the gift of presence: how to make a kid feel loved

Proof that physical presence is one of the most important ways to express love to a child: this entry I came across in my Uganda journal.

August 18th, 2014

Tonight at bedtime Macy (6 years old) prayed, “thank you for Tyra and Sophie- that they love us so much that they wanted to come to Uganda with us to help with the adoption.”

She knew we were loved by their presence with us. There’s something to that, I think.

Amen.

Sophie and Tyra sneak in some quality time with the kids before bed time in Uganda. These ladies are such a gift to us.

things i will miss.

I’m super excited to go home. It’s becoming more real that very soon I will get to see the people I love face to face and be able to enjoy the comfort of my home and community. I can’t wait! But, as I mentioned in a previous post, it is a bittersweet thing to leave and there is a weight that comes with these last few days here and all there is to process about our trip so far. Though my excitement outweighs the sadness, tonight I’m reflecting on a few things I will miss most about our life in Uganda. They are (in no particular order):

-Our laundry line. What started out as a major stressor (no laundry for the first 2 weeks of our trip) has turned into some of my sweetest moments here. Hanging laundry out on the line in the early morning sun, hearing the chatter of people walking by on the street below and the roosters crowing nearby. The sight of cows grazing, children playing, and birds and trees dancing in the breeze. Huge white clouds moving slowly by, the orangey-brown of the road and my back patio juxtaposed against the brilliant blue of the sky and the lush green that covers everything else… Laundry has not just been a chore here, it’s been a discipline that has taught me to move slowly and pay attention to the beauty that is often hidden by the ordinary.

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-Walking. To pick up fresh fruits and veggies for dinner. To the local bakery for a treat with the kids. To favorite restaurants, birthday celebrations, wifi hotspots, the pool, or our neighbors home. Traveling by foot has felt good, has slowed us down, and has opened up opportunity for more conversation and a deeper knowledge of one-another. It’s also given us some great stories and memories (ask us about the time we walked home in the dark from Let’s Do Coffee with Batman himself).

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-The international community. My life, and the lives of my children are enriched and enlivened by the stories of those we have met on this journey. People from all over the world, here for all different reasons, bringing their culture, language, food, style, and spirituality with them. They are people of passion and determination. Many of them have chosen to make sacrifices to live in Uganda and to serve the people and the country. I never imagined Kampala to be a place of such international community. The diversity of people was a huge and welcomed surprise.

-Being ever-present with my kids. As a working mom, I don’t often get the opportunity to pass weeks at a time with my children. These weeks, though they have been insanely full and unordinary, have given me the opportunity to connect with my 4 kids in ways I don’t get to at home. Some of the key moments I’ll treasure and miss- “school” time on weekday afternoons with Macy and Owen at the dining room table. Laying in bed with Macy and Owen, talking about their highlights of the day and then telling them stories of the adventures of the Wiglud family (who needs to worry about efficiency at bedtime when there’s no school or work the next day?). Pouring buckets of soapy water all over the back patio and playing, I mean, “mopping” it all up. Holding little hands while walking (slowly) to whatever destination we are headed towards and talking about whatever musings currently occupy those young (and very active) minds. Always being present as the first responder- for every need, big and small (“I can’t find my xxx,” “I need help wiping,” “(Sibling name) won’t share the (item of desire),” “I’m hungry,” “(Loud, high pitched screaming sound)”  “Can I have a treat?” “Will you play with me?” “Can you read me this story?” “(Crying, crying, and more crying)”). Being challenged to pick up soccer games with Macy and Owen (inside AND outside the house), and legitimately having to try not to lose. Slow breakfasts with the whole family around the table. Walks to pick flowers for the dining table.

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These moments and memories are seared deep in my core and are carried with me as I head home. I am hopeful that they will be assimilated into the way I live and how I parent moving forward.

