These photos were taken just two or three days after we got home from Ethiopia. Brian's Mom was still in town, and I wanted to capture us all as a family during our first days home together. Wow, looking back on that first week, I remember what a haze of jet lag I was operating in. That random hairdo I have goin' on was all I could do to keep my hair out of my face, and I was just feeling good about getting makeup on for the photo! :) Many thanks to my sister for being our photographer!
Even though this pic was only taken three weeks ago, it seems in looking at it now that we were all still getting to know each other. I know that we still are now, but it feels like we've made such progress!
Actually, these photos were taken the day before he turned five months old, but I couldn't resist him in this crisp white shirt!
My sister told me she thinks this one looks like a school picture:
And just for fun, I thought I'd throw in this one of Zachary wearing his "World's Cutest Baby Boy" pajamas. I know every mother in the world is entitled to think her baby is the cutest ever, and this Mama is no exception! I love my baby boy!
Wow, in just six days, we will have been together as a family for a month! This month with you has been one of adjustments--getting to know each other, figuring out bath time and nap time and bed time, seeing your personalities emerge each day as you grow more comfortable with us.
Jeremy, since you're almost 2 years old, it has been fun to see YOU show yourself to us more and more. You're such a delight, lots of fun, and very affectionate. One of my favorite moments of our first month together happened earlier this week when I was at the kitchen sink doing dishes, and you just ran over to me and threw your arms around my legs and gave me a big hug. It was one of the first times you initiated affection with me, and it sure made my heart swell with joy!
Zachary, one of my favorite memories of you happened about two weeks into our life together. You just looked up at me one day, and it was as if you recognized me and were saying, "Oh, it's you! You're still here! You must be my Mama!" You are such a wonderful baby--so sweet and full of smiles. You coo and squeal with glee. Your Dad has nicknamed you "Little Squeeker" because of the cute noises you make and "Peeper" because you have such an alert and attentive gaze.
Last night, after you were both fast asleep, I had an ice cream craving, so Dad stayed home with you, while I ran out to the grocery store to buy a carton of Moose Tracks ice cream. On my way to the store, I saw a spectacular harvest moon! When I was in college, I played Miss Rowena Douglas in a play called "The Midnight Caller", and I had a line that I said in a southern accent, "Just look at that harvest moon." It's become something of a joke/tradition between my mother and me that whenever we see a beautiful full moon, that we'll call or text the other to make sure that we look at the harvest moon. So, when I got to the store, I texted my Mom a message that read, "Two words: HARVEST MOON!"
There is actually only one true harvest moon a year. It's the first full moon of the autumn, and it really was the true harvest moon last night!
I love the special traditions that have emerged within my family growing up and even in adulthood. Some of them are as simple as a phone call or a text message acknowledging a full moon. Others are more involved.
I guess I just wanted to acknowledge our first harvest moon together. And to tell you that I love you both very much! I look forward to the traditions that will grow between us in the years to come, my dear boys!
Jeremy has really been letting us see more and more of his wonderful personality each day, and he is such a sweetheart. Yesterday and today, he ran into the kitchen and threw his arms around my leg to give me a big hug just because! And he LOVES holding his baby brother on his lap!
He also gives him kisses.
And if you'd like to see the live action version, here's a video:
After a brief night's sleep in Dubai, we boarded our airplane and began the 16 hour flight to Houston. It was loooooooooooooooooooong. At least my baby got to fly in style! Emirates Airlines has bassinets available for families traveling with babies. We loved flying Emirates!
The boys did really well on the flight. We were exhausted by the time we reached Houston. One of the flight attendants was so excited for our boys' homecoming that she and another flight attendant lent their hats to our mothers for a photo op when we had landed!
It felt great to be back in Houston!
We made it through passport control, and then Brian and I and the boys had to go through immigration. That's when things got rough. There were about 30 people waiting for their visas to be processed when we walked in the room. It took over an hour for them to get to us. Normally, waiting that time wouldn't have been so bad, but given that we had been traveling for such a long time on very little sleep, I hit a proverbial wall, and I couldn't hold it together anymore. It was a level of exhaustion that I had never experienced before, and I just sat there sobbing, holding my baby as I was dealing with nausea from the exhaustion, waiting for them to get to us. It wasn't pretty. Brian was holding Jeremy, who suddenly got a bloody nose (altitude change, maybe?). Poor Brian yelled, "Does somebody have some tissue? My son has a bloody nose!" Not long after that, we got our visas and were on our way.
I was soooooooo happy to finally walk out through the big doors and see my sweet sister, who had been waiting there for almost three hours!
