Wrestling and taking back my life.

It’s the middle of the night and I can’t sleep. Too many things running through my mind. Some, in the grand scheme of things, are ridiculous. Really. I can see that. They still rent space in my brain for now though. Others are deep and worth being emotionally connected to. 


Yesterday Chris drove all the way into Port to get my newly fixed computer. From talking to the tech on the phone I was feeling hopeful. When I got the thing back and starting looking around on it I started crying. He had managed to recover most of our work and personal files, and what isn’t there I think I can piece together from other sources (Matt, you were SO my favorite person last night when I realized you had done a complete copy of the Acer and some of those files are there). I’m just not looking forward to the time I need to invest in doing it. Because really, I don’t have anything better to be doing, now do I? And in the less than 6 months I’ve owned that computer it seems to have had more problems than it’s worth. 

What wasn’t recovered, even though it looked like it was there, was all of my pictures. And videos. I haven’t got any pictures from the last year, with the exception of the ones on my camera. No everyday mission pictures. No just ordinary life pictures. No pictures of Olivia from the day we brought her home. 11 months of her life. Thankfully I made a copy of everything I had back in July to send home to my family and Mom has already made me a copy to send back in. I’ve emailed stuff out to family over the year too and since so many of them came to visit from June on I can get stuff from them I think, it just makes me sad. I’m sad I don’t have any of those videos either because they were all of Olivia. Things like her babbling, her goofing around playing hide and seek, playing in the jolly jumper. You know, the stuff you want to show your kids when they’re older. 

Lesson learned – get a good back up system. I love that Chris is so all over it already. 

The whole thing just makes me feel sick and sad, and yet there is a part of me that is vitally aware of how much stock I’m putting in these things. It’s a luxury really. I think about how many mothers around me here in Haiti that would love just a few pictures of their children while they were growing up, or the ability to stash those things away without worrying about weather or other people destroying them over time. I should feel lucky that I have a way of getting some of that back. And I will at some point. I’m just feeling the frustration of being at the mercy of something I had no control over – a stupid glitch in a program. Yeah, Vista, you are not my friend right now. 

I also realize that I put too much stock in my computer in general. Not having it made me really aware of how much time I spent on it. How much time I didn’t need to be on it. How often I looked to it as my main source of entertainment. Truth is, I was just fine without it. We’re lucky that we each get to have our own laptops, but sometimes that takes away from other things. I think back over the last month and a half at how many books I’ve read, how much time I enjoyed spending with Olivia, how much time I had to do other things. Things that made me happier and more fulfilled than sitting in front of a computer screen. Now that I feel completely annoyed with my computer maybe I’ll have more gumption to say no and go do other things. I know I need to, and just look at it as a tool rather than something that needs to get regular quality time. Seriously, I’m a bear after spending all day in front of it. Really, my work is my work. It’s the other things like reading blogs, looking at other stuff online, chatting on MSN etc. You all know what I’m talking about. So, my goal is to be on the computer less when I don’t need to and remember that I feel better about all things when I’m doing other stuff like hanging out with my family and doing things that give me more satisfaction whether it’s catching up on housework or reading or sewing or things like that. 

Yesterday while Chris was gone I took Olivia down to the hospital to get her vaccinations done again. It was a normal day of answering questions about why I, as a white woman, had a black baby. One thing that just constantly surprises me is that almost every time this conversation comes up it goes like this…

Interested Onlooker: Is that your baby?
Me: Yes, we adopted her. (I use past tense because getting into the legalities of it in a language I just barely understand would be WAY too much for me)
This is where the quizzical look enters. 
Me: I didn’t maker her.
IO: You didn’t make her?
Me: No. We adopted her.
Interested Onlooker #2: They adopted her.
Me: Her mother couldn’t keep her so we adopted her and now I’m her Mom.
IO #2: Her mother couldn’t keep her, so they adopted her. (Apparently I always need a translator that says exactly the same thing that I’ve just said. I’m sure all other people living in Haiti are laughing at this point because it happens to all of us. And I often wonder if we do the same thing to non-English speakers???)