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“And this is the great paradox of Africa: the beauty and the messiness all co-existing together.” -Shelley Homeyer

Maybe that’s why I found it refreshing. It coexists. There’s no concealing of one or the other and one is not diminished by the other’s presence. Both exist in abundance. Where I live we avoid the messy (certainly the appearance of it) and we struggle to embrace both because we are afraid that the messy and painful will take away from the beauty and goodness. I’m learning that the ability to look both square in the eye and live fully-present among them is possible and actually very freeing.

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Celebrated our last night here with this family that has literally held us together for the last 7 weeks. They have helped us get settled, provided meals, driven us on errands, introduced us to friends, tagged along with us on outings (and included us in their own outings), been our photographers, printers, conversation partners, and encouragers.

We have celebrated 6 birthdays together between our families in the last 7 weeks and have seen each other through more transitional times in the lives of our families than is normal in such a short period of time. This family has challenged our idea about what it means to be a neighbor. We could not have made it without them. Thank you Homeyers.

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At Samurai sushi on Ggaba Rd. If you are ever in town, go there. You’ll be glad you did.

the grand finale

When the first 10 minutes of our road trip to the twins’ village included me getting pooped on by a child AND a member of our car throwing up, I wondered if perhaps we had undertaken a little too much adventure. It was our last day in country after-all. Should we stay home and relax? Start packing perhaps? Were we really up for this?

I had known all along that this day was important. From the get go, I had asked our agency if it would be possible to make a trip to the kids’ birthplace, to meet some friends and family, and to try and capture as much of their story on film and in word as possible. I knew there would be a day when, as the kids grew, they would wonder about who they are and where they came from, and I wanted to have good answers. I wanted my kids to know the larger story they tie in to, and I wanted our whole family to experience part of the twins’ story together. So, because we had to wait until after the embassy process was complete, and because we finished that process just 2 days before leaving for “home,” today was our one shot.

The drive out to the village was, of course, beautiful. I still can’t get enough of the Ugandan countryside and all of its beauty. I can stare at it for hours out the window and never lose interest. We made fairly good time and were soon driving down a narrow dirt road to a simple brick home. We pulled up and out of the house bounded the most joyful and genuine welcome I’ve received. I will never forget it. One woman, Nalongo they call her, was jumping up and down waving and clapping her hands, singing and laughing. When I stepped out of the car she embraced me several times, staring deep into my eyes, expressing gratitude and love. Home.

Everyone was glad to see the twins. They all wanted to hold and kiss them, which the kids obviously were not thrilled about. No one could believe how much healthier they looked. It was a true celebration. The love also extended towards Macy and Owen and they were troopers like always- offering hugs, handshakes and photo op’s to everyone who asked (Macy at one point changed her hairstyle because she thought that’s why people were staring at her. She then realized it was her white hair and skin that was attracting the attention, not her ponytail).

We proceeded inside the home for some story-telling time. We heard stories about how the family came to live in that area, how the kids’ mom and dad met, the story of the twins’ birth and the significance of each of their names. It was a sweet time.

After stories were told it was announced that they had made us a meal to share and out from the back of the house came pots of chicken, beef, rice, and matoke. They had even gone out of their way to purchase bottled waters for us all to drink. It was the most extravagant and generous meal that has ever been set before me I’m sure. The sacrifice that went in to getting and making the food was evident and appreciated. It was a gesture of true gratitude.

At the conclusion of lunch, Simon, the children’s father, asked to “bless” the children before they left. What proceeded to follow was probably my highlight of the whole trip so far. Friends and family of the twins crammed into the front room, everyone extending a hand of blessing on or towards the kids. Simon spoke bravely and eloquently, surrendering his children and asking for God’s protection over and presence with them as they go. When he said, “amen” the place erupted in song as people celebrated God’s provision for the twin’s. We concluded by singing the twin’s favorite song all together (their faces, the people, the weight of the moment… too much to put to words).

After some sibling play time, a little sibling gift giving (from Macy and Owen to the older bio siblings of Cora and Elias), and a few more photos, it was time for us to load up again and head home.

