Tag Archives: Addis Ababa

Adventures with the older deGuzman kids

Jesmina (4) and Musse (3).

I knew I’d finally won him over when we were singing “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” in the car. We were taking turns filling in the blanks:

And on that farm he had a….

We’d run through the standard cow, horse, pig, chicken, duck, dog, cat. It was Musse’s turn to pick.

And on that farm he had a….

“Karen!” he shouted, then erupted into gleeful giggles, unaware that his moment of inspiration had me almost in tears.

I was midway through my Saturday adventure with the two older deGuzman kids — 4-year-old Jesmina and 3-year-old Musse — and I finally knew I’d been accepted by the always affectionate but sometimes reticent Musse. This moment was huge.

Jesmina, Brian, Musse and Keri deGuzman at McCormick Stillman Railroad Park in March 2009.

I first met Jesmina and Musse on the playground at McCormick Stillman Railroad Park in the spring of 2009, when they posed with their mom and dad for a photo that appeared in our May 2009 magazine. That morning changed my life forever. As the kids played in the sand with their dad, cardiothoracic surgeon Brian deGuzman, I talked with their mom, Keri, a former pediatric intensive care nurse, who shared the story of how these two Ethiopia-born children had come to be part of their family. Keri told me she and Brian had applied to adopt two more children from Ethiopia, a largely impoverished country on horn of Africa, where millions of children are orphans.

Before we left the park that day, Keri invited me to join them when they traveled to Ethiopia to bring home the two babies. Sixteen months later, in July 2010, I met the two youngest deGuzman children for the first time in a foster home in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. It was a deeply moving experience that left me feeling forever bonded to two beautiful babies who are now rambunctious toddlers, brimming with energy, personality and smiles.

In the 15 months since we all returned to Phoenix, I have visited the babies periodically, always interested in their growth and development, unwilling to sever my connection to their extraordinary family. Because my visits typically happened in the morning, on my way to work, I’d often miss Jesmina and Musse, who were off at school. As honorary “auntie” (thanks to Keri’s generous insistence), I’d been looking for an opportunity to spend some time with them, too.

So on Saturday, I took Jesmina and Musse to see the Valley Youth Theatre production of “Dora’s Pirate Adventure.” When I arrived to pick them up, Jesmina greeted me with excitement, a warm hug and a picture she’d drawn to thank me.

I love how Jesmina drew my hair -- and all of me, actually -- in yellow. I've always associated yellow with sunshine and happiness.

Musse was in double character as both Superman and a pirate. He wore the pirate hat throughout our five hours together, which included the (very cute and enjoyable) play, a pizza lunch, a long walk at the mall and, just before we headed home, a frozen yogurt treat.

At one point in “Dora’s Pirate Adventure,” Dora and gang encounter a character called The Singing Bridge, who is struggling to remember the correct words to “Old MacDonald.”

For me, that song will now forever be associated with two laughing children in the backseat of my car — and a tenuous connection made lasting and real in the joyful exuberance of a 3-year-old’s sense of humor.

Silly fun during our mall walk.

An update on the deGuzman kids, as their mom prepares to return to Ethiopia

Keri deGuzman will board a plane tomorrow morning bound for Washington, D.C. On Thursday, she will check in at the Ethiopian Airlines counter at Dulles International Airport. On Friday morning, she will arrive in Addis Ababa — her fourth trip to the capital of a resource-rich but infrastructure-poor country where more than four million children have been orphaned by poverty and disease.

Her return to Ethiopia comes nearly a year to the day after the trip she and her husband, Phoenix cardiothoracic surgeon Brian deGuzman, M.D. made last July to complete their family through the adoption of two Ethiopia-born babies.

I was with them on that trip, and memories from the experience linger on the edges of every thought I’ve had since we returned.

This time, Keri is going to Ethiopia by herself. This time, her purpose is not the fulfillment of her lifelong dream to be a mom but the passion she and Brian share for improving the lives of so many other Ethiopian orphans who may never know the experience of having a family.

I visited Keri and the busy, bustling deGuzman household on Saturday. It had been a few weeks since I’d seen all four kids — Jesmina, Musse, Solomon and Tesfanesh — and it was wonderful to have a few hours to reconnect.

Solomon and Jesmina.

The children are thriving. Four-year-old Jesmina, the doting oldest sibling, is growing tall and strong, writing her name and asking a million questions. I could see the wheels turning as she figured out how to piece together a small puzzle I brought from home. Jesmina will be starting school in the fall and is clearly ready. She is smart, insightful, empathetic, observant. You know how seriously she takes her role as eldest when she warns her mom that one of her siblings is doing something they probably shouldn’t.

