Dimitri and Damian Angelidis

"Once you learn to read, you will be forever free"
                                                  Frederick H. Douglas


Having Leyla proudly hold it up closed a special loop.  Now this was truly her library too.

Dimitri, our eldest at 17, sat down and read a book with Leyla, cheek to cheek, while Damian, 13, was behind the camera, snapping memories as our official trip photographer.  Looking at the three siblings together, in her country, at her birthplace; big brothers joining their little sister on her unique journey, was beyond priceless.  Their love for her is so huge!

The teacher with us made a passionate plea for more books and an extension of the library building which was serving close to 2,000 children and simply could not accommodate all of them well.  I sensed a steely determination to help her students as she pressed on. Opportunities like meeting us don’t come often she explained.  The need is everywhere but so is the joy and opportunity I see etched in the bright eager faces of the kids who engaged with us at every turn and of their terrific advocates and teachers.

Meeting the children in person is truly one of the great joys for me. Kids overcome language and culture so naturally as if it's no barrier at all. Their openness and joy is inspiring.  They are the future and were grabbing on to the opportunities in front of them to learn with both hands. Their smiles were sunshine in this land know for 13 months of it.

As we were walking out, the school principle enthusiastically picked up Leyla and held her aloft. And he introduced her to the students surrounding him as the reason they have a library and as one of their own, since they shared a birthplace.  I think she might have preferred to be a little less the center of attention in that moment, like when she found a quiet place to read a new book a bit earlier.  But she smiled good-naturedly as the kids cheered.  But I also saw a sense of quiet pride and belonging pass over her beautiful face at this unexpected and unequivocal welcome into the community where she began her life.

Waiting for our driver on the busy sidewalk, we saw a familiar face, impeccably dressed in suit.  He was one of the administrators who welcomed us on our last visit . Our guide told us he wanted to tell us something before we departed and then translated for him.  What he said to us filled my eyes with grateful tears,

"Thank you.  You kept your promises.” 

So many of our friends, colleagues and great people we met in person or virtually on our amazing journey made it possible to keep these promises.  So we extend this heartfelt "Thank You!" to you too!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Happy Sixth Birthday to My Big Little Girl! I Have So Many Wishes for You, My Daughter!

My only girl is growing up too fast – cliche I know, but still so true.  She continues to humble me in countless ways. She joined us through circumstances that defy adequate explanation and are, at times, painful to examine too closely.   She brought with her into our family a zest and joy that is beyond what I could imagine. She is beginning to understand more and now asks me questions I don’t know how to answer, piercing me with her black orbs that don’t ever seem to blink. 

In how she approaches life, she models many behaviors I see as the best of us.  She inspires me.  I have so many wishes for her on this special day, it is hard to know where to begin.   But here goes, I wish for you my baby girl (who I know doesn’t really want to be called a baby any more but humors this mama):

May you always keep your sense of inclusion.  If I could bottle how you openly and without judgment approach everyone around you, the world would see less misunderstanding and hate.

May your sense of what is fair and right continue to guide you to stand up when you see injustice or someone who needs your support or just one of your light-up-any room smiles. 

May your inner “caregiver” continue to lead you to generously reach out to those around you in your life whether it be family, four-legged creatures or new friends.  You have the gift of saying or doing just the right thing at just the right moment to make people feel cherished.  

May you continue to ask the tough questions unflinchingly and push until you receive adequate answers.  Those questions lead to healthy discussions, progress and sometimes even solutions. 

May you never lose the ability to see the humor in any situation and to use your intellect and wit to make even the toughest person smile at your disarming charm.  

May you grow in your own understanding of how complex and beautiful you are – in every way. 

Each year gives me so many amazing opportunities to see you blossoming into your huge personality  and endless potential.  Watching you celebrate this day with family so joyously, or listening to you belt out the words to Frozen and Lion King on our roof top with abandon as I type, takes my breath away.  

Happy Birthday Leyla Marie Fasika!  You are now six and so sensational! 

Sunday, March 9, 2014

How Will They Know I am Ethiopian?

We are planning our second trip back to Ethiopia since bringing our daughter home in 2008.  She is almost six and giddy with excitement.  She identifies strongly with her birth country.  She has been known to ask, “Do you know why I am special?”   I will respond, “No, why?” although I know perfectly well the reason she will give. She then answers proudly, “BECAUSE I AM ETHIOPIAN!!”  I can tell if she likes someone we meet.  In those instances, she will tug on my arm and ask me to bend down.  Then she will whisper in my ear, “Tell them where I came from . .tell them I am from Ethiopia.”  She prefers to use me as the messenger of this special news if the person is not familiar.  Then if she gets a suitable response, she will take it from there.