And we go on from there. The thing that just gets me is that I have to explain that I didn’t “make” Olivia. There is a common belief here that if a baby is born in Haiti, even to white foreigners, it will be black. If it is born outside of the country, it’ll be white. I guess it makes sense if you consider how many foreigners adopt while living here. I decided a long time ago that I would always try to use those questions as an opportunity to explain adoption to people because there are some very mixed up ideas about it here because of the restavik system and because of the amount of adoptions that take place. 

Then from there things slowly started digressing for me.

The next most common conversation, if it goes that far, that we have concerning Olivia is that people will often say, “Blan, do you want my baby?” Yesterday the offering was a 5 day old girl. The woman even offered to trade me. The thing that just kills me is that it’s a joke in most cases, but to me/us it’s not funny. Every time I hear it part of me wants to scream. Can you imagine how damaging that is for a baby or young child to hear? I know that at the core what is really being said is “I know that you can provide for my child in a way that I can’t.” I know that. But I can never shake the “off” sense of humor that comes with it. 

People often ask me what is difficult for me now after being here for three years. This is one of those things. That babies are born every day with no choice of being brought into this life, a life where they will know much want, and may not even survive. All because someone else chose not to take responsibility for their actions. Some of it can be attributed to lack of education, but the basics are the basics. If you have sex you may get pregnant. There will be consequences of your choice. Both parties always have the choice to say no. It is possible. I did it for 28 years. My husband did it for 32. It was difficult at times, but it is possible. It is a complicated problem here and there are many reasons for why people do what they do that can’t be explained in one blog post, or many hours of talking. It is what it is, but the dismissiveness of how it’s often talked about here or accepted makes me angry. 

So while I was letting that one wash over me one more time Olivia was walking around and trying to stay occupied. Standing on the bench beside me and peeking out the holes in the block windows was entertaining for her until another little girl came into the waiting room with her mother. Olivia loves other babies and is very social so she wanted down. I put her down and she started crawling around on the floor, heading in the general direction of the little girl. But the waiting area had several people in it and she sort of stopped and looked at everyone. If you can picture it there she was on the floor in the crawling position just looking around the circle of people all staring at her. Every one of them had to say “She’s on the ground” to me, pointing out the fact that Olivia was getting dirty. To which I responded “I know. I can wash her.” Because I couldn’t see for myself that she was on the ground I guess. Oh, if only they could see her crawl around the yard and eat dirt. The conversation started getting keyed up, about her being on the ground. Then people started laughing and joking around. That’s where I lost the conversation and just got overwhelmed with the picture in front of me. 

There was my baby girl on the floor in the midst of all this and I had this sinking feeling that we were the butt of their joking around, but I couldn’t tell for sure because they were all talking to fast and I was more focused on watching Olivia. I could tell she wasn’t sure what was going on. I wondered if she felt the way I did, overwhelmed and confused. I was trying to decide what to do. Should I go over and sweep her up and bring her back to safety within my arms? If i did that would it be more for her benefit or mine because I was feeling so insecure? Was I overreacting? 

Since before we brought Olivia home I knew that there would be challenges of raising a Haitian child in their home culture, while being raised by white parents who don’t understand all the layers and nuances. There are often moments like this where I’m acutely aware of what effects that might have on Olivia. How much will people tease her? How much will she have to take and deal with? We live right in our community. It will happen. How much should I try to protect her from it? How much can I? 

Yesterday I fought back tears as the scene unfolded because I had no idea what my response should be. I couldn’t even tell if it was me and Olivia that were being laughed at or if I was just reading into the situation. I didn’t want to overreact. I didn’t want to stress Olivia out. I was thankful that she couldn’t really understand what was going on, just that something was. After several minutes of the laughter and very animated people around her (I’m not exaggerating about that. At one point a few people had to leave the room because they were laughing so hard at whatever it was that was considered funny.) she finally turned and looked back at me with a look that said, “What do I do?” 