Mussse.

Charming, affectionate 2-year-old Musse is a solid mass of all-boy, in constant motion and fascinated by trucks. (He has quite an impressive collection of them.) Sometimes all that concentrated energy results in unintended results, like when he accidentally breaks a blue crayon his sister is using to draw a picture. As Jesmina voices her protest, he looks up in wide-eyed innocence. In the next moment, his quieter, tender side is evident as he takes his little brother’s hand and leads him down the hall to play. We hear the boys giggling together — a musical, magical sound.

And then there are the babies. The beautiful, even-tempered babies I first saw in a tiny nursery at the foster home in Addis Ababa a year ago.

Solomon.

Solomon and Tesfanesh are babies no longer. They are full-fledged toddlers, with all the commensurate moments of joy and challenge that presents for their parents. Solomon, in fact, is precociously moving into the “terrible 2s,” his burgeoning sense of self resulting in moments of loud defiance and swift evasion — often accompanied by an engaging, heart-melting grin.

Tesfanesh still wears the all-knowing, “old soul” look I noticed the first time I laid eyes on her. She no doubt comes from a long line of wise, introspective women; their legacy lies deep in her thoughtful, chocolate-brown eyes.

Tesfanesh.

Tesfanesh is starting to say some easily understandable words — most notably “Tessy!” when I held her in my arms and pointed to her picture on the wall. I was touched to see that one of the framed photos was a shot I took when the family was united for the first time upon our arrival back in Washington, D.C.

“That’s my picture!” I said.

“I love that picture,” Keri told me. “It’s the only one we have of the six of us together for the first time.”

I listened to Keri describe her expected itinerary during her week-long visit to Ethiopia. I have been to all the places and projects she will visit: the Acacia Village community in Addis Ababa, where Keri, a pediatric intensive care nurse, will initiate plans for a much-needed medical clinic; the Sheberaber Primary School in a tiny village west of the capital city, where plans for classroom buildings will be discussed and the Wolaitta Village construction site in Soddo, where there will soon be a beautiful, clean home for hundreds of orphaned chidren.

Phoenix architect Jack deBartolo 3 and his wife Tricia will be there, too. Jack will return with a team of ASU graduate architecture students in September, when they will do research to design classroom buildings at the Sheberaber school. (Keri is lobbying for me to go along.) Jack’s first EthiopiaStudio team designed the Wolaitta Village project, so he, too, will be checking on its status.

Keri and Brian have pledged to provide the funding for much of this work. Fundraisers they and others are initiating will provide whatever else is needed. From the moment she and Brian left Ethiopia with baby Jesmina in their arms, they have known this is their calling. “We can’t forget about this place,” they pledged to each other — and to a country nearly 9,000 miles away.

Homecoming, July 17, 2010.

RAK Archives
An Ethiopia Adoption Story.
Sharing an Extraordinary Experience.

Father’s Day and finding my way

Where's Karen? I'm in there to the right of the tall guy in the blue shirt (my son David), in this picture I took reflecting off The Bean In Chicago earlier this month.

My husband was suffering from allergies (or a cold, we weren’t sure which) yesterday, so his Father’s Day was spent quietly. We opted out of our Sunday routine — which typically involves a hike or long bike ride — in favor of lazily lounging around. Dan’s only goal for the day was to make some progress toward finishing the third book in Edmund Morris’s Theodore Roosevelt trilogy.

Both of our sons called in — Andy from Washington, D.C. and David from his new home in Chicago — to enjoy catching up with their dad. All three of the men in my family are extremely knowledgeable about politics and government (which I am not), so I enjoy listening to Dan’s side of the conversation from my perch at the kitchen island, knowing that this is a special bond they share (along with a love of all things sports). My conversations with our sons typically take a different tack. I ask about household/daily life stuff and girlfriends. I share news about extended family members — their grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins.

Quiet Sundays give me a chance to make some small amount of progress toward catching up and getting organized for the week ahead. I spent several hours sifting through emails, writing to-do lists and tending to naggy, small tasks that always seem insurmountable when you’re in the midst of a busy work day. And with no small amount of initial hesitation, I dove back into my Ethiopia notes.