For a while, she thought anyone with a similar skin tone and hair as hers was from her East African nation.  If we saw someone with brown skin and black curly hair, she would tell me, “They are from Ethiopia too." In some cases she was right, in others the person was from Kenya, Somalia or the United States.  I had to explain that people from a number of countries have skin similar to hers.  She has also recently starting to ask some more difficult questions.  Since she came home as an infant, her first language is English although she is also learning French at her International School.  When we discussed going back to her birthplace, she quickly identified a problem, “But I can’t talk to them because I don’t speak Ethiopian.”  I then clarified that Ethiopia has quite a number of languages but none called “Ethiopian”.  I also explained to her people can interpret for us and she could learn Amharic (the language spoken where she was born) if she wants to.  She nodded vigorously with a broad smile.

Another day, we were in the kitchen cooking and discussing different parts of our trip.  Cooking with my kids seems to open up windows to the most amazing dialogues.  Leyla was wearing one of her favorite outfits.  All of a sudden she got an extremely concerned look on her face.  She asked with an equally anxious tone, “Mommy, how will they know I am Ethiopian if I dress like this.”  And she motioned down her dress to her leggings and shoes.  I had to hold back my laughter because her face was deadly serious with tears threatening in her huge black eyes.  I said, “Oh honey, they will know you are Ethiopian by looking at your face.”  I was rewarded by a huge toothy grin and a return of the customary twinkles to those gigantic orbs. And she added, “It might be good to get me some Ethiopian clothes too.”  She is an opportunist among many other qualities.

Raising a child from a culture and a continent not my own is a huge responsibility and one I don’t take lightly. I am so grateful that she is open and that she embraces where she is from while also comfortably embracing where her father and I come from and where we all live now.  Pictures of our first trip and her three year old self still inspire and amaze me (photos taken by my son Damian).  I am also so grateful for all the people in our lives connected to Ethiopia who can keep her connected whether they be other adoptees of various ages, friends who immigrated to the United States or people with a love of Ethiopia that runs deep.   Our Ethiopian Ties continue to grow, deepen and ripple.
This journey back feels much different than our first because Leyla (pictured earlier in the year with an African carving we have everywhere we live as a reminder of where she comes from), and we as a family, understand so much more and because of that are expecting so much more.  I am sure Ethiopia won’t disappoint as we continue our lifelong journey to connect our daughter and our whole family with this amazing place.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Coming Together to Make the Impossible Possible -- AGAIN! Open Hearts Big Dreams 2013

Our Open Hearts Big Dreams event is a celebration of the power of education and the power of dreaming.  Neither would be possible for many kids in Ethiopia without the many open hearts that supported our efforts these past three years.  And it is an event that is put together and run almost entirely by volunteers.

Yadesa Bojia asked me, when he was starting his painting for this year, what was our vision for the event.  Yadesa planted the seed for this endeavor three years ago and has been a wonderful friend and supporter to make it a reality since then.  I mulled this over for a bit.  I then realized my vision is to bring people together to make something possible that wouldn’t be possible otherwise.  My husband, who is a lifelong educator, and I want to equalize educational opportunities in Ethiopia while celebrating the amazing culture and country of our daughter’s birth.
The results of our last two years were amazing and powerful; exceeding our ambitious aims.  We saw diverse individuals and companies with different backgrounds and cultures from all around the globe come together and open their hearts in support of kids who deserve to dream big dreams.  Seattle is the hub of these efforts but the spokes reach to all parts of the US from Tigist in New York to Astrid in California to my mom in Colorado to Carol in Illinois to Jennifer in Wisconsin to Cynthia in Maryland to Marc in Paris, Mimi in Indonesia, Ben in Dubai, Tom in China, Ken in Japan, Stas in Luxembourg, Scott in London, Vally in Greece, Ana in Spain, Signoretti Studios in Venice, Federico in Milan, Ethiopian Airlines and Yerra Solutions in Switzerland - -and the list of people and places with big hearts goes on and on and on -- the list and diversity increasing with each year.

