Saturday, November 7, 2009

Finally, Some Movement

After a several-month hiatus for the rainy season, the Ethiopian courts have reopened. We got on the waiting list shortly before the courts closed, so really we've been waiting through a drought. But, hooray! The courts are open again, and CHI is working with a new orphanage that is moving things right along. There were six referrals this week, pushing us to our new place in line - #84! We're hoping that #1-83 have requested boys, toddlers, and/or sibling groups! :)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Creative Pursuits

Zachary is becoming quite an artist. When we first started mommy-and-me some five years ago, it was a running joke in class that Zac's artwork was always the best in the class because I always ended up doing the little projects for him; the kid wouldn't touch anything remotely artsy for a few years. Now, he can't get enough.

This is good when it comes to his weekly ceramics class, where his work is far more complex and interesting than the other kids' stuff (I'm not just saying that because I'm biased - he's really good, as you see below). This is not so good when he decides to write all cutesy on his schoolwork - he's a fan of bubble letters, curly-q's, and making his name into letter people. Amusing to Mommy, but not to Miss Shenman.

Below are some examples of his work from just this week.

Medium: clay

Treasure Box with Fitted Sealable Hinged Lid
Media: paper, masking tape, stickers, markers, gumption, moxie

Buck Teeth
Media: masking tape, paper, markers, Missouri lineage

Hallowe'eny House (courtesy of Baba Sybil and Zayda Lew)
Media: foam kit, glue, overbearing mother, memories of our previous house, frightened Halloween face

Monday, October 12, 2009

Our Hut Is a Very, Very, Very Fine Hut

I love Sukkot, but I don't think I fully realized until this year why I do.

(For those of you who don't know what Sukkot is, it's an eight-day festival that commemorates the temporary dwellings that the Israelites lived in during their 40 years in the desert.) (I digress: One of my favorite related memories is from 1997, when I was teaching 10th grade in Conyers, Ga. A student of mine, who is now a great friend - holla to Rebekah - was looking through her daily planner and asked, "Miss Edelman, what's Suckoth?" It took me a minute to realize she was reading the word "Succoth" in her calendar, not making a funny Shakespeare joke.)


So, this year, I realized that I love Sukkot. Because this year, for the first time really ever, we built, decorated, and legitimately dwelled in our sukkah.

Those of you who have known us since our brief stint in Cincinnati may recall our first sukkah, built in 2002 - the first Sukkot after Morrie's ordination. We had a big flat backyard and not so much money, so we decided to plan out designs to build a huge sukkah out of PVC pipe and tarps and love, and took said plans to Home Depot, and returned home and built the thing. It was huge and pretty cool. Morrie reminded me the other night that we also cut down branches from our trees to go on top (a detail that I for some reason have erased from my memory, but I believe it.) And then, just as we were finishing, it began to rain, but Biblically. And we ran inside and looked at our sukkah with great admiration, and I don't think it took more than a day of rain before it folded in on itself. We never decorated it, we certainly never dwelled in it, and we just sort-of packed it up and stuck it in the garage.

We tried to assemble it again when we moved to Montebello. This time we had a team helping us. No luck. We have since realized that we needed a brace at the center of each side. No matter, we ended up just using the synagogue's sukkah anyway.

But last October, shortly after Sukkot, we moved into our new house. So this year, I was determined to have a sukkah. I researched costs and yearned for the prices that the Israelites paid. We decided on a lovely 8x10 foot sukkah from Sukkah Depot - a temporary set-up of its own, at Judaica House in Teaneck. Our sukkah has a 10-year warranty, which is a good thing given the final price!

One Sunday afternoon, Zachary and I pillaged Michael's and spent way too much on fake gourds, fake fruit, fake veggies, hay, and other sukkah-decoration fixin's. (We decided that every year, Zac will decorate a new fake pumpkin to add to the old ones - an ongoing reflection of his growth in paint pen and gourd - excellent! I of course had to paint one too, because let's face it, who doesn't need a fake white pumpkin with "Chag Sameach" in Hebrew on it?) Zac also insisted on buying a pumpkin basket and two little metal birds and collected twigs to make a little nest for them.

Morrie picked up the sukkah in Teaneck the next Tuesday - a little daunting, in three long boxes and two duffle bags - and we waited for a day that Zac would be in school and the weather would be nice to put up a hut.

Morrie suggested that we have Juan, the shul's maintenance man, help us put it together. But I was inspired to assemble it just us, the original Team Zimbalist. When the big day arrived, I told Morrie that we could stop at any point that we felt we no longer loved each other. Fortunately, that didn't happen, and in about an hour and a half, we had our sukkah!

Zac's eyes popped out of his head when he saw it on the deck, and he and I worked hard to tie-dye old pillow cases to make into wall hangings (a process that ultimately turned my hands blue for two days, but the results were worth it). Morrie surprised us with huge bales of hay, gourds, Indian corn, and mums. Zac and I hung the decorations. This was a sukkah that Martha Stewart would approve. It was really perfect.

We totally dwelled in that sukkah. We ate every day in there as a family, and we had lots of guests. There was not enough room, and it was great. We admired our handiwork. We loved that every bit of it was a creation of our hands, our hearts, our family. We said the blessings. We counted our blessings.