My motivation was an email I received from a mother in New Mexico. She has written a book, Finding Aster, about her own Ethiopia adoption journey. I found out about her because of all the Google alerts I have set up related to international adoption — part of my continued research for the story that began when I first met adoptive parents Brian and Keri deGuzman of Paradise Valley in the spring of 2009 and which, I hope, will find its own book form if I just keep taking small steps to make it happen.

When I found out about Dina McQueen’s book, I subscribed to her related blog. Anyone who writes a blog knows how exciting it is to find out that someone has subscribed to it. Every time I get a message that someone has subscribed to my blog, I click through to find out who that person is. Dina apparently does the same. She found me, found Raising Arizona Kids and wondered, no doubt, about my interest in her adoption story.

She called my office while I was in Chicago helping David settle into his new apartment earlier this month. So she followed up with an email:

When I called your magazine to inquire, I was told about your interest in Ethiopia, which led me to your feature article on your 2010 trip to Ethiopia. Which led me to the remarkable story you wrote about accompanying Brian and Keri to Addis Ababa as they met their two new children. What a beautiful and inspiring story. I was quite moved. Especially as I learned how much some adoptive parents are doing to support their children’s homeland. And how ‘stuck’ I sometimes feel without the resources to do more.

What I can do, however, is share my story and my platform with others who may be able to help me get out there and speak. My mission, basically, is to encourage adoption as a viable and vital way to grow a family. Concern about the environment and women’s health, as well, of course, as the massive issue of parentless children world-wide fuels my passion to keep on connecting with others.

I have ordered a copy of Dina’s book and I look forward to reading it. One of the reviews I read particularly intrigued me. The reviewer said that Finding Aster could truly be called Finding Dina, because of the magnitude of personal growth the author underwent during her journey to become a parent.

With Keri deGuzman as we checked in for our flight to Ethiopia last July. We were both wearing T-shirts promoting Acacia Village, an orphanage the deGuzmans support in Addis Ababa. Photo by Brian deGuzman.

Personal growth — and continued striving for it — is intrinsic to my ongoing connection to the deGuzman family and their continued commitment to the many children who remain orphaned in Ethiopia. It is time to stop hiding behind my fears of being inadequate to the task of telling their evolving story.

Finding Aster may well help me get back to the task of finding myself.

An Ethiopian adoption story – a chance to hear it told

July 2010: Keri and Solomon.

I’ve heard her tell it dozens of times but I never tire of the story. When Keri deGuzman tells people about the remarkable journey she and her husband, cardiothoracic surgeon Brian deGuzman, M.D., took to adopt their four Ethiopia-born children, she is transformed.

Any pre-event jitters evaporate as soon as she begins to talk. There is no place for discomfort she may feel about public speaking. This isn’t about her. It’s not even about the four beautiful children that she and Brian are raising, though the children are the underpinning for her amazing and still-evolving story.

When Keri speaks, it’s about the millions of other children. The ones who don’t have clean homes and nutritious foods and the chance for meaningful education or productive lives. The orphans of Ethiopia.

Keri will share her Ethiopia adoption story at 10:30am tomorrow (Saturday, April 23) at Scottsdale’s Mustang Library. I’ll be with her, adding what I can about my experience traveling with her and Brian to Ethiopia last summer, when they welcomed their two youngest children, Solomon and Tesfanesh, into their family.

Keri’s four Ethiopia-born children are happy, healthy, thriving — and cherished. The story about how they came into her life is beautiful, uplifting and inspiring. Hearing it will be a perfect kickoff to the Easter weekend.

After flying all night from Addis Ababa, Keri and Brian unite their family at Washington's Dulles International Airport. The two older children, Jesmina and Musse, stayed with Brian's parents, who live in the Washington, D.C. area., while we were in Ethiopia.

Reading tea leaves

Like many fans of Greg Mortenson’s Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace One School at a Time, I was glued to the TV Sunday night watching the “60 Minutes” broadcast reporting allegations that parts of Mortensen’s original memoir never happened.

Like many fans who have followed Mortenson’s story, I didn’t want to believe it was true. Even though it was CBS doing the reporting. Even though CBS interviewed Jon Krakauer, a renowned author whose own works of nonfiction are meticulously researched, who donated money to Mortenson’s Central Asia Institute and who now believes Mortensen made up some of the most dramatic and emotionally engaging scenes described in his first of two books about his experience building schools in desolate areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

I’ve read The New York Times take on the story, and NPR‘s. I believe these media entities to be reliable vehicles for information that is presented with integrity, caution and care. And still I don’t want to believe it.

Continue reading

Ethiopia – The adoptions are final

With Judge Owens: Musse, Brian, Tesfanesh, Jesmina, Keri and Solomon deGuzman.