All I could do was swallow, motion for her to come, and say, “Olivia, come see Mommy.” Without hesitation she crawled over to me and climbed up into my lap where she cuddled in and settled into my arms. As I felt her relax and nestle down I realized that as far as she was concerned I was her safe place, and I almost lost it. As I breathed in the smell of her head and fought back tears I just kept thinking about all the questions I have. Yes, Haitians like to joke around and have fun. Unfortunately it’s often at the expense of others that are present. I’ve seen it in our work yard amongst guys that are related to each other and good friends. I have had people talk about me in front of my face and laugh at me. I wonder how much ridicule our kid will endure while we live here, simply because people don’t understand or have very little experience with our situation? 

As I relayed the events to Chris last night I let the tears come. The truth is I have no answers and I can only hope that we’ll be able to figure it out one situation at a time and know when we can stand up for our kid and when she needs to stand on her own. I guess that’s all any parent can ask, right?
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About Leslie

I'm Leslie. Wife. Mother. Missionary. In the day to day my husband and I are responsible for running Clean Water for Haiti, a humanitarian mission that builds and distributes water filters to Haitian families. Living in Haiti full time provides lots of stories, and as I tell my husband, our grandkids probably won't believe most of them. Maybe writing them down will give me some credibility.

7 thoughts on “Wrestling and taking back my life.

  1. i am so glad you have chris to talk too!!!….that just sucks being the joke…….it is so hard sometimes being a parent….what a beautiful thing that olivia has a safe place in you!!!!keri

  2. Thank you for sharing this Leslie. It broke my heart, it seems you are handling yourself gracefully, though, I will pray for you and little Olivia. I believe that the love and support you will provide her will buoy her through the toughest of situations.

  3. Leslie,I’ve just been sitting here thinking about how you were feeling and what I could say to you that would make you feel better. I’ve been a mom for 31 years and I’ve been over and over in my head looking for a time that I may have felt the same way you were feeling. Sadly, I came up with nothing which could compare. I can’t offer any “motherly” advise. But…I felt your mom claws wanting to come out to protect your child. To me this may be the most important part of your dissapointing day. YOUR MOM CLAWS came out. You had that maternal desire to rip someone’s head off, because they were putting your child in a position that you did not want her to be in.(The brunt of their strange humor.) Firstly, I’d say Yea Leslie! You’ve attained a level of motherly love that many women just never get to. There are children everywhere who never feel the protection and love that Miss O feels. That feeling WILL protect Olivia all of her life. She will be able to endure and learn from lifes ugly lessons. (The lessons you don’t get to choose for her by the way…) Because you have managed to bond so strongly with your baby, she will grow strong. I applaud you for your power. Secondly I want to say that even though you may think Haiti is a harsher place than maybe somewhere else, I don’t think that’s true. All life’s lessons no matter the locations are hard. A mothers love softens the lessons and tempers our childrens reactions with the wisdom they’ve gained from us. You did good.

  4. Thank you for sharing this Leslie. It was heartbreaking to read. My hope and prayer is that Olivia will be a light in her community(culture) and with her family’s love and support she will grow up strong enough to have compassion and be tough at the same time….just like her parents.

  5. I don’t think our Haitian adopted kids will have it any easier living here than in Canada or the USA … and a lot of me thinks it is actually more difficult.

  6. Sorry folks, I’ve been a bit slow on the uptake with things in the last few days. Thanks for sending out the love. It’s nice to be able to share the difficult stuff along with the good stuff. Keri, the suckiest thing about it was that I couldn’t tell if we actually WERE the joke. I couldn’t tell if I should be upset or if I was being oversensitive. My gut just felt like there was something “off”.Meela, you rock. We really miss you guys.Tara, couldn’t agree with you more.

  7. Annonymous, I almost forgot to say thanks. Your comment brought me to tears because you are so right and I just kept thinking back to the times where I would sit in Olivia’s room before there ever was an Olivia and wonder if I would love a child like that. It’s something that is so fierce that it’s almost scary, but so very comforting to know that we’ve arrived there in such a short period of time. Thank you. (I would love to know who you are too…)

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