I’m so thankful we got the chance to spend some time in Cora and Elias’ village with the people who have been important in their lives so far. It is clear that they are so loved. So much so that their dad has bravely decided that it is in their best interest to be placed in our care, as hard as that may be. After the visit today, I feel a new weight and privilege as I get to parent these two children going forward. They are the children of a mom and dad who had great hopes and dreams for their kids and great love, too. Dave and I get to continue to build off that solid foundation they have built and we will be sure the kids know just how loved they are- by their family in Uganda, and by their family in the US. In many ways, this adoption is more of an “expansion” of our family than it is a simple addition of two new members into our existing unit. Our family is expanding into new countries and cultures. The people we met today are now a very important part of our story and I hope they will continue to be. I’m already scheming ways to make that so.

Earlier this week I used the hashtags #gobigorgohome #gobigANDgohome. I think with today’s adventure we have done just that. It was a big day and I now feel armed with some important pieces of knowledge about my children’s past that I did not previously have, and not just a knowledge, but an experience of it’s beauty and richness that will be forever treasured (by all of us). Now, I think, we are ready. Home we go. #stillsomanyblogstowrite #somanyblogssolittletime

our final days: from adoption process to internal process

These last few days in Uganda are weighty for sure. It’s a different kind of weight than we have experienced so far. This is not a weight of a cumbersome and paralyzing adoption process, this weight comes from so many different emotions to take in and pay attention to now that the burden of the adoption process has been lifted and I can actually begin to internally process all that has gone on these last 9 weeks. It’s the weight of another season and chapter (and adventure) closing, and my desire not to just let it pass quickly by.

Here are a few noteworthy things about our final days that are occupying my mental space tonight:

Today was the twins’ birthday and that alone was a pretty fantastic way to end the trip. Cora loves the Happy Birthday song. She tried to sing it several times today, clapping her hands in joy, and delighting in her accomplishement of getting us to sing along every time. The crowning moment of the day came after dinner when the cupcakes came out and we sang (once more) “happy birthday” to Cora and Elias. You could see in their little eyes and faces the joy of being loved and celebrated. They felt special and in that very moment, all the stress and frustration and weariness of the last 2 years mattered no more. They are home. They are taken care of. They know it, and they love it. Something about that is just so right.

We also picked up the kids’ Visas today. More reason to celebrate. We are now officially able to leave the country WITH the kids. Our homecoming is now an actuality and is coming soon! We also ended up in the embassy waiting room with two of the other adoptive families we met while being here. The camaraderie and mutual joy was palpable. It was as if we had all fought a common battle together and though  we hardly know anything of each other, we have deep connections based on what we have survived. Not many words are needed to bring comfort when you are able to look in the eyes of someone who knows the reality you have faced/or are facing and who stands in it with you. It was a sweet way to end our in-country process for sure.

We are also starting to say goodbye to some of our new Ugandan friends which is a strange thing when you don’t know if or when your paths will cross again. I’m sure our family will return here again, and I hope there is a way to stay in touch with these people who are dear to us already. To think that some of the faces who have been present in this last season will not continue to be present is very odd, especially given that it has been such a significant and challenging season for us as a family. And to think we are going home to those who know and love us most but who have not been able to be here physically with us and who haven’t seen and experienced life here and this transition with us is also weird. I can’t think of too many other times in life where this happens.

On deck for tomorrow: traveling to the village the twins were born in to meet some family/friends, take some photos and capture some memories that the kids can have as they get older. It’s a long car ride, and it feels like a big undertaking the day before we fly home, but I know it’s one of the most important things we can do and that it will really mean a lot to Cora and Elias one day. Plus, I kind of like an adventure, and this seems like a pretty good one. I can’t wait to meet people who knew them at birth (I’m sure they will be surprised at the health and growth of the kids) and who knew their mom. I can’t wait to hear stories about the family, how their parents met, and to see the faces of their older siblings. I know this will also be really, really hard.