As The Honorable Bernard C. Owens took the bench in his courtroom at Maricopa County Juvenile Court in Mesa, Brian and Keri deGuzman were trying to settle two energetic toddlers. Keri looked up at the judge uncertainly.

“Can he have a cracker?” she asked, referring to her son Solomon, who was squirming on her lap.

There was a brief moment of complete silence — enough for me to start wondering if maybe crackers aren’t allowed in court. Then the judge smiled. “Why not?” he said. “Anything that works.”

Crackers were offered all around and the squirming stopped.

“The universal silencer,” Judge Owens said. Then he got down to the business of the day.

A full eight months after they first held two small babies in their arms, the deGuzmans were in court Wednesday to finalize the adoptions of Tesfanesh and Mintesnot-Solomon Brian deGuzman. Because I had been with them on that very first day, in a foster home in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Keri invited me to join them for the court appearance. Brian’s parents, who live in Potomac, Md., also were there.

Owens is the same judge who granted adoption petitions for the deGuzmans’ older children, Jesmina (4) and Musse (2), who were also born in Ethiopia. Keri reminded him of that as the proceedings commenced, adding that “this is probably the last time we’ll be here to see you. But you never know!”

Deputy County Attorney Janina Walters posed a series of questions to verify the information that would go into the official records: the deGuzmans’ full names, the children’s full names, the correct spelling for each name and the dates of birth for both parents and children. The deGuzmans were asked to swear to the accuracy of the documentation in their petitions.

The judge then declared that it was “in the best interest of the children” to grant the petition. And just like that, it was done. The judge, the court clerk, the lawyer and all of the deGuzmans clapped their hands in celebration.

I pulled out my camera (allowed in the building only for adoption proceedings) and snapped pictures of the family, first with Judge Owens and then with Walters, who is expecting a baby this summer. She said that her next case, coincidentally, involved another adoption from Ethiopia.

As we exited the courtroom, we saw Steve Dershimer and Elizabeth Anthony of Ahwatukee and their adorable 17-month-old daughter. The two families greeted each other like old friends. I was momentarily confused. Did they already know each other? Or was this just the instantaneous bonding of people who have shared a  similar journey to build a family?

It was, in fact, a little of both. I heard Steve tell Brian, “We feel like we already know you because we have read all about you in the [Raising Arizona Kids] magazine.”

The daughter he and his wife are raising is also named Tesfanesh. In Amharic, the name means “I am hope.”

Big sister Jesmina (4) holds Tesfanesh as they wait for the judge to enter the courtroom.

Three generations of deGuzmans.

Brian and Keri with Tesfanesh and Solomon.

With Deputy County Attorney Janina Walters.

The deGuzmans with Elizabeth Anthony, Steve Dershimer and their 17-month-old daughter Tesfanesh.

Ethiopia: The other side of the waiting

Laundry hangs out to dry at a foster home in Addis Ababa.

Two days after welcoming two beautiful babies into their family, Brian and Keri deGuzman returned to the foster home in Addis Ababa where their children had been living after the family’s adoption referral was made.

They had gifts and donations for the staff and children, and a visit to make with a small boy who had a history of seizures. While Brian (a cardiovascular surgeon at St. Joseph’s Hospital & Medical Center in Phoenix) and Keri (a pediatric intensive care nurse) met the child and talked to the nurse, one of the foster home staff members showed me around the compound.

It was good to be back to record my observations. The first time I was there was extremely emotional, and focused completely on the deGuzmans’ first few moments with babies Tesfanesh and Solomon.

Clothing, and even a freshly washed teddy bear (upper left corner) dry in the tentative sunshine.

It was laundry day. Though it was the rainy season, the sun was out for a few hours and that opportunity would not be neglected. Hand-washed shirts and shorts, blankets and socks were spread everywhere — on the railing leading up the stairs to the house and spread across straw mats on the lawn and driveway.

I was not allowed to photograph any of the children, which makes telling the visual side of this story difficult. I can show their clothes hanging on the railing and their shoes leaned against the walls of the compound, which had rolls of barbed wire across the top, looking like a prickly Slinky had been unfurled.

Shoes lined up against the wall of the foster home compound.

I can tell you that there were toys and books, clean spaces to play and eat and loving caregivers who were both happy and heartbroken as each charge left their care to join new families.

Shelves full of stuffed animals await children who are napping.

