Our Debut as a Family of Five

On the brink of our tenth month home with our three kids from Ethiopia, we stepped out into the world.

I would describe our time together since May 15th of last year as a season of hibernation. And although I didn’t exactly plan it that way, there have been so many benefits of bringing home foreign adopted children to a small, quiet, slow town. We’ve been able to ease our kids into American culture, and into our family life, in a beautifully gentle way. Everyone has gotten comfortable with each other, with expectations, with roles. No long commutes to interfere with family life. The kids have had time to invest in friendships, to work on their language skills, to find their place. So when my husband planned to attend the annual GDC conference in San Francisco, and his parents offered to bring the rest of the family down to visit with them and aunt Kelly during that week, we jumped at the chance. And I have to say the timing was perfect!

We’d hit a comfortable place in our family routines…I think everyone was feeling safe and familiar. And when I began to plan for packing and taking our three kids on our first flight since Ethiopia last May, and for their first time out in the world really since coming home, I became overwhelmed with pride. I really am smitten with my kids. I think they are so brave and funny and smart and they’ve worked so hard to find their way and to learn how to communicate. I enjoy them, and I realized I couldn’t wait to share them with the world.

By the way, that was a great moment. Kind of like the first time I missed them. I spent so much time being overwhelmed by the kids in our first few months home that when I finally got a chance to be away from them for a half a day, I was delighted to find myself looking forward to seeing them again. I mean I could have just as easily felt like fleeing and never looking back, right? The fact that I felt the opposite was a good sign.  So it was when I realized I was excited to share my family with the outside world…a nice moment that revealed a heart truth.

I wouldn’t trade that trip for the world, but here’s the truth. My role on the trip to San Francisco? Sweaty Mom. Seriously, toting three young children around a city as busy as San Francisco is an incredible workout. Watching the boys do the splits at the top of the escalator while commuters mobbed up behind them in frustration. Sitting in tight quarters on a cable car with my toddler in my lap and the folded-up umbrella stroller between my knees…the wheels of which were within reach for her to LICK. which she did. after they’d been all over the public streets of San Francisco. I can barely stand to think of it. (But I do feel better having now confessed it.) Or how about when I got my loaded-for-all-kid-emergencies backpack, the umbrella stroller and three kids off the bus many blocks too early (oops) for the Academy of Sciences and then as we walked through a neighborhood trying to figure out how to resolve the problem, Melkam decided he needed to go to the bathroom NOW. Residential neighborhood. not even a cafe in sight. Guess who took pity on us and let him into her apartment to use the loo? Another mom of similar-aged kids just returning from the park who overheard him begging me to find him a toilet. Thank God for other moms. I’d be lost.

I stripped my children of any innocence they might have retained when I BARTed over to Oakland to visit the zoo. Welcome to African American culture, children. That’s how they would see it since it is thus far their only exposure to any significant crowd of people of color. You know what they will remember about that trip to the zoo? The crazy young black mom with a 2-year-old in her stroller who went ape $*!# on one of her brethren over the broken elevator in the BART station. Her X-rated diatribe went on and on; she left no four-letter stone unturned and even chased the guy around with a carton of milk from her grocery bag threatening to dump it on him since her verbal chastising seemed not, in her opinion, to belittle him enough. Unfortunately after ten or fifteen minutes of that, she left him behind, crossed the street to where we stood waiting for the zoo bus, and proceeded to call a girlfriend and recount the whole story (her slightly biased version) complete with all the profanity yet again. Eventually there was some sort of assault and the police were called. It was a great opportunity to remind the children how NOT to behave. No matter how mad you are.

The best part of this particular story is when Alex, my seven-year-old, who could barely believe what he was seeing (I kept answering their questions with “She’s just having a really bad day.” and “Don’t repeat anything that’s coming out of her mouth, ever.”) said slowly, “I am SO GLAD she is not my mommy.”

Lest you think I’m just a big whiner, I’ll move on from the challenging parts and share that San Francisco has amazing things for kids and I’m so glad we got to experience some of them. The Exploratorium was my favorite. Hands-on science demonstrations with a million buttons to push, moving parts to touch, and miraculous things to see. And if you didn’t know, admission is free the first Wednesday of every month and even though that meant it was packed, my kids never had to wait in line and there was always an exhibit free to play with. It’s an awesome awesome place.

The Academy of Sciences, which we did eventually make it too after a couple of snack and rest breaks and a GREAT DEAL of complaining, is absolutely beautiful. The aquariums, the white crocodile, the tropical rainforest with all the butterflies and birds. It was stunning.

Charles got to take the boys to Alcatraz on our last day there (a long tour which starts and ends with a beautiful boat ride out on the bay to the island). And throughout the week the kids got to spend time and go on shorter outings with their Grammy and Poppy, who introduced them to the cable car, the buses, Chinatown, Fisherman’s Wharf, Poppy-sized ice cream sundaes while a man with a waxed moustache serenaded them with “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” and other treasures of life in this beautiful city. The kids saw the sea lions at Pier 39, ate clam chowder out of sourdough bread bowls, tasted authentic Chinese food, and got to eat out at Cafe Colucci, the awesome Ethiopian restaurant in Oakland.

It was, as always, a visual feast and an inspiration of energy and ideas. It blew the kids minds in lots of ways. And with Grammy and Poppy willing to keep the kids for the evening, I actually got to go out with Charles a few times. We had amazing sushi one night. Oh how I miss it!

We are so grateful, Grammy and Poppy, for the opportunity to come visit you in such a special place at such a meaningful time for the kids. THANK YOU! And while it was great to break out of hibernation, we were so happy to come home to our beautiful, quiet small town. And we’ll look forward to the next big city visit too.

Alex poses in a concrete hippo outside the Oakland Zoo

Chowing down on clam chowder in classic San Francisco style: sourdough bread bowls!

Eliana trying to convince Alex that she will catch him if he jumps. Golden Gate Park on the way to the Academy of Sciences.

Watching the stinky, weird sea lions at Pier 39

By the way, I brought my Nikon on this trip and didn’t take a single photo. Hands were too full! I only got a few on my iphone…the rest are memories.


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