This year, I finally "got" Sukkot. It's a combination of the crazy shopping and pre-planning, the building and decorating, the gathering together with family and friends. This week, we'll take it down and put the pieces and the decorations in the garage. The symbol itself is temporary - but I hope that everything else the holiday gave us will sustain us to next Sukkot.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

My Four-Letter Word of the New Year

Rosh Hashanah just ended, and here we are in the new year, 5770. Every Rosh Hashanah I spend a lot of time thinking about the year that's past. In some ways I'm not sad to see 5769 go. It had its fair share of aggravations and heartaches. But, it was the first year in the past several years that actually showed some forward movement, with the new house and the adoption. So, it ends up, by the end of 5769 the cup was at least half full.

Rosh Hashanah is always difficult for me, not because of looking back at the past year but because it means I'm faced with looking forward. We do have so much to look forward to this year! But for me, looking forward at the start of a new year means making resolutions. I hate making resolutions. I am really, really bad at keeping them. Until now, I thought that was because I'm a big procrastinator - why do something today when I can do it tomorrow? Or next week/month/year/decade? I also thought that my inability to keep to resolutions was because I tend to set my goals really lofty and often unrealistically. But I've realized, that's not it either.

It's because for a long time, "SELF" has been a four-letter word to me. And that has in many ways kept me from keeping my resolutions - because by definition, a resolution means a goal that you set for yourself. It's hard to attain a goal you set for yourself when "self" is a four-letter word.

I don't know when this happened. I think it set in after college, when I started teaching high school. I really loved teaching, and loved those kids (the ones I spent the most time with - two years as 9th and 10th graders - just had their 10-year reunion this weekend!) - and for probably the first time in my life I had to give my all to something and put 125 kids, in some ways, before me. The person who was "Alison" became "Miss Edelman." Then she became "Mrs. Zimbalist." Then "Mom." And all these other hats, and all the responsibilities that came with them - education editor, rabbi's wife, nursery school founder, business owner, curriculum writer, PTO mom.

At some point, I brainwashed myself into thinking that "self" meant "selfish" - that if I spent 1/100th of the time on doing things for me instead of for others, that this was somehow wrong. Better I be selfless than selfish. And somewhere along the way, I became self-less.

So, 5770, I'm taking you on. If there is one thing I'm really good at, it's multitasking. So I am resolving, to myself, that this year I am adding one more thing to my plate. I'm going to do things for myself - for my self. I am going to do things that I like to do more often, things that have nothing to do with anyone but me - like reading books, and getting pedicures, and going back to the gym! And more importantly, I'm not going to feel badly about it! (Or, at least, I'll try not to feel badly about it. I am a Jewish mother, you know.)

I am looking forward to seeing my self again.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Okay, Wait, You're Doing What Now?!

It's been a little over a week since our secret's been out. We are very blessed to have so many people in our lives who are genuinely happy for our family! We have received a few quizzical looks, but I'm sure we'll get many more when we are finally out and about with our Ethiopian daughter!

Some very straight-shooting answers to some of this week's most frequently asked questions:

Why did you choose to adopt from Ethiopia?

We went through a big research/soul-searching process before we arrived at Ethiopia. Once we knew that we were going to parent again - this time, through adoption - the first question was whether we were going to adopt domestically or internationally. We talked to a few friends and family members on both sides of the coin, and quickly ruled out a domestic adoption, for various personal reasons. Then, we talked at length with my sister, who adopted a daughter from Russia about six years ago. That conversation really challenged us to evaluate the basics of why we wanted to grow our family through adoption.

Our next task was to determine which adoption agency to work with. We narrowed it down quickly, to just a few of the many agencies, based on the experiences of the friends and family members we spoke with who had adopted internationally. After speaking at great length with representatives at some of these agencies, we chose Children's Hope International (CHI), the one my sister had used.

Having chosen an agency, we had to look at what international programs they offered and go from there. There were some practical issues in determining our country choice: How long would it take for a child to be referred to us? (Russia and China now have five-year-long waits!) How long would we need to be "in country"? (Colombia requires you to be there for five weeks, for example - an impossibility for us because of Morrie's job, and of course because of Zachary.) How comfortable would we be adopting a child who looks very different from us? And what countries were left after all those questions were answered?

At that point, we were both tired, so we gave the conversation a temporary rest. Then, one day, Morrie came to me and said, "I think I found our country: Ethiopia." And though this sounds corny, it's true: One look at the babies on CHI's website, and that was that. And then, as we learned more about Ethiopia's culture and people, and the tremendous needs there, we simply knew that our daughter would be Ethiopian. It is a land of children in need of parents. And we are parents in need of a child.