At one point, I was invited to enter a bedroom shared by some of the older children. I saw their shoes lined up outside the doorway, so I removed my own before stepping into the large room lined with bunk beds. The children greeted me enthusiastically, laughing and shouting and urging me to come near. It was all I could do to avoid running to each one and hugging them hard. But I knew they weren’t quite sure who I was and I didn’t want to confuse them.

So I smiled and waved, quickly ducking back into the hallway. A little girl started wailing hysterically, inconsolably. Distressed, I looked at the staff member who had invited me to look in. “She’ll be okay,” she said. “She’ll stop crying soon.”

Suddenly it became painfully, sickeningly clear. To orphaned children who are not babies but in fact old enough to understand that their lives will soon change forever, the mere glimpse of an  American visitor can be upsetting. The appearance of a woman with light skin and blonde hair is not an everyday occurrence. It is understandable that a little girl who yearns for a family might be confused. Could this be my mother? Have I been abandoned again?

From the moment I first met the deGuzmans, in March 2009, I followed each step in the wait to complete their family. Each hurdle. Each delay. The frustrations and the celebrations. Now, for the first time, I considered the other side of the waiting.

Ethiopia is calling

Ethiopian President Girma Wolde-Giorgi and his guests (from left): Haddush Halefom (who oversees the Acacia Village project for Christian World Adoption), me, Zerihun Beyene (who works for Christian World Adoption), Brian deGuzman, M.D. and Keri deGuzman. Photo courtesy of the president's office.

I had a dream that I was back at the palace in Addis Ababa, sitting in the office of Girma Wolde-Giorgi, the president of Ethiopia. I was waiting for the president to enter his spacious office so I could interview him for a story.

I saw the same high ceilings, the same heavy curtains, the same bronze cowboy statue on the massive desk — the very statue that intrigued me when I was in President Girma’s office last July, during my trip with adoptive parents Brian and Keri deGuzman.

At the time, I found it ironic. There I was in Africa, thousands of miles from home. And yet what drew my attention was a cowboy, that classic icon of the American Southwest.

I didn’t ask President Girma how a cowboy statue found its way to his desk. Our meeting that day was about the deGuzmans, who were in Ethiopia to welcome two babies into their family. They were invited to meet the president because of their involvement with Acacia Village, a home where 250 children can be nurtured, healed and transitioned into adoptive families. President Girma serves as honorary chairman of the board for Acacia Village, a project of Christian World Foundation.

In my dream, I was waiting in his office by myself, tending to unfinished business. I woke up before I found out what that business was.

A few days later, someone else told me about a dream she’d had. In her dream, I was staying at a beach house in California. The deGuzman family—Brian, Keri and their four beautiful children—had come to visit me. And so had my staff at Raising Arizona Kids magazine. I was fixing lunch for everyone. It was some sort of special occasion.

Ethiopia is calling to me in every way it can. In my own dreams and even in the dreams of someone who is close to me, I am reminded that there is work to be done, stories still to tell.

I have lost some ground in the last few months. The period between November and the end of February is always the busiest and most stressful for my small staff. It begins with research and fact checking for our 128-page Schools, etc. guide to education, which mostly happens in November. December brings double-issue production deadlines for the book and our January magazine.
The holidays throw us all off our game, as various staff members take vacation time to be with family and friends. And then, once we return to work in January, we’re back on deadlines for February, March and the last weeks of planning for our annual Camp Fair.

I knew that I would make little headway with my Ethiopia writing during this time, so I made a conscious, proactive decision to ride it out without punishing myself (too much).

But now it is time to get back on track. After this week, when the April magazine goes to press, I must recommit my time and attention to this story, which has gotten under my skin, dominating my conscious thoughts and seeping into subconscious ones, too.

Ethiopia – the babies are thriving!

I hadn’t seen the deGuzman babies since their birthday party in mid-November. So when I stopped by the family’s Paradise Valley home yesterday morning for a visit, I was pretty sure Tesfanesh and Solomon had forgotten all about me.

Keri greeted me at the door with Solomon in her arms. As I expected, the now 1-year-old toddler (who spent nine blissful hours on my lap during the flight home from Ethiopa last July) nestled his head against his mom’s neck when he saw me, curious but shy.

“He’s playing hard to get,” Keri said, confident that my bond with her children was intact. We greeted each other warmly, eager to catch up on the last few weeks’ flurry of holiday activities, family visits and progress on projects the deGuzmans support in Ethiopia.

Tesfanesh deGuzman.