My friend Cissy was also there waiting to meet us with balloons, ice cold bottles of water, and her big SUV to load up our luggage. Thank you, C!
I changed clothes to feel a little fresher, because there was a wonderful group of friends waiting for us at our house to welcome us home! They were so awesome--they had balloons, American flags, groceries, and two huge chocolate chip cookie cakes, which we feasted on for days!!!!
After our friends left, we went inside and Aunt Jilly got to love on little Zachary.
We showed the boys around the house and introduced them to their new room.
It was great to be home! I had hit a point with the exhaustion that I had to go bed, so I did just that...and slept for 19 hours! Thankfully, Brian and both of our moms were here to care for the boys while this Mama caught up on some much needed sleep!
Throughout the adoption process, there was one event that I knew would likely happen, and I simply had no idea how to prepare for it: meeting my childrens' b1rthm0ther. One of the great things about adopting through Gladney's Ethiopia program is that if a birth family member is still living, a meeting arranged for that birth family member and the adoptive family to meet each other. It provides an opportunity for (in our case) the boys' b1rthm0ther to get some of the closure she needs--a chance to meet us, to ask us any questions she wants, an opportunity to say her goodbyes. And of course, it was also the one opportunity we had to meet her, gather information from her and about her that the boys might want to know one day, and to take some photos of her for the boys.
I wish I could show you her photograph here, but to protect her privacy, we've chosen not to do that. I will say that she is an absolutely beautiful woman who clearly loves her sons, and I respect her so very much.
The meeting took place at Gladney's offices, not far from our hotel. A social worker met Brian and me and the boys, and got us settled in a conference room, and said that the b1rthm0ther (whom I will call "N") was waiting at a cafe, and she would return with her shortly. I thought it would require a car ride to go pick her up, but apparently the cafe was in Gladney's office compound, because the two of them entered the room only a minute or two later.
Brian and I stood to greet her, each of us holding one of the boys in our arms. "N" walked right up to the boys and kissed each of them on the hand. We exchanged three kisses with her, as is the custom in Ethiopia, and we all sat down around the table. She spent time holding each of the boys during the meeting as we talked.
Travis and Joanna (Gladney staff) gave us some great advice about how to approach the meeting. We were so glad that we talked to them and took their advice! They counseled us to remember that this is very likely the one and only opportunity we would have to meet "N" and to ask her whatever questions we have for her. They said that it was not the time to beat around the bush--that Ethiopia is a straightforward culture and the questions should be asked directly.
Brian and I made a list of questions we wanted to ask her, including some that we were nervous about asking. But I will say that our honest questions got honest answers, and I'm so glad that we asked everything we did! Brian took notes during the entire meeting, so we have the information for the boys. (Also, we knew that emotions would be running so high during the meeting that if we didn't write it down, we would forget everything.) We asked her permission to video tape our meeting, but she said she didn't feel comfortable with that, but that photographs were fine.
After about thirty minutes or so of talking with her, we brought in our mothers, so that they could meet her and she could meet the grandmothers of her sons. We took photos of each individual boy with "N", one of "N" and me (Tracy) and both boys, then Brian jumped into the group, and then the social worker took a photo of all of us together, including the grandmothers.
After our quick photo session, the grandmothers said good-bye. (Brian's mother was so sweet and told "N" that she and my mom would help take care of them.) We asked "N" if she had any other questions for us, and she said "no", and then we said goodbye. I'm not going to lie. I held it together pretty well during our meeting, but as soon as Brian and I walked out of the building with the boys, I burst into tears. It was just so sad. My heart goes out to "N", and I think of her often. I hope she has peace in her heart knowing her boys are loved by us. She knows that we will be sending an annual letter to Gladney Ethiopia with photos of the boys (that she will have access to), so she can see them as they grow through the years.
I'm so glad we got to meet "N", so glad we got some information from her for the boys, and so glad we have some photos of her to show them.
Once I had regained my composure, we met with Belay. He is the head of Gladney in Ethiopia. He gave us the boys' passports, visas, original birth certificates and vaccination records, and we had everything we needed to bring the boys home!
While our moms went out and did a little bit of souvenir shopping...
...Brian and I and the boys went back to our guest house to get everything packed up for our journey home!
In the midst of our packing, I noticed that (without any coaxing) Jeremy was trying to feed Zachary his bottle. He's a very sweet big brother. When he hears the baby cry, he makes sure I know.
Just before we left, we discovered that our guest house has a rooftop with an amazing view, so we took a family picture!