Leyla spoke as part of the appeal this time.  She arrived just that day from our current home in France.  She was tired and jet lagged so I wasn’t sure if she would go through with it.  Although in the comforts of our house, she was confident and ready.  This year, she did not want me to script something for her as I did the previous one.  She knew what she wanted to say and rehearsed it with the family over and over, even pretending she was holding the microphone.  She also toyed with adding a French song she loves at the end. 
When it came her time to speak, she nestled her head into my neck and whispered in my ear, “I don’t think I remember.”  I whispered back some words of encouragement.  Although the French song was not to be that night, her words rang out clearly:
“Hello. My name is Leyla Marie Fasika Angelidis.  I come from Ethiopia.  And I do not think it is fair that some children do not get the chance to go to school.  Please help us build schools and libraries in Ethiopia so more children can go to school.  Thank you very much!”
It's NOT fair!
The inequality in opportunities truly is not fair.  And thanks to the efforts of many in the Seattle area and many more around the United States and from places as remote and diverse as Indonesia, Dubai, France, Spain, Luxembourg, Greece, Italy and Ethiopia, many more children will get the chance that Leyla and her brothers enjoy without thinking about it.   

Leyla also figured out another way to help through the bidding part of the auction -- slightly more dangerous for the family finances. 

This year we again saw new friends and old ones as well as friends of friends join us to amazingly exceed our goal of raising $90K to support on-going and new Ethiopia Reads programs.  

You will see just a few in the picture here which give you just a glimpse into the celebration of this rich culture and the sense of community rising to address a need and work to remedy an inequity.  Many guest expressed their awe and wonder at the beauty and power felt through that simple act.
And yes, we raised over $90,000 – double our first year results of $45K and four times our first year goal of $25K – impossible became possible –WOW! 

Each year I wonder if everything will again come together and somehow each time it does.  But the truth is it takes hours and hours of volunteer time and dedication by many as well as many generous donors and sponsors who give in so many ways. The auctioneer shared that Seattle is one of the most giving cities and that was certainly on display. 
These funds will change lives.  They will empower more donkey drawn mobile libraries for rural children with no access to books, vulnerable teenage girl runners will get an opportunity to coach and improve their future while helping others, and most importantly this will continue to support the foundation of sustainability of the schools and libraries already in existence. new is fun, exciting and easy to sell.  Tending, growing and sustaining is tougher. Its results more subtle and less glamorous but so very important if these efforts are to truly grow deep roots within the communities they support.  We want the investment to continue to grow and multiply rather be a one time act.  We want true change to occur which is a longer term effort

We appreciate everyone who came together with us on this eye opening journey.  Words are not adequate to express our deep gratitude.  And as we enter 2014, we look forward to setting new ambitious goals and asking people to come together again.    

This journey will not be complete until all children in Ethiopia have the same opportunities as those we are raising. This is truly a family affair for us.  Wishing much joy and laughter in 2014.  In the words of the incomparable Nelson Mandela who we bid a sad farewell to this year,  “It always seems impossible until its done.”

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Birthday, Happy Homecoming, Happy Thanksgiving 2013!

Another year passing makes me feel, down to my bones, the winds of change and time blowing faster and faster.  I see clearly the power of what is possible in 365 days.  And equally clearly how easily I can let those precious, fleeting opportunities slip through my fingers.  With my little daughter growing up quickly into a “fierce” young lady – unwilling to take cr*p from anyone but willing to lend hand to all, I see the power of the woman she will one day become.  I see the power in supporting the women, the girls around the world, should become.  There are girl heroes like Malala who inspire me to try to do more.  And girls, taken from us too soon, who leave my heart heavy wondering what they could have done – like Hana or Marra Freh -- yet amazed at their legacy for ones so young.
I also feel a growing weight of responsibility as a woman, a mother and a person who has benefited from many wonderful opportunities.  I want to raise my girl to be everything she can be while simultaneously helping her navigate the tricky waters she has ahead as a transracial, international adoptee.  Looking at her makes my heart melt – EVERY TIME.  When her black eyes gaze lovingly and says, “Mama” and her tinkling voice then tells me whatever is on her mind, she pierces my soul. And I can see her beautiful depth when I stare into her inky orbs as I tell her all the reasons she is special and why I love her with my whole being.  She is so strong when she stands up for what she believes in and yet so fragile when she is truly frightened. She is my warrior princess.  I see the vast possibilities of the next generation represented in her.   And so, I can envision a better world with more equality and opportunity through education and empowerment. 