I heard laughter down the hallway to the left. When I turned to look, I saw Tesfanesh crawling furiously down the hall in my direction. Instinctively, I got down on my knees to put myself at her eye level. Without a moment’s hesitation, she crawled straight to my thighs, using them for leverage as she hoisted herself up to standing and held out her arms for a hug.

I almost lost it. And I definitely lost any resolve I may have had to get back to the office any time soon.

I ended up spending three full hours with Keri and the babies — and also had a moment to catch up with Brian deGuzman, M.D., who had returned from a bike ride as I arrived that morning and had a bit of time at home before heading off to his work as associate chief of cardiovascular surgery at The Heart & Lung Institute at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix. (As he kept insisting he would, when we were still in Ethiopia, Brian calls Solomon “Minte,” an affectionate nickname based on his first name, Mintesnot.) The couple’s other two children — 4-year-old Jesmina and 3-year-old Musse, who also were adopted from Ethiopia — were at preschool.

Solomon deGuzman in the family playroom. A map of Africa is on the wall behind him, part of a wall-size map of the world that was already there when deGuzmans bought their house.

The family has pretty much adjusted to their hectic, happy lifestyle and the babies are thriving. Solomon (who did eventually warm up to me) is wiry, strong and as charming and flirtatious as ever. As he moves toward the “terrible 2s,” he’s also developing a knack for drama — moments of frustration quickly manifest in piercing cries and explosive jumps that suddenly stop when he is comforted, distracted or appeased.

Tesfanesh, who is a few weeks younger, remains sunny and serene. She is insatiably curious and (so far) very patient with the process of discovery.

It’s been six months since I traveled with the deGuzmans to bring home these two beautiful babies, born into poverty and orphaned in a country more than 9,000 miles away from Arizona. They are happy, cherished, growing and developing right on track. What could be more remarkable?

MORE about the deGuzmans

My December 2010 article, “An Ethiopia Adoption Story,” is now archived online.

Read more blog posts about my Ethiopia journey.

Happy birthday(s) in the deGuzman family

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Two of the deGuzman children have birthdays today. Jesmina is 4. Musse is 3. And yes, they were born on exactly the same day, one year apart. In different villages in Ethiopia.

Their mom and their younger siblings, Solomon and Tesfanesh, also have birthdays this month. So November’s a pretty big month in the deGuzman household. And on Saturday, dozens of the family’s friends — along with Keri’s mom, Carol Drivick, who lives in Naples, Fla. — gathered at Arcadia Park in east Phoenix to celebrate.

I was there because, well, I’ve been at almost every major deGuzman family event in the last 20 months. Ever since I agreed to travel with Keri and her husband, Brian deGuzman, M.D. (a cardiac surgeon at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center) to Ethiopia last July, when they welcomed Solomon and Tesfanesh into their family. The trip has been the subject of many blog posts and an article that will appear in the December issue of Raising Arizona Kids.

It was hard not to think of that trip as I watched all four deGuzman children enjoy their shared party. (It must be confessed that Solomon and Tesfanesh slept through a good part of it.) Four months ago, the babies were sharing a crib in the tiny bedroom of a foster home in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Before that, they were living in an orphanage in the impoverished village of Soddo.

How seemlessly they have folded into this loving family and adjusted to this bountiful life, which has room and resources for inflatable bouncy slides and magic shows and facepainting. For friends and food and birthday presents times four. And even four separate birthday cakes.

“These kids are growing up in a home where they have a lot, but that’s not it,” Carol told me. “It’s the love. I see it in this home. Brian and Keri adore these children. And as they raise their children they try to capture each moment. “

As they raise their children, Brian and Keri also plan to involve them in outreach projects (including Acacia Village) they already support in Ethiopia. During every happy family celebration for their own children, they are also thinking about the many others — millions of others — who remain orphaned or abandoned in Ethiopia.

The happy ending to their family’s story isn’t an ending. It’s the beginning of another story about commitment and purpose and what one family can do to make a difference in the world.

For now, however, it’s enough to celebrate these four young lives.

And oh, yes. Keri’s birthday, too. Her was Nov. 10. Brian had to go out of town that day, so he brought her a beautiful bouquet of flowers after he dropped Jesmina and Musse at school and headed home to pack his bag.

I asked Brian what happens when it’s his birthday.

“Not much,” he said. “Keri usually buys me an ice cream cake and when I come home from work she tells me it’s in the freezer.” He smiled, looking around at the his beautiful family and cherished group of family and friends. “It’s okay. I’ve already had my birthday.”