Here's one with "Uncle Soli"!
Then we packed up the van and headed to the airport. We passed the beautiful Holy Savior Orthodox Church on the way.
And then we arrived at the airport:
Jeremy kissed Solomon goodbye. The rest of us said goodbye to our dear Solomon with tears in our eyes. He is such a sweet guy who we all just adore!
Once we got our bags checked and through security, my mom had fun entertaining Jeremy in a baggage cart!
We got to fly with another Gladney family from Addis Ababa to Dubai!
We even were seated on the same row, so that made the flight go by fast!
Once we arrived in Dubai, we went straight to our hotel room (we stayed at the hotel inside the airport again...best decision we could have made!), got showered and fell into bed for a whole four hours. Here's our little baby all freshly bathed and ready for bed!
Morning came waaaaaaaaaay too soon, but we had a flight to catch. Home was within our reach....
One of our favorite memories from our first trip to Ethiopia in late July/early August was the drive we took from the city of Addis Ababa out through the Oromia countryside to the Adaddi Mariam Church. We loved it so much that we decided to do the drive again, this time with our mothers! (Note to traveling families: we can't recommend this drive enough! It is BEAUTIFUL and the sights you see are so gorgeous and so worth the drive!!!
Leaving the city, we saw this roadside "stand" outside of an Orthodox church where colorful umbrellas used for religious ceremonies were being sold.
And after weaving through city traffic for a while, we suddenly found ourselves HERE, breathing fresh air and wondering if we were actually in Ireland:
Here we are with our wonderful driver, Solomon. We love "Soli"!
It was so cool to see the Acacia trees that are such a symbol of Africa!
We got to see the Awash River, which is also called "The Blue Nile" in some parts of Ethiopia!
And let's not forget the beautiful faces of the children we saw along the drive!
We saw these thatched roof houses:
Lovely flowers on a fence:
And it's not a ride out to the country without seeing one of these:
After about an hour or so of driving, we came to this sign and turned right for a seven mile drive down a country dirt road that ends at the church. This time, though, we didn't make it to the church because our van got stuck in the mud. Thankfully, some men came to our rescue and helped us out, but we all decided it was better to turn around and head back to town rather than risk more muddy mishaps. We were okay with not seeing the church. It is cool to see and has an amazing story and history, but for us it the beautiful drive that was the real gem of the journey.
As we came back into the city, we stopped at the Alert Hospital, where beautiful hand woven and hand embroidered goods are made. This man was weaving yards and yards of fabric on his loom. If you go to Addis, I highly recommend stopping at the Alert Hospital gift shop, where they sell these beautiful woven/embroidered goods, and all the funds go back to the people who made them!
In my opinion, the drive to Adaddi Mariam is at the top of my list of "recommended to dos" while in Ethiopia! We enjoyed it both times! In case you're wondering where the boys were on this day, a Gladney care giver came to our guest house and watched them for us. She was so sweet, and the boys did great with her!
January 2009 - We saw Slumdog Millionaire, and God really began to stir our hearts about international adoption.
February 2009 - We had serious conversations and prayer about adopting from Ethiopia.
March 2009 - We had our phone orientation with Gladney (our adoption agency), decided to adopt from Ethiopia, and sent away for our application.
April 2009 - We submitted our application to Gladney, and began the paper chase!
May 2009 - We had our doctor appointments, continued the paper chase, and had our homestudy visit.
June 2009 - We submitted our last item of required paperwork to accompany our application to Gladney. Our homestudy report was completed and submitted to Gladney. On June 30th, our second anniversary, we received word from Gladney that we were fully approved to be an adoptive family through the Gladney Center, and that they sent our homestudy to CIS.
July 2009 - We received our "invitation" from CIS to come for fingerprinting. We were fingerprinted on July 18, 2009.
September 2009 - Our CIS approval notice arrived in the mail. Dossier completed and sent off on September 8. Placed on Gladney's wait list on September 8.
May 2010 - We received our referral for two boys--brothers--on May 24. The older is 19 months old. The younger is 1 month old.
July 2010 - We passed phase one of the court process on July 19th.
August 2010 - We traveled to Addis Ababa to meet the boys, go to court, legally become their parents, sight see a bit, and return home for three weeks. We returned to Ethiopia on August 30th, when they were placed forever in our arms! We are a family of four!
October 2010 - We received the boys' Certificates of Citizenship in the Mail from CIS!
November 2010 - We completed the Recognition of Foreign Adoption Decree process here in Texas, and received the boys' original birth certificates issued by the state of Texas!