Some of the statistics that stood out the most to us:
  • The life expectancy is 41.
  • Infant mortality is 10%.
  • About 20% of Ethiopian children die before age 5.
  • The average number of children borne to each woman: 6. (What must it be like, to be an Ethiopian woman, knowing the previous three statistics?)
  • There are six million orphans in Ethiopia.
  • Less than 50% of the population is literate.
  • 24% of the population has access to clean drinking water.
  • One million people living with AIDS.
  • The GNP per capita is $100. (How much did you spend at the grocery store or Target last week? We went out to dinner two nights ago and our bill was $78. Almost as much as the average Ethiopian lives on for a year.)
Another aspect of Ethiopia that was attractive to us - there are Ethiopian Jews (the Falashas). She will have a natural cultural connection. Ethiopian Jew will "make sense" to people as she grows older, something that not all internationally-adopted Jewish children have quite as easily. When she goes to Ethiopia someday, and in Israel, her Ethiopian-Jewishness will make sense to her as well. She will be able to feel a sense of belonging, in many different circles of community - within our home and family, in our Jewish community, in the Ethiopian community, in the Jewish Ethiopian community, and in Israel.

Will she be Jewish?

Will she be born Jewish? Probably not. The Falashas make up a very minute portion of Ethiopians. Will she be Jewish? Yes, just one dunk to the Teaneck mikvah will take care of that. Celebratory lunch at Veggie Heaven will probably follow.

What happens now?

Now we wait. CHI estimates that for a healthy girl under 12 months, the wait is 6 to 14 months until referral (when we get photos, medical records, and anything else that's available). The big time span is because people change their requests all the time. We are around #85 or so right now on the big list that CHI keeps for all of their Ethiopian adoptions. We don't know what types of kids (age/gender/health status/etc.) the 84 in front of us want. They might all want baby girls. They might all want older boys. You get the idea. We've been watching our agency list for the past few months, and generally speaking, for a healthy infant girl, it's taking 11-12 months on average to get a referral.

Upon accepting the referral, we'll travel over to get her about four months later. We will be there for a week to ten days. (Zachary will stay at home with Auntie Lee and Baba Marilyn, and probably do a lot of shopping for his sis.) During those four months, she'll be moved to House of Hope - CHI's wonderful transitional home for kids waiting for their "forever families" - from whatever orphanage she has been in up to that point. CHI's Ethiopian representative, Tsegai, will act on our behalf at the first of two court dates, about half way into that four months. When we go over to get our daughter, we will appear in court ourselves.

Is she born yet?

Probably not. We requested an infant under 12 months, and our current wait is about that long. So, do the math. She's either in utero or not conceived yet. It will be interesting at referral to trace back to see where we were in the process when she was born!

When did you tell Zachary?

Zachary has known about the adoption since we first decided to go for it. It was interesting to explain it to him. He was a little unsure at first about having a sister with brown skin, but as soon as we showed him some photos on the CHI website, he was in love. He's been a little loose-lipped about the news of his sister, but really only telling his cronies, who, since they are five and six years old, didn't really get it enough to find it juicy gossip to blab. He also told a few of his babysitters - all members of our synagogue, of course - who we had to swear to secrecy!

Zac has decorated his "sissy"'s room with little drawings of animals and fairies dropping hearts all over the place, and a cute little brown-skinned girl next to a very happy little house. (Not sure what our housekeeper thinks is going on, since we haven't clued her in yet!)

Zac also always includes his sis in every family picture that he draws. Here's one of my favorites, which is right over his bed:

Photo Explanation: We have been referring to the baby as Poof for a while, for the little poofs of hair that she'll definitely sport. That's why Zac is holding a child called "Poof Baby." Also note the heart in the upper-right corner with a baby crawling on Africa, and in the upper-left corner, a "superbaby" of sorts standing on the Earth. Munchkin looks as if he doesn't know what's hit him yet. And we all have big smiles!

To put it simply...

Sunday, August 16, 2009

A First Post At Last: And Baby Makes Four!

We're having a baby!

Maybe it's more accurate to say, we're expecting!

And in a very special way... not via stork but by 747, flying the 4,500 miles from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to New York, U.S.A.! We could not be happier, more nervous, more anxious, or more ecstatic! Mom, Dad, and Big Brother Zachary are all feeling fine.

Along the way, we've had some assistance from remarkable and dedicated "birth coaches" - namely, Sharon and Nicky at Children's Hope International (our adoption agency, based in St. Louis) and Marci with Ametz, the adoption branch of the Jewish Child Care Association, based in New York City. They helped us begin this journey, and they will be seeing it through to the end - till the moment that we walk off the plane with our daughter and beyond. At this point, it looks like that will be in Summer or Fall 2010.

Without sharing too many details of how we got here, I can say that God has graced us with the understanding that "family" really doesn't mean "blood relation," and that love has no bounds - including geographic ones. A few of the people that we have told about this joyous addition to our family have said, "what a mitzvah you are doing for this little girl." Truly, she is doing the mitzvah for us and our family.

Many adoption books and Web sites post something that is sometimes referred to as the "Adoption Credo," which is a very accurate description of our feelings about our soon-to-be baby girl - who is likely not even born yet!

Not flesh of my flesh, nor bone of my bone,
but still miraculously my own.
Never forget for a single minute,
You did not grow under my heart, but in it.
-Author Unknown

We are so glad that you are on this special journey with us!

(P.S., how great is that birth announcement image?! It is one of many Ethiopian adoption items from the Adopt-Tees shop at