I read an article about the key difference between kids who excel at math and those that don’t.  Surprisingly, it is that those who excel believe it can be learned; while those who don’t, believe it is an innate ability.  I want my daughter to believe everything can be learned and anything is possible.  As a grown woman, I still need to repeatedly, remind myself of both those things.  As the passage of another year brings reflection, I look back on the past five with my darling daughter and can hardly remember life before she joined our family.  Our eldest son made a similar remark recently.  Leyla is always annoyed to hear of happenings that pre-dated her arrival.  She too finds it hard to contemplate our family without her there.
Below are a few of my favorite pictures of us over the years.  Watch out world; this little one is going to make her mark!  And I will be supporting and cheering for her on, each step of whatever path she chooses. 

Happy Thanksgiving to all and Happy Homecoming to my beautiful daughter.  Coming home on the day of my birth five year ago made it  indescribably more special .  You changed me for the better in so many ways, and for that I am most thankful, my sweet, funny girl.


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Long Overdue Thank You Letter to My Yoga Teacher

My friend sent me a note recently letting me know that my favorite Yoga Studio, Terra Yoga, and a supporter of our event since year one, was going out of business.  I thought, “Surely, this can’t be.”  So I went on-line and confirmed to my great dismay that sadly it was true.  My instructor and the studio owner wrote a deep and thoughtful letter about her reasons and her journey to accept this loss and embrace a new and unexpected path.  To be honest, I haven’t been to the studio for years but for an occasional practice.  Life had a way of filling all the minutes.  And as a working mom, taking 2 hours on the weekend was very challenging. 

I learned of the studio when I first moved to Seattle alone with my two boys.  After battling cancer, I no longer wanted to work out at a gym. I wanted something richer and more fulfilling, a mind and body experience.  I started yoga while still in Chicago and enjoyed the relaxation of my mind which was battered with fear and doubts; it raced without abatement most days and I needed it to stop.  I also enjoyed the physical results on my body which needed gentle healing and to adjust to a new state.  The experience with Carina was at another level entirely.  I have taken her instruction with me.  She taught me some very important lessons I really needed to learn:
First, be kind to myself.  I demand much of my mind and body and am often disappointed in one or both.  Working to accept my limitations while still pushing myself to grow and learn was a revolutionary approach for me.
Second, my life is a journey.  The fact each class is studiously called a practice helps reinforce this message.  Everything I do or think or learn is part of my path.  Embracing the journey helps me to put many things in better perspective and allows me to enjoy and laugh where previously I may have pushed or despaired.

Third, it’s only about me.  I don’t need to compare myself to others, either in the class, or in life.  I find this one harder as I envy those whose practice allows them to do yogic feats that still elude me.  I also look at those in the world who left a positive mark of great significance and wish I could accomplish similar achievements.  But now, I make every effort to view those individuals as inspiration.
Fourth, shortcuts only cheat me.  In the early days, I wanted to do poses my body wasn’t ready for.  I would sacrifice form to achieve something that meant more to me at the time, the appearance of proficiency.  Now, I understand the importance of taking each step so I gain the learning through the development.

Fifth, my mind and body are fully connected.  The more I understand and respect this fact, the more peace I find in my life and in my relationships.  Once I accepted this basic connection, I began to see all the interconnectivity in the world including many connections I discussed here.
I remember those early days when the 90 minutes in Carina’s class was the only time where I could quiet my mind and just be.  Laying in the corpse pose at the end of class was a respite I desperately needed.  It was also a wonderful experience I could share with my kids, one of whom joined me on occasion for a class, and another for family yoga.  Now I can achieve a state of peace with focus in many places outside of the studio.  I also practice yoga most days with Carina’s voice, which is a most melodic, beautiful one, in my head.  I encourage the lessons I learned with my children and they all practice yoga with me, when the spirit moves them, too.  I also share the profound effect yoga had on my life with my friends and other family.  Apparently so often, my teenage son laughingly told me, “No matter what the problem, Mom, your answer is always ‘Yoga.’” 

I owe a huge debt of gratitude I don’t know how I adequately begin to repay. And I regret it took this dramatic turn of events for me to take the time to start.

 Thank you, Carina for putting me on a better path with your patience, your teaching and your example.  Thank you for helping me heal and experience peace and joy I was missing.  Thank you for supporting our efforts in Ethiopia even when I was no longer attending your classes regularly; it means more than you know.  And thank you for sharing your most recent struggle and learning as you begin this next phase of your journey.  I needed that reminder very much at the time I read your letter.  So I wish you all the best and look forward to hearing more.  And I hope to practice with you again soon or see you at our next event in December – or better yet